Mocha, Marriage and Murder
But with less than a week to go their plans go up in smoke when the wedding venue is burned to the ground...and then a dead body is found. Wedding preparations are swapped for sleuthing when Ally joins forces with her grandmother and the three ladies to try and find the murderer.
With Ally's trusty feline-friend Peaches and pot-bellied pig Arnold for support, it is a race against time for Ally, Charlotte and their sleuthing sidekicks to find the murderer, so that Ally and Luke can finally tie the knot.
Recipe Included: Mocha Cake with Mocha Buttercream Frosting
Join Ally, Charlotte, Arnold and Peaches for a fun, puzzling, heartwarming cozy mystery by USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Cindy Bell.
Buy Mocha, Marriage and Murder to start solving the murder today!
Release date: April 26, 2021
Print pages: 151
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Mocha, Marriage and Murder
“You’re humming.” Charlotte Sweet nudged her granddaughter, Ally Sweet, with her elbow. “Huh?” Ally glanced up from the tray of candies she had just finished emptying.
“You’re humming.” Charlotte grinned as she met her eyes. “Oh sorry, I didn’t realize.” Ally blushed as she looked back down at the empty tray.
“There’s nothing wrong with it.” Charlotte wrapped her arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “I’m happy, to see you so happy.”
“It’s true.” Ally laughed as she leaned her head against her grandmother’s. “I’m just so excited.”
“Most brides are stressed the week leading up to their wedding, but you seem to be handling it just fine, even with Mrs. Bing, Mrs. Cale, and Mrs. White in charge of the catering.” Charlotte glanced at the order sheet above the table. “We only have a few more boxes to fill.”
“I’m only so relaxed because you’ve been so much help, Mee-Maw. Without you working in the shop with me, I don’t think I would have managed to fill all of these orders, plus get everything arranged for the wedding. I’m sure they will do a great job with the catering.” Ally smiled.
“I wish I had the same faith in them as you do.” Charlotte shook her head. “The way they bicker, it worries me a bit. It’s okay to tell them that you’re going with someone else, that’s all I’m saying, Ally.” She pulled a tray of chocolates from the cooling area and set it down on the counter.
“I think it will be great!” Ally grinned as she lined up some empty boxes to fill. “It’s so nice of them to offer. They’re so excited about it. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“With those three?” Charlotte raised an eyebrow. “I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t come to blows over where the soup bowl goes, and how many rolls to put in the basket.”
“Yes, they can be a little wild, but their hearts are always in the right place. Besides, Mrs. White will keep everyone in line.” Ally began filling one of the boxes with candies.
“I’m sure she will at least try.” Charlotte began filling another box. “I’m looking forward to making the cake, that’s for sure. I am grateful that you are letting me do it.”
“Letting you?” Ally looked at her grandmother. “Mee-Maw, I am absolutely honored that you offered. Don’t tell Luke, but I’d get married to anyone just to have some of that cake.” Ally smiled as she thought of her fiancé, Detective Luke Elm.
“Ally!” Laughter burst past Charlotte’s smile.
“I mean, it’s great that I also get to marry a wonderful man, but really, the cake is what’s doing it for me.” Ally grinned.
“Stop! You’re so bad.” Charlotte gave her a light push on the shoulder as she smiled. “I know how excited you are to spend the rest of your life with Luke.”
“I don’t hide it well, do I?” Ally’s cheeks warmed as she dropped a candy into the box. “I know I’ve been married before, but this time it feels so different. I was going through the motions the first time, it felt like it was expected, but this time it’s something I truly want. And to think it all came from moving back home, after I felt as if everything had fallen apart.”
“It just shows that you never know what will happen in the future.” Charlotte tipped her head into the side of Ally’s and smiled. “I couldn’t be happier for the two of you.”
“I’m happy, too. But I will be happier when all of the planning is done. This last-minute running around takes away some of the fun. Sometimes, I wonder if there wasn’t a simpler way of doing things. We have to go out to the venue today and give our final payment, but on the way, we’re going to stop by the dress shop and the florist. Once that’s done, we’re pretty much ready, and can just enjoy each other’s company until the weekend.” Ally put the lid on the box of candies.
