Granny Mae, dressed in a fluffy pink robe the color of cotton candy, with matching fluffy pink slippers, disappeared on the other side of the kitchen island to pull a tray from the oven. “I thought he said he’d call by now,” she said, her voice bouncing around in the metal oven.
“He did.” Whenever he was near a beach, “first thing” for Skinny McGee meant before the sunrise. After the sun came up, I could forget about getting in touch with him because his daytime hours were dedicated to surfing, or thinking about surfing, or planning his next surfing trip.
Last night he’d called when I was in the shower and left an odd message: “Penn, I need to talk with you.” He’d sounded out of breath. “I know why you won that fake contest. I know who sent the letter. And it’s really cool. No, I’m not going to tell you in a message. Don’t want to miss hearing your reaction. I can tell you this—start packing your bags. You need to come down here and see for yourself. I’ll give you a call first thing in the morning. We can talk then.”
I’d tried to call him back right after listening to the message but had been sent to voice mail.
“He hasn’t responded to any of the texts I’ve sent either.” With a frown, I settled at the kitchen island where I usually drank my morning coffee.
“I’m sure he’ll get in touch soon. Have a scone. They’re fresh from the oven.” Granny Mae dropped a rock-hard lump of cooked dough onto a ceramic plate. The loud clang made Stella—the little fluff of a Papillon—bark as if armed intruders had burst through the back door.
“I think I’ll just stick with coffee.” I loved Granny Mae to pieces, truly I did, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not cook, bake, or broil to save her life. Nor could I, for that matter. The scone recipe was the same one she’d encouraged me to try last week. At least her attempt didn’t smell as if brimstone had escaped from the depths of hell. Despite the freezing temperature outside, I’d had to open all the windows to get rid of the stench.
In many ways we were two peas in a pod, which didn’t surprise me. Even though Granny Mae wasn’t really my grandmother, I’d known her my entire life. She was working as my paternal grandmother’s personal assistant when I was abandoned as a newborn on Cristobel Penn’s doorstep. It was Granny Mae who’d convinced Cristobel to let me stay by volunteering to take responsibility for my care.
When Granny Mae completed her first PhD and left Grandmother Cristobel’s service to teach at the University of Wisconsin, she kept in touch with frequent letters, phone calls, small gifts, and surprise visits.
She acted more like a devoted family member than any of my blood relatives. So when I was offered the position of chief executive of marketing for a firm in Madison, Wisconsin, Granny Mae had immediately invited me to stay with her in her vintage cottage. It had started out as a temporary living arrangement. Three years later, I still hadn’t moved out.
“These scones will be perfect for dipping in coffee.” Granny Mae picked one up and tapped it with her finger. She shook her head. The pink curlers in her hair clanged. The noise got Stella barking again.
“Hush.” Surprisingly she stopped and looked up at me. Her huge, dark-brown ears tilted left and right. Her black eyes sparkled with mischief.
For a moment I thought she might obey. Silly me. Stella jumped up and nipped my big toe. “Son-of-a—”
I jumped off the stool and chased after her. Even though Stella’s legs were much shorter than mine, it didn’t slow her down. Not one bit. We ran around the kitchen until I felt like a complete nut.
I finally opened the back door. With a happy yip-yip, the tiny Papillon hurried outside. Sometime during the night, a sparkly white blanket of Wisconsin snow had covered the tidy backyard. Stella wouldn’t stay out long. It was too cold out there for a dog that could literally fit in my pocket. But she seemed to enjoy bouncing around the freshly snow-covered bushes.
I watched her for a moment before pushing the door closed.
“Oh, dear,” Granny Mae said. While I’d chased Stella, Granny Mae had picked up her iPad. “Oh, dear; oh, dear,” she said again and handed me the tablet.
On the screen was a newspaper headline:
Man Murdered in Vat of Chocolate.
“What is this?” I asked.
Granny Mae had three PhDs—one in biochemistry, one in astrophysics, and the third in journalism. Strange or sensational news simply wasn’t her thing.
“It’s Skinny,” she whispered.
“What?” I dropped like a heavy weight into the nearest kitchen chair. A frigid cold that had nothing to do with the outside air settled deep into my bones. I read the entire article. Skinny? What did he find?
You can read more about Charity in Asking for Truffle, the first book in the NEW “Southern Chocolate Shop” mystery series.
When Charity Penn receives a letter saying she won a trip to Camellia Beach, South Carolina complete with free cooking lessons at the town’s seaside chocolate shop, The Chocolate Box, she’s immediately skeptical. She never entered any contest. Her former prep school friend offers to look into the phony prize―only to end up drowned in a vat of chocolate.
Struck with guilt, Penn heads to the southern beach town to investigate why he was killed. But as wary as she is of the locals, she finds herself lured into their eccentric vibe, letting her defenses melt away and even learning the art of crafting delicious chocolates. That is, until delight turns bittersweet as she steps straight into the midst of a deadly plot to destroy the seaside town. Now, only Penn’s quick thinking and a mysterious cask of rare chocolate can save the town she’s learning to love.
Rich and decadent, Asking for Truffle, the first in a new cozy series by Dorothy St. James, is sure to be a delectable read for fans of JoAnna Carl and Joanne Fluke.
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About the author
Dorothy St. James, known for the White House Gardener Mystery series, is going back to her roots and setting a mystery series in a Southern beach town much like the one she’s called home for the past 20 years. The Southern Chocolate Shop Mysteries combine her love of fine chocolates, quirky Southern charm, with a dash of danger. Asking for Truffle hits bookstore shelves September 2017.
All comments are welcomed.