The Semi-Sweet Hereafter by Colette London

excerpt from The Semi-Sweet Hereafter

Chapter One

When most people find out what I do for a living, they have one of two reactions. Either they think my life is a nonstop vacation (because of all the traveling I do), or they think I must have a sweet tooth the size of Texas (because of all the chocolate I sample). The truth is, those people are not wrong.

I do visit my share of exotic locales. The Taj Mahal. The Eiffel Tower. The Great Wall of China. All of them (and more) have starring roles in my Instagram feed. And I do taste more than the typical amount of chocolate. Caramel truffles. Triple mocha brownies. Cocoa cake with raspberry buttercream.

I’m guilty. Guilty as charged.

But that’s not because I’m an incurable vagabond or because I’m a glutton for Theobroma cacao. It’s because—in the first case—my eccentric uncle Ross’s will stipulates that I keep moving . . . at least if I want to supply myself with couverture spoons and Converse (and I do). It’s also because—in the second case—sharpening my renowned taste buds with all the latest chocolaty treats is my job. Seriously. It really is.

See, I’m the world’s first (and maybe only) official chocolate whisperer. You’ve probably never heard of me. That’s exactly the way I like it. My clients hire me on a discreet—often undercover—basis to troubleshoot their floundering cakes, cookies, and confections . . . to fine tune their frappés, mousses, and mendiants. That means that if you really like your favorite candy bar or frozen mocha drink, I might be partly responsible. Think of a famous confectioner, restaurant, or international chocolate conglomerate. I’ve probably consulted with them.

They’ll never admit it, though. Neither will I.

In my business, discretion trumps all.

At the moment, I was in London on a job, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at me. I don’t carry a briefcase or consult via conference call. I don’t brag about my prowess or troll for customers. I don’t carry five-kilo bars of chocolate with me and whip up ganache on demand. I simply travel the globe at least six months out of every year, fixing things for my appreciative client base and enjoying life while I’m at it.

I’ve always had a knack for le chocolat. I don’t know where it came from. I simply know, precisely, how any given chocolate should taste, how it should smell, how it should snap and melt and how it should best be enjoyed. (Slowly, at body temperature, in case you’re curious.) My specialty is taking any given chocolate from “okay” to “excellent” to “ohmigod amazing!” I’m happy to say that I’ve never disappointed a client, no matter how problematic their issues (or they themselves) were.

Which wasn’t to say that I wasn’t considering doing exactly that at the moment. Disappointing a client, that is. Because my latest consultee, Phoebe Wright, had just popped up on my cell phone’s screen, demanding that I answer her call. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not immediately, at least.

I glanced at her image, seriously debating pocketing my phone instead of getting down to business. I hemmed. I hawed. I frowned at Phoebe’s pretty brunette image. She was nice. Very nice. Thirtysomething, pink cheeked, polite to a fault, and very, very British. Phoebe was prone to tea breaks, crumbly Cadbury Flake bars, and marathon viewings of soapy BBC historical dramas like “Poldark”—not that she’d admit such a plebian pastime to any of her posh acquaintances, of course.

Phoebe wasn’t someone I would call a friend. Not exactly. We were of similar ages. We were sociable, too. And I do make that transition with some of my clients. But I didn’t see it happening with Phoebe. She was a bit too pinkies-in-the-air for me. She wouldn’t have been caught dead pub-crawling with me on a typical Tuesday, for instance—unlike my best pal, Danny Jamieson, my sometime security expert, who was working back in the States while I enjoyed Guinness, West Ham matches, and Maltesers without him. Not necessarily in that order.

But Phoebe was—temporarily, at least—my boss. Duty was (literally) calling. In my business, there’s no such thing as “after hours.” I’m always on the hook.

I stopped in the midst of the shopping I’d been doing and picked up the call. Before I could say hello, Phoebe spoke.

“Hiya, Hayden!” she crowed cheerfully, her bonhomie amped by years of privilege and elite schooling. “Listen, I’m sorry to trouble you this way, but I can’t quite remember if I locked up the shop properly today. Hugh bollixed up a whole batch of brownies, the poor thing, and I’m afraid I was very distracted when I dashed out. He didn’t understand what went wrong. Of course, coming from his background he wouldn’t, would he? So anyway, we mustn’t say anything more, given the circumstances, mustn’t we? So let’s just never mind that.” She inhaled. “Anyway, the thing is, would you mind checking on it for me? Just pop over and wiggle the doorknob a bit, that’s all. Primrose really oughtn’t be left open all night, now should it?”

Couched in Phoebe-speak, that meant get your butt over to Sloane Square and lock up my chocolaterie-pâtisserie for me. I knew that. Phoebe might be full of shouldn’t we? and mustn’t we? and other courteous fillers, but she was the daughter of a peer. Technically, she was The Honourable Phoebe Wright. She had no compunction about telling me what to do—no oughtn’ts required.

As far as Phoebe knew, I was right around the corner. Hers wasn’t an unreasonable request. Not really. But I was much farther from Sloane Square than that. I was supposed to have been meeting friends in Leicester Square to see a show. Having planned for the vagaries of London Underground service, I’d arrived in The West End—the “Broadway” of the U.K.—earlier than was strictly necessary. So I’d decided to kill time with one of my favorite jet-setting activities: browsing for groceries.

I know, it doesn’t sound glamorous. But bear with me.

I’ve been all over the world during my (barely) thirty years of life. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nothing else gives you a sense of the culture of a place more than the local grocery store. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, fancy or utilitarian, a bodega or a supermarché. All that matters is that it’s authentic. And, in the case of the Marks & Spencer store not far from Covent Garden, that it carries blackcurrant jam, one of my absolute favorite British foods.

My delight with grocery stores doesn’t stop with jam, though. I’ll happily pick up anchiote seeds in Yucatán, samsa in Kashgar, or unrefrigerated eggs in Monoprix (“Monop” to the French). In Tokyo, I always hit up a conbini for cherry blossom flavored KitKat bars (provided it’s springtime), and when I’m in Oz, you’ll find me stocking up on delicious Capilano honey.

Phoebe, unaware of my zeal for foodstuffs, waited on the line. Hey, I’m a food professional. I was (sort of) working.

“Of course, I will.” Silently, I began composing a texted apology to my friends. “I’ll stop by Primrose right away.”

“Would you? That’s fab! Thanks ever so much, Hayden!”

“It’s all part of the service.” I sidestepped a harried Tube commuter. They swarmed shops like M&S and Pret at lunchtime and after work, moving with prototypical city speed. “I’ll let you know what I find when I get there. You can count on me.”

I heard Phoebe exhale with relief. Her worrywart tendencies could be tough to manage—mostly because I’m not a world-class worrier myself, so I can’t relate. I leave the teeth-gnashing to Travis Turner, my trusty financial advisor. He’s good at fretting. He’s good at everything. Gallingly, he’s younger than me, too. It hardly seems fair that Travis should be so organized, so responsible, and so brilliant . . . while I’m still trying to figure out all the intricacies of my favorite uncle’s will.

I’d been fortunate enough to inherit a great deal of money when Uncle Ross died. It had definitely come with strings. I still missed him, though. I missed his laughter. His wild hair.

“Are you at a party?” I asked Phoebe, distracting both of us as I picked up on the sounds of a gathering. Glasses clinked. Music played. Conversations waxed and waned. “Having fun?”

“Oh, absolutely! Must dash, though. Kisses! Bye!”

With an amplified smack, Phoebe hung up. Now that she’d gotten me to do her bidding, I guessed, she didn’t have time for chitchat. That was my life, though. I wasn’t soul mates with my clients. I was a consultant. An expert one. But that was all.

Ooh, were those McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Hobnobs?

They weren’t. They were a knockoff of the famous cult cookies. But I was hooked, all the same. I grabbed a box, added it to my stash of British goodies, then headed for the tills.

It wouldn’t be easy tromping all this stuff back across London on the Piccadilly and Victoria lines, but it would be worth it. I’d miss the show with my friends, but I’d have a few of my favorite goodies to comfort me while I texted them to reschedule. I’d be in London awhile yet. I had plenty of time.

In the meantime, I’d almost forgotten my daily phone call to Travis. As a woman traveling solo, I couldn’t be too careful about safety. Checking in with my financial advisor meant that at least one person knew whether I was happily gridskipping or unhappily being mugged at any given moment. Ordinarily, I like to savor my phone calls to Travis. I like to settle in, focus, and really melt into the experience. If you heard Travis’s deep, sensual, faintly raspy voice, you’d do the same, believe me.

But given the time difference between The Big Smoke and downtown Seattle, where Travis’s office was located, I sometimes had to compromise. That meant, in this instance, pocketing my colorful pound sterling banknotes with their pictures of the Queen and heading for the closest Tube station while waiting for the man who held the purse strings to my fortune to pick up.

Promptly, he did. Hearing the call connect, I couldn’t help smiling. Travis had that effect on me, despite everything.

“So, Travis . . . what are you wearing right now?”

It was my usual gambit. I couldn’t shake Travis’s financial leash, but I could let him know that I didn’t intend to toe the line all the time. That’s what my teasing opener was all about.

That . . . and the under-the-radar hope he’d (someday) tell me.

I’d been curious how things stood between us, but it turned out I hadn’t needed to wonder. Travis’s deep chuckle let me know that everything was copacetic. Despite the . . . incidents . . . in San Francisco and Portland that I’d run into, despite the borderline sketchy things that Travis had done to help me out of some dangerous situations in those cities, we were still buds.

“Hayden Mundy Moore.” His sexy, sonorous voice induced shivers. As usual. I imagined all the associates and admins in his office glancing up from their spreadsheets and swooning. “Shouldn’t you be working? You don’t have time to call me.”

