USA Today bestselling author
Christmas on Mackinac Island brings a flurry of festive activity for fudge shop owner Allie McMurphy—but also a body in a snowbank . . .
All Allie wants for Christmas is for renovations to be finished on the Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop so she can move back home for the holidays. But for now she's staying in her friend Frances's apartment, busily baking batches of holiday fudge. After someone leaves a mysterious note on the door to meet up, the curious fudge maker goes to the rendezvous with her bichonpoo, Mal—only to discover a woman facedown in a snowdrift. With her dying breath, the woman gasps, “Frances.” The police suspect she named her killer, but Allie knows that's impossible. She needs to wrap up this case before the trail runs cold—and give her friend the gift of freedom this Christmas season . . .
Praise for Nancy Coco and the Candy-Coated Mysteries
“Memorable characters, a charming locale, and a satisfying mystery.”
“It’s probably best not to read this while you’re too hungry, as the assorted fudge recipes may send you right to the kitchen.”
—The Oakland Tribune
“A fun and fast-paced cozy mystery that would be perfect for a weekend in, under cozy blankets with a mug of hot cocoa.”
Release date: October 27, 2020
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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Have Yourself a Fudgy Little Christmas
Christmastime on Mackinac Island was a dream come true with snow and horse-drawn sleighs and Victorian cottages dressed up in colored holiday lights. I planned to spend my days making holiday fudge and my nights curled up with a warm Christmassy beverage beside a crackling fire with the man I loved. That was the plan, anyway.
Why is it that these things always turn out better in my head than in real life? I guess I hadn’t planned on needing to rebuild the top floor of the Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. I also hadn’t planned on bunking in Frances’s old apartment while the contractors worked, but here I was standing in the bay window of her apartment with a cup of coffee, staring out into a cold clear sky.
Frances had been a teacher for over thirty years. She worked for my grandfather as the part-time hospitality manager for the Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. That meant that over the years she’d gone from working the front desk to managing the reservations to managing the housekeeping staff. Then, after my Grammy Alice died, Frances retired from teaching and came to work at the McMurphy full-time.
Luckily she stayed to work for me after my Papa Liam died last spring. I don’t know what I would have done without her to support me in my first tourist season as hotel and fudge shop owner.
As I stood staring out the window at the early-morning light. Mella, my calico cat, walked around my legs and purred, while Mal, my bichonpoo puppy, tugged at the bottom of my left pajama pant leg. It was quiet in the little apartment.
You see, after marrying my new handyman, Douglas Devaney, Frances had moved out to a small house they bought together. She’d left the bed in the apartment bedroom and a small dresser along with a small couch and a wing-backed chair and a two-person dinette in the living space. It was her intention to rent out the apartment on one of those rental-home sites. But for now, she loaned it to me and my pets.
The apartment was part of a Victorian cottage that had gotten remodeled in the ’60s into four apartments. This one was in the front lower right as you faced the house. Which meant Frances had a large bay window with a view of the porch and the street and sidewalk below. The center hall of the building had been turned into the hall for all of the tenants. My front door was on the right. Mrs. Gooseman’s door was on the lower left and Manfred Engle’s place was above me, while Mrs. Vissor lived on the top left.
Someone had decorated the front porch with large, old-fashioned, red and green Christmas bulbs. There was a big pine wreath on the main door. Inside, the hall was strung with tiny white fairy lights. It was pretty to look at and a touch homey. But I didn’t feel very much at home.
What happened? I mused. At Halloween I had an offer from Trent Jessop—the ultimate-catch bachelor whose family owned a fortune in local businesses—to spend the winter in Chicago and make fudge out of a true commercial kitchen. There had also been an offer from the very handsome and very available police officer Rex Manning. He had a nice little house just up the street with a yard for my pets to play in.
It was such a short time ago and yet, here I was in what was left of Frances’s old place, sipping out of a borrowed cup, watching the snow float down in fat flakes. Alone. Mal barked at Mella and chased her up her cat tree. The cat tree held three levels with a house on the last. It was a relic of Frances’s time, covered in green carpet, but Mella enjoyed it.
My cell phone rang and I saw it was Frances. “Good morning,” I said. “What’s up?”
“How much longer will the contractors need before we’re able to have guests at the McMurphy?” she asked. “We have people who want to come in for the Santa Fun Run as well as the holiday lights contest and exhibit.”
“We’re waiting on inspectors,” I said. “The contractor says the new roof is done and sound, except for the floating decking, which they’ll put on in the spring. The apartment and office are studded and drywall goes in today if we pass inspection. Second and third floors are clean, but I can’t promise the construction in the apartment won’t be bothersome.”
“I can let them know,” Frances said. “I don’t think it’ll matter; these folks are regulars for the holidays. People love their traditions, you know.”
“Well, send them some photos of the inside so they can see what they’re coming into. If they still want to book, then let’s do it. We can use the revenue.”
“How’s the holiday fudge production going?”
“Orders are great,” I said. “I guess being in that candy cook-off on television was great promotion. Although I hear a storm is brewing that might prevent shipments’ flying in and out for a few days. So I’ve been working around the clock today in hopes to get it out before the storm.”
