Behind Chocolate Bars (A Chocolate Covered Mystery)

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9780425267257: Behind Chocolate Bars (A Chocolate Covered Mystery)
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The national bestselling author of Truffled to Death returns with a mystery full of tricks and treats...
 
DOUBLE, DOUBLE-BOIL, AND TROUBLE...
 
Best friends and business partners Michelle and Erica have a monstrous to-do list as they prepare for the annual West Riverdale Halloween Festival. Their shop, Chocolates and Chapters, will have a booth at the event, where Michelle will serve spooky delights while Erica displays an assortment of spine-chilling books. Thank goodness the teenagers from Erica’s comic-book club are chipping in to help. But one of their volunteers winds up in trouble after a woman’s body is found in an abandoned house—with the teen’s superhero key ring close by.
 
The teen swears he didn’t do it, but he’s obviously hiding something—leaving Michelle and Erica with a witch’s cauldron of questions. Soon they discover that the dead woman was tricking a whole bunch of people out of more than just treats. Now these two friends must go door-to-door if they hope to unmask a killer...

Includes Scrumptious Chocolate-Making Recipes!

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Kathy Aarons is the national bestselling author of the Chocolate Covered Mysteries, including Truffled to Death and Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

"We need more zombies," I said, sliding a latte across the counter.

It was Sunday morning at Chocolates and Chapters and we were about to open. The sun was shining, and the crisp, cool fall air wafted in from the open door. Homemade tortes had been delivered, and fresh coffee was ready for the first wave of customers who stopped by after church. I'd turned on the small chocolate tempering machine used to dip strawberries and other fruits, sending the tantalizing scent throughout the store.

My business partner and best friend, Erica Russell, sat at the counter, staring at the spreadsheet on her laptop. She'd placed Halloween-themed books on the side tables in our dining area, and we'd plumped the couch cushions. The welcoming glow from the small lamps decorated with black and orange scarves tempted our customers to take a leisurely break.

"Can't have too many zombies," Erica agreed with absolutely no sarcasm. She sipped her coffee and looked at me over her glasses. "Four more? We've got enough volunteers. I'll ask Janice if she can make more costumes."

I nodded, considering the space available in the Boys and Girls Club. The new director had provided an entire wing for this year's haunted house, which would be the centerpiece of the West Riverdale Halloween Festival. We had less than two weeks until opening night, and again, the amazing Erica Russell had been talked into taking the reins. If she wasn't careful, she'd find herself in charge of the Thanksgiving Parade and Winter Holiday Fair too.

I watched her smile as she updated the staffing spreadsheet. She'd love taking on all of them.

"Hey, Michelle. Can I be a zombie?" Dylan Fenton carried a small box of books from the back of the store.

Dylan was Chocolates and Chapters' new high school intern, a position Erica had invented when she'd heard about his plight from our teacher friends. After a scandalous affair with the married soccer coach, Dylan's mother had left West Riverdale over the summer and moved to Florida. Dylan had started skipping school to avoid the snide comments from fellow students. The job gave him a safe haven and access to his most favorite thing in the world-comic books. He didn't mind my chocolates either.

"Sure thing," I said.

Erica made a note on her computer.

"Cool!" He dropped the box on the stool beside her. Dylan was small for his age, taking after his mother, with dark hair that fell over his eyes.

"Are those the new Superman?" she asked.

He tilted the box to show her the shipping label, and they both grinned. "Upstairs?" he asked.

"Put some aside for the club," she said.

Dylan was an enthusiastic member of Erica's comic book club. She'd started it when she realized a bunch of high school students drove every month to Frederick to get the latest comic books. They'd dubbed themselves the Superhero Geek Team, and Dylan and a few other members had volunteered for the Halloween Festival, looking forward to it with the eagerness of toddlers waiting for Christmas. Or Disneyland. Or Christmas at Disneyland.

I rolled my eyes at their passion for superheroes in skinny books and grabbed another cup of coffee. We'd been up late hammering nails into too many realistic-looking coffins from the time our store closed until after midnight, and my body was protesting.

Erica returned to her laptop and frowned. "Maybe we should get a few more volunteers to help the Duncans with the last stage of construction. They're a day behind."

I waved my hand. "They'll catch up." Harold and his son Sammy ran Duncan Hardware Store and had donated most of the supplies.

"Probably," Erica said. "But Harold hurt his back yesterday building the guillotine. He might appreciate the help."

I smiled at her proper accent-gee-a-teen-and gave in, of course. "Go for it," I said.

Harold and Sammy had already worked wonders. They'd built a false floor out of acrylic. When customers walked on it, lights flashed, showing motorized rats underneath. A mechanical spider the size of a small cow peered from a storage closet and clacked its legs when people passed by, and a hallway had been transformed into a zombie prison, where our volunteers would reach through the bars as customers walked by.

