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Apple-achian Treasure - ACB 8 ebook

Apple-achian Treasure - ACB 8 ebook

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Erin is on the hunt for a long-hidden golden treasure.

Erin is back on her feet again with the opening of Auntie Clem’s Bakery version 2.0. But her new partner is not the easiest person in the world to get along with and there are a lot of bumps in the road.

Reading about a secret treasure in Clementine’s papers, Erin decides to distract herself by putting back on her detective hat and she and her friends try their hands at solving the clues. Pretty soon, everyone knows that they are treasure hunting and things get interesting.

The race is on, but is the prize worth the price they will end up paying?

Like baking mysteries? Cats, dogs, and other pets? Award-winning and USA Today Bestselling Author P.D. Workman brings readers back to small town Bald Eagle Falls for another culinary cozy mystery to be solved by gluten-free baker Erin Price and her friends. 

Have your gluten-free cake and eat it too. Sink your teeth into this sweet treat now!

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Erin fit her key in the lock and found herself holding her breath as she turned it. The lock clicked smoothly open and Erin pushed the door open. She turned to look back over her shoulder at Vic as she entered.

“It feels pretty weird,” she said.

Vic nodded. “I know. But it’s just a different location. It’s still Auntie Clem’s Bakery.”

Erin took a deep breath in and let it out again. “Yeah… just the same.”

But it didn’t feel the same. She knew she should be ecstatic about being able to open the bakery again. If not for her half-sister, Charley, allowing her to become half-owner in The Bake Shoppe and to reopen it as Auntie Clem’s Bakery, that would have been the end of Erin’s dream. She would have had to liquidate everything and to figure out how she was going to make a living without the bakery.

Charley’s offer had seemed like a godsend at the time, but Erin had become increasingly worried about how it was all going to work out. She barely knew Charley. They hadn’t grown up together and their personalities were diametrically opposed. It seemed like everything Charley did rubbed Erin the wrong way, even when she wasn’t really doing anything wrong.

And now they were connected not only by blood, but in the business. They had to agree on advertising campaigns, product lines, prices, and promotions. They had to agree on everything that Erin had previously set up, like the ladies’ tea after Sunday services, catering for the book club at The Book Nook across the street, and the children’s cookie club.

Even just stocking the kitchen had been an ordeal, since Charley wanted to use all of the equipment that had remained from The Bake Shoppe and Erin couldn’t use gluten-contaminated bowls and baking sheets to make her gluten-free baking. While Charley had agreed to continue to keep Auntie Clem’s Bakery gluten-free, she didn’t have the understanding Erin did and thought that they could cut a few corners. Erin wasn’t willing to put the health and lives of her allergic or intolerant customers at risk.

Erin turned on the lights and looked around the kitchen. It was her bakery. It was the new normal. She and Vic could continue to work together, just as they had in the shop that had burned down. It would be almost the same.

Almost, but not quite.

Vic strode into the kitchen, where she pulled a clean apron off the hook and tied it around her slim form, then put on a hat, making sure that her long blond hair was all properly tucked away. Normal, routine actions, just like she had followed every day at the old Auntie Clem’s. Erin followed suit. She was considerably shorter than Vic and her hair was shorter and dark. She felt a little better once suited up. Her uniform helped to set the mood.

She went to the fridge and started pulling out the batters they had made the night before, working through her mental checklists to get everything started in the right order so that they would have the case filled efficiently by the time the bakery opened in a few hours.

“Do we have chocolate chip muffins today?” Vic questioned.

“Yes. And blueberry. And the rice bran. I’m going to work a high-protein muffin into the lineup once we’ve had a chance to settle back into the schedule. Not today, but maybe next week. I’m hoping we can tap into the low-carb and paleo markets.”

Vic nodded, already aware that Erin had been working on it. “You’re finding some low-carb recipes that don’t rely on nut flours?”

They worked side by side, finding their rhythm even in the less familiar kitchen.

“I’m focusing on some of the less allergenic seeds like sacha inchi. It’s one of the new flours out there and becoming more available. We can grind it here so that we know that they haven’t been processed on the same equipment as peanuts or tree nuts.”

“You’re always on top of all of the new developments.”

“Well, that’s my job.”

Vic glanced at the clock on the wall. “I thought Charley said she was going to come in this morning to help out.”

Erin didn’t look at Vic and tried to keep her expression neutral. “That’s what she said.”

“But you didn’t expect her to get here, did you?”

