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Authors: Janel Gradowski

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths, #Romance, #Romantic Comedy, #Suspense, #Contemporary Women

Pies & Peril

BOOK: Pies & Peril
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PIES & PERIL

 

by

 

JANEL GRADOWSKI

 

 

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Copyright © 2014 by
Janel Gradowski

Gemma Halliday Publishing

 

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author
's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

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CHAPTER ONE

 

Amy groaned when she bent to shut off the bathtub faucet. Her back muscles had more knots than a macramé plant hanger. The physical side effects of becoming a triple champion made her feel like she had been caught in a stampede of tap dancers from Ms. Carrie's Dance Academy. At least the difficult parts were done. The cake and cookie contests, which she had won, once again, were over. Tomorrow was the last day of the Summer Festival and the last contest was on the docket. Pie had never been one of her cooking specialties. Fussing with temperamental crust and inexplicably runny filling wasn't her thing, but finally she decided to put on her big girl baker panties and enter the pie contest, like a good, uber-competitive amateur baker. No more slicing, mixing and rolling. There were only two things left to do—take the final version of the Bumble Apple Crumble Pie to the town hall and then watch Mandy Jo, the mean queen of the Kellerton Summer Festival pie contest, go down in flames. Considering Mandy Jo's legendary temper, she probably would self-combust when she lost after coming in first place for the last five years.

Before making the delivery, though, a long soak in a hot bath was in order. Amy flipped on the tub
's jets, sunk into the frothy water and settled her head onto the squishy, seashell-shaped pillow. The hum of the motor sounded kind of like the expensive white noise machine she had seen on an infomercial once. The weird noise was supposed to help insomniacs fall asleep. Sure enough, she was soon lulled into a drowsy stupor. An hour later she finally crawled out of the tub. She swiped a towel over the fogged mirror and sighed. The humidity had taken a toll on her hair. A halo of frizzy, blonde ringlets, dripping with sweat, framed her face. There was no way she could deliver the pie looking like that. She wasn't a hair stylist anymore, but she had a reputation to uphold. A little anti-frizz serum and a fresh ponytail should do the trick.

Her fingers were wrinkled like raisins as she tamed the unwanted hair fuzz. Raisins had recently been nixed from the pie recipe, banished for adding uneven pockets of sweetness to the filling. She had lost track of the number of hours spent on perfecting the ultimate apple pie. Vinegar or sugar in the crust, thick or thin apple slices, pecans or walnuts in the crumble. Dozens of pies later, after spending an obscene
number of hours tinkering with the recipe, it was perfect. She never had to work so hard to fine-tune her prize winning cookies and cakes. At first, she delivered outcast pies to the neighbors. When they started giving her the stink eye for showing up at front doors for the third or fourth time with unsolicited desserts, she began sending the duds to work with her husband, Alex. His employees were like a flock of ravenous vultures. The pie plates always came home licked clean, although she didn't like to think too much about who might be doing the actual licking. Ugh.

She was so happy she almost slid down the banister. Almost. Discretion took over
, and she skipped down the steps instead of risking a back flip into the foyer. A neck brace would ruin the photos when she was crowned the Pie Queen, and that
would
happen. She had tasted Mandy Jo's pies at a couple wedding showers and one funeral. Impressive considering that when they both worked at Elegance Salon, Mandy Jo had insisted she couldn't even cook blue box macaroni and cheese. Still, her pies couldn't compare to the masterpiece sitting on a cooling rack in Amy's kitchen. She walked around the corner and plummeted into the horrible land of an instantaneous panic attack.

The pie was gone.

Amy ripped out a couple strands of hair from the center of her ponytail. Ouch. The pie didn't magically reappear so she wasn't trapped in a dream. The pie gods had unleashed some kind of real-life nightmare on her for some reason.

