A sweet tooth for murder . . .
Bailey King's in New York wrapping up a six-week shoot on her first cable TV show, Bailey's Amish Sweets, when she gets a call from her Ohio town's resident busybody. With Easter around the corner, Bailey's been recruited to create a giant toffee bunny for the weeklong springtime festival that will also feature live white rabbits. But back home in Harvest, death becomes the main attraction when Stephen Raber keels over from an apparent heart attack—with Bailey and Raber's pet bunny as witnesses.
Except it wasn't Raber's heart that suddenly gave out—a lethal dose of lily of the valley was mixed into a tasty piece of toffee. Who'd want to poison a jovial rabbit farmer who reminded Bailey of an Amish Santa Claus? To solve the murder, she and her sheriff deputy boyfriend Aiden must uncover a twenty-year-old secret. She'll need to pull a rabbit out of a hat to keep a healthy distance from toxic people, including one venomous killer . . .
Release date: June 25, 2019
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 206
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Charlotte Weaver stood in the middle of Times Square with her mouth hanging open and the ties of her black bonnet flapping on the hot air pushing its way through the subway grate, as the trains rumbled below.
“Charlotte!” I took hold of her arm. “Close your mouth. Your Amish is showing.”
She snapped her mouth shut.
The truth was Charlotte’s Amish had been “showing” the entire time that we had been in NYC. In Holmes County, Ohio, no one would blink an eye at the pretty redheaded girl in the plain dress, sensible black tennis shoes, and black bonnet, but in New York, she stuck out like a gorilla on the subway. We had been in the city for the last six weeks shooting six episodes for my candy maker television show, Bailey’s Amish Sweets, to appear on Gourmet Television in the summer season.
Charlotte was in Manhattan as my kitchen assistant and would also appear on the show giving it that extra “Amish oomph,” as producer Linc Baggins liked to say. Yes, “Baggins” like the Hobbit. It was best not to mention that when he was around since his resemblance to the hairy-footed character was uncanny.
Typically, an Amish person would never appear on television. It was against the rules they lived by, but Charlotte was able to appear on the show with me because as of yet she hadn’t been baptized in the Amish church and could do more English things while on her rumspringa. Her church elders were not thrilled with the idea of her being on TV, but until she was officially baptized, there wasn’t much they could do about it. I didn’t want Charlotte to get in trouble with her church, but I’d invited her along anyway. Her heart was so set on going with me to New York that I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint her.
“I—I’ve never seen anything like this!” Charlotte said in awe.
I glanced around and tried to take everything in through Charlotte’s eyes. Thousands of people of every race, ethnicity, and language milled around; the bright lights and signs glittered on the towering buildings; the smell of bodies, hot dogs, car exhaust, and street vendor flowers mingled together. It was sensory overload for anyone, and for a girl who had lived most of her life in a very conservative Amish community, it must have been like the dark side of the moon.
I wrapped my arms around her shoulders. “Since you’ve been working so hard on the show, and since we haven’t been able to get out much with the shooting schedule, I’m glad that we had time for me to show you some of the city.”
“Is all the city this loud and bright and . . . ?” She trailed off, searching for the right word.
“Maybe not this loud and bright,” I said with a smile. “We are in the thick of it now, but every city has life to it. That’s not any different from Holmes County.”
She looked at me with wonder in her large blue eyes. “How can you say that? This place is nothing like back home.”
“Holmes County has as much life and color as New York does; it’s just shown in a different way.”
My best friend Cass Calbera ran up the sidewalk, maneuvering expertly through the crowd like someone who had lived in New York her entire life, which she had. “There you are! I’ve been circling the square for the last ten minutes looking for you two.” She glanced at Charlotte. “I thought it would be easy, considering, but I got fooled by a nun in full habit walking down the street. I swore it was Charlotte.”
I rolled my eyes. “Charlotte doesn’t look like a Catholic nun.”
“From the back she might. Anyway, why weren’t you answering your phone? I tried to call too!”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket; I had put it on silent during our last shooting session and forgotten to turn the sound back on. Whoops.
“Seriously, Bailey, you’ve lived in Amish Country too long. I think being away from electronics has addled your brain. You don’t know how to behave in normal society.”
“What is normal society?” I asked.
She shook her finger at me and, as she did, her purple bangs fell into her eyes. “Don’t you go and get philosophical on me, King!”
Before I could say anything, she retorted, “Now, Jean Pierre sent a car. I left it just up the street. It was the only place the driver could find to park. We have to go. No one keeps Jean Pierre waiting if they know what’s good for them.”
That much was true.
The ride through the city to JP Chocolates was slow, but by the looks of it, Charlotte didn’t mind a bit. She had her nose pressed up against the tinted glass, taking everything in. I could just imagine the stories she would tell my grandmother and Emily Keim, our other shop assistant, when we got back to Swissmen Sweets.