“I always have time to call you.”

“No, you don’t. You have clients to see, chocolates to improve, cacao farmers to meet.” He knew my job as well as I did. I pictured him ticking off items on his talented hands. “Reports to write. Expenses to file. That reminds me—”

He broke off, shuffling papers in the background. Yep. Papers. Evidently, financial management required old-fashioned tree killing. I wouldn’t know. I’d never been to Travis’s office in person. I’d never met him in person, believe it or not.

“Have you been using the app I recommended?” he asked.

I frowned, remembering. “The antiprocrastination app?”

“That’s the one.” Crisply, he recited its name.

“Nope. I didn’t have time. I forgot. I mean, it broke.” I picked up the pace, jogging as I spotted a roundel—the iconic red, blue, and white symbol of the London Underground. “Anyway, my cell phone battery died. I don’t think it was meant to be.”

“And your dog ate your homework?”

“Exactly!” I paused outside the station, adding one of those tawdry free tabloid papers to my bag. “You get me.”

This time, Travis laughed outright. “Nice try. Don’t make me enlist the enforcer on this effort. I’ll do it, believe me.”

“No. I still have nightmares about the last time you two collaborated on something.” On me. “I’ll use it. I promise.”

The enforcer nickname made me grin, though. He meant Danny, of course. My on-call bodyguard and longtime platonic pal.

I’d known Danny for ages. He was my frequent traveling partner, my favorite plus one for occasional fancy events, and my most trusted confidante. People tended to take Danny at face value. They saw six-plus feet of musclebound, sporadically tattooed security expert and nothing else. But I knew better.

I knew there was more to Danny Jamieson than sticky fingers, a shady past, and a scowl that intimidated even the most hardened criminals . . . maybe because he was one of them at heart, no matter how far he moved from his bad old neighborhood.

Recently, “the enforcer” (Danny) had teamed up with “Harvard” (Travis) to make sure I took matters appropriately seriously while on assignment in Bridgetown—the up-and-coming foodie nirvana of Portland, Oregon. Having the two men in my life, both of them archenemies, team up to “help” me had been . . .

Well, let’s just call it unnerving and leave it at that.

“See that you keep your promise this time. I vetted that app myself.” Travis was still doggedly dealing with the issue of my procrastinatory tendencies. The idea of him needing to “vet” a productivity app was laughable. He was a productivity app—a living, breathing, authoritative machine. “It will help.”

“I’ll add it to my to-do list,” I promised, reaching past the trusty Moleskine notebook that held that very same list as I dug around in my favorite crossbody bag for my Oyster card. I’d entered the Underground station. From here, it was push or be pushed as everyone surged toward the barriers that divided the ticket hall from the escalators and stairs leading down to the various platform levels. The hubbub almost drowned out Travis.

I was pretty sure he was laughing, though. The nerve.

Was he really convinced I wouldn’t to-do-list that app? He, more than anyone, should have known how much I value my running to-do lists. They keep me on track even more than Travis does.

“I’ll do it,” I insisted. “I have a system.”

Despite open skepticism, I always get things done.

Travis didn’t reply. He was laughing too hard.

I decided to take the high road. “Gotta go, Travis.” I touched in with my card and headed for the escalator, juggling my phone and groceries. “Try to stay out of trouble, okay?”

“You do the same, Hayden. I mean it.” My financial advisor overrode my flippancy with stern sobriety. It was his go-to approach to everything. “You be careful out there.”

Aw. See what I mean? Travis is a championship caliber worrier. He worries like a boss. He’d probably get on well with Phoebe, in fact. They’d make adorable fussbudget kids together.

If Phoebe weren’t already married to the U.K.’s most famous celebrity “sexy chef,” Jeremy Wright, of course. Details.

All the same, the fondness in Travis’s voice warmed me.

You be careful out there.

We both knew there were reasons I needed to watch out. We weren’t talking about the dangers inherent in my unconventional line of work, either—although chocolate whispering does come along with certain complications. That’s just life.

Sometimes I meet unsavory types during my consulting gigs, for instance. Sometimes I’m offered a bribe to wreck a competitor’s product line. Or I stir up hurt feelings by helping one company and not another. Or I outright refuse to work with someone. I have standards. I don’t perform chocolate magic for just anyone who comes to me with substandard sweets and the ability to pay my (modest) consulting fee.

Rex Rader had been proof of that much in San Francisco.

But Travis wasn’t talking about the chocolate biz. He was talking about murder . . . and the unpredictable ways I’d become involved in it lately. It had been a while since my latest foray into the rougher side of beating buttercream and making fudge. Everything was fine now. I figured it would stay that way.

“I will.” I rode the escalator downward, glancing at ads for Lloyds Bank, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and “fatigue reducing” Floradix iron-and-vitamin supplements. “But I don’t have to. I mean, what are the odds of something happening here?”

“About twelve per million.”

“Come again, Mr. Wizard?”

“Given a population of around eight and a half million people and an average of two homicides per week, that’s—”

I groaned. Leave it to my wunderkind financial advisor to compute the chances of my getting killed while in London.

“Your predecessor, old Mr. Whatshisname, would never have settled for ‘about’ twelve per million,” I interrupted drily. Until Travis had taken over for his firm’s older associate, my required check-ins had been . . . enervating. “He would have known—”

Travis interrupted with a to-the-decimal-point calculation.

“That seems really low,” I countered, feeling encouraged.

“It is. There’s a reason your current assignment is there.”

There . . . in Safetown, aka London, where being murdered was statistically less likely than meeting Her Majesty, the Queen.

I strode through the tunnel, shaking my head as I realized Travis was trying to protect me—was hinting he had protected me.

“Did you nudge the Primrose bid to the top of the pile?”

He didn’t admit as much. But Travis handled all my requests for consultations. He was the one who decided where I went, aside from me. It was a broadening of his role, but he hadn’t minded. It wasn’t as though Danny could take on the job. He was so eager for me to “succeed”—i.e., grow my business—he would have let me consult for anyone with a pulse and a bank account.

With him there to back me up, for sure. But still.

Danny was terrific. But tough times changed people. They changed their priorities and their willingness to follow the rules.

“Aw. I love you, too, Travis.” Saying so with over-the-top sentimentality, I pulled a goofy face. “I’m definitely coming to the Pacific Northwest after this job so we can meet in person.”

As if that would ever happen, I groused silently. Travis is as elusive personally as he is proficient professionally. I knew more about his dog than I did about him. Which wasn’t saying much. I’d only found out about the dog recently. From Danny. My security expert had a talent for sussing out details. And for punching people. But in this case, he’d only snooped. On Travis.

He’d gotten woefully little information, though. Darn it.” Speaking of which, I’ve been wondering,” I pressed, seizing the moment. “What kind of dog do you have, Travis?”

A moment passed. Nada. I should have expected that, I guessed. Then I realized the phone had gone dead in my hand.

There was no service on the platform. Foiled again. Even the London Underground was stymying my efforts to find out more about Travis. I sighed and queued up along the yellow line with everyone else, headed to Primrose to set Phoebe’s mind at ease.

~ ~ ~

By the time I made it to Chelsea, the tony neighborhood not far from the Thames where Primrose drew crowds every morning, I regretted my earlier shopping expedition. Sure, I’m strong. I can hoist burlap bags of cacao beans and handle heavy stainless steel sauciers in a restaurant’s back-of-house with the best of them. But in a typically cramped bakery kitchen, it’s possible to turn around. That wasn’t true of an Underground train during rush hour. I’d gotten a lot more intimate with my fellow travelers than I wanted to be. Stepping aboveground afterward, I exhaled with relief and headed for the chocolaterie-pâtisserie.

I’d been consulting at Primrose for a couple of weeks now. Phoebe had entrusted me with a set of keys and access to the shop’s secret recipe journal—a notebook full of various bakers’ formulas, its pages splattered with cream and dusted with cocoa powder. Most establishments treated their “books” with utmost secrecy, but Phoebe had practically thrown Primrose’s at me.

She’d been desperate to sort out Primrose’s quality problems. Lately, the shop’s sweets hadn’t been sweet enough, their cakes hadn’t been tender enough, their chocolate treats hadn’t been creative enough. Those issues, combined with competition from newer artisanal chocolateries, threatened to squash Primrose’s longtime supremacy in the neighborhood.

Like many of my clients, Phoebe had come to me via referral. I had a feeling my previous consultee might have been a little too effusive in his praise, though, because Phoebe seemed convinced I could work miracles at her shop.

I was convinced I could, too, of course. I’m generally pretty confident. Honestly, all Primrose needed were some new suppliers and a few technical improvements—tweaks I could easily teach the staff, given time. But usually it’s best to manage clients’ expectations. I didn’t want Phoebe thinking I could turn her ramshackle team of bakers into geniuses overnight.

I’d come pretty far in tutoring them—in getting a feel for what was working well at Primrose (brownies, fudge) and what wasn’t (cookies, single-origin bars, cakes). But the staff were green. I’d need more time to achieve a full turnaround.

As expected, Primrose was locked up tight. The shop’s brick walls and Georgian façade stood sturdily against the encroaching sunset, an event that streaked the sky orange and lent a faint rosy glow to the neighborhood. On the corner, locals gathered for a pint, most of them standing outside the pub chatting. In the distance, I heard cars and Routemaster buses roaring down Chelsea Embankment. Here, though, everything was peaceful.

I hadn’t really expected anything else. The problems at the chocolaterie-pâtisserie didn’t include rampant carelessness, despite the mistakes Phoebe had alluded to with Hugh Menadue, one of the apprentice bakers. Overall, Primrose was a cozy and inviting shop. Its café-style tables and chairs were immaculate, its floor spotless, its windowpanes streak free. Through those windows, in front of me, passersby could be lured inside with views of cocoa-marbled “slices” (Britspeak for pieces of cake), malted chocolate cream pies, semisweet cream buns, and more.

