Authors: Cindy Bell
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Amateur Sleuths, #Cozy, #Animals, #Culinary, #Women Sleuths
A Deadly Delicious Delivery
A Chocolate Centered Cozy Mystery
Copyright © 2015 Cindy Bell
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and locations portrayed in this book and the names herein are fictitious. Any similarity to or identification with the locations, names, characters or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
All trademarks and brands referred to in this book are for illustrative purposes only, are the property of their respective owners and not affiliated with this publication in any way. Any trademarks are being used without permission, and the publication of the trademark is not authorized by, associated with or sponsored by the trademark owner.
Table of Contents
“You have to use the cinnamon stick to stir it, otherwise it just isn’t the same.” Charlotte moved her hand in a slow, swirling motion. The graceful flick of her wrist made Ally smile. Though her grandmother was older, and her skin showed a few wrinkles and other signs of age, her dexterity had not diminished. She made everything she did look like it had been choreographed.
“I see.” Ally tried to mimic the movement with her own cinnamon stick. Unfortunately, she had not inherited her grandmother’s grace or coordination, and the liquid splashed more than it swirled. As she watched the brown liquid in her mug settle into a languid whirlpool her muscles relaxed.
Since Ally had moved back home to the cottage that she shared with her grandmother as a child, her life had changed immensely. But then the past year had been filled with changes. She divorced a man who did not love her, she left behind a life that no longer suited her, and she took on the responsibility of being a full-time employee of Charlotte’s Chocolate Heaven. Everything slowed down. It was a bit like traveling back through time, and also a bit like landing on a familiar, yet foreign planet. “You know, I’ve been thinking. It’s going to be pretty lonely here all by myself.”
“You could get a housemate.” Charlotte shrugged and took a sip of her coffee.
“I could. But I’d much rather have you as a housemate than anyone else.”
“Ally, we’ve been over this. It’s time for me to move on. I’ve been looking forward to this. Besides, you’re young, you don’t need an old lady hanging over your shoulder all day.”
“Oh, there’s nothing old about you, Mee-Maw, nice try.”
“I’m not much of a lady either.” She grinned. “I’m looking forward to getting to know a few of those handsome, single men.”
Ally laughed, then took a sip of her coffee. She looked fondly across the kitchen table at her grandmother. “Promise me that when you move to Freely Lakes we’ll still have cinnamon flavored coffee every morning.”
“I promise, dear. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to get rid of me. I have to say though that I am looking forward to all of the activities and fun that I will have once I’m settled there. I was a little surprised that a few of my friends moved away, but that just gives me a chance to make some new ones.”
“That’s why I think this weekend will be good for both of us. You’ll get to meet some of your neighbors, and I’ll get to check things out to make sure it’s good enough for you.”
“You’re too good to me, Ally. Try not to forget that I don’t require much to be content. Four walls and a bed will do.”
“Maybe not, but you do deserve the best of everything.” Ally reached across the table and gave her grandmother’s hand a light squeeze. It was hard to believe that so many years had passed since the time when Ally was faced with the loss of her mother. Her grandmother had filled her mother’s shoes in the best way she could, and although Ally missed her mother, she did not feel as if she had missed out on her love.
“Oh pish, you’re biased.” Charlotte rolled her eyes. “The important thing is we need to get me packed up!”
“Let’s visit the place first, then we’ll get into the heavy packing.” Ally pursed her lips. She was not convinced that Freely Lakes was the best place for her grandmother, and wouldn’t be until she knew for certain that it was safe. Not that she had much say about whether her grandmother moved there or not. When Charlotte set her mind to something it was best not to argue.
“Fair enough.” She glanced at her watch. “We have to get going, if we’re going to open the shop on time. I guess these coffees will have to be to go.”
“I’m on it!” Ally jumped up and began the process of transferring the coffee into travel cups. Once they were prepared she turned to see her grandmother already at the front door.
“Let’s go, you can’t be late for your first official day of being a manager!”
“All right, all right, just let me feed Peaches.” She grabbed a can of cat food and popped the lid open. As soon as the subtle pop of the can filled the kitchen, an orange cat raced into the room. A pot-bellied pig raced in right after her.
