Cocktails and Murder
Ellie is looking forward to finally enjoying her unexpected vacation in Florida: strolling on the white sand beaches, lounging in luxurious cabanas, and swimming in the sparkling waters of the Gulf... But she's barely sipped her first mojito before she finds herself sucked into another mystery! This time, Ellie is on the trail of a clever murderer who uses a deadly tiki cocktail to kill and her search for clues takes her aboard a luxury yacht, fishing in Tampa Bay,and even up close and personal with one of the Sunshine State's most famous residents: the American alligator! Ellie is horrified when her newfound friend - headwaiter Sol - is named the key suspect and she's determined to prove his innocence.But it's not just the murder that's troubling her: there's also her budding romance with handsome resort doctor Blake Thornton and his strange behavior on the night of the murder. Is he cheating on her? Or is it something more sinister? With her eccentric Aunt Olive giving her sleuthing tips and the two resort animals lending a beak and a paw, Ellie is sure she can crack the case. But if she turns out to be wrong, she might find out what "swimming with the fishes" really means....
GENRE: beach mystery, cat cozy mystery series, culinary cozy mysteries, women sleuth, amateur sleuth, humorous cozy mysteries
BAREFOOT SLEUTH MYSTERIES:
Flip-Flops and Murder (Book 1)
Seashells and Murder (Book 2)
Cocktails and Murder (Book 3)
Bikinis and Murder (Book 4)
Release date: September 5, 2020
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Print pages: 278
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Cocktails and Murder
“You've never had any cocktail other than a piña colada?”
Ellie Bishop smiled sheepishly at the young man who was staring at her, aghast.
“I like piña coladas,” she said defensively.
“Yes, but surely you must have tried something else?”
Ellie shook her head. “That's what I always order.”
“Well, we’ve got to do something about that,” he declared. “You can't come to Florida and not taste some other cocktails! And you're with the best person to help you do that,” he added with a wink. “Ask anyone in the Tampa Bay area and they’ll tell you that Rob Saunders is the top local expert on cocktails. My workshop is the perfect introduction to mixology and the best way to sample some of the most popular cocktails out there.”
“Yes, it sounded really intriguing when I saw the poster in the resort lobby,” said Ellie. “It’s why I signed up for it. Besides, who wouldn’t want to do a cocktail class in this setting?” she added with a grin and gestured to their surroundings: the enormous swimming pool on one side, surrounded by cabanas and lounge chairs, and the view of the beach on the other. The sky above them was blue and cloudless, and the afternoon sun was warm on their faces.
Rob grinned as well, his teeth looking very white in contrast to his tanned face. “Yeah, it was awesome of the Sunset Palms Beach Resort to let me hold my workshop at their Tiki Bar. I’m in talks with them to hold a regular event every month.”
“Oh, I’m sure lots of guests would love that,” said Ellie, glancing at the group of ladies next to her, who were all waiting for the cocktail workshop to start.
“Are we really going to taste every famous cocktail out there?” one of the women spoke up. “Surely we can't go through that many in two hours?”
Rob Saunders laughed. “No, we’ll just be doing rum cocktails today, but it’s as good a place to start as any, especially when you’re vacationing in Florida! Now gather around, ladies, and I’ll show you some of the secret weapons of the mixologist.”
The other women flocked forward eagerly. Ellie wondered cynically if it was as much to get closer to their host as it was to learn how to mix cocktails. With his boyish good looks, megawatt smile, and smooth manner, Rob Saunders was obviously a hit with the ladies.
What a shame Aunt Olive didn't come to do the workshop with me, thought Ellie with a wry smile. She would have loved Rob!
Aunt Olive was her father’s much older—and much more eccentric—sister. She was a wealthy widow who lived her life still very much like the carefree hippie she used to be, and Ellie adored her. Having grown up in a family of stuffy, respectable types who were only concerned with having a stable job and a secure future, Ellie was so grateful to have a godmother who understood her longing for excitement and adventure.
In fact, she wouldn't even have been here at this cocktail class, if it weren’t for Aunt Olive. Ellie had been stuck in a rut back in London, following a dreary routine of commuting to her boring temp job and trying to adapt to living with her parents again after her boyfriend of three years had cheated on her. With Christmas just around the corner, the holiday period had seemed pretty miserable, with nothing to look forward to except more cold, grey weather… until the letter from Aunt Olive had arrived, with a plane ticket and an invitation to come and join her at a beach resort in Florida!
It hadn’t taken Ellie long to decide to swap her cup of afternoon tea for a tropical cocktail. Before she knew it, she was here at the Sunset Palms Beach Resort, with a white sand beach and the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico on her doorstep. And since arriving, her life had been a rollercoaster of excitement, not least because she had become inadvertently entangled in two murders!
