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Murder Meringue Pie - ACB 21 ebook

Murder Meringue Pie - ACB 21 ebook

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Will justice be served with a side of pie?

A secret admirer enters Erin’s life, but is he really what he appears to be?

At first, she thought it was kind of fun. Who wouldn’t be flattered by a secret admirer? She wasn’t looking for someone new in her life, but it was nice to be pursued and seen as desirable. Yet Erin couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. 

But who has the time to think of romance or pursuit when there is another murder to be investigated, with Erin’s pies under suspicion and one of her friends at the center of it? 

Determined to get to the bottom of things and see justice served, Erin starts to unravel the clues linking the murder, her secret admirer, and the mysterious messages. Along the way, she will have to confront difficult truths and decide what justice really means. 

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I love this series. The characters are great and I love the interactions between them. What will they find themselves involved in next time? I can’t wait to find out.

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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Chapter 1

It was Sunday morning, so Erin was having a relaxed breakfast with Terry rather than having to be at the bakery in the wee hours of the morning to bake bread and get everything ready for the day.

When she had first moved to Bald Eagle Falls, she had been surprised and taken aback by the insistence of the women in the community that the bakery could not be open on Sunday, because that would be breaking the Sabbath. It didn’t matter that Erin was an atheist—that was a whole other problem—she was still expected to comply with the unofficial town by-law on the matter.

But that wasn’t the most confusing part. They had been excited when she inherited the storefront from her Aunt Clementine, who had run it as a tea shop until her health began to fail. They hoped Erin would reinstate the ladies’ tea after church services. She couldn’t open the bakery to sell her gluten-free goods that day, but she was expected to open for a couple of hours and supply tea and treats for the church ladies.

She’d been not only confused, but a little resentful of the idea to begin with. But now, a couple of years in, she enjoyed the tradition. It meant that she did not have to get up early on Sunday, even on the days she took the Sunday shift, and she enjoyed meeting with the ladies of the community in something other than a baker/customer relationship.

Today, Bella was taking the shift for the ladies’ tea, so Erin and Vic did not have to be there. And it was one of those rare days when Erin and Terry were both home all day—or could go out and spend the whole day together.

“Do you want to go into the city?” Terry asked. “We could go to a movie, dinner, run some errands…?”

Erin was trying to run her errands during the week so that she could have Sunday to relax instead of chasing after bakery supplies and getting caught up on grocery shopping and anything else she needed to do, ending up more exhausted by the end of her “day of rest” than if she had gone to work.

But a movie and dinner with her “Officer Handsome” sounded nice.

“Maybe,” she agreed. “But no shopping.”

“That’s fine with me,” Terry agreed with a smile that brought out the dimple on his stubbly cheek. He washed his toast down with a sip of coffee. “I’m quite happy to avoid malls and line-ups.”

Erin and Terry heard a bang from the backyard and, looking out the kitchen window, saw Willie storming down the steps from Vic’s loft apartment over the garage. Without another word, he hopped into his truck, slammed the door shut, and drove away with his tires spinning in the gravel. Erin watched with concern as he left.

“Uh-oh. That doesn’t look good,” Terry observed.

Erin looked away from the window, embarrassed. She didn’t want to pry into Vic’s private life. She didn’t want to be that nosy neighbor who was always craning her neck to see what was happening.

“None of our business.”

Terry gave a nod of agreement. As a law enforcement officer in Bald Eagle Falls, he knew which relationships were most likely to be volatile. He’d never been called to Vic’s or Willie’s residences to deal with a domestic dispute. They might shout, argue, or slam doors, but it had never escalated to violence as far as Erin knew. She’d never seen any indication of physical abuse in the relationship. They were just two very passionate people who didn’t hold anything back.

The door to Vic’s apartment opened again, and this time it was Vic’s tall, willowy figure. She let Nilla out and locked the door behind her, then came down the stairs at a more sedate pace than Willie had. She let Nilla into the dog run to do his business, and then joined Erin and Terry in the kitchen.

“Mornin’ ya’ll.”

