At the Drop of a Hat (Hat Shop Mystery Series #3)

At the Drop of a Hat (Hat Shop Mystery Series #3)

by Jenn McKinlay

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From the New York Times bestselling author of the Library Lover’s Mysteries and Death of a Mad Hatter comes a tale of hat shop owners who put a cap on crime.
Cousins Scarlett Parker and Vivian Tremont’s fashionable London hat shop, Mim’s Whims, is visited by a new customer bearing an old hat box. Ariana Jackson is getting married and wants to restore her mother’s bridal hat and veil for the occasion. The elegant item was made by Scarlett and Vivian’s grandmother over thirty years ago, so Viv is delighted to take the job. 
When Scarlett goes to Ariana's office to consult about the restoration cost, she finds her outside, standing over her boss’s dead body. Though Ariana claims to know nothing about his demise, the investigation unveils a motive for murder. Now, with the bride-to-be in custody and the wedding on hold, Scarlett and Viv must find the real killer before Ariana's future is boxed up for good.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425258910
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Series: Hat Shop Mystery Series , #3
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 168,654
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

The hardest decision New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay ever had to make was what to major in during college. Then she discovered the sanctuary of the library and library science—a major that allowed her to study all the subjects. She loves working as a librarian. After all, what other occupation allows you to research the ethnobotanical properties of agave, perform a puppet show for twenty wiggly toddlers and try to answer why the rabbit’s foot is considered lucky, all in the same day? Jenn is also the author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, the Hat Shop Mysteries and the Bluff Point romance series. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, in a house that is overrun with books, pets, kids and her husband’s guitars.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I stood at the counter of Mim’s Whims, the hat shop my cousin Vivian Tremont and I had inherited from our grandmother Mim, and I gazed out the window. All I could see was gray.

Gray clouds, gray sheets of rain, gray fog filling the streets and alleyways, gray, gray, gray. Or as the Brits like to spell it, grey.

Our shop is nestled in the midst of Portobello Road and takes up the bottom floor of the three-story white building that our grandmother bought over forty years ago. I’ve always loved it and found the bright blue-and-white-striped awning and matching blue shutters on the windows above to be cheerful, but even they couldn’t defeat the never-ending gloom that seemed to descend upon our section of London.

Having been raised in the States and hailing most recently from Florida, I was being pushed just to the right of crazy by this late September weather.

Three solid weeks of rain will do that to a girl. Besides, I was quite sure I was going to sprout mold if I didn’t get some sunshine, and soon.

“It’s the last one,” Fee said. “You should have it.”

“No, no, I insist you take it,” Viv said. She tossed her long blond hair over her shoulder as if the gesture added weight to her argument.

Fee is Fiona Felton, my cousin Viv’s apprentice. She’s a very nice girl with a tall willowy build, a dark complexion courtesy of her West Indies heritage and a bob of corkscrew curls that she likes to dye new and different colors. Currently, she was rocking green streaks, which I thought was pretty cool but would look hideous in my own auburn shoulder-length hair.

Viv is the mad hatter of our little trio. Growing up down the street, she trained to be a milliner beside Mim. My own attempts at millinery were encouraged, but it became readily apparent that I did not have the family gift for twining ribbons into flowers or shaping brims or anything artistic or even crafty.

Viv and Fee were standing on the other side of the counter, taking a break from their current creations in the workroom. They were pushing a plate back and forth between them which contained one rogue piece of Walker’s Toffee, the last of the package we had been nibbling on all day.

“After such a large tea this afternoon, I couldn’t eat another bite,” Fee said.

“Fee, honestly, I insist you take the last piece of toffee,” Viv said. She sounded very bossy about it.

“No, I couldn’t possibly. You absolutely must have it,” Fee said. She blew a green curl out of her eyes.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” I said. “I’ll eat it just to end this.”

I scooped up the last piece of toffee and popped it into my mouth. Viv and Fee both turned to look at me with wide eyes.

“What?” I asked while chewing.

“Nothing,” Fee said and glanced away.

“It’s fine,” Viv agreed.

I stopped chewing. I knew the stone-sinking sensation of committing a social gaffe when I felt it. Scarlett Parker, boorish American, that’s me.

“Aw, man,” I said. “I messed that up, didn’t I?”

“It’s fine, honestly,” Viv said.

Which was how I knew it really wasn’t.

“What did I do?” I asked. “Did I not force it on you two enough?”

“You’re making fun of us,” Viv said.

I swallowed the last of the toffee. “No, I’m just trying to figure out how pushing something that you apparently really want onto others makes sense. If you want it, take it.”

“That’s not our way,” Fee said. “There are just certain things we do out of politeness like saying ‘Cheers’ when you step off the bus.”

“The toffee push could have gone on all day,” I said.

“It probably would have,” Viv agreed.

“See? You did us a favor,” Fee said.

“And now you’re trying to make me feel better for being a clumsy American,” I said.

