My name is Lottie Lemon, and I see dead people. Okay, so I rarely see dead people, mostly I see furry creatures of the dearly departed variety, who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom.
I’ve got a secret that I’m just dying to reveal to Everett, but fate has other plans. Try as I might to make the moment special, everything keeps going sideways. Before I know it, divorce is on the table—and to add to the drama a mysterious figure known as the Prankster is sending me increasingly sinister messages.
To make matters worse, our local women’s league hires an entertainment company to throw a harvest festival, in hopes to restore Honey Hollow’s deadly reputation. But when a body turns up, it’s clear that another killer is on the loose, determined to make this a September to remember.
Can I save my marriage, unmask the Prankster, and solve the murder before Honey Hollow’s reputation is sealed for good? Join me on this heart-stopping, cozy mystery and find out if our little town can survive this season of secrets and death.
Lottie Lemon has a brand new bakery to tend to, a budding romance with perhaps one too many suitors, and she has the supernatural ability to see the dead—which are always harbingers for ominous things to come. Throw in a string of murders, and her insatiable thirst for justice, and you’ll have more chaos than you know what to do with.
Living in Honey Hollow can be murder.
Three hours from now…
The Harvest Moon Festival is in full swing as thick crowds move along the grounds.
The more people, the more suspects there will be. And I won’t be one of them.
The scent of freshly roasted chestnuts wafts over as I watch my mark speaking one by one to the food vendors and entertainers, laughing and chatting as if they had a lifetime to do just that.
All the world’s their stage—but soon enough, the scene will change.
A mortuary will replace these festive grounds, followed by a casket and a cemetery.
Their final resting place.
But I’m not vying for them to rest in peace—more like rot in hell.
I watch as they make their way past the masses, past the area strewn with twinkle lights, and into the shadows—exactly where I’ve taken the time to lure them.
It’s nice to see they follow orders, even if their foray into obedience is a short-lived endeavor.
My heart is thirsty for blood and I’ll make sure it drinks its fill tonight.
Speaking of drinks… I glance down at the two cups of piping hot cider in my hands. On the left is life, and on the right is death.
It will take all of my courage to give them death, but I’ve come this far and I can’t back down now. I won’t.
A crisp breeze whistles by and pushes me in their direction.
It’s always been my destiny to do what needs to be done. Some might even say I was born for this moment.
My feet carry me past the crowds, past the dappled sea beneath the twinkle lights, and into the shadows, all the way to the person I’ve been destined to meet with.
“You’re here.” They give a quick smile as if they were happy to see me.
I suppose even the devil smiles now and again.
“I am,” I say.
“And you’ve brought me a drink.”
They eye the beverages in my hands. And although a part of me is curious as to which they would choose if given the choice—I don’t have it in me to go through with this.
“What is that?” They twitch their nose at the steaming Styrofoam cups.
“Hot apple c-cider,” I stutter the words out. “It’s piping hot. I don’t think we should—”
“It’s colder than a witch’s nose out here tonight,” they say, rubbing their hands together before grabbing the cup from my right.
They took it!
A breath hitches in my throat and I can’t move, can’t think.
But I’m too locked up to snatch it back from their hands.
Evidently, the weather isn’t the only thing colder than a witch’s nose—so is my heart.
They down the drink in record time and a nervous laugh bubbles its way up my throat, but I don’t dare give it.
It takes less than ten seconds for their chest to buck, their eyes to bulge in my direction, their finger to point right at me.
They try to lunge for my body, but I jump out of the way.
“You,” they pant as they fall to the ground. “You won’t get away with this.” Their body twitches as their hand digs into their pocket and produces something sleek and silver not bigger than a finger.
Is that a knife?
They gag and buck as they pull their sleeve up and a sanguine liquid begins to appear.
I think they’re actually trying to carve something onto their arm—
So much glossy red liquid at once.
What have I done?
I can’t let them outsmart me now.
In a panic, I speed over and kick the knife right out of their hand as if it were a football.
And then I run like heck.
My name is Lottie Lemon, and I see dead people. Okay, so rarely do I see dead people. Mostly I see furry creatures of the dearly departed variety who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom. But the only thing I’m seeing now is my birth mother running around like a headless chicken in a flap-riddled panic. In other words, she’s just being her psychotic whirlwind self.