“I know that little kitchen is cramped,” Frances said. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m making do,” I said, and watched a horse-drawn sleigh wind down the street in front of me. It had jingle bells on the reins. Somewhere in the distance snowmobiles whined. “I can’t use the McMurphy kitchen until all the revisions are complete and the dust settles.”
“I thought the food inspector said you could use the fudge shop now,” Frances was quick to point out.
“You know I don’t want to do that when people know we’re under construction,” I said with a frown.
There was a pause. “Do you regret not taking Trent up on his offer to use the commercial kitchen in Chicago?”
“No, no regrets. I know it would have been better for business, but I can’t believe that people would want to buy Mackinac Island fudge made in Chicago. Besides, this way I can say it’s all small-batch fudge.” I smiled at the thought.
“Okay, then, I’ll let the guests know what kind of conditions we have at the hotel. By the way, we’re supposed to help with our section of the holiday lights display this afternoon. Are you still up for that? Or should Douglas and I do it?”
“I can be there,” I said. “You know I like to be as involved in the community as I can.”
“People will understand if you can’t, you know,” Frances said. “You do push yourself too hard.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “Thanks, Frances.” I pressed END on my phone and sipped my warm beverage as I turned back toward the kitchen. The top of the dinette table was littered with drawings and measurements for our part of the holiday display. The theme this year was “Winter Wonderland” and we were building a replica of the 1880s Main Street complete with a horse and carriage. I’d drawn up the designs and Mr. Devaney had spent the last two weeks building the frames for the lights. Frances had several feet of various holiday lights in blue, white, green, and red. This afternoon we would be putting up the frames and stringing the lights.
I had wanted to go with purple to represent the lilac festival, but getting purple lights at this late date was not going to happen, so we settled on the Victorian Christmas theme. The light displays were going up on the large lawn in front of Fort Mackinac. People would buy tickets to benefit the children’s clinic and walk through all of the displays. Then they would be able to take sleighs and ride through the neighborhoods lit up for the holiday.
The displays were to be erected today and tomorrow with an evening judging contest that night at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The judging promised a purple grand-champion ribbon, a blue first-place ribbon, and a red second-place ribbon. The grand champion’s display would be showcased on the Mackinac Island website and the winner would receive a thousand dollars. I sure could use the money to help pay for the repairs to the McMurphy.
I was lucky after the roof collapsed in the end of November. My father is an architect and he was able to do some renderings for me. The insurance on the McMurphy paid for most of the repairs and the historical committee okayed our permits as long as we re-created the exterior to match the original drawings.
There was a knock on my door. Mal barked and raced to the front. She turned in circles as she barked to announce whoever it was on the other side. “Coming,” I said at the second knock, and I stopped a moment to peer out the peephole in my door. “Hello?” I pulled the door open but the hallway was empty. “Mrs. Gooseman? Irma?” I paused to listen while Mal raced out into the hallway and sniffed around. But no one was there. That’s when I noticed a note taped to my door. I grabbed the note, picked up my pup, and went back inside. I put Mal down and she took the opportunity to chase Mella back up the cat tree. I went to the front windows to see if I could see anyone leaving, but whoever left the note was nowhere in sight.
I opened the note. It read:
What the heck? I looked at the note back and front. It was handwritten in beautiful block letters. But the envelope wasn’t addressed. I had no idea who it was from or whether it was intended for me or for Frances.
I glanced at the clock. It was eight a.m. I still had a few hours of fudge making before noon. Maybe it was someone from the lighting exhibit committee. They were supposed to have a surprise judge. Maybe they wanted to ask me a question. I washed my hands, put on a clean apron, and started in on the remaining batches of fudge. With any luck I’d have the rest of the fudge made and packaged fresh to go out with today’s mail plane. After all, Christmas fudge was in season from just after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. High season for the fudge shop business.
I closed the kitchen door to keep my pets out of any hot-sugar happenings and went to work.
Noon came around very quickly, and I managed to package the fudge, get dressed, and make labels for the shipping store so they could take the packages to the airport. Now to make that mysterious meeting and then help with the light display. I grabbed a warm coat, hat, gloves, and boots and put Mal’s winter coat on her, then her harness. We left Mella to sleep peacefully in the beam of sun that came through the window and shone on the carpet. A glance at my phone told me I was late. Mal didn’t seem to be in any hurry as she stopped and did her business in a small plowed area near the sidewalk.
“Come on, Mal,” I said. “We have people waiting on us.” She seemed to understand my urgency and hurried off with me. It had been snowing for three weeks now and the snow was about a foot deep. The islanders kept the roads and the sidewalks cleared for tourists and locals alike. The sky was bright blue and filled with crystals as the cold started to sink into my gloves. After dropping off the boxes of fudge to be shipped, Mal and I hurried toward the base of the fort stairs. I could hear the sound of hammering and drills in the distance as the snow-covered lawn at the foot of the fort came to life with people working on their displays. Mr. Delaney had spent weeks creating our display out of plywood. The least I could do was help to string the lights. I figured I could meet whoever left the note and if they really wanted Frances, I could point out where she was. Otherwise, I was only a few yards away from our display.
