Once upon a Grind (Coffeehouse Mysteries, Book 14)

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9781483038568: Once upon a Grind (Coffeehouse Mysteries, Book 14)
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[Read by Rebecca Gibel]

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Billionaire Blend comes an enchanting new entry in the "satisfyingly rich" Coffeehouse Mystery series.
 Includes wicked good recipes. When coffeehouse manager turned amateur sleuth Clare Cosi serves "magic" beans for a Fairy Tale Fall event, she brews up a vision that leads to a sleeping beauty in Central Park; a big, bad wolf of Wall Street; and an East Side enclave with storybook secrets...
Fairy tale fever has descended on New York City. Broadway fans are flocking to Red Riding Hood: The Musical; museums are exhibiting art inspired by the Brothers Grimm; and Clare Cosi and her merry band of baristas give their coffee truck a "Jack and the Beanstalk" makeover for a Central Park festival. Clare's coffee hunter ex-husband contributes a bag of African beans with alleged magical properties. His octogenarian mother entertains customers with readings of the grinds, but Clare remains skeptical--until she receives a vision that helps her find a young model's body in the park's woods. The police dismiss "sleeping beauty" as the victim of a drug overdose. Then Clare uncovers evidence that points to a list of suspects--from a New York Giant to quite a few wicked witches--and a cold case murder that reaches back to the Cold War. Now Clare is really in the woods with a dangerous predator on her heels and an investigation that leads from a secret Prince Charming Club right back to her own NYPD detective boyfriend. If she doesn't solve this mystery, those magic beans predict an unhappy ending.

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About the Author:

Cleo Coyle grew up in a small town near Pittsburgh. After earning scholarships to study writing at Carnegie Mellon and American University, she began her career as a cub reporter for the New York Times. Now an author of popular fiction and a New York Times bestselling author, Cleo lives and works in New York City, where she collaborates with her husband to pen the Coffeehouse Mysteries. Together Cleo and her husband also write the 'Haunted Bookshop Mysteries' under the name Alice Kimberly. When not haunting coffeehouses, hunting ghosts, or rescuing stray cats, Cleo and Marc cook like crazy and drink a lot of java.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

—Cleo Coyle,
New York City

PROLOGUE

Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair.

Linger not in the murderers’ lair . . .

—THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

IN the fading light of the dying day, the Princess glided along the tree-lined path, gossamer gown sparkling as if sprinkled with fairy dust. When she reached the Oak Bridge, she stopped.

“This way . . .” the Predator called.

The Princess studied the shadows. Little white teeth gnawed at pink fingernails. Finally, she stepped off the path, onto uncertain ground.

She had agreed to this meeting in the Ramble, the oldest section of Central Park. There were towering trees here and menacing boulders; cloudy streams and historic bridges. Most of all, there were thirty-eight acres of landscape magic—rustic paths that made an entire city disappear.

“Did you . . . did you make decision?” the Princess asked, her sweet voice betraying her Russian accent.

Forcing a smile, the Predator began a practiced speech, telling the girl everything she hoped to hear.

“Thank you,” the Princess replied, eyes filling with grateful tears. With a hard yank, she broke the valuable chain around her neck. A golden key dangled at the end of it. She held it out to the Predator.

“Now that deal is off, please take back.”

The Predator frowned. “I can’t take your key, Anya.”

“But you said I was free.”

“From me,” the Predator lied. “The rest is not my business.”

Anya hesitated. Then she nodded and turned to go, content in the belief that at least the deal between them was dead.

Not exactly, the Predator thought. “Anya, stop! Don’t move.”

The Princess froze. “What is problem?”

“Your gown is caught on a branch. Another step will ruin it.”

“Gown is special,” the Princess wailed. “I was told to take care!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll free it.”

Squatting in the dirt, the Predator pretended to fuss with the expensive fabric. “Princess Pink” is what they called it—more like bubble-headed bubble gum, the Predator thought, for it wasn’t the dress that was caught, but the girl who wore it.

