Title: The Starlight Mint Surprise Murder
Author: Marla A. White
Genre: Cozy mystery
After injuring herself on the job as a Los Angeles cop, Mel O’Rourke leaves the force battered both physically and mentally. Looking for a fresh start, she moves to a quiet mountain town and opens the Babbling Brook Inn. Excited for her new life, Mel decides to participate in the town’s holiday cookie contest, but her newfound joy goes up in smoke when one of her guests turns up dead in her lobby.
Mel is tempted to attribute the death to natural causes but when another guest dies, her cop instincts kick in. The local Sheriff tells her to stand down, but Mel can’t let it go. With everything on the line, she has to push through her fears to catch the killer before more bodies drop, perhaps even her own.
While Mel booted up her computer and opened the file he’d sent from his phone, she nervously noticed Jackson scrutinizing the pictures on her wall of herself and her family. She felt they gave away far too much intimate information about her. Then again, she’d never expected anyone to enter her personal domain to see them.
“See something you like?” she growled, hoping he got the message.
He just kept studying her wall.
Finally, he turned around with eyebrows furrowed. “That’s a picture of you and a man wearing Six-Pack of Peaks T-shirts. I’ve read about this challenge, there are some tough climbs involved.”
“That’s my brother, Liam.” She got lost in the picture for a minute, remembering the day like it was yesterday.
She and Liam toasted the camera with a beer in one hand, arms draped around each other, and grinning from ear to ear with pride. It was physically painful for her now, remembering how much fun climbing used to be. She forced herself to shake it off. “Somebody had to go with him or the idiot might have fallen off.”
“But you’re terrified of heights?”
“Would you believe I consumed a ton of edibles?”
Shaking his head, he moved closer to her desk. “There isn’t enough CBD in the world for the person I saw almost pass out from a panic attack today to climb those mountains, not to mention smile like that.”
Mel didn’t dare risk meeting his gaze, so she turned back to study her computer, jaw clenched. “Apparently heights didn’t always bother me. Congratulations, Sherlock. Now can we just drop it?”
Apparently, they weren’t dropping it, so she chose the mature route and ignored him.
Jackson would not be deterred. “Mel, I’m no psychologist, but I’m not an idiot. Obviously, something traumatic happened to turn this woman—” He pointed at the beaming smile on her face in the photo, then waved directly at her as she sat at her desk. “—into this.”
She made a sweeping head to toe gesture at her body. “Hey! What’s so wrong with this?”
“Not a dang thing on the outside, but you clearly have some serious trauma, and talking about it is the first step in controlling it rather than letting it control you. And nobody keeps secrets like a Cajun,” he added with a small, crooked smile.
Mel felt the seams of the bag she’d stuffed her story into begin to split. Everyone else had told her “you’ll get over it in time,” but Jackson seemed to understand. What happened was a part of her present. Ignoring it gave the story too much control. She stood and stared out the window, unwilling to let him see the emotions flickering across her face.
“Fine.” She sighed. Only one word in and it already felt…not so much better, but different. “My partner and I had a 10-80, pursuit in progress. The perp parkoured all over the place, bouncing off mailboxes and Spider-manning it up fire escapes. But I had her within arm’s reach as we ran across the rooftop. It was only eight stories up, so when she jumped from one roof to the next, I didn’t even think, I just followed. But when I pushed off, my foot slipped. I knew I wasn’t going to make it.”
She paused for a moment, shuddering at the memory before barking a bitter laugh. “Came damn close, though. You remember that video of Tom Cruise when he broke his ankle doing a stunt for some movie?” She heard Jackson whisper a curse which told her he knew the viral clip she meant. “Yeah, I did that. Only harder. I missed the roof, slammed into the building, and slid down the wall.
“I barely wrapped my fingers around the ledge and wrestled with gravity for what seemed like an hour, screaming my head off for help. My partner stood on the opposite roof; he sure as hell wasn’t about to jump seeing how it turned out for me. My fingers were cramping, my arms shaking, and just when I thought I was about to fall, the weirdest thing happened.”
Mel turned to face Jackson, hoping he could bring some sense into it for her. “The thief we were chasing came back and grabbed hold of my wrists. She planted her feet against that ledge and pulled me to safety. She had a clear escape, no one would catch her, but instead she saved my life.”
Mel had gone over it in her head a thousand times, and it still never made sense. That’s not what criminals do, they just don’t.
Jackson’s puzzled expression surprised her. “Of course she did. It wasn’t like she carried a gun or anything. Clearly, she values life over the stuff she steals.”
He said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world, but it had never occurred to Mel. “Oh my God, I’m “such a pathetic Javert,” she whispered as the sudden realization dawned on her that she had become as judgmental as the infamous cop from Les Miz.
“Well, besides,” Jackson added, “as soon as she got you on the roof I’m sure she took off, so really it didn’t cost her anything.”
“Oh no. While we were both laying there on our backs, catching our breath, I slapped the cuffs on her.”
“You shackled the hand that saved you?” Jackson squawked.
His reaction confused Mel. “I was a cop, it was my job. And anyway, after this stunned silence, we both burst out laughing and didn’t get up until my partner finally got some back up to the scene.”
She smiled at the memory until she clocked the horrified expression on Jackson’s face. “Calm down, she’s fine. Before I went in for my second, or third surgery…anyway, one of those, I pressed the DA to drop the charges. He’s an old family friend and was grateful for the save.” Mel shrugged it away as nothing but broke away from Jackson’s gaze.
“So she’s fine, and you’ve been afraid heights ever since?” Jackson shifted to face her. If she turned away now, Mel feared she’d seem like a character from a lame soap opera constantly turning her head away, so she met his gaze.
“I’m working on it,” she claimed, lying through her teeth.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
My book’s blend of murder, humor, a touch of romance, and cozy fires at a snowy mountain retreat make it a fast fun read. One reviewer found it to be “good escapism at the end of a tiring day”. Another said it was “a nice way to wrap up a busy weekend”. My main character, scrappy, Mel O’Rourke, is relatable to anyone who has had to adapt when life throws you a curve – and isn’t that just about everyone? This short novella is the start of bigger happenings for Mel and the gang in Pine Cove!
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Marla White started her illustrious career as a storyteller at the age of four by drawing on the TV screen to help Winky Dink get out of mortal danger, earning her a firm spanking. Deterred by the negative feedback, she studied to be a park ranger instead until she realized it was really a TV show about park rangers she liked, not the actual outdoors. She works in television development and teaches story workshops at UCLA Extension.
Appropriately, she found out on April Fool’s Day 2021 she’d sold her first book, "The Starlight Mint Surprise Murder” to Wild Rose Press.
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