The booth for Chocolates and Chapters was carefully placed right outside the exit, like the gift shops at entertainment parks, where it was guaranteed to get a lot of traffic. I'd had a lot of fun creating my "spooky" truffles, especially Booberry Whites, creamy white chocolate filled with tart blueberry-infused milk chocolate ganache in the shape of blue-eyed ghosts. The Screamin' Orange Milks were filled with tangy orange ganache that made taste buds pucker before flooding them with sweetness. And the Mummy Wraps had the same biting cherry ganache as my Black Forest Milks, but were covered in white icing ribbons to look like mummies with tiny black eyes peeking through.

"What's on the list for me?" I asked. We were hosting another committee meeting at the shop in just a few hours, and I liked to know what to expect.

We heard a screech and turned to see a hearse park in front of the store. I'd almost gotten used to seeing it there, especially since Dylan had started working for us. The owner, Tommy Voltz, had bought the thing at auction as soon as he got his driver's license. He decorated it in year-round Halloween glory, like the neighbor who never took down his Christmas decorations. Today, he'd placed a fake skeleton in the backseat with its arm hanging out the window.

We weren't surprised to see both Tommy and Quinn Perch get out of the car and come in. They were good friends of Dylan's and members of the comic book club. Tommy wore his trademark black T-shirt, black jeans and black biker boots. Quinn was about half his size with big eyes that reminded me of a cartoon character. She wore a bright red coat that swung around her knees.

"It smells amazing in here," Quinn said.

"Thanks," I said. "It must be your lucky day, because I need a taste tester for these." I put a few Booberry Whites onto a plate and handed them to her. "Dylan's upstairs."

Quinn thanked me profusely and they headed up the wooden staircase that led to the second floor. Erica and I were both grateful for their steadfast friendship with Dylan, especially defending him against the bullies at school. Tommy was the size of a small grizzly, but he was as gentle as a teddy bear. He'd still used his bulk to intimidate Dylan's tormentors, while Quinn had fought back with scathing sarcasm.

Their efforts must have worked, because Dylan stopped skipping school and had lost the haunted expression he'd worn after his mother had left.

Erica stood and picked up her laptop. "Nothing new for your festival to-do list," she said. "But on a different note, we're meeting with Phoenix on Thursday. He needs both of our P&Ls from this quarter. He also wants a projection on our marketing plans running up to the holidays."

"Ugh." I liked to complain about getting the numbers ready for our accountant, but unless we were having a hard month, like when no-carb diets were all the rage, it was helpful and kinda fun to get a financial snapshot of how my business was doing.

Erica and I had joined together my chocolate shop and her family's bookstore over a year before to create Chocolates and Chapters, a match made in heaven that no one could resist. I loved making and selling my delicious truffles, while she enjoyed managing the bookstore and running a rare and used books business on the side.

Erica had been one of Phoenix Keogh's earliest clients when he started his accounting business five years ago, and even now, when he had customers all over Maryland who were much larger than us, he treated us like VIPs.

The jingling of the bells on our doorknob announced the arrival of our first customers, if we could call them that. Bean Russell came into the shop with Bobby Simkin, and my brain instantly melted, along with various other parts of my body.

Bean was Erica's older brother, a world-renowned reporter and author. His first book had become a freakin' bestseller. He was also one of my brother, Leo's, best friends, and was staying with him since he'd come back home. And I was dating him. "Complicated" wasn't a complicated enough word to describe all the relationship issues that might entangle us. But it was worth it. Or at least I hoped it was.

Bobby touched the strand of gold on Erica's neck and ran his hand down her arm before sitting beside her at the counter. He was one of West Riverdale's police officers, as well as Erica's boyfriend. He'd just given her the gold necklace with a gold pendant in the shape of a book, which was perfect for her.

How I felt about seeing Bean must have been obvious, because he grinned. He may have even blushed a bit. "Good morning," he said in a rough tone, reminding me of our make-out session in a dark room of the Boys and Girls Club the night before. Since Erica and I were so busy with the store and the Halloween Festival, Bean and Bobby volunteered for haunted house construction duty whenever they could.

"The usual?" I asked them both, feeling a little breathless.

"Sounds good," Bean said, and Bobby nodded.

I started on their coffee.

"You guys busy today?" Erica asked.

Her innocent tone didn't fool them for a minute. "No way," Bean said. "We're going fishing with Leo, not working on that haunted house."

Erica was about to protest, until she heard my brother's name. "How's he doing?" she asked.

"Getting better," Bean said, but I could tell he wasn't being completely honest.

Leo had been back from the war in Afghanistan for a few years. Physically, he'd healed from the loss of his leg, but his fight against PTSD would probably last a lifetime. In the last several months, he'd actually been happy. But something changed a couple of weeks ago. He had a motorcycle accident, and even though he and his girlfriend, Star, had walked away with only minor injuries, Leo seemed to be on the brink of depression once again.

"It'll be okay," Bean said. "We'll cheer him up today."

I nodded as the first customers drifted in after church in their Sunday finest, but my concern about Leo clung like a black cloud in the back of my mind.

WeÕd scheduled our Halloween Festival meeting for one oÕclock, when our assistants came in to take over.

Yvonne Nicola was the first to arrive. "Good afternoon!" she called out as she set down two bags from Hole in One Donuts along with her huge purse filled with papers on the back table we'd reserved for the festival committee meeting.

