There was nothing quite like autumn in New York City, when the leaves started to change color, and the fall air breezed in as crisp and sweet as a juicy new apple. Walking to work along Columbus Avenue, Mart was especially appreciative of the late September day. He stopped in front of a quaint little shop nestled between Harvey’s Deli and The West Side Bake Shoppe, a perfect location if there ever was one. He swung the door open. As a bell tinkled overhead, he inhaled the heady combination of scents and sights: worn Oriental carpets covering polished wood floors that creaked just a little when you walked on them; framed vintage prints of “Rebecca”, “The Thin Man”, and “Death on the Nile”; and glass display cases containing the precious mystery artifacts he and his sister had collected from the time they were teenagers. Some of these were from the adventures he, Brian and Diana had blindly followed Trixie into over the years and some picked up from their travels and jaunts. Most importantly, there were books, glorious books, everywhere you looked; all shapes and sizes and colors, lined up on shelves with titles that covered every mystery genre and time period from Edgar Allan Poe to Dorothy L. Sayers to the Bobbsey Twins to Elizabeth Peters. Mart breathed in the scents of mustiness, lemon polish, and ink that were almost as fragrant to him as the jelly doughnuts and roast beef cooking in the adjacent shops. This was Sleuth, his very own mystery book store.

As always, when he viewed anew the wonderful legacy his Uncle Andrew had bequeathed to him, Mart let out a happy sigh and smiled to himself. But this particular morning, he found he couldn’t quite stop smiling as he flipped the hanging white sign from Closed to Open, tossed his jacket onto the coat tree next to the door, and stepped around the counter to drop his satchel on the floor next to the register stool. Straightening, he stopped short as he was greeted by the inquisitive blue eyes of his younger brother and part-time assistant, Bobby, who leaned against the counter studying him.

“What are you so happy about?” Bobby asked.

“You prefer to be unhappy?” Mart countered. “It’s a splendiferous September morning, and I have an excellent establishment that I enjoy administering.”

Bobby eyed Mart intently for a few seconds. “It’s more than that,” he insisted. He shook his head, trying to figure it out before asking bluntly, “Are you in love?”

“No!” Mart objected before the words sunk in. “I mean, of course I’m in love with the lovely Diana,” he backtracked quickly. “We’re practically living together now.”

Unfortunately, Bobby was in bloodhound mode, and like himself and his sister Trixie, wasn’t about to be derailed from an interesting scent when it crossed his path. He just stood in front of Mart, raising his eyebrows and letting his older brother know that he wasn’t falling for any of the bluster Mart was trying to hand him.

Why do all the blue-eyed members of my family have to be every bit as nosy as I am? Mart groused to himself before finally giving in. He leaned forward and asked, “Is infidelity possible through e-mail?”

Bobby’s eyes widened as he pondered the question. “I don’t know,” he mused. “Did you have cybersex?”

“What? No!” Mart practically shouted his response. “I don’t even know what that is.” As Bobby opened his mouth to respond, Mart held up a restraining hand. “And I definitely don’t want you to tell me!”

The view from the thirtieth floor of the skyscraper that housed the offices of Wheeler International was one of the most magnificent in New York City, but the skyline and Hudson River below it might as well have been invisible as far as the three executives engrossed in the meeting within were concerned.

“How’s the new store over in the West End coming along, Honey?” Matthew Wheeler asked.

“It’s going well, Dad,” his daughter answered, handing him a sheaf of papers, “but you really should ask Ben. It’s his project, remember?”

The red-haired executive took off his reading glasses to study his daughter with questioning green eyes. Honey nodded. “You handed it to him yourself before you left for Europe last month.” She was sure her father remembered it very well, as they had had a long discussion about giving Ben more responsibility, and he had only reluctantly assented to the plan, mostly to placate Honey and her mother.

Matthew thought for a moment and finally waved his glasses in agreement. “That’s fine. He’s in charge of getting the store up and running, but when we opened Madeleine Discount Books, I put the entire chain under your direction, and I particularly want you overseeing the opening of that store to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

“How can Ben be in charge if I’m overseeing everything?” Honey asked her father with a slight shake of her head.

Honey’s elderly grandmother, sitting in front of Matthew’s desk in a wheelchair, opened her mouth to respond, but Matthew held up a hand.

“He’s in charge in name, yes,” Matthew verified, “and I trust him to a certain degree, but your cousin doesn’t have your experience, Madeleine, or for that matter, your business acumen. Let Ben take the lead, but you be there to…” He paused as if searching for the right word, “…guide him, if necessary.”

