A charming small town. A peach festival gone awry. A culinary entrepreneur caught in a juicy mystery.
Abby Hirsch has traded in her hectic life in L.A. for a shot at her dream—a catering business in her idyllic hometown of Sugar Creek, Texas. She’s ready to start over until her plans hit a sour note at the annual Sugar Creek Peach Festival.
When a city councilman dies from poisoning, Abby finds herself in the pits as a potential suspect. Not only is her fledgling business at stake, but the councilman had recently rejected her business license on a technicality, leaving her ripe for suspicion.
Armed with her culinary skills, a new furry companion, and a knack for gathering clues, Abby joins forces with her best friend, Cassie and the attractive Sheriff Ryan Iverson. Together they peel back layers of mystery. But can Abby clear her name and serve up justice in time to save her business? Or will her dreams of success crumble like a peach cobbler?
This book features:
- Charming small-town setting
- Best friend sidekick
- A helpful dog companion who’s too cute to ignore
- Caterer turned amateur sleuth
- Clean slow burn romance
Death and Peaches is the second book in the bestselling Sugar Creek Mystery Series. It’s the perfect read for fans of Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke, and Jenn McKinlay
Read an excerpt below!
The stars at night, are big and bright…Deep in the heart of Texas.
The song had bounced around my head ever since I’d crossed the border from New Mexico to Texas nearly two days before. As I spotted that first “Don’t Mess with Texas” roadsign, the melody intensified in my mind. It was a song that most of us Texans learned in the cradle. Certainly I had.
I’d arrived back in the Texas hill country that afternoon after a very long drive from Los Angeles, my little Honda packed to within an inch of its life with all my worldly possessions. It was the height of summer, nearly July, and instead of the beautiful wildflowers I’d enjoyed when I’d visited in April, the hills were now brown with dead grass and shrub. It was not the ideal time to be moving back to Texas in terms of the weather, but it suited me fine otherwise. Back in April, when I’d visited Sugar Creek to help my Aunt Meg cater a wedding at her B&B, I’d made a plan to move back as soon as my L.A. apartment lease was up. Aunt Meg needed help to get more business, and the plan was to turn her B&B, Primrose House, into an event destination on top of the overnight guest business she currently ran. I was itchy to stop working for other people after culinary school and to start a catering business of my own, so the idea of helping her out with events had turned out to be a perfect fit for the both of us.
Just like when I visited in April, I got a little teary as I pulled off the highway into my hometown of Sugar Creek. The pickup trucks lining Main Street, the statue of a longhorn in the square that kids in town loved to climb, and the sprays of lavender and salvia all around really brought me back to my Texas roots. I’d been gone too long.
But there was nothing that could compare to pulling up in front of my best friend’s shop to really pull me into the Texas state of mind. Her antique shop, Divine Finds, was all things Texas, and my heart pitter-pattered with excitement as I parked at the curb outside. I hopped out of the car and stretched a while, so tired of driving that I silently vowed not to sit for the rest of the day. As I walked up the steps, I grinned wide, knowing that I was only seconds away from seeing my best friend Cassie Divine in person once again.
I pushed through the door just as she was coming out of it and we collided and laughed, falling into each other’s arms.
“Lady!” Cassie’s voice rang out like the sweetest melody, full of warmth and years of shared memories. “Welcome home! Gosh, I missed you!”
I gave her one more squeeze, then followed her inside the shop. The comforting scents of cinnamon and vanilla met me and I instantly felt the weight of the road lift. “I missed you too. It sure is good to be home.”
“I bet. I thought you’d be here earlier.”
“The traffic through El Paso was no joke. I would have gotten here a lot sooner, but there was a major accident that held everything up.”
A few customers meandered through the antique shop, looking at the wares Cassie had collected from countless estate and yard sales over the past year of being in business. She walked back behind the counter and sat on a stool near the cash register, motioning to an overstuffed velvet armchair across from her.
So much for vowing not to sit. But the chair was delightfully soft as I sat and I kicked off my sandals, snuggled into the corner, and tucked my feet under me.
“Well, you’re here now! I don’t know what you had planned for the night, but I was thinking we could go over to Lulu’s for dinner after a while.”
I nodded. “That sounds great. First, I want to unpack a little and I was thinking about heading over to Primrose House to visit Aunt Meg for a bit. Maybe we could do that on the way to dinner, if you don’t mind?”
We caught up, Cassie telling me about adventures in antiquing and I telling her the details of the very long drive I’d just finished. We were deep in conversation when two women approached to pay for their purchases. They were in the middle of a lively discussion, their voices tinged with disbelief, as Cassie stood to ring them up.