Maybe, confused by baking
-induced sleep deprivation, she had put it in the refrigerator. A couple boxes of Chinese take-out, the usual array of condiment bottles, a six pack of Alex's fancy beer…no pie. She checked the freezer, the pantry, and even the laundry room. The pie was really gone. Amy collapsed on an upholstered bench in the breakfast nook. Her legs weren't going to hold her up much longer. The trauma had made her knees weak, along with her ankles and various other body parts. If the pie didn't turn up soon, she'd end up living in a padded room instead of sitting on an overstuffed cushion. Sweat dribbled from her newly smoothed hairline. Her heart was trying to pound its way out of her chest. The effects were similar to doing dance aerobics in a sauna. She had never taken a class even remotely like that, but if it did exist she could sympathize with anybody crazy enough to torture themselves in that way. She needed help from someone who was used to emergency situations and could think under pressure. Amy grabbed her cell phone, which had been on top of the flour canister in the pantry, and called Carla, her best friend and a skilled emergency room nurse.

Forty-five minutes later Carla rang the door bell. Obviously she didn
't grasp the magnitude of the situation or she would've arrived sooner. Amy punched the code into the security system's number pad and let her in the side door. "Where have you been? I've been sitting here, going insane waiting for you. That crazy Mandy Jo was so afraid I'd beat her in the contest, she stole my pie!"

The corner of Carla
's mouth twitched. Beyond the almost imperceptible movement, her face was a smooth mask. Emotionless, as usual, even in the middle of a catastrophe. The blank stare was Carla's signature facial expression, if there was such a thing. It was her "work face" because, according to her, it was best not to show any emotion when patients were freaking out about broken bones poking out of their skin or blood squirting out of severed arteries. The problem was she looked the same all the time, whether applying pressure to gaping wounds or drinking mojitos at a barbecue, courtesy of a mini meltdown after discovering a dreaded forehead wrinkle six months earlier. Two visits to the plastic faced Dr. Gephart had netted Carla a hefty bill and a face full of Botox. Now she didn't even have to try to look like a statue.

She tilted her head to the side, since she couldn
't raise an eyebrow even if Robert Downey Jr. begged her to and said, "I was in Auburn Hills, trying to buy a new pair of sandals and you had to disarm the security system to let me in."

"
What does the security system have to do with my pie?"

Carla massaged her immobilized forehead muscles and asked,
"How could Mandy Jo get into your kitchen without tripping the alarm? You're OCD about activating it."

Damn. She had a point. Sometimes having a freakishly smart, sensible friend made her feel like the village idiot. Whenever Amy accidentally set off the alarm, the entire neighborhood knew it. The sound was a cross between a siren and
a car alarm, set at permanent hearing damage volume. "I…I…she could've stolen my security code and then taken the pie. You know how sneaky and conniving she is. I bet she's been a thief since she was old enough to walk. Probably started pilfering snacks and juice boxes from kids in preschool."

"
What about Pogo?"

"
What about him?" Amy looked down at her dog. The fuzz ball was wagging his tail, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding around him. "What could he possibly have to do with my missing pie?"

"
He barks when anything sets foot in your yard, human or otherwise. If somebody broke into the house, he would've gone into meltdown mode."

It was true. Unfortunately, the gray mutt had
only two settings, sleep or whirling dervish insane. "I was in the bathtub with the jets running and the door closed. Maybe I didn't hear him. I think I even fell asleep for awhile. You know I could sleep through a rock concert."

Carla tilted her head to the other side. She was starting to look like a bobble head doll. The woman had adopted a plethora of body language signals after her facial muscles were zapped into submission. Head tilts replaced raised eyebrows. Foot taps stood in for frowns. She could be a mime if she ever got out of nursing.

"Didn't Mr. Collins complain that Pogo's barking woke him from a nap?" Carla asked.

For the love of chocolate cream pie, what was she talking about now? It was like speaking with a telemarketer who just recited a stupid script instead of listening to her saying she didn
't want another magazine subscription. "Has an alien taken over your brain, or are you trying to confuse me for sport? Yes, Pogo woke up old man Collins. Once. What's your point?"

"
Mr. Collins lives three houses away. I took care of him in the emergency room after he slipped on some ice last winter. I had to yell every question into his ear. Told me his hearing aid is uncomfortable, so he doesn't wear it anymore. You didn't hear Pogo because he didn't bark, and that means nobody broke into your house."