Now, though, after hours, Primrose’s display platters and vintage cake stands had been removed. The windows stood empty.

I beelined down the tight alleyway behind Primrose and double-checked the back door, too. It was similarly secure.

I called Phoebe and left her a message saying so, trying not to feel irked at having been sent on a wild goose chase. She didn’t pick up, probably because her upper-crust soirée had taken a turn for the raucous. Don’t let anyone tell you that the English aristocracy don’t know how to party. The dark circles under my eyes proved otherwise. I hadn’t gotten a truly solid night’s sleep since coming to London to consult at Primrose.

See, I’m not just chocolate whispering for Phoebe. I’m staying at her place, too—at the guesthouse adjacent to her fancy-pants Georgian town house a few streets over, in fact.

The accommodations came with the job. While I can hold my own in the financial department, I can’t just conjure up an eighteenth century crash pad full of antiques and luxuries for myself. So when Phoebe offered, I accepted. She hinted there’d be cocktails and tea parties, an introduction to her sought-after celebrity chef hubby and an opportunity to network with her well-connected friends. But I’d been sold at the words “four-poster in the bedroom” and “claw-footed tub in the bath.”

I might be a sneaker-wearing, chocolate-whispering bohemian most of the time, but I’m secretly a Jane Austen heroine at heart. Aren’t all women, given the opportunity? So I said yes.

Now, with visions of that old-timey bathtub swimming in my head, I rearranged my grocery bags, left the alleyway, and headed east. The Wright residence stood only a few streets from the chocolaterie-pâtisserie, on a quiet avenue chockablock with similarly grand terraced town houses equipped with white doric-columned stone façades, dentilled cornices, wrought iron railings, and enormously imposing six-paneled front doors.

Not that I was going in by the front door, of course. I ducked into another passageway, maneuvered past a fading lilac bush, and pushed open the Wrights’ back gate. Their walled garden (“yard” to a Yank like me) was green and welcoming, bordered by primroses (get it?) and cushiony with grass. I trod past that grass on the graveled path, my footsteps crunching in the lengthening shadows. The guesthouse wasn’t far, but reaching it always felt like invading a private space meant for family.

Me, I’m at home in hotels, in hostels, in yurts, and in bed and breakfasts. Growing up with a pair of globe-trotting parents and no siblings, I’d stayed in accommodations ranging from five-star resorts to remote Swiss cabins, from hammocks on a Balinese beach to cramped sleeper cars on European trains. But I hadn’t stayed in anyone’s home for years now. Including my own.

That’s because I don’t have one. Not really. Not anymore.

Not that I regretted my wayfaring lifestyle, I reminded myself as I stepped into the guesthouse’s foyer, switched on the lights, and strode to the kitchen to put away my grocery-store finds. I was privileged. I was independent. I was secure.

I was staring at a dead man on the floor.

Again. Oh, God. No no no no.

I blinked, but he was still there. Unmoving. Unbreathing. Unlikely to be simply napping in that awkward slumped position on my guesthouse’s blood-streaked tiles. On the verge of freaking out, I hauled in a deep breath and tried to evaluate the situation calmly. That’s what I’d promised myself I’d do in the (very) unlikely event anything like this ever came up again.

I failed. Mostly because of the blood. It was just . . .

Too much. I dropped everything and grabbed my phone.

I needed help, and I needed it now. Because if I wasn’t mistaken, Travis’s homicidal-incidence-per-population odds had just been illustrated in the worst possible way. On my floor.

It looked as though I, Hayden Mundy Moore, had stumbled upon a murder. All over again.

Chapter Two

“And what time was it again when you arrived?”

At the sound of the detective constable’s voice, I started. I’d been drawn away from our interview, pulled inexorably toward the sight of the London Metropolitan Police officers who were currently dealing with the evidence. With the body.

With him. Jeremy Sebastian Wright. Dead at thirty-seven.

Phoebe will be devastated, I thought to myself. Jeremy was—had been—her husband. I had to call her. Right away. What if no one else had? What if she was partying away, oblivious to this?

Numbly, I reached for my crossbody bag. For my phone.

The constable closed her hand on mine. “Ms. Mundy Moore, I need you to concentrate right now. Just for a little longer.”

Her calm demeanor was soothing. I nodded, then let my hand fall away. It trembled. My mouth felt dry, my mind full of shock. How could this be happening? Why here? Why now? Why him?

“I’m sorry.” I shifted my gaze to the DC’s white starched collar. Like the rest of her, it was pristine. “Where were we?”

“With you, just as you arrived here this evening.”

Duly reminded, I nodded again. Detective constable Satya Mishra watched me intently, her dark eyes inscrutable and her features composed. I couldn’t begin to guess what she was thinking. Her overall air of command was impressive.

I felt impressed. Also, dazed, disbelieving, and shaky.

I told Detective Constable Mishra what I knew. It wasn’t much. I hadn’t seen anyone fleeing the scene—hadn’t seen anyone inside the place, either. Trying to help, I described my arrival at the Wrights’ guesthouse, my approach from outside through the garden, my turning on the lights, and my practically tripping over Jeremy Wright’s inert body as he lay in the kitchen.

Recalling the scene, I shuddered. I’d never forget that grisly sight. Part of Jeremy’s skull had been . . . well, crushed was the best way I could find to describe it. Gruesomely, the rest of him had looked just as handsome as ever. His light brown hair had crowned his face as appealingly as it had when he’d been alive, accenting his blue eyes and his square, stubbled jawline.

Those famous eyes of his had looked blank, though. Horribly blank, devoid of the liveliness they’d possessed the one and only time I’d met him on the day I’d arrived in London. Now he’d be unshaven forever, too. His mother would be so disappointed.

At that moment, as DC Mishra continued questioning me, I wished my mother were there. She and my father lived in London—in Mayfair, to be precise—but they were working in France. We were divided by the English Channel and hundreds of miles.

Much closer to me, officers dressed in the Metropolitan Police force’s black uniforms with white shirts, black ties, and vivid yellow “high-vis” vests performed their duties. Two loaded Jeremy’s body onto a stretcher, guided by a medical examiner. Others took photographs and (I presumed) gathered forensic evidence. I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t even be sure how much time had passed. I’ve witnessed dead bodies before. Sadly. But I’ll never become inured to the awful unreality of it all.

An officer wearing a bowler hat with a distinctive band of Sillitoe Tartan wrapped around it—you’ve probably glimpsed that black and white checked pattern somewhere—catalogued my fallen groceries as though they, too, were evidence. My Dark Chocolate Hobnob wanna-bes merited a tag. My blackcurrant jam got another.

The jar had smashed on impact. I eyed the purple goop my preserves had become, feeling disconnected from it all. I didn’t even remember having dropped my grocery bag. I was lucky I’d had the wits to dial 1-0-1, the English nonemergency services code.

I told Constable Mishra as much. She nodded graciously.

I didn’t know why she was spending so much time questioning me. I was a bystander. That’s all. Yes, I was staying in the guesthouse temporarily, I confirmed when she asked me. But no, I hadn’t really known Jeremy Wright. I’d been working for Phoebe.

“Did your work involve all this?” DC Mishra’s wave indicated the kitchen and the equipment currently cluttering it.

I recognized most of it. I’ve consulted on film sets and commercials, helping to make the chocolate “hero” (the subject of the filming) look its best. Professional lighting rigs stood ready to illuminate the work area with the help of filters and reflectors. A boom pole with a muff-covered shotgun mic affixed to it leaned against the refrigerator. A portable audio recorder waited on the countertop next to a stack of boxed cake mixes.

I squinted to read the labels. Hambleton & Hart molten chocolate flavored dessert delight, one read. I glimpsed strawberry surprise something-or-other on another box. Hm.

Want a professional tip? When a food product uses lots of ambiguous terms like “delight” and “surprise,” watch out. That generally means it’s more manufactured than baked. Not yummy.

“No, this wasn’t mine,” I told DC Mishra, returning my full attention to her. “Phoebe had told me that Jeremy might be in and out during my stay, though. He sometimes filmed in here.”

What I didn’t want to disclose was that the reason Jeremy Wright filmed in the guesthouse’s kitchen—which masqueraded as his home kitchen on television—was that his real kitchen was much too fancy to be relatable to his everyday viewers. Jeremy was a real “bloke”—a guy’s guy—who’d come from nothing to build his foodie empire. He couldn’t risk alienating any of his fans.

Satya had noticed those Hambleton & Hart boxes, too. But her expression as she studied them was markedly different from mine. She smiled. “I used to love those things as a kid.”

Her open nostalgia surprised me. But it only lasted a moment. I might have imagined it. Her expression hardened again.

“Process those,” she instructed her partner with a nod to the mix-and-bake treats. “Find out who’s in charge at Hambleton & Hart and get them to come to the station to give a statement.”

“Right away,” came the response, followed by scurrying.

I wasn’t the only one who respected Satya Mishra.

My gaze wandered again to the scene behind her. One of the officers had bagged something as evidence. Something gray, blood-stained, and shaped like a smallish American baseball bat. He held it up in his gloved hands, peering perplexedly at it.

“What do you reckon?” he asked his colleague, frowning.

The lull that followed was too much for me. I wanted to do something. At the best of times, I’m an ants-in-the-pants kind of gal. I’ve got a rampant monkey mind and a need to keep moving. The officers on hand obviously needed my assistance.

“It’s a metlapil.”

Several interested gazes swerved toward me. I couldn’t help feeling on safer ground. This, I knew. This, I understood.

