Candy shop owner Ava Oosterling mixes it up with a fudge judge with a grudge—who loses his life before he can pick a winner....
Ava is gearing up for the First Annual Arts Festival—a huge celebration that could draw national attention to her old-fashioned fudge shop in Door County, Wisconsin. She’s invited two celebrity chefs to go head-to-head with her in a fudge contest. Everyone is having a tasty time…until a judge for the festival is found dead.
To her shock, he’d been complaining around town that her Fairy Tale fudge flavors were…well, fudged. Now the sheriff is wondering if Ava fits the mold for a murder suspect. As Ava tries to square her reputation and find the real killer, she’s in for a whole batch of trouble….
Includes Delicious Recipes and Fudge-Making Tips!
About the Author
Christine DeSmet is the author of First-Degree Fudge, and a winner of the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart as well as a three-time finalist. She is also a winner of the Slamdance Film Festival writing contest. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America, Christine teaches fiction and screenwriting at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Read an Excerpt
Everything and everyone has a purpose in life, and a place, my grandmother Sophie always said. “And everyone and everything can be good and then go bad. Lloyd Mueller is like beer fudge. Enjoy it now because it only has a shelf life of about three days.”
I shivered at what she’d just insinuated. But nobody contradicted my Belgian grandmother, especially when she was upset. And yet I plunged in like a ninny. “Grandma, Lloyd is a good landlord. Or was. At least he’s giving me a refund for making me move out of this rental cabin early. He’s bringing the check to the meeting at the fudge shop. And please don’t talk about him having a shelf life.” My skin rippled again, this time with big goose bumps. “You make it sound like somebody will do him in for having me move.”
“Bah and booyah! Maybe he should watch out! You’re moving out of this lovely cabin and then moving into the storage room of your fudge shop? Whoever heard of living in a fudge shop! This is going to be trouble for you and worse for Lloyd!” Exclamation points spat out of her mouth as my grandmother splashed suds about the fudge utensils in my cabin’s kitchen sink.
My cabin was one of several rentals along the three-block length of Duck Marsh Street in Fishers’ Harbor, a tourist town on peninsular Door County, Wisconsin, which juts into Lake Michigan. Our county was known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. In the summer our village’s population of two hundred swelled to a couple of thousand when the condos and summer homes filled with vacationers from Chicago and beyond.
“I don’t like it,” Grandma said, persisting. We Belgians are like that, the old “dog on a bone,” never giving up. “He’s up to no good.”
I had to admit I felt the same way. Everybody knew everybody’s business here. Lloyd was the richest man in town by far. All we knew was that he intended to buy the Blue Heron Inn, but he wasn’t telling anybody his intentions except to say it wouldn’t be an inn anymore. People all over town were nervous about the secrecy. Even Lloyd’s ex-wife, Libby—who got along with him fine—had told my grandma she was worried about the mysterious surprise he had cooking for Fishers’ Harbor. Libby said he wouldn’t even tell her. What did that mean? That he was up to no good, as Grandma said?
It was hard for me to worry too much about this big secret at the moment. I was in the living room packing books in a hurry in sticky July humidity. It was Friday morning after the Fourth, and I’d told Lloyd I’d be out by Sunday. I could fuss and ask for thirty days’ notice, but Lloyd—for all his faults—was also my grandfather’s old high school buddy. Besides, I liked the thought of living in a fudge shop. The early-morning fog was being steamed by the sun, steeping me like a tea bag. My long brown hair in a twist atop my head was coming undone on my damp neck, and my trademark pink blouse was beginning to stick to my back.
I’d been up since five, the water had been cut off in my fudge shop today, and the birdcall clock over the sink had just cardinal-chirped eight o’clock, which panicked me. In a half hour I had to meet up with the fudge contest judges and confectioner chef contestants at my shop. Fortunately, Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers & Belgian Fudge & Beer was only about thirty feet away across my backyard. It sat on the docks of our Lake Michigan harbor.
Grandma said amid pans rattling in the sink, “I don’t see why you can’t live in our sunporch for now.”
Grandma and Grandpa Oosterling lived across the way, in one of only two cabins on this street not owned by Lloyd Mueller. Moving in with my Grandma Sophie and Grandpa Gil would be convenient, but I was thirty-two, and I’d heard too many jokes about thirtysomethings moving back in with family to be comfortable with the invitation.
“Grandma, I’ll be fine. I need to worry about settling on a new fudge flavor for next week’s contest.” I tossed more cookbooks and scriptwriting books into the next empty box sitting near me on the floor by the couch.
“You like Brussels sprouts.”
“Sprout fudge?” I swallowed down my gag reflex, then heard her squelch a giggle. My grandma was like that, always keeping me on my toes. “What fairy tale is that based on?” From the start of my business I had decided that all my fudge flavors for females had to be named for a fairy tale.
Grandma said, “The story of the Three Bears. Porridge fudge.”
Smiling at that flavor, I countered, “Maybe a Goldilocks flavor, something in gold? I’m not sure what flavor that could be, but it needs to be as nice as my cherry-vanilla Cinderella Pink Fudge.” The Cinderella fudge had become an instant hit with the tourists. “I want something gal pals will savor with a fine Door County wine or that their little girls would find cute and fun for their tea parties. I’m starting to panic.”
“Ah, the sweet success of your first fudge flavor is pressuring you.” Grandma Sophie wrestled a big stainless steel mixer bowl into the sink. “Come over for dinner tonight and we’ll brainstorm. And move your stuff into our cabin. Whoever heard of living in a storage room amid milk, cream, and mice!”
“There are no mice in my fudge shop, Grandma. There’s only Titus here in the cabin, in the bottom cupboard.”
“I can’t believe you named a mouse. Bah.”
“Well, he wouldn’t climb into my traps for cheese or even peanut butter, so I figured I’d give him a name and then just call him out of hiding.”
“Booyah to you.” The word “booyah” refers to a traditional Belgian celebration stew made with chicken and vegetables, but now the word is used all the time as a cheer word. Grandma continued as she swished suds around the bowl. “That mouse will have more living space than you. And moving now is the worst possible time to do it in your life. Lloyd should be ashamed of himself for telling the new owner you’d be gone by Sunday sometime. Who do you suppose he sold these cabins to?”
“Maybe Libby’s learned more. I’ll ask her. I have to stop over at the lighthouse later with her batch of fudge anyway.” I sneezed from the books as I packed another box on the floor. I hadn’t dusted anything since I arrived in town in late April. Opening and operating the fudge shop had kept me too busy. “Grandma, maybe we should just be happy that Lloyd isn’t letting the inn sit empty and become a home for Titus’s relatives.”
“I suppose you’re right. Not many people want to move into a place where a murder happened.”
I shivered all over again for the umpteenth time just thinking about my involvement. Back in May my fudge had been stuck down the throat of an actress who was choked to death. The killer had tried to pin it all on the newbie back in town—me. I wondered now if some relative of the murdered woman had bought my cabin in order to be close to her spirit. Was my landlord afraid I’d be freaked out? Try to stop the sale?
