A Death at the Yoga Cafe by Michelle Kelly is book #2 in the Keeley Carpenter series (available January 31, 2017).
Keeley Carpenter has found her center. After returning to Befrey, the traditional English village she called home ten years ago, she’s opened her dream yoga café, which doubles as both a yoga studio and a delicious vegetarian café. Even better, Keeley is dating handsome Detective Ben Taylor, and things are beginning to look serious.
Too bad things never seem to run smoothly for long. Eager to get involved with the local community, Keeley sets up a booth at the annual Belfrey Arts Festival, along with her nemesis, fellow small business owner Raquel. Preparing herself to play nice, she’s shocked when Raquel’s boyfriend, Town Mayor Gerald, is found dead after a public spat. Despite Ben’s strict warnings to stay out of it, Keeley isn’t going to let an innocent woman take the blame for the murder—even if it is glamorous, spoiled Raquel.
Now Keeley must balance a precarious murder investigation with the demands of her growing business and now-strained relationship. But when the killer takes a personal interest in Keeley, can she find the culprit before she gets bent out of shape?
Strawberries and sympathy. In Keeley’s experience, they went well together.
Keeley passed a bowl of said strawberries and dairy-free cream over the counter and smiled with the prerequisite sympathy at her customer. Duane had become a regular visitor to the Yoga Café in the last few weeks, his recent heartbreak leaving him at a loose end.
“I just can’t believe she would leave me for him,” Duane said for about the twentieth time that morning. Keeley gave him a polite, less sympathetic smile. Duane seemed to be the only person in the entire town of Belfrey who wasn’t aware of the gold-digging tendencies of his now ex-girlfriend Raquel Philips. Glamorous, spoiled, and Keeley’s high school nemesis, Raquel had always had an eye for older men with money, so when she recently dumped Duane after a few months of dating in order to take up with the town mayor, Keeley thought it a characteristic act.
The handsome gym instructor, however, was clearly struggling to understand Raquel’s decision. Keeley could see why. Duane was more than aware of his good looks and buff physique and had a natural tendency to assume all women in the near vicinity were his for the taking. Given that Keeley herself had also turned him down prior to his taking up with Raquel, she could well imagine that Duane’s notorious ego had taken a mighty blow.
Nevertheless, weeks of hearing about it had left Keeley feeling more than a little bored with the subject. She tried to look interested as Duane sat down at a table with his strawberries, only to launch into another monologue about his lost love. Keeley looked over at the door, praying for a sudden influx of customers to give her an excuse to not listen. Then her conscience pricked at her. It was all right for her, after all. Her fledgling relationship with Detective Constable Ben Taylor was going well. More than well. In fact, there were times when Keeley felt she should pinch herself, that it was a dream come true that a man like Ben would not just want her, but treat her as though she were the only woman on earth. Not to mention the fact that Ben had been her high school crush, and had seemed just as unattainable to her then. They had finally gotten together a few months ago after Keeley moved back to Belfrey, following a ten-year absence, to pursue her dream of turning her father’s old butcher’s shop into a vegetarian café. A move that had coincided with a nasty murder that Keeley had inadvertently found herself slap-bang in the middle of.
Not to mention a suspect in. Her reunion with the object of her high school affection had been more a case of answering questions on her whereabouts at the time of the victim’s death rather than any rekindling of old desires. Still, at some point she had found herself once again head over heels for Ben Taylor, the best-looking boy at school, and now, at least in her humble opinion, the best-looking man in town.
Not that it was just his looks that had attracted her. If she had only wanted pretty, perhaps she would have ended up with Duane, thereby saving him from his recent heartbreak with the beautiful but malicious Raquel. If anything, Ben’s chiseled cheekbones, full mouth, and effortlessly strong body had been a deterrent to Keeley, who had had her heart broken too badly by her ill-fated first love to trust a man with such obvious charms. No, it was Ben’s courage, loyalty, and all-around sense of decency that had won her over. For that, she thought she could ignore the odd bout of grumpiness and a tendency to wear mismatched socks.
And she could afford to have a little more patience with poor Duane. Taking a slow, deep breath, Keeley tried to conjure up feelings of empathy, poured herself a cup of mint tea, and sat down in the chair opposite him.