Murder? Not so much. But kitchen equipment? Sure. So I kept talking.

“It’s a heavy stone tool used for grinding, usually in conjunction with a metate.” More baffled gazes focused on me. “You know, like a mortar and pestle?” I mimed a grinding gesture, cupping my palm for a metate and curling my fingers around an imaginary metlapil. “They’re typically made of volcanic rock. They’re virtually indestructible. Before the industrial age, they were used to pulverize grain, seeds—”

“Heads?” Two of the officers—unbelievably—chuckled.

A harsh look from Satya Mishra put a stop to that.

Then she returned her attention to me, eyebrows raised.

I recognized her unspoken question. “Yes, maybe.” I didn’t want to think about that. I raised my palms in a defensive hold on gesture. “I’ve only ever seen metlapils used to make bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate. It’s pretty complicated, though. First you have to remove the cacao beans from their fruit, then you have to ferment them, then comes roasting, cracking, winnowing—”

I stopped short, realizing that DC Mishra was staring at my hands. Why would she stare at my hands, especially so fixedly?

Realizing one possible explanation, I froze. “I’ve only used a metlapil once, on a plantation in Venezuela,” I clarified hastily. Have I mentioned that I tend to get chatty when nervous? “I’ve never even noticed that gigantic one before.”

I pointed at it and immediately wished I hadn’t. Doing so seemed to draw an unmistakable connection between it and me.

That was the murder weapon. What was I, crazy?

I clammed up, but it was too late.

“Yet you live here, isn’t that correct?” she asked me.

I swallowed hard. Reluctantly, I nodded. I couldn’t help noticing that the rest of the officers had also become very interested in what I had to say. Uh-oh. I wished Danny were there. I wished Travis were there. I wished I’d stayed in a nearby hotel and not been lured by promises of beds and baths.

“You’ve stayed here for . . . ?” Constable Mishra consulted her notes. Her calm demeanor no longer felt comforting. It felt entrapping. “Almost two weeks now. Isn’t that correct?” Her laser attention fixed on me. “But you claim you’ve never seen that particular metlapil? I find that hard to believe.”

Frankly, I did, too. Had that (unusually large) metlapil been here all along? Or had someone brought it? The film crew?

The killer?

“You can’t think I did this!” I blurted. “I’m innocent!”

Her tightly pursed lips suggested she remained unconvinced.

“I didn’t have any reason to want Jeremy Wright dead.”

Blithely, DC Mishra asked, “You were a fan?”

“Of course! Who wasn’t?” Anxiously, I barked out a laugh. Hey, it’s not easy being interrogated. You try holding up under that much pressure—that much intense scrutiny. Satya Mishra might have the beauty and poise of a Bollywood actress, but she also had the severity and formidable authority of a police officer. They’re trained to be daunting. “Weren’t we all?”

If they didn’t want to acknowledge the truth, I would. Jeremy Wright had been the U.K.’s most famous celebrity chef for almost a decade. He’d eclipsed all his rivals with his rough-hewn charm, Essex-bred accent, and culinary charisma. He’d done several popular TV cooking shows. He’d done sold-out tours in England and abroad. He’d authored multiple best-selling cookery books. He’d married the daughter of a peer! He’d made it.

His fans would probably bawl in the streets when they heard the news. They’d queue (politely, of course) to lay tributes to Jeremy at his jam-packed city restaurants, as fans had done in Camden Square when Amy Winehouse had died. They’d be devastated.

The police offers appeared less distraught. “Nothing he cooked could beat a nice takeaway chicken vindaloo,” one said.

“Or a doner kebab,” confirmed another with a nod.

You might think that Londoners nosh on fish and chips and pints of ale exclusively. But the city has a robust food scene. Jeremy Wright had been at the forefront of it. Cheap takeaways notwithstanding, he’d done his share of proper English grub.

“I don’t cook,” constable Mishra told me. “My freezer is stocked with ready meals from Waitrose, like a normal person.”

Ugh. “Well, you’re busy. You have an important job.”

I hoped that job wouldn’t include arresting me.

“I could give you a few cooking lessons sometime.” I’d already told Satya Mishra what I did for a living. “Free of charge.”

“Bribing an officer is a crime, Ms. Mundy Moore.”

“Or you could pay me.” I was floundering. We both knew it.

To my relief, DC Mishra did not choose that moment to incarcerate me. Instead, she wrote something in her notebook, gave me another evaluative look, then stood in the guesthouse’s kitchen. She frowned at me. “Don’t leave town, Ms. Mundy Moore.”

I gulped and tried to look guilt free.

Don’t leave town. Wasn’t that what the police said to their prime suspects? Was I a prime suspect? All I’d done was stay in a place where I had plenty of opportunity, report finding a dead body, identify the until-then unknown murder weapon, and loudly proclaim my innocence. Maybe more than once. I wasn’t sure.

Hm. If that last bit didn’t implicate me, nothing would.

“We may need to speak to you again, after we’ve finished processing the crime scene.” DC Mishra eyed her colleagues in what seemed to be her typical no-nonsense way. Then, me. “You should find somewhere else to stay tonight. Possibly for the next forty-eight hours. It all depends on what we find here.”

“I hope you find a murderer!” I said urgently. I was under suspicion of murder. Officially under suspicion. Oh no.

“We’ll find who did this.” The detective constable pierced me with a deadeye look. “You can be assured of that.”Then she conferred with her fellow officers, nodded, and left the scene. If I was supposed to feel comforted, I didn’t. While it was somewhat reassuring to know that the police were on the job, they were pointed squarely in the wrong direction.

They were pointed at me. I wanted to escape, but I wasn’t sure where to go. I wanted to forget about this, but that was impossible. I wanted to break down the situation with someone who wasn’t mentally fitting me for handcuffs and prison stripes.

Muzzy-headed, I stepped outside into the encroaching darkness. In the garden, I could still make out the faraway sounds of laughing pubgoers and summertime traffic on the embankment.

I pulled out my phone and dialed. It would be afternoon in L.A., where Danny lived and worked. I pictured sunshine and smog, traffic and tacos. He picked up on the first ring.

“The margaritas here are horrible,” I told him in my best upbeat voice. “Can you FedEx me some tequila right away?”

Danny wasn’t fooled by my fake bonhomie. He’s known me too long for that. His voice took on a hard edge. “What’s wrong?”

My throat burned. I gulped some air and blinked hard. I was afraid I might start crying. I like to think I’m pretty tough—pretty live-and-let-live about things—but at the familiar, cherished sound of Danny’s voice, everything rushed at me.

“It happened again,” I croaked, unable to say more.

A moment of silence stretched along the line. I imagined Danny at work, wearing a tuxedo and a skeleton-style, two-way radio earpiece on a red carpet somewhere in La-La Land. He made (most of) his living as a private security expert, ushering Hollywood types to movie premieres and fancy charity events.

“I’m on the next red-eye,” he told me. “Sit tight.”

That’s when I started weeping, of course. All the stress of the past few hours blubbered out of me in fits and starts. I stared at London’s skyline, hoping to regain my composure. I could glimpse the very tippy top of The Shard, lighted for the nighttime, but that celebrated view didn’t help. I was a wreck.

“The police think I did it,” I confided, calmer now.

Danny never left my (telephonic) side, not even while handing off whatever protection job he’d taken on. Knowing him, he would arrange air travel, grab his go bag, and intimidate L.A.’s infamously gridlocked traffic out of his path while driving. When engaged in a mission, Danny was a fearsome sight.

He was my fearsome sight. I needed him.

“You’ll just have to prove you didn’t do it, then,” he said now. “You’re not a murderer. You like everybody. They like you.”

Just like that, everything became clearer. Count on Danny to get down to brass tacks. He didn’t usually add in mushy stuff about my personal likability, of course, but this was a crisis.

He might be built like a muscleman, but he wasn’t made of stone. When it came to me, Danny was surprisingly schmaltzy.

I mean, not that we were dating, or anything. God forbid. We’d tried that once and lived to regret it. Now we knew better.

“I’m not paying you overtime for an overnight flight,” I joked, still searching for my equilibrium. I started walking.

“I’m not flying coach. Those seats will squash me like a sardine,” Danny shot back. “Business class. Deal with it.”

Despite everything, I smiled. I sniffled. I smiled again, knowing he was doing his best to divert me from all the drama.

I didn’t know how. Or when. But I knew everything would be okay. Eventually. Because I intended to make sure it was.

One way or another. But first, now that I felt calmer and readier to deal with everything, I needed to call Phoebe.

~ ~ ~

After news broke of Jeremy’s death, chaos descended.

I wanted to leave London altogether, but I couldn’t. For one thing, I was a suspect in Jeremy’s murder. For another, I was under contract to work at Primrose until Phoebe pronounced the shop’s problems solved. That was our agreement. I typically keep my consultations open ended, taking on one at a time and working it from analysis to enhancement to report, step by step.

I’m methodical like that. I’m also a stickler for details and an unrepentant procrastinator. You’d think those qualities wouldn’t go together. You’d be wrong. However kooky, my methods work. My clients are always satisfied. But this was different.

Phoebe would be different. Maybe she’d want to cancel.

Most likely, just then, she wouldn’t care about Primrose, its pastries, or its soon-to-be-decadent chocolate treats. She’d be absorbed in mourning the man she loved. In gathering with Jeremy’s family and friends and remembering him. In crying and questioning and making funeral arrangements for her husband.

I kept on as best as I could, taking refuge in what needed to be done. I needed to get up early (hideously early) to arrive at Primrose. I needed to oversee the morning bakers’ work. I needed to taste-test chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate cherry scones. I needed to keep my mouth shut and listen when the curious and surprised Primrose staff gossiped about Jeremy.

They had a lot to say, actually. Which brought me to . . .

