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Authors: Jenn McKinlay

At the Drop of a Hat

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More Praise for Jenn McKinlay's Hat Shop Mysteries

Death of a Mad Hatter

“Delightful . . . Cozy fans will eagerly await Hat Shop #3.”

—
Publishers Weekly

Cloche and Dagger

“A delicious romp through my favorite part of London with a delightful new heroine.”

—Deborah Crombie,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Brimming with McKinlay's trademark wit and snappy one-liners, Anglophiles will love this thoroughly entertaining new murder mystery series. A hat trick of love, laughter, and suspense, and another feather in [Jenn McKinlay's] cap.”

—Hannah Dennison, author of the Vicky Hill Exclusive! Mysteries

“Fancy hats and British aristocrats make this my sort of delicious cozy read.”

—Rhys Bowen,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Royal Spyness Mysteries

Praise for Jenn McKinlay's Library Lover's Mysteries

Book, Line, and Sinker

“Entertaining . . . An outstanding cozy mystery . . . featuring engaging characters and an intriguing story.”

—
Lesa's Book Critiques

“A great read . . . in this delightfully charming series.”

—
Dru's Book Musings

Due or Die

“[A] terrific addition to an intelligent, fun, and lively series.”

—Miranda James,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries

“What a great read! . . . McKinlay has been a librarian, and her snappy story line, fun characters, and young library director with backbone make for a winning formula.”

—
Library Journal

“McKinlay's writing is well paced, her dialogue feels very authentic, and I found
Due or Die
almost impossible to put down.”

—
CrimeSpree

Books Can Be Deceiving

“A sparkling setting, lovely characters, books, knitting, and chowder! What more could any reader ask?”

—Lorna Barrett,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries

“With a remote coastal setting as memorable as Manderley and a kindhearted, loyal librarian as the novel's heroine,
Books Can Be Deceiving
is sure to charm cozy readers everywhere.”

—Ellery Adams,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Books by the Bay Mysteries

“Fast-paced and fun . . . featuring an endearing protagonist, delightful characters, a lovely New England setting, and a fascinating murder.”

—Kate Carlisle,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Bibliophile Mysteries

Praise for
Jenn McKinlay's Cupcake Bakery Mysteries

Red Velvet Revenge

“You're in for a real treat with Jenn McKinlay's Cupcake Bakery Mystery. I gobbled it right up.”

—Julie Hyzy,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and White House Chef Mysteries

“Sure as shootin',
Red Velvet Revenge
pops
with fun and great twists. Wrangle up some time to enjoy the atmosphere of a real rodeo as well as family drama. It's better than icing on the tastiest cupcake.”

—Avery Aames, author of the Cheese Shop Mysteries

Death by the Dozen


It's the best yet, with great characters, and a terrific, tightly written plot.”

—
Lesa's Book Critiques

“Like a great fairy tale, McKinlay transports readers into the world of cupcakes and all things sweet and frosted, minus the calories. Although . . . there are some pretty yummy recipes at the end.”

—AnnArbor.com

Buttercream Bump Off

“A charmingly entertaining story paired with a luscious assortment of cupcake recipes that, when combined, make for a deliciously thrilling mystery.”

—
Fresh Fiction

“Another tasty entry, complete with cupcake recipes, into what is sure to grow into a perennial favorite series.”

—
The Mystery Reader

Sprinkle with Murder

“A tender cozy full of warm and likable characters and a refreshingly sympathetic murder victim. Readers will look forward to more of McKinlay's tasty concoctions.”

—
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“McKinlay's debut mystery flows as smoothly as Melanie Cooper's buttercream frosting. Her characters are delicious, and the dash of romance is just the icing on the cake.”

—Sheila Connolly,
New York Times
bestselling author of
An Early Wake

“Jenn McKinlay delivers all the ingredients for a winning read. Frost me another!”

—Cleo Coyle,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries

“A delicious new series featuring a spirited heroine, luscious cupcakes, and a clever murder. Jenn McKinlay has baked a sweet read.”

