Lovely people, it’s almost that time! Beaufort Scales’ fourth cozy mystery, Game of Scones, is releasing on the 1st of November! What better way to eat up all the Halloween treats you hid from the trick-or-treaters than during a cake-festooned reading session?
You can grab your ebook pre-order at Amazon or the retailer of your choice, and the paperback will be available to order in the last week of October too. I’m so excited about this book, as it was so much fun to write and reveals a little more about Alice, among others.
Now I’m going to get out of the way and let you read that first chapter! Read on, lovely people!
Game of Scones
A Beaufort Scales Mystery, Book 4.
Bribery. Corruption. Murder.
Who said local politics were boring?
Suspicious deaths on the Skipton city council don’t sound as though they should have anything at all to do with the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and DI Adams would rather like to keep it that way. But when the councillor for Toot Hansell becomes the latest victim, Alice Martin, chair of the W.I. and RAF Wing Commander (ret.), steps straight in to take his place.
Before DI Adams can so much as say lemon drizzle cake the ladies of the Women’s Institute are lurking around farmyards in the company of dragons, farmers are vanishing, the invisible dog’s developed a caffeine dependence, and Alice is already in as deep as she can get.
In deep, and facing a killer that seems to know far too much about her.
Enough, perhaps, to turn the tables …
Murder, mayhem, and old secrets come to light in the Yorkshire Dales – with dragons, of course.
Chapter One – Alice.
Councillor Thomas Wright, a light sheen of sweat on his forehead due to either the surprisingly warm Yorkshire sun or the close proximity of the ten ladies of the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, leaned over the table and peered at the contents of a large glass bowl.
“Um,” he said. “Is this … are these potatoes meant to be blue?”
“I used Blue Danube potatoes,” Jasmine said, her face pink with the heat. “I bought them especially.”
Alice leaned in next to Thomas and examined the salad as he poked it with the serving spoon. The thing with Blue Danubes was that they weren’t actually blue. The skin was a lovely purple colour, and they made for very nice roasties, but not only had she never used them in a salad, she’d never seen any salad this colour. The potatoes were the colour of the bluebells down by the river, and the mayonnaise dressing had the delightful azure tones of a beach holiday brochure.
“Should I eat it?” Thomas whispered to her. “I don’t want to be rude.”
“Just put some on the side of your plate,” Alice said. “And make sure you don’t get any on your shirt.”
“It actually tastes rather nice,” Rose said. She was sitting in a round-bottomed chair in the flower-crowded confines of Rosemary’s garden, her feet swinging.
“Your lips are blue,” Alice observed.
Rose shrugged and turned her attention to a feta and spinach pastry.
“I think the last time I had anything that blue was when we used to get blue ice lollies,” Teresa said, then patted Jasmine’s arm. “They were very nice, too.”
“I just thought it’d be a bit summery,” Jasmine said. “You know, something different.”
“It’s perfectly lovely,” Rose said. “I think it’s just the colour putting people off.” Her teeth had taken on an interesting turquoise tinge.
Jasmine frowned. “The colour? It’s a blue potato salad. It says so right in the recipe.”
“The potatoes turned it this colour?” Gert asked. She had her face lifted to the sun, heavy arms flushed with heat. “Where did you get them from, Smurf’s Produce?”
Alice managed not to laugh as Jasmine put her hands on her hips. “They’re Blue Danubes. Blue potatoes!”
“Well, it’s very interesting,” Thomas said, seating himself in a slightly unsteady folding chair. “It’s good to be adventurous with one’s cooking.”
“Interesting is one word,” Teresa said.
“Don’t listen to them, love,” Rose said, lifting another forkful of salad. “All the more for me.”
“I have to admit I’ve never seen potatoes quite this blue,” Alice said, spooning some bulgar wheat salad onto her plate. It was full of herbs and seeds and fat cherry tomatoes, and looked rather like a Miriam creation. “Blue Danubes, you said?”
“Well.” Jasmine twisted a napkin in her hands. “That’s what the man at the market said they were, but they didn’t stay that colour at all, so I don’t know if I believe him. It was most disappointing.”