“You’re half British,” Viv reminded me. Like I could forget my charming mother, Viv’s mother’s little sister, that easily. The woman had all but demanded a vow of celibacy out of me after my last relationship implosion went viral on the Internet and had my dad, a pacifist, looking into buying a gun to shoot the rat bastard who hurt his baby girl.

“I still don’t get it,” I said.

“It’s just one of the many idiosyncrasies of being British,” Viv said. “You indicate you’re longing for something by rejecting it. Repeatedly.”

“Now I see why you’re both single,” I said.

“Was that nice?” Viv asked. “We’re just very polite.”

“One might say cripplingly polite,” I said.

“Huh, enjoy that toffee, yeah?” Fee said.

I smiled. Maybe I was too brash and forward for my cousin’s sensibilities, but at least I didn’t spend my time pining or pretending I didn’t want things that I actually did.

The doors to the front of the shop opened and in strode Harrison Wentworth. My heart did a little toe tap against my ribs but I refused to acknowledge it. Okay, so maybe I did pretend I didn’t want something that I really did want just a little.

“Afternoon, ladies,” he greeted us as he stood in the door and shook out his umbrella.

“Hi, Harrison,” Viv and Fee greeted him in unison.

“Hiya, Harry,” I said.

His bright green eyes glittered when they landed on me.

“It’s Harrison, Ginger,” he corrected me.

Little did he know I liked hearing him call me Ginger, especially in that swoonworthy accent of his. Although I had tried to get everyone to call me Ginger over the years, Harry was the only one who’d kept it up from childhood. Yes, I’d known him that long.

Most of my school holidays had been spent in Notting Hill in Mim’s hat shop. My mother had insisted that I be well versed in all things British, and palling around with Viv was never a hardship. She was two years older than me, and given that we were both the only children in our families, she was the sibling I had never had.

Harry had been one of our brat pack, the kids whose families lived or owned businesses on Portobello Road, who ran amuck in the neighborhood. His uncle had been Mim’s bookkeeper just as Harry was ours. Of course, I had recently come to find out that he had bought a share of the business and was now technically my boss. Yeah, I was still chewing on that one.

I couldn’t fault Viv, though. She’d gotten into financial trouble over a haul of Swarovski crystals—yes, like me, she has impulse control issues. Unfortunately, I’d been so caught up in the drama that was my life at the time that she’d forged ahead and had Harry save the business when I should have been there to help. I still had guilt about it, but I was working through it.

“What are you doing here?” I asked Harry.

He raised his eyebrows at me and I realized my American rudeness was rearing its ugly blocky head—again.

“Sorry,” I said. “Was that too abrupt?”

“One does generally start with a comment about the weather,” he said. “Then you slowly segue into a softly pedaled interrogation.”

I glanced at the window. “After three weeks of gloom, I am thinking any conversation about the weather would be redundant, but if it makes you feel better . . . ruddy wet out there today, isn’t it?”

He grinned and then looked at Viv. “There’s hope for her yet.”

Fee snorted. “Not if there’s toffee involved.”

I was about to protest when the bells on the door jangled and a woman in a blue hooded raincoat entered the shop carrying a large plastic bag.

She stood dripping on the doormat, and I took it as my opportunity to escape the discussion of my manners or lack thereof. I left the group at the counter and crossed the shop.

“Hi, may I help you?” I asked.

“Oh, I hope so,” she said.

She opened the dripping plastic bag and pulled out an old hatbox. It was white with thick blue stripes and a blue satin cord. On the top of the box in a swirling script were the words Mim’s Whims.

I heard a gasp and realized that it came from behind me. I knew without looking that it was Viv, and I knew she was reacting to the same thing that I was. This box was an old one of Mim’s before Mim had updated the shop’s boxes in the nineties.

“Is there a hat in there?” Viv asked as she joined us on the mat in front of the front door.

“Yes, it’s an old one that belonged to my mother,” the woman answered.

She pushed back the hood on her raincoat and I was struck by how dark her hair was. It was an inky black color, thick and lustrous, the type you’d expect to see on a model. After I recovered from my spurt of hair envy, I noted that she was quite pretty with big brown eyes and an upturned nose. Mercifully, she was spared from being perfect as her lips were on the thin side and she wore glasses, a nerdy rectangular pair with thick black frames.

“I don’t want to drip all over your shop,” the woman said.

“No worries,” I said. “Here, I’ll take the bag and your coat.”

She handed me the dripping bag and shrugged out of her coat, freeing one arm at a time as if afraid to let go of her hatbox. I hung her coat and the bag on our coatrack by the door. Usually we kept it in the back room, but so many people had been coming in with wet coats that we’d moved it out front for the interminable rainfest we had going.

I hurried after them as Viv led the woman over to the counter, where Fee and Harrison were watching the happenings with curious expressions.

