When an ice cream vendor discovers a frozen stiff, a Florida diner owner must serve up some just desserts . . . “A fun new series.”—E. J. Copperman, national bestselling author of the Haunted Guesthouse Mysteries
Gia has become good friends with Trevor, a fun, flirtatious bachelor who owns the ice cream parlor down the street from her popular All-Day Breakfast Café. Trevor has the scoop on all sorts of local attractions and activities. But when he bursts into her diner, trembling and paler than a pint of French Vanilla, she can tell something’s very wrong. Trevor points her toward his shop, then passes out cold. When Gia arrives there, she discovers a chilling sight—a dead body in the open freezer. But the ice cream man’s troubles are just beginning. The police suspect him of this murder a la mode, especially when details of his questionable past surface. Gia believes in her friend and is determined to clear his name and find the real cold-blooded killer before someone else gets put on ice . . .
Praise for the writing of Lena Gregory
“Hold on to your plates for this fast-paced mystery that will leave you hungering for more!” —J. C. Eaton, author of the Sophie Kimball Mysteries, on Scone Cold Killer
“Family secrets, old mansions, and a growing list of murder victims—these elements and more blend together to make an intriguing as well as entertaining cozy mystery.” —RT Book Reviews on Occult and Battery“As breezy and salty as a gust of wind off the chilly bay waters.” —Juliet Blackwell, New York Times–bestselling author of the Witchcraft Mysteries on Death at First Sight
Release date: November 6, 2018
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 230
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A Cold Brew Killing
“Oh, please, gag me.” Savannah Mills slid the tip of one long, lime-green nail beneath the tab of a diet soda can and popped it open. With one eye on the TV, she poured it into a glass over ice. “That man has no more business being mayor than I do.”
Gia Morelli finished wiping down the counter from the breakfast rush, tossed the rag into a bin beneath the counter, and turned toward the muted TV. “What did Ron Parker ever do to you, and why do you insist on drinking soda from a can when there’s a perfectly good fountain right behind you?”
Savannah kept her gaze on the TV and waved Gia off. “I like it better from the can, more bubbly. And Ron never did anything to me. It’s the way he presents himself, all squeaky clean and snooty. In the meantime, that man is as phony as a three-dollar bill.”
Earl Dennison, the elderly gentleman who’d been the All-Day Breakfast Café’s first customer and still hung around regularly, reached over the counter, grabbed the TV remote, and turned up the volume. Then he sat back down on his usual stool and dug into his massive breakfast. “What makes you say that?”
“Just look at him, that slick grin plastered on his face everywhere he goes.” She lifted a brow toward Earl and wagged a finger at the TV. “I don’t care what anyone says; no one is that happy all the time.”
Though Gia could see Savannah’s point—Ron Parker stood behind a podium, his smile so big he had to speak through clenched teeth—she didn’t need the two of them arguing over politics. The few customers who still lingered over breakfast or coffee didn’t seem to be bothered by the conversation, but still… “Knock it off, you two, or I’ll ban all talk of politics in the café until after the election is over.”
Earl held up his hands, still clutching his fork. “Hey, not our fault there’s nothing else on the TV but election coverage.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t want anyone getting riled up in here.” Gia fiddled with the valve on the new Cold Brew Coffeemaker sitting on the counter behind the register.
“True enough. People do tend to get worked up over politics,” Earl agreed.
Gia accidentally nudged the valve handle, just a little, and coffee poured out onto the floor. She flipped it back into place and grabbed a handful of paper towels. “Shoot!”
Earl cleared his throat—to cover his laughter, no doubt. “Granted, I don’t know much about making cold coffee, but isn’t that thing a little big?”
“Ya think?” Savannah snickered. “How much does it hold, anyway?”
Gia’s cheeks heated. She mopped up the spill and tossed the paper towels into the garbage pail, then mumbled, “Fifty gallons.”
