Hello all! I’m so excited to share a sneak peek into the fourth Chocolate Croissant Cooking Club Mystery! Ahhhhhh! I’m so excited; this is my favorite book to date, full of mystery, friends, great food, an exciting mystery and a budding romance all set in the crisp season of autumn.
It’s going to be ready in the next week- are you on the mailing list? (Sign up in the box in the top right corner). Subscribers find out when new books are released, receive fun, free extras plus all the recipes in the books in a printable format.
The wind whipped through Melody’s curls. She brushed them out of her face with one hand, as she took a curve at a smooth 40 mph in her compact, gently used, suede-colored car with the other.
“Oops, that was a little fast,” she said, gripping the steering wheel a little harder. She rolled the window down all the way, letting more wind in as she turned another corner. “Jiminy Crickets, this is one gorgeous fall day.”
She smiled and turned up the music to let “Brown Eyed Girl” belt out from the radio. Autumn made her delirious with joy. Sometimes Melody had a hard time putting her love for autumn into words. There were so many reasons for her infatuation with the season: the way the trees seemed to catch fire with color and light, or the fact that she could go to her favorite autumn spot, Apple Haven, and buy apples, twenty pounds at a time, to bake with the next day. Even coffee tasted better when the weather cooled off.
Melody smiled thinking about how the day had started; with an unexpected half-day off from her new boss, Natalie. She thought about her morning conversation with Savannah, one of her best friends and fellow Chocolate Croissant Cooking Club members.
“Not my idea of a great time,” Savannah said when Melody told her what she would be doing that afternoon. “If I had an afternoon off from work, I’d be shopping or playing soccer, not driving up to Apple Haven to buy a bunch of apples I could get at the market.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing; I can’t believe you’ve never been up there.” Melody said as she hugged Savannah goodbye. Melody worked for Savannah’s mom, Natalie, at “From the Heart Jewelry,” as the social media manager and blogger. Bobbie, the sales trainer for the reps, was out on maternity leave, so Melody had picked up that job while Natalie tried to figure out if she needed to hire another person. The hours had been grueling, but mostly energizing. Melody had fallen in love with Natalie’s business and the heart behind it. It was a blast helping women start their own mini-businesses by selling gorgeous, quality jewelry. She’d acquired her own huge jewelry collection, which was a fun side perk.
Melody had to admit that she was getting a bit weary. The hours and travel were getting to her; affecting her sleep, her energy, and her life outside of work, which mostly consisted of keeping up with her baking blog, baking classes, and various events with friends.
“Those bags under your eyes are not good,” Natalie told her that morning, when Melody first walked through the door of the office, a huge coffee in one hand and a stack of training materials, binders, and magazines pressed against her chest with her other arm.
“It’s all part of the startup lifestyle, right?” Melody said, with as big a smile as she could muster. “I’ll catch up on sleep later in the year.”
Natalie reached out and took Melody’s hands. “Listen to me, young one.” Natalie’s dark hair fell over her shoulders and her olive colored skin beamed with a natural glow that most women paid a lot of money to try to get. The only sign of age were the fine lines around her eyes, which deepened when she laughed. “You young women, you think you can burn the candle at both ends and it won’t catch up with you. But I know . . .” She paused and pointed to her chest. “I know the cost that too much work has on your person, your relationships, your soul. Finish the social media announcements for the morning and take the afternoon off. Do something fun and then get some sleep tonight.”
Before Melody could say thank you, another employee called Natalie and she let go of Melody’s hand and disappeared into the meeting room.
Melody stood in a daze for a moment, still holding her coffee in one hand. Then she walked to her desk, pulled open her computer, and finished the morning’s work with renewed energy. Savannah had popped in to her office at noon with a sandwich for Melody and a reminder that the Chocolate Croissants were meeting at her house the next evening for their monthly cooking group.
“Why don’t you teach us how to make some sort of fancy apple dessert?”
“Got it,” Melody said. “And I’m going to nab you for a date to go up to Apple Haven; you really don’t know what you’re missing.”
Savannah rolled her eyes. She was constantly in motion; she was either combing the mall for deals or kicking soccer balls into a net with the adult rec team she belonged to. Slow, quiet drives to even slower, country style places like Apple Haven were not quite up to her preferred speed. Thirty minutes later, Melody was eating the sandwich and meandering up the near empty highway to historic Apple Haven.
Now Melody was coming back down the hill, with two bushels of fragrant apples on the back seat, already feeling more relaxed and imagining what she was going to do for a quiet evening. “Besides making homemade caramel to dip these delicious apples in,” she said out loud.
She took in the view all around her as she drove; fields of apple trees interspersed with stretches of hillside covered with vineyards – a new site for the region. Local wineries had started gaining popularity a few years back and it seemed like there were more wineries than apple orchards these days. A loud motor noise shifted Melody’s gaze away from the scenery to her rear view mirror. A black sedan was quickly approaching, its engine roaring as it ate up the distance between them. Melody gripped the steering wheel. The sedan was just a few feet behind her now. This portion of the highway was a simple two lane road and fairly curvy. She knew it opened up to four lanes a few miles ahead. She strained her eyes, looking ahead to find a place where she could turn out. “There’s joyriding and then there’s stupid,” she muttered.
