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Muffins & Murder

Muffins & Murder

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Halloween hijinks take a deadly turn when a teacher winds up dead at the school carnival and Tess is on the case. Between stalkers, business rivals, and angry neighbors, there is no shortage of suspects. Will Tess make it to Lenny’s wedding unscathed, or will the murderer strike again?

Main Tropes

  • Amateur Sleuth
  • Cozy Mystery
  • Halloween/Fall Book
  • Small Town Mystery
  • Recipes Included


School carnivals can be murder.

Halloween carnivals are supposed to be all fun and games, but when one of the school teachers is found strangled by a quilted table runner at the end of the night, Tess, bakery owner and amateur sleuth, is on the case.

Between stalkers, small business rivals and neighbors whose hobbies clash with the victim’s, there is no shortage of suspects. Tess’s social life finally starts to take off as things get interesting with Jack and her good friend and employee, Lenny’s, wedding is only days away, Tess has got her hands full. Will she be able to catch the killer before he or she strikes again?

Intro into Chapter One

Kids squealed and giggled, zig-zagging through the crowd at the elementary school Halloween carnival. I carried my box of chocolate-chocolate chip muffins to the cupcake walk (yes, I know they’re technically muffins, not cupcakes, but they’re good enough to do in a pinch. Chocolate is chocolate, right?). Business at my bakery had been completely insane and despite the fact that my assistant, Lenny, came in early and stayed all day, I had just barely gotten away to help at the carnival.

I don’t have kids, but Honey, my best friend, promised to lend a hand in my shop one day while Lenny is on his honeymoon if I spent an afternoon helping out at her booth. I decided the deal was more than fair.

Honey looked up at me as I came over and let out a sigh of relief. “What kept you so long? We’re already running low on cupcakes.”

“Sorry. It’s been a madhouse. I think half the high school volleyball team bought stuff at my shop to donate to the bake sale instead of making their own. Not that I’m complaining.” I flipped back the lid of the container and started pulling out my contributions.

“Muffins? Really?” She lifted her brows in disbelief. “Tess, you were supposed to bring cupcakes. Couldn’t you have at least thrown some frosting on them so they looked like cupcakes?”

“I know, I know. Sorry. All out, except for those piña-colada- flavored ones, and kids don’t seem to like them as much. Lenny is baking some strawberry shortcake cupcakes now and will bring them down when he closes shop for the day.” I hurried to empty the bakery box and turned to the kids waiting in line to join the circle.

“How’s the wedding cake coming?” Honey asked.

“Amazing. I can’t wait to set it up tomorrow. The bride is going to flip!” I moved to my post to take tickets from the next kids in the line. “All right, you two join the others. Sorry, Madi. You have to wait for the next group.”

Honey’s five-year-old daughter, Madison, pouted a little, but didn’t complain when I stopped the line where she was standing.

“Where are your brother and sister?” I asked. She was the middle child with an older brother, Chance and younger sister, Zoey.

“They’re with Dad at the fishing booth again. It’s Chance’s teacher, Miss Clark. She’s really nice.” She clutched a stack of tickets. The carnival was a fundraiser for the PTA, and everyone seemed anxious to support the school. Or maybe just to win more prizes.

Honey played the music and called out numbers when it stopped. With each round, three children got their cupcakes, then wandered off, getting frosting on their hands and faces and totally ruining their appetites for dinner—but who was I to complain? I made my living off ruining people’s appetites—my cupcakes were notorious.

I let more kids into the circle and Honey started the music again.

I waved to friends and neighbors in the crowd, passed out dozens of cupcakes and nearly sighed with relief when Lenny brought in more supplies. We were almost out of treats for the unending line of munchkins. “What took you so long?” I whispered.

“Don’t ask. Just be glad you weren’t there.” He unloaded the bakery box in record time as one of the teachers approached. Her long, dark hair hung straight down around her shoulders, her seventies-era costume and headband reminiscent of Cher. It was Francine Clark, Chance’s second-grade teacher. She often came into my shop.