—Krista Davis,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Jenn McKinlay

Cupcake Bakery Mysteries

SPRINKLE WITH MURDER

BUTTERCREAM BUMP OFF

DEATH BY THE DOZEN

RED VELVET REVENGE

GOING, GOING, GANACHE

SUGAR AND ICED

Library Lover's Mysteries

BOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING

DUE OR DIE

BOOK, LINE, AND SINKER

READ IT AND WEEP

ON BORROWED TIME

Hat Shop Mysteries

CLOCHE AND DAGGER

DEATH OF A MAD HATTER

AT THE DROP OF A HAT

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

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

AT THE DROP OF A HAT

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer McKinlay Orf.

Excerpt from
Dark Chocolate Demise
by Jenn McKinlay copyright © 2015 by Jennifer McKinlay Orf.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18178-6

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / February 2015

Cover illustration by Robert Steele.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

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.

Version_1

To Barbara Peters and the amazing staff at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I discovered this shop in 1991 when being an author was just a dream. Little did I know then how incredibly supportive you all would be when that dream became a reality. Thank you for everything that you do for authors and readers. You are simply amazing and I am honored to call you my friends.

Contents

Praise for Titles by Jenn McKinlay

Berkley Prime Crime Titles by Jenn McKinlay

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

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

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Special Preview of
Dark Chocolate Demise

Chapter 1

I stood at the counter of Mim's Whims, the hat shop my cousin Vivian Tremont and I had inherited from our grandmother Mim, and I gazed out the window. All I could see was gray.

Gray clouds, gray sheets of rain, gray fog filling the streets and alleyways, gray, gray, gray. Or as the Brits like to spell it, grey.

Our shop is nestled in the midst of Portobello Road and takes up the bottom floor of the three-story white building that our grandmother bought over forty years ago. I've always loved it and found the bright blue-and-white-striped awning and matching blue shutters on the windows above to be cheerful, but even they couldn't defeat the never-ending gloom that seemed to descend upon our section of London.

Having been raised in the States and hailing most recently from Florida, I was being pushed just to the right of crazy by this late September weather.

Three solid weeks of rain will do that to a girl. Besides, I was quite sure I was going to sprout mold if I didn't get some sunshine, and soon.

“It's the last one,” Fee said. “You should have it.”

“No, no, I insist you take it,” Viv said. She tossed her long blond hair over her shoulder as if the gesture added weight to her argument.

Fee is Fiona Felton, my cousin Viv's apprentice. She's a very nice girl with a tall willowy build, a dark complexion courtesy of her West Indies heritage and a bob of corkscrew curls that she likes to dye new and different colors. Currently, she was rocking green streaks, which I thought was pretty cool but would look hideous in my own auburn shoulder-length hair.

Viv is the mad hatter of our little trio. Growing up down the street, she trained to be a milliner beside Mim. My own attempts at millinery were encouraged, but it became readily apparent that I did not have the family gift for twining ribbons into flowers or shaping brims or anything artistic or even crafty.

Viv and Fee were standing on the other side of the counter, taking a break from their current creations in the workroom. They were pushing a plate back and forth between them which contained one rogue piece of Walker's Toffee, the last of the package we had been nibbling on all day.

“After such a large tea this afternoon, I couldn't eat another bite,” Fee said.

“Fee, honestly, I insist you take the last piece of toffee,” Viv said. She sounded very bossy about it.

“No, I couldn't possibly. You absolutely must have it,” Fee said. She blew a green curl out of her eyes.

“Oh, for goodness' sake,” I said. “I'll eat it just to end this.”

I scooped up the last piece of toffee and popped it into my mouth. Viv and Fee both turned to look at me with wide eyes.

“What?” I asked while chewing.

“Nothing,” Fee said and glanced away.

“It's fine,” Viv agreed.

I stopped chewing. I knew the stone-sinking sensation of committing a social gaffe when I felt it. Scarlett Parker, boorish American, that's me.