The cat screeched as the pig rushed in behind her. Peaches jumped up onto the counter and skidded across the freshly cleaned surface.
“Peaches, it’s okay.” Ally reached out and stroked her back. “Arnold, this isn’t for you!” Ally grinned. She filled the cat’s bowl with cat food and then set it down on the floor beside her water bowl. Arnold sat back on his haunches and looked up at Ally with wide, pleading eyes.
“All right, all right, I’ll get you something, too.” Ally reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bag of pig feed. She sprinkled some on a mat on the floor. Arnold snorted and huffed his way over to the food. Within mere seconds the food was gone. He snorted up at Ally for more.
“That’s enough, you have to keep a trim figure, little fellow.” Ally reached down and patted the top of the rather stout pot-bellied pig’s head. Peaches paced along the counter. She swished her tail sharply back and forth.
“Oops, I don’t think Peaches appreciates having company for breakfast.” Charlotte winked.
“Poor guys. They’re not used to having to share their home.” Ally scratched the top of Peaches’ head with a light, soft touch. “I love you.” She placed a peck on the top of the cat’s head. Peaches rubbed her cheek against Ally’s, then hopped down from the counter. She swished her tail saucily through the air as she walked away from Arnold. Arnold snorted and sniffed his way under the kitchen table.
“Don’t worry, they’ll learn to get along. It’s always the ones that fight it the most that fall the hardest.” Charlotte smiled at Ally. Ally raised an eyebrow.
“A love affair between a cat and a pot-bellied pig? Now that’s strange.”
“Quite.” Charlotte laughed and pulled open the back door. “Ready?”
“Absolutely.” A flutter of pride caused Ally’s cheeks to flush as she followed after her grandmother. As a little girl she had spent hours curled up behind the counter of her grandmother’s shop. The smells of chocolate, toffee, and various spices had enchanted her mind with dreams of the decadent chocolates she would get to taste. Never once did she imagine that she might one day be in charge of making those chocolates. Ally looked forward to her grandmother teaching her all of her secrets. Charlotte looped her arm through Ally’s as they walked down the street towards the shop. Blue River was a small town so Charlotte very rarely drove. She didn’t even own a car anymore, she would just use the van they used for deliveries at the shop if she needed to drive anywhere.
“Look at that, the convenience store has soda on sale. We should stock up on some in case any customers ask for it.” Ally pointed out the sign to Charlotte as they walked past it.
“Ugh, no thank you. Soda would ruin the taste of the chocolates. You have to remember, Ally, our customers don’t just come into the store for tasty treats, they come in for the experience. It must be just as decadent and intricate as the sweets that we offer them.”
“You’re absolutely right. Who would ruin chocolate with soda anyway?” Ally shrugged.
“You would be surprised what people do to chocolate.”
When they opened up the shop Ally was greeted by the lingering aroma of chocolate. It had a way of permeating everything. She closed her eyes for a moment and inhaled the smell, as she had for so many years. She and Charlotte fell easily into the routine of opening up the shop. They spent about twenty minutes making sure all of the counters were wiped down, the register was open, and the floors were swept. Then Ally walked up to the sign on the front door and turned it from closed to open. She smiled to herself at the thought of this being her new job.
Although, when Ally had originally graduated from college she had taken a chocolatier’s course because she had wanted to eventually own her own chocolate shop, this was certainly not how she had imagined her life unfolding in recent years. She found herself surprisingly content. She was touched that her grandmother trusted her enough to give her a key and to allow her to work in the shop alone. As far as she knew, no one else had a key.
“Okay, let’s get to work. I want to make sure that there are plenty of chocolates for everyone tomorrow. Have to make a good first impression.” Charlotte took out some empty molds. “Can you line these with chocolate and then make the fillings, please. I’ll help and serve customers as well.”
“Sure,” Ally said as she started filling the chocolate molds. Ally helped her grandmother make the fillings while the molds were setting.
