This delightful series focuses on the humorous mystery and romantic adventures of the kind folks who live in the environs of a small village nestled on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. Along the way in the series, silkie chickens, a giant prehistoric beaver skeleton, a kidnapped reindeer, and other flora and fauna contribute to the amusing mischief and mayhem.
When grocery store owner Margie Mueller’s fiancé–chef Tony Farina–sends her a “fertility rug” to stand on at their wedding, she panics. Margie’s no spring chicken and she’s not about to hatch a big brood for the Farinas. Before she can call off the wedding, the Farina clan invades Moonstone for partying and interference in the wedding preparations. But Margie doesn’t mind–behind the scenes she’s got a murder to solve. A dead man has shown up wrapped in the fertility rug. And it looks like her fiancé may know more about it than he’s letting on.
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Margie Mueller’s life was about to crash like two logging trucks that missed the elbow-shaped curve outside of Moonstone in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. She had to tell Tony Farina their wedding was off. Her heart stung from the surprise gift he’d had delivered to her trailer that steamy, August morning.
By late that Thursday afternoon, she couldn’t eat, unusual for Margie. Her four girlfriends taste-tested wedding reception food in the Jingle Bell Inn restaurant, a restored dining room of the mansion dubbed the North Pole. For a moment they were distracted from the savory cheddar cheese-topped potatoes by the view out the large windows. Two bare-chested, bronzed men pounded with hammers under the sun. They were finishing the deck surrounding the new, four-season glass room. It had a breathtaking view of Lake Superior.
Even Chef Kirsten Van Brocklin paused in her hurry back and forth between their usual corner table and the kitchen. “It’s just not fair that we’re already married.”
“But,” said petite Lily Bauer, the bank teller, who fingered her pearl necklace, “we can look at the menu as long as we don’t order. Now’s your last chance, Margie, to catch a little nooky with Dustin and Casey before you get married.”
Margie’s gaze skated over the carpenters to the lake. Slanting sunlight painted the crests of rolling waves pink–Margie’s favorite color. But Margie was not feeling “in the pink”. Margie felt blue, nervous about every aspect of her life right now, embarrassed.
She picked at the cranberry-and-rice-stuffed pork chops in a sauce made with pear wine from a nearby Bayfield winery. She poked at her favorite salad–strawberry gelatin with pink marshmallows folded in. This salad had been shaped like a fish in an aluminum mold. Strawberry slices created the fish’s scales. The pink marshmallow eyes seemed to taunt Margie about Tony’s betrayal.
Jeri Kaminski, a leggy, sinewy blonde who drove a school bus, plunked down her fork. “What’s wrong? This frothy fish fluff is gonna impress the heck out of Tony’s relatives.”
The women chattered about Margie’s brilliant idea of using retro aluminum molds in wildlife shapes for the wedding fare.
Margie tried to make her announcement. “Tony and I are like Jack Sprat who could eat no fat and his wife who could eat no lean. We’re ridiculous together.”
Rita Johnson, who ran the post office, raised a forkful of gelatin in toast. “Tony says you’re voluptuous, his Sophia Loren.”
Lily said, “He loves curves, Margie. Maybe it has something to do with him being a chef on a boat, riding all those swells and swales and shallows and shoals.”
The women glanced from Lily fingering the pearls around her skinny neck to the men outdoors. Margie would need three times the pearls for her own neck. She would hang herself with them. That would be better than confronting Tony about that morning’s delivery.
“Tony is sexier than both those guys combined,” Jeri said. “And you’re just as sexy. It was your 42-Ds and that bikini trick we pulled that lured Tony in the first place.”
A year ago, after they discovered the men lied about fishing and had started taking nightly cruises on a party boat featuring topless waitresses, the friends hatched the plan to wear almost nothing to their jobs. Tony, the boat’s chef, shopped at Margie’s IGA grocery and fell in love with her sexy curves on display in a bikini at the checkout counter.
Margie had tried hard to make the relationship work. She dyed her mousey, graying hair to auburn and grew it shoulder length. “Tony’s family will know I’m trying to snag him out of desperation before I hit my big Five-O.”
The gamine Felicity scoffed, her dark eyes and cap of black hair sleek with youth. “Look at Henri and me, over fifty years apart in age. Fifty is a lucky number. We even had a baby.” The former nun had married eighty-some Henri LeBarron, the town’s Santa Claus and owner of the North Pole mansion. “It’ll work out.”
Margie choked into her napkin. “But Tony deserves babies. He’s just not thinking clearly about my age.”
Jeri asked, “Babies? Tony’s what? Fifty-something?”
“Forty-nine. A few months younger than I am,” Margie said. “He needs a younger wife.”
Felicity said, “Whatever for? A brood mare? What’s really bothering you?”
“I bring nothing to that family. I’m a Lutheran German who likes sauerkraut, church pancake suppers, and Jell-o.” She honked into her napkin. “My family consists of a loud-mouth, farmer brother I haven’t seen in years. I’ll end up being the Farina’s ‘funny’ aunt.”
Lily said, “You’re suffering from cold feet.” She handed her pearls over. “Something borrowed, for your wedding.”
“They won’t fit.”
Jeri said, “Rita’s husband sells extensions over at the hardware store.”
