Tarte Tatin Murder, страница 1часть #2 серии Seagrass Sweets Cozy Mystery
Tarte Tatin Murder
A Seagrass Sweets Cozy Mystery
Copyright © 2016 Sandi Scott and Gratice Press
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at [email protected]
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover design by Megan Theodoro.
Table of Contents
Note to the Reader
Note to the Reader
Throughout the ebook version of this book, you will see links on some of the sweet treats that Ashley is baking. Click on those links to be taken to my website where you can find multiple recipes that were described in the book.
If you can’t wait, go see the entire recipe collection now.
“Merciful macaroons!” exclaimed Ashley, slamming on the brakes and barely missing the man in a CURE Cancer T-shirt and an absurd straw hat that covered his forehead down to his eyes. He waved vaguely in her direction as he zoomed away, the piles of sponsorship signs in his cart so high that he couldn't actually see her. Dust shrouded several people walking across the lot as the cart zipped past them, too fast and too close for the crowd.
Still grumbling about the cart driver’s carelessness, Ashley looked around the parking lot for more hazards. The other volunteers scurried about the lot, taking care of last-minute details for the non-profit cancer research foundation's golfing fundraiser. She had parked her van as close to the clubhouse as possible and jumped out to open the back just before she was almost mowed down by the reckless cart driver.
One of the volunteers waved and shouted, “Are you okay? That guy's a menace with all those signs piled on top of the ice chests and that stupid hat blocking his vision. He didn't even stop to make sure you were all right; so rude!”
Ashley waved back. “Yeah, I'm fine; he just startled me. With this many people milling around in the parking lot, I can't believe he'd be that careless; some of them aren't moving nearly fast enough to get out of his way in time. It would be a pretty depressing start to the tournament for someone to be hurt before they even got inside the club. Anyway, it looks like a good turnout of helpers today.”
The volunteer reached the back of Ashley's van. “For sure—it looks like we'll have plenty of people to cover things for once. Speaking of covering, I'd better hustle my bustle. I'm supposed to be checking in the golfers starting in three minutes, and those old goats get testy if you make them wait. The sooner they get started, the sooner they can get back to the bar and that's the only reason some of them play golf in the first place.”
Chuckling, Ashley paused to admire the landscaping at the front of the club—red and orange double hibiscus, yellow esperanza and blue plumbago showcasing an iron picket fence with an arched gate twined with butterfly vine, its unique seed pods looking like butterflies hovering. Picking up a tray of scrumptious French pastries, she headed for the rather plain wood and cinder block building and tugged open the heavy, ornately carved door. Her eyes widened as she took in the opulence of the place—marble floors, gilded wall sconces, crystal chandeliers, heavy velvet drapes. “I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto—or in little ol' Seagrass, Texas, either! I don't know whether to be impressed or appalled!” As she turned in circles, lost in taking in the spectacle, she didn't notice any of the people wandering around her, their voices fading into a vague murmur.
She jumped as a deep voice said, “Welcome to the Seagrass Country Club!” Turning, she saw a young man, decked out in a formal business suit, standing at a small carved cherry wood desk just inside the door. “How may I assist you today?”
“My name is Ashley Adams; I'm the dessert caterer for the CURE fundraiser. Where should I set up the food?”
“If you will follow me, I'll escort you to the banquet room. The foundation is using that room during the day for light refreshments before the awards ceremony this evening. Do you need assistance unloading your desserts?”
Ashley wasn't about to turn down the offer. “That would be great. It's pretty warm out there today, so getting the chocolates inside as quickly as possible is probably a good idea!”
The young man pulled a small walkie-talkie from inside his jacket. “Hank, please come to the banquet room to assist the caterer.” A short blast of static followed, and the young man continued, “Hank should be here in just a moment; if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to directing incoming traffic. Some of our members feel neglected if someone isn't there to call them by name as soon as they walk in the door.”
Another young man stepped around the corner, this one in dress slacks and a short-sleeved shirt embroidered with the country club logo on the pocket. He grinned at her as he held his hand out to shake hers.
“Hi! I'm Hank. Greg said you needed some help carrying something?”
“Hank, thanks! I'm Ashley, and I have pastries and chocolates to bring in for the CURE fundraiser. I definitely appreciate your offer to help!”
“Oh, yum—that sounds good! We'd better get them in quickly; we wouldn't want them to melt before the golfers get to taste them. They can sometimes be a bit fussy!”
As Hank and Ashley returned to the clubhouse with the next load, Hank commented, “I noticed you looking at all the glitz—pretty over the top, huh?” Clearly, he'd seen the same reaction before and found it amusing.
