Murder always leaves a sour taste . . .
Although baby showers aren't an Amish tradition, Bailey King wants to celebrate Emily Keim's forthcoming bundle of joy. It's the least she can do for her hardworking assistant at Swissmen Sweets, especially with Emily being estranged from her siblings. Everyone in Harvest, Ohio has gathered at the town gazebo—decked out in lemon-themed décor to add some of Emily's favorite flavor to the festivities—including Juliet Brook, Jethro the Pig, and in a last-minute invite, Emily's sister Esther Esh.
But Esther isn't the only surprise guest. A mysterious Amish woman confronts Emily claiming to know about her secret shame—the child she had as a teenager who was given up for adoption. The stranger vanishes before Bailey could find out who she was and if she knew what happened to Emily's first baby. Later that evening, the woman reappears—dead in Esh Family Pretzels, with a threatening letter written by Esther found on her body.
Emily knows her sister is not a murderer and convinces Bailey to help clear Esther's name and put the squeeze on the real killer . . .
Release date: April 27, 2021
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 322
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Lemon Drop Dead
The front door of Swissmen Sweets swung inward, causing the large shop window to rattle in its frame and the shelves holding jars of jelly beans, caramels, and gumdrops to shake. The noise made me jump. It was late afternoon, and I stood alone, sweeping under the three café tables at the front of the shop where customers could rest while waiting for their candy orders or visit with friends and neighbors while enjoying one of our sweet treats.
The shop would close soon. I looked forward to locking up for the night. My boyfriend, Aiden Brody, had promised me a date night that evening. They were hard to come by for us. We both had crazy work schedules. He was a deputy at the Sheriff’s Department, and I was constantly juggling my duties at Swissmen Sweets, the Amish candy shop I ran with my grandmother in Harvest, Ohio, with the responsibilities of my cable television show, Bailey’s Amish Sweets, which filmed in New York City. It was rare that neither of us had an obligation. Sadly, I had a feeling my night off was about to disappear when Aiden’s mother walked through the door.
I stepped behind the domed-glass counter. “Good afternoon, Juliet. What can I do for you?”
Juliet Brook stood on the other side of the counter beaming from ear to ear. From past experience, I took the giant smile as a bad sign.
On this mild May evening, she wore a green and blue polka-dotted blouse over black trousers and black-and-white high heels. Her blond hair was smoothed back into a French twist. Polka dots were her style statement, from her clothes to the black-and-white, polka-dotted potbellied pig she held under her arm. Jethro stared at me in bewilderment as if to ask how he had gotten there and what on earth was happening. Granted, the little bacon bundle had that expression on his pudgy face ninety percent of the time. Until recently, Juliet had toted Jethro, who was roughly the size of a toaster, just about everywhere she went.
But in the last several months since she had married Reverend Brook, the pastor of the large white church on the other side of the village square, she had been carrying Jethro around a lot less often. At least when it came to church functions where she was working in her capacity as pastor’s wife. Those times when she needed to concentrate on her church duties and could not focus on making sure Jethro wasn’t knocking over the church altar, she dropped Jethro off with her favorite pig sitter . . . me.
Now, I didn’t ask for or want the title of go-to pig sitter for Jethro or any other pig, but Juliet had got it in her head that I was the person for the job ever since I had saved the little pig from an untimely death a couple of years back. Because of that, she believed that Jethro and I had a special bond. I wasn’t nearly as convinced. So, when she waltzed into Swissmen Sweets late that afternoon, I had every reason to believe that Jethro was being pawned off on me again.
“Bailey! Bailey! Is it true? Is it true?” Juliet cried in a breathless voice.
I placed the stack of receipts I was checking against my accounts on the counter. “Is what true, Juliet?”
“Emily!” she cried.
“What about Emily?”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Bailey, you know what I mean. Emily is having a baby! A baby! Can you believe it! It’s a miracle. I love babies so much.” She gave me a quick glance. “You know I have great dreams of being a grandmother. Can you imagine me as a grandma? I would be the very best.” She held Jethro up above the counter so that I had a better view of his face. “Think of how well I treat Jethro.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about Juliet comparing a future grandchild to her comfort pig.
When Jethro grunted, she lowered the pig. “Jethro is a good support to me as I wait for that happy day, if it ever comes.” She stared at me from under her lashes.
It took all my willpower not to grunt back in frustration. Over the last several years, Juliet had made it no secret that she would love to see her only child, Aiden, settled down with a wife and family. Because I was Aiden’s girlfriend, I was certain that she saw me as part of the holdup.
Juliet seemed to ignore the fact that Aiden and I weren’t married, and we had only been officially dating for a year and a half. I thought our relationship was moving along nicely. Juliet begged to differ and, despite the lack of proposal or ring, considered us engaged. She had great and outspoken hopes for a summer wedding this year, but seeing how it was May and we weren’t yet engaged, those hopes would go unfulfilled.
