How very quaint

Excerpt from READING BETWEEN THE LEAVES, the 2nd in the Tea Cozy Mysteries series

"... Arthur, Bess, so good to see you. Glad you could make it,” Zara said, bending over to exchange pecks on the cheek with Mayor Collins and his wife.

While the scene appeared friendly and pleasant enough, Penelope sensed something insincere about Zara’s regard for the mayor and his misses. It was a something Penelope mentally noted and intended to inquire about later.

“Wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in China,” Mayor Arthur Collins said. His tablemates all laughed obsequiously at the tea joke made in a tearoom. Zara subtly ground her heel into Penelope’s foot in order to get her to laugh along. “It’s the least a mayor can do to support local business. Wishing you great prosperity with your tea shop, Miss Price.”

“Yes, such a quaint little enterprise. My friends are sure to get a terrific kick out of it,” Bess Collins said.

Penelope took an immediate and unfortunate dislike to the mayor and his wife, no two ways about it.

“We’ve also opened the doors to our detective agency … at the urging of Florence Morgan,” Penelope added, counting on Florence’s stamp of approval to increase her own clout with the Collinses.

“Oh that’s right. I hear about that. Florence sure does loves her pet projects and charity work, doesn’t she?” Bess Collins said, wrinkling up her nose and smiling as she spoke, as if placating a small child or someone with diminished mental capacities.

“I think it’s a fine idea. Everyone should have a hobby, eh?” Mayor Collins said, using his forearm to wipe the entire contents of the platter Stella presented to him onto his own plate, the finger foods coming apart mid-air as they made the drop from platter to plate.

Stella growled low and concocted ways to terrorize the mayor as she walked back to the kitchen to replenish the platter so that the other hundred diners would get something to eat.
“It’s hardly a hobby, sir,” Penelope said, her face flushing with offence. “And once we get the vote—”

Zara put a tempering hand on Penelope’s arm. “We’re just happy to be able to do our part to serve this idyllic community. After all, there can only be one mayor.”

“You sure know how to pick ’em,” Mayor Collins said, addressing his comment to Walter Harrison across the table.

“She’s a gem, all right,” Walter said.

“I’ll say one thing for your little detective agency—you did a fine job exposing that felonious Paulie something or other character. Good work, Miss Zara,” Mayor Collins said.
“Who’s that we’re talking about?” Bess Collins asked.

“Paolo Rossi, or rather Paul Ross—the man who killed Dan Cooper,” Penelope said.

“Oh yes, the Latin lover,” Bess Collins said. “Quite the Greek god.”

“Actually, he’s neither Latin nor Greek. He’s Italian,” Penelope corrected.

“Yes, he does have a Mediterranean quality about him,” Zara said, attempting to quell the conversation’s simmering tension.

“Weren’t you having relations with him, Miss Zara?” Bess Collins asked indelicately, narrowing her eyes as she smiled malevolently at Zara.

Penelope clenched her fist in ire. Zara shrugged off the slight. She’d been around plenty of catty women and could tell that Bess was lashing out due to jealousy over Zara’s looks and poise. Zara decided to view the slight as an unintentional compliment.

“I was indeed!” Zara said unabashedly. “Until I wised up and got lucky enough to be courted by the most wonderful man I’ve ever known,” she said, looking warmly into Walter’s eyes from across the table.

“But then she settled for me,” Walter said, eliciting a spate of chuckles from those at the table. “Miss Price, don’t let us hog all your time. You have other tables waiting to meet you. Go on.”

Zara nodded, and Penelope exhaled in appreciation of the reprieve.

“Boy am I glad to get out of there,” Penelope said. “How do you deal with those people?”

“I’m used to those sorts. I mentally dress them in clown costumes and picture them wearing red noses and rainbow wigs as they speak. For the ones who are especially odious, I picture how ridiculous they must look mid-coitus … suddenly nothing they say seems to faze me.”