Cold as Ice Cream
How could a few bubbles have gone so wrong?
It's a CO2 cook-off! Chef Kirschoff and Vic's friends from the Alaskan cruise are back for a carbonation contest, with Erin and Vic acting as two of the judges. It's fizzy, it's fun, what could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, someone did not get the memo. At first, when Beryl Batcombe is found dead in the restaurant's cold room, everyone assumes it was a terrible accident. But as Erin and Vic are drawn into the mystery, it becomes obvious that this was not an innocent mistake.
***** I love this series! This time Erin and Vic are reunited with friends they made on a recent Alaskan cruise. When Chef Kirschoff asks them to judge a culinary contest, they have no idea it will turn deadly. Many secrets will be unearthed before the killer is found. The plot is as twisty as a country road and the characters are well-developed and believable.
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!
Release date: March 19, 2021
Publisher: pd workman
Print pages: 321
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Behind the book
Author’s notes may contain spoilers!
I’ve known for some time that Chef Kirschoff and some of Vic’s friends from the Alaskan cruise would make their way into a future story. And what could be better than a cook-off?
I did a little bit of looking around for what kind of cook-off to have the friends participate in, and there was lots on chili cook-offs. But Auntie Clem’s Bakery is all about desserts, not meat/beans, so I didn’t want a chili cook-off. And they already participated in a baking contest before (which is how they ended up on the Alaskan cruise.) So what’s an author to do?
Researching dessert cook-offs and what “accidents” might take place during the contest, I happened across the idea of using carbon dioxide for both.
Please take care when handling dry ice!
Cold as Ice Cream
As soon as Erin got home from work, Orange Blossom was underfoot, meowing and yowling in greeting, winding around her legs, telling her all about his busy (or not so busy) day at home. Erin put down her purse and took off her jacket and picked him up.
“Hey. Quiet down. Relax. This is the time I get home every day, I’m not late.”
He started purring, a loud rumble that filled the room. Erin pressed her face into the short velvety hair at the top of his head and scratched under his chin.
“There. You like that, huh?”
Marshmallow hopped out from behind the couch and nuzzled Erin’s toes while waiting patiently for Erin to scratch his long ears.
Terry looked out from the kitchen. His jaw was dark with five o’clock shadow. He’d had an early shift and clearly hadn’t shaved afterward.
“Whatever he is telling you about me, it isn’t true.”
Erin stroked Blossom’s back, smoothing down his ruffled fur. “I think he’s telling me about K9.”
“You’d think he would be used to K9. Most other cats would have resigned themselves to a dog being around here by now.”
Erin nodded. She could see K9 lying on the kitchen floor behind Terry, bored or tired after his patrol with Terry. Terry still wasn’t back to working full-time at the police department since he had been attacked during an investigation. He was getting gradually better, but was still suffering from headaches, insomnia, and problems with concentration. Not something you wanted to worry about with your police force. K9 had been his partner for a long time and was used to patrolling all day.
“Maybe it’s because K9 chased him when he was a kitten,” Erin said, “back when we first met. K9 really scared Blossom, so maybe he was traumatized… instead of it being like a normal situation.”
Terry raised an eyebrow. “I’d forgotten all about that,” he said. “Funny. That seems like a long time ago.”
“Maybe she has some kitty PTSD,” Erin said, cuddling Orange Blossom up to her face again. “And here we are, just trying to get him to be friends with the person—animal—who traumatized him.”
Terry rolled his eyes. “Well, something to think about. Are you hungry?” He segued to food, which Erin assumed was to avoid discussing PTSD any further. Neither of them was particularly good at discussing their feelings or their own symptoms. Terry had been mandated to undergo some counseling through the police department following his attack; he probably wouldn’t have chosen to do it himself. Erin had been to enough head-shrinkers in the past that she really didn’t want to have to deal with another. She would do the best she could to deal with the nightmares and other issues that she had. At least after going through his own ordeal, Terry had stopped suggesting she get therapy. It seemed like a pat, easy answer, but it wasn’t as simple as it sounded. It wasn’t a matter of going to see a doctor, getting a prescription, and being okay. Even with intense, ongoing therapy, it could last for years and, while pills could help with the depression and some of the symptoms, they didn’t fix the underlying problem with the brain.