“Ariana, is that you?” Harrison asked. He looked delighted to see the young woman, and I felt the prick of something sharp, like the spiny point of jealousy, stab me in the backside.

She looked up at him in surprise and then laughed. “Harrison, fancy meeting you here!”

He stepped around the counter and swept her into a friendly embrace. “I wondered why Stephen asked me about this place. Was it for you?”

This place? I turned to exchange a dark look with Viv, but neither she nor Fee was looking in my direction. Did they not see that Harrison had just insulted our shop?

“Yes, I knew you did the books for a hat shop on Portobello and was so hoping it was the same one, and then Stephen said that you bragged that it was the best in the city and that the girls who owned were—”

“Yes, well.” Harrison interrupted her by coughing loudly into his fist.

He glanced at me and I narrowed my eyes at him. What had he said about us? I opened my mouth to demand to hear it when Viv spoke first.

“Do you know what year your mother purchased the hat?” Viv asked Ariana.

“I do. It was 1983, in fact,” she said. “The hat was a bridal hat for her wedding.”

“Oh, 1983 was a very good hat year. John Boyd was designing for Princess Diana. I loved the turquoise hat he made for her first foreign tour to Australia. It was a cap framed by matching ropes of silk with a net over the top and a matching flower at the back. I tried to re-create it during my apprenticeship but I could never match his artistry.”

“He is a genius,” Fee agreed. “I adore the red boater that she wore perched to the side with the matching jacket.”

“None of us were even born in 1983,” I said. “How is it you know what the hats looked like back then?”

“Every milliner studies John Boyd and Princess Diana,” Fee said.

“That and I did an apprenticeship in his Knightsbridge shop,” Viv said. “Mim loved his work. They were friends, you know.”

I didn’t, but I didn’t say as much, mostly because I was too embarrassed to admit that although the name “John Boyd” sounded familiar, I wasn’t really up to speed on his work. The truth was I didn’t know much about the millinery business. I had studied the hospitality industry in college and my gift was more with people, which brought my attention back to the woman in our shop.

“I’m sorry, Ariana, I didn’t catch your last name,” I said. I glanced meaningfully at Harrison but he didn’t look embarrassed in the least.

“Oh, of course, forgive me,” he said. “Ariana Jackson, these are the owners of Mim’s Whims—Scarlett Parker and Vivian Tremont—and their apprentice, Fiona Felton.”

“Ariana, what a pretty name,” I said. I gave her my most winning smile. “It suits you. Do you and Harrison go a long way back?”

Harry raised his eyebrows, no doubt surprised that I hadn’t used his nickname. Well, just like he didn’t know that I liked the name “Ginger,” he also didn’t know that I considered “Harry” my personal name for him and I really didn’t want to share it.

“Not at all, just a few rugby seasons,” Ariana said. She and Harrison exchanged a smile. “My fiancé, Stephen, plays on the same league team, and when I said I wanted to get my mother’s hat fixed for our wedding, Stephen asked Harrison about Mim’s Whims. I was thrilled to find out you’re still here.”

She put the old hatbox on the counter. “I was hoping you might be able to help me. My mother’s hat needs some refurbishing and since it originally came from this shop . . .”

“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” Viv said. She gestured to the box. “May I?”

Ariana gave her a quick nod and Viv eagerly pried the lid off. Nested amid layers of pale tissue paper was a wide-brimmed white confection. Viv carefully reached into the box and gently pulled the hat free.

I gasped. It was beautiful: a wide-brimmed, white silk hat swathed in tulle with a large silk bow and a lush organza rose nestled in the center. As Viv lifted it, a long organza train fell down from beneath the bow and spilled over the brim. Fee reached out and pulled the train free—it was long and delicate with embroidered edges. Even I could see our grandmother’s handiwork all over it.

“Oh, Mim,” Viv said. Her voice sounded wistful and I knew just how she felt. To hold something our grandmother had made over thirty years ago brought her right back to us.

The sweet scent of lily of the valley filled my nose. I glanced at Viv at the same moment she glanced at me. Mim. It was the distinct scent Mim had always worn. I glanced around the shop as if expecting her to appear, but of course she didn’t. Still, she was here, or the essence of her was here. I was sure of it just as I was sure she wanted Viv to restore the hat.

“I’d be happy to try and fix the hat,” Viv said. “No, I’d be honored.”

Chapter 2

“Are you certain?” Ariana asked. “There’s been some damage.”

Viv examined the hat. A vee formed in between her eyes as she examined the fabric of the hat.

“Dupioni silk?” Fee asked.

“Yes,” Viv said. She ran her fingers over the silk, examining the stitches.

“How is that different from other silk?” Harrison asked. I could have hugged him for asking what I wanted to know but hadn’t asked because I didn’t want to look dumb.

“Dupioni silk is a crisp type of silk,” Viv said. “They use a fine silk in the warp and uneven thread from two different cocoons, sometimes in different colors, in the weft.”

