Authors: Sheila Connolly
Praise for the
New York Times
bestselling Orchard Mysteries
“Fun and entertainingÂ .Â .Â . Sheila Connolly's writing style brings the reader into the sights, scents, and sounds of a small town. You can almost smell the apples as they are picked off the tree. She draws the reader in and does not let goÂ .Â .Â . [A] well-written mystery with a wonderful cast of characters and a pleasant setting.”
âOpen Book Society
“Meg's determination to run an orchard on her own without any experience makes her an admirable character, as she faces each new challenge with good humor and a smidgeon of exasperation. A reliable cast of characters support Meg and make this a strong series that continues its streak of compelling plots.”
Kings River Life Magazine
“Sheila Connolly continues to include fascinating facts about apples and orchards within her storiesÂ .Â .Â . Not only will you get hooked on the mystery, but you will be racing to the kitchen to bake an apple treat!”
âCozy Mystery Book Reviews
“Fans will enjoy the heroine taking a bite out of crime in this fun regional cozy.”
âGenre Go Round Reviews
“Really well writtenÂ .Â .Â . I was constantly kept guessing. This series is in its stride, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in this series.”
“An enjoyable and well-written book with some excellent apple recipes at the end.”
“A wonderful slice of life in a small townÂ .Â .Â . The mystery is intelligent and has an interesting twistÂ .Â .Â .
Rotten to the Core
is a fun, quick read with an enjoyable heroine, an interesting hook, and some yummy recipes at the end.”
âThe Mystery Reader (four stars)
“Full of rich description, historical context, and mystery.”
âThe Romance Readers Connection
“Meg Corey is a very likable protagonistÂ .Â .Â . [A] delightful new series.”
“An example of everything that is right with the cozy mysteryÂ .Â .Â . A likable heroine, an attractive small-town setting, a slimy victim, and fascinating side elementsÂ .Â .Â . There's depth to the characters in this book that isn't always found in crime fictionÂ .Â .Â . Sheila Connolly has written a winner for cozy mystery fans.”
âLesa's Book Critiques
“A warm, very satisfying read.”
RT Book Reviews
“The premise and plot are solid, and Meg seems a perfect fit for her role.”
“Meg Corey is a fresh and appealing sleuth with a bushelful of entertaining problemsÂ .Â .Â . One crisp, delicious read.”
âClaudia Bishop, bestselling author of the Inn at Hemlock Falls Mysteries
“A delightful look at small-town New England, with an intriguing puzzle thrown in.”
âJoAnna Carl, national bestselling author of the Chocoholic Mysteries
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Sheila Connolly
ONE BAD APPLE
N TO THE CORE
A GALA EVENT
FUNDRAISING THE DEAD
LET'S PLAY D
FIRE ENGINE DEAD
MONUMENT TO THE DEA
RAZING THE DEAD
IVY TO THE DEAD
County Cork Mysteries
IED IN A BOG
AN OPEN BOOK
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
A GALA EVENT
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2015 by Sheila Connolly.
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.
BERKLEYÂ® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-16564-9
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / October 2015
Cover illustration by Mary Ann Lasher.
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.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
One of the characteristics of old New England towns is that the past is always present. But the towns keep changing. My characters in the fictional Granford keep finding that out, especially when old crimes resurfaceâand can be solved now. (The real town on which Granford is based is much luckier: they've had only two murders in the past decade. I've apologized to the police chief there for increasing his homicide rate.)
Life in Granford moves on, and so do my characters Meg and Seth. Two years after they met, they're finally getting married. Some people say that marriage spoils the romantic tension of a series. I disagree: I think these two people belong together. I hope you'll feel the same way.
I want to thank Norm Abram of
This Old House
and a trustee for Old Sturbridge Village, for giving Seth (and meâyes, I asked) permission to install a Victorian-style bathroom in a house that dates from 1760. The reality is, there wouldn't have been a bathroom at all until the nineteenth century, so that's the earliest option. And, yes, Massachusetts requires official inspections for just about everything in a house.