“I thought we were perfect together,” he said, pushing his strawberries around with his spoon. “I had real plans for the diner, you know? We were thinking of launching a new menu, with a range of healthier foods, even vegetarian ones…” Duane trailed off as Keeley raised an eyebrow at him, her empathy fast disappearing. Raquel owned the diner around the corner near the bus station, and had made her initial feelings about Keeley opening up a new café so close to her own loud and clear. In spite of Keeley’s protestations that they would be catering to very different tastes, the diner serving more traditional English countryside dishes, the other woman had continued to see her as a rival. The fact that she too had a crush on Ben probably didn’t help; in her less charitable moments Keeley had often thought that Raquel had only begun dating Duane in a misguided attempt to annoy her. Now, Keeley couldn’t help feeling hurt that Duane had been intending to help Raquel set up a menu surely intended to rival her own. Failed date or not, she had thought Duane was her friend, especially when he had been so instrumental in helping her set up yoga classes at the Belfrey Leisure Center, and she had also grown very close to his cousin Megan, who owned the local New Age shop.
“I see,” Keeley said in a curt tone. Duane had the grace to look shamefaced.
“She was quite jealous of your success, you know. She always said a vegetarian café was a stupid idea around these parts; then when she saw you doing so well, she just wanted to expand a bit.”
“I see,” Keeley said again, and Duane fell silent, no doubt realizing his attempts to appease her were only making things worse. Still, she supposed she should be flattered. Many of the locals had voiced their reservations concerning the wisdom of opening a vegetarian café in a traditional farming town, and on the site of her father’s old butcher’s shop no less, but these first few months had proven the café to be, if not a roaring success, certainly not a flop either. She was already turning a small profit, and in today’s small-business climate that was more than Keeley had hoped for. More important to her than the finances was that the café was fast becoming the go-to place in Belfrey for fresh food and friendly faces. Her plans to hold yoga classes in the upstairs apartment had been hampered by her having to move up there after the macabre incidents at Rose Cottage in the spring, but all in all her dreams for the Yoga Café were turning into reality. Even her mother would surely find no cause to complain.
Keeley thought about her mother and grimaced, revising the thought. Darla Carpenter could always find something to complain about, especially when it involved her only daughter. In fact, the only blot on Keeley’s horizon was her mother’s impending visit. Remembering that, any annoyance at Raquel or Duane faded into the background. Darla made Raquel look almost pleasant, and that was on a good day.
The truth was, Keeley had never felt good enough for her ultracritical and impeccably groomed mother. Keeley had been an overweight, shy child and had grown up seeing the disappointment in Darla’s eyes every time she had looked at her daughter. Although her father’s adoration had made up for the lack of maternal warmth, his death ten years ago had only pushed mother and daughter farther apart. After a painful heartbreak, Keeley had left for India and then America. She had returned a successful yoga instructor, tanned and lithe, but her mother could make her feel like that chubby teenager again in a heartbeat. Even though she knew that expecting any approval from her mother was an unrealistic dream, she couldn’t help but hope that Darla would be impressed by what she had done with her father’s shop. She looked around the room, allowing herself a stab of pride. Gone were the linoleum floor and large meat counter, and the awful smell of fresh pork, now replaced by blond wood floorboards, matching tables and chairs, and the small counter with its colorful drapes that matched the canvases on the wall, mostly pictures of fruits in bright, fresh colors that looked almost edible. A salad bar and smoothie machine stood in the far corner, and there were fresh flowers in the windows and on the tables. She had wanted the Yoga Café to be appealing to the eye as well as the taste buds, and felt she had achieved her aim. It had been no mean feat, given that she had arrived back in Belfrey to find the café smoke-damaged and cordoned off with police tape after it had been the site of an attempted arson and grisly murder.
If she had been expecting life in the country to be quiet, her first few months had been anything but. Now, though, her days had settled into a pleasant rhythm, busy certainly, but nourishingly so. Her days were taken up by the café, yoga classes, Ben, and her friends.
