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Holiday Roast Mortem

Book 7 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series

Christmas is right around the corner.

Fresh off the Christmas Pawrade and Central Park tree lightening, Honey Springs is buzzing with the excitement of the season.

Roxy Bloom and Patrick Cane are hosting the ultimate Christmas Day Diner for all of their friends and family at The Bean Hive. Roxy has been so busy with her Jingle Bells Lattes and planning the party that Patrick whisks her off for a romantic dinner at the Watershed for some alone time.

Their dinner turns out to be a headache. They were seated next to Ryan and Yvonne Moore, who fought the entire time.

After dinner, Roxy and Patrick see the couple drive off the road into Lake Honey Springs, Patrick dives into the frigid lake to save the couple only to find Ryan was already dead.

After a preliminary autopsy, Ryan Moore’s death was not an accident, leaving Yvonne Moore the number one suspect.

When Yvonne asks Roxy Bloom to help her figure out who killed her husband, Roxy jumps at the chance to put her Jingle Bell Lattes and holiday planning aside to help out a friend.

One problem, Roxy starts to wonder if Yvonne is really the killer and using Roxy to get away with murder after Kirk, Roxy’s ex-husband and defending lawyer for the deceased Ryan Moore, lets her know a big secret that would change the entire investigation.

Holiday Roast Mortem

Excerpt

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Chapter One

The twinkling Christmas lights that wrapped around the wooded deck of the Watershed Restaurant added a shimmer atop Lake Honey Springs. A nice romantic evening with Patrick was exactly what I needed to get into the spirit of the season.

Since I’d been working so many long holiday hours at the Bean Hive, my coffee shop, I’d been busy getting all the holiday coffee blends and special-ordered baked sweet treats ready for my customers, so I’d not taken much time for my relationship with my husband or our fur babies, Pepper and Sassy.

“You look beautiful.” Patrick Cane reached over and laid his hand on mine.

Patrick’s big brown eyes, tender smile, and sensitive heart drew me into him when we were just teenagers and I came to Honey Springs during the summers to visit my aunt. “I’m glad we made time for me and you.”

“Me too.” I put my other hand on top of his and rubbed it. I couldn’t stop blushing. My heart skipped a beat.

Patrick owned Cane Construction, and the economy had been booming around our small town of Honey Springs, Kentucky, so he was just as busy as I had been at the coffee shop.

Neither of us were complaining because we certainly had seasons of dry spells in which the money just trickled in.

“Geez, buddy!” A man sitting next to us jumped up when the busboy accidentally knocked his table and spilled the man’s water in his lap. “Watch what you’re doing.”

“Calm down, Ryan.” The woman across from him had turned red, though she was trying to hide her face behind her blonde hair. She looked around the restaurant to see if anyone was watching.

Of course everyone could hear them. They were louder than the jazz band playing Christmas carols in the corner of the restaurant.

“Are you joking?” Ryan glared over at her and he quickly replaced the man’s glass with another glass of water and apologized before hurrying away.

“No, I’m not joking,” she spat. “You can be such a jerk. Things happen.”

The man grabbed the glass and took a drink, glaring at the woman across from him before he went back to finishing his meal.

“That looks delicious.” Patrick and I pulled back our hands so Fiona Rosone, our waitress, could put our plates on the table, taking the attention off the couple next to us.

Patrick’s loving gaze had turned from me to the honey-glazed salmon on his plate.

I had ordered the panko-encrusted chicken, one of the Watershed’s specials, along with a plain sweet potato and asparagus. I would definitely take some of the sweet potato home with me to give to Sassy and Pepper. Not only did they love it, but sweet potato was good for their digestion and their coats.

On most days, the dogs came to work with me, and I tried to keep an eye on them so customers wouldn’t slip them something they’d ordered from the counter, but it was hard to police that. Plus, Pepper was a wonderful vacuum and sniffed out any little morsel of food.

“The babies?” Patrick’s smile lit up his face when he noticed I was saving some of my food.

“Of course.” I shrugged, knowing how much I treated them like real human babies. Having children was something Patrick and I did want, but it wasn’t in the foreseeable future.

We’d only been married a year after many years apart, during which time I’d gone to college, attended law school, started a law firm with my now-ex-husband, and then moved here to open the Bean Hive. It took all that time to find the life I considered to be… well… perfect.

“It’s so pretty here tonight.” I looked out the window of the floating restaurant.

Logsdon Landscaping had done a fantastic job decorating. The Christmas tree on the outside deck glowed with colored lights and fun lake-themed ornaments. The Christmas trees inside the Watershed were decorated a little more elegantly, with white lights and fancy ornaments with glitter, large ribbons, and bows. Beside the tree outside sat a sign on a fancy gold stand declaring Logsdon Landscaping Co. the decorator.

Amy Logsdon had taken over the dying family landscaping business. When she did, she saw a need for people’s help in decorating for all the seasons because we celebrated and decorated every holiday on the calendar. We’d even had our annual Christmas festival in the town square last weekend.

The Pawrade was still my favorite event of the entire festival. In the Pawrade, we dressed up our fur babies and raised money for the local Pet Palace, Honey Springs’s local SPCA.

But what Amy did to turn the company around was amazing. She took the landscaping business to a whole other level. She took clients, like the Watershed, and completely decorated the exteriors and interiors of the buildings in addition to storing the decorations all year long instead of having the business try to find a place to store them. This part of Logsdon Landscaping focused primarily on the outside decorations. Some people had hired the company to come to their homes and put up their lights, their large yard displays, and more.

It really did help cut back on all the work the Beautification Committee had to do, freeing up their time to focus more on the business side of the festivals.

Focusing on that was a very nice option to have, but I loved to decorate and had made it part of my life, which helped me get so excited for the holidays.

“It is pretty.” Patrick looked over the candlelight at me. “You make it prettier.”

“We are already married. You can stop laying it on thick.” I couldn’t stop smiling.

Fiona knew us so well, she’d already brought a to-go box over to the table. She knew I needed the box so I could take home the dogs’ portion.

