Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery)

BOOK: Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery)
ads

Praise for the Books by the Bay Mysteries Written in Stone


Written in Stone
is written with skill, as Adams continues to entertain her readers with a clever story and further develop Olivia, one of the most intriguing heroines of the genre and one created by a maturing and empathetic author.”


Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Well-paced mysteries, interesting back story, and good characters make this a must-read mystery.”


The Mystery Reader

The Last Word

“As in the two previous novels in the series, set in Oyster Bay on North Carolina’s southeastern coast, Adams concocts a fine plot; this one finds its roots in World War II. But the real appeal is her sundry and congenial characters, beginning with Olivia herself. Adams’s heroine has erected a steel curtain around her emotions, but
The Last Word
finds her emerging from her shell with confidence, a confidence matched by Adams in this unusual and appealing series.”


Richmond Times-Dispatch

“I could actually feel the wind on my face, taste the salt of the ocean on my lips, and hear the waves crash upon the beach.
The Last Word
made me laugh, made me think, made me smile, and made me cry.
The Last Word
—in one word—AMAZING!”


The Best Reviews

“The plot is complex, the narrative drive is strong, and the book is populated with interesting and intelligent people . . . Oyster Bay is the kind of place I’d love to get lost for an afternoon or two.”


The Season

A Deadly Cliché

“A very well-written mystery with interesting and surprising characters and a great setting. Readers will feel as if they are in Oyster Bay.”


The Mystery Reader

“Adams spins a good yarn, but the main attraction of the series is Olivia and her pals, each a person the reader wants to meet again and again.”


Richmond Times-Dispatch

“This series is one I hope to follow for a long time, full of fast-paced mysteries, budding romances, and good friends. An excellent combination!”


The Romance Readers Connection

A Killer Plot

“Ellery Adams’s debut novel,
A Killer Plot
, is not only a great read, but a visceral experience. Olivia Limoges’s investigation into a friend’s murder will have you hearing the waves crash on the North Carolina shore. You might even feel the ocean winds stinging your cheeks. Visit Oyster Bay and you’ll long to return again and again.”

—Lorna Barrett,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries “Adams’s plot is indeed killer, her writing would make her the star of any support group, and her characters—especially Olivia and her standard poodle, Captain Haviland—are a diverse, intelligent bunch.
A Killer Plot
is a perfect excuse to go coastal.”


Richmond-Times Dispatch

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Ellery Adams

Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries

PIES AND PREJUDICE

PEACH PIES AND ALIBIS

Books by the Bay Mysteries

A KILLER PLOT

A DEADLY CLICHÉ

THE LAST WORD

WRITTEN IN STONE

POISONED PROSE

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

POISONED PROSE

A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author Copyright © 2013 by Ellery Adams.

Excerpt from
Pecan Pies and Homicides
by Ellery Adams copyright © 2013 by Ellery Adams.

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: 978-1-10159564-0
PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / October 2013

 

Cover art by Kimberly Schamber.

Cover design by Rita Frangie.

 

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.

Contents

Praise for the Books by the Bay Mysteries

Also by Ellery Adams

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

Afterword

 

Special excerpt from
Pecan Pies and Homicides

For Tim, because I am at home in your heart

Chapter 1

Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in the dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.


N
ATHANIEL
H
AWTHORNE

“D
eath by chocolate. That’s what the coroner’s report will read,” Olivia Limoges said to the woman sitting next to her. She pushed away a plate still laden with a caramel brownie, a hazelnut petit four, and a square of peanut butter fudge. “I’ll have to be rolled home in a wheelbarrow.”

“That’s why this place is called Decadence.” Laurel Hobbs, local reporter and mother to twin boys, bit off the end of a strawberry dipped in white chocolate and moaned. “How can you resist the host of temptations being offered? Here we are, two of the lucky few invited to this exclusive event, and you’re showing unnecessary restraint. Seriously, Olivia, try this one. Just take a bite.”