“Come on, Lot. Get ready and head to the fall festival with me,” Carlotta insists. “You haven’t been out of bed for weeks—and Mr. Sexy’s not even in it with you half the time. You can’t stay under the covers, hiding from the big bad world forever. The homicide rates are down, and I’m actually starting to miss your Grim Reaper ways.”
A moan evicts from me as I watch Carlotta run in and out of my closet, trying everything on from sweatpants to ballgowns.
Not that I should care.
I’m about to blow up to the size of Honey Lake any day now. And if I don’t tell Everett that I’m carrying his child, my burgeoning belly will do it for me.
So far, this little future legal eagle slash baker in my tummy has been a tight-lipped secret—with the exception of my sister, Lainey. She’s the only soul that’s in the pregnant know and I plan on keeping it that way until I find just the right way to tell my husband.
“You enjoy the festival, Carlotta. I’ve got two furry pumpkins to keep me company,” I tell her as my sweet cats, Pancake and Waffles, each open an eye and glare my way. It’s their way of letting me know I’m disrupting their nap. And believe me, I wouldn’t be happy about someone disrupting mine either.
“And you should really get going,” I say, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of Carlotta as she races to and fro. “You’ve been getting ready for the last three hours. At this rate, the fall festival will be over by the time you finish. Heck, fall might be over, too.”
“I can’t help it, Lot. I have to make sure I look my best. I need to make all the other gals there jealous of my fashion sense.”
She steps out of my closet with a pair of my jeans on, along with a yellow sweater my mother knitted for me, six different scarves, something oddly made of glass around her neck, and a beanie with a cowboy hat over it.
“Carlotta, I think you’re confusing ‘fashion sense’ with ‘hoarder sense.’ You go out like that and you’re likely to get arrested—by the fashion police.” And maybe Noah.
Carlotta is right. With the homicide rate down, Noah basically has nothing to do.
Noah Corbin Fox happens to be the lead homicide detective down at the Ashford County Sheriff’s Department. He’s one of my two husbands and the father of my almost two-year-old daughter.
“Say what you want, Lot, but these scarves and hats are essential for staying warm and stylish. The temperature is dropping into the thirties tonight.”
“Okay, fine,” I say, squinting at that thing around her neck and groaning once I’ve identified it. “Wear all the scarves and hats you want, but can we at least agree that wearing a pumpkin spice latte-scented candle as a necklace is not a good idea?”
“Mind your own beeswax, Lot. Not only is it festive, but it smells good, too.” She dances a little jig as she says it. “And I’ve got to come out firing with all pistons tonight. Don’t judge me.”
“I stopped judging you long ago, but that doesn’t mean others have. And by the way, I might have to disown you if you start doing the pumpkin spice latte dance in public.”
“Ha! The pumpkin spice latte dance will soon be a time-honored tradition at the harvest festival. You just wait and see.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
Carlotta does seem to have the talent of inadvertently starting strange trends. Let’s just say that because of her, once No-Shave November rolls around, there is a whole slew of women eager to participate—with their facial hair.
I sit up on my elbows to inspect her better. “What’s so special about this festival that it has you dancing all around the house, anyway?”
“I’ve got my reasons. But you should be interested in heading that way, too. They’re kicking off the party with a good old-fashioned bake-off. You can sell your goodies, and the patrons get to vote whose dessert they like the best. The baker with the most votes in a week’s time wins the prize. Of course, they had to add age brackets since the women’s league was afraid you’d dominate the competition. Although, they’ve only parceled it off by kids and adults. So you’re still whisk to whisk in this comical clash of culinary contenders. Word on the street is Francine Dumb-Be is entering her world-famous apple and sardine gelatin surprise, so that means I’ll be forced to enter something myself.”
A wave of nausea washes over me at the mention of Francine’s entry into the bake-off, and I’m scared to death to ask why it might be world-famous—more like infamous.
Francine Dundee is Carlotta’s high school tormenter and nemesis. Things haven’t been going too smoothly with them as of late, not that they ever have.
At last count, Francine had seventeen kids, and a handful of grandchildren, too. She might look plain and unassuming on the outside, but on the inside she’s sassy and mean. And anything Francine does, Carlotta needs to do ten times better.
“This whole festival was the brainchild of that women’s league your mama is a part of,” Carlotta drones on as she raids my jewelry box. “They’re trying to dust off that murderous reputation Honey Hollow has had of late, no thanks to yours truly, and by yours truly, I mean you, Lot.”