Earl laughed out loud. “What on earth are you going to do with fifty gallons of cold coffee?”
“Hey, in my defense, I got a good deal on the machine. Besides, Trevor split the cost with me, and every day when it’s ready, I’m going to send half down to the ice cream parlor for him.” Gia wet a wad of paper towels and bent to clean the stickiness off the floor.
The front door opened.
“Well, I’ll be doggoned,” Savannah said, amusement clear in her voice. “Speak of the devil.”
Gia looked up at the back of Savannah’s head. “Who is it? Trevor?”
Savannah shot a grin over her shoulder at Gia. “Nope.”
With most of the stickiness cleaned up enough for the moment—she’d give it a good mopping later—Gia stood and stared straight into Ron Parker’s trademark smile.
“Good morning, good morning.” He approached the counter, his hand held out. “Ron Parker. Nice to meet you.”
Gia shook his hand. “Gia Morelli. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
The leggy blonde standing next to him, wearing a mini skirt and a halter top, held out a pamphlet, a hundred-watt smile deepening her dimples.
Ron took the pamphlet and handed it to Gia. “I’m just making the rounds, visiting all of the establishments along Main Street, hoping to share my message.”
Gia took the proffered pamphlet and glanced at Ron’s smiling face on the front cover before dropping it onto the counter. Savannah was right; he’d do better to drop the fake grin. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to read through it later.”
“Of course.” Ron looked around the café. “I have to admit, I expected you’d be busier.”
Gia bristled. Business had improved quite a bit in the past few months. Unfortunately, not as much as she’d hoped. “You probably should have come earlier, when the breakfast crowd was still here. You could hang around for a little while if you want, maybe have something to eat and catch the lunch rush. Can I offer you a cold brew coffee?”
His smile diminished, just a little, but Gia still caught the change.
“No, thanks. Can’t stand the stuff. I wouldn’t mind a black coffee and a blueberry muffin, though. To go.” He gestured toward his assistant, and for a minute Gia thought he was going to ask her what she wanted. “Get that for me, will ya, hon?”
Savannah swiveled on the stool, until her back faced Ron, then pursed her lips and stared pointedly at Gia.
Gia had known Savannah long enough to spot an I told you so look, even in her peripheral vision. She ignored her and turned to pour his coffee.
By the time she got his order ready and rang it up, Ron had already swept through the room, shaking hands and making promises, and was ready to leave. He held both hands out in front of him, his forefingers and thumbs extended like pistols. “It was a pleasure to meet y’all. I sure hope I can count on your votes.”
Thankfully, Savannah waited for him to leave before she started in. “I hate to say I told you so—”
“You don’t have to. It was written all over your face,” Gia said.
“The way he treats his poor assistant is awful. And what’s with that outfit she had on? You’d think she’d dress more professionally if she’s going to campaign with him. He’d do better to leave her back at the office. People might take him more seriously.”
“Not to disagree,” Earl piped in, “but some people just talk that way, especially those used to flipping orders and having them obeyed. He might not have meant any offense. And she sure is a mite easier on the eyes than the candidate.”
“Hey…” Savannah pointed her almost dagger-length nail toward him. “You watch it now, buddy. You don’t see Mitchell Anderson parading a woman around like some sort of prized trophy, treating her like his servant. Of course, he doesn’t have to play games like that. Mitch Anderson is no slouch. If you ask me, he’s sort of a hottie. And talk about squeaky clean…”
“I’m not sure he’s as clean as everyone says,” Earl argued. “There ain’t no one don’t have a skeleton or two buried somewhere.”
“Yeah, well, that may be true, but that woman ain’t got nothin’ buried.” Savannah lifted a brow toward the door, where Ron and his assistant had stopped on the sidewalk to speak to a woman pushing a baby stroller. “Look at that skirt; if it were any shorter, you’d be able to see clear to the top of the Christmas tree.”
Earl winked at Savannah, then laughed and shoved a forkful of sausage into his mouth.
