A confectioner makes a not-so-sweet discovery while walking her dog in this delightful mystery with fudge recipes included.
Life is sweet for Allie McMurphy, proud owner of Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop on Michigan's Mackinac Island—until murder and deception leave a bitter taste . . .
With summer in bloom and tourists afoot, Allie is out walking her pup, Mal, when the curious canine digs up a bone from under a flowering lilac bush. The bone leads to a toe that's missing a body. For the successful confectioner it's only the first in a series of sour events in the middle of the island's Lilac Fest. When her stint on a cooking reality show swirls up a trail of foul play, Allie will have to outwit a cunning killer if she wants to continue living la dolce vita . . .
"Indulge your sweet tooth in this entertaining series."—Miranda James, New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries
Release date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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To Fudge or Not to Fudge
I tugged on her leash. Mal dug in her heels and refused to budge. Like a fisherman fighting a hook, I reeled in the leash. This served to pull on her pink harness and drag one stubborn doggie out from under the bush one inch at a time. “Come on, Mal, let’s at least pretend I’m in charge,” I muttered and pulled harder.
As the proud yet harried owner of a 121-year-old hotel and fudge shop, I’d walked down to the newspaper to place a want ad for a part-time maid to help fill in during the busy times. Mackinac Island was known for its quaint Victorian feel. There were no cars. In fact, they were banned from the island. Only bicycles and horse-drawn carriages filled the streets.
Mal was a gift from my dear friend and reservation manager, Frances Wentworth. The puppy was supposed to keep me safe from evildoers. She had done her job well last month when I found myself investigating my grandfather’s best friend’s murder. I kind of had to as he had been murdered in my utility closet.
Still, on the days when she wasn’t protecting me, Mal had a tendency to boss me about. Especially when it came to doing things she was interested in doing . . . like sniffing under lilac bushes—instead of what I was supposed to be doing . . . placing an ad in the paper.
“Come on, Mal, I need to get this errand done before noon.” I yanked on the leash. Suddenly she popped out from under the bushes with a bone in her mouth.
I did a double take. Was that a sock hanging from that bone?
Surely not, but on close inspection it had an argyle pattern like a sock. It was knitted like a sock. Okay, so there was a huge hole in what appeared to be a heel like a sock. But then Mal loved socks. Maybe other dogs did too. Maybe, just maybe, some dog buried their bone in their favorite sock. It could happen, right?
I mean, what were the chances that the sock belonged to the bone? Slim to none. Right?
Mal proudly dropped the sock-wrapped bone at my feet and nudged it as if to show me what she found. Her little stubby tail wagged.
“I sure hope that’s not what I think it is.” I poked it with my white Keds. There was no way I was going to pick it up.
She pushed the bone toward me, wagged her bobbed tail, and darted back under the lilac bush. “Mal, come on, I have work to do.” I yanked on her harness only for her to prance out from under the bush. This time she had what looked like part of a shoe in her mouth. She shook the shoe as if to kill it. Dirt and mulch went flying, along with hard pieces that hit my legs with a thump, thud, thump.
Those hard pieces had toenails painted a neon orange.
The spit dried up in my mouth. Adrenaline washed through me. I did what any sane person would do. I scooped up my dog, yanked the shoe out of her mouth, dropped it next to the sock bone, and ran straight into the Town Crier.
There was no way I was going to be alone outside with portions of a dead person. I mean really, what if whoever it had been had been attacked by a wild animal and dragged under the bush to be saved for a later meal? Or worse. What if the animal was a rabid creature using the remains as bait? It could be true. There was no way I was going to hang around and find out.
“Dogs aren’t allowed in here,” said an older gentleman with a white beard, a balding head, and reading glasses perched at the edge of his nose.
“Right.” I faced him and held the door closed with my body. Mal leapt out of my arms and sat down to stare at the old guy as if to dare him to kick her out.
He stared at me. “The dog . . .”
I found my voice. “Just dug up remains from under your lilac bush.”
He drew his bushy white brows together over his dark brown eyes. “Excuse me?”
I swallowed and cleared my throat as I fumbled for my phone. “Call 9-1-1. I think there’s a dead guy under your lilac bush.”