“Yes. I don’t know what you made, but it smells wonderful.” Erin put Orange Blossom down and entered the kitchen. Marshmallow hopped along beside her, still waiting for attention. Erin looked at the red sauce bubbling in the pot and the various other pots and bowls on the stove and counter and smiled. “Wow, you went all out. This looks great.” She bent down and petted Marshmallow. Terry wasn’t an experienced cook, so she wasn’t sure how any of the dishes had turned out, but he had obviously been pretty busy since he’d gotten off of his shift.
“I wanted to buckle down and make you a real meal for once. Not just a sandwich or warming up a can of soup. I keep promising to make you something, so…” He gestured along the length of the cluttered counters. “There you go. That’s what I did. If you don’t like it… well…”
“You must have been talking to Vic and Willie,” Erin suggested. She remembered Vic getting after Willie and telling him that opening a can of soup did not constitute making her dinner. Not for a date night, anyway. Maybe other nights of the week it would be acceptable.
“Well, to Willie,” Terry admitted. “We’re going to do another fishing trip soon. He says it’s a good time of year for…” Terry trailed off. “Hmm. I don’t remember. But something is good this time of year. I don’t think it really matters, as long as we have something to do while we sit around and relax. So no one calls us lazy. If you fish all day, then even if you don’t come home with food, people still think that you’ve spent your day being productive. Not quite the same as if you just sit on the couch all day.”
Erin nodded. She went to the cupboard to get out the dishes they would need. She cleared various items off of the table, which he had apparently used as a preparation area when he ran out of counter space, and set out the plates and cups. She cleared various open containers of ingredients as Terry started to fill serving dishes and take them to the table. That way, when they were done, there wouldn’t be so much to clean up. Erin always felt more tired after she’d had a chance to sit down and eat. Best to get it done before the lethargy overtook her.
There were some odds and ends of vegetables left over from Terry making a salad, and she fed a few pieces to Marshmallow. Orange Blossom started to yowl and complain about how she was feeding Marshmallow and hadn’t yet given him a treat.
“Okay, okay. Your treat is coming.” Erin let herself into the pantry, but pushed him back and wouldn’t allow him to follow her in there. A few weeks ago, she wouldn’t have bothered, but since he had gotten sick, apparently after having eaten something he shouldn’t have, she was far more careful about keeping him away from people food, whether it was something she thought would be okay for cats or not. He was only allowed to eat food that came in a package with a picture of a cat on the side.
And the crumbs that K9 left behind. Once Erin had slid a few treats across the floor for Orange Blossom to chase, she got a gluten-free doggie biscuit out of the cookie jar and gave it to K9. He lay with it between his paws, munching on it. Blossom saw that his adversary had also been given a treat and, after gobbling down his own, he slunk closer to K9 to see if he could snatch a few crumbs. It was the only time he would get close to the shepherd without hissing and puffing his fur out.
With the food preparation areas mostly cleared, Erin sat down to eat with Terry, looking over the variety of dishes that he had put together.
“This looks great,” she told him.
She was happy that Terry was feeling well enough after an early shift to cook a meal for her. A few weeks before, that wouldn’t have been possible. He had barely been able to get through his half-shifts, let alone do anything productive afterward.
They sat on the couch after eating, sharing details about their days.
Nothing exciting had happened, and that was perfectly fine. They didn’t need any more crime or mysteries. Just routine, everyday baking and policing work. Muffins and parking tickets.
There was a knock at the back door, then the sound of the door opening and Vic’s voice. “Y’all decent?”
Erin straightened slightly and smiled at her young employee. “What would you do if we weren’t?”
“Well, I guess I’d go all the way back to the loft and entertain myself there,” Vic drawled in her slowest backwoods Tennessee accent. “But it isn’t like the two of you are ever doing anything… sensitive… out in the open.” She chuckled. “Y’all know you could have drop-in visitors any time.”
The blond young woman sat down on one of the easy chairs, smiling at her boss.
“Long time no see,” Erin said. Vic had driven her home in Willie’s truck after they had closed Auntie Clem’s bakery for the day. Erin’s car had been wrecked before Christmas and she hadn’t yet replaced it. Vic didn’t have a car of her own, but frequently borrowed Willie’s. And it wasn’t like they couldn’t walk to and from Auntie Clem’s if they needed to. It was only a few minutes away. Though neither of the menfolk liked them walking in the predawn hours when they had to start baking to have fresh bread and muffins in the case by the time they opened up to the early-morning customers. Bakers began the workday very early.
