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Estes Park, Colorado: picturesque mountains, charming shops, delightful bakeries, a cozy bookstore… and murder.
Winifred Page and her corgi, Watson, move to Estes Park to hit the reset button on life. Fred is about to open her dream bookshop, and the only challenges she anticipates are adjusting to small town life, tourists, and living close to her loveable mother, Phyllis, and hippy stepfather, Barry.
When Fred steps into her soon-to-be-bookshop for the first time, she expects dust bunnies and spiders… not the dead body in the upstairs kitchen. The local police have an easy suspect—Barry.
Determined to prove quirky Barry innocent of murder, Fred puts on her detective hat, and with Watson by her side, she explores her new town and gets acquainted with her fellow shopkeepers. Could one of her friendly neighbors be the real culprit? And what would be the motive for killing the owner of the Sinful Bites candy store? The secrets Fred discover put her at odds with the local police sergeant and threaten her cozy future in Estes.
With snow falling outside, all Fred wants to do is curl up by the fire with a good book and Watson snuggled at her feet. But before she can begin her new life and put her plans for her bookshop into action, Fred and Watson have a mystery to solve…
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“Oh, Watson, what have I gotten us into?” I stared at the shop through the safety of my car window. It was smaller than I remembered. I leaned forward, bumping my forehead on the glass. Fairly tall, though, at least two storeys. With the dark-stained log siding and forest-green trim and shutters, it looked like a log cabin had been sandwiched between the other stores of Estes Park.
And it was mine.
The thought ushered in a wave of excitement. A tingle of nausea too, but more excitement than anything. At least that was what I told myself.
The death grip I had on the steering wheel of my Mini Cooper said otherwise. I tore my gaze away and turned a forced smile toward the passenger seat. I needed to be brave for Watson.
He arched a brow lazily at me, not bothering to lift his head from his curled-up position. Managing to pull one of my hands free from the steering wheel, I slipped the car into Park, then scratched behind his pointed fox-like ears.
“We’re here. It’s been a long day, and you’ve been a great copilot.” A grumpy copilot, but that was normal for Watson. A quality that probably wouldn’t be as endearing if he wasn’t so stinking cute. “I’d say you deserve a treat. What do you think?”
At what was unquestionably his favorite word, Watson bounded to a standing position and began bouncing on his two front legs. His stubby corgi legs didn’t make him that much taller, though the bouncing helped.
“And this is why we work, you and me. Food is king, behind books, of course.” I snagged a dog bone out of the glove compartment, started to request for Watson to sit first—demands never worked—then decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and held it out to him. Despite his voracious appetite, which even a shark would envy, Watson avoided removing my fingers and made short work of the snack.
After a couple of minutes, Watson cocked that judgmental brow of his once more. His thoughts were clear: The prolonged staring is creepy, lady. But I’ll forgive you for another treat.
He had a point. I was putting off the inevitable. Which was silly. I was excited, happy. Time to launch into an adventure.
I turned toward the shop again, took a breath, and opened the car door. Here goes nothing.
My knees popped as I stepped onto the sidewalk, and I sucked in a breath at the tweak in my back. I supposed a drive halfway across the country was a reasonable excuse, even if I was still two years away from forty. I glanced back at Watson, who had curled back into a ball. “Seriously? The ten-hour nap wasn’t enough?”
After a few more seconds of glaring, Watson acquiesced, stood, and stretched. He raised his knobbed-tail of a butt in the air, just letting me know he was still in charge, and then leisurely crossed the console and hopped out beside me.
“Thanks for joining me, your highness.” I shut the car door and looked up at the shop. It seemed a little larger once I stood in front of it. It would be charming. My gaze flicked to the sign above the door that read Heads and Tails. Would being the operative word. Who knew what horrors lay behind the papered-over windows. I’d never envisioned a behind-the-scenes look at a taxidermy business, but it seemed I hadn’t been aware of a lot about my future. Well, whatever. If it was too horrible, I’d just pay one of those junk companies to come in and haul everything away.
That thought brought a sense of relief, but then another swept it away. I was thinking like a city girl. I doubted a town the size of Estes Park had a junk-removal business.
And again, I decided, whatever.
I had a feeling I was going to be saying that a lot.
Movement caught my eye from the store window to the left of my shop. Before I could make out a figure, I was captured by the crimson script over the glass, Sinful Bites.
Perfect. Some fortification would be needed in the very likely chance I was getting ready to walk into a store filled with petrified dead animals. I veered off to the left, giving a quick pat to my thigh. “Come on, Watson. Mama deserves a—” I almost said treat. “—reward too.”
