H.Y. Hanna
H.Y. Hanna
H.Y. Hanna
H.Y. Hanna

SNEAK PEEKS from Wrongfully Infused (Oxford Tearoom Mysteries ~ Book 11)

Book 11 in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries is coming soon! (Jan 2022, to be precise! 😉 )
And while the manuscript is currently doing the rounds with my beta reader team, editor and proofreaders… here are some exclusive previews from the first draft of the story!
(* please excuse any mistakes & typos as these are taken from the unedited manuscript)

Sneak Peek 1  

     I smiled in anticipation as I pulled up in front of the Little Stables Tearoom and dismounted. I was already imagining the wonderful aroma of fresh baking and the warm atmosphere of happy customers talking and laughing that would envelop me as soon as I entered the tearoom. But when I stepped through the front door, I was met by an empty dining room, with only one solitary elderly gentleman at a table in the corner.
     Faltering to a stop, I looked around in surprise and dismay. What’s going on? After letting Muesli out of her carrier, I pushed through the swinging baize door behind the counter and stepped into the kitchen. There, I found my baking chef Dora bent over the large wooden table in the centre of the room, her arms covered in flour up to the elbows as she busily flattened a large slab of dough with a rolling pin.
     “Oh hullo, Gemma,” she said, glancing up distractedly. “I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you.”
     I gave her an apologetic smile. “Sorry! I over-slept.” I glanced over my shoulder and lowered my voice. “Dora, why is the tearoom so empty?”
     Dora straightened and gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t know. Mr Prendergast is the only person who’s come in all morning.”
     “The only one?” I said in horror. “But… but I don’t understand… Where is everyone?”
     Dora gave another shrug, then said in a hesitant voice. “Actually, it was like this yesterday as well… and the day before, remember? Although things did seem to pick up a bit as the day went on,” she added quickly.
     I bit my lip, my stomach churning suddenly with anxiety. Dora was right. Things had been very quiet all week, although I had been trying to ignore it, telling myself that fluctuations were the norm in the hospitality business.
     “It’s probably nothing,” said Dora, seeing my expression. “It might just be coincidence, you know. Maybe a lot of people have gone away on holiday at the same time or… or maybe one of the tour bus companies is having a break this week…”
     “It still doesn’t make sense,” I said, frowning. “Have there been any complaints that I’m not aware of? Any customers who were really unhappy about something?”
     Dora shook her head. “You’d have to ask Cassie to be sure since she does most of the serving, but I haven’t heard anything. I certainly haven’t seen any plates returned to the kitchen.”
     I sighed, then reached for one of the tearoom aprons hanging from a hook on the kitchen wall. “Well, I’d better go out and check that Mr Prendergast is okay, otherwise we might lose the only customer we have!”
     Back in the dining room, I found Muesli curled up in her favourite spot on the window seat overlooking the high street and Mr Prendergast leaning back in his chair, engrossed in a newspaper, while an empty teacup and plate sat on the table in front of him. A retired accountant, Mr Prendergast had been recently widowed and claimed that our scones were just like the ones his wife used to make. Thus, he came almost every day to sit at the same table and do the crossword in the daily paper, while enjoying a cup of tea and some home baking. I was glad to see that we were still part of his daily routine, and I gave him a bright smile as I went over to collect his empty plate and teacup.
     “Good morning, Mr Prendergast. Everything all right with your order?” I asked casually.
     “Hmm? Ooh yes, marvellous. Nothing like fresh homemade crumpets slathered with butter and honey,” said Mr Prendergast, making a lip-smacking noise. He lowered his newspaper and glanced around the dining room, then observed, “A bit quiet here this morning, isn’t it?”
     I flushed slightly. “Yes, I suppose it is a bit.”
     “Must be that new place that everyone’s gone off to,” he said.
     I stared at him. “New place?”
     “Yes, you know—down by the Cotswolds Manor Hotel, on the other side of the village. Haven’t you seen it?”
     I shook my head. I had been so busy at work that I’d barely had any free time and when I did, I usually went straight home.
     “Don’t fancy the look of it myself,” continued Mr Prendergast, “but young people like these fancy new places, don’t they? Calls itself a ‘tea bar’ and menu’s full of odd food and tea cocktails! Bah! What’s a ‘tea cocktail’, I ask you?” he said, his moustache bristling. He looked down at his empty cup and gave an emphatic nod. “A good cup of tea is brewed dark and strong, with milk and sugar—or a slice of lemon—but nothing else!” He smiled at me. “And there’s no better cup of tea than what one can get here at the Little Stables.”
     “Oh, thank you,” I said, flushing again but this time with pleasure. “That’s really kind of you to say.”
     “It’s no more than the truth,” he said gruffly. Folding his newspaper, he stood up and added, “Well, I’d best be off. If you could let me have the bill, my dear…?”
     A few minutes later I stood at the tearoom doorway and watched Mr Prendergast’s erect figure walk, with almost military bearing, down the high street. My eyes followed him, but my mind was busy going over what he had told me. A new ‘tea bar’ on the other side of the village? Could that be the reason business had slumped so much lately?
 
