Caught in a sticky situation . . .
With Juliet Brody and Reverend Brook tying the knot in Ohio's Amish Country's most anticipated nuptials of the year, Bailey King is determined to do everything in her power to make the event a sweet success. Except midsummer heat waves and outdoor ceremonies don't mix, and an exasperated Bailey soon finds herself struggling to fulfill bridesmaid duties and keep her stunning marshmallow-frosted wedding cake from becoming a gooey disaster. Then much to everyone's shock, the entire ceremony crumbles when a guest drops dead, and the cause isn't sunstroke . . .
Turns out, the uninvited victim came equipped with lots of dirt on the devout reverend's hidden past. As Reverend Brook tops the murder suspect list on what should have been the happiest day of his life, Bailey and her sheriff's deputy boyfriend vow to clear his name. Can the duo boil down a series of baffling clues before Juliet considers her marriage a bad mistake—or the killer whips up another deadly surprise?
Release date: May 26, 2020
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 198
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“This is supposed to be the best day of my life!” Juliet Brody wailed in the small library inside the large white church in Harvest, Ohio. She wore a pink and white, polka-dotted silk robe and hugged her comfort animal, black and white, polka-dotted pig Jethro to her chest. Jethro, who was about the size of a toaster, stuck out his tongue, and his eyes rolled in their sockets as his mistress gave him another mighty squeeze.
Carefully, I reached for Juliet’s arms and loosened her grip. The pig let out a gasp. I didn’t tell her that she’d almost squeezed Jethro to death. If I did, it would send her into another bout of hysterics, and that wasn’t something we needed when she was going to be walking down the aisle in an hour to marry Reverend Simon Brook, who was the pastor of the church we were in.
She looked at me with watery eyes. “Oh, Bailey, you are so kind to me, but what am I going to do looking like this?”
“This” was a huge chunk of hair missing where her bangs should have been. The young hairstylist responsible, Dylan Caster, stood a few feet away hold a curling iron in her hand with a hank of Juliet’s blond hair hanging from it. The strands wrapped around the iron appeared to be a little crispy. The scent of burnt hair filled the room.
“Dylan,” I said, “can you unplug the curling iron?”
“Oh, right.” She yanked the cord out of the wall. “I’m so sorry,” Dylan said for the fourteenth time. “I didn’t expect Jethro to be there.”
Dylan was in her late teens and a beauty school student who went to Reverend Brook’s church. To keep the congregation involved in the wedding, he and Juliet had decided to hire as many church members as they could to handle all the various jobs that a wedding requires. I was willing to bet Juliet now wished they’d picked someone other than Dylan to style her hair.
Not that I completely blamed Dylan for what had happened. Jethro was equally at fault. Unbeknownst to the beauty school student, Jethro had been hiding under the end of Juliet’s robe, and when Dylan came around the front to curl Juliet’s bangs, she stepped on his hoof. The pig squealed bloody murder and took off. In the process, he scared Dylan, who had Juliet’s bangs wrapped around her curling iron. Dylan screamed and jumped back, taking a big chuck of Juliet’s hair with her.
Juliet sniffled. “It’s not your fault, Dylan. These things happen.”
I smiled at Juliet. It was just like her to try to make the other person feel better even when she was so distraught. It was a gift she had bestowed on her son, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Brody, as well.
I was the maid of honor in Juliet’s wedding. I had only known her for a year when she’d asked me to fill that role, so I had been more than a little surprised at the request. However, when she said it was due to the close connection between our two families, I couldn’t refuse. I was the best candidate because everyone else I was related to in Holmes County was Amish, and an Amish person would not be allowed to be the maid of honor in an English wedding.
Aiden was the best man. What made it even more interesting was that he also happened to be my boyfriend. As quirky and silly as his mother could be, I had to thank her for raising such a wonderful son. I also suspected that Juliet hoped to nudge Aiden and me toward the altar by making us stand side by side at the wedding. I’d like to think she wasn’t that calculating, but I also knew how much she wanted us to marry. It wasn’t as if she had been secretive about her hope.
“We can handle this,” said my best friend, Cass, who was in Harvest by way of NYC for the wedding. As Cass had said, she wasn’t going to miss a wedding that had Amish ushers and a pig ring bearer—not for all the chocolate in New York, which was actually saying quite a lot because she was the head chocolatier at JP Chocolates in New York City, the most famous candy shop in all five boroughs, or at least that was what founder Jean Pierre liked to say.
Although resigned to making it work, Cass shook her head and whispered to me, “It’s not looking good. She has a bald spot on the front of her head.”
“We have to do something,” I whispered back.
Cass glanced at Dylan. “She’s not going to be any help. The poor girl looks like she’s afraid she will be sued.”