A pleasant chime sounded as I opened the door to Sinful Bites and allowed Watson to waddle through. I cast a quick glance around. The store was done in my favorite colors—the walls, cabinets, and displays all in various shades of rich earth tones. It felt homey, comfortable. Exactly what I would be going for when I redid the god-awful taxidermy shop. That boded well for my relationship with my neighbor.
A woman with short, spiraling brunette hair looked up in surprise from behind the cash register. Her brown gaze glanced at me in confusion, then moved to the front door, and back.
I offered a hesitant smile, feeling like I’d messed up somehow. “Everything okay?”
“Yes!” The woman smiled back, wide and bright. “I’m so sorry. We just closed. I could’ve sworn I locked the door,” she said, her tone apologetic.
“Oh. Well, I can come back another time.” Despite myself, I couldn’t keep my gaze from traveling over the gleaming cases filled with candy.
“Not at all! My fault for not locking the door, and I haven’t started putting things away yet, so I insist.” Another smile.
“Thank you. I promise I’ll be quick.” I moved closer to the cases, unsure if I would be able to keep that promise. Though slightly picked over, the display was magnificent. Gleaming fruit tarts in golden brown crusts, hand-size brownies filled with nuts, caramel, and chunks of candy. Fudge of every flavor, truffles of various shapes and colors, and chocolate. So much chocolate that I was suddenly aware I’d smelled it since I walked in the door. No wonder I felt at home. Chocolates done in nearly every imaginable way—almond bark and turtles, covering pretzels, marzipan and nougat.
Heaven, I decided. I’d died and gone to heaven. I managed to tear my gaze away from the smorgasbord of delights and look at the woman. “I think I’m in love.”
The woman chuckled good-naturedly and held out her hand. “I’m Katie. Always nice to meet someone who appreciates dessert more than cardio.”
I stiffened for a heartbeat, wondering if I should be insulted. But at the twinkling of Katie’s eyes, I couldn’t help but laugh. I felt an instant kinship with the woman. “Yes, I’ll take dessert any day over fitting into a size eight. Though my real weakness is carbs, not candy. Give me a hot loaf of fresh bread and I can die a happy woman.” I took Katie’s hand.
“Me too, actually. I might work in a candy shop, but bread is what I do best.”
“Then I am definitely glad to meet you, Katie.” I released her grip and gestured down to Watson, who stared up at me, salivating. “My little corgi friend is Watson, and I’m—”
“I’m telling you, Lois, if you would just use actual sugar in your baking instead of all the stupid substitutions—” Two elderly women walked through the back door of the shop, cutting me off. They both halted at the sight of Watson and me. The blonde cast a quick glare at Katie. “I thought we closed.”
Katie flushed. “I apparently didn’t lock the door. Sorry. But I believe—” It seemed she was searching for my name. “—our friend here is in need of some chocolate.”
The blonde looked at me and cast another glare down at Watson, but by the time she met my gaze once more, her smile was wide, even if it didn’t reach her eyes. “Well, of course! You’ve come to the right place. Sinful Bites has the best chocolate in town.”
The other woman’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t say anything.
Katie cleared her throat, cutting the brief tension that had filled the place. “Do you know what you’d like? If you’re not sure, I can get you a sample.”
Getting-to-know-you time was most definitely over. Which was doubly sad, as at any other time I would’ve taken Katie up on the offer of samples. Under the inspection of the blonde, however, I didn’t dare. “You know, I just drove into town, and I really should get home. Why don’t you give me an assortment of the ones you like best.” Chances were high such a thing would end up being more expensive than I’d intended to spend on candy, but since I was going to be neighbors with the shop, it was clear I needed to put my best foot forward as quickly as possible.
“Home?” The third woman finally spoke. “Do you live here? You must be new in town. I don’t think I’ve seen you around.”
“I just moved in. Quite literally, in fact.” I smiled at the woman, who seemed nicer than the blonde. “I’ve visited several times. I have family who live here.” I nodded at Katie as I spoke, trying to include her again and continue the introductions. “I’m Fred, and this is Watson. We just made the long drive from Kansas City to Colorado. This was our first stop in town.”
The woman gave a chuckle. “Fred? I don’t believe I’ve ever met a woman named Fred.” She gestured to herself and the blonde. “I’m Lois Garble, and this is my sister, Opal. Opal owns this candy shop, and I own the one two doors down, Healthy Delights.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Sisters? The two women definitely didn’t look like sisters. Although, now that I thought about it, they had the same features. It was only everything else that was different. Lois had naturally graying hair, a clean and wrinkled face, and she wore a plain cotton dress. Opal had dyed, highly stylized blonde hair, copious amounts of makeup, a brightly colored dress, and tons of jewelry. “My true name is Winifred Page, but everyone calls me Fred.”
