Christmas Fudge Fatality – Addison Moore

M y 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, aka dead pets, who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom. But right now I’m not seeing a dead anything. In fact, the entire Jolly Holly Tree Lot is brimming with people and pets alike, anxious to get a picture with the jolly old elf himself. It’s just the beginning of December, and already we’ve had our fair share of snow flurries. All of Honey Hollow is covered in thick vats of downy soft powder—heck, all of Vermont is a virtual winter wonderland. “Lottie, let me hold one of them,” Everett, my good friend, offers as he takes one of my sweet cats from me. “Oh, wait. Take Waffles instead,” I say as I quickly do a switcheroo with him. “Pancake likes to cling to me a bit more whenever we leave the house.” Both Pancake and Waffles are off-white fuzzy Himalayan cats with gorgeous silver-blue eyes and rusttipped tails—and best of all, they also happen to be brothers. The thick scent of familiar cologne permeates the area, and before I know it, Detective Noah Fox is standing next to me shedding that dimple-laden smile. “Noah!” I offer up a spontaneous hug. “Glad you could make it.

” “Not a problem.” He pulls back and scowls over at Everett. “Judge Baxter.” It’s true. Everett Essex Baxter is indeed a judge down at the Ashford County Courthouse. And even though Noah and Everett are both on the right side of the law, they don’t seem to get along all that great. About a million years ago, when they were in high school, Noah’s father was married to Everett’s mother and quickly hightailed it out of town with as much of her money that he could get his paws on. But when you get down to brass tacks, that didn’t affect their friendship as much as the fact that Noah saw fit to swipe Everett’s girlfriend away from him at the time. And now, I seem to be the next girlfriend hurdle in their path. Both Everett and Noah have made their feelings clear for me.

They’re both interested in me, and sadly, I’m interested in both of them. I know—I know. It sounds terribly wrong. That’s because it is. I need to pick a lane. But I don’t know which lane I prefer just yet. Everett offers a mock bow. “Noah, I see you’re still stalking Lemon proficiently.” Lemon isn’t just my surname. It’s the cute moniker Everett insists on tagging me with, and I don’t mind a bit.

I can’t help but roll my eyes at his statement, though. “Nobody is stalking me. I invited you both out here. I thought it would be fun.” I give Everett’s shoulders a playful bump with my own. “I mean, look at the bustling crowd of people all giddy to be here, bundled in their winter coats and sipping hot cocoa. Not to mention the size of that line to sit on Santa’s lap.” Everett grunts, “I’ve got a red suit at home. If we hightail it off to my place, you could be on my lap before you know it.” I can’t help but chuckle at the bawdy proposal.

However, Noah gives an audible groan at the idea. “Hand Waffles over.” Noah gingerly takes Waffles from him and the cute kitty nuzzles right up against Noah’s shoulder. “See there?” He sways as if he were rocking a baby. “He likes me better.” Everett’s lips twitch, but he’s too stubborn to give a smile. “The boys have always liked you better.” “All right,” I say. “Enough, you two. Let’s get in line before all of Honey Hollow shows up.

” And we do just that. Although, it doesn’t feel as if we moved all that far from the parking lot—the line is just that long. The snow is lightly dusting the ground, and the Jolly Holly Tree Lot is nearly filled to capacity with people bundled in their winter parkas. There’s a giant red banner strewn across the opening of the circus-like tent that reads Take a picture with Santa! All pets and people welcome! And you can bet your bottom dollar that the fine people of Honey Hollow have taken this to heart. There are just as many tiny tots present tonight as there are fur babies. And among the animals, there seems to be an even split between cats and dogs. I’m pretty sure I even see a ferret in someone’s arms up ahead. I’m not entirely certain if owning a ferret is legal in Vermont, but it’s Christmastime and I don’t care about anything else but this glorious holiday season. You might say that things are finally going right for me. My bakery is taking off like never before with as many holiday orders that I can handle, and my love life is starting to take shape, too.

