BEARLY DEPARTED by Meg Macy / Cozy Mystery / Released May 30, 2017 by Kensington Books
The Silver Bear Shop & Factory might be the cutest place around, but there’s nothing warm and fuzzy about murder. . . .
As manager of the family business, thirty-one-year-old Sasha Silverman leads a charmed life. Well, except for the part about being a single divorcée with a ticking biological clock in small-town Silver Hollow. And that’s just kid’s stuff compared to Will Taylor, the sales rep who’s set on making drastic changes to the business her parents built from scratch—with or without Sasha’s approval. . . .
But before Will digs his claws in, someone pulls the stuffing out of his plan . . . and leaves his dead body inside the factory. Reeling from shock, Sasha’s hit with more bad news—police suspect her hot-tempered uncle may have murdered Will. Sasha’s launching her own little investigation to expose the truth and prove Uncle Ross’s innocence. As she tracks Will’s biggest rivals and enemies for clues, Sasha can’t get too comfy—or she’ll become the next plaything for a killer. . . .
“You’ll fall in love with this delightful debut mystery.” —Victoria Thompson, bestselling author of Murder in Morningside
By this time in my life, at thirty-one, I planned to be a happy suburban wife chauffeuring three kids and the dog in a van. That plan had quickly shorted out. Now I managed my parents’ business in Silver Hollow, Michigan. A toy shop exclusive to teddy bears fulfilled my love for children. I could make them happy, helping them choose a best friend, and then send them home. No tears, no temper tantrums, only happy faces and squishy hugs for their new toys.
“Hey, lady? Catch!”
A pugnacious little boy tossed a bear, which I grabbed before it bounced off the ceiling fan. “Ms. Sasha, that’s what you can call me,” I said and placed the bear in a bin chock full of other brown bears. “Let’s not play catch, though.”
He flashed a mischievous grin and grabbed a white bear. This time, I gave him an ‘I dare you’ stare. The little rascal squinted at me, gauging if I was serious, and then resorted to twirling the toy by one ear over his head. That didn’t worry me. Our bears were nearly indestructible – depending on the abuse, of course.
“Daniel John,” his mother said in a saccharine sweet tone, but then turned her back. “Put that back, we’re trying to choose one for your sister Sarah’s birthday.”
“Actually, she would love the polar bear he has right now,” I said. “That size fits any of our clothing on Rack Number One, like the purple floral dress with the matching sandals.”
Three racks included a display of shoes and fun accessories like skateboards, balls, and sports items, tea sets, tables and chairs, to fit all sizes of our bears. I’d convinced my dad that last minute urges to purchase an outfit or toy for a gift bear would boost sales. He was skeptical until the profit figures soared within three months.
I loved being right.
“Yes, how sweet.” The woman snatched the bear from her son. “Sarah loves the polar bears at the zoo. Sarah would love the purple dress and the sandals. And that straw hat! She could decorate it with tiny flowers, too.”
“Certainly. I can ring you up whenever you’re ready.”
Meanwhile her son had scampered up the wide stairs in the central round tower of the Silver Bear Shop. We called the tower the ‘Rotunda’. Customers always gasped in delight while they admired our Parade of Bears along the outer curved wall, displayed in special five-shelf acrylic boxes. The Bears Around The World each held a tiny flag, and the Branded Bears from Gund, Boyd, Steiff, and Lloyd ranged from oldest to newest.
“I’m so glad we stopped in.” The woman glanced around for her son and checked her watch. “Daniel John! You have a dentist’s appointment, and we have to get you new shoes for school. If you’re not down here in three seconds…”
“I’ll go up and see where he is,” I offered, since my sister had wandered in from the office. Maddie swipe her credit card and pack up her purchases.
I figured the kid would be safe upstairs jumping on ‘Mr. Silver’. Not the biggest stuffed bear in the nation, but at eight feet, giant enough for children to crawl over his fluffy legs or have their photo taken sitting in his lap.