You’ll just have to prove you didn’t do it, then.

Danny had been right when he’d said that. He’d said it again when he’d come in from Heathrow to join me, too.

You’ll just have to prove you didn’t do it.

I did. So, as much as I wanted to take refuge in chocolate whispering, I had to keep my eyes and ears open for clues. I couldn’t wait for DC Mishra to catch the killer. I had to do a little sleuthing myself. Just on the off chance I could succeed.

The idea wasn’t as crazy as it sounded. I’ve been mixed up in dangerous situations before and emerged unscathed. A little bruised, battered, or scared, maybe, but mostly okay. I’d survived, and I’d brought justice to some people who needed it.

I knew I could do it again. With Danny to help me and Travis on call, I figured I could clear my name and troubleshoot Primrose’s problems . . . and comfort Phoebe, too. I hadn’t seen her in person yet. But when I did, I meant to offer my sincerest condolences.

I hadn’t known Jeremy well, but I’d respected his accomplishments. He’d seemed nice. He hadn’t deserved to die.

Not that anyone did. You know what I mean.

In the immediate aftermath of Jeremy’s death, I crashed overnight on a friend’s sofa in Shoreditch. Even that was a tight squeeze, though. She had other guests to accommodate—including Danny, who roughed it on the floor beside me without complaint for a night after he hit town. After that, neither love nor money could secure us another place to stay—not one that hadn’t recently hosted a murder, at least. I was stuck.

I had to return to the Wrights’ guesthouse. Today.

In a black cab hurtling across London, I made another go at it anyway. Despite needing to be near the scene of the crime to do a little snooping, I wasn’t wild about the idea of sleeping a measly few feet from where someone had bashed Jeremy’s head in.

That had been the official cause of death, by the way. Jeremy had been bludgeoned to death. Likely with that oversize stone metlapil. Likely by someone tall, strong, and left-handed.

“It all comes down to the evidence, doesn’t it?” said DC Mishra’s colleague, George, when I inquired. “That’s what the fellas in forensics tell us, anyway.” He’d dropped his gaze to my hand, then scratched his head musingly. “Yep. Left-handed.”

I’d clutched my crossbody bag harder in my right hand and then skedaddled, finished with the “few questions” DC Mishra had summoned me back to the police station to answer. Now, I returned my attention to the cab driver. I smiled at him.

“You wouldn’t happen to know of a hotel with rooms available, would you? You black cab drivers have The Knowledge of London. If anybody can tell me where to go, it’s you.”

“Nope. Wimbledon’s in town, innit?” Cheerfully, the driver eyed me in his rearview mirror, nodding to recognize my familiarity with The Knowledge—the grueling, comprehensive test that all licensed cab drivers were required to pass. It was rumored to detail more than 25,000 roads and 20,000 attendant landmarks and businesses. That’s why black cab drivers are so skilled. “Everyplace is blocked up solid this time of year. My missus makes extra money renting out our son’s room. He’s away at university. We split the take with him.”

“That’s enterprising of you,” I said, disappointed. I’d forgone public transport today on purpose, hoping to pick the brain of a black cab driver like him. If you ever find yourself in a strange city, needing a tip about where to go, what to see, or where to eat, ask a cab driver where he or she likes to go. You’ll get the real skinny on what’s good (and cheap) anywhere.

“Every little bit helps,” he said with a shrug and another grin. “I’ve got a vacation villa in Spain to pay for, don’t I?”

“It’s smart of you not to leave money on the table, then.”

“Can’t afford it. London’s an expensive city.”

It was getting more expensive all the time, I knew. Every year, more and more people were squeezed out of living in the capital. Even the royal household was subject to scrutiny. Its treasury had been criticized for spending beyond the yearly Sovereign Grant allotted to pay for the royal family’s expenses.

The driver rounded a turn and stopped at a busy crosswalk, his cab idling in the sunshine. We watched the people flooding across the designated zebra crossing. Its helpful instructions—painted on the pavement in white—instructed pedestrians to LOOK RIGHT or LOOK LEFT, as was appropriate for those who weren’t used to traffic coming from the “wrong” direction.

I couldn’t help imagining all those people returning to snug hotel rooms—rooms they’d providentially booked before tennis, murder, and flower shows had descended on the capital.

I wouldn’t have believed the crowds if I hadn’t seen them for myself—and had the situation confirmed by a concierge I trusted. Evidently, the championship tennis tournament—held in a borough southwest of London—was even more popular than I’d realized. Combined with the usual tourist crush and the throngs of people in town for festivals and events like the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, London Town was busy, busy, busy.

I’d tried appealing to Travis for help. My financial advisor’s hands had been tied. Even with his myriad connections, he hadn’t been able to secure a room for Danny and me. Not on a last-minute basis. Not even for gobs of Uncle Ross’s money.

I’d called my parents, too. While they’d been upset on my behalf, they’d already sublet their Mayfair flat for the next few months while they worked in France. Both experimental archaeologists, they were busy on a castle-rebuilding project.

I wished I could have seen them while I was in London.

More than ever, I was aware that life was short. You never knew when it would be the last time you saw someone you loved.

For Jeremy’s relatives, the very last time they’d see him would likely be a few days from now. I’d learned from the police—after a few pointed (possibly foolhardy) questions—that a postmortem exam was required. That was customary in cases of unexpected death. That would take a few days, I’d been told.

All in all, I didn’t want to return to the guesthouse. I was sensitive enough to be bothered by sleeping where Jeremy had drawn his last breath and sensible enough to worry about the killer coming back. But I didn’t have a choice. I did hope to see Phoebe, though. I was starting to get concerned about her.

She hadn’t been to work, of course. That was understandable. Primrose could function without her for a while. But according to news reports, she hadn’t even left the town house. She and Jeremy hadn’t had any children. Phoebe might be alone in her grief, I knew, solitarily wandering her huge house.

That fact was what had finally drawn me back. If I were in the guesthouse nearby, I could keep Phoebe company. Just in case being a member of the privileged class was lonelier than I knew.

Yes, I’m a softy. So what? I know better than most that money doesn’t solve all problems. Sometimes it creates more.

An exclamation from the black cab driver startled me.

“Oi! What’s going on here?” He braked, making me sway.

My daily quota of tabloid papers almost slid off my lap. Their headlines screamed about Jeremy’s “tragic murder!”, so I’d grabbed several. Then I steadied my always-packed wheelie suitcase before it toppled to the floor, taking my duffel bag with it. Those two items were the entirety of my luggage. At least I hadn’t had to enlist the help of a burly porter before leaving the guesthouse/scene of the crime. I like traveling light.

With my things secured, I craned my neck to see outside the cab’s expansive windows. We’d arrived in Chelsea, in Phoebe’s exclusive neighborhood. Unlike the other evening, though, the area was anything but peaceful or glowing. Today, groups of distressed people blocked the street. Some of them carried homemade banners; others, posters and pictures of Jeremy. A middle-aged woman near the cab held a tall, unlit candle. Her daughter clutched a bouquet of flowers. Some people were crying.

Jeremy’s fans. I’d never been that attached to a celebrity, so I didn’t understand their grief. But their anguish seemed genuine. Their gathering had created as effective an obstruction as any roadworks project would have, too. We were jammed.

“That’s all right. Here is fine.” I handed the driver enough pounds to pay the fare, along with a chocolate bar. I always travel with them. Thanks to my job, I’m gifted with more samples than I know what to do with. “If you try to get any closer, you might not be able to get out again. Thanks!”

After trading “cheers!” with the driver, I grabbed my stuff and jumped out. Instantly, the sounds of the crowd swamped me.

Public mourning is a curious thing. Jeremy’s fans seemed to have been drawn here in the hours since his death. Being with other people who also missed and admired Jeremy probably comforted them. For me, their vigil felt weirdly moving.

Jeremy must have been quite a man to have stirred such a reaction, I couldn’t help thinking as I weaved my way through the bereaved fans. There must have been more to him than I’d realized during our three-minute, nice-to-meet-you conversation.

Spurred by that realization, I wanted to find his killer. Not just so that Phoebe and his family could find some peace. Not only so that I wouldn’t be under suspicion anymore. But just because, in that moment and in that place, it felt right.

“Eh! Get off! Get away from my garden!” someone yelled.

I swerved to see what was going on. I’d followed the private alley path, just as I’d done on the night of Jeremy’s death. Now, from my vantage point near the Wrights’ garden gate, I glimpsed an elderly man, clad in neatly pressed trousers, a button-down shirt, and an argyle cardigan, wielding . . . a rake?

He swatted at some reporters with it. Paparazzi. Ugh.

They laughed and took photos. A few filmed videos, too.

“Leave, I say!” the man yelled. “This is private property!”

He was getting nowhere fast. I hurried forward, hauling my luggage. I plastered on a big smile. “Gramps! Grampsy! Wooo!”

“Eh? What’s that?” He peered at me suspiciously.

He didn’t recognize my clever plan for what it was.

“I’m so glad I got here in time!” I breathed. “Follow me!”

Then I pushed open the garden gate next to the Wrights’ and bustled us both inside, safe from the paparazzi swarm.

Chapter Three

For an elderly man in need of assistance, he didn’t take kindly to my rescuing him. The moment we got inside the garden, he irritably shook off my helpful arm.

“Who are you?” His suspicious gaze examined my usual working wardrobe—a pair of jeans, a gray T-shirt, comfy Converse sneakers, and a jacket. “Never mind. I can tell by looking at you that we’re not related.” He gave an imperious sniff. “‘Gramps,'” he mimicked. “I’ve never heard such nonsense.”

“You didn’t even look at me until I tried ‘Grampsy,'” I reminded him, still a little worked up from the hubbub.