The town of Granford would not continue to exist without the ongoing help and support of my agent, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, and my editor, Tom Colgan of Berkley Prime Crime, and I am grateful. And the series would never have happened or gone forward without the guidance of Sisters in Crime and the warm enthusiasm of the Guppies.
“Hey, ladies, how're you doing?” Meg Corey leaned on the fence that surrounded the goat pen outside her house and watched her two goats, Dorcas and Isabel, munching on their hay. They stared back with their weird eyes, then returned to pulling out clumps of hay from the bale.
“I know, food is more interesting than I am,” Meg said. Still, she kept watching, mostly because she could: for the first time in the past few months, she had the leisure to pursue unimportant things, like goat-watching. The harvest from her orchard was almost complete, with only a few apples lingering on the trees now in November. She'd put in plenty of hours picking apples alongside her hired pickers and her orchard manager, Bree, and now she gave herself the right to take a break. She was management, wasn't she? Not that the goats seemed to care, as long as their food showed up on time.
But after a few more minutes, she was feeling the chill in the autumn air. A cup of coffee sounded good. Meg
turned around to head for her kitchen doorâand came face-to-face with an unfamiliar creature. Its head was about five feet off the ground, and it was covered with fuzzy wool. Not a sheepâshe would recognize that, and besides, its neck was too long. Short ears, doe-like eyes. It regarded her steadily, checking her out much as she was checking it out.
“Seth?” she called out. The last time she'd seen her fiancÃ©, Seth Chapin, he'd gone up the stairs to his office over the shed at the back end of the driveway. Of course, if the windows were shut he probably couldn't hear her. At the sound of her voice, the animal had taken a startled step backward, but it was still staring at her. “Seth?” she called a bit more loudly.
She heard a window opening, and Seth stuck his head out. “You want something?”
“Uh, we have company?” she told him, waving her hand at Large Fuzzy Creature. Creature had turned its head toward Seth at the sound of his voice, but now returned to its steady contemplation of Meg.
She could have sworn that Seth smiled, but all he said was, “Be right down.” She heard the window shut again. The goats had come over to the fence line and were now doing their own checking out of the newcomer, who showed no particular interest in them. Heâor she?âseemed to prefer Meg. She thought briefly about trying to shoo it away, but it didn't look hostile, or seem afraid of humans, and she wasn't sure where it belonged or which way it would go.
Seth came up behind her, now definitely smiling. “Oh, I forgot to tell youâwe have new neighbors. This is one of them.”
“Yes, you did forget to mention that. First of all, what is it?”
“It's an alpaca.”
“What I know about alpacas might fill an index card. Don't they produce yarn?”
“So I'm told. I can't speak from experience.”
“Okay, Alpaca, nice to meet you,” Meg said, in the interest of interspecies friendship. “I assume the alpaca didn't sign a lease or take out a mortgage?”
“No, that would be the Gardners. They retired from city jobs and decided to find a place in the country and raise alpacas. They bought a chunk of land up toward Amherstâit's too steep for most farmers to bother with, but apparently alpacas like hills, at least sometimes. I think they originated in Peruâthat's where the Andes are, if you recall.”
“Should we tell the Gardners that one of their, uh, flock is here?”
“Probablyâand I think it's called a herd. They aren't supposed to roam around. I'm pretty sure there's a town ordinance about livestock getting loose, although I can't remember if it says anything specific about alpacas.”
“A phone number for the Gardners would help, Seth, unless you want to make friends with this fine specimen of alpaca here. Although I think it likes me better than you, but I wouldn't want Dorcas and Isabel to get jealous.”
“I've probably got it in my officeâI'll be just a sec.” With that he turned and walked quickly toward the stairs to his office, leaving Meg face-to-face with the alpaca, who did not seem at all disconcerted. At least it wasn't a bull or something large and hostile. “I wish I knew your name. How'd you get loose, anyway? I bet your people miss you. And your friends.” How many alpacas were there in the herd? Meg wondered.
