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Fiction Culinary

Six Sweets Under

by (author) Sarah Fox

Penguin Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Feb 2023
Culinary, Amateur Sleuth, Women Sleuths
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2023
    List Price

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In a cute new culinary cozy from USA Today bestselling author Sarah Fox, budding chocolatier Becca Ransom must solve a murder before she meets a sticky end.

Former actress Becca Ransom lived her dream in Hollywood for seven years before returning to her hometown of Larch Haven, known as the Venice of North America. The Vermont town has canals instead of roads, gondolas instead of cars, and charming cottages plucked from the pages of a fairy tale. It’s also where Becca is pursuing her newest passion as a chocolatier at True Confections, the chocolate shop owned by her grandparents, Lolly and Pops.

While Becca’s testing new flavors and reconnecting with old friends, the town is gearing up for the annual Gondola Races, popular with both residents and tourists, with one exception. Local curmudgeon Archie Smith wants nothing more than to keep tourists away from Larch Haven. He’s determined to derail this year’s event and does his best to stir up trouble for the organizers, including Becca’s grandfather.

Following a heated argument with Pops, Archie is found floating face-down in the canal, and Pops finds himself in hot water as one of the top suspects. Becca’s determined to clear her grandfather’s name, but when the case heats up, she could be facing a sticky end.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Sarah Fox is the bestselling author of several cozy mystery series. She lives in Vancouver with her adorable English Springer Spaniel.

Excerpt: Six Sweets Under (by (author) Sarah Fox)

Chapter One

"Binx, I have a feeling we're not in Hollywood anymore."

I stood on the front step of my adorable stone cottage, cradling a mug of chai tea in my hands as I took in the sight before me. Just beyond the path that wound its way past my cottage, the morning sunshine glinted off the water of the canal.

"Of course, you were never actually in Hollywood," I added, glancing down at Binx, my black cat. "But I was, and this place is about as different as it gets."

If I'd seen this view while I was living in Los Angeles, I would have pegged it as a film set. The grass was a vivid green and my two-story stone cottage, like those of my neighbors, looked as though it had been plucked from the pages of a fairy tale. Many of the bridges that spanned the network of canals were also made of stone, and not a car's engine could be heard. Aside from emergency vehicles and a few golf carts, the closest land vehicles could get to Larch Haven, Vermont, was the parking lot on the outskirts of town, and any motorized boats on the canals had to be what we called whisper boats, powered by a quiet, electric motor. That meant that here in the heart of the picturesque village, there was just the sweet twittering of birds in the trees and the gentle lapping of the water against the banks of the canal.

This was no set constructed for a movie, though. This was my beloved hometown. After graduating from college, I'd lived in Hollywood for seven years, but a few months ago I'd returned to Larch Haven, and during moments like this I didn't question that decision in the least.

As I stood there on my doorstep, soaking in the idyllic view, a gondola glided by, steered by its lone occupant, Oliver Nieminen, the owner of a local café. Oliver raised a hand in greeting as he passed by, and I waved back as I breathed in the scent of the summer flowers blooming in my window boxes, mingled together with the aroma rising from my mug of tea.

Smiling, I glanced down at Binx. His tail switched back and forth as he kept an eye out for any birds or squirrels that might dare set foot in his yard.

"Time for me to get to work. Come on, Binx."

After scanning the front lawn with his green eyes one last time, Binx preceded me into the cottage, heading straight for the kitchen at the back. I followed and found my gray tabby, Truffles, sprawled in a patch of sunlight on the floor. She raised her head and watched me as I headed into the small laundry room off of the kitchen. There, I unlocked the kitty door that gave Truffles and Binx access to their catio, an outdoor enclosure I'd built for them with the help of my grandfather, Pops. The cats recognized the sound of the door being unlatched and zoomed into the laundry room. Binx came around the corner so fast he skidded across the tiles, making me laugh.

I scooped both cats into my arms before they could slip outside to their catio, giving each one a cuddle and a kiss on the head before releasing them. After moving back to Larch Haven, I'd adopted the cats from the local animal shelter, and now I couldn't imagine my life without them. They were so sweet and loving, and they made me laugh on a daily basis.

"See you later!" I called to Binx and Truffles as they disappeared through the flap.

I made sure that the cats' water dishes were full, and then I left through the front door, locking it behind me. Some residents of Larch Haven didn't bother with locking their doors, but after spending seven years in Los Angeles, it was something I did automatically.