When we finally walked through the front door of JP Chocolates, a wave of nostalgia hit me. This was where I had spent six years of my life working eighty to one hundred hours a week. Unlike Swissmen Sweets, my grandmother’s Amish candy shop back in Ohio, with its hardwood floors and pine shelving, JP Chocolates was striking white and sleekly accented with chrome. It would have even been considered sterile or plain if it had not been for the chocolate itself. Elaborate chocolate creations sat under glass encasements. There was a replica of the Statue of Liberty that I had carved in white chocolate in one of the glass cases.
With Easter just a week away, JP Chocolates was dripping with Easter bunnies in every size and flavor of chocolate. I even saw Easter rabbits made from molded peanut butter, marshmallow, and red licorice
“I wish I could have spent more time with you in the last week, but you know what a nuthouse this place is around any holiday,” Cass said as she walked through the showroom to the back of the shop where the chocolate happened. Cass was the head chocolatier at JP Chocolates, and it was obvious that she was the woman in charge as the apprentice chocolatiers backed away from her and avoided eye contact when she passed by. Cass didn’t seem to notice the power she had over them.
I most certainly did. Before Cass got the position as head chocolatier at JP Chocolates, I had been next in line to receive the promotion as Jean Pierre’s long-time protégée, but then my grandfather died, and I found myself giving up the position to live with my grandmother in Holmes County, Ohio, helping with the candy shop that had been in our family for generations. I left thinking that I would never return to the city for more than a short visit, but then Linc offered me my own show on his network. I hadn’t thought much would come of it, but to my surprise, the network loved the screen test that we shot in Harvest, and the next thing I knew I was in NYC shooting my own candy-making show. Somehow fate had decreed that I would have the best of both worlds: Holmes County and New York, the two places on earth that had captured my heart. I called it fate, but my Amish grandmother called it providence.
“Ma chérie!” Jean Pierre floated into the giant kitchen. “You have come back to me. Please say that you plan to stay!” Jean Pierre Ruge was a tall, thin, silver-haired man with a Parisian nose who carried himself as erect as a dancer. He moved his arms in such a way that it seemed he might have been just that once upon a time.
I gave Jean Pierre a hug and he smelled of chocolate, which wasn’t all that surprising considering what he did for a living. The only thing was that he wasn’t supposed to be doing it for a living any longer. Months ago, he had retired from the business and Cass took over. From what Cass said he was there every day giving her advice. Cass said that she didn’t mind it. As aggravating as Jean Pierre could be, you couldn’t help but love his flamboyant personality.
“You know I can’t stay, Jean Pierre. Charlotte and I leave tomorrow morning. We just dropped by to say our good-byes.”
He clicked his tongue in disgust. “Oh, dear me, how are you getting home?”
“We have a flight going out of Newark.”
“A commercial flight?” He shuddered. “You should take my plane. No protégée of mine should ever fly commercial.”
I chuckled. “I appreciate the offer, Jean Pierre, but the network paid for the flight and Charlotte and I will be more than comfortable.”
He sniffed. “What kind of television network would fly their star commercial? It is a disgrace!”
“Not to worry, Jean Pierre,” Cass chimed in. “Hot Cop is picking them up from the airport.”
I rolled my eyes. “Hot Cop” was the name Cass called my sheriff deputy boyfriend, Aiden Brody, back in Ohio. Her description was accurate on all counts, but it was also embarrassing. As of yet, Aiden hadn’t heard the nickname, and I would do everything in my power to keep it that way.
Jean Pierre set a long finger against his cheek. “I do not know of this Hot Cop. How do I not know about Hot Cop?”
Cass patted his arm. “I gave him the once-over and Bailey has my support on this one. We both know what a bulldog I can be.”
Jean Pierre sniffed. “This is very true. You make a judgment on a person’s character and stick with it. I like decisiveness. This is a good skill to have in chocolate and in life. In chocolate, there are no second chances.”
“In life there might be,” I mused.
Jean Pierre smiled. “Perhaps. That is my wish for you, ma chérie.” He clapped his hands. “Now if you want to help us weave some more chocolate Easter baskets, we won’t turn you away.”
I grinned. Making chocolate Easter baskets and weaving with chocolate was one of my favorite jobs at JP Chocolates. I planned to teach my grandmother the fine art when I got home. “I thought you would never ask!”
I was just settling in to weave chocolate when my cell phone rang. I had turned it back on after Cass’s reprimand. I removed my gloves and pulled the phone from my pocket. When I checked the screen, I saw the name “Margot Rawlings” there. Margot was the village of Harvest instigator. Whatever she had to say to me, chances were high I wouldn’t like it. Against my better judgment, I answered the call.