 

Sneak Peek 2

     We leaned forwards to survey the structure that had been placed on our table. It was a three-tiered cake stand but the delicacies on the plates were not the traditional teatime treats of finger sandwiches, scones and sponge cakes. Instead, there were wasabi cream cheese wonton tarts and miniature BBQ pork buns, tropical fruit rice puddings and wakame seaweed sandwiches…
     “Bloody hell…” muttered Cassie, eyeing the food with trepidation. She pointed to a squat little square with a lurid green jelly coating and a blob of foam on top. “What the hell is that?”
     I checked the menu. “Um… I think that’s the lime and kale delice with wheatgerm curd, matcha sponge and pea shoot foam.”
     Cassie made a face. “Is it edible? Sounds like something you’d plant in the garden.”
     There was silence as we both began cautiously sampling the range of treats. Everything looked fancy and expensive, but once in the mouth, each tasted surprisingly bland and similar, with no particular flavour or texture standing out. Still, we worked our way diligently through the various tiers, until we reached the square “scones” at the bottom.
     “Ugh…” said Cassie, putting hers down after one bite. “I don’t know what that is but it’s not a scone.” She leaned back with an expression of disgust. “Honestly, Gemma, this is all just a load of pretentious tosh—that’s all it is! Style over substance.”
     I glanced around the packed dining room. “Well, it seems to be working.” I sighed. “Maybe we’re behind the times, Cass. Maybe this is what people want now and simple home-baking and traditional teas just aren’t good enough anymore.”
     “Bollocks!” said Cassie scowling. “I don’t believe that. Come on, I’ve had enough of this place.”
     We paid and stood up to leave. But just as we were nearing the exit, Cassie let out a cry of indignation and pointed to a table by the wall. “I don’t believe it!”
     I turned and saw four little old ladies with white helmet hair, sensible orthotic shoes and lavender handbags huddled around a table. The Old Biddies! A sense of betrayal washed over me. I would have slunk away but Cassie grabbed my arm and dragged me over to their table. The four old ladies looked up as we approached and gave a guilty start.
     “Gemma!” cried Mabel Cooke. As the bossiest and most opinionated member of the Old Biddies, Mabel was renowned for her thick-skinned sangfroid in the face of any awkward predicament. For once, though, she was looking uncomfortable and slightly at loss for words. “Er… fancy seeing you here, dear.”
     “What are you doing here?” demanded Cassie.
     The Old Biddies exchanged slightly shamefaced looks, then Mabel said: “We came back from holiday yesterday, and we did mean to come to your tearoom this morning, dear, but then Glenda found the flyer in her letterbox—”
     “What flyer?” Cassie asked.
     Glenda rummaged in her cavernous handbag, fishing out various cosmetics and hair accessories, before finally pulling out a printed leaflet and thrusting it towards us. I looked down, my eyes skimming over the bold, printed words:
 
GRAND OPENING SPECIAL!!
Ditch the stuffy old tearooms and come enjoy yourself in sophisticated, contemporary surrounds!! Mouth-watering sweets and savoury delights with bottomless tea and a free glass of bubbly for every customer!!!
~ limited number of Afternoon Tea packages! ~
GET IN QUICK BEFORE YOU MISS OUT!!!!!!
 