The door tinkled and she looked up to see one of them come in, her blond dreadlocks swinging. Megan grinned at her and came over to envelop her in a patchouli-scented hug. Keeley hugged her friend back with warmth, looking over her shoulder at the two people who accompanied her. A young woman with spiky pink hair and stars tattooed across one cheekbone hung off the arm of a man who rivaled Duane for healthy good looks. He smiled at Keeley, and the woman stepped closer into him as if warning her off. Keeley raised an eyebrow at Megan.
“Keeley, this is Suzy and Christian. They’re staying with me for the Art Festival. In fact, I have a favor to ask.” Megan looked at her with wide, hopeful eyes, and Keeley suppressed a smile. As much as she loved Megan, some of her views on life and some of her friends were, to put it nicely, a bit wacky. She had never forgotten the time she had found her in the yard with a few of her New Age friends, attempting to cleanse the café of “negative energy.” Megan’s idea of a favor was likely to include anything from using the café to hold a séance to roping Keeley into a spot of water divining.
“You know the art festival usually consists of an art trail, with a lot of the residents opening their houses to showcase various artists’ work? We thought it would be a good idea to get some of the local businesses involved, and I was wondering if you would be happy to exhibit some of Suzy’s work?”
Keeley looked at Suzy, who looked back at her with an expression that could be interpreted as nothing short of hostile. She was tempted to say no; there was something about the pink-haired woman that put Keeley on edge, but then she immediately felt guilty for being so uncharitable. There was also the fact that the Belfrey Art Festival had been going for years, held every year over the August bank holiday, and it often brought a lot of visitors from out of town. Opening up the café to display some of Suzy’s work could bring in a lot of customers, and it wasn’t as though she had plans over the bank holiday; Ben was, as usual, working. As the only nonuniformed officer in Belfrey and the three surrounding villages, he was a lot busier than one might expect for a village policeman, plus he was chasing a promotion to Detective Sergeant.
Keeley opened her mouth to say she would consider it when Megan’s next words made her mind up for her.
“Christian’s already got his work into the diner, so Raquel will be opening up.”
Keeley pursed her lips at Megan, who had a mischievous glint in her eye. Keeley normally tried her best not to encourage Raquel’s rivalry with her, believing that there was plenty of room on the High Street for both of them, but Duane’s admission of Raquel’s plans to start serving a vegetarian menu ignited a spark of competitiveness in her.
“Okay, sure, I’d love to.” Megan and Christian beamed at her, while Suzy only offered her a surly smile better suited, Keeley thought, to a thirteen-year-old than a grown woman. Still, she tried to be kind. Perhaps Suzy was just awkward around new people.
“What type of art do you do?” she asked politely, belatedly realizing she had agreed to display the woman’s work before even asking what it was.
“I work with acrylics,” Suzy said, her chin jutting forward. Her dark eyes had an intense look to them that highlighted the brightness of her hair and the candy-colored stars tattooed on one side of her face. Behind her quirky looks she was, Keeley realized, stunningly beautiful, with perfect bone structure and a pouting mouth. Much like Christian himself, though with his tanned skin and tousled light brown hair he was rather more wholesome looking. They both had the same full mouth and high cheekbones, and Keeley wondered if they were in fact brother and sister rather than a couple.
“Charcoal’s Christian’s medium. We met at art college,” Suzy informed her before sliding her other arm around Christian’s torso, which made him look slightly uncomfortable. Definitely a couple then.
“You know Raquel?” Duane piped up, then blushed as four confused faces turned toward him. “You said you were displaying your work at the diner,” he explained.
“No, I just popped in and told her about my work and she offered to display it. She seems a lovely woman,” Christian said, causing both Suzy and Duane to glower. Keeley raised her eyebrows at Megan, who shrugged. She could imagine Raquel would have been all over the handsome young artist; perhaps that was why Suzy was now clinging on to him for dear life. Keeley couldn’t help thinking that they seemed an odd couple; Suzy’s pink hair, tattoos, and ripped jeans were a stark contrast to Christian’s natural good looks, with his lithe physique clothed in blue jeans and a simple white tee that accentuated his tan. It looked like a natural tan too, rather than the orange glow that Duane often sported. In contrast Suzy was porcelain pale. In fact, from first impressions, even their personalities seemed at odds with one another. Christian gave off a warm, easygoing air, whereas Suzy seemed, to put it in the nicest possible terms, rather intense.