I’ll admit, it’s not such a bad thing to have two handsome men warring for my affection. I’ve known both Noah and Everett for some time now, and I’ve grown close to both of them. Noah is a sweet, albeit aggressively handsome, homicide detective with dark hair that turns red in the sun and deep-welled dimples—not to mention he seems to have the ability to make me laugh whenever he’s around. Everett is smolderingly sexy—almost unfairly so with that jet-black hair and stunning cobalt blue eyes. In fact, he’s been dubbed Mr. Sexy by the baristas the world over. It’s sort of a play on his formal first moniker, Essex. But for whatever reason, he prefers people call him by his middle name, Everett. The only people who seem to freely call him Essex are the multitude of women that he’s done the mattress mambo with. I guess you could say they acquire his first name as sort of a door prize.

Regardless, both men have the ability to cause any woman with a pulse to crane their necks in their direction. Suffice it to say, we’re causing quite the scene at the moment with the female population without even trying. “Lottie!” a female voice calls out from my left and I turn to see Tamara Gray, a petite brunette about my age, waving from the makeshift concession stand. “Your chocolate fudge is to die for!” She holds up a small bag of my delectable delights. The Jolly Holly Tree Lot asked my bakery, the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery, to stock their concession stand and I was quick to fill the order. “Glad you like it! I added extra walnuts to this batch!” I give a friendly wave back just as she stumbles upon a group of friends. “Poor thing,” I whisper to Everett and Noah as we scoot up in line a smidge. “She and Scott are in the middle of a messy divorce that seems to be dragging on forever. It’s been just under a year now, and he’s already moved on. I guess it’s a good thing they never had children.

” Everett shakes his head. “The reason the divorce is taking so long is they’re duking it out in court over their shared properties. I saw them there again just last week.” Noah takes a breath and Pancake gives a lazy yowl. “Don’t they own that place at the edge of town?” “That’s right,” I say as we scuttle up another notch. “The Grays have a booming produce farm that spans acres. It’s a popular tourist destination in the fall. Too bad their marriage wasn’t as successful as their business.” Noah takes a breath. “Rumor has it, Scott was cheating all along with his ranch manager, Stacy Culberson.

” I wince as I lean in. “I know Stacy. She’s good friends with my sister, Lainey. They went to college together. And you know what? I’ve always liked Stacy. She can be a bit abrasive, but she’s the one that usually comes into the bakery to pick things up for the workers at the farm and she’s always super nice to me.” Everett’s chest expands. “Isn’t that her over there?” “Where?” I squint in the direction he pointed to and suck in a quick breath as soon as I spot the feisty redhead with her pale complexion and stunning long lashes. Stacy has always been a beauty. I’ll never understand why she felt the need to move in on someone else’s husband.

She could have had anyone she wanted. “My goodness, that is her!” Just past her stands a tall, stalky gentleman with some gray around the temples and a friendly open face. “And that’s Scott checking out the flocked trees. I bet they’re here together. Poor Tamara has to see them here, shopping for Christmas trees of all things. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for her—especially this time of year.” An all too familiar girl with caramel-colored wavy hair and light hazel eyes steps over to Stacy, and soon they’re laughing it up over who knows what. “Speaking of my sister,” I say as I wave over to her, and she waves back while quickly returning to the conversation at hand with Stacy. Lainey is the head librarian at the Honey Hollow Public Library. She’s older than me by one year, and we happen to share the same caramel hair and light eyes—so much so that I had hoped my parents had the details of my adoption wrong.

Apparently, I was discovered, all by my lonesome, as an infant swaddled up in a blanket on the floor of the fire department. The firefighter who found me, Joseph Lemon, said he never could let me go. And soon thereafter, Joseph and Miranda Lemon officially adopted me. A year later, they had my younger sister, Meg, who used to be a star attraction on the Las Vegas female wrestling circuit. Meg has since moved back to town and has no problem shaking things up in Honey Hollow with her larger-than-life personality. My father sadly passed away when I was in my teens. And seeing that I’m in my late twenties, that seems like a million years ago. But I’ll never forget him or the kind heart he freely shared with everybody. My own heart still aches for him each and every day. Pancake rouses to life and belts out an ear-piercing meow as he gives a quick look around with those icy blue eyes.

“Whoa.” Everett gives him a quick scratch on the head. “What’s got you so stirred up, big guy? Did you see a ghost?” Everett winks my way. Both Everett and Noah are apprised of my transmundane status, further classified as supersensual. It’s true. I can see the dead. Mostly pets that have come back. But as fate or the universe would have it, it’s usually just when something horrific is about to happen to their previous owner. Outside of the disembodied visitors I’ve had over the last few months, the only other ghosts I see happen to be at my mother’s bed and breakfast. Noah shakes his head.