Without so much as a hello, she said, “I need to talk to you about a rabbit.”
And a dark cloud of foreboding fell over me.
Charlotte squeezed my hand when our flight descended for landing early the next day in the tiny Akron-Canton Airport. As the plane’s tires bounced on the tarmac, I gave a huge sigh of relief. It was good to be home. The thought surprised me. When I had traveled to Ohio the previous summer, I would never have considered the state, let alone rural Amish country, as home, but that was how I felt now. The little village of Harvest, Ohio, felt more like home to me than New York ever had in all the time I had lived there.
We deplaned without incident and without causing a scene. The people of Ohio were used to seeing the Amish, and they didn’t so much as blink an eye at Charlotte when she strolled through the airport in her plain dress and bonnet, rolling her little red suitcase behind her.
Sheriff Deputy Aiden Brody stood just on the other side of security in his Holmes County Sheriff’s Department uniform. His blond hair was tousled as if he had just removed his hat, and his dark brown eyes scrutinized everyone who walked by him. Years of being a police officer had taught Aiden to always be on the lookout for trouble.
His face lit up and the adorable dimple in his right cheek appeared as Charlotte and I came into his line of sight. Charlotte waved at him with a big smile on her face, but I was much more reserved. I adjusted my carry-on bag on my shoulder and took a deep breath. It truly was good to be home.
Aiden gave me a smile that I knew was meant for me alone, and my stomach did a little flip. We had spoken on the phone every night while I was away, but it was so good to see him in the flesh. I didn’t dare run up to him and give him a hug. That would have to wait. Public displays of affection embarrassed the Amish, and I had already put Charlotte through enough by taking her with me to New York. The poor girl could only take so much Englishness.
Aiden seemed to sense this, and he simply said, “It’s good to have you home.” His voice was deep and fuller of emotion than I had ever heard it.
“It’s good to be home.” I smiled back, feeling a little choked up myself.
He grabbed the handle of Charlotte’s suitcase and took my bag from my arm. “Let’s go pick up your luggage.”
The drive back to Holmes County was made lively by Charlotte’s Amish view of life in New York. “Do you know that you can buy hot dogs on the street there?” she asked Aiden. “Not for a festival either! Any day of the week. I ate so many hot dogs.”
Aiden chuckled and looked at me in the rearview mirror. “I’d say that was a great takeaway from life in the city: hot dogs on every corner.”
Charlotte frowned. “Not every corner, but a lot of them.”
Aiden smiled. Growing up in Holmes County he was used to the Amish literalness. The plain people say what they mean and mean what they say. “Many corners then?” he asked.
“‘Many corners’ works,” she said in all seriousness.
“The New York City tourist board would be pleased,” I agreed. “I got a call from Margot just before we left the city. Something to do with rabbits.”
“Oh.” Aiden glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “I hoped to get you to Swissmen Sweets before that came up.”
“That sounds ominous.”
“It’s Margot we’re talking about here.” He paused. “I think it would be better for you to see it before I try to explain. It’s a little hard to describe.”
“That doesn’t sound terrifying or anything.”
Aiden laughed. “You know Margot. Bigger is better. More, more, more. She wants Harvest on the tourist map and will do anything to get it there.”
“Anything?” I raised my eyebrows.
He looked at me in the mirror again. “Just about anything, yes.”
Main Street in our little village of Harvest, Ohio, was buzzing when Aiden turned his departmental SUV onto it. Buggies and cars were parked along the street and a whole cluster of people stood in front of the white gazebo in the middle of the square. Aiden illegally double-parked his car so that we could get out and see what all the commotion was about. Since Aiden was a police officer, I didn’t think he was worried about getting a ticket for the parking violation.
“Oh my,” Charlotte said when she climbed out of the front seat of the car. “Look at all those rabbits.”
I was still struggling to yank my carry-on out of the backseat. “Rabbits?”
“Bunnies, so many bunnies. I’ve never seen so many rabbits.” Her voice had a bit of awe in it.
Finally, the bag came loose, and I stumbled back and would have ended up on my rear end in the middle of Main Street if Aiden hadn’t been there to catch me. He squeezed the back of my elbows before letting me go and taking the carry-on from my hand. “Bunnies?” I asked in a small voice.
“Oh yeah,” Aiden said with sparkling milk chocolate eyes. “Take a look for yourself.”
With more than a little bit of trepidation, I peeked over the roof of the car and saw the rabbits. Just to the right of the gazebo was a pen that held at least thirty white rabbits of all sizes. A large Amish man with a white beard and a round belly stood in the middle of the pen holding the biggest rabbit of all with a bright pink bow around its thick neck. He held the rabbit like she was a baby to be burped on his shoulder.
