Breach of Crust: A Charmed Pie Shoppe Mystery

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Praise for the
New York Times
Bestselling Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries

“Delicious, delightful, and deadly! Full of enchanting characters in a small-town setting, this Charmed Pie Shoppe mystery will leave readers longing for seconds.”

—Jenn McKinlay,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries

“Enchanting! The Charmed Pie Shoppe has cast its spell on me! Ellery Adams brings the South to life with the LeFaye women of Havenwood.”

—Krista Davis,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries

“[A] savory blend of suspense, pies, and engaging characters. Foodie mystery fans will enjoy this.”

—Booklist

“A sensory delight for those who like a little magic with their culinary cozies.”

—Library Journal

“An original, intriguing story line that celebrates women, family, friendship, and loyalty within an enchanted world, with a hint of romance, an engaging cast of characters, and the promise of a continued saga of magical good confronting evil.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“Adams permeates this unusual novel—and Ella [Mae’s] pies—with a generous helping of appeal.”

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Charming characters and a cozy setting make this mystery . . . warm and inviting, like a slice of Ella Mae’s pie fresh from the oven.”

—The Mystery Reader

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Ellery Adams

Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries

PIES AND PREJUDICE

PEACH PIES AND ALIBIS

PECAN PIES AND HOMICIDES

LEMON PIES AND LITTLE WHITE LIES

BREACH OF CRUST

Books by the Bay Mysteries

A KILLER PLOT

A DEADLY CLICHÉ

THE LAST WORD

WRITTEN IN STONE

POISONED PROSE

LETHAL LETTERS

WRITING ALL WRONGS

Book Retreat Mysteries

MURDER IN THE MYSTERY SUITE

MURDER IN THE PAPERBACK PARLOR

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

BREACH OF CRUST

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Ellery Adams.

Excerpt from
Murder in the Secret Garden
by Ellery Adams copyright © 2016 by Ellery Adams.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 9780698166936

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2016

Cover illustration by © Julie Green.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

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This book is for all those who have lost a loved one to cancer. It’s also for all those who are fighting it and for all those who have won the
fight.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—

—Emily
Dickinson

Chapter 1

Ella Mae cut a wedge of black bottom peanut butter pie and slid it onto a plate. Wiping away an errant crumb with the edge of a paper towel, she garnished the surface of the peanut butter mousse filling with a drizzle of melted chocolate and then piped three neat polka dots of chocolate directly onto the white plate. Setting the pastry bag of chocolate aside, she reached for a bag filled with whipped cream and piped two peaks in between the chocolate dots. She’d just put the plate on a server tray when Reba pushed through the swing doors leading from The Charmed Pie Shoppe’s dining room into its kitchen.

“You won’t believe this,” she said, pulling a red licorice twist from her apron pocket and dropping on the stool next to the worktable.

Ella Mae shot her a wry grin. “We live in a world where people have magical powers. My aunt Verena knows when
people are lying. Aunt Dee can infuse her metal animal sculptures with sparks of life. Aunt Sissy can influence people with her music. My mother can make plants grow by humming to them. And what about you? How many fiftysomething women could win a mixed martial arts championship with one arm tied behind their back? I can believe in all sorts of things.”

Reba’s expression turned wistful. “I’ve always wanted to try cage fightin’. It looks like so much fun.”

“You know it wouldn’t be a fair fight,” Ella Mae scolded the woman she’d known all her life, the woman who’d been a second mother to her. “It’d be like watching a cat toy with a bird that has a broken wing.”

“I guess so. But what about among our kind? It could be a whole new source of entertainment. Just imagine! Saturday night fights in groves across the world. You could watch me . . .” She trailed off, looking horrified. “I’m sorry, hon. I don’t know why I keep forgettin’ that you can’t enter a grove anymore. I still can’t wrap my head around that.”

Ella Mae pointed at the wedge of pie. “Why don’t you tell me what you came in here to tell me so you can deliver this to our customer? It’s almost closing time.”

Reba searched Ella Mae’s face as though expecting to find signs of regret or pain etched into her smooth skin, but Ella Mae had learned to accept what had happened to her earlier that spring. She only wished her friends and family would make their peace with the fact that Ella Mae was no longer magical. Their constant scrutiny and deliberate avoidance of certain subjects were driving her crazy.

Brandishing the pastry bag of whipped cream, Ella Mae narrowed her eyes and said, “Spit it out, Reba, or I’m going to pipe a Santa Claus beard on your face.”

“Whipped cream and red licorice do not mix.” Reba held
up her hands in surrender. “Well, here’s somethin’ you don’t often hear, but the lady who ordered this piece of pie will only taste one bite of it. After that, she’ll put her fork down and push her plate away.”

Ella Mae, who was headed to the sink with a mixing bowl and several utensils, abruptly froze. “How do you know?”

“Because I’ve watched her do the same thing for the past hour and a half. She orders a piece of pie, takes a bite, lays down her fork, and then has a few sips of water. She dabs her lips with her napkin, as prim as the Queen of England, and raises her index finger to signal me—like I’m supposed to come runnin’. When I get to her table, she orders another slice.” Reba looked thoroughly put out. “Ella Mae, after I deliver this pie, she’ll have ordered every pie on today’s menu.”

