Dead by dessert . . .
Thanksgiving is Bailey King's busiest holiday weekend. This year promises to be even more hectic, since Bailey's candy shop, Swissmen Sweets, is providing desserts for Harvest, Ohio's first village-wide Thanksgiving celebration. Yet, even with a guest list close to seven hundred people—Amish and English alike—the event's organizer, Margot Rawlings, is unfazed . . . until she discovers her mother, former judge Zara Bevan, will be in attendance.
Zara's reputation as a harsh critic is matched only by her infamy as a judge who has actively harmed the Amish community. So no one is prepared when Zara arrives with much younger boyfriend Blaze Smith and reveals their impending nuptials at dinner. That should have been the day's biggest news, except shortly after the announcement, Blaze suffers an allergic reaction to something he's eaten and dies on the spot.
Now, Bailey's desserts are prime suspects, along with Margot and nearly everyone who attended the meal. With such a cornucopia of possibilities, Bailey must dig in and get to the bottom of this murder, before the killer goes up for seconds . . .
Release date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Peanut Butter Panic
A young Amish man who was carrying a crate of thawing turkeys looked as frozen as the poultry in his hands. After Margot yelled at him, it seemed he didn’t know what to do.
I smiled at him as I approached, carrying a box of display dishes for the dessert table. “You okay, Leon?”
Leon Hersh was an Amish teen who volunteered often for Margot’s many events on the village square. Since Margot had taken over the Harvest social calendar a few years ago, it seemed scarcely a week went by that there wasn’t something happening in the small Amish village in Holmes County, Ohio. From concerts to weddings to Christmas pageants, the square had seen it all. Thanksgiving week was no exception.
In fact, Thanksgiving was going to be bigger and grander than any event Margot had ever thrown before. There would be a community-wide Thanksgiving meal for the village. It would include both Amish and English residents and be followed with a lighting-of-the-square ceremony to usher in the holiday season.
Margot had been working on the event for months, which meant that everyone else in the village had been too. She was great at drafting help. I always thought if the U.S. military brought back the draft, Margot should be at the helm of the effort.
Leon blinked his bright blue eyes at me. “She’s scarier than the bishop’s wife.”
I hid my smile. I knew the bishop’s wife, Ruth Yoder, as well as I knew Margot. I also knew Ruth would have wanted to be seen as more formidable than Margot. I certainly wasn’t going to tell her what this young man had said. “Why don’t you take those turkeys to the church? They’ll be cooked later today by the church volunteers. Just leave them on the counter and the kitchen staff will know what to do.”
He nodded. “Danki. I should have thought of that in the first place. But when Margot shouted at me to get the turkeys from Levi Wittmer’s poultry farm, I brought them here where I knew she would be. I wasn’t thinking.” He nodded at the horse and wagon that was parked along Main Street. “My wagon is right there. I’ll take them over now.”
The back of the wagon was laden with crates just like the one in Leon’s hands. My brow went up. How many turkeys had Margot ordered from the Wittmer farm for this event? Then again, as many as eight hundred people had said they would come for the celebration tomorrow afternoon. It was possible she would need every last turkey.
“That’s a good plan, Leon, and can I give you a tip?” I asked.
“Give yourself a break. You’re doing a fine job. Just remember Margot is, well, let’s just say she is very exacting. For better or worse, she treats everyone the same. It’s not you.”
He licked his lips and nodded. “Danki, Bailey. The Esh family is right; you are very kind for an Englischer.”
I smiled, taking no offense at the “for an Englischer” comment. It was one I had heard before, and many times since I’d moved from NYC to Harvest.
With the crate in his arms, he hurried back to his wagon, loaded the turkeys into the back with the others, and drove around to the church, which was just on the opposite side of the square on Church Street.
It was a gray and cloudy day, as was typical at the end of November, but there was a bright blue patch of sky above the church’s tall white steeple. The forecast for tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, was clear skies and warmer temperatures. The weather was something that could never be guaranteed in Ohio, but I hoped for the sake of the festivities that the prediction was accurate.
I could only imagine the flurry of activity that must be happening in the church kitchen at the moment. When Margot and Juliet Brook, the pastor’s wife, had put their heads together to sponsor a village-wide Thanksgiving dinner, I don’t believe they realized how much work it would take.
Then again, maybe Margot, who was one of the hardest-working people I had ever met, knew. However, I bet all the activity had taken Juliet by surprise.
“Bailey King!” Margot pointed at me. “Just the person I wanted to see.”