“And here I thought I’d understand what you were talking about,” Harrison said with a shake of his head. “Please excuse me, ladies, while I go play with numbers, which make much more sense to me. Ariana, give my best to Stephen and tell him I’ll see him on the pitch.”

“I will,” Ariana promised.

Harrison turned and strolled to the workroom in the back of the shop. As I watched him walk away, I admired the broad shape of his shoulders under his sweater and the way his dark brown hair curled at the nape of his neck. He was an annoyingly handsome man.

“All right, Scarlett?” Fee asked.

I glanced away from Harrison to find all three of them looking at me.

“Absolutely. Why?” I asked.

“You sighed,” Viv said. Then she grinned and added, “Longingly.”

“Really?” I asked. I ignored the heat I could feel warming my face. “I must be hungry.”

“But not for food, yeah?” Fee asked and then laughed. Viv joined her but Ariana gave us all a confused look.

“Ignore them,” I said to her. I rolled my eyes. “They’re just teasing me. I mean Harrison, really?”

“I don’t know,” Ariana said. “I may be getting married to his teammate in a month but even I can see he is quite dishy.”

Now my face was flaming hot. Subject change now.

I forced a smile. “So you’re getting married? Congratulations. Is that why you want the hat refurbished?”

Ariana’s face grew somber. “Partly. You see, my mother passed away when I was in school. My father’s new wife”—she paused and made a pained face—“gave away my mother’s wedding dress to charity when she was clearing out her things, so this is all that I have of hers and I was really hoping to wear it at my own wedding.”

A glance at Viv and Fee and I knew from their sympathetic expressions that they felt Ariana’s sadness as deeply as I did.

Viv turned the hat around in her hands. “There are some tears and discoloring in the silk. In order to fix it, I may have to remove large sections of the original material.”

“But you think it can be done?” Ariana asked.

Her hopeful expression had me holding my breath as I waited for Viv’s answer. I so wanted Ariana to have her mother’s hat on her special day.

“Yes,” Viv said. She gave a decisive nod. “I can do it.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Ariana cried, and she clapped her hands together. Then her face fell. “I am on a bit of a budget, however.”

“Not to worry,” Viv said. “Before I do any of the work, I’ll get you an estimate. We’ll make it work within your budget.”

“Thank you,” Ariana said. She glanced at the watch on her wrist and her eyes widened. “Oh, I have to go. I work for a solicitor in Kensington, Mr. Anthony Russo. He’ll throw a wobbler if I’m late getting back.”

“Here, give us your phone number and we can text you the estimate,” I said. She was looking anxiously at the door and I didn’t want to hold her up longer than necessary.

She quickly jotted down her number and I walked her to the door. I retrieved her coat from the rack and held it open for her.

“Thank you,” she said. She glanced back at Vivian and the hat and asked, “You’ll mind it well, won’t you?”

“As if it were my very own wedding hat,” Viv promised with a smile.

Ariana puffed a sigh of relief, cried her thanks one more time, and hurried back out into the lead-bottomed day. As the door shut behind her, a draft of cold and wet snuck in and splashed against my black tights. My black ankle-high boots and purple knit dress were no defense against the damp, and I hurriedly closed the door after her.

“She’s going to make a lovely bride with this hat on, yeah?” Fee asked.

“I wonder what her gown looks like,” I said.

I love weddings. I love everything about them: the brides, gowns, tiaras, flowers and all that goes with them, well, all except for the groom. As I mentioned, I was off men for at least a year and thoughts of men in tuxedos were not helpful, so I found it better just to focus on the bridal portion of things. Luckily, at Mim’s Whims, we were mostly about the bride.

“We’ll have to ask,” Viv said. She was considering the hat, turning it over in her hands.

“Maybe she’ll order all of her bridesmaid’s hats through us,” Fee said. She gave us a hopeful look as she left the front of the shop and headed back to the workroom to finish her latest project.

“Assuming she hires us to fix the hat,” Viv said. She was still examining the inside, running her fingers over the stitching. She glanced up at me. Her smile was wistful. “I hope she hires us. I love the idea of restoring one of Mim’s hats to its original glory.”

I glanced down at the beautiful silk and organza and ran my fingertip over the same stitches Viv had.

“I get the feeling Mim wants you to,” I said in a soft voice.

“Me, too,” she whispered back. “No matter how much Ariana can afford, I think we need to make this happen.”

“Agreed,” I said.

Of course, everything seems like a great idea when you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

Chapter 3

“It’s the third message I’ve left for her this week,” I said. “If the wedding is in a month, she needs to give you time to get the work on the hat done.”

It had been several days since Ariana had been in with her mother’s hat. Viv had done the estimate right away and I had called Ariana at the number she’d given us but hadn’t gotten a call back. Viv had instructed me to be flexible with the cost, but since I hadn’t heard from her, I hadn’t even had the opportunity to haggle.

