When editor Sugar Calloway and baker Dixie Spicer went into business creating cookbooks, they found a sideline as amateur sleuths. Now a bitter family grudge could leave a fatal aftertaste… At Sugar & Spice Community Cookbooks, the friends and business partners have secured a tasty new commission: producing a cookbook for the Arbor family. The Arbors have made their fortune in quiches, and Sugar and Spice have been invited to a weekend gathering where all the siblings, along with crusty matriarch Marta, will be in attendance. But it’s soon clear that this trip will come with a hefty slice of drama. Theo, the only grandson, arrives with his flaky fiancée, Collette, who quickly stirs up trouble . . . and is found dead the next day. As the investigation unfolds, secrets—and recipes—are shared, and Sugar and Spice realize just how messy and murderous the situation may be. As another family member falls ill, can they solve the case without getting egg on their faces . . .and a target on their backs? * Includes delicious recipes! *
Release date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 156
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Quiche of Death
Mary Lee Ashford
“Quiche me, you fool.”
The demand was followed by hoots of laughter as the sister—Jezzie, I think her name was—leaned into her spouse for a smooch. He hesitated but obliged.
I smiled at the boisterous group who clearly shared some inside joke about quiche and kissing. The warmth of the table and the sibling love melted my heart like butter on a biscuit. Taking a sip of water, I glanced over at Dixie, who sat across from me at the huge oak table.
She rolled her eyes.
“What?” I mouthed.
Dixie shrugged. Jezzie had perhaps a teensy bit too much wine, but still: When did my best friend and business partner get so darn stuffy? Maybe it was the inside-joke part that she found off-putting.
But we did know quiche was the family’s stock-in-trade, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to figure out the expression had something to do with the Arbor family’s food business. After all, that was why we were here.
I’m Sugar Calloway, the eye-roller is Dixie Spicer, and we own Sugar and Spice Cookbooks. Usually we do fundraising groups, nonprofits, schools, churches, and the like. But we’d worked with Gwendolyn Arbor, who was married to the younger brother of the clan, on a cookbook featuring Iowa’s wonderful bed-and-breakfasts and their specialty recipes.
The project had been fun. And challenging. And fun. I guess, overall it had gone well, and when Gwen had contacted us about her in-laws wanting to put together a book of family recipes, we’d agreed.
Plans for getting everyone together for a weeklong visit for the matriarch of the family’s birthday had included inviting us for the weekend as an efficient way to discuss which recipes should be featured. We’d arrived just before dinner.
The food was mind-blowing. The family’s famous quiche Lorraine, served with oven-roasted vegetables, fresh strawberry walnut spinach salad, and warm French bread.
I glanced around the table, hoping no one had noticed Dixie’s eye roll.
There was Jezzie, the kisser, and her husband, Tom, a serious-looking, nondescript man. Jezzie was all polish and pizzazz. Dark hair like her siblings, but frosted with strategically placed silver highlights, a bright red jacket with apple-red lipstick to match. She was a fancy gourmet dish. And Tom? Well, if we follow the foodie comparison, he was a tuna casserole.
Beside them were Gwendolyn and her hubs, Jonathan. A former stockbroker, he’d left that life to move back to the area. According to Gwen, he’d developed an interest in historic renovations. Like I said, Gwen was the connection that had brought us into this project. She ran the Arbor House Bed-and-Breakfast and always looked to me like she could be a model for the mature professional women you see in magazine ads. Short silver curls, tall, slim, quietly elegant. A dove gray scarf wrapped around her shoulders. And Jonathan Arbor was the perfect foil. Distinguished looking, dark hair with a touch of gray at the temples.
Maybe it was my former life at a big-time food magazine that made me tend to see everyone in terms of food or advertisements.
Rounding out the group were Joe, Jr. who everyone called J.J., the oldest of the Arbor siblings, and his wife, Lucinda, who was chatting with Dixie in a low voice. Gwen had mentioned Lucinda was into genealogy and I hoped to talk with her sometime over the weekend about how to get started.
At the end of the heavy oak table, taking it all in, was Marta, the birthday gal and queen mum of the family. Her lined face was difficult to read, but her dark eyes didn’t miss a thing. She took small bites and sipped her tea, but her eyes darted from one conversation to another.
Beside her were two empty chairs. There were place settings, so it seemed more people were expected. I didn’t ask. You know, sometimes people have that tradition where they leave an empty chair for their dearly departed. I knew the patriarch of the family, Joseph Arbor, had departed a while ago and that the two oldest siblings ran Arbor Family Foods, the company he’d started. Maybe they left an empty chair at the table for him.