Chiding herself for being judgmental, Keeley gave the pink-haired artist a friendly smile, only to be rewarded with a deeper glare.
“Friend of yours, is she?” Suzy snapped. “This woman at the diner?”
Keeley hesitated. “More of an acquaintance,” she said, ignoring Megan’s suppressed snort of laughter. There was no love lost between her friend and Raquel; Megan had made her disapproval of Raquel and Duane’s relationship loud and clear, although Keeley had thought they were well suited to each other.
“She was my girlfriend,” Duane said in a doleful tone. Megan looked at Keeley and rolled her eyes. Suzy looked at him, however, her head cocked to one side and eyes narrowed. She looked like a bird of prey about to strike, Keeley thought.
“Suzy,” Christian admonished, but Duane was only too happy to answer.
“Yeah, she left me. I gave her everything. I really thought we were going somewhere, you know? We had plans for the future, plans for the business—” He caught Keeley’s eye and looked away, guilt crossing his face. “—and, you know, goals. Then she threw it all away for some old man.” His face twisted at his last words, a bitter tone to his voice that Keeley had never heard from him before. Perhaps she and Megan shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Duane’s heartbreak, Keeley thought with a pang of compassion. He was hurting more than she had understood.
“That’s rough, man,” Christian said, disentangling himself from Suzy and sliding into the chair opposite Duane. Glad he had someone to talk to, Keeley turned back to Suzy and Megan.
“So, how many paintings would you like to display, Suzy?”
Suzy pursed her lips and looked around at the café in a critical manner that reminded Keeley of her mother.
“There’s not much space, is there,” the artist said, “but I could hang a few of the smaller canvases on the walls, I suppose. And I’d like to create a bigger piece for the window, which I wouldn’t unveil until the day of the festival itself.”
“That sounds interesting. What would be the subject?” Keeley hoped that was the right term; she didn’t really know much about art. Suzy looked at her and blinked slowly.
“Why, I don’t know yet,” she said in a singsong sort of voice, “it depends where the Muse takes me.”
“Right,” said Keeley. She looked at Megan, baffled, but her friend was nodding with enthusiasm.
“You should let me make you a crystal charm,” Megan said, “there are lots of crystals that are good for creativity and inspiration.”
Keeley excused herself to go behind the counter and started wiping it down, although it was already sparkling. As much as she loved Megan, she was often bemused by some of her friend’s views on life. Still, she supposed that many of the residents of Belfrey, particularly the older generation, had felt the same about yoga and vegetarian food.
“Shall we get something to eat while we’re here?” Christian asked Suzy, who shrugged, looking bored.
“Oh, you should!” Megan said, handing a menu to Suzy. “Keeley’s ice cream smoothies are delicious, and she’s got a lovely summer stew on the menu if you want something more substantial.”
Keeley smiled at her friend’s impromptu sales pitch, although Suzy managed to turn her button nose up even more.
“I’ll just have an herbal tea, please. We’re not hungry.”
“Actually,” Christian admonished, giving Keeley a warm smile, and ignoring the answering glare from Suzy, “I’d love to try your summer stew. What’s in it?”
“Oh, a mix of vegetables, mostly squash and zucchini, with basil, oregano, and garlic for flavor,” Keeley said with more than a touch of pride. She had added the recipe to her menu a month ago, and it was selling well.
“Sounds lovely, I’ll try it,” Christian said, giving Keeley another of those warm smiles. If she wasn’t with Ben, she would definitely have been attracted to the man. She could see why Suzy was possessive; he must unwittingly charm women everywhere he went.
Keeley made Suzy her tea and then retreated into the kitchen and busied herself with Christian’s stew. She could hear Duane launching into his familiar monologue about Raquel, and Christian making sympathetic murmuring noises. Megan sounded as though she was trying to make small talk with Suzy, from whom there seemed to be little response. She wondered how Megan knew the couple, and if the girl was really that moody, if it was some kind of “artistic temperament,” or if it was an affectation deliberately put on. Or perhaps she was just having a bad day.
