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Witches’ Diaries (Paperback)

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PAPERBACK. Book 8 of the Vampires and Wine paranormal cozy mystery series.

Business at the Bed and Breakfast is bad, given that several boarders have been murdered in the cottages.
Pepper and the aunts are thrilled when new boarders book in for a Clue-themed stay.
It's not long before a murderer strikes, in the conservatory, with a candlestick.
Join Pepper, Lucas, and the aunts at Mugwort Manor to uncover the truth - if you dare.

PAPERBACK paranormal cozy mystery

 Paperback 184 pages
 Dimensions 6 x 0.41x 9 inches (152 x 10.3 x 228 mm)
 ISBN  9781922595300
 Publication date  August 31, 2021
 Publisher  Best Cosy Books  

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Business at the Bed and Breakfast was bad, given that several of our guests had been murdered.
I slumped at the kitchen table of Mugwort Manor. A Sydney paper had run an article on the murders at our Bed and Breakfast, and bookings had dropped to zero. The mug of coffee grew cool by my elbow as I carefully studied the books. If we didn’t get a steady stream of guests soon, we might have to close, and then what?
Really, people were far too fussy when it came to accommodation these days. We didn’t have mice or bed bugs. The sheets were freshly laundered each day, and the manor was close to a lovely beach. It’s a shame how a little bit of murder here and there turned folks away from a marvellous vacation in Lighthouse Bay.
“I have an idea, Valkyrie,” Aunt Maude said. She was washing the dishes while I struggled to think up a plan. Despite the fact Mugwort Manor was as old as the hills, it did have a dishwasher, but Aunt Maude said washing dishes helped her to think.
“Please tell me.” I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice.
“Themed cottages.”
I sighed. “Aunt Maude, you know that the guest cottages here at Mugwort Manor are already themed!”
“Of course, I know that,” Maude protested. “We currently have Jungle, Atlantis, King Arthur, The Witcher, Game of Thrones—which is rather out of date now, anyway—and…”
I interrupted her. “Then what do you mean?”
“We should change up each theme. You know, we could redecorate the place, and I think each cottage should now have a murder theme.”
“Aunt Maude,” I said, “people won’t stay here because of the murders already. That’s a terrible idea.”
“People love terrible ideas,” Aunt Maude said. “Let’s make murder a selling point.”
“But isn’t it a little distasteful?”
“People love distasteful.”
I ran my hands over the books as I watched Aunt Maude put away a teacup. I thought it over. “I suppose so. I really don’t want to close.” I thought of getting a job in a cafe. My first job was in a cafe, and the chef was so mean and grumpy it still made me tremble.
“Each cottage doesn’t need to have a scary murder theme,” Aunt Maude added. “Hang on a moment. I’ve just had a great idea. We could theme each cottage after a room from Cluedo.”
Cluedo—or Clue, as it was known in some parts of the world—was my favourite board game. In Cluedo, there were nine rooms, and maybe it would be fun to dress the cottages up like a conservatory, a ballroom, a kitchen, a billiard room, a library, a lounge, a study, a hall, a dining room, and a cellar. Maybe Aunt Maude was onto something here.
She was still talking. “It would be such fun. Such fun! We could hide the six murder weapons, and the guest who finds one—say, the rope—wins a special prize,” Aunt Maude said. “Nothing fancy, but something cute to remember their time here at Mugwort Manor.”
I slapped my hand on the table. “I love it!”
It was decided. Instead of shying away from the fact that our Bed and Breakfast had seemingly become the murder capital of Australia, we would lean into our hard-earned reputation. Aunt Maude told her sisters, Agnes and Dorothy, about the plan. Aunt Agnes protested loudly, while the other two headed straight to the store to buy supplies, and I called a local contractor who was cheap and somewhat reliable.
In the space of four weeks, we had changed the theme of each cottage, had redone the website, and had sent out word to any possible guests.
“Was the chandelier a bit much?” Aunt Dorothy asked.
We peered up at the chandelier in the cottage that was themed to look like the hall.
“Yes,” Aunt Agnes replied. “I told you that before, Dorothy, at least five times. Weren’t you listening?”
“I got it for a great deal,” Aunt Maude said.
“You stole it from Harry Hook’s garage,” a voice said. We all turned. Lucas was standing in the doorway.
Aunt Maude’s face turned bright red. “I can’t go to jail. I’m delicate, and I have food allergies.”
“No, you don’t,” Aunt Agnes replied.
“Do you want him to lock me up?” Aunt Maude hissed.
Lucas exhaled. “Harry said you can keep it. He’s been wanting to get rid of it for years.”
“Are you here to make a booking?” Aunt Agnes said sharply.
“Er—no? I already live here.”
