Meet Erin Price, baker, former foster child, and amateur sleuth.
PD Workman writes in several genres, including YA, but mysteries are her focus. Today she reads to us from her cozy mystery series featuring Erin Price who has inherited her Aunt’s bakery and is starting a new life in a small town.
In the intro I mention that Pam has a BookBub deal today for the first three books in this series. The books are bundled together for just $0.99. If you’re not a BookBub subscriber, head over to their website to learn more.
This week’s mystery author
Award-winning and USA Today bestselling author P.D. Workman writes riveting mystery/suspense and young adult books dealing with mental illness, addiction, abuse, and other real-life issues.
Workman started publishing in 2013. She has won several literary awards from Library Services for Youth in Custody for her young adult fiction. She currently has over 50 published titles.
To learn more about Pam and all her books visit PDWorkman.com
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Excerpt from Gluten-Free Murder
“What are you doing here?”
Erin turned around and saw a looming figure in the kitchen doorway at the same time as the clipped male voice interrupted her thoughts. She just about jumped out of her skin.
She put her hand on her thumping chest and breathed out a sigh of relief when she saw that it was a uniformed police officer. But he wasn’t looking terribly welcoming, jaw tight and one hand on his sidearm. There was a German Shepherd at his side.
“Oh, you scared me. I’m Erin Price,” she introduced herself, reaching out her hand and stepping toward him, “and I’m—”
“I asked you what you’re doing here.”
Erin stopped. He made no move to close the distance between them and shake her hand, but remained standing there in a closed, authoritative stance. His tone brooked no nonsense. Erin couldn’t imagine that she looked anything like a burglar. A little rumpled from the car, maybe, but she hadn’t been sleeping in it. Was a slim, white, young woman really the profile of a burglar in Bald Eagle Falls?
“I own this shop.”
He raised an eyebrow in disbelief, but he did let his hand slide away from the weapon and adopted a more casual stance. Erin allowed herself just one instant to admire his fit physique and his face. He was roguish, with what was either heavy five o’clock shadow or three days’ growth, but his face was also round, giving him an aura of boyishness and charm.
“You own the shop. And you are…?”
“Erin Price. Clementine’s niece.”
“If you’re Clementine’s niece, why haven’t we ever seen you around here?”
“It’s been years since I’ve seen her. My parents died and I lost all my family connections years ago, living in foster care. A private detective tracked me down.”
He considered this and took a walk around the kitchen, looking things over. His eyes were dark and intense. “You’ll be selling the place, then? Why didn’t you just hire a real estate agent?”
“No, I’m not selling,” Erin said firmly. “I’m reopening.”
The eyebrows went up again. “This place has been sitting empty for ten years or more. You’re reopening Clementine’s Tea Room?”
“No, I’ll be opening a specialty bakery, once I get everything whipped into shape.” She folded her arms across her chest, looking at him challengingly. “I assume you don’t have a problem with that?”
But he didn’t give any indication of leaving. Erin swept back a few tendrils of dark hair that had slipped from her braid, aware that she was probably looking travel-worn after several days in the car. She had put on mascara and dusty rose lipstick before getting on her way that morning, but she felt gritty and sweaty from travel and would have preferred a shower before having met anyone in her new hometown.
Erin strode toward the front of the store and the policeman moved out of the doorway and then back around the counter toward the front door.
“You shouldn’t leave the door wide open.”
“I wanted some air in here. I’ve only been here five minutes. Do the police always show up that fast in Bald Eagle Falls?”
“I just happened by. Thought it was strange to see Clementine’s door hanging open. Didn’t recognize the car.”
“Well, thank you for looking into it.” Erin waited until he stepped out onto the sidewalk and then followed, pulling the door shut behind her. He watched as she locked it again. “You see? I have the keys.”
“Where did this detective find you?”
“Is that where you’re from?”
“I’m from a lot of places. Now I’m looking at settling back down here.”
