USA Today bestselling author
Fudge shop owner Allie McMurphy never expected her maid of honor duties to include clearing the groom of murder . . .
THE BODY OF A CRIME
It’s late spring on picturesque Mackinac Island, Michigan. Allie is prepping her Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop for the start of the tourist season and her best friend Jenn’s wedding. But when Jenn’s fiancé Shane, a crime scene investigator on the island, misses a dinner date, the two friends go looking for him. Led by Allie’s bichonpoo Mal into an alley, they come upon Shane standing over a body with a bloody knife in his hand. Shane won’t say what’s happened, just tells them to call 911. As the CSI is taken into custody by his colleagues, including Allie’s beau Rex Manning, the fudge maker vows to prove her friend’s fiancé is not a killer—before the ceremony turns into a jailhouse wedding . . .
Praise for Nancy Coco and the Candy-Coated Mysteries
“An easy romantic read complete with fudge recipes that make it even sweeter.”
“Full of disguises, danger, and one determined amateur sleuth.”
“A fun and fast-paced cozy mystery.”
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Release date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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Here Comes the Fudge
I stopped short and looked up to see Peter Ramfield salute me with a paintbrush. Waving back at him, I stepped off the sidewalk in front of the McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop to get a view of the new color. “Is it bad luck for you or me?” I asked.
“I think it’s best if we don’t find out either way,” he said.
“That’s probably true,” I called up. Lately I’ve had my fair share of bad luck and didn’t want to cause it for anyone else.
At least now the McMurphy was remodeled and back to its glory. The historic committee had agreed I could go back to the original butter yellow color with pale blue trim. The old girl looked quite lovely decked out in her new colors.
“How’s it looking?” Mike Hangleford called from his place on the scaffold beside Peter.
“Looks great!” I said and did a thumbs-up motion. Mike’s company had won the bid to paint the exterior of the building.
Winter retreated slowly on the island and this spring had been cold. The temperatures were only now reasonable for outdoor painting. The guys were pros, painting quick enough to take advantage of the warmth and make the McMurphy whole again.
It was the last week of May on Mackinac Island and we were far enough north to still get frost. I wore a spring jacket over a hooded sweatshirt and a turtleneck made of cotton and sprigged with flowers. The sun shone warmly in a bright blue sky, but the wind was cool off the lake as it brushed up against the flowers on Main Street.
Still, it was warm enough to paint. That was what I told myself anyway. The early bird pricing was also attractive.
Technically we had less than one week until the tourist season started. Main Street officially opened to tourists the first week of June, but I had chosen to be open year-round. During the dark, deep winter months of January, February, and March, I had only one, maybe two guests a week. Often they were contractors working on the interiors of the stately Victorian cottages. The homes were called “cottages” and considered vacation homes, even though they were huge, sometimes three-story mansions with gingerbread accents and wraparound porches.
“Hold the door!” my best friend, Jenn, called as I went to open it. She hurried around the scaffolding. “Thanks! Isn’t it gorgeous out?” Her face glowed, her cheeks rosy from the wind.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m so glad the weather is finally warming up—especially with the summer season starting next week.” We both walked into the McMurphy’s lobby. My bichon-poodle pup, Mal, greeted us with a joyous bark, followed by a run and slide. She loved sliding and hitting my legs with her head first.
Reaching down, I picked her up and scratched her behind the ears. Mella, my calico cat, opened one eye and gave the dog a disapproving look from her curled-up position on top of one of the wing-backed chairs near the fireplace.
“I’ve got the most amazing good news,” Jenn said. “I booked the Wilkins wedding.” Jenn was not only my best friend, but was a business partner, building her event-planning operation out of my office.
“Wonderful,” I said. “When is it?”
“They want to be married the second week of June,” she said as she opened an app on her cell phone.
“Wait, isn’t your wedding next week?” I had to point out the obvious. “How are you going to have time to plan hers and yours? What about your honeymoon?”