He harrumphed. “You ‘woooed!’,” he said with disdain. “Americans. Always whooping over this, that, and the other.”

I was a little surprised he identified me as such, given how muddled my accent was these days. I didn’t mind, though.

“We’re enthusiastic, that’s all.” I watched him with concern, half expecting a heart attack. He’d probably been out running some midmorning errands and had been caught in the mêlée coming home. With a rake. I nodded at it. “What’s that for?”

“For teaching those buffoons some respect, that’s what.” His white hair stood on end. He would have looked comical if he’d seemed the least bit lovable. But he only seemed irascible. “This neighborhood used to be respectable. It used to be orderly. It used to be peaceful and quiet, until your boss moved in next door with his monstrous friends and all-night parties. And now this! The press.” He flung up his hands. “It’s mayhem!”

I felt a glimmer of sympathy. Also, confusion. “My boss?”

I guess he assumed that no one else would be in the alleyway except Jeremy and Phoebe’s staff and employees? Or someone staggering home from one of Jeremy’s all-nighters?

I definitely wasn’t kitted out for a boisterous party.

He hooked his thumb toward the Wrights’ house. “All respect to the dead, you understand, but I was utterly fed up with that dreadful man before he turned toes up. Now I’m apoplectic!”

A gob of spittle flew from his mouth to prove it. Gross.

He also waved around his garden rake in a very threatening manner. He looked more than willing to use it to beat someone with. Because he’d already used (and misplaced) his metlapil?

Doubtful. Jeremy’s next-door neighbor seemed hostile, for sure. But a murderer? Only if he could do the deed via proxy. I wasn’t sure he was hearty enough to bludgeon Jeremy to death.

Maybe he could give me some information, though. I stuck out my hand. “I’m Hayden Mundy Moore. Pleased to meet you.”

He ignored my offer of a handshake in favor of shooting death glares at my wheelie suitcase and duffel bag, both of which were temporarily parked near his garden wall. “Don’t get comfortable,” he grumped. “Your kind never last around here.”

I felt affronted on my own behalf. “I don’t—”

Work for Jeremy, I was about to say. But he cut me off. He glared beyond his brick garden wall toward the Wrights’ yard as though hoping to make it burst into flames.

“You can tell them next door that if things don’t change soon, I’ll sue. Nobody pushes around Ellis Barclay. There’ll be consequences. I’ve lived here more than forty years!”

“I’m sure this madness won’t last,” I soothed. I needed allies. I wanted to make friends with him. My only source of intel couldn’t be the chatty bakers at Primrose. Plus, if the killer came back, I might need crabby old Mr. Barclay from next door to rush to my rescue with his rake. “As soon as everyone has mourned Jeremy’s death, things will be back to normal.”

Another skeptical grunt. “They’d better be.”

“I’m sure they will be.” They had to be. Right?

Sure, the tabloid press was interested in Jeremy’s story now. But that fervor would naturally subside once he was buried.

Guiltily, I tucked my free papers more securely under my elbow. Yes, I was adding fuel to the fire by reading them. But I had good reason to follow the story. It wasn’t as though I was the only one, either. Jeremy’s death seemed to have brought renewed interest to the tabloids. They’d long been a fixture on the Underground (for instance), but lately commuters had shunned papers in favor of using their cell phones. I wouldn’t have been surprised if tabloid circulation had plummeted in recent years.

The papers were probably delighted by Jeremy’s untimely death. Covering all the lurid details would boost readership.

Mr. Barclay gave me a suspicious look. “You’re not like the last girl. She was a mousy little twat. Always scurrying in and out of here, making sure things went smoothly for him.”

I didn’t appreciate his offensive language. Or his rampant sexism. But I bit my tongue. I wasn’t here to enlighten an elderly gentleman about modern times. I didn’t have to ask who he was referring to. “Was Jeremy difficult to work for?”

He sniffed. “Everything about that man was difficult. He didn’t belong here. We all knew it. Something had to be done.”

So you . . . bludgeoned him to death? “Something . . . ?” I led him.

“Yes. Something.” Mr. Barclay rolled his eyes in evident exasperation. “Legal action, perhaps. Or a community meeting.” He narrowed his eyes. “What are you, thick-headed? You won’t last any longer than the other girls. Not that you’ll need to.”

Now, lay unspoken between us. We both knew it.

He thought I was a (now) unemployed assistant. I thought he might be an unrepentant murderer. We were at a standstill.

I was curious to learn that Jeremy had cycled through multiple assistants, though. I wondered what that was about.

Beyond us both, the media stakeout continued. I heard journalists talking into their cell phones. Smelled cigarette smoke and takeaway coffee—maybe even from Primrose. The nerve.

“Is there another way to the Wrights’?” I asked.

“Only through the front door, and that’s far worse. I couldn’t even collect my copy of The Daily Mail this morning.”

I wasn’t surprised he read that notoriously scandalmongering paper. “Well, that would kick off a bad mood, wouldn’t it?” I asked sunnily, still trying to win him over.

“Bad mood?” He clenched his rake. “What bad mood?”

Uh-oh. I decided tomorrow would be soon enough to make nice. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Mr. Barclay. You have a nice day, all right? I hope to see you again sometime soon.”

Maybe without your rake next time.

He grumbled and watched me leave. I wrangled my suitcases.

“You’ll leave that house in tears!” Ellis Barclay shouted as I closed the gate behind me. “Same as the last girl did!”

Last girl. I hadn’t met Jeremy’s assistant, but I felt sorry for her already, if she routinely left work bawling.

Feeling grateful not to be working for Jeremy—or living next door to Mr. Barclay on a permanent basis—I weaved my way between the tabloid journalists outside, then opened the Wrights’ familiar guesthouse gate. Just as I stepped onto the tidy graveled path wending through the grass, though, I heard something crash. Then, a woman wailed. Phoebe. Oh no.

~ ~ ~

It took me maybe twelve seconds to abandon my luggage on the walkway and sprint across the garden to the terrace. Through the white-painted French doors leading from it into the Wrights’ expansive town house, I glimpsed Phoebe in the kitchen.

At least she was still standing. Thank God. I knocked.

She started. Her pale face flashed toward mine.

I couldn’t help blanching. She looked terrible. Her eyes were red rimmed, her cheeks hollow, her brown hair askew. She’d twirled it into a haphazard updo, but the overall effect was less boho chic and more rat’s nest. Ordinarily, Phoebe didn’t wear much makeup, but ordinarily, she didn’t need it. Today, her appearance was disquieting. I’d never seen her so unkempt.

Commiseration shot through me. I gave a cheering wave.

During the few moments that Phoebe needed to cross the kitchen and reach the breakfast nook that lay beyond the French doors, I assessed the situation. From where I stood, I glimpsed kitchen implements and groceries strewn about the countertops. I saw Phoebe’s jacket and designer purse slung uncaringly over a chair. I saw dirty dishes on the table, dead flowers in a vase on the sideboard, and no sign of anyone there to care for her.

The situation was worse than I’d imagined. Poor Phoebe. I intended to do what I could, so I gave her a bolstering smile as she opened the door. The fragrances of stale perfume and burnt baked goods rolled out to greet me. I did my best not to recoil.

“Phoebe, I’m so sorry.” I took a step nearer, studying her face. Her lower lip wobbled. Full of sympathy, I opened my arms. I can’t say I wasn’t a little surprised when she stepped into my embrace. “I’m so, so sorry about Jeremy. This so awful.”

“It is, isn’t it?” She sniffled. “Oh, Hayden.”

Her moan of grief coincided with her full acceptance of my hug. Dropping her upper-crust façade altogether, Phoebe sagged in my arms. She felt like a sparrow, slight and skittish. I was afraid she might snap back into mannerly mode at any second.

I hoped she wouldn’t. Understandably, she seemed to need company. I wondered why no one else was there with her. Family? Friends? The timid assistant cranky Mr. Barclay had mentioned?

“I’m here for anything you need,” I promised. Her silk shirt felt ridiculously luxe beneath my fingertips. I’m not hard up for money, but I don’t tend to spend it on fancy clothes. In my line of work, nice things only get chocolate spattered and ruined. I inhaled, chancing a glance at the disarray beyond her. “Are you making some breakfast? I can do that. Here, let me.”

We parted. Glad to have something useful to do, I strode to the peninsula, then surveyed the kitchen. It was spacious, with white quartz countertops, white custom cabinetry, and hardware done in copper. It was obvious that no expense had been spared in outfitting it, from the glossy sealed teak floor underfoot to the professional caliber appliances. But the farmhouse-style sink overflowed with dirty dishes. The quartz countertops were littered with bowls of batter, baking pans dropped higgledy-piggledy, and ingredients ranging from chocolate chips to sugar.

I eyed three pounds of butter, arranged in a lopsided pyramid beside a carton of double cream, and realized this was no ordinary breakfast. It wasn’t even a supercaloric full English breakfast. Phoebe wasn’t making herself a fry-up.

She was baking sweets. For a hundred people, it seemed.

She caught my questioning look and gave a sheepish wave. “I’m just working out a few new ideas for the shop, that’s all.”

I raised my eyebrows. We both knew that Phoebe had neither the inclination nor the training to “work out ideas” in a culinary sense. She wasn’t a professional chef. She wasn’t an experienced baker. What she was, to put it kindly, was an enthusiastic hobbyist. She’d opened Primrose on a lark, hired talented bakers to work there, and chanced into wild success.

Her shop was both homey and welcoming. It was a place to pick up a loaf of good English wholemeal bread for a picnic and some muffins, besides. Primrose had sold handmade chocolates before anyone else in Chelsea had thought to do the same. The trouble was, the chocolaterie-pâtisserie had been coasting on its reputation for some time now. I suspected that tourists formed the bulk of its business. That was why Phoebe needed me.