“That was so good.” Patrick pulled his wallet out of his pocket, took out the cash for the bill, and leaned back in his chair. “Now we can go home, snuggle with the kids by the fire for a few minutes before we decorate our tree.”

“Heaven.” Sometimes I couldn’t believe I’d hit the jackpot in my thirties. In my twenties, it was a bumpy ride but worth every up and down it took to get to this moment right here. Plus, Patrick was such a romantic. He loved cutting down a live tree and decorating it. He had a full night planned, and I would definitely go along with it.

We smiled at each other before the couple next to us interrupted with their loud argument.

“I told you that I’ve had it.” The woman pointed at the man with her steak knife. “I won’t put up with this behavior anymore.”

“Keep your voice down,” the man shushed her. “When we got married, you knew exactly what you were getting into.”

“I’ve had enough.” She picked her napkin up from her lap and wiped her mouth. “After Christmas, I’m filing for divorce.”

“Over my dead body.” He threw his napkin on his plate.

“So be it.” She slammed her napkin on the table, and water splashed out of her glass.

The scooting sounds of their chairs did cause others to look around, but since they were next to me and Patrick, I think we were the only ones who heard them arguing.

Patrick and I watched the couple rush out of the restaurant.

“I hope we don’t ever get like that when we reach their age.” Their sadness gnawed in my gut, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were once all goo-goo eyed like Patrick and I were.

“Never. Ever.” He shook his head. “Unless Penny and Maxi stop getting along… then we might have a problem,” he said, joking about the sudden friendship between my mom and aunt.

“I wouldn’t be joking about them because they’ve already had a falling out this week about who was going to bring the fruitcake on Christmas.” I let out a long sigh.

“You decide.” Patrick thought it was as easy as that when it clearly wasn’t.

You see, my mom, Penny Bloom, and my aunt Maxine Bloom had never gotten along in my entire life, until recently. My mom had been really jealous of my relationship with my aunt Maxi. And well… let’s just say that I’ve always had a connection with my Aunt Maxi I’d never had with my mom, and when I got divorced, it was of course Aunt Maxi I’d run to. Here I was a few years later with some history under my belt, and my mom had moved to Honey Springs. She and Aunt Maxi were the reason Patrick and I were married by the justice of the peace.

“I’ve got enough people to coordinate without refereeing them.” I was now rethinking my decision to host a big Christmas Day supper for my friends and family at the Bean Hive Coffee Shop.

My friends had become family in our small community, and I wanted them to surround me during the holidays. Everyone had something special to bring to the occasion, which would be a joyous one even if Mom and Aunt Maxi decided not to get along.

“Will that be all?” Fiona asked and picked up the check with the cash.

“Yes. Very good.” Patrick leaned back and patted his stomach. “Keep the change.”

“Delicious as always.” It was a treat to come to the Watershed, and it took some effort to actually get dressed, put on makeup, and look presentable. Not like when I went to work at the coffee shop with my hair pulled up and my baking clothes on underneath my Bean Hive apron.

Patrick, being the southern gentleman he was, got up from his chair and walked over to help me out of mine.

“Let’s get home and decorate our own tree.” Patrick reached his hand out to me.

“Fire, snuggles, decorating.” I took his hand in mine. “Patrick Cane, you are something else.”

“I just want to keep you happy during this Christmas get-together.” We walked toward the back of the restaurant so we could go outside to look at the decorations. “I know how stressed you can get, and if I can help out, I’m going to. So you”—he opened the door to the outside and had me walk past him—“my dear, will be pampered by me.”

He pulled me to him once the door shut behind us and shielded me from the winter night wind, which whipped across the lake and over us, sending chills along my body.

Patrick stood behind me with his arms wrapped around me, and we looked across the lake to the Bee Farm, where Kayla and Andrew Noro had put up a big display of wood cutouts of bees wearing Santa hats. The display was all lit up so the people on the land side of the lake could see and enjoy it.

The Bee Farm was a small island in the middle of the lake. It was amazing to visit and see exactly how the bee farm worked. I got all my honey from Kayla. It was so fresh and tasty, not only in the coffees and teas I served at The Bean Hive but also in the baked goods.

“Everyone seems to be really ready for this season compared to last year.” Patrick’s warm breath tickled my ear. He rested his chin on my shoulder.

“Why did you mention that?” I jerked around and looked at him. “You are giving us bad juju.”

Last year, a murder took place during the Pawrade at the annual Christmas tree lighting in Central Park, located in downtown Honey Springs. I wanted to forget that forever.

“It’s not bad juju.” He laughed and grabbed my hand. “Let’s get home to the kids.”

We were walking along the Watershed’s pier toward the parking lot when we heard the same couple from inside the restaurant arguing outside near their truck.

“I’m telling you that I’m not going to stand for this. Do you understand?” Ryan yelled at the woman, who I assumed was his wife since he’d said something about how she knew before they got married this was how it was.

“You know what?” The woman jerked the door open. “I’m going to call a lawyer!”

The couple both slammed their doors. The tires squealed as their truck took off.

Patrick’s grip tightened on my hand.

“I think that’s Ryan Moore’s truck.” Patrick seemed to recognize people’s vehicles more than their faces. “He owns the butcher shop where I pick up those steaks and chops you like so much.”

“They seem very unhappy.” I frowned.

“I don’t think they are going to have a good Christmas.” He opened the passenger-side door for me.

“Don’t worry.” I kissed him before I got in. “It took me a divorce to find you. I’m for sure not going to let you go.”

I hooked my seatbelt while he got inside the truck.

The Watershed was on one far left side of the boardwalk, which held many specialty shops along with the Bean Hive.

My coffee shop had a perfect location right in the middle of all the shops. Directly in front of the coffee shop was a long pier that jutted out and was perfect for people who liked to fish deeper out into the water.

“I love how they put the lighted garland around all the carriage posts,” Patrick said about all the lights along the boardwalk. “It’s prettier than just the wreaths the committee has put up in past years.”