“A dead . . . what?” He stood and took a step away from me, using his desk as a shield between him and the crazy woman at his door. It would have been funny if I weren’t the crazy woman.
“Person,” I said. “Well, not a whole person. A part of a person who wears argyle socks and leather shoes . . . oh, and paints their toenails orange.”
He picked up the phone and hit a single button. “Hi, Charlene,” he said. “Get Officer Manning over here, will ya? There’s a crazy woman in my office. No, she doesn’t appear to have a weapon, just a small white dog. Um, hmm, hold on. Are you the McMurphy girl?”
“Yes,” I said, my hands fumbling with my phone. After last month’s trouble I had Officer Rex Manning’s number on speed dial; I hit the button.
“The one who found Joe Jessop dead in a utility closet?”
“Yes.” I put the phone up to my ear and listened to it ring.
“It’s the same crazy woman,” the man said into his phone. “Right. Okay. Bye.” He hung up the phone and sat down slowly, watching me with narrowed eyes as the ringing on my phone dropped me into Rex’s voice mail.
“Hey, hi,” I said into my cell phone. “I hope you’re on your way to the Town Crier. I’m pretty sure Mal dug up a dead person.”
I hit the END CALL button. The old man studied me, and I studied him. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled something out. Then he slapped it down in front of him. It was a rabbit’s foot. Ew. Okay, I’d seen enough disembodied feet for one day, thank you very much.
“What is that?”
He raised his right bushy eyebrow. “If you don’t know I bet the dog could tell ya.”
I sighed and crossed my arms. “It’s a rabbit’s foot. I know what it is. I wanted to know why you got it out.”
“Because I don’t know how to make an evil eye.” He tipped back in his chair, and it squeaked.
“An evil eye?” I shook my head, dazed. “I don’t get it.”
“It wards off bad omens and such,” he said and reached over to adjust his placement, ensuring the rabbit’s foot sat square between him and me.
“Um, okay. I’d join you behind your rabbit’s foot, but I’m currently busy making sure the door stays closed.”
“Now why would you be doing that?”
“Because there is a killer out there. It might be a wild animal. It might be a serial murderer. Either way, there is going to be a door between me and it.” I hated to sound smug, but really, a strong wooden door was a lot better at keeping a rabid animal away than a rabbit’s foot.
“Well, there, see, that’s where we disagree.”
“We do?” I scrunched up my eyebrows.
“As far as I can tell the bad luck is already inside with me.”
“What? Where?” I glanced around, but there were only three of us inside: me, him, and Mal.
“I’m looking at it.” His gaze was steady on me.
“You mean me?” I pointed to my pink polo shirt.
“You’re the only one in this room that finds old men dead and seeing as how I’m an old man . . .”
“But you’re not dead,” I tried to reason with him.
“Thus the rabbit’s foot.”
“Okay, seriously, I don’t know what you heard, but I did not murder anyone.”
“I didn’t say you did.”
“But you just said . . .”
“That you have been known to be alone when you find old men dead.” He shrugged. “I’m hedging my bets.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I simply glared at him. He glared back. Mal sneezed and we both jumped.
“Does the dog bite?” The man finally broke the silence.
“Mal? No, she’s a puppy.” I picked her up and decided to play nice. I stuck out my hand. “I didn’t properly introduce myself. I’m Allie. I run the McMurphy.”
“I know.” He sat back carefully, still wary. “Charlene told me.”
“Right.” I pulled my empty hand back.
“Besides, I’m a reporter, not much escapes my notice.” He crossed his arms over his wide chest.
“Except a dead body under your bushes.”
“I thought you said it was a sock and shoe.”
“With bones and toenails.” I hugged Mal until she squeaked.
“Orange painted toenails.” He pursed his mouth. “Yep, you told me that part, Ms. McMurphy.”
“I’m not crazy,” I said in my own defense.
“There are people on this island who would disagree with that.” He watched me from over the top of his eyeglasses.
“There are people on this island who think we should allow cars. Everything people think is not always right.”
“Well, you have me there.” He leaned back. “I’m Angus MacElroy.”
“I’d say it’s very nice to meet you, but right now I’m not so sure.” Mal wiggled, but I held her tight. Her fluffy fur was a comfort.
