Engagement and Espionage (Handcrafted Mystery #1) by Penny Reid
Engagement and Espionage is book #1 in the Handcrafted Mysteries Series and is coming your way JUNE 16TH, 2020!
This book is best read after ‘Beard Science’, Winston Brothers Book #3.
Jennifer Sylvester made her deal with the devil . . . and now they’re engaged!
But all is not well in Green Valley. A chicken choker is on the loose, 61 dead birds most “fowl” need plucking, and no time remains for Jennifer and her devilish fiancé. Desperate to find a spare moment together, Jenn and Cletus’s attempts to reconnect are thwarted by one seemingly coincidental disaster after another. It’s not long before Cletus and Jenn see a pattern emerge and the truth becomes clear.
Will an undercover mission unmask the culprit? Or are these love-birds totally plucked?
‘Engagement and Espionage’ is the first book in the Solving for Pie: Cletus and Jenn Mysteries series, is a full-length cozy mystery, and is a spin-off of Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers series. This novel is best read after ‘Beard Science,’ Winston Brothers #3.
Excerpt Engagement and Espionage by Penny Reid
“How’d they die?”
Jackson James glanced at me. “They were strangled.”
We stood shoulder to shoulder in Mr. Badcock’s living room, Officer Jimmy Dale in the kitchen, pouring himself some coffee while Officer Fredrick Boone was still outside, hunting for clues as to who could’ve committed this fowl-murder.
“I see.” I made a fist, narrowed my eyes. “A chicken choker.”
Jackson James immediately scrunched his face, eyes shutting tight, his chin falling to his chest, in a valiant attempt not to laugh. I could see Officer Dale from where I was standing, also holding his laughter. Mr. Badcock lived in one of those houses that might also claim log cabin-status, the rooms segmented with curtains or furniture instead of interior walls.
Me? I wasn’t in any danger of laughing. I never laughed at my own jokes, even if they were as funny and timely as this one.
But Jenn . . . Oh no.
“It’s not funny,” she whispered harshly, stepping close to both of us and pausing on her path back to Mr. Badcock. “Someone losing their life’s work and livelihood is not something to laugh at.” Jenn turned her glare of disappointment fully on me and it hit me like a punch to the stomach after drinking sour milk. “How would you feel if-if someone broke all your tools and you couldn’t fix cars?” Her glare cut to Jackson, “And you. Shame on you. You’re here to help. Have some respect for the badge you wear.”
“Sorry,” Jackson whispered tightly, his cheeks now tinged pink.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” I nodded solemnly, clearing my features of expression while an odd sensation slithered into the vicinity of my chest. I had a notion that the sensation was guilt, but since I rarely succumbed to it, I couldn’t be sure.
“Where am I going to store all these chickens?” Mr. Badcock’s wayward anguish drew our collective attention to where he sat on the floral patterned sofa. He held his forehead in one of his hands, the other gripped a baseball cap to the knee of his threadbare overalls.
Jenn and I shared a look—one which I knew meant she’d deal with me later—just before she turned on her heel and crossed to Mr. Badcock. She knelt in front of him, placing a hand over his gripping the hat.
“There, there, Mr. Badcock. We’ll—we’ll figure something out.”
“Sixty-one chickens is a lot feathers,” Jackson said just loud enough that I could hear.
This wasn’t a joke and his point was a good one. Plucking all those chickens without the aid of modern machinery was going to take a while, anywhere from five minutes to a half-hour, depending on who was doing the plucking. Regardless, the task was much too cumbersome for Mr. Badcock to attempt on his own.
And it had to be done soon if he wanted to salvage the meat. An idea formed. . .
“Mr. Badcock, I think I might be able to provide some assistance.” I walked over to where Jenn was kneeling and she turned her head, giving me a side-long glare.
She hadn’t yet forgiven me for the chicken choking comment. Nevertheless, I would prevail in her good graces. Eventually.
“Huh? What?” The poor man glanced at me, blinking his confusion.
“Now, us Winstons, we know how to pluck chickens. My sister Ashley can pluck a chicken in five minutes. Why don’t I call my kin, and we’ll converge on your abode this evening. I’ll even have my brother Beau bring over our dipping pot and outdoor stove.”
“What’s that for?” Jackson asked from behind me. “You planning to make chicken soup?”
I slid my gaze to his and let him see my displeasure before answering, “No. Jack. You dip the bird into boiling water for a few seconds, to make the plucking easier.”
“But that only solves half the problem.” Mr. Badcock fretted, his face a grimace. “I don’t have freezer space for sixty-one birds.”
“There’s only forty chikens.” Officer Boone’s young voice interrupted from the propped open front door. He was holding a note pad in his right hand, a pen in his left. I didn’t know he was left-handed.
“Forty?” Jenn stood, tilted her head to the side. “Forty what?”
“Forty dead chickens.” Boone looked to Jackson, who was technically the senior officer on the scene. “I only found forty chickens.”
“Someone stole twenty-one of his chickens?” Dale asked, bringing the coffee cup to his lips. “Why not just take them all?”
“Y’all can talk this over at a later date.” I lifted my voice. “Right now we need to get the forty chickens outside plucked and frozen if we want to salvage the meat.”
“Like I said, Cletus.” Mr. Badcock rubbed at his forehead. “I don’t have space for that many chickens—not for sixty-one, not for forty.”
“How many do you have room for?” Jenn asked softly.
He shrugged, sniffling. “Maybe ten. I’m ruined.”
A charged hush fell across the room as we all stewed in Mr. Badcock’s despair, Diane Donner’s voice cresting and then fading away. I assumed she was outside talking on the phone, not carrying on a one-way conversation with forty dead chickens.
Jenn’s eyes locked with mine, hers pleading and full of expectation, like she expected me to swoop in and save the poor man from ruin. But what could I do? We didn’t have freezers at the auto shop, and—
Wait a minute.
I snapped my fingers. “But Beau just fixed up two industrial sized fridges that can also be converted to freezers. He donated them on behalf of Genie’s bar to the church.”
“Oh!” Jenn also snapped, her gorgeous eyes moving from me to Mr. Badcock. “That’s right. And I know those fridges are empty. With the church picnic coming up, they cleaned them out in preparation. Plus, I can store any overflow at the Donner Bakery, in the walk-in. There’s not much space, but I think we can find a few nooks and crannies.”
Mr. Badcock appeared to be undecided. Or overwhelmed. Or both. “I don’t know—”
“And you could probably sell a few to Mrs. Seymore, for the picnic. We could spread the word, so folks know to buy their hens from you—for the chicken salad, and fried chicken, and such—instead of the store. And I know my momma will buy some for the hotel. And I’m sure Cletus wants some, too.” Jenn glanced at me beseechingly.
Her eyes widened meaningfully. I didn’t know precisely what the meaningfulness meant, but I did know—in general terms—I needed to agree with her.
“I mean, that’s right. I do.” I nodded once.
Jenn’s features brightened, she exhaled, and she gave me a small smile. “For some chicken sausage, maybe?”
I didn’t grimace and that was a miracle.
Read the first FOUR chapters of Engagement and Espionage here