Authors: Heather Justesen
Tags: #Culinary Mystery, #easy recipes, #baking, #murder mysteries, #Cupcakes, #culinary mysteries, #Tempest Crawford, #Sweet Bites Bakery, #dessert recipes, #pastry chefs, #cozy mysteries, #Tess Crawford, #Cozy Mystery, #murder mystery, #recipes included
© 2012 Heather Justesen
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places, incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without prior written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.
Published by Jelly Bean Press, 90 S Main, Fillmore, UT 84631
Cover design by Bill J. Justesen
Cover design © 2012 by Heather Justesen
I pulled into a parking spot and took a deep breath. What was I doing here?
Okay, so I knew what I was doing. I was bringing moist, delicious, award-winning brownies to the wedding rehearsal of a woman I’d known for years and always disliked, in the pathetic grand ballroom of a three-star hotel. It was a long fall from the Best-in-State hotel restaurant in Chicago where I’d created cakes and pastries for the past nine years. I tried not to let that bother me.
And the whole thing made me as nervous as a preteen at her first bakeoff with much older kids—an event I remembered clearly almost twenty years later.
My cell phone vibrated in my pocket. “Honey,” I greeted my best friend after a glance at the Caller ID. “This is a big mistake. I can’t believe I let you talk me into it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. This is nothing—you’ve baked cakes that cost more than my car. This is a batch of brownies. Have you left for the hotel yet?”
“I’m here. And don’t talk down about our award-winning brownie recipe.”
Honey laughed. “See, you’ll be fine.”
“If I fail at this, I may never forgive you, so you know.” I climbed from my Mitsubishi Outlander and walked around to the back to retrieve the box of brownies.
“You’ve never failed at anything, and we need a good custom bakery in town. Not to say anything against ours at the store, but our staff is hardly cut out to do fancy wedding cakes.” She spoke of Mark’s Foodtown, her in-laws’ grocery store, which her husband now managed. The suggestion that I start my own bakery here in town wasn’t a new refrain; Honey had been singing it for several years.
The quiet town of Silver Springs, Arizona, wasn’t exactly a hotbed of socialites willing to pay thousands for custom cakes, but with everything else in my life crumbling to ashes, she’d convinced me to give it a go. I hoped having the much larger city of Prescott close by would bring in extra business to keep me running since my savings account would only stretch so far. “I ought to go,” I said as I clicked the button to lock the vehicle’s doors and headed for the hotel. “Have to face Bridezilla.”
“She’s not your first.”
“And I’m sure she won’t be the last,” I agreed as I pushed through the double glass doors and headed toward the grand ballroom. It wasn’t particularly grand, but it would fit the needs of most locals. The new reception center wasn’t supposed to be up and running for a couple more months.
“Hey, at least you only had to put up with her for a week—it could have been worse.”
When I looked back at the hurried cleaning and planning to renovate my grandma’s old restaurant into a pastry shop, I had a hard time believing that I was still working in Chicago seven days earlier. I felt a tug of longing for what I had thrown away, but pushed it back as I entered the left half of the ballroom, which had been sectioned off for tonight’s meal while the wedding party held their rehearsal on the other side. Muffled voices leaked through to me as I set the pastry box on the table and checked to make sure my short, dark-brown hair was still tight in its little ponytail at the nape of my neck. Then I pulled on a pair of food-grade gloves and began to set the rocky road brownies on the provided tray.
“Valerie, this is my wedding. Can’t you let it go for one night?” A woman’s voice drew my attention as two women walked into the room. It was the bride, Analesa.
“It’s not like I’m trying to seduce Tad. Shawn is an adult, remember?” the woman who must have been Valerie answered. She gestured expansively, and her jeweled bracelet caught my eye. The voices went low again, and I heard a few phrases like
get a grip.
The conversation was punctuated with angry eyes and finger jabs to the air.
So not everything was smooth sailing with this wedding. Since I’d done cakes for hundreds of weddings, I knew that was hardly unusual. And Analesa had never been particularly easy to please. Though we never hung out on my long summer visits to Silver Springs to see my grandma, I remembered well what a control freak she was.
I glanced at the two women, the blonde bride and her brunette maid of honor—I hadn’t met many of the members of the wedding party, but I recognized Valerie’s name from when Analesa paid for the cake.
Both women were tall, tanned and had long hair flowing down their backs, but that was where the similarities ended. Analesa was the picture of conservative upper class—the poster wife for her attorney fiancé—though she’d been raised at lower-middle class at best. Valerie was dressed like a loaded call girl, from the strappy red Jimmy Choo’s, which I admit made my knees weak with envy, to the formfitting dress that showcased her ample cleavage.
I tried to pretend I wasn’t listening while I strained to catch more of the conversation. Valerie turned toward me and approached, all but stomping in her heels, if anything so graceful could be considered stomping. “Quit being so uptight, Ana. I’m just trying to have a little fun.”
Analesa looked like she intended to continue the conversation, but her groom-to-be, Tad, entered the room and caught her by the elbow. I thought he looked far less handsome in person than in his engagement picture, which I’d seen around town. And more geeky, with his slicked-back, tawny hair and silver-rimmed glasses. Maybe it was the stress of dealing with warring women, I mused. I added the last brownie to the trays the kitchen staff had provided me, then shifted them all around for the perfect presentation. I added another item to the growing mental list of equipment I would need for my new shop and imagined my savings account shrinking.
Valerie dragged my attention back to her. “Brownies? Aren’t you Tempest Crawford? I heard you were supposed to be some amazing pastry chef, a woman who creates
desserts capable of awing the most
of customers. And yet we have
.” She stared down her nose at the delectable delights. “Are all your awards invented to make you sound impressive?” She snatched one from the tray. Her bracelet sparkled, almost blinding me at this proximity, the colored stones catching the light, the dangles jingling as she moved. A matching necklace with a large, gaudy pendant and cluster earrings glittered, completing the set.
I couldn’t help feeling defensive, but determined to stay professional, I clenched my jaw and forced a smile. “You should wait until dinner. You’re ruining the presentation. And this is what Analesa asked me to make. These brownies are award-winning.”
“I’m sure they are—in tiny burgs like this one. Even in Prescott they’re probably considered fancy fare. I doubt you’ll have any trouble fitting in here.” She took a large bite, looking smug.
I held in a growl at her disregard for etiquette as the other guests entered the room. I needed to make a good impression, as this was my first opportunity to showcase my pastry skills since my impulsive relocation. I knew any work I found here would be a far cry from my previous employment, but I was determined to make my business succeed.
Valerie tipped her head to the side, looking at the ceiling as though considering the dessert’s merits as she chewed and swallowed. “They’re fine, I suppose. But I know this chef in Mesa—Roscoe Marks. He’d bake circles around you. Sorry, sweetie.” With a gleam of meanness in her eyes, took another large bite before she turned and walked off.