“Yes, but the Beautification Committee did the best they could with what they had.” I still had to give Loretta Bebe credit. She did work hard on trying to make Honey Springs gorgeous during the festive times of the year.

Our cabin was located about a seven-minute drive from the boardwalk, which was a very windy road running along the lake. I usually rode my bike with Pepper nestled in the front basket while Sassy went to work with Patrick at the construction sites for most of the day until he stopped in for a cup of coffee. That was when she liked to stay at the coffee shop with Pepper and me.

Lately, it was either too cold or there was too much ice on the road to ride the bike.

“Be careful,” I warned Patrick when he took one of the sharper curves. “The weather report said there could be some black ice on the road.”

The taillights of Ryan Moore’s truck showed the vehicle had started to cross over the center line of the small road.

“There must be some up there.” Patrick pointed at the car. We watched as the driver jerked the truck back over. “Whoa!”

“Oh no!” I yelled as we watched the truck cross over again, this time going through the trees and down the embankment toward the lake.

I eased up in the seat of Patrick’s truck and looked down to see if the people in the truck were okay when we got to the place they’d gone off the road.

“Call 911!” Patrick yelled at me. He put his truck in park when we saw the other truck had actually gone into Lake Honey Springs, with the front end heading underwater.

I fumbled for my phone and dialed while trying to see Patrick through the pitch dark of night. The headlights of the sunken truck were fading fast into the depths of the water.

I rattled off the information to the dispatch operator and jumped out of the car when I saw Patrick had jumped into the lake. I grabbed the blankets and his work flashlight out from behind the seat and headed down to the lake.

“Patrick!” I screamed when I didn’t see him come back up. “Patrick!” I frantically screamed, dropping the blankets on the beach and shining the flashlight in the water. “Patrick!”

I ran up and down where the truck had gone in, but I was not sure where it was because I could no longer see the headlights. When I heard some splashing a few yards out in the lake, I moved the flashlight and saw Patrick.

“I’ve got the woman!” Patrick swam toward the bank with the woman in the crock of his arm. She was coughing and wheezing. “She’s alive!”

In the distance, I could hear the sirens. They echoed off the lake. I ran to meet Patrick and the woman, holding one of the blankets to wrap around her.

“I’ve got to go and get Mr. Moore.” He laid her gently on her side on the ground before he went right back into the water.

“Here,” I told her, picking up more blankets and then wrapping them around her. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She looked up at me.

“My husband,” she tried to say but was shivering. “My husband!” She jumped up as the shock of it all started to set in. “Ryan!” she screamed.

“Please, put this around you until the ambulance gets here.” I tried to put the blanket back on her shoulders, but she attempted to run back into the water. “Stop! Don’t go back in there!”

“Ryan!” It was all she seemed to say while I jerked her back and literally held her back.

The ambulance and police showed up, taking over just as Patrick came back up from the depths of Lake Honey Springs with the limp man over his shoulder.

After Patrick got him to shore, we let the emergency crew take over.

“What happened?” Sheriff Spencer Shepard asked when he got there.

“I think they hit black ice because we saw them swerve, then correct, then swerve again, ending up in the lake,” Patrick told Spencer while we stood to the side and watched the EMTs give Ryan CPR. “We saw them having supper at the Watershed. It’s Ryan and Yvonne Moore. He owns the butcher shop in town.”

“Yeah.” Spencer’s brows furrowed as he nodded.

The bright yellow lights of the tow truck circled, lighting up the darkness. The people in the tow truck were working on retrieving the Moores’ truck from the depths of the lake while the emergency workers continued to attend to Ryan.

“No!” Yvonne fell to the ground, lying on Ryan and grabbing our attention.

Spencer excused himself and hurried over to see what was going on. We watched as the emergency workers looked at Spencer and shook their heads.

“Oh no.” I gasped, bringing my hand up to my mouth, knowing Ryan Moore was dead.

 

Chapter Two

 

I sprang into action and headed straight over to Yvonne Moore. Though I didn’t know her, I knew this was not what was expected. Of course I’d heard them arguing, but who didn’t argue? We said things all the time that we really didn’t mean, and I was sure this was what’d happened between this couple.

Yvonne had refused medical treatment, and I sat with her, letting her talk to me. Mostly she just rambled. I was sure she was still in shock. Since owning the Bean Hive, I’d learned how to be a really great listener. People loved to talk over a nice big cup of joe. The liquid was better than truth serum.

“What am I going to do?” Yvonne’s eyes frantically searched my face like I had her answer.

“We are going to call someone for you. But first, we are going to go sit in Patrick’s truck. It’s too cold out here.” I guided her to the truck and tried to watch out for anything she could step on so it didn’t hurt her bare feet. “We can use my phone. Who would you like to call?” Once I got her in the passenger side of the truck, I held out my phone.

She pushed it away.

“I have no one.” She looked out the windshield, nervously picking at her fingernails. “My mom lives with us. But she’s elderly. She doesn’t drive, so she can’t come…”

“I’m so sorry.” I rubbed her back, hoping to give her at least a little comfort. I just couldn’t imagine if I didn’t have anyone, and that was what her case seemed to be. I remembered the small bag of clothes Patrick kept behind his seat for the times when he was working in the rain or snow. “Your feet must be freezing.”

I reached around the back of the seat and pulled the duffle bag over. I flipped on the interior light and unzipped the bag to take out the socks.

“Here, put these on,” I told her, and she took them from me.

“Thank you. I slipped off my heels in the truck after we got in and…” She shook her head. The tears continued to pour. “Ryan always made fun of me because I never wore anything but heels. I don’t even own a pair of tennis shoes, and here we are in a lake town with some hiking and outdoor things.”

I listened to her ramble. It must’ve felt good to get it out.

“I can’t stand gardening or any sort of outside work, so when I’m in the house, I like to go barefooted.” She smiled, but then her expression faded to a frown, and more tears fell down her cheeks. “Ryan said he loved that about me, how I always kept myself always pristine. He had no problem hiring landscapers.”