“The Wilkins wedding is the event of the year and I am not turning down the opportunity to build my brand. Besides, they want to use your new rooftop deck. Think of the view and the pictures. It’ll be the best publicity of the year. People will start booking the entire hotel for the wedding party. You’re only a carriage ride away from historic St. Anne’s Church and the beach.”
“But your wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” I said. “You should be concentrating on that.”
“That’s what I have you for,” she said with a wave of her beautifully manicured hand. The one-carat, princess-cut diamond on her finger sparkled in the light.
“I’m your maid of honor, so it’s my responsibility to let you know that I don’t want work to overshadow your big day.” We walked through the pink-and-white-striped lobby of the McMurphy to the back corner, where the reception desk was.
Frances Devaney, my general manager for the hotel, sat behind the desk working on her computer. “I have to agree with Allie,” Frances said. “As anew bride myself, I can tell you that your wedding day is more stressful than you think. Seriously, it’s very different from planning someone else’s.”
“Pooh,” Jenn said. “I have everything about my day under control.” She raised her hand, counting on her fingers. “My dress is coming in this week from Chicago and I have an appointment with Sara Grant for final alterations. Sandy Everheart is making the cake, which is a salted honey, orange blossom cake with honey and orange buttercream frosting. She’s going to make a chocolate carriage with a bride-and-groom figure for the top. Then the rest will be decorated with real flowers that mimic my bouquet. Which I’ve ordered already. Terra Reeves is going to cater the reception, which will take place on your rooftop deck, and set up as an informal buffet. We’re having ham and scalloped potatoes, which are Shane’s favorite. Bruce Miller will deejay and we’ll dance the night away with family and friends.”
I shook my head and smiled at the dreamy, determined look on her face. “You know as well as I do that even the best-planned events can take wrong turns along the way.”
“Pish,” she said and leaned on the reception desk. “I have back-up plans for my back-up plans. It’ll be perfect and I’ll have plenty of time to work on the wedding of the year.”
“Where are you two going for your honeymoon?” Frances asked. Frances was seventy-three years old and had gotten married last summer to my handyman, Douglas Devaney. The two had delayed their honeymoon until after the tourist season. “The Bahamas are great. Quite a bit more sun and warmth than here, although I do love our beaches.”
Frances was five foot four at one time and had shrunk an inch or two as she aged. She had short brown hair and wide brown eyes. Today she wore a long, red sweater over a yellow blouse and a yellow and red skirt that covered her knees. Her makeup was always perfectly done. I had seen pictures of her in the ’60s and her hair had been a short bouffant. It still was well styled and you would guess she was in her early sixties.
“Shane and I are meeting for dinner at six to make our final choice,” Jenn said. “I want to see Paris in the springtime. He’s more practical and thinks we should go to Quebec instead.” She sighed.
“Quebec is lovely in the spring,” Frances said. “You can save money for a house.”
“Oh, we don’t have to save,” Jenn said. “That’s where I went this morning. We bought the old Carver cottage near Turtle Park.”
“You bought a house?” I asked. “How did you swing that?”
“The Carver cottage has been abandoned for a decade at least,” Frances said. “I heard it was on the auction block.”
“Yes,” Jenn said. “We got it for ten grand. It needs a new roof, new windows, new floors, new plumbing, upgraded electrical, and other minor upgrades. The basics like the roof, plumbing, and electrical will be done before the wedding so that we can move in and finish the rest ourselves. Shane and I are excited about doing a lot of the work.”
“I didn’t know Shane was into construction,” I said. Shane Carpenter was the crime scene investigator for Mackinac County, which included Mackinac Island and St. Ignace, which was a ferry ride away on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
“He put himself through college roofing homes,” Jenn said. “I’m going to do the decorating. Anything we can’t do ourselves will be done by Shane’s friends.”
“Sounds like fun,” I said. “But are you sure you aren’t doing too much?”
“Have you ever known me not to accomplish what I set out to do?” Jenn asked.
“No,” I said with a smile. “But you’ve never been the bride before, either.” I put Mal down so she could settle into her dog bed beside Frances. “Just don’t be afraid to ask for help. You have friends who are willing to pitch in.”