“Then you had best leave. We’re rather busy.”
“Charming,” Lucas replied. “I’m shocked you’re losing business with people skills like that.”
“Actually, Aunt Maude’s idea is a hit,” I told him. “We can’t seem to stop the phones from ringing, and we have a party of six arriving soon on a bus from Sydney.”
Aunt Agnes turned up her nose. “All this fuss over a silly board game. There is no strategy involved in Cluedo. It’s all guesswork.”
Lucas snorted. “Please. The player who selects Mrs Peacock starts one space closer to the first room than any other player, and Professor Plum’s nearest room is the study, which has a secret passage to the kitchen, which is the hardest room to reach. I always pick Plum.”
“How do you know so much about Cluedo?” I asked him.
“What do you think inspired me to become a cop?” Lucas winked at me, and I felt my cheeks redden.
Aunt Maude scratched her head. “But you’re not a cop. You’re a Cleaner.”
“That’s irrelevant, Maude,” Aunt Agnes snapped. “You take everything too literally. All of this is a terrible idea. We shouldn’t be making light of something as serious as murder.”
“We aren’t making light of anything,” Aunt Maude replied. “We’re making money.”
“We’re booked out for the next month.” Aunt Dorothy was holding and stroking a lamp, which she seemed to think was Breena in cat form.
“The next month, you say?” Aunt Agnes narrowed her eyes. “Well, that is better than I thought we’d do after the silly makeover.”
“People love mysteries,” Aunt Maude said, “and now they get to live in the world of one the most famous mysteries of all.”
“Looks like the bus is here,” Lucas said. “I had better leave.”
“Don’t you want to meet our mysterious guests?” Dorothy asked him.
“No,” Lucas replied. “But I do want to change the flickering light you’ve been complaining about, Pepper.”
“Go for it,” I said.
Lucas nodded. He kissed the top of my head lightly and left.
“Ready?” I said to Agnes, Maude, and Dorothy. The next few days would let us know whether our plan was going to save the Bed and Breakfast.
“Ready,” they all said at once.
When the bus pulled up outside Mugwort Manor, six people stepped out. The first was a short man dressed in yellow. He had a big, bushy white moustache and big, bushy white eyebrows that eclipsed half of his face.
“My name,” he boomed, “is Frances Wiggenbottom-Higgenhouse the Ninth.”
“This family had nine opportunities to change that name,” I muttered to myself, perplexed, “and they never did.”
“But I would prefer it if you called me Colonel Mustard.”
Aunt Maude giggled. She stepped forward to offer her hand. “Very good, Colonel. I didn’t mind a spot of acting myself when I was younger.”
This was news to me. Aunt Maude thought all actors were degenerates. It was one of the only things Aunt Maude and Aunt Agnes agreed upon. Of course, it didn’t help that one of Aunt Dorothy’s ex-husbands had been an Oscar nominated actor who stole their clothes and sold them at a market store in order to buy light bulbs for a modern artwork he wanted to create but never did.
“Another thespian. How absolutely marvellous.” The Colonel kissed Aunt Maude’s hand.
The next guest was a lady dressed in a slinky red dress. The dress looked expensive and vintage—perhaps from the forties.
“I’m Moxie Maisie,” she said breathily. She offered Aunt Agnes her hand, but Agnes frowned and glared at Maude and Dorothy. “This was all my idea.”
“Don’t you want to go by your alias?” Colonel Mustard asked.
“I’d rather not,” Moxie Maisie replied. “I can’t stand the name Scarlett. I knew a Scarlett at a boarding school in Sweden. Awful girl. Smelt like a horse and rather looked like one too. I got expelled for no reason really, just for force-feeding her carrots.”
“It’s more fun if we pretend that we’re the suspects,” another lady said. She was short, with long white hair, and dressed like a hippie from the seventies yet in threadbare clothes.
“This is Demelza,” Moxie Maisie said. “My mother.”
Demelza said hello to everyone. Then, “Where are Plum, Peacock, and Green?”
Colonel Mustard, Moxie Maisie, and Demelza all looked around.
It turns out Green got his name on the bus ride over due to an unfortunate case of motion sickness. When Moxie Maisie was explaining this to me, I imagined Green as a fragile old man with pale skin and rumpled clothes, but Green was nothing of the sort. He was tall, and strapping, with black hair and piercing blue eyes.
“I’m not too fond of buses,” he said sheepishly to me. “My name is Finn.”
“Finn, darling,” Moxie Maisie said. “Be a peach and fetch my bags.”
Finn nodded. “Of course.”
The fifth guest, Plum, was a man named Eli Miles. He was Demelza’s ex-husband but told us they were on good terms and excited to be on vacation together.
“What a dreadful place,” said a voice.
“My grandmother,” Moxie Maisie said. “Priscilla Lockhart.”
Priscilla was a tall, willowy woman dressed in a long cape of peacock feathers and platform heels. I figured she was well over ninety.
