Just six weeks after the grand opening of Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe, owner Kate McKay has been enlisted to whip up sundaes at the most decadent soiree in the Hudson Valley. If only Kate knew how deadly sticky her sweet deal will turn out . . .
Once Kate arrives at a glamorous gala hosted by world-famous fashion designer Omar DeVane, she’s instantly intimidated by the mogul’s luxurious mansion and the frosty personalities of his handlers. But the party completely loses its flavor when guests follow screams to a room that’s eerily empty—except for Omar’s freshly murdered body . . .
With the scandalous case driving customers away from Lickety Splits, Kate has no choice but to put down the ice cream scooper and expose the culprit on her own. But as she crashes high-profile photo shoots and mingles with fashion’s biggest influencers in search of clues, her attempts to freeze cold-hearted criminals in their tracks could lead to a double scoop of deadly trouble . . .
Includes mouthwatering ice cream recipes from the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe!
About the Author
CYNTHIA BAXTER is the author of fifty-three novels. Her books have been translated into German, Swedish, and Danish. Born and raised on Long Island, she currently resides in the Pacific Northwest. Her favorite ice cream flavors are Peach, Coconut, and Chocolate Hazelnut. Readers can visit her website at www.cynthiabaxter.com.
Read an Excerpt
There are multiple stories about the invention of the ice cream sundae. One is that it originated in Ithaca, New York, in 1892 when Chester Platt, who ran a drugstore with a soda fountain called Platt & Colt's, created a cherry sundae. It consisted of vanilla ice cream, cherry syrup, and a candied cherry and sold for ten cents.
"Six dozen mini ice cream sandwiches, three dozen made with Classic Tahitian Vanilla and three dozen made with Dark Chocolate ..."
"Six dozen ice cream cupcakes in assorted flavors ..."
"Four three-gallon tubs of ice cream. That's one Classic Tahitian Vanilla, one Chocolate Almond Fudge, one Peanut Butter on the Playground, and one Cappuccino Crunch."
"And hot fudge," I added, lowering my clipboard. "An entire gallon of the best chocolate fudge sauce imaginable, whipped up in my very own kitchen. We can not forget that!" As I fought off the butterflies that had been break-dancing in my stomach since early that morning, I surveyed my staff. Just looking at them had a calming effect, reminding me that I wasn't alone in undertaking this terrifying, first-time venture.
I was still having trouble comprehending the fact that I was about to serve up a selection of my handmade ice cream treats at what could well turn out to be the Hudson Valley's most glamorous event of the summer.
I was glad I wasn't alone in taking on this daunting challenge.
My personal team of Three Musketeers included my best friend since elementary school, Willow; my eighteen-year-old niece, Emma; and Emma's boyfriend for the past few weeks, Ethan.
Today I felt a surge of real pride over how professional they looked. For tonight's event, they had donned the spanking-new, bubble-gum-pink polo shirts I'd recently ordered for all four of us. The breast pockets were emblazoned in white with the name of my similarly spanking-new ice cream emporium, the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe. They were also wearing white pants — although Emma had opted for white jeans.
As the three of them looked at me expectantly, I found myself thinking about George Washington in 1776. I imagined him addressing his troops right before they climbed into a rickety boat to spend Christmas sneaking up on the British instead of chugging eggnog and merrily tossing tinsel onto an evergreen tree.
But I didn't feel like George Washington. In fact, I desperately hoped that my Ice Cream Team's bright, eager-to-please expressions would buoy up my confidence enough to get me through the night ahead.
Instead I could feel whatever small amount of it that I'd possessed when I'd walked into my shop that morning melting away like a chocolate ice cream cone that had been dropped on the sidewalk on a hot summer day.
"Do you think this will be enough for seventy-five guests?" I asked in a wavering, not-at-all-George-Washington-like voice.
"We definitely have enough," Willow assured me. "We've gone over this a hundred times, Kate. We'll be fine."
"I'm even expecting leftovers," Emma said.
"Are you kidding?" Ethan chimed in. "I'm counting on them! Leftover ice cream sounds dope!" He pushed aside the curtain of dead-straight black hair that permanently hung over his face long enough for me to make sure that he actually possessed eyes.
"And do you think I made good choices?" I asked, nervously smoothing back my shoulder-length brown hair, today worn in a neat ponytail. "I mean, not everyone likes peanut butter. Or at least not peanut butter as an ice cream flavor. And just because we all think the ice cream cupcakes are the cutest thing since puppies, with their different-colored sprinkles and their pastel-colored papers ..."
"People go crazy for the mini cupcakes!" Emma insisted. "Everybody from the Chamber of Commerce loved them. And that day at the shop when you handed them out as freebies so people could try some of the more exotic flavors, everyone was over the moon about them. The entire concept is pure genius!"
"Emma's right," Willow seconded. "It's impossible not to like the ice cream cupcakes."
"I'm definitely hoping for leftovers on those!" Ethan exclaimed. "Those dudes are totally chill!"
"And the hot fudge?" I couldn't resist adding, even though I knew I was bordering on being truly annoying. "Do you think they'll like it? This is a pretty sophisticated crowd, after all. They're used to the very best ..."
