Today I’m pleased to be sharing an extract from Deception Most Deadly, the first in the series of mystery books featuring Cassie Gwynne and being published by Bookouture.
Meet Cassie Gwynne: bookworm, cat lover, reluctant heiress… and determined detective?
Florida, 1883. Cassie Gwynne is looking for a fresh start when she steps off the steamship at Fernandina harbor for the first time. She’s trying hard to be a proper lady, for once. She’s styled her unruly hair, shined her boots, and even purchased a whole new fashionable (or at least fashionably priced) wardrobe. However, she’s certain finding a body is not very ladylike behavior…
While out exploring the beautiful island with her Aunt Flora, Cassie stumbles across the body of Peanut Runkles, town grump and her aunt’s neighbor, lying at the foot of the harbor pilots’ lookout tower. To make matters worse, because Peanut and Flora have been quarreling for years over everything from Flora’s eccentric ideas to her pet pig’s fondness for Peanut’s vegetable patch, Flora is immediately arrested for murder.
Desperate to save the only family she has left, Cassie vows to prove Flora’s innocence and untangle the mystery herself, no matter how much the surly local sheriff disapproves. Cassie’s brilliant mind and nose for a clue lead her on an investigation that takes her all around the island, and even earns her a valiant furry friend in Esy the kitten.
But how does the mysterious ledger Cassie finds hidden in a secret drawer in Peanut’s desk connect to the crime? Cassie is determined to dig up the truth, but can she catch the killer before her time on the island comes to a deadly end?
This warm and witty cozy mystery will transport you to the island city of Fernandina and introduce you to a feisty heroine far before her time! Perfect for fans of Verity Bright, T E Kinsey and Deanna Raybourn.
Extract from the book:
Mr. Huddleston chortled as he grabbed onto the bench to steady himself. “Right, ‘my partner’! So what brings you to Fernandina then, Miss Gwynne?”
“I’ve come to see my aunt.” It still felt strange saying that. “She owns a perfume and scented goods store in town. She should be along any time to collect me.”
At least she hoped so. In their last telegram exchange, her aunt had said she would meet her at the wharf, but there was still no sign of her among the people bustling about. Not that Cassie knew what she looked like. Or very much else about her, for that matter. Her nerves began to crackle again.
Mrs. Huddleston seized her husband’s arm. “Your aunt isn’t Flora Hale, by any chance, is she?”
“How delightful! I’ve read all about her work. They say her orange blossom scents are particularly spectacular because she makes the—what was it, Harold, ‘neroli’?—from her own orange groves. Ooo! Can you believe it? Now we practically know her. Say, will you two be attending the season’s opening ball at the Egmont Hotel this weekend? It promises to be a most exciting affair. String orchestra, Chinese lanterns, fireworks—Oh.” She slapped a hand to her waist. “Oh. Oh, dear.”
“What is it, Iphie?” “My pocket. The one where I keep my money. It was tied to my belt, but now it’s gone.”
As the couple clucked and tugged at Mrs. Huddleston’s dress, Cassie glanced down the dock. Then jumped to her feet. While most passersby were focused on the commotion surrounding the Huddlestons and their increasingly frantic dog, one was slinking off in the other direction, a man with a ratty green derby tipped over his face. And a lady’s pocket under his arm.
Cassie watched him slip past the coffee stall and disappear behind a dray piled with luggage. She looked around. No one else seemed to have noticed.
Then her gaze fell on Mrs. Huddleston, who had scooped up her dog and was blubbering into him like he was a furry handkerchief. This doesn’t involve you, Cassie. She glanced at the dray again and back at Mrs. Huddleston. But what am I supposed to do? Stand by and watch?
She stepped out from the bench, craning her neck. She hadn’t seen the man re-emerge from behind the dray, so he was probably still hiding back there. If she got a better look, she might—
Someone slammed into her from behind, and the next thing she knew, she was sprawled on her stomach, her arms and legs stretched out like a mounted starfish. Letting out a small whimper, she lifted her head. There was no sign of the thief, or his ugly green hat.
As she dropped her face back onto the dock, however, a groan issued from the space next to her—a man with reddish-blond hair, crawling to his feet. His upper lip, which was framed by a long, drooping mustache, had a petulant turn to it, and the state of his simple gray sack suit suggested its usual storage place was a heap on the floor. But, with his strong shoulders and searing blue eyes, Cassie noticed, he was far from unhandsome.
“Why in blazes did you jump out like that?” he fumed, sending her thoughts skittering like insects exposed under a piece of wood. He shoved his hat onto his head. “Now he’s gotten away.”
Cassie sat up fiercely but found she could only manage an indignant grunt in response.
“Yes, you did. I was running after a thief when you jumped right into my path.”
“I do apologize, sir.” Breath being in short supply, sass won out over affrontery. “For failing to consider how having the wind knocked out of me would inconvenience you.”
Unfortunately, the man, who had pressed his hands to his temples and launched into what sounded like a growl being shaken inside a bottle, no longer appeared to be listening. Cassie sighed and made a show of getting to her feet.
“For the record—” She stumbled on a bit of petticoat that had wrapped itself around her boot heel. “I didn’t ‘jump’ anywhere. I saw the man who took that woman’s pocket run behind a cart, so I thought I would—”
The man snickered. “Would what? Go after him yourself?”
“No. But what would be so funny about that?”
“What would you have done once you caught up to him? Stood on a crate and beat him with your twenty-dollar hat?”
Cassie controlled her breathing as her hands balled into fists at her sides. There were few things she disliked more than not being taken seriously. Sure, people’s tendency to underestimate her occasionally worked to her advantage. She had utilized it often when her father needed an uncooperative witness to let information slip. But mostly it made her want to break things.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense I’d eventually try to be a writer. One need only examine my childhood, as any therapist will tell you, and look for the signs: On family vacations my poor mother, already on her last nerve as my father, the Botany Professor, drove us around winding mountain roads with one eye on the ground vegetation, constantly screamed at me to “stop reading and look at the scenery.” I assigned my books call numbers and insisted my friends “check them out” from my “library” (the fines for late returns were steep but, as it turned out, largely unenforceable). I wrote plays about forest fairies and figures from classical mythology and petitioned for special dispensation so I could stage them on the playground during lunch. My favorite school task was diagramming sentences.
So, when, many years later, I scaled back my other work to spend more time writing, no one really should have been surprised. Concerned for my sanity and financial well-being, maybe, but not surprised. And am I ever glad I did. I am truly blessed, and I make an effort every day to remember that.
What else… I’m half-Chinese and Florida-raised, Yale- and UVA- educated, and Chicago…buffed and polished? In any case, I now proudly call New Orleans home, and when I’m not writing or getting lost down research rabbit holes, I spend my time practicing law, shooting pool, performing operas and musicals, ogling old buildings, acting for film and television, futzing with inventions that address highly specific and possibly only-annoying-to-me problems, traveling, ranting at bartenders about the evils of straws, riding horses, and petting strange cats (though, since we’ve recently welcomed home a new kitten friend, Musette, I might need to cut back on that last).
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