Since I wasn't carrying anything that didn't fit in my pockets, I bypassed the small boathouse where I kept my flat-bottom Jon boat moored and struck off along the paved walkway that followed the edge of the canal. The summer sun was already warm on my face and arms, despite the early hour, and I spotted a few other early risers out and about. A middle-aged couple walked a golden retriever on the other side of the canal and a young woman jogged past me with a cheery, "Good morning!"

My cottage was nestled on a small island in a residential part of town, where emerald-green lawns and colorful flower gardens surrounded the charming homes, all of which were either stone or timber-frame cottages. More than once I'd overheard tourists say how Larch Haven looked like a cross between Venice, Italy, and a quaint English village. I'd described it that way myself when telling my friends in Los Angeles about my hometown.

By the time I crossed a couple of bridges, I was drawing closer to the main part of town at the southern edge of the network of canals. Things weren't quite so sleepy here. Several gondolas glided past me, moving more swiftly than their usual unhurried pace. The gondoliers kept their eyes straight ahead, focused on propelling their boats, which currently had no passengers.

Later in the day, the professional gondoliers would take tourists around for leisurely rides, but for now they were practicing for the upcoming gondola races, a popular annual event. I wouldn't be taking part, but I planned to be on the sidelines, cheering on the racers.

At the moment, however, I needed to get to work.

Crossing one more bridge took me to the town's main street, Venice Avenue, a wide cobblestone walkway lined with colorful timber-frame shops and restaurants that faced the canals. Amsterdam Avenue ran perpendicular to Venice Avenue and was dominated by the stately Larch Haven Hotel, which resembled an English manor house. I doubted there were many vacancies at the moment. Tourists always flocked to Larch Haven in the summer, and the gondola races had attracted even more visitors. Some intended to take part in the races, while others planned to simply watch and enjoy all that our town had to offer.

I hoped all the tourists would stop in at my family's chocolate shop, True Confections, which was my current destination.

I waved to Mr. Henderson, who was sweeping the front step of his souvenir store, two doors down from the chocolate shop. Then I dug out my keys and let myself in through the front door of True Confections. Pausing just inside, I drew in a deep, appreciative breath as I did every morning, enjoying the enticing aroma of chocolate. After switching on the lights in the kitchen, I tied back my dark hair, donned my apron, and washed up. It was time to make some bonbons.

Most of the people I knew in Hollywood didn't understand why I'd chosen to leave behind my acting career to make chocolates in a small New England town. After a couple of years of struggling to get good jobs and having to wait tables to keep a roof over my head, I'd landed a role in the pilot episode of Twilight Hills, a television drama with an ensemble cast.

The show had quickly gathered a dedicated following, and partway into the second season, with my character appearing on every episode by that time, I'd been able to quit my waitressing job. Then, after four seasons, the network canceled the show. Initially, I'd planned to pursue more acting jobs, but then I ended up in the hospital with a ruptured appendix. If not for my roommate calling an ambulance for me when I collapsed, I probably would have died.

While lying in my hospital bed, recovering from surgery, I realized how homesick I was. Once I was well enough, I packed up my belongings and boarded a plane to come home.

I'd been making chocolates with my grandparents, Lolly and Pops, since I was ten years old, but after returning home I'd qualified as a chocolatier. Lolly and Pops had mostly retired now, leaving the shop in my hands and those of my cousin Angie. She looked after the business part of the shop and I made the chocolates. So far, it was a perfect arrangement.

To start, I got busy making mango jelly, which I would pair with dark chocolate ganache to make mango tango bonbons. The ganache would sit atop the jelly, and the two-layered center would be encased in a dark chocolate shell painted with speckles of orange and white cocoa butter.

While the mango jelly was setting, I moved on to making the filling for one of the newest truffles on offer at the shop-peanut butter pretzel. I loved the contrast of smooth peanut butter with the crunch of chopped pretzels. The pretzels also added a nice saltiness, and I mixed in tiny bits of toffee for more crunch and sweetness.

I was in the midst of rolling the filling into balls when the bell above the front door jingled. I figured it was my cousin Angie, but then I heard my grandmother's voice call out.

"Good morning, Rebecca!"

Quickly, I washed my hands and hurried out of the kitchen.