“She’s probably a food critic.” Ella Mae shifted the bowl to one hand and used her free hand to push a strand of whiskey-colored hair from her brow. “I hope you’ve been patient with her, Reba.”

Reba made a dismissive sound. “She could trash us on the front page of
The Atlanta Journal
and it wouldn’t matter. The Charmed Pie Shoppe will have a loyal customer base for as long as you live and breathe, Ella Mae. Not only did you save the people of Havenwood, Georgia, but you saved plenty of other folks as well. Why do you think we have lines out the door every day? And our catering side has taken off, too. Every bride within a hundred miles wants a pie bar at her wedding.”

“Our popularity isn’t what defines us,” Ella Mae said, depositing the bowl in the sink basin. “We must treat every customer as though they were our very first. Bring that lady her pie with service and a smile. If she only eats one bite, that’s her choice.”

Scowling, Reba grabbed the serving tray. “It’s a damned
waste. Just because you don’t enchant your food anymore doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredible. No one should be samplin’ the whole menu like this without even takin’ notes. My inner alarm is goin’ off.”

Ella Mae had learned to pay close attention to Reba’s instincts. “Is she the last customer in the dining room?”

Reba nodded.

“Send the rest of the waitstaff home,” Ella Mae said. “If this lady has an ulterior motive, she can make it clear to us privately.”

Reba’s eyes gleamed, and Ella Mae knew her friend was probably envisioning smashing chairs over the customer’s head or body slamming her into a café table.

“Just let her enjoy her pie first!” Ella Mae called after Reba, but the only reply she received was the swinging doors flapping in Reba’s wake.

Shaking her head in resignation, Ella Mae loaded mixing bowls, pots, pans, and plates into the dishwasher. After cleaning the cooktop and prep area, she took a moment to stand and gaze out the window above the sink. It had been a frenzied week, and she was looking forward to having both Sunday and Monday, which was also Memorial Day, off.

Tomorrow, she and Hugh Dylan planned to take their dogs on a hike in the mountains. They were also going to swim in one of rivers that fed into Lake Havenwood. It was only May, but the Georgia summer heat was in full swing and Ella Mae couldn’t wait to submerge in the cool water. After spending a day in the wilderness, she and Hugh would attend the Memorial Day cookout and concert at Lake Havenwood Resort. There would be food, fireworks, and live music. And maybe, just maybe, Ella Mae and Hugh could stretch out on a blanket under the stars and hold hands like they used to. Back before they’d been forced to keep
secrets from each other. Before another woman had come between them.

That’s in the past now
, Ella Mae thought firmly.
We’re starting over. He and I are a fresh piece of dough rolled out on the worktable. We’re not the lovers we once were. Nor can we settle for being the friends we’ve been since childhood. We have to create something new.

Ella Mae ran the dishrag over the spot on her palm where there was once a burn scar shaped like a clover. The scar was gone now. It had disappeared at the same time Ella Mae had poured out all of her magic to defeat a powerful enemy and save her town. She had lost the symbol that marked her as the Clover Queen, but she’d never wanted to rule over anyone. All she’d ever wanted was to prepare delicious food for people. To bake pies in a brightly lit kitchen, filling the warm space with the aroma of melted butter, cinnamon, roasted nuts, sugared berries, and so much more.

“Are you reading your own palm, Ms. LeFaye?” asked one of the college students Ella Mae had hired for the summer.

Ella Mae smiled at the pretty blonde and the two other servers standing behind her. “You caught me gathering wool, Maddie. Enjoy your time off, everyone. You all worked really hard this week and you deserve a break.”

“So do you, ma’am,” said Royce, the young man in charge of deliveries. “I hope you have good weather for your picnic tomorrow.”

“Me too,” Ella Mae said and bade good-bye to her employees.

Reba reentered the kitchen with her serving tray and the remains of the black bottom peanut butter pie. One bite had been taken from the slice. Two at the most.

“The lady customer would like to speak with you,” Reba said. “Here’s her card.”

Ella Mae read the white lettering on a field of black, “‘Beatrice Burbank, Camellia Club president.’” The card was thick, elegant, and expensive. Other than the design of a camellia flower in one corner, it was unadorned. “What’s the Camellia Club?”

“No clue,” Reba said. “But this woman is a cool cucumber. When I told her we were closin’ and asked her to settle up, she said she’d make it worth our while to stay open a few more minutes. When I told her we weren’t interested, she got up, walked up to the counter, and put a hundred-dollar bill in the tip jar.”

Ella Mae sighed. “I’ve had my fill of pushy women, Reba. I don’t care if her wallet is stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. I’m ready to call it a day, and I’m going to march into the dining room and tell President Beatrice Burbank as much.”

When Beatrice saw Ella Mae, she got up, smiled graciously, and extended her hand, as though she were welcoming Ella Mae to her establishment and not the other way around. “Ms. LeFaye, it is a pleasure to meet you. I haven’t tasted such a wonderfully fresh tomato tart since my grandmother was alive. I had to pay my compliments to the chef in person.”