“Do you have any children?” I asked, hoping to figure out who I could call for her, though she said she had no one.

“No.” She shook her head. “Just my mom.”

We sat there in the dark, silent truck as we watched the workers take Ryan’s body and put it into the hearse.

Spencer walked over and knocked on my window.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry about your husband.” He was good at comforting people during times of loss. “I’m going to need to ask you a few questions if that’s okay.”

“Yes. Sure. Anything.” Yvonne nodded.

“Can you tell me if you’d been drinking?” Spencer asked.

“No. We had left the Watershed and were driving home.” She continued to shake her head and blink as though she were trying to remember something. “We had water, but while he was driving, I noticed he’d begun to slur his speech. He’d started shaking and gone over the line in the road when I asked him if he was okay. That’s when it went from bad to worse. The truck veered off the road, and the next thing I remember is being pulled out of the water by that man.” She pointed out the window at Patrick.

“Did your husband have any sort of medical condition?” Spencer was taking notes on his little notepad.

“No. He had his yearly physical back in October, and from what I recall, all the blood work came back normal and no other tests were scheduled.” Yvonne wiped off a dripping tear. I reached over and patted her.

“What about drug use? Did your husband use recreational drugs?” His questioning made Yvonne jerk up. He’d definitely offended her.

“Absolutely not, and I will not let you say anything like that,” she said immediately.

“I’m afraid there was a reason your husband drove off the road. If he was in good health, not drinking or doing any sort of recreational drugs, I’m going to have an autopsy done just so you’ll know exactly what caused his death.” Through Spencer’s sly sheriff ways, I could tell he was trying to get her to agree to an autopsy. In the state of Kentucky, the law didn’t ask for an autopsy unless they suspected foul play.

“Oh, okay.” Yvonne shrugged. “Sure.” She readily agreed.

If I was her lawyer, I’d tell her to take the night to think about the situation, but I wasn’t, so I kept my lips sealed.

Not that I was still a practicing lawyer. I wasn’t, but I did keep my credentials up and could practice if I wanted to. Still, although I never thought Yvonne did anything to her husband while they were in the car, I couldn’t stop mentally replaying her and Ryan fighting not only in the Watershed but also in the parking lot. If I remembered correctly, there were a few “over my dead body” comments, and now he was dead. That was a red flag to me. Coincidence? Maybe.

Then it dawned on me. I bet Patrick told Spencer about the Moores’ fight.

“Is there anyone we can call for you?” he asked, ending his questions because he was satisfied with her agreeing to the autopsy, which would answer any questions he might have.

“No one I can think of.” She shivered.

“Patrick and I can take her home,” I told Spencer. “She said her mother lives with her, so she won’t be alone tonight.”

“Is that all right, Mrs. Moore?” He looked through the truck at her.

“Yes. Of course.” She eagerly nodded then looked at me with a pinched smile and grateful gleam in her eye before the sadness drew back over her.

Yvonne and I sat in silence as we waited for Patrick to finish talking to Spencer and the tow-truck driver. They’d yet to pull the truck out, but I really did think they were waiting until we took Yvonne home. It was something she probably shouldn’t see.

“Mrs. Moore, I’m Patrick Cane. I guess you met my wife, Roxanne.” He was so good about introductions when I’d never even told her my name.

“Roxy. You can call me Roxy,” I told her, leaving out my usual, “my friends call me Roxy.” I think this situation already called for us to be friends.

“I normally would say it’s nice to meet you, but right now I really can’t wrap my head around what’s happened.” She continued to stare out the window from the passenger side. I sat in between her and Patrick.

“You don’t need to say anything.” I continued to pat her. It was the only thing I knew to do to comfort her. Not that petting her like I did Pepper was any comfort, but I was at a loss here.

“If there’s anything we can do for you, you just reach out to us.” Again, Patrick always seemed to know the right things to say.

“Thank you. I guess they will let me know when they will release him so I can make arrangements.” She started to sob all over again.

I just continued to pat her but glanced over at Patrick. The lights on the dashboard created enough light to see his eyes. They held sadness for Yvonne. We both felt it for her.

“I know where you live.” Patrick took the winding road past our cabin and headed deeper into the wooded part of Honey Springs, where one found big farms and farmland. He was heading toward the Hill Orchard.

“Thank you,” Yvonne whispered. She was trying to pull herself together. She shifted, sniffed, and tried to fix her hair, which had dried and left strands stuck to her face. “I just don’t know what happened. One minute we were…” She stopped herself from talking, but I bet she was going to say “fussing.” “It was like he just fell asleep. I bet it was a heart attack. Don’t those take you pretty fast?”

“I have no medical knowledge.” I wasn’t going to say one thing or another. Fast or not fast, something happened to her husband. “The autopsy will bring the closure you need.”

I wanted to say something about God’s timing or things happening for a reason, but I didn’t. I didn’t think those words would make her feel any better, and getting her home to her mom was probably the best thing.

When Patrick pulled into the asphalt driveway that I’d driven by so many times and came up to the gate, I was a bit excited. While passing by this gate and driveway, I’d often wondered who lived there or what was back there.

“Can I help you?” A woman’s voice came from the box on the post after Patrick pushed the button.

“Daryl, it’s Yvonne. Please let us in.” Before Yvonne got the entire sentence out, the gate started to open. “Please ignore the half Christmas lights. The company we hired won’t have everything completed until the end of the week. Ryan loved Christmas and all the fanfare.”

“Logsdon Landscaping?” I asked, though I already knew the answer because I’d seen their trucks pulling into the driveway when I’d driven past.

“Yes. I believe that’s them. You use them?” she asked. “Ryan loves them. They do all our landscaping too.”

“I don’t use them, but I own a little coffee shop on the boardwalk, and they’ve done all the Christmas decorations for the Beautification Committee this year,” I said and looked both ways going up the driveway.

