Authors: Virginia Lowell
Praise for the national bestselling Cookie Cutter Shop Mysteries
One Dead Cookie
“This is such an enjoyable series . . . [
One Dead Cookie
is] a fast and fun read.”
“Scrumptious descriptions of baking, extensive details about the history and technique of baking cookies, and a considerable cast of surprisingly well-developed characters all make this a fun, enjoyable, and tasty pleasure for readers.”
Kings River Life Magazine
“There is never a dull moment in Chatterley Heights, and once you come, you may never want to leave again.”
The Reading Room
When the Cookie Crumbles
“Cozy fans will enjoy the third delicious Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery.”
Genre Go Round Reviews
“An enjoyable book with believable characters and situations. Fans of Laura Childs, Joanne Fluke, or Jenn McKinlay will savor this delightful mystery.”
A Cookie Before Dying
“A great combination of wit and mystery.”
“An entertaining investigative thriller . . . Fans of cozies will enjoy this Maryland small-town whodunit.”
Genre Go Round Reviews
“What a great read. This well-layered, page-turning mystery kept me on my toes . . . I can’t wait to read the next book in this enjoyable series.”
Dru’s Book Musings
“Virginia Lowell does it again . . . This excellent offering will satisfy your sleuth tooth (and make you hungry for an iced sugar cookie). Well done, Ms. Lowell! Long may you bake up delectable books with toothsome plot twists and tasty characters.”
Irish Music and
Cookie Dough or Die
“It’s always a joy to find a new series that . . . contains such promise.”
“Virginia Lowell made me a cookie cutter convert with her cleverly crafted
Cookie Dough or Die
. . . The writing is strong, the story line engaging, the characters ones you’d like to be your friends. This is what makes a good cozy mystery a special read. I look forward to more cookie adventures—with sprinkles and chocolate icing on top.”
“Four stars! Here’s a dough-licious debut for the new Cookie Cutter Shop Mysteries . . . Olivia is a charming lead, and Chatterley Heights will entice cozy readers who like the drama and close-knit relationships in small towns. A great start to a new series.”
RT Book Reviews
“This was a great read. With a wonderful cast of characters and a great setting, this story will have you craving one more cookie. The tone was very comfortable, and the witty and entertaining dialogue kept me engaged as I quickly turned the pages . . . [A] welcome addition to the cozy genre.”
Dru’s Book Musings
“[A] wonderful cast of characters and a great setting.”
“Readers will find the sleuthing of the main character hard to resist . . . This is a good cozy mystery.”
“The author does a great job of setting up this new series. She includes such vivid descriptions of Olivia’s store that you can visualize the store and nearly smell the scent of baking cookies. Realistic, humorous dialogue supports the plot and keeps the story moving forward . . . Fans of Joanne Fluke or of Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery Mysteries will enjoy this new culinary mystery series.”
“Practically jumps off the page with an endearing heroine (and her little dog, too); smart, wisecracking dialogue; an ingenious plot; and a thoroughly satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth ending. And the cookie references were tempting enough to send me to the kitchen to whomp up a batch of my mother’s favorite decorated butter-sugar cookies (no kidding, I did). If you love mysteries set in a small town and treats fresh from the oven, follow this author! You will not be disappointed.”
Irish Music and Dance Association
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Virginia Lowell
COOKIE DOUGH OR DIE
A COOKIE BEFORE DYING
WHEN THE COOKIE CRUMBLES
ONE DEAD COOKIE
COOKIES AND SCREAM
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
A Penguin Random House Company
COOKIES AND SCREAM
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2014 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14311-1
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2014
Cover art by Mary Ann Lasher.
Cover design by George Long.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
For Viki and Bob
I am truly grateful for the support, encouragement, and guidance of so many talented people, especially my wonderful editor, Michelle Vega, as well as Robin Barletta and the skilled copyeditors at Berkley Prime Crime. As always, my family and friends have propped me up when I needed it and kept me more or less sane. I am grateful to Sherry Ladig for her sharp eyes and her amazing range of knowledge. A special thanks to Carolee Jones, who shared with me her stories and writings of life aboard an Australian cruise ship. And to Tom Colgan: Thank you for believing in me so many years ago.
As soon as she flipped on the lights in The Gingerbread House, Olivia Greyson sensed something was wrong. She felt certain the store was not as she had left it six days earlier, when she’d abandoned Chatterley Heights to escape the unrelenting heat of early August in Maryland. Spunky, her little rescue Yorkie, snoozed in her arms, exhausted by hours spent protecting his backseat domain from the other cars whizzing past.