I glanced at Aiden. “Easter in Harvest?” I asked.
He grinned, and the dimple was out full force. “Margot’s version of it at least.”
As he said this, I spotted Margot Rawlings with her short curls, waving her arms in the middle of the square. She was clearly giving everyone there her marching orders. I knew it wouldn’t be long until she heard I was home and ordered me about as well. I still didn’t know exactly what she’d meant when she had said to me, “I need to talk to you about a rabbit.” Was it one of these rabbits that she meant? Our conversation had been interrupted by Jean Pierre, who had plucked my phone from my hand and disconnected the call. He had said that the people of Harvest could have me back the next day, but as long as I was in New York, I should pay attention to him.
I loved Jean Pierre. He was a kind and generous man. He had never been anything but nice to me, but he did have an inflated opinion of himself. I supposed being told you were the best chocolatier in New York City for the last fifty years would eventually go to a person’s head. He was a bit of a prima donna when he wanted to be.
It soon became clear that I wouldn’t be able to stay under Margot’s radar for long. The town’s super organizer spotted me from across the village square and waved frantically. It was clear that she wanted me to run to her side that instant.
I waved back as if I didn’t understand what her “come here” gestures meant. “We had better duck into Swissmen Sweets,” I told Aiden. “I don’t want to be waylaid by Margot before I even say hello to my grandmother.”
“Understood,” Aiden said, and he guided Charlotte and me to the other side of the street where my family’s candy shop stood directly opposite the white gazebo. As Aiden opened the door, I was welcomed home by the comforting smells of warm chocolate, sweet caramel, and fresh berries. The same scents mingled in the air at JP Chocolates, but in Holmes County it was different. The sweet smells mixed together with the scent of hay, horse, and the apple blossoms from the trees that lined Main Street. In that moment, I could see why so many people who have never been to Amish Country are fascinated and enchanted by this place. The Amish might not believe in magic in the literal sense, but they did have a little magic of their own making in this small corner of the world.
The bell on Swissmen Sweets’ front door jingled as we walked through. My grandmother was behind the glass-domed counter, putting a tray of molded chocolate Easter eggs out on display. Her wrinkled face and bright blue-green eyes, just like mine, lit up when she spotted us. “My girls are home!” She lifted the hinged piece of wood that separated the area behind the counter from the rest of the shop and came to us. She enveloped Charlotte and me in a hug, and then pulled Aiden in for good measure.
I was most definitely home.
My grandmother finally released us from her crushing hug. For a small woman, she was very strong. “It is so gut, so gut to have you home. These last six weeks have been long. Emily has been a great help, of course, but I have missed you so!”
Emily Keim, formerly Emily Esh, had recently married. With her marriage over the winter to Christmas tree farmer Daniel Keim, she’d been able to give up her job working at Esh Family Pretzel, the shop just next to Swissmen Sweets. Emily had worked in the family business her whole life with her older brother and sister, but it had never been an easy job for her. Both her sister Esther and her brother Abel had been unkind to her ever since she’d made a few mistakes during her rumspringa. They had never forgiven her or forgotten those mistakes and continued to make her pay for them years later.
Daniel, a kind young man from a hardworking family, had given her a chance to start a new life, and with the windfall that I had earned from my cable television show, Maami and I had been able to hire Emily to provide extra help around the candy shop. I hoped that as the business grew I would have more work to give her or even hire her permanently as a member of our staff, which at the moment consisted of Maami, Charlotte, and me.
Emily had held down the fort at Swissmen Sweets the last six weeks while Charlotte and I had been away. I knew that Charlotte and I wouldn’t have both been able to go without Emily’s help, and my producer Linc Baggins had insisted he needed both of us. He said having a real Amish person on the show gave it that Amish flavor it needed.
“I feel whole again having my girls back.” My grandmother hugged us once more. “It was too quiet here without you.”
I buried my face in her shoulder, and her fresh lavender scent wafted around me. For the second time since I had returned to Ohio, I truly felt like I was coming home. “We missed you too,” I said, and let her go.
Maami patted my cheek. “You came home at the perfect time. There is quite a to-do in the village about Easter. I’m sure that you have seen the commotion across the street.” She eyed me. “And Bailey, Margot is very eager to speak to you. She has a project for you.”
My orange cat Nutmeg ran out from under one of the shelves lining the front of the shop and purred. I bent over to pick him up. I had missed the little cat too.
“I know,” I said. “She called me while I was in New York, but I didn’t have much time to talk other than to hear her say something about a rabbit.” I paused. “And I saw the bunnies across the street when we were coming in. Another one of Margot’s grand schemes, I gather.”
“Oh yes, she has great plans for you when it comes to the rabbits.”
I set Nutmeg back on the pine-. . .
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