Widowed matchmaker Millie Fisher is anything but lonely between her mischievous goats, her quilting circle—and her habit of solving the odd murder or two . . .
Millie's decidedly not Amish best friend, Lois Henry, is outspoken, colorful, and so hopelessly romantic, she's had four husbands. Millie doesn't judge, and she also doesn't expect to run into Lois's most recent ex, gambler Gerome Moorhead, in small-town Harvest, Ohio. With him is the very young, new Mrs. Moorhead, aka "Honey Bee." Lois is outraged, but Millie is completely shocked to learn the next day that Gerome is already a widower . . .
When a large wood carving at the cozy Munich Chalet falls on "Honey Bee," all eyes turn toward Lois. Who else would want a tourist—a complete stranger—dead? And half of Harvest witnessed Lois's enmity toward the young woman. Suddenly Millie must put aside her sewing needle and flex her sleuthing skills. She's no stranger to a murder investigation, after all, and if she doesn't learn who killed Honey Bee, Lois could go from Millie's boisterous best friend to her horrified prison pen pal . . .
Release date: December 27, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Honeymoons Can Be Hazardous
I didn’t know anything about the air being magical. It wasn’t something Amish women thought or spoke about. Then again, I was Amish, but Lois most certainly was not. She wore a bright red beret over her short purple-red hair. Pink plastic hearts hung from her earlobes, and she had completed the outfit with a neon pink winter ski coat over light blue jeans.
I glanced down at my black boots, long navy skirt, and black wool coat, and then touched the wide brim of the black bonnet that covered most of my head. We could not have been more different.
“I just smell snow,” I said. The ice crust covering the snow that blanketed the square crackled with every step we took across the lawn.
Lois held her arms in the air and took in a long breath. Her arms fell at her sides. “Oh, Millie, your literal Amishness can get old at times.” However, she said all this with a smile to prove she was teasing me. “On a side note, what does snow smell like? It’s just water, right? How can it smell like anything at all?”
“I think it has a scent, or maybe not the snow exactly. The air does. Clean and crisp, I suppose.”
Lois cocked her head as she considered this, and the bright red beret slid to one side. She caught it before it fell off completely. “This silly thing. It won’t stay in place.” She stopped in the middle of the frozen square, opened the giant purse that was always at her side, stuck her hand inside, and came out with a fistful of bobby pins.
It was amazing to watch. There was no limit to the items Lois could pull out of that bag, and she always seemed to know the exact location of each and every thing she sought. It was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Which proved I knew a little bit about magic, or at least the traveling kind that comes to the Holmes County Fair every year.
She adjusted the beret on her head and jabbed half a dozen bobby pins into it. “There. This sucker isn’t going anywhere now!”
“Isn’t it the purpose of a winter hat to sit down over your ears to protect them from the cold?” I asked.
“If I wore it that way, no one would see my earrings.” She tapped the back of her left ear, and the chain of pink and red hearts swung back and forth from her earlobe. “What would be the point of my outfit without the earrings?”
It wasn’t a question I could answer. I had essentially been wearing one form or other of the same dress since I was a toddler. Even with my own plain background, I could recognize that her ensemble was something noteworthy. She stood head to toe in red, white, and pink. No one could get into the holiday spirit quite like Lois, and it didn’t even have to be a major holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Lois dressed up for all holidays. It didn’t matter how small. She donned a top hat on Lincoln’s birthday, for example.
A flyer posted on the gazebo flapped in the winter breeze.
“Oh,” Lois said. “That’s going to fly off, and then won’t Margot pitch a fit?”
Margot Rawlings was the village’s community organizer. I honestly didn’t know what her real title was, but I knew she was responsible for spearheading all the events that occurred on the square, and thanks to Margot, there were a lot. Her goal was to make Harvest as much a tourist destination as the better-known villages in Ohio’s Amish Country, such as Sugarcreek and Berlin.
The flyer was for the Valentine’s Day spaghetti dinner, and it was happening that evening at the church on the square. The event was to be hosted by the village of Harvest, the church, and several Amish communities to raise money for a drug counseling center in the village. The church would donate the space for the counseling center, and the fundraiser was to hire trained drug counselors for those seeking help. Over the last decade, drug use in rural Ohio had skyrocketed, and the Amish weren’t immune to it, either, although it was only whispered about in the community. Lois and I both had tickets to the dinner.
Lois reached into her purse, came out with a staple gun, and stapled the flyer back to the gazebo post. I didn’t even blink at the staple gun. It was par for the course with her.
She tucked the staple gun back into her purse and patted her hat one final time. “We had better pick up the pace. I promised Darcy I would be back by now. She usually doesn’t mind my running a little late, but tonight she has a date. She wants to go home and get ready,” Lois said in a loud whisper. “On Valentine’s Day weekend. Isn’t that wonderful? Who wants to be alone on Valentine’s Day?”