But I had more important worries. The First Annual Fishers’ Harbor Fudge Festival was being held a week from tomorrow—Saturday. Back in May I’d been conned into sponsoring a fudge contest by my girlfriend’s new boyfriend. John Schultz was a tourism and tour promoter out of Milwaukee who looked for any angle to bring himself up to Door County to visit Pauline Mertens. John had convinced me that a fudge contest would help me look like a good business member of the community while making amends for drawing bad karma to Fishers’ Harbor with the murder involving my fudge. The taste-off next Saturday afternoon would be followed by an adult prom dance in the evening outside the fudge shop on the docks. The prom was also hatched by John, with Pauline’s blessing. I couldn’t say no to Pauline. She felt sorry for me. I’d never been to a prom because as a teenager I was a too-tall, athletic, nerd-farm-girl that the boys passed in the hallway as if I were invisible.
Unfortunately, things were going wrong. While anybody could enter the fudge contest, John had created a celebrity panel consisting of me and two chefs to draw publicity to the fudge festival. His guest celebrity chef contestants, who had arrived this past Monday for a two-week stay, had taken over the six copper kettles in my shop—as in not sharing them with me at all. And I couldn’t seem to come up with a new fudge flavor that would knock everybody’s socks off. What’s more, I had to find or make a prom dress—something that wouldn’t reveal how much fudge I’d eaten in the past couple of months. My excited and desperate friends Pauline and Laura Rousseau were coming over later this morning with yet another set of fabric swatches and dress patterns. Laura was two weeks away from delivering twins and desperate to fill her time after the doctor told her to quit her job.
Rapid-fire knocking on my front door was followed by my young, red-haired shop assistant, Cody Fjelstad, yelling through the screen, “Miss Oosterling! Come quick!”
My mother was with him. She hollered from behind Cody, “Ava honey, your shop’s being destroyed!”
“What?” The nonsensical news kept me rooted for just a second on the floor.
Cody opened the screen door, then waved frantically. “Get a move on, Miss Oosterling. Your chefs are chasing each other around the shop with fudge cutters. They keep saying they’re going to kill each other.”
* * *
My fudge shop and all my freshly made fudge were being held hostage by two chefs with circular knives.
When I rushed in through the back door of my shop, Kelsey King, a petite blonde from Portland, Oregon, and Piers Molinsky, a portly giant from Chicago, were wielding fudge cutters from their stances on both ends of my white, marble-slab table. My freshly made Cinderella Pink Fudge lay hostage in its pans between them. Kelsey and Piers had fudge cutters poised over the pans.
Fudge cutters look like pizza cutters—round, sharp disks. Kelsey held up a cutter with one disk while Piers had one with multiple disks that could cause a lot of quick damage if tossed at Kelsey.
I stood in shock behind my old-fashioned cash register, thinking I might need it as protection.
My mom muttered behind my back, “I forgot to tell you about the smell, too.”
The grab bag of aromas in the place made me pause. What had the chefs been up to in only a few minutes’ time this morning? I’d left the place just an hour ago and nobody had been here but my grandpa Gil and a few fishermen. It had smelled of the strong fresh coffee we always had on hand and my new batch of cherry-vanilla pink perfection fudge. Now the bait-and-fudge shop smelled of bacon, of all things, and a heady, earthy mix of spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and maybe some anise and orange peel tossed in.
I called out from behind my small fortress, “What’s wrong with you two? Stop!”
Piers, his chubby face red, his furry brown eyebrows pinched together, kept his gaze lasered on his enemy across the marble table as he picked up a pan of my fudge.
My heart rate accelerated. “Put the fudge down, Piers.”
Piers ignored me, growling at Kelsey, “You do not belong in this contest. This is what fudge looks like.” He waved my pan of Cinderella Pink Fudge in the air.
Behind me, my mother whined in panic or disgust or both.
Kelsey snatched up the other pan of my fudge, waving her fudge cutter over it as she glared at Piers. “You see this fudge? This is your face!”
She slashed at my pretty pink fudge.
My mother screamed, nearly turning me deaf. I gasped, stunned for a moment, waiting for my hearing to come back.
Cody, whose dream was to be a law officer or park ranger, grabbed one of my four-foot spatulas from a nearby copper kettle. “I’ll stop ’em, Miss Oosterling.”
“No, Ranger, don’t. Stand back.” Cody liked being called “Ranger,” especially after he had helped me solve the murder in May and our county sheriff had awarded him a good-citizenship star. Cody was eighteen and had a mild form of Asperger’s. He was making remarkable progress toward independent living with the help of a social worker friend of mine.
I could’ve used the sheriff’s help at the moment. Ordinarily, my popular pink fudge sat in front of the big bay window to cure and to entice tourists. Now there was nobody waiting, just the view of Lake Michigan lapping up against the boats rocking at their moorings. Any customers there to buy fudge or bait had scattered to save their lives. Even if I called Sheriff Tollefson or a deputy, the sheriff’s office was a half hour’s drive away in Sturgeon Bay.
I glanced to the bait-shop side of the place. “Gilpa?” The word came out strangled in my tight throat. Since a little girl I’d called Grandpa Gil the shortcut name of “Gilpa.”
Ranger said, “He took a fisherman out just as I got here.”
I appealed again to the chefs. “This is silly. It’s going to be a beautiful day. Why start it out with a fight?”
Neither looked at me. Instead, they started a volley of words while shaking the fudge cutters and my fudge all about in the air. The glass in the bay window within inches of them was vibrating from the intensity.
I hesitated going over to the two on my own. Kelsey’s blond cuteness and petite frame rendered her deceivingly harmless-looking. But she was a fitness guru who ran a health spa. She knew karate and ate the bark off trees. I was probably smelling bark cooking in the aromas floating about us. Piers, whose bulk reflected his love of the muffin tops he’d made famous in Chicago, growled like a bear at Kelsey.
Piers used his fudge cutter to gouge out and flick a good-sized portion of my precious pink confection onto the floor. He smashed it with the heel of one boot. “This is your face.”
We all cried out in pain—me, Cody, my mom, and two customers who popped up from behind a shelving unit filled with handmade Cinderella Pink dolls, purses, and teacups. I recognized the ladies from my grandmother’s church group. They rushed out, screaming something about “saints and sinners.” The cowbell on the door clanged. A teacup fell to the floor in their wake and broke.
Those ladies would spread the gossip fast, so I had to take action. I used the weapon that always worked. “There could be TV cameras on you right now for all you know. I think that’s John coming down the docks right now.”
My mother whimpered, “Oh no.”
John Schultz had been videotaping us every spare moment of his time. To keep things manageable for his videotaping, John wanted just three celebrity contestants—me and these two trying to kill one another. He’d scoured his universe of contacts in the travel industry and come up with Piers and Kelsey. I’m sad to say I approved them. Shows my talent for judging people. John had insisted that he tape the fudge contest activities this week and the next, with the hopes of ending up on a cable channel. He’d get a show of his own, he said, and I’d get fudge fame. But John wasn’t coming down the docks right now; I’d lied.
Fortunately, my lie worked like a hose on two fighting cats. Kelsey broke into tears, dropping her fudge cutter on the marble slab. She looked around for the camera on her. It was pitiful. I almost wished John were here. Piers whipped off his white apron, then used it to swab my ruined pink fudge off the floor. He, too, looked about for the camera, smiling, which galled me.
