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Bear Truffle Murder, страница 1

 часть  #10 серии  A Maple Hills Cozy Mystery

 

Bear Truffle Murder
 

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Bear Truffle Murder


  Bear Truffle Murder

  A Maple Hills Cozy Mystery #10

  Wendy Meadows

  Copyright © 2017 by Wendy Meadows

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

  Printed in the United States of America

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  Click or visit the link below.

  www.wendymeadows.com/cozy

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Thanks for reading

  Be the First to Know

  About the Author

  Also by Wendy Meadows

  Chapter One

  The air was warming up as the sun rose over Maple Hills. Nikki was in her shop enjoying the arrival of spring. No more bulky coats, she thought as she took off her light jacket. June in Maple Hills brought a promise of warmth to come. Nikki was happy to have seen the last of the snow. She walked to the front of her chocolate shop and opened the door. There were no customers waiting, but Nikki was not worried. She knew the store would be busy later. Nikki had brewed some coffee, and she took advantage of the quiet to sit and enjoy a cup. A few minutes later, Tori and Lidia walked into the shop. Lidia was an older woman who worked harder than anyone Nikki knew. Tori was younger and sweet. They worked for Nikki and were reporting for duty.

  “Hi, Nikki,” they said together. Nikki invited them to sit and have some coffee. They both grabbed cups and sat down.

  “I’ve been thinking,” started Nikki, “It is getting too warm to run a hot chocolate shop.” She and Lidia had come up with that idea in the fall. Customers had been talking about how cold it was, and the two friends came up with a solution. Now that it was warming up, Nikki thought it would be better to offer something cooler.

  “How about milkshakes?” she asked the other ladies. Tori and Lidia agreed that milkshakes would be a perfect transition into the summer and warmer weather.

  “We could also sell floats,” Lidia suggested. Nikki and Tori agreed.

  “We could make our own ice cream,” Tori suggested.

  “That sounds like a lot of trouble,” said Nikki.

  “Actually, they have some industrial ice cream makers for sale at the kitchen warehouse in the next town over,” Tori said. “I noticed them last time I was there.”

  “I can look into an ice cream freezer,” offered Lidia. Lidia had lived in Maple Hills all her life. She had connections in the town. If you need it, ask Lidia, thought Nikki.

  “Okay,” Nikki agreed. “Let’s look into it.”

  Tori said she would call the kitchen warehouse, and Lidia said she would call some friends. While they were making their calls, a customer walked in. Nikki recognized him and asked if he needed some chocolates. He said yes, and she went to the counter to help him. He was a local teacher. He liked to have Nikki’s chocolates available as special treats for his students. He was so popular that the man’s students visited him at home in the summer. After Tori and Lidia finished their phone calls, they helped Nikki with the other customers who had appeared. Nikki went into the kitchen and started making some chocolates to order for a customer who was picking them up that day. The customer had wanted strawberry flavored caramels. Nikki got out the brown sugar, butter, and cream and started mixing the caramels. She added some strawberry flavoring and shaped them on the tray. After she popped them into the refrigerator, she went to the front of the store. It was busy, but Tori and Lidia had it under control. Just then the door opened, and Seth appeared.

  “How was the station today?” Nikki asked him. Seth was her college age son who was studying criminal justice. He was home for the summer and holding down two separate part-time jobs. He worked for Nikki in the afternoon and the police department during the morning. He was on desk duty, so he was able to observe the action without getting too involved. Nikki was happy that he’d found his calling, but she still worried about him choosing to follow in her shoes. Nikki’s father had been in the FBI. Nikki had wanted to go to the academy, but she had gotten married instead. Her husband turned out to be a cheating liar and had left her and Seth high and dry in Atlanta. Nikki had decided to move to Maple Hills to get away from the big city.

  “It was a good day,” said Seth, grabbing a cup of coffee.

  “Did your mom tell you her new idea?” Tori asked him while giving him a kiss. Tori and Seth had been dating for a few months now. Nikki approved. Tori helped keep Seth grounded, and they made a cute couple.

