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Best Cosy Books

Tequila Mockingbird (PAPERBACK)

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PAPERBACK. Book 7 in the USA Today Bestselling cozy mystery series, Australian Amateur Sleuth.

When the Fifth Earl of Mockingbird comes to Little Tatterford, all Mr. Buttons' fears come home to roost. And in a cheep shot, when a victim's tequila is poisoned, Mr Buttons becomes the prime suspect. This is where Sibyl and Cressida draw the lime. They fly in the face of the evidence and ruffle a few feathers in an attempt to prove his innocence.

Will the murderer triumph by fowl means?

Or will Sibyl solve the case and have her fairytail ending?

PAPERBACK. 

 Paperback 232 pages
 Dimensions  5 x 0.53 x 8 inches (127 x 13.5 x 203 mm)
 ISBN  9781922420657
 Publication date August 5, 2020
 Publisher  Best Cosy Books

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CHAPTER 1

Cressida Upthorpe banged on my bedroom window, but with Little Tatterford experiencing a typical heavy frost and the world both outside and inside my bedroom freezing, I refused to get out of bed.
“The English are invading,” Cressida shouted, yet not even Sandy, my yellow Labrador, stirred from her sleep.
I pulled the covers over my head. “Tell the Prime Minister.” I could maybe fight one or two English people if they were very small or perhaps drunk, but a bunch of them? That was out of the question.
“You promised you’d help,” Cressida said, her tone pleading. “You must help or else I will tell everyone your darkest secrets.”
“I don’t have any.” Still, I knew it was hopeless so stepped over Sandy and staggered to the front door. The fire, of course, was out. Open fires usually did burn all night, but something was wrong with the way my chimney had been built, so I always woke up to a cold house.
I opened the door to see Cressida, resplendent in a delicate crimson nightgown lined with fur and red gumboots also lined with fur.
She pushed past me. “Sibyl, I have the Fifth Earl of Mockingbird and his rather charming escorts arriving today, and I need your help at the boarding house. I can’t ask Mr Buttons because the Earl is an old friend of his and wants to surprise him.”
“I thought nobody knew Mr Buttons was living here?”
Cressida shrugged. “I suppose that busybody journalist told him.”
I hurried over to the fire and pushed aside the firescreen. I checked that there were no coals still alight, then put some small logs in the fireplace before pushing several firestarter cubes under them. I fetched a bottle of metho and sprinkled it on the fire, and then flicked in a match, jumping backwards as I did so.
“How on earth does a man become the Fifth Earl of Mockingbird?” I muttered to myself as the flames soared.
“You wait for the previous four Earls of Mockingbird to die, I expect.”
“What’s his real name?” I warmed myself in front of the fire. The shivering was only just starting to subside when Sandy ran in and licked my fingers. “I’ll feed you in a second.”
“Thank you,” Cressida said, but I was too cold and tired to correct her. “His name is Peregrine Winthrop-Montgomery-Rose-Bucklefort. He must be very posh, so I have to use the fancy silver.”
I pulled a face. “And you said the Earl had an escort?”
“Yes, several. All up, it’s a party of five. There’s the Earl, his secretary, Lavinia Berkshire, his driver, Tristan Clemonte, and two other people named Jemima Hardy and Thomasina Chadwick. Some sort of assistants, I believe. Goodness knows what they do.”
“Wow,” I replied. “The English are invading. Are any of them drunk? Or very small?”
“You’ll know soon enough. You’re helping me to book them in. Dress for the occasion, won’t you? These are very refined, elegant people, and they will expect a polished presentation and wonderful manners.”
Ten minutes later, I stood outside the boarding house trying not to pull out my wedgie. I was wearing jeans that had fitted ten years ago but not so much after that. That was because all of my posh clothes—not that I really owned posh clothes—were in the laundry basket, so I had to resort to jeans and a blazer. The blazer was from the eighties and looked tragic—shoulder pads, hot pink, shiny.
“This is the best you have ever looked,” Cressida shrieked when she saw me. “The very best. Only put on some makeup, dear.”
“I did,” I replied, offended. I’d actually caked my face with foundation and blush. Like some sort of loose woman, as my mother would say. Then again, she thought every woman was loose, even the ones who wore cardigans buttoned up to their necks and had huge spectacles that made them look like some sort of kindly wizard.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Mum had said. “And some beholders love kindly wizards.”
I snapped out of my reverie when Cressida tugged on the hem of my blazer. “Pink. So close to red and yet so very far.”
Cressida had changed out of her red outfit into another red outfit, this one a tulle gown. I wonder what the refined English people would think of a couple of mad Australians—one escaped from a ball, the other escaped from the eighties—but shook the thought from my head. For the most part, we were a nation of convicts. The English landed gentry probably thought these were the only clothes we were able to steal at such short notice.
“Remember. Be overly polite,” Cressida hissed in my ear as the car hummed up the driveway.
The car itself was quite posh, a BMW of some description. I wasn’t up on fancy car models, as much as I admired them. The windows were blacked out. Surely this wasn’t a hire car?
A moment later, the car came to a screeching halt, and onto the gravel tumbled the Fifth Earl of Mockingbird. He was wearing rather too-tight leather pants, and his black shirt was open all the way to his navel. Overpowering plumes of sickly sweet men’s cologne emanated from him, and his long hair was a mess. He scrambled across the gravel and offered Cressida his hand.
“Delighted,” he said.
I bit the inside of my cheek to stop laughing. I knew he was not what Cressida was expecting.
“I was expecting Peregrine Winthrop-Montgomery-Rose-Bucklefort,” Cressida said sternly. She did not shake his hand.
“I am he. My attendants are Lavinia, Jemima, Thomasina, and Tristan.”