Ashley laughed. “I can't decide if it's beautifully sophisticated or if it's really cheesy and tasteless! It's hard to imagine that something this sumptuous is in little Seagrass! And you certainly don't expect anything like it when you see the outside. I know the merchants’ association has been pretty successful in getting a more well-heeled type of tourist, but this has been here longer than that, hasn't it? And old Seagrass screams beach shack and barbecue joint. The décor here just doesn't fit that image.”
“Some things don't change,” Hank replied. “There have always been people with more money than common sense, and folks who saw the need to show off that money. The club has been around since the early 1920s, but it wasn't 'old money' that built it. The original members were definitely nouveau riche, and pretty snobbish about it! We read some of their journals and the newspaper accounts of the opening and events in my local history class. It was pretty obvious that cliques and arrogance aren't just a modern invention.”
Since moving back to her hometown of Seagrass, Ashley was often surprised to discover places she had never known as a child or teenager living with her parents. It was always a delight to feel like a visitor in her hometown.
The last trays and boxes set on the
The high-nineties temperature and 83 percent humidity had made carting in the miniature eclairs, stacks of hazelnut and chocolate crepes, and bite-sized tarte tatin squares hot work. Before she started arranging the pastries on silver serving trays, she stepped over to the bar, looking for a glass of water.
“Please tell me you are here with my liquor order,” the bartender, a petite blonde, begged. “As you can see, this bar is almost dry, and that won't do at all. The CURE guys are hoping for a big take on the fundraiser, and folks always bid higher at silent auctions when they're a bit lubricated beforehand.”
“Sorry, I'm just the dessert caterer; I can't help you with the alcohol thing at all. I was hoping I could get a glass of water to cool off while I finish setting up. My name is Ashley; I own Seagrass Sweets, the catering company.
“Geez, I'm sorry!” was the reply, “The supplier said the delivery's on the way; it should have been here yesterday, but he said the order had never been placed. He thought he could get it here two hours ago, but I haven't seen any sign of the truck or the booze. I guess I'm freaking a little. Some of the members are already grousing about having to wait for their first drinks.”
Ashley glanced at her watch. “Really? It's not even ten o'clock in the morning! Are they really looking for alcohol this early?”
“I guess some of them prefer hooch to hot coffee; we had to start locking up the stuff because a few of the members would help themselves to drinks before we open up at eight most mornings.” She scooped ice into a large glass and filled it with water, then handed it to Ashley. “I'm Stacey. Just let me know if you need anything from the bar. It's going to be a long day for both of us!”
Carrying her drink back to the dessert table, Ashley covered the serving tables with the vintage tablecloths she'd inherited from her great-grandmother, tone-on-tone flowers and vines embellishing a light ivory linen background. She used dainty pastel-stitched lady's handkerchiefs in place of a runner to add a subtle touch of color. With the antique tiered porcelain dishes and engraved silver trays, the table was elegant but still exuded warmth, a “high society meets country chic” effect that didn't take itself too seriously. The effect was subtle enough to accent the food without distracting from it, and Ashley felt a twinge of pride as she surveyed the display. She knew Great-grandmother Estelle would approve of the way Ashley was using the heirlooms and that she would be proud of her great-granddaughter's business, especially because at least half of the recipes were from the handwritten cookbooks Ashley had inherited from her.
As she arranged eclairs, cream puffs, and slices of opera cake on the tiers and filled the crepes with chocolate-hazelnut spread and raspberries before dusting them with powdered sugar, an attractive silver-haired man wearing a CURE polo shirt and plaid golfing slacks walked up. His moss-green eyes twinkled, implying a friendly, charming personality with a hint of mischief lurking inside and giving Ashley the impression of a slightly naughty young boy hiding in a grown-up body. She wondered briefly what he'd been like as a child.
“Hello, there—you must be Ashley! I'm Charles Brady, Ryan's uncle. After all the great things Ryan has told me about them, I can't wait to sample your desserts!”
Ashley smiled and offered him her hand. “I'm so glad to meet you, Mr. Brady. Ryan said that you would be here today. He used to mention you occasionally when we worked together at SmithCorp. He always told me that you were just like a father to him.”
“Oh, I know you worked together; Ryan's told me a lot about you, and not just about your baking!” Ashley blushed a little, wondering what exactly Ryan had told his uncle; she had a hard time just trying to figure out what Ryan thought of her. “I have to say, though, his catering recommendation made one part of this crazy event simple for the planning committee.” He winked at Ashley, making her blush even more.