"Lolly!" I exclaimed happily. I spotted my grandfather too. "And Pops!" I gave my grandmother a hug. "I wasn't expecting you two so early."

My grandparents often stopped by the shop to say hello or lend a hand, but usually not until after we'd opened for the day.

I gave my Pops a hug next.

"Good morning, my Hollywood star," he said as he gave me a good squeeze.

"Hardly a star," I said as I stepped back.

"You are to me."

My smile brightened and my heart nearly burst. I was so happy to be back home, where I could see my Lolly and Pops on a daily basis.

Lolly checked out the display cases, and I knew she was making a mental list of which chocolates needed to be brought out from the back. "I'm holding down the fort for a couple of hours while Angela goes to a dental appointment."

"Right." That had temporarily slipped my mind. "What about you, Pops? Should I be putting you to work?"

"Not this morning, I'm afraid. I'm on my way to help with the final day of registration for the gondola races."

"It seems like the event is as popular as always," I said.

"Maybe even more so." Pops settled his favorite gray flat cap on his head. "Duty calls."

I gave him a kiss on the cheek and saw him to the door. More people were out and about now than when I'd arrived at the shop. Hopefully we'd get plenty of shoppers coming into True Confections, eager to buy some tasty chocolates.

Lolly and I got the shop ready to open and then I retreated to the kitchen again to spend a few more hours making bonbons and truffles. Angie showed up partway through the morning, but since we had such a steady stream of customers, Lolly stayed on to help out until my teenage cousin, Milo, arrived for his afternoon shift. Angie was my aunt Elizabeth's daughter and Milo was the son of my aunt Kathleen. I had many relatives in Larch Haven, and the chocolate shop was definitely a family affair.

By the time Lolly left, my stomach was rumbling with hunger-despite having sampled one of my peanut butter pretzel truffles-so I texted my best friend, Dizzy Bautista, to see if she wanted to meet up for lunch. She soon responded in the affirmative, although she wouldn't be able to get away from work for another half hour. I did some tidying up and said goodbye to my cousins before heading out into the summer sunshine.

Tourists strolled along Venice Avenue, pausing to snap photos and pose for selfies here and there. Some had their sights set on the shops, while others climbed into gondolas to cruise along the canals, and maybe out onto Shadow Lake. I pulled the elastic out of my hair, letting it tumble down my back, and immediately wondered if that was a good move. The outdoor temperature had climbed while I was in the air-conditioned kitchen and the sun was beating down from the gorgeous blue sky.

Leaving my hair loose for the moment, I hurried home so I could trade my jeans for shorts and check in on Truffles and Binx. Within minutes, I was on my way back toward Venice Avenue. I bypassed the row of shops facing the canal and followed the cobblestone walkway to the public library on the next street over.

Desiree Bautista-Dizzy for short-had been my best friend since we were three years old. We attended preschool together, and on the first day she gave me her purple crayon when mine broke. After that, we'd been practically inseparable. Dizzy now worked as a librarian here in Larch Haven, having returned home after getting her master's degree. We always stayed in touch while living in different parts of the country, but I loved being back in the same town as her again. There was nothing quite like pizza night or a lunch date with my bestie.

I enjoyed the feel of the sun heating my skin, but by the time I reached the front steps of the library, I was looking forward to having an ice-cold drink with my lunch. When I stepped into the air-conditioned library, the sudden change in temperature sent goose bumps down my arms.

Off to my left in the children's section, one of the teenage volunteers read a book to a group of young kids, all of whom appeared to be enthralled by the story. An elderly gentleman sat in the reading area, perusing a newspaper, and several people of various ages browsed the shelves. I was tempted to check out a few books myself, but I already had a stack at home that I hadn't yet finished.

I spotted Dizzy at the circulation desk, where three people stood in line, waiting to check out their books. I waved at Dizzy and she smiled and held up her hand to signal that she needed another five minutes. I nodded and drifted off toward the mystery section. The shelf of new releases caught my eye so I stopped there first. I was about to pick up the latest book by Louise Penny when a man's angry voice caught my attention.

The voice was coming from the back meeting room, not far from the mystery section. Curious, I moved closer to the open door and saw that about a dozen people had gathered in the room. Oliver Nieminen-owner of the Rialto Café and president of the local hiking club-stood at the front, facing the others. He didn't look happy, but he wasn't the one talking.

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