Meg London is the pen name for writer Peg Cochran. Peg grew up in a New Jersey suburb about 25 miles outside of New York City
After her husband died, Peg remarried and her new husband took a job in Grand Rapids, Michigan where they now live (on exile from NJ as she likes to joke).
She has two cozy mystery series debuting from Berkley Prime Crime— the Sweet Nothings Vintage Lingerie series, written as Meg London, set in Paris, Tennessee and the Gourmet De-Lite series, under her own name, set in Connecticut. She also has two ebooks on Amazon, a mystery, Confession Is Murder and a young adult book Oh, Brother!
BACK COVER BLURB:
Sweet Nothings has it all: silk ribbon, Venetian lace, the best bra fitter in town…
and two unsolved murders.
Emma Taylor thought she knew what to expect when she abandoned life as a big-city fashionista to help her aunt, Arabella, breathe new style into Sweet Nothings, her waning lingerie boutique. As Emma settles back in to Paris, Tennessee—a world where pie is served with a parable and a pitcher of sweet tea is the cure for most of life’s ills—her escape seems smooth as silk.
But when the town acquires a touch of unneeded je ne sais quoi with the arrival of Emma’s philandering ex, an unseemly murder turns her world inside out. As the police’s top suspect, Emma is going to need more than fishnets to snare the real killer. And when she and Arabella refuse to let death threats wrapped in knifed nighties stall Sweet Nothings’ vintage lingerie fashion show, it becomes increasingly clear that any garter may hide a gun and that bullet bras might have to live up to their name…
EXCERPT: Murder Unmentionable
EMMA Taylor stifled a gasp as she pulled the garment out of the drawer at Sweet Nothings, her aunt’s lingerie shop.
“Aunt Arabella,” she said, dangling the questionable piece of lingerie in the air. “What on earth is this?”
“Coming, dear, just a second.” Arabella pushed aside the curtain from the back room. She was carrying a tray with a sweating pitcher of iced sweet tea and several glasses. Her French bulldog, Pierre, trotted obediently at her heels. He had one black ear and one white one, and he was getting quite round in the middle. Arabella claimed she didn’t have the heart to put him on a diet. She set the tea and glasses on the counter and went over to where Emma was standing.
“This.” Emma dangled the undergarment in front of her aunt. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Her aunt laughed and ducked her head. “Oh, that. Just a little hobby of mine. I got interested in it when Sally Dixon of La Tour Eiffel Antiques dragged me to some estate sales.”
Emma’s brows rose even higher. “But this looks like some kind of . . . of . . .” She couldn’t bring herself to use the word fetish in front of her aunt.
“It’s vintage, dear. Vintage. Early 1950s Maidenform. It’s called a bullet bra. It’s their Chansonette model. See”—her aunt pointed to the circular stitching—“this is what gave the famous sweater girls their shape. You know, like Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner. That crowd.”
Emma examined the reinforced stitching. “Did you wear—?”
“Of course. We all wore them. We actually used to iron them to get the shape just right. Some girls were known to stuff the tips of theirs.” Arabella sniffed. “Then in the 1960s we all burned our bras and started going au naturel.” She laughed as she poured a tall glass of tea. “I bet they don’t serve sweet tea like this in New York.” She handed Emma the glass.
Emma closed her eyes as the cool, sweet liquid slid down her throat. She held the glass to the back of her neck. She was glad she’d cut her hair short. She’d forgotten how muggy Tennessee could be in the summer. Her aunt wore her long silver hair in a single braid down her back. She was dressed for the heat in a gauzy looking tunic and flowing pants. The all- white of the ensemble was relieved by a splash of color from an enormous coral necklace— the kind of piece that Emma had often heard called “important.”
The bodice of the nightgown was indeed lace, and touches of the same lace graced the cuffs and collar of the matching peignoir.
“It’s beautiful,” Emma said as she took in the meticulous detailing on the matching set. The gown had a circular skirt and was made with only one seam running up the back.
“Would you like me to save it for you?” Arabella’s eyes twinkled as she looked at her niece.
