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Any Given Sundae (EBOOK)

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EBOOK. Book 5 in the USA Today Bestselling cozy mystery series, Australian Amateur Sleuth.

All good things must cone to an end...

Sibyl Potts has finally been awarded her long-awaited property settlement, and the fact her ex-husband has been sentenced for her attempted murder is the cherry on top.

Yet just as all seems sweet in her world, the body of one of Cressida’s boarders is found in Sibyl’s cottage next to a half eaten ice cream sundae.

Looks like there’s a rocky road ahead. When all the evidence points to Sibyl as the culprit, how will she scoop out the evidence and prove her innocence? And will the murderer get their just desserts? 

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CHAPTER 1

I shuddered against the icy wind and closed the window as quickly as I could, sighing with relief as it slammed shut. It was the middle of winter here in Little Tatterford, a place where it got cold enough for water pipes to freeze solid. In other words, it was the sort of town in which going outside was entirely too much trouble for a full quarter of each year. Sure, it got colder in other parts of the world, but for some reason, Australian houses were not built for this climate. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the rest of Australia was either desert or nice, warm, and coastal.
I looked out of the window, struggling to see much through the fog that was rapidly building against the glass. All the trees had long since shed their leaves, leaving nothing but depressing grey-brown skeletons jutting out of the ground at strange angles, making the entire horizon infinitely more ominous. The sky was similarly devoid of colour as clouds gathered, and although the chance of actual snow was currently next to zero, there was always the possibility of a hailstorm. The last one had been some time ago, but had been serious enough to litter the ground in hail and cause considerable damage to houses and cars. Nobody was happy to take a day off work because it was hailing so heavily.
I sighed again and turned away from the window, narrowly dodging an antique chair nearby. The boarding house was filled to the brim with antiques of every sort, but furniture was the worst offender. There were more chairs than there had ever been guests, and not nearly enough tables to seat them all. Each chair was drastically different from the others, a bizarre ensemble of antiques that looked as though it was specifically a collection from different periods of history.
Happily, each was clean, practically shining in the electric light cast down from the high ceilings. That was due to one Mr Buttons, the only permanent boarder and a man who spent far too much time cleaning. He had been a good friend of mine since I’d moved to Little Tatterford after a nasty divorce, and was best described as a typical English butler, though he never did any actual butlering. He spent his free time cleaning things, whether or not it was socially acceptable to do so, and making cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, though he’d recently tried branching out into more exciting recipes, such as watercress sandwiches—with the crusts cut off.
I looked around the boarding house, taking in the bizarre sights. I’d gotten so used to being here that I sometimes forgot what a strange place it really was. Other than the scattering of antiques, the house was a grand Victorian affair with high ceilings, striking arches, and a grand staircase. It was a beautiful building, though it did feel somewhat out of place in a small Australian country town. I considered that it wasn’t built for such cold weather, as I pulled my jacket tightly around myself and shivered.
I grimaced as I noticed several large hairs on my jacket. I quickly brushed them off. Since moving to Little Tatterford, I’d started my own dog and cat grooming business and had struggled to get it up and running. More recently, though, I’d become quite successful with it, though it did mean occasionally finding about four pets’ worth of hair on my person. I knew if I myself didn’t brush it off, then Mr Buttons wouldn’t be able to help himself. He was very nice and a good friend, but his obsession with cleanliness extended far beyond social normality.
“Sibyl!” A familiar voice called out my name. I turned to see Mr Buttons walking briskly towards me, Cressida in tow. Cressida was the owner of the boarding house and also a good friend of mine, yet it was hard to talk about her without mentioning how, well, unique she was. She wore altogether too much make-up, as though she were trying to blend into the background of a clown painting.
Speaking of painting, that was her hobby of choice. Unfortunately, her subject of choice was disturbingly gory settings, making her nevertheless skilled artworks somewhat hard to look at.
“Hello, Mr Buttons. Hi, Cressida,” I said with a smile.
“I didn’t think you’d be here so early,” Cressida said, dusting herself off. Mr Buttons raised an eyebrow and looked at her, clearly sizing her up for a cleaning. Cressida seemed to notice and took a step away from him.
“Sorry, it’s just so hard to sit still in the cold like this, so I decided to get here a bit earlier than we’d agreed,” I explained. I lived in a cottage not too far from the boarding house, and while it was better insulated than the boarding house itself, it was still impossible to stay warm in this weather. I’d figured that a walk would do me some good, but had underestimated just how cold it was outside.
We all walked to the dining room together where Mr Buttons made us some tea. I thanked him and took a slow sip, enjoying the heat as much as possible. The tea was good, but I was more interested in garnering every bit of warmth that I could.
“So I hear your business is taking off,” Mr Buttons said with a smile.
“You could say that,” I said. “I’ve been doing very well lately, yes. It seems that a lot of people have been moving here from Sydney, probably looking for a more rural lifestyle. My client base has increased recently, and while the work has been nothing short of exhausting, I’m glad for it,” I admitted. It had been hard trying to make a living when my business was struggling so much previously, so it was a relief to have such a reliable income.