Honey nodded, in apparent agreement with her father’s words, although the troubled look in her hazel eyes belied that agreement, and she walked over to the adjacent seating area, trying to get comfortable in one of the new, unusually-shaped armchairs while her father studied the figures she had given him. “This fabric is certainly different,” she commented, “although it’s nice and soft. What is it? Angora?”

“Mohair, I think,” her father answered absently. “One of your mother’s new decorating forays.”

Honey’s smile was wry. “What do you think, Dad?”

“Hmm, about the décor?

“No, the store. Do you foresee any problems?”

“Not really,” Matthew decided. “Not much competition in that area, is there?”

“No.” Honey shook her head. “Just a children’s bookstore around the corner and a mystery book shop across the street. Sleuth, I think it’s called. Apparently, it’s been there for years and has enjoyed some success.”

“Yes, I see that here,” her father replied, indicating a page on the report he was holding. “It says here it’s been owned by the same family for several decades.”

Honey nodded. “The proprietor’s name is Martin Belden, but I think it was started by his uncle.”

“I wonder if that was Andrew Belden?” Honey’s grandmother, who had seemed to be dozing off in her wheelchair a few minutes previously, suddenly became animated.

Matthew Wheeler raised his eyebrows. “Someone you know, Mother?’’ he asked.

“I knew an Andrew Belden back in the day,” the henna-haired, older woman responded. “He was a little younger than me, of course, but he was quite… captivating.” She sighed at the memory. “He was in the war, and we used to write letters back and forth.”

“Real letters, with stamps and envelopes?” Honey teased her grandmother.

“Yes, real letters, none of this e-texting or tweetering or whatever you call it now.”

Honey and her father exchanged an amused glance. “What happened when he came back from the war?” Honey asked, curious.

“He took me to dinner a couple of times…and we went dancing afterward.” Ruth Wheeler sighed, a faraway look in green eyes that were faded with time, but still didn’t miss much.

Matthew leaned down to ask, “And where was Dad when all this was going on?”

“Best not to ask those questions, sweetie,” Ruth answered, reaching up to pat his cheek.

Matthew, frowning, went back to studying the documents Honey had given him. “I can’t see that either of those stores will be any competition.”

“No doubt we’ll trample them underfoot,” Ruth declared with obvious enjoyment.

“No doubt,” Matthew agreed, “but it couldn’t hurt for you and Ben to stop by and check them out, Honey. It would give you a sense of the neighborhood and what would work well in our new store.”

“Yes, and we may be able to procure some rare books for our collection, if we have a foot in the door when they go out of business,” Honey added, getting up from the somewhat uncomfortable armchair. “Great!” she lamented. “Look at this! I have mohair all over my new suit!”

Matthew grinned and, going around his desk, he took a clothes brush from the top drawer. “I’ve found this useful lately,” he said, tossing it to his daughter. “Honey,” he continued as she began to brush her suit, “be nice to the natives when you and Ben visit those bookstores. We wouldn’t want to alienate people in our new neighborhood.” His green eyes smiled as he added, “And after all, your grandmother appears to have a connection with the Belden family.”

“Andrew Belden,” his mother confirmed with a knowing nod. “Quite captivating!”

“Doesn’t this weather just make you want to buy school supplies?” Honey asked, slipping her hand into the crook of her cousin’s arm and smiling up at him as they walked around the corner from the children’s bookstore, Eight Cousins, on 73rd Street toward Columbus Avenue and the mystery book shop, Sleuth.

“Uh, no,” Ben replied in an amused tone. “Even when I was young and going to school, I didn’t enjoy shopping for school supplies.”

“You’re no fun,” Honey chided.   “Just think. Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils!” she rhapsodized.

“Um, ouch,” Ben responded with a grimace. “Who uses pencils anymore, anyway? Computers and calculators are much more accurate, and they don’t need sharpening or give you lead poisoning.”

Honey sighed deeply. Ben stopped walking to study his cousin, a question in his hazel eyes. “What’s all this about?” he asked. “I mean, bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils? Who says stuff like that?”

“Someone more poetic than you, obviously,” Honey said, refraining from rolling her eyes.

“Obviously,” Ben agreed, his tone wry. “Who is this guy, anyway?”

“No one you know.”

Ben raised his eyebrows. “Not Peter?”

“No, not Peter,” Honey admitted, her voice faltering a little as she guiltily considered Peter Kimball, her live-in lover. “For all Peter’s gifts, he really doesn’t have much of a romantic streak.”

Ben nodded in approval. “Let’s face it, Honey, romance went out with the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.”

“Now see, that’s just wrong,” Honey argued. “There’s still plenty of romance alive and well in the twentieth century!”