     “Aha… so they’re using the oldest trick in the book,” hissed Cassie in my ear. “That’s how they’re packing them in! Nothing galvanises people like the thought of missing out on a great bargain.”
     “We still think you’re the best, Gemma,” said Ethel loyally.
     “Oh yes, your tearoom is ever so much nicer. We just thought it would be fun to try somewhere new,” said Glenda in an apologetic tone.
     “Well, I have to say, I’m not very impressed, now that I’ve tasted the food,” commented Florence, her plump face puckering in disappointment.
     “Yes, the food is very disappointing,” agreed Glenda. Then she gave an impish giggle. “The lad who brought it over to us was very handsome though! Ahh, if only I was sixty years younger…” She glanced at me. “Maybe that’s what you need, dear: a few sexy chaps to help serve the scones at your tearoom—”
     “That’s it!” cried Cassie. She turned eagerly to me. “Maybe that’s what we need to do: get sexier!”
     I gaped at her. “Huh?”
     Cassie grabbed the menu from the Old Biddies’ table and started reading out some items. “Listen to this: ‘fluffy buttermilk scones with silky cream and pure fruit compote’—pah!” She cast a contemptuous look at the crumbling remains on one of the Old Biddies’ plates. “Talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear! Their scones are stodgy and tasteless, whereas ours are genuinely fluffy and delicious—but they’re much better at making their stuff sound appealing. Think of our menu: it doesn’t sound as good when we just list them as plain ‘scones with jam and clotted cream’, does it?”
     “I suppose not,” I said doubtfully. “But—”
     I broke off as I realised that a woman had come up to the table and was standing beside us, listening. She looked to be Chinese, or of similar East Asian descent, with long, silky black hair that was caught up in a high ponytail and a striking face: high cheekbones and slanted, almond-shaped eyes which had been enhanced by black eyeliner.
     “Hello ladies, is there a problem?”
     “Oh no, we just happened to see our friends here and stopped to say hello,” said Cassie, indicating the Old Biddies.
     “How nice.” The woman’s smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Ah… I see that you ordered the Grand Opening special,” she said smugly, eyeing the cake stand on the Old Biddies’ table. She turned to me. “Don’t you think our scones are the best you’ve ever tasted?”
     “Er…well…” I stammered, torn between the British compulsion to “always be polite”, and the reluctance to give false praise for something that had tasted so horrible.
     Before I could decide how to answer, Mabel cut in with her characteristic forthrightness. “No, they were not. In fact, they were horribly stodgy and dry.”
     The woman looked taken aback. “Really?”
     “Yes,” said Mabel, jutting her chin out. She continued, her voice rising above the din of the room: “And if you really want to see what good scones taste like, you should go to Gemma’s tearoom.” She nodded in my direction. “Now, those are what I call proper scones and they really are the best you’ve ever tasted!”
     Several customers at nearby tables turned our way, their attention caught by Mabel’s booming voice. I groaned silently and hunched my shoulders, not knowing where to look. I felt both touched by Mabel’s championing of me and embarrassed by the attention.
     The Chinese woman glanced at the customers around us, who had obviously heard Mabel’s comments and were eyeing me with interest, and her face hardened. Turning back to me, she narrowed her eyes. “You own a tearoom?”
     I cleared my throat. “Yes, on the other side of Meadowford-on-Smythe. It’s called the Little Stables.”
     “Oh… that old place,” she said, her lips curling.
     I felt a flash of resentment, my embarrassment fading. My tearoom might not be slick, modern and sophisticated but I was proud of it and I loved my little business. I didn’t want to cause a scene but I wasn’t going to allow myself be put down either. I raised my chin and looked the other woman straight in the eye.
     “Yes, in fact, we’re known for having the best scones in Oxfordshire,” I said evenly.
     “Really?” she said in a disdainful tone. “Well, I suppose I ought to visit and check it out.”
     The last thing I wanted was this cold, supercilious woman in my tearoom, but I dredged up a polite smile and said: “Of course, you’re welcome any time. Um… anyway, we’d better go.”
     I bid the Old Biddies a hasty goodbye, then hustled Cassie out of the tea bar as fast as I could. As we stepped out of the door and walked away, however, I could still feel the woman’s eyes on me, boring into my back, and I couldn’t shake off the uncomfortable feeling that somehow I had made an enemy.
 