I could see why Ryan had him do their landscaping. They had a lot of land. The massive red brick home was all lit up with spotlights, and the fountain in the circle drive didn’t show any signs of freezing in the cold temperature as the carven swans spewed water.

“The Bean Hive?” Yvonne turned slightly and asked.

“Yes. You’ve been there?” I questioned.

“I have. Mostly at night when Ryan and I finish having dinner out…” Her voice trailed off again as if she’d just remembered what happened.

The house’s door opened. Two women, one older and one younger, stood there.

Yvonne opened the door and got out. I slid over and followed her up to the door while Patrick stayed in the truck.

“Mom, Ryan…” Yvonne couldn’t even finish her words before she collapsed.

“Yvonne!” The younger woman knelt and tried to help Yvonne.

Without even having to look, I heard Patrick’s door slam and his footsteps racing up to help out.

“What is going on?” the old woman asked, tugging the shawl around her shoulders. Her hair was pulled up in a tight grey bun on the top of her head. “Who are you? Daryl, call the police.”

Daryl was too busy trying to wake Yvonne up to so much as think about calling the police.

“Ma’am, I’m Patrick Cane, and this is my wife Roxanne. We saw your daughter and her husband’s truck run off the road. Unfortunately, your son-in-law didn’t make it. I did pull them both out of the water.”

“Water? What do you mean didn’t make it?” The older woman sounded as though she were searching for answers.

“If I can get Mrs. Moore inside, we will explain it all.” He handed her a business card. “This is Sheriff Spencer Shepard’s information. He asked me to give this to you since Mrs. Moore is not in any shape at this time to really comprehend what has happened to her and Mr. Moore.”

“Get them in the house,” Yvonne’s mother said. Patrick picked up Yvonne, who regained consciousness, and Yvonne’s mother gestured for Daryl to appear.

I’d like to say I was looking around at the house since this was my one chance, but I was so focused on poor Yvonne that I didn’t even notice anything but the suede couch Patrick had laid her down on.

Daryl had come back with a tray of waters, giving Yvonne her own personal straw. We all sat down and watched Yvonne become increasingly aware. Patrick told her mom what had happened. He did leave out the part of us overhearing them argue, which was going to be our little secret.

Or so I thought.

 

Chapter Three

 

Patrick and I stayed only about another half hour at the Moores’ home. Yvonne had started recalling all the details, and we knew it was our time to leave. Both of us remained silent until we got home. I wasn’t sure what Patrick was thinking, but I was thinking, What if that was me? and feeling really sad for Yvonne.

We had very little time for our previous plans of making a fire, doing a little decorating, and snuggling with the dogs after we got home. Instead we snuggled with the dogs in our bed. Patrick had no problem, as usual, going to sleep. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but as soon as the covers were pulled up to his chin, he was out for the night, even after all the excitement we’d had.

I was a totally different story. So was Pepper. Pepper couldn’t get situated. I couldn’t get settled. Both of us just tossed and turned, taking a few sideways glances over at Sassy and Patrick, who were both out like lights.

“Okay,” was all I had to whisper before Pepper jumped off the bed and I followed closely behind him.

Our home was a neat little cabin that I’d purchased when I moved to Honey Springs. Long story short, Patrick had ended up buying my Aunt Maxi’s gorgeous home overlooking Lake Honey Springs. When we got married, one of the hardest decisions we had to make was where we were going to call home.

Of course, we both wanted to stay in our respective houses, and ultimately I won. The nice cozy feel of my cabin was perfect for the four of us. The cabin had a family-room-and-kitchen combo as you entered off the covered front porch, which, by the way, was across the street from the lake and had the most gorgeous view. Plus, the back side of the cabin was surrounded by the woods, making it very private. This time of the year, the leaves were already off the trees, and snow would arrive any day now, making the environment a beautiful winter wonderland.

The small kitchen was perfect for the cooking we did. So for this season of our life, the cabin was perfect. Plus, it was just a few minutes to get to the boardwalk.

There was no sense in waking up Patrick. He would know exactly where Pepper and I had gone when he woke up—the Bean Hive.

Since it was bitterly cold out and the morning sun had not even thought about waking up, I quickly got my things together, put Pepper’s coat on him, put my own coat on, and headed out the door.

“It’s gonna be a chilly one,” I told Pepper on our way out. I fumbled with the keys to unlock the car door. Pepper eagerly jumped in the front seat. “We will have to keep the fire going all day.”

Pepper wiggled around like he knew he was about to spend the day either on one of the coffee shop’s couches or on his dog bed. Both were located in front of the fireplace. He was spoiled.

I couldn’t help but slow way down when I passed the Moores’ crash site. The torn-up ground where the tow truck had pulled Ryan Moore’s truck out of the lake was still fresh.

Goosebumps crawled along my arm just thinking about what had taken place a few short hours ago. I gripped the wheel and made sure I took the curves super slow. Black ice was exactly that—ice on the road that was hard to detect because of the black asphalt. When your tires came into contact with black ice, you barely knew what hit you. I still couldn’t help but wonder if the Moores had continued to argue in the truck and Ryan hadn’t been paying full attention to the road when they slid. But I also remembered Yvonne saying Ryan had started to shake. Was it from anger? Then again, she was in shock, so I wasn’t sure she knew what she was even talking about.

I pulled my car into the closest parking spot near the boat dock. Not many people would be here to take their boats out today in this frigid weather. As soon as I turned the car off, Pepper was already in my lap and waiting for me to open the door. He bolted out of the car, not waiting for me, as he did every day. Then he darted up the ramp of the boardwalk, where I’d meet him at the front door of the Bean Hive.

The boardwalk was safe, and I was already armed with pepper spray. Patrick had given it to me after I was subjected to an arson a year ago at my cabin. Someone had lit my Christmas tree on fire. But I tried to put those past situations in the back of my mind because I was moving forward and not living in the past.