Olivia glanced at the Amaretto cream puff and shook her head. “I think it was a mistake to drink both of those martinis during the cocktail hour. I could hardly refuse the chocolate martini I was given for the initial toast, and then Shelley pressed something called a Snickertini into my hand and stood there while I drank it. I didn’t want to offend her on her big night, and Michel would poison me if I did anything to upset his beloved chocolatier, so down the hatch it went.”

Laurel held up her hands. “No more talk of poisoning, strangling, or any other form of murder, please. I think we’ve had enough violence to last us several lifetimes. Besides, Michel would never turn on you. He’s the head chef in the most celebrated restaurant on the North Carolina coast, and you own the place.”

Gesturing around the desserterie, which was filled with Oyster Bay’s most influential townsfolk along with a dozen journalists and television personalities from out of state, Olivia shrugged. “The Boot Top can’t compete with an establishment serving every guest a dark chocolate shopping bag filled with white chocolate mousse. And did you see what Shelley used as a garnish? Sugared raspberries and a Decadence business card made of fondant. Incredible.”

“No, you probably can’t compete with that. I guess you should be happy that Shelley doesn’t serve seafood or The Bayside Crab House would be in trouble too.”

“Speaking of the Crab House, I should pick up some treats for my niece. I saw some starfish lollipops on the counter. Each one is made of raspberry-filled chocolate and costs more than an entire Happy Meal, but she’s worth it.”

Laurel grinned. “It’s a good thing you’re an heiress. You could buy every last piece of candy in here if you felt like it.”

Olivia bristled. “Hey, I work as hard as the next person.”

“You do. You spend all those hours between two restaurants and yet you stay so thin.” Laurel shook her head in disbelief. “How can you be around such exquisite food all day and not weigh a million pounds? If I weren’t your friend, I’d really hate you. I still haven’t worked off the rest of my baby weight, and the twins are four! Oh well, now’s not the time to count calories.” She popped a truffle into her mouth. “Look at Shelley. She’s sweet, beautiful, and clearly enjoys sampling her own wares. A woman with Shirley Temple dimples and Marilyn Monroe curves. No wonder Michel fell for her. Ah, here he comes now.”

Michel was glowing. Olivia barely recognized him out of his white chef’s coat, but he cut a nice figure in his rented tux. “Can you get over my Shelley?” he asked, sitting next to Olivia and giving her a brotherly kiss on the cheek. “If I weren’t madly in love with her, I’d be desperately jealous. She’s got everyone under her spell. I told you she was an enchantress.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Spare me, Michel. I’ve overindulged on tarts and cakes and bonbons, and I can’t stand another ounce of sugary sweetness.”

“Then you should try the chili pepper chocolate,” Michel suggested. “Or the bacon flavored truffles.” Olivia gave him a dark look, but he was too jovial to notice. He and Laurel began to compare notes on their favorite treats, going into endless detail about the perfect balance between sea salt and bittersweet chocolate.

“I’m going outside for some air.” Olivia took her water glass and headed for the kitchen. Without asking permission, she breezed through the swing doors into the narrow space, surprised to find it empty of both cooks and waitstaff. Shelley had hired servers from a local catering company for her grand opening, and they were all busy in the main room, but where was the dishwasher? The assistant pastry chef? Or sous-chef?

The kitchen was a mess. The sink was full of stainless steel bowls coated in dried caramel, jam, buttercream, and chocolate in every shade of brown. The remnants of crushed nuts, chopped fruit, and mint sprigs were strewn across the cutting board, and every burner on the commercial stove was obscured by a dirty pot or sauté pan.

“Shelley’s going to be up very late tonight,” she said, unable to stop herself from picking up a bag of flour that had toppled from the counter onto the floor. “She needs to hire some full-time help.”

Like many of the stores lining the streets of downtown Oyster Bay, Decadence had a small concrete patio out back where the merchants and their employees would take smoke or lunch breaks. Shelley had placed a pair of Adirondack chairs, a picnic table, and a potted hibiscus on hers. The plant didn’t look like it had long to live, but Olivia decided to prolong its existence by dumping the contents of her water glass into its bone-dry soil.

She went into the kitchen, refilled the glass, and repeated the process three times before the soil was moist to the touch.

“I think it’s a hopeless cause,” a voice said from the alleyway behind the shop, startling Olivia.