“Well, I think that is simply adorable. And it suits you.” Lois shrugged playfully. “Like I said, I’ve never met a woman named Fred, but if I could imagine one, she’d have beautiful auburn hair just like yours. I’ve always thought Opal would look ravishing in that color.” She cast a sidelong glance toward her sister’s coiffed blonde hairdo.
Opal didn’t comment about becoming a redhead. “Page? Your last name is Page, and you have family in town? I don’t remember a family with that name.”
I nodded, though for some reason I was tempted to lie. “Yes. My mother grew up here. Phyllis Oswald, though now she’s Phyllis Adams.”
Both Katie and Lois seemed to take a step back, but Opal didn’t budge, instead folding her arms over her ample bosom. Any semblance of welcome or friendliness vanished, not that there’d been much from Opal. “I thought I’d heard your name before.” If looks could kill. “So that means you’re the one taking over Sid’s taxidermy shop.”
Again, lying seemed the intelligent thing to do. “Yes. Though I won’t be doing taxidermy. I’m going to be changing it to a bookshop. It’s going to be called the Cozy—”
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed.” Opal sniffed, nostrils flared. “And for future reference, I don’t allow dogs in my business.”
I halted, unsure what to say. One of the things I’d always liked about the town was Estes Park’s dog-friendly nature. I started to glance at Katie and then thought better of it. The last thing I wanted to do was get the shopgirl in trouble. I gestured back toward the door. “Sorry for….” What was I sorry for exactly? “Watson and I will just be going.”
Lois gave a loud good-natured laugh and swatted playfully at Opal, which Opal avoided with a glare. “Please forgive my sister. It’s her intake of sugar and butter and things the good Lord never intended us to eat. It makes her cranky.” She managed to deliver the line with a cheerful air, making it sound more like an endearing quality than an insult. Lois headed around the counter and slipped a birdlike arm through mine. “You come with me. I’ll get you some sweets that are natural and nourishing, and I have homemade dog-bone biscuits.” She looked down at Watson, then back at me. “I didn’t notice. How adorable. He’s a redhead like you.” Without waiting for a response, she looked back down once more. “What do you say… Watson, was it? Do you want a treat?”
Watson bounced on his two front paws again at the word, causing Lois to chuckle. The only thing I really wanted to do at that point was get away, but Watson’s reaction settled it. Plus, how could I deny the woman without seeming rude?
I allowed myself to be led toward the front door and cast a glance back, offering a quick smile to Katie and a final apologetic grimace to Opal.
Lois led me out of the shop, around the front of Heads and Tails, then pulled out her keys to usher me into Healthy Delights. “Sorry, I already shut the place down, but I’ll get you an assortment of things from the back. Give me one second, dear.” She flicked on the lights and then headed through the back door to disappear with a small wave.
The tingle of nausea rose again. My shop sat directly between these two sisters. Lois seemed sweet enough, but Lord knew what I was getting myself into with these two. Pushing the thought away, I spared a glance at Lois’s store. It was the exact same layout as Opal’s, just flipped, but the similarities stopped there. Where Opal’s candy shop felt cozy, warm, and friendly—despite the woman herself—Lois’s was done in a garish combination of pastel colors, sickeningly sweet pinks, and yellows. My stomach gurgled.
Watson didn’t seem to notice. He chuffed and looked up at me.
“Your treat is coming. Calm down.” I shook my finger at him. “And I blame you for pulling me into this.”
He chuffed again, and this time bounded so his paws landed on my foot, clearly telling me to shut up and get on with the treat giving.
“You’re ridiculous.” As if watching a car crash, I looked back at the shop. It didn’t make any sense at all. How could the sister who owned the cozy and delicious-smelling candy shop be so irritable, while the one who designed the monstrosity that looked like Easter on speed was the kind one?
Before the color palette had a chance to permanently scar my corneas, Lois returned with a large brown bag in one hand and a massive dog bone in the other. “I’m sorry I have to rush. I’d love to get to know you and your precious pup, but Opal and I have dinner plans, and I don’t want to keep her waiting.” She thrust the bag into my grip. “For future reference, I make everything Opal does, just a healthy, all-natural version. It’s fun to mix and match.”
I forced a smile. I hadn’t been able to identify what smell seemed to linger in the air, but it wasn’t pleasant. If the desserts were edible, I’d be shocked. “Thank you. I appreciate your kindness. I’m sorry if I did anything to offend—”
Lois waved me off, whipping the dog bone in the air, a large crumb flying across the room. In a rare show of speed, Watson zoomed away in pursuit. Lois didn’t seem to notice. “Never you mind. That’s just how Opal is. You see, she and I were hoping to purchase the taxidermy shop after Sid passed, but your mother wouldn’t consider selling. Said her daughter was taking it over.” Though her chipper tone didn’t fade, Lois’s smile did, a touch. “I won’t hold that against you, dear.” Another hand pat. “But if you decide you want to sell, we’d appreciate it if you would let us know.” Leaning closer, her voice dropped to a whisper. “Lots of people move to Estes Park, captured by its beauty and charm, only to discover they feel a little trapped in the mountains and constricted by small-town life. Chances are it will happen to you too. Of course, I hope not, but”—and yet another pat—“when it does, remember my sister and me.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but was utterly at a loss for words.