Her hobby had hit a roadblock. It was threatening to run off course altogether. Now, with Jeremy gone, I wanted to make sure that Phoebe could count on Primrose to be there for her.

“Aha.” I tried to look reassuring about the disarray. Whatever she needed to distract her from her sadness, I figured. “That explains the mess in here. It’s creative fire.”

It was more than that, though, I saw. On the breakfast nook table were a laptop and a cell phone, a box full of knickknacks, and a travel mug bearing an image of the London Eye. Phoebe was cleaning house, I realized. Had those things belonged to Jeremy?

That seemed doubtful. The London Eye on the travel mug was bright pink, and the cell phone was in a bejeweled case. Hmm.

“It is a mess, isn’t it?” Phoebe blustered over to the other side of the kitchen as though hoping she could still carry off her baking charade. Her face crumpled, though, as she stood helplessly over a blob of spilled batter on the floor. A broken bowl lay in pieces nearby, explaining the crash—and the wail—I’d heard earlier. “The truth is, I’m supposed to be doing a live baking demonstration on one of those TV chat shows ten days from now, and I’m not the least bit prepared for it, am I?”

“I’m sure they’ll postpone,” I soothed. “Won’t they?”

“I promised to do it ages ago, then what did I do? I forgot all about it, didn’t I?” Phoebe wailed again. “Now I’m completely up against it, with no idea how to manage.” She broke into raspy tears, then covered her face with her hands. The jeweled rings on her fingers glimmered. “It’s all fallen apart, hasn’t it? I thought I had so much more time than this.”

Her obvious despair moved me. “I know. We all did.”

Neither of us were talking about cakes and cookies.

“What am I going to make?” Phoebe stared at her kitchen. “Everything I try falls apart. I’m supposed to be demonstrating traditional British sweets in less than two weeks! I can’t even make a simple strawberry Eton mess or Victoria sponge, can I?”

“Those aren’t exactly simple dishes to do well,” I pointed out, grabbing a nearby tea towel. I crouched to deal with the spill on the floor while Phoebe helpfully moved out of the way. I couldn’t expect her to do it. She employed a cleaning service to come in twice a week. She’d probably not even recognize a mop. There. All done. “Why don’t I help you? I can teach you. Then, when the time comes, you can do the demo on TV.”

“Would you?” Phoebe gazed at me as if she were mentally outfitting me with a marble pedestal in Trafalgar Square. I was her hero. “That would be brilliant, Hayden! It really would.”

“I’m happy to do it,” I told her truthfully. Teaching people about chocolate and baking comes naturally to me. Plus, I like a challenge. I gestured at the mess. “If there’s anything else I could do, I’d be happy to do that, too, Phoebe. It looks as though you’re getting things sorted around here?”

Discreetly, I nodded toward the breakfast nook table full of items. If she were cleaning out Jeremy’s things already, that would be surprising but not completely unexpected. Everyone dealt with grief in different ways. I’d noticed earlier that Phoebe hadn’t been wearing a wedding band among her sparkling jewelry. Maybe she was planning to bury it with her husband?

“Oh, those are Nicola’s things. Nicola Mitchell, Jeremy’s personal assistant. I can’t imagine why they’re still here, can you? No one goes any place without their phone these days.”

Nicola . . . the “girl” who’d left here crying?

“I’ll handle returning them.” It would give me a chance to ask Jeremy’s assistant a few things. “Anything else? Maybe some breakfast that doesn’t include three pounds of butter?”

Phoebe actually smiled. Faintly. But still. I felt glad.

“I couldn’t eat anything now, could I?” she demurred. “Those vultures outside might catch a glimpse. They’ve got telephoto lenses, don’t they? I’d find myself in the tabloids in an instant, caught in one of those dreadful ‘who’s gained three stone’ articles.” She gave an aristocratic shudder of distaste.

Her mention of camera lenses reminded me of the equipment in the guesthouse. I didn’t want to be indelicate by discussing mundane details, but I wanted that stuff moved out of there. The more I could do to return the place to normal—with the approval of the police, of course—the better. Policeman George had already cleared my return to the guesthouse. Danny was meeting me there later.

“I’ll make sure all the curtains are closed first, then I’ll whip up some breakfast and call the cleaner to take care of this mess. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll start our lessons, too.”

Phoebe brightened. “You’re a wonder, aren’t you, Hayden? You really know how to take charge. I’m so glad I hired you.”

“I’m glad, too.” For the first time, I thought maybe we could become friends. Speaking of which . . .  “Is there anyone else I could call to come stay with you? Your family? Your friends?”

She shook her head, her expression distraught. “No. I don’t want them worrying about me, do I? If they see me this way, they’ll think the worst. For now, let’s just muddle through.”

I nodded. They call it a stiff upper lip for a reason, right? I figured British people were made of pretty stern stuff.

“If that’s what you want,” I agreed. “But if you change your mind, please let me know. I really do want to help.”

Conspicuously, Phoebe perked up. I wanted to think it was because I’d arrived to keep her company. But it was something else entirely. Phoebe had an idea, I learned an instant later.

“Could you make me a proper full English breakfast?” she asked with her eyes alight. “Fried bread, brown sauce, bangers, and all? I might even have some black pudding and mushrooms around here. I really fancy a fry-up. I haven’t eaten since—”

She broke off. Since Jeremy died, was obviously what she’d been about to say. Tactfully, I nodded. I patted her arm.

“Anyway.” Phoebe tossed her head imperiously. I could easily imagine her at boarding school somewhere, taking riding lessons and learning how to curtsy. “Jeremy quit making them for me after he started training and eating ‘clean.’ He wouldn’t so much as touch a fried potato or Primrose’s pastries.” She gave a moue of distress. “Once you’re past thirty, it’s all downhill, isn’t it? The pounds simply want to pile on, don’t they?”

I was already rummaging in the enormous side-by-side refrigerator by then, looking for all the necessary supplies. Eggs, of course. A couple of rashers of back bacon. Sausage. One sad tomato—but that wouldn’t matter, since it would be broiled.

Phoebe watched as I worked. She seemed pretty comfortable with her role as spectator. I experienced a flicker of concern about that, now that I’d taken on the role of her baking tutor.

“Do you have any tinned beans?” I asked, searching.

“Of course. Don’t we? Somewhere.” She gave an airy wave. “Amelja puts away all the groceries. Just don’t tell Liam.”

Her giggle gave me pause. I wheeled around. “Liam?”

“Liam Taylor. Jeremy’s personal trainer.” Phoebe gave an eager look to the tinned beans I’d found. A fry-up isn’t my cup of tea—I like the Euro approach to breakfast, with coffee and a slice of baguette or pastry—but Phoebe seemed over the moon at the prospect. “He explicitly forbade all processed foods for Jeremy. No tinned beans. I wonder how he’s dealing with—”

She broke off on a sob, her eyes filling with tears.

That was grief for you. Here one minute, gone the next. It was surreal to be discussing routine details when something so monumental as losing a husband had happened. But there we were.

“I’ll check on Liam,” I volunteered. “Don’t you worry.”

For a moment, Phoebe sharpened. “I’m not paying you extra. Just your agreed-upon consultation fee. For Primrose, not me. You know that, don’t you? If you think this is some sort of—”

“Of course not.” I smiled at her. “I only want to help.”

A moment passed. Very faintly, I heard the members of the media outside, shouting to the fans who’d gathered. I wondered what Phoebe thought of the world’s adoration of Jeremy. Did it comfort her? Did she resent sharing his memory? Or did she have a reaction I couldn’t even guess at? After all, I’ve never been married. I’ve had three ex-fiancés, but that’s it for me.

“In that case, I’ll lend you Jeremy’s cell phone.” Phoebe settled in at the peninsula, arranging her lithe frame onto one of the expensive-looking stools. “You can find whatever you need on that thing. DC Mishra gave it to me, not long after they—”

Processed his body. That’s how the detective constable had described the scenario to me. It all sounded so cold-blooded.

Necessary, of course, in light of the circumstances. But I still wished everyone could have been spared the investigation.

“She’s very impressive, isn’t she?” I interrupted, lapsing into Phoebespeak before I could stop myself. “I don’t know where some people get such a sense of authority and command.”

“It’s called breeding,” Phoebe sniffed. “And education.”

Her haughty tone stopped us both cold. Evidently realizing (too late) that she wasn’t conversing with one of her snobby friends—who would understand “breeding,” of course—Phoebe blinked at me. I guessed maybe we weren’t destined to be pals, after all. She seemed to view me as the hired help. That’s it.

“I’ll have a friend staying with me in the guesthouse for a few days.” I decided to take advantage of the situation. Even if it didn’t show, Phoebe must have felt a modicum of embarrassment to have spoken to me that way. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Just as I’d anticipated. A headshake. “Of course not.”

And that’s how I secured lodgings for myself and for Danny, during Wimbledon, in one of the busiest cities in the world. I’d wondered if Phoebe might object to my having a guest, but now I’d handily leveraged my way out of that delicate situation.

Yay, me. Now all I had to do was catch a killer.

~ ~ ~

Later that day, with Phoebe’s craving for a greasy fry-up temporarily (and deliciously) assuaged, I slipped out to a nearby Italian-style caffè to meet with Jeremy’s assistant. I wanted to return her things, of course—the box of knickknacks, the London Eye mug, the laptop computer and the cell phone, which I’d used to ask one of Nicola’s friends to have her contact me to make meeting arrangements—but more than that, I wanted to speak with her. I hoped Nicola Mitchell could shed some light on Jeremy. The man. The myth.