“Ally! The dress shop?” Charlotte frowned. “Luke can’t go in there with you, what if he sees your dress?”
“Oh, Mee-Maw, I don’t worry about those superstitions. But I’m sure he’ll want to wait in the car. It’s not exactly a thrilling way to spend the morning for him either. I just have to check out a few changes they made to the veil, it’ll be a quick trip.”
“You picked out such a beautiful dress.” Charlotte put the lid on the box of candies in front of her. “And the venue is gorgeous, too. When I was there last year for Paul and Mia’s wedding, I was stunned by all of the little details they added in to make it special.”
“Everyone loves it. I like the fact that it will be mostly outside, then we can go into the barn to eat and dance.” Ally shrugged. “I’m just not so sure Luke is that thrilled with it.”
“What makes you think that?” Charlotte grabbed another box to fill.
“I’m not sure exactly. He kept asking me if I was sure it was what I wanted. He even suggested getting married in a church.” Ally smiled and shook her head. “I like the simplicity of it, but sometimes I wonder if he imagined something different.”
“I’m sure he just wants to make sure that you have a beautiful day.” Charlotte patted Ally’s shoulder. “My guess is, all that matters to him, is that he gets to marry you.”
“Aw, that’s sweet. That, and getting a slice of that mocha cake you’re making. It’s so clever to include two of our favorite things, coffee and chocolate.” Ally grinned. “The cake is one thing he hasn’t stopped talking about.”
“Good to know. I know it isn’t traditional, but hopefully it will be delicious.” Charlotte filled the next box.
“Of course it will be.” Ally smiled. “You make the most amazing cakes, Mee-Maw.”
“Thanks, honey.” Charlotte closed up the box. “Sometimes, all of the details can be overwhelming. I’m sure as the day gets closer, he will start to share in the excitement.”
“I hope so. But either way, I’m just glad it’s happening. With his work schedule, and Charlotte’s Chocolate Heaven being so popular, I wasn’t sure that we were going to make it work so soon.”
Ally dropped the last candy into the last box and placed the lid on it. As she glanced up at the clock she gasped.
“Oops, I wasn’t paying attention to the time. We are supposed to be on the road by now. Luke wants to walk the grounds a bit around the barn. Something about making sure there are no wild animals nearby. I think he’s still getting used to living in the country.” Ally laughed. “I’m not sure what he’s expecting, a bear or a skunk?”
“Smart of him to consider it.” Charlotte waved her toward the door. “Go on, I’ll make sure these orders get picked up.”
“Thank you so much, Mee-Maw!” Ally gave her a quick hug, then headed for the front of the shop. She picked up her purse and pulled out her phone. She saw a few texts from Luke. The last one let her know he was outside. She stepped out through the front door and noticed his car.
Luke leaned casually against the side of it, his gaze cast up toward the sky. As she searched for any hint of annoyance at being kept waiting, she noticed the way the sun danced across his skin. Butterflies. The details of the wedding didn’t really matter to her, all that mattered was marrying Luke.
“Sorry, I lost track of the time, Luke!” Ally started across the parking lot.
“Hey beautiful.” Luke stood up from the car and walked toward her with a warm smile.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were out here, I hope you weren’t waiting long.” Ally walked up to him and met his lips with a quick kiss.
“I wasn’t. I was just about to come get you.” Luke gazed into her eyes as he wrapped his arms around her. “I wish we could spend the day together relaxing, instead of running errands.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll have some time after everything.” Ally brushed her fingertips back through his hair and studied him with a smile. “I can’t believe this is happening. You’re sure right? There’s still time to back out.”
“Ally!” Luke rolled his eyes as he tightened his grip on her. “You have to stop asking me that.” He kissed her forehead.
“That’s not actually an answer.” Ally raised an eyebrow.