“If it was any other bride, she might be,” I whispered back. “She took out a lot of hair.”
“You know, Juliet,” Cass said in a louder voice, “I was just thinking that with those glorious polka dots, your wedding dress needs something other than a traditional veil. You need a hat!”
Juliet used her free hand to dab at her eye with a tissue. The other hand still had a vise grip around Jethro’s middle. “A hat?”
“Yes! This might be a blessing in disguise, because it gives you a reason to wear a hat,” Cass said.
“You think I should wear a hat?” Juliet asked.
“Of course! All the royals do it, and I have been seeing brides in hats more and more in NYC. It’s on trend.”
“But we need a hat,” I said. I had no idea where we would find the perfect hat to match Juliet’s dress in the next fifty minutes, when she was due to walk down the aisle . . . not that I was counting or anything.
“I have a pink hat at home. It was my mother’s,” Juliet said. “It’s in a hatbox in the closet. It has pearls and feathers on it. It has quite a broad brim.”
“That sounds perfect!” Cass said. “A broad brim is just the thing—and who doesn’t want a little pink at a wedding?”
I grabbed my phone from the librarian’s desk in the corner of the room. “I’m texting Aiden right now to ask him to grab it. Where is it in your house?”
“It’s in a flowered, round hatbox in my master closet,” Juliet said. “It’s on the top shelf. He can’t miss it.”
I relayed the information to Aiden, and he texted back right away that he was on it. I love that guy.
There was a knock on the library door. “Juliet?” Reverend Brook’s voice came through the door. “Is everything all right? I thought I heard screaming.”
“Don’t let him in!” Juliet cried. “It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding, and he can’t see me with my hair like this! He will think I’m hideous.”
“No, he won’t. You know that’s not true. You could walk down the aisle with a patch over your left eye and a Mohawk. He wouldn’t care,” Cass said.
I opened the door and peeked out.
The reverend, who was already in his gray linen tuxedo, wrung his hands. “Is everything all right? I thought I heard someone scream.”
“Perfectly fine.” I smiled. “Why don’t you go check on everything for the ceremony?”
“Right,” he said, as if he was happy to have some sort of direction. “I’ll do that.”
He wandered away. I glanced back at Juliet. As soon as the hair crisis was averted, I needed to hurry over to Swissmen Sweets, the Amish candy shop I owned with my Amish grandmother, Clara King. I was doing double duty today. I was the maid of honor and the wedding cake designer. Juliet had been very specific that she wanted two things on her cake: polka dots—her favorite pattern—and marshmallow icing. I wasn’t too worried about the polka dots, but that marshmallow icing had kept me up at night.
The wedding reception was being held outside on the village square, and it was hot and humid, typical for July in the Midwest. The temperature was already over eighty and it was eleven in the morning. I was afraid the cake’s icing would melt and the whole thing would slide off the table in a mushy heap. If Juliet was this upset about her hair, I didn’t want to know how she would react to a giant wedding cake puddle. Thankfully, I had my grandmother and our two shop assistants, all of whom were Amish, working on the cake. The Amish were used to keeping things cool without the benefit of electricity. I hoped they had come up with some good ideas while I was inside the church.
Cass poured us iced teas, and the four of us took a few minutes to settle. My best friend kept up a steady flow of chatter and questions, talking about the weather, the beautiful flowers—daisies, lilies, and roses—Juliet had selected to line the church pews and decorate the altar. When conversation lulled, Cass asked about Jethro. Juliet loved to talk about Jethro.
Juliet calmed down and let Dylan do her makeup. While she was distracted, Cass disposed of the piece of fried hair in the small bathroom off the library. Dylan laid out the eye shadow, mascara, and eyelash curler. Seeing as how the polka-dot pig had caused the hair debacle, I thought it best to hold on to Jethro to avoid any more mishaps. I had the toaster-size pig under my arm when there was another knock at the door.
I hurried to the door and opened it a crack, which was just enough space for Jethro to stick out his snout.
“Is the best man allowed to see the maid of honor before the wedding? Is that bad luck?” Aiden asked with twinkling, dark brown eyes. Like Reverend Brook, he was wearing a tuxedo, but Aiden’s was powder blue, and his blond hair was brushed back from his face. He was so handsome, it took my breath away for a moment.
“Not as far as I know,” I said.
“Good.” He held up the flowered hatbox.
I took it with my free hand. “Thank you for this. I hope the hat is as pretty as your mother described it. I don’t think I can handle any more tears today.”
He laughed. “If it’s the hat I remember, it’s quite pretty, and because it was my grandmother’s, it will work for something old, right?”
I raised my brow. “I see you are up on your wedding traditions.”