“Even in New York City?” Ben quipped.

“Yes, even in New York City.”

“Well, if this isn’t about Peter, then who is it about? I thought the two of you were all hot and heavy.”

Honey bit her lip, hesitating, before answering, “We are…it’s just that…oh, I don’t know. I met this guy, and he has such a poetic way of saying things, and I just love conversing with him. There’s just such a spark in the conversations we have that I find…refreshing.”

Ben shook his head indulgently. “Where did you meet him?” he asked, his tone amused.

Honey hesitated once again, and her cousin leaned toward her, obviously curious. “If you must know, we met in a chat room.” She closed her eyes in embarrassment. “I wandered in there as a joke on my last birthday, and he was there, and now we email back and forth.”    She shook her head as if to dispel her daydreams. “So it’s really nothing,” she said, lifting her chin, and turning again in the direction of the mystery book shop. “Just a little harmless diversion.”

“Uh-huh.” Ben looked as though he wanted to argue, but instead he turned with Honey and continued walking, changing the subject as he did so. “You know, Honey, you don’t really have to come with me to the bookstore. I think I can handle that assignment on my own.”

Honey repressed a sigh. “I know you can, but I’d like to check out their rare books to see if there’s anything we might want to buy for the store or for our private collection.” Matthew Wheeler had been collecting books for years, and Honey had continued the tradition begun by her father, although she had branched more into children’s books and mysteries.

“Nice try, Honey,” Ben shot back. “I appreciate your tact and all, but I don’t think you’d make a very good poker player. You have better things to do on a Saturday morning, and I doubt you’d even be here if Uncle Matt hadn’t requested it.”

Honey pressed her lips together in indecision. She wasn’t sure how much of the conversation with her father she could reveal to Ben without hurting her cousin’s feelings.

“He put you in charge of the project, didn’t he?” Ben hazarded.

“Well, not exactly,” Honey hedged, a troubled expression in her hazel eyes.

“But I’m in charge in name only, right?” Ben persisted. “Kind of an honorary thing?”

“Well, he didn’t go that far,” Honey answered. “He just wants me to keep a finger in the pie, so to speak.”

“He just can’t back away from any pie without having a Wheeler’s thumbprint squarely in the middle of the top crust,” Ben groused. “I have my MBA, and I’ve been with the company for over five years now. When is he going to trust me?”

“He trusts you…” Honey began, but Ben interrupted.

“He’ll never let me get past the kid who put salt in the sugar bowls at Grandma’s hunt breakfast and dropped Aunt Maddie’s new necklace into the fireplace one Christmas when I was about three. Those things happened when I was little.”

“How about when you used to call and ask if it was Man or House?” Honey asked in an attempt to distract him. “You were a little older then.” When her cousin didn’t return her smile, she said, “Honestly, I don’t think it’s any of those things, Ben. I think it’s just that five years isn’t all that long in the business world. I kind of learned at Daddy’s knee from the time I left boarding school when I was thirteen. He’s always had an issue with delegating, even with me, and he’s not taking the project away from you; he just asked me to keep an eye on things, as head of Madeleine Books.”

Ben nodded reluctantly.

“And I trust you,” Honey continued. “Let’s just get this visit over with. After this, you can continue to get the store up and running. As long as you keep me posted on everything, I’ll just stay in the background and act as a consultant, if and when you need me.”

“Thanks, Honey.” Ben smiled and leaned down to give his cousin an affectionate peck on the cheek as they came to a stop in front of the little book store. “Hey, how about lunch at Harvey’s Deli when we’re through? I hear they have great pastrami on rye.”

“Pastrami it is,” Honey agreed, pausing as the shop’s Halloween-themed front window caught her eye. She took a moment to absorb the display. Propped up on blocks so that it hovered over the back of the arrangement was a large, undoubtedly haunted, mansion, its windows glowing orange from within as if by candlelight. Set below it were figures of witches, goblins and vampires interspersed with books propped open invitingly, their titles clearly visible. Among the titles were The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, The Trick or Treat Murder, Hallowe’en Party, Death of a Neighborhood Witch and several others. Along the top, a string of twinkle lights with little ghosts hung over it completed the scene

“How adorable!” Honey exclaimed. “And look, they even have The Message in the Mysterious Mailbox, the new Lucy Radcliffe book!”

Ben studied the panorama in front of him with a critic’s eye. “Doesn’t that witch look a lot like Samantha from Bewitched?”

“You’re right,” Honey agreed, “and look at that one. She’s the spitting image of Endora. How clever!”