“Damn it, Flynn.” She scowled at the handsome, middle-aged owner of Oyster Bay’s only bookstore. “Is this how you spend your evenings? Creeping among the town’s garbage bins?”

“Only when beautiful women are nearby,” he replied nonchalantly and sat down at the picnic table. “Is this how you spend yours? Dressing to the nines and watering half-dead plants?”

Olivia studied the man who’d once been her lover. He was as carefree and confident as usual. His mouth was always on the verge of curving into a smile, and there was an ever-present gleam of mischief in his eyes. A textbook extrovert, Flynn loved to swap gossip with his customers and play with their children in the bookstore’s puppet theater. He was lively and friendly and fun. Everyone liked him. He was everything Olivia was not, and that’s what had initially drawn her to him. However, their strong physical attraction hadn’t been enough to hold them together, and they’d both moved on to form more meaningful relationships with other partners.

“What are you thinking about right now?” Flynn asked. “You got this look on your face. Like you’d gone back in time and wanted to linger there a moment. Perhaps you were reminiscing about us?” He raised his brows and smiled a little. “We had some electric moments, didn’t we?”

Trying not to let him see how accurate his guess was, Olivia joined him at the picnic table. “Where’s Diane? It’s a Saturday night in June. The stars are shining, the ocean breeze is blowing, and the town is stuffed to the gills with tourists. So why aren’t you out wining and dining your girlfriend?”

“Because we had a big fight,” he said without the slightest trace of emotion. “And because I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh?” Olivia’s tone was guarded. “In the middle of Shelley’s event? How did you know I’d be here?”

Flynn shrugged. “It was a sure bet that she’d invite you. Any small business owner with half a brain would. Do you know how many new customers I’ve gotten because you recommended my store?”

“I love Through the Wardrobe.” Olivia was careful to praise the shop, not its proprietor. “I’d do anything to see it flourish. A town without a bookstore is an empty shell of a place.”

Beaming, Flynn leaned toward her. “I’m so glad you said that. It makes it easier to ask you for a big favor.”

Olivia gestured for him to continue.

“The
Gazette
and I are partnering to sponsor a storyteller’s retreat next month for the Southern Storytellers Network. It’s for people all over the region who make their living performing folktales. I’m going to schedule some children’s programs at the shop, and the paper will arrange for adult performances at the library.”

“This sounds wonderful, Flynn,” she said sincerely. “But where do I come in?”

Olivia had to give her former lover credit. He didn’t dance around the point or try to soften her up with compliments. He simply opened his hands so that his palms formed a bowl and said, “I need help funding the event. The expenses were supposed to be covered by the
Gazette
, a grant, and me. Unfortunately, the grant’s fallen through. But we have to go on. Things have already been set in motion. Hotel rooms have been booked. Ads placed. Invitations sent and accepted. The bottom line is that we don’t have enough money to pay for it all. We need a philanthropist, Olivia. The storytellers need you.”

“Don’t lay it on too thick,” she warned. “How much are we talking about?”

Eyes flashing in premature triumph, Flynn reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a slip of paper. “I’ve itemized all the costs. This way, you’ll have proof that I haven’t booked a Caribbean cruise at your expense.”

Olivia didn’t unfold the paper. She tucked it into her Chanel evening bag and promised to look it over in the morning. “I never make decisions when my belly is stuffed with chocolate.”

Flynn laughed. “An excellent motto. After all, chocolate stimulates the mind’s opioid production, creating feelings of pleasure that will eventually wear off. But if you’d like to prolong the sensation of euphoria, I’d be glad to assist with that.” He stood and held out his hand for her. She took it, allowing him to pull her to her feet, and noted how he held still for a moment in order to study her pale, silvery blond hair, which was swept off her brow in a modernistic wave. He then lowered his eyes to her necklace of moonstones and black pearls. His gaze drifted down the curves of her body, taking in the form-fitting, vintage-style cocktail dress made of black lace with satin trim, and Olivia’s long, tan legs.

“I’d try to kiss you, but your police chief boyfriend would probably hit me with his baton.”

