High noon on July Fourth in the quiet town of Longley, New York, and it’s got to be a hundred degrees. Thankfully, sisters Bernie and Libby are setting up their yummy catering in a shady gazebo for the reenactment of The Battle of Meadow Creek—and not baking in those Revolutionary War uniforms with their fellow townspeople.
After a few cheery exchanges of “Moveth” and “Thou speakest treason,” the muskets are fired and the fake battle is over. But the blood on the notorious town playboy looks very real. Is it possible he’s had his last tryst?
When town councilman and resident loudmouth Rick Evans accuses Libby’s beau, Marvin, Bernie and Libby know they’ve got to get cooking on the case. But the former Casanova has burned half the town—including the hotheaded politician and his occasionally faithful wife. And what about the re-enactor who’s training as an EMT yet almost fainted at the sight of the deceased’s blood?
Bernie and Libby have their plates overloaded with suspects, and will need to work fast to clear Marvin’s name. The simmering killer is still out there, armed and taking shots, and unless the sisters quickly get to the bottom of this patriotic pre-meditation, their goose may be cooked…
Includes original recipes for you to try!
“Scorned women, jealous husbands, Wiccans, and Hilda the pet pig add to the cozy fun.”—Publishers Weekly
Release date: July 30, 2014
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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A Catered Fourth of July
If she had had wanted to live in Dallas she would have moved there instead of living in Westchester. Never mind that she was wearing the coolest dress she owned—a pink voile sundress with spaghetti straps she’d gotten on sale at Barney’s—that she was downing bottles of water as if she was in the Sahara, or that all she had to do was set up the picnic she and her sister were catering in the gazebo.
Even with all that, she was still sweating like a pig, though that expression was a misnomer. “Pigs don’t sweat,” she reminded herself as she looked at Hilda. That was the reason they were susceptible to heat stroke. Maybe it was good to sweat. In fact, she knew it was good to sweat. It was her body’s way of cooling itself off. So what if it was? Why couldn’t her body find a better way to cool itself down? Seriously. Her hair frizzed up. Her makeup ran. She looked like a mess. Of course, in Victorian times women never sweated. They glowed. Well, she was sure glowing.
It could be worse, Bernie told herself as she fixed her ponytail.
She and Libby could be slaving over a hot grill.
But then, it was axiomatic that things could always be worse.
All she could do was thank God she and her sister had settled on a room temperature buffet instead of the usual hamburger and hot dog Fourth of July bacchanal. Bernie told herself to think positively. It didn’t help. Every time she moved, she felt rivulets of sweat running down her back.
At least she hadn’t put on any mascara. Thank God for that. Waterproof or not, it would be streaking down her cheeks, which was not the kind of look you wanted in the person who was serving your food. All she wanted to do was get back to her air-conditioned flat and take a nice, long, cold shower, but that wasn’t going to happen; at least not until four o’clock, it wasn’t. Thanks to her big sister and her promises, she and Libby were stuck there until the reenactment was over.
Ah, the reenactment. What was it her mother used to say? Something along the lines of “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Bernie looked at the banner proclaiming REENACTMENT OF THE BATTLE OF MEADOW CREEK tied between two oak trees and sighed. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so hot. Or if there was a breeze. Or if they were getting paid. Especially that. But they weren’t and there wasn’t. Not even a breath of air. Bernie felt as if she was in a sauna and she hated saunas. She just hoped that Hilda didn’t die of heat stroke.
“It’s okay, Hilda,” Bernie reassured her, patting the pig’s head. Her bristles tickled Bernie’s palm.
Hilda didn’t lift her snout.
Bernie figured it took too much effort. One thing was for sure, she definitely knew how Hilda felt.
“At least we’re not out there.” Bernie gestured toward the meadow where eight unfortunate residents of Longely were getting ready to recreate the Revolutionary War Battle of Meadow Creek.
Actually, the incident, as Rick Evans had taken to calling it, had taken place in a bar called The Pitcher, and it hadn’t really been a battle. It was more like a drunken brawl. A brawl that had involved five British soldiers, fifteen Longely townsmen, a large, cranky pig—hence Hilda, who was really a mini potbellied pig, but nothing is ever perfect—and several growlers of beer, the ownership of which had come under dispute.
