A small town with big secrets. A caterer turned amateur detective. A wedding weekend plagued by murder and mystery.
Home is where the heart is for Abby Hirsch, a chef returning to her small Texas hometown to cater a wedding at her aunt’s charming bed and breakfast. But homecoming turns deadly when Abby finds the body of the bride’s rival dumped on the grounds.
With the wedding in jeopardy and a killer on the loose, Abby teams up with her best friend Cassie to get to the bottom of the murder. Amateur sleuthing leads them down a trail of secret affairs, shady business deals, and more bodies.
Can Abby cater the perfect wedding feast while narrowing down the suspect list? Or will the killer crash the wedding cake before Abby can serve justice?
Filled with delicious food, unlikely friendships, and mysterious twists, Death and Wedding Cake is a culinary cozy mystery with plenty of humor couched in the comfort of returning home. The first book in the Sugar Creek Mystery Series, it’s the perfect read for fans of Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke, and Jenn McKinlay.
Read an excerpt below!
You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl.
It was a phrase I’d heard often growing up in the hill country of Texas, but one I hadn’t really understood until I’d left for culinary school in the bustle of Los Angeles a little over two years ago. Now, as I turned off the highway toward my hometown of Sugar Creek, I took in the longhorn cattle grazing on rolling hills of bluebonnets and I couldn’t agree more.
I was home.
An old Patsy Cline tune came on the radio of my rental car as I made my way through downtown Sugar Creek. It was the perfect soundtrack for a homecoming and I was glad I was wearing my sunglasses to hide the tears that sprang up. Memories flooded as I passed the streets of my childhood.
More tears came, this time spilling down my cheeks, as I turned down the lane toward the farmhouse where my older brother and I had lived with my aunt Meg after my parents died in a car accident when I was eight. After a minute, a sign hanging from an open gate to the right announced that I’d arrived. Primrose House, established 2010, was printed in gold script with a picture of a wildflower field carved into the background.
A long winding dirt road through the trees gave way after a moment to a gravel parking lot dotted with cars. I pulled into a spot and sat for a moment, enjoying the sight of the big blue two story house sitting on a wide green St. Augustine lawn. Even in the late April heat, flowers bloomed in full color in beds along the far wall.
After a nostalgic moment, I got out of the car for a good long stretch. Sugar Creek wasn’t too far from the Austin airport—at least not for Texas—but I’d been sitting on planes since dawn and my body was cramped six ways to Sunday. The air was fresh but warm and as the spring wind blew over me I heard the front screen slam and a great big whoop come from the direction of the house.
“Why Abilene Anne Hirsch! Look how skinny you are, girl! I thought you went to L.A. to learn how to cook, not to learn how to look like one of them Californians! Get your nothin’ butt over here and give your aunt a kiss!”
I had to brace myself against the trunk of the sedan to keep my balance as my aunt wrapped her arms around me and squeezed as tight as she could. She was a good head shorter than me but what she lacked in height she made up for with a bubbly energy I could never match. It felt so good to have her arms around me again.
“Same here, sweetie. I hope the drive wasn’t too awful. Sorry I couldn’t come to pick you up.”
“Oh, shoo,” I told her as I struggled to pull my overstuffed suitcase out of the tiny trunk. Why are rental cars always so small? “It was an easy drive and I know you’ve got your hands full.”
“That’s no lie, baby girl! This wedding might just be the death of me. What on earth was I thinking?”
The wedding, which was the main reason I was back in Sugar Creek, was set for the coming Saturday afternoon, and it was already Monday. The B&B hadn’t hosted any events in the past, but when one of the local girls begged Aunt Meg to let her have her wedding in the backyard of Primrose House she’d relented.
And then promptly called me to beg my help with catering.
Luckily I’d just finished up my time at culinary school and had two free weeks in my schedule before I was due back in L.A. to start a job at a restaurant. I’d gladly agreed to help out and get some much needed R&R back in my hometown.