“Good morning.” Erin scratched Nilla’s ears and chin when the fluffy white dog ran over to her. K9, Terry’s partner, heard the little dog running around the kitchen and came to investigate. The shepherd and the small dog sniffed each other and ran to the back door to be let out. Vic let them out to play. She sighed and sat down at the table. She ran a hand through her long blond hair, hanging loose instead of in a bun like she wore it when baking at Auntie Clem’s. It was the opposite of Erin’s short, dark hair that never stayed in place like it was supposed to. Erin poured hot water from the teapot into Vic’s cup and Vic chose a teabag from the selection on the table.

“That man.” She shook her head. “I love him dearly, but he does have a temper.”

“Mmm.” Erin didn’t ask for the details of their argument.

“What’s going on?” Terry apparently didn’t have the same compunctions. And Erin supposed that if Vic didn’t want to talk about it, she wouldn’t have brought it up or would just tell Terry it was none of his business.

“I don’t rightly know. He’s been on edge all weekend. But it isn’t anything to do with us. It’s just… probably work, I guess. The mines would be my best guess. But he hasn’t said. He doesn’t want to talk about it, but then he gets a call or text and just goes off like that.” She motioned toward the backyard.

So it wasn’t an argument. It was something different, an outside irritant. “Well, I hope he doesn’t take it out on you. I always feel like slamming doors are aimed at me, even if they aren’t. It’s hard not to take your partner’s anger personally.”

Vic nodded. “It gets my back up,” she admitted. “I get it; I know he’s mad at something else, but I’m the only one there to hear him complaining or slamming doors. So I can’t help feeling like he’s aiming the gun in the wrong direction.”

“You don’t know what’s going on with work that’s bothering him?”

“He doesn’t share that stuff. Never has. The closest I get to his mining operations is when we go spelunking together.”

Erin’s transgender employee was far more adventurous than Erin was. Caves and tunnels underground were not Erin’s thing. She wouldn’t have expected Vic to still be interested in spelunking after being caught in a tunnel collapse, but Vic and Willie had been right back at it as soon as they had their casts off. It wasn’t like it had been a natural collapse. But the fact that there were people out there who would intentionally set explosives to trap or kill someone else did not reassure Erin. That was just one more good reason to stay away from caves. It had been a long time before she could even look into a cave, let alone walk a few steps into one. And a tunnel or shaft where she would have to crawl… no way. No, thank you.

“Well, whatever bee Willie has got in his bonnet, I hope he deals with it soon,” she told Vic.“Me too, sister.” Vic sipped her tea. “Me too.”

Chapter 2

Monday afternoon, Vic and Charley, Erin’s half-sister, helped Erin carefully pack several pies for a catering order.

“Lemon meringue does not travel well,” Vic worried. “All you need to do is go over one bump, and the tops will all be sticking to the boxes.”

“I’ll go slowly,” Charley promised. “No potholes.”

Erin had seen Charley drive before. She wasn’t sure the woman knew the meaning of “slowly” or “carefully.” She could just see Charley unloading the boxes at their destination and finding that all of the meringues were pasted to the tops of the boxes.

“I really don’t want these to be wrecked when you get there,” she fussed. “I should have told them no. Made them go with apple pie or something with a top crust that would travel better.”

“I’ll get them there in one piece,” Charley assured her. “You don’t have to worry about it. Clive William Fontainebleau III shall have his pies.”

“If he’s happy with the results, he could be a profitable client. I don’t know how many of these fancy parties he holds, but if we can supply him with desserts regularly, it could be lucrative.”

“Don’t pin your hopes on it,” Charley warned. “I know guys like this. They’re not loyal to one supplier. He’ll go wherever he can get the best deal. And he’ll keep asking for a lower price until you’re not making anything.”

Erin frowned. She hoped it wasn’t true. But she hadn’t heard many good things about Mr. Fontainebleau, so she couldn’t argue with Charley’s assessment.

“So you don’t think it will be worth it?”

“I’ll tell you what you do,” Charley said. “You raise your prices next time. Tell him that they are artisanal pies. That he won’t get quality product like that from anyone else. Especially not gluten-free. If he wants high-quality, gluten-free pies, you are the only game in town. Anywhere in the state, in fact.”

