Authors: Meg London
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths
“Sweet iced tea, a cast of charming Tennessee characters, and a vintage-lingerie store help this debut go down easier than a mint julep in July. Readers who like their cozies with a Southern flavor will enjoy getting to know Emma and her aunt, Arabella, as they try to catch a killer as slippery as a satin peignoir.”
—Lila Dare, author of the Southern Beauty Shop Mysteries
“Filled with Southern charm, this is a flirty mystery you’re sure to find alluring.”
—Riley Adams, author of the Memphis BBQ Mysteries
“Meg London has hit the right note with the characters . . . and the setting . . . Vintage-lingerie details and Southern charm add to the atmosphere of this appealing first cozy.”
The Mystery Reader
“Entertaining . . . Meg London captures the essence of a small Southern town’s quirkiness.”
Genre Go Round Reviews
“Like the name of the store, this mystery is very sweet. With a very interesting cast of characters . . . This was a fun debut into the life of Emma and the town of Paris, Tennessee, and I’m looking forward to more books in the series.”
Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Meg London
LACED WITH POISON
A FATAL SLIP
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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A FATAL SLIP
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2014 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
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Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / February 2014
Cover illustration by Nathalie Dion.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
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.
To my wonderful editor, Faith Black, who has been a joy to work with. She has taken my rough material, smoothed out the edges, and transformed my words into a coherent story.
no!” Emma Taylor yelled at the wayward puppy scampering toward the front door of Sweet Nothings. “Don’t let her out,” she called to Sylvia Brodsky, who was trying to edge her way into the store. Meanwhile, Pierre, Bette’s very proud father, slouched in his black-and-white toile dog bed, clearly disinterested in the antics of his progeny. Emma shot him a look as if to say
big help you are
Bette was part French bulldog, compliments of her father, Pierre Louis Auguste, and his clandestine liaison with Bertha, part dachshund, whose owner ran the Gallery across the street. Bette had inherited bits and pieces of each parent—a longer than usual torso and a square head with rounded forehead but her one black ear and one white ear unmistakably came from Pierre. Right now, at five months, she was all puppy—full of energy and in constant motion—when she wasn’t fast asleep.
Emma sighed in frustration and glanced at her watch. Sweet Nothings, the vintage lingerie store she had helped her aunt Arabella renovate, was due to open at six o’clock for a very special Valentine’s Day event. Elegant, printed cards had been sent to the male population of Paris, Tennessee, inviting them to this men-only evening sale where they could eat, drink and shop for their lady loves.
It had been Sylvia’s idea. She worked at Sweet Nothings as a part-time bra fitter, a job she’d held at Macy’s in New York City before moving south with her son and his wife.
Emma looked around the shop. The very air seemed to quiver with anticipation. Large bouquets of magnificent red roses sat out on the counter adding a pop of color and a delicious fragrance to the room. Emma had rented three small, round tables and draped each with white cloths and a red overlay. One would be for the hors d’oeuvres, which Lucy Monroe, owner of Let Us Cater to You, was bringing at any moment; one would hold a silver bucket filled with ice and several bottles of sparkling wine; and the third was for Bitsy Palmer’s designer cupcakes.
“What is that puppy of yours up to now?” Arabella stuck her head around the door to the stockroom.
“Just being a puppy,” Sylvia replied from her spot behind the counter, where she was unwrapping a piece of chewing gum. Since quitting smoking, her breathing had improved considerably, and she no longer had to haul around an oxygen tank. Both Arabella and Emma were relieved because Sylvia was known to douse her cigarette with one hand while reaching for her oxygen tank with the other. They were in constant fear of being blown to kingdom come.
“Bette is a little cutie”—Arabella laughed—“but quite the minx, too, don’t you think?” Arabella smoothed down her top—a raspberry red silk blouse to complement the Valentine’s Day theme. It was tucked into a knife-pleated pale gray skirt and accessorized with a strand of pearls at her neck.
“That’s for sure.” Emma was getting positively sweaty thanks to her pursuit of the wayward pup.
“Just like her brother.” Sylvia smiled. Sylvia had adopted one of Bette’s siblings. “Dirk ate the tongue of one of Earl’s shoes the other day.”
Arabella and Emma glanced at each other. Emma suspected they were both thinking the same thing—
what was Earl’s shoe doing in Sylvia’s apartment
? Earl and Sylvia had met when Sylvia’s children insisted she move to Sunny Days, a retirement community on the outskirts of town, after Sylvia had had several mishaps with both her stove and her bathtub.