Savannah shot him a scowl.
Gia left them to their bickering. She’d just opened the register and started to count out the money from the breakfast crowd when the front door opened. She went to drop the bills back into their slots as she looked up, then kept them in her hand. “Oh, hey, Skyla.”
“Hi, Gia, Savannah, Earl. Is Willow around? We’re supposed to meet for lunch.” Skyla Broussard dropped her big canvas bag onto an empty stool and slid onto the one next to it at the counter.
“Yup, she’ll be right in. She just brought the garbage out.” Gia squashed down the pang of guilt she felt. She’d pretty much managed to go everywhere in the café, and even out back to leave Harley’s dinner, but she still parked out front on the street and had someone else take out the garbage whenever possible. And she still hated looking in the direction of the dumpster, ever since she’d found Bradley’s body. “Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait? I have cold brew now.”
“Just a regular coffee would be great, thanks.” Skyla glanced over at Earl. “You’re in late today.”
“Yup.” He puffed up his chest and sat a bit straighter. “Spent all night at the hospital.”
“Oh, no.” Skyla’s hand fluttered to her chest. “Are you all right?”
“Oh, yeah, I mean no, I mean…” Earl’s cheeks flushed a deep crimson. “My whole clan spent the night at the hospital awaiting the arrival of Becky Lynn, grandchild number sixteen.”
“Oh, Earl, that’s awesome. Congratulations.”
He nodded. “Thank you. Sure did take her sweet time comin’, that one did.”
Skyla laughed. “That’s okay. The things you appreciate most in life are those you have to wait for.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Earl soaked a biscuit in gravy and took a bite.
Gia finished counting the twenties and dropped them into the deposit bag, then turned to get the coffee.
Savannah beat her to it. By the time Gia turned, she already had a mug in front of Skyla and the pot held over it.
A couple approached the counter, and the man handed Gia his check and a twenty-dollar bill.
“How was your breakfast?” Gia asked as she took the check from him.
“Very good, thank you.”
She held his change out to him and smiled. “I hope you’ll come again.”
“Thank you. I’m sure we will,” the man said as he pocketed his change, then turned to go.
“Bobby, wait.” The woman he was with caught his arm, staring past him at Skyla. “Skyla? Skyla Broussard, is that you?”
Skyla turned toward her with a smile, but the instant their eyes met, Skyla’s face paled and the smile disappeared. “Gabriella Antonini?”
“In the flesh.” Gabriella smiled at the man she was with and rubbed a hand up and down his arm, seemingly unaware of Skyla’s obvious discomfort. “Well, Fischetti, now. Bobby and I have been married…well…pretty much forever.”
“What are you doing here?” Skyla demanded.
“Um…” Gabriella faltered. “We just got back into town last night. We were going to look you up, but we hadn’t gotten around to it yet.”
“Actually, we were going to look up all of the old gang.” Bobby Fischetti held Skyla’s stare. “We were feeling a bit nostalgic, figured a reunion of sorts was in order.”
Skyla swallowed hard and nodded. “It was good seeing you.”
“Sure thing.” Gabriella resumed her perky attitude as if nothing awkward had happened. “We’ll let you know when we can all get together.”
Skyla just nodded again and watched them go, then shifted her gaze to the TV.
Gia glanced at Savannah and drew her eyebrows together.
Savannah shrugged and shook her head.
After a moment, Skyla took a deep shuddering breath, then said, “So, what do you guys think of Ron Parker?”
“Oh, please, don’t get them started.” Accepting Skyla’s change of subject, though curiosity was dang near driving her crazy, Gia started straightening the condiments on the counter.
With one last glance at Gia from the corner of her eye, Savannah chimed in. “Earl and I were just discussing that. Personally, I prefer Mitchell Anderson. He just seems more honest.”
Skyla’s eyes darkened, just for a second. If Gia hadn’t been looking right at her, she’d have missed it.