Rita nodded, her mouth full of another Margie favorite: a bacon-wrapped mushroom that had been simmered in beer, stuffed with local wild rice and goat cheese, then browned. “Yummy. Don’t change a thing. And don’t change a thing about you, Margie. His family will love you. When are they coming, by the way?”
Margie groaned. “In a couple of days.” They’d arrive on Saturday, in time for Sunday’s bridal shower and Tony’s bachelor party, then stay a week until the wedding the following Saturday. Margie had to cancel the wedding before they got on airplanes.
Kirsten showed up with the wedding cake sample, chocolate with pink marshmallow frosting whipped to look like the lake’s waves. “This’ll be in tiers with chocolate bears on top dressed like a bride and groom. Tell me, Margie, if it’s sweet enough to please Tony’s mom.”
Margie’s eyes burned with tears. Tony adored his mother. He emailed her every day.
Lily dug into the pink fluff. “Where are all those relatives from Italy staying? How many are coming?”
Pent-up anxiety gave way. Margie bawled into her napkin. “I can’t marry Tony.”
Kirsten put a hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, honey?”
“He wants children. He’s changed his mind. Our dream was to have him find jobs on cruise ships and we’d travel the world. But he lied.”
Lily licked frosting off her finger. “When did he say this?”
“He didn’t exactly say it, but he had a fertility rug delivered to me this morning, all the way from Italy.”
“A fertility rug?!” the women screeched. “What’s that?”
“It’s a red rug, woven with birds making nests.”
Kirsten pulled up a chair. “How do you know it’s a big fat hint to have kids?”
“It had a note from Tony’s mom. ‘For good fortune and family, for good luck at your blessed event. Love, Antoinette.’ Felicity, is it some Catholic thing?”
“Priests bless farms for good yields,” Felicity said. “I suppose you can sprinkle holy water on a rug.”
Margie stared at her uneaten cake. “So it’s real. Tony had his mother send a baby-making rug.”
Felicity asked, “How big is this rug?”
“Maybe six by twelve feet.”
“It’s likely one of those things where everybody stands on it and holds hands in a circle while you and Tony kiss.”
“While they chant about babies.” Margie moaned.
Kirsten said, “I think that’s voodoo where they chant.”
Felicity laughed. “Margie, have you talked about this with Father Joe?”
“He’s hard of hearing. I don’t want to shout, ‘We’re calling off the wedding because of a sex rug.'”
Jeri said, “Leave the darn thing rolled up in a corner. Where are they staying, anyway?”
A hot flash whooshed up Margie’s face. “Nowhere. I can’t find hotel rooms for two dozen people. Everything’s booked in Superior and Duluth for a deer hunters’ show.”
Rita said, “So we’ll each take in a couple, and several could stay with Alyssa and John at that big house they’ve been refurbishing.”
“It’s haunted, remember,” Margie choked out. “Tony’s mother believes in the Holy Ghost, not ghosts.”
The women relived how their friend Alyssa Swain discovered true love and ghosts of dead relatives in her house last Halloween. The pleasant recollection made Margie want to evaporate into the woodwork, too.
Rita said, “Have them stay on the tour boat. My husband sells air mattresses.”
Margie said, “It’s booked next week. Tony has to work the lunches.”
“Work?” Kirsten shook her head in disbelief. “He hired an assistant chef who should be able to take over. Cute guy.”
“Giovanni Casale. Tony knew his family in Chicago. But Gio just graduated from tech school. Tony says he needs a lot of training yet.”
Lily said, “Surely Tony’s not spending all his time with Gio. That’s not why you’re upset, is it?”
Margie blinked back tears. “Tony comes over to my trailer regularly, despite Herman.”
Lily gasped. “Herman doesn’t watch, does he?”
Herman was Margie’s Saint Bernard dog. “Of course not. But he barks when we’re on the floor kissing or whatever. I think he thinks we’re moaning in pain.” She burned with embarrassment. “Tony likes to use the whole house…”
Jeri asked, “You have sex in a different room every night?”
“But it’s only a trailer. Only two rooms–main open living area and the bedroom. Tony’s getting bored. He must be or he wouldn’t have okayed the fertility rug.”
Felicity slapped the table. “Let’s switch. You and the Farinas move in here in the mansion, and Henri and I will take your trailer for a week. Tony will have three stories of rooms for sex plus the wine cellar.”
Margie’s heart pounded like a dryer with a shoe in it. “But what about all your antiques? What if the Steuben glass collection gets broken or the tables get scratched?”
Lily cooed, “I’ll keep the Steubens. That leaping glass fish is phallic. It’ll put my husband in the mood.”
Jeri said, “Dibs on the red Chinese vase. Hubby becomes a bull around red.”
“Whoa.” Felicity held up a hand. “Margie needs to impress his family.”
“But it’s not my house.”
“But your idea,” Felicity said. “Have Tony tell them he rented it at your suggestion.”
Kirsten clapped. “Live rich. And you have a built-in chef–me.”
Jeri said, “I’ll come by in my school bus to take the relatives out to Tootsie Winters’ farm to see her lavender silkie chickens.”
Tootsie’s husband, Bob, used to run Moonstone. The former mayor now managed the tour boat that Tony worked on.
Margie’s stomach tightened. “Thanks, but–“
Felicity smiled. “It’s done. A perfect solution.”
A perfect disaster, Margie thought.