But that's all behind me, Ellie reminded herself. Now she had weeks of glorious balmy weather ahead of her, with nothing to do except enjoy the resort facilities. And the only mystery I’m going to tackle is how to shake a good cocktail, she thought with a smile, turning back to listen to Rob Saunders.
“…no one’s quite sure where the name ‘cocktail’ came from. There are all sorts of stories: like some say it’s named after the French word ‘coquetier,’ which means ‘egg cup,’ or that the name came from mixed drinks in Mexico that were stirred with a chicken feather… but the one that I like best is that it comes from the ‘cocked tail’ of a perky horse. See, horse dealers in the 1700s used to use ginger to make their animals raise their tails and look spirited. So adding spices like ginger or pepper to drinks became known as ‘cock-tail.’” Rob grinned. “Kinda neat, huh? Now I’m gonna to show you how to make some of the most famous rum cocktails… starting with the mojito!”
Ellie looked down and saw a sleek black cat standing by her ankles. It was the resort cat, who happened to be named “Mojito,” and she had obviously thought that she was being called.
“No, we’re not talking about you,” said Ellie, chuckling and bending down to give the cat a pat.
Mojito evaded her hand and jumped up to sit on a stool beside Ellie, from which she could see over the bar counter. She watched with interest as Rob Saunders added fresh mint leaves, sugar syrup, and lime chunks to a highball glass, and crushed them gently with a muddler. Then he turned to the array of liquor bottles on the shelves behind him and lifted a bottle of Bacardi. Whirling back, he poured a measure of it into a jigger with great flourish, then tipped the rum into the glass, before topping it up with club soda and ice. Ellie found his dramatic manner a bit irritating; it was obvious that the man loved himself and was enjoying the rapt attention of the ladies around him. But she had to admit that Rob Saunders was a pretty good showman.
“Tada!” he said, making a sweeping gesture with one hand toward the finished drink. “Classic, refreshing, and it’ll take you to a sun-drenched beach with a single sip. For many people, the mojito is the perfect rum cocktail. Did you know that it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drinks?” He passed out sets of cocktail equipment to the women standing around the bar. “Now it’s your turn.”
Everyone got to work trying to replicate his creation. Ellie filled the bottom of her glass with the fresh mint leaves, sugar syrup, and lime chunks, and used the muddler to mash them gently together. The action released the aromatic oils in the mint leaves, and they rose up, mingling with the scent of the fresh lime juice.
“Mmm…” said Ellie, leaning forward to press her nose over the opening of the glass and inhaling appreciatively.
“MIAOW?” said Mojito, leaning forward and trying to thrust her little nose into the glass as well.
“No, no,” laughed Ellie, pulling the glass out of the cat’s reach. “Not for you.”
She picked up her jigger and bit her bottom lip in concentration as she poured out the required amount of rum into the measuring device. Her hands slipped and a bit of rum dribbled over the edge and into the glass.
“Oh bugger!” Ellie muttered. Now she didn’t know how much rum had already gone into the glass.
She looked up, intending to ask Rob Saunders if she should start again, and was surprised to see that he had left his station behind the bar. Glancing around, she saw him several feet away, hurrying after an older man who was walking past the pool deck. Rob put an urgent hand on the older man’s arm, stopping him, and as the wind shifted, their voices drifted over to Ellie:
“…gotta speak to you, Uncle Walt.”
The older man looked at him impatiently. “What do you want, boy?”
“It’s that thing we talked about last week. I sent you the proposal… My new business idea, remember?”
“The cocktail bar?” said the older man scornfully. “That was the dumbest proposal I’ve ever read. Really lame.”
Rob flushed an angry red and glanced around, as if to see if anyone had heard. “It’s not lame,” he hissed. “It's a great concept and I can prove it, if you’ll just help me out with a bit of investment money!”
“What makes you think I would want to invest in a start-up?” said his uncle.
“You seem to hand out money to random losers out there,” said Rob bitterly. “So why not your own nephew?”
The older man glowered at him. “They’re not ‘random losers,’ but I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I didn’t make my millions from being an idiot. I’ve yet to make a poor investment decision. Even though I’m usually a silent partner and don’t get involved in the day-to-day running of things, I keep my finger on the pulse.”
“Look, Uncle Walt, can’t you just give me a chance? I know I can make this work! I just need some capital to help me get started.”
“Ask the bank, then.”
“The bank?” spluttered Rob. “The bank would charge me crazy fees and interest on a loan!”