The women looked at the blue salad for a long moment without speaking. Thomas moved his serving carefully to the side of the plate, where it couldn’t touch anything else.
“They didn’t stay blue?” Alice said finally.
“No, they just went sort of dull and boring-looking. So I put some colouring in.”
Gert burst out laughing, and Alice covered her mouth.
“What?” Jasmine demanded. “He said they were blue! I was counting on it!”
“Very adventurous,” Thomas repeated.
The Toot Hansell Women’s Institute were taking advantage of a particularly warm and windless day, and were holding their meeting in Rosemary’s fragrant, sunny garden rather than in the confines of the village hall. An old green table had been covered with a Provençal-style tablecloth and loaded with Tupperware containers and trays and bowls, all overfull with salads and quiches and little cheese-stuffed pastries, and, oddly, pigs in blankets. Alice had a suspicion that was Rose, who seemed to be using her recent eighty-eighth birthday as a reason to become distinctly eccentric. Alice had mixed feelings about eccentricity. On the one hand, she didn’t see any reason to act as society expected, other than in the instance of laws (and even those could be open to interpretation). On the other hand, it seemed a little … careless. Although making pigs in blankets for summer lunches and turning up with different coloured hair each week were hardly things she could disapprove of.
She sat back in her folding chair, crossing her feet neatly at the ankles, and said to Thomas, “It was very good of you to take the time to come and talk to us.”
“Oh, well.” Thomas had exchanged his plate (still bearing a scoop of blue potato salad) for a large glass of elderflower cordial and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. “You ladies were wonderful supporters when I decided to run for council. And it’s always a pleasure to spend time with you.”
Alice thought that was laying it on a bit thick, but that was politicians for you. Never knew when to stop.
“Go on, then,” Gert said. “Give us your spiel.”
“My spiel?” Thomas wiped his face with a napkin.
“You know the one. We should donate money, or re-elect you, or whatever, because …?”
“I, well, yes.” He took a large swig of cordial, then spluttered. “Is this alcoholic?”
“Oh, sorry,” Teresa leaned over and took his glass, replacing it with a new one. “That’s Gert’s cordial. Adults only.”
“It’s only slightly alcoholic,” Gert protested, and Rose raised her glass.
“I’ll stick with plain, thanks,” Thomas said, taking a cautious sip from the new glass, then relaxing. “I still have some driving to do.”
“Nothing wrong with a little tipple in the afternoon,” Carlotta said. “In the old country—”
“You were all having pints down the pub at 10 a.m.?” Rosemary suggested.
Carlotta glared at her. “No.”
“Funny, whenever I’ve been to Manchester—”
“Ladies,” Alice said, before Carlotta could throw her Victoria Sponge at Rosemary. “Thomas, you were going to talk to us about the proposed communal garden project.”
“Yes.” He looked nervously at Rosemary and Carlotta, but they were both watching him with interest. “So, naturally, we are aware that you ladies do a fantastic job with flowers and so on, but there have been some wonderful programmes popping up about the country where public areas are being transformed into food gardens.”
“I like that idea,” Priya said. “Everyone should have the opportunity to grow their own food.”
“Until some silly sod steals it, or digs it all up for fun,” Teresa pointed out.
“No one would do that around here!” Pearl said.
“I think it’d be okay,” Miriam said. “I put all my extra veg in a box by the gate, and no one’s ever stolen anything.”
There was a pause, then Gert said, “You don’t charge for it, Miriam.”
“I know! But I mean, no one clears it out or anything.”
“Well,” Thomas started, and Rose interrupted him.
“We should have wildflowers. For the bees.”
“My Ben’s allergic to bees,” Jasmine said.
“He’s a police officer,” Priya said.
“So? They can be allergic to stuff!”
“Bees are probably allergic to him,” Rose said. “They still need homes!”
“We were going to have insect houses,” Thomas offered, wiping his forehead.
“Are you too hot?” Pearl asked. “We need more shade. Do you want to move under the trees?”
“I’ve got an umbrella,” Rosemary said, pushing herself out of her chair.