I pull Waffles onto my lap and stroke his fluffy fur while shaking my head at the woman demeaning me while holding up a strand of my pearls. I’d protest the blatant heist taking place, but I’m too nauseous to do it.
“You should have seen your mama.” Carlotta chuckles. “She pulled all the funds from the town kitty and convinced the other spinsters in the women’s league to hire a couple of professionals in hopes to bring back the tourists. They’re going to host a monthlong harvest festival at the apple orchard, and end the month with a fancy Harvest Moon dinner and dance—or was it a hoedown?” She shrugs. “Anyway, it’s either a million bucks a plate or free—I wasn’t really paying attention to the details. Yada yada, I don’t really care as long as there will be plenty of eligible men there.”
I lift a brow her way. Carlotta, who happens to be my biological mother, is currently seeing my biological father.
I never could understand their twisted relationship.
“Harry is really pushing to be my steady Eddie.” She rolls her eyes with all the drama of an angst-riddled teenager. Come to think of it, that describes Carlotta in a nutshell. “He says he wants a real deal commitment by Christmas or else. So I’ve only got so much time to sow my wild oats.”
“The picture is crystal clear now,” I say.
I guess you can say both my sister Charlie and I germinated in the sowing season of Carlotta’s youth. We share the same father—a miracle if you ask me, or anyone else for that matter. Harry, as in Mayor Harry Nash, my biological father. Of course, I didn’t know that up until a few years ago.
But in true Carlotta fashion, it took nearly thirty years for Charlie and me to finally meet. I was raised by the Lemons, while poor Charlie was raised by wolves—a lone wolf to be exact, Carlotta herself.
The window just past my bed is quickly darkening and I can see the sky turning deep shades of orange and lavender.
There goes another day without me participating in life.
It’s true, I’ve basically been in bed for weeks—save for a few brief appearances at the bakery and even briefer appearances at my niece and nephew’s shared birthday party last weekend, which also happened to fall on Noah’s birthday.
Pancake and Waffles, my fluffy white Himalayan cats, have been my constant companions, along with my baby girl, Lyla Nell. Although, even Lyla Nell’s patience has been waning with me as of late.
As much as I’m delighted that I’m pregnant with Everett’s child, I’m equally surprised—and far more equally nauseated beyond what any human body should have to endure. And don’t get me started on the brain fog. A pregnant brain is the icing on this miserable cake. I can hardly remember the last three things I did, let alone the last three things I ate.
I’ve been having Lainey run by the bakery every morning to pick up a box of my deep-fried pickles, the only food I seem to want to nosh on these days. And ironically, it was a top fave of mine when I was pregnant with Lyla Nell, too. If anyone saw me chomping down on those, they would be tipped off right away why I was in such desperate need of the savory treats.
Lainey is baking a bun in the oven, too, so her sudden uptick in purchases of those deep-fried treats makes a lot of sense.
My phone buzzes and I look at the screen to see that Noah has sent me a picture. He’s holding Lyla Nell next to a giant display of pumpkins and she looks adorable in the autumn-themed dress my mother bought her, along with matching tights and a knitted pumpkin beanie.
Lyla Nell is the one-and-a-half-year-old princess I happen to share with Noah. And boy, has he ever stepped up since I’ve been “under the weather.”
Tears come to me as I see the joy in both of their eyes. I’m missing out on everything and I just can’t stand it. They’re enjoying the harvest festival just like everyone else in Honey Hollow.
Carlotta is right; I can’t stay in bed forever. But it seems every time I sit up, a tsunami of nausea hits me. It’s my first trimester, and the morning sickness has quickly morphed into an all-day fiasco.
But enough is enough. I’m not staying in this bed one minute longer.
It takes all of my strength to stand up on my two feet, and the room gives a slight wobble as I do.
Carlotta bounces back out of the closet and stops short once she sees me.
“I live indeed,” I manage to say without moaning. “Now let me get dressed. We’ll stop by the bakery on the way to the festival. You can bet your weird britches I’m entering that bake-off.”
I get ready in haste, and shove a satchel of smelling salts Lainey gave me into my pocket as Carlotta and I exit the house.
No sooner do I lock the door than I spot a small white envelope with my name written across the front teetering on the far end of the porch as it threatens to blow right off into oblivion. I bury it in my purse as we dash for my minivan.
I’m about to make my reappearance in this world—even if it does feel like murder.
A tingle rides up my spine at the thought.
Certainly, murder can’t be on the agenda tonight.
Although deep down inside, I know full well murder is always on the agenda.