Hmm…something there. Skyla was definitely not her usual self this morning, but Gia wouldn’t press. There were still customers in the café, and Savannah and Earl were still at the counter with Skyla. Maybe later, if she could get her alone, she’d ask if she was okay. For now, she’d just leave her be.
Gia hadn’t yet made up her mind whom to vote for, and she was actively searching for a reason to choose one candidate over the other. Each had strong points, and she hadn’t yet come across any major weaknesses for either candidate, but there was still time. Ron’s visit definitely hadn’t helped his cause. If anything, he’d pushed her more toward Anderson. “You don’t like Anderson?”
Skyla tilted her head as if contemplating the question. “I don’t think he should be mayor.”
Savannah finished pouring Skyla’s coffee, then topped off everyone else’s and put the pot back on the burner. “You prefer Ron Parker?”
Skyla shrugged. “He’s not my favorite, and I don’t think he’s the best role model for young men and women, but he’s better than Mitch.”
“Oh, please, Mom, are you bashing Mitch Anderson again?” Willow let the door from the back room swing shut behind her and crossed the café. She laid a hand on her mother’s shoulder and kissed her cheek. “Sorry I’m running a few minutes late.”
Skyla patted her daughter’s hand. “No worries, hon. I’m in no rush.”
Gia always enjoyed the interaction between Willow and her mother. She’d never had a relationship with her own mother, but if she had, she liked to imagine it would have been like Skyla and Willow, and if she ever had a daughter of her own, she’d do anything to attain that close of a bond.
It struck Gia, as it often did when seeing Willow and Skyla side by side, how much alike they looked. They shared the same long, dark hair, the same exotic green eyes, and the same petite build, but Willow carried herself with a confidence Skyla hadn’t quite mastered.
“So, what’s the deal with Anderson?” Willow sat down next to her mother and took a blueberry muffin from a cake dish on the counter. “Why do you dislike him so much?”
“I don’t know.” Skyla stared down into her coffee cup, stirring the milk around, seemingly mesmerized by the tiny whirlpool. “I just don’t care for him.”
She was lying. The realization hit Gia like a ton of bricks. She’d never have expected Skyla to lie to Willow.
“Yeah, well, Ron Parker is everything you’ve taught me not to be.” Willow broke her muffin in half. “He’s phony and arrogant, and he treats everyone around him like they’re his minions.”
“Mmm-hmm…” Skyla dug through her bag and pulled out a few singles and held them out to Gia.
“Don’t worry about it.” Ignoring the money, as she always did with Skyla, Gia glanced up at the TV. A clip of Ron Parker working the crowd at last week’s campaign event played in the background while a news anchor rambled on about the election.
“You didn’t answer, Mom. Why do you dislike Mitch Anderson so much?”
Skyla dropped the money on the counter, as she always did after Gia refused to take it, then turned to Willow. “Do you want to sit here all day arguing politics, or do you want to eat lunch and go shopping?”
Nice dodge. Maybe Skyla should have been the politician.
“Definitely shopping.” Willow took the last bite of her muffin, hopped off the stool, and rounded the counter to grab her purse. “I’ll come in a little early tomorrow to help prep since it’s Saturday. Thanks for giving me the afternoon off, Gia.”
“And thanks for covering for me, Savannah.”
“Anytime, kiddo. Have fun.”
“Thanks.” Willow smiled, waved, and held the door for her mother before bouncing through after her.
Savannah looked after them for a moment, then turned to Gia. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly, but there was no mistaking the sadness in her eyes.
Gia had no doubt Savannah’s thoughts were running along the same line hers had earlier. Both of them had lost their mothers when they were young. Only difference was, Savannah grew up surrounded by family who adored her. Gia grew up alone, unless you counted the father who threw her out the day she graduated high school.
Gia waited until they were gone, then leaned close to Savannah. “Skyla seemed a little off today, don’t you think?”
