BUTTER-cover(SMALL)I’ve got a surprise for you! 🙂

It’s the prequel to the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries, called All-Butter ShortDead and it features the events before Book 1: A Scone To Die For. See how Gemma arrived back in England and found the tearoom, the first time she met Muesli, more shenanigans from the Old Biddies, and of course, there’s a delicious little murder mystery included for you to sink your teeth into! 🙂

It’s shorter than the usual books in the series and I hope you will enjoy it as a mini-treat!

Get your free copy!

I wanted to write this as a special gift to my loyal readers and subscribers – and I’ve managed to negotiate with the retailers to make it available FREE for a limited time!

So hurry and grab your Free Copy:
Amazon | Amazon UK (also free in all other Amazon stores)
iBooks | NOOK | Google Play | Kobo

Don’t worry – if you prefer to read a print copy, I haven’t forgotten you! (although unfortunately, these can’t be free)

Print edition US
Print edition UK

All-Butter ShortDead
(Oxford Tearoom Mysteries ~ Prequel)

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream, and fragrant tea in pretty bone china… Only problem is–murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village – not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli.

Who is the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she’s to have her cake–and serve it too.

This prequel to the OXFORD TEAROOM MYSTERIES includes chapters from A Scone To Die For (Book 1). It is shorter than the rest of the series – which are all full-length novels – and can be read as a standalone, before or after any other book in the series.

And for those who enjoy a little taster, here are the first 2 chapters:

 

Chapter 1

    I knew I should have listened when my mother said never talk to strangers.

