BY: CAROLE PRICE
Cait Pepper, owner of the Bening Estate vineyards, and navy SEAL Royal Tanner return to help friends who recently acquired a vineyard in Livermore, California. Sadie, an Amish girl, and her husband, Luke Sloane, are excited about their new adventure of owning their own vineyard until agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency knock on their door. When Luke bought the property, he neglected to check the previous owners’ background and didn’t know about their drug connections. Desperate to save her friends from danger and embarrassment, Cait is torn between helping the Sloanes or the actors in her Shakespeare Festival. Will Cait’s cop skills be enough to save the Sloanes from the drug dealer—and the DEA—while avoiding another tragedy that could put her Shakespeare Festival in peril?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Vineyard Prey by Carole Price, Cait Pepper is the owner of a California vineyard, which she inherited from her aunt, and where she holds monthly Shakespeare Festivals. She is also a retired cop. When friends and fellow vineyard owners Sadie and Luke Sloane, Cait’s neighbors, start getting mysterious threats, Cait puts her cop skills to use to help them. Thinking the threats were most likely meant for the previous owners, Cait investigates and is appalled at what she finds. There are some bad people out there, looking to get paid what they are owned, and they don’t care which vineyard owners they collect from.
Price is an accomplished author and knows how to craft a story. This one—a cute, clever, and fast-paced cozy mystery—will keep you enthralled all the way through.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Vineyard Prey by Carole Price is the third in this talented author’s Shakespeare in the Vineyard Mystery series. Our heroine, Cait Pepper and her navy SEAL boyfriend RT, become entangled in the criminal underworld when they try to help Cait’s neighbors, new vineyard owners Luke and Sadie, because strange things are happening on their property, and they are being threatened. In addition to helping investigate what is going on at the neighboring vineyard, Cait is also trying to keep up her aunt’s practice of holding Shakespeare plays in theaters on her property. But as the bodies pile up, Cait finds she has stumbled into a little more than she bargained for when she set out to help Luke and Sadie.
Told in an informal and interesting voice, and filled with enchanting characters, an intriguing mystery, and plenty of fast-paced action, Vineyard Prey held my interest from the first page to the last.
Under a blazing morning sun, Cait Pepper stood on a bluff overlooking the Livermore valley in northern California. She watched Royal Tanner duck to avoid a low tree branch as he advanced toward her. She was impressed that, at forty-one, tall and lean, with black hair and intense blue eyes, he’d kept himself in such fine shape. Cait wanted to reach out, take his hand and ask what he was thinking when he looked at her with that half smile, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. Instead, she turned her camera toward the valley floor as she thought how her life had changed so drastically in three short months.
She felt his warm hand, strong and familiar, close on her shoulder. “Did you know Brushy Peak is regarded as sacred ground by generations of indigenous Californians?” RT asked. “It lies at the center of a network of ancient trade routes. Many tribes called this place home–Ohlones, Miwoks, and Yokuts.”
She glanced up at him. “Aren’t you a fountain of information?”
He held out a folded paper and grinned. “Most park districts offer maps and information. You should carry one.”
“Smart aleck.” A long-time hiker and ex-cop, Cait hadn’t found time lately to enjoy the great outdoors she valued. Until now. Through no fault of her own, she’d lost control of her life when she’d inherited her Aunt Tasha’s Livermore Bening Estate, which included two Shakespearean theaters and a vineyard. Her new responsibilities had left little time to explore her surroundings, but at the urging of her new friend, Ilia Kubiak, a local professional photographer, she’d agreed to join him and RT on a hike up Brushy Peak before the actors arrived in a couple of days for the July Shakespeare festival.
Ilia, who had been stopping periodically along the way to take pictures, jogged into view with Niki, Cait’s chocolate lab, at his heels. His professional camera dangled around his neck. “Hey, Cait. Wasn’t I right when I said this was the perfect place to de-stress?”
Niki bounded up to her, with an expectant wag of his tail. “Yes, you were,” she said. Cait bent down and stroked her dog. “But I can’t linger. There’s a lot to do. The actors will be arriving soon, and I want to be ready when they are. I’m looking forward to meeting them and enjoying another play.” She straightened up, snapped his and RT’s picture before they could object, and then swung her camera around, and zoomed in on the thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape along Interstate 580.
“Ready to head back?” RT asked.
She nodded. “But I’m coming back up here as soon as the festival ends.” She started down the trail ahead of the others. When her footing slipped, she grabbed hold of an old oak branch covered with bright green moss, in time to keep from tumbling off the steep path. As the trio walked single file for a while, they skirted sandstone outcroppings as they approached the parking lot. When they reached RT’s Hummer, Cait pulled her Columbus, Ohio, PD ball cap off, shook out her curly black hair, grabbed a water bottle from her backpack, and drank deeply.
“There are other places we can hike,” Ilia said. “Let me know when you’ve got some more free time.”
“You should take him up on the offer, Cait,” RT said. “You’ve been stuck in your house too long.”
“I will when I can,” she said.
They drove in comfortable silence until Ilia asked, “So Cait, when do the actors arrive?”
“Tomorrow or Friday,” she said. “I expect to see Ray Stoltz tomorrow, if not sooner. He’ll want to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything at the theaters–burned-out light bulbs, exposed wires, empty water bottles, not enough coffee, and anything else he can dream up.”
RT chuckled. “Ray pushes your buttons to see your reaction.”
Ray was a seasoned stage manager. On good days Cait ignored his jesting, but not so much when things turned stressful. The festival ran the first weekend of every month, May through September. This weekend would be Cait’s third festival since she inherited the estate and, hopefully, the easiest.
“I’m sorry the play Royal Family had to be canceled,” Ilia said.