“Ignore him, Pancake. There are no ghosts around.” He looks over at his old stepbrother and frowns. “Are you trying to jinx this night? You know what happens when Lottie sees one of those things.” Everett grunts, “Yeah—you get to work. If I were you, I’d start to worry about what people think about your constant proximity to the number of homicides you’re in charge of. You’re not drumming up business, are you?” Everett is teasing, but I can’t help but hush him. It’s true. I’ve stumbled upon my fair share of bodies this last year, and each time it was Noah who was the lead investigator in the case. I’m about to reprimand them both for bringing up such grisly things when an adorable black and white French bulldog trots up and nuzzles around my ankles.

“Well, if you aren’t as adorable as a red ribbon on a wreath!” I bend over and give him a scratch between his cute pointed ears. There’s a brass nametag in the shape of a bone dangling from a collar around his neck and I flip it over. “Noel,” I read. “What a pretty name you have. Hey, I bet your owner is worried sick about you.” The tiny pooch cocks his head up at me adorably. “No, I can assure you they aren’t,” the sweet dog bellows it out in a deep baritone just as he up and disappears right before my eyes. “Oh my goodness.” I bolt upright and freeze. Noah lets out a quick breath.

“You saw another one, didn’t you, Lottie?” “I did,” I whisper, still afraid to move a muscle. Noah shakes his head at Everett. “I knew you’d jinx it.” “I didn’t jinx anything. You’re the unlucky charm around here.” Everett leans in and catches my gaze. “Do you know what this means, Lemon?” I gulp hard and nod. “Murder is imminent.” T C H A P T E R 2 hey say some people can sense things before they happen. They claim to get a niggling feeling, they smell something, or they get a vision before disaster strikes.

Not me. I am always freshly surprised when a supernatural entity decides to pop in for an impromptu visit from the other side. And Lord knows I am never adequately prepared for the homicidal aftermath. A long time ago, when I first started seeing these velum-like apparitions floating nearby, it always meant something with far less mortal consequences like a skinned knee or a bruised shin. But as of late, it almost always means murder is afoot. Confession: I haven’t always been able to hear the dead. In fact, up until last year the dead weren’t able to do much of anything. But as my powers grew, so did their abilities. At first, they were able to move objects in the material world—a potential disaster of supernatural proportions. But, as of a couple of months ago, they’ve garnered the ability to talk as well.

I’ll admit, it’s a bit unnerving listening to an animal speak to me in perfect English, but it’s something I’ve slowly grown accustomed to—so much so that I wish my sweet cats had harnessed the same strange ability. Noah pulls out his phone and begins texting away. “What are you doing?” I hike up on my tiptoes as a mild sense of panic strikes me. “Just a little preemptive action.” He flashes his screen at Everett and me. “I let Ivy know she should probably head over to the tree lot. Don’t worry. I was ambiguous as to why.” “Nice,” I quip. “I’m sure she’ll think you invited her over for a hot date.

” I couldn’t help it. Detective Ivy Fairbanks is a leggy redhead who is as keen a homicide detective as she is gorgeous. And a part of me very much believes she has a thing for her handsome coworker. Everett chuckles as he bumps his elbow to mine. “Something tells me he’ll be using poor Waffles as a chick magnet, too.” Noah offers a sideways glance to Everett. “I would never do that.” He drops a quick kiss to Waffles’ forehead. “Lottie, we need reinforcements. I’m going to call for backup, just a few cruisers to keep an eye on the periphery.

It’s not an unusual request at this time of year. I promise, no one will think twice about it.” I’m about to protest, or agree, or most likely both, when I spot Lainey and Stacy heading over to Tamara and her friends, and I watch as Tamara’s eyes widen with horror. “Ooh, maybe I’d better get over there. I’d hate for Lainey to put herself in the middle of something without realizing it.” Everett wraps an arm around my shoulder. “I’m not leaving your side, Lemon.” “That’s fine.” I’ll be the last person to turn down the studly judge as a personal bodyguard. “Noah? Will you hold my place in line? I won’t be gone long.

” Everett blinks a smile over at him. “Yes, Noah. Hold our place in line while we go off and have a good time.” I try to swat Everett, but he takes up my hand instead and kisses the back of it as we trek through the snow and make our way to where Lainey stands with a group of rather unhappy looking ladies. “Lottie.” Tamara offers me a meager smile. “I meant what I said. Your fudge is delicious. In fact, it’s the only good thing about this day.” She hardens her eyes over at Stacy as she says that last part.