Olivia snatched her hand away. “I don’t need him to defend my honor. I can clout you all by myself, thank you very much.” She smiled to take the sting from the words and wished Flynn a pleasant evening.

When he was gone, she hesitated for a moment at the kitchen door and then decided not to return to the party. She walked down the alley and stepped onto the main sidewalk, heading for the public lot where her Range Rover was parked.

In order to reach her car, she had to pass by Fish Nets, the bar where her writer friend Millay worked. It was not an establishment Olivia regularly frequented as it reeked of tobacco, body odor, and stale beer. The music was too loud, the entertainment was limited to a stained pool table and decrepit dartboard, and the floor was covered in puddles of spilled liquor, discarded gum, and chewing tobacco spittle. And yet, Olivia had grown up among its clientele. Her father had been a fisherman, and most of the old-timers inside the bar had known her since she was a skinny, towheaded girl with the shy, sea-blue eyes.

Pausing at the door, she considered how ridiculous she’d look drinking whiskey with a group of work-worn men and women. She’d walk in wearing her cocktail dress and heels while Millay’s patrons would be dressed in soiled and tattered jeans, frayed denim shorts or skirts, and T-shirts that had been washed so often that their logos were no longer decipherable. Their skin would be bronzed by the sun and weathered by wind and worry. Their hands were scarred and dirty and their language coarse, but they knew her. They knew her story. They knew her mother had died in a tragic accident, that her drunkard of a father had abandoned her when she was only ten, and that she’d come back to Oyster Bay after a long absence in order to reconnect with the past and strive for a new and better future.

They’ve accepted me from the first
, she thought with a rush of gratitude and entered the bar.
These are my people.

For a moment, her appearance stunned the crowd into silence, but it only lasted a heartbeat. Men and women warmly greeted her with catcalls and raucous shouts. Millay waved her over to the bar and polished a tumbler with a dish towel.

“Don’t give me the stink eye. This one’s clean,” Millay said before pouring a finger’s worth of her best whiskey into the glass. “It’s the only thing in here that is, besides you. Aren’t you supposed to be down the street with the rest of the snobs?”

“Why would I want to sip champagne and devour plates of sumptuous desserts with Oyster Bay’s elite when I could be here, sitting on a wobbly stool and breathing in toxic air?” Olivia gestured at the taps. “Buy you a beer?”

Millay grinned. “Absolutely. I prefer the ‘King of Beers.’”

She reached into the refrigerator behind her and pulled out a bottle of Budweiser. Popping the cap off with a neat flourish, she clinked the neck against Olivia’s tumbler. “In the immortal words of Minna Antrim, ‘To be loved is to be fortunate, but to be hated is to achieve distinction.’”

Olivia laughed. “Despite your best efforts, I believe you are genuinely adored.”

“In this place, yeah. Beyond these walls, I’m that girl the old biddies point to and frown at in disapproval. I use too much makeup, my skirts are way too short, and I wear black boots all year long. I’m the scourge of the Junior Leaguers, and I take pride in knowing they’re afraid to look me in the eye.” She pretended to claw at the air with her left hand, causing the feathers hanging from her black hair to swing back and forth. Millay’s ancestors, who were a blend of several races, had lent her an exotic beauty, but she preferred to draw attention to her artistic nature by piercing her eyebrows, wearing rows of hoops in her ears, and dyeing the tips of her jet-black hair neon pink, orange, or green. Lately, she’d taken to adding accessories to her textured bob. Tonight, she wore crimson feathers, but at the last meeting of the Bayside Book Writers, the twentysomething barkeep had celebrated the final round of edits on her young-adult fantasy novel by decorating her hair with glittery Hello Kitty clips.

ADS
15.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
READ BOOK DOWNLOAD BOOK

Other books

Prairie Hardball by Alison Gordon
Hell to Heaven by Chan, Kylie
Highland Spitfire by Mary Wine
Beyond Temptation by Brenda Jackson
Redeeming Rafe by Alicia Hunter Pace
Thinking of You by Jill Mansell
At the Spanish Duke's Command by Fiona Hood-Stewart
Highways to Hell by Smith, Bryan