“I love your muffins!” she said, pulling one from the dwindling pile. Her bright orange fingernails contrasted against the chocolate. “Connie Larabee just brought these in for the cake walk.” She passed over a cookie sheet of cupcakes that had the uniform decoration indicating they’d been mass-produced for a grocery store bakery. Who did she think she was fooling, anyway?

“Thanks for bringing them by. How’s it going at your booth?”

“Fine, fine. Just trying to keep up.” She looked at the chocolate muffin in her hand and sighed slightly. “No rest for the weary. I’ll stash this behind the fishing booth to eat when things calm down here.” She tossed her wig’s thigh-length hair back behind her shoulder before turning away.

I had thought the party would be over and done within an hour, but the second hour was near its end before the crowd started to noticeably thin. Thirty minutes later and we were pulling up the numbers off the floor while others disassembled their booths.

Madison ran back over to me, taking my hand. “Auntie Tess, I need to go to the bathroom. Will you take me?”

I seriously doubted she couldn’t find it herself—this was her school, after all—but there were a lot of people wandering around the building still, so I supposed the crowd made her nervous. “Sure, sweetie.”

The bathrooms were on the other side of the gym and down a long hall. Most of the booths were disassembled by the time we headed back toward the gym, but I noticed the fishing booth was still up.

Francine Clark should have been tearing it down, but was nowhere to be seen. “I wonder where Miss Clark went,” I said to Madison.

“Maybe she’s inside. She was really busy before. She had the best prizes.” Her eyes glowed and she held up the kaleidoscope she’d won earlier.

“Very cool.” I took the scope in hand and looked through it at the florescent lights just ahead. Pink hearts, white stars, many-pointed yellow suns, and colored flowers cut out of clear, jewel-toned plastic met my eye. I could see why Madison loved it so much. “That’s beautiful.”

“What’s that?” Madison asked. She pointed to something poking out beneath the cream-colored muslin they had used to cover the front of the fishing booth. “Is she asleep in there?”

I looked closer and realized it was a set of long fingers. I could just see the orange fingernail polish that Francine had been wearing earlier. “Hold on a second, sweetie.” I let go of Madison’s hand and moved to the front flap, a hard ball of ick forming in the pit of my stomach. These kinds of things never went well for me. Maybe I should have called someone to take a look, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Francine Clark lay behind the curtain, her eyes wide open, her lips slightly blue. A multi-colored piece of fabric circled her neck and her hair spread out around her head. Her limbs were askew, one shoe half off and the chocolate muffin she’d gotten from me earlier was smashed, as if someone had stepped on it.

I reached down to check for a pulse, but couldn’t find one on her cool skin.

She was dead.

“Auntie Tess, what’s going on?” Madison’s voice broke me out of my shock and had me retreating before she could catch sight of the body.

“Nothing for you to worry about, sweetie. Come on, let’s go find your mom.” I half dragged her back to where Honey was helping someone else clean up around the apple-dunking barrel across the room. My insides were rolling and the dread I’d felt as I pulled back the curtain had multiplied.

Honey looked over and grinned, “Hey, I wondered if you took off with my daughter on some nefarious baking adventure.”

I must have looked as ill as I felt because she immediately set down the bag of apples she carried and came over. “What’s going on?”

“I have to call Detective Tingey.” I didn’t want to say more, partly because I wasn’t sure if I could find the words, and partly because I didn’t want to scare Madison.


“The usual reason I’ve had to call him,” I said. Silver Springs, Arizona didn’t have a homicide department, but Tingey was head detective and caught the town’s murders.

Honey’s dark complexion turned ashen. “You’re kidding me. Who?”

“No, I’m not kidding.” I left the second question unanswered, but released Madison’s hand and turned back, headed for the corner by the stage where it was more private to make my call. Honey trailed after me, wanting to hear the news.

Tingey picked up on the third ring. “This is Detective Tingey.” He sounded a little aggravated and I wondered vaguely if it was because he was interrupted in the middle of something or just had a long day and wanted to be left alone.

“Detective, this is Tess. I found another body.”

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