My mouth watered instinctively. Hole in One had opened in the town of Normal, where Yvonne now lived, and she liked to thank the committee with treats. Even though Chocolates and Chapters sold tortes along with our truffles, we all loved those glazed and filled pastries.

Yvonne was the new director of the West Riverdale Boys and Girls Club and was thrilled about all aspects of the festival, especially the money we predicted it would raise. She was over forty years old, and had the body and energy of someone fifteen years younger. She had shiny eyes that looked like someone had painted a white sparkle right on her eyeball. It made her enthusiasm even more engaging. Her children had gained a great deal from the club's after-school programs when they were younger, and she worked hard to make it just as valuable for the next group of kids.

Erica set down a huge three-ring binder full of printouts of the project plan, opened her laptop, and took a seat.

Jolene and Steve Roxbury came in, Steve wearing a Doctor Who TARDIS T-shirt that made him look like a blue phone booth. They both taught at West Riverdale High School, and were regularly drafted for Erica's projects, especially those involving students. Jolene always did an excellent job motivating her drama kids to volunteer, and Steve did wonders with his science club students.

By the time I served them their favorite truffles-the Bacon and Smoked Salt Milks, a sweet and salty mix they both adored-Janice the Costume Lady had arrived. I put a few Irish Cream Milks on a plate for her, and brought the decaf coffee she preferred.

"Hi, Janice," I said. "Thanks for coming to the meeting. Please keep all of the gore out of sight." She nodded her head, not at all offended by the reminder. Maybe because she realized the error of her ways at the last meeting, when she'd pulled out samples of zombie T-shirts with what looked like bloody intestines made out of pink material hanging from them. My next-door neighbor had been about to buy a dozen of my mummy-shaped Black Forest Milks and had bolted out the door instead.

Erica started. "Let's talk about the haunted house first," she said, "because that's the biggest part of the festival." She unfolded a layout of the Boys and Girls Club. "The guillotine room, the chain-saw massacre room and the rat floor are done."

Steve pointed to an unused room near the vampire corner on the layout. "Should we stick something in there?"

I blushed when I realized that's where Bean had kissed me last night.

"One of the students suggested we should use it as a quiet room, where the volunteers can take their breaks without coming outside in costume," Erica said. "It has a refrigerator, and the students dragged some beanbag chairs into it."

Jolene and Steve looked at each other and laughed. "You better give them strict rules for that room and make sure a parent is around so there's no funny business going on in those chairs."

Good idea. Maybe some rules for the adult volunteers too.

Erica made a note. "The TV room is working well." Aside from the usual vampires, chain saws and mummies, Erica's tech guy and assistant for her rare and used book business, Zane West, had hung a bunch of huge TVs by the entrance with "terrifying" social media posts. As customers waited they'd see messages like OMG! John posted that photo of you at the party. Hurry and untag it before your mom sees it! or Click here to see Winston's missed shot at the buzzer again! or Your sister's YouTube song about your wreck of a love life is trending on social media!

She spread out the very complicated schedule of festival volunteer assignments. "I'd like to get more adults to participate."

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The national bestselling author of Truffled to Death returns with a mystery full of tricks and treats. DOUBLE, DOUBLE-BOIL, AND TROUBLE. Best friends and business partners Michelle and Erica have a monstrous to-do list as they prepare for the annual West Riverdale Halloween Festival. Their shop, Chocolates and Chapters, will have a booth at the event, where Michelle will serve spooky delights while Erica displays an assortment of spine-chilling books. Thank goodness the teenagers from Erica s comic-book club are chipping in to help. But one of their volunteers winds up in trouble after a woman s body is found in an abandoned house--with the teen s superhero key ring close by. The teen swears he didn t do it, but he s obviously hiding something--leaving Michelle and Erica with a witch s cauldron of questions. Soon they discover that the dead woman was tricking a whole bunch of people out of more than just treats. Now these two friends must go door-to-door if they hope to unmask a killer. Includes Scrumptious Chocolate-Making Recipes!. Seller Inventory # AAS9780425267257

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The national bestselling author of Truffled to Death returns with a mystery full of tricks and treats. DOUBLE, DOUBLE-BOIL, AND TROUBLE. Best friends and business partners Michelle and Erica have a monstrous to-do list as they prepare for the annual West Riverdale Halloween Festival. Their shop, Chocolates and Chapters, will have a booth at the event, where Michelle will serve spooky delights while Erica displays an assortment of spine-chilling books. Thank goodness the teenagers from Erica s comic-book club are chipping in to help. But one of their volunteers winds up in trouble after a woman s body is found in an abandoned house--with the teen s superhero key ring close by. The teen swears he didn t do it, but he s obviously hiding something--leaving Michelle and Erica with a witch s cauldron of questions. Soon they discover that the dead woman was tricking a whole bunch of people out of more than just treats. Now these two friends must go door-to-door if they hope to unmask a killer. Includes Scrumptious Chocolate-Making Recipes!. Seller Inventory # AAS9780425267257

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