Olivia closed her eyes and listened to her store. She identified Spunky’s light snoring, the faint humming of the overhead lights, and the air conditioner purring on a low setting. Olivia heard the faint, comforting tinkling of cookie cutter mobiles as the whispering air jostled them. Could she have picked up a subliminal sound coming from the kitchen? Olivia envisioned a colony of mice methodically munching through unopened bags of sugar and flour before balancing their diets with meringue powder. She didn’t see any evidence of water seeping under the kitchen floor, but what if a pipe were about to burst? Great, now she’d probably dream about swimming through a flooded store to rescue drowning cookie cutters. She could almost hear their little metallic cries for help.
Get a grip, Livie
. After so many hours of driving, mostly in the dark, she was too tired to think clearly. She should have gone straight upstairs to her apartment, but after nearly a week away from her beloved Gingerbread House, she’d craved a peek inside the store before falling into bed.
Spunky stirred in her arms. Olivia glanced up at the beautiful, unreliable Hansel and Gretel clock on the wall, which put the time at about 2:40 a.m. If Spunky woke up and realized they were home, he would want to go outside for a run. Olivia hoped to be in bed before that happened. On the other hand, she needed to check the entire store, or she would dream about hulking gingerbread monsters bent on destroying their bakers.
If only Del were back in town, sitting in his office at the Chatterley Heights Police Department. But no, Del had to rush off to rescue his former wife, Lisa, leaving the town without a sheriff. Okay, that wasn’t fair. Deputy Cody was filling in as acting sheriff. Besides, Olivia understood why Del felt compelled to help Lisa. She was filing for divorce from her abusive third husband, and Del was worried for her safety. Of course, Lisa’s third husband had also been her first husband. He’d been abusive then, as well, yet Lisa had divorced Del to remarry him. Olivia shook her head to clear it. Del’s ex-wife was his problem, and he would handle it with his usual calm intelligence.
Spunky lifted his head and whimpered groggily. “We’ll go upstairs soon,” Olivia whispered. “Just a quick look around the store and then to bed.” As she rubbed Spunky’s silky ears, Olivia scanned the sales floor, hoping to identify the source of her vague discomfort. The glass-door cabinet, which usually held vintage and antique cookie cutters, was empty, as she had left it. Less valuable cutters, arranged on tables and in mobiles, remained on display. Olivia hadn’t wanted the store to look unoccupied while she was out of town. She poked her head into the dimly lit cookbook nook, where the shelves of cookbooks looked organized and neat. No bodies slumped in the two stuffed easy chairs.
Olivia took a few tentative steps farther into the store, where her gaze landed on a shelf loaded with colorful sparkling sugars. The display didn’t look quite right. She walked closer to get a better look. The small, clear plastic containers all stood upright, labels facing forward, as they should. However, they were no longer arranged by color in neat little clusters. It looked to Olivia as if someone had knocked the sugars off the shelf and hastily replaced them. The holiday reds and greens were grouped together, a display no Gingerbread House employee would dream of creating during a sweltering August. What if it made customers feel hotter and crankier?
Normally, Olivia wouldn’t be alarmed by a messy shelf; customers often picked up items to examine more closely, then plunked them down willy-nilly. But the store had been closed and locked up tight for a week, since much of Chatterley Heights had fled town to avoid the heat. Maddie Briggs, Olivia’s friend and business partner, wasn’t due back for a couple of days. Maddie and her new husband, Lucas Ashford, were celebrating what they called their “Honeymoon, Part Two” by hiking in Monongahela National Forest. Olivia’s mother had dragged her unenthusiastic stepfather to a retreat in the Pocono Mountains. Bertha, the store’s head clerk, and Mr. Willard were visiting historical sites in the Johnstown-Altoona area. As for Olivia, she and Spunky had escaped for a week to a rented cabin in the Finger Lakes.
Spunky began to squirm in Olivia’s arms, awake now and eager to investigate his domain. She lowered him to the floor. With terrier single-mindedness, the little guy scurried among the display tables and over to his chair near the large front window. Satisfied that no interloper had invaded his territory, he checked the store perimeter. He paused to sniff the sales counter. Following a scent, Spunky rounded the counter and disappeared behind it. Olivia heard him growl, and her heart rate kicked up a notch. Had a burglar found a way inside the store and tried to open the register? Olivia had left the register empty, of course. Their more valuable vintage and antique cookie cutters were locked away in a hidden wall safe in the Gingerbread House kitchen.