I waved at Mrs. Tunisian and Mrs. Schmidt as they worked on the display for St. Anne’s. The Catholic church had won grand-champion display the last five years in a row. That meant they held a prominent location right next to the replica Indian hut. The steps to the fort were long and steep and ran up the side of the hill. There was a ticket booth at the base for when the attraction was open. The pad in front of it was shoveled and I headed toward it. But my mystery person wasn’t there. I frowned and glanced around. Whoever wanted to meet me was either late or must have been impatient and left. A glance at my phone showed me I was only five minutes late, but no one was here.
I shrugged and had turned to go when Mal pulled me to the corner of the ticket booth. “What is it, girl?” I asked as she poked her nose around the corner. I looked around the corner where my dog was and saw a pair of booted feet sticking out of the snow. “Hello?”
Whoever belonged to the boots was lying facedown in the snowbank.
“Do you need some help?” I asked. Mal barked and poked the boots with her nose. I stepped into the snowbank and squatted down to shake the person in the large hooded overcoat. “Hello? Are you okay?” The person didn’t respond and my heart rate sped up. I grabbed my phone and dialed 9-1-1.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?” I was startled by the deep male voice on the other end.
“I’m sorry,” I said because I was expecting Charlene. “Who is this?”
“Wayne Hewett. Charlene took a few days off to go to Florida,” the man said. “Do you have an emergency?”
“Yes, sorry, um, there seems to be someone passed out in a snowbank. I tried to wake them, but got no response.”
“Who is this?”
“I’m Allie McMurphy.”
“Oh,” he said. “The Allie McMurphy?”
“I guess, unless there’s more than one of us.”
“Where are you? I’ll send first responders immediately.”
“I’m at the ticket booth at the base of the stairs at Fort Mackinac,” I said. “Listen, they’re facedown in the snow. Should I try to turn them over?”
“Are they breathing?” he asked.
“I can’t see their face,” I said. “They’re facedown in the snow.” I felt strange repeating myself, but I had a feeling he wasn’t understanding.
“Oh! See if you can gently turn them so that their face is uncovered.”
“Are you sure I should turn them? What if they hurt their neck?”
“Ma’am, they may be drowning in snow. Try to clear the snow away from their face.”
“Right,” I said, and hit SPEAKER on my phone before I put it down on the top of the snow and carefully dug around the hooded figure. I could hear sirens in the distance. “I’ve dug out around their face, but I don’t feel any breath.”
“Allie, what’s going on?”
I looked up to see Patrick Damon standing behind me. Patrick was the head of hospitality at the Grand Hotel. “Whoever this is, is facedown in the snow and unresponsive,” I said, and pointed to my phone. “I called nine-one-one and help is on the way. But they may be suffocating.”
“I’ll help you turn them. Can you get around their head?”
I grabbed my phone and stuffed it in my pocket. Mal barked and dug at the snow. I managed to squeeze myself between the hooded head and the ticket booth wall. Patrick straddled the person’s shoulders.
“Okay, on three I want you to hold their head steady and we’ll turn them to the right. One, two, three.”
We rolled the person over and the white face of a young woman appeared out of the snow. Her eyes were half-open and her face bloodless. Snow filled her mouth. “She’s definitely not breathing.” I used my fingers to scoop snow out of her mouth.
“I don’t get a pulse,” Patrick said as he felt the base of her neck. “Do you think she might be dead?”
“She could just be cold,” I said. “We should try CPR.”
“Allie, what’s going on?” Mrs. Tunisian and Mrs. Schmidt came running up.
“It’s Kayla Cramdon,” Mrs. Schmidt said, and covered her mouth in shock.
“I’ll call nine-one-one,” Mrs. Tunisian said.
“I’ve already called,” I said. “She’s not breathing.”
“I can do mouth-to-mouth,” Mrs. Schmidt said, and hunkered down, pushing Patrick out of the way. She put her cheek by Kayla’s mouth. “You’re right, she isn’t breathing.” She felt for a pulse in her neck. “I can’t get a heartbeat, but she’s not stiff. I’m going to start CPR. Let’s get her all the way on her back.” She put one hand over the other, intertwined her fingers, and began steady, hard compressions.
The sirens in the distance got louder and louder as the ambulance approached. Automobiles were not allowed on Mackinac Island. It’s part of what gave the island its “back in time” feel. The only exceptions were the ambulance, the fire truck and a plow. Safety first.
George Marron stepped out of the ambulance, grabbed his emergency kit, and pushed past the growing crowd. “What’s going on?”
“I found her facedown in the snow. We turned her and Mrs. Schmidt started compressions,” I said.
“How long was she without oxygen?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Mal and I found her.” My puppy, Mal, wagged her stub tail at the sound of her name.
“All right, let me in,” George said. His copper skin shone in the sun and his long black hair was braided into a pigtail down his back. A second EMT I’d not met before hurried behind him with a backboard.
Rex Manning pulled up on a sn. . .
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