    Still, when you’re on a twenty-hour flight, it’s a bit hard to ignore the person sitting next to you. Especially when she seemed like a terribly nervous passenger. I glanced sympathetically at the woman as she gripped the armrests whilst the plane roared down the runway, and even when we had lifted clear and levelled off to cruising speed, her hands remained clenched, the knuckles white. She caught my eye as the flight attendants started coming down the aisle, offering the first refreshments, and slowly un-clenched her hands, giving me an embarrassed smile.
    “I know it’s the safest form of travel around—that’s what the statistics say—but I can’t help still being terrified,” she said with a sheepish laugh.
    I smiled at her. “I think a lot of people feel the same way.”
    “You seem to be pretty relaxed,” she observed enviously.
    “Yeah, I suppose I’m lucky. I’ve never minded flying. And I’ve done this trip a few times now, since I moved out to Australia eight years ago.”
    “You English then?” she said, looking at me curiously. “I thought so from your accent—whereabouts in England?”
    “Oxford,” I said. I noted that her accent, while primarily Australian, seemed to have faint British overtones. “And you?”
    “Oh… well… uh… Here and there, I suppose,” she said, her eyes sliding away from mine. “People move around so much nowadays that you can’t really say where you’re from anymore, can you?”
    I smiled and agreed, although I couldn’t help thinking that she had avoided answering my question. “I’m Gemma, by the way.”
    “Jenn,” she replied.
    “So, are you going to the U.K. on holiday?”
    She hesitated for a fraction of a second. “Y-yes. Actually, I’m heading to Oxford as well. Well, not the university city proper—I’ll be staying at a resort hotel just outside the city: the Cotswolds Manor Hotel.”
    “Oh yeah, I’ve heard my mother mention that—it’s fairly new, isn’t it?”
    “Yes, I got a great package deal through the travel agent. It’s an old manor house that’s been converted into a modern hotel, and it’s got a spa and golf course and everything. Perfect place to relax, apparently.”
    “Make sure you do go into Oxford and look around—it’s really worth a visit,” I said, then I laughed. “I suppose I’m biased, because I grew up there, but I do think Oxford is one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
    “Well, if the millions of tourists heading there every year are any guide, you’re not the only one who thinks so,” said Jenn, smiling slightly. “I’ve heard that it’s one of the most photographed cities in England. I suppose that’s no surprise. The university buildings and colleges are spectacular. You just don’t get that kind of architecture any more… and the sense of history about the place… and don’t many of the colleges have really interesting backgrounds and histories?”
    I nodded. “Not just the big famous ones like Christ Church and Magdalen, but even the smaller colleges have fascinating stories. Like Corpus Christi, for example—it’s got this pelican sundial which is supposed to calculate the time by the sun and the moon, but it’s set to ‘Oxford Time’ which is different from the rest of the world and so it’s totally useless!”
    “Yes, that’s just so ‘Oxford’!” agreed Jenn, laughing. “Full of funny quirks and traditions. Like the way Locksley College always has a college cat called Graymalkin—it’s named after the cat belonging to the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Every new kitten is given the same name and they always pick a black cat with white chest and paws, to look like the students dressed in their black gowns and sub-fusc—”
    “Have you been to Oxford before then?” I said with slight surprise. “You seem to know a lot about it.”
    “Oh… I… uh… I think I might have been there when I was very young… I don’t really remember… just some glimpses in my memory…” She gave a nervous laugh and added quickly, “I suppose Oxford is so famous and featured in so many books, TV programmes, and movies that you pick up bits and pieces about it without realising.”
    “Yes, I suppose so,” I said, looking at her thoughtfully.
    She shifted uneasily under my gaze and cleared her throat. “So… um… what made you decide to leave Oxford?”
    I shrugged. “Work, I guess. I got a great job offer in Sydney when I graduated. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. Also… ” I grinned. “I’d spent a large part of my childhood in Oxford and went to university there too. My parents still live there and I felt like I needed to cut the apron strings.”
    “Ah… so are you going back to visit family?”
    “No, actually…” I hesitated. “I’m going back for good. I’ve given up my job in Sydney. I’m… I’m sort of having a fresh start.”
    She raised her eyebrows slightly but didn’t ask further and I was relieved. Since announcing that I was quitting my top executive job, I’d been bombarded with reactions ranging from outright disbelief to horrified disapproval, especially when people heard what I was exchanging my high-flying corporate career for. I really didn’t feel like justifying myself all over again.
    The stewardess stopped by our seats and offered us a tray of drinks. I selected an orange juice whilst my companion helped herself to two glasses of white wine. She gave me an embarrassed look, tinged with defiance.