“He took the truck out to one of his claims.” Vic shrugged. “I didn’t get any details. Something important in the world of mines and minerals.”
While Vic sometimes went spelunking with Willie on days off, she wasn’t involved in his mining operations. Willie always had a dozen different jobs on the go and he sometimes kept strange hours, especially if Vic used his truck during the bakery hours.
“How is the mining life?” Erin asked. “Things… going well?”
“I have no idea. He doesn’t tell me about it. He keeps his head above water, so I guess it’s going well. Or his other ventures are going well. I don’t get into any of the business details.”
Erin nodded. She rolled her shoulders and rubbed her neck, trying to work out a few knots. Terry pushed her hands away and turned her so that her back was to him, so he could rub her muscles. Erin closed her eyes and rolled her neck, trying to relax into it. His fingers were hard, digging down into the muscles and trying to massage away the tightness.
“How’s that?” he murmured close to her ear.
Erin nodded. “That’s good.” She was sore but, even though it hurt, she knew it would help later. “I’ll do some tai chi before bed. And then I’ll be nice and relaxed to sleep.”
Terry’s fingers paused for a moment, but he didn’t disagree. Both of them had difficulty getting to sleep, but discussing how difficult it was and the likelihood that either of them would be able to get to sleep when they wanted to would not be productive. And neither of them wanted to talk about it in front of Vic, either. She always noticed when Erin had a difficult night anyway.
“There was some mail for you,” Erin told Vic, nodding to the side table. Even though they had a separate mailbox for the loft over the garage where Vic lived, the mailman didn’t always get the mail sorted properly between the two boxes. Erin and Vic just passed mail back and forth as necessary and weren’t really bothered by it.
Vic stretched out one of her long, slender arms and managed to snag the pile of envelopes. She sorted through it, pulling out the couple of mail pieces that were hers. One of them was just a bill, Erin had noticed, but the other looked like a personal letter. It was rare to get actual personal postal mail, so she couldn’t help but notice. Everybody used email and social media.
Although that wasn’t entirely true. Erin remembered that Vic had also gotten postal mail from an old girlfriend, crazy Theresa, someone that they all wanted to avoid running into again. Ever. There were warrants out for Theresa’s arrest after the murder of Bo Biggles and her attack on Terry and Jack Ward when they had gone over to talk to her about it. But so far, she was in the wind and no one had been able to bring her to justice.
Erin eyed the envelope nervously. She didn’t remember enough about Theresa’s handwriting to know if it were the same writing or not. Theresa had known about Vic’s gender transition but had thought that Vic would still be interested in renewing their relationship. Even though Vic was already in a committed relationship with Willie.
Vic examined the letter in the green envelope. She glanced over it at Erin. “What’s wrong?”
“You look like you’re in pain. Terry, I think you’re massaging too hard.”
Terry stopped. He leaned forward, trying to see Erin’s face. “Are you okay? You need to tell me if I’m hurting you.”
“No.” Erin gently rubbed the sore muscles that he had been working on. “It wasn’t that. I was just…” She shook her head. “Nothing. I just wondered who the letter was from. Not that it’s any of my business. Just curious.”
Vic’s brows came down for a moment, and then she understood. “Oh! No, it’s nothing to be worried about.” She worked her finger into the corner of the envelope and slit it across. “It’s not from… her.”
“Oh.” Erin swallowed and nodded. “That’s good. I was just wondering. I know there’s nothing to worry about, she’s not going to show up here or start anything… she would risk getting caught and sent to prison for a few decades. She wouldn’t do that.”
“Crazy Theresa,” Vic intoned, shaking her head. “You can never be sure what that one is going to do.”
Erin’s stomach clenched. Vic must have seen a change in her expression because she hurried to change her words.
“She wouldn’t come here, though, you’re right. She’ll stay far away from Bald Eagle Falls and anyone who knows that there are warrants out for her. Maybe she’ll go north to Canada.”
Erin rolled her eyes and gave a little laugh. “To Canada? She’d freeze.”