“Maybe she’s caught up in so much wedding stuff, she hasn’t had time,” Viv said. “You know how brides are.”

It was true. We did a lot of wedding hats, from the bride’s veil to the bridesmaids’ hats, the mothers and the guests. It was very lucrative. And yes, we had dealt with our share of hysterical brides. Ariana hadn’t seemed like that, though.

“I’m locking up,” Viv cried over her shoulder as she crossed the shop to the front door.

“Excellent,” I said. “We have to be over at Andre and Nick’s before the show starts. Nick said he’s feeling inspired.”

“I can’t believe they have us watching The Great British Bake Off,” Viv said as she came back. “Between us we can barely boil water.”

“I think Nick is smitten with Mary Berry,” I said. “Besides I am crushing ridiculously on the chef from Devon, what’s his name—Trevor, no, Trey, no . . .”

“Travis,” Viv supplied. “Travis Manfred.”

“What?” a voice squawked from behind me. I turned to see Harrison standing in the doorway to the workroom. “Ginger, you’re crushing on that mangy git? I wouldn’t let him fry me an egg.”

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. I got a perverse pleasure in riling Harrison. I tossed my hair over my shoulder and tried to look nonchalant.

“I can’t help it if he has the dreamiest blue eyes,” I said. “Don’t you think so, Viv?”

“Oh, no, you’re daft if you think I’m getting in the midst of this,” she said. She turned and narrowed her eyes at Harrison. “Correct me if I’m wrong, however, didn’t you say you were only joining us because you thought the dark-haired girl was quite fit.”

I frowned. I might be from the States, but even I know that when a British man calls a girl “fit,” he is not talking about her exercise capacity; rather, he thinks she’s hot.

“How very shallow of you, Harry,” I said.

“Bloody double standard you’re working there, Ginger,” Harrison said.

I ignored him. I’m very good at that, just like I can pretty much tune out any words I don’t want to hear or not see things I’d rather not. Probably that’s why my last relationship was a CATASTROPHE, in all caps.

All joking aside, I was in no shape to date anyone possibly forever. No, it was much better to drool over an amateur chef as he baked his way into fame and fortune.

“Come on, you two,” Viv called from the workroom. “We’re going to be late!”

*   *   *

Our friends, Nick Carroll and Andre Eisel, lived several shops down Portobello Road from our hat shop. The lower half of their place housed Andre’s photography studio and they lived in the two floors above much like Viv and me, except Nick and Andre are a couple instead of cousins. Oh, and Nick’s a dentist.

Lucky for us, they love to entertain, because Viv and I do not. So it was understood that we would bring the wine and dessert when they invited us to dinner, which happened about once a week and usually on Great British Bake Off night.

It helped that Nick thought of himself as a great undiscovered chef, and in all fairness, he really was skilled. It goes without saying that he was the one who liked to watch the show the most. I half expected him to enter the running every time the applications were open.

The way he yelled at the bakers, “Bloody hell, use the whisk! The whisk!” or “By all that is holy, how can you call that a reduction? It’s reducing me to tears, I tell you,” it was more fun watching him than it was the show.

“What did you pick up for dessert?” I asked Harrison as we walked down the street.

He was carrying a large bakery box, and just the sight of it made my stomach growl.

“Pecan tarts from Paul Rhodes Bakery,” he said. “They are amazing.”

“Hmm. Are you sure you don’t want me to taste test one, Harry? It would be bad form to show up with a marginal dessert.”

“I’m quite sure, thanks,” he said. “And it’s Harrison.”

I gave him my best grumpy look. He did not appear swayed in the least.

“Do we know what Nick is cooking tonight?” I asked Viv.

“No, which is why you are carrying red wine and I am carrying white,” she said. We passed the main entrance to the studio and stopped in front of a small side door. Viv turned the handle and it opened. Harrison held the door and waited for us to enter first.

“Hello? Anyone home?” I called up the stairs.

“Scarlett, is that you?” Andre’s head appeared over the banister above. His smile was a white slash against his cocoa-colored skin. He was wearing a form-fitting periwinkle silk shirt, and the diamond stud he wore in one ear winked at me in the overhead light.

“Yes, it’s me and I found two strangers and invited them to join us,” I teased. “Is that all right?”

“Did they bring dessert?” he asked.

“And wine,” I replied.

“By all means, show them up,” he said. “Oh, and lock the door behind you, would you?”

“Done,” Harrison called from behind me.

The three of us trudged up the stairs just in time to hear Nick in the kitchen.

“Three cups of broth? I only have two! Dinner is ruined!”

“Sounds like there’s a drama happening in the kitchen,” Andre said. “Make yourselves at home and I’ll see if I can use my sous chef magic to calm him down.”

We put the wine and the bakery box on the side table in the dining room and made our way to the living room, where the stereo was on and playing David Gray.