    “I know they say you shouldn’t really drink in the air but I find it helps to settle my nerves,” she said with an awkward laugh.
    She certainly seemed to need to settle her nerves. Over the next few hours, as we made our way across the Indian Ocean, had a stopover in Dubai, then continued on to London, I noticed that the glasses of wine kept coming. The woman drank like a fish.
    It’s none of my business, I reminded myself firmly. I have enough troubles of my own without sticking my nose in anyone else’s. I handed my finished meal to the smiling stewardess and folded the tray into the seatback in front of me. Jenn had already reclined her seat and seemed to be sleeping, with an eye-mask across her face. I followed suit, leaning back and closing my eyes as they dimmed the lights in the cabin.
    I can’t believe I’m really going back… eight years… somehow it’s gone so quickly… and yet it feels longer too… Well, I always thought I’d go back some day but not like this… It’s weird to think of how life is going to change… no more lazy Sunday mornings at the cafés in Paddington, no more barbecues at the beach, no more blazing sunshine and sparkling blue harbour… That view of the city from my gorgeous penthouse apartment… oh, I’m going to miss that… but no, that apartment isn’t mine anymore…
    Yes, I thought, opening my eyes. That gorgeous penthouse apartment was now a lump of cold, hard cash in my bank account, together with the rest of my savings—my little nest egg, carefully saved up all these years—not so little anymore, actually. And yet, still barely enough…
    The dreaded thoughts whirled inside my head: Am I doing the right thing? Am I? Everyone thinks I’m crazy… giving up what I had, risking all my savings… all for what—a sudden impulse and a silly dream? I’m twenty-nine, too old for silly dreams… Dreams are for seven-year-olds, when you still believed in unicorns and fairy tale endings… I stared blindly into the darkened cabin around me. Oh God, have I made a terrible mistake?
    I sighed and shut my eyes again, forcing the thoughts away. Stop. It’s done now. And you did do the right thing. The first right thing you’ve done in a long time. You’ll see… It’ll be fine… There are still fairy tale endings sometimes…
    My thoughts drifted, blurred, faded… and then suddenly, I was being gently shaken awake. I sat up slowly to find the smiling stewardess next to me once more, offering a tray of drinks. I looked around, blinking. The lights were back on in the cabin and people were standing, stretching, or ambling down the aisle to join the queue for the toilets. A baby wailed inconsolably somewhere nearby. Next to me, Jenn stretched stiffly and stifled a yawn.
    “I can’t believe I slept most of the way,” I said, rubbing the crick in my neck. “I must have been more exhausted than I realised.” I glanced at Jenn, who looked tired and drawn. “Did you manage to sleep okay?”
    “No,” Jenn said in a low voice. She swallowed, then said, “There was horrible turbulence…”
    “Really?” I looked at her in surprise. “I have to say, I didn’t even notice it.”
    She stared at me. “How can you not notice it? Every time the plane dips and bumps around… and your stomach does that awful lurching thing… I think—” Her voice cracked and she swallowed again, convulsively. “I just know we’re going to crash—”
    “Hey, hey…” I said gently, giving her an awkward pat on her arm. “You’re just letting your imagination run away with you. You said so yourself—air travel is actually safer than driving in a car. The statistics don’t lie.”
    She said nothing but swallowed nervously again. I gave her another thoughtful look. Was it normal to be this nervous of flying? And if so, why had she chosen to come on this trip? Most people with a real phobia of flying would usually avoid travelling by air. The last thing they would do is book themselves on a twenty-hour flight across the globe…
    Breakfast was served and then, above our heads, a disembodied voice announced:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent and will shortly be landing at London Heathrow Airport. The weather in London is a chilly 13°C, 55°F, with a northerly wind and some rain expected. Please make sure that…”
    “Is something the matter?” I asked as Jenn began searching frantically through the seat pocket in front of her.
    “Oh, nothing… just… I tend to forget things so I wanted to make sure I hadn’t left anything in the seat pocket before we land and there’s that mad rush to get off the plane.” She gave a self-deprecating smile. “I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on. You won’t believe how many umbrellas I’ve lost. I finally bought myself a raincoat with a hood because then at least that’s attached to the coat.”
    She pulled a glasses case, a pair of socks, a packet of tissues, and a tourist guide to Oxford out of the pocket and stuffed them into her handbag, then hunted around under the seat for her shoes. Meanwhile, I was debating whether I’d have enough time to use the toilet, but it would have meant climbing over Jenn or asking her to get up to reach the aisle, and I decided I could wait until we landed. Instead, I turned to the window and felt a small thrill of excitement as the skyline of London came into view in the distance.
    I’m coming home.