Erin looked at the German Shepherd, doing the doggie equivalent of standing at attention.
“I’ve never heard of a small town like this having a K9 unit.”
“Well,” he looked down at the dog, chewing on his words, “this is the extent of our K9 contingent.”
“He looks… very well-trained. What’s his name?”
Erin cracked a smile. “Seriously?”
He kept a serious face, nodding once.
“Okay. Well, again, thank you for checking in on my store, Officer…?”
“Erin Price.” Erin offered her hand and this time Piper took it, giving her hand a brief squeeze as if he were afraid of crushing it.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Price. Or is it missus?”
“Keep safe. Give us a call if you need anything.” He produced a business card with a blue and yellow crest on it. “We don’t exactly have 9-1-1 service but there’s always someone on call.”
Erin nodded her thanks. “I’ll keep it handy. A lot of crime in Bald Eagle Falls?”
“No. It’s a sleepy little town. Not too much excitement. Rowdy teenagers. Some of the drug trade trickling down from the city. The occasional domestic.”
“Not a lot of break-and-enters?” she teased.
He didn’t look amused. “You can’t be too careful. Where are you headed now? There’s a motel down the way…”
“No. I got the house too. I’ll be staying there.”
“You can’t sleep there tonight. Won’t be any water or power.”
“They’ve been turned on. Thanks for your concern.”
He looked for something else to say, then apparently couldn’t find anything, so he nodded and walked down the sidewalk with his faithful companion.
Erin had done everything she could to prepare for opening. She had taken out an ad in the Pennysaver, had delivered flyers to all the surrounding businesses, had put her handlettered ‘Auntie Clem’s Bakery’ sign up in the window. She was up at three in the morning to start baking. Some of her batters and breads had been prepared and chilled or frozen ahead of time, but it still took time to bake a wide enough variety of treats to interest a new clientele.
The kitchen smells were heavenly and she was looking forward to propping open the front door to get some cross-ventilation, which would also help to spread the delicious scents and bring in walk-by traffic.
Wiping her forehead with the back of her forearm, Erin paused for a moment before taking out a batch of blueberry muffins. Her stomach was growling and it was time to sample some of her own goods. Blueberries were always a favorite of hers. Even better than chocolate chips.
After putting a variety of goods in the display case, Erin went to the front door. She was ten minutes early, but there were people hovering around the door. She took a calming breath and arranged a smile on her face. Then she opened the door.
She had been afraid that no one would come after all the remonstrations that the town didn’t need another bakery. How many people with special diets were there in the population? Would people who didn’t have any special needs still come by to check it out? But there were a couple of businessmen with tall cups of coffee, and a mother with four children of varying sizes, both sophisticated Mary Lou and sturdy, gray-haired Gema Reed, and a few faces Erin didn’t know. She let the fresh air breeze in, displacing the warm, fragrant air.
“Ooooh,” the children sighed as they smelled all the baked goods.
One little boy of six or seven tugged on Erin’s apron. “We get a free cookie?”
“Yes! A free cookie or a muffin. A special opening-day treat!”
He darted over to the display case and pressed his hands and face against the glass, peering in at the cookies.
“Which ones don’t have wheat?” he demanded. “My tummy can’t have wheat.”
“None of them have wheat,” Erin told him.
The boy’s mouth dropped open. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. I made them myself.”
He studied her seriously, his brows drawing down. “Do they have white flour? White flour is still wheat.”
“No, they have superfine rice flour and cornstarch. Or other flours. And some of them have oats. I know oats still bother some people, so those ones are all marked.”
“Certified gluten-free oats? Or oats from the grocery store?” he interrogated.
The boy looked at his mother. Erin looked at her as well. “He knows his stuff, doesn’t he?”
“We’ve had plenty of experience. He’s learned how to advocate for himself.” She beamed with pride, jiggling a pink-cheeked baby tied to her in a sling.