“Definitely, but I didn’t want to push it in the middle of the café,” Savannah said.
“No, me neither, but if I get a chance, I’ll try to talk to her.” And if the opportunity didn’t present itself, Gia would make time to talk to her. Whatever may be wrong, she certainly wasn’t acting like herself.
Friday morning started off pretty much the same way Thursday morning had ended, with Savannah and Earl bickering over politics. When Gia couldn’t listen to it any longer, she strode through the dining room, shut the TV off, and stuck the remote beneath the counter. “Enough already. I could hear you two arguing from the kitchen.”
Earl opened his mouth to protest, but Gia cut him off. “Isn’t there anything else going on in this town beside the election?”
“There’s a craft fair in two weeks.” Savannah’s perkiness returned at the mention of a fair. “It’s running from Sunday to Wednesday. Want to go?”
“Sure.” Gia had been wanting to attend a fair for a while, but they usually fell on weekends, her busiest time in the café. Since she was closed on Mondays, it would work out perfectly. “Can I bring Thor?”
“Of course. I bring my dogs all the time.”
“All of them?” Savannah had like four or five dogs at Gia’s last count.
“Not all at once, silly.”
Two young women approached the counter, backpacks slung over their shoulders. They studied the chalkboard she’d written the cold brew selections on.
Gia’s resisted the urge to pump her fist. She’d been playing with different recipes, and she was dying to try some out. But, so far, the people of Boggy Creek didn’t seem all that interested. She grabbed an order pad. “Hi there. What can I get for you?”
The first girl tore her gaze from the menu. “They all look so good it’s hard to decide. I think I’ll try the peppermint mocha.”
“And I’ll take one with vanilla and low-fat milk,” her friend chimed in.
“Coming right up. Would you like it to stay or to go?” She crossed her fingers beneath the pad, hoping they’d stay so she could see their reactions.
“Do you mind if we take a table in the corner and study for a while?”
“Not at all. I’ll bring your coffees when they’re ready.”
“Great, thanks. Could we get a couple of muffins as well, please? One chocolate and one banana?”
“You’ve got it.”
While the two went to sit, Gia set to work. She poured two cups of coffee and added vanilla syrup and low-fat milk to the first.
“You know,” Earl said, watching her like a hawk. “I’ll never understand all these newfangled contraptions. I don’t get what you needed the big machine for. Why can’t you just pour regular coffee over ice or stick it in the fridge or something?”
Gia added chocolate syrup, a bit of cocoa, and peppermint extract to the second cup, topped it with whipped cream, then added a couple of mint leaves. “Regular coffee gets brewed with hot water. This doesn’t. Instead, you soak the grounds in cold water overnight to make the coffee.”
“What’s the difference?”
She put the coffees on a tray along with the muffins. “It tastes better. Want to try one?”
Earl laughed. “I’ll stick with the old-fashioned kind, if it’s all the same to you. That thing looks more like dessert than coffee.”
“You should see the s’mores one I’m playing with for Trevor.”
Earl shook his head.
Gia set the drinks in front of the girls, who already had books spread open on the table.
“No problem. Enjoy.”
“And thank you for letting us study here.”
“Anytime.” Gia left them to their work. Hovering over them until they took a drink was probably unprofessional, though she had to admit, she wanted to.
Another customer approached the counter to pay his bill. Gia returned to the register and rang him up, then started an inventory of what she’d need to restock before lunch, keeping a close eye on the girls. Only one slice of meat lover’s pie remained beneath the glass cover of the cake dish she kept on the counter. She’d have to get out a new one and refill a few of the muffin dishes.
Finally, the girl who was facing Gia sipped her peppermint mocha. A huge smile lit her face, and she lifted her cup toward Gia. “Mmm…delicious.”
Gia nodded once in acknowledgment. Maybe they’d tell their friends and she could start bringing in a younger crowd. If the college kids came in during the slow time. . .
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