I sighed. Maybe I agreed with Leon just a little. Margot could be scary, and nothing was scarier than being caught in her crosshairs when she had an assignment for you, which in my case was all the time. It seemed to me that whenever Margot spotted me, she had something she wanted me to do. At least I knew I wouldn’t have to drive to Wittmer Poultry Farm to collect the turkeys. I didn’t think I could stand seeing a bunch of turkeys walking around flapping their wings right before Thanksgiving.
She marched over to me. As usual she wore jeans, running shoes, and a sweatshirt. However due to the chilly temperatures, she’d added a quilted barn coat over her sweatshirt and fingerless gloves on her hands. “I stopped by Swissmen Sweets well over an hour ago looking for you. Charlotte said you were away on an errand in Canton.” She put her hands on her hips. “What are you doing traveling all that way this close to Thanksgiving? Don’t you have enough to do right here at home? I hope you don’t plan to go to New York this weekend. The village needs you.”
I rubbed my head because I was already getting a headache as I tried to remember the sage advice that I had given Leon about Margot. The advice had flown right out of my head. All I could think was that he was right—she was scary.
“I’m not going to New York this weekend,” I said as calmly as possible. “I only went to Canton to run an errand.”
It was none of her business, but I had gone shopping for a housewarming gift for my boyfriend, Aiden Brody. I knew with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Small Business Saturday coming up, I would be so busy in the shop that I would not get another chance before I saw him.
He’d just moved into a new apartment in Columbus, and I felt I had to give him a gift to show my support of the move when in fact I wasn’t feeling the least bit supportive. The last time we’d discussed where he would live after he completed his months of training with BCI, Ohio’s Bureau of Investigations, he’d promised he would come back to Holmes County, so a new apartment nearly two hours away was not great news.
For over a decade, Aiden had been a sheriff’s deputy in Holmes County. That was how I’d met him, but earlier this year, he had been given the chance of a lifetime to work with BCI. He had made a good impression on the department when he collaborated with them on a case last summer. From what I had been told before, after his training, he would be returning to Holmes County to work as a remote agent who specialized in Amish cases. Instead, he’d been moved to one of the largest cities in Ohio. I didn’t know what this would mean for our relationship. Part of me thought when Aiden returned to Holmes County we would seriously begin talking about marriage and having a family—all those things that I knew we both wanted but were afraid to say aloud to each other.
I didn’t tell Margot any of that. Instead, I said, “I came as soon as I could.”
She folded her arms as if she had doubts. Margot was typically a tightly wound woman, but I don’t think I had ever seen her this worked up.
“Is something wrong, Margot?”
She threw up her hands. “Something always goes wrong when it comes to these events, but it’s never been anything I couldn’t handle until today.”
My eyes went wide. For Margot to admit that she couldn’t handle something was unheard of. “What is it?” I braced myself to hear something about Leon and the turkeys. My brain was already scrambling for ways to defend the quiet teenager.
“My mother is coming!” she wailed.
I stared at her. That was not what I had expected her to say. “Your mother?”
“I know, doesn’t it sound horrible?” She moaned.
“Why is it so horrible?” I asked.
“She’s never attended one of my events. Ever. My whole life long. And the first one that she comes to is the village Thanksgiving dinner. Why did she have to pick this one? Why couldn’t she have tried a concert or a bake sale or the Christmas parade next month? I have a camel at the Christmas parade. Everyone loves the camel. Would it have killed her to wait one more month?”
I knew Melchior the camel who makes a regular appearance at the village Christmas parade. He was nice as far as camels went but a bit of an escape artist. I wasn’t sure a camel running loose was the best way for Margot to impress her mother, but what did I know?
Margot began to gasp for air.
I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?” I glanced around and noticed the volunteers who were setting up for the big meal tomorrow were watching us. If Margot noticed their stares, she gave no indication of it. “Do you want to sit down?”
She brushed my hand away and took a few deep breaths. “I’m fine. I don’t want to sit. I don’t have time to sit. I have to leave for the airport in an hour to pick up my mother. Everything has to be perfect here.” She grabbed my arm. “Bailey, I need you!”
“Me?” I squeaked.
“Yes, I need you to oversee the preparations for Thanksgiving. Everything has to be perfect for tomorrow. Perfect. I know I always want things to be perfect, but I’m not kidding this time. I can’t fail in front of my mother again.”
Again? I wanted to ask her what she meant by that, but before I could, she said, “You have to promise me.” She thrust her clipboard at me. “This is the list of everything that has to be finished. Guard it with your life. There’s a checkmark next to the items that have been completed.”