“Were you two faking? Practicing?” I asked. “You gave my mother a heart attack.”
“I’m so sorry,” Piers said, turning into a teddy bear. “Please forgive me, Ava. You were so kind to invite me, and yet I did this to you. Sorry.”
His words were stilted, obviously an act for the nonexistent camera. At least he was being polite again to me and my fudge.
Kelsey, though, slapped a hand on the marble table. “Sorry? That’s all you’ve got to say for cheating? He was hogging the copper kettles again for his hog that he’s cooking.” Her shoulders hunched up to her earlobes in a shudder. “He’s putting hog bits into the fudge.”
“Hog bits?” I asked.
“Bacon,” Piers said, pulling his shoulders back in pride. “I’m experimenting with bacon fudge.”
Kelsey sniped, “He took over four of the kettles. Then he put bacon in one of my kettles of boiling ingredients so I’d have to throw it out. After I did, I looked away for just a moment, and he’d tossed more bacon—meat—into my kettle. Yewww.”
My mother touched my arm. “Honey, I have to finish making deliveries. Maybe you should come with me and let them cool down.”
Kelsey said with a big fake smile, “That cow truck you drive is just the cutest thing, Florine.”
Mom—Florine, never Flo—drove a black-and-white-cow-motif minivan around the county, delivering our farm’s organic cream, cheeses, milk, and butter to various restaurants and to my fudge shop each day. When I’d contacted Kelsey King weeks ago in Portland, where she had a fledgling TV show featuring organics, she’d been thrilled to hear about our farm’s organic nature. She agreed instantly to the adventure of being a contestant in a fudge contest in Door County. I tried to use that modicum of respect to quell the fight now.
“Kelsey, my mother can replace all of your ingredients with fresh ones right now. And maybe the bacon falling into your fudge mix was a mistake.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Her fake smile stiffened.
I turned to look up at Piers. “Why do you need four kettles? You were each assigned two to use. Two for each of you, with two left for me.”
That’s when the smells in the place became a warning along with the odd sounds of audible gulps, lapping, and growls. I looked at the north wall area behind our short counter and glass shelving where the six kettles sat over their open-flame heating units. “Oh my gosh!”
Two copper kettles had bubbled over, oozing sugar and mystery ingredients—and bite-sized bacon pieces—onto the floor. A troublemaking furry brown dog belonging to my ex-husband—the infamous bigamist—leaped about in the middle of canine nirvana, slurping up bacon bits as fast as his long pink tongue could operate. We were lucky the dog hadn’t knocked over the open flames and caused a fire. Ironically, my ex had named the dog “Lucky” after his gambling prowess—my ex’s prowess and not the dog’s. Since my ex had come back to town for utility construction business in May, the dog seemed to get loose and show up just about every other day in my shop. I glanced toward the door now with my heartbeat racing a bit in nervous trepidation. The dog’s rogue appearances usually brought my ex, Dillon Rivers, through the door soon after.
Cody the “Ranger” dashed over to turn off the burners. He grabbed the gangly water spaniel, who was now rolling in the bacon goop on the floor. “Harbor, no! Come with me.” Cody had dubbed the dog Harbor the first day the dog sneaked into our shop because the gregarious animal loved to fling himself into the harbor water outside our front door.
The dog with two names was always a mess unless he was secured with a leash. Lucky Harbor also loved to steal fudge if I didn’t watch him. Chocolate isn’t good for dogs; it can be fatal. I dashed over to Gilpa’s side of the shop for a piece of twine. Lucky Harbor began barking so loudly in protest over leaving his puddle of bacon that everybody in the shop had their hands clamped over their ears.
“Please take him into the back somewhere for now, Ranger. Tie him to a doorknob or something.”
Piers said, “At least the dog shows good taste.”
Piers found a spoon, then began ladling up the mess on the floor. “You weren’t using your kettles, Ava, so I took them over, thinking I was doing you a favor. You weren’t here when I arrived. You didn’t see Kelsey sabotaging the ingredients.”
Kelsey yelped, “You liar.” She grabbed the fudge cutter again to wave at him. “You’re the one sabotaging me, you sausage hick from Chicago!”
At that moment, two of the four fudge judges arrived through the front door: my landlord, Lloyd Mueller; and a local cookbook author, Professor Alex Faust. One of the people ducking and running earlier had looked like my third judge—Dotty Klubertanz, the unofficial head of the church ladies in Door County. Dotty knew her sweets. The fourth judge was Erik Gustafson, our new village president.
My grandmother—who desperately wanted to be a fudge judge so she could vote for me—came in through the back door, finally catching up with us. “What’s that smell?”
“Bacon,” I said.
“No, the other smell. Like dirt cooking.”
Kelsey seethed at Piers. “That’s the smell of my ruined fudge.”
Piers snapped, “It’s real dirt. She’s putting black dirt in chocolate fudge! Says they cook with dirt in Japan.”
Kelsey flew at Piers with a karate kick, which he caught in his beefy hands, but he slipped on the oozing syrup and bacon fat on the floor. They slid out from behind my glass counter loaded with various fudges, landing on their backs in the goo. I rushed to help, but Kelsey got up fast to push me away so she could go at Piers again. I grabbed her in an armlock to break it up—
Just as Dillon Rivers charged through the door. The cowbell clanged against the wall. “Whoa, are we puttin’ bets down on who wins this wrestling match? I’ve got five bucks on the fudge lady.”
I let go of Kelsey.
My tall, killer-handsome ex swept off his hard hat, combing his chestnut-colored hair with his fingers. His muscular chest was bare and glistening already from morning exertion. Both my heart and my stomach did a flippity-flop.
My mother groaned. She did not like Dillon. She said to me, “I’ll call the sheriff.” She was thumb-dialing her phone as she said it.
Grandma said, “I’ll buzz Gil.” She dug in her jeans for her phone.
Professor Faust, a genial, sixtysomething, gray-haired guy in a blue shirt and tan pants, stood wide-eyed. He was carrying a stack of his latest cookbook. “Perhaps this isn’t a good time for a meeting of the judges? Where can I leave my books? They’re all signed.”
Everybody ignored Professor Faust because that’s what happened when Dillon was in a room, especially with his shirt off.
“Hey there,” Dillon said, with a look that said he knew exactly what he was doing to me. He slipped on a neon yellow T-shirt with his construction company logo on it that he’d had shoved in a back pocket. “Anybody see my dog? And what’s this I hear about the fudge shop closing and the contest being canceled?”
Ugh, Grandma’s gossipy church-lady friends must have met him on the docks.
I said to Dillon, “We’re in the middle of something. Your dog’s in the back. You’ll need to take him for a swim before you let him in your truck.”
Dillon chuckled as he looked me up and down. “Maybe you’d like to go for a swim, too.” He sniffed at me. “You smell like bacon. I’d better ask you to the prom before other guys get a whiff of you.”
“Very funny,” I said.
My mother rushed between us, clicking off her phone. “Honey, come with me to the lighthouse. Now.”
At first, her urgency was lost on me. Kelsey and Piers were arguing again while cleaning up the slippery floor, and the dog was barking from the back. Cody had come back into the main shop to boss Kelsey and Piers; Cody obsessed about germs and cleanliness in the fudge shop.