“Save it for me?” Emma repeated blankly.
“For your trousseau, dear. You’re twenty- nine. I’m sure that any minute now you’ ll—”
Emma shook her head vehemently.“Don’t tell me there isn’t someone . . . ?”
Emma shook her head again. “Nope. I’m as free as a bird.” Emma thought about Guy and crossed her fingers behind her back. “Besides, women don’t really have trousseaus anymore, do they?”
“True. What a shame. I remember reading an old Emily Post etiquette book that detailed everything the modern woman of the 1930s needed in her trousseau— from day dresses and evening dresses to sports clothes to the right number of sets of monogrammed towels for her bathroom.”
Arabella opened another cabinet and took out a gown.“Look at this.” She carefully smoothed out the fabric. “It’s a 1930s peach Satin Dasche slip gown.” Arabella pointed to the lace at the throat. “With beige Alençon lace. It needed a slight repair here,” she pointed to a spot under the arm,“but I think I’ve managed it very nicely. You can’t even tell.”
“This is just what we need!” Emma exclaimed so suddenly her aunt jumped and even Pierre paused in his
“For what, dear?”
“To put your shop back on the map! We’ll specialize in vintage lingerie! People will come out from Memphis and Nashville just to shop at Sweet Nothings!”
“Do you really think so, dear?” Her aunt pulled her braid over her shoulder and fiddled with the ends. “The way things are going, I’ll have nothing but my social security when I retire. And we know what they’re saying about that.” She made a face.
“I know this will be a success!”
She had to make this happen for her aunt, Emma thought. She owed Arabella. Arabella was her mother’s older sister. She’d never had children or even married, and when Emma was born, she had taken a real interest in her, sending gifts from whatever port of call she was calling home at the time.The summer between Emma’s sophomore and junior yearsin college, Arabella had used some of her connections to
secure Emma an internship at Vera Wang. It had changed Emma’s life. Before that, she’d assumed she would have a career, eventually get married and settle down in Tennessee.New York had opened her eyes to a much bigger world.She still thought she would like to be married someday,but she wasn’t so sure about staying in Tennessee. She did have to stay long enough to help Aunt Arabella get back on
her feet, and then she planned to return to New York and her old life.Everything hinged on making Sweet Nothings the success Arabella deserved.
Emma looked around at the shop and her heart sank slightly. The decor had been new in the 1970s, the last time her aunt had renovated the shop. The floors were swathed in pea- green shag carpeting that must have been all the rage back then. The bright orange, yellow and hot pink accents had faded over time to slightly less horrific pastel hues, but they added nothing. The stock wasn’t in much better shape.
It wasn’t new enough to be saleable, but it wasn’t old enough to be vintage either. But if her aunt already had a significant amount of vintage lingerie, they could add some new lines to round things out.
She thumbed through the BlackBerry in her mind. Chantelle DeLang was a buyer for a very exclusive
shop in SoHo and always found the most unique things.Emma knew she’d be happy to share her sources. She felt a sharp tingle of excitement. What a fun challenge to turn around Sweet Nothings for her aunt! They’d combine vintage lingerie with one-of-a-kind pieces from Italy and France.
But first they’d have to redecorate.
“About the shop . . .” Emma began, and took another sip of her tea.
“I’ve already thought of that,” Arabella said, pouring herself a glass of sweet tea. “As a matter of fact, Brian should be here any minute. He’s agreed to do the renovations for us.”
“Brian O’Connell. Your friend Liz’s brother. You remember him, don’t you? Tall fellow, brown hair?”
“The last I heard he was in Nashville working for that architecture firm.”
Emma’s glance strayed toward the front window of Sweet Nothings. She could see O’Connell’s Hardware diagonally across the street. Was that Brian in the window rearranging the display?
When she turned around, Arabella had a strange, smug look on her face. “What?”
Arabella shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“I figured you more for the Paris, France, type but now here you are, back in Paris, Tennessee.” Brian O’Connell threw his arms around Emma and all but crushed her in a big bear hug.
