“Can you believe it, Watson? We’ve been bookshop owners for two months.” I knelt beside him, scratching his fuzzy corgi rump, then paused to smile as the customer waved their new Elizabeth Peters novel at us through the window before disappearing down the street. “There’s nothing like providing someone with a new adventure.”
Watson yawned and glared at me through half-closed eyes. I couldn’t blame him. He was napping in his favorite spot in the bookshop—a pool of sunshine pouring through the front window and smack dab in the middle of the fiction and new release section. Although, I suppose Watson wasn’t overly invested in which genre provided him the best snoozing experience. He yawned once more in exaggeration, stretched his stubby legs, and let his head fall back on the hardwood floor with a sigh.
Pressing my luck, I stroked his red-and-white fur a couple more times. “We did good, you and me. We did good.” I stood, leaving Watson to his midmorning nap, and glanced around. No customers at the moment. That was good. A little break was called for, and to think tourist season didn’t really begin for another two-and-a-half months, when kids got out of school for the summer.
The homey scents of yeast, butter, and cinnamon filled the Cozy Corgi as, along with the piped-in music, muted voices and the clatter of dishes drifted down from the bakery on the second floor. In the weeks since the bookshop’s grand opening, book sales had steadily increased. They still weren’t anything to write home about, but business was picking up. My favorite part, though I shouldn’t admit it, was that there seemed to be waves of customers and then long periods where the only reason someone came in was to walk through and go up to the bakery. Those quiet times allowed me to sit in my favorite spot—the small room devoted solely to mystery novels, with an antique lamp and sofa directly in front of a river rock fireplace—and read.
Katie, my best friend and business partner who ran the bakery on the second floor, didn’t have any time for reading. The Cozy Corgi bakery had become the place to hang out—perfect pastries, decent coffee, and the newest gossip hubbub. Katie was thrilled. As was I. She was happily baking away, and I got to spend large portions of my day reading in my dream bookshop, with Watson nearby. Oh, and to sell some books from time to time too.
As I settled onto the Victorian sofa to reread another Sherlock Holmes novel by the light of the lavender Victorian Portobello lamp, I let out a sigh of contentment. It really was a slice of heaven.
Less than two chapters into The Valley of Fear, and a second sigh escaped, one not of contentment. The Cozy Corgi truly was paradise to me. And I loved owning a bookshop. I also rather enjoyed having a bakery right upstairs; it was a good thing my signature broomstick skirts were forgiving. Trading city life for the small tourist trap Colorado mountain town had been the right choice. And yet….
Even as I attempted to read of Sherlock Holmes and Watson getting ready to dive into a case, my skin itched. My foot tapped out nervous energy on the fabric of the sofa, and I was annoyed that Holmes and Watson got to go on an adventure while I only got to read about it.
I set the book down in my lap and stared into the crackling fire. What in the world was I thinking? Something had to be wrong with me. Having a couple of months since the last murder was a good thing. A very good thing. It would be an even better thing if there was never another murder ever again. That was what I should hope for. We all wanted world peace, right?
What did it say about me that in the midst of being content with my new life, I discovered my brain was craving a little more than simply reading clues on the page?
With an annoyed shake of my head at myself, I returned to the book. I ought to be satisfied with Sherlock Holmes allowing me to tag along on his adventures.
Perhaps I should find another hobby. Crossword puzzles.
Right. Like solving a twelve-letter word for a book lover would do the trick.
Maybe the next time I walked over to the counter, I should take a few seconds, hop on the internet, and see if there were any good therapists in Estes Park.
By chapter five, I’d gotten swept away in the story, possibly proving that I truly didn’t need to solve any more murders of my own and could satisfy my intrigue quotient within the pages of a book.
By chapter twelve, my skin started to itch once more.
One sentence into chapter fourteen, and the front door of the Cozy Corgi flew open with a loud bang. Watson yelped in fright and scrambled in a clatter of nails to a standing position as I nearly jumped out of my skin.
I jumped again at the shout, and Sherlock Holmes crashed to the floor. Leaving the book where it was, I stood and headed toward the front room. Watson, looking panicked, met me half way.
“I am going to kill someone!” The screaming, irate woman was half way across the main room of the bookshop and almost to the stairs that led to the bakery. She’d left the front door open, and snow was rushing in like the cold fingers of death.
I rolled my eyes at my own insanity. If nothing else, I should probably read more romances or cookbooks. Something with less murder.
Cold fingers of death or not, March was proving its reputation as the snowiest month in Colorado.
“Ma’am, can I help you?” Even as I rushed toward the woman, I questioned whether that was mistake. A sane person wouldn’t run to face someone shouting they’re ready to commit murder.
“Stay out of my way, Winifred Page.” The woman snarled at me. “I have no problem taking you out as well. This whole thing started with you.” The woman’s face was so contorted in rage and nearly the color of a tomato in her exertion, that for a moment I couldn’t place her. Combined with her massive belly, she was nearly unrecognizable. It was her blonde bangs and the contempt in her green eyes that clued me in.
I halted when I realized she was the owner of Black Bear Roaster. “Carla. What’s wrong?”