“I still can’t believe it,” the first woman said, shaking her head as she placed a vintage teapot on the counter. “A fistfight, right there in the council chambers!”
Her companion, clutching a set of embroidered napkins, chimed in. “I know, right? I thought those council meetings were about as dull as a mashed-potato sandwich, but today was like something out of a TV drama. Councilman Landers and Councilman Weiss, going at it! They’re way too old to act that way, if you ask me. They should be ashamed of themselves, grown men acting like teenagers.”
Cassie wrapped the teapot carefully in paper and chimed in. “A fistfight? That’s crazy! What over?”
The first woman shrugged as she handed over her credit card. “Something about that bill they’re trying to pass. It’s caused quite the stir. I wish everybody would just simmer down. The heat is going to their heads.”
“Yeah, more than likely,” her friend added, “although I’ve heard that bill might change the whole landscape of Sugar Creek, especially for small businesses. So it makes sense they’re riled, I suppose.”
“I know the bill you’re talking about. Seems like everyone in town is up in arms. You’re right, if it passes, it’ll be mighty hard to keep the big franchises from moving in and changing things,” Cassie said.
The women nodded as they pulled out their wallets to pay.
One of them leaned into Cassie. “I heard Councilman Weiss is being bribed by one of those big lobbyists from Austin.” She glanced around the shop quickly. “Don’t say you heard it from me, though.”
Cassie handed the women their purchases, her brow furrowed. “I hope it’s just a rumor. He sure has a lot of power around here. But I guess that would make sense why there’s so much fighting. Time’ll tell, right?”
The women nodded and smiled.
“Thanks for coming in, ladies. Take care now,” Cassie told them with a wave and a smile before sitting back down with me.
As the women left, I turned to Cassie, my curiosity piqued. “What was that about? A bill changing the landscape for small businesses?”
Cassie sighed, leaning back against the counter. “Yeah, there’s been talk around town. This new bill, if passed, could open the doors for big franchises to come in. It’s a real threat to mom and pop places in town. That’s why things are getting heated. Some council members are all for it, thinking it’ll bring growth. Most, though, are worried it’ll hurt the charm and character of Sugar Creek.”
I felt a twinge of concern, thinking about my own plans to start a small catering business. “Sounds serious. I should probably look into it before I go apply for my business license.”
Cassie gave a small, reassuring smile. “Don’t worry too much. This town’s always been about supporting its own. Even if the bill gets passed, I don’t think it’ll be as bad as some folks are making it out to be. But it sure has people’s tails up.”
Before I could say another thing, the chime sounded from the front of the shop. “Yoo hoo!” A call floated back to us and Cassie jumped up. I would know that voice anywhere, and I jumped up too.
Aunt Meg and her employee Maria, who I’d become close with in April, made their way back behind the counter, all smiles.
I grinned, my heart melting, when I saw the woman who’d practically raised me. I squealed and gave them both big hugs. “You didn’t have to come over. I was planning on visiting the B&B in a bit.”
Aunt Meg waved a hand. “It’s no problem, honey. I know you’ve been in that car for days. And I just couldn’t wait.” She squealed and squeezed my hand, and I smiled. “Our girl is back for good!”
Cassie pulled two more chairs over and we all sat and caught up for a few minutes. Aunt Meg told a story about a toilet leak that had us all laughing, and Maria told us about her daughter preparing for a trip to Dallas with a school group.
After a while, I leaned in to Aunt Meg. “I have a few ideas for the B&B I want to run by you. I had a lot of time to think on the drive,” I said with a laugh.
“I can’t wait to hear them! We need all the help we can get. But you must be dead-dog tired. Why don’t you stop by in the morning and we can let our imaginations run wild.”
I nodded. It was true. The drive had taken a lot out of me. But I was buzzing with creative energy and excitement to get my business off the ground. “Okay. It’ll have to be early though. I have a lot on my plate since the Peach Festival is the day after tomorrow.”
Maria lit up at that. “Oh, I’ve heard so much about the festival. I plan to take Daniela. Will you be cooking for it?”
“Yep. I signed up as soon as I knew I’d be coming back for sure. The Peachy Keen contest is what I’m angling for. It’s the biggest cooking competition in Sugar Creek. Best peach related entry wins. The Peachy Keen title goes pretty far in this town, so I thought it would be a good brag for my new catering business. And I can hand out samples and business cards to people at the festival. Hopefully, I can get some business flowing right away.”
I turned back to Aunt Meg. “Tomorrow I have to do most of the cooking for the festival, but I also need to stop by town hall and file my paperwork for a business license. It’s all filled out. I just need to go turn it in. I also need to stop by Wild Hare in the morning. Mark and Sheila said I could use their van for the festival, so I can drop by the B&B before I go pick it up.”
