Wendy Meadows Cozy Mystery Muffins and Malice (PAPERBACK)
Snow Falls Alaska Book 7

Muffins and Malice (PAPERBACK)

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Bethany Lights' leap from the tranquil streets of Snow Falls, Alaska, to the bustling life of Los Angeles was supposed to be a brief adventure. But when a dead body emerges and then inexplicably vanishes, her sunny sojourn turns into a shadow-laden investigation. Living in luxury funded by mystery, Bethany realizes that her friend Pete is caught in a web spun by Hollywood's elite.

As she delves deeper, Bethany aligns with unexpected allies: a group of bikers with hearts of gold and a mysterious woman bearing vital truths. Together, they navigate the perilous mazes of the city, leading Bethany to a chilling face-off in the darkness. This journey is more than a puzzle to solve; it's a battle against the darkness itself.

Step into "Muffins and Malice" for a thrilling ride with Bethany Lights as she unravels a case where the stakes are as high as the glamour of Hollywood. This tale of courage, mystery, and survival is a must-read for fans of clean, suspenseful mysteries. Secure your copy today and decode the mysteries of L.A. alongside Bethany.

Chapter One

Warm sun. Palm trees. A beautiful ocean. Ah. Life in southern California.

Bethany Lights couldn't believe she was sitting in the warm sun sipping on a refreshing lemonade at a posh, expensive café. She felt like she was lost in a fantastical world filled with mansions, money, and fancy people. The street the café was on was lined with priceless sports cars, businesses that required payment in the form of diamonds, and manicured landscapes that dazzled the eye. Even the salty air smelled of dollar signs. 

“A refill, ma’am?” asked a lovely young woman with stylish blonde hair. 

“Oh, not yet. Thank you for asking,” Bethany replied with a smile.

The waitress, Ursula Trats, smiled back. It was clear that Bethany wasn't a native of Beverly Hills. The woman sitting at a lonely outside table was dressed in a simple yellow and white dress that struggled to complement her red hair sitting in a ponytail. No matter. Ursula was a simple Kansas girl working her way through film school, hoping to make a scene someday. 

“You're not from California, are you?” Ursula asked Bethany. “I kind of detect a Southern accent, maybe Tennessee?”

“I was raised in North Carolina,” Bethany replied warmly. To Bethany, Ursula was a lovely girl whose black and white waitress uniform made her look like an extra in a movie. “I'm Bethany.” 

“I'm Ursula, and I'm from a small town in Kansas. I was a very popular prom queen and all that, but out here, I'm just another face,” Ursula explained as a black limo passed the café. Ursula sighed at the sight of it, a reminder of her lack of success. “I'm working my way through film school—me and a million other people. I think I might throw in the towel and go back home. My parents own a farm equipment business. They do alright, so I could do worse.”

“Sometimes going home makes sense,” Bethany said. “I live in Alaska now. Not a day goes by that my mother doesn't give me grief about it.”

“Are you trying to tell me not to give up on my dreams?” Ursula asked.

“I’m saying that you have to listen to your heart.” Bethany took a sip of her drink. “I have a friend in Alaska who shares your name. She’s from London, and she's a character. I suppose if my friend was here, she would tell you to grab a chili dog and make a movie.”

“Well, I'm a Christian. Out here, that's kind of frowned on,” Ursula admitted. “There is a circle of Christian filmmakers I'm being introduced to. I guess we'll see what happens. But, well, Christian films are never a hit. I want to make it big.”

“Honey, anything you do for God is bigger than anything a movie studio can produce,” Bethany promised. 

“Yeah, I guess you're right.” A tender smile touched Ursula's lips. “I'm glad you stopped to have a cold lemonade. I really needed someone to talk to today, but I better get back inside. I'll check on you again in a few minutes.”

“Alright.” Bethany watched Ursula hurry away. What a sweet girl, she thought. 

A warm breeze caught Bethany's attention. She rested her heart in the wind and waited for Pete to arrive. He was running late, but Bethany didn't care. It was just nice to be out of Alaska for a while. 

Julie is taking care of Joshua with Uncle Riley, Bethany reminded herself. Sarah and Amanda are lending a hand. I guess the snowman is around somewhere, but I can't live my life in fear. Pete asked for my help—asked specifically for me. Pete has been so great, I couldn't turn down his request. So here I sit, and I have to admit, this scene isn't so bad.

“Lost in thought?” a male voice asked.

Bethany raised her eyes. Steven Frosellan was standing next to the outside table Bethany was sitting at. The man seemed to have materialized out of thin air. “Oh, Steven. Hello. You startled me.” Bethany soaked in the sight of a rugged man wearing a thin black leather jacket and an old baseball cap. He has a rough morning beard and a face that looks like stone, but in his eyes, I see life. 