I glanced out the large windows onto the street below and noted that it was raining again. I followed the path of a raindrop down the window with my finger. I felt as if I hadn’t seen the sun in forever.

“Why so glum, Ginger?” Harrison asked as he moved to stand beside me.

“I honestly don’t think I can take much more of this rain,” I said.

“It could be worse,” Viv said. “It could be raining cats and dogs and then there’d be poodles everywhere.”

Harrison snorted while I gave her my best unamused face. It really is a good one. I’ve practiced it in the mirror.

“They said it would keep raining for another week, but I drought it,” Harrison quipped. This time Viv busted up. I refused and gave them both my frostiest look.

“Well, you are in merry ol’ England,” Harrison cajoled. “We are rather known for our precipitation.”

“You’re right,” I said. Then I teased, “I’m beginning to think it was a pour choice.”

They both blinked at me.

“Aw, now that was a good one. Get it? ‘Pour’ choice instead of ‘poor’ choice, you know, because it’s pouring out.”

Harrison patted my shoulder and Viv gave me a sympathetic look. I knew they were teasing me. It was a bit of a game between us, but it made me more determined than ever. One of these days I was going to unleash a pun that they couldn’t help but laugh at.

“Crisis averted,” Andre said as he rejoined us. “But I’m glad you brought two bottles of wine. We might need them.”

“Is that a dig at my cooking?” Nick asked as he followed Andre into the room.

“No!” Andre quickly assured him. “I was referring to the tension in the Bake Off, you know, Scarlett is rooting for that Trevor fellow.”

“Travis,” Viv and I said together and I heard Harrison huff out a breath.

“Now don’t be sullen just because he’s more talented than what’s her name,” I said.

Andre and Nick both turned to look at Harrison and he lowered an eyebrow at me.

“Prudence Chatham,” he said. “You know very well what her name is.”

“Doubtful,” I said. I took the wineglass that Nick proffered and kissed his cheek in greeting. “She doesn’t have dreamy blue eyes.”

“No,” Nick agreed. He brushed the bib of his purple apron and used his ring finger to smooth one of his blond eyebrows. “I’d say she’s a bit peaky looking, like a strong wind might carry her off.”

“A bit ferrety if you ask me,” Andre added. “All nose and teeth.”

I made the mistake of sipping my wine when he spoke and started to laugh, making the wine almost shoot out my nose. I covered my face with my hand while I coughed and laughed and coughed.

“Laugh it up there, Ginger,” Harrison said. “We’ll see who’s laughing when my ferret beats Mr. Dreamy Eyes.”

“Oh.” Nick rubbed his hands together. “Do I hear a wager in the making?”

Harrison’s bright green eyes met mine. His gaze positively sizzled with nefarious intentions.

“What do you say, Scarlett?” he asked. “Do we have a bet?”

“That depends,” I said. “What did you have in mind?”

My voice came out low and husky, inviting all sorts of midnight naughtiness. I watched Harry’s Adam’s apple bob when he gulped.

Damn it. I was at it again. I really needed to find the shutoff valve for my flirtatious streak. But honestly, I didn’t want to. This celibacy thing was really beginning to cramp my style.

Harrison cleared his throat as Viv, Andre and Nick swiveled their heads between us like they were watching a tennis match. When Harry’s gaze met mine, the look he gave me scorched. Wow!

Okay, so dreamy blue eyes had nothing on Harry’s magnetic green gaze. I shook my head. It didn’t matter. I was staying single and not letting Harrison or anyone else lure me into the miserable world of dating, bad relationship choices and heartbreak. Jaded much? Yes, I am.

I glanced at Viv, hoping to silently communicate my distress at the situation. Call it cousinly intuition or what have you, she got it right away.

“I suggest the wager be in line with what you’re betting about,” she said. “Since you’re betting over a cooking competition, the loser has to make a meal for the winner.”

“Oh, dear, I’m obliged to hope Scarlett wins then,” Nick said.

“Why’s that?” Harrison asked, looking offended.

“Because Scarlett can’t toast bread, never mind cook. Truly, mate, I’m looking out for you by hoping you lose,” Nick said and then he burst out laughing as if the idea of me cooking a meal was too preposterous for words.

“I think I’m offended,” I said. I held out my hand to Harrison. “I’ll take that bet.”

The grin he gave me was pure mischief, and the feel of his large man hand closing around my smaller one made me go just the tiniest bit weak in the knees. I locked them in place, refusing to be swayed by any misplaced surge of hormones. It was only natural to react to a man since my libido had been on lockdown for longer than I could ever remember.

“Excellent,” he said. He looked as if he thought victory was his, and then I realized that an intimate dinner for two was a victory for him in that it moved us into an area that was almost date-like. For me, it was a loss because it was going to test my strength of character on the whole staying single thing, which frankly was proving to be more challenging than I’d anticipated.

Before I let go of his hand, I looked him right in the eye and said, “Just to clarify, the loser makes dinner, at least three courses plus dessert.”