Mark and Sheila Connoly had been our neighbors since I was a child. They owned Wild Hare Winery, a beautiful artisan winery near Primrose House that had grown considerably with the influx of tourists over the last decade or so.
“That’ll be fine. I should be around until noon at least. I’ve got a Zumba class at one though, so make sure to come before then.” It wasn’t a surprise. Aunt Meg was in her late sixties, but she had more spunk and energy than most teenagers I knew.
After a few more minutes, Aunt Meg stood, and Maria followed suit. “We won’t keep you girls. We just wanted to drop by and say hi, and we’ve got to get back to the B&B to set up for happy hour. Hope y’all have a good night. And don’t stay up all night long gabbing like you did when you were girls. Y’all need your rest!”
Cassie and I laughed, knowing that in all likelihood we would do exactly that—stay up all night gabbing.
“I’ll come by in the morning and we can talk business,” I told Aunt Meg, and she grabbed me for another hug, nearly squeezing the daylights out of me.
“Get some rest. I’ll see you in the morning!”
Cassie followed them to the door, flipping the closed sign and locking it behind them. “Okay! I know it’s a little early, but I declare that business hours are over. Time to have ourselves some fun!”
After I’d brought my things in from the car and gotten settled into Cassie’s cottage that sat directly behind the antique shop, we decided to walk to Lulu’s, which was only a few blocks down from Divine Finds on Main Street. It was hot out, but the sun was on its way down, so it wasn’t totally unbearable. I loved strolling down the street, reacquainting myself with all the shops and restaurants that made up the business district of Sugar Creek. Being home made me want to leap for joy after the hectic bustle of L.A.
“How are things going with Ty?” I asked as we strolled. She had been dating deputy Ty Clayburn when I’d been back for the wedding in April, and from what I’d heard from her over the phone, Ty had forgiven her for her role in our questionable sleuthing during that time almost immediately, their romance resuming like nothing had happened.
Cassie smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as we walked. “Pretty good. He’s been dropping a lot of hints lately about marriage. I don’t know though, we’ve barely been together a year.”
“For some, that’s more than enough time to make things official. Seems like you two are pretty close to perfect, from the outside at least.”
She sighed, a smile on her lips. “He is an amazing man. Supportive, quiet, respectful. I do very much like him. I’m just not sure I’m ready to make that big decision yet, you know what I mean?”
I nodded. I’d barely had any long-term relationships myself, and since I was still decidedly single at thirty-two, I didn’t have much insight to add.
We arrived at Lulu’s to find a few people waiting in line outside. The warm glow of the neon sign flickered like a beacon in the dusky Texas evening. The familiar scent of smoked brisket wafted through the air, mingling with the sounds of laughter and country music that spilled out every time the door swung open. We leaned against the wall and continued to talk until it was our turn to go inside and order. At long last, after the smoke had done its magic and made me hungry as a bear, we finally entered the restaurant.
Stepping inside, a cozy chaos enveloped us. The restaurant was bustling with energy, a symphony of clinking glasses, sizzling grills, and the hearty chatter of locals enjoying their meals. The walls, covered with vintage Texas memorabilia and old black-and-white photos of Sugar Creek, radiated a rustic charm that put me in a nostalgic mood.
As we approached the front counter, the mouthwatering aroma of barbecue intensified. The man behind the counter wore a checkered apron smeared with the day’s work and greeted us with a jovial, “What’ll it be tonight, ladies?”
We ordered quickly—ribs and coleslaw and a sweet tea for Cassie, and sliced brisket, baked beans, and Lulu’s special sweet potato casserole with a Dr. Pepper for me.
With our orders placed, we finally slid into a booth near the back and leaned in to hear each other as we waited for our food.
“I still can’t believe you’re back for good! Sugar Creek hasn’t been the same without you. And now, you’re actually going to live with me! It’s like our high school sleepovers all over again, but with wine!” She said.
I laughed. Aunt Meg had offered me a room at the B&B but I’d decided to bunk with Cassie instead because I didn’t want to take up a room that Aunt Meg might otherwise rent out. And Cassie had been so giddy at the idea of the two of us living together that I couldn’t say no to her invitation.
“Like I told you before, though. I’m only staying on one condition! You have to let me do most, if not all, of the cooking while I’m here.”
Cassie grinned and sipped her tea. “Well, if that isn’t the deal of the century, I don’t know what is.”
We leaned back and watched the bustle of the restaurant for a few minutes. I was overjoyed to be done with the move from L.A. finally. It had weighed on me for months, and all the work of wrapping things up in California and figuring out what would come next had drained my energy. Not to mention that drive. Boy, it was good that it was finished.