“Mind if I sit down?”

“No, please.” Bethany nodded at a spare chair.

Steven took a seat. “Pete is running late. He had some business.”

“I wasn't aware that you were still in the area?” Bethany spoke in a curious tone. “I thought you left southern California.”

“I was going to, but then Pete got into some trouble. That's why you're here.” Steven looked around. “How do you like your hotel?”

“Very fancy. I was taken aback some when I found out what hotel Pete put me up in,” Bethany confessed.

“Well, you're checking out. You and I are going to stay at a little mansion a few blocks over,” Steven explained. “From this point forward, we're Mr. and Mrs. Gary Hollings. I own North Imagination Studio, and you're a writer. Your name is Sally.”

“Oh, I see.” Bethany attempted to take in Steven's words without seeming uneasy. Pete didn't tell me why he wanted me to travel to California. I guess Steven is going to reveal the truth to me. “You said Pete is in trouble?”

Steven nodded as his eyes locked onto a beautiful face that could destroy any man's heart. Bethany was so beautiful—and dangerously brilliant. “Pete's friend, who will remain unnamed for now, ended up floating face-down in a body of water outside of a row of rundown warehouses. Real Dick Tracy stuff.”

“Oh.” Bethany tensed up some. “I'm assuming Pete took the death of his friend hard?”

“Not really,” Steven replied. “Pete wasn't exactly close to his friend. The word 'friend' in this case refers to someone Pete once knew in his past. Pete's friend sent him a package the day before he ended up dead. Two men stormed Pete's office, beat him up pretty good, and demanded the package. Pete played real smart—well, real dumb—and convinced his attackers that he didn't know what they were talking about.”

“Where were you?”

“I showed up a few minutes after the attack with a bag full of Chinese food. I listened to Pete play dumb and then, well, let's just say that the two men who attacked Pete won't be using their arms anytime soon.” Steven spoke in a clear and direct voice that wasn't gloating with pride or arrogance. “I put Pete into hiding. From here on out, refer to Pete as Howard Ryan.” 

“Sure.” Bethany soaked in Steven's words as quickly as she could. “Why am I here?” 

“You'll find out,” Steven promised. “Right now, we're in the clear.” He looked around casually. “Bethany, Pete isn't sure who killed his friend, and neither am I. However, the package he was sent had keys to the mansion you and I are going to start living in. That's all I can say for now.”

“I understand.” Bethany knew Steven was a trained spy and killer and a man who, when he spoke, revealed words that were meant to be investigated with careful thinking. Steven wasn't your run-of-the-mill lumberjack wearing a rough beard. I'm so grateful Steven turned away from doing evil and dedicated his life to helping others. If Steven was still walking in the shadows, he would be a dangerous enemy. 

“It's good to see you, Bethany.” A quick smile touched Steven's eyes. “I'm glad you're here.”

“Yes. It's good to see you, too, Steven.” Bethany managed to smile. “I wish our meeting was under better circumstances.”

“Sometimes difficult waves can wash away difficult words.” Steven looked into Bethany's eyes. “I'm glad you're here. I was worried you might have turned Pete's request down.”

“I'm assuming you had something to do with Pete's request?” Bethany dared to ask.

Steven nodded. “I talked to Sarah. She told me you handled Joshua Goldstein’s case like a pro.”

“More like a messy clown.” Bethany sighed. “I nearly got myself killed.”

“That's part of the job.”

“I suppose it is.” Bethany took a quick sip of her drink. “Sarah seems to believe that I have the potential to become a solid homicide detective. I think she's insane.”

“You do have the potential Sarah claims you have,” Steven insisted. “Bethany, Pete is in real trouble. A man is dead, and I had to send two other men to the ER with bullet-filled arms. This case is very serious. Pete and I wouldn't trust just anyone. Sarah assured us you were the right woman for the job. We believe her.”

“Sarah thinks I'm some kind of—”

“Stop,” Steven said sternly. “Bethany, stop putting yourself down. Please. I've seen with my own eyes how capable you are.”

Bethany sighed. “Well, thank you, Steven. But at times, I wonder if I'm simply running scared.”

“And maybe at other times, you're wondering if you've finally managed to get a grip on the snowman?” Steven suggested. 

Steven knows about the snowman. Maybe he had to fight his own snowman in the past? It certainly seems that way to me. “I've learned to be very careful,” Bethany said.

“Good answer.”

Ursula appeared at Bethany's table. “Would you like a drink, sir?” she asked Steven.

“A cold lemonade and a cheeseburger would be nice. Well done. Also, a side of salty fries.”

“I'll have a cheeseburger and some fries, too, Ursula. Well done.” Bethany smiled. 