Bernie wasn’t sure about the pig’s role in the proceedings and she strongly suspected that Rick Evans wasn’t clear about it, either.
She also strongly suspected that the newly elected Longely councilman and the person responsible for the event, didn’t really care. Like most politicians he never let facts hinder him . . . especially if they stood in the way of what he wanted to accomplish. He was a say-it-and-they-will-believe-it kind of guy. He was on record as saying that Longely needed to stop being a sleepy bedroom community and become a tourist destination on the Hudson River trail.
Why anyone would want to put Longely on the tourist map was lost on Bernie. She liked the town just the way it was, thank-you-very-much. Even though it would be good for her business, she didn’t want to see the quaintness factor upped. The thought of bunches of day-trippers traipsing through the town, taking up her customers’ parking spaces didn’t exactly thrill her. She turned her gaze on a group of nine women standing near the rose garden.
The Deitrich Rose Garden was up on a hill enclosed by old weeping willows, making it a little difficult to see what was going on. Not that anything much ever was. Usually it was just the odd wedding or members of the rose society watering and weeding. Bernie blinked a bead of sweat out of her right eye and took a closer look.
Was that Juno Grisham, Whitney Peters, and Holly Roget up there? Were those wings they were wearing? Wings with glitter? Not that the glitter really mattered. After all, if you were going to wear wings, what was a little glitter?
Bernie squinted. It certainly looked that way. Or maybe the heat was making her hallucinate. Wasn’t that the first sign of heat stroke? Then she remembered she’d seen a notice tacked to the library bulletin board inviting Wiccans from the three towns to gather at the Deitrich Rose Garden at eleven o’clock on July fourth to invoke a blessing and help with a manifestation, whatever that was.
So Holly, Juno, and Whitney were New Age witches. Who woulda thunk? Bernie laughed at the thought. Longely was not a hippie-dippy, New-Agey kind of place. If anything, it erred on the conservative side of the ledger.
Maybe not anymore. It would seem that things were just getting weirder and weirder in Longely. In a quiet, well-bred kind of way, of course. Pigs. Reenactments. Wicca. Her dad blamed the Internet, but she blamed the heat. Heat did strange things to people. She took some ice out of the ice chest the container of deviled eggs was sitting in and put the cubes on the floor for Hilda to eat. She didn’t know if pigs were supposed to eat ice or not, but she figured it couldn’t hurt on a day like this.
“At least there’s some shade in the gazebo,” Bernie told Hilda.
Hilda snuffled and oinked and chewed on the cubes. They seemed to be perking her up. Bernie was just about to offer her an apple when Rick Evans came running up. His face was bright red, which went nicely with the redcoat uniform he was wearing. Beads of sweat ran down his chin.
“Have you seen Marvin?” Rick sounded out of breath. “I’ve been looking all over for him.”
Marvin was Libby’s boyfriend and the reason they’d gotten involved in the little drama in the first place. Well, one of the reasons. As a small business owner, Bernie had found over the years that it was wise to be on good terms with the powers that be. Unfortunately Rick Evans was one of those.
“I think he’s over by the tennis courts.”
Rick frowned. “Doing what?”
Bernie explained. “Libby is helping him into his costume. The coat is a little snug.” A little being a massive understatement.
“He should have taken care of that before.” Rick tapped his watch with a well-manicured fingernail. “We’re supposed to start at twelve. It’s five after. Everyone is waiting for him. No one knows what’s going on. I should never have put him in charge.”
Bernie was inclined to agree. Managing group activities was not Marvin’s strong point. On the other hand, the surrounding hillside wasn’t exactly dotted with people waiting with breathless anticipation for the reenactment to begin. There was a handful at most, which was unusual. Normally, the park was crowded with couples and families and dog walkers. Aside from the Wiccans and the people there for the reenactment, it was empty. She figured it must be the heat that was keeping everyone away.