Both Aiden and I wanted to get married, and we’d been talking about it privately with more and more frequency, but our schedules made it difficult to even fathom a wedding. I just didn’t know how I would plan a wedding with all of my other responsibilities for Swissmen Sweets’ expanding business and Bailey’s Amish Sweets. The show had me flying to New York to do promotion or filming every three months. And my calendar wasn’t the only problem. Aiden worked long hours as a sheriff’s deputy. As the second in command to a grumpy and disengaged sheriff, he had to shoulder much of the workload and administrative duties required to keep the department running smoothly.
A little part of me—okay, a giant part—wanted to elope, but I knew Juliet would never forgive us if we did that. Aiden was her only son and her golden boy. She wanted to be there for the wedding. I was pretty sure she wanted Jethro to walk me down the aisle, too.
“Yes, I know Emily’s expecting,” I said. “The baby is due next month. It’s not been a secret. Everyone at Swissmen Sweets is so happy for her.”
Emily Keim was one of my shop assistants. She was a young Amish wife who’d married Christmas tree farmer Daniel Keim a year ago. The young couple was expecting their first child in July. Actually, it would be Daniel’s first child, but not Emily’s. I was certain Juliet knew nothing about Emily’s history as a mother, and I planned to keep it that way.
“I can’t believe I’m just hearing about the baby. I know I’ve been very caught up in the church. You would not believe all the responsibilities I have as the pastor’s wife, but I’m determined to be the very best and make Reverend Brook proud.”
I smiled. There was something endearing and old-fashioned about the fact that Juliet still called her husband Reverend Brook even though they were married. “No one would doubt for a second that you are the perfect pastor’s wife.”
She blushed, and then asked, “What are you going to do about Emily’s baby?”
“What am I going to do about it?” I asked. As far as I knew, there was nothing I could or should do about Emily’s baby.
“Aren’t you going to have a baby shower? She needs a baby shower! You have to host a baby shower.”
I held up my hand to stop her. I thought if she said “baby shower” one more time, my head might explode.
Juliet didn’t take the hint. “You’re the perfect person to put it on. You’re so organized and do such a good job planning events. Why, we can’t think of a better person.”
I thought Juliet was laying the compliments on a little thick. And for her, that was saying something. “We?”
“Well, the village of course. But mostly Margot and me. We were discussing it this afternoon when we were tending the church garden. Springtime does mean flowers, don’t you know.”
I did know.
“The shower will be a great way to build relations between the church, the English community, and the Amish in Harvest. As the pastor’s wife, I see community relations as an essential part of my work.” She smiled.
She set Jethro on the floor. As soon as she did, the shop’s orange cat, Nutmeg, crawled out from under the candy shelves next to the café tables in the front of the shop. It was his favorite place to hide when he needed a little alone time. The pig and cat touched noses and then started to walk around the front room like the old friends they were.
“So are you going to do it?” Juliet asked. “You have to recognize that this is an opportunity for the whole village to come together and celebrate Emily’s baby, as well as the community we all share.”
“Juliet, I’m pretty sure the Amish don’t have baby showers. At least not the kind you’re imagining. I’d have to ask my grandmother for sure. Emily and the Keim family wouldn’t want to do anything that was against Amish customs. That would hurt English-Amish relations, not help them.”
“How could a baby shower be against Amish customs?”
It was a fair question, but since moving to Ohio’s Amish Country I had learned that not all the Plain People’s rules made sense. At least they didn’t make sense to a New Yorker’s mind.
“This is the twenty-first century.” Juliet waved her arms. “Even the Amish have changed with the times. Goodness, do you know how many Amish have cell phones nowadays or know how to use a computer? Surely Bishop Yoder would be open to Emily’s having a baby shower. I mean, it only seems right to me. There’s no harm in it.”
“The Amish who have access to those pieces of technology are allowed to use them because it’s necessary for their work. It’d be very difficult for them to run their businesses without access to a cell phone or a computer. That’s just what it takes to run a business in the English world. We can’t make the claim that a baby shower is work-related.”
She put her hands on her hips. “We have to do something for Emily. Goodness knows, her sister won’t do anything.”
I winced at this comment, mostly because it was all too true. Emily and her older sister, Esther, hadn’t spoken to each other since Emily got married and stopped working at the family’s pretzel shop last year. Yet they saw each other almost every day, which made it especially awkward. Emily worked part-time for me at the candy shop, which just happened to be next door to her family’s shop, Esh Family Pretzels, where Esther worked as the sole employee and spent every waking moment of her day.