Lloyd had just arrived. With his salt-and-pepper mustache wiggling, he rubbed his bald head in confusion. His gaze fixed on Kelsey for a long moment. He looked as if he were about to admonish the petite thing for bad behavior, but then he blinked and let it pass. He held up an envelope in the other hand. It had to be my rent reimbursement. “Should I hang on to this check and come back another time? This doesn’t look like a good time for a meeting.”
Grandma was on him like flies on fish left too long in the sun. Shaking a finger under his nose, almost touching his mustache, she said, “This is your fault, Lloyd. You’re ruining my granddaughter’s life. Why?”
Dillon said, “Hold on there, Sophie. The man’s an upstanding citizen.”
My grandmother muttered Belgian words under her breath as she advanced on Dillon.
My mother and I hustled Grandma Sophie out the door before another fight started. I felt bad that my ex was such an object of scorn, because he was a decent enough guy. But Florine and Sophie blamed Dillon for whisking me away to Las Vegas eight years ago to marry him in one of those youthful, stupid indiscretions that not even I can believe I did after looking back on it.
I put thoughts of Dillon aside as Mom was erratically driving ten miles an hour over the speed limit through the back streets of Fishers’ Harbor and then even faster on Highway 42 barely outside the village. We were heading northerly, with glimpses of Lake Michigan going by like flipped pages in a book.
“Mom, slow down. There are tourists all over the place.” Tourists often stopped their vehicles at the oddest times to gawk at our spectacular scenery of the lake or to find the quaint art shops tucked away in the woodlands.
Grandma gasped when Mom hit the horn and swerved around a slowing car ahead of us on the two-lane highway. “Florine, what the hell—?”
Mom veered into the entrance to Peninsula State Park. We went through the park gates, then headed down Shore Road, which went to the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.
I told Mom, “I forgot Libby’s fudge.”
Mom barely missed a hen turkey and her poults that were strutting across the blacktop. Before I could complain again, I noticed the sheriff’s car with its red-and-blue lights swirling in front of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse was made of Cream City brick with a red roof on top of its main house and atop the cupola tower. In the morning sun, the four-story tower had a yellow glow but with red-and-blue striations.
“What’s going on, Mom?”
Her knuckles were white on the steering wheel. “The sheriff said Libby found something that he wants you to look at.”
“Me? Why didn’t you tell me?” I knew why. My mother did not handle stress or my adventurous life very well.
We parked next to the cruiser. Before we got out, my mother had a shaky hand on my arm. “Honey, are you in some kind of trouble again?”
“No,” I said, though I always seemed to be in trouble and not know it. I searched my brain for something that would require a sheriff but came up with nothing. The fighting confectioner chefs were the only issue that came close to needing law enforcement interference of late. “Is Libby all right?”
She paled. “I forgot to ask. When I called the sheriff he just said something had happened out here, and he needed you.”
By then Sheriff Jordy Tollefson came out to greet us. He was about six feet four inches tall; he had six inches on me. Jordy was in his early forties, lean, a runner, with the demeanor of a marine—perfection and precision. He escorted us inside, into the small room that served as the gift shop. A window had been busted.
Libby was sitting on a stool by the register counter, sniffling into a tissue. When she saw us, she rushed over to hug Grandma.
“Oh, Sophie, I’m so glad you’re here. And I’m so sorry it has to involve your granddaughter.”
A tiny bomb went off inside my stomach. I looked up at Jordy’s stern face and steady brown eyes and said, “What happened?”
Jordy picked up a Baggie off the counter. It held a rock. “Somebody sent this through the window.”
Then he picked up another Baggie with a piece of paper in it. It was ruled paper, the kind that kids use to learn to print letters. In perfect orange crayon, the note said Somebody will die if you don’t convince Lloyd to throw the contest. Miss Oosterling must not win.
Blood drained from my head. I looked at Libby wrapped in my grandmother’s arms and said, “Who would do such a thing? It’s a silly fudge contest. I’m so sorry, Libby. Somebody’s threatening you and Lloyd?”
My mother said to me, “Honey, you don’t seem to get it. Somebody’s threatening you.”
Iwasn’t allowed to touch the orange-crayon note that said I must not win. My mother assumed the “somebody will die” part of the note meant me. Sheriff Tollefson let me read the printed letters on ruled paper through the plastic bag that sat on Libby’s register counter. The walls of the small gift shop closed in on me. The space used to be the winter kitchen for the lighthouse keeper and his family back in 1898 when it was built. I’m sure they made lovely meals here back then, but right now I felt like I was chewing on tacks.
“This has to be a kid’s prank,” I said. “Did you question the campers in the park, Jordy?”
“Yes, and the parents still around this morning verified their kids were in their tents and campers all night. But I have to catch up with one family that a witness said left around six this morning.”
“There ya go. They left early because their child is the guilty party.”
My mother’s long exhalation of breath wasn’t a sigh of relief. That was her signal that I was misreading the cues again. Jordy’s stern demeanor confirmed it.
He picked up the plastic bag. “I doubt some kid would even care about a fudge contest.”
“I beg to differ,” I said, fluffing my ponytail to accentuate my indignation, but fear pricked down my spine a vertebra at a time. My fudge contest could be ruined with my shop suffering great embarrassment—again. The May murder involving my fudge stuck with me like gum under my flip-flops. Clearly somebody wanted to distract me again. Already I imagined Pauline’s boyfriend, John Schultz, interviewing me about death threats and then showing the video of the “fatal fudge confectioner” to TV food or travel channel executives.
As Jordy poked around the gift store’s postcards, photos, and books, I was thunderstruck with a realization. I had crayons in my shop that kids used when they visited. I often grabbed them to make window signs, as did Gilpa . . . and my guest confectioners. Could the confectioners have tossed this rock? I wasn’t about to offer them up to Jordy without proof, though I was tempted. But my contest would be ruined and that darn Kelsey would sue me for defamation of her character, such as it was.
Grandma saved me from Jordy’s piercing gaze. “Jordy, I have my suspicions about who might have done this.”
Libby coughed. “My ex? Oh no, Sophie, we get along fine. Just yesterday I made homemade lingonberry pancakes for him and dropped those off at his house. He sent me home with wonderful chocolate-cherry coffee beans he’d found at the Chocolate Chicken.”
The Chocolate Chicken was a coffee shop about six miles south of Fishers’ Harbor in Egg Harbor. It also carried my Cinderella Pink Fudge. Eat cherry-vanilla fudge with a dark-roasted coffee laced with a hint of chocolate and Door County cherries, and well, now you know how to find Heaven.
Jordy asked my grandmother, “Why would you think Lloyd Mueller would do this?”
“He’s tossing my granddaughter out on her butt. He’s gone senile. And all this secrecy about buying the Blue Heron Inn and selling his properties—”
Jordy flipped his gaze to Libby. “Does Lloyd have any reason to threaten you? Anything about the real estate?”
“Why, no. I’m not involved. We’ve been divorced a decade. He doesn’t tell me anything about his financial affairs, which is fine with me.”
The sheriff picked up his clipboard, perched on a nearby bookshelf, then gave me his full attention. “Who would want you to lose the contest?”
My mother’s withering sigh nudged me. With trepidation, I confessed, “My rivals. My mom just called your department about them fighting at the fudge shop this morning.”