Even her father had begged off, preferring the air-conditioned comfort of their flat above their store, A Little Taste of Heaven. She and Bernie had made enough food for seventy-five people. So far, she’d counted twenty spectators. With the reenactors, that brought the total up to twenty-eight. Thirty-seven if one counted the Wiccans. Hopefully more people would show up. If they didn’t, there sure were going to be lots of leftovers. Chicken salad was definitely going to be featured on tomorrow’s menu.
“Maybe you should give people more time to get here,” she suggested to Rick.
“Twelve o’clock is twelve o’clock,” Rick grumped. “You’d think people would have more town spirit.”
“Well, it is almost one hundred degrees,” Bernie pointed out.
Rick didn’t answer. He was too busy looking at the fairy circle up on the hill.
“Oh my God,” he cried, pointing. “Are those who I think they are?”
Bernie fanned herself with her hand. “Yup. They sure are.”
“What in heaven’s name are they doing?”
“Some kind of Wiccan ritual.”
Rick wrinkled his nose. “Wiccan?”
“As in white witches.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nope. I think they’ve been watching too much HBO.” Bernie smiled. “Hey, I have an idea. If this doesn’t work out, maybe next year we can stage the Salem Witch trials.”
Rick glared at her. “Very funny. There was never anything like that here.”
“Well strictly speaking, there was never a Revolutionary War battle in this park, either,” Bernie said sweetly. “Let’s face it. Witches are sexier. Maybe we’ll get a bigger turnout.”
Rick’s face got redder, if that was possible. He pointed to Hilda who had half hidden herself behind the coolers holding the food. “What’s she doing here?” he demanded, abruptly changing the subject and going on the offensive.
Bernie thought he looked like a plum tomato on the point of bursting. “Sitting in the coolest spot she can find, I would imagine.”
“She shouldn’t be here,” Rick protested. “It’s a health hazard.”
“You’ve heard of a pig in a poke? This is a pig in a gazebo.”
Rick folded his arms across his chest. His double chin wobbled. “She shouldn’t be here,” he repeated. “The Health Department would not approve.”
Bernie spotted two half-moons of perspiration under his arms. “The food isn’t out yet. Anyway, they won’t know unless someone tells them.”
Rick’s voice rose. “And what if someone does?”
“I’ll deny the whole thing.”
Rick pointed to himself. “What if they come to me and ask? As an elected official, what am I supposed to do?”
“That’s easy. Do what elected officials always do. Lie.”
Rick clenched his fists. His eyes looked as if they were going to pop.
Bernie decided he actually resembled one of those fancy goldfish. “You do realize that Hilda could die if she’s out in the sun for any length of time.” She pointed to the meadow. “Not to mention get a sunburn.”
“Pigs don’t get sunburned.”
“Do you know that for sure?” she demanded. When Rick didn’t answer, she said, “Just as I thought.”
“And you know this how?”
“Because I read it in a magazine,” she lied.
“Which one?” Rick challenged
“Farmer’s Way. It was in the doctor’s office,” she added by way of explanation before he could ask. “Somehow I don’t think you’d like to be known as The Man Who Caused The Pig To Get Sunburned.”
Rick opened his mouth. Nothing came out. For a few seconds, he was rendered speechless. He finally growled, “Have it your way.”
“Thanks. I usually do.” Except for today.
Things weren’t going her way at all. First, she hadn’t been able to peel the hard-boiled eggs for the deviled eggs she and Libby were making because the eggs were too fresh. Then the watermelon for the feta and watermelon salad had been mushy and tasteless, so they’d run out to get another one. And last, Libby had burned the bottoms of half the batch of fried chicken she’d been making, forcing her to do it all over again. They couldn’t find one of the coolers they’d needed to pack the food in, and as if that wasn’t enough, Bernie was stuck in the park for the rest of the afternoon when she should be back at the shop making pies.
“If I see Marvin, I’ll tell him you’ve been asking after him,” Bernie told Rick.
“You do that,” he said stiffly. Then he turned around and marched off.
As Bernie watched him go, she decided that like skinny jeans, breeches did not do men any favors, especially men who were fifty pounds overweight. Of course, they weren’t so great on women, either.