“Uh… no. She’s really not a morning person, and this is early even for morning people. Maybe if Charley came in and helped out now, and then went home and went to bed…”

Vic chuckled. “She’s like a teenager. If she wants to be a business owner, she’s going to have to make a few changes to her lifestyle.”

Erin turned on one of the mixers, then went around to the ovens, setting the preheat temperatures. It was the coolest part of the day, but that was about to end. Once they had the ovens going, even the best air conditioning wasn’t going to keep it cool.

“It’s supposed to be fall, but I’ll be glad when the temperature starts to drop.”

“Still got a ways to go before then.”

They worked in silence for a few minutes. “When do you think Charley is going to show up?” Vic asked.

Erin straightened and looked at her. “Are you trying to get me to badmouth my new boss?”

“She isn’t your boss, she’s your partner.”

“I’d like to think so,” Erin said slowly, “but I don’t think that’s the way she sees it. If we can’t agree on things, who do you think is going to get the final say?”

“You’re partners. You’ll work it out together.”

Erin shrugged. That remained to be seen.

“So…?” Vic pressed.

“I think we’ll be lucky to see her before noon.”

Vic giggled. “How about a bet? If she gets in before noon, you win. After noon, I win.”

“And what do we win?”

“How about… a foot massage.”

Erin shook her head. “Okay. You’re on.”

Charley didn’t make it in before noon. Vic was chuckling to herself.

“I’m looking forward to that foot rub,” she commented.

“I did say we’d be lucky to see her before noon. I hope nothing happened to her…”

“Nothing happened to her. She’s just sleeping, like every day.”

“I know… I just worry.”

“She’s fine. She said she was going to be here, but she hasn’t got the sense of a cross-eyed goose. She’s just like a kid. She’s going to have to grow up if she’s going to run a business.”

Erin raised her eyebrows. Vic herself was barely an adult.

“I’m grown up,” Vic shot at her. “It doesn’t have anything to do with chronological age.”

“No, you’re right. She may be a few years older; she may even have been on her own for longer than you have, but she doesn’t have the same sense of responsibility.”

Vic nodded. There were parallels between Vic and Charley. Both had left home at an early age, rebelling against the way that they had been raised. But Charley had left, apparently, because she wanted a more exciting life on the opposite side of the law, and Vic had come out about her gender identity, transitioning to female. Despite her not aligning herself with the gender she’d been raised as, Vic still had strong moral standards and an attachment to her family. They were the ones who had forced her to leave. Erin was glad that Jeremy, one of Vic’s older brothers, had recently moved into town. It was good for Vic to have contact with someone in her family. Jeremy accepted her for who she was and did his best to respect her identity.

“Think she’ll show up after lunch?” Erin asked.

“Do you want to go double or nothing?”

“No. Just wondering. It’s opening day, you’d think she’d at least make an appearance.”

“You would think,” Vic agreed.

Mary Lou and Melissa arrived together. Erin was glad to see them together more often again lately. Mary Lou needed the support of her friends more than ever, and Erin suspected that Melissa wasn’t having the easiest time since she had started visiting Davis in prison. The ladies of Bald Eagle Falls were not very tolerant of what they perceived as wrong choices.

Mary Lou looked around the bakery and raised her brows. “I was expecting a better turnout for your opening day. Isn’t this a little… quiet…?”

Erin shrugged, her face getting warm. “We actually didn’t want to do a great big grand reopening. We didn’t think it was a good idea, after…”

Mary Lou gazed at her blankly.

“Because of the deaths,” Melissa piped up eagerly. “Angela was killed on opening day of Auntie Clem’s Bakery and Mr. Inglethorpe was killed the night before the grand reopening for The Bake Shoppe. Were you afraid of jinxing it?”

“No,” Erin insisted, though she had to admit to a little superstitious twinge over the thought of another murder around the bakery opening. So far everything had been quiet, and she hoped that it would stay that way. They didn’t need any bodies to spice things up. “I just didn’t want people to make that association.” She looked significantly at the other patrons of the bakery, hoping that Melissa would get the hint and keep her voice down. “Even if it’s unconscious… I didn’t want them to think… bakery opening… someone might die…”

“That makes perfect sense,” Mary Lou acknowledged.

“It’s really too bad, though,” Melissa said. “I wouldn’t mind a free muffin…”

Erin smiled. “You buy a dozen for the Police Department, and I’ll throw in a free one for you.”

“You’d do that anyway.”

Mary Lou and Melissa looked through the case at the baked goods on offer.