Jethro put his snout to the floor and followed a scent until he found my large white rabbit, Puff, curled up asleep in the corner of the front room. He snuffled the rabbit, and Nutmeg swatted him away. Puff yawned and scooted over, making room for the small pig, which wasn’t that much bigger than the rabbit. It seemed to me that I would have to put Puff on a diet. Who knew a bunny could grow so plump just eating vegetables.
“Honestly, Juliet, I do like your idea. I had even toyed with the possibility of throwing Emily a small shower myself. We want to celebrate her baby at Swissmen Sweets, but I stopped myself because I wasn’t sure it was what Emily would want. She is a very shy person. I’m not sure she would like all the attention. It’s really up to Emily to decide if she’d like a party. I don’t want to do anything that might embarrass her in front of her Amish district.”
“It could be a surprise.” Juliet’s eyes were bright.
I wrinkled my nose. I knew from experience Emily wasn’t one for surprises. “Let me ask her, and then we can take it from there.”
“Ask her now!” She clasped her hands in front of her chest. There was nothing Juliet loved more than a party. She had hoped to celebrate a wedding this year, and maybe this baby shower would fill the void. I also knew that she was sincere in wanting to improve Amish and English relations in her capacity as pastor’s wife. If anyone could do it, it was Juliet with her positive outlook and enthusiasm.
“Emily’s already gone home for the day, but I’ll ask her at the first opportunity tomorrow,” I promised.
“We can go to the Christmas tree farm and ask.” Juliet’s eyes were bright.
“Let’s not be too hasty. If you and I roll up to the farm, she’ll think something’s wrong. Give me one day to ask her.”
She pressed her lips together as if she wasn’t so keen on this idea. Then she sighed. “I suppose I can wait,” she said. Her Carolina drawl was more pronounced when she was disappointed. “You need to ask her quickly, though, because Margot has already reserved the square for the shower this Saturday. We thought two in the afternoon would be the perfect time.”
Ah, so that was the crux of it, but just to be clear, I asked, “Margot already reserved the square?”
“She had to. You know how busy the square can be this time of year.” She clapped her hands. “Jethro, it’s time to go.”
The pig lifted his head but didn’t move from the spot where he was cuddled up with the cat and rabbit. They made an odd trio. My best friend, Cass Calbera, who was the head chocolatier at JP Chocolates in New York, insisted the three animals needed their own social media platform. I hoped that she never mentioned the idea to Juliet because she’d be all over that. Juliet already thought Jethro was a star. He’d appeared on several episodes of Bailey’s Amish Sweets, and ever since his cameos, Juliet thought he needed his own talent agent. If you asked Juliet, he was right up there with Babe and Porky Pig when it came to notable swine.
Juliet marched over to the pig and scooped him up. At the door, she paused. “Don’t delay on asking Emily, Bailey King. She needs a shower. The poor girl has been through so much. She deserves all the happiness we can give her.”
She would have no argument from me on that point.
After Juliet and Jethro went through the front door, I closed and locked it behind them. I looked down at the cat and rabbit still snuggled together in the corner of the room. “Dollars to donuts we’re hosting another party.”
Nutmeg meowed as if to say, “You sure are!”
The next morning, the shop was busy. The more the popularity of Bailey’s Amish Sweets grew, the busier our shop and the village of Harvest became. We were now on the routes of the major tour buses that drove through Holmes County. Before the show, Harvest had been largely ignored by the big tour companies driving through the county. The buses passed by Harvest for the better-known towns of Sugarcreek and Berlin. My television show changed all that. Now Harvest was on the map, and there was no going back. However, not everyone was happy with the increased tourist traffic.
May was just the beginning of the tourist season in Holmes County, and there were already signs of short tempers and aggravation at the changes. Of course, the shopkeepers loved the extra business. All the local businesses were doing better than they had a year ago. Swissmen Sweets’ sales had doubled. Our biggest challenge was keeping up with the public’s demand for more, more, more. More chocolates, more milk chocolate and white chocolate pig-shaped Jethro bars, more fudge. Community planner Margot Rawlings loved the crowds my show brought to Harvest.
On the flip side, the village council was receiving increasing complaints about traffic and congestion around the square, especially on Saturday afternoons. Ruth Yoder, wife of the bishop of the largest Amish district in the area and the district my grandmother belonged to, made a point of complaining about the changes to anyone who would listen. She was also quick to place the blame squarely on my shoulders, claiming Harvest had been a much sleepier, quieter Amish village before I arrived. She wasn’t wrong.
I understood her concern. As great as the foot traffic was for the businesses downtown, I knew Harvest’s sleepy, quiet reputation stood at risk. Some members of the community were loath to lose it.
When I finally saw a lull in customers at mid-morning, I told my grandmother I was headed into the kitchen to check in with Charlotte and Emily. As of yet, I hadn’t told Emily about Juliet’s idea of a baby shower.
