Read Murder At The Bake Off (Celebrity Mysteries 3) Online
Authors: Zanna Mackenzie
Murder At The Bake Off
(Celebrity Mystery Book 3)
About This book:
Lizzie Carter would love nothing more than to enter and win the Grand Bake-Off competition at this year’s Delamere Baking Festival, setting her on the way towards fulfilling her secret and special quest, but there’s just one problem—she’s a mediocre baker at best. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, this year’s celebrity judge, Cherry Bakewell, is found dead with a poisoned cupcake in her hand before the festival even kicks off. Even worse, Lizzie’s fiancé Jack, a private investigator and appointed security consultant for the festival, was the one who found Cherry dead, and the police are treating him as a suspect.
As if her life wasn’t crazy enough before, juggling two jobs and organising her wedding, now Lizzie, determined to clear Jack’s name, has to add tracking down a murderer to her To-Do list, as well.
Will the police haul Jack in for further questioning, leaving Lizzie to tackle the case all on her own? Can she hunt down the real murderer before they strike again? Should Lizzie just ditch her ridiculous baking dreams right now before her dreadful cakes become the laughing stock of the festival?
Grab your copy of
Murder At The Bake Off
to find out…
I can’t breathe. My heart is going a mile a minute. My hands are clammy with anxiety. What am I thinking, even contemplating doing this? It has to be the most stupid idea I have ever had, and that’s saying something because, well, my past is littered with the crazy things I’ve done. Which is pretty much why I’m where I am right now, standing in the kitchen of the seen-better-days farmhouse I inherited from my Uncle Joe two years ago, attempting to bake something edible and attractive for the Delamere Food Festival’s Bake-Off.
Just a few months ago, I actually managed to create a cake that was edible; it even looked attractive and enticing. I celebrated my engagement to an amazing man on that day. Sadly, my baking has never reached such dizzy heights again. In fact, my attempts at creating a cake for this competition have been frustrating and embarrassing. So why am I getting way ahead of myself and planning to enter a baking competition? Good question. There is a method to my madness. It’s because I would
to bake the cake for our wedding day. I know, that would be an incredibly ambitious cake to tackle for someone who can actually bake; for me, it’s probably just ludicrous, but I can just picture Jack’s face if I do manage to pull it off… priceless.
“Well, go on then, open the door,” Brenda, my friend and part-time boss encourages.
Picking up the oven gloves with the burnt patches on them, I creep towards the farmhouse’s Aga, my nemesis, as though I’m approaching a dangerous sleeping giant which must not be woken.
At the precise moment I’m about to pounce, the back door to the kitchen flies open and my fiancé Jack strolls in. Hastily, I step away from the Aga and race over to greet him with a kiss. Partly because I love this man and want to kiss him as much as possible, and partly because I want to distract him from the Aga and what disaster might be lurking inside it.
“Hey, Catwoman,” Jack says, pulling me closer and planting another kiss on my lips.
Catwoman is Jack’s nickname for me. Not because I have lots of cats or walk around in a black leather jumpsuit (he wishes!), but because when we first met and he told me he was a spy, I didn’t believe him. I joked that if he was a spy, then I was Catwoman. Turned out Jack
a spy, well, a special agent working for an elite agency who specialize in solving crimes in the world of the rich and famous. The CCIA, otherwise known as the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency, is still going strong, but these days Jack works for himself as a security consultant (i.e. celebrity bodyguard) and private investigator.
He sniffs at the air. “Is something cooking?”
I shoot a panicked look at Brenda and we both shake our heads, pasting innocent expressions on our faces. Well, we try to, except it doesn’t always work where Jack’s concerned. He can usually tell when I’m fibbing.
“I wanted you to check something in the barn,” I say, grabbing his hand and pulling him back towards the door he’s just stepped through. Behind his back I make ‘
check the oven’
type gestures at Brenda.
“Which barn?” Jack asks as we stand in the farm’s ramshackle yard and survey the dilapidated state of the various buildings around us. “It’s not the roof leaking again on the big one, is it?”
“I think it might be.” We head over to check, just as an excuse to get Jack out of the kitchen. I don’t want him to know I’m attempting to bake something to enter in the bake-off. Not because he’d laugh—he values his life too much to do that—but because I’m embarrassed at the state of my culinary creations and am harbouring serious doubts as to whether I’m up to this task or not. Right now, I’m thinking probably not.
Jack does his DIY Man bit, looks over the barn’s structure and then shrugs. “Can’t see anything definite. It doesn’t look any worse than it did last month when we had that bad storm.”
“Oh. OK. I was probably worrying over nothing.”
He walks towards me, slips an arm around my shoulders and gently tucks a stray strand of blonde hair back into my ponytail. “One day we’ll get the farm fixed up properly. Right now, it’s…”
“I know. I know. It’s about time and money, both of which are in short supply.”
“Have you made any decisions yet about the wedding cake or your dress?” he checks. “You know I’m happy about whatever you want to go with.”
Yes, I reply silently. I’m making the cake and Emma is making the dress. Cuddling up to him, I actually say, “I don’t know about the cake but I have got the dress sorted. Emma’s making it for me.”
He raises a questioning eyebrow. “Emma? I didn’t know she made dresses.”
“She makes clothes for the kids all the time.”
Emma is married to Jack’s brother and she’s become a good friend.
“Yeah, but that’s different to making a wedding dress,” he says, watching me carefully. “Is this about money? You know I want you to have any dress in the world, no matter the cost. I can afford…”
I silence him with a kiss. When we come up for air he grins at me. “You’re trying to distract me, aren’t you? Seriously, Lizzie…”
“You are not paying for my wedding dress,” I interject. “Emma and I have it all planned. We’ve chosen the pattern and the fabric. I’ve even had my first fitting. The dress will look stunning, I promise.”
He gently cups my chin in his hand. “Lizzie, you could walk down that aisle in a black bin liner and you’d still look a million dollars.”
“You’re such a sweetheart,” I reply, slipping one hand into the back pocket of his jeans, tugging him closer.
“I try my best,” he grins.
Jack’s words are sweet and, of course, I want our wedding to be an amazing day - I just need to achieve that without spending a fortune.
I’m just about keeping the farm financially afloat via growing fresh produce and selling it to local cafes, restaurants and hotels. In addition, I sell fruit, herbs and vegetables to the village store, which Brenda owns with her husband George. I also work part-time there, earning much-needed money to bolster the farm’s depleted coffers. Jack rents a cottage in the village, though he probably spends more time here at Eskdale Top than he does at his own place. He’s making good money with his new security and PI business and keeps wanting to pay for repairs and contribute financially here at the farm, but I’m having none of it. I let him buy food (seeing as he’s the one eating most of it) and I reluctantly agreed (after much debate) to let him foot more of the wedding bills than me, but I refuse to let him pay for farm stuff. We got engaged a few months ago on