The Mousse Wonderful Time of Year
Tearoom sleuth Gemma Rose is looking forward to a holiday filled with delicious Yuletide treats, time with friends and family, and maybe even a "white Christmas" in Oxford... But when she's snowed in at a country manor, she finds herself stumbling on a puzzling murder--complete with a body in the library, a house full of suspects and a trail of mysterious footprints!
Luckily, the nosy Old Biddies are on hand to help... not to mention her cheeky tabby cat Muesli. Add in some carol singing, Christmas baking and flannel underwear, and Gemma's stocking is bursting at the seams. Can she solve this festive whodunnit in time to enjoy the most wonderful time of year?
THE MOUSSE WONDERFUL TIME OF YEAR features your favourite tearoomsleuth, her little tabby cat and the 4 meddling 'Old Biddies' in a hilarious festive whodunnit. So come and enjoy a traditional British Christmas... and see if you can solve the case before they can!
* Christmas fruit mince pies recipe included at the end of the story!
This book follows British English spelling and usage.
Clean read: no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.
Genre: Christmas mystery, humorous culinary cozy mysteries, cat cozy mystery series / women amateur sleuth / British detective mystery
OXFORD TEAROOM MYSTERIES
- All-Butter ShortDead (Prequel)
- A Scone To Die For (Book 1)
- Tea with Milk and Murder (Book 2)
- Two Down, Bun To Go (Book 3)
- Till Death Do Us Tart (Book 4)
- Muffins and Mourning Tea (Book 5)
- Four Puddings and a Funeral (Book 6)
- Another One Bites the Crust (Book 7)
- Apple Strudel Alibi (Book 8)
- The Dough Must Go On (Book 9)
- The Mousse Wonderful Time of Year (Book 10)
Release date: December 1, 2019
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Print pages: 247
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Mousse Wonderful Time of Year
The middle of the afternoon is usually a time when Oxford railway station is fairly empty, except for the occasional pensioner, or mother and child, out on a day trip. When I arrived, however, the concourse was heaving with people milling about, clutching bags of gaily wrapped gifts or dragging wheeled cases behind them as they negotiated the ticket queues and checked the train timetables. Their faces were flushed, their eyes bright and expectant, and they seemed almost oblivious to the brightly coloured tinsel and gaudy decorations hanging around them, as they hurried onto the platforms to wait for their trains.
Music drifted out from the station shop, rising above the hubbub of the crowd—Bing Crosby’s rich baritone crooning: “Silver bells… Silver bells…”—and I felt a familiar tingle up my spine. They might have been over-commercialised and predictably cheesy, but I couldn’t help the rush of warmth and nostalgia that came over me whenever I heard those classic songs. I hummed along softly under my breath as I pushed my way through the crowd, emerging at last onto the platform.
There, I paused for a moment—partly because moving from the warmth of the station into the frosty air of the open platform made me catch my breath. It had been an unusually cold December, and the local newspapers and radio stations were chattering with excitement at the rare prospect of a “white Christmas” in Oxford. While this part of England did get cold enough to have snow most winters, it tended to happen during the dark months of January or February. This year, though, it seemed that Bing Crosby’s dreams might be answered in Oxfordshire.
I also paused because another wave of sentimentality struck me. There might not be clouds of steam billowing from the train engines, no uniformed conductor, whistle to his lips, standing by the carriages, and no men in fedoras embracing elegant women in passionate farewell, but there’s still something eternally romantic about train platforms, I thought. Then I laughed to myself. I was sure most of the harassed-looking passengers wrestling with coats and bags around me were not thinking of bygone eras and wistful goodbyes.
Still… I smiled suddenly as the crowds parted and I saw him: a tall man with brooding good looks, his dark hair ruffled by the chill wind sweeping the platform, and his eyes—a startling shade of Celtic blue—narrowed against the elements. I started towards him, thinking to myself that I, at least, was living up to the cliché. I had come to the station for a romantic farewell. But not forever. Just for Christmas.
I laughed as he swept me up in an embrace as passionate and dramatic as anything in a vintage Hollywood movie. Devlin O’Connor—detective inspector with the Oxfordshire CID, my long-lost college sweetheart and now reunited boyfriend—grinned as he released me and said:
“I thought you weren’t going to make it.”
“Sorry. The Christmas tree at the tearoom toppled over just as I was leaving. Thankfully none of the customers were standing nearby, but it still made an awful mess and I had to stop to help Cassie put it up again. She was still rehanging the ornaments when I left.”
