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By Book or by Crook: A Mackenzie Quinn Short Mystery (Direct Exclusive)

By Book or by Crook: A Mackenzie Quinn Short Mystery (Direct Exclusive)

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A killer job interview takes a plot twist...

A nice, quiet job at the local bookstore. Seems like just the thing to help Zee blend in after her unplanned return to her childhood hometown of Ashwood, Ontario.

...Until the interview turns into a strange, new case that flips everything upside down, and risks exposing a long-held secret. (Looks like someone should have included ‘trouble magnet’ on her résumé...)

Join Zee (only her mother calls her ‘Mackenzie’) on one of her earlier adventures in this fun story from the Mackenzie Quinn Canadian cozy mystery series.

(This adventure takes place before the first novel in the Mackenzie Quinn series, The Author of His Demise.)

Exclusively available direct from Jacquelyn’s store.

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I hate job interviews. No matter how much experience you have or how old you get, they always feel awkward. Will they ask any of those weird, seemingly unrelated questions about my favourite animal or colour in an effort to psychoanalyze me? (The answers being cats and green respectively.) Will it be a group interview? (Group interviews are the worst.) And just how enthusiastic and ambitious am I expected to be? (It’s almost always more than you think it realistically should be.)

I managed to dodge this very situation quite successfully for most of my life. I had spent roughly the past fifteen years working in Toronto as a teaching assistant in a university creative writing department. Both my parents had been freelance workers before they had retired. During my teenage years, I had helped my mother with admin work while she did the income taxes and accounting for various companies and individuals around my hometown of Ashwood, or swung a sledgehammer with my dad when he was working a renovation job. I’d also taught piano lessons to several of the local kids, whose parents didn’t want to take them to any of the teachers out of town (who usually charged twice as much).

And after all that, here I was, kicked out of the university (unfairly, I might add), and back in my sleepy hometown, looking for employment.

I did my best not to fidget in my seat and took a dainty sip of my McDonald’s smoothie. (Mango pineapple, no yogurt—my one true vice.) I resisted the urge to drink the entire tangy beverage down, which would only end up turning my sip into an undignified, rattling slurp. I placed the sweating plastic cup down on the coffee table beside me and adjusted the hem of my green blouse. I didn’t even bother to run my fingers through my hair. (Even though my strawberry blond curls only reached my chin, they always did what they wanted anyway.)

I would have been far more comfortable in a T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and my favourite emerald green hoodie, but after years of working at the university, I could do the business-casual thing when I needed to. (Aside from the large, grey satchel that hung from my shoulder, which I never went anywhere without.)

I leaned back into the comfortable embrace of the worn, squashy armchair that stood in the lounge area at the back of the Reader’s Respite. The bookstore had already closed for the day, and seemed eerily quiet without the soft notes of classical and jazz that usually played over the store’s sound system. I inhaled the familiar scent of aged paper, tinged with something else that nagged at my memory.

Barry Horton (no relation to Tim) sat across from me, his curly, white head bowed over my résumé. Even though his burgundy chair was a match for mine, his seemed smaller—probably because he filled it out more. He wasn’t an overly tall man, but he was a sizable one. His barrel chest and rounded stomach strained against the front of his blue button-down shirt.

He looked up at me, the lenses of his reading glasses flashing under the overhead lights. The sky outside the large window behind me had already grown dark, making the interior of the store seem brighter by comparison. Barry scratched at his bearded jaw.

“You’re a bit over-qualified,” he said, sounding dubious.

He had no idea. Besides my experience at the university, I was also a mystery writer, with an ongoing series of novels published under a secret pen name—more book-related experience than you might expect from someone looking for a basic retail job…

I gave him a self-deprecating smile, unleashing the power of my dimples on him.

“That’s not a bad thing, is it? I’m looking for something to help pay the bills now that I’ve moved back into town. I figured the Respite would be a good fit, given my background…”

Barry pursed his lips. “Well, you’re a far cry from the kids I usually get applying here. And I need someone I can trust. I’m not getting any younger… I would like to start taking a few things off my plate—taking inventory, organizing the daily deposits, that sort of thing. Are you up for that?”

I nodded. “Absolutely.”

I was confident I could learn whatever I needed to on the fly. Besides, having a boss who was hands off was perfectly fine with me. At the age of forty, I was more than capable of working unsupervised. (And I needed some kind of job to cover for the fact I was already earning a comfortable living from my writing income…)

Barry shook his head, as if to himself. “I wish I knew what happened to my last employee… He stopped showing up for work three days ago.”

My brow furrowed. “You haven’t been able to get a hold of him?”

Barry’s broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. “No. And tracking him down really shouldn’t be a problem, given that he’s renting an apartment from me upstairs. I poked around in there when he didn’t come in for his shift the other day, but couldn’t find any sign of him. Didn’t answer his phone, either. And he never misses work.”

A strange sense of foreboding fell over me. “Did it look like he had packed a bag or anything?”

Barry shook his head. “As far as I could tell, all his things were still there. And it’s not like he has family or friends in town. He only showed up in Ashwood a couple of months ago.”

I toyed with the straw of my drink. It was probably nothing to worry about. Yes, it was weird, but there was probably a perfectly rational explanation. I tamped down on my over-active imagination, which was already providing a list of possible scenarios. (Had Barry’s employee been abducted? Was he forced to go on the run for some crime he had committed before arriving here in Ashwood? Was he an undercover agent of some sort?)

Despite my best efforts to ignore my swirling thoughts, something more concrete caught my attention, forming a connection with a recent memory. I looked to Barry with a heavy feeling of dread.

“What is it?” he asked.

I wrinkled my nose. “What’s that smell?”

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