After a cursory glance, I noted that there were very few checkmarks on the page.
I tried to hand the clipboard back to her. “Margot, I’m honored that you would trust me with such an important job, but there is so much to do at Swissmen Sweets today. We have been making many of the desserts for tomorrow’s meal, and we’re getting extra candy ready for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. This is our biggest weekend of the year.”
She would not take the clipboard. “You don’t understand. You have to help me.”
“What about Juliet? She’s always willing to help.”
“I can’t ask Juliet,” Margot said as if it was the most ridiculous idea she’d ever heard. “She’s in charge of the food preparation happening at the church. And to be perfectly frank, you’re the only one who even has any remote chance of doing the job as well as I can.”
I frowned. “Thank you?” I wasn’t sure this was an honor I wanted.
“You don’t know my mother. She expects perfection. Always and in all things.”
I guessed Margot was in her sixties, so her mother had to be over eighty years old, and yet Margot still feared her?
She took a breath. “Mother, the honorable Zara Bevan, was a powerhouse attorney and the first female judge in Holmes County. She excels at everything she does.” She paused. “Until she had me.”
I had known Margot for a while now, and I had never known her to undervalue herself. Even when something went terribly wrong at one of her events—like a dead body—she handled it with the efficiency and confidence of someone who always believed that they were in the right. However, at the moment, Margot looked anything but confident. She looked terrified. The honorable Zara Bevan must be a force to be reckoned with indeed.
“Where does your mother live now?” I asked. “Where is she coming from?”
“Fort Meyers, Florida. She moved there about fifteen years ago. She can play outdoor tennis all year round down there. She says indoor tennis is not the same. She’s eighty-six years old and still plays tennis every day. She was even in the senior Olympics! How many people can say that their mother is a senior Olympian?”
“I can’t think of any others,” I admitted. “It seems your mother has achieved a lot.”
“You have no idea. All she does is achieve, and she expects the same level of achievement out of everyone around her. Out of me!”
“Has it been a long while since she visited you in Harvest?” I asked.
“You can say that. She hasn’t been back since she left. I try to get down to Florida for at least a few days every winter to see her. But between you and me, I’m always ready to come home at the end of the visit. Actually, I’m ready to come home before the visit even starts. I don’t know how I’m going to survive this weekend.” She grabbed my shoulders and shook me slightly. “Bailey, I need your help. I’m desperate.”
I glanced down at the clipboard again and thought about the mile-long list that I had left on the kitchen island back in Swissmen Sweets just a few minutes ago. How was I ever going to get all of this done?
But I said, “All right, I’ll help you.”
Really, there was nothing else I could do.
Margot was a smart woman, and she didn’t wait around to see if I would change my mind. To be honest, I regretted my promise to help as soon as the words were out of my mouth. I didn’t have time to take on this massive project, but even if I could work up the nerve to say so, I never got the chance because Margot ran across the green to the church as if the heels of her sneakers were on fire.
I could only assume her getaway car was parked in the church lot. I looked up from Margot’s list, which seemed to grow longer by the second. What on earth did “Dancing Pilgrims” mean? As far as I knew, there was no dancing at the first Thanksgiving, and pious pilgrims would not be the first group of people that I thought of cutting a rug. Also, did she want to offend the many Amish in attendance? Amish folks didn’t dance at all.
“Everything okay?” a kind yet gravelly voice asked.
Lois Henry stood a few feet from me. In her arms, she held a half dozen woven cornucopias.
I consulted the list. Sure enough, number 158 read that Lois Henry would be supplying the cornucopia centerpieces for the tables stuffed with fresh fruit and flowers.
“I’m all right,” I said. “Just trying to take it all in.”
Lois cocked her head and her bright, spikey purple-red hair caught the sunlight. “You don’t look all right to me. Is that Margot’s clipboard in your hands? Does she know that you have it? I would put it down on the ground and walk away slowly if I were you. She guards that thing like a hawk.” She swiveled her head back and forth as if waiting for Margot to jump out of the bushes that circled the large white gazebo in the middle of the village square. One chunky plastic green earring hit the side of her face as her head turned. Lois never met a piece of costume jewelry that she didn’t love.
“She gave it to me,” I said. “She had to go to the airport to pick up her mother. She asked me to take over checking things off the list for tomorrow. It’s quite a list.” I flipped to the last page. “There are three hundred and eleven items on it.” I let out a breath.
“Oh wow!” Lois gasped. “Zara is coming back to the village. We had better batten down the hatches. There are going to be fireworks!”