The boy went back to peering at the cookies, considering his options. He had probably never had a choice of bakery-fresh cookies before.
Erin went back behind the counter and started to serve up the complimentary cookies and muffins. The mother of the little boy bought a couple of loaves of bread and some muffins for breakfast the next day. The little boy, whose name was Peter Foster, settled on a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, the chips still warm and gooey. At Peter’s suggestion, his sisters chose a gingersnap and a macaroon, so that each could have a taste of three different kinds of cookies and decide which kind they liked best.
Erin was waving goodbye to Peter and his family when the angry redhead came in through the door. Erin froze there with her hand up like an idiot, wondering what the woman was doing coming into the store. The other ladies greeted her, but she didn’t smile and make nice. She seemed to have a permanent scowl. She made her way to the display case and looked down at the baked goods.
“Everything here is gluten-free?”
“Yes. It’s all gluten-free.”
“So, you don’t even have any wheat or other gluten flour in the kitchen?”
“No. Completely clean. All gluten-free.”
She scowled down at the cookies.
“There is a free cookie or muffin for every customer today,” Erin offered, forcing a smile. It felt plastic and unnatural. Like it belonged on someone else’s face.
“I am highly allergic to wheat. If you use any in the kitchen, I will know it.”
“I don’t. And none of the pans or implements have been used for anything but gluten-free cooking. There is no chance of cross-contamination.”
The other ladies were watching the redhead, no longer pretending to have their own conversations. It was just Mary Lou, Melissa, and Gema. Everyone else had eaten their free treat, placed their orders, and gone.
The redhead turned around and looked at the women, giving them a glare that made them huddle around their treats and giggle nervously, hiding their mouths behind their hands.
“I’ll have a chocolate muffin,” the woman announced, turning back to Erin so suddenly that she just about dropped her tongs.
“Oh. Okay,” Erin agreed. She selected one of the chocolate muffins and passed it across the counter. “My name is Erin Price.”
“I know who you are.” The redhead took a bite of the chocolate muffin and chewed slowly. “Not bad,” she admitted. “I’m Angela Plaint.”
“You’re Angela Plaint?” Erin was floored. This was the owner of The Bake Shoppe? Highly allergic to wheat and running a traditional bakery? No wonder the woman was bitter.
“Oh…” Erin spluttered, looking for something to say. “Well… I’m glad you came to my opening. Would you like anything to take home?”
“Six of these.”
Erin packed up six chocolate muffins and took Angela’s money, feeling unaccountably guilty. Why should she feel bad about selling to the competition? It wasn’t like Angela was going to resell them in her own bakery for a profit. She just wanted something for later. If she were the only one in her family who was allergic, she would probably freeze the muffins individually to keep them fresh, thawing out one at a time as she needed them.
Erin couldn’t think of anything else to say to Angela. She realized belatedly that Angela was talking to her. Asking a question.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Is this the commode?” Angela pointed to the door to the stairs. She could see the ladies’/men’s placard, so Erin wasn’t sure why she was asking.
“Yes. Down the stairs. I’m sorry about that, it’s not very accessible.”
“No,” Angela sneered. “It’s not.”
She opened the door and headed down the stairs. There was no one else at the counter, so Erin went over to talk to Mary Lou, Melissa, and Gema.
“That’s my competition?” she asked in a whisper. “Why didn’t anyone tell me she was allergic to wheat? Doesn’t she sell any gluten-free products?”
“No, no,” Melissa shook her head, eyes wide, curls bouncing wildly. “She doesn’t do the baking anymore, because the flour in the air would make her sick. She just owns the place. And if they made gluten-free goods, they would be contaminated with the flour in the air and on the same equipment. She wouldn’t be able to eat them.”
“I guess not,” Erin admitted. “Why on earth does she own a bakery?”