He grinned. “I want to make sure I’m ready when our wedding comes around.”
I stared at him, unable to speak.
“Bai!” Cass shouted from the room. “Kiss Hot Cop goodbye and get in here with that hat. We have thirty minutes until showtime!”
Aiden chuckled and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. “Now, let’s get my mother married off so we can enjoy some of that delicious marshmallow frosted cake you made, okay?”
“Will do,” I said, still reeling from his previous wedding statement. I really didn’t want to worry about what that meant at this moment in time.
I now knew what it felt like to be a cupcake. With Juliet satisfied that her mother’s pink hat covered up the hair disaster, I felt free to sneak over to Swissmen Sweets to check on the cake one last time before the ceremony. I was cutting it close, but I had to see for myself that the cake was ready. Thankfully, the candy shop was just across the square from the church. I ran out of the church door, and my lavender and white, polka-dotted bridesmaid dress puffed out around me as I skipped down the church steps.
A little boy playing on the square pointed at me. “Look, Mommy, she’s dressed like a cupcake.”
I put my head down and ran around the gazebo. Thankfully, I had thought to wear my sneakers to dash to the candy shop. No, they didn’t go with the tea-length dress, but at least I could make a quick yet poufy getaway from my cupcake humiliation.
I stopped at Main Street for an Amish buggy before continuing across the street to my shop. There were four children in the back of the buggy, and they all stuck out their blond heads to take a look at me. I gave a finger wave. They smiled and waved back. As the buggy continued on, I could hear them talking excitedly in Pennsylvania Dutch to their parents. I didn’t know the Amish word for cupcake, but I was pretty certain I heard kuche, which meant cake. That was close enough.
When the buggy passed, I made a dash for the shop. Right before I went in, I made the mistake of looking to my right. Esther Esh stood outside the Esh Family Pretzel Shop scowling at me, but then again, that’s all she ever did when I was around.
I didn’t have time to worry about Esther, though. I had exactly ten minutes to check the cake and then run back to the church to walk down the aisle ahead of Juliet. Cass had promised to be waiting by the church door with my heels.
The moment I stepped into Swissmen Sweets, I felt comforted. The sweet smell of vanilla, caramel, and, of course, chocolate permeated the front room of the candy shop. An Amish shop in every way, it was clean but with no frills. There were several blond wood tables around the room with ladder-back chairs where customers could sit and enjoy all the delectable treats on the wooden shelves behind them.
There was every kind of candy available, from licorice to lemon drops and everything in between. However, the crown jewel, if there could ever be such a thing in a plain Amish business, was the glass, half-domed counter, which was filled to bursting with fudge and chocolate-covered delights of every flavor. There were even chocolate-covered marshmallows in that case, which was surprising when I considered how much marshmallow it had taken to ice Juliet’s cake.
“What are you wearing?” Charlotte Weaver, my twenty-two-year-old cousin and shop assistant, was standing behind the half-domed counter with her mouth hanging open. Charlotte had fair skin and red hair, and for the last few months she had been straddling the fence, trying to decide whether she wanted to be baptized into the Amish faith. She was currently a practicing Amish, but not a baptized one. She had started her rumspringa years ago, and I knew the Amish district and my grandmother, also her cousin, were becoming anxious to see her make a decision.
I looked down at the gauzy dress. “It’s my bridesmaid dress. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I thought Englisch clothes were strange, but . . .” she trailed off.
“Yes, I know, I look like a cupcake.”
Charlotte cocked her head. “I was going to say a purple lily pad, but cupcake works.”
I didn’t know which was more insulting, being called a cupcake or a lily pad.
“I can’t stay long to chat. I just ran over to check on the cake before the ceremony.”
Charlotte smiled. “The cake is fine. Cousin Clara and Emily are in the back, putting the last touches on it.”
I gave a sigh of relief. I didn’t know what I’d do if the cake flopped. Juliet was counting on my ability to make a “wondrous cake,” and had told everyone who was coming to the wedding that I was baking it. If it didn’t go well, it would certainly be my last venture into wedding cakes and could affect the reputation of my other sweets, too. If the cake went well, weddings could become a lucrative side business for the shop, with the proximity of the village church. I would always be a candy maker and chocolatier first—like my BFF Cass, I’d gotten my start at JP Chocolates in New York—but I would be willing to continue making cakes for the right price.
“Oh,” Charlotte said. “That new fire extinguisher you ordered for the kitchen was delivered.” She pointed to the large, narrow box behind the counter.
“That’s good news,” I said. “I’ll hang it up after the wedding.”