The alpaca appeared to become bored with Meg, and wandered over to the goat pen, where the animals exchanged tentative sniffs across the fence. At least they weren't fighting.
Seth reappeared quickly. “Someone is on the way. Their
place is only a couple of miles from here, as the crow flies. Or, in this case, as the alpacaÂ .Â .Â . what? Lopes? Trots? Shambles?”
“Take your pick. I'd offer you some coffee or something, but I don't want this lovely creature to get into any trouble or wander off. I don't know anything about their habits, and I'd hate to see it end up in front of a car on the road. It seems kind of trusting.” Meg eyed the animal's shaggy fur. “I'd like to pet it, but I'm not sure it would be happy about that.”
“Better not to, for now. We can ask its owner if it's friendly. Although I see what you meanâyou kind of want to bury your fingers in the fur.”
Only a few minutes had passed when a battered car towing a small animal trailer crept into Meg's driveway. A large woman with short, silvery hair climbed out. “Sorry, sorryâI hope she didn't cause you any trouble. Lulu, get your hairy butt over here!” The alpaca just stared at her. “Well, it was worth a tryâthey seldom come when called, unless there's food involved. I've got a bridle. Mind opening the back gate on the carrier, Seth?”
“No problem, Patty.” Seth walked over and opened the gate, while the woman sweet-talked Lulu the alpaca while slipping the bridle over her head. Meg almost giggled, because it looked like the alpaca gave a small sigh of regret at losing her short-lived freedom.
“Come on, baby, be a good girl,” the older woman said, leading the animal to the carrier. It walked in peacefully enough, and the woman secured the gate behind it, checking it twice. Then she came back to where Seth and Meg were standing. “I'm really sorry about that. Oh, I'm Patty GardnerâI just moved in a couple of weeks ago, a mile or two north of here. You must be MegâSeth's mentioned you. Our house is in pretty good shape, and there's some okay pasture, but the fences leave a lot to be desired, and we
haven't had time to make the full circuit and patch them. But I didn't mean to barge in on you like this.”
“Don't worry about it, please. Yes, I'm Meg CoreyâI live here, and I have an orchard up the hill, as you can see. I haven't even been here two years myself. I'd ask you in for coffee or tea, but I'm guessing you want to get Lulu home again?”
Patty smiled. “Yes, I do, and I need to figure out where she broke through the fence and if any of her pals followed herâI could be chasing alpacas all night.”
“How many do you have?”
“Fifteen at the moment. It's a small herd by most standardsâwhat they call a foundation herd. We're pretty new at this, so we're starting small, but we'll be breeding them. We want to expand once we get the hang of it, and get some more of the pasture fenced in.”
“Why alpacas, if you don't mind my asking?” Meg said. Seth had said the woman was retired, but she looked strong enough to handle an alpaca.
“Well, they're not too bigâLulu here is full-grownâand they're sociable, at least with each other. They can look after themselves. They're pretty quiet, except they hum now and then. They don't eat too much. And there's a market for their wool. And I should warn youâthey spit, mostly at each other, but sometimes at people. It can be kind of nasty.”
“Got it. So if I see another alpaca wander by, I should call you?”
“I'm the only herder around, as far as I know. Right, Seth?”
“At least within town limits. You're breaking new ground here, Patty.”
“Beats wrangling government regulationsâI've had my
fill of that.” Patty turned to Meg. “Can I get a rain check on that coffee? I'd like to get to know my neighbors.”
“Sure. My harvest is almost over, and now all I have to worry about is planning our wedding, which is less than a month away. Right, Seth?”
“You've got it.” Seth smiled. Meg smiled back.
“Then I guess congratulations are in order. Look, I'd better get Lulu back and hope she doesn't tell all her herd buddies how much fun it is out here. Thanks for snagging her. See you later, I hope.” Patty strode off to her car, carefully maneuvered the trailer behind until she was pointed toward the road, then pulled away. Meg and Seth watched them go.
