Wendy Meadows Cozy Mystery Blueberry Truffle Murder (EBOOK)
Maple Hills Mystery Book 3

Blueberry Truffle Murder (EBOOK)

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It's a murder case that cuts just a little too close to home for Nikki, an amateur sleuth, in the latest crime to hit her not-so-quiet cozy town!

Nikki Bates’s time in picturesque Maple Hills, Vermont has been far from the postcard scene she first imagined. While her chocolate shop is doing well, her personal life has hit a few snags… and bodies… along the way. Between exposing corrupt officials, unmasking the Mafia and solving more than a few murders, Nikki has made some friends and earned many enemies.

Now, an old vendetta from her days in Atlanta has reared its head and followed her north, finding her nestled amongst the trees and chocolate, surrounded by gossip, intrigue and people that want Nikki out of town. When a woman with close ties to her newest ward is found murdered, Nikki must race to connect the clues, solve the case and salvage her reputation.

Yet the wheels of vengeance are turning and this is one time Nikki may lose everything, including her life…

Chapter One

Millin’s Gas Station was nothing more than a run-down, one-room, wooden building attached to a single-bay garage filled with cigarette butts and old tools. Two rusty gas pumps that somehow still managed to pump gas stood on a concrete island in front of the store. Sitting off Green Fair on a single lot littered with weeds and trash, the gas station was in direct contrast to the manicured stores in town. Nikki was appalled at the erosion of the gas station, which reminded her of something she would see in a gang-torn neighborhood back in Atlanta. “Who is Mr. Millin?” she asked Hawk as he pulled up next to Chief Daily's car. The sound of the jeep tires traveling over gravel sounded liked an angry person chewing nails. 

“I don't know much about the man,” Hawk confessed, parking the jeep. With patient eyes, he studied Chief Daily standing next to a light green 1987 Honda Accord. Hawk spotted two cops near the gas pumps, both smoking cigarettes. He rolled his eyes and jumped out of his jeep. “You two put out those cigarettes and show some sense!” he yelled. 

The two cops jumped, spun around, saw Hawk, and then dropped the cigarettes and quickly stomped on them with glossy black shoes. The coroner simply waved at Hawk and then looked away. Nikki grinned. “At least it's a nice morning,” she said, getting out of the jeep. Admiring the warm blue sky overhead, she allowed the morning to soak into her mind. It wouldn't be long before Chief Daily started yelling at her. 

“Come on,” Hawk said as he walked over to the green Honda. The car was parked on the right side of the store near the tree line instead of the left side, where there was space for parking. “Let me do the talking, okay? Pop ain't too happy.”

“I can see that,” Nikki said, walking next to Hawk toward the car. From the distance, she could plainly see the frustration and anger on Chief Daily's face. 

“What is this? Are we living in Atlanta now?” Chief Daily yelled at Hawk and then eyed Nikki. Watching his tongue, he drew in a deep breath. The last thing he wanted to do was fly off the handle and threaten the woman again. “Ms. Bates, you seem to be bringing my sleepy little town a lot of business...no insult implied.”

Nikki bit her lower lip as a cool breeze floated out from the woods and touched her face. Ignoring Chief Daily's remark, she eased her head down low enough to see into the Honda. There, sitting hunched over in the driver's seat, was a woman with long, dark gray hair. The woman's head was pressed against the steering wheel. What Nikki didn't see was any blood. No sign of broken glass. No sign of violence. The driver-side window was rolled up. The car was parked in the shade of trees. For all intents and purposes, the scene appeared very peaceful. As far as Nikki knew, the woman sitting inside the Honda could simply be asleep instead of dead. “Who is she?”

Hawk walked around to the driver-side window and looked in. His face froze. “Hey, this is—”

“Yep,” Chief Daily said, throwing his hands down into the pockets of his pants. 

“Who?” Nikki asked, joining Hawk. With a better view, she peered down into the car. The interior of the Honda was clean. Nothing appeared abnormal or strange. The dead woman seemed peaceful. The blue blouse she was wearing over a pair of dark tan pants told Nikki she’d cared about her appearance. “Who is she, Hawk? Is she a local?”

“Tori's aunt,” Hawk replied, stepping back from the driver-side window. “Cause of death, Pop?” he asked.

Chief Daily shrugged his shoulders. “I haven't touched the body. Old Man Millin phoned me an hour ago. Said when he got here this morning he saw the car sitting where it is now. He thought Helen Brendale was passed out drunk but said something about the way she was sitting didn't seem right. He banged on the window a few times, and when she didn't respond, he called the station.”

“Where is he now?” Hawk asked, examining the exterior of the gas station with careful eyes. 

“Inside,” Chief Daily said, tossing a thumb at the run-down building. 

“Tori's aunt,” Nikki whispered as she stared at the dead woman. “Oh dear, Hawk...”

“I know,” Hawk said. Shaking his head, he pulled Nikki away from the Honda with a gentle hand and then tried to open the driver-side door. The door clicked open. Nikki eased forward. The first thing she noticed was the faint scent of a man's cologne mixed with the scent of a heavy perfume that smelled like cinnamon and roses. “Stand back,” Hawk ordered Nikki. 

