Life is always sweet in Allie McMurphy’s delectable fudge shop. But murder can make things unpleasantly sticky . . . A DEADLY CONFECTION After Allie inherited her family’s McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop, cousin Tori moved off to California in a bitter huff, and the two haven’t spoken since. So to have her cousin reappear on Mackinac Island without warning is a big surprise—but not as surprising as finding her standing over a dead woman impaled with a garden spade in the Mackinac Butterfly House. Butterflies may be free, but Tori won’t be for much longer—unless the cousins can bury the hatchet and work together to catch a killer who’s taken flight. Because when it comes to family, blood is thicker than fudge . . . Praise for Nancy Coco and the Candy-Coated Mysteries “Memorable characters, a charming locale, and a satisfying mystery.” —Barbara Allan “Beautiful Mackinac Island provides the setting for a puzzling series of crimes . . . plenty of plausible suspects and mouthwatering fudge recipes.” — Kirkus Reviews “I know I will be counting down the days until the next mystery with Allie McMurphy.” — Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
Release date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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“Hello? Blake?” I called as I opened the back door and pushed through the plastic flaps that kept the butterflies in the greenhouse. I was hit by the tropical humidity of the glass building. Bright blue butterflies floated about and I was careful where I walked as different sizes and shapes and colors of butterflies alighted on every surface. Mal tugged on her leash, pulling me through the lovely winding, lush trail of the greenhouse that contained the live butterfly collection.
Suddenly I heard a short scream. My heartbeat sped up and Mal and I ran toward the sound. I stopped short at the sight in front of me. “Tori?”
Mal tugged at her leash, but I held her back.
There beside the cascading waterfall fountain was my cousin, Victoria Andrews, kneeling over a woman. Tori held the handle of a gardening trowel in her hands. The rest of the trowel was stuck firmly in the chest of a woman I didn’t know. The woman’s jeans-clad legs were oddly angled. Her hands spread out, but empty. A pool of blood blossomed from beneath her checkered blouse. Butterflies landed on her and took off as if she were no more than a rock or convenient plant.
“Tori, what’s going on?” I couldn’t tell if Tori was pushing the trowel in or pulling it out. But when she saw me, she let go of the handle and held up her hands as if I were the police and had just said, “Freeze!” Her blue eyes filled with fear. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, but a streak of blood caressed her cheek. Her bow-shaped mouth trembled and her tanned skin looked ashen. “Tori? What’s going on?”
She stood and wiped her bloody hands on the front of her jeans. I could see that she was shaking from head to toe. “It’s not what it looks like,” Tori said with a wobble in her voice.
Mal dragged me toward the scene. “No,” I said and tugged Mal back as I took out my cell phone. “Tori, sit down.” I ordered as I pointed to a nearby raised bed made of bricks. “You’re in shock.” I dialed 9-1-1 and eased my cousin over to the round flower bed to sit on the edge. Mal jumped up beside her to comfort her and ended up with blood on her white fur.
“Nine-one-one, this is Charlene. What is your emergency?”
“Allie McMurphy, this can’t be good. Where are you? I’ll send Rex over there right away.”
“Thank you,” I said. Rex Manning was the lead policeman on Mackinac Island and a good friend. “I’m at the Butterfly House. Tell him to come around to the back. We’re in the greenhouse.”
“He’s on his way,” Charlene said. “You said ‘we’?”
“Yes, it’s me, my cousin Victoria, and—”
“Another dead person?”
“Well, she certainly looks dead,” I said. “I haven’t touched her.”
“Then how do you know she’s dead?”
“There’s a hand spade sticking out of her chest and she’s not moving.” I wasn’t going to tell Charlene that my cousin might have been the one to put the spade there. Not until I had all the facts. “Let me check for a pulse.”
I skirted around the pool of blood and put my fingers on her neck. She felt warm, but there was no pulse. I shook her shoulder. “Are you okay?” But her eyes simply stared lifeless into the skylights. “She doesn’t respond to verbal cues and I didn’t feel a pulse.”
“Enough said,” Charlene said. “I swear we’ve never had this much trouble until your Papa Liam passed. God rest his soul.”
It was then that Tori moaned. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Charlene, I’ve got to go,” I said and hung up the phone. I had a doggie doo bag in my pocket. I carried them with me whenever I walked with Mal. I handed it to Tori. “Breathe into the bag,” I said. “I think you’re hyperventilating.”
“It’s not breathing that’s a problem,” Tori said before she turned her head and emptied her stomach into the bag.
I put my hand on her back as she heaved. “It’s going to be okay,” I said.
Mal put her paw on Tori as if to comfort my trembling cousin.