“I know,” Jenn said. “That’s why I love you guys. Okay, I’ve got to scoot. I promised to set up a cake tasting for Jessica Booth. She and Max, and the families are all in Chicago. Good thing I know some great cake shops in Chicago.”
“Wait, the Wilkinses aren’t local?” I asked.
“No, silly, that’s why we’re going to rent the entire McMurphy for the wedding weekend.”
“But don’t you want to be there for the cake tasting?” I asked.
“That’s why we have airplanes,” Jenn said. “Which reminds me, I have to call Sophie to schedule flights up and back for myself and the family. Got to run!” She hurried up the stairs behind the reception desk.
The McMurphy’s lobby took up the entire first floor of the building. At the front of the building, in the right-hand corner, was the fudge shop. I had walled it off in glass so that guests could watch the fudge making and my pets would be safely outside the kitchen.
Across from the fudge shop was a small, cozy sitting area with free Wi-Fi, a fireplace. and open views to Main Street. Behind the sitting area was Frances’s station, which included the reception desk and mailbox cubbies for the guest rooms. Across from that was another seating area with winged-back chairs, two comfy couches, and the all-day coffee bar.
Finally, there were two sweeping staircases to the upper floors on either side of the lobby and in the center of the back wall was an old-fashioned, open elevator for guests who couldn’t walk up the stairs.
“That girl has too much energy,” Frances said with a shake of her head. “But it’s great that she is going to fill the McMurphy with wedding guests.”
“I know two weeks out is the middle of June, but it’s been so cold this year. I hope it’s not too chilly for the reception on the rooftop deck.”
“We have the tower heaters,” Frances pointed out. “That was a good investment, by the way. Along with the white tent top in case of rain.”
“Those were for Jenn’s reception,” I said. “But if she keeps reserving the rooftop for her events, they will pay for themselves by the end of the season.”
“I don’t know where she gets her energy, but I’m glad she’s back.”
“Me, too,” I said. “Her time in Chicago nearly broke my heart.”
“We have Shane to thank for her return.” Frances looked down through her brown cat-eye glasses at her computer screen.
I agreed. Last fall Jenn had an opportunity to work for one of the most prestigious event planners in Chicago and we had all let her go. But by Christmas she had missed us and realized she couldn’t be away from Shane. So she had come back and proposed her own event planning business, to be run out of the McMurphy. I had agreed immediately, of course. Shane, on the other hand, had taken his time to welcome her back. But when he did, he did it with an engagement ring.
The dead of winter isn’t the best time to start an event planning business on Mackinac Island because it’s really isolated, so Jenn had gone back to Chicago until April to finish out her contract. It was great to see her so happy—even if she was making me wear a blush pink bridesmaid’s dress.
It was nearly nine p.m. and I was getting ready for bed when my phone blew up with a flurry of text messages. I heard the whoosh beep, whoosh beep, whoosh beep as the messages came through. It was not a good sound. I put down my hairbrush and picked up the phone, but before I could read the messages, the phone rang. It was Jenn.
“Jenn, what’s going on?” I sat down on the edge of my bed. Mal looked up at me from the floor while Mella leaped onto the bed and eased over to me.
“Shane didn’t show up for dinner,” she said. Her tone was one part angry and another part worried. “I sent him text messages, but he didn’t answer. I called and it went to his voice mail.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in front of the Nag’s Head Bar and Grill,” she said. “We were supposed to meet here at seven. I waited until eight to call him. I mean, sometimes he can get caught up in his work at the lab. But he’s never been this late.”
“Did you call his office?”
“Yes,” she said and blew out a long breath. “He left at five. The ferry company says he was on the five-thirty ferry. So he’s here, but I don’t know where. I’m worried.”
“I’ll get dressed and meet you down there,” I said. “Call Rex and see if he might know what’s going on. I’ll text you his cell number so you don’t have to go through the police dispatch.”