“Aw, man,” I said. “I messed that up, didn't I?”

“It's fine, honestly,” Viv said.

Which was how I knew it really wasn't.

“What did I do?” I asked. “Did I not force it on you two enough?”

“You're making fun of us,” Viv said.

I swallowed the last of the toffee. “No, I'm just trying to figure out how pushing something that you apparently really want onto others makes sense. If you want it, take it.”

“That's not our way,” Fee said. “There are just certain things we do out of politeness like saying ‘Cheers' when you step off the bus.”

“The toffee push could have gone on all day,” I said.

“It probably would have,” Viv agreed.

“See? You did us a favor,” Fee said.

“And now you're trying to make me feel better for being a clumsy American,” I said.

“You're half British,” Viv reminded me. Like I could forget my charming mother, Viv's mother's little sister, that easily. The woman had all but demanded a vow of celibacy out of me after my last relationship implosion went viral on the Internet and had my dad, a pacifist, looking into buying a gun to shoot the rat bastard who hurt his baby girl.

“I still don't get it,” I said.

“It's just one of the many idiosyncrasies of being British,” Viv said. “You indicate you're longing for something by rejecting it. Repeatedly.”

“Now I see why you're both single,” I said.

“Was that nice?” Viv asked. “We're just very polite.”

“One might say cripplingly polite,” I said.

“Huh, enjoy that toffee, yeah?” Fee said.

I smiled. Maybe I was too brash and forward for my cousin's sensibilities, but at least I didn't spend my time pining or pretending I didn't want things that I actually did.

The doors to the front of the shop opened and in strode Harrison Wentworth. My heart did a little toe tap against my ribs but I refused to acknowledge it. Okay, so maybe I did pretend I didn't want something that I really did want just a little.

“Afternoon, ladies,” he greeted us as he stood in the door and shook out his umbrella.

“Hi, Harrison,” Viv and Fee greeted him in unison.

“Hiya, Harry,” I said.

His bright green eyes glittered when they landed on me.

“It's Harrison, Ginger,” he corrected me.

Little did he know I liked hearing him call me Ginger, especially in that swoonworthy accent of his. Although I had tried to get everyone to call me Ginger over the years, Harry was the only one who'd kept it up from childhood. Yes, I'd known him that long.

Most of my school holidays had been spent in Notting Hill in Mim's hat shop. My mother had insisted that I be well versed in all things British, and palling around with Viv was never a hardship. She was two years older than me, and given that we were both the only children in our families, she was the sibling I had never had.

Harry had been one of our brat pack, the kids whose families lived or owned businesses on Portobello Road, who ran amuck in the neighborhood. His uncle had been Mim's bookkeeper just as Harry was ours. Of course, I had recently come to find out that he had bought a share of the business and was now technically my boss. Yeah, I was still chewing on that one.

I couldn't fault Viv, though. She'd gotten into financial trouble over a haul of Swarovski crystals—yes, like me, she has impulse control issues. Unfortunately, I'd been so caught up in the drama that was my life at the time that she'd forged ahead and had Harry save the business when I should have been there to help. I still had guilt about it, but I was working through it.

“What are you doing here?” I asked Harry.

He raised his eyebrows at me and I realized my American rudeness was rearing its ugly blocky head—again.

“Sorry,” I said. “Was that too abrupt?”

“One does generally start with a comment about the weather,” he said. “Then you slowly segue into a softly pedaled interrogation.”

I glanced at the window. “After three weeks of gloom, I am thinking any conversation about the weather would be redundant, but if it makes you feel better . . . ruddy wet out there today, isn't it?”

He grinned and then looked at Viv. “There's hope for her yet.”

Fee snorted. “Not if there's toffee involved.”

I was about to protest when the bells on the door jangled and a woman in a blue hooded raincoat entered the shop carrying a large plastic bag.