“Is the date with Bryan?” I asked.
Bryan Shell was a writer working on his first novel, or so he had told us. He wrote at the café every day. However, he spent more time watching Darcy than typing into his computer. It seemed that finally, he’d got up the courage to ask Darcy on a date after months of pining for her.
“Bryan Shell?” She shook her head. “Oh no. Darcy said that she wasn’t interested in him, and I haven’t seen him in the café for over a month. He fled. We haven’t seen him since.”
Now that she mentioned it, I realized I hadn’t seen Bryan in the last several weeks when I’d popped into the café to visit Lois and have some of Darcy’s blueberry pie. That came as a relief to me. I was a matchmaker and had a sense when two people should or shouldn’t be together. It was a gift from Gott, but one I only used if asked.
I didn’t charge money for my matchmaking services—I didn’t feel that it was right to make money off someone else’s happiness. It was just something I did because I cared about my community and wanted to see as many people happy in life and as happy in love as my late husband Kip and I were for our full twenty years of marriage.
Darcy never asked me if she thought Bryan was right for her, so I never shared my opinion with her. I was glad to hear that she’d come to the correct conclusion on her own. However, I was just as curious as her grandmother about this mystery man she was going out with.
“You won’t be alone. We are going to the spaghetti dinner tonight. Half the village will be there. It seems to be the way many villagers are spending their Valentine’s Day.” We left the gazebo and walked side by side across the snow-covered square. I was grateful for my sturdy boots, which kept me from slipping in the snow.
“Half the village, but not my better half, because I don’t have one.” She sighed. “I’m starting to get the itch, Millie.”
A gust of wind blew a chilly draft into my bonnet, and I tied its ribbons more tightly under my chin. “The itch?”
“Yes, to get married again. I know, I know what you’re thinking. That’s how I ended up married to Rocksino-Guy, which by any account was a disaster. He was a weasel through and through.”
“You pushed him into a swimming pool,” I said. A small part of me wished I had been there to see it. Lois did everything with a flourish. That farewell was sure to have made a big splash, both literally and figuratively.
“He deserved it,” she said with an uncharacteristic scowl on her face. Just as quickly, the scowl changed into her more common beaming smile. “And I have to say it was memorable. It’s the best way I could have imagined to tell a man I wanted a divorce. I would know, too, since it wasn’t my first time around the block.”
It certainly wasn’t. Lois had had a string of marriages since her twenties. Four, to be exact. She’d divorced three of those husbands, while her second husband had died. By her account, her second husband was the only man she’d ever truly loved. She’d married the two after him just searching for that spark again. So far, she hadn’t found it.
“Are you sure that you want to marry again?” I asked. “It hasn’t been easy.” I thought, as her closest friend, it was my place to talk some sense into her.
“Nothing worthwhile is easy, Millie. You know that better than most people.” She sighed. “I don’t ever want to give up on love. When I do, well, that would be the end of me.”
I envied Lois for being a hopeless romantic. I was far from it, and had been for a long time. I had my own sad stories speckling the past. The most notable was losing the love of my life, Kip Fisher, after twenty years of marriage and not even having a child to hold onto after that loss. The Lord did not bless us in that way.
After Kip died, I poured my energy into caring for my extended family. I realize now that I lost a bit of myself in that time. However, in truth, I didn’t mind. Helping others had distracted me from my own pain, and I felt fulfilled by caring for my family. I gave up on romantic love. Why should I expect to love again when I’d already been so happy with Kip? A year ago, I thought that I might have had another chance with an old childhood friend, Uriah Schrock, but it was not to be. He left Holmes County six months ago to live closer to his children in Indiana. I hadn’t heard from him since he’d left, and I did not expect him to return. My chances for love had come and gone. I hoped the same wasn’t true for Lois. I didn’t want her to give up on love, either. One of us needed to hold onto that dream.
I walked beside Lois as we crossed Church Street on our way to the Sunbeam Café.
The Sunbeam Café was a relatively recent addition to the businesses around the Harvest Square. It sat just on the other side of the cemetery and playground. By the cemetery, there was a large white church, where the spaghetti dinner would be held that night. Lois attended that church on occasion. Whether or not a person in Harvest was a member of the congregation, the building was familiar to all. Most of the village activities were held on the square, and the Englisch church, which had a committed and active congregation, often participated.
No one was more committed to the church than the pastor’s wife, Juliet Brook. Since marrying Reverend Brook two years ago, she had taken on the role of preacher’s wife with aplomb. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for the congregation, and nothing she wouldn’t do for her husband . . . except maybe give up her pet pig, Jethro. Not that Reverend Brook would ever ask her to. It would have been a scandal of sorts in the village. Jethro, for better or worse, had become the mascot of Harvest.