Despite her determination to dislike the stranger, Ella Mae felt herself softening toward Beatrice Burbank. “That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Burbank, but—”

“Please call me Bea. I know I’m old enough to be your mother, but ‘Mrs. Burbank’ is so terribly formal, and I’m hoping that by the end of our conversation, you and I will be on our way toward becoming friends.” She indicated the chair opposite hers. “Would you sit with me for a moment? I have a proposition for you.”

Ella Mae knew she should be wary. Beatrice was much like her business card: rich, elegant, and understated. She wore a blush-colored skirt suit with a gold camellia stickpin
on the coat lapel over an ivory silk camisole. Her silvery blond hair was gathered into a low chignon and her nails were polished a subtle pinkish-beige hue. Her voluminous handbag, in contrast, was a vibrant turquoise, as though she wanted to convey that she had a playful side to her as well.

“I’d be glad to sit for a spell,” Ella Mae said politely. She’d been raised in the South and it wouldn’t do to be discourteous.

Bea seemed unsurprised by her response. “I tried every pie on your menu. The tomato bacon tartlets in the cheddar cheese crust, the ham and grilled corn, and the chicken potpie. I particularly liked the herb crust on that savory delight.” She put her hand over her heart. “But your desserts. Oh my, Ms. LeFaye. You have a gift. I promised myself one bite of each pie. One bite of strawberry rhubarb crisp. One bite of lemon mascarpone icebox tart, brown butter raspberry pie, and black bottom peanut butter pie. But I took two of the last one. I just couldn’t stop myself.”

Ella Mae was about to thank the older woman again when Bea held up a finger to forestall her. “I’m not here merely to praise you. In fact, I’d like to hire you. I came to Havenwood to finalize the details of the Camellia Club’s annual retreat. This year, we’ll be renting a block of rooms at Lake Havenwood Resort. But we’ll also be renting kitchen space there.”

This caught Ella Mae’s attention. “Oh?”

Bea nodded enthusiastically. “Every decade, the Camellia Club publishes a cookbook of dessert recipes. This year, because we’re celebrating our centennial, we’ve decided to go all out. We’re hiring three of the best chefs in the South. Actually, ‘best’ isn’t the right word. We’ve sought out the most innovative, creative, and hip pastry chefs to teach us what makes an unforgettable dessert.” She paused for effect. “Maxine Jordan, the founder of From Scratch, an organic bakery
in Charlottesville, Virginia, came aboard in March, and we secured Caroline James from Carolina’s Cakes of Raleigh last month. All that remained was to find a champion pie baker. I’ve traveled from Texas to Maryland tasting pies, tarts, crisps, and cobblers. I had no idea that I’d find a pie virtuoso practically in my own backyard!” She laughed merrily. “I’m from Sweet Briar, as are all of the members of the Camellia Club.”

Ella Mae had heard of the town. Not far from Savannah, the scenic riverfront community was filled with historic homes, gorgeous gardens, and quaint shops. Sweet Briar was larger than Havenwood and had more restaurants, movie theaters, and nightclubs. It also boasted a thriving art scene and real estate prices that would intimidate anyone without a trust fund.

“And you’d like me to give you and your club members a crash course in pie making during your annual retreat?” Ella Mae asked. “When is it?”

“The first week in August,” Bea said, pulling an envelope out of her handbag. “I realize that I’m asking you to step away from your business for several days in order to instruct a group of women you’ve never met before, but I can assure you that every penny of profit that the Camellia Club makes from our cookbook sales goes toward a worthy cause. Not only do we contribute to several scholarship funds, but this year, we’re also raising money for a young lady who was badly burned at the Georgia State Fair. The dear girl was making funnel cakes when a vat of hot oil overturned, splattering her arms, chest, and face. Her family can’t afford her medical care, and we’ve offered to help.”

Ella Mae’s hand flew to her mouth as she tried to stifle a gasp. Her aunt Dee had suffered terrible burns that spring, and the memories of the fire came rushing back to her now.
During that horrible night, her aunt was admitted to Atlanta’s Grady Burn Center, where she’d undergone multiple surgeries, and many weeks later she’d returned home to her animals and sculptures. Had it not been for the intervention of several brave and selfless people, she could have died in her burning barn, but she would never again be the same person.

Bea touched Ella Mae lightly on the arm. “Are you all right, my dear?”

“My aunt was the victim of a terrible fire not too long ago. She survived, but she will always bear the scars.” Ella Mae pointed at the envelope. “Is that a contract?”

“Yes. I thought I’d leave it with you,” Bea said. “If it’s to your liking, you can sign it and drop it off at the resort. I’m staying through Monday.” She gathered her handbag and stood to leave. “I think you’ll find the remuneration acceptable, and I know all of the Camellias would be thrilled to have you as a mentor. You, Maxine, and Caroline would truly be our Dessert Dream Team.”

After promising to examine the contract and respond to Bea’s proposal before she left town, Ella Mae walked her guest to the door.

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