All of Carla
's rational thinking wasn't helping. Having her theories about Mandy Jo dismantled made Amy more irritable than when she had PMS and ran out of chocolate. The pie was still nowhere in sight, and the soon to be defeated Pie Queen, without a doubt, had something to do with its disappearance. "Pogo barks a lot, but he'll do anything for a treat. Maybe she had a juicy steak in that gaudy pink suitcase thingy she calls a purse. She broke into my house, bribed my dog with raw meat, and took the future prize-winning pie. It's called eliminating the competition. Or what if she plans on entering my pie in the contest and pretending it's hers?"

Carla
's scruffy, definitely not acquired an hour earlier, sandal tapped out Morse code on the tile floor. "I doubt it. Did Alex come home for lunch, think the pie was another reject, and scarf it down? He did eat the cinnamon rolls you made on Mother's Day for his mother."

Alex had eaten his
mom's gift. The man had a black hole for a stomach and sometimes amnesia kicked in when he got hungry. He never remembered when brownies were supposed to be saved for a company picnic or cupcakes were destined for a fundraiser bake sale. If there was food in the house, it was eligible for consumption. "Finally, you have a sane theory, but it couldn't have been Alex. He's in Atlanta at a business conference. Unless he borrowed an experimental time machine, there's no way he and his freaky stomach popped back for lunch."

"
There has to be a reasonable explanation. A pie doesn't grow legs and walk away. What if you did fall asleep in the tub, sleepwalked, and ate your own pie?"

"
That is about as unreasonable of an explanation as you can get! I do not sleepwalk and I certainly didn't eat a whole pie without realizing it. I'm telling you, Mandy Jo took it. You should've seen the evil look she gave me when I told her I was going to enter the pie contest too this year." At the Fourth of July parade Mandy Jo was all fake chipper and cotton candy sweet, until Amy dropped the competition bomb on her. Then she turned into a red-faced, hissing demon spawn. The change was rather amusing at the time, but Amy wasn't laughing anymore. "She stole my pie because she knows I'll beat her."

Carla shook her head.
"I still don't see how she could've taken it, not between the alarm system and Pogo. Why don't I make a pot of coffee? Some caffeine will help us think more clearly."

Her thoughts were crystal clear. Mandy Jo had something to do with the disappearance of the pie. Drinking an entire pot of coffee wouldn
't make a difference. All that would do is make her hands shake so badly her handwriting would look like a seismograph during an earthquake. She crumpled onto the breakfast nook bench again as her friend got the coffee maker going. Carla had breakfast with her so often she even knew how the complicated, Italian coffee maker worked.

"
Let's forget about what happened to the pie for a minute," Carla said as she handed a mug of sugar-laden coffee to Amy. "Is there enough time to make another one?"

Amy absentmindedly took a sip of the scalding liquid and scorched the majority of her tongue. Physical misery on top of mental torture. Lovely. Despite the searing pain and flood of tears blurring her vision, she still managed to answer the disheartening question.
"There is. I have until 9 p.m. to deliver it to the town hall. It's just that this pie was a beautiful masterpiece. My magnum opus. I'll never make one as perfect as that again."

"
Get melodramatic often?"

"
You don't understand. The crust was golden brown. Every slice of apple was exactly the same thickness. The crumble was so buttery and delicate it would've made a real pastry chef jealous."

"
You're right. I don't understand. I don't like Mandy Jo, but I've never felt the need to crush her with my cooking skills." She scratched behind Pogo's ear. The dog tipped his head back so Carla could get to his favorite scratching spot, his chin. She pulled her hand away and sniffed her fingers.

"
What's wrong? Does he smell bad? He's probably been eating rabbit droppings in the yard again. Not sure why, but he thinks they're Mother Nature's version of doggy truffles."

"
That takes disgusting to a new level, but judging from the scent I think he's been munching on something else. Apparently Pogo likes apple pie even more than bunny poo."

Amy shook her head.
"No way! He refused to even taste any of my pies when I started working on the recipe a few months ago. I put a small piece in his dish once, instead of giving him his usual dog biscuit treats. I swear he rolled his eyes before walking away without so much as licking the pie."

BOOK: Pies & Peril
2.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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