“So? It’s what everyone else has to deal with.”
“Yeah, but why should I lose money to the stupid bank when you can give me the money interest-free? Not that you’re really giving me the money,” Rob hastened to add. “You’re investing it—and you’ll be making it back. I promise you’ll double it within a year.”
“Making a rash promise like that just shows how little you know about business,” said his uncle impatiently. “Anyway, I haven’t got time for this now.”
“But I can show you—”
“Not now,” snapped his uncle. “I’ve got a meeting in a moment with Roy Mack.”
“The alligator farm guy?” said Rob contemptuously. “I can’t believe you’re turning your nose up at my business proposal but you’re happy to invest in that dump!”
“That ‘dump’ happens to be a successful local tourist attraction and supplier of gator meat and hide,” said Walter Saunders. “Since I invested in it five years ago, it’s brought me a tidy sum in profits every year—which is more than I can say I’ve ever got from you, boy!”
Rob stood fuming and staring after his uncle as the latter stalked off. Then he turned back toward the Tiki Bar and caught Ellie watching him. She flushed and hastily looked away. He sauntered over toward her and said, his smooth smile back in place:
“So, how’s it going?”
“Oh… erm… I think I might have mucked up,” mumbled Ellie. She held up her jigger and explained about spilling the rum.
“Ah, if it’s just a little slip, don’t worry about it. Nothing wrong with a little extra kick now and then,” said Rob with wink. He stood and watched as she completed the steps in the mojito recipe, then gestured for her to take a sip.
Ellie was surprised by how refreshing the drink was. It wasn't anywhere near as sweet as her beloved piña colada, but she had to admit that it was very nice, especially on a hot day like today. Before she realized it, she had drained half the glass and looked up to see Rob watching her with delight.
“Like it?” he asked.
Ellie nodded. “I still wouldn't order it over a piña colada though,” she said, laughing.
Rob, giving her a flirtatious smile. “Guess I’ll have to work harder to change your mind then!”
Over the next two hours, Ellie learned how to make the classic daiquiri, the wonderfully sweet Hurricane, the flamboyant Jungle Bird, and—last but not least—the infamous Tiki cocktail: the Scorpion Bowl. By the time the class was over, she was feeling quite lightheaded from all the alcohol she had sampled! She stumbled slightly as she left the Tiki Bar and crossed the pool deck, and heard a familiar male voice say behind her:
“Whoa… looks like you've been enjoying yourself at the cocktail class!”
Ellie turned to see a black man smiling at her and recognized one of her favorite people at the resort: Sol, the head waiter at the Hammerheads Bar and Grill. Calm and kind, with a warm charisma and a ready smile for everyone, Sol had become a firm friend and even a bit of a fatherly presence. He always seemed to keep an eye out for Ellie and make sure that she was all right. Now he gave her a look of mock reproach.
“You been keeping hydrated? It’s really important to drink lots of water to dilute the alcohol,” he said. “Hang on—stay there. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He returned a few moments later with a tall glass of cold water. “Here… drink it all up.”
Ellie took the glass and gulped it down gratefully.
“Like I always tell my daughter, if you’re gonna drink, make sure you down a glass of water for every glass of booze,” said Sol, adding with a sigh: “Not that she should be drinking at all, being underage and all, but you know, you can’t always stop them doing stuff, so I figure it’s better to teach ’em how to look after themselves.”
“You have a daughter?” asked Ellie with a smile. She could just imagine what a great father Sol must be—the kind of father she wished she had. Not that she didn't love her own dad, of course, but Mr. Bishop was staid and stuffy, always worrying about her job prospects or her finances, and always disapproving of her life choices. I’ll bet Sol is a lot more tolerant and understanding as a father, Ellie thought. He already seemed to take a practical approach to his daughter’s rebelliousness.
“Yup, my Jasmine has just turned eighteen.” Sol laughed and shook his head. “Can’t believe it sometimes. My little girl is all grown up! There were times when I thought I’d never be able to do it on my own.” He paused and, seeing Ellie’s inquiring look, he added, “My wife died when Jasmine was still little, you see.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Ellie. “I didn’t realize that you’re a single dad. Wow, that must be really tough.”
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Sol admitted. “A girl really needs a woman’s touch, you know? It’s hard for a father to understand what's going on inside her head sometimes. But Jasmine’s a good girl; I know she is. Even if she does get herself into trouble sometimes...” A shadow crossed his face, then he brightened. “Anyway, I hope you’ll get the chance to meet her someday.”
“I’d love that,” said Ellie. “Does she ever come to the resort?”