If I didn’t tell her soon, Juliet or Margot would move ahead. Emily needed to be warned, because this baby shower would happen with her blessing or not. I was sure of that.
“Gut,” Maami said. “Make sure that Emily is not working too hard.” She shook the spatula she was holding at me. “But don’t tell her I said that. She is very sensitive right now about receiving special treatment.”
I nodded. Emily’s aversion to special treatment didn’t bode well for her reaction to the baby shower.
Inside the kitchen, I found Emily and Charlotte sitting on stools next to the giant stainless steel island in the middle of the room. One by one, they moved chocolate-dipped cherries from the wax paper, where the cherries were left to dry, to candy trays for display inside the front glass counter.
Emily worked one-handed. Her other hand was pressed into her back.
I winced. “Emily, are you in pain? Maybe we should get you a chair to support your back.”
She placed another cherry on the tray. “Don’t you start, too, Bailey King! It’s bad enough my husband is treating me like a fragile flower. I won’t take the same at work.” She blew a honey-blond lock of hair that had come loose from the tight bun on the nape of her neck out of her blue eyes. “It is so aggravating. Last evening, Daniel followed me around the house with a pillow and blanket as if I was a child who would fall to the floor at a moment’s notice. I finally had to ask Grandma Leah to intervene.”
I chuckled. Grandma Leah was Daniel’s ninety-something great-grandmother. She was a spunky, no-nonsense Amish woman who still did a few chores around the Christmas tree farm. She also gave out advice like Amish kettle corn to anyone who would listen and some to those who wouldn’t listen, too. I suspected she had choice words to say to Daniel about how he was treating his wife. Grandma Leah didn’t abide coddling.
“I’ve told her to take it easy, too, Bailey,” Charlotte said. “And she gave me the same warning.”
I winked at my red-headed cousin.
“I’m much stronger than everyone thinks,” Emily said with an uncharacteristic edge to her voice.
“Charlotte, can you give us a minute?” I asked. “There was just a big bus tour in the shop, and I’m sure Maami could use your help restocking the display counter. Those cherries would look great out front. Can you take the tray in to her?”
Charlotte gave me a curious look, and I knew she wanted to ask me what was going on. Typically, I didn’t have anything to say to my shop assistants that they both weren’t allowed to hear. Despite her expression, Charlotte didn’t question me but took the tray through the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the rest of the shop.
I perched on the stool Charlotte had vacated and let out a sigh of relief. After such a busy morning, it was nice to be off my feet.
Emily continued her task of moving the chocolate-covered cherries to the tray. “Bailey, is everything all right?”
“Everything is great.” I got up and washed my hands in the stainless steel sink at the back of the kitchen, then pulled on a pair of gloves. I sat back down on the stool and started filling another tray with the cherries. The urge to pop one into my mouth was great. They looked delicious. You’d think with all the time I spent around chocolate and sugar, I would have lost my taste for it. But I never have. My love of sweets was as strong as ever.
She eyed me. “Then why did you ask Charlotte to leave the kitchen?”
“Because I wanted to ask you a question in private.” I smiled. “And I didn’t want Charlotte’s natural enthusiasm to influence you either way. It’s your decision.”
Her eyes went wide. I had always thought Emily could be a stand-in for a Disney princess with her big beautiful eyes. Her eyes became even larger when she was surprised or concerned.
“It’s nothing bad,” I said quickly. “I promise. It’s actually something really fun. Or, at least I hope you’ll think so.”
“Bailey, you’re making me nervous.”
I set two more cherries on the tray and wiped my hand on a paper towel. “Okay, I’ll just spit it out. Juliet and Margot had the idea of throwing you a baby shower this Saturday on the square. They wanted it to be a surprise, but I told them I’d have to ask you first. Everyone at Swissmen Sweets would help, and I’m sure the ladies of the district would also want to be involved.”
She blinked back tears. “You all want to throw a party for me?”
I smiled. “We do. I know it’s last minute, but we can pull it together. We’ve planned much bigger events with a lot less time.”
“I—I don’t know if I deserve a party.”
My mouth fell open. “Why would you say that?”
She placed a hand on her stomach for a brief second as if she felt a kick. “Don’t Englischers usually throw these sorts of parties for the first babies only?”
“Some do,” I admitted. “But there are no hard-and-fast rules. There are no rules at all.”
“But this isn’t my first child.” She whispered this so quietly I almost didn’t hear her.
“I know . . .” I trailed off. When Emily was younger, she’d fallen in love and had a child out of wedlock. In secret, she put her first child up for adoption. I knew her story because it had been tied to a murder I’d solved not long after I came to Amish Country. But I’d never told another soul what I knew about my young friend.
“So it’s not right to have a shower for me. I would not feel right about it.”
I thought for a moment. I wanted to tread lightly on this . . .
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