  “What new idea?” Seth asked Nikki.

  “I am thinking of serving milkshakes over the summer,” she said.

  “With homemade ice cream,” chimed in Tori. Nikki smiled.

  “That sounds wonderful,” said Seth. “I remember you making ice cream when I was little. You used to get fresh peaches and make peach ice cream with them.”

  “Oh, that sounds delicious,” said Tori.

  “It was,” insisted Seth. “It would be so hot outside, but the peach ice cream cooled us down.”

  Nikki smiled. She remembered making the ice cream. She made a mental note to see if she could find some fresh peaches or have them shipped up from Atlanta.

  “Did you see the chief today?” Nikki asked Seth.

  “Yes. He assigned me my own desk today,” said Seth proudly. The chief was Chief Daily, head of the police department and a dear friend of Nikki’s.

  “I’m filling out forms and running errands,” Seth said. “Don’t worry, Mom. I am nowhere near the criminals,” he reassured Nikki.

  “I’m glad you’re enjoying your job,” said Nikki.

  “I am enjoying it,” Seth said while rinsing out his cup and moving behind the counter. “I also enjoy working here with you. I’m glad to be able to take some of the burden of running the store off your shoulders.”

  The door opened, and a good-looking, tall man walked in. He had on jeans and a t-shirt. He walked over to Nikki and gave her a kiss.

  “Hi, Hawk,” said Nikki, smiling. “How’s your day going?”

  “You know, lots of desk work,” he said, frowning. Hawk was Nikki’s boyfriend. He was also a detective and the son of Chief Daily. He had helped Seth get his part-time job on the force.

  “Oh, poor baby,” Nikki teased. She knew Hawk would rather be out and about than tied to a desk.

  “Mom and I were just talking about milkshakes,” Seth chimed in.

  “Milkshakes?” Hawk asked.

  “Yes,” said Nikki. “I was thinking about putting in a milkshake machine and ice cream freezer. It’s finally getting warm, and milkshakes help keep people cool.”

  Hawk agreed with Nikki. “What flavors were you thinking of making?” he asked.

  “Well, there has already been a demand for peach, and I suppose I should do vanilla and chocolate,” Nikki said.

  “How about blueberry?” Tori asked.

  “That’s a great idea,” said Nikki. “We should have some fresh ones coming into season soon.”

  “Those sound delicious,” Lidia
added. “We could do a special flavor each week.”

  “What a great idea,” said Nikki. “We could have apple and pineapple.”

  “Or mocha,” said Lidia.

  “Or pumpkin,” said Seth. They all looked at him. “What?” he asked.

  “Summer flavors,” Nikki reminded him. Everyone laughed.

  “Okay, then how about blackberry? There is a pick-all-you-can farm about twenty minutes from here, and they advertised blackberries,” said Seth.

  “That sounds yummy,” said Tori. “And don’t forget strawberry,” she added.

  “We could make a fourth of July cone with vanilla, strawberry, and blueberry,” suggested Nikki.

  “Very patriotic,” Hawk teased.

  “Well, what is your idea? I haven’t heard from you yet.”

  “I think you should make egg creams,” he replied.

  “Egg creams? What are those?” asked Nikki. She had been living in the north for a while, but no one had ever mentioned egg creams before.

  “You have never had an egg cream?” asked Lidia.

  “No. Do they have raw egg in them? They sound kind of gross,” said Nikki.

  “Oh my goodness,” said Tori. “We will have to make some. It is better to taste them than to explain them.”

  “Okay,” said Nikki.

  “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Lidia could you put some glasses in the freezer?” asked Tori. Lidia agreed, and Tori walked out of the store. Nikki laughed. A few minutes later, she returned. She was carrying a bag. She put the bag on the counter and pulled out some milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer.