Briefly, I stopped and looked at the display window of the first shop on the boardwalk. The store was Wild and Whimsy, the local antique shop owned by Beverly and Dan Teagarden. My eyes feasted on the Christmas display in the window. It was an antique table set for the holiday feast with festive wear and adorable mini light-up Christmas trees lined up in a row, along with wreaths tied on the back of each chair.

“I shouldn’t’ve stopped,” I said to myself and filled my head with ideas for the Christmas dinner I was hosting for family and friends at the Bean Hive.

The next shop was the Honey-Comb Salon, which reminded me I was in desperate need of a holiday trim. The Buzz In-and-Out Diner was next, and the small light on in the back of the diner told me they were getting ready to open in about an hour, so I hustled on down the boardwalk because I, too, had early customers and the coffee had to be turned on.

“Hey, buddy,” I greeted Pepper at the door of the coffee shop. He jumped up, resting his front paws on the door like he was helping me with the key and turning the knob.

I ran my hand along the inside of the wall beside the door and flipped the light on while releasing a long sigh. It was my happy place, and coffee was my love language.

I peeled off my coat and hung it on the coat rack in the back of the shop where the counter was located. Then I picked up and donned my Bean Hive apron. I moved down the counter and flipped all the coffee and tea pots on to let them brew while I walked to the fireplace. Along the way I stopped at each table to make sure the afternoon high-school staff had fully stocked the condiments there. Your basics: sugars, creamer packets, honey, and various other things. I liked to use those little antique cow cream pourers with real cream from the Hill’s dairy farm for each table, but I made sure it was fresh every morning.

With a little bit of kindling and some newspaper, I lit the fire on the first try. On my way back to the counter, I checked the self-serve coffee and tea bars to ensure they were ready to go for those customers who didn’t want to wait in line and instead used the honor system by putting their payment in the jar. One aspect of my lawyer days had helped me open the shop—I believed in the honesty and innocence of people until proven guilty. No one seemed to cheat the honor system.

The coffee shop was perfect, and I was beyond thrilled with the exposed brick walls, wooden ceiling beams, and shiplap wall. I’d created the last myself out of plywood painted white to make it look like real shiplap.

Instead of investing in a fancy menu or even menu boards that attached to the wall, I’d bought four large chalkboards that hung down from the ceiling over the L-shaped glass countertop.

The first chalkboard menu hung over the pie counter and listed the pies and cookies with their prices. The second menu hung over the tortes and quiches. The third menu that appeared before the L-shaped counter listed the breakfast casseroles and drinks. Above the other counter, the chalkboard listed lunch options, including soups, and catering information.

Pepper sat next to his bowl, waiting eagerly for his morning scoop of kibble. After I filled his bowl, I pushed through the swinging door to the kitchen area of the coffee shop, where I liked to prepare weekly lunch items and bakery goods, even though there was now a bakery a couple of shops down where the tattoo parlor used to be.

With the oven turned on to preheat, I walked over to the freezer, where I pulled out the already prepared usual fare, like the various quiches, donuts, muffins and cookies. Today called for a comfort day since the death of Ryan Moore made me feel a little off.

“I’ll make the burnt sugar cake.” I smacked my hands together.

The burnt sugar cake was a long-time family recipe that included a lot of sugar, flour, butter, and cream, all the things that screamed comfort in a delicious piece of cake. I got out a few cake pans, since I would be making plenty for the entire week, and sat them down on the preparation station in the middle of the kitchen. I proceeded to the dry ingredient shelf first and then retrieved the wet ingredients from the refrigerator.

By the time I got all those items, the ovens had reached the desired temperature and I was able to get some of the frozen items in the oven to start baking.

“Good morning,” I heard Bunny Bowoski call out from the coffee shop.

“I see you, Pepper,” Mae Belle Donovan echoed.

Their interactions put a smile on my face. I loved how Mae Belle was such a best friend to Bunny. She was also in her eighties but wasn’t employed by me. Still, Mae Belle came to the coffee shop with Bunny in the early hours when Bunny was the one to open, which was today.

Even though I wasn’t due to come in until a little bit later, when I couldn’t sleep, I usually got up and came on in.

Bunny was probably closer to eighty than not, but she was a regular with nothing to do. She made herself at home and ended up helping people while she was here. She was a great baker and loved to gossip, two things this coffee shop thrived on, so I hired her.

“What’s wrong?” Bunny pushed through the swinging door with her heavy coat still on, her brown pocketbook in the crook of her elbow, and a hat parked on top of her grey chin-length hair. Mae Belle followed her.

They were always dressed similarly. Always had on some sort of coat and hat, but not just any hat. Today’s choice was one of those little discs with netting around it. Something Bunny would’ve worn to woo men back in the day… after all, they were older.

“What do you mean, what’s wrong?” I asked and sifted all the dry ingredients together.

“All my morning chores are done, and the coffee is already brewed. Plus, you weren’t supposed to get here until eight. It’s five-thirty.” She looked past my shoulder and at the clock on the wall. “I’m opening.”

Mae Belle gave me a quick hug before she waddled over to the small coffee pot we kept in the kitchen.

“There was bit of an emergency last night, and I couldn’t sleep from thinking about it.” Not that I was giving up some big secret. I was sure it’d be all over the news.

“Emergency?” She looked shocked.

“I heard something over the scanner last night about that wreck, but they were very vague.” Mae Bell carefully sipped the hot coffee.

As I beat in the eggs, butter, and vanilla, I recapped to them what happened.

“Oh dear.” Bunny’s brows drew together, and she took her own cup of coffee and sat on one of the stools butted up to the counter next to Mae Belle. “I’ve been getting my meat from them for years. It’s a shame he and Jo Beth haven’t had a relationship since he married Yvonne.”

“Jo Beth didn’t care for none of his wives.” Mae Belle’s face squished like she smelled a skunk.

“Jo Beth?” I questioned.

“His daughter.” Bunny took the bobby pins out of her hair and the hat off her head. “That’s right, you didn’t live here back then. Jo Beth was so mad when Yvonne came around. Said she was a gold digger.” Mae Bell nodded. “But she still came around until Yvonne moved the mother in. From what I hear, that lady is my age and in real bad health.”