Emma felt flutters starting in her stomach, like tiny bubbles of champagne. She’d always been a little in love with Liz’s older brother. She’d been a freshman in high school when he was a senior and captain of the soccer team. He’d always been friendly— saying hi when they passed in the hallway and stopping by to say hello when she visited Liz. But he treated her like he treated Liz— a kid sister to tease.
She remembered the time she and Liz were huddled under the covers watching a scary movie, and Brian and his friends decided to climb the tree outside Liz’s window. They’d pressed their faces to the pane of glass and sent both Liz and Emma screaming downstairs. Another time when Emma and Liz decided to camp out, Brian had snuck a plastic snake into each of their sleeping bags. Once again, they’d been
sent off screaming. Liz had insisted that these pranks meant he liked Emma, but Emma didn’t think that was the case.
Then Brian went off to study architecture at the University of Tennessee, and Emma didn’t see much of him again until she was there herself working toward a degree in art history. But by that time, he was a senior, and their paths hardly ever crossed.
He was even better looking than Emma remembered.Tall and broad-shouldered with strong- looking forearms visible beneath the rolled-up cuffs of his light blue shirt. His brown hair had gold streaks in it, and there were now crinkles around his blue eyes. Looking at him, Emma felt like a tongue- tied adolescent again.
“So what brings you home?” Brian stepped back and looked at Emma, holding her at arm’s length.“My mother called to say that Aunt Arabella needed help with her shop. It seemed like the perfect time to make a change.” Emma glanced away so Brian wouldn’t see the look in her eye.
“I remember your mom. Is she still making those . . .those . . . things?”
Arabella bustled over just then. Always the perfect Southern hostess, she had a pitcher of homemade lemonade ready.
“Tell Brian about your job in New York.” She turned toward Brian. “Emma was a stylist at Femme magazine. She’s worked with some very famous photographers and models.”Emma thought of Guy and felt her face getting warm.
“Pardon my ignorance,” Brian said, laughing self deprecatingly,“but what does a stylist do?”
Emma explained how she was in charge of creating the look, feel and theme for magazine photo shoots by choosing the clothes and accessories, the background props and sometimes even the model’s hair and makeup.
Brian looked impressed. “I thought you wanted to be an artist or something.”
“I majored in art history— which is still a passion. But museum jobs are few and far between and pretty much require you to have an independent income if you hope to live anywhere near New York City. Besides, I fell in love with the art of fashion.”
“So, what are you two planning?” Arabella poured out glasses of tea and handed them around. Pierre hovered near her feet, sensing that food might be in the offing.
“I’m thinking something along the lines of shabby chic,”Emma said. “Whitewashed armoires for displays, soft pastel accent colors, lacy window treatments.” She turned toward Arabella.
Arabella clapped her hands. “I love it.”
She looked at Brian. “What do you think? Can you manage it?”
Brian shook his head. “No problem. There’s nothing major involved structurally. But you will have to close for a few weeks.”
Emma furrowed her brow. “I’m not sure. Maybe the palest pink for the walls?”
Arabella nodded. “I know just the shade you’re thinking of.”She opened a drawer and began rummaging through the contents. She pulled out a puddle of silk satin and spread it out on the counter. It was the barest whisper of pink.
“This is what they call a teddy. Sort of like a full slip but with a tap pant bottom.”
“It’s beautiful.” Emma stroked the fabric gently. “It must be very old. It looks like something they would have worn in the twenties.”
Arabella shook her head. “Actually, it isn’t, but I couldn’t resist it since it’s in such beautiful shape. It was made for the J. Peterman Company sometime during the 1990s. The same company made a lot of the pieces that were worn in the remake of the movie Titanic.”
“I brought some paint samples with me.” Brian pulled out a fan of colored paint chips. “O’Connell’s Hardware will be pleased to offer you a discount.” He grinned and the dimple in his right cheek deepened.
“That’s very kind of you.”
“We have to go above and beyond to compete with the big box stores these days. We’re even opening half days on Sunday; otherwise the weekend DIY crowd will head to one of the big stores that do keep Sunday hours. So many mom and pop places are closing their doors.”