"Kate," Emma replied with remarkable patience, "your homemade Heavenly Hot Fudge Sauce is the best in the entire universe. It's what put your Hudson's Hottest Hot Fudge Sundae on the map!"
I let out a long, appreciative sigh. My crew. Perhaps not the most professional, at least in terms of training or even appearance. Willow Baines, for example, was about as far away from an ice cream entrepreneur as you can get. She was a yoga instructor, the owner of the Heart, Mind & Soul yoga studio a few blocks away from Lickety Splits. She also held classes in meditation and relaxation.
She even looked the part. Willow had pale blond hair she wore in a cute pixie cut, the perfect complement to her tall, slender frame. And the tailored outfit she was wearing today was completely out of character for her, since she usually wore loose, comfortable clothes. The woman owned an entire wardrobe of yoga pants.
Willow didn't just teach others how to be calm and centered; she was those things herself. I found that pretty impressive, given her rocky childhood. She had grown up with a drug-addicted mother and two brothers who took off as soon as they could. The instability of her early years had instilled in her a strong need to create order in her life, something I'd picked up on when I first met her back in middle school.
Her personal struggle to find balance had made her one of the kindest, most generous people I'd ever met. For example, she was big-hearted enough to spend her Saturday night helping out her BFF as a favor. And while she was committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there were two exceptions: coffee and — fortunately — ice cream.
My niece, Emma, a computer whiz and a talented artist, was one of the most creative people I'd ever met, a personality trait that was reflected in the blue streaks she'd incorporated into her wild, curly black hair. At the beginning of the summer, she'd run away from her home in the Washington, D.C., area and appeared on my doorstep — literally. She announced that she didn't want to rush off to college in the fall, as expected by her parents, my oldest sister, Julie, and her husband, Ron. Instead, she wanted to take some time off to decide exactly what direction she wanted her life to go in. She felt that living with Grams and me would provide her with the perfect way to do that. She had instantly turned into my right-hand person, helping me run Lickety Splits and doing a first-rate job thanks to her quickness to learn, her organizational skills, and her strong sense of responsibility.
As for Ethan, I knew nothing about him except that he worked at a local organic dairy that was one of my suppliers and that he generally dressed completely in black no matter how hot the summer day was. His latest thing was carrying around a tattered paperback, usually one of the classic novels devoured by young men who are on a quest to find themselves. Last week, it had been Jack Kerouac's On the Road. This week, it was Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Frankly, I had yet to figure out why he'd become an object of affection for my otherwise-reasonable niece, since his level of conversation was generally as far away from Kerouac and Dostoevsky as you can get. In fact, I didn't think it was even possible to translate the primary words that constituted his vocabulary — "awesome," "dope," "chill," and "dude" — into Russian.
But what my crew lacked in professional deportment and experience in the world of ice cream, they more than made up for in enthusiasm, energy, creativity, and general cheerleading abilities when it came to spurring me on. They also looked pretty cool in those pink Lickety Splits shirts. I had no doubt that they would help me carry the day.
"Then I guess we're all set." I took a deep breath. "Okay, gang. Let's get this party started!"
I must admit that a tidal wave of pride washed over me as I surveyed the spread of goodies laid out before me on the counter of my shop. And not only pride: surprise, too, bordering on shock. After all, it was still hard for me to believe that I'd really opened an ice cream shop just a few weeks earlier.
Six weeks earlier, to be exact.
During that time, I'd lived out every ice cream fantasy I could think of, creating fun, exotic, and not-always-successful flavors like Peanut Butter on the Playground, which is peanut butter ice cream made with freshly ground peanuts and dotted with plump globs of grape jelly; lusciously smooth and surprising Honey Lavender; and chunky Prune 'n' Raisin. (That last one turned out to be one of the not-so-successful ones.)
I'd forced myself to master the tedious, day-to-day aspects of running a small business, wrapping my head around tasks like routinely entering every single expense on an Excel spreadsheet and keeping all my receipts carefully sorted for when tax time came around.
I'd even gotten used to the demanding schedule that running an ice cream shop requires, pulling myself out of bed before sunrise practically every day of the week in order to have enough time to make fresh new batches of ice cream before opening at eleven, then staying at the shop as late as necessary to clean up.
But I'd never catered an event of this size before.
True, since opening Lickety Splits, I'd put on two children's parties, complete with ice cream clowns made with scoops of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry topped with ice cream cone hats, gumdrop faces, and hair made from colored sprinkles.
I'd catered a fortieth birthday party at the home of a local art gallery owner, putting together an ice cream social for fifteen women. As soon as they surveyed the buffet-style spread I'd set up on the hostess's dining room table, they all solemnly agreed to abandon their diets for the evening. Then they set about making the most outrageous ice cream concoctions imaginable from three flavors of ice cream, three kinds of syrup, a mound of whipped cream the size of a sand dune, and an array of mix-ins that included mini M&Ms, nuts, chocolate sprinkles, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, bacon, marshmallows, pretzels, popcorn, peanut butter chips, and, of course, classic maraschino cherries.