The sound of shouting from outside startled Keeley out of her musings. She came out of the kitchen to see her friends staring out of the window at a couple involved in a heated argument. There was no mistaking the shrill tones of the woman. It was Raquel, looking as glamorous as ever but equally as furious, shouting at a flustered-looking Gerald Buxby, the local mayor and the man who had stolen Raquel away from a heartbroken Duane. Duane had gotten to his feet and was making his way to the door when Megan laid a hand on his arm.
“Keep out of it,” she told her cousin firmly. Keeley moved forward to the window, intending to pull the blinds but becoming interested despite herself. The café door was ajar, and when Gerald began to shout back at Raquel in his gruff voice he could be easily heard.
“You’re just want, want, want, all the bloody time. Don’t I give you enough?”
Raquel looked furious, her face flushed and her dark eyes glowing like hot coals. Gerald must be angry to speak to her like that, Keeley thought, knowing all too well from her own experience just how formidable Raquel could be when her blood was up. Gerald’s words, however, didn’t bring forth the torrent of abuse Keeley was expecting; rather the other woman stiffened, then gave Gerald a haughty look. Keeley couldn’t quite hear her next words, but the sneering look on her face left no doubt that they were poisonous. Whatever she said, Gerald’s usually mottled complexion went pale. He opened and shut his mouth like a goldfish, as Raquel turned on her very expensive heels and walked off down the road. As she did so she looked toward the café and spotted its inhabitants in the window, shooting them such a look of malice that Keeley found herself shrinking back. Raquel stopped, and Keeley thought she might come over and give them a piece of her mind, when Gerald shouted something at her that took her attention well away from the café.
“You’re nothing but a spoiled little gold digger!” The mayor shouted. Raquel seemed to falter at that, and then walked off quickly without looking back. Even from across the road Keeley could see that the woman’s face was burning. She felt someone push past her, and saw Duane rush out of the door and across the road after Raquel, who turned and fell dramatically into his arms, sobbing into his shoulder.
“Crocodile tears,” Megan snorted. Keeley turned away, feeling bad for snooping, just as Gerald threw up his arms in seeming exasperation and walked off in the opposite direction from Duane and a now distraught Raquel. Something made Keeley look back, and as she did so she caught sight of Raquel’s face over Duane’s shoulder. In that instant, she didn’t look as though she was crying or even upset at all, but was watching the retreating back of Gerald Buxby with an icy glare that made Keeley shudder.
“Well,” Christian said, looking bemused, “that was unexpected. Is it usually so dramatic around here?”
“Hardly,” Keeley said, at the same time as Megan gave an enthusiastic nod. “Oh, it all goes on in Belfrey,” Megan told Christian, causing Keeley to squirm in embarrassment. “Keeley solved a murder back in April, you know. In fact, it happened upstairs, where she’s now living.” Megan ignored the look Keeley gave her. Suzy gazed at Keeley with rather more interest.
“Really? That is fascinating. I wouldn’t have thought you were so interesting.”
“I didn’t really solve it,” Keeley said, ignoring the woman’s jibe, “it was more a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“She’s far too modest,” said Megan. “Keeley faced the murderer down herself; she was in terrible danger. Thank God DC Taylor turned up. He’s Keeley’s boyfriend now, it’s so romantic.”
Suzy and Christian were now staring at her with rapt attention. Keeley excused herself and escaped into the kitchen, having no wish to talk about the gruesome events of last April, even if they had made Keeley something of a local heroine, not to mention boosting sales on the opening day of the Yoga Café.
The truth was, memories of that day, when Keeley had narrowly escaped becoming a victim herself if it hadn’t been for Ben’s timely appearance, still left her feeling shaky. It didn’t help that circumstances had dictated that Keeley move into the apartment above the café, a space she had been planning on using as a yoga studio to hold private classes, and the site of the murder of Terry Smith, a local businessman who had known her parents. Sometimes, late at night when she woke in the dark to the sound of foxes calling or the chiming of the church bells, Keeley fancied she could sense him. It was silly, of course, she didn’t believe in ghosts, but it was harder to hold on to rational thought when alone in the small hours. Only Ben knew of her discomfort, and as a result they had been spending the night together more often, whether at his house down by the Water Gardens or upstairs in her cramped apartment. She didn’t dare tell Megan; her friend meant well, but would probably suggest some type of exorcism ritual or something equally offbeat.