“Well,” Ursula lowered her voice, “the burgers here cost more than the junk car I drive. You get cheaper burgers at the Oceanside Diner. You're going to pay an arm and a leg, Bethany.”

“I'll cover the tab,” Steven assured Ursula. “I work with the studio and, by the way, Bethany is her middle name. My wife doesn't go by her first name, Sally.” Steven locked eyes with Bethany. “Isn't that right, dear?”

“Oh, you're married?” Ursula asked Bethany. “I didn't see a wedding ring.”

“She lost her wedding ring down a sink,” Steven said. 

Ursula looked at Steven. The guy was handsome but a little on the rough side. “My boyfriend back home gave me a ring once. I lost it, too. Needless to say, now I'm single. Well, there is a guy at the church I attend who likes me, but I'm not ready to get serious with anyone yet. Anyway, I'll go put your orders in.”

“Ursula and I talked before you arrived,” Bethany told Steven once Ursula was away. 

“You're going to have to be careful from here on out,” Steven cautioned.

“I will.” Bethany took a sip of her drink again. “Steven, it's too beautiful of a day to think about murder, killers, the snowman. Feel this warm air. I didn't realize how frozen I was until I stepped off the plane at the airport. This southern California air feels wonderful. Can't we just sit here and enjoy the atmosphere?”

“We can.” Steven leaned back in his chair. As he did, he spotted a pot-bellied man in his late sixties wearing a cheap gray suit and an old fedora hat. “Pete is coming.”

Bethany looked to her left. There was old Pete just a-chugging up the sidewalk toward the café chewing on a half-smoked cigar. A red Porsche zoomed past the café and sped past Pete. Pete threw out an angry fist and yelled a few grumpy words.

“Stupid female drivers,” Pete grumbled as he walked up to the table Bethany and Steven were sitting at.

“I resent that,” Bethany objected.

“You would,” Pete fussed as he grabbed a spare chair and sat down. “Your kind gives me gray hairs.”

Steven grinned a little. Pete was in one of his moods. “Were you followed?”

“Of course not. What am I, stupid?” Pete barked at Steven. He reached over and grabbed Bethany's drink. “Thanks.”

Bethany watched Pete drain her drink. “You're welcome,” she said, smiling. Sarah was right about Pete. He's terrific. Grumpy, but terrific. “How has your morning been, or dare I ask?”

“If you ask, I'll shoot you.” Pete slammed down the glass he was holding. “My office is a mess. Someone ransacked it again.”

A heavy groan left Steven's mouth. “You went back to your office. Pete—”

“Oh, don't gripe at me, boy. I know I'm in hiding, but I forgot a few things. Good thing I went back to my office and saw the mess!” Pete snapped. “I ain't no green-eared rookie. I know how to slip in and out of a place without being seen. I got eyes and more experience under my belt than you do brain cells.”

Steven held up his hands. “Alright. Stop biting my head off.”

“I'll bite your neck off if you don't stop your fussing.” Pete glanced around. “Steven, we're in trouble. I tried to log into the crime database, and my password was rejected. I called a friend who is still on the force, and not even he could access the account I always used to access the database.”

Steven slowly folded his arms. “That's not good.”

“You bet your bottom dollar that's not good,” Pete grumbled. “My bank account was closed, too. Good thing I only keep a few bucks in the account and hide my cash.” He looked around again. “I own my home full out, so that's good, but someone called the power company and had the power turned off. Also, my car insurance was canceled along with my medical insurance.”

“Did you send—”

“I sent my wife to stay with her sister in Flagstaff,” Pete confirmed. “I saw her off at the airport.”

Bethany watched Steven glance around for a bit. He's making sure Pete wasn't followed. “Pete,” she said, “Steven told me we’re going to start living at a mansion a few blocks over—”

“We,” Pete corrected Bethany. “The three of us. I have to play the part of Howard Ryan, a rich investor. I'm sure Steven's already told you that.” He chewed on his cigar for a minute. “I'm Mr. Money Bags, but it's Sarah who is paying your bill.”

“I see.” I should have known Sarah was behind this. That woman is determined to turn me into the greatest detective who ever walked across a frozen pond. “Well, I'm sure in time, you and Steven will reveal more information to me.”

A white limo cruised past the café. Pete and Steven eyed it closely. “Tonight, at dinner, we'll talk more,” Pete promised. “Right now, someone better order me a cheeseburger. I'm starved.” 

“I'll go put in your order.” Steven stood up. “Well done, right, Pete?”

“Burned,” Pete ordered. Steven nodded and walked off like a curious shadow. “Bethany, you're going to have to play real smart on this case. Whoever is after me wants me dead and will kill anyone attached to me. Understand?”

Bethany looked into Pete's hard face and saw a pair of worried eyes. Play real smart. Yes, Pete, even in the warm sun, the snow falls.

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