“Sometimes. She’s got a part-time job over at the marina, opposite the beach, you know? So it’s not that far. Sometimes she comes over to see her old man after her shift and we ride home together.” He nodded at the empty glass. “You want another? Or how about you come over to Hammerheads and I serve you up a nice, cool glass of our famous Florida orange juice?”
“That sounds wonderful—just what I need,” said Ellie, following him as he headed toward the restaurant.
“So where’s your aunt this afternoon? She didn’t do the cocktail class with you?”
“No, she’s having a massage over at the spa,” Ellie explained. She glanced sideways at Sol, noticing for the first time that he wasn’t wearing his usual uniform of polo shirt and khakis. Instead, he was wearing a camp shirt with a vibrant tropical palm print over smart chino shorts.
“Hey… have you got a new uniform?” she asked.
Sol looked pleased that she’d noticed. “Yup. The resort is thinking of upgrading our look and I’ve been given a trial set to do a test run—you know, make sure it’s comfortable and allows easy movement, before they commission a full batch.” He pointed to the apron around his waist. “What do you think of the logo? Nice touch, huh?”
Ellie bent closer to look and saw that the apron had a large logo embroidered in the corner, showing a hammerhead shark swimming between the words “Bar” and “Grill.”
“Oh, I love it!” she said. “Are all the restaurants at the resort going to have personalized staff aprons, each with their own logos?”
“That’s the idea. But we’re the first,” said Sol with a smug smile. “And I have to say, so far, this new uniform gets a major thumbs-up from me! It’s so much cooler and easier to move in.”
They mounted the steps to the outdoor terrace of the restaurant and walked across to the main entrance.
“So are you and your aunt coming over to Hammerheads for dinner this evening?” asked Sol. “We’ve got a new special: honey-glazed Chilean sea bass with pineapple relish and jewel potatoes—and for dessert: red velvet fudge cake with white-chocolate-Amaretto frosting.”
“Mmm, that sounds delicious! But actually… erm… I’ve got a date,” said Ellie, blushing slightly.
Sol raised his eyebrows and gave her a teasing smile. “Anyone I know?”
Before she could reply, they bumped into a group of people just inside the door of the restaurant: a young mother leading a little boy with a bleeding nose, who was crying loudly, and a handsome young man with sun-streaked brown hair who was talking gently to the child. Ellie’s heart skipped a beat as the young man looked up and their eyes met. Well, it would have been hard for any woman not to feel her pulse quicken when she looked at Dr. Blake Thornton. With his tall, athletic figure and laughing brown eyes, he was the kind of man who turned female heads wherever he went.
And I've got a date with him tonight, Ellie thought with an inward smile. Then she felt a familiar twinge of unease. This was their third date now and she still wasn't sure she was doing the right thing. She had been determined to avoid any romantic entanglements during her time in Florida. After all, she was only here on vacation for a few weeks and she would be returning home to England in the new year.
But somehow, life had a way of sabotaging her best-laid plans. There had been instant chemistry between them when she’d met Blake, and it had been hard for her to resist the charming resort doctor, especially when he’d made it so obvious that he wanted to get to know her better. Still, she had deliberately kept things light and casual between them. Even though they’d been on two dates already, they still hadn’t even shared a proper kiss yet.
I’m just enjoying it as a fun flirtation, Ellie reminded herself. She wasn't going to fall in love or do anything silly like that. Having just come out of a three-year relationship which had ended disastrously, the last thing she needed right now was to get involved again—especially with someone on the other side of the Atlantic!
Still, watching Blake now and seeing the calm and gentle way he soothed the frightened child, Ellie couldn’t help feeling a rush of admiration. Blake produced a lollipop from his pocket and distracted the little boy while he pinched the boy’s nose and applied pressure until the bleeding stopped.
“Oh, thank you so much, doc,” said the boy's mother gratefully as she watched her son happily suck on the lollipop, his tears forgotten. “I’ve told Ethan so many times not to pick his nose, but he just won't listen!”
Blake chuckled. “It's the age,” he assured her. “I'm sure he'll grow out of it. Don't worry, after today's episode, Ethan will probably think twice before sticking his finger up his nostrils in the future!”
Sol helped the young mother and her little boy back to their table while Blake turned to Ellie with a big smile.
“I’m really looking forward to tonight,” he said. “You still okay to meet at seven o’clock in the lobby?”
Ellie nodded. “Do I need to get dressed up or anything?”
“Oh no, we’re not going anywhere fancy. It's a local fish shack I’ve been wanting to show you. They do amazing grouper sandwiches there. Anyway, you always look great,” he added, his eyes glowing appreciatively.
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