I’d done as much planning as I could via email with Marlene Lewis, the bride-to-be. And if the planning was any indication, this wedding was going to be a major challenge. I’d gone to school with Marlene, but I barely remembered her. She’d been a couple of years ahead of me, so our paths hadn’t crossed much. Our communication so far had been a mixture of Texas cordial and bridezilla stressful. I knew that between Marlene’s high demands and the challenges that working in a small town and a small kitchen, I had my work cut out for me. But after the hectic pace I’d kept in L.A., I felt ready for it.
“Come on, Aunt Meg. You know this is a great idea. Just imagine all the business you’ll get once the B&B is a proper event space. The hill country is just getting bigger, and the rich and famous are all flocking here to see and be seen. It’s only a matter of time before Primrose House is profiled in Travel and Leisure.”
Between the growing popularity of the area’s vineyards, the proximity to the state capital of Austin, and a very well-run marketing campaign, tourism in Sugar Creek was bound to increase, which would be great for my aunt who already had a reputation as an excellent host. If she could pull this wedding off, I could foresee the B&B growing to great heights.
“I know you’re right, honey. I just don’t know if I want all the extra work.” She grabbed my suitcase out of my hand before I could stop her and marched toward the house. “Truth is, I’m getting old. I don’t know how much more work I can handle. This wedding is already running me ragged.”
I laughed, watching her bound up the stairs with my luggage. “You don’t look too old to me, Aunt Meg.”
She set the case down and waited for me to catch up. “Whether I am or not, I sure am glad you’re here to help me this weekend. Not only can I use all the help I can get, you and I both know I’m no chef. Catering a wedding is way outside my comfort zone.”
I gave her a warm smile, squeezing her arm in reassurance. “Don’t worry, Aunt Meg, we’ll get through this together. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even enjoy it.” Her laughter floated on the air, and it warmed my heart.
“We better get you settled in,” she said. “I hate to say it, baby girl, but we’re so full with wedding guests that I’m going to have to have you stay in my room until the wedding shenanigans are over. I hope that’s okay! I promise I won’t snore, though.” She cackled as she walked inside with my suitcase, leaving me standing on the veranda of a house that once felt like home, and now, held the prospect of a new adventure. I smiled, feeling warm all over, and more at peace than I’d been in two years. It was good to be home.
Later that afternoon, once I had settled into my old room, Aunt Meg and I ventured back downstairs. She led me towards what was once our living room and now acted as a combination guest check-in area, lobby, and reading room for the guests. The walls were a soft periwinkle blue and white and lime green loveseats and cozy reading chairs dotted the room. Several vases of wildflowers in a variety of colors sat on pale wood stands and coffee tables. A huge bouquet graced the pine mantelpiece over the fireplace.
“Wow, it looks great in here! I love the new decor!”
Aunt Meg beamed. “Isn’t it gorgeous? I couldn’t have done it without Maria’s help. She has a great eye for design and color. I never could have done all this alone. Speaking of Maria,” she said and motioned toward the woman standing behind the check in counter, “Maria, this is my niece Abby. Abby, meet Maria, my new part time helper!”
Maria stepped from behind the counter and gave me a big smile. “Hello, it’s so nice to meet you! Mrs. Hirsch has told me very much about you.”
Maria was hispanic and looked to be in her early thirties. She had beautiful long silky black hair and a dimpled smile. “I’m so glad you’ve come. It will be good to have some help in the kitchen. I have some experience, but only a little. I am excited to learn from you. I’ve heard you are a very good chef.”
I blushed and shot Aunt Meg an accusatory glance. “Really, I only just finished school. But I’m excited for this wedding! I haven’t been able to run an entire event on my own yet. We’ll learn together.”
Maria smiled and nodded. “Your aunt showed me the menus you’ve prepared. It all looks delicious and I’m sure the wedding will be wonderful.” She turned to Aunt Meg. “I finished preparing the happy hour foods and placed it all in the refrigerator. Is there anything else you need before I go home for the night?”