My heart thumps at the volatility of the situation. “I’m glad you like it.” Lainey steals Pancake right out of my arms. “And here’s my handsome little nephew.” She ticks her head toward her old friend and I quickly offer up a somber nod. “Lottie, you know Stacy.” “Hi, Stacy. Everyone.” I nod to the small crowd I’m regretfully holding at awkward attention. “I’m Lottie and this is my friend, Everett—Judge Baxter.

” Tamara offers a somewhat pained smile at the two of us. “Nice to meet you, Judge Baxter. I’ve spent my fair share of time in a courtroom as of late. In fact, I’ll probably spend the rest of my life in court. I’ve probably seen you around the courthouse a time or two.” She nods his way. “Lottie, Judge Baxter, these are my friends, Joyce and Bonnie.” She waves a hand to the two women ensconcing her on either side, who look to be about the same age as Tamara. The blonde with her hair stacked up in a messy bun is quick to shake Everett’s hand. “Bonnie Dupre.

” Her silver eyes widen the size of dinner plates. Obviously, the woman is dazzled by the demigod by my side, as she should be. “I’m the accountant at Gray Farms. Clearly, I’ve been spending far too much time with barnyard animals. I didn’t realize they made men like you. Boy, am I ever glad I came out tonight. Are you free for drinks later?” The short brunette with bronzed skin and an overall exotic look about her quickly pushes Bonnie out of the way. “Don’t pay attention to her. Joyce Calypso.” She quickly picks up Everett’s hand and offers up an aggressive shake.

“I’m Tamara’s personal trainer. Ready and willing to kick anyone’s behind who gets in her way.” She bats her lashes playfully up at Everett. “I’m not afraid to show off my moves to anyone who’s interested either. Can I buy you a cup of eggnog? Rumor has it, they’ve spiked it with rum this year.” Stacy leads Tamara off before Everett can respond, and Lainey hands me Pancake before following along with them. I look up at my handsome escort. “Would you excuse me for a moment?” “Sure.” He nods to Pancake and I gently hand him over. “Stay where Pancake and I can see you, Lemon.

I mean it.” A dark rumble of a laugh strums through me. “You know I will. Steer clear of the liquor, would you?” I can’t help but make a face at Joyce before I take off for far more hostile waters. But, surprisingly, Stacy and Tamara seem to be sharing a laugh by the time I make it by my sister’s side. “What did I miss?” I give Lainey the crazy eyes because we both know these two women don’t have much to laugh about these days. Tamara waves it off. “Lainey reminded us of some stupid prank we pulled when we were seniors. I guess I can’t believe how long I’ve known the two of you.” She lifts her chin to Stacy.

“Some have proven better friends than others.” She looks my way. “Hey, Lottie, while I have you here—I’m throwing a Christmas party for the employees at the farm, and I would love it if I could get you to cater the desserts for me. I’d bake them myself, but I’ve got another woman shuffling around my kitchen.” Her lips harden in a knot as she glances to Stacy. “I moved into the guest house a few months back, and I haven’t moved any of my baking supplies just yet.” “Not to worry. I’ve got you covered. Just call me with the details.” “Great.

I’ll do it tonight, before I forget.” Stacy rolls her eyes at Tamara. “You know I’d leave the house for you to do whatever you wanted. I’ve already told you that a million times, but you just love to paint me in an unfavorable light.” Tamara straightens. “Pardon me? I like to paint you in an unfavorable light? I think you’re doing just fine on your own in that department. Maybe the fact that you flirted shamelessly with my husband and then stole him had something to do with it?” “I didn’t have to steal him—you locked him out emotionally.” Stacy takes a bold step in and Lainey quickly squeezes between them. “Hey, hey”—Lainey holds her hands out in an effort to separate the two—“let’s be civilized.” “No use in that,” a deep voice strums from behind as Scott Gray himself comes up looking winded and all around irritated by the situation at hand.