“Wasn’t it secured at the base?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, but obviously not strongly enough for the weight of a certain furry body climbing to the top to play with the ornaments! When everyone warned me about cats and Christmas trees, I thought they were all exaggerating. Now I’m paying for not taking them seriously. Since it went up, the tree has been knocked over five times, half the ornaments are broken or have gone missing, the lights are completely tangled, and there are pine needles everywhere…” I shook my head. “How can one cat cause so much trouble?”
“Very easily when her name is Muesli,” said Devlin, chuckling.
I eyed him covertly. It was so nice to see Devlin laugh again, with that familiar twinkle in his blue eyes, since his habitual expression the past few weeks had been a preoccupied frown. He’d been working so hard in the run-up to Christmas—the CID had been swamped with even more cases than usual—and I had been busy myself, with the holiday season bringing a rush of catering orders and customers to the Little Stables Tearoom. The result was that we had hardly seen each other, and I’d been looking forward to finally having some time off and doing some things together over the Christmas break.
But when I heard that Devlin’s mother had invited him to spend Christmas with her, I’d swallowed my disappointment and urged him to go. They had only just begun to rebuild their fragile relationship and this seemed like a great step forwards. Keeley O’Connor might have been wild and irresponsible, with an attitude more suited to a careless teenager than a woman in her late forties, but she was also warm and genuine, with an irrepressible charm. I’d found myself inadvertently liking her when we met during her recent visit to Oxford and I knew that, for all his outward ambivalence, Devlin needed his mother. This would be the first time in many years that he’d gone home for Christmas, and it was a chance for him to bond with Keeley again. Still, now that I was faced with the prospect of a lonely Christmas without him, I found myself wishing that I hadn’t been so unselfish.
“I wish you weren’t going away,” I blurted out.
“Me too, Gemma,” said Devlin with a sigh. “I know I shouldn't say this, but a part of me would much rather stay here with you.”
“Even if it means spending Christmas with my mother?” I asked with a laugh.
“It can’t be any worse than what’s in store for me.” A look of uncertainty clouded his handsome features. “Maybe spending Christmas with Mum wasn’t such a great idea…”
“No, no, you have to go, Devlin,” I said quickly. “I think it’s a fantastic chance for you and your mother to spend some quality time together, to really get to know each other again.”
Devlin pulled a face. “More likely a chance for me to make sure she doesn’t get too stoned, or arrested on Christmas Day for drink driving.” He hesitated, then added, “I don’t suppose you’d like to come and spend Christmas in the north of England?”
I shook my head regretfully. “You know I can't, Devlin. My mother would have a fit. Christmas is a big deal in our household. She always insists on following all the traditions—the mince pies, the plum pudding, holly and ivy everywhere, the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day… There were several times when I couldn’t make it home for Christmas during the years I was working in Australia and I still don’t think she’s forgiven me. Besides, we’ve got special guests coming to visit this year—cousins from America—so I definitely have to be around to help entertain them.”
A sudden rush of wind down the platform alerted us to the arrival of the next train, and Devlin put his arm protectively around me as the carriages rolled towards us.
“That's my train. I have to go,” he said with a grimace. Then he turned me around to face him and said, with mock sternness: “Now behave yourself, Miss Rose. No stumbling over any dead bodies while I'm away.”
“What do you mean? I haven't come across a body in nearly two months!” I said, grinning. “Besides, it’s not as if I go around looking for them, you know,” I added indignantly.
“I know, Gemma, but you’re just as bad as your cat in some ways. Trouble follows you everywhere. You seem to get yourself mixed up in a murder investigation every time my back is turned.”
“Aww, come on—aren’t you being a bit paranoid? I thought Christmas was a time of goodwill to all men. Everyone will be busy celebrating with their families and things should be quieter overall.”
“Don’t you believe it. Crime actually goes up this time of the year. Home burglaries and robberies, domestic abuse, sexual assault, drink driving… even just pickpockets and thieves targeting those out doing their Christmas shopping,” said Devlin, nodding at a woman walking past us, her arms laden with presents.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m not planning to be out and about in town much. I’ll be busy in the tearoom until we close and then I’ll just be at my parents’ place, helping around the house and entertaining the relatives. I think the most exciting thing I’ll be doing will be lighting the brandy on the Christmas pudding!”
Devlin looked unconvinced. “And try to keep those nosy old friends of yours out of mischief too.”
I smiled. “You mean the Old Biddies? Oh, don’t worry—I’m sure they’ll be far too busy to have time for snooping this holiday season. Haven’t you heard? After their success on the talent show back in October, they’ve decided they like being in showbiz.”