“The arsehole!” Nicola blurted, having navigated down the narrow stairs to the caffè’s lower level, where I’d waited with the box and everything else. I’d admired her ability to do so while carrying a tray full of mocha frappé latte, a slice of Limoncello mascarpone cake, a cookie, a cello pack of almond biscotti, and a diminutive shortbread fruit tart. All just for her. “I’m sorry, but he really was insufferable to work for.”

She shook her head and forked up an angry mouthful of cake. Tall, angular, and possessed of a headful of curly auburn hair, Nicola was twenty-five at most and not at all mousy. Not now.

“Jeremy Wright was a bully, plain and simple.” She glanced at the cafégoers enjoying Milanese hot chocolate and Loacker wafers nearby, then lowered her voice. Her gaze met mine, full of unequivocal certainty. “If Jeremy got his way, he was fine. If he didn’t, you’d better run and hide. He was a complete egomaniac!” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t even get me started.”

“All I said was, ‘have you worked for Jeremy long?'”

“I know. I’m sorry. But grrrr!” Nicola stabbed up more cake. I felt sorry for that beleaguered slice. “When he picked me to work for him—just for him, I mean, not at the restaurant—”

Aha. She must be a former server. That’s how she’d managed to carry that loaded tray with such agility. Most people couldn’t do the same. Which didn’t explain why nearly everything in a quick-service environment in the U.K. was presented that way. Tea, coffee, cake slices, scones—they all came served on a tray.

It was a uniquely English thing. Just like queuing, a lack of eye contact on the Tube, and enthusiasm for old-world outdoor Christmas markets stocked for the holidays with carnival rides, mulled wine, and music. I’d experienced the latter last year.

“I thought I’d made it. I truly did,” Nicola confided. “I was underemployed as it was, with my degree. I didn’t want to deal with hungry, demanding customers for years to come.”

I nodded, understanding. I’ve held my share of ordinary jobs all over the world. Before embarking on chocolate whispering, for instance, I’d worked for a while at a café near the Leidseplein in Amsterdam. I understood Nicola’s position.

Just as in America, the youth of Europe tend to be underemployed or even unemployed. Economies are tough all over.

“But the joke was on me.” Nicola slurped her frappé. “I wound up dealing with hungry, demanding Jeremy instead.”

I winced at the force of her irritation. First cranky Mr. Barclay, now irate Nicola Mitchell. Jeremy Wright had definitely rubbed a few people the wrong way. Not everyone would be lining up outside one of Jeremy’s restaurants with tears and a candle.

“Well, all successful people tend to be demanding,” I said.

“Not like Jeremy.” Nicola scowled at her plated cookie, then bit into it. She chewed with relish. “Sure, he seemed nice. He played that ‘Essex boy makes good’ business for all it was worth, too, believe me. He loved being England’s ‘sexy chef.’ He loved being asked for autographs whenever he stepped outside.”

I thought of the tabloid press assembled outside the Wrights’ town house. Jeremy might have loved all the attention.

“What he didn’t love was being contradicted. Or being reminded he’d forgotten something. Or being corrected.” Nicola shook her head. “That’s what ultimately got me sacked. Can you believe it? I had the temerity to point out that Jeremy had made a mistake on the inscription he’d written for a donation to his charity. He completely flew into a rage. I thought he was going to smack me! He was screaming. Red faced. I ran for my life! That’s why I didn’t have my phone with me. Or anything else.”

Her tone was dramatic. But maybe it was called for.

Nobody liked being fired (“sacked,” in U.K. vernacular), especially in such a dramatic way. Apparently, Jeremy had calmed down afterward—at least enough to collect all Nicola’s things for her—but they’d obviously never had a chance to reconcile.

“Sounds scary,” I said. “Jeremy had a temper, then?”

“It was terrifying! And yes, he did,” Nicola divulged, clenching her fork. If Jeremy had suffered multiple tiny stab wounds, I would have thought Nicola could have been the killer. She was definitely carrying a grudge. “Jeremy wasn’t as posh as he wanted to seem, despite being married to Phoebe and all. Underneath his swanky clothes and nice hair, he was a brute. You know he grew up on a council estate in East London, right?”

I did. I nodded. If you’re not familiar, a “council estate” is what public housing is called in the U.K. It sounds much fancier than it typically is. The upshot was, Jeremy came from a wrong-side-of-the-tracks background . . . and maybe hadn’t left all of his more combative instincts behind him. That didn’t bother me as much as it might have, though. Danny was very similar.

“That’s where Jeremy’s charity is based,” Nicola informed me as she put down her stabbing fork and unwrapped her biscotti instead. She seemed resentful. Also, in need of a commiserating ear. Fortunately, I have a knack for listening. People tend to open up to me. “It’s supposed to help show less fortunate kids that they can make it out of the old neighborhood, too, just the way Jeremy did.” She rolled her eyes. “Those dumb kids idolized him. Or maybe they just wanted a shot at one of his restaurant apprenticeships. Those were pretty lucrative.”

“An apprenticeship like Hugh’s?” I asked, encouraging her. Jeremy and Phoebe had run separate businesses, but they must have collaborated. Plus, Nicola needed to know I was listening.

“That’s right.” Nicola offered me a biscotto. I demurred. She shrugged and kept eating. It was remarkable that she managed to pack away so many goodies. Unfortunately, she caught me noticing and gave me a defensive look. “I haven’t tasted sugar for months. Jeremy had all of us on his ‘clean eating’ plan.”

Aha. The same healthy-eating kick Phoebe had mentioned—the one championed by Jeremy’s trainer, Liam Taylor. I doubted we’d get along. His approach to eating would give me nightmares.

“Come by Primrose,” I offered. “I’ll hook you up.”

Nicola laughed, that awkward moment between us forgotten. “I might just do that, if you’ve managed to improve things already. I heard the baked goods really went downhill at the shop after Jeremy hired away all Phoebe’s bakers. But maybe he wanted to get a jump on consolidating their assets for himself before the divorce papers were served. Who knows with him?”

I almost choked on my latte. “Divorce papers?”

“You didn’t know?” Nicola looked perplexed. “I thought that was why Phoebe needed your help—because Jeremy had poached all the talent on her staff. She was at risk of being exposed as a talentless fraud. They had epic fights about who owned what, who was responsible for what, and whose fault everything was.”

“Fights?” I hadn’t known about any marital discord. Even the staff at Primrose hadn’t gossiped about Phoebe’s marriage.

Of course, I didn’t know if Nicola was trustworthy or simply bitter—eager to bad-mouth her former boss. I did know that I didn’t much care for her take on Phoebe. Calling Phoebe Wright a fraud was putting a pretty harsh spin on things.

Wealthy people routinely started boutiques, candy stores, art galleries, and more—businesses that produced an income but were actually hobbies. If you could do the same, wouldn’t you?

On the other hand, the staff at Primrose was surprisingly green. And they were mostly newcomers to the shop. Hmm.

Maybe, just as Phoebe had pretended to be “working out” new recipes, she’d pretended to be “temporarily shorthanded,” too. That had been her excuse for needing my troubleshooting skills.

I didn’t like the idea that she’d hidden her true problems from me. But then, someone like her would value privacy and propriety, wouldn’t they? Her personal life wasn’t my business.

“As I said, Jeremy wasn’t an easy man to deal with. I’m sure he stole away those bakers out of sheer spite.” Nicola looked me square in the eye. “He was mean, Jeremy was. Before he died, he found time to blackball me in the industry, just because I corrected one little typo. Now, I’m unemployable.”

“But you have other skills,” I tried. “Your degree?”

“Didn’t get me a job before Jeremy and can’t now, either.”

“Can you bake?” I hoped to cheer her up. “I’ll hire you.”

“Thanks, but I need to think about my next move more carefully this time. I jumped into that job with Jeremy, and that was a disaster, to say the least.” Nicola shifted her gaze to the tabloid paper lying beside my latte. She gave me a semismile. “You’re lucky you never knew him, Hayden. I certainly wish I never had. We’re all better off now that Jeremy is gone.” Then she thanked me for bringing her things, took them upstairs with her, and left me behind with more questions than answers . . . and more food for thought than I’d counted on getting.

Also, a major appetite for cake. I ventured to the cafè’s counter and bought a wedge of triple-layered mocha, then savored that slice while considering my suspects. So far, no one stood out. But maybe meeting Liam Taylor would change that.


Colette LondonThe Semi-Sweet Hereafter by Colette London sometimes eats salad. She always eats chocolate. And she’d love for you to join her chocolate-loving community!

p.s. – Colette London is a pseudonym for a best-selling novelist who’s published more than three dozen books worldwide. Want to use your Google Fu to find out her secret identity? Nah. Don’t spoil the surprise. Use your powers for good and order a Chocolate Whisperer mystery instead!

From the Author

Thank you for reading this book! If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll share your enthusiasm by writing a review online, posting about this story on your Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog, or talking about it with your friends.

If you’re curious about my other books, please visit my Web site at, where you can find fantastic chocolate recipes, catch sneak previews of my upcoming books, and more.

Best wishes,
Colette London

The complete Chocolate Whisperer series

Criminal Confections (2/2015)

Dangerously Dark (10/2015)

The Semisweet Hereafter (10/2016)

Dead and Ganache (10/2017)

The Peppermint Mocha Murder (10/2018)

Praise for the novels of Colette London

“Chocoholics and food cozy fans rejoice! With prose as smooth and delicious as its theme, this quality debut cozy by an anonymous best-selling novelist introduces a smart protagonist with an unusual and tasty profession.”Library Journal (starred review!)

“This mystery, centered around yummy treats and high crime, was a spooky-cute lead up to Halloween. I was hooked from the start, and afterward I was craving a chocolate truffle!” —Lauren Gatcombe, assistant editor, FIRST For Women magazine

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