As soon as Rick left, Hilda came out from behind the coolers and poked Bernie’s leg with her snout. She gave Hilda the apple she’d been holding and started opening the cartons she and Libby had packed their supplies in.
Bernie had just finished opening up all the cartons when Libby trudged up the steps. She decided her sister looked like a limp dishrag, to use one of her mother’s expressions.
The outfit Libby was wearing didn’t help matters. Bernie loved her sister but the truth of the matter was that Libby was sartorially challenged. Bernie had offered to lend her one of her light, silk sundresses, but Libby had insisted on wearing her kelly green polo shirt and green plaid Bermuda shorts. Those were both hot and made her look like a marcher in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. But try telling that to her older sister. Actually, Bernie had tried telling her several times, and her sister had told her to mind her own business. Bernie was just thinking that as a color, kelly green had absolutely nothing to recommend it when her sister started speaking.
“The jacket is so tight, Marvin can’t even lift his arms up.” Libby grabbed a bottle of water and began chugging it down.
“Must make it hard to aim a musket,” Bernie observed.
“Poor guy. He’s just miserable.”
“So am I,” Bernie said, not wanting to be left out of the pity party. After all, fair was fair.
“Yeah, but Marvin is going to be out there marching around in the heat shooting people. At least, we’re in here where it’s marginally cooler.”
“Marginally being the operative word,” Bernie told her as a bugle sounded.
“It looks as if we’re about to begin soon,” Libby observed.
Bernie put her hand to her breast. “Be still my heart.”
“There’s no need to be sarcastic.”
“I’m not,” Bernie protested. “I’m genuinely thrilled. The sooner we start, the sooner we can go home.”
Libby was just about to reply when Jack Devlin, Longely’s modern day answer to Casanova, came bounding up the steps into the gazebo.
“Ladies”—he bowed low at the waist—“always a pleasure.” He grabbed Hilda and tucked her under his arm. “Come my little chickadee,” he cooed in Hilda’s ear, “it is time for your performance.”
Hilda oinked and stopped squirming.
“We are old friends,” Devlin explained.
Bernie swore Hilda was batting her eyelashes at him.
“Don’t worry,” he told Bernie and Libby as he scratched Hilda’s back. “I will bring her back unharmed. I treat all my ladies well.” He winked in case they didn’t get it.
“So I heard,” Bernie replied.
He grinned. “I’ll be happy to demonstrate anytime. Anytime, anyplace,” he said over his shoulder as he went back down the stairs. “That offer goes for both of you. You name the site and I’ll be there. Reliable Jack, that’s me.”
“Not bad,” Bernie mused as she looked at Jack Devlin’s retreating behind.
Libby sniffed. “If you like that kind of person.”
Bernie rolled her eyes. “And what kind of person is that?”
“A sex addict. He’s only interested in one thing.”
“That’s what I like about him. But for the record, I was talking about his ass, which you have to admit is pretty nice.”
“Brandon wouldn’t like to hear you say that.”
“He looks. I can too.” Bernie clasped her hands over her head and stretched. “I mean, it’s not as if I’m going to sleep with the guy.”
Libby smiled. “God knows everyone else has.”
Bernie brought her arms down and stretched out her calves. “Not everyone, just half the female population of Longely, including Juno.”
“Why do you say that?” Libby asked.
“Devlin’s comment about he and Hilda being old friends.”
“So Juno owns Hilda.”
“She does?” Libby asked.
“Yup. All I’m saying is connect the dots.”
Libby shook her head. “I just don’t get Devlin’s appeal. I mean he’s good-looking, but not movie star good-looking.”
“It’s easy,” Bernie replied. “He likes women and he’s available. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Fat. Thin. Married. Single. You can’t say he isn’t democratic.”
Libby rubbed her bottle of water over her face to cool herself off then took another drink. “I’m surprised some enraged boyfriend or husband hasn’t shot him yet.”
“That’s so nineteen hundreds. Anyway, if we were talking about that kind of stuff, my money would be on a discarded lover, the female being the deadlier of the species when it comes to matters of the heart, in addition to having a longer memory.” Bernie paused for a moment. “At least in my experience.”