“You are so kind to help,” the Princess said.

“Almost done,” the Predator promised, getting the needle ready. Leaning closer, the Predator whiffed the girl’s scent. She even smelled like all the others, the cloying perfume of eager sheep . . .

“Ouch!”

“Did I prick you? I’m sorry . . .”

“Is okay,” Anya said. “I am free now, yes?”

The Predator didn’t answer, simply watched the sparkling shroud drift away, through the trees and whispering leaves. In mere minutes, shadows would lengthen; the late afternoon breeze would take on a corpselike chill. That’s when the drug would do its work, and this beauty—like the troublesome little pet she was—would be put to sleep.

The Predator smiled at a job well done, barely hearing the tinny speakers of the Delacorte Theater, quieting brats with an ancient phrase.

“Once upon a time . . .”

ONE

Control your own destiny or someone else will.

—JACK WELCH

Once upon that morning . . .

“WHAT’S the matter with you, Clare? Don’t you want a little magic in your life?”

My ex-husband thrummed his fingers on our coffee truck’s countertop.

I refilled the napkin holders, ignoring him.

“Come on,” he pressed, “nearly every member of our staff has visited our resident gypsy, everyone but you.”

“I’ve told you, Matt. I’ve sworn off fortune telling.”

“But today is special—”

“What will it take to get through to you? Maybe I should text you? Adopt our daughter’s favorite way of indicating emphasis by using periods after every word: I. Am. Not. Reading. Coffee. Grinds. Today.

“And I’m not asking you to. I simply want Madame Tesla to read yours.”

I took a breath for patience. This morning had started out so perfectly. The brisk October dawn had painted the sky with a golden light, making Central Park’s dewy grass glisten like a fairy glen. Even the chill in the air was ideal for enjoying my freshly roasted coffee.

New York’s favorite waking potion was something I usually brewed downtown, among the picturesque lanes of the historic West Village. But today I’d joined a few of my baristas on our coffee truck. By 8 AM, we were stocked up and parked in our assigned spot with the other food vendors near Central Park’s Turtle Pond, a stone’s throw from the Delacorte Theater, home of Shakespeare in the Park.

The only real challenge facing me at this early hour was Matteo Allegro—my former partner in marriage and current partner in business.

“Look, Matt, I realize you’re trying to get some buzz going for these so-called ‘magic beans’ you’ve sourced from Ethiopia, but you’re the one handling the Seer’s tent. Why do I have to be involved?”

“Our gypsy knows you learned tasseography from your grandmother. If you don’t let her show off for you, she’ll be insulted, and—”

“Tell me the truth.”

“I did. That’s the reason!” One look at my expression and he threw up his hands. “Look, even if it isn’t, what harm is there in humoring a nice old lady?” Matt’s big, brown bedroom eyes were now blinking at me. This was his “hurt little boy” look, the one designed to make me feel guilty.

Unfortunately, it did. But like a lot of things that preyed upon me lately, I ignored it.

“I’m too busy,” I said.

“You are not—” Matt tapped his watch. “The Kingdom doesn’t open for another hour . . .”

“The Kingdom” was New York’s inaugural Storybook Kingdom, a weekend festival celebrating the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, and classic literary characters beloved by children of all ages. In sixty minutes, families would be streaming into this Central Park compound for arts and crafts, costume contests, even a Fairy Tale Village with jugglers, puppeteers, and knights in shining armor. The whole production was dreamed up by the mayor’s office. And since Matt’s mother—our esteemed octogenarian employer—happened to sit on the Fairy Tale Fall events committee, we were roped into service.

“You’re done setting up, aren’t you?” Matt pressed.

“Yes, but the festival staff has kept us hopping since we parked. Here comes another wave . . .”

Matt stepped back as Esther and I filled coffee drink orders for two knights, a court jester, and a half-dressed dragon. When I looked up again, I saw that Matt’s focus on fortune telling had finally shifted—to a slinky princess in scarlet.

