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The Cold Case: a Vintage Murder - Large Print Paperback

The Cold Case: a Vintage Murder - Large Print Paperback

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Book 3 in the Saint-Maurice Mysteries series

Who killed the Woman in the Wine?

It’s a question that has haunted the village for over thirty years, but the woman’s daughter is convinced I, Julie Belmain, can come up with an answer.

No one cares that I have the worst cold ever. And no one cares – because no one knows – that the daughter’s boyfriend is also my old crush. All I want to do is run into his arms... but all he wants is for me to crack an unsolved murder case that’s older than I am.

Do I really want to poke my snotty nose into my neighbours’ and friends’ affairs? When the cold trail heats up in the old hotel I’ve invested in, I don’t have much choice.

Diving into the past brings up shameful secrets and private grudges that send shock waves through the village. No one – including my own mother – can escape the consequences.

If I keep digging into the past, we may end up with another death...

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The Cold Case: a Vintage Murder: A sassy, smart, and snotty cozy mystery (The Saint-Maurice Mysteries Book 3)
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  • Chapter 1: Cactus is trying to reach you

    It was coming. I could feel it creeping up on me.

    I was in my living room, having just sent home another happy client. She could now look forward to a bunch of sassy peekaboo pin-up photos, and I could look… deep into the glass of undiluted pastis in my hand. My one defence. My last hope.

    Pastis, with the over 40 percent alcohol it contains, kills off the first signs of a stomach bug. That’s common knowledge. But I wanted it to step out of its jurisdiction and kill the thing attacking my throat on its way to my stomach.

    As I sat there, contemplating the yellow syrupy liquid, my young (and altogether too sexy for his own good) assistant Thibault ambled into the room, carrying my phone.

    ‘What is it, Beau?’ I asked as I put the glass to my lips.

    ‘You have a message from someone called Cactus?’

    I gasped. The alcohol shot into my windpipe. Pain! For several excruciating seconds, I could do nothing but endure the searing burn, coughing like a madwoman to get the biting liquid out of my lungs. Wheezing and with tears streaming over my cheeks, I looked up at Beau, who waited patiently for me to turn human again.

    ‘There’s a reason people put water in that, you know.’ No concern whatsoever. Thanks, man.

    ‘Sorry, what was that?’ I croaked with watery eyes. I must have misheard his first statement. It couldn’t be.

    ‘I said Cactus is trying to reach you. Who’s Cactus?’

    After all these years. My insides turned to cream that was rapidly being whipped. With sugar. I’m talking butterflies on steroids. I gripped my stomach in an unsuccessful attempt to calm it.

    My charming assistant must have thought I couldn’t handle the pastis, but his dramatic eye-roll froze when I downed the rest of the drink in one gulp. Both his eyebrows shot up. ‘Who is this guy?’

    I took a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds to drain the air of as much courage as it would give me. ‘I knew him. Years ago. When I was still married to your uncle.’

    Beau frowned while he went through a list in his head. ‘He’s a friend of Franck’s? I don’t know any of them that go by Cactus. What’s his real name?’

    ‘Léon Levotre.’ I sighed. ‘But you wouldn’t know him. He’s not a criminal.’ I reached for the bottle of pastis to see if I could get it to work on my throat this time, but Beau strode over and stopped me, concern in his eyes.

    ‘Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to google him?’

    I grabbed the bottle from under his hand with a little prickle of annoyance, but then realised his worry was genuine. ‘It’s not what you think. He’s not a threat. Not any more.’

    Beau’s frown deepened as he sat down on the couch next to me. ‘That doesn’t comfort me at all.’

    ‘Look, this has nothing to do with you. He’s just a guy. A great guy. Teaches economics. I met him a little more than a year after Franck and I got married, so just around the time Franck had scared off most of my friends and family. I needed someone, and Léon was… amazing. We had a few drinks, talked about everything and nothing, but… Well, you know…’

    ‘Franck found out.’ Beau’s voice was hard. The kind of hardness he reserved just for my ex.

    ‘No! Not even that. I don’t think.’ Suddenly I wasn’t sure. At the time, I’d been elated to find a new friend. To know that it wasn’t me who’d become incapable of being the kind of person other people wanted to be around. I never told Franck about Léon, but thinking back, he must have noticed a change in me. Did he find out? Was that the real reason why Léon eventually stopped texting?

    I stared at my empty glass. ‘Léon was a little too perfect. We’d been friends for a few months when I realised I was falling for him. And even though Franck had lost his attraction, we were still married. My guilt over my feelings played right into Franck’s hand because I went along with his desire to keep me at home more. I made up excuses not to meet Léon for coffee. He seemed to understand, but we stayed in contact. Until we didn’t. That was around the time I found out where Franck really got his money. I foolishly shared my findings with Léon, who by then had become my only friend, albeit a digital one. I think I got one more text after that. Something empty, like “that sucks” or something. And that was it. No more friends.’

    I paused to sniffle. Hm, maybe the alcohol was already too late if I had sniffles in addition to a sore throat. ‘But it didn’t matter. That was in November before that last Christmas at your mum’s.’

    Thibault let my explanation sink in. ‘So why call him Cactus?’

    I pulled up a corner of my mouth, though it didn’t feel like a smile. ‘To remind myself not to get too close.’

    But maybe I had been the cactus. In fact, I was pretty sure I was. That made it all the more curious, though, that he’d contact me now, over five years and a whole bunch of trouble later. I held up my hand.

    ‘Let’s see what he wants, shall we?’

    Beau held on to my phone. ‘T’es sûre? If he didn’t want anything to do with you when you were in trouble…’

    I gave him a pointed look. ‘May I remind you that I hadn’t seen you in five years when you came knocking?’

    The phone landed in my outstretched palm. Two swallows later, I pulled up the message, read it, and showed it to Beau.

    Dear Julie, I’m coming to Saint-Maurice. Would love to see you. Léon.

    ‘Looks like he knows where you are.’

    I nodded.

    Staring at my screen, he frowned. ‘There’s just one message.’

    I hummed in acknowledgement and sighed. ‘After the trial, I didn’t keep anything that reminded me of Franck, including my phone. I lost more than just my message history in my hurry to get rid of Franck’s influence, but at the time, I didn’t care.’

    ‘So what are you going to tell this Cactus? Do you want to see him?’

    My heart silently said yes. My head said out loud, ‘I don’t know.’

    Beau got up. ‘Well, if you don’t, I’d be happy to tell him so for you. Just let me know.’

    That brought a real smile to my face. I didn’t need his protection. Especially not against Léon. But it was sweet of him to offer. As Beau retreated to the kitchen, I finally filled my glass again. If it didn’t help fight the bug in my throat, it might give me wisdom about what to do.

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