“Why’d you come here, Ms. McMurphy?” Angus asked.
“I came over to place a want ad, but instead it seems I’ve uncovered a dead body or possibly a murder victim.” I tilted my head and studied him as if he were the perfect suspect. For all I knew, he was. “Being a reporter, you probably have seen a million dead bodies.”
“Only ten and they were open-casket funerals,” he admitted, his brown eyes twinkling. “A murder victim? Isn’t that jumping to conclusions?” he asked in a calm manner—too calm, if you ask me.
“It looks like murder to me unless you purposefully buried someone under your lilac bushes.”
He leaned back, and the squeak of his chair reverberated round the room. “I didn’t bury anyone under the lilacs. There’s a law against that, you know.”
“Grandpa, are you scaring away customers?” A woman about my age stepped out of the back room. She had dark brown hair, a heart-shaped face, and soft blue eyes. She wore cargo pants and boots and a pale blue tank top under a red, white, and blue plaid shirt.
“She’s not a customer,” he glanced at me. “She’s a crazy woman who won’t leave the door. She has some ridiculous notion that holding the door will keep a wild animal from bursting in and killing us.”
“Don’t be silly.” She bussed a kiss on his grizzled cheek. “It’s more likely she’s afraid to get near you.” She stepped around the desk. “Hi, I’m Elizabeth MacElroy. Everyone calls me Liz.”
I shook her hand. She had a nice firm grip. “Allie.”
“Hi, Allie, who’s this sweet puppy?” She leaned in, and Mal jumped into her arms and kissed her. Liz laughed and stood holding Mal. “Aren’t you the sweetest?”
“Oh, no.” I tried not to panic. “Don’t let her kiss you.”
“Why not? I love doggies.” Her blue eyes twinkled in delight as Mal proceeded to wash her face.
I winced. “She may have dead-body breath.”
“What?” Liz froze.
“That’s what I told you.” Angus leaned back with a smug smile. “Ms. McMurphy seems to think she found a murder victim hidden in the lilacs. Anyone you know missing?”
Butter an 8” x 8” x 2” pan, then line with wax paper or parchment.
Boil together sugar, milk, and butter for approximately 8 minutes, stirring constantly. Place candy bars and chocolate chips in a large bowl and pour sugar mixture over candy. Beat well. Add marshmallow crème and nuts. Beat until cool. Spread in pan. Let cool and cut into squares.
“Sorry.” I scooped up the pup. “This is Marshmallow. She sniffed out a bone from under the lilacs. I wouldn’t think that much of it, but it had a sock attached.”
“Oh.” She wiped the back of her hand across her lovely mouth. Her gaze sparkled, and she laughed. “Joke’s on me then.”
“We called the cops,” Angus said.
“Well, what are you doing sitting here?” Liz put her hands on her hips. “Let’s go out and contaminate the crime scene like any good reporter would.” She opened the door, and I followed her out. There was supposed to be safety in numbers, right?
Officer Rex Manning walked up to us. The police station was practically across the street. “Liz, Allie.” He nodded his greeting. “What’s this about a dead body?” Rex was a stocky man with wide shoulders and biceps to match. He looked good in fresh starched blues. His baby blue gaze was serious. He wore his trooper hat over his shaved head. Rex was all no-nonsense and efficient movement with competent hands.
I had a bit of a crush on him. It was hard to think beyond the flutter I felt every time I saw him. “Mal dug up the evidence,” I said. The words came out breathless, and Liz glanced at me a little too aware. I told myself not to blush or I would give everything away. For someone as pale skinned as me, not blushing was as difficult as not sneezing.
Luckily Mal barked and jumped out of my hands, distracting everyone from my hideous attempt to hide my emotion.
I loved Mal—for a puppy she was brilliant at keeping me safe. She went over and sat next to the sock-covered bone. A single bark, and she put her white paw on it.
“What’s this, little girl?” Rex squatted down next to her and examined the bone. He took out a pen, and using his cell phone, took a photo.
Liz kept an arm’s distance back but also squatted to get a better look. “Is that argyle?”
“That’s what I thought.” I got down next to Liz.