“Bad health?” I questioned because I didn’t think Yvonne’s mom looked sickly, just a little slower than Bunny. They might have been the same age, if I recalled correctly.

“That’s a shame.” Bunny pushed off the counter and stood. “I sure hate to see anyone go to the grave and have disagreements left behind.”

“He has a daughter?” I clearly remembered asking Yvonne if there were any children to call. She said no—just her.

“Jo Beth Moore.” Bunny waddled back through the swinging door. “Ain’t you listening? Come on Mae Belle.”

I hurried and got the ingredients into a few of the pans. Then I stuck those in the oven so I could question Bunny and Mae Belle some more.

“I figured you’d be out here.” Bunny had already gotten herself, Mae Belle, and me another cup of coffee. I followed them to the couches and sat down to warm up by the fire.

“I asked Yvonne if I could call someone. She said they had no one, and when I asked about kids, she said they didn’t have any.” I brought the cup of up my lips and took a nice drink.

Everything was better with coffee. Conversation. Friends. Food. And now figuring out the truth out about Yvonne.

“You know…” I hesitated to tell them but figured what the hell. “Patrick and I actually saw them at the Watershed having dinner next to us. They were in a big fight. There were some not-so-nice things said.”

I took a drink.

“Do tell.” Bunny leaned in closer to me and drank some of her own coffee. Mae Belle nodded encouragement for me to continue.

“He mentioned something about how she knew this when they got married, and she said how she didn’t like it, then he said something about over his dead body.” I looked up over the rim at Bunny when I took another sip. “I completely forgot she mentioned something about not putting up with his behavior.”

“You don’t think…” Bunny hesitated this time, like she wanted me to finish her sentence.

“Somehow she made him crash? Or he drove into the lake on purpose?” I asked.

“Nah,” we said at the same time and shook our heads right before the bell of the door dinged.

“Sheriff,” Bunny looked over her shoulder. “You’re not Looooowretta Bebe.”

Bunny was referring to one of our most regular and early-bird clients, Loretta Bebe… “Low-retta,” as Loretta would say in her big southern drawl.

“Let me grab you a coffee.” Bunny got off the couch and headed over to the counter. “We was just talking about the big goings-on last night.”

“That’s why I’m here.” Spencer threw a look at me. “Can I talk to you in private?”

Mae Belle’s eyes shifted between Spencer and me.

As if on cue, the timers on the stove went off, signaling the first batch of frozen items was ready to be taken out of the oven, plated, and put into the glass displays for the customers.

“Here’s your coffee.” Bunny lifted the cup in the air and set it on the counter next to the cash register. “I’m going to get those out so you two can talk.”

Spencer was all sorts of serious. I’d never seen him wait until someone left the room before he questioned me on anything.

“This seems very official.” I got up from the couch and walked over to the coffee bar, where Spencer was doctoring up his coffee.

“I’m afraid the preliminary autopsy report on Ryan Moore came back.” He slowly stirred the full creamer into his coffee.

“Oh, good. I bet Yvonne will be so happy to be able to make plans for the funeral.” I tried to relieve the tension a little, but he was definitely tense.

“I’m afraid that won’t be happening anytime soon.” He slid his glance over to me. “I’m afraid the toxicology report came back with hemlock in his system.”

“Hemlock?” My eyes narrowed. “Isn’t it a bit cold and snowy for hemlock to grow?” I asked and looked out at the window as the snow, which was predicted, started to fall.

“That’s what is so unusual and why I need to investigate a little more.” Spencer took a sip of the hot coffee. “I’m afraid this was a homicide.”

“Last night after I cleared the scene and got back to the department, I got a disturbing phone call from Jo Beth Moore.” Spencer was giving me details that made me pause.

“His daughter?” I asked, trying to clarify what Bunny and Mae Belle had told me.

“Yes. One of the emergency responders is a close friend of hers, and they told her about her dad. I talked to her for a few minutes, and she told me how Yvonne and her dad had been fighting. She asked me to bring Yvonne in for questioning.” He let out a long sigh, like he was gearing himself up to tell me something big. “I didn’t think two things about it until I got the hemlock report.”

“Wow.” I blinked a few times. Suddenly my mind felt foggy. “I’m still trying to process the fact he was murdered.”

 

 

“Who was murdered?” My aunt Maxi Bloom had used her landlord key to let herself in. She flipped the sign. “You’re gonna be killed by the regulars if you don’t get this place opened.”

A few customers had apparently been waiting outside. I’d not realized it was already six a.m.

“Hold on,” I told Spencer and hurried over to the swinging door. When I noticed the shoe shadow coming from underneath the door, I knew Bunny and Mae Belle had been listening to every word Spencer and I had said. “You can stop listening and fill the display counters,” I told her through the door. “We’ve got customers.”

Spencer took a seat at one of the tables while I ran up to a few people and some of the others took advantage of the self-serve bars, which was exactly what they were meant for.

“What is going on? What are those two hens listening in on?” Aunt Maxi glared at Bunny and Mae Belle. The three of them were the worst and best of friends. I just had to take them with a grain of salt.

“We was just talking about you frequenting the Moose.” Mae Bell Donovan had a glint in her eye like she wanted to know what darn business Aunt Maxi had up her sleeve.

“What? Y’all the Moose police?” Aunt Maxi looked Bunny and Mae Bell up and down with an appraising eye. “Or are y’all trying to be my mother?”

“That’s enough, ladies.” I let out a dramatic sigh and gave Aunt Maxi the stink eye.

Aunt Maxi pulled off her sock cap and pushed the tips in her hair, making it stand to high heaven. Her hair was bright red, in contrast to the blonde color she was sporting a week ago. I’d like to think the cold weather had given her the rosy checks, but it hadn’t. She’d put on a little too much makeup for my taste. She took her hobo bag off from across her body and dug deep in it before she pulled out a can of aerosol hairspray. “What’s he talking ’bout? What murder?”