“Would you like some lunch?” Cressida suddenly interjected. “Dorothy is in, so she should...”
“No!” a voice yelled from the kitchen nearby. “I’m not in the mood,” the voice continued. I sighed, recognising Dorothy’s voice at once. She was a large unpleasant woman, the relatively recent cook of the boarding house. Ever since she had taken the job, the quality of food had decreased dramatically, and she was nothing short of rude to everybody in conversation. Mr Buttons especially held disdain for her, though he expressed it in his own strange way.
“Cease and desist, madam!” Mr Buttons yelled back. “We are your guests, and you should feel honour-bound to meet our needs!” He said it with so much confidence that I was sure he himself believed it. Dorothy responded with a noise somewhere between a furious “Humph!” and the sound of a pig being squeezed. Mr Buttons took what could only be explained as an angry sip of tea and set his cup back down delicately on the saucer, looking perturbed. I held in a laugh. While I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of Dorothy, it was always fun to watch how Mr Buttons struggled against her tyranny.
“And what else is new, Sibyl?” Cressida asked, obviously hoping to change the topic of conversation.
“Well, the property settlement with my ex-husband has been awarded,” I announced cheerfully. “I’m just waiting for the money to come through.”
“And how is all that... unpleasantness affecting you?” Mr Buttons asked.
I at once knew what he meant. “As you know, they’ve both been convicted of murder.” I let out a long sigh of relief. My ex-husband and his mistress had tried to murder me some time ago. They had received a long term prison sentence both for my attempted murder and for the murder of someone else, so it was unlikely that I’d have to worry about them for a long time.
“That’s excellent!” Cressida exclaimed. “Well, not excellent as such, I suppose. But it’s good for you,” she added with a weak smile.
I laughed before replying. “It’s fine, Cressida. We weren’t exactly friends before he tried to murder me, so there’s no love lost, so to speak.” I looked at Mr Buttons, who was apparently still concentrating on his distaste for Dorothy. Talking to Cressida seemed like the best option when Mr Buttons was in this kind of mood. “And how are things with you, Cressida?” I asked.
“Great!” she announced excitedly. “Five of my paintings have sold from Mortimer’s gallery already.”
I gasped, although managed to hide my shock by pretending it was a delighted sort of noise. I was happy for her, but it amazed me that people were willing to buy her art when everything she depicted was so gruesome and graphic. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw one of her paintings without immediately feeling the kind of existential dread typically reserved by the highest order of horror fiction.
She’d recently sold some pieces to an art dealer by the name of Mortimer Fyfe-Waring, who was every bit as strange as his name suggested. He was an older man, about her age, who ran a gallery in a nearby town. He had become inconsolably excited when he had seen her artworks and had commissioned them on the spot. At first, I thought he was just crazy, but then I figured he was probably good at his job—and crazy. The fact that the paintings were selling so quickly told me that I probably didn’t have an eye for art, and that I certainly didn’t want one.
“He’s also asked me to paint some more, since the last ones sold so quickly,” Cressida said happily. Before I could escape, she pulled a canvas from seemingly nowhere and showed me. I resisted the urge to scream, though barely, and managed to nod approvingly, making the most positive noise I could through gritted teeth. “This is part of a new collection I call The Obliteration of Newbury,” Cressida explained kindly. I didn’t think to ask what she had against Newbury or happiness, instead focusing on changing the topic immediately. Unfortunately, she maintained a level stare as if waiting for some kind of response.
“It sure is something,” I said, trying to smile.
“Oh, I can’t wait to show Mortimer,” Cressida said with a genuine smile.
“I’m not sure what you see in him,” Mr Buttons butted in, apparently part of the conversation again. “I find him rather off-putting,” he continued, clearing his throat.
“Oh, pish posh,” Cressida said. “He’s a nice man. It’s good to meet someone normal,” she continued, apparently completely oblivious to the notion of irony.
“He is gay, you know,” Mr Buttons said, sipping his tea.
“He is not always!” Cressida exclaimed. “Sometimes he’s quite sad.”
“What about that Vlad he’s always talking about?” Mr Buttons asked.
“They’re just friends who sometimes massage each other in the sauna,” Cressida explained as though it were normal. “He told me all this when we met for lunch,” she said smugly.
“Anyway,” I interjected, hoping to change the topic before it got even stranger and more awkward. “What else is new, Cressida? How has business at the boarding house been?”
“Oh, not bad, not bad. Lord Farringdon has warned me that there’s an enemy closer to us than we realise, though,” she said casually, taking another sip of tea. Lord Farringdon was her cat, and of course Cressida thought she could communicate with him. It was easy to dismiss her as a crazy cat lady, but Lord Farringdon had made an alarming number of accurate predictions. I took a moment to consider that a single accurate prediction from an allegedly talking cat was an alarming number, but decided to focus on the topic at hand.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“He said that something horrible will happen soon,” she said, setting down her tea cup. “Something bad and something near.” Cressida leant in close to me and lowered her voice to a whisper. “But the most important thing to remember is that he’s a bit paranoid, you know, that one. He’s getting on in years.” She leant back and nodded at me knowingly.
I sighed, feeling altogether less calm than I had been before. We’d had our share of problems here in Little Tatterford, and I hoped that the prophetic cat was just a product of Cressida’s imagination.