“What made you think it was human?” Rex asked behind his camera. “Besides the fabric?”
As if on cue, Mal jumped up, grabbed the tattered bit of shoe, and shook it. A bit of bone flew out and hit Rex in the face.
“Ow.” He rubbed his cheek then grabbed the shoe from Mal. At least I thought of it as a shoe. It was actually only the shredded toe of a shoe.
“Is that a toe?” Liz looked at once horrified and fascinated.
I picked up a twig and pushed at the bits that had flown out earlier and hit my shin. They were scattered in a small arc. “Yes,” I said. “I don’t know of any wild animal that paints its nails orange.” I pointed at the flakes of polish, not wanting to get any closer than necessary.
“Cool.” Liz pulled a digital camera out of her cargo pants pocket and snapped a photo.
“Stop.” Rex covered her lens with his hand.
“Hey.” Liz glared at him.
“I’m declaring this an official crime scene. That means it’s closed to photographs.”
“I don’t think so.” Liz lifted her camera and snapped a photo of Rex, momentarily blinding him. He did what anyone would do: put his hand across his eyes to block it.
She was fast. I watched with amazement as she snapped a couple more pictures of the bits of toe and of Mal sitting proudly next to the sock-covered bone.
Rex swore something dark and dangerous under his breath and reached for the camera. Liz ducked out of his way and rushed back inside the newspaper office.
I watched while Rex debated whether it was more important to follow her or to stay with the evidence. Tilting my head, I smiled. “It seems I’m not the only troublemaker on the island.”
“Reporters,” Rex mumbled and went back to his investigation.
It was then I noticed that Mal had disappeared back under the lilac bush. “Oh, no,” I said and stepped forward to get her.
Rex stopped me with a hand on my arm. “Don’t move. You’re not trained in crime-scene investigation.”
“Neither is Mal and she seems to be doing fine.” I crossed my arms over my chest. Mal popped back out with another bit of bone in her mouth. She dropped it at his feet and gave a short bark before running back to the bush.
“I’ll get her,” he strode to the bush and got down and pulled Mal out from under the bush. She rewarded him with a lick on the cheek.
“Ha!” Liz said, coming out of the Crier sans camera. “Someone else getting dead-body kisses.”
“Don’t wipe it off,” I warned him with a grin. “It could be evidence.”
“It’s not evidence,” he grumbled and raised his hand to swipe it off.
“It could be DNA evidence,” I said, holding up my hand in a stop motion. “Or soil evidence. Do you really want to take the chance of ruining microscopic clues?”
“Oh, for the love . . .” He strode my way, his sexy eyes stormy. My heartbeat picked up, but I stood my ground. “Here,” he said and handed me Mal, his cheek clearly dirt-smeared from her kiss.
“This is definitely nail polish on this toenail,” Liz said as she studied the bit of bone. “These must be female bones.”
“How do you figure that?” Rex asked.
“Do you know any men who paint their toenails?” Her blue gaze teased as she raised one winged eyebrow.
“You can’t assume anything,” Angus said as he strolled over to her. “Huh, it does look like a toe. Came out of the shredded shoe, you said?” He shoved his hands in his brown corduroy pants. He tilted his head and studied the bits.
Mal squirmed in my arms and gave a short bark. I jumped. It still startled me when she barked out of the blue.
“Dog says yes.” Angus nodded. “So, Manning, looks like there’s a body under the lilacs. What are you going to do about it?”
“First thing I’m going to do is get everyone off my crime scene.” He narrowed his eyes and put his hands on his hips, emphasizing his gun belt.
“Hey, only looking, boy.” Angus pulled his hands out in surrender. “Come on, Liz. Let’s take a step back.”
“Don’t worry, Rex won’t do anything. He knows we’d put a big article on the front page of the paper complaining of police brutality.” Liz put her hands on her hips and stuck her chin out.
“Um, guys . . .” I pointed. A Saint Bernard had come around the corner while they fought. I didn’t think much of it until he got closer to the bone with the sock. Then I felt like it was my duty to warn them that he was there.
Rex spun on his heels to see the giant dog delicately pick up the bone and slowly back away as if we wouldn’t notice him taking it. “Ah, crap,” Rex said.
