Book Title: Tea and Antipathy (Damien Murphy Pet Sitting and Murder Investigations Book 1)
Author and Publisher: Meredith Spies
Cover Artist: Samantha Santana/Amai Designs
Release Date: June 31, 2023
Genre: Cozy mystery, MM romance that is cozy-specific
Tropes: fish out of water, opposites attract, murder in a small town, quirk small town, amateur sleuth, pet sidekick
Themes: self-discovery, not all that glitters is gold, starting over, letting go of the past
Length: 72 000 words/246 pages
Heat Rating: None – There’s a romance subplot but as it’s a cozy mystery, it is a slow build across the series with no on-page sex.
It’s the first book in the series. It is a standalone story and does not end on a cliffhanger.
Damien Murphy isn’t a detective, but he played one on T.V. once.
Not everyone could say their luck started improving the day they got hit by a car, but not everyone was me. Which was good because one me is all the town of Lester Cove can handle.
Ever since, murder’s been afoot and my new friend seems to be right in the thick of things. Mrs. Witte is a sweet older lady but she cannot keep herself from getting involved with the murder mystery, and her stepson Benjamin seems to think that’s somehow my fault.
Look, I’m just a washed up child star turned accidental pet sitter and sometimes plucky sidekick. I had nothing to do with the deaths that seem to be happening at an alarming rate, deaths Mrs. Witte wants me to help solve. Dealing with Ben’s antipathy is on my list, right below cleaning up after a dead woman’s dog.
Renee Rhodes was everything. She was the raspy voiced, designer dud wearing, theatrical queen I’d hoped she’d be in person.
It was like Liza Minnelli and Tyne Daly had somehow managed to have a baby then Tim Curry got involved somehow with Kander and Ebb doing the score and—
I stepped into the theater lobby which was all done up for the reception with swags of silver and gold bunting and huge (fake) flower arrangements in glossy black Art Deco style vases. I barely had time to take it in before Renee Rhodes, in all her elegant glory, came sweeping down on me from behind the buffet table, calling out in her kitschy Mid-Atlantic tones, “I was so worried you’d changed your mind! You’re late!”
Swept into a swirl of vintage Halston jersey, a heavy-handed application of Fracas with a soupcon of Bombay Sapphire cutting through it all, I couldn’t answer for fear of asphyxiating on either a mouthful of fabric or the fumes. She released me after a tight embrace and a waxy-lipped cheek kiss which I dutifully returned (sans waxy lips—my gloss was very light, thank you, and not at all sticky), she did that old person thing where they hold you at arm’s length and give you a look.
“I, ah, had car trouble outside of town. Something went kerflooey with the engine, I think. Or maybe the oil pan? I just know there was a lot of smoke.”
Ms. Rhodes tsked, looping her arm over my shoulder and giving me a tiny shake. “That’s why I went electric,” she pronounced. “It’s the only responsible way to get around these days, especially in a place like Lester Cove. No public transit, unless you count the ferry,” she added in a throaty stage whisper heard by pretty much everyone around us. “Now, come along, let me introduce you to the charming playwrights who’ve submitted their work for us to judge this weekend!” I had no choice but to follow her flowing jersey knit clad back towards the long refreshment table where she topped up her drink before gesturing towards the bottles in mute offer. I nodded, reaching for a wine glass before she stilled my hand and redirected it towards the stronger stuff.
“You’re gonna need it,” she muttered. “Have you read the packet of plays yet? It’s a lot.”
“I had the chance to look at some of the entries on the way here,” I said wincing at the sharp taste of the gin rickey she’d directed me towards. “They’re really engaging and—”
Ms. Rhodes snorted into her very full martini glass (the vermouth had been a mere whisper of an afterthought whisked away as soon as it entered her mind, apparently). “Most of them are amateurish, downright juvenile which isn’t surprising considering how Charlie treated the contest like some final exam for his students. The ones that aren’t high school efforts are so drab I wanted to scream, darling.” Something in my expression made her pause, offering me a small, not at all apologetic smile. “Forgive me. After years of being simply immersed in the craft, I find it’s hard to shake the inherent snobbery. I appreciate their enthusiasm, but they don’t understand theatre,” she said, this time keeping her voice low enough for just us two. The gala was more crowded than I’d anticipated for such a small town, the press of bodies dressed in everything from smart-casual wear to what looked like prom get-ups on some of the younger attendees forcing us to the side of the room, near a door discretely marked Box Office Management. “They crave it though. So many of them, especially the older generations, go all the way to the city for shows.”