“Uh-oh,” Olivia whispered. “I’d better check on those cutters.” At the sound of her voice, Spunky reappeared and trotted toward her. “Okay, Spunks, you may come along with me to the kitchen. The store is closed, no one is baking cookies, and the Health Department will never know.” Just the same, Olivia scooped Spunky into her arms in case he found an irresistible scent and decided to roll in it.
Olivia felt a moment of disappointment when she opened the kitchen door and no burst of lemon cookie dough greeted her. The kitchen felt lonely without Maddie’s exuberant presence. Olivia missed seeing her friend’s flour-coated red hair bounce in time with the music piping through her earbuds. On the other hand, having some quiet time alone in The Gingerbread House sounded lovely.
As long as our most valuable cookie cutters are still safe.
Spunky wriggled in Olivia’s grip. She knew he wanted to explore the kitchen while he had the chance. She relented and released him. Besides, she’d need both hands to move the battered antique spice rack she had hung on the wall to mask the safe. Spunky took off like a pup on a sugar high. He raced around the kitchen, jumped onto a chair to reach the table, then leaped over to the counter. The whole room would need a thorough sanitizing before they could begin baking again. On the other hand, Spunky was having such fun, and the kitchen was overdue for a scrubbing, anyway.
As Olivia approached the wall safe, her anxiety intensified. She held her breath as she lifted the spice rack off its moorings. The safe door was closed and locked. Olivia placed the spice rack on the worktable and took a calming breath, as her yoga-obsessed mother had demonstrated to her more times than she cared to count. Nevertheless, Olivia’s staccato heartbeat didn’t subside until the lock clicked, and the door opened to reveal a safe filled to capacity with cookie cutters.
Olivia’s instant relief turned to sudden confusion. Before leaving town, she had secured the store’s most valuable cookie cutters, which had left the safe about half full. Now the safe was packed so tightly there wasn’t room for even the tiniest of fondant cutters. When Olivia tried to extract one cutter from the pack, the others began to shift. Fearing an avalanche, she grabbed the loose cutter and slammed the safe door shut.
“Wow,” Olivia whispered as she stared at the metal shape in her hand. She’d never seen it before. She sat at the kitchen table, under the light, to get a better look. Clearly the heart-shaped cutter was handmade, shaped from tin and soldered to a brace. The tail of the heart was long and thin. The cutter and its brace looked worn, but the piece was in excellent condition. Olivia guessed it to be a genuine antique, possibly a hundred or more years old. Something about the design made her wonder if it might be German in origin.
I’ll have to check with Anita.
Though she and Anita Rambert, owner and manager of Rambert’s Antique Mall, were frequent rivals in the pursuit of valuable antique cookie cutters—and not always in a friendly way—Olivia trusted Anita’s superior expertise.
“Now I’m sorry I sneaked home from vacation early.” Spunky trotted over in response to Olivia’s voice. “I wish Maddie were here.” Maddie and Lucas had been part of the first wave to leave Chatterley Heights, so it couldn’t have been Maddie who put the mysterious cutters in the Gingerbread House safe. She might know who had done so, but then why wouldn’t she have called to forewarn Olivia? Maddie was congenitally incapable of keeping a secret, especially when it concerned a collection of potentially valuable cookie cutters.
Spunky leaped onto the chair next to Olivia and yapped. “I know,” Olivia said. “You’ve been cooped up in a car for hours, and now you want to go for a run. Only here’s the problem: It’s three a.m. I’ll lay out a couple of puppy pads for you when we go upstairs, okay? I promise we’ll run tomorrow, by which I mean today, only much later. Mother has spoken.”
Spunky tilted his fluffy head, fixed Olivia with achingly sad brown eyes, and whimpered.
“You heard me.” Olivia opened a kitchen drawer and slid the unfamiliar cookie cutter under a pile of napkins to keep it out of sight. Spunky jumped from the chair to the counter, where he flopped down and rested his head on his paws. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, you pathetic creature.” She lifted Spunky into her arms and headed toward the kitchen door. The tired pup nestled against her chest. “Come on, kiddo, let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow we’ll take a nice, long run in the park. Then we will track down the source of those mysterious cookie cutters. I just hope that, for once, no one has been murdered.”