“Last night…” I told her about the accident, leaving out the part about the big fight Patrick and I’d seen the Moores have. “Now, Spencer said he was murdered.”

“I bet it was that Jo Beth.” Aunt Maxi shook the hairspray.

“You can’t spray that in there.” I’d told her a million times.

“My place. I can do what I want,” she grumbled and pushed the button, letting the heavy hairspray keep her now-bright-red head of hair in place.

“If the health department came in here, you’d get me shut down,” I warned her.

“I don’t see no one.” She looked around to prove the point and kept spraying.

I let out a long sigh.

“I told her the same thing,” Bunny whispered on her way past us with some quiche hot out of the oven.

“Of course you did,” Aunt Maxi said to Bunny in a sarcastic tone.

“I did, Maxine Bloom.” Bunny nudged Mae Bell on her way past. “Didn’t I?”

“Mae Belle is your best friend. Of course she’s gonna take up for whatever it is your saying.” Aunt Maxi rolled her eyes.

“Ahem.” Spencer cleared his throat and motioned me over.

“Here.” I untied my apron and gave it to Aunt Maxi to put it on. “Wash your hands too.”

She shrugged and went about waiting on customers, but not without giving them her two cents on what they were ordering. Aunt Maxi was her own woman, and she was proud of it.

“Why are you here to see me?” I asked Spencer the question I wanted to know most since he’d delivered the bombshell.

“Patrick had mentioned how the two of you overheard a fight between the Moores that was in the Watershed and carried over to the parking lot. Then you saw Ryan Moore swerve a few times before he careened off the road and into the lake. I wanted to get your account of it.” He took out the small notepad from the inside pocket of his brown sheriff’s jacket and set it down on the table in front of him.

“Roxanne!” Aunt Maxi called my name. When I looked up, she waved me over. “Hurry up!”

“Can she wait until you answer my question?” He shook his head, apparently somewhat fed up with the chaos going on in the coffee shop.

“You’ve come at a bad time. Is there any way I can come to the station?” I asked. “When it’s not so busy?”

I was sure by the crowd already gathering at the coffee shop that word of Ryan’s murder had gotten around. Every time a crime was committed in Honey Springs, the town folk loved to gather over coffee and gossip about it. And in the few mumblings I overheard, I’d heard Ryan’s name mentioned.

“Fine. But I’m very serious, Roxy. I need your exact account of what happened or what you heard.” He put his notepad back in his pocket and grabbed his coffee cup before he stood up.

“Promise. Today.” I crisscrossed my heart with my finger and headed over to see what Aunt Maxi wanted.

“Hey, do you mind running over to All About the Details and making sure Babette remembers Christmas Day supper?” I wouldn’t have time to remind everyone we’d invited, and Aunt Maxi loved making her rounds to all the shops on the boardwalk, so giving her this job to do was perfect.

“Roxy,” a woman gushed from underneath a heavy scarf around her head and large sunglasses, taking my attention away from Aunt Maxi. “I’m so thankful for you.”

“Oh. That’s exactly why I opened the Bean Hive.” I smiled at the woman, figuring she was complimenting me on the coffee shop. “I love coffee so much, and I wanted others to feel the same way.”

“No.” Aunt Maxi smacked my arm. “This is Yvonne Moore under that get-up.”

Yvonne took her glasses off her face, and I recognized the eyes but not the dried version of herself.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t recognize you without wet clothes and it being dark, since it was nighttime.” My brows made a V shape. “How are you this morning?”

“Well, it’s why I’m here. Can we talk?” she asked, putting her glasses back on her face.

“Of course you two can—in the back.” Aunt Maxi took the liberty of answering for me. “Bunny, you and Mae Belle stay out of the kitchen.” She wagged a finger at them.

“Sure.” I nodded. “Let’s go back where we can talk.” I motioned for Yvonne to follow me. “How can I help you?” I asked once we were away from the prying ears of the elderly gossip queens.

“It appears my husband was poisoned.” She pulled the scarf off her head and the glasses off her face, exposing a beautiful complexion and not one wrinkle. Her hair was much blonder than I’d remembered and styled straight, free of bangs and parted down the middle. She definitely didn’t look like the woman from last night.

“I heard it was hemlock poisoning.” I didn’t wait for her to tell me.

“Is that what the sheriff told you?” she asked. “I couldn’t help but see he was here when I came in to see you.”

“I’m sorry.” I glanced over at the timer just as it went off and walked over to get the items out to place them on the cooling racks. I listened to her while I did my chores.

“I’m afraid the sheriff came over early this morning, and he mentioned how the couple who had found us overheard me and Ryan fussing all night.”

“Yes. I didn’t mention it last night because it didn’t seem relevant.” Then I looked over at her, and my jaw dropped.

“Yes. I can see by the look on your face that you must know the sheriff thinks I killed Ryan.” She tugged off her gloves. “Ridiculous.” She placed them on the workstation along with the scarf and sunglasses.

“I’m sorry.” It was all I could say. Then I offered her a piece of the burnt sugar cake, hot out of the oven. “There’s no need to thank me.”

It wasn’t very clear why she was here.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to get these out there and help out.” I tried to make my own getaway, but she put her hand out to stop me. “The morning rush can be brutal.”

“I heard you were a lawyer, and I want to hire you. It appears as though they want me to come in for formal questioning, and I need someone on my side. You were so helpful last night…” Her voice cracked. Tears gathered in her eyes. “I just don’t have anyone to turn to. The company lawyers are his family’s lawyers, and well…” She hesitated. “They don’t care for me too much. Said I was a gold digger just because I’m fifteen years younger than Ryan.”

“I… I’d love to.” I had no idea why I agreed. The words just came right out of my mouth.

“Thank you!” She gasped and clapped her hands over her mouth, and then she threw them around my neck. “You were a lifesaver last night and now.”

 

end of excerpt

Holiday Roast Mortem

is available in the following formats:

Nov 26, 2019

ISBN-13: 978-1708403492

Digital:

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