Recent MBA grad Bronwyn Crewse has just taken over her family's ice cream shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and she's going back to basics. Win is renovating Crewse Creamery to restore its former glory, and filling the menu with delicious, homemade ice cream flavors—many from her grandmother’s original recipes. But unexpected construction delays mean she misses the summer season, and the shop has a literal cold opening: the day she opens her doors an early first snow descends on the village and keeps the customers away.
To make matters worse, that evening, Win finds a body in the snow, and it turns out the dead man was a grifter with an old feud with the Crewse family. Soon, Win’s father is implicated in his death. It's not easy to juggle a new-to-her business while solving a crime, but Win is determined to do it. With the help of her quirky best friends and her tight-knit family, she'll catch the ice cold killer before she has a meltdown...
About the Author
Abby is a member of Crime Writers of Color, and Sisters in Crime, National, Regional and Guppies Chapters.
Read an Excerpt
Today I was going to touch the stars.
Lying on my back, I stared up at my bedroom ceiling. When I'd moved to my own place, the only things I'd taken from my childhood home were the star-shaped glittered cardboard cutouts my grandmother and I had made when I was seven. I hung them as a reminder of what she'd told me-always shoot for the stars.
She'd also told me on days I had to make ice cream for the store, don't sleep past five a.m.
I sat up in bed and looked over at the red glow of my digital alarm clock.
Up ahead of time. Already, the day seemed promising.
A smile escaping my lips, I pulled back the covers and stood on the bed. On my toes, I reached up and felt the coarse bumps from the glue on the gold-glittered star that hung the lowest. Closing my eyes, I walked the length of the bed, socked feet sinking into the mattress, and ran my fingertips along the points. Inhaling happily, I jumped off the bed and padded down the hall into the bathroom, humming a tune.
Yes, today was the day that I was going to realize my dream.
As I brushed my teeth, I stared back at my reflection in the mirror and could almost see all the excitement oozing out of me. Running my family's ice cream shop hadn't always been my dream, surely not the one I'd left for college and earned a degree in marketing and an MBA for. But when my dad's sister, Aunt Jack, had moved to North Carolina and left our little business without a manager, my grandfather had chosen me, his only granddaughter, to run it. He'd put the key to the shop in a box with a keyring that said "Manager" and a card that said "Carte Blanche" and placed it under the Christmas tree. Tearing into the red-and-gold Ho-Ho-Ho wrapping paper that holiday morning, I'd felt just like a kid-wide smile, nervous giggle and my insides squealing with delight.
That had been nearly a year ago.
I let out a long sigh as I put away my toothbrush and closed the medicine cabinet. I pulled a plastic cap over my short-cropped black hair and stepped into the shower.
Yep, today I was confident about opening the shop, but that confidence had been born out of trouble. After the baton had been passed to me and I came up with the plan to turn our little shop around, I found out the hard way just how quickly plans could go wrong.
I closed my eyes and let the hot water from my brand-new luxury spa showerhead-the only modern amenity in the old Victorian rental-fall down on me.
I had opted to revamp the store, modernizing it with what I deemed strategic, moneymaking renovations. It had a full glass wall at the back of the dining area, a 1950ish soda shop motif (complete with a black-and-white checkered floor), an open-view kitchen where customers could see their ice cream being made and a menu based on the recipes my grandparents, Aloysius Zephyr Crewse and Kaylene Brewster Crewse, had used when they opened shop in 1965.
I didn't have my grandmother's original recipe box-no one seemed to know what had happened to it. But I did have photocopies of some of the recipe cards she'd used, and, having worked alongside her for my entire childhood tugging at her apron strings, I was pretty sure, for the recipes I didn't have, I could remember most of the ingredients and churn out her bestsellers, or at least be pretty close.
Known for being the methodical and analytical one, I had carefully mapped out a blueprint to restore the business to what I called its glory days-when all we sold was ice cream-but all my planning and practical graduate coursework had gone straight out of the window by week two. I learned firsthand about real-world time delays.
I'd never worried so much in my life. My plan had been to relaunch the shop at the Chagrin Falls Annual Memorial Day Blossom Festival. But between the wrong glass shipping for my partition wall, a prolonged crop of rainstorms and an overbooked contractor, it would be closer to our little village's October Pumpkin Roll before I could flip the sign on the shop door to Open.
