Sometimes my day starts in the middle of the night… with murder. So far, I haven’t been the victim or the perpetrator, but I have experienced the occasional brush with pre-dawn homicide since moving back to my little hometown of Chatterley Heights, Maryland. I’m Olivia Greyson, but everyone calls me Livie. Except my younger brother, Jason, who calls me Olive Oyl, and my flower-child mother, who seems to think my name is Dear.

But back to murder…. I am not a private detective, though I love a good mystery. On a typical morning, I’m up by six a.m., in time to feed and walk my bossy little Yorkshire Terrier, Spunky. We live on the second floor of a sweet Queen Anne home into which I sank my entire divorce settlement. The ground floor became The Gingerbread House, a store that specializes in cookie cutters, baking equipment, cookie cookbooks, edible decorations—anything and everything cookie. Every morning, when I let myself into the store, I pause to breathe in the sweet scents that linger in the air from yesterday’s baking. If my business partner and best friend since age ten, Maddie Briggs, has arrived early, she will already be mixing, rolling, and cutting cookies. This morning I smell nutmeg and hear off-key yet enthusiastic snatches of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, so I know Maddie is creating cookies for a Holiday event we’ve been hired to host.

I send Spunky off to sniff every corner of the store before he settles on his favorite chair at the front window, where he can watch the town square awaken. Leaving him on guard duty, I head into the kitchen. Maddie has just opened the oven door, and a wave of warm, buttery air envelopes me.

On a normal day, The Gingerbread House opens at nine, and we have a steady stream of customers until closing at six. Only we don’t have many normal days. Now that I’m involved with Del Jenkins, the Chatterley Heights sheriff, customers often stop by for the latest gossip. And sometimes they ask me for help. Maddie and I have poked our noses into a couple local murders and picked up a useful tidbit or two. Or is that bragging? Del gets nervous about my activities. I tell him a little tension is good for a relationship. He sighs a lot.

Maddie slides another sheet of cookies into the oven and says, “Hey, sleepyhead. Del called.”

I glance at the kitchen clock. “It’s only six-thirty. By which I mean the six-thirty that happens in the morning. Why would Del call so early? And by the way, you have flour in your hair. Dusty red works for you.”

Maddie has a big grin that bunches up her freckled cheeks. “Looks like you’re free for lunch today. Del was up all night, so he’s canceling your date. Something about a murder. He was surprised you weren’t the one who found the body.” Maddie dips a cookie cutter in flour and sinks it into her rolled dough. “So anyway,” she says, “it’s Saturday, so the store will be closed for the next two days. You and I need to dig into this murder.”

Did I mention that Maddie is an enabler? “Why?” I ask.

“Because the victim is an old friend of ours, and Del just arrested another old friend on suspicion of murder. I don’t think she did it.” Maddie hands me an apple-shaped cookie decorated with fuchsia royal icing and pink sugar sprinkles. “Have some breakfast.”

Sometimes my day starts with murder. And a cookie.

Join Olivia as she tackles a new mystery in A COOKIE BEFORE DYING, which just came out on December 6. COOKIE DOUGH OR DIE is the first book in the series, and the third book, WHEN THE COOKIE CRUMBLES, will be released August 7, 2012. Virginia is hard at work on the fourth installment.

Virginia Lowell is the national bestselling author of the Cookie Cutter Shop mystery series. You can visit Virginia at:

** Virginia has generously offered to give away one signed copy of A COOKIE BEFORE DYING. To enter, you must leave a valid e-mail address in the comment box with your comment. One entry per person and this is open to anyone with a U.S. mailing address. Contest ends on December 14th at 6pm EST. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will be notified by e-mail and has 2 days to respond. Book will be shipped directly from the author. **

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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