“True.” Libby harked back to the homicide cases she and her sister had been involved in, not to mention her lingering homicidal thoughts concerning her old boyfriend, Orion.
Bernie laughed. “Good thing for Jack, he’s pretty nimble. Not to mention energetic.”
“He has to be. Otherwise he’d have died of exhaustion a long time ago.” Libby pointed to the meadow where Longely’s citizen reenactors were beginning to congregate. “They’re starting.”
Bernie brushed a strand of hair out of her face and repositioned her bobby pin. “I guess we’d better finish setting up. The ravening hordes will be here soon.”
Libby scanned the area. “Certainly not a horde. Hardly even a group. And it’s definitely too hot to raven anything. We should have served a shrub like I wanted to.”
“Libby, no one knows what a shrub is.”
“We could have written a sign and explained.”
“That it’s a drink made with vinegar?”
“As well as blueberries and sugar, and that the colonists used to drink it back in the day in the summer, and that it’s supposed to be not only cooling but healthful.”
“I don’t think anyone would have touched it,” Bernie said.
“Well, we won’t know now, will we?”
“It certainly would have been a conversation piece,” Bernie said, rethinking her stand.
“Exactly.” Libby swatted away a mosquito. “Maybe we can do it next year.”
“Hopefully there won’t be a next year. Or at least if there is, we’ll get paid.”
Libby thought of their balance sheet. “I certainly wouldn’t say no if the council offered.” She paused for a moment then said, “Remind me. Why did we make so much food?”
Bernie answered promptly. “Easy. We were going on the head count Rick Evans gave us.”
Libby surveyed the group of spectators one more time. “I would say he was a little optimistic.”
“Just a tad. Not that I blame anyone for not coming. I mean, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to. It’s too hot. Would you?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Libby promptly replied.
“I mean if Marvin wasn’t in it.”
“Then no. Absolutely not.”
“My point exactly.” Bernie stifled a yawn. “I’m not sure that I would be here even if Brandon was.”
“Harsh,” Libby commented.
“No. Tough love. Although, it might be worth it to see him in breeches.”
Both sisters stopped talking as they contemplated the spectacle that was taking place on the hill. Nine adult wing-wearing women were dancing around in a circle, twirling as they went.
“I don’t think I could do that,” Libby observed.
“The wing part?” Bernie asked.
“The twirling part.”
“So you could do the wing part?” Bernie asked her sister.
“How about if the wings were black?”
Libby grimaced. “Even if they were purple.”
“You know, I didn’t think Wiccans wore wings in their ceremonies. I thought they ran around naked in the forest under the full moon.”
“Obviously, not these. Maybe they’re inspired by Tinker Bell.” Libby changed the subject. “Given the temperature, I think the deviled eggs should go on a bed of ice when we serve them.”
“Definitely. Giving everyone food poisoning would not be a good thing,” Bernie noted.
“Not if we want to stay in business.”
The sisters spent the next fifteen minutes setting up the tables, putting tablecloths on them, and laying out the decorations and condiments. While they worked, the redcoats and the colonists began their skirmish. Three of the redcoats snatched growlers of beer away from the colonists. The colonists grabbed them back. Something, Bernie presumed it was water with caramel coloring, sloshed over the sides.
“You have no business doing this,” one of the colonists (vacuum cleaner salesman Tony Gerard) declaimed.
“I have every reason,” Marvin replied.
“State it,” another colonist (Samuel Cotton, a third grade teacher) demanded.
Marvin drew himself up to his full height and sucked in his stomach. “I do it by the authority the Crown invests in me.”
“Thou shalt not trample on our liberties,” Elise Montague, the only female colonist in the reenactment, proclaimed.
“Thou speakest treason,” Marvin roared.
Libby smiled. “He’s not bad.”
“Not at all.” Bernie watched a fourth colonist (Sanford Aiken, plumbing supply store owner), who was holding Hilda under his arm, tell Marvin to “bugger off.”
Jack Devlin stepped up to. . .
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