  Nikki looked at the ingredients questioningly. “Trust me,” said Tori noticing the troubled look. Nikki shrugged, and Tori went to work. By the time she was done she had five tall glasses filled with egg cream. Nikki and Seth each took a glass and tried a sip. They both smiled.

  “This is incredible,” said Nikki. “I’ll have to feature Tori’s egg creams when we open the milkshake stand.”

  Seth agreed. They enjoyed their cool beverages and the lull in customers. Then the door opened, and a few people walked in.

  “I’ll take care of them,” declared Lidia.

  “Thank you,” said Nikki. She handed Lidia a napkin and pointed to her upper lip. “You have an egg cream mustache.” Lidia laughed while she wiped it off. She thanked Nikki and went to help the customers.

  “What are your lunch plans?” Nikki asked Hawk.

  “It’s funny you should ask,” he replied. “I was thinking of taking Seth out to lunch. I want to talk with him about work stuff.”

  Seth looked up with a smile. “Do you mind, Mom? I’d love to pick Hawk’s brain about different cases.”

  “It’s true,” said Hawk. “He keeps me on my toes, just like his mom.”

  “That’s fine with me,” said Nikki. “We’re not too busy right now. You can start when lunch is done.”

  Seth thanked her, and Hawk smiled. They both got up, and Hawk kissed Nikki goodbye. “I’ll see you later,” he said as they walked toward the door.

  Nikki was delighted that Hawk was taking Seth under his wing. Seth had changed his major in college a while ago to reflect what he saw as a strength in Nikki. He told her she was the reason he was going into criminal justice. Nikki was thrilled that he was pursuing something that he liked. She wished him the best and hoped he would not get hurt. She was glad that he had the chief and Hawk to look up to. Those were the two men in town Nikki could count on to always have her back. From the start, they had been kind and loyal to her. Nikki looked out the window and watched Seth and Hawk walk to the diner. Seth was talking animatedly, and Hawk was nodding in encouragement. Nikki smiled knowing that Hawk only wanted the best for Seth and her. After dealing with a former husband who cheated, Nikki had been gun-shy when it came to relationships. She was glad to feel safe and comfortable around Hawk. She made a mental note to make him some of his favorite chocolates as a thank you. Nikki turned and looked around the store. She mentally saw the way the milkshake and float counter would fit in. Maybe I should buy everyone those pointy hats the soda jerks used to wear, she thought. She laughed at the image of Hawk wearing one of those hats. Nikki walked into the kitchen and started making some chocolates for Hawk. She pulled out the dark chocolate and opened the refrigerator. There were fresh strawberries. Nikki pulled them out and melted the chocolate. Hawk will love these, she thought as she dipped the strawberries in the chocolate.

  Chapter Two

  Nikki heard the phone ring in the shop. She waited and heard Tori answer. Tori called out for Nikki, and Nikki put down the last strawberry she had been dipping. The strawberries looked and smelled delicious.

  “I’ll be right there,” she told Tori. Nikki took off her apron and washed her hands. She walked into the store and picked up the phone.

  “Hello?” she said. There was no answer. “Hello,” she repeated. There was silence and then the phone went dead. Probably a wrong number, Nikki thought. She asked Tori what the caller had wanted, but Tori said the caller had merely asked for the owner. Tori said it was a male voice, but beyond that she didn’t know who it was. Nikki looked at the phone and saw that the number was unknown. Nikki was put off for a moment, but then she saw the store was getting busy. She put the phone down and ran back to the kitchen to put Hawk’s strawberries in the refrigerator. Nikki then went back to the front of the store and started to wait on customers. Nikki, Tori, and Lidia had been steadily busy since Valentine’s Day. The mayor’s daughter had gotten married that holiday and had requested a special order of Nikki’s chocolates for her rehearsal dinner and reception. Nikki had to admit that her business had picked up afterwards. She was not complaining. The three women were kept busy that day for about an hour. Seth and Hawk came back from lunch smiling in a conspiratorial way. Nikki wondered what they were up to, but Hawk just smiled and waved goodbye. Nikki supposed he had to go back to his office. Seth joined her behind the counter.