Luke dropped down to one knee and looked up at her. As he took her hand and met her eyes, he smiled.
“Ally, I’ll propose to you every single day for the rest of our lives, if that’s what it takes to convince you that I’m sure.” Luke squeezed her hand. “So, will you?”
“Stop being silly, we’re going to be late.” Ally laughed as she pulled him back up to his feet.
“That’s not really an answer.” Luke smiled.
“Every single day, I will, of course, Luke.” Ally laughed.
Luke looked at his watch. “You’re right, we do have to get going. I want everything to go smoothly.”
“It will.” Ally patted his chest. “Don’t worry.” She walked around to the passenger side of the car and climbed in.
Luke started the car and glanced over at her. “Where to?”
“First stop is the dress shop.” Ally scrolled through the to-do list on her phone. “We’re almost at the end of all of this. Just need to confirm the flower order, and then make the final payment at the venue, and we’ll be ready to go. But can we quickly stop at the cottage first and check on Arnold and Peaches. It won’t take long. I came to the shop early today, so I want to check on them.”
“Of course.” Luke smiled. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Peaches, and my buddy Arnold of course.”
Ally remembered how shocked Luke was that her grandmother had a pot-bellied pig as a pet. But they had quickly become friends.
Luke pulled into the driveway of the cottage and they both got out. Ally walked to the front door. As she approached, she heard meowing and squealing. They had obviously heard the car pull up.
Ally opened the door and stepped inside with Luke close behind. Arnold and Peaches ran straight over to them. The orange cat wound around her legs and Ally bent down to pet her. Arnold ran past Ally and straight to Luke.
“Hi buddy. Good to see you.” Luke smiled as he crouched down to greet him.
“I’ll get some food for them, if you take them out the back for a quick run?” Ally started toward the kitchen.
“Perfect.” Luke walked over to the back door.
As Ally prepared their food she heard Luke’s laughter, which immediately brought a smile to her lips. She looked through the kitchen window to find Peaches hot on Arnold’s tail.
Ally placed their bowls on the floor.
“Food’s ready.” She called out. The animals ran straight past Luke into the house.
As they ate their food she filled their water bowls.
“Okay, we better get going.” She looked over at Luke and patted Arnold and Peaches goodbye. They walked straight over to their beds and lay down.
“Eating is tiring, it seems.” Luke laughed, then followed Ally out to the car.
“To the dress shop first.” Ally put on her seatbelt.
“Great.” Luke pulled onto the street and headed in the direction of the dress shop. “You’ve been so busy with all of this, and running the chocolate shop, I hope you’re not wearing yourself out.”
“I don’t mind.” Ally smiled as she glanced at him. “It’s for our special day. We only get to get married once. Well, twice for me, but this is the last time.”
“Promise?” Luke grinned as he glanced at her, then ducked out of the way of her swat. “I’m kidding, I’m just kidding. You’ve done a great job with all of this. I know I haven’t been much help.” He shook his head. “Things at work have been pretty quiet, but that means catching up on a ton of paperwork. But the good thing is, we’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy our honeymoon, no rush to get back to work.”
“Honeymoon?” Ally blinked. “What honeymoon? I thought we agreed that we needed to get back to work the day after the wedding. The shop will be busy, and there’s bound to be a few crimes that need your attention.”
“Not funny, Ally.” Luke turned into the parking lot of the dress shop. “You’re mine, for a whole week. Nothing is changing that.”
“Hm, I don’t remember agreeing to that?” Ally’s eyes widened as she shook her head. “I’ll have to check my schedule.”
“You!” Luke put the car in park.
“Oh right, that honeymoon.” Ally laughed. “I guess, I could make some time for that.” She popped open the door of the car.
Luke opened his door as well.
“Where are you going?” Ally caught his arm.
“We’re going into the dress shop, right?” Luke frowned.
“You can’t come in there.” Ally’s heart skipped a beat.
“Oh?” Luke laughed. “Why?”
“I want the dress to be a surprise.” Ally shrugged, then smiled. “I’ll be right back.”
