After losing her job as food editor at a glossy magazine, Rosetta Sugarbaker Calloway-aka "Sugar" to friends-isn't sweet on accepting defeat and crawling back to her gossipy southern hometown. So when she has an opportunity to launch a community cookbook business with blue-ribbon baker Dixie Spicer in peaceful St. Ignatius, Iowa, she jumps at the chance to start over from scratch . . .
But as Sugar assembles recipes for the local centennial celebration, it's not long before she's up to her oven mitts in explosive threats, too-hot-to-handle scandals, and a dead body belonging to the moody matriarch of the town's first family. With suspicions running wild, Sugar and Spice must solve the murder before someone innocent takes the heat-and the real culprit gathers enough ingredients to strike again . . .
Includes delicious recipes!
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.45(d)|
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"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen," my Aunt Cricket is fond of saying. And though that is great advice, everybody can't actually leave, can they? I mean, someone has to stay in the kitchen and take the heat or nobody eats.
Today that person was me, Rosetta Sugarbaker Calloway, aka Sugar to my friends.
Up until six months ago, I had been a highfalutin senior food editor for a major magazine headquartered right here in the midwest. Corner office, nice salary, corporate trips. Now, thanks to a downturn in advertising revenues which resulted in downsizing at Mammoth Publishing, I had a new calling.
In partnership with Dixie Spicer, a woman who is, without a doubt, the best cook in Jameson County if not the whole world, I'm the Sugar half of Sugar and Spice Publishing. The Spice part comes in, not just because it has a nice ring to it, but because Spice is Dixie's nickname. A moniker she claims came about because of her last name, Spicer, and her hair color, which is a rich cinnamon. To tell you the God's honest truth, the nickname probably had a lot to do with her personality, but more about that later. In any case, Dixie and I publish cookbooks.
Now, probably not the kind you're thinking. Not the big fancy celebrity or TV show-driven ones on the shelves at the big box bookstores. These are community cookbooks. They're the kind your church or your kid's soccer team puts together, usually using the sale of the books as a fundraiser.
Most days I thought my exit from the corporate grind and the new venture it had brought about was brilliant, but today my role had turned into more damage control than publishing professional. The St. Ignatius Founders' Day Commemorative Cookbook, our inaugural project, was due to the printer in six weeks and I'd thought a brief meeting with the cookbook committee would finalize the contents. But then Scone Wars had broken out. What to do?
"When you find yourself in a hole, stop diggin'" was another idiom from Aunt Cricket, and though I've found she borrows wisdom from others and edits to the situation, it is mostly still wisdom. Mostly.
I took a deep breath and tried to gather my thoughts. As I did, I inhaled the combined smells of hot coffee and fresh baked pies. No matter where you're from, food is a universal thing. But here in the heart of America it's absolutely baked into the essence of the people and the place. Whether a holiday celebration, a family dinner, or a potluck. It's infused into the joy, the grief, and everything in between.
Today I'd counted on food to bring together the St. Ignatius Founders' Day Committee. With the help of the Red Hen Diner, I'd assembled a mouth-watering spread of summer fruit pies. Cherry (my favorite), apple, and peach. Perfect flaky crusts, sweet fruit flavors, and fresh hot coffee. I'd placed my trust in food to bring the group together.
Instead I had a major fail on my hands. The mob was out of control.
Or at least two members of the St. Ignatius Founders' Day Committee were, and the rest of the group egged them on with their rapt attention. I looked around the chicken-themed meeting room with its bright red and white checked tablecloths. In a matter of minutes, the place had changed from a bright and friendly chicken-themed backroom at the diner, to a WWE smackdown ring, with two contenders and the rest of the committee craning their necks, and jockeying for the best view to see what was going down.
In one corner, we had Elsie "The Eliminator" and in the other corner, Bertie "The Rock of the Block." It had begun with jabs over whose recipe for scones should be included in the Founders' Day cookbook, and escalated to full blown insult-throwing. Both were now on their feet, red-faced and agitated, silver heads bobbing as they squared off.
The committee chair made eye contact with me from across the room. Petite and proper Harriet Hucklebee looked around at the roomful of people as if she wasn't sure whether she should call the sheriff or sell tickets.
"Ladies, ladies." I raised my voice in an attempt to be heard above the argument. "Let's talk about this. I'm sure we can come to some sort of agreement."
"You sure can, missy." Elsie Farmer whipped around toward me, her smart silver earrings jangling with the force of her turn. "You can take Bertie's sad excuse for a scone recipe and toss it right in the garbage where it belongs."
"Come on, Elsie, everybody knows my scones put yours to shame." Bertie stomped closer to her opponent tightening the strings of her blue chambray apron with each step. "At last week's Ladies' Missions meeting, they were gobbled up. None left. You might have noticed if you hadn't been so busy flapping your lips."
"That must have been because people were taking them home to use for doorstops," Elsie shot back, her fists jammed on the waistline of the pink cabbage rose floral dress she wore. "If people knew ahead of time what you serve at your B & B, they wouldn't bother." She turned and addressed the rest of the committee. "I guess the 'B & B' stands for bad and ... bad."