Words didn’t seem to be required. Lois wrapped her arm around my shoulders, which was no small feat, considering I was several inches taller than the woman, and led me toward the door. She shoved what was left of the dog bone at me. “This is made from peanut butter I ground myself, and organic grains. They are five dollars apiece, but this one’s on the house.” She opened the door for me and stood aside. “Welcome to town, Fred.”
“Thank you, Lois.” I clutched the paper bag and waggled the dog bone in Watson’s direction, capturing his attention. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go.” Watson tore off from where he’d been sniffing in the back corner of the shop. I nodded my thanks to Lois once more, then walked to the car. I changed my mind a few paces away from my burnt-orange Mini Cooper. Turning around, I headed back toward the front door of the taxidermy shop. I’d been so excited to see inside, to get lost in the planning of what my bookstore would look like, that I had driven straight here when we got into town.
After locking her front door, Lois crossed in front of Heads and Tails, gave a final friendly wave, and disappeared into Sinful Bites once more.
Pushing the odd sisters out of my mind, I addressed Watson as we stopped at the front door. “I’m sure you’ll love all the smells you’re going to find in there, but just remember, if we come across a dead animal and I scream, you’re forbidden from telling anyone. If you do, there won’t be any treats for a week.”
Watson gave a quick, sharp bark.
“Crap. I said treat, didn’t I?” At the repeated word, Watson resumed bouncing, his dark brown eyes wild with excitement and looking like a deranged bunny.
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I lifted what was left of the dog bone. “Luckily, we have one. You can get it as soon we’re inside.”
I paused at the lockbox hanging from the door handle, then set the bag of healthy candy—what a thought that was—at my feet. Catching my reflection in the window, the paper behind the glass causing it to act nearly as effectively as a mirror, I couldn’t help but scowl. My hair was a complete mess, and a sheen of light caught the gleam from dog hair. I glanced down at my peasant blouse. Life with a corgi meant I was in constant need of a lint roller, but after the day in the car, things had gotten to a nearly ludicrous level. To make matters worse, I gave my brown broomstick skirt a flick with my wrist and sent a fresh wave of dog hair spiraling around me. Wonderful. So much for putting my best foot forward. Meeting three of my neighbors while looking like I was part corgi myself.
Well, whatever. Too late to be helped now. Besides, it wasn’t like I’d ever actually be dog-hair-free anyway. Pushing the concern away, I pulled out my cell and scrolled through text messages from my mother until I came across the lockbox code. I punched in the four digits and gave a yank. There was no click and the lock didn’t budge. Clearing it, I tried again. Same reaction. I checked the text, confirming I had the numbers right, then tried a third time. When I was still denied, I tapped my mother’s name and lifted the phone to my ear.
It rang several times, then finally clicked to a message saying my mother’s voice mail was full and could no longer accept messages. What else was new? I tried the lockbox one final time. For a moment, I considered breaking the window on the front door and reaching in. It was my shop, after all.
What a way to start a new adventure, breaking and entering. Patience had never been a virtue I fostered, but letting out a resigned huff that sounded more like a corgi than a woman, I stuffed my cell back into my pocket. “Looks like we’re thwarted at the moment, Watson.”
Retrieving the paper bag, I led us back to the car, held the door for Watson to hop in, then followed.
I’d been so ecstatic about opening the bookshop, I hadn’t even considered who my neighbors might be. Being directly between Lois and Opal was going to be…. Well, I was afraid I didn’t have a word for exactly what that was going to be. I doubted it would be all that pleasant.
“You feel it too, don’t you, boy? Who knows what we’re going to have to face with those two. At least we have each other.”
He let out a long pitiful whine.
“Aww, look at you being all empathetic. What’s gotten into—”
I realized Watson’s frantic gaze was focused on my hand, not looking deep into my eyes and sharing a moment. “Oh, I forgot.” I handed him what remained of the all-natural dog biscuit with a sigh.
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A Cozy Corgi Mystery, Book 2
Reading the Cozy Corgi series is pretty much all you need to know about Mildred. In real life, she’s obsessed with everything she writes about: Corgis, Books, Cozy Mountain Towns, and Baked Goods. She’s not obsessed with murder, however. At least not at her own hands (nor paid for… no contract killing here). But since childhood, starting with Nancy Drew, trying to figure out who-dun-it has played a formative role in her personality. Having Fred and Watson stroll into her mind was a touch of kismet.
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