The food had been served family-style, so plates were being passed around. I’d just accepted an overflowing basket of French bread from Tom when I heard the door open and in blew a couple that completely changed the energy in the room.
“Theo!” Marta’s face was no longer unreadable. The pure joy swept years from her and her pale cheeks bloomed with color.
The guy was handsome and shared the dark hair and coloring of the Arbor siblings, so my guess was that he was a family member and a favorite one, if Marta’s reaction was any indication.
“Grand-mère.” He knelt down and brushed a kiss on her cheek. Turning back to the girl he’d left standing in the doorway, he motioned for her to join him.
She was slender and petite; her shiny platinum hair a striking contrast to his dark coloring.
“My fiancée, Colette,” he continued, turning to look at the rest of the group.
“Hello.” She smiled, flipping a lock of blond hair and adjusting the toy poodle she held so she could give a wave. “Awesome to meet you.”
Her bright pink jacket perfectly matched the pup’s pink bow. I shifted my gaze from girl and poodle back to the table in time to catch a look on Jezzie’s face that led me to believe she didn’t think it was so awesome. Her son, perhaps? Overprotective mother? Maybe.
“And this is Frenchie.” She lifted the dog and waved one of the tiny paws in greeting. Though how she could do it with the size of the rock on her ring finger I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of diamonds as much as the next girl but—wow.
“Nice to meet you. Hello.” There were nods, waves, and a murmur of greetings.
I glanced back in Marta’s direction, curious as to what she thought of the new soon-to-be-family member. She sat quietly, but I recognized the one-raised-eyebrow look. I’d seen it enough from my own mother and it usually meant, “We’ll see about that.” The jury was clearly out on whether Ms. Colette and pup were what the grand dame had in mind for Theo.
As I turned back to say something to Dixie, Gwen commented on Colette’s ring. Lifting her hand to show it to advantage in the light of the chandelier, Colette put Frenchie down right on the big table amid the dishes.
The poodle, sensing a feast and that she had limited time, dove for the nearest plate. She snapped up a piece of quiche that had been left in the serving dish, gobbled up a nearby piece of asparagus, and then headed for the tray of chocolate mousse that Hilda, the woman who’d been serving, had just placed on the table in readiness for dessert.
Frenchie obviously thought dessert was a great idea and dove right in, burying her snout in the closest of the dishes, her wagging tail knocking over crystal water glasses in her excitement.
Colette lunged for the dog, upending even more glasses of water and wine, as the pooch—now covered in food—attempted to wriggle away.
“Chocolate can be deadly to dogs!” Colette scolded, as if the family had attempted to poison the poodle.
“So can walking around on the dinner table,” Jezzie said under her breath, but apparently loud enough that Colette could hear.
“She’s just an innocent dog,” Colette gasped. “I can’t believe you’d want to hurt her.”
“Of course, she wouldn’t.” Theo scooped up Frenchie and handed her to Colette. By this time the poor pup had started to gag, whether from the excitement or the chocolate mousse I wasn’t sure.
“Let’s just take her outside for the moment.” Gwendolyn stepped forward and turned Colette and the dog toward the door.
Hilda, the server, came back through the door with another tray of mousse, but stopped short when she took in the chaos.
“Would you bring some towels?” Gwendolyn asked over her shoulder. “And a mop.”
Hilda nodded and exited. Jonathan, who’d been across from me, stood and began gathering the plates and knocked-over glasses.
“Shall we just clear this and we’ll have our dessert and coffee in the living room?”
In a short time, Gwen was back. “I think the dog will be okay. She only ingested a tiny bit and pretty much none of it stayed down.”
We all helped gather dishes and carry them to the kitchen. Then everyone made their way to the living room, but no one was much in the mood for relaxing with dessert and coffee.
Theo and Colette were off in a corner, whispering, and though the rest of the clan tried to make conversation, it was peppered with awkward silences.
After a little while, Dixie and I excused ourselves, begging off dessert after such a filling dinner. If this was a preview of the days to come, we were in store for one heck of a week.
* * * *
Because the B and B was full with all of the family staying, Dixie and I were sharing a large room on the third floor for the weekend. We’d dropped our luggage off when we’d arrived, but hadn’t really had time to unpack.
The polished hardwood floor complemented the light peach tone of the walls, the matching duvets on the two double beds were a deep cranberry, and the crisp white pillowcases and luxurious linens made you want to crawl in bed immediately.
“I can see why the bed-and-breakfast does so well.”
“What?” Dixie stuck her head out from the en suite bathroom, her mouth full of toothpaste.
“I said, I can see why Arbor House does so well,” I repeated. “This is gorgeous.”
“It is.” She walked out, wiping her face with a peach-colored towel.
“What did you think of the family?” I asked.