“What happened? Did you stab her?” I asked. “Was she attacking you?” The dead woman appeared to be middle-aged. Her feet were ensconced in gray and pink walking shoes. She had black hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. There was a streak of white hair along the left side of her face. She had high cheekbones, thin lips, and wide-open brown eyes that stared at the glass ceiling.
“No, no, she wasn’t attacking me,” Tori said and lifted her head from the baggie. “I didn’t kill her. It’s Barbara Smart. I was supposed to meet her here this morning to talk about a fund-raiser. I found her like that.”
“But you were holding the handle of the trowel.” I had to point out the obvious.
“I wanted to help her. I thought if I pulled it out I might be able to do CPR, but as I tugged, more blood came out and I was afraid I was only making things worse. Then you came in. Did I hear you correctly? She didn’t have a pulse?”
“No, she didn’t,” I said. “Didn’t you check for one?”
“I know it’s the first thing they tell you to do when you take a CPR class, but I didn’t. I panicked and knelt down and shook her shoulder. I thought I heard a moan so I tried to take the blade out. That’s when you got here.”
“Did you see anyone?”
“No,” Tori said and hung her head. Tiny purple butterflies landed on her shoulders. “You and your dog were the first live people I’ve seen.”
“Wow, okay, so what time was your meeting? Was Blake supposed to be here? After all, Blake manages the Butterfly House.”
“Barbara and I met with Blake last night. Blake had another meeting this morning, but she told Barbara and me that we could meet here to finish the details.”
“Wait. You were here last night?”
“And you didn’t call me? It’s before the ferries come so you had to have stayed on the island last night. Why didn’t you let me know you were coming? We have room at the McMurphy. You could have stayed with me.”
She gave me an angry look. “I didn’t think I was welcome at the McMurphy. You own it, not me—even though our great-grandfather started it.”
“What?” I straightened away from her. “Papa Liam always said your family didn’t want anything to do with the McMurphy even after my father moved us to Detroit. It’s the only reason I took it over.”
“Listen, can we talk about this later?” Tori said. “Barbara’s lying there dead.”
“Sure,” I said. “But we will finish this conversation. Where are you staying?”
“Dad still owns a cabin on the far north side. I’m staying there.”
“What’s going on?” Officer Rex Manning walked in through the vinyl flaps from the back door. His black police boots clomped on the brick pavers that were laid down to form the winding trail between the raised beds. “Charlene says you found another body?”
“Hi, Rex,” I said, and stood. Mal jumped off the edge of the flower bed and raced over to beg Rex to pet her. He reached down to pat her and noticed the blood on her paws. “Sorry, kid, can’t touch you when you have evidence on you.” He looked up at me with his flat blue gaze. “What happened?”
Rex wore a perfectly pressed police uniform. He took his hat off the minute he entered a building, showing off his shaved head and square jaw. The man had the build of an action movie hero and the attitude that went with his good looks. An orange and black monarch butterfly landed on his arm.
“I had an early appointment with Blake,” I said. “The front door is closed until ten AM so I came around back. I saw movement in the greenhouse and I thought it was Blake so I came in. I heard a scream and rushed toward the sound to find my cousin Victoria, here, kneeling over the woman with the garden trowel in her chest.” I pointed at the body.
“I see.” Rex walked over and checked the pulse point at the dead woman’s throat. He glanced over at Tori who had put the doggie doo bag down by her feet and had her head between her knees. “This woman is dead,” Rex announced and picked up her wrist. “She’s still warm. I don’t think she’s been dead long, but we’ll have to wait for the coroner’s report to know for sure.” He stood and went over to Tori. “Tori Andrews?”
Tori looked up at him. “Hi, Rex.”
I frowned. How did they know each other?
“It’s been a while,” Rex said as he squatted down to look Tori in the eye as she hung her head. “I thought you were in California.”
“I am,” she said and took a deep breath then blew it out slowly. “Up until yesterday.”
“You have blood on you. Can you tell me what happened?”
Mal tried to nudge herself between Rex and Tori. Rex gently pushed Mal back and sent me a look that silently told me to take care of my pet. I scooped up my evidence-covered pup and took a step back, knowing that the EMTs were most likely on their way along with the county CSI guy, Shane Carpenter.
“I was supposed to meet Barbara here this morning, but when I arrived she wasn’t in the office. So I came out here looking for her,” Tori said and put her head between her knees. “I heard a noise and came this way. That’s when I saw her lying there by the fountain. I called her name and knelt down to shake her. You know, like you are supposed to do for CPR.”
“Is that how you got blood on you?” he asked. Rex was calm and there was kindness in his tone I hadn’t heard in a while.