Emma nodded. “That’s why Sweet Nothings needs something special to compete with the chain places at the malls.
But I’m confident we’ve found it.” She stopped for a minute as a thought formed in her mind. “What if we had a grand opening complete with a fashion show?”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Arabella said.“We can have models showing off your best vintage
“Will you be modeling some of the styles yourself?” Brian grinned at Emma.
Emma felt the heat rush into her face, and when she looked at her aunt, Arabella was giving her that smug smile again.
Emma and Brian spent the rest of the afternoon with their heads together over the new design for Sweet Nothings, their talk punctuated by the faint sounds of Pierre’s snoring.
Arabella ghosted about, occasionally gifting them with that same smug smile she’d bestowed on Emma earlier. Emma was dying to ask her what was up, but she had the feeling she’d find out soon enough.
Finally they poured the last glass of lemonade and pushed their chairs back.
“So what really brings you back to Paris?” Brian asked suddenly.
Emma stammered. “I told you. My aunt needed help with the shop, and my mother thought that with my experience I could . . .” She trailed off at the look on Brian’s face.
“No. Not really, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. How about you?”
“I came back to help my father with the store.” Brian drained the last of his lemonade and wiped a hand across his mouth.
He laughed. “Yes, really.” He was quiet for a moment.
“I’m glad I came back. Liz’s kids are getting bigger, and Iwant them to know who their Uncle Brian is.”
He gave Emma a look she couldn’t quite read— wasn’t even sure she wanted to read.
Arabella came out of the back room with her purse over her arm. “If you don’t mind keeping an eye on Pierre, I’m heading down to Angel Cuts for a wash. Angel Roy gives all of us shop owners a discount so if you need a trim, that would be the place to go. Of course you’ll have to listen toAngel go on and on about her latest conquest— she figures herself to be Paris’s femme fatale, but at least the cut’s cheap.”
She gestured at Emma. “I love what you’ve done with your hair, by the way. Very Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.”
Emma put a hand to her head. “Thanks.”
Cutting her hair short had been a whim, but she liked it. Guy said it played up her eyes, which he’d told her were almost as violet as Elizabeth Taylor’s. Emma had laughed at his outrageousness, but she’d been pleased, too. She shook her head. She didn’t want to think about Guy right now.
Arabella glanced toward the window and frowned. “Is that Deirdre Porter?” She moved closer until her nose was almost pressed to the glass then turned around with a sigh.“The mayor’s new daughter-in- law— I don’t know who she thinks she is. Speeding through town in that expensive red sports car of hers.”
Arabella and Emma both swiveled in his direction. He held his hands up in defense and laughed. “Okay,
okay, I didn’t mean anything by that.”
Arabella sniffed. “I know you didn’t,” she said in a soothingvoice. “But there’s something about that girl that gets my dander up. It’s as if we’re not good enough for her. The other day I heard her getting all snippy with Jim at the Meat Mart because he didn’t have foie gras. Folks here want their
pork for a good barbecue, their turkey for Thanksgiving, their ham for Easter and a decent chicken or rib eye the rest of the time. None of this foie gras. Not that I didn’t love it when I had it in France.” She sighed. “Yves Aubertin introduced me to the pleasures of a fine foie gras. And a rich ripe St. Andre . . . And . . .” She stopped abruptly.
“And?” Brian prompted.
Arabella shook her finger at him playfully. “Never you mind!”
The apartment had escaped Arabella’s seventies renovation craze. Emma looked around at the charming living room with the built-in window seats, wall of bookshelves, polished wooden pieces and jewel- toned Oriental carpets.The apartment was small by most standards, but enormous by the standards Emma was used to— a hideously overpriced studio on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where the bathtub stood in the middle of the room, and in order to entertain guests, she had to cover it with a board and a cloth and disguise it as a table.