With another roar, the black sedan pulled into the opposing lane, passed her in a blur, and pulled back into her lane, in front of her. A minute later, the car disappeared around a curve. Melody exhaled and loosened her grip on the wheel. She popped in an old CD, sipped her hot apple cider, and tried to get back into her nice relaxed zone.
She turned the curve and continued down the road, keeping a watchful eye for more cars behind her. But none came. It wasn’t unusual for the road to be empty at this time of day. In another few weeks, Apple Haven would be packed; but now it was the perfect time for a lonely drive through the colorful hills outside Stonybrook.
At the next curve, she slowed down a bit more. Then she leaned forward, staring at the sight ahead. The black sedan was farther down the hill, racing around the curves at a breakneck speed. Melody bit her bottom lip, her anxiety level rising as she watched the car. Crazy drivers, slow down. There had been a bad accident here last year. If she remembered correctly, the driver had been speeding and driving under the influence. The car took another curve, then suddenly started to spin. The brake lights flashed. Melody cried out as she watched the car spin out of control, dust flying up as the wheels screeched. It veered to the shoulder, then went over right through a split rail fence, and came to a shuddering stop, its rear end sticking up slightly on the hilly slope.
“Jiminy Crickets,” Melody said. She took in a sharp breath. “I can’t believe that just happened!”
Melody held her breath as she sped up and drove down the hill. The crash site disappeared and reappeared as she rounded each curve or as a group of tall evergreens or brightly decorated maples blocked her view. After one more turn, she approached the wrecked car. The tinted windows in the back prevented her from seeing anyone inside.
Now Melody could better see what had happened. The black sedan hadn’t run into the fence as she’d thought; it had launched partly over the fence, but not all the way. The back half was tilted into the air, partially hanging on the fence; the nose of the car was buried inches into the ground. Steam rose from the car.
Melody pulled onto the shoulder of the road and grabbed her phone. She was punching 9-1-1 as she stepped out of her car. “Are you okay in there?” she called out, hoping that someone would respond, just so she’d know they were alive. Even though she’d worked as a nurse for ten years, she had never gotten used to seeing dead bodies; it was one of the hardest parts of the job.
No one answered. The only sound was the soft hissing of the steam rising from the hood of the car. Even the birds, normally full of song, were silent.
“Come on, come on, come on, come on,” she whispered into the phone and moved toward the car. She kneeled and looked into the driver’s seat. A man was slumped over the steering wheel, his head twisted unnaturally away from Melody, his shoulders limp. Melody felt her stomach turn. She took a deep breath.
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?” A no-nonsense voice asked.
Melody explained what happened as quickly as she could.
“Ma’am, where are you?” the voice interrupted her.
Melody stood and looked around. “Oh, I’m on my way back from Apple Haven, on highway 109, probably about ten miles outside of Stonybrook.” Melody looked around for a sign or a landmark that could help her give a more concrete description. “We’re in a vineyard, right between two fields with cows in them,” she finished, realizing the inadequacy of her description.
“Going east or west?” the voice continued, completely calm.
“West,” Melody said. She leaned over to peer past the driver into the back seat. “Oh, there’s someone else in the car,” Melody said. “I think I saw her move.”
The woman in the back seat lifted her head, her dark eyes meeting Melody’s. She tried to say something, but coughed instead.
“Tell her not to move,” the operator told Melody. “You said the car is not on fire, correct?”
“Correct,” Melody said. “I’m getting help,” she said to the woman in the car.
“Keep her calm. Don’t move her. I don’t want the car to topple and have worse harm come to her, or for you to get hurt.”
“Okay, okay.” Melody forced herself to breathe. There was a reason she never worked in trauma or the ER. Handling emergency situations where trauma was involved was not her strong suit. Neither were falling cars. “Help is coming,” she said to the woman. “Try not to move.”
The woman shook her head and tried to push herself away from the head rest. As she did, the car jerked and started to lean.
“Oh no!” Melody cried out. She backed away, holding up her hand, and calling out, “Don’t move! Don’t move!”
But the woman didn’t listen. She continued to push herself up. Melody could see her unhook her seatbelt and try to open the door. The fence wasn’t strong to begin with and the weight of the sedan was making it heave and sway.
“No, no!” Melody yelled. “The fence will collapse.”
“Move away ma’am,” the 9-1-1 operator said in a steady, firm voice. “Now.”
Melody did as she was told. The passenger side door behind the driver began to open, but the shaking was too much pressure for the fence. It gave way and the car fell. Already precariously perched on the slope, the car began to slide down the hill. It rolled a few hundred feet down the slope and stopped, with a groan, at the bottom of the hill. Melody looked over the steep hill. No one got out of the car. No one moved.
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