“It’s Tommie,” Thomasina said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Tristan said. He appeared to be the only normal one of the bunch. The others, even the Earl, looked like hung-over rock stars with smudged eyeliner and wild, almost gritty hair.
“Hi.” I shook Tristan’s hand. He looked like an Oxford professor. He wore a tweed jacket, and his hair was swoopier than the magpies that swooped pedestrians to protect their young during spring. He reminded me of Detective Roberts, although I figured he was much younger.
“Have you been hanging out with Bill and Ted?” Tristan asked. He eyed my blazer meaningfully.
Cressida chuckled. “Oh yes, Lord Farringdon tells me you’re referencing a movie about time travel.” She picked up the purring cat. “Do come inside for a spot of tea.” She turned to me and added in a stage whisper, “The English like tea, and Albert is presently removing crusts from cucumber sandwiches.”
“Lovely,” Tristan said. I offered to help with the bags, but he politely declined.
Cressida instructed everybody to leave their luggage in the foyer and showed them into the sitting room. Albert, the not-French chef, had placed silver trays of hors d’oeuvres on the walnut parquetry low-table between two bulky Chesterfields, with a large Victorian mahogany grandfather chair at the head.
As the Earl took his seat in the grandfather chair, he clicked his tongue in disapproval. “A Victorian nine-piece drawing room setting should consist of a single chaise longue, a grandfather chair, a grandmother chair, and six drawing room chairs of the balloon-back variety. What’s more, one would expect the upholstery to match.”
Cressida appeared most affronted. “I’ll have you know that I am an artist, and my furniture reflects my taste!”
Lavinia tapped my shoulder. “This marmalade is beastly.” She wrinkled her nose. She had been using mustard from the mustard cruet of the sterling silver cruet set.
“Um, sorry about that.” I took the cruet from her hand and placed it back on the table.
“It’s been ages since I slummed it with the working-class.” Jemima looked around at the room. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that most of the working-class didn’t live in huge estates like this one or eat from sterling silver. “How do you breathe in such small confines?”
“It’s a trial,” I replied. I was so furious at Cressida for roping me into this mess that I didn’t even help her with Lavinia, who was now explaining to everyone in great detail what frightful bores the Australians she had already met had been.
Tristan tapped me on the shoulder and handed me an envelope. “For you.”
I looked down at the gold-embossed envelope. “What is it?”
“It’s a thank you letter from the Earl. One must always write a thank you letter to one’s hosts. I’m sorry it is written on a typewriter and not handwritten.”
I broke the fancy seal and opened the envelope. All it said was:
Thanks, Australian peasants. From the Earl.
I didn’t know what I was expecting. Tristan looked embarrassed, so I smiled to reassure him. He was the only one I liked.
Jemima walked over to me and cleared her throat. “Excuse me, are there any dangers around here?”
“Of course not,” I replied, offended by my country’s reputation for being dangerous. After all, Americans and Canadians had bears. We didn’t have bears Down Under. Thank goodness. “Of course, Australia is famous for its crocodiles. Did you know crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal in the world?”
Jemima gulped, and I nodded, encouraged.
“Oh yes. And they attack humans. They can outrun anybody. And they’re smart. They will wait for days under a tree to eat somebody who climbed up it to try to escape from them. They’re cunning hunters, and they eat anybody they can catch. Crocodile attacks are far more common than shark attacks. But you don’t need to worry about that here. We’re far from the sea, and we’re too far south for crocodiles.”
Jemima breathed a sigh of relief.
I pushed on. “Here we just have deadly spiders and snakes.”
“Spiders and snakes?” Jemima looked at Tommie, whose expression mimicked hers. They both looked terrified.
“The Inland Taipan snake is considered the deadliest snake in the world, so of course it lives here. Only a handful of people have been bitten and lived. But snakes are not all. There’s the funnel web spider. They’re highly aggressive. Still, if you live in a city and can get treatment in time, you might live. No, the redback spider, which is everywhere, by the way”—I paused to gather my thoughts as Tommie sniffled—“is Australia’s black widow only far more deadly. Highly venomous. And naturally, they love to live in or around houses. Historically, the redback spider is responsible for the majority of antivenom used. I wouldn’t get bitten by one, if I were you. Just make sure to shake out your shoes before you put them on, and turn over any rocks or anything outdoors carefully, as redbacks live under everything outside. They’re not aggressive, though.” I smiled with encouragement.
Lavinia burst into tears. Tommie hurried to help her to the overstuffed, ancient couch blocking the light from the bay window.
Jemima snorted rudely. “She has a delicate constitution.”
I wondered if I could sneak back to my cottage without the English people noticing me, but I felt so bad for upsetting Lavinia that I decided to stick around. Of course, redback spiders don’t attack people and only bite somebody who accidentally touches them. Maybe I should have said that? Oh well. Too late now.
Peregrine looked up from his tea cup. “What happened to Lavinia, the jolly old stick?”
“She realised she is in Australia.” Tristan winked at me.
“It’s enough to make anyone woozy,” Peregrine replied. “Hello? You, girl? Yes, your marmalade is most distasteful.”
Tristan handed me the mustard cruet. These people needed to get their eyes checked, I decided. I also decided to hide the yellow paint tin in the hallway. Just in case.
“Sibyl, will you get the door? Lord Farringdon tells me Mr Buttons is approaching.” Cressida nodded to the door.
I was halfway to the door when Mr Buttons let himself into the room. He stood among the antiques. He was looking at the English guests, and he seemed confused, his mouth gaping open.
Peregrine’s face broke into a wide smile. “Surprise, Nithy, old boy!”
Mr Buttons dropped his polishing cloth. “Peregrine Winthrop-Montgomery-Rose-Bucklefort!”