“No, no, I’m fine.” Thomas folded his napkin and smiled at them all. “As I was saying—”
“Bees don’t live in insect houses,” Priya said.
“Honeybees don’t,” Rose said. “Others do.”
“Honey would be nice,” Rosemary said.
Rose shook her head. “Oh, that’s a whole other thing. Hives and stuff.”
“Maybe we could mix wildflowers with the veggies?” Pearl offered. “You know, best of both worlds.”
“We should companion plant,” Miriam said. “It’s good for everyone then, and you don’t need to use pesticides.”
“Well, sometimes you need some,” Teresa said. “I mean, we’re not feeding the slugs of the world here.”
“Chickens,” Carlotta said. “In the old country we used chickens.”
“That does seem to be the right level of technology for Mancunians,” Rosemary said.
“I like chickens,” Priya put in, before Carlotta could respond. “Can we get chickens anyway?”
“Then we’ll have chickens wandering all over the village,” Jasmine said. “That’s not hygienic, surely?”
“At least we’ll know why they crossed the road,” Rose said, and cackled in delight.
Alice uncrossed her ankles and got up to refill her water glass as the W.I. argued about chickens and whether that would be any more problematic than the terrifying geese that lived in the duck pond, and took the jug of Gert’s cordial over to Thomas. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like some?”
He held his half-empty glass up. “I don’t suppose a little would hurt.”
“Sometimes it can even help.”
He snorted, and took a sip of the drink. “Do I take this as the W.I. being behind the idea, though?”
“I think it’s safe to say that, yes. We’ll be happy to help.”
“Thank you. That would be wonderful. I think this project could be really good, and if it works it may even get pushed to other villages.”
Alice nodded. “Toot Hansell isn’t exactly like other villages, though.”
“I think that’s a pretty safe statement.” There was the clang of a mobile phone, and Thomas fished in the pockets of his jacket where it hung over the back of the chair. Alice sat back down, not wanting to intrude, but she couldn’t miss the way Thomas’ shoulders tightened, the way he leaned forward in his chair with the phone clasped between his knees as he opened the message. She couldn’t see his face for a moment, just the way his forehead grew lines and the reddened skin showed through his hair. Then he straightened up, sliding the phone back into his pocket.
“Is everything alright?” Alice asked.
“Yes.” He gave her a singularly unconvincing smile. “Someone wanted me to go and meet them, but it can wait. We have gardens to discuss!”
And he waved at Rose, declaring that she was entirely right and they must do all they could for the bees, then told Miriam that companion planting was a wonderful idea, but he was concerned about the chickens.
Alice was also concerned about the chickens, not least because she knew of a certain dragon who had a habit of stealing poultry with the intention of releasing the helpless things into the wild. But that wasn’t exactly something she could bring up in front of a town councillor. So she listened and nodded, and wondered if she could detect an odd, unhappy note in the man’s voice despite his cheerfulness.
* * *
It was late afternoon by the time Alice and Miriam walked home across the village green, the shadows lazy on the ground, the heat of the day still heavy on their shoulders. Miriam looked pink and flushed from the sun, and Alice was pleased she’d worn a hat. Her bare arms were a shade too warm, despite a generous application of sunscreen. It was one of those summer days that seemed to belong to childhood memories and Enid Blyton books, all high blue skies and empty streets and birds calling to each other in the trees.
The village green was spotted with people sprawled in the long grass, caught up in books or one another, and little groups flung balls and Frisbees and, in one case, a dragon scale glider through the still air, catching the lowering sun.
“Look at that!” Miriam said. “Mortimer would be so pleased!”
“It’s behaving very well,” Alice said. Mortimer made dragon scale baubles and gliders in the hills beyond the village, and Miriam sold them for him on Etsy. The baubles did exceptionally well at Christmas, but the gliders and boats that bloomed when they touched the water had been slower to take off. It was nice to see one being used, catching the sun as it looped and glittered above the soft grass of the green. “Miriam, did you notice Thomas was acting a little oddly after lunch?”
“I thought it might have been the potato salad that unnerved him.”
“A reasonable assumption, but no. He received a phone message, and after that he seemed quite … off.”
Miriam looked at the ground as if it had offended her. “I didn’t notice.”
“Something about the message definitely upset him. I wonder if it had anything to do with Angela Pearson retiring?”
“Why would it? She just retired. And he wouldn’t have his seat if she hadn’t.”
“Yes, but she was rather committed and passionate about everything. Don’t you remember when she came to talk to us? That was only a few months ago, and she just gave everything up all of a sudden.”
“Maybe she’s not well,” Miriam said, still frowning at the ground.
“Thomas said she went on a cruise.”
“Well, there we go. Going on a cruise with all those people! She obviously wasn’t well at all.”
Alice shared a very similar opinion of cruises and organised tours, but not everyone did. “It does seem odd, though. To be so dedicated, then just to throw in the towel and go off around the world.”
Miriam sighed and looked at Alice finally. “Maybe she just re-evaluated her life and decided going travelling was more important than dealing with village flower beds and parking areas. You’re not looking for something to investigate, are you, Alice?”
“Of course I’m not. I was just saying it seemed strange.”
“Well, I don’t think it does. And I’ve had enough investigating to last me a lifetime.”
“No one said there was anything to investigate, dear.” Alice rather thought that investigating added a certain spice to retirement. Quite accidentally – well, mostly accidentally – they’d become caught up in two murder investigations and a kidnapping over the last year. Miriam hadn’t grown used to it at all, and still seemed to find the whole thing very stressful. Alice assumed it was because she was a civilian. They were rarely quite as prepared for criminal activity.
Miriam was still regarding Alice somewhat suspiciously and not looking where she was going. She tripped over something and managed to tangle her feet in the hem of her floating skirt, stumbling forward to the accompaniment of tearing stitches. “Oh no!”
“Oh dear.” Alice relieved the younger woman of her hessian shopping bag so that she could investigate the rip. “It’s just the seam, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But I love this skirt!” She gathered the soft material – deep blue-green and shot through with glittery threads – in her hands. “You see? This is all because you mentioned investigating!”
Alice hmph-ed. “I believe you brought it up. And if you didn’t take on so about it, it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Miriam looked as if she was about to make an uncharacteristically rude retort, but at that moment there was the sound of a revving engine. The women frowned at each other. Toot Hansell was not the sort of place people sped through. The streets were narrow and shaded by leaning trees and stone walls, and there was far too much risk of encountering a wandering duck or sheep. Potentially chickens before long, too. They turned toward the noise, looking across the green to where the duck pond sheltered under the willows, with a low fence protecting it from the street beyond. The engine was running much too loud and fast, and tyres screeched on a corner.
“Who on earth is that?” Miriam asked.
Alice glanced around. People were looking toward the noise with lazy interest, and the engine screamed as the driver changed gear. It must be coming up the lane right beyond the duck pond. The geese were honking nervously, and they followed the ducks as the smaller birds took flight, squawking their panic. A man who had been floating a model boat in the pond grabbed it and backed away as the engine grew louder. She couldn’t hear brakes, couldn’t hear another car, and she had a moment to wonder what the driver was running from before there was a hungry crunch of breaking wood and the man by the pond sprinted across the green. A bright red Toyota exploded through the low fence from the road like a charging hippopotamus, sending shards of wood flying. The car shot between two willow trees, sliding on reeds and lilies, its momentum carrying it across the soft ground, and plunged nose first into the duck pond with the engine still screaming. Its back end caught up with it and tilted to the sky as if the little car was trying to do a headstand before dropping slowly back to the bank, and a pale, watery woman with dark hair surfaced next to it.
“Really,” she said, and put webbed hands on her hips. “Humans.”
Alice dropped her bags and broke into a run, her hip twinging. She recognised that car.
She had a feeling Thomas was no longer on the council.
That’s all for this week – pop back next Wednesday for chapter two, or get your pre-order in now (or for Amazon, here)! And if you’ve not signed up for the newsletter, go do that below. Not only will you keep updated with news on new releases and giveaways, but I’ll send you a book of Beaufort Scales short stories as a little thank you from me to you. Because you are entirely wonderful.
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Happy reading, lovely people!