Once they were done Charlotte took some of the chocolate lined molds out of the fridge and placed them on the counter. “I want these to be raspberry filled. And also it’s time I taught you the recipe for the walnut, expresso cream milk chocolates!”
“Great, I can’t wait!” Ally’s eyes widened. Ally still loved learning her grandmother’s delicious recipes. As her grandmother walked her through the steps to create one of her favorite chocolates, Ally savored every moment.
“Will you place the leftover expresso cream in the fridge, we can make some more chocolates another day. That’s enough for now,” Charlotte said.
“Sure.” Ally walked over to the fridge.
“All right, now that is settled we can work on the solid chocolates while those set. Do you want to do those on your own?”
“Just watch the double boiler, it gets hot fast. I’m going to serve the customers and put together some orders for delivery out front, okay?”
“All right.” Ally nodded and set about preparing the solid chocolates. As she did she caught sight of a face in the window. It startled her at first. One of the draws of her grandmother’s shop was the window that looked right into a section of the kitchen from the main shop. Charlotte felt it gave the community a chance to take part in the chocolate making, and that it also kept their cooking practices transparent and accessible to anyone that was interested. Over time the window had become a popular place to spend a few minutes when you bought some chocolates. Ally smiled at the woman in the window and then tried to focus on the chocolates.
A few minutes later Ally stirred the chocolate in the double boiler and gazed at the subtle bubbles that attempted to form. She created a smooth whirlpool before they could pop. With one hand she turned down the heat, and with the other she continued to slowly stir the chocolate. She forgot all about the window and whether she had an audience. The smell of chocolate and the heat of the stove worked together to make her very relaxed.
As Ally stirred, her mind drifted from childhood, to adulthood, to what might come in the future. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice that she had poured the chocolate into the molds. Lost in a trance she created the chocolates on autopilot.
By the time she slid them into the refrigerator, she had been working for over an hour. She blinked with surprise as she snapped the door shut. A quick glance around at the mess she had left behind was clear proof that she had indeed made the chocolates. With a short laugh she began cleaning up the mess.
“Ally!” Charlotte stuck her head into the back room. “Are you done?”
“Yes.” Ally opened her mouth to describe the strange trance she had fallen into when the light above her head went out.
“Oh no,” Charlotte said. “I don’t think I have a spare light bulb.” She walked over to the storage cupboard to check. “We don’t have any. Can you run to the convenience store and pick some up and while you’re there can you also get some antifreeze for the van, please? I keep forgetting to pick it up. I’ll take care of the clean-up, all right?” She handed Ally the empty light bulb box she had kept, so she could get the right one.
“Sure, no problem.” Ally took off her apron and stepped out through the back door.
Ally walked a few blocks down to the convenience store. It was pretty busy, with lots of people buying several bottles and twelve packs of soda. Ally picked up the light bulb and then the antifreeze and waited patiently for the line to dwindle. The woman behind the counter worked hard to keep up with the customers. When Ally arrived at the front of the line she set the items on the counter.
“And how much soda?”
“None today.” Ally smiled. “Just these.”
The woman nodded without even looking up. She rang up the items and gave Ally the change. “Next!”
Ally grabbed the items and made her way back through the crowd. She recognized a few of the faces, but many of the people that lived in the town now were unfamiliar to her. Ally knew that she would get to know them while running the shop. When she returned to the shop her grandmother had taken the chocolates out to package them.
“I’ll just replace the bulb and then I can do that.” Ally smiled and left the antifreeze on the back step to fill the van with later. She got the step out of the cupboard and climbed on it to replace the bulb. Once she was finished and had put the step away she pulled her hair back. She washed her hands thoroughly and pulled on some gloves. Then she began placing each chocolate into its own little nest in the box. She repeated the process for all of the chocolates they had made.
Ally sealed the last box and tied a gold and green ribbon around it to match the gold writing on the boxes that her grandmother had chosen. To her, the colors represented friendship and the future of her grandmother’s social life at Freely Lakes. Although she still wished Charlotte would stay at the cottage with her, she understood why her grandmother had to move on. She wanted her freedom, as much as Ally was afraid of hers.