“Agreed,” he said, still smiling.

And then I lowered the boom. “For all five of us on a date to be determined.”

“What?” Harrison gaped, but it was too late. Andre and Nick cheered the suggestion, and Viv looked at me with a knowing smile. Yes, I suspect she knew exactly what I was up to, avoiding being alone with Harrison for as long as I was able.

“You’re not backing out now, Harry, are you?” I asked.

He narrowed his eyes at me. “No. I accept the wager.”

We shook on it and he released my hand. I missed the warmth of his fingers against mine immediately.

“Since that is settled,” Nick said. “I do believe it is time for dinner to be served.”

Nick sashayed back to the kitchen while Harrison fell into step with Vivian and I walked beside Andre to the dining room table, which was already set with mismatched cobalt-blue-and-white Wedgewood plates and bowls. Andre had a passion for Wedgewood, but he bought miscellaneous plates instead of a whole set because he felt it was more visually interesting.

Looking at the blue-and-silver accents on the table, I noted that the place settings went well with Nick’s Brierley Hill Crystal. I always felt like more of a grown-up when I dined at Nick and Andre’s. Left on our own, Viv and I usually did takeout and ate in front of our television, and that was only if Viv wasn’t caught up in some creative endeavor which left me eating alone.

I had been watching my cousin over the past few weeks, looking for any signs of interest outside of hats or our shop. As far as I could tell, she had none. Oh, there were designer friends she created hats for, and she had a loyal customer base that she was friendly with, but there was no one of any significance in my cousin’s life. This disturbed me. Partly because I felt guilty for not noticing sooner and partly because it wasn’t like Viv.

Viv had known from the time we were kids that she was going to follow Mim’s lead into the millinery business. She was a natural at it, creating hats that were in demand from Paris runways to the Royal Family. Her work had been featured in fashion magazines and the wait to get a hat for Ascot from her was three years long.

Despite all that, Viv had always managed to have a life. She’d had friends in the neighborhood and friends from school. She was always a little flighty, being a creative genius, and disappeared from time to time without telling anyone, usually on some crazy quest for feathers or lace or hat forms, but still she had relationships outside the business. Since I had gotten back to London four months ago, however, I had seen no evidence of any sort of social life for my cousin.

She never talked about friends or men or anything really. I was worried about her, and while I tried not to badger her about her lack of a social life, I was definitely keeping an eye on her. Honestly, if I hadn’t come back when I did, the only thing she would have in her life would be the shop, Harrison and Fee. And no, Harrison and Viv were just friends. Yes, I checked.

Andre held my chair while Harrison held Viv’s. I was across the table from Harrison, which was nice but also distracting. Andre went to help Nick schlep the food to the table while the three of us settled in.

“So anything noteworthy happen at the shop today?” Harrison asked.

Viv and I exchanged a glance. Harrison was always good about asking about the business, and I got the feeling it wasn’t because he was part owner but because he genuinely cared that things were going well.

She shrugged as she put her napkin in her lap. “Nothing dramatic. Hats were made and hats were sold.”

Andre and Nick flitted back and forth with a variety of dishes that smelled divine.

“Nick, you’ve outdone yourself,” I said. “It all looks amazing.”

Nick flushed with pleasure and then waved his hands at the food. “Go ahead and start. It isn’t any better when it’s cold.”

We each chose a dish and started serving and passing. Compliments were heaped on Nick’s culinary prowess and I realized, duh, that he was lapping it up like a kitten did cream. I imagined he received fewer compliments for his dentistry, not that he wasn’t a great dentist, but let’s face it, you don’t generally heap praise on the person who roots around in your mouth, nags you to floss and occasionally delivers the bad news bomb that you have a cavity or worse.

“So that’s it?” Harrison steered the conversation back to the shop. “No gossip from any of the customers?”

“None,” Viv said. She shrugged.

“Oh, but there is one thing you could help us with,” I said. “Ariana Jackson hasn’t answered her phone for the past three days, and we really need to get in touch with her about her wedding hat.”

“I can text Stephen and have him tell her,” Harrison offered.

“I’d really like to talk to her directly,” I said. If she wanted to haggle about the price, I wanted to be the one to do it and not have Harrison and his rugby buddy make a mess of it.

“Doesn’t she work for a solicitor in Kensington?” Viv asked. “Could you get his number from Stephen?”

“Yeah, that should be no trouble,” Harrison said. “Do remind me after dinner.”

“I think his last name was Russo,” I said.

“Anthony Russo?” Nick asked.