“Too soon to say, but they seem nice enough.” She took the towel back to the bathroom.
“They’re all striking.” I pictured each of them around the table.
“What do you mean, striking?” Dixie asked.
“You know, the dark hair—”
“You have dark hair,” she interrupted. “Beautiful straight dark hair.” She flipped one of her own red curls with a hand. “Trade you.”
“Gladly. I have boring dark hair and gray eyes,” I pointed out. “The Arbor family’s jet-black hair and deep brown eyes are striking.”
“Your dark hair and gray eyes, along with your porcelain skin, makes you more striking,” she insisted.
“But—” I began.
“All right.” Dixie rolled her eyes. “You win. They are striking.”
“By the way, what was with the eye-rolling at dinner?” I asked.
“What are you talking about?” She gave me a quizzical look.
“During dinner when Jezzie was all kissy-face with Mr. Boring.”
“Mr. Boring?” Dixie gave me a strange look. “Oh, you mean when they were misquoting Theda Bara?”
“The quote is actually, ‘Kiss me, my fool’ and gets misquoted a lot.” She pulled back the covers on the closest bed and plumped the pillows. “It’s from an old silent movie about a woman who seduces men, takes their money, and then they kill themselves.”
“Nice.” I picked up one of my pillows and threw it at her. “Too much late-night movie channel for you. We need to get you out of the house more.”
“I’m out of the house now,” she said over her shoulder.
“So you are,” I agreed. “It’s a start.”
“I can’t think of the last time I slept anywhere other than my own bed. Let alone shared a room with someone.” She patted the pillows in place. “I hope I don’t snore.”
“Won’t bother me.” I hunted for my small bag of toiletries to take my turn in the bathroom. I didn’t see it and I was sure I’d packed it. I hoped I packed it.
“What are you looking for?” Dixie asked.
“I can’t find my cosmetics bag.” I pulled everything out of my suitcase for the third time. “Trust me, no one wants to be subjected to a weekend of me with no makeup.”
“Is there anything in there you have to have right now?” Dixie continued arranging pillows and bedding. “Can’t it wait until morning? I’ll lend you anything you need.”
“I put the charger for my activity tracker in there, and it will be dead tomorrow if I don’t plug it in.” Checking again around the area where we’d stacked our bags, I still didn’t see it.
“Oh, no.” Dixie rolled her eyes and this time I was the target. “You mean you might take some steps and not get credit for them?”
“I know.” I grinned. “Silly, huh? But it keeps me working toward a goal. I’ll just run out and check the car.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No need.” I shook my head.
Pulling a light jacket over my pajamas, I slipped down the stairs and out the front door, quietly unlocking the dead bolt. The fall evening was a bit cool and made me wish I’d gotten re-dressed rather than taking the shortcut of throwing on a jacket.
Walking to where we’d parked, I unlocked the Jeep and reached behind the seat. Sure enough, it had simply slipped to the side and I’d missed it when we arrived.
As I shouldered the bag and started back to the house, I took a deep breath. I was really looking forward to this weekend and couldn’t wait to get started on the new project. Staying in the beautiful B and B was an added bonus. The night air was scented with crisp leaves and some flower I couldn’t quite identify. I raised my gaze to the sky.
When you’re in a city, or even in a small town like St. Ignatius, where I live, you don’t get the full impact of a dark night sky in the country. With the absence of artificial light, the cosmos was sprinkled with millions of tiny lights.
Not watching where I was going, I stumbled over something in the grass and nearly fell.
Righting myself and getting my bearings, I looked toward the house. As my eyes focused, I noticed a figure in the shadows near the side of the building. The figure moved quickly around the corner and disappeared. There wasn’t any reason someone shouldn’t be out walking around, but still I felt a prickle of unease on the back of my neck. Maybe it was just being in a strange place and the fact that the area was so isolated, but it made me hurry my steps a little.
I slipped back into the house and quietly shut the door, relocking the dead bolt. The quiet was broken by a sharp, high-pitched bark. Probably Colette’s little dog. I hoped she was settling down for the night and wasn’t planning on staying up, because she’d already irritated a few people at dinner.
I meant the dog, of course, but the same could be said for Colette.
Not wanting to be the cause of any further commotion, I made my way up the stairs as quietly as I could.
Carefully opening the door and creeping into the bedroom, I carried my cosmetics bag to the bathroom and set it on the counter.
“Did you find it?” Dixie asked from the bed, where she was already wrapped up in the soft covers.
“Yes, I did.”
“Now you can finish getting ready for bed without worrying about missing out on those steps.” Dixie rolled back over. “Good night.”
“I’ll try not to make too much noise,” I said to her back as I flipped the s. . .
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