“They’re not continuing that ‘granny band’ idea, are they?” said Devlin, raising his eyebrows.
“No… at least, not in exactly the same format. They’ve decided to form a band of granny carol singers instead,” I said with a laugh. “‘The Twelve Greys of Christmas’: that’s what they’re calling themselves. They’re going around singing carols and collecting money from the public to donate to local charities.”
“I wouldn't put it past them to be able to meddle and snoop, all while singing Christmas hymns at the same time,” said Devlin darkly. “Just do me a favour and keep them away from any suspicious deaths. With so many senior officers away, Oxfordshire CID is operating with a skeleton staff this Christmas and the last thing they need is another murder investigation, especially one with four bossy old hens running the show.”
“Yes, Inspector O’Connor,” I said cheekily.
Devlin’s face softened and he lowered his head to give me a goodbye kiss.
“I’ll miss you,” I said, my voice wobbling slightly.
He touched my cheek gently with the back of one finger, his eyes tender. “I’ll miss you too, Gemma. But I’ll be back before you know it and then we’ll do something nice together in the new year, hmm?”
He pulled me into a long, lingering kiss. I was breathless when at last we broke apart.
“Be good,” said Devlin with a grin, giving me a little tap on the nose. Then he lifted his holdall and boarded the carriage.
I stood and watched as the train left the station, disappearing slowly into the distance. Another icy blast of wind swept across the platform and I shivered, feeling suddenly bereft. Then I gave myself a mental shake and turned briskly to leave. I glanced at the large station clock as I walked back across the concourse: I’d promised my mother I’d meet her for tea in town, but there was still plenty of time. I might even have a quick look around the shops first, I thought. I’d already done most of my Christmas shopping—all except for a gift for my best friend, Cassie. Somehow, I still hadn’t found the perfect present for her and, with Christmas just four days away, time was running out.
Immersed in my thoughts, I didn’t notice the man heading for the station exit at the same time, until we collided with each other in the doorway. I stumbled backwards, tripped on his case, and would have fallen if he hadn't caught me.
“Oops!” I said, struggling to regain my balance. “Th-thanks.”
“Not at all. It was my pleasure,” he said, his eyes sliding over me appreciatively.
He was a good-looking man, somewhere in his mid-to-late forties, with an air of suave arrogance and a taste for the finer things in life, if his expensive clothes and monogrammed leather case were anything to go by. He smiled, his teeth brilliantly white, and I realised that his arm was still around me even though I no longer needed his support.
“Thank you,” I said again, awkwardly, as I stepped sideways to disentangle myself. “Sorry… I didn’t see you heading for the door at the same time.”
His arm tightened imperceptibly around me for a moment before he released me. I stiffened. Was it my imagination or had his hand brushed the side of my breast as he let me go?
He gave me another dazzling smile and said: “When a man has the chance to catch a beautiful woman in his arms, there’s nothing to apologise for. I’ve always thought train stations to be very romantic and it’s nice to have the fantasy come to life.” His eyes flicked over me, noting my lack of luggage, and he said, “I take it that you haven’t just arrived in Oxford?”
“No, I live here. I’ve just been to see my boyfriend off,” I said, stressing the word boyfriend.
He smiled again, unperturbed. “What kind of boyfriend leaves a gorgeous woman like you alone for Christmas?”
“He… he had to spend Christmas with his mother.” The defensive words were out before I realised, and then I felt annoyed with myself. Why was I justifying myself to a stranger?
“Anyway, thanks again.” I gave him a curt nod and turned to go.
“Wait!” He put a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry. I seem to have offended you in some way. I didn’t mean to. Please forgive me!”
“No, I…” Now faced with his contrite expression and excessive apologies, I felt suddenly embarrassed, as if I were the one who had been rude. I mumbled, “I’ve just… um… I need to go. I’m meeting someone for tea.”
“Ah! Afternoon tea—that most delightful of English traditions! I must say, I've quite missed it.”
I eyed him assessingly. His accent was British, but overlaid with a slight drawl, like someone who had spent a great deal of time in the United States.
“Don’t you live in England then?” I asked, curious in spite of myself.
“No. This is the first time I’ve been back in years.” He quirked an eyebrow at me. “As the song says, I’ll be home for Christmas…”
“Oh. Well… I hope you have a good stay,” I said rather inanely. Then with a quick nod of farewell—and a sense of relief—I hurried out of the station.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...