“She used to be a wonderful baker,” Gema said, eyes distant. “She loved to bake and she was at it sun-up to sun-down. And then one day… she just started to get sick. She couldn’t eat wheat, or breathe it, or touch it. There was no way she could keep it up. She had to hire bakers and can’t even go into the bakery while they are cooking. If no one is baking, she can go in for a few minutes, as long as she doesn’t touch anything.”
“I can’t imagine. Why didn’t she just sell the business and start something else?”
Mary Lou smoothed her pastel pant suit and gave a wide shrug. “Angela Plaint is as stubborn as a mule. She doesn’t want to give up what she loves, even if she can’t literally have her hands in the business anymore. Nothing is going to keep her from the baking business.”
Erin shook her head slowly. She looked toward the door to the stairs and retreated to the serving counter, not wanting Angela to find Erin gossiping about her when she returned.
An older couple came in the front door, moving slowly, the husband with a walker and the wife with a cane. Both had to talk over all the options in the display case, going over them several times, asking Erin for her advice, and bouncing ideas back and forth.
“Where is your rice flour from?” wondered the elderly woman, who had introduced herself as Betty. “Is it from California rice or Chinese rice?”
Erin blinked. “I honestly have no idea.”
“Maybe you could go and look? See what is says on the package? I worry about all the arsenic, you know.”
“Uh, right,” Erin agreed. “If you can wait just a minute… I’ll go check.”
She took a glance toward the door to make sure no one else was getting impatient with the elderly couple dithering about and then ducked into the kitchen. She scrutinized the various labels on the rice flour, then returned to the front of the store.
“It looks like it’s domestic,” she said. “Not from China.”
“Hmm… maybe we should go with something with oats in it, so it’s not all rice flour,” Betty suggested, looking at her husband.
“They are actually all blends of flours,” Erin explained. Not just rice, but sorghum, corn, millet, buckwheat… and some of them have oats, like you said…”
More discussion and interrogation ensued, and two more trips to the kitchen to scrutinize labels.
At last, their bag full of gluten-free goods of varying types, they toddled off again. When she looked around the front of the store, she saw that only Mary Lou remained, savoring a blueberry muffin with a takeout cup of tea, looking though her agenda.
“Blueberry is my favorite,” Erin told her.
Mary Lou looked up from her agenda, giving Erin a reserved smile. “Mine too. And I would never guess that it was gluten-free. Most of the gluten-free baking that I’ve tasted is either gritty or like cardboard. Or it’s full of kale or some other weird superfood that nobody in their right mind would put in a dessert.”
“Blueberries are a superfood. I’d much rather have blueberries in a muffin than kale!”
Mary Lou looked down at her agenda for another minute, writing something down. She looked up.
“Do you think you should check on Angela? She’s been an awfully long time.”
Erin’s stomach clenched. She looked toward the stairs. “Didn’t she come back up? I just assumed I missed her leaving while that lovely couple was here…”
“No. Not unless she went the back way.”
“I have the other door locked. Can’t have customers marching through the kitchen.”
Mary Lou looked at the closed stairway door. Erin went around the counter and opened it. She peeked down the stairs, afraid she was going to find Angela sprawled there with a head injury or a broken leg. How would a major insurance claim on her first day of business go over? And what would that do to her sales?
“Uh… Angela? Are you okay?” she called down.
There was no response. But if Angela was in the bathroom with the door shut, or had just flushed the commode or was running water, she wouldn’t be able to hear a thing. Erin felt like she was being intrusive going down the stairs to check on Angela, but if Mary Lou was right and Angela had not slipped past without either of them seeing her, something could be really wrong.
“Angela?” Erin started down the stairs.
Behind her, Mary Lou got up from her table and walked to the doorway, looking down.
“Is she there?”
“I don’t know yet…”
Erin turned the corner and stopped.
It was worse than she had imagined. Worse than her worst nightmares of all the things that might go wrong on opening day. What if nobody came? What if someone complained about the baking? What if she didn’t sell a thing?
It was worse than all of that.