“Thanks,” Jenn said. “I’m sorry, I know you like to go to bed early.”
“Don’t worry, just stay where you are and I’ll meet you.” I pulled on a pair of jeans and a thick, long, pullover sweater. Mal followed me around, wagging her stump tail hard. “Oh, you think you’re going out?”
She was totally going out with me. When it came to my friends and my fur babies, I would drop everything to make them happy. I put on her halter and leash. She grabbed her leash with her mouth and followed me out of the apartment, down the stairs, and out through the lobby.
Luckily I remembered to snag my jacket on the way out of the lobby. We stepped outside, and a brisk wind rushed off the lake, forcing me to zip my jacket quickly and pull my gloves from my pockets. Mal followed along beside me, carrying her leash. We were a block away from the bar when Mal spotted Jenn and sprinted toward her.
“Mal!” Jenn called her name and picked her up and scratched her behind the ears.
“I thought you could use a couple of friendly faces,” I said. “Did Rex know anything?”
“No,” Jenn said and I could see the dark shadows of worry on her face from the light given off by the bar. “He said it had only been a couple of hours and he was certain there was nothing to worry about.”
“But you’re worried,” I said.
“Shane’s never done this,” she said. “Never. And then to not pick up my calls or even send me a text . . . Something is wrong.”
“I agree,” I said and put my arm through hers. “But it’s freezing out here. Let’s go grab a coffee at the Lucky Bean and make a plan.”
“Okay,” Jenn said, sounding a little bit comforted by my and Mal’s presence. “I’m glad you came. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just go home and wait. What if he’s lying in a street somewhere hurt?”
I gently guided her toward Market Street and the Lucky Bean, which was across from the police station. She clung to Mal like a lifeline. My pup loved the attention and I was glad I’d brought her. “I know Rex downplayed your concern, but don’t think he’s not looking for Shane, too.”
The streets were dark, lit by only a handful of replica gaslights that now burned electricity. A horse-drawn carriage went by, the hooves clipping at a slow. steady state. Mackinac Island banned all motor vehicles except for the fire truck and ambulance. It meant that most people got around by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, or walking. I liked the fact that life moved at a slower pace here. It drew people to vacation on the island and enjoy a step back in time.
We got to the mouth of the alley that ran between Main and Market streets. Mal sniffed the air, barked, and leaped out of Jenn’s arms.
“Mal!” we both called at the same time as she took off, dragging her leash down the alley away from the McMurphy. We hurried after her. The alley was dark and filled with the trash bins and back-door decks of the apartments and shops that lined Main Street.
“I can’t see her,” Jenn said.
I pulled out my phone and hit the flashlight app. It lit a few feet in front of us. I heard Mal bark. We moved swiftly in her direction. Mal stopped and barked again. My flashlight caught the shadow of a man wearing a short coat. His back was to us and when he turned we recognized him.
“Shane!” Jenn and I said at the same time.
Shane turned back and the light from my phone glinted off something metal in his hand. Something dark dripped from what looked like a hunting knife. I stopped cold when I saw a heap at Shane’s feet.
“Shane?” Jenn slowed as her brain registered the scene.
“Call nine-one-one,” Shane said, his voice sounding shaky. “There’s been a murder.”
“Shane?” Jenn said.
“Stand back,” he said. His hand shook. “This is an active crime scene.”
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
“Charlene,” I said, keeping my eye on Shane. “There’s been an incident. We’re in the alley between Huron Street Pub and Grill and the Lilac Bed and Breakfast. Please send the police and the ambulance.”
“I’ve notified them both,” Charlene said. “Allie, did you find another dead body?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. Jenn opened her mouth and I put up my hand like a stop sign. “There’s a lot of blood.”
“Well, thankfully you are close to the police station. You should be able to hear sirens.”
“I do,” I said and took Jenn’s hand and gently pulled her to my side.
Rex ran down the alley. He was wearing workout gear, but had his gun in his hand. Officer Brown was not far behind him, wearing his on-duty uniform and r. . .
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