Jordy consulted his smartphone. “Am I reading this right? Fudge cutters as weapons? What the heck—?”
“You know how chefs can be. Very competitive.”
“But how is that connected to throwing a rock through the lighthouse window out here in the park?”
“One of my guest confectioners, Kelsey King, comes out to the park regularly looking for edible plants. And she hates me.”
Libby perked up. “Oh my stars, I remember something from last night. As I was closing, a skinny woman and a big man were near the wall out back with some chubby guy with a camera. The cameraman was telling them to throw stuff at each other, and they started tossing twigs, and then chased each other over the wall. I heard some mighty bad words. They must have tumbled down that steep hill to the water’s edge.”
Jordy’s pen picked up speed. “So this cameraman likes to stir up trouble?”
Ugh. Pauline would hate me if her boyfriend got questioned about the broken window and threat.
“Jordy, the guy is taping the chefs for a possible TV series. On TV all the chefs act mad and yell. It’s a put-on. Television likes conflict,” I said.
Jordy jotted that down. “So, Ava, Kelsey King tossed this rock through the window for the TV show?”
“She or the other chef, Piers Molinsky.” Another theory came to mind that could keep Jordy from blaming John. “Piers doesn’t like Kelsey. He may have done it on his own because he knows she’s out here a lot, too, and she’d get blamed. He said this morning she was cooking with dirt, and some of the best dirt in Door County is right here in Peninsula State Park.”
His pen hung in the air. “Cooking with dirt?”
My mom said, “With hog bits. That’s what she called Piers’s bacon that spilled into her copper kettle.”
Grandma Sophie said, “Those two are fake chefs, if you ask me. I’d do a background check on them, Jordy.”
“And,” I said, “I have orange crayons at my shop. Have you seen the new tea table that Verona Klubertanz’s dad made, Jordy? It’s made from Wisconsin black cherry trees and is quite lovely, and there could be a connection to the perpetrator with the rock.”
I grabbed a notepad and pen from Libby’s counter to sketch a couple of hexagons connected by a line. “That’s the chemical formula for wood. Paper is a step away from that.” I added another sketch. “Wood is essentially cellulose, which is a carbohydrate, but of course we can’t eat this form of carbs. Cows and termites have microorganisms in their intestines that can convert the cellulose of wood to glucose. Do you see the connection to fudge now? And this crime?”
Jordy blinked several times. I’d learned in May that he hated chemical formulas and thus I could distract him and probably sell him swampland if I wished. However, this time he sighed heavily and smiled. “Enough of your tricks. We’ll be looking at the paper thoroughly. I’ll want to take a look at the paper in your shop to see if it matches somehow.”
My mom’s head was bobbing rapidly. “Good idea.”
I told Jordy he was welcome to look around my shop.
He asked, “Where’s this guy with the TV camera? I’d like to question him.”
Oh, fudge. Jordy wasn’t buying my theory that the rock might have been thrown by Piers or Kelsey. But as much as I thought John Schultz was an oaf and didn’t deserve Pauline, I’d never betray my BFF—Best Friend Forever—since kindergarten. “John likely showed up at the shop just as we were leaving. Maybe your deputy is talking with him now and has cleared him?”
Jordy pulled out his phone again. His thumb scrolled through screens. “Yeah, your camera guy’s there with a crowd on the docks. My new deputy is handling this one, so I’d better go help her out. She’s from the city. I’m sure she’s seen her share of crazies, but not people trying to kill each other with fudge cutters and crayons.”
After the sheriff left, Mom, Grandma, and I helped Libby clean up. I taped cellophane over the broken window so birds and chipmunks wouldn’t be inclined to visit. Libby seemed relieved to know the whole incident might have been part of an argument between my miserable guest chefs. I promised her it wouldn’t happen again. Libby thanked us all for the help because she had a tour coming at ten and a book-signing event with an author after that.
“Professor Faust?” I asked.
“Indeed. His book about Wisconsin’s food heritage is so wonderful. You’ve read it?”
“I haven’t had time. He dropped off copies at my shop, though, so I’ll take a look soon.” As part of the warm-up to the fudge festival next weekend, all Door County shopkeepers were sharing their sales space with fellow businesspeople and artists to help publicize one another. Fudge was the draw, but I was hoping the entire county would benefit from the festival.
Libby said, “Take a look at the book, dear, because he mentions the bait shop in it.”
Grandma perked up. “Gil never mentioned that.”
“Grandma, Gilpa’s too cheap to buy a new book. Even if I wrote it, he’d wait for it to be remaindered in a sale bin.”
“You’re right, Ava honey. He’s a darn old cheap Belgian. I’ll come back later, Libby, for the signing, and buy several copies.”
As we went out the door, Libby yelled after us, “Better make his favorite dinner first before you show him all those expensive books and your empty wallet.”
* * *
Our smiles evaporated when we arrived at the crowded harbor. My mother had intended to drop us off and drive onward to Sister Bay to make a cheese delivery to Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, but she changed her mind when she saw the sheriff’s cruiser with the red-and-blues on. Another smaller department car sat next to it.
“What do you suppose is going on now?” my mom asked as she got out.
Grandma said, “Florine, why don’t you go on and make your deliveries before that cheese in this van gets moldy from neglect? You know how you get when you’re worried.”
Mom’s sighing usually turned into babbling when she became stressed. Babbling often descended into cleaning everything in sight, which was handy when I was a teenager because while she was yelling at me to clean my room she’d actually be cleaning my room. Since the fudge shop now needed a thorough scrubbing, I was inclined to let Mom foment more stress.
Mom said to Grandma, “You should be worried, too, because that’s my father-in-law—also known as your husband—in the middle of the fuss.”
Sure enough, Grandpa Gil—with his distinctive silver hair—was waving his hands between the sheriff and his female deputy on one side of him, with my two chef combatants on the other side. They were near the door of our bait-and-fudge shop, a little way from the wooden pier where Gilpa had docked his fishing trawler, Sophie’s Journey.
I helped Grandma Sophie out of the van. Wind gusts off Lake Michigan caught her long, thick wavy white hair that hung past her shoulders, whipping it into the look of a swirling cloud. The breeze tugged at my ponytail and buffeted my pink blouse.
The pungent smells of bacon and overheated chocolate mingled with the sweet aroma of cherry-vanilla fudge. Seagulls screeched and sparrows chattered as they landed amid the crowd’s feet and on the dock’s picnic tables, looking for scraps.
As I headed into the fray, I spotted Dillon Rivers coming out of our shop. My heart skipped a beat. I tucked a strand of loose hair behind an ear. If Mom saw him she’d turn into a babbling bulldog trying to protect me from him. I whipped back toward the cow minivan. “Grandma, you stay here with Mom. I can handle this.”
After I pushed through the throng of tourists and a few locals, I found my chefs with their hands handcuffed in front of them. The woman deputy was holding her ground against my grandfather, who was demanding the cuffs come off.
I gave my grandpa a hug and asked, “What’s going on?” He smelled of the clean spray that spat from Lake Michigan’s freshwater waves.
He broke into a big smile. “Look at this ruckus. We’re going to sell out of all my live bait, bobbers and beer, and your Belgian fudge. All because of this dandy new lady county cop.”
