Yvonne broke her M&M’s cookie into four pieces, picked up one, and covered the other bits with her napkin. She finished the first piece and reached for the second. Though she’d said she needed to talk to me, she didn’t seem eager to begin the conversation.

Which could only mean there was something she didn’t want to tell me. I considered possibilities. Due to seasonal affective disorder, she never smiled when it was cloudy. Or, thanks to family issues, she’d need to bring—I scanned her face, trying to estimate her age—her daughter to work three times a week. Or, due to a bizarre medical problem, her doctor had said she shouldn’t operate a computer keyboard. Or—

“I was in jail.”

Or she’d been in jail. If I’d had a month, I might have come up with that possibility, but probably not.

“Actually, it was prison.” She gave me a darting glance. “There’s a difference.”

Prison. Yvonne? She didn’t look as if she would swat a mosquito that was poking its pointed nose into her skin. What could she possibly have done to end up in prison?

She pulled out the third piece of cookie. “I was convicted of murder.”

Also by Laura Alden

Murder at the PTA

For Jon, forever and ever.

First off, I want to thank everyone who read my first book, Murder at the PTA. You took a chance on a debut author—always a risky business—and I deeply appreciate your plunge into the world of Rynwood, Wisconsin.

A bottom-of-the-heart thank-you goes to my parents-in-law, Bob and Lois Koch, who have done such a fantastic job of promoting my books that they should hang out a sign and go into the business.

Thanks to Julie Sitzema for buying more copies of Murder at the PTA than any rational human being should ever consider doing. And to Bob Fitzgerald, because he does, in fact, know about Girl Stuff.

To all my fellow CozyPromo members and Killer Character blog writers. You have taught me so much in the last year that my head is about to explode. Since there is no way whatsoever that I’ll be able to teach any of you anything, I instead vow to pass my new knowledge on to other writers.

To Sofie Kelly (aka Darlene Ryan) and Susan Evans, who are always there to show me what really counts. To Avery Aames, Janet Bolin, Krista Davis, Kaye George, Marilyn Levinson and Meg London (aka Peg Cochran). May we continue to hatch plots for years to come.

To the Sisters in Crime organization, and most especially to the Guppies chapter, who taught me the meaning of the word “perseverance.” Lorna Barrett, Leslie Budewitz, Sandra Parshall, Elizabeth Zelvin, Hank Phillippi Ryan; the list of Guppy friends goes on and on. Gups rock!

To the Jessicas: my fabulous agent, Jessica Faust, and the best editor in the world, Jessica Wade. To all the librarians in the world, to all the teachers in the world, all the booksellers, and to PTAs and PTOs everywhere. Without you, the world would be a miserable place.

And, of course, the biggest thanks goes to my husband, Jon, for support above and beyond the call of marriage vows. Thanks, sweetie. I couldn’t have done it without you, and I wouldn’t want to.

Chapter 1

“You’ve got to get rid of her.”

I ignored my best friend. Once again, she was trying to arrange my life for me, and I was much more interested in planning the Thanksgiving menu. Maybe I could swap the butter-laden, sugar-saturated squash for a simple broiled version. But the sugared version was the only kind of squash that Jenna, my eleven-year-old daughter, would eat.

“Beth, are you listening to me?” Marina scrubbed at her temples, frizzing her light red hair. “When was the last time Marcia was worth what you’re paying her? It’s time for her to go.”

“Um.” What I really wanted to put on the menu was a platter of cute little Cornish hens instead of a monstrous hormone-laden turkey, but that wouldn’t fly with my family. “It won’t fly,” I murmured, and chuckled at my own stupid joke.

“This isn’t funny.” Marina waggled plump fingers at me. “Hey, pay attention. What are you doing over there, anyway? Tell me you’re not making a list.”

“Okay, I’m not making a list.” What about the rutabaga casserole? It was an Emmerling family tradition to have rutabagas at Thanksgiving. Not that anyone ever ate them, but if I didn’t have a panful, I’d be taken to task by my mother, my two sisters, brother, and assorted spouses. Maybe I could blame my lapse on being a Kennedy for the last twenty-one years. I squinted into the future and saw my sister Kathy cross her arms as she stared me down. “You’ve been divorced for two years,” she’d say. “That’s plenty of time for the Kennedy influence to wear off.”

“You are too making a list.” Marina looked over my shoulder. “Rutabagas? Who eats those?”

“No one,” I said darkly.

She shot me a quick glance but didn’t say a word. There are some places where even Marina dared not tread.

“Okeydokey.” She pushed herself to her feet. “I’m going to get myself another cup of your tea. How’d you get me hooked on Earl Grey, anyway?”

The two of us were where we often were on Saturday mornings: in my kitchen, where Marina was collecting my children. This habit had developed in September when my problem employee, Marcia, began refusing to work on weekends. I’d worked out a schedule with the other employees of the Children’s Bookshelf, only it somehow ended up that I worked two out of four Saturdays. It felt as if Marina, who was also my day-care provider, saw more of Jenna and Oliver than I did. What I was going to do in a few weeks when the Christmas rush started, I had no clue.

“You’ve got to get rid of her,” Marina repeated. The teakettle shrilled its signal and she yanked it off the burner. “Want to know what I’m getting you for Christmas?”


“A new teakettle. Your Evan Garrett showed me this nifty one at the hardware and it’s just the ticket. It has birds painted all over, and instead of a whistle that brings back nasty memories of high school gym class, it chirps like a little bird.”

“I don’t want a bird teakettle.” I didn’t have to ask to know that gym hadn’t been Marina’s favorite class. Her idea of exercise was using a manual can opener instead of an electric one.

“Don’t you dare tell me you like this thing.” She flicked her hot pink fingernail at the stainless steel kettle.

“Yes, I do.”

She opened her mouth to argue me out of my opinion, so I jumped in ahead of her. “No bird teakettles,” I

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