Not terribly creative insult throwing, but she spat out the last "bad" as if it were the foulest of swear words.
There was a collective gasp from the onlookers.
"You'd better watch yourself," Bertie bristled. She pushed up her wire-rimmed glasses and leaned in nose to nose with Elsie. "Don't you go bad-mouthing my business, old woman."
"What are you gonna do, old woman?" Elsie reached out a finger and poked it at Bertie's nose. "Do me in over a scone recipe?" Oh my word, the two had plum lost their minds.
"Ladies —" I tried again to restore some civility.
"You." Elsie turned her finger toward me. "Sugar Calloway, you're the reason for all this fuss. You and your dumb cookbook."
Now all eyes in the room shifted to me. I didn't think it was the best time to point out that the "dumb cookbook" she referenced wasn't really my dumb cookbook. It was their dumb cookbook.
I looked to the other committee members for help. Poor little Harriet, bless her heart, looked ready to duck and run. Jimmie LeBlanc, head of the local historical society, ran a finger under the band of his bow tie like the bright red satin was about to strangle him. Tina Martin's bright fuchsia lips were frozen into a surprised "O." Dot Carson, the postmistress, leaned forward her eyes darting between Elsie and Bertie. And Lark Travers, jewelry store owner and project donor, suddenly found the ceiling of the room extremely fascinating.
Okay then, no help from the peanut gallery.
Turning back to Elsie, I took a deep breath.
She looked me up and down and lifted her chin. "When you're ready to see reason, you know where to find me." She walked to the door, and then turned back to the room. "Until this is sorted out, I will not support the Founders' Day project, nor will the Farmer family." With that, Elsie slammed out.
"Good riddance," Bertie called from across the room.
"Wow." I broke the silence that followed Elsie's exit.
And as if that had been the cue they were waiting for, everyone started talking at once.CHAPTER 2
Holy guacamole, now what? How on earth did a short meeting to sort out a few details about a cookbook go from a pie and coffee to DEFCON 1 in a matter of minutes?
I did feel somewhat responsible because it wasn't news to me that a ton of emotion is often attached to a favorite recipe, but I'd never seen anything quite like this.
It would take the committee a little while to get settled down, which gave me a chance to gather my papers and my thoughts. The St. Ignatius Founders' Day Cookbook was tight on space already and truly didn't need two scone recipes, but there had to be a way to work this out. A great believer in the win-win theory (go ahead, call me Pollyanna if you like), I was sure there had to be a solution. A good one. I just couldn't put my finger on it at the moment.
What had ever possessed me to think the two would see reason? I guess I'd thought one of them would take the high road and volunteer to leave their recipe out. I'd even brought along alternative recipes each had submitted. Elsie's Pineapple Right Side-Up Cake sounded tasty and Bertie's Corny Casserole would be a great addition. But instead the two feisty seniors had gone at it like opponents at a sold-out rumble.
I looked around the table. With a break in the action, some had taken the opportunity to refill their coffee cups or take a restroom break. Others were headed back to their places, checking their phones or chatting with their neighbors. Most of the committee members had little interest in scones, or casseroles or cakes for that matter, but from what I could hear of the chatter the threat of Elsie Farmer's family pulling out had the group in a tizzy.
The Farmer family was a big part of many of the events. Farmer's Farm Feeds had the parking lot where the parade would start, Farmer Trucking would provide the flatbed truck that would serve as the stage for all the presentations and, most importantly, Farmer's Hardware was the sponsor of the Miss Iggy contest which would determine who would be crowned queen of the whole St. Ignatius Founders' Day Celebration.
Who would have thought that a dispute over a scone recipe would threaten to derail so many things?
I reached for my sheaf of papers and handed draft copies of the book's table of contents to Tina Martin, local real estate agent, who sat on my right.
"What do you want me to do with these?" She waved the papers in the air. Her hot pink perfectly manicured nails matched her lipstick. In addition to being the town's most successful realtor, Tina was also the local cosmetics maven. If she hadn't tapped you yet to host a Looking Pretty party, trust me, she would. I think I'd escaped thus far because I was newish in town and didn't know enough people to garner a big order.
"Just pass them down." I handed a few more to a young woman on my left who I had just realized I didn't know. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've met."
"You probably don't remember me." She took one of the sheets and handed the rest to her neighbor. "We met at last month's Dilly Dally Dayz. I'm Minnie. Minnie Silberhorn. I'm the new secretary of the Founders' Day Committee. I think they just picked me because I'm good at taking notes. And because Kenny Farmer volunteered me." She straightened the pens beside her tablet, one red, one blue, one green, lining them up equal distance apart on the table.
Her light blue eyes met mine and a twinge of guilt shot through me because I had forgotten meeting her. I prided myself on remembering names and faces, and usually tried to pair a person's name with something about their appearance so the name would stick in my memory. But Minnie was so quiet, both in dress and manner, nothing about her really stood out. It wasn't that she was homely; it was simply that she sort of blended into the background.