The deputy looked maybe twenty-five. She was Hispanic with large mesmerizingly beautiful cocoa-colored eyes that matched her regulation shirt. Her black hair was in a thick braid twisted into a knot at the nape of her neck. She wore tan pants and a tan department ball cap. She had each of her hands on an arm of both chefs.
Jordy wore a pissed look. “I’ve already spent way too much time on this. Get in the cars. One in each.”
Kelsey rattled her handcuffs. “I’m innocent. But you can take this fry cook.”
Piers growled, “I’m not a cook. I’m a bakery chef.”
“You’re half-baked.” Kelsey flipped her long blond tresses around as if she were an indignant filly. “I’ll sue all of you, and you’re first, Half-Baked.”
So the fight was still raging. Cameras and cell phones clicked. I saw Lloyd Mueller shaking his head in disgust. The fudge contest was melting away faster than fancy Belgian chocolate left on a dashboard under the July sun.
Dillon barged into the fray. Women adjusted their hair and licked their lips. Even the young deputy gave Dillon the once-over.
He was looking at me with concern on his chiseled face. “Al and I are almost done fixing a leak in the pipes out under Main Street. You should have your water back within a half hour. I’ll send Al back to check on the water pressure later. You want to join us for coffee now or lunch later?”
Al Kvalheim had been the street and water guy in town since before I was born, my grandpa had told me. Al loved getting dirty and greasy, just like Grandpa. He was portly, short, bald, and heavily wrinkled. He was one of the few people around who still smoked. Al was the opposite of Dillon, so I couldn’t imagine how they got along so well. Dillon’s invitation to join them for coffee was a lifeline being thrown my way, but I had to pass.
I edged closer and whispered, “My mother’s over there. It’d be best if you left now before she blows up at you in front of the crowd.”
He whispered back, “You’re sure you’re okay?”
I nodded. Dillon left, but in his stead my landlord stepped forward, rubbing his bald head in a thoughtful gesture. Lloyd indicated Kelsey and Piers with a nod. “It might do these two good to sit in our fine county jail. We can always replace them with local cooks or bakers. The fudge contest could be a pie contest.”
“Lloyd!” I screeched. “You can’t suggest such a thing. I already have a new fudge flavor in development.” Liar.
“Another pink flavor? I’m a businessman. I’m starting to feel foolish about pink fudge for a festival.”
Lloyd had obviously been around my friend Pauline lately. Every time she taught summer enrichment courses, the alliteration was as catching as a cold bug. I looked back at my shop window, and sure enough, she was hiding inside, waiting. She waved what looked like swatches of fabric.
Kelsey stomped her petite purple canvas shoes, barely missing Jordy’s uniform black shoes as she tossed her mane in Lloyd’s direction. “I happen to like pink. Who are you again?”
I couldn’t tell if she meant that rhetorically or she hadn’t paid attention at all this week. As a fudge judge, Lloyd had stopped by a few times.
Piers scoffed. “Mr. Mueller is a fudge judge because he’s the richest man in town and Ava’s landlord and some old friend of her grandfather’s. Ava invited him so she could figure out what he’s up to with his offer to buy the Blue Heron Inn.”
The crowd gasped, and so did I, because it was true, though I’d never said any of that aloud. Lloyd narrowed his eyes at me.
“Crap,” Kelsey said, her gaze shooting to the sky, “do we have to put up with some little real estate intrigue in this town, too? Everybody bulldozes old stuff for new condos. End of story. Boring.”
Lloyd muttered, “You’re not even close. Maybe we should let Half-Baked finish you off.”
Jordy held up a hand. “That’s it. The two in handcuffs, get in the cars. We’re going over to the state park for a visit.”
Piers and Kelsey looked stunned, guilty maybe.
Kelsey began to cry—certainly a ploy. “Is this about the dirt? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take anything from the park. They really do eat dirt in meals in Japan. And India. Africa, too. Some believe it builds your immunities naturally. In some cultures, pregnant women eat dirt. And I only took a few red clover flowers and chickweed. Chickweed is just a neglected weed, but it’s superrich in vitamins and omega-6 fatty acid derivatives. I’m just trying to infuse fudge with healthful richness to cancel out the calories from the sugar.”
Oh my gosh, Piers hadn’t been kidding earlier. Kelsey really was cooking with dirt. And she was “infusing” vitamins into fudge? Infusion is a technical term in cooking circles. This woman was more of a competitor than I originally thought.
Jordy and his new deputy led Piers and Kelsey through the assemblage to the squad cars. I trotted behind, trying to think of some way to sound supportive of my chefs. But then my gaze caught John rounding a corner from Main Street with Dotty and Lois on his heels. A camera paired with the best gossips in Door County felt threatening to me.
I slipped inside my shop, which was crowded with fishermen and several little girls who were in Pauline Mertens’s summer enrichment class. They were in the Cinderella Pink Fudge aisle, fingering the homemade dolls with pink lace dresses and the hand-painted pink tea sets and pink sparkly purses.
Cody was positioning a tall stack of Professor Faust’s Wisconsin’s Edible Heritage on the corner of the cash register counter.
Cody’s social worker, Sam Peterson, burst in from the back of the shop just as my grandmother cut through from the front door to head home. My mom must have left to finally finish her delivery route.
Grandma gave Sam a hug. “You lunk, how are you? When you comin’ for supper?”
“Whenever Gil says it’s okay for me to court his wife,” Sam said with a chuckle, looking impeccable as usual, from the perfect side part in his short blond hair to the crisp white shirt and tie.
“I’m past the courting stage, but my granddaughter’s available.”
Although I could see that coming, I still grew hot in the face.
Ever since I moved back to Fishers’ Harbor in late April, Grandma had wanted me to rekindle my romance with Sam Peterson. We’d been engaged once upon a time. But the circumstances of our breakup eight years ago still weighed heavily on me. Even having a friendship with Sam remained awkward. I had jilted him at the altar on the evening of our wedding rehearsal—the evening I ran away with Dillon Rivers to Las Vegas.
The two men were opposites, which probably meant I had a split personality. Dillon swaggered through life like a confident cowboy, while Sam calculated his actions, which I suppose appealed to the scientific bent in me.
Sam turned to his business with Cody after my grandmother continued through the back of the fudge shop.
My friends Pauline Mertens—who was weighed down with two big bags—and a very pregnant Laura Rousseau edged through the crowded shop. Pauline was fanning herself with a hand.
She said, “This is like high school before the prom, the guys checking you out.”
“Stop it. Guys never checked me out. I was too tall.”
Laura laughed. “Can we sit down before I pee my pants? The babies are kicking.”
“Sure.” We went to the marble-topped table by the window, where I kept a stool. Laura settled onto it while I said to Pauline, “I’m afraid I can’t demonstrate my fudge making for your class at the moment. It’s a mess over there.” I pointed toward the sticky explosion we’d had earlier around the copper kettles. The table in front of us was a mess, too, with pink fudge confetti scattered across the white marble.
Pauline sniffed the air. “Smells like you had a bacon-and-eggs breakfast in here. Starting up a diner?”
“Something like that.”
“Don’t worry about the girls not getting a fudge show today. Two of the moms agreed to come here to take over their field trip. They’re going to the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.”