“I think I ought to put Bette in her crate for now.”
“Good idea.” Arabella nodded. “Lucy will be here shortly, and Bitsy with the cupcakes. We don’t want to end up chasing Bette down Washington Street. She’s a veritable Houdini when it comes to escaping. We’ve got enough to do as it is.”
Emma reached for Bette, who, sensing that her freedom was about to come to an abrupt end, dashed underneath one of the tables. Emma got down on her hands and knees and stuck her head under the cloth.
She could have sworn that Bette actually grinned at her. Her bright pink tongue lolled out of one side of her mouth, and her head was cocked playfully.
“This isn’t a game. It’s time for you to go in your crate and get some rest.” Emma tried to make that proposition sound wildly attractive by using her most persuasive tone of voice.
It didn’t fool Bette. Just as Emma was about to close her hand on Bette’s collar, Bette took off again at a brisk trot, looking back over her shoulder to see if Emma was following. Emma backed out from under the table, certain that her dark hair, even though fairly short, was standing on end.
“You little rascal,” she shook her fist at Bette which only seemed to excite the puppy more. She tilted her head and looked at Emma as if to say
what a fun game this is
, before taking off again.
“That dog is busier than a moth in a mitten.” Arabella reached down and scooped up the unsuspecting puppy. “Got you!” Bette squirmed in Arabella’s arms but then gave in and began licking Arabella’s face energetically.
Arabella giggled and handed the wriggling dog to Emma.
Bette’s crate was behind the counter, where they could keep an eye on her and the dog could see what was going on. Emma tucked her inside and latched the door securely. She stood up and blew a lock of dark hair off her forehead. By the time she turned around, Bette was sprawled over one of her stuffed toys, fast asleep, her chest rising and falling rapidly.
Sylvia gave a rattling cough, one of the remnants of her two-pack-a-day habit. She was dressed for the occasion in a deep red, long-sleeved dress, which hung on her thin frame as if from a hanger. Sylvia was all elbows, knees and cheekbones with a blunt, gray bob that emphasized the angularity of her face. “We still haven’t decided what to put on Melanie.” She pointed at a mannequin that had been so named because of her resemblance to the character in
Gone With the Wind.
Arabella furrowed her brow and put a hand to the loose knot of white hair gathered at her neck. “What’s our most expensive outfit?” She turned toward Emma, fingering the strand of pearls at her neck.
“The royal blue Lucie Ann, I think.” Emma opened one of the cupboards and began sorting through the contents.
“The one I bought at the Porters’ estate sale?”
“Yes,” Emma said, her head in the closet, and her voice slightly muffled.
Emma pulled out the exquisite, marabou-trimmed robe and negligee ensemble and waved it in front of Arabella.
Emma had just slipped the glamorous bias-cut negligee over the mannequin’s head when they heard thumping coming from the back door.
“That must be Lucy or Bitsy.” Arabella headed toward the stockroom.
Emma was fastening the covered buttons on the negligee’s matching silk robe when Lucy bustled into the room, a large, woven basket in each hand, her apron still tied around her waist. Her froth of white blond hair was teased into a bouffant swirl on top of her head and tucked into a French twist in back.
“It sure has turned frigid out there, and I think it’s fixin’ to rain.” Lucy’s face was red with cold. She gestured toward the baskets with her chin. “Emma, darling, where do you want these?”
“Over there.” Emma pointed to the cloth-covered table from under which Bette had recently exited.
Lucy’s huge diamond ring winked in the light as she pulled several containers from the baskets. Emma knew the diamond wasn’t real and that Lucy had bought it herself. She wanted people to think she’d married her husband, Harry, for his money and not because she’d fallen head over heels in love with him. Having made the trip to the altar five times already, Lucy’s friends and family found it easier to believe she was after a fortune than that she was willing to risk her heart yet again.
Lucy was searching through one of the baskets. “Oh lordy,” she exclaimed, standing up with a hand on one generous hip. “Where on earth did I put them? You can’t go having a big event like this without my cheese straws. It wouldn’t be right.” Lucy began to pull things out of the basket willy-nilly. “They did turn out well, if I must say so myself. I was kind of worried on account of the weather—sometimes when it’s real damp out, the dough just doesn’t want to behave. But I haven’t been making cheese straws for more than three decades to be defeated by a little humidity.”