Cait nodded. “Me too. The male lead suddenly took ill.” She took another drink of water. “It did free up the Blackfriars Theater, though, which turns out to be a good thing. I had a call from the Theater Arts Department at Las Positas College. They were looking for extra space to rehearse. According to my aunt’s notes, she encouraged interaction between the college and her festival, giving students of the arts opportunities she never had.”
Tasha, a retired Shakespearean actor, had built the theaters soon after she and her husband bought their house just outside of town.
After their unfortunate deaths, Cait inherited the estate, reluctantly resigned from her law enforcement job in Ohio, and moved to Livermore, California.
The trio returned to the house to find Marcus Singer, Cait’s newly promoted assistant manager, and Sadie Sloane, Cait’s friend from college, who had recently relocated to Livermore, sitting at the kitchen counter.
Sadie, almost as tall as Cait’s five eight, slid off her stool and gave Cait a hug. “I hope I’m not imposing on you by dropping by too often.” Her hair, the color of a new copper penny, sparkled under the fluorescent lights.
Cait assured Sadie she was always welcome. “Where’s Luke?”
Luke, Sadie’s husband, was an investigative reporter for Outside Magazine.
“In Santa Cruz, getting our house ready to sell.”
Cait opened the freezer, took out three chilled glasses, and then filled them from the pitcher of iced tea sitting on the counter. She handed one to Ilia, one to RT, and picked up the third. The icy touch of the glass felt good against her hands. She slid the glass across her forehead, enjoying the sensation on her hot skin. “Sadie, I’m sorry you have to give up the house you love on the coast, but from what I know about the winery business, you’ll be busy twenty-four-seven, and little time will be left for anything else.” She sipped her iced tea.
A frown crossed Sadie’s face. “I suppose.”
Cait set her glass down. “You’re not sorry you bought the winery, are you?”
“No, but–” Sadie reached into her purse, withdrew a folded sheet of paper, and handed it to Cait. “I found this on our property.”
Cait opened the paper. Her heart lurched as she read the note. And then she read it aloud. “‘No cops! Pay up! We’re watching.’” She looked up. “My God, Sadie, this is a threat, or at least a very mean prank. Do you have any idea what it means?”
“No.” she said, her voice near a whisper.
“What does Luke say?”
Sadie shook her head. Her hair fell across her face. “I haven’t told him about the note. I didn’t want to upset him while he was in Santa Cruz.”
Cait blinked in surprise. A dozen questions popped into her head. “Why not? He isn’t in any trouble is he?”
“No! Of course not. I mean–we’ve only been here at the winery three weeks. The note had to be meant for the people who owned the winery before us.”
“Who are they?” RT asked. “Are they still in town? Can you contact them?”
“Pamela and Vince Harper, a brother and sister. I don’t know where they are. They seemed nice, maybe a little eager to sell, but then we were eager to buy. Luke’s always wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps and own a winery. He grew up in the business and knows it well.”
“May I see the note?” RT asked. “Where did you find this?” he said to Sadie, when Cait handed it to him.
“Taped to the winery’s door,” Sadie said. “When Luke left for Santa Cruz, I stayed behind to get the house organized. This morning I noticed the cat food I’d put out last night for Minnie hadn’t been touched and went looking for her. That’s when I saw the note on the door at the winery.”
“When were you there last?” RT asked
“Not since Luke left.”
RT frowned a little. “How long has he been gone?”
“Two days. He should be back tomorrow.”
“And you hadn’t gone to the winery during that time?”
“No. I had no reason to.”
“So the note could have been on the door at least a couple days,” he said. “Are you open for business yet?”
“No. We’ll be advertising our opening in a month or so.”
“Noticed anyone wandering about the property?” Cait asked.
“No, but I’ve stuck pretty close to the house. It’s larger than our house in Santa Cruz and needs some work.”
Cait had only been to the Sloanes’ winery once since Sadie and Luke moved in, even though it was minutes from the Bening Estate by car. She’d never met the previous owners. She looked at Marcus. “Did you know the Harpers?”
Since Marcus was born and raised in Livermore, she thought it was a possibility.
He ran his hand through his blond spiked hair. “Nope. Lots of wineries in Livermore. I prefer beer.”
Cait sighed. “Right.” She then turned back to Sadie. “This note needs to be taken seriously, whether it’s meant for you or for the Harpers. You have to show it to the police.”
Sadie bit her lip, looking nervous. “I’m sure you’re right, but I’d rather wait until Luke’s back.”
“No, Sadie. Call him now,” Cait insisted. “Tell him about the note and say that you’re going to the police. If he argues, tell him I made you. I’m on friendly terms with one of the detectives. I’ll go with you.”
Sadie reached in her purse for her cell phone and hesitated. When Cait crossed her arms and stared at her, Sadie sighed and called her husband. “Luke? When are you coming back?”
While Sadie walked around the kitchen talking to her husband, Cait spoke softly to the others. “I can’t imagine Luke would know what’s behind that note.”
Sadie tucked her cell phone away. “He’s coming back, but agreed I should go to the police now.”
“That’s good, Sadie. You never know what lies behind notes like these. It could be nothing, or it could be something.”
Cait fervently hoped it was the former, for her friend’s sake. Unbidden, the words scratched in block print with a heavy hand on the note rose up in her mind’s eye and sent an unwelcome shiver down her back.
© 2017 by Carole Price
“Price keeps both the romantic heat and the danger from gangsters simmering. As the black SUV keeps appearing, tension rises. There are a few red herrings and enough threats to keep the pages turning. This is Price’s third Shakespeare in the Vineyard Mystery.” ~ Mel Jacob, Gumshoe Review READ FULL REVIEW