“Yes,” Tori said. “I thought I heard her moan and was going to pull out the trowel. I grabbed the handle and then thought, What if that will make things worse? So I stopped. Then Ally came in. She got me to sit down.”
Rex looked at me. “Why did you come here?”
“I had a meeting with Blake.”
“I see.” Rex stood. “Did you see anyone else?”
“No,” I said and shook my head.
Just then Blake came around the corner. “What’s going on? I saw Rex’s bicycle parked out front. Wait!” She froze in place and put her hands over her mouth. “Barbara?” It came out as a shocked whisper. Then her knees buckled. Rex and I got to her at the same time and each took one of Blake’s elbows and helped her slowly to a bench. “Barbara? Oh, Barbara! What happened?” She glanced from me to Rex to Tori. “Tori?”
“I found her like this,” Tori said.
Mal put her front paws on the bench seat and looked from one distressed woman to the other as if unsure how to comfort them both.
“Is that a trowel? Who would do such a thing?”
“We’ll find out,” I said, and patted Blake on the shoulder. Blake was an older woman in her mid-fifties. She had light brown hair highlighted with blond streaks that shimmered in the daylight. Her face was round and pretty. She was of average build and could pass for younger. Today she wore a pair of jeans, sneakers, and a white polo shirt with the Butterfly House logo monogrammed on the left breast.
George Marron and Walt Henderson came in through the vinyl strips that covered the front entrance to the greenhouse with a stretcher between them and their EMT bags in their hands.
“What do we have?” George asked. George was the lead EMT on Mackinac Island. He had long black hair that was pulled back in a single braid, copper skin, and the high cheekbones of his Iroquois ancestry.
“Dead body,” Rex said in a low tone. “She’s probably been gone about forty-five minutes to an hour, but we’ll have to wait for the coroner to find out for sure.”
“Cause of death seems pretty clear,” Walt said. Walt was a tall, thin man with gray hair and a hawk-like nose. He had sharp features and dark brown eyes. His skin had the weathered look of a fisherman or at the least someone who knew their way around the water.
“Tori Andrews,” George said. “When did you get back on the island?”
“Hi, George,” Tori said and tried to sit up straight. “Sorry, I can’t.” She grabbed the doggie bag and heaved again.
George let go of the stretcher and went over to her. I watched as he checked her pulse and eyes. “You’re in shock.” He waved for Walt to bring a blanket over, then slung the blanket around Tori’s shoulders. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” Tori said, and shook her head.
“There’s blood. I should check,” he said.
“It’s Barbara’s.” Tori closed her eyes. “I tried to take the spade out of her chest, but I couldn’t. It was making things worse. Oh my, there’s blood everywhere.”
“Okay, well, let’s take you back to the clinic and get you checked out just in case. Okay?” George looked at Rex who nodded.
“I’m fine, really,” Tori said.
“You should go,” I said. “They can give you something to settle your stomach and, besides, the crime scene guy will want your clothes. You’re covered in evidence.”
“Come on,” George said and helped her to her feet. “Allie and I will take you to the clinic.”
“What about Barbara?” Tori asked as she glanced at her friend one more time.
“Walt and Rex will take good care of her,” George said.
“Come on, Blake,” I said and tugged Blake to her feet. “Come with us. You look a little shocky yourself.”
“I can’t leave Barbara,” Blake said with tears in her brown eyes.
“It’s okay. Rex is with her,” I said and locked my arm with hers. “Tori can really use our comfort right now. Right?”
“It is better if you ladies stick together,” George said as he walked Tori out the door.
Shane passed us on the way out. He wore his navy blue CSI jacket and ball cap. His horn-rimmed glasses emphasized his concerned eyes. “I hear you’ve found another crime scene.”
“Not me this time,” I said. “My cousin Tori did.” I pointed toward George and Tori.
“Tori Andrews?” Shane said, and his face burst into a wide smile. “When did you get back on the island?”
“Yesterday,” I muttered. “She just didn’t tell anyone.”
“I had meetings,” Tori said.
I frowned as Shane made his way into the building. “Gee, Tori, everyone seems to know you.”
“They should. I went to school with all of them up until senior year when Dad moved us out to California. Unlike you, Allie,” Tori said, “I’m not a fudgie.”
I bit back a retort. After all, Tori had just found a woman lying dead in a pool of her own blood. That kind of shock did things to people. I looked at George who simply shrugged at me.
“Poor Barbara,” Blake said, bringing my attention back to the older woman who clung to me. “Poor Barbara. She didn’t deserve to die.”
“No,” I said and patted Blake’s arm. “She didn’t.”