“I think… a loaf of the rustic bread,” Mary Lou pointed to a hand-shaped loaf. “That would go nicely with supper. And maybe some cookies that I can throw in the freezer. We don’t go through them very fast, with it just being Josh and I now, but we are starting to get a little low.”

“Anything in particular, or just an assortment?” Erin asked.

“Surprise me.”

Erin suspected that Mary Lou wasn’t going to be eating any of them anyway. She was very careful to maintain her slim figure. Josh, on the other hand, was a teenager and could probably put away the whole dozen in a sitting without consequences.

“How are the boys?” she asked politely.

“As well as can be expected. Josh is finding high school very challenging. And Campbell… well, I don’t know what to think of Campbell. He at least calls me once every week or so, which is more than one can expect from a boy his age. He says he’s well, that things are going fine… but he’s not going anywhere. I don’t even know how he’s supporting himself without any marketable skills.”

“You don’t know what he’s doing?”

Mary Lou shook her head. “He’s finding himself. Whatever that means.”

Erin wasn’t sure how to respond to that. She finished assembling the cookies for Mary Lou and handed them over to Vic to ring up at the till. She looked at Melissa. “So, a dozen muffins?”

“No, not today. Maybe on Friday. How about…” Melissa studied the display case seriously. “How about a brownie?” She motioned to the chocolate-dipped brownies that Erin had recently added to the product lineup. “Those are addictive. They should be a controlled substance.”

Erin nodded. “You’d better not tell Officer Piper that. I don’t want him slapping me with any fines. Or jail time.”

Melissa gave one of her wide smiles, her eyes dancing. “What you and Officer Piper do behind closed doors really isn’t any of my business…”

For the second time, Erin felt a wave of heat go over her face, and was sure that this time she was turning a brilliant red. She shouldn’t let Melissa get to her like that. Blushing would only encourage her in the future. But she couldn’t keep a dispassionate mask when she thought about Terry Piper and their relationship. They had only recently taken things to the next level with the good-looking officer, and Erin wasn’t to the point where she could be casual about it.

“You mind your manners,” Vic drawled, her southern accent more pronounced than usual. “Don’t be teasing Miss Erin or she’ll be adding something to your tea this Sunday.”

Melissa responded with a blush of her own. She tittered and gave Vic the money to cover her bill. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m sure.”

It wouldn’t have been so bad if Officer Handsome himself hadn’t happened to enter the bakery at that very moment.

The bells jingled as Terry walked in the front door, K9 poised at his side in perfect form, as usual. Erin’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of her sweetheart in uniform, but she was already embarrassed by Melissa’s comments and couldn’t help but feel even more awkward at his appearance on the scene. She glanced over at Vic.

“I uh, just have to go check on those cookies. Can you get K9 a biscuit and see what Terry wants? I’ll be right back!”

Vic looked surprised. Erin turned tail and dashed into the kitchen, needing to get out of sight to compose herself. She ran cold water into a clean cloth and pressed it to her cheeks, trying to cool them off and remove the color. Terry would be wondering what she was so flushed about.

Not like he wouldn’t wonder why she had suddenly fled at his appearance. That wasn’t something she normally did.

Erin took an extra few seconds to gulp down a glass of water, then returned to the front before everyone could start to wonder what had happened to her. But that last swallow water went down wrong and she inhaled half of it into her windpipe, resulting in a fit of coughing just as she walked through the door. If she’d been trying for an unobtrusive re-entrance, she had not succeeded.

Erin turned away, coughing into her elbow, and then turned back, her face just as hot as it had been when she’d left.

“Sorry. I’m not contagious. Just some water that went down the wrong way.”

“Are you okay?” Terry asked, looking concerned.

“I’m fine, really. Just some water.” Erin cleared her throat the best she could, trying to suppress any further coughs. “How are you today?”

“It’s a beautiful day out. Things have been pretty quiet. I’m hoping that the crime level in Bald Eagle Falls has gone back to normal.”

“You think that the trouble with the clans is done?”

“Considering the fact that we managed to confiscate several millions of dollars’ worth of drugs, hopefully they’ve decided that Bald Eagle Falls isn’t the best place for a storage and shipping depot, and we won’t be seeing any more of them.”

“I sure hope so,” Erin said fervently.

Terry nodded. “How has the first day back been?”

Erin breathed out. She blinked to clear her teary eyes and studied the officer. Taller than she was, dark haired, perfect build, and that cute little dimple in his cheek when he smiled at her. “Actually, it’s been pretty nice. It felt good to get back into the routine again. When I wasn’t working, it just felt… disorderly. I didn’t feel like my life was going the way I wanted it to. Like things might just fall apart at any minute.”