Ben nodded, his attention distracted by a large sandwich board set to the right of the door. “Special Guests at Sleuth today,” he read, “Marvin Appleton and Clarence, his dummy.”

“Who’s Marvin Appleton?” Honey questioned.

“More importantly, who is Clarence and why is he a dummy?” Ben shot back as he reached for the door handle. “Let’s go find out.”

Stepping inside, they were greeted by a man about their age with close-cut blond hair and a ready smile. “Did you come to see Marvin Appleton?” he greeted them.   Seeing the confusion in their eyes, he added, “Apparently not. Feel free to browse, and let me know if I can do anything to help you.”

“Who is Marvin Appleton?” Honey asked.

The young man gestured to a circular area set in the back of the store where a group of preteen girls and boys were gathered around a sandy-haired older man, who had a mannequin figure dressed up as Frankenstein propped in a chair next to him.

“He ghostwrites the Cosmo McNaught series.”

“Cosmo McNaught ?” Ben enthused. “I loved those science fiction mysteries when I was younger!”   He moved quickly to the edge of the circle, where Mr. Appleton was telling his audience how he used Clarence, his dummy, to try out physical scenes from his stories.

Honey grimaced. She had no interest in a science fiction version of the Hardy Boys. “I guess I’ll look around.”

“He also writes the Lucy Radcliffe books,” the clerk said.

“Really?” Honey turned to take another look at the author and his ‘assistant’. “I never would have guessed!”

“That’s what my sister said, too, when she first met him,” the clerk said with a grin. “She loved those books when she was younger.” He leaned toward Honey and stage-whispered, “And don’t tell anyone, but she still reads them even now.”

“I do, too,” Honey confessed with a giggle and just the barest flutter of her eyelashes, “but please keep that information to yourself.”

He crossed his heart. “It’ll be our secret,” he promised solemnly, although there was a definitely a hint of a smile in his lively blue eyes. “Can I interest you in the latest title?”

“I saw it in the window,” Honey said with a nod. “Yes, that would be great.”

“At your service!” He reached under the counter and produced a copy.

Ben chose that moment to return to the register area. “Why are you buying that?” he asked Honey with a quizzical look. “You can get all the books anytime since your family o….”

Honey stepped squarely on his toe, effectively cutting him off in midsentence. “My father likes to get me books,” she admitted, “but sometimes, I buy my own, too. He doesn’t need to know that I still read Lucy Radcliffe mysteries,” she said with a sweet smile.

“I didn’t really need to know that, either,” Ben joked.

Honey threw Ben a quick glare before smiling again at the clerk. “Are you the owner of this delightful shop?” she asked.

“Mart Belden, Proprietor.” Mart took Honey’s hand, and she felt a slight blush creeping up on her cheeks at his touch. She was both relieved and disappointed when he turned to shake hands with Ben.

“I’m Ben Riker, and this is my cousin Mad-” Ben stopped midsentence as Honey’s foot again crushed his toes. He manfully swallowed a curse as his cousin introduced herself.

“I’m Honey.”

“Honey?” Mart’s eyebrows raised in a silent question, but he politely refrained from comment.

Honey giggled nervously. “I guess it’s a bit unusual for a nickname, but my family and friends have called me Honey since I was a little girl.”

“Then I’d be honored to call you Honey,” Mart told her. His blue eyes studied the young woman in front of him, and fifth grade vocabulary words started spiraling through his head. Stunning. Enchanting. Beguiling. Lovely. Sweet. Undeniably sweet. He shook his head, finally remembering what he was supposed to be responding to. “Honey,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too much like an idiot. “It suits you.” He cleared his throat and motioned toward the Lucy Radcliffe book. “Will this be all or would you like to take a look around?”

“I think we’d like to browse for a bit,” Honey answered.

Mart nodded. “Let me know if I can help you in any way.” Honey thanked him, and he stood for a moment, torn between trailing the beautiful woman around the store, offering his help and stimulating conversation, or being a good host to the author speaking to the group of preteens.  Ultimately, his conscience won out. “Curse Marvin Appleton and his damn dummy, anyway!” he muttered under his breath as he made his way to the back of the store.

Ben browsed through the shelves, taking note of first editions and a rather specialized collection of books. We won’t have any trouble closing this place down, he ruminated. After just a month or so of our low prices and our cappuccino, we’ll have their customers wrapped around our little fingers.

“Is there anything I can help you with?”

Ben jumped as a younger, lankier version of the store’s owner appeared beside him. “You have to be related to Mart.”

“I’m his younger brother, Bobby.”

“Well, Bobby, I was considering this first edition of Cosmo McNaught’s Journey to the Crab Nebula.”