The young woman’s gown had a full, filmy skirt that sparkled in the morning sun. Its stunning red color was repeated in the bright streaks streaming through her soot black, chin-length hair.

“Has Pink Princess come by for coffee?” she asked Matt, her low voice hinting at a Russian accent.

“I don’t know. What does the Pink Princess look like?”

The Red Princess laughed. “If you saw her, you would not be asking! My friend is gorgeous. Long blond hair, nearly to waist, and she is very much taller than I.”

“Sorry, I haven’t seen her,” Matt replied.

“If you do, tell her to call Red.”

Matt smiled. “You have a phone in that getup?”

“Is strapped to my thigh,” the girl informed him with a playful wink. “And is set on vibrate. Want to see?”

I shook my head, hardly surprised by the flirtation. Well into his forties, my ex was old enough to be the young woman’s father, yet his muscular good looks and world-traveler ease made him the most attractive man in sight.

When we were married, Matt’s standard uniform was paint-stained jeans and a flannel shirt. Now that he’d hitched himself to a fashion-forward spouse, Matt was slicker than a GQ cover model.

Today’s ensemble featured a jacket of stag brown suede tailored to his broad shoulders. His dark hair looked rakish against his bronzed complexion, burnished from a recent sourcing trip to East Africa. His toothy smile dazzled and his dark eyes smoldered. The true trick to Matt’s appeal, however, was his appetite. When Matt liked a woman, he let her know it. And he pretty much liked them all.

Of course, none of these things enchanted me. When you’ve lived behind a magician’s curtain long enough, tricks lose their thrill.

What did surprise me was my ex-husband’s rejection of Red’s less than subtle invitation to watch her phone vibrate.

“Ah, no, that’s okay . . .” He told her, rubbing the back of his neck. He actually looked a little embarrassed. “But I’ll keep an eye out for your friend.”

Red didn’t appear bothered in the least by Matt’s response.

“You are a prince!” she declared, and in a gesture that would prove astoundingly prophetic, she raised her fairy wand and tapped Matt’s forehead before gliding away.

TWO

“WHO was that young woman?”

“The Red Princess,” Matt replied with a shrug. “She’s looking for her friend, the Pink Princess. How many princesses are in this Kingdom anyway?”

“I don’t know, but do me a favor and keep your pants on. This is a fall fantasy, not a male fantasy.”

“Give me a little credit, will you? That girl is our daughter’s age. Now where’s Dante?”

Dante Silva was my artista barista—fine arts painter by day, java jockey by night.

“Why do you need Dante?”

“I want him to relieve you so you can visit the fortune-telling tent.”

I resisted the urge to scream. “He’s busy inflating the balloon Giant out back.”

“Balloon Giant?”

“It’s part of our Jack and the Beanstalk theme.” I used my finger to draw a giant air circle. “Are you blind?”

“Oh, is that what these dangling vinyl vines on the truck are for? And the fake cow by the picnic tables?”

“Perceptive, aren’t we?”

“Not entirely.” Matt smirked. “For instance, I have no idea why you’re dressed like a Tyrolean peasant. Unless your boyfriend has a secret Alpine fetish.”

“Leave Mike Quinn out of this.”

“I don’t know . . .” Matt made a show of looking over my ruffled white blouse, laced bodice, and Oktoberfest-worthy dirndl skirt. “It’s kind of sexy.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Not entirely. Who wouldn’t go for the shapely wench at the rustic tavern? Your flatfoot certainly would—if you grabbed a beer stein, showed a little more cleavage, and lost the babushka.”

“I think it’s time you got lost.”

“Touchy this morning, aren’t you?” Matt regarded my outfit again. “Who are you supposed to be playing anyway, Eva Braun?”

“I’m Jack’s mother.”

“Fine, Mrs. Beanstalk, then answer me this: Why does Esther have a musical instrument in her beehive?” He pointed to the large and lovely barista pulling shots at our espresso machine.