“Alright, I’ll be here, picturing you in your wedding dress.” Luke turned on the radio.
Ally hurried into the dress shop.
“Ally, there you are!” Morgan greeted her with a quick hug. “I was wondering when you might show up.”
“Sorry, we got a late start.” Ally handed her a box of her favorite candies. She was a regular at the chocolate shop.
“Thank you.” Morgan smiled as she placed the box on the counter. “Don’t worry about being late, you’re going to love this.” She opened a small, white box and lifted out a gauzy veil. “See the beading in the lace?” She pointed out tiny white and silver beads that had been added to the veil. “I just knew it would be perfect. Do you like it?”
“It’s gorgeous.” Ally blushed as she looked it over. “I don’t know though, maybe it’s a little too fancy?”
“Ally, just try it on.” Morgan helped her position it on her head, then walked her over to a mirror. “Take a look, and tell me if you want to change it.”
Ally took a sharp breath as she saw her reflection in the mirror. The veil sparkled in the overhead lights, but its beauty paled in comparison to the rush of excitement she felt.
“This is really happening, isn’t it? I’m really getting married to Luke.”
“Yes, honey, it’s happening.” Morgan smiled as she lifted the veil off of Ally’s head. “So, that’s a yes on the veil?”
“Yes, it’s perfect. Thank you.” Ally took a deep breath, then cleared her throat. “Okay, on to the florist.”
“Good luck! I’m sure Gloria has everything ready for you.” Morgan waved to Ally as she walked out the door.
“Is it purple?” Luke started the engine as she climbed back into the car.
“Is what purple?” Ally stared at him.
“The dress? I was picturing purple. You look beautiful in purple.”
“No, it’s not purple!” Ally laughed. “The florist is next.”
“Too bad, I love you in purple.” Luke drove a few blocks down to the florist, then parked again. “Can I come in this time or are the flowers a surprise, too?”
“If you keep teasing me, I’m going to send you home!” Ally smiled.
Luke laughed. “Let’s go look at some flowers, that could never be as beautiful as you.”
“Cheesy Luke, real cheesy.” Ally laughed as she stepped out of the car.
She pulled the door of the florist open and Luke walked in behind her.
“Ally, Luke, it’s so good to see you!” Gloria set down the bouquet of flowers in her hand and walked over to them. “I don’t need much of your time, just need you to go over a few of the arrangements.” She led them over to a small, white table with matching chairs.
“I’m sure everything will be just fine.” Ally sat down across from her.
“Let’s see, let’s see.” Gloria flipped open an album and ran her fingertip over the pictures. “Yes, here we are. This is the bouquet you chose, right?” She looked up at Ally with a smile.
Ally stared down at the bouquet, then shook her head. “No, we decided on yellow and white, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right, so sorry. It’s been quite a busy morning.” Gloria flipped through the pages of the album, then pointed to another picture. “This one, right?”
“Yes, that’s it. It is the one you ordered, right?” Ally looked into her eyes.
“It is, absolutely, the change just slipped my mind. It’s lovely. I had a similar one at my wedding.” Gloria’s lips pursed, then she shook her head. “It was the only beautiful thing about that day.”
Ally glanced at Luke, then looked back at Gloria. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She knew that Gloria wasn’t married, so she presumed the marriage hadn’t worked out.
“Oh, look at me, bringing down the room.” Gloria laughed as she patted the back of Ally’s hand. “Don’t worry about that, I’m sure your day will be much more pleasant. I did get a nice vacation out of it. It was a destination wedding.” She flipped through the pages again. “And here are the arrangements for the tables, and the archway.”
“Yes, perfect.” Ally smiled as she took Luke’s hand. “Aren’t they beautiful?”
“Sure.” Luke nodded as he looked at the flowers.
“Is it too late to add one more last-minute thing?” Ally winced. “I understand if it is.”
“No, of course not, anything for the bride.” Gloria grinned. “What would you like?”
“Maybe a splash of purple?” Ally glanced at Luke.