“Keeley, are you okay?” It was Megan, entering the kitchen behind her. Keeley smiled at her friend, giving herself a mental shake to clear her head of morbid thoughts. It was a beautiful day, and she had tonight with Ben to look forward to.
“Of course. I wonder what was up with Raquel and Gerald?”
Megan shrugged. “Who knows? By the sound of things Raquel is just being her usual self and Gerald has finally seen through her. I would say it served her right, but no doubt she’ll leech back onto poor Duane.”
“He does seem to be very fond of her,” Keeley said in a neutral tone. Megan rolled her eyes.
“They’re both as narcissistic as each other, that’s why. Probably spend all of their time gazing into each other’s eyes at their own reflections.”
Keeley bit her lip to stop from laughing. Instead she jerked her head in the direction of the other room, where Suzy sat waiting for Christian to finish his stew.
“What’s the deal with those two? Do you know them from college?”
Megan shook her head. “Christian’s from Bakewell, same as me. Our mothers are friends; well, they were, his moved to Nottingham a few years ago now. Christian went off to study art and came back a couple of years ago with Suzy. She’s brilliant, her work’s amazing.”
“She’s very intense,” Keeley said diplomatically. Megan grinned and said, “Artistic temperament, isn’t it? They say geniuses are all a little mad. She does leave a very heavy aura behind; I’m going to have to do a sage cleansing at my cottage when they’ve gone.”
“Right,” said Keeley, wondering what on earth a sage cleansing was and deciding she didn’t need to know. “Christian doesn’t seem to be like that, though.”
“Christian’s lovely, but don’t let those puppy dog eyes fool you. He’s very passionate about his work.”
They fell silent as Christian came into the kitchen, carrying his empty bowl.
“That was great, Keeley, I really enjoyed that. You have to serve it for the art festival.”
Keeley smiled at the praise, feeling the warm glow of satisfaction a successful recipe always gave her.
“I’ve just thought, your mum will be here in time for the festival, won’t she?” Megan looked anxious. She had never met Darla Carpenter, but Keeley knew she had told her friend enough that Megan had cause for concern.
“Yes, I think she’s coming at the end of this week.”
“It won’t be too much for you, will it?”
Keeley shook her head. If anything, preparing menus for the festival would be a welcome distraction from Darla. Hopefully her mother, who never cooked if she could get someone else to do it for her, wouldn’t attempt to get involved in the running of the café during her stay.
“Well, I suppose we had better be going. I said I’d show Suzy and Christian around Belfrey.” Megan gave Keeley a tight squeeze on her way out. Keeley followed them out of the kitchen, waving at Megan as they left. Christian gave her another smile, but the only good-bye from Suzy was a surly mutter with no eye contact. Keeley swallowed down her annoyance at the girl’s rudeness. Considering she wanted to use the Yoga Café to display her work, though, she would have expected at least a pretense of friendliness. Perhaps she was just shy, and covered it up with that teenager-like demeanor.
Keeley set about tidying up and switched the sign on the door to CLOSED. She had no classes that evening, so she would have time for her own practice and a relaxing bath before she got ready to go and see Ben.
Thinking about Ben made her forget about the festival, Suzy, and even her mother. It had been a few days since they had spent time together and she had missed him. She was also looking forward to a night in his king-size bed, rather than the cramped divan upstairs.
She was leaning over clearing the utensils away when she heard the door open and the clack of stilettos behind her. It was a noise she always associated with Raquel, and Keeley straightened, expecting to see her would-be rival.
Instead a very different woman stood in front of her, groomed to perfection, her expertly made-up eyes looking around the café with a haughty contempt that even Raquel would find difficult to muster. Those eyes then looked Keeley up and down with equal disdain.
“Hello, dear,” said her mother.
Copyright © 2017 Michelle Kelly.
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Michelle Kelly is a writer living in Coventry, UK. Her recent Harlequin crime novel When I Wasn’t Watching went to number 1 in the UK and Australian crime charts. She is a passionate yoga practitioner and finds that, as the mother of two teenagers, her yoga practice keeps her sane. The Keeley Carpenter stories marry her three great loves; yoga, food, and murder mysteries.