Her expression let me know just how foolish I’d been mere moments ago, feeling bored without drama in a small town. There would be no mystery involved in solving who killed Fred and her little dog, Watson.
“You are what’s wrong.” Carla gestured wildly around the space. “This whole stupid shop is what’s wrong.” For a second I thought she was going to swipe at me, but then she whirled and headed toward the stairs. Despite her fury, movement didn’t look easy. I’d heard through the gossip chain that Carla Beaker had been even more unpleasant than usual. Even yelling at her regular customers in her coffee shop. A few of them had transferred over to Katie’s bakery the past couple of days. It seemed Carla was nearly a week overdue in her pregnancy and was taking out her frustration on anyone within reach.
I stood there for a heartbeat, unsure what to do, glancing back-and-forth between Carla struggling up the stairs and the snow blowing in through the front door.
The door won. From the look of things, it didn’t seem smart to get in Carla’s way on the sweeping wooden staircase. That wouldn’t end well. Instead I hurried to close the front door. In the short time it was open, a sizable pile of snow had created an arc around the entrance. I debated again. I’d just had the floors redone a couple of months before. The last thing I wanted was to leave snow sitting on them.
Well, I’d wanted an adventure, I supposed it proved you should be careful what you wish for. Even though I wasn’t particularly fond of Carla or the Black Bear Roaster, her safety was more important than the finish on my hardwood floors.
Having gotten over his nerves from the initial outburst, Watson waddled over, sniffed at the snow, then plopped himself into the middle of it. After taking the time to grab a bite as a snack, he barreled his nose into the white stuff.
“Seriously? Yesterday you didn’t even want to go on a walk because of the cold.”
He didn’t bother to respond.
Leaving Watson to his playground, I returned to the staircase. Carla had made it to the top, and her feet were disappearing as she rounded into the bakery. She’d made better time than I ever would’ve guessed.
“Pete Miller!” I was halfway up the stairs when Carla began to scream again. “I knew that was your car right outside. You’ve been at Black Bear every morning for the past decade. When you didn’t show up today, I thought maybe you were sick. I almost called.”
As I entered the typically charming bakery, I found Carla yelling and shaking her fist in the glassblower’s face. From behind the counter, both Katie and her assistant, Sammy, stared wide-eyed, looking like twins. The rest of the patrons around the room appeared similarly frozen in shock.
Pete had both his hands in the air like he was at gunpoint. “Carla, I’m sorry. You’ve just been so….” His eyes widened as he realized what he’d been about to say, and the entire room seemed to suck in a breath. “I’ll come back tomorrow. I promise.”
“Don’t you dare! You’re never welcome in my coffee shop again.” Carla whirled to face the bakery counter and stomped toward Katie and Sammy. “And the two of you. Turncoats and traitors. I teach you everything you know, and you do this.”
“Carla, I’m sorry you’re angry.” Katie managed a sympathetic smile, which was impressive. “I promise no one is out to get you. Why don’t you have a seat and relax. Sammy can make you a chai or something.”
The minute the words left her mouth, I knew she’d made a mistake.
“Sammy? Oh yes, Sammy!” Carla reached the counter, grabbed a large loaf of bread, and flung it toward Katie’s look-alike assistant. The loaf smacked into her face in a cloud of crumbs and flour. “You’ve had it in for me for years. Always trying to take my business. And here you are again. This time stealing all my customers.”
Someone let out a little yelp from across the room, but I couldn’t turn my attention away from the scene.
Carla reached for another loaf of bread from the basket on the counter, this time a long baguette, and started to swing.
“Carla! Enough!” Katie caught the loaf in both hands and yanked it away, the concern leaving her voice and expression. “Get ahold of yourself. You can’t go around hitting people.”
There was a surprised murmuring from the crowd of customers, and I suddenly realized what they’d noticed.
“Get ahold of myself? You’re in no place to tell me what to do, Katie. You’re just as bad as Sammy. Trying to close down the business I’ve worked so hard for, with your lackluster baking.”
“Carla….” I tried to sound both authoritative and soothing as I spoke. I walked closer to her, attempting to stay out of arm’s reach. “Sweetie, I think you might need to sit down.”
She whipped toward me. “I thought I told you to stay out of my way.”
“It’s just that….” I pointed toward her feet. “I think your water broke.”
“I don’t care what—” Her words broke off, and she blinked, then looked down at the floor. Her shoulders slumped. “Oh! Thank God!” For a heartbeat she sounded genuinely relieved, but then she straightened, her eyes wide again. “Oh, no. This is not happening here. Anywhere but here. Not with you awful people.” She put her hands protectively around her belly and began walking toward the stairs.
I followed a couple of paces behind her. “Carla, I don’t think it’s safe for you to move, much less take the stairs.” Like I had any idea about being pregnant or giving birth. “Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll call an ambulance?”
Though she didn’t stop moving, she spared one hand to swipe at me again. “Not on your life. I am not having my baby in your horrible shop!” She made it to the top of the steps, looked like she was about to reconsider, then gripped the railing and started making her way down.
I glanced over at Katie. “I’ll follow her. Call an ambulance.”