“Daisy!” Liz shouted. “Leave it! Leeeeave it—”
For a brief moment it looked as if Daisy planned to obey. Then just as suddenly, she changed her mind and took off down the street.
Mal barked and barked. I held on to her tightly. “That dog could sniff you up her nose if she wanted to,” I chided Mal. I put my hand around her nose. Her little growl vibrated up my hand.
In the meantime, Rex and Liz took off after Daisy. It was kind of comical to see a cop and a reporter chasing after a dog with a bone.
“Are you going after her?” Angus asked me, his eyes sparkling.
“No.” I shook my head. “Someone has to stay here and keep the crime scene safe.” We stood side by side and watched Daisy disappear around the corner in the direction of the Grand Hotel. Rex could run pretty fast in his uniform. Liz was an arm’s length behind him. They both called after Daisy to stop.
“Is Daisy Liz’s dog?” I asked.
Angus shook his head. “No, that scruffy Saint Bernard belongs to Mrs. Finch. She summers on the island in a home that has been in her family for a century. Unfortunately she’s one of those owners who opens the door and lets the dog out without a leash or a keeper. The old bat says it’s good for a dog to roam. Besides, she can’t go far. It’s an island and all the porters know not to let Daisy on the ferry.”
“I suppose Mackinac is safer than most summer places. I mean, it’s not like Daisy is going to get hit by a car here on island.”
“If she doesn’t watch it she may end up with buckshot in her rear end. Some of the old-timers don’t take kindly to marauding dogs.”
Mal snuggled up in my arms and closed her eyes. Her soft fur brushed against my cheek. It was pretty clear she felt that her work here was done. I glanced at the bits of bone and nail polish on the ground. “How long do you think those bits have been there?” I asked. “Doesn’t it take a while for bodies to decay to the point of mostly bone?”
“Depends on the weather.” Angus walked over to the shoe and studied it. His hands behind his back, he looked through the glasses perched on his nose. “It could take only a few weeks or a few months. I highly doubt these pieces have been here long.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because this bit of shoe, or rather boot, looks familiar.” He sighed and straightened. “See how rounded the toe is?” He picked up a stick and pointed out the edges. “This looks like part of a seam. Possibly from steel-toed shoes. There is one person I know who wears argyle socks and brown steel-toed boots.”
I took a deep breath and blew it out slow. “Please tell me it’s not a loved one.”
“It’s not,” he confirmed. “I just don’t know how to explain the nail polish.”
“Why? Didn’t she paint her nails?”
“As far as I know, he never did.” Angus looked at the top of the bush as if it could tell him exactly what happened.
“Steven Karus,” Angus said. He turned his steady gaze on me. “The stable manager.”
“Do you think Angus is right? That this boot toe might belong to Steven Karus?” I asked.
“It’s too difficult to tell who it is based on the toe of a shoe,” Shane Carpenter, the St. Ignace crime-scene technician, said as he gathered bits of bone in a washtub. He picked up the toe section with his crime-scene-gloved hands. “We could run a trace on the polish. It could be a special kind.” He plopped the bone bit into the washing tub. “More likely it will belong to an everyday ordinary drugstore kind of polish.” He shrugged. “Real life is not as clean-cut as a crime show.”
“What about the gender?” I had to ask. “Can you tell gender based on toe bones? I mean, I would have figured toenail polish belonged to a woman, but Angus thinks the socks are a man’s.”
“I think it’s best not to make any assumptions based on what little information we have here.” He picked up another bit and dropped it in the washtub
Rex had called Officer Brent Polaski over to help him out. Brent was a few inches taller than Rex. He looked to be somewhere in his early thirties, with short, dark hair and brilliant blue eyes. While Rex had that older, in-control sexy thing going on, Officer Polaski had that I-can-do-push-ups-with-one-hand kind of look.
I watched from the edge of the crime-scene tape as the two officers put a black plastic tarp down on the ground and carefully shoveled the mulch onto it. So far they had found nearly an entire foot. Who knew there were so many bones in a foot?
I suppose a doctor would know or a podiatrist.
“Can you tell how long the body has been in the ground?” I asked. Shane worked. . .
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