I say "closer" because my vision still hadn't been actualized. The plexiglass wall needed to partition off the kitchen still hadn't arrived. And the supplier of our fair-trade cane sugar had gotten into a ten-car pileup-no casualties, but tons of the white grains had been overturned across the highway, making me have to wait to get the first batches started until another truck could be loaded. It turned out to be only a two-day delay. Thank goodness it had arrived in time.
I reached over and flipped the showerhead to pulsating, letting the water beat down and wash away those thoughts of all the hiccups that had tried to give my ice cream dream a meltdown.
I basked in the spray for a few more minutes before I turned off the water, stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around me. I slid my hand across the condensation on the mirror and grabbed a bottle of face moisturizer.
Smearing the liquid under my eyes and across my forehead, I couldn't help but grin thinking about how our little business, with me at the helm, was going to come full circle today. We were back to selling ice cream and only ice cream.
I pulled off my shower cap, ran a comb through my hair and felt the first of the butterflies flapping around in my stomach. I whispered a little prayer and headed back to my bedroom to get dressed.
My grandfather had often reminisced about how hard it had been for him and my Grandma Kay to start that little shop. Just relocating to the village of Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland, from the south, had been an ordeal. My grandma hadn't gotten used to the snow and cold when they took on the business of digging in a frosty freezer every time she served a customer. But then she'd made it her own. Over the years, she came up with flavors that captured everyone's fancy-smooth and lemony luscious ice box pie, sprinkle-splattered cake batter and my grandfather's favorite, pralines and cream-folds of gooey sweet caramel and salty praline pecans swirled into her homemade vanilla bean ice cream.
But selling ice cream in a place where four seasons sometimes slid into two-either hot or cold-meant our family business had hit more bumps than the almond-filled rocky road ice cream my Grandma Kay used to whip up for her famous cakes. So, to keep up, other family members had stuffed the shop shelves with non-ice cream items in an attempt to keep it viable all year round.
Crewse Creamery had become more of a novelty shop-T-shirts, Chagrin Falls memorabilia, hot dogs, lemonade and candy. "No one wants ice cream in the wintertime, Bronwyn," my aunt Jack had said, calling me by my full name, something no one did, while setting up an Ohio lottery machine she'd purchased. "We have to follow the money. Diversify."
With Aunt Jack's changes, our family business had been teetering on the point of no return, especially after she stopped making ice cream by hand. She ordered mix for soft serve and frozen tubs all the way from Arizona. Homemade ice cream had been what set us apart from all the other ice cream shops. But she said it made no economical sense to continue to make it half the year when she could get a year-long contract to supply ice cream to cover the late-spring and summer months. Luckily, she'd found love on the internet and moved to follow her man to the Tar Heel State before the first shipment arrived.
My radio alarm clock had popped on at five and was issuing a weather alert when I got back to my room. Cold. Wet. Dreary.
Pulling back the sheer curtains at the window, I took a peek outside. I couldn't read the still-dark sky, and the dry ground illuminated by the yellow glow of the streetlight didn't give a hint of what the forecaster warned.
I pulled out a sweater as the old radiator clanked and hissed, held it up and thought better of it.
"Cold weather may be blowing in," I said, folding the sweater up, "but churning ice cream and waiting on customers is gonna make me work up a sweat." I smiled. "Yeah, lots of customers. Lots of sweat."
I stuffed the sweater back into the drawer and, opening another one, pulled out one of the shop's custom T-shirts. I layered it with a button-down flannel shirt-always best to be prepared-and snaked my way into a pair of jeans. On my knees, I rustled through the floor of my closet. I pushed work shoes down into my knapsack and dug my UGG boots out of the back.
I was ready to start my day-the day-the first day of our family's new and improved ice cream shop.
First stop, though, my parents' house.
I grabbed my puffy coat and a hat from the coat rack, picked up last year's Christmas gift from PopPop and stuffed it in my jeans pocket and plodded across the old wooden floor and down the back stairs that led out from my second-story apartment.