Tonight, Emma was glad to be alone. She kicked off her shoes, pulled a pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator and poured herself a glass. She curled up on the window seat and looked down at Washington Street below. She loved living right in the center of town. Shop owners were flipping their open signs to closed and shutting and locking their front doors. Emma thought she saw a shadow move behind the window at O’Connell’s Hardware Store, and she squinted trying to make out the shape. It looked like Brian, but she couldn’t be sure.
Not that it mattered. She was done with men— at least for the moment. Guy Richard had trampled her heart, leaving it broken and shopworn. She moved away from the window, and noticed that the message light on her cell phone was blinking. She dialed voice mail, but the message, from Guy’s assistant, Kate Hathaway, was brief— just that she’d call back later. Emma was relieved. The last thing she wanted to do at the moment was talk about Guy.
EMMA felt a strange sense of proprietorship when she put her key in the lock of Sweet Nothings the next morning. Dappled morning sun lit the white brick façade that hadn’t changed much since the early 1900s when the building was erected. A glossy black- and- white striped awning with Sweet Nothings penned in elegant script shaded the front door. Emma paused and plucked some dead leaves off the white geraniums that sat in twin plaster urns on either side of the entrance.
Someone was standing at the front door of The Toggery,the oldest store in Paris. It had been in its original location since 1917 and had been spared by the fires that had destroyed a number of other buildings around the square. The door opened, and the person disappeared inside. Shortly afterward,
Emma saw lights go on, and the shade over the front window was rolled up. Downtown Paris was waking up for business.
She felt better than she had in a long time. She’d come up with a unique angle for her aunt’s failing business, Brian was ready to start the renovations she’d suggested, and she’d had a good night’s sleep with the windows open, listening to the chirp of the crickets and feeling the soft breeze scented
with honeysuckle and pine. It was a far cry from the city,where the night sounds consisted of a cacophony of taxi horns and people shouting, and where the air was fouled with car exhaust and bus fumes.
Emma was starting the coffee when she heard the front door open and the jingle of Pierre’s leash.
“Hello! Good morning,” Arabella called out. “Pierre,”she turned her attention toward her dog, “Stop pulling on the leash like that.”
“Good morning.” Emma greeted her aunt and gave her a quick hug. She glanced down at Pierre, who was still straining at his collar, attempting to reach the front door.
“What’s up with Pierre?”
Arabella sighed. “It’s that dachshund across the street. Bertha. A most unsuitable match for a French bulldog, but try telling Pierre that. It was love at first sight. I can’t imagine what he sees in her.”
Emma closed the front door, and Pierre finally sulked over toward his dog bed.
“I hardly slept a wink last night,” Arabella admitted as she tucked her handbag under the counter. “I’m so excited about all your ideas for Sweet Nothings.”
“I know,” Emma replied. “I’m very excited, too. I was thinking that we really need to organize a grand opening with a bang.”
“I finished some more repairs last night.” Arabella pulled a tissue- wrapped bundle out of a black- and- white Sweet Nothings shopping bag. She placed it on the counter and opened it. “Look at this.” Arabella held up a green silk tap pant-and- bra set.
“They’re beautiful,” Emma breathed.
“The straps are actual silk ribbon and in perfect condition.”
“Is this . . . what did you call it . . . Point de Venise lace?”Emma asked.
Arabella shook her head. “This is Alençon. Its name comes from the town of Alençon in Normandy, France. A local needlewoman, attempting to duplicate Venetian lace, ended up creating her own pattern which they named afterthe town.”
A knock sounded on the front door, and they both jumped. Pierre catapulted from his dog bed and approached the door, head down and a low growl emanating from his throat.
“That must be Brian—” Arabella began.
“That must be the armoire I ordered—” Emma said at the same time. “I’ll get it.”
Emma smoothed a hand over her hair, and Arabella gave her that little smile again. Emma dropped her hand to her side and strode toward the door.
But it was Guy Richard.
Standing on the doorstep of Sweet Nothings, his Nikon slung over his shoulder, a bunch of slightly bedraggled flowers clutched in his hand and a very repentant look on his face.
Meg's books may be purchased at any major book store as well as on line at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
Contact Meg London/ Peg Cochran at the following sites: