It’s finally here! The last installment of the Magical Bookshop Mysteries has arrived! I am so glad that I am able to bring this final novel in the series to you and end the adored series right where I wanted it to end. It’s been hard to say good-bye to these characters and the world of Charming Books and Cascade Springs, but I know it’s time. Thank you for loving these books. This series would not have lived on so long without my amazing readers. I hope you love the end as much as I do. For Violet, Rainwater, Grandma Daisy, Faulkner, Emerson, all the other beloved characters found in this series, and for myself, thank you for reading!
Now enjoy this sneak peek!
CRIMES AND COVERS
“Violet, we have to talk about the wedding!” Sadie said as she bounced through the front door of Charming Books. Bouncing was Sadie’s main mode of movement. She wore a red dress with white faux fur trim and a matching red beret on her head. No one since the 1920s has loved a beret as much as Sadie. She was basically Tigger in a Mrs. Claus outfit.
In my arms, I held a stack of new fiction releases to be shelved as Sadie excitedly told me everything we needed to do for the big day.
“And then there is the cake, and the favors—you have to have favors because you don’t want to look cheap—and the candles—”
My head began to spin. I set the stack of books on one of the couches in front of the large fireplace, which ran at full steam in the middle of the winter. Charming Books was the bookstore I owned with my Grandma Daisy in the small village of Cascade Springs, New York. The village was only a fifteen-minute drive from the majestic Niagara Falls, and Decembers here were bitterly cold. The fireplace had been going around the clock since Halloween.
Faulkner, the shop crow, flapped his wings from the second lowest branch on the birch tree that grew in the middle of the bookshop. It was just after ten in the morning, and Faulkner liked a quiet snooze after his breakfast of fruit and peanuts. Being awakened by a bouncing Christmas elf was not on his agenda.
The birch tree was the soul of the bookstore and the heart of the its magic. Some might think all bookshops have magic because the books found on their shelves can transport readers away to new places. But, in the case of Charming Books, I meant it quite literally. The shop could talk… sort of… It was complicated.
Sadie twirled, and her skirt kicked out around her in a red ring. I was happy to see she was wearing leggings underneath her dress.
Emerson, my tuxedo cat, wound his way around my feet. I scooped him up and set him on the back of the couch. “Sadie, what do I have to do for the wedding? You and Grandma Daisy told me all I have to do is show up.” I was to marry my fiancé, Chief David Rainwater of the Cascade Springs Police Department, the weekend before Christmas. Rainwater was everything that I could want in a partner and husband. I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I still called him by his last name all the time, even though we were engaged. Old habits die hard and all that.
However, neither of us was excited about planning a wedding. After I offhandedly mentioned to my grandmother, Mayor Daisy Waverly of Cascade Springs—yes, my fiancé was the police chief and my grandmother was the mayor—she and Sadie took the wedding planning into their own hands. Rainwater and I had just held on for the ride.
“I know,” she said. “But the wedding is three days away. We have to get you ready.”
“Get me ready?” I squeaked.
“There’s your hair, makeup, nails. A juice cleanse is not out of the question.”
I tugged on the hem of my red Charming Books sweatshirt. “Oh, it is definitely out of the question. Trust me on that.”
She stopped twirling and dropped her arms, looking like a little girl who’d lost her balloon. Sadie was six years younger than me and was petite with silky black hair and a bright spirit. She had the best vintage wardrobe in the state since she owned Midcentury Vintage, the clothing boutique that was across River Road from Charming Books. She was the one of the first people to befriend me when I moved back to Cascade Springs and was like a younger sister to me. Making Sadie frown was never a goal of mine. I would have to compromise.
“You can paint my nails,” I said, hoping my lacquered olive branch would put an end to the juice cleanse conversation.
She clapped her hands. “Excellent!” She paused. “What juice flavors do you like the most? Lemon packs the biggest punch to rid your body of toxins.”
“As much as I love you, I’m still saying no to the juice cleanse.” I walked over to the sales counter and leaned against it.
“Okay, fine,” she conceded. “But Violet, you are getting married, and you’re acting like it’s no big deal.”
I might be acting like it was no big deal, but it was a huge deal. Massive. Colossal. The proof of it sat on the ring finger of my left hand. The bright green emerald glittered in the morning light streaming in from the skylight above the birch tree. Rainwater had told me that he knew I needed something unique, and the stone was as green as the leaves on the birch that I held so dear. It was his way of saying he not only accepted but supported my connection to this place and the tree. It was the perfect choice.
Sadie put her hands on her hips. “Aren’t you excited about the wedding?”
“I’m excited about being married to David,” I said. “The whole day is intimidating. Any time you and Grandma Daisy talk about it, it seems to grow bigger and bigger. We just wanted a small ceremony.”
“You know the whole village is invited, right?”
How well I knew that. We would get married here at Charming Books, but since we couldn’t possibly fit all the guests that my grandmother felt she was obligated to invite, we would be having the ceremony on the front porch of the bookstore. Grandma Daisy, in her capacity of mayor, would be officiating. Sadie was my maid-of-honor and Rainwater’s younger sister Danielle was his best woman. At least they let me keep the wedding party small like I’d wanted. I’d won a few small battles in the plans. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I’d won the war.
There was one more potential member of the wedding party—Fenimore James, my father. But I hadn’t spoken to him in months, and I didn’t know if he would attend. I didn’t even know if I wanted him to be there.
Sadie sighed. “Vi, we are so different. I want a huge wedding. It’s the one time in your life that you truly are the center of attention. When I get married, it will be a giant blowout and I won’t make apologies for that.”
I smiled. “And no one is asking you to.” Sadie’s dream might not be that far away. After years of chasing the wrong man, she had finally found a good and decent guy, Simon Chase, who was stable and over-the-moon in love with her. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she got a ring for Christmas.
“Now back to that manicure. My friend at the salon has an opening tomorrow morning. She can give you a hair trial too.”
I raised my brow. “An opening this close to Christmas?” I asked.
Sadie nodded. “We got lucky, two people just canceled. Don’t worry, no one else will snap it up. I already grabbed it and talked to Daisy about watching the store while you’re out. It will take a few hours.”
“Hours?” I squeaked, realizing that I squeak a lot when it came to listening to Sadie and Grandma Daisy’s plans.
“Well, we couldn’t do it before this because you were busy at the end of the semester. We have to cram everything together in one day. Don’t worry, we will get it done. I have an itinerary.”
I knew this was true. December was always a crazy time for me between the shop and the end of the semester at Springside Community College, where I was an adjunct English professor.
Before I could ask Sadie what exactly was on the itinerary, the front door of Charming Books opened and a delivery man walked inside.
He had so many boxes stacked in his arms that I couldn’t see his face, but I knew it had to be my delivery man.
“Hank!” I cried, and ran over to help. “What are you doing carrying all those boxes in at once? They are all books. You could throw your back out.” I took the top two boxes from the stack. When I did, I could see most of his narrow face turn into a wide grin.
Hank was a congenial man, close to Rainwater’s age, so somewhere near forty. He had a beard and wore the insignia jacket of his delivery company, NY Box. He was an inch or two shorter than I was and had a thin frame like he had run cross-country in high school.
He has been delivering to my store since early September. He told me once that he’d taken the delivery job to make some extra money for his family, especially for his ill daughter, and now planned to continue after the new year.
He placed the three remaining boxes on the hardwood floor by the sales counter. “Aww, you know I have to keep pushing myself to carry more. The more boxes I can deliver all at once, the more stops I can make and the more money I can earn. Also, you know I love coming here the most.” He rubbed his hands together. “What do you have for me today?”
I chuckled. “I’ve got a new teen romance in I know Abby will enjoy.” I walked to the stack of books that I had left on the couch and picked up a hardback with a glossy silver cover.
“I know Abby will love it. She has loved every book that you’ve given her,” Hank says. “We are so grateful to you for them. The books are huge comfort to her during treatment.”
I smiled. Hank’s fifteen-year-old daughter Abby had been in treatment for lymphoma for over a year. I knew how hard it was on Hank and the entire family. On a personal level, I knew how hard it was to watch because my mother died of cancer when I was close to Abby’s age.
“She will probably read the whole thing in one sitting.” Hank’s eyes glimmered. “How much is it?”
“No cost. It’s yours.” I held the book out to him.
Hank waved me away. “Violet, you can’t keep giving me books.”
I just smiled.
He sighed. “Someday I’ll be able to pay you back for all that you’ve given me.”’
“Just think of it as a tip for your great service delivering all the supplies we need for the shop.”
He chuckled. “Nice try, but my company doesn’t want us to take tips.”
“Okay, it’s not a tip then. It’s just a Christmas gift for Abby.” I held it out a little further.
He accepted the book. “I guess I can take a Christmas gift for my daughter. That’s different.”
“It’s very different,” I said, but as I spoke, Hank was already reading the dust jacket closely.
“This sounds like something she’d love. I don’t know how you find all these authors that she likes so much. You always know what she wants to read.” He held onto the book tightly. “It’s like some kind of magic.”
Something like that, I thought as I glanced at the tree.
“Violet is the book whisperer,” Sadie chimed in. “Every time I come into the store, I leave with books to read. Violet really knows her stuff.”
“Imposter,” Faulkner cawed from the branches. Leave it to Faulkner to call me out.
Hank’s whole body jerked at the sound of the bird. “I will never get used to that crow looming overhead. There are a lot of scary animals on my route, but your crow takes the cake. Are you sure he won’t attack someday?”
“Faulkner is harmless. He talks big but would rather nap than cause any real trouble.”
“False,” the large black crow countered.
I shot him a look. He wasn’t doing himself any favors by proving me wrong.
Hank rubbed the bottom of his beard. “It’s like he understands you.”
“He might understand a little. Crows are very smart—on par with dolphins and pigs even.”
Hank wrinkled his brow and removed the scanner from his belt and held it out to me. “Just sign here with your finger, and we are good to go.”
I did as I was told.
“Thanks.” He clipped his scanner back on his belt and held up the book. “Thank you for this. I have a lot more stops on my route today, but I can’t wait to give this to Abby as soon as I get home.”
“Sounds like a perfect December night,” I said with a smile.
“You bet it is.” He grinned and headed for the door. “Sadie, I left a package outside your door too.”
“Oh, thanks. I’ll go grab it now. I think Violet needs a break from my wedding talk.”
He paused. “Wedding talk?”
“Oh, Violet and Chief Rainwater are getting married on Saturday. You didn’t know?”
“They are?” His eyes went wide.
“Violet, you didn’t tell Hank?” Sadie’s question was bordering on an accusation.
I wrinkled my brow. “Should I have?”
“Of course.” She reached into the pocket of her Mrs. Claus dress. “Here’s an invite, Hank. If you are free, you should come. It will be the party of the year!”
He took the invitation and tucked it into the front cover of the book I had given him. “Well, if I’m not on the route, I’ll try to come. I’m never one to turn down free cake.”
“You’re a guy after my own heart, Hank,” Sadie said and turned to me. “Violet, we can go over your beauty regimen later.”
Regimen? Who said anything about a regimen?
“Sounds like your wedding will be quite a big to-do. I thank my lucky stars every day that my wife agreed to elope.”
At the moment, I wished I had done the same when Rainwater brought it up right after we had gotten engaged.
Hank waved, but as he went out the door, a woman blew in with a gust of snow, blocking his path. “Excuse me,” Hank said and tried to maneuver around her, but she didn’t budge.
Another gust of cold air, snowflakes, and a few stray leaves blew into shop. The wind was enough to make the large birch tree sway, and Faulkner complained from his perch. He puffed up his feathers to fight the cold.
When the snow settled, the small woman in a long skirt and a giant coat stood in the doorway. A stocking cap was pulled far down over her face, covering her eyebrows. A scarf hid the lower half of her face. We could not see anything but her bright blue eyes.
“Excuse me,” Hank said.
She glanced at him and moved to let him by.
Sadie and I stared at her. Her skirt was so long it even covered her shoes, making her look like she was floating.
“What do I have to do to get some customer service?” the woman asked in a high-pitched voice.
I stepped forward. “I’m so sorry. How can I help? Can we help you find a book?”
Her icy blue eyes turned to me and narrowed. “I’m not here to buy a book. I’m here to sell a book. I’m looking for a woman named Violet Waverly?”
My eyes widened. “I’m Violet. We don’t have a very large used book section, but I will be happy to talk to you about whatever it is that you wish to sell.”
“You most certainly will,” she said in an almost threatening tone.
Sadie must have heard the threat in the woman’s words as well because she stepped closer to me. I don’t know how she thought she was going to protect me in her red velvet dress and high-heeled boots, but she would surely try. Sadie picked up Emerson like she would protect him too. This did not sit well with the little tuxedo cat, who tried to wriggle out of her grasp.
Emerson was not a timid cat. He jumped to the floor and circled the strange woman like a cheetah on the hunt. My guard was up. When my cat didn’t trust someone, it was noteworthy.
I walked over to the counter. “I’m happy to see what you have, and we can take it from there.”
The woman shuffled across the shop’s old floorboards as I slipped behind the sales counter. Typically, I never sat there unless I was ringing up a sale. I liked to be out on the floor where I could interact with the customers. I encouraged the two part-time clerks I had recently hired to do the same. This time, I felt more secure with some space between the woman and me.
“You said you had a book?” I questioned. There was nothing in the woman’s hands.
She unzipped her massive coat and reached inside to pull out a package wrapped in brown paper.
Standing on her tippy toes, she set the package on the counter. With an air of reverence, she unwrapped a very old book, one I couldn’t believe I was seeing with my own eyes, in my shop.
I stared at it. It couldn’t be…
She removed her hat, revealing a curly mop of reddish-gray hair underneath. As she removed the scarf, I saw she had a tiny nose and pointed chin. “How much will you give me for that?”
I couldn’t put a price on it. I was speechless.
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Violet Waverly sleuths a Thoreau-ly puzzling Christmastime murder in Agatha Award-winning, USA Today bestselling author Amanda Flower’s fifth Magical Bookshop mystery.
Christmas is coming to the Western New York village of Cascade Springs, and so is the long-awaited wedding of Charming Books proprietor Violet Waverly and police chief David Rainwater. Grandma Daisy and Violet’s best friend, Sadie, go all out to make the nuptials the event of the season–whether Violet likes it or not. But the reception becomes memorable for all the wrong reasons when a woman’s dead body floats by on the frigid Niagara River.
Violet is shocked to recognize the deceased as a mysterious woman who visited Charming Books two days before the wedding, toting a rare first edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Well aware that a mint condition copy could be worth more than $14,000, Violet told the woman she would have to have the book appraised before she could consider buying it. Most displeased, the woman tucked the precious tome under her arm and stormed out of the shop. Now she’s dead, and an enigmatic message scrawled in pen upon her palm reads, “They stole my book.”
It’s a confounding case, indeed. But fortunately, Violet can draw on the resources of her bookshop’s magical consciousness, which communicates clues to Violet via quotes from Walden. With Emerson the tuxedo cat and Faulkner the crow at her side, Violet sets out to recover the priceless book by solving a murder most transcendental.