Erin’s cheeks warmed. “I couldn’t do that.”

“That’s what you’ve got to do. Make him respect you. Make him want pies from Auntie Clem’s Bakery and nowhere else, because no one else even compares. Why do you think guys like him buy Rolexes and Cartier’s? It isn’t because they tell the time better than any department store wristwatch. He wants people to see that he is willing to pay for the very best.”

“I don’t know.” Erin slowly boxed another pie. “I’ll think about it.”

“Whatever you do, don’t lower your prices. No matter where he says he is going to go instead.”

Erin pressed her lips together, thinking about it. Charley was probably right. Charley was the one who had experience in dealing with big shots like Fontainebleau. She should take Charley’s advice.

“You do your part and get them there in one piece. Then… maybe I’ll get you to help with any negotiations too. I’m not sure I can stand up to a guy like that. Or his office manager, since I never talked to Mr. Fontainebleau directly.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Charley agreed. “You can count on me.”

Peter Foster showed up at Auntie Clem’s Bakery after school had let out, without his mother and siblings. Erin had rarely seen him by himself, though she knew that he had sometimes been allowed to go to the store to pick up something his mother needed when she had been pregnant and on bed rest. The young boy looked at the cookies in the display case, standing tall and looking important.

“Hi, Peter. How’s it going?”

He smiled, showing off the gaps in his teeth. “Good.”

“Are you here for a Kid’s Club cookie, or are you buying something? I have something in the back for you if you need it…”

The Foster family didn’t normally take advantage of Erin’s offer of free day-old bread. But they’d been struggling lately, and Erin hoped they would take what they needed.

“I’m just looking,” Peter told her archly. “I’m going to visit my dad at the bookstore.”

“Oh, I see. How is he enjoying working there?”

“He says that Mrs. Naomi is a good boss. And mom is glad that he finally has something stable since they cut back his hours at the other job.”

“I’m sure it’s a big relief for her. Especially since she wanted to be able to stay home with the little ones.”

Peter nodded his agreement. “It’s a good thing that you told Mrs. Naomi that Dad was looking for something. You’re a good friend.”

“Thank you. I’m glad I could help. Are you sure you don’t want your Kid’s Club cookie?”

“No. I’ll get mine one day when I bring the girls.”

“Oh, okay. That sounds good, then. Can I walk with you over to The Book Nook?”

“I don’t need you to. I know where it is.”

“I know, but I need to talk to Naomi about the book club.”

Peter shrugged. “Okay. You can come over with me.”

Erin trailed Peter down the street to The Book Nook and followed him in. The bells over the door jingled to announce their arrival. Both Naomi and Mr. Foster looked up from shelving books to greet them.

“Well, there’s my son,” Mr. Foster said, smiling. “School’s out already?”

“Yes. You know I wouldn’t skip!”

“That’s what they all say. And Miss Erin. How are you?”

“Good. Peter just stopped to say hello to me at Auntie Clem’s, and I needed to talk to Naomi about the book club, so we came over together.”

Mr. Foster nodded, looking calm and relaxed about this. Erin was glad she hadn’t gotten Peter into trouble, but she wanted to ensure that his parents knew where he was and were okay with it. They were strict about some things and lenient about others, and Erin hadn’t quite figured out where the line was. She didn’t want to be accused of encouraging Peter to do anything he wasn’t supposed to.

Erin felt her phone vibrating, so the next time she went into the kitchen to take a tray of cookies out of the oven, she pulled her phone out and looked at it. Charley had texted her. Opening the text, Erin saw the pies that she had sent over for the party all laid out on a black granite counter, with Charley’s comment that they had gotten there safe and sound, with no breakage or meringue stuck to the top of the boxes they had transported them in. The golden peaks on the white meringue looked picture-perfect.

Mr. Fontainebleau can eat pie to his heart’s content

Erin was relieved. She texted Charley a heartfelt thank you and returned to the front of the shop to let Vic know they had arrived safely.

“See?” Vic said. “All that worry for nothing. Everything went smoothly. He’s sure to call you back for another job.”

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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