“Well, that was fun,” Meg said when they were out of sight. “Is it just me, or is an alpaca a supremely silly-looking creature?”
“What, you're judging solely on appearance?” Seth exclaimed in mock horror. “As Patty informed us, they're fairly nice animals. You've been lucky with Dorcas and Isabel, right?”
“I have, although I don't think goats and alpacas are related. But I stand corrected: I will reserve judgment about the nature of alpacas, especially since now I have to live with them as neighbors. Can we go inside now? I'm freezing.”
“Shoot, I was hoping to get something done this afternoon. Never does seem to work out that way, does it?”
“Not often enough. But the alpaca invasion was not my fault. If anything, it's yours. Doesn't Granford have a fence-walker or something?”
“Not for the past couple of centuries. I vote for coffeeâI think you're turning blue.”
“Not my best color,” Meg said, leading the way into the kitchen. Once inside, she shucked off her coat and set about boiling water. “Would you rather have tea?” she asked Seth.
“Coffee's good. Where's Bree?”
“Still up the hill, I think. But we're down to the last couple of varieties. Maybe she's hiding out just to avoid the paperwork. She owes me the year-end summary, or at least an estimate. Maybe it's bad news and she doesn't want to know.”
“I can sympathizeâI hate the paperwork part of my business, but if I don't send invoices, I don't get paid. Where are we onÂ .Â .Â . well, everything else?”
“East of nowhere, I'm afraid.” Meg poured water over coffee grounds. “We've asked Christopher to officiate, but I don't know if he's done anything about getting the special license, and I'm not sure how long that takes.” Christopher was a professor at the nearby University of Massachusetts campus and had managed the orchard, mainly as a teaching tool, before she had shown up and decided to take it on. And he'd recommended Bree, for which she would be forever grateful to him. “I told Nicky and Brian to hold the date at the restaurant, but we haven't talked about food or drink or even set the time. You and I need to get our own paperwork in order, for the state. Have you decided what to do about a best man?”
“I figure it's got to be Art.”
Meg filled two mugs with coffee and brought them to the kitchen table. She sat down with a sigh of relief. “That's fine with me, although of course it's your choice. And if anything goes wrong, we'll have the law on hand to handle it.”
“Heaven forbid. What about you?” Seth asked.
“Maid of honor? Or matron? Normally I'd ask Rachel, but either she'll be about to pop with the baby, or she'll be exhausted from dealing with a newborn. Of course she and her family are invited, but I'll leave it up to her to decide whether she can face coming and how long to stay. So that kind of leaves Gail, who's the best friend I've got around here. Do you know, I've probably spent more time with her
than almost anyone else in Granford? Except you, of course. But I haven't asked her yet.”
“I like Gail. See? We've made a pair of decisions already: Art and Gail. You know, it's a wonder we ever managed to get invitations sent out.”
“Don't remind me,” Meg said fervently. “I cringe every time I go into town, worrying that I forgot to invite someone. But the restaurant holds only so many people safely. Anyway, it's your faultâyou grew up here, and you know everybody in town. I think my own list had about ten names on it.”
“They'll understand, I'm sure. If it turns out that the other half of the population of Granford is miffed at us, then we'll just have to throw another party. Maybe a solstice party.”
“You can plan that one,” Meg said. “But I guess we're making progress. I've alerted my parents, but we haven't pinned down when they're going to arrive. I'd really rather they didn't stay here. Oh, and we need rings, don't we? And I have no idea what I'm wearing.”
“About them staying hereÂ .Â .Â .” Seth began slowly.
“You don't want them to? Or you do?” Meg protested before he could finish. She wasn't sure which answer she wanted to hear.
“No, I'm happy to have them. But I'm guessing that one reason you don't want to put them up is because of the bathroom situation.”