“Good. Maybe a little chill would be good for her.”
Vic herself hadn’t been too impressed with the northern weather when they had taken a cruise to Alaska. Born and bred in Tennessee, her blood was too thin to appreciate the cooler weather. She’d been chilled the whole time she’d been north of the forty-ninth parallel.
Vic pulled the paper out of the envelope and unfolded it. Her eyes scanned over the page. “Oh, it’s Clayton.” She raised her eyes to Erin and Terry. “He was one of the group on the cruise,” she said. “One of the people I met onboard.”
“Oh.” Erin nodded and tried to look happy about this. She was happy that it wasn’t from Theresa. But she couldn’t help feeling a little twinge of disappointment that one of the LGBT group that Vic had made friends with on the cruise was sending Vic letters. Vic was already with Willie and she already had a best friend in Erin. She could have however many friends she liked, but Erin couldn’t help feeling like the men and women that Vic had become friends with on the ship were somehow trying to wedge themselves between Vic and Erin.
That was ridiculous, of course. It didn’t affect her friendship with Erin at all. But Erin had grown up without many friends and felt possessive. Vic shared experiences with the LGBT group that Erin would never have. Erin knew about the challenges that Vic went through living among the cis men and women in small-town, Bible-belt Tennessee, but she would never understand it with the same depth and nuance of people who had lived through it. Erin could never fully be a part of that side of Vic’s life.
She would have to settle for being Vic’s friend and working side-by-side with her.
“So, how is Clayton?” Erin asked, trying to inject warmth that she did not feel into the question.
Vic’s eyes moved over the page. She didn’t look up to answer Erin. “Good…”
Erin leaned back against Terry, resting into his warm body. She waited for more information from Vic. Vic’s voice was far away, not really engaged with the conversation as she read Clayton’s letter.
Terry resumed rubbing Erin’s neck and shoulders, but with gentle hands this time, soothing the sore muscles. Maybe he understood how disconnected Erin felt from Vic at times like that. She felt like the little girl left at home when the others went out to play. Erin scratched at a drop of bread batter that had dried on her slacks. She wasn’t sure how it had managed to get past her apron. She always seemed to have a few spatters that made it to her street clothes.
“He’s coming to Bald Eagle Falls,” Vic said.
“Coming here? Why would he be coming here?” Erin answered too quickly before she thought through her answer.
Vic looked over the letter at her again, eyebrows quirked, shaking her head. “Why not? There’s no reason he couldn’t come here.”
“No, I didn’t mean that. I just meant I was surprised. It’s sort of out of anyone’s way. Is he coming just to see you, or is he on his way to something else…?”
“There’s some kind of contest. He knows that you and I got the tickets to the cruise as part of a prize package, so he says maybe we can give him some pointers on how to win…”
“You and me. We did win it together.”
“Did he say me? Or just you?”
Vic’s eyes went back to the letter. “Does it matter?”
“No. Of course not. Just curious. I don’t think he really wants my input, does he?”
“I don’t know. I doubt if he really wants anyone’s advice. It’s just something to say. Small talk.”
Erin nodded. “Yeah, I guess. What contest is it? I hadn’t heard anything about a contest. Is it in the city?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t heard of it before. Not one of the big ones like the Pillsbury Bake-Off or something. There are little ones running all the time.”
“Especially in the rural areas around here. It’s entertainment. A good way to get people together. Have some fun, raise some money. Make people remember your name for the next time that they’re buying groceries at the store.”
The Fall Fair was the first baking contest that Erin had ever entered, but she had noticed since then little contests that popped up here and there.
“I think we just got lucky with our entry. It wasn’t like I really knew what I was doing.”
“It wasn’t just luck,” Vic disagreed. “We worked hard on that cake. It was the perfect selection for the Fall Fair.”
Erin’s cheeks warmed a little. Vic had been instrumental in picking out their entry and teaching Erin about the traditional way to make it, but it had been Erin’s recipe and execution. They had both contributed. But she was glad that Vic didn’t think it was just luck that had gotten them the prize.
“When is he coming?”
Vic looked at her phone face. “Uh… in just a couple of weeks. I’ll have to give him a call and make sure he has everything he needs while he is down for the contest and make sure that he is going to come by for a visit.”
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