She nodded, and I stepped into the industrial kitchen. While the front of the shop was rustic, with pine floors and furniture, the kitchen at Swissmen Sweets was all business. It had a white-tile floor, stainless-steel countertops, and industrial-size mixers, refrigerators, and convection ovens. In the middle of the room was a giant, stainless-steel island where we did the majority of our prep work. On top of the island was the cake. It was a four-tier, pink and white, polka-dotted triumph. Charlotte and I had been up half the night icing it because I knew that I wouldn’t have any time on the day of the wedding. Even so, this was the first time I had seen it all together. We had put the marshmallow icing on each tier separately before storing it in the refrigerator for the night because it would never fit in the fridge assembled. But now, with all three layers stacked up, the giant cake stood three and half feet tall. No one at the wedding was going to go without a slice of cake. Pink fondant polka dots decorated it, and a pink fondant ribbon wove around it to the very top, where it was tied into a perfect bow.
It was quirky and elegant, the perfect wedding cake for Aiden’s mother.
The cake was surrounded by large blocks of ice set in plastic tubs. It looked as if it was surrounded by an ice fort.
“It’s like an old-fashioned icebox,” I said.
“It’s not that old-fashioned to us. There are Amish who still keep their food cool in root cellars,” Maami said.
I blinked at her. “Really? I can understand that they wouldn’t have electricity to run appliances, but I would have thought that at least the fridge would be run off a propane generator.”
My grandmother smiled. “That is the case for most, but it’s up to the local bishop to decide what technology a family is allowed to use.”
How well I knew that. Everything in Amish life seemed to come from the bishop’s mandate—from how a woman dressed and where she could work to what technology she could use.
“The cake looks great,” I said, unable to keep a note of relief from my voice. “Are you sure you will be able to get it over to the tent after the services? It’s huge!”
“Do not worry, Bailey,” Maami said. “We have it well in hand. Several men from the district will be carrying the cake over right after the wedding.”
I sighed. “It looks like you have everything under control. I should have expected this.” I tried to smooth the ruffles in the many layers of my dress.
“I’ve never seen a dress like that,” said Emily, our other shop assistant. Emily was close to Charlotte’s age, but she was fully committed to Amish life. She had been baptized into the church years ago and had married a local Christmas tree farmer a few months earlier. She also happened to be Esther Esh’s younger sister. This was one of the many reasons that Esther didn’t care for me. She thought I had stolen Emily from her when I offered her a job at Swissmen Sweets.
But the truth was, I never offered Emily a job. She asked me for one and told me how much she wanted to get out from under the authority of her sister and her brother, Abel. Also, the older Esh siblings hadn’t wanted Emily to marry. In order to have her own life, she had no choice but to leave her brother and sister behind.
“You look like an upside down summer poppy. We have some in our garden at the Christmas tree farm,” Emily said with her customary smile.
I smiled. “So far, I have been compared to a cupcake and a lily pad and now a poppy. Of those three, I will take the poppy. It’s the most appealing.”
Emily smiled sweetly back.
“Don’t you worry for a moment about the cake, Bailey,” Maami said. “We have everything under control. By the time you reach the reception tent, it will be in place, with time to spare.” She glanced at the battery-powered clock on the wall and cocked her head. “Now, shouldn’t you be at the church?”
I glanced over and squeaked. “Got to run. You all need to get to the church, too.”
“We are on our way,” Maami said. “We were just about to lock up when you popped in. Now, go!”
I waved at them and thanked them for taking such great care of the cake. Now I could enjoy the wedding without fear. As the maid of honor and the cake creator, I had taken every precaution I could think of to give Juliet the best possible day. There was no way anything could go wrong now. One mishap at a wedding was to be expected, but that was over and done with when Dylan burned Juliet’s hair. All would be well now, or so I thought.
“Your shoes are right here,” Cass said and waved at me from the corner of the entry to the church. The wedding guests were filing in, and the guest minister, who would preside over the ceremony, was at the front of the sanctuary. The sound of the organ boomed through the building. I knew that in the middle of the service, Charlotte, who was also an organist, would be playing a hymn. Reverend Brook and Juliet wanted to involve as many people from the congregation and the community as possible.
Aiden, in his powder-blue tuxedo, waited at the door of the church to walk his mother down the aisle. Cass held my arm while I removed my sneakers and put on my heels.
Aiden wove around the guests filing into the church to stand next to us. “Wow.”
It wasn’t the kind of wow you wanted to hear from your significant other. It was the sort of exclamation someone made when they witnessed a car crash.
“She looks like a cotton candy machine exploded, doesn’t she?” Cass smoothed her wrinkle-free dress. She was slim and sleek in her all-black tank dress and bright red heels. Her black and purple hair was perfectly styled and her eyeliner was on point. Don’t tell Cass that you can’t wear black to a wedding. Ac. . .
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