“Who could have done such a thing?” Blake asked. “Barbara wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
“I didn’t know Barbara,” I said, “but no one deserves to die like that.”
“I’ve got to put up a sign,” Blake said and pulled away as if to go back into the crime scene. “I’ve got to let everyone know that the Butterfly House is closed. I’ve got to let Barbara’s family know.”
“The police will take care of her family,” I said and gently guided Blake back toward the ambulance. “You need to take care of yourself. Trust me, you’ve had a shock. You should go to the clinic and get checked out.”
George helped Tori into the ambulance—one of the few motorized vehicles allowed on the island for safety purposes.
“Let George help you,” I said. Mal nudged Blake as if to let her know that she was not alone in her sorrow.
“Thank you, it’s so upsetting,” Blake said as I helped her up in the ambulance. Mal jumped up with them.
“Is it okay if Mal goes with you?” I asked George.
“She should be quarantined until any evidence she’s carrying is collected,” he said and slipped bags on her paws. “Are you staying?”
“I should give my statement and see if there is anything that Rex or Shane needs,” I said.
George nodded and closed the doors on the ambulance. “We’ll take good care of these girls. You can pick Mal up after Shane gets his evidence.”
“Thanks.” I waved them off as he slowly drove away. I turned and looked at the trail to the Butterfly House entrance. What a terrible thing to happen in such a fun and beautiful place. First thing I should do was to put a note on the door. The next was to go back inside and see what I could do to help figure out who would do such a terrible thing. Last was to figure out why my cousin Tori didn’t feel that she could stay with me. Was she hiding something? Was it something that had to do with the dead woman on the floor of the Butterfly House?
In a large heavy saucepan, bring sugar, sour cream, and butter to full rolling boil. Stir constantly for 7-10 minutes until it reaches softball stage or 234 degrees F on a candy thermometer. (Make sure thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom or side of the pan.)
Remove from heat. Add white chocolate chips and stir until melted. Add remaining ingredients and stir until blended. Pour into a buttered 8-inch square pan and cool completely. Cut into 1-inch squares. Makes roughly 2½ pounds of fudge. Enjoy!
“It’s so weird watching George bag Mal’s paws,” I said to Shane. “Is that necessary? She only touched Tori.”
“It’s all evidence,” Shane said. “I’ll process Mal first once I finish taking photos. That way you can take her home.”
“She’s going to chew those bags off,” I said. I imagined Mal walking stiffly, doing her best to shake off the bags as if they were snow booties. “I hope George is prepared.”
“I’m sure he can handle Mal. They like each other.”
“At least this time you don’t need my clothes.”
“We will need Tori’s clothes,” Shane said. “Can you go get her a new set?”
“No,” I said and frowned. “She isn’t staying with me.”
“Really?” He looked surprised.
“Not because I didn’t want her, if that’s what you’re thinking,” I said and hugged my waist. “I didn’t even know she was coming into town.”
“She must be staying at her father’s old place,” Shane said. “You really should take her a change of clothes.”
“I suppose,” I said. “Can I take Mal?”
“No, she needs to stay. One I’ve processed her I’ll give her to Brent. He’ll watch her until you get back with the clothes. Do you remember where your uncle’s place is?”
“Of course I remember,” I said.
“They keep a spare key under the third rock from the door.”
“How do you know that?” I crossed my arms. I didn’t know that. In fact, I barely remembered where my uncle’s cabin was. I planned on texting my mom for the address.
“Everyone who went to school with Tori knows where the key is,” Shane said with a shrug. “It was part of sneaking her back into bed if she partied too much.”
“Tori was a partier?”
“Island living,” Shane said with a shrug. “Can you get her some clothes?”
“Sure.” A quick text to my mom and I got the address to my uncle’s cabin. It was near the airport. I biked over and let myself in with the key that was right where Shane said it would be.
The cabin was small: two bedrooms, one bath, with an open living room, and kitchen. Tori hadn’t been there long. There were still coverings on most of the furniture. The first bedroom door was open, her suitcase spread out on the bed. She hadn’t even unpacked before heading out this morning. I grabbed her a pair of cargo shorts and a T-shirt because it was a warm day. I headed out and then thought again and went back for a pair of flip-flops. They might want her shoes if she had any blood on them.
The thought had me checking my shoes. Today I wore white tennis shoes. Luckily they were still unmarked, except for some dust from my travels. I found an old tote in the kitchen and put her things inside it. Then I went out, locking the door behind me, careful to return the key to the same place.
I shook my head as I got on my bike. How could you feel safe knowing that everyone on the island knew where you kept your key? Why lock the door at all?
As I biked down the hill, I passed Mrs. Howard. “Good mor. . .
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