The images of the orange crayon lettering on the ruled paper came to me. Had Kelsey and Piers really thrown that rock? Did they want me to lose the contest that badly? Or did the orange crayon come from that camping family that left the park early? I excused myself to look for the ruled paper by the kids’ table in the shop and found none. I also looked under the cash register counter but didn’t see any ruled paper.
When I returned to the marble-topped table, Pauline had dropped her two big bags on the floor. One bag was her big purse that carried her summer enrichment classroom supplies, including everything from stickers to Sharpies, to dozens of little sticky notes and scissors. The other bag appeared stuffed with Butterick patterns and fabric swatches for the prom dress she and Laura insisted on making me.
Pauline looked down her nose at me, like a teacher does with her students. “It’d be great to get your invitation to the dance on video.”
It was her way of telling me John had come in and had sneaked up behind me. I turned around to find the appendage on his face—the video camera—recording me while his other hand held a professional-looking light. John wore his usual hideous Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts with multiple pockets, and sandals. My gaze was always drawn to his hairy feet.
“Cinderella!” he boomed. “The fudge shop owner torn between Fishers’ Harbor’s two most eligible bachelors. Besides me.”
John tipped his head up and Pauline bent down to kiss him on the lips. The two had met in May during the unusual circumstances of the murder at the Blue Heron Inn. John was my height—two inches shorter than Pauline—and he was definitely a generation older, in his fifties somewhere by the looks of the gray sideburns and gray strands dappled throughout his head of brown hair. He was always loud and boastful, bordering on boorish, in my opinion. These facts failed to matter to Pauline, who had regressed to high school romance mode.
Another fisherman came in and headed over to my grandpa’s bait shop area. Grandpa was still outside, so I called over, “I’ll be right there.”
I gave John a scowl to send him away. He followed the fisherman.
Pauline muttered, “Be nice.”
“There’s something you need to know about John.”
A smile burst on her face. She grabbed my shoulders. “Sam’s coming this way.”
Sam’s crisp white shirt, dark tie, and clean tan pants were a stark contrast to my limp pink blouse, dirty denim shorts, and bare legs covered with dust and bits of Cinderella Pink Fudge.
Pauline and Laura excused themselves from the corner behind me, saying something about using the restroom. But they stood secretly behind Sam with rapt anticipation on their faces. My gal pals were so transparent.
“Hi, Sam.” My throat closed. Panic had struck. Did I want Sam to invite me to the fudge festival dance? To make our debut as a couple? Confusion swirled inside me worse than a waterspout on Lake Michigan. “Uh, didn’t you want to take some fudge back to the office?”
“I came for more than fudge.”
The shop silenced. The minnow tank bubbled. The air conditioner pinged from the wall on Grandpa’s side of the shop.
My grandmother’s friends popped in then just in time, the cowbell clanking on the door, busting apart the awkward moment.
Sam’s shoulders relaxed, as if he’d been saved. “I meant to say, I came for more fudge. Yes, to take back to the office. And I’m here to take Cody with me to his group meeting.”
“Oh, sorry. I forgot,” I said, greatly relieved. Cody met every Friday with young adults like himself who had Asperger’s or other challenges that were helped by Sam’s coaching them on life skills.
I hurried behind the counter. “Ranger, I’ll take over the registers while you wrap things for Mr. Peterson and your group today.” I lowered my voice. “The cameras are rolling. Make everything look extra special. Real Hollywood.”
“You got it, Miss Oosterling.”
Cody loved wrapping the fudge. He pulled out crinkly, stiff party cellophane and shiny satin ribbons to wrap individual pieces of Cinderella Pink Fudge. I believed that our customers should feel like fairy-tale royalty when they received Belgian fudge from Oosterlings’, as if the customers were the king and queen of Belgium. My fudge was therefore made with the finest cream and milk from my parents’ farm, delivered fresh daily. Their two hundred Door County cows fed on beautiful green grass pastures on rolling hills overlooking Lake Michigan. Biting into a piece of my Belgian fudge transported a royal fudge highness into that bucolic scenery.
John’s camera captured Cody wrapping the pleasantly pungent, pink cherry-vanilla fudge with marzipan fairy wings atop each piece.
Then John surprised Sam by swinging the camera on him and asking, “Why is Ava Oosterling such a special lady?”
“Her fudge tastes good for breakfast,” Sam said in his matter-of-fact baritone voice.
With a tiny smile to myself at Sam’s funny response, I left the counter to rejoin my friends by the window, but was stopped by Grandma’s friends.
Dotty Klubertanz—one of the fudge judges—and Lois Forbes thrust dollar bills at me.
I asked, “What kind of fudge can I get for you ladies?”
“Oh, it’s not for fudge,” Dotty said. A plump lady in her sixties with short white hair, she had on pink denim clam-digger pants and a pink T-shirt with sequined butterflies. “We came to pay you for the cup we broke during that frightening episode earlier.”
Lois, nodding her red-dyed head of hair excessively, said, “Your cooking buddies said they wanted to kill each other. Do you think they would really commit murder? Are you starting to feel paranoid about bad things following you?”
“Ladies, lightning does not strike twice,” I said, though my inner warning system recalled the note at the lighthouse said somebody would die.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Dotty asked. “You’re shivering.”
I handed back Dotty’s money. “It’s the air-conditioning. I’m used to hotter weather. You owe me nothing. Accidents happen. It’s part of doing business. Besides, I owe you two a lot for helping me get this business under way.” Since May, the two had been guardian angels, bragging about me on their social media networks. Dotty, being a judge, felt slightly biased in my favor; however, her being the head church lady meant she’d be the toughest judge. She’d be honest about which fudge flavor was truly the best at Saturday’s final tasting.
I asked, “Have you ladies heard anything about what Lloyd’s up to with the properties on Duck Marsh Street? Or the inn up on the hill?”
Lois’s eyes widened again. “Scuttlebutt is they’re going to tear it down—”
“I thought it had historical significance.”
Dotty shrugged. “That doesn’t matter when you have that million-dollar view of Lake Michigan on top of that little bluff. Word is Lloyd wants to build a big condo building for the Chicago people coming up here for vacations.”
“I was sure Lloyd Mueller muttered something this morning that seemed to say that wasn’t going to happen.” Now I was racking my brain to remember what he’d said.
Dotty said, “He lives in that old house that was built before 1900. Maybe he’s tired of old things and wants to live in something new for once in his life.”
Lois added, “Enjoy a new beginning on his way to the gated community in the sky.”
“The Pearly Gates,” said Dotty.
Lois took my hands in hers. “Ava, that’s not all. We’ve heard that right behind your shop, where the rental cabins are now, he plans to install a helipad so the rich Chicago people can hop from here out to their vacation homes on Chambers Island and up to Washington Island without waiting for the ferries.”
This sounded like gossip. “I doubt they’d take down all those cabins on my street just so helicopters can come and go.”
Dotty shook her head. “The helipad is only part of it. We heard that whoever is buying the cabins will be working with the village to expand the harbor, too.”
Lois fingered her red hairdo. “We heard the buyer wants to dredge right here where we’re standing. Your fudge shop would be torn down.”
While I was reeling from the gossip about the demise of my fudge shop, Cody and Sam waved on their way out.