“Hey, I heard that!” Esther Best pushed up her black, rectangular glasses and pointed right back at Matt. “No harping on my headgear, Signor Boss-o!”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Esther is playing the part of the Magic Harp,” I explained. “Given her fondness for reciting urban epics, we all thought it was apropos—and so did her rapper boyfriend.”

“Thanks to Boris, my harp actually plays!” With a tilt of her high-haired head, she plucked out a tinny version of “On Top of Old Smokey.”

Matt gawked. “I don’t recall a harp in Jack and the Beanstalk.”

“You would if you’d read it to our daughter repeatedly for the better part of her fifth year,” I reminded him. “The year you practically lived in Hawaii.”

“That was business!” The hurt look was back on the man’s face, but this time it was genuine. “Those were boom times for Kona, Clare, and I was setting up trade with Japan.”

“Now who’s touchy?”

Okay, I confess chastising the man about his failures as a father was low. Matt had worked hard in recent years to make things up to me and Joy—and, honestly, with my daughter’s ongoing culinary career in Paris, he now saw her more than I did. I was about to apologize when a high-pitched scream rang out.

We all froze—until we saw Nancy Kelly, our youngest barista, barreling out of Madame Tesla’s colorful little tent. She ran right for me, wheat braids flying, arms flapping.

“Boss, boss! You have to visit Madame Tesla. She’s so amazingly authentic!”

Matt arched an eyebrow. “I told you.”

“She gave me a great reading!” Nancy said. “And she told me to tell you she’s waiting for you!”

Matt raised his arm and (not unlike the Grim Reaper) pointed at the tent.

“I can’t! I’m too busy!” As I frantically resumed swabbing the counter, Nancy climbed back into the truck.

“Ms. Boss, you look white as a ghost. What’s your problem?”

“Only one,” Matt said. “She’s crazy.”

“Tell me.” Nancy touched my shoulder. “Why are you so afraid of reading coffee grinds?”

I met the girl’s gaze. “Because I can see bad things.”

“What kind of bad things?”

“Death. I can see it coming.”

THREE

MATT shook his head. “Stop being melodramatic.”

“It’s true,” I said. “Have you forgotten? I saw your death.”

“But I didn’t die!”

“You almost did!”

“But I didn’t.”

For several seconds, we glared in silence at each other. Then he tilted his head at Esther and Nancy, who’d gone wide-eyed over our nonmarital spat.

“Let’s not do this in front of the children.”

He was right. I could see our employees wanted details. Esther began to ask, and Matt changed the subject—to Nancy’s head.

“Speaking of death,” he said. “Why is Nancy wearing a dead bird?”

Nancy touched her elaborate headpiece. “That’s not a dead bird! It’s the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.”

“And your face is painted gold because—”

“I’m the Golden Egg, silly!”

“You’re dressed as an egg with a goose as a hat, and I’m silly?”

“She wanted to play the Golden Goose,” Esther noted, “but her costume couldn’t fit behind the counter.”

“So I compromised,” Nancy explained.

“Because Nancy is a good egg,” I said simply.

Matt folded his arms. “Well, I hope you don’t expect me to play Jack because I have no intention of putting on some ridiculous—”

“Dante is playing Jack,” I said, “even though you have more in common with the role.”

“Excuse me?”

“She’s right,” Esther said. “You were sent into the world at a tender age by your widowed mother—”

“And you forged your own destiny by obtaining ‘magic beans’ from faraway places,” Nancy added.

There was a third parallel I could have made, but I kept it to myself.

Like Fairy Tale Jack, Matteo Allegro had developed a dangerous addiction. For Jack, it was the giant’s wife. For Matt, the addiction was cocaine, which led to that near-fatal overdose, the one I’d predicted in a reading of his coffee grinds.

It was a miracle Matt had survived, and after months of rehab, he was finally able to chop down his need to get...

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9780425270868: Once Upon a Grind (A Coffeehouse Mystery)

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ISBN 10:  0425270866 ISBN 13:  9780425270868
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Berkley, 2014
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9781410477842: Once Upon A Grind (A Coffeehouse Mystery)

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