"We really appreciate your note-taking, but I'm sure you're good at a lot of things." I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. "Are you any good at herding cats? Because I'm afraid that's what it's going to be like, trying to get this group back on track." I waved my hands at the room.
She gave me an odd look and straightened the red pen I'd just bumped out of alignment.
Okay then. Not everyone appreciates my sense of humor.
I watched my table of contents papers make their way around the table. Dixie and I had organized the recipes into the usual categories. Appetizers, Main Dishes, Sides, and Desserts. I really had to get the categories signed off on today because I needed to get photos done for the sections. Add to that, I needed to get a photographer lined up.
Also, because the purpose of the book was not only to celebrate local fare but also to commemorate the town's founders, I'd suggested some snippets of history mixed in. I needed those today as well.
Harriet Hucklebee slipped into the space between Tina and me. "I know you told us we'd have a limited amount of space for town history, but Jimmie has put a few ideas together." She lifted her eyes heavenward. "Lord help us, I think he's written a novel."
I stared at the two-inch thick pile of papers she'd laid in front of me. Jimmie LeBlanc hadn't just written a novel. He'd penned War and Peace St. Ignatius style.
"In order to keep within the budget for printing costs, we have to stay with the number of pages we planned." I tried to give her my no-nonsense-I-mean-business look but it's hard to take a tough line with a woman that looks like Marian the Librarian. Dixie and I had been very clear with the committee on page count when we'd looked at options more than two months ago.
"I know, but you know Jimmie." She pushed at the sleeves of her soft blue sweater set and shrugged her shoulders. "You'll just have to be firm with him."
Me? So in other words, no one on the committee wanted to tangle with the retired history teacher turned local history fanatic. The truth was I was fascinated by Jimmie's stories, but the charming old guy had not even a passing acquaintance with the concept of brevity. Bottom line, we had to keep costs down or the cookbook would end up being a money pit rather than a fundraiser.
Harriet patted the back of my hand. "I know you'll help him to understand." She smiled and stepped away. "I'll work on getting the group back in their places so we can get on with our agenda."
I glanced at my cell phone to check the time and saw I had missed two calls. One of them from my landlady.
"Greer," I said under my breath.
"Did you just growl at me?" Tina took a swig of her ever-present energy drink and looked at me over her bright purple rhinestone-studded reading glasses.
"No." I laughed at her offended look. "I missed a phone call from Greer and ..." I glanced back at my phone. "... from someone else I don't know." The other number was a different area code and not one I recognized. It wasn't my Mama Dearest's number nor the right area code to be any of my extended family.
"Oh, how is Greer?" Tina rolled her eyes and tucked a strand of perfectly highlighted blond hair behind one ear. I have no idea how the errant strand had escaped because her whole head of hair had been hair sprayed within an inch of its life.
"Doing well." I glanced back at my phone. "She probably just needs something from the attic or shed."
I was fond of Greer, who had rented me her well-kept Victorian at a great price when I moved to St. Ignatius. The darling eighty-something had decided a move to The Good Life, the town's senior living center, was in order and made me a great deal on the rent. The only caveat had been she wanted to leave some things behind until she decided what to do with them. However, with increasing frequency, Greer had been calling with various things she wanted me to look for in the many boxes and trunks.
"It's ridiculous she expects you, a renter, to do that." Tina shook her head. "Most people would simply sell their house and be done with it."
It could be as a real estate agent Tina had more than a passing interest.
"I think it's hard for her to let go and face no longer having her home to go back to." Whatever the reason, Greer wasn't ready to sell her house and I wasn't yet in any position to buy, but I hoped by the time she decided to put it on the market, I'd be able to swing the mortgage.
"Hmmpf." Tina leaned back in her seat, removed her purple glasses, and eyed me. "You know, Sugar, I have a Plum Passion eye shadow that would be stunning with your dark hair and gray eyes. Just stunning." She fumbled in her bag and I hoped she wasn't going to apply Plum Passion right then and there. "Not that you need help. Those classic cheekbones, that porcelain skin, and the contrast of your gorgeous dark chocolate hair. Still, it doesn't hurt to ice the cake, you know." She gave me a wink and handed me a business card.
"Thanks, hon." I took the embossed card though I was pretty sure I had one already. "We'll talk later." I would call my cheekbones angular, my skin type, pale and guaranteed to sunburn, and though I liked chocolate, I thought plain old dark brown better described my hair color. I wondered if Tina's real estate ads reflected her penchant for colorful descriptions.
Picking Greer's number from the recent calls, I started to step away and hit redial. Clearly Tina didn't think much of my arrangement with my landlady. It was a good thing Greer wasn't counting on her for help. I'd heard Greer had a son who lived in Minneapolis, which was not much of a jaunt, but he'd not been to see her in a long while. Not in all the time since I'd known her anyway.
"Let's get back to the business at hand," Harriet clapped her hands to get everyone's attention.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Game of Scones"
Copyright © 2018 Mary Lee Woods.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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