It had started with the success of Bailey’s Amish Sweets, a candy-making television show starring Bailey King, the local candy shop owner from Swissmen Sweets. Bailey wasn’t Amish, but her grandmother, Clara King, who owned the store with her, was. They still made candies using the traditional Amish methods, but I think Bailey snuck in a few ideas of her own from her days as a chocolatier in New York City. There were rumors in the village that big changes were coming to Swissmen Sweets, but I had learned not to believe rumors. It was always better to gather news from the source. Neither Bailey nor Clara had said anything to me about changes to the shop. Perhaps that wasn’t true. I wasn’t one to pry when no one was in danger. I had poked my nose into a murder or two in the village, but only to protect others.
I had seen snippets of the candy-making show on Lois’s phone. She’d asked me to watch bits she found particularly funny. I tried not to watch too much; it was not the Amish way to do such a thing. However, I think even the Good Lord could find the humor in a little pig from Ohio becoming a national television star.
If Juliet, who was decidedly biased when it came to Jethro’s acting talents, could be believed, the network powers-that-be were thinking of giving him his own show.
I was thinking about Juliet and Reverend Brook and their second-chance love story when Lois opened the glass door to the café. I expected her to waltz right in as she always did, so I kept walking and kept thinking until I ran into her. I bounced back. “Lois, why’d you stop?”
I had never heard of the café being so crowded that a person couldn’t step inside. Maybe that was true during one of the many festivals on the square, but not in the middle of a winter afternoon. Well, I supposed it was Valentine’s Day, but it seemed early yet for any big crowds to gather at the café.
“Lois?” I asked when she didn’t answer.
“You!” Lois said in the most threatening voice I had ever heard her use.
“Me?” I squeaked.
Lois didn’t respond to my comment, and I stood on my tiptoes to look over her shoulder. At the cash register, Lois’s granddaughter, Darcy, was ringing up a sale for a couple at the coffee counter. The woman, who I would guess was close to forty, stood next to a much older man, who could have been her father. However, they were standing close together and holding hands, so I guessed I was way off in thinking they were parent and child.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Rocksino-Guy!” Lois yelped.
My eyes went wide. This was Lois’s fourth husband?
I couldn’t help staring at the couple where they stood at the cash register across from Darcy as the man paid their bill. When he turned around, I noted he was shorter than the woman. He had gold rings on his fingers, and his hair was cut short, except for the comb-over that he’d used, unsuccessfully, to cover the bald spot on the top of his head.
The woman, meanwhile, was tall and broad-shouldered, and had a bright smile. Her hair was blond and shoulder-length.
“This is Rocksino-Guy?” I asked. It was hard for me to believe. All of Lois’s husbands—at least the ones I had known—had been handsome men. Lois called them tens all the way. This man was pleasant-enough-looking, but I couldn’t imagine what she had seen in him. Then again, they had been divorced for several years now. Maybe he had changed. Time wasn’t always kind.
She called him by that name because she’d met him at the Rocksino in Cleveland. I knew very little else about him. I certainly hadn’t known what he looked like or that Lois would react so strongly to seeing him again.
“Yes, the lying, cheating cad. What are you doing in my café?” Lois wanted to know.
I cringed. I didn’t think this was how Lois imagined her first reunion with Rocksino-Guy going. I doubted she’d thought she would ever see him in Holmes County, Ohio, much less in her granddaughter’s café.
Rocksino-Guy’s mouth fell open. “Lois, is that really you? I never for a minute thought I’d run into you while I was in Holmes County. I should have known better. By the way you used to tell it, you ran this county.”
“Lois, can you step into the café? You’re letting all the warm air out.” I said this because it was true, and also, I didn’t want her to scare off the tourists strolling around Harvest with her shouts. There wasn’t much I could do to protect the diners inside the café. Thankfully, only two tables had customers.
She stumbled forward but didn’t appear happy about it. When I stepped into the café, I removed my bonnet.
“Is that a real Amish person?” the woman asked. “I’ve seen them on the side of the road, walking, or in their buggies, but I’ve never seen one this close up.”
I felt my cheeks redden. In truth, the woman’s rudeness wasn’t uncommon. Most Englisch were very kind, if a little bit curious about the Amish they saw in Holmes County. However, there were others—apparently, like this woman—who saw members of my church as curiosities and oddities. I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying something rude back.
Lois wasn’t in as much control of her mouth as I was. “This is my dear friend Millie Fisher, and if you look at her for one more second like she’s a zoo animal, I’m going to smack that expression right off your face.”