I took the shallow stairs two at a time. First I glanced into the side room with the array of ‘profession’ bears dressed in costumes – doctor, nurse, lawyer, and teacher – which lined the wall display shelves. The boy wasn’t there. In the loft playroom, the plastic tea set, table and chairs, plus several well-loved crochet teddy bears were scattered across the carpet. Danny landed on poor Mr. Silver with an audible ‘oof.’
“Your mom’s called you twice. Time to go and thanks for visiting!”
He scrambled to his feet. “Who’s that?” Danny pointed to a framed photo on the wall.
“My grandfather, who inspired my parents to open this shop.”
“He looks old.”
Danny ran for the stairs before I could laugh. Kids – rascals or angels – were always honest. In the photograph, 80-year-old T.R. Silverman posed with the bears he sewed by hand for his children, nieces, nephews, and the local neighbors.
“Miss you, Gramps T.R.,” I said and quickly tidied up before heading back down to my sister who manned the counter. “That was a nice sale, wasn’t it?”
“Polar bear, clothes, and a small bear for the brother. Best yet this week.” Maddie squinted at the cell phone in hand. “When was the last time you talked to Mom or Dad?”
“Uh. It’s been a while.”
“I sent a text to Mom on Monday. Almost three days, and she hasn’t answered yet.”
I shrugged. “Maybe they’re busy.”
Madeline and I didn’t look at all like siblings. I cleared five-ten, wore my blond hair pulled back, and forced myself to swim, walk, and pedal to counterbalance my true passion for cookies. At five-two, with her dark pixie-styled hair, pale skin and brown eyes, she embodied Audrey Hepburn’s waif-like sweetness. She could wear anything and look cute, stylish, or hot. Today she wore a red cardigan over a white tee, red capris with matching espadrille sandals, and dangling earrings that flashed a rainbow of tiny seed beads.
Fashion with flair. My silver metallic shirt was wrinkled, like I’d slept in it, over blue twill pants and sneakers. Maybe I needed a shopping intervention.
“Mom always texts me about what she’s doing,” Maddie said, clearly worried. “And I’m swamped, so I haven’t paid that much attention like I should.”
“We both have been swamped.”
“And you still haven’t found that file of invoices,” she reminded me.
I groaned. Maddie, far more organized than me, was a stickler for filing everything that wasn’t nailed down. On the other hand, I misplaced a lot of things. All the time. My keys, my cell phone, the staff schedule – which didn’t include Will Taylor, our company’s salesman and PR expert, who kept his own hours. He gave me the willies. Pun intended. But Maddie kept track of his comings and goings for the most part.
I caught a glimpse of two large SUVs pulling into the parking lot. A gaggle of little girls, adorable in their Girl Scout Brownie vests, tumbled out into the sunshine and then lined up behind two leaders. I waved my sister back behind the counter.
“Better stay put, Mads. The tour’s here.”
“I’ve got a ton of work, and a half-finished post for Facebook about the Teddy Bear picnic on Monday. See this adorable photo?”
She held up her cell phone. Two teddy bears sat on a red-checkered cloth, a teapot between them, with china cups and plates, and a tiny bear peeping out of the wicker hamper. My sister was a whiz on social media, posting photos, drawings she made, memes with bears – toys and real animals – on the shop’s website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, Pinterest, you name it. Uber talented with pen and ink, watercolor, whatever she put her mind to do.
“Shamelessly adorable. I gotta run, though. I’m starting to wonder if we need to hire a full time sales assistant.”
“That would get Will’s blood boiling.” Maddie frowned. “He wants all our sales reports in time for the meeting tonight. He’s already moaning and groaning again about staff—”
“Wait – what meeting?”
“Didn’t you get his email? Or his text message?”
I retrieved my phone and swiped it, but the screen didn’t light up. Dead battery. Again. Maddie grinned. I scrabbled under the counter for the charger and plugged it in. Then I texted an order to Fresh Grounds, the local coffee shop and small bakery. Will had been gone for three weeks back East, doing who knows what. I loathed his frequent complaints whenever he returned to the office. The peace and quiet during his absence had been heavenly.
“He better not spring another stupid idea on us.”
“Let’s hope he didn’t convince Dad to cut jobs. You know he’s been wanting that.”
“Over my dead body.”