 

 

Chapter 2

     The plane landed as smoothly as it had taken off—although it seemed to be just as much an ordeal for Jenn, despite the amount of “nerve-steadying alcohol” she had consumed. In fact, she gripped the armrests so tightly, I thought she would wrench them off the seat, and her face was so white when we finally touched down that I began seriously wondering if I should have followed the instructions on the Safety Sheet and stuck an oxygen mask over her head. She breathed a huge sigh of relief as the plane finally taxied to a stop and the seatbelt sign was switched off.

    As usual, there was a mad scramble as everyone suddenly seemed seized by a rabid desire to grab their bags and get off the plane. Jenn sprang up in the frenzy, dragging a trolley case out of the overhead compartment and shouldering her bag as she joined the line shuffling towards the nearest exit.
    “Lovely to meet you. Hope you have a good trip back to Oxford!” she called over her shoulder as she hurried away.
    I waved and smiled, then sat and waited until the initial stampede was over. Really, I didn’t know what the mad rush was for: all those people pushing and jostling to get off first—and all that would happen is that they’d probably end up standing in the luggage hall, waiting in vain for their cases to arrive!
    Getting up at a leisurely pace, I retrieved my own holdall from the overhead compartment and glanced over my shoulder to check that I hadn’t left anything on the seat. That was when I noticed the scarf. It had been pushed down between the two seats and only the edge of the fringe showed. I reached over and pulled it out. It was a thick woollen scarf, in a bright turquoise pattern. It must have been Jenn’s, I realised. She had forgot something after all.
    I glanced quickly down the aisle—it was empty now, except for a middle-aged gentleman who was slowly packing his briefcase—but I might still catch Jenn in the Luggage Hall. I was about to hurry off when something else caught my eye. A piece of paper sticking out of the seat pocket. I reached across and extracted it. It was a boarding pass with the name “J Murray” printed next to the seat number. Tucking it into my handbag, I hurried off the plane.
    When I reached the Luggage Hall I was dismayed to find that, for once, my cynical predictions had been wrong. The bags from my flight had arrived early and most of the passengers had already retrieved their luggage and gone through Customs. My own case was making its lonely way around the conveyor belt. I grabbed it and shoved it onto a nearby trolley, then looked around for Jenn but I couldn’t see her anywhere. Sighing, I gave up and wheeled my trolley out into the Arrivals Hall. I had barely stepped out when I heard a familiar voice calling:
    “Darling! Darling!”
    I scanned the crowds and saw an elegant, middle-aged woman hurrying towards me. She was wearing a pale pink cashmere twinset and pearls, and had a vintage-style boxy handbag over one forearm, the way the Queen would hold it. In a hall full of people in frayed jeans and “travel loungewear” (read: shabby tracksuits), my mother stood out like a well-groomed poodle in a pack of scruffy mongrels.
    “Darling!” She swooped in to give me a peck on the cheek.
    “Hello, Mother,” I said, returning her kiss.
    “Darling! I’ve been counting the hours!” cried my mother.
    I blinked. Blimey. I hadn’t realised that my homecoming would mean so much to her. My mother was normally of the Old School and believed that a proper lady should never show her emotions too obviously in public. I hadn’t seen her get this excited since Whittard of Chelsea brought out a Queen’s Jubilee herbal tea range. Still, I am her only child, so of course she would miss me terribly, I thought smugly.
    I reached out and squeezed her hand. “It’s great to see you too, Mother—I didn’t realise you were waiting so eagerly for me—”
    “Well, of course, darling! I’ve been desperate for you to sort out my i-Tap. I just don’t know what’s wrong with it—I can turn it on but these strange little messages keep popping up on the screen… they’re called Notifications, apparently, but I’m not sure what they’re notifying me about. Something about an apple?”
    I stifled a groan. I might have known that my mother’s eagerness to see me was nothing to do with maternal love and more to do with technical desperation. Ever since she had followed her friends and bought an iPad a few weeks ago, I had been turned into Emergency IT Support and been bombarded with phone calls and messages at all times of day and night.
     “Don’t worry, Mother,” I said. “I’ll sort it out for you.”
    “Oh, thank goodness, because I’m becoming quite fond of my i-Tap. Do you know—you can play bridge on it and do crosswords… and Helen Green tells me that she even reads newspapers on it! You must show me how to do that on the i-Tap.”
    “I will—and it’s an iPad, Mother. Not an i-Tap.”
    My mother looked at me in surprise. “But I am tapping.”
    “I know you’re tapping but it’s called a pad. Like a writing pad—except you tap on it.”
    “I do tap on the i-Tap,” my mother insisted.
    “No, no… I mean, yes, you are tapping but the thing you’re tapping on is called a pad. You pad on the i-Tap… I mean… you tap on the iPad!” I growled, “Arrgh! Now you’re mixing me up!”
     “Don’t worry, darling. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. It can be a bit confusing in the beginning,” my mother said kindly.
    I ground my teeth and suddenly remembered why I went off to Australia in the first place. My mother chattered on, oblivious, as I followed her out to the car park. It wasn’t until we were on the motorway that I remembered Jenn’s scarf.
    “Oh bollocks!” I said in annoyance.
    My mother gasped. “Language, Gemma! Is that how you speak in Australia? A lady never swears or uses coarse language.”
    “Sorry, Mother,” I muttered. “It’s just that I picked up a scarf belonging to the lady sitting next to me on the plane. I meant to leave it at the airport Lost and Found, in case she called up looking for it. But I forgot and it’s too late to go back now.”
    “Well, can’t you post it to her?”
    “I don’t have her address. Although… I do know where she’s staying—at the Cotswolds Manor Hotel. I suppose I could ring up and leave a message for her there.”