Nikki nodded. Folding her arms together, she watched Hawk lean into the car and with caring hands, gently ease the dead woman's head off the steering wheel. “No signs of trauma,” he yelled over his shoulder at Chief Daily. “No signs of strangulation...no blood, face is cold...she's been here a while. Jewelry still intact, purse is on the passenger-side floorboard. Nikki, grab the purse.”

Hawk handed Nikki an evidence bag and a pair of latex gloves. As she put the gloves on, she hurried around to the passenger-side door. She opened it, looked down at the floorboard, spotted a purple and white purse, picked it up and placed it in the plastic bag. She took the opportunity to look into the dead woman's face as she picked up the purse. It was a bitter face, filled with ugly, angry wrinkles that told Nikki more than she needed to know about what kind of woman Tori's aunt was. Yet Nikki could not spot any sign that would point to the cause of death, except the faint smell of a man's cologne. 

“Bring me the purse,” Chief Daily ordered Nikki. Hawk nodded as he continued to examine the dead woman. 

Nikki walked over to Chief Daily. “Here you go,” she said, handing him the purse. “Any ideas?”

“Off the record?” Chief Daily asked. “I've heard about your new job at the paper.”

“Off the record,” Nikki said, offering a polite smile. 

“Heart attack...maybe,” Chief Daily replied quickly, remembering the dead man at Elk Horn Lodge. “Ms. Bates, Helen Brendale was a bitter woman. No one really cared for her. She was a rich old bat and nothing more. Her husband knew the stock market and retired here. When he passed, well, Helen got everything.”

Nikki listened to Chief Daily, noticing the man was shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. “I don't bite,” she said.

“It's not you,” Chief Daily said. “It's the bodies that are turning up on my watch. First that German man, then that dead man at the lodge, and now this. I just hope this is a simple case that a quick autopsy can clear up.”

“And if it isn't?” Nikki asked, appreciating another cool breeze. 

“Ms. Bates,” Chief Daily pointed out in a stern tone, “our sleepy little town—and that includes your store—depends on tourists. Without tourists to pump life into this town during the spring, summer and autumn months, why, we would all go hungry in the winter. Winters are harsh here. The entire town seems to close down, and over fifty percent of the people leave for Florida.”

“I didn't know that many people left,” Nikki said, astounded. “Fifty percent?”

Chief Daily nodded. “I'd say closer to sixty percent, really. The town is maintained by a skeleton crew until spring. Anyway, my point is, if dead bodies keep turning up, it could affect tourism. You can appreciate that, can't you? I'm not seeming too...indifferent to murder, am I?”

“I understand,” Nikki assured Chief Daily. 

“Our cozy community has already taken a severe hit from our German friend being run down in broad daylight. And then, to add sprinkles to the cake, you helped expose the identities of certain mafia figures hiding out in our town with the help of our ex-mayor. As if that wasn't enough, Ms. Bates, a man turned up dead at the Elk Horn Lodge, and then the Snowfields turned up dead, too. What a mess,” Chief Daily finished in a disgusted tone. “I have my job to do, Ms. Bates, and my town to protect. But when people stop feeling safe, they leave...and the tourists stop coming.”

“I do understand,” Nikki assured Chief Daily for the second time. 

“Do you?” Chief Daily asked Nikki, throwing his face at hers. “Do you know that so far eleven percent of the citizens of our fair community have left? Donna down at the real estate office is going to make a fortune on commissions if she is able to sell the houses that are now vacant. Do you also know that more people are considering leaving? Little towns like ours are a dime a dozen. New England is littered with towns like ours. So why stay in a place where dead bodies turn up, a corrupt mayor is sent to prison, and the local police force is considered nothing more than a joke? Let's not forget our esteemed hospital that can't even handle a simple ankle sprain.”

Nikki stared into Chief Daily's face. She saw a worried man. “I—”

“You nothing,” Chief Daily interrupted. “You moved here from Atlanta. You know nothing of this town or its people. You came here as some big-shot reporter who is more than happy to play slap-shot with the locals on a few crimes while the governor of this state is willing to pull any and all funding away from this town, which means I have to downsize an already minuscule police force, including my own son. To you this is just another story...you know nothing.”

Nikki watched Chief Daily storm off toward the run-down building. He barked a few angry words at the coroner and the two cops standing at the gas pumps. The two cops, uncertain of what to do, remained standing in place. The coroner let out a miserable sigh. “He's right, you know,” Hawk said, walking up to Nikki. “Pop has a lot on his hands right now. We need to cut him some slack.”

“I will,” Nikki promised. “So, what's the verdict?”

“You smelled the cologne?”

Nikki nodded. “I did. What I smelled wasn't a cologne bought at your local shopping center, either.”

“Nikki, I can't be sure, but it looks like suffocation.” Hawk waved for the coroner to come over. “Check this woman's nostrils, mouth, lungs, anything and everything, for the smallest trace of fibers,” he told the coroner. “I believed she was suffocated to death.”

“Yeah, sure,” the coroner said, giving Hawk an I-know-my-job look. “Can I take the body now?”

“Yeah, go on,” Hawk said. Nodding toward the store, he motioned for Nikki to follow him. “Let me do the talking, okay? I don't know this Millin man too well.”

“Okay,” Nikki agreed, walking past the two cops, who looked away from her as if she was a dangerous black widow.


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