Ryan and she reconnected when she first moved back to Seagrass, picking up where they left off as chummy, flirtatious coworkers. Then, when a crazy turn of events had Ashley investigating a murder, Ryan had been a tremendous help to her. They had spent so much time working the mystery together that she started to remember why some mornings during her time working that dead-end tech services job at SmithCorp, he was the only reason she looked forward to going to work. After they solved the mystery, Ryan asked her out to dinner and she accepted, although she was nervous about taking their friendship to the next level. But then he had to travel for several weeks for one of his biggest clients at his I.T. consulting firm and they still hadn’t found a time for their dinner date. Ashley still wanted to go, maybe now more than ever, but they hadn’t talked about it for almost a week. She was afraid Ryan regretted asking her and now she wasn't sure if Ryan was interested now in anything more than a friendship. Maybe Uncle Charlie would drop a clue or two.
“It's a good thing I was a Boy Scout growing up,” he said, tapping the etched silver flask tucked into his breast pocket and nodding toward the bar. “I came prepared for an emergency, and it looks like we have one over there—not a drop of Scotch whiskey in the place. What kind of bar has no alcohol on hand?” Based on the way he listed slightly to the side, Ashley suspected he'd already broached his emergency stash more than once that morning.
Before she could respond, a yelp from the silent auction tables startled them. They turned to see an older, distinguished-looking man pretending to brush non-existent crumbs off the front of a pretty young brunette's blouse. He had her trapped between two tables, leaning close and leering, and her eyes were flitting around desperately, looking for an escape route.
“Ah, yes,” Charlie remarked. “My golf partner for the day, the brilliant Oliver Green, genius researcher and self-proclaimed gift to women, has already begun his play. He's closer to finding a cure for cancer than anyone else in the world, but he rather lacks the social skills necessary to charm women—or anyone else, for that matter.”
As they watched, the couple's interactions became more and more awkward. The woman's body language said clearly that she wasn't interested in his advances but didn't know how to reject them without offense, and she kept trying to find a way to move away from him. Green, however, was totally unaware that she was repulsed rather than intrigued, and he kept sliding closer and closer, clearly ignoring polite society's usual personal boundaries.
“Excuse me, Ashley. I'd better go rescue our lovely volunteer before she either faints dead away or screams for her lawyer to sue us. It was a pleasure to finally meet you, and I look forward to getting to know you better.” Charlie touched Ashley warmly on the shoulder as he walked over to Green, slapping him on the back and starting a conversation, giving the grateful volunteer a chance to escape.
Ashley pulled out her phone and quickly texted Ryan.
“Thx tons for job referral. Just met ur uncle –great guy!”
Her phone beeped seconds later.
“Beware crazy Uncle Charlie. There’s no telling what wild things he’ll get up to!”
Tucking her phone back into the pocket of her black-and-white checked chef's trousers, Ashley checked to be sure there were no empty spaces on the dessert table, then glanced around the room. Everyone except a few volunteers had left for the golf course, leaving her with a bit of time to herself to look at the other tables. As she looked through the silent auction items, she found the “Private Chef Experience with the world-renowned Patty LaFontaine” gift certificate, and was delighted to see that the bid was already up to $1,000. Patty would be thrilled to know that her donation was a hit. If she served Les Desserts Français' tarte tatin and bonbons, as she planned, it would be great for Ashley as well.
“Next year,” Ashley mused, “I should make a donation, too. Maybe I could offer a dessert-of-the-month subscription for a year's worth of desserts. Or maybe a brunch or afternoon tea for four.” She found a couple of items that interested her, but the bid
The tables also included photographs and brief biographies for each of the CURE board members and the researchers. Oliver Green's showed he was considered one of the leading cancer researchers at the University of Houston and credited with major advances in the field of drug treatment for cancer. According to his profile, his current project, housed at the university's nearby Victoria campus, had shown very promising results during the clinical trials and was on the fast-track for FDA approval. Ashley noticed that his partner in the project, Dr. Wendy Graham, was an attractive and fairly young woman.
Ashley drifted back to the dessert table and fussed with the display, then pulled out her phone and found the mystery e-book she'd started reading the night before. She settled back into her chair and let herself get caught up in the amateur gumshoe's adventures. Eventually golfers began trickling back in, hot from the South Texas sun, and either celebrating or sulking over the results of their golf rounds. They collected petit fours, mini croissants stuffed with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, rich opera cake, and chocolate-covered bonbons as they updated their bids on the silent auction items. Apparently the liquor order had arrived; most of them carried half-filled glasses, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. A few people wandered over to the tables, chatting about their rounds and the latest town gossip.
“Last call for bids! Bidding will close in 15 minutes, folks, so make sure you've placed your best bids on the items you can't live without. Again, bidding will close in 15 minutes!”
As she listened to the auction chairperson's announcement, Ashley noticed a disturbance at the French doors leading in from the golf course. She looked up to see Charlie stumbling in, clearly and cheerily drunk as the proverbial skunk.
“Gotta 'mergency—gotta be prepared! Here to help—gonna take care of it,” Charlie slurred as he leaned a bit too far forward and went lurching farther into the room. “No worries—got this one covered!”