“I wonder how serious that stuff about the council bill is,” I asked, twirling my soda can slowly around before taking a sip. “That sounds like it could mean trouble for me if it goes through. I’ll have to do a little digging tomorrow. See if I can find out anything about it on the internet.”
Cassie nodded. “I know a lot of folks have been up in arms. It doesn’t really affect me or my antiquing business as much as the food and beverage places in town, but I can understand the opposition. It wouldn’t be good if the character of the town changed and I think that’s what would happen if a bunch of franchises and big box stores start to come in.”
We were interrupted by our food arriving. Lulu herself brought out two trays and set them in front of us.
“Abby! Hey girl! Your Aunt told me you’d be comin’ back to town. Good to see ya! I don’t have time to talk now, but stop by sometime during off hours and we can talk. I heard you’re starting a new business, gonna give my little B-B-Q place some competition. Good on ya!”
Lulu’s barbecue had been an institution in town for more than twenty years and I knew that me starting a catering gig would be cutting into her business, so I was surprised she was so friendly about it all.
“Okay, will do. Thank you, this looks amazing!” She gave us a quick wink and a grin, then headed back to the kitchen.
I tucked into the delicious dinner, the sweetness of the casserole balancing perfectly with the salty tang of the smoked meat. They had great food in Los Angeles. Food that people paid an arm and a leg for. But there was nothing quite like Texas barbecue.
A few minutes into our meal, Cassie leaned in, eyes twinkling with mischief. “Ryan has asked about you nearly every day since I told him you were coming back. You should see him, Abby. He’s like a teenager. Blushing, agitated. I think the sheriff has a crush on you.”
I blushed myself, the heat rising to my cheeks, and sipped my drink, trying to hide my growing smile. “Really?” I asked, my voice barely above a murmur. “I’ve been missing him too. I was hoping something might happen between us now that I’m back in town, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. It’s been a while since we last saw each other. Hopefully, he’s forgiven me for the… incidents around Trisha and Greg.”
A few months prior, I’d catered a wedding at Aunt Meg’s B&B when one of the bride-to-be’s enemies turned up dead. Cassie and I had done a bit more snooping than we should have, and had ended up in hot water with Sheriff Ryan Iverson and Cassie’s boyfriend, Deputy Ty. But along the way, the sheriff and I had grown feelings for each other as well. At least I had grown feelings for him. I wasn’t too clear about his feelings. We’d emailed back and forth some over the last months, but mostly it was getting-to-know-you kind of things, not what I would call romantic in any way, so I wasn’t sure if the interest ran both ways.
Cassie’s expression softened with understanding. “Oh, Abby, everyone makes mistakes. And if I know Ryan, which I think I do, he’s been counting the days until you came back.”
Suddenly, Cassie’s face lit up with an idea. “I’ve got it! What if we do a double date? You and Ryan, Ty and me! It’ll be fun, casual. No pressure.”
My heart harrumphed at the thought. “A double date? I don’t know, Cassie. It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other. A date might not…”
Cassie reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “Oh, honey. No. He is ready to date you, and you are ready to date him.” She smiled a sly, knowing smile. “I can see it all over your face.”
I let out a small, nervous laugh, the idea growing on me quickly. The thought of seeing Ryan again, but with the security blanket of Cassie’s presence, was suddenly very appealing. “Okay, fine. A double date. But let’s keep it low-key, okay?”
Cassie clapped her hands in excitement, her energy infectious. “Absolutely! Low-key is my middle name.”
I raised an eyebrow, and she giggled, then shrugged. “Well, I can try.”
“Okay. But not until after the Peachy Keen competition. And it better be casual, Cass. I don’t want it to feel like a romantic date. Just a friendly catch up.” I wasn’t sure about it, but I also didn’t want to keep going down this line of thinking. Best to agree with her and shove all thoughts of Sheriff Ryan Iverson out of my mind for the time being. I had a business to start, after all, and a competition to try to win. I needed my wits about me.
Her grin made me nervous. It was sly and calculating and I could tell she was hatching plans that I probably wouldn’t like. Matchmaking plans.
I focused on my dinner and eventually steered the conversation in other directions. After a while, I finished every scrap on my plate and licked the fork clean, leaning back in the booth with a satisfied smile. “You’re going to have to wheel me out of here.”
Cassie laughed and patted her stomach. “I know, right? It should be a sin to make people want to eat too much. Alright, you ready? I have a bottle of wine at home with our names on it. I bet you want to get to bed early, too.”
I smiled and nodded. The drive had been exhausting. And I had a full day tomorrow getting ready for the festival. But I was ready to work, and excited to be home.