A smile spread across his lips as he met her eyes.
“Ah yes, that would be lovely, certainly. Just in the bouquet, or in all of the arrangements?” Gloria flipped through the pages again.
“Just the bouquet, I think.” Ally nodded.
“Great, that’s a simple change to make. No problem.” Gloria made a few notes, then looked up at them. “I’m so looking forward to setting everything up.”
“Thanks so much, Gloria.” Ally walked toward the door.
“Purple was a great choice!” Gloria called out as she walked toward the counter. “It’s a great color for you!”
“See?” Luke grinned as he held the door open for her.
“I see.” Ally laughed. “But the dress is still not purple.”
As they drove out toward the farm, Ally began to relax. Many of the last-minute details had been ironed out.
“Wow, we started out late, but these stops have been so quick, we’ve made up some time. We’ll be a few minutes early, so we’ll have some time to look for those predators you’re worried about.” Ally flashed him a smile.
“You’ll thank me when our wedding isn’t invaded by a family of skunks.” Luke turned down the long, dirt road that led to the barn.
“Skunks, I knew that’s what you were worried about!” Ally laughed. “That would be quite a disaster.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” Luke smiled as he looked over at her. Then his smile faded. He sniffed the air as the car rolled down the long driveway. “Do you smell that?”
“What?” Ally sniffed as well. “Smoke.” She narrowed her eyes. “Maybe they’re burning leaves?”
“No.” Luke’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “No, that doesn’t smell like leaves.” He rounded the bend of the driveway.
“Fire!” Ally gasped at the sight of flames leaping out of the roof of the barn in the distance. “The barn is on fire!”
Luke pressed down hard on the gas pedal. “I hope no one is inside, that is burning fast!”
Ally fumbled for her phone to call for help.
Luke stopped the car a safe distance from the barn, then jumped out.
“Luke! Stay back!” Ally jumped out of the car as well, with her phone pressed to her ear. “There’s a fire on Castleman’s farm! The barn is on fire.” She ended the call as Luke started toward the barn. “No don’t!” She grabbed his wrist and pulled him back. “Luke, it’s too dangerous.”
“Someone could be inside!” Luke frowned as he looked into her eyes. “I have to check!”
“I can’t believe this!” A shout from the other side of the barn alerted them both to the presence of someone else.
Ally ran to the other side and caught sight of the owner of the farm, Blake Castleman. He stared at the barn as it burned.
“I can’t believe this is happening!”
“Blake!” Luke jogged over to him. “Is there anyone inside?”
“There shouldn’t be. No one was due to be here this morning. My wife is back at the house. I came down here to fix things up for your visit, but the barn was already on fire.” Blake pulled off his cowboy hat and threw it on the ground. “This is it! This is going to ruin me!”
Ally patted his back in an attempt to comfort him.
“So, you’re not sure if there’s anyone?” Luke walked closer to the barn. “I have to check!”
“Luke, be careful please!” Ally frowned as he made his way toward the doors of the barn.
“Hello?” The crackling flames muffled Luke’s shout. “Hello, is there anyone in there? Hello?”
Ally turned as she heard the siren of a firetruck. She caught sight of the red truck as it made its way down the driveway.
“Luke, the firefighters are here! Back away, the whole thing might collapse!” Ally winced as she heard a loud creak. “Luke!”
Without a second thought Ally rushed forward and grabbed his arm.
“Ally!” Luke gasped as he met her eyes, then propelled her back toward Blake just as part of the roof of the barn caved in.
Embers flew in all directions as more of the barn began to give way.
Ally’s heart pounded as she sensed smoke, heat, and embers all around her.
“It’s okay, we’re okay.” Luke held her hand. “It’s going to be fine. No one is inside.”
Within minutes, more of the barn collapsed, and the firefighters managed to extinguish the flames.
“It’s gone.” Blake shook his head as he stared at the rubble. “It’s all gone. All of that work.”
One of the firefighters called out from the middle of the remains of the barn.
“I’ve got a body!”
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