“But coming back, everything has fallen back into the old patterns?”

Erin nodded. “It feels good.”

“It actually does,” Vic agreed. “Unlike Erin, I actually enjoyed my time off, but I was ready to come back. The structure and the routine are good, but even more than that… the paycheck… visiting with customers… eating at regular intervals instead of grazing all day.” Vic patted her flat belly. “I was starting to put on weight…”

“You were not,” Erin disagreed. “You haven’t put on an ounce since you moved here.”

“Well, that’s not exactly true. But considering I wasn’t getting enough to eat before I started working for you, those first few ounces were okay. It’s the ones since then that are the problem.”

Erin just shook her head.

“See you later, Officer Piper,” Melissa gave Terry a little wave before leaving. She did some office administration for the Police Department on a part-time basis, and quite enjoyed the prestige of her role, even if she wasn’t an officer herself.

Terry nodded to her and Mary Lou as they headed out the door. “Ladies.”

They were just coming up on the after-school rush when Charley finally showed her face. She rushed into the bakery through the front door, red-faced and flustered.

“I can’t believe how the day has gotten away from me!” she exclaimed. “I was just doing some administrative work from home, you know, making sure that all of the advertising is lined up and that the bank has made all of the appropriate arrangements and all that…” All work that Erin had already attended to herself. “And before I knew it, it’s afternoon and I still haven’t made it over to the bakery! How did it go? Do you need anything?”

They were, of course, long past the point that Charley could have helped with anything, unless she wanted to take over the register during the rush or help with the cleanup after closing. Erin just looked at her.

“I was working,” Charley insisted. “I was just doing it from home instead of here. It’s so hot in the kitchen and that little office…”

The office was bigger than the one Erin had used in the original Auntie Clem’s Bakery, which had been hardly more than a closet. With a desk fan on the heat was nearly tolerable.

“I didn’t say anything,” she asserted. “Things went pretty well. We had a good amount of business.”

“Good. I was a little worried after we decided not to do a big grand reopening. I mean, I didn’t want to do a big reopening, I just had some… last minute qualms. What if nobody came? What if not enough people knew that we were open for business again today…?”

“There’s nothing that says you have to make all of your money the first day,” Erin reassured her. “Even if opening day didn’t go well, there’s lots of time for word to get around that we’re open and to get people in. But, nothing to worry about, it went just fine.”

“Good.” Charley put a stuffed shoulder bag that doubled as her briefcase down on one of the little wrought iron tables at the front of the bakery. “I’m new to this whole ‘business owner’ thing. I don’t want to screw it up.”

“That’s why you’ve got us,” Vic offered, putting her arm around Erin’s shoulder to remind Charley that she was there too, part of a package deal. “We know how to run a bakery.”

Charley didn’t quite make a face, but her look at Vic didn’t convey that she was thankful to have Vic there helping to look after things. She and Vic had never quite clicked. Erin wasn’t sure whether it was a personality thing, or whether there was a certain amount of jealousy between her sister and her best friend, each of them wary of the other intruding on their relationship with Erin.

“I’m glad I’ve got you,” Charley agreed, but her words were aimed at Erin rather than at Vic. “Whenever I start to panic about not knowing everything there is to know about the business, I just remind myself that you’ve done all of this before. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to start up Auntie Clem’s Bakery with no one to tell you how to do everything. How did you manage?”

Erin motioned Charley to move to the side so that she wasn’t blocking paying customers.

“I read lots. Talked to my lawyer and accountant. Wrote out my business plan and goals and milestones…”

“You’re so organized. You always know exactly what’s coming next, don’t you?”

Erin only wished that were true.

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P.D. (Pamela) Workman is a USA Today Bestselling author, winner of several awards from Library Services for Youth in Custody and the InD’tale Magazine’s Crowned Heart award, and has published over 100 mystery/suspense/thriller and young adult books.

Workman loves writing about the underdog. She has been praised for her realistic details, deep characterization, and sensitive handling of the serious social issues that appear in her stories, from light cozy mysteries to darker, grittier young adult and mystery/suspense books.

P. D. Workman does not shy from probing the deep psychological scars of childhood trauma, mental illness, and addiction. Also characteristic of this author, these extremely sensitive issues are explored with extensive empathy, described with incredible clarity, and portrayed with profound insight.
—Kim, Goodreads reviewer