 

Sneak Peek 3

     I only paid cursory attention when a young man, who was obviously a detective constable despite his attempts to blend in, came into the tearoom and skulked over to a table in the corner. I didn’t recognise him from my occasional visits to see Devlin at the police station and I guessed that he must have been one of the latest new recruits to Oxfordshire CID. I almost felt sorry for him as I watched him look around in dismay. Sitting in a quaint Cotswolds tearoom, drinking endless cups of English Breakfast, probably didn’t fit the image of high danger and excitement that had motivated him to join the CID!
     Then the Old Biddies caught sight of him and I winced in real sympathy. The nosy foursome had been busy gossiping since arriving at their usual table by the window an hour earlier, but now, having exhausted the topics of the postman’s hernia, the butcher’s new wife, Mrs Heineman’s missing toilet brush and the Lord Mayor of Oxford’s strange moustache, they were casting around for new diversions. I saw their eyes light up as they noticed the young detective constable at the nearby table and they pounced on him with glee.
     “Hello, young man,” Mabel Cooke boomed. “You look a bit lonely sitting there by yourself. Are you having morning tea alone?”
     “Perhaps you’re waiting for your girlfriend to join you?” asked Ethel Webb.
     “No… uh… I’m workin—I mean, I don’t have a young lady,” amended the young DC hastily, throwing a wary glance in my direction.
     “You don’t have a young lady?” said Glenda Bailey, appalled. “But why ever not? A handsome young chap like you…”
     “Well, you’re never going to impress a lady if you order like that,” said Florence Doyle, looking doubtfully at the solitary cup of tea on the table in front of him. “Girls like a man who is generous when taking them out. Being stingy is so unattractive.”
     “I hope you’re not one of those young people who follow that dreadful modern practice of ‘going Danish’,” said Mabel, glowering at him. “Splitting the bill in half—whoever heard of such a thing? A gentleman always pays for the meal.”
     “It’s Dutch, Mabel, not Danish,” remonstrated Ethel.
     “What—the Dutch men do it too?” said Mabel, scandalised.
     “I once went out with a Dutch gentleman,” said Glenda with a dreamy sigh. “He had a wonderful moustache. And such sensitive hands. He didn’t pay for the meal, though.”
     Florence turned to the bewildered DC. “You’re not Dutch or Danish, are you?”
     The young man shook his head nervously. “What about your hands? Are they sensitive?” Ethel persisted.
     “Never mind his hands,” said Mabel, impatiently. “How are your bowels?” she asked the young constable.
     He gulped. “M-my bowels?”
     “Yes, I hope you go regularly, young man. Healthy digestion is very important to male virility. You’ll never get a girl if you don’t eat enough fibre. Men who have problems with their bowels have higher rates of erectile dysfunction, you know.”
     “Mabel! Don’t scare the poor boy,” chided Glenda. “I’m sure at his age, he has no problems getting his willy up.”
     The DC sprang to his feet, nearly knocking his chair over. “I… uh… I have to go!”

(sneak peeks from first draft of Wrongfully Infused: Oxford Tearoom Mystery Book 11 – coming Jan 2022!)

***

WRONGFULLY INFUSED is now available on pre-order! You can grab it here:

Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon DE

When a trendy “tea bar” opens up in the same Cotswolds village where Gemma’s quaint English tearoom is situated, she suddenly finds her customers being stolen and her business the target of sabotage. Things go from bad to worse when the ruthless rival owner of the new tea bar is mysteriously murdered and Gemma is considered the key suspect!
With her detective boyfriend Devlin O’Connor in hot water, accused of nepotism for helping her, Gemma has to tackle the case on her own. Luckily, she can still count on the help of the nosy Old Biddies, while the naughty antics of her tabby cat Muesli uncover some unexpected clues too!
But with a full menu of suspects—from a belligerent chef who lost everything to estranged sisters hurt by the ultimate betrayal—Gemma discovers that solving this mystery is no piece of cake…

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Carol
Carol
9 months ago

I can’t wait. It has me laughing already. I love it.

Gloria Edwards
Gloria Edwards
8 months ago

Great title for baking/cooking. Can’t wait to see the mystery ingredient that is being infused to create the “who done it.”

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