Excerpted from "At the Drop of a Hat"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Jenn McKinlay.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

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Praise for the Hat Shop Mysteries

“Fancy hats and British aristocrats make this [series] my sort of delicious cozy read.”—Rhys Bowen, USA Today bestselling author of the Royal Spyness Mysteries

“A delightful new heroine.”—Deborah Crombie, New York Times bestselling author

“Thoroughly entertaining.”—Hannah Dennison, author of the Vicky Hill Mysteries

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At the Drop of a Hat 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
LisaKsBooksReviews More than 1 year ago
I must start this review out by saying, Jenn McKinlay is one of my very favorite authors. It was her Cupcake Bakery Mystery series that started me on this long glorious road of cozy mysteries. After I read every book to date in that series, I quickly bought and read every book she had published at the time under all of her pen names.  And all of that lead to me becoming a reviewer with my very own blog. So thank you, Jenn McKinlay. (And to be fair, thank you to my sister who handed me that first delightful book and said, “Read it.”) Book three in Ms. McKinlay’s Hat Shop Mystery series, AT THE DROP OF A HAT, is another stellar offering from the author. She always has me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions when I read her books, and this title is no different. I literally laughed out loud, gasped, and even cried a little.  Her characters in this series are wonderful. I love American, Scarlett Parker and the fact that she is still trying to figure out the ways of the British. It makes for a fun balance with her very British cousin, Vivian Tremont and equally British Harrison Wentworth. I’m loving watching Scarlett’s and Harrison’s relationship progress.  As for the mystery aspect of the story, it was excellent. Ms. McKinlay is wonderful with throwing misleading clues the reader’s way. She had me going down one road when I should have been going up another. As a result, I had no idea who the killer was until the author wanted me to know.  Hats off to you Jenn McKinlay for this superb book and series! And check out the back of the book for an excerpt of DARK CHOCOLATE DEMISE, book 7 in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series by Jenn McKinlay.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
Dropped Body Ariana Jackson walks in to Mim’s Whims one day with a hat that Mim made years ago.  She is hoping that Vivian Tremont can repair it for Ariana’s upcoming wedding to Scott, one of Harrison’s friends.  Viv is honored to be asked to repair the hat and begins to make her plans.   However, Ariana never responds to any of their calls or texts to approve things before Viv actually gets to work.  Finally, Scarlett Parker decides to visit her at work, only to arrive to the sound of a scream.  Rushing through the office, Scarlett finds Ariana in the backyard of the office/house kneeling next to the body of Ariana’s boss, Anthony Russo.  The police seem to think that Ariana had something to do with Anthony’s death, and every piece of evidence seems to back them up.  But Scarlett and Viv are certain that Ariana is innocent.  Can they prove it?   I really was delighted to be back in London and revisiting this hat shop.  Scarlett is a wonderful narrator, and it was nice to see Viv get more into the action this time around.  They make a wonderful team.  The plot has some nice twists as it moves toward a logical conclusion.  And we get a nice dose of humor that I enjoyed.   Previously, I’d complained about Scarlett’s relationship with Harrison, but I liked them much better here.  I’m curious how that will all play out considering Scarlett’s vow of staying single for one year.   A cliffhanger ending will definitely bring you back for more.  Personally, I can’t wait to find out what happens next to these delightful characters.
Debb23 More than 1 year ago
I admit that I am a huge fan of Jenn McKinlay's books, and this book is another reason why. I love all the characters with their interesting mix of quirks, they intermesh wonderfully. The mystery was great and definitely kept me guessing with a surprise twist. I enjoyed the introduction of Alistair, I hope he sticks around for awhile. The growing relationship with Scarlett and Harrison is moving at a nice pace and is such fun to read. This book gave me many laugh out loud moments, I even had to run and read one part to my daughter to share the fun. I am definitely continuing on with this series. I did receive this book as a prize and am giving my honest opinion. I don't believe that you would have a hard time reading this as a stand alone if you wanted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
I don't know what else to say about the series. But like the other books in this series, this was a really good read. And of course that cliffhanger ending does make you want to read the next book.
JanB614 More than 1 year ago
I have been reading this series since the first book came out. The characters are so vividly portrayed that I feel like I would recognize them walking down the street. Viv and Scarlett are running their grandmother's hat shop, with Viv designing and making hats and Scarlett handling customer service. On the side, Scarlett just happens upon bodies and helps to solve the murders. In this one, a young woman is suspected of pushing her boss off the roof after she brought hat originally designed by Mim to be refurbished by Viv for her own wedding. The case is solved after a number of twists and turns and some humorous situations. At the end comes Viv's shocking statement which I won't reveal so that I don't spoil the story. Suffice it to say that I am now hardly waiting for the next book to see what happens next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Annie10 More than 1 year ago
I  really this book. Scarlett and her cousin Vivian make hats and sell them in their London shop. A young woman comes in to have restore a wedding hat. They are excited to do this. When they try to reach her to tell her how much it will cost they can't reach her. Scarlett goes to her office. When she arrives she finds her with her dead boss. Scarlett and Vivian believes she is innocent. They try to find the killer. The ending will surprise you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No mystery development.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was not really my kinda read i am not one to read any book takeing place in england i just find their books to dry for my liking