  “Did you have a good lunch?” she asked him.

  “Yes,” he said. He grabbed some chocolates from the back and started restocking the case.

  “What did you guys talk about?” Nikki asked.

  “You know, work stuff,” said Seth. “Why don’t you go and grab a bite to eat,” he suggested to Nikki. “We can hold down the fort.”

  Nikki realized it was past her usual lunchtime. She decided to take Seth up on his offer. Nikki asked Lidia if she wanted to go to lunch with her.

  “Sure,” said Lidia. Seth had brought Tori a sandwich, so she could sit in the kitchen and eat while keeping an eye on the store.

  “Where do you want to go?” asked Nikki.

  “There is the new sandwich shop across the square. Does that sound good to you?” suggested Lidia.

  “Sure,” said Nikki. She was going to grab her jacket, but she opened the door first.

  “What perfect weather,” Nikki said, deciding to ignore her jacket. “Let’s go.”

  After lunch, Nikki walked back to the store. It was quiet. Tori was in the back, eating, and Seth was wiping down the counters.

  “Thank you,” Nikki said to Seth.

  “You’re welcome. I thought I would clean the windows in a bit.”

  “Really? Usually I have to twist your arm to get you to wash windows,” Nikki said with a laugh.

  Seth shrugged. “I’m happy to help.” He smiled, but Nikki didn’t notice, nor did she notice the extra bounce in his step.

  Nikki spotted the mail on the counter. She grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at a table to sort through the mail. She threw out the junk and put the bills aside to be sorted and opened later. Fortunately, she did not dread opening the bills anymore. She sat back and sipped her coffee. The door opened, and a tall woman with jet-black hair walked in. Nikki did not recognize her. She was made up and wore jeans and a dressy top. The woman walked to the counter and asked Tori what was good. While Tori was showing her the chocolates, the woman looked around the shop. She seemed to dismi
ss her surroundings and then she saw Nikki. When she looked at her, Nikki felt like daggers were piercing her skin. It had been a while since she felt that uncomfortable. The feeling reminded her of when her ex-husband would look at her after having too much to drink, right before he started yelling at her. Nikki shivered. The woman shifted her gaze back to Tori. Nikki stood up and walked over to the counter.

  “Can I help you?” Nikki asked, a bit defensively.

  “No,” the woman answered dismissively. The woman paid for her order and left. Nikki walked over to the counter and asked Tori what the woman had said to her. Tori shrugged.

  “She just asked who the owner was. I pointed to you.”

  “Did you see the way she was looking at me?” Nikki asked.

  “No, I was wrapping her order. What was she doing?”

  Nikki thought about telling Tori about the feeling the woman had caused, but then she stopped. Maybe I was making something out of nothing, she thought.

  “Never mind,” she told Tori. “It was probably my imagination.” Nikki started to walk back toward the kitchen. The odd phone call and the woman’s stare had her on edge. A child burst into the shop and ran past her, yelling. Nikki jumped and caught herself before she said something to the child. A few seconds later, his mother walked in and chastised the child for running around. Nikki decided she should stay in the quiet kitchen for a while. She went in the kitchen and asked Lidia if she would help Tori on the floor. Lidia agreed, but she noticed Nikki’s mood. She walked to the front of the store and left Nikki alone in the kitchen. Nikki checked the chocolate covered strawberries and saw that they would be ready in about an hour. Nikki then sat down and sorted through her orders. She found a couple that needed to be started, and she got up and pulled out the ingredients. When she reached for the flour, it slipped out of her hand and crashed to the floor. She stooped down to pick it up and started to shake. The tears came a few seconds later. Nikki felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and she turned her head to see Lidia standing over her. She gently guided Nikki to a chair in the kitchen. Lidia cleaned up the flour while Nikki composed herself. When the flour was cleaned up, Lidia sat down next to Nikki. She took her hands in hers and asked what was going on.

 
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