The sky spit down droplets of rain on me as I walked outside. Right now it was hit or miss, but something was brewing, I could tell. The wind let out a low howl, blew the autumn leaves across my path and gave me a shiver up my spine. I pulled the hood up on my coat, shoved my hands into my pockets looking for gloves. Nothing. I balled my fists up and tried to keep my fingertips from freezing. The weather forecast was rarely right, at least for Cleveland and its surrounding areas, and-fingers crossed-I hoped the wintery forecast for the day would be a miss.
Around my hometown, snowfall could come with the daffodils in April and not so much for sleigh rides and decorated trees in December. It wasn't odd anymore for Christmas to arrive with sixty-five-degree weather, which was what I was wishing for today.
Hey!" I called out. "Mom! Dad!" I walked through my parents' front door, which was always unlocked. "Where are you guys?" I knew no one was asleep in this house.
My parents still lived in the big colonial home where my grandparents had raised my dad, my uncle Denny and aunt Jack, and where they had raised my three brothers and me. They were pretty much empty nesters now, but family was always going in and out. We were a close-knit bunch, and my large family made up the majority of the 0.4 percent African American population of Chagrin Falls listed on Wikipedia.
"We're back here, Win," I heard my mother call out.
I tugged out of my coat, draped it over the newel post at the foot of the stairs, adjusted my knapsack across my shoulder and walked down the center hallway back to the kitchen. Much more updated than the Victorian I lived in. Since the kids moved out, my parents had renovated just about every room in the house.
My mother, sitting at the island, reached out for me as I emerged through the kitchen entryway. "Happy Opening Day!" She took my hands and, pulling me over to her, planted a kiss. "Oh!" she said. "Your hands are freezing. Where are your gloves?"
"I'm okay, Mom," I said. "It's a short walk down to the shop. I'll be fine until I get there."
"You're not okay. And it's not fine. You're cold." She snapped her fingers, a thought seemingly sparking in her head, and hopped off the stool. "I've got a pair for you right here in your old cubby in the mudroom."
"Hi, Daddy," I said, knowing there was no use arguing with my mother. Plus, she was right, my hands were cold. "What are you two up to?"
"Daddy's making me breakfast," my mother said, bubbly and smiling as usual as she came back from the mudroom shaking a pair of red knitted gloves at me. "We're having a Riya omelet." She placed the gloves into my hands.
I raised an eyebrow. "As in my Riya?" I pushed the gloves down into my knapsack.
"Yep," my dad said, and gave a firm nod. He stood at the stove, bent over close, intense, working on the contents of his small skillet like he was performing surgery. He was the best cook out of our clan. Nobody missed dinner on Family Chef Night when it was his turn. He had on brown dress pants, ready for work, the sleeves of his light blue dress shirt rolled up, his collar button undone. His tie and suit jacket were carefully placed over the back of a chair. "It has a little turmeric, a little garam masala, basil, sweet Italian sausage and-"
"Some red chili pepper!" said my mother, finishing his sentence.
I laughed. "That would be Riya," I said.
One of my two best friends, Riya Amacarelli was half Sicilian, half Indian and fully American. She had always been a firecracker, hot-tempered and determined. She'd followed in the footsteps of more than half my family and gone into the medical field. Something I'd never considered. I peeked over into my dad's sauté pan-somehow he'd captured Riya in an egg dish.
"You want me to make you one, Pumpkin?" my dad asked.
"No," I said, shaking my head. "It just seems wrong eating a dish named after someone I know."
"Suit yourself. You'll miss a treat." He flipped over the omelet. "I'm making one for your Grumpy Pa, though," my father said. "You'll drop it off to him before you head down the hill?"
"Sure," I said.
My grandfather lived in the same house, but he had his own suite where he'd drawn a line-no entering without an invitation-except for me. I was his girl.
"Graham, don't call your father that," my mother said, creases forming on her brow. "He might be in a good mood this morning." My mother, the perpetual optimist. "He wanted Win to take over the store and run it, and today's the day. That has to have him in a good mood."
"Grumpiness is built into his DNA," my dad said. "I've been scouring medical journals ever since my residency days to see if a grumpy gene has been identified. Soon as they find one, I'm extracting it out of him."