Lucy was Emma’s mother’s best friend and Emma had grown up calling her Aunt Lucy. No Taylor was allowed to be christened, get married or be buried without Lucy’s cheese straws. As a matter of fact, no important event in Paris, Tennessee, was allowed to take place without at least one order of Lucy’s most famous hors d’oeuvre.
“Oooh, that looks delicious.” Emma glanced at the platter of appetizers Lucy had set out. Emma’s stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t had anything to eat since early that morning. They’d all been run off their feet trying to get ready in time.
“I put together a little plate for you ladies. I kind of figured you probably wouldn’t have had any time for dinner. I’ll bring it in with the next load.” Lucy had unearthed the cheese straws and was arranging them in a small glass vase. She handed one to Emma.
“See what you think.”
Emma took a bite and closed her eyes in rapture. “Perfect, as always.”
Lucy nodded briskly. “I thought so. You’ve got to be careful not to add too much flour when you’re rolling out the dough, or it will toughen them up.”
Emma filled the silver bucket with ice, and retrieved three bottles of the sparkling wine from the cooler. She stuck them into the bucket and began unpacking the champagne flutes they had rented for the occasion.
Sylvia came out from behind the counter. “Everything looks beautiful. You sure did a good job renovating this place.” She shook her head and her enormous hoop earrings swayed to and fro.
Emma looked around at the pale pink walls and black-and-white toile accents. Quite different from the faded psychedelic colors and pea green shag carpeting she’d started with. “Brian helped, too, don’t forget. He built the cupboards and did all the painting.”
The thought of Brian made Emma smile. He was her best friend Liz Banning’s older brother, and while it had taken Emma some time to get him to see her as more than his kid sister’s playmate, he had come around, and they’d fallen hard for each other. He’d promised to stop by later, and the thought lifted Emma’s spirits.
“Hey y’all. Can somebody come give me a hand?” a voice drawled from the back door.
Emma scurried into the stockroom to find Bitsy struggling through the door with two enormous platters of cupcakes.
“Let me help you.” Emma reached for one of the platters.
“Thanks. I should have made two trips. It would be a tragedy to drop one of these.” Bitsy followed Emma into the store. She put the platter of cupcakes down on the counter and looked around. “My, my, everything looks so pretty! The men won’t be able to resist buying everything in the place.” She smiled at Emma.
“I certainly hope so.”
Bitsy, whose real name was Catherine, was anything but at six foot tall, but the nickname, acquired at birth, had stuck regardless. She had golden blond hair, which brushed her shoulder blades, and her enormous blue eyes, ringed with thick dark lashes, gave her a look of wide-eyed innocence. She owned Sprinkles, a bakery and cupcake shop around the corner from Sweet Nothings, and she and Emma had become good friends since Emma’s return to Paris.
“Where do you want the cupcakes? I’ve done your favorite—carrot cake with cream cheese icing—along with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.” She lifted the lid on the platter. “I love the way the strawberry ones turned out—perfectly pink for Valentine’s Day.”
Emma admired the confections, and it was all she could do to keep from snatching one. She felt her stomach growl again, even louder this time. She motioned to the empty table. “I thought we’d set them up over there.”
Arabella bustled out from the back room. She glanced at her watch. “It’s almost six. We’d better hurry.”
Bitsy organized her cupcakes while Lucy put the finishing touches on the hors d’oeuvres display. They both stood back to admire their handiwork.
“Well, we’d best get out of here before the men begin arriving,” Lucy said, picking up her basket. “I’ll be by in the morning to collect the empty platters.”
“Good luck, ladies,” Lucy and Bitsy both chorused as they headed toward the back door.
“Thanks,” Emma called over her shoulder. She turned to Arabella and Sylvia. “Let’s get something to eat while we can.”
• • •
front door opened at four minutes after six, letting in a blast of cold air. Emma was behind the counter and looked up to see Les entering timidly. He was short and slender with delicate features and a rather meek appearance. He and Arabella had dated on and off but were now off since Arabella had begun dating Francis Salerno, an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Les, meanwhile, had taken up with Sally Dixon, a friend of Arabella’s.
He and Arabella greeted each other. “Can I help you with anything?” she asked rather frostily.
“I’m just looking, thank you.” Les helped himself to one of Lucy’s cheese straws.
Arabella sniffed and whispered to Emma. “I suppose he’s here to buy something for Sally although I doubt we have anything in her size.” Arabella patted her own flat stomach and preened complacently.