Aunt Maude checked her clipboard. “It’s lovely to meet you, Priscilla. You are in the conservatory.”
“If I must.”
Priscilla did not bother to introduce herself to anyone, so Aunt Maude cleared her throat before leading Priscilla towards the cottage.
“Well,” Finn said, “I guess I’m taking her suitcases too.”
“Let me help,” Eli said. “Excuse me, ladies.”
“Oh, you are in the ballroom, Finn,” Dorothy said. “And you are in the study, Eli.”
“Sounds lovely,” Finn said. Eli agreed.
“Why can’t I be in the ballroom?” Moxie Maisie said with a frown. “I am rather a good dancer, you know. I was sure to have been a famous ballerina if not for the fact Mother wouldn’t pay for lessons.”
“We didn’t have the money, dear,” Demelza replied.
“Sure.” Moxie took her mother’s arm. “That wasn’t your fault. Shall we go and look at our cottages now?”
While the six guests settled into their cottages, we decided to light a fire in the pit. Well, we decided to ask Lucas to light a fire in the pit. I had no idea where Breena was, but that was probably a good thing. Her cat ways still popped up at the most inopportune moments.
Soon, the guests had all joined us, even Priscilla, who was clearly horribly annoyed by everyone. She had that in common with Aunt Agnes. Agnes did not approve of fire, even fire that was safely contained in a pit. She sat on a beach chair, arms folded, and scowled as Maude opened a packet of marshmallows.
“It’s fun,” Aunt Maude said, “Cheer up.”
“I am having fun,” Aunt Agnes retorted. She continued to scowl.
“I forgot.” Moxie Maisie jumped to her feet.
“What did you forget?” Colonel Mustard asked her.
“I left my hair curler on. I don’t want to burn my cottage down.”
“You had better not,” Aunt Agnes said.
“I’ll go turn it off right away,” Moxie Maisie said.
”I shall accompany you,” the Colonel boomed. Even in the darkness, his white moustache and white eyebrows shone. “It’s not safe for a lady to walk alone in these parts.”
“I shall retire,” Priscilla said. “I have no patience for mindless frivolity.”
“It’s not frivolity. It’s marshmallows,” Aunt Maude said, confused.
“Marshmallows are for children,” Priscilla remarked, “and for very silly old ladies.”
“Don’t mind my mother,” Demelza said as Priscilla stalked off into the darkness. “She was never very kind.”
“Well,” Dorothy said, “you don’t need to convince us of that.” She picked up her Dachshund, Carey, and held him close.
“I might go to bed also. It was a long way on the bus,” Demelza added.
Eli nodded. “Let me walk you back to the cottages. I need to catch up on some work before bed.”
It seemed all six of our guests would turn in early for the night.
“Goodnight,” I said. “Sleep well.”
Finn surprised me by blowing me a kiss, and I noticed Lucas stiffen.
“You two seem cozy,” Lucas whispered in my ear as we watched the guests return to the cabins.
“We are,” I replied brightly. “The marriage is in June.”
“Can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Alone.” Lucas led me towards the beach, although he made sure not to travel too far from the fire or the lights from the cottages. He pulled me tightly into his arms. I expected he would kiss me, but instead, he spoke. “This murder thing you’re doing at the cottages is a bad idea. That’s what I wanted to tell you earlier, but I didn’t want to say it in front of the aunts.”
“We’re booked out for weeks, Lucas. This is brilliant for the Bed and Breakfast.”
“It’s going to attract the wrong kind of people.”
“Like paying customers?” I said with a chuckle.
A scream punctuated my words.
Lucas released me and stepped in front of me, scanning the darkness. “That came from one of the cottages. Pepper, go back to your aunts.”
“No way,” I said. “What if someone needs my help?”
Lucas turned and stared at me. “Pepper,” he said gently. “You’re going to go back to your aunts, or I will set fire to each and every one of these cottages.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” I said, but I didn’t feel so sure. He looked far too protective. “All right. Just go and see if everyone’s okay. Hurry.”
I returned to the fire pit where Agnes, Maude, and Dorothy were gathered.
“Did you hear that?” Aunt Maude asked, her teeth chattering.
“Lucas is investigating,” I said. “I’m sure everyone is fine.”
“This,” Aunt Agnes said, “is Mugwort Manor. No one is ever fine here.”
“If somebody is dead,” Dorothy said, “does that mean our bookings will increase or decrease?”
“Increase,” I muttered. “Probably.”
Lucas returned five minutes later. “A guest has been murdered,” he said. “Priscilla.”
I went cold all over. “Not another murder!”
“What?” Aunt Dorothy cried. “Who murdered her?”
“And where?” Aunt Agnes said.
“And how?” Aunt Maude added.
“It’s too early to say, really,” Lucas replied. “However…”
“However?” I bit my lip.
Lucas looked at me. “It does appear as though the murderer was Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory, with the candlestick.”

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