    It was mid-afternoon by the time we got back to Oxford and I was itching to get out of my travel-stained clothes, have a hot shower, and just drop into bed. Somehow, although I had slept for much of the flight, I felt exhausted. Maybe it was the jetlag. However, I had barely got into the house when my mother said brightly:
    “Now you’ll just have time to freshen up, darling, before Mabel and the others get here.”
    “Who? Mabel who?”
    “Mabel Cooke, darling—you remember her! She used to live near us in Meadowford-on-Smythe. In fact, she used to babysit for me when you were very little and we still lived in the village. We had lost touch for a while but I’ve been seeing much more of her again recently, since I joined the Meadowford Ladies’ Society. Anyway, she has been dying to see you so I’ve invited her over for afternoon tea, together with her friends Glenda Bailey, Florence Doyle, and Ethel Webb. They’re lovely—in fact, you might remember Ethel in particular. She used to be the librarian at the village library. She always used to give you a special sticker for returning a book on time… do you remember? They are so excited to see you. And since I was baking anyway, I thought I might as well invite them round for tea.”
    I groaned inwardly. Yes, I remembered Mabel Cooke: a bossy, formidable woman with a booming voice and a no-nonsense manner. I had been terrified of her as a child—she used to swoop down on me, claiming that I had a spot of dirt on my cheek, then lick her fingers and try to wipe the smudge off with her saliva. Eeuuww! Why did parents and older people always do that to children? I used to squirm in revulsion but never dared to say anything or move until she had released me.
    Now, tired and jetlagged as I was, the last thing I wanted to do was sit and have afternoon tea with a bunch of old crones who had terrorised me in childhood. Mabel Cooke was probably in her eighties by now—but somehow, I didn’t think that she would have mellowed much.
    My worst fears were realised when the doorbell rang half an hour later and four little old ladies marched into the house. Mabel was in the lead—I recognised her instantly—and she had hardly changed. Her helmet of woolly hair might have been whiter, perhaps, and her skin more wrinkled around the eyes, but otherwise her voice was as stentorian as ever and her manner just as brisk and bossy.
    “Gemma, I’m glad you’ve finally seen sense, my dear, and come back to England,” Mabel said as soon as we all sat down in the living room.
    The coffee table was laid out with a full Royal Doulton tea service and a selection of freshly baked scones, hot buttered teacakes, little lemon curd tarts, and home-made shortbread biscuits. My mother was a fantastic baker. I helped myself to a piece of shortbread—beautifully rich and crumbly—and decided that the delicious baked treats almost made having tea with Mabel and her friends worth it.
    My mother poured the tea and handed the cups out, then passed around the plate of scones, still warm from the oven.
    “I told your mother a convict colony is no place for a nicely brought-up girl,” Mabel said as she cut a scone in half and slathered it heavily with jam and clotted cream.
    “Er… Australia isn’t a British colony anymore, Mrs Cooke,” I said. “And there haven’t been convicts sent out there since the 1800s. Sydney is actually a really beautiful, cosmopolitan city—”
    “Humph! Don’t get cheeky with me, young lady,” said Mabel. Then she leaned forwards suddenly, narrowing her eyes. “Is that a spot of dirt on your nose? Here, let me…”
    “GAH!” I jerked backwards as Mabel licked her thumb with a big wet tongue and reached out towards me.
    “Gemma!” My mother frowned at me.
    “Sorry, Mother,” I said as I hastily scooted a few inches farther down the sofa, away from Mabel Cooke. “I… er… it must be the jetlag.”
    “Ohhh—I’ve heard that flying does terrible things to your body,” said Glenda Bailey, her pretty wrinkled face screwing up in horror as she balanced a teacup on her knee. “One gets swollen joints and horrible dry skin and even…” she dropped her voice to a delicate whisper, “…bad breath!”
    “Yes, it is from being up so high and having so little oxygen,” said Florence Doyle with a shudder which shook her plump body.
    “It’s not quite as bad as that,” I protested.
    “I read a book once when I was still working at the library,” said Ethel in her gentle voice. “It was all about the dangers of flying and it said that you were exposed to dreadful radiation from space when you were up in the air—enough to give you cancer several times over! And jetlag is so disruptive that it can lead to heart disease and psychiatric disorders.”
    Well, thanks very much, I thought. This is exactly what I wanted to hear after I’d been flying for twenty-plus hours, continuously zapped by cosmic rays, and now struggling with jetlag, since it was the middle of the night back in Sydney. I guess all I had to do now was sit back and wait for the cancer and heart disease and psychotic breakdowns—oh, and let’s not forget the bad breath—to get me.
    “Constipation is the worst thing about flying,” said Mabel suddenly in her booming voice.
    There was a moment of awkward silence as even my mother’s usual polite English aplomb failed her. Then she picked up the teapot and said brightly, “More tea, anyone?”
    Mabel accepted a fresh cup, then continued, undaunted. “Flying in an airplane gives you gas, bloating, and constipation. But don’t worry—I know just the thing. When my Henry and I went on holiday, I made sure to take a bag of prunes with me on the plane. Marvellous things, prunes. Much better than any of those laxatives you can buy at the chemist.” She leaned towards me again. “I’ll bring some over for you, Gemma—I’ve got some stewed to a special recipe. Never fear, we’ll get your bowels going again!”
    I really began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake coming back…

 

Grab your free copy and read the rest of the story:
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I hope you enjoy the prequel and I’d love to hear what you think! Please take a moment to leave a review on Amazon if you can – I would really, really appreciate it. Thank you!

Oh – and for all those who have emailed me to ask about Book 5 – don’t worry, that’s still on track for a September release. I’m hard at work on it as we speak! 😉

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