“Isn’t it a perfect copy?” Bobby asked enthusiastically, taking the book and gently flipping through it. He held out the page for Ben to see. “The illustrations are hand-tipped,” he pointed out, “which is why it…”

“Costs so much?” Ben interrupted.

“Why it’s worth so much,” Bobby corrected, closing the book with a frown. “What are those other two books you have?”

“Oh, these?” Ben looked slightly embarrassed as he indicated the volumes he was holding: We’ll Always Have Parrots: A Meg Lanslow Mystery and The Black Squirrel Ball: A Samantha Cummings Mystery. “Just a couple of mysteries. Why?”

“No reason,” Bobby said. “Unusual choices, don’t you think?”

“They’re for a project I’m doing,” Ben said, an annoyed look crossing his face. He took the Cosmo McNaughton book back from Bobby. “I think I’ll just go pay for these.”

“Sorry,” Bobby apologized as he followed Ben toward the counter. “I guess something about the combination of parrots and squirrels seemed kind of funny.”

Mart returned to the register just as Honey approached with several books in her arms. “Did you find everything you wanted?” he asked as he took the volumes from her and set them on the counter.

Honey nodded her thanks. “Did you get the kids settled with Mr. Appleton?”

“Yes, they’re all busy with cider and doughnuts for the time being,” he said with a grin. “Er, would you like some?”

“No, thank you, my cousin and I are going to have lunch at Harvey’s after we’re finished here.”

“Good choice,” Mart commented. “Great pastrami!”

Honey laughed. “That’s what Ben says, too.

“Ben?” Mart, watching her, was slightly distracted as her hazel eyes lit up in myriad shades of gold and green as she laughed.

“My cousin,” Honey reminded him. “He’s around here somewhere.”

“Oh, right,” Mart replied, hoping Ben wouldn’t return to the register anytime soon. Somewhat reluctantly, he left Honey’s side to go around the counter and ring up her purchases.

Honey looked around with a happy sigh. “It’s such a charming little shop,” she commented. “It’s obvious you put a lot of yourself into it.”

Mart nodded, pleased with her praise. “This is why we’re not going under,” he stated. Noticing Honey’s puzzled expression, he explained, “There’s a Madeleine Books discount store going in across the street.” A shadow crossed her lovely eyes, which he took as sympathy for his plight.

“The world is not driven by discounts, believe me,” he found himself saying. “I’ve been in business forever. I started helping my uncle on school vacations when I was just a boy. He also owned a farm in Iowa and a fishing cabin in the Ozarks, but this is where his heart was. I used to watch him when I was little, and it wasn’t that he was just selling books; he was helping people find their dreams and add some excitement to their lives. Mysteries have a way of becoming a part of life -- of adding the spice to it, just like living in New York City does.” He stopped himself with a wry smile. “I think I’ve gotten carried away.”

“Yes, you have,” Honey agreed, a dreamy look in her hazel eyes, “and you’ve made me feel…” She paused as if not sure how to finish the sentence. Her eyes lit on a picture behind the counter of a young boy, obviously Mart, next to an older man with dark hair but the same irresistible blue eyes as the man in front of her. Two collie dogs frolicked in front of them. “Is that your uncle?”

Mart nodded.

“He looks quite dashing and…captivating.”

“He was,” Mart affirmed, his voice husky. “He left the store to me, and I’m going to leave it to my son.”

“How old is your son now?”

“Oh, I’m not married yet,” Mart admitted with a sheepish grin, “but someday. Eventually.” He looked up as Bobby and Ben approached the counter. “Which is why Madeleine Books can…” Mart locked eyes with his younger brother as they finished the sentence together, “…go to hell!”

Author’s Notes

I’d like to give a big round of thanks to my three editors: Susan, Kellykath, and Motown girl. Their help made the story so much better than it was originally. Thank you! Thanks also go to Susan, Dana, and Misty for coming up with this challenge. I’ve really enjoyed reading all the stories and trying to guess all the movies, and although it feels a bit like cheating to have the plot and the characters ready-made, it definitely inspired me to write, so that’s definitely a good thing (in my mind, anyway)!

I apologize for taking such liberties with the dialog and scenes presented.   My characters never do what I tell them to. *sigh* I give them lines and they just make up their own instead. I just have no control over them at all! LOL.

Harvey’s Deli is especially for Vivian. When I was thinking of a name for the deli, Harvey just sprung to mind. He’s a very likeable character in her “What I believe in” universe,” and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do! And thank you once again, Vivian, for giving me such a lovely home for my stories!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2013 by MaryC. Images copyrighted and used with permission. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2013.

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