He takes Stacy in his arms and pulls her in close before dotting a kiss to her cheek. “Is she bothering you again?” Tamara huffs, “Are you kidding? You’re concerned over the fact that I’m bothering her? It never fails to amaze me how I ended up being the bad guy in this scenario. Honestly, the two of you deserve one another. But I’ll tell you what you don’t deserve— one square inch of my land. I’m not caving, Scott. I’ll drag this thing out in court for decades if I have to.” “You’ll bankrupt us both!” he bellows so loud everyone in the vicinity turns to stare. “And I’ll be glad to do it!” she shouts right back. Bonnie and Joyce scuttle over and pull Tamara off toward the woods. Scott stumbles back with Stacy in his arms.

“Don’t worry. She’s not getting an ounce of dirt from me. I broke my back in those fields while she sat around staring at her phone. It’ll be over my dead body that I hand over the reins to the farm. If she thinks she’s going to drain me financially, I’ve got news for her. I’ll drain her.” They take off and Lainey quickly latches onto my arm. “He’ll drain her?” Lainey shudders at the thought. “That sounds ominous. I think maybe both Tamara and Stacy should get a restraining order on him.

” “He’s just worked up.” I shake my head as I watch him and Stacy take off for the woods themselves, and suddenly I’m glad that Noah called for backup. “What were you thinking letting Stacy anywhere near Tamara tonight? You know they have a dicey relationship.” “I know, I know, but Stacy said she had something she needed to ask for and wanted me there as a buffer.” “What did she ask for?” “She didn’t have a chance. You showed up with Mr. Sexy and cast a spell on Tamara’s friends.” “Speaking of which,” I turn around to see an entire blob of women surrounding the tall, far too comely for his own safety judge, “I’d better free both him and Pancake.” “Does that mean you’re finally making a decision between Noah and Everett? Is it Mr. Sexy for the win?” “I’m not choosing.

I mean, I’m not ready to choose.” I grimace as the crowd of estrogen surrounding him only grows by the second. “Let’s just say I’m weighing my options. Which is not an easy task when both options are pretty stellar.” “Well, I’m glad you’ve got this gargantuan decision to make and not me. I’m lousy at decision-making—and I’m greedy. I’d probably choose both. Speaking of choosing both, Mom and Meg are somewhere trying to choose the tree for the B&B. If I don’t help out, Mom will probably have a tree for every room in that haunted place before the night is through.” She takes off and I make my way toward the crowd of estrogen surrounding my favorite legal eagle.

Not shocking in the least. Everett gets the attention from both the young and old everywhere we go. It’s not as easy as it looks plucking Everett away from fifty hormonal women who all seem to want to buy the good judge a drink. I take him by the hand as I try to navigate us back to Noah and that impossibly long line that only seems to be growing in both directions. “You’re not thirsty, are you, Everett?” I tease as we head back with Pancake curled in his arms and sleeping. “Only if you’re buying. Better yet, why don’t you come by for a nightcap? We can quench our thirst together.” We come upon Noah and Waffles before I can answer and I bite my lip as I shrug up at Everett instead. About forty minutes drift by with the line moving so painfully slow I feel as if I owe both Everett and Noah a drink for asking them to stand in the snow with me just so my cats can get a picture with Santa. I’m about to tell them exactly that when I spot Stacy speaking with Joyce and Bonnie, and not a sign of Tamara anywhere.

“You know”—I take Waffles from Noah—“my legs are going numb. I think I’m going to take a quick walk.” “I’ll go with you,” Noah is quick to offer. “Everett, I think it’s your turn to hold our place in line.” Everett holds Pancake close to his chest. “There are some people and pets that I’d risk hypothermia for.” He frowns over at Noah. “Good luck losing him, Lemon.” A tiny laugh bubbles in my chest as I lead Noah off in the direction Stacy stands with Tamara’s friends. “That’s funny,” I say.

“They seem to be having an amicable conversation. But where’s Tamara? Her ex was fuming at her earlier. It got pretty ugly.” Noah shakes his head at the thought. “I never understood how two people who were once so in love could let things turn so ugly.” He winces a moment as if he regrets his words. Noah and I have let it get ugly a time or two—granted not to this degree. “Where did you see Tamara last?” “They were all headed that way, to the woods.” “There’s an overlook there. Maybe they were looking at the view?” A thought comes to me.

“Hey? Maybe Tamara’s still there taking in the lights of Honey Hollow. You know, clearing her head?” Noah and I speed off to the woods and make our way to the overlook, but there’s no sign of Tamara anywhere.

.

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