The woman sucked in a breath.
Rocksino-Guy—I realized I still didn’t know his real name—cleared his throat. “Are you here for lunch, Lois? This is a lively spot. It’s a break from all the heavy Amish food. I highly recommend the Valentine’s pie.”
The Valentine’s pie was a red berry pie that was a mixture of strawberries, red raspberries, and cranberries. It had been a hit all month long for the café, and Lois was quite proud of its success. However, she didn’t appear to be happy that Rocksino-Guy had eaten some.
Lois folded her arms. “The Valentine’s pie was my idea. This is my café.”
Darcy cleared her throat behind the counter.
“This is my granddaughter’s café and therefore my family’s place,” Lois corrected herself.
He put a hand to his throat as if he were afraid he might choke. “Y-you made the pie?”
“No, I don’t cook or bake or do any of those domestic things. I work here, serving people. However, I must say that I would not have served you if you were seated in my section.”
His shoulders sagged. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought I was a goner for a moment there.”
Lois put her hands on her hips. “Why are you here, Gerome?”
Gerome? Of all the names that I would have given Rocksino-Guy, that wasn’t even on the list.
He grinned from ear to ear. “We’re on our honeymoon. The area is charming. Don’t you agree, Honeybee?”
Honeybee had to be at least thirty years Gerome’s junior. She smiled at her new husband as she sipped her latte from a paper to-go cup. “It’s perfect, Big Bear.” She looked back at us. “We wanted a simple honeymoon. No frills and not too far from home. Holmes County was the perfect choice.”
“Honeybee? Big Bear?” Lois said to me in a hoarse whisper. “It’s enough to make you want to toss your cookies.”
“Lois.” I eyed Gerome and Honeybee—I supposed I had to think of her as such, since I didn’t know her name yet—who were listening closely. “They can hear you.”
Lois folded her arms. “So what if they can? I think anyone would be rolling their eyes at those ridiculous names.”
I shook my head.
Gerome cleared his throat. “Maybe, Lois, you could tell us some nice places to visit while we’re in the county? I remember you told me that you grew up around here.”
Honeybee clapped her hands together. “We have a long list already. Let’s not bother your friend when she’s clearly . . .” She trailed off, as if she were unable to describe Lois’s expression.
I knew what it was, though. Furious. Lois was furious. About what exactly, I couldn’t yet tell.
Honeybee cleared her throat. “I want to visit the candy shop, Swissmen Sweets, for sure. I’m a huge fan of that television show. Bailey makes it look so effortless, but I know it’s not. I’ve tried candy making so many times and failed horribly. I’m much better at selling things than making them myself, but the world needs all kinds, right?”
“Bailey is very talented,” I agreed. “And her grandmother is, as well. They trained up everyone who works with them right. I’m Lois’s friend, Millie Fisher, by the way. I don’t think I caught your name.”
“It’s Paige. Paige Moorhead as of two days ago.” She sighed as if she couldn’t believe her good fortune. “It’s a dream come true to finally call myself Mrs. Moorhead. It’s an honor to be married to such an upstanding and successful man, and to know I’ll be taken care of for the rest of my life. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Upstanding and successful are not the adjectives I would use to describe Rocksino-Guy,” Lois muttered under her breath. “And I thought young women today were more concerned with taking care of themselves than finding a man to do it for them.”
I poked her in her side with my elbow, hoping that would be enough to encourage her to watch her tongue.
Gerome smiled at her. “I don’t know if I have ever heard a lovelier name. I’m a lucky man. I can’t believe she said yes when I popped the question, and then when we recited our vows to Elvis in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was a perfect winter day, too, with fresh snow on the ground and blue skies over Lake Erie.”
“You were married by Elvis at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” All the color drained from Lois’s face. “That is what I wanted. That’s what I asked to do.”
“Oh, I know. When I shared your idea with Honeybee, she agreed it was perfect.”
Lois’s face turned an odd shade of red that wasn’t far from the red-purple color of her hair. “You said that we couldn’t get married there because it was too corny. Now, it’s not corny any longer?”
Paige looked from Lois to her husband and back again as if it had just dawned on her that the connection between them was deeper than a casual friendship. “How do the two of you know each other exactly? Why would you be talking about a wedding?”
“Old friends,” Gerome said at the exact same time Lois said, “We were married.”
Of those two statements, Paige unsurprisingly latched onto Lois’s comment. “You were married?” she asked with a squeak in her voice. “Gerome,” she said, not calling him by her pet name for the very first time. “You told me you’d never been married before, that I was the only woman you’d ever proposed to.”
“That’s true,” Gerome said. “Getting married was Lois’s idea, not mine. We were together two da. . .
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