I stared at her. “You know Margot’s mother?”
“Sure do.” She whistled. “The woman is a powerhouse to be admired and feared.”
I held the clipboard to my chest. “That was the impression I got from Margot too.”
She held up the cornucopias. “Let me set these down and we can tackle that list together.”
“I’d really appreciate that, Lois. To say that I’m stretched to my limit would not be an exaggeration.”
“This is a big weekend for retail, and your business is booming.” She dropped the cornucopias onto the same table where I’d left my display dishes when I went to rescue Leon.
“How do you know Zara?”
“Margot and I grew up together. She was behind me a few years in school, but the school was small. Everyone knew everyone else. Her mother was something. Back when we were kids, there weren’t as many single moms as you have today. I think a lot of women stayed married because they felt like they didn’t have any choices. Not Zara though. She was divorced and put herself through college and law school. All the while she was raising Margot too.” Lois placed a jeweled hand to her chest. “As a strong woman who has been a single mom and married four times myself, I can appreciate that.”
“Do you know why Margot wouldn’t want to see her?” I asked, and then I held up my hand. “You don’t have to tell me. I’m prying into their relationship, and that’s personal business.”
“Maybe you are just a little bit,” she said with a wink. “But I’m not going to tell you anything that people over fifty in the village don’t already know. Margot’s mother can be harsh. Zara is not a person you want to mess with. I’ve seen her make grown men cry. My first ex-husband was one of the men she made cry at least twice when he came in front of her bench. He wasn’t the greatest guy in the world, and in hindsight, I think both times he deserved it.”
“I have never seen Margot so unhinged. Not even when a herd of sheep got loose in the center of town and ate all the flowers in her manicured pots or when there was a murder in the village. She took all of that in stride, but picking her mother up from the airport has her in a complete tizzy.”
Lois nodded. “If I were Margot, I would be unhinged too. Zara is a perfectionist through and through, and she only really has respect for other perfectionists like her. As hard as Margot tried, she never measured up to her mother’s standards of greatness. She wasn’t pretty enough, athletic enough, or smart enough. She was a good student, but never had the highest grades.”
Hearing this made me sad. “But I would say that Margot is very successful. With everything she’s done for the village, she should be proud to show her mother her accomplishments.”
Lois twirled one of her large rings around her finger. “Maybe. But . . .” Lois hesitated and twirled the ring again. “Zara was such a perfectionist, she was, well, rather obsessive. I don’t think Margot had an easy go of it.”
“Maybe things will be different now,” I offered.
“Maybe.” Lois shrugged. “Times were different then. Zara was a successful attorney in the nineteen sixties and seventies when being a woman in that field was a hindrance. She never let anyone judge her by her gender. I believe because Zara had to fight so hard for her place, she was even stricter in her courtroom—and in her expectations of her daughter. Unfortunately, it was a time when a woman had to come off as tough to be taken seriously in a man’s world.”
“I guess I can see why Margot would be nervous about her coming here, especially for such a major holiday.”
Lois nodded. “I didn’t have a great relationship with my parents either. They have long since passed, but I can understand how Margot feels. I certainly wouldn’t want my parents as surprise guests.”
I looked down at the clipboard. “In that case, I want to do right by Margot. She does so much for the village. I think we should try to put our best foot forward to show her mother how she’s helped the village grow.” I frowned. “But there is so much to do at Swissmen Sweets. I at least have to run to the shop and tell them what’s going on.”
“Millie and I can handle this list for a little while.”
Millie was Millie Fisher, the village’s Amish matchmaker and Lois’s best friend. The two women were ideologically and fashionably miles apart but were kindred spirits in the best possible ways. They reminded me of myself and my best friend, Cass Calbera, who was a chocolatier in New York.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
She held out her hand. “Give it to me.”
I put Margot’s precious clipboard in her hand. “I won’t be gone too long. I just want to run over to the shop and update them. I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
“Don’t rush, honey. The lunch rush at the Sunbeam Café doesn’t start for over an hour from now.”
The Sunbeam Café was the café owned by Lois’s granddaughter, Darcy Woodin. Lois worked as a waitress and hostess in the café during the busy hours of the day.
“I can’t thank you enough for doing this.”
“Go.” She shooed me away. “Nothing will go wrong.”
I nodded and jogged across the green toward Main Street. Lois’s comment that nothing could possibly go wrong rang in my ears. In my experience, phrases like that were spoken just before disaster struck.
I wai. . .
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