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A Whispering Pines Mystery, Book 5
BY SHAWN McGUIRE
What if your nemesis challenged you on your home turf?
A sense of community. Quaint surroundings. Deadly rivalries. Welcome to Whispering Pines.
As the weather turns crisp, Jayne O’Shea and the other villagers prepare for the last big tourist draw of the season: the autumn equinox festival. It’s a time to enjoy a bounty of food, the company of others, and the ever-popular cooking competition. Events in the baking division, however, turn from friendly to fatal when one of the contestants, a beloved nationally known chef, is found dead in the woods.
As all eyes turn to one of the villagers as the killer, Jayne knows that what’s seen on the surface isn’t always the truth, especially in Whispering Pines, and digs deep to clear the name of one of their own.
The woman’s body lay face down on the Fairy Path, halfway between The Twisty Skein and Ivy’s Boutique.
“You found her?” I asked Violet.
“No.” Violet shook her head, staring at the woman with a deep frown. “Ruby stopped by the Bean Grinder to get a chai on her way to open the Skein.”
“Open?” I asked. “That would’ve been before seven in the morning. Isn’t that kind of early to open a craft store?”
Violet turned her attention from the deceased woman to me, one serious eyebrow arched. “You’re very literal this morning, Sheriff Jayne. Ruby said she was on her way to work. I assume she planned to open at nine like always. By ‘open,’ I meant she would perform her opening procedures. I don’t know her schedule. Maybe she does paperwork at seven in the morning.”
I nodded, duly scolded. In the case of a death, especially one in Whispering Pines, anything out of the ordinary, no matter how minor, set off my instincts.
“I can’t believe she’s dead.” Violet stared again at the body. “It’s Gin, isn’t it?”
Long, coppery-red hair covered the victim’s face, but there was no doubt in my mind of her identity. That hair made Ginger “Gin” Wakefield instantly recognizable.
Wakefield, head baker and owner of Wakefield’s Treats and Sweets and former Whispering Pines villager, had come to the village to celebrate Mabon Fest. The villagers who had known her twenty years earlier were thrilled that she and her staff of celebrity bakers were coming for a visit. However, not everyone had been happy about her return. Sugar, the owner of the village sweet shop, had been childhood rivals with Wakefield. For Sugar, the woman’s return was bad enough. When Wakefield entered the festival baking competition, the competition Sugar was determined to win this year, unhappy didn’t begin to describe Sugar’s reaction.
“I think we’re safe to assume it’s Gin,” I told Violet. Other than to check for a pulse, I couldn’t touch the body until the medical examiner got here, so assuming her identity was all we could do.
“It’s going to be busy this weekend,” Violet mused, gaze once again locked on the body. “Just like every year, we start relaxing after Labor Day and bam, Mabon Fest. Then we relax again and bam, Samhain.”
“You were saying that Ruby found the body?” I asked, getting her back on topic.
“Right, sorry. Yes, Ruby knows we have a walkie-talkie at the Grinder, so she ran back over and asked me to contact you.”
Because cell phone coverage was non-existent in the village, I had distributed walkie-talkie units to various businesses. That way my deputy and I could always be reached should an emergency happen. And they happened on a regular basis around here. Strange for a place so small.
“Where is Ruby now?”
Violet turned her back to the dead woman. “She was really upset, you know, shaken up over finding a body. I told her to go to her shop and that I’d watch over the woman until you got here.” She indicated the short pine-green apron still around her waist. “I left the shop so fast I was halfway here when I realized I forgot to take this off.”
“We need to keep people away from this area,” I told Violet. “Deputy Reed is on his way, but until he gets here, I need to stay with the victim.”
“What do you need me to do?” Violet asked, instantly ready to help.
My mind started formulating a to-do list as I glanced east along the Fairy Path toward Ruby’s shop. Through dappled shadows cast by the early morning sun, I could just make out a small white blur a few yards past The Twisty Skein. The blur was Meeka, my West Highland White Terrier and K-9 deputy. She was standing like a security guard in the middle of the wood-plank pathway that wove through the grove of pine trees. As we’d walked this way from the sheriff’s station, Meeka had become agitated by the scent of the corpse. Since the body was out in the open and I wouldn’t need her help searching for it, I posted her there. Happy to have a job, my K-9 was ready to refuse passage to anyone who might try and come this direction.
“First,” I told Violet, “I need people stationed at both ends of the path to make sure no one comes this way.”
Violet flung a hand toward the commons. “My brother is covering that end.”
“Who’s manning the Grinder?” Ye Olde Bean Grinder, the village coffee shop, was always packed in the morning.
“It’s not that busy yet. Villagers mostly. Lily Grace is keeping an eye on things until one of us gets back. She can’t make specialty drinks, but there’s a big carafe of regular blend she can use to refill cups. She also knows how to ring up a scone.”
“Lily Grace?” The teenager was more talented than most when it came to telling fortunes, but she wasn’t always the most responsible with other aspects of daily life.
“She’s been hanging out with us every day after school for the past week or ten days. Not sure why she came in so early today. Must’ve had a late night of studying and needed a caffeine hit. So, you want me to take over for Meeka?”
“Please. I also need to speak with Ruby.”
“I’ll stop in the craft shop first and tell her to come see you.”
“Perfect. Thanks, Violet.”
That was one complication out of the way. There was a bigger question before me now: Had a friendly baking competition really ended in murder? A possible killer came to mind immediately. It couldn’t be her, though. Sugar wasn’t a killer. Was she?
Mystery and fantasy author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to tell a tale is as strong now as it was then. She lives in Colorado with her family where she is a total homebody. She loves to read, cook and bake, and spend time in the spectacular Rocky Mountains.
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