Cody said, “See you after lunch, Miss Oosterling. We’re stopping in Ephraim for ice cream and burgers at Wilson’s after group meeting.”
Ephraim was a quaint, tiny village on Lake Michigan between Fishers’ Harbor and Sister Bay. It was Wisconsin’s only dry town, and it enforced a code that every house and building had to be painted predominantly in shades of white or gray. Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor—with its daring red-and-white-striped awnings—was where everybody stopped for the best milk shakes and sundaes in Door County.
John tailed after them but not before catching a loud, smacking kiss from Pauline. Somehow I knew Pauline was headed for heartache with this bloke.
Lois looked at her watch. “We have to scoot. I have to wash six stained glass windows before lunchtime.”
“Wait,” I said, reaching out to touch her papery arm. “This thing about them bulldozing this building is just gossip, right? You haven’t heard anything official?” I couldn’t imagine that my family would be the last to know about this.
Lois patted my hand on her arm. “We’ll ask around. It’s our turn to clean St. Bernie’s for the weekend services. Then we’ve got to head to St. Ann’s near Egg Harbor. They’ve got that Sunday dinner and raffle this weekend.”
The women accepted fudge from me for the raffle. They swooned over the wrapping paper that matched Dotty’s pink outfit, then left.
What People are Saying About This
PRAISE FOR FIRST-DEGREE FUDGE
“An action-filled story with a likable heroine and a fun setting. And, oh, that fudge! I’m swooning. I hope Ava Oosterling and her family and friends take me back to Door County, Wisconsin, for another nibble soon.”—JoAnna Carl, national bestselling author of the Chocoholic Mysteries
“Christine DeSmet has whipped up a melt-in-your-mouth gem of a tale. One is definitely not going to be enough!”—Hannah Reed, national bestselling author of Beewitched
“The first in a new series set in the ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest,’ First-Degree Fudge is a lighthearted confection that cozy mystery readers will devour.”—Lucy Burdette, author of Murder with Ganache
“As palatable as a fresh pan of Belgian fudge, this debut will delight candy aficionados and mystery lovers with its fast pace, quirky cast, and twist after twist. A must read!”—Liz Mugavero, author of A Biscuit, a Casket
“Interesting characters enhance this mystery…plenty of romantic tension. The mystery evolves nicely with a few good twists and turns that lead to a surprising villain.”—RT Book Reviews (4 stars)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I came in on this second book in a series. Although there were a number of references to the first case, I never felt as though I had to know what had happened earlier in order to enjoy this story. Ava is in the process of being evicted from her rental cabin due to a property sale by the owner, her grandfather’s best her friend. Her very helpful former fiancé, whom she’d left at the altar, helps her move boxes into her fudge shop’s back room where she intends to live for the time being; meanwhile, her former husband and his dog are doing all they can to woo her back, her best friend is involved with a shady operator who put together a fudge festival during tourist season in Door County, Wisconsin and films the whole thing for a potential reality TV show. The celebrity candy makers selected to compete against Ava are doing their best to make Kitchen Nightmares look tame, and the lead judge—Ava’s landlord, a property owner with a lot of secrets—is inconveniently deceased. Murder or suicide? Oh, and the sheriff also thinks Ava is a pain, when he’s not trying to make a pass. There’s certainly a lot going on this summer in Fisher’s Harbor, so it’s a good thing Ava can count on her family and employee, a young man with slight Asperger’s, to run the shop while she goes sleuthing, breaking and entering, stumbling across bodies, and taking people—and herself—to the nearest hospital. Hot Fudge Frameup is a whirlwind read with all the quaintness of an ethnic community of stubborn Belgians, romance with all the wrong people, an octogenarian marital toss-up, and a dog named Lucky Harbor that might make non-dog lovers, if not find him adorable, at least have a few giggles. Ava’s number of suitors got a little over the top for me, but otherwise, I enjoyed unwinding all the clues and aptly positioned red herrings to the end of the story. Told in Ava’s first person voice throughout, likeable characters and fun subplots make Hot Fudge Frameup a fun virtual visit to a place I know and enjoy. The fudge-making background is intriguing. I would also consider reading the first book, as well as sequels. This book makes a great addition to Penguin’s cozy mystery line.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Our family loves to travel to Door County for day trips or family vacations so I feel right at home visiting Oosterling’s Live Bait, Bobbers, Belgian Fudge & Beer. I love all the local references. In this second book of the series Ava is competing with two celebrity chefs, one of them has some crazy ideas for her fudge ingredients, in a fudge contest. Local leaders have been lined up as judges. As Ava works on her new fudge flavors, the other chefs can’t be in the same room together without feet and food flying. The event is being filmed for television so Ava tries to just stay out of the line of fire. But when one of the judges is found dead, the fights become the least of her worries. Especially when the sheriff starts to treat Ava as a suspect. Lloyd, the now deceased judge, was Ava’s grandfather’s best friend and owned quite a bit of local property. Ava quickly puts together a list of other suspects, now she just needs to figure out which one has fudged up her life this time. The author has given us quite a mystery to chew on. A lot happens within these 352 pages. The story is much more complicated than it first appears and I was totally taken aback with the way things played out. Wow, I sure didn’t expect that ending. We learn a lot about the history of Fisher’s Harbor, and some people’s plans to change the town and take away its charm. Ava is very concerned about those plans but also how they will affect her family, especially her grandparents. I really enjoy the way the residents come together in times of distress and also in times of celebration. In this story we not only have a festival with a prom-like dance but a funeral. People always bring food to the family after a death and most funeral luncheons are potluck. Very familiar to me after the past few weeks. The dance was for the young and old alike and there were even bets placed on who Ava’s date would be. Her date was also quite a surprise and absolutely perfect. The book not only has a beautiful setting, an awesome mystery, and terrific characters, it is also full of humor and a bit of romance. I highly recommend this book and if you can, take a real trip to Door County to take in all it has to offer from fudge, cherries, beer, cheese…oh and lighthouses, beautiful beaches and more. It is called The Cape Cod of the Midwest for good reason!
I really liked "Hot Fudge Frame-Up"...and Christine DeSmet knows her fudge!
Hot Fudge Frame-Up is the second book in A Fudge Shop Mystery series. Ava's landlord, Lloyd Mueller, is getting ready to sell the cabin that she has been living in. She has been busy moving into her fudge shop and getting ready for the first annual Fudge Festival. Ava's BFF, Pauline's boyfriend John Schultz is planning on taping the events surrounding the festival and has gotten Ava to bring in a couple of guest chefs for the contest. But, unfortunately the guest chef's can't work together and have made a mess of Ava's kitchen. Soon a rock is thrown thru a window at the old lighthouse with a note saying that if Lloyd, one of the judges, doesn't make sure that Ava's loses, somebody will die. When Lloyd is the one to die in an apparent suicide, Ava puts her fudge making on hold to see if it was really suicide or possibly murder. This is a very interesting small town mystery where most everyone knows each other and Ava has to be careful that she doesn't become the next death. Ava has the help of Dillon Rivers, the man that she left at the altar and who she still has feelings for and Sam, her boyfriend from her high school days. Her grandparents are very caring towards her and a bright spot in the community Delicious sounding recipes are also included in the book. Will be watching for the next book.