My steps echoed hollowly as I climbed the wooden staircase up to the SCR and knocked on the heavy oak door. There was no answer. I pushed it open slowly. The room was empty, a fire burning down to the embers in the grate. I saw my pink pashmina almost instantly. It was draped across the back of one of the leather wingback chairs by the fireplace. I hurried across the room, grabbed it, and was out again in less than a minute. However, as I was about to make my way back down the staircase, I heard the sound of furtive whispering.
I paused and glanced up.
The staircase continued upwards into the tower, probably to various dons’ private rooms where they would hold their tutorials. I wondered if perhaps a couple of students were huddled there, waiting to speak to their tutor. But the voices sounded too mature to be students. In fact, I realised, they sounded slightly familiar.
Curious, I turned around and mounted a few steps of the next flight of stairs, peering upwards into the dimly lit stairwell. I saw four shapes huddled on the next landing, talking in loud whispers. They sounded like they were having an argument. My eyes widened in disbelief as I realised who they were. The Old Biddies.
I ran up to join them. “What are you doing here?” I hissed.
They froze and stared at me, like rabbits caught in headlights.
“Gemma!” said Mabel Cooke at last. “How lovely to see you, dear,” she said, as if it was perfectly normal for her to be skulking about a college staircase every day.
“What are you doing here?” I repeated.
Mabel glanced at her friends and they all looked at me with equally guilty expressions. I had a sudden impression I was facing four naughty children, rather than four members of the senior generation.
“Well, you know… we just happened to see him… and we thought we’d tag behind…”
“Just a bit of curiosity…”
“Not that we were following him or anything…”
“No, no, of course not…”
“Following whom?” I said, confused.
Mabel threw a furtive look up the staircase to the next landing, then turned back to me and lowered her voice. “Detective Inspector O’Connor!”
“You’re stalking the inspector?”
“Not stalking,” said Mabel indignantly. “We were just out in Oxford— it’s Seniors Night at the Old Fire Station, you know—and we happened to see Inspector O’Connor… so we… uh… followed him for a bit and saw him walking into Gloucester College. Of course, we knew all about the murdered American having come here to meet one of the professors—”
“How did you know…?” I sighed. “Never mind.”
“We were sure Inspector O’Connor must have come to interview this professor,” said Florence eagerly.
Ethel nodded. “A suspect in the murder case!”
“Yes, so we hurried up right behind him and were just in time to hear him tell the porter at the gate that he had an appointment with Professor Hughes.”
“But how did you get into the college? Don’t tell me you managed to pass yourselves off as students,” I said.
Glenda giggled. “Oh, well, the porter—Roger—is one of my beaus.”
“Your. . . beau?” I didn’t think people used that word anymore.
She nodded, giggling again like a schoolgirl. “Yes, I go dancing with Roger. Nimble on his feet, he is, for such a big man.”
“And you followed Devlin here?”
Mable nodded. “He’s just gone in.” She turned to the others. “Come on.”
“Wait—what are you going to do?” I put a hand on her arm.
She looked at me like I was stupid. “Eavesdrop on their conversation, of course!”
They began to creep up the staircase, clutching their linen handkerchiefs and lavender patent leather handbags. I stared at them. I wanted badly to hear Devlin’s conversation with Geoffrey Hughes. Was I going to be bested by four little old ladies? Yes, my mother had always hammered it into me that it was Terribly Rude To Eavesdrop—but so what?
I whirled and hurried up the staircase after the Old Biddies. I found them on the top landing, literally pressing their ears against the large oak door. It was such a ridiculous sight that I almost laughed out loud. Instead, I took my position next to them and pressed my own ear against the door too.
A Scone to Die For is the first book in the NEW Oxford Tearoom mystery series, published by Wisheart Press, January 2016. Tea with Milk and Murder is the second book in the series.
When an American tourist is murdered with a scone in Gemma Rose’s quaint Oxfordshire tearoom, she suddenly finds herself apron-deep in a mystery involving long-buried secrets from Oxford’s past.
Armed with her insider knowledge of the University and with the help of four nosy old ladies from the village (not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli), Gemma sets out to solve the mystery—all while dealing with her matchmaking mother and the return of her old college love, Devlin O’Connor, now a dashing CID detective.
But with the body count rising and her business going bust, can Gemma find the killer before things turn to custard?
*Traditional English scone recipe included!
# # # # # # # # # # #
Meet the author
H.Y. Hanna is an award-winning mystery and suspense author, who also writes sweet romance and children’s fiction. After graduating from Oxford University with a BA in Biological Sciences and a MSt in Social Anthropology, Hsin-Yi tried her hand at a variety of jobs, before returning to her first love: writing. She worked as a freelance journalist for several years, with articles and short stories published in the UK, Australia and NZ, and has won awards for her novels, poetry, short stories and journalism.
A globe-trotter all her life, Hsin-Yi has lived in a variety of cultures, from Dubai to Auckland, London to New Jersey, but is now happily settled in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and a rescue kitty named Muesli.
Giveaway: Leave comment below for your chance to win a digital copy of A Scone to Die For. The giveaway will end March 30, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.