“New York,” I murmured, not quite a question but laced with a bit of disbelief. New York was at least a half day’s drive from Lester Cove, quite a way to go for a play.
“Of course. I certainly don’t mean Bangor,” she tittered. “It’s a lovely city in its own right, but the theatre scene there is nothing like the city.” She exhaled gustily, pushing one of her brassy curls back from her eyes and glancing about, finding her angles before taking another sip of her gin, making sure she was displayed to her best advantage like a true professional. “Nothing is, really.”
“Renee!” A man giving young Kevin Kline vibes but when he was in In and Out, not A Fish Called Wanda, strode across the lobby towards us. Dressed in a wine-red three-piece suit, he stood out among the browns, navy and blacks peppering the crowd, though he didn’t seem bothered by the looks. In fact, he gave a few familiar nods and a quick smile or two on his way over before stopping short of Ms. Rhodes and folding his arms. “It’s been three months! I’ve been patient but–”
“Charlie! You absolute doll!” She leaned in and gave him a smacking kiss on each cheek. Charlie blushed and, somewhat awkwardly, returned the gesture, not quite meeting her skin but giving a little mwah sound.
A for effort, really.
“Damien, this is my dear old friend, Charlie Arnold. Well, old,” she tittered. “He’s a few years my junior but shhhh, don’t let on. Everyone thinks I’m at least ten years younger than I really am!”
I nodded, smiling. No one thought that, I was certain, but cultivating a certain mystique was so old Hollywood of her. “I’ll never tell.”
Charlie Arnold shifted a bit uncomfortably, tilting his head in the direction of the office behind us. “Do you have a moment? We need to talk about—”
“Now, Charlie darling, now is not the time,” Ms. Rhodes protested, patting his arm with the very tips of her brightly painted fingernails. “We’re in the midst of a gala!”
Charlie followed the direction of Ms. Rhodes’ waving arm. His lips tightened and shoulders stiffened as he turned back to face us. “That might well be, Renee, but the fact remains you made a promise—a legally binding promise—and—”
Ms. Rhodes’ smile was fixed and bright but distinctly unpleasant. “Charlie,” she gritted out. “This is not the time. Save your speeches for your students.”
“Renee,” Charlie said, straightening, shedding some of the deference he’d carried over just moments before, “you’ve been dodging me. Every planning meeting, every casual drinks evening, you’ve been avoiding the subject. It’s past time you dropped the charade.”
“You’re embarrassing me,” she whispered. “We’ll talk tomorrow!”.
“I’ve given you forty-odd years of tomorrow, Charlie and later, Charlie,” he snapped, “I’m tired of waiting, Renee. You owe me this much.”
“And,” she said, shooting me an apologetic eye roll, “we can talk tomorrow, Charlie. I assure you, you will not be disappointed.”
She gave his arm a firm pat then and, turning her back on him with a swish of jersey and perfume, took me by the elbow and steered me away from Charlie Arnold. “I’m so sorry about that little scene.” She sighed. “Charlie’s a dear old friend but he just can’t accept the fact some things are just done.”
“A lot of folks are upset about your retirement,” I demurred. “You’re quite the performer.”
She snorted delicately, giving me a nudge. “I’m an old broad who should’ve retired five years before I did,” she chided. “I just hung on because I wasn’t ready to admit my critics were right. I’d gotten to the point where I was just playing versions of myself, you know?”
My face warmed as I nodded. “I’m familiar with the feeling.”
About the Author
Meredith Spies (they/them/theirs) is a queer, nonbinary author who lives far away and writes queer-centered stories with romance in them and queer romances with stories in them. They believe that pineapple goes on pizza, that there’s no reason for open toed boots, and everyone deserves a happily ever after.
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