She stood dripping on the doormat, and I took it as my opportunity to escape the discussion of my manners or lack thereof. I left the group at the counter and crossed the shop.

“Hi, may I help you?” I asked.

“Oh, I hope so,” she said.

She opened the dripping plastic bag and pulled out an old hatbox. It was white with thick blue stripes and a blue satin cord. On the top of the box in a swirling script were the words
Mim's Whims
.

I heard a gasp and realized that it came from behind me. I knew without looking that it was Viv, and I knew she was reacting to the same thing that I was. This box was an old one of Mim's before Mim had updated the shop's boxes in the nineties.

“Is there a hat in there?” Viv asked as she joined us on the mat in front of the front door.

“Yes, it's an old one that belonged to my mother,” the woman answered.

She pushed back the hood on her raincoat and I was struck by how dark her hair was. It was an inky black color, thick and lustrous, the type you'd expect to see on a model. After I recovered from my spurt of hair envy, I noted that she was quite pretty with big brown eyes and an upturned nose. Mercifully, she was spared from being perfect as her lips were on the thin side and she wore glasses, a nerdy rectangular pair with thick black frames.

“I don't want to drip all over your shop,” the woman said.

“No worries,” I said. “Here, I'll take the bag and your coat.”

She handed me the dripping bag and shrugged out of her coat, freeing one arm at a time as if afraid to let go of her hatbox. I hung her coat and the bag on our coatrack by the door. Usually we kept it in the back room, but so many people had been coming in with wet coats that we'd moved it out front for the interminable rainfest we had going.

I hurried after them as Viv led the woman over to the counter, where Fee and Harrison were watching the happenings with curious expressions.

“Ariana, is that you?” Harrison asked. He looked delighted to see the young woman, and I felt the prick of something sharp, like the spiny point of jealousy, stab me in the backside.

She looked up at him in surprise and then laughed. “Harrison, fancy meeting you here!”

He stepped around the counter and swept her into a friendly embrace. “I wondered why Stephen asked me about this place. Was it for you?”

This place?
I turned to exchange a dark look with Viv, but neither she nor Fee was looking in my direction. Did they not see that Harrison had just insulted our shop?

“Yes, I knew you did the books for a hat shop on Portobello and was so hoping it was the same one, and then Stephen said that you bragged that it was the best in the city and that the girls who owned were—”

“Yes, well.” Harrison interrupted her by coughing loudly into his fist.

He glanced at me and I narrowed my eyes at him. What had he said about us? I opened my mouth to demand to hear it when Viv spoke first.

“Do you know what year your mother purchased the hat?” Viv asked Ariana.

“I do. It was 1983, in fact,” she said. “The hat was a bridal hat for her wedding.”

“Oh, 1983 was a very good hat year. John Boyd was designing for Princess Diana. I loved the turquoise hat he made for her first foreign tour to Australia. It was a cap framed by matching ropes of silk with a net over the top and a matching flower at the back. I tried to re-create it during my apprenticeship but I could never match his artistry.”

“He is a genius,” Fee agreed. “I adore the red boater that she wore perched to the side with the matching jacket.”

“None of us were even born in 1983,” I said. “How is it you know what the hats looked like back then?”

“Every milliner studies John Boyd and Princess Diana,” Fee said.

“That and I did an apprenticeship in his Knightsbridge shop,” Viv said. “Mim loved his work. They were friends, you know.”

I didn't, but I didn't say as much, mostly because I was too embarrassed to admit that although the name “John Boyd” sounded familiar, I wasn't really up to speed on his work. The truth was I didn't know much about the millinery business. I had studied the hospitality industry in college and my gift was more with people, which brought my attention back to the woman in our shop.

“I'm sorry, Ariana, I didn't catch your last name,” I said. I glanced meaningfully at Harrison but he didn't look embarrassed in the least.

“Oh, of course, forgive me,” he said. “Ariana Jackson, these are the owners of Mim's Whims—Scarlett Parker and Vivian Tremont—and their apprentice, Fiona Felton.”

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