“No, no. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
After Marie gathered her things, Meg pointed me down the hall toward the kitchen. “Now, let’s go see what you’ve got to work with. I’m sure you’ll want to get reacquainted with the pleasures of a 1950s kitchen.” She cackled as she walked. “I haven’t changed it a bit since you left, unfortunately. It’s the one part of the house I haven’t had the time or money to fix up. There’s plenty of room, but the amenities are probably far off the mark of what you’ve gotten used to with all that high-falutin cooking you’ve been up to in the big city. Hope you can make it work.”
“It’ll be fine, Aunt Meg. Really, you should see some of the places I’ve had to cook. You’d be surprised.”
“Still, I wish we had a better setup. If this becomes a regular thing I’m going to need to renovate.” She blew out a breath. “The current kitchen is fine for making breakfast and tea but not much more,” she told me as we moved through the old house, floorboards squeaking with our progress.
As we pushed through the door to the kitchen, the first thing I noticed was raised voices nearby, as if someone was arguing right outside the window.
“What the blazes!” Aunt Meg cried as she headed for the door that led to the yard and bolted out before I could stop her.
“Aunt Meg, wait!”
I followed her out, nearly colliding with her where she’d stopped in front of the door. I grabbed her arm to steady us both as two women standing in the yard turned toward us with angry glares. They were both vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place them. Several guests crowded the lawn, watching the women argue.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I heard a commotion…” Aunt Meg began.
The shorter of the two women rearranged her face into a winning smile and came toward us. She was manicured and name-branded from head to foot, oozing money and confidence that made me uncomfortable. “No, I’m sorry, Mrs. Hirsch. Trisha and I were just…discussing the details of our arrangement.”
The other woman had frizzy brown curls and long limbs. She wore cutoff jeans and a white t-shirt and cherry red converse sneakers. She continued to scowl at the other woman through the apology. “You mean you were telling me how to run my business. I won’t have it, Marlene. I don’t care how much money or sway you have in Sugar Creek. You aren’t in charge of me and your stupid threats to ruin my business won’t work. I’ll move to another town and start all over again before I let your skinny ass tell me what to do.”
“Excuse me?” the other woman huffed, the fake smile she’d given Aunt Meg and I quickly disappearing. “You and I both know that you agreed in writing not to be present during any phase of this wedding. That includes the setup. It was hard for me to agree to work with you even with that stipulation, given the history.” The woman blew out a loud breath, disturbing the blonde bangs that hung in a thick carpet at her eyebrows. “I knew I should have hired a company out of Fredericksburg.”
“Well, it’s too late for that,” Trisha replied, a smile now creeping onto her face. “Good luck getting someone to do tents and chairs for a wedding your size on such short notice. Ain’t gonna happen, honey.”
Marlene, who I now realized was the bride-to-be in the upcoming wedding, nearly lost control. She began to lunge. But before she got her hands around Trisha’s throat, a large man holding a stack of poles stepped from beneath the shadow of the big live oak shading half the backyard.
“Come on, Trisha,” he said as he handed the poles to a teenager standing next to him. He moved toward the women, his hands outstretched like he was approaching a pack of wild wolves. “You don’t have to do this. Why don’t you just take off? Kyle and I can handle setup. It isn’t worth losing the business.”
Trisha scowled another minute before waving her hand at Marlene. “Fine. I don’t like the company here, anyway.”
She turned and moved quickly toward a blue truck in the parking lot. Marlene watched her go with a smug smile.
“Thank you, Greg.” Marlene said to the man who had interrupted.
“No problem, ma’am,” he replied before quickly turning back to his work. Marlene patted her hands together and wandered off toward the front of the house without a word to us.
Aunt Meg turned to me and shrugged. “Guess it goes without saying, but that prissy one is Marlene, the bride-to-be. I suppose we’ll do introductions later. Come on, let’s go get some tea.”
She headed back toward the kitchen and I frowned, suddenly wary of what I’d gotten myself into. I hoped this wedding wasn’t going to be a big fat mistake.