I'd also hosted the monthly meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce. That was when I'd invented Ice Cream Incidentals, my hors d'oeuvre-style ice cream mini treats that included the tiny ice cream cupcakes and bite-sized ice cream sandwiches I'd prepared for today. They were perfect for passing around at a gathering since people could pop them into their mouths without needing a spoon — or, in most cases, even a napkin.
But all of those events had been kid stuff compared to the gala event I was catering tonight.
And it wasn't even the fact that there would be upward of seventy-five guests at this Saturday night gala that was giving me pause. Even more nerve-wracking was the aforementioned glam factor.
The party I was catering was being held at the weekend retreat of a famous fashion designer.
I'm talking about someone so well-known that his line of expensive purses and wallets is one of the first things you see when you walk into any Macy's or Nordstrom in the country. Someone whose name is regularly mentioned at the Academy Awards when one of the interviewers asks one of the spectacularly dressed nominees, "Who are you wearing tonight?" Someone who regularly appears on TV as a judge on a weekly fashion design competition, making or breaking the careers of some monstrously talented hopefuls.
Omar DeVane was as much a household word as Mr. Clean.
And it wasn't just Omar whom I found intimidating. It was the guest list. When his assistant, Federico, had called to engage my services, he'd casually dropped a couple of names that I immediately recognized. One was Gretchen Gruen, a gorgeous blond, blue-eyed supermodel who has been featured in ads for everything from makeup to luxury cars to Greek yogurt. The other was Pippa Somers, the editor of Flair, a fashion magazine that's right up there with Vogue, Elle, and W.
And Omar DeVane wasn't even throwing this extravagant event for any particular reason, as far I could tell. It wasn't as if he was splurging because of a birthday or an anniversary or even the release of a new line of pocketbooks or evening gowns or any of the other items he was famous for putting his easily recognizable ODV logo on.
"Is tonight some sort of celebration?" I'd asked his assistant as I'd jotted down notes during our phone call.
Federico was silent for a few seconds. "I suppose we're celebrating Omar's life," he'd finally replied. "And Omar's estate, Greenaway, is the perfect venue."
Omar's house even had a name.
Yet despite the glamour factor, one simple fact had kept me grounded through the process of planning this glitzy event. And that was that Omar DeVane's favorite food was ice cream.
Hot fudge sundaes, to be specific.
So despite his fame, despite his fortune, despite his star-studded guest list, when you came right down to it, this Omar guy was pretty much the same as you and me. Maybe he was an internationally known fashion mogul, but deep down he was still a little kid who got excited by a dish of ice cream.
In an attempt at reining in those frisky butterflies, I reminded myself of this reality for the hundredth time. Or perhaps the thousandth.
At the same time, I tried not to think about the fact that six weeks isn't a very long time to be in business. Especially a brand-new business, one I'd actually known little about when I decided to jump in and give it a try.
Before running my ice cream empire — or at least a nine-hundred-square-foot ice cream parlor in a charming small town in the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City, called Wolfert's Roost — I'd been living in Manhattan, working in public relations. And I loved it, for the most part. The challenges of the job, renting a shoebox-sized but fabulously located apartment in the Big Apple, knowing that a seemingly unlimited array of opportunities lay right outside my door, everything from Broadway plays to ballet to some of the world's best restaurants, museums, shops ...
Then Grams fell.
The arthritis in her knees had been getting worse over the years. And then, while she was completely alone in the house except for her dog, Digger, and her cat, Chloe — neither of whom possess any caretaking abilities aside from all the emotional support and comic relief they both provide — she slid down three steps at the bottom of the big wooden staircase in the front hall.
Fortunately, she was able to get to a phone to dial 911. But even though Grams thankfully didn't break any bones, she was still faced with the harsh reality that taking care of herself and running her household was becoming increasingly difficult. In some ways, impossible. The woman who'd raised my two older sisters and me ever since our mother died the summer I was ten years old was clearly in need of live-in help.
That was where I came in.
I immediately decided that I would come back to the Hudson Valley. Once again, I took up residence in the riverside town I'd left fifteen years earlier, right after high school graduation. I'd moved back to the very same house, in fact, the dilapidated yet utterly charming Victorian at 59 Sugar Maple Way.
Of course, that also meant leaving behind my job in public relations. But when it came time to start thinking about what to do next job-wise, I found that the idea of going back to a schedule of working in an office from nine to five — actually, more like five AM to nine PM — held little appeal. Instead, I decided to live out a lifelong fantasy.
In June, the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe opened its doors on Hudson Street, Wolfert's Roost's main thoroughfare, less than a hundred feet from the town's busiest intersection.
And what a shop it was! Even now, every time I walked inside, I had to practically pinch myself to make myself believe this wasn't just a dream.
It was particularly thrilling that the store I'd created looked exactly the way I thought an ice cream emporium should look. I'd made sure of that. It helped that the space I was able to rent wasn't only in a great location. It also reeked of the turn-of-the-century charm that the downtown area itself possessed, with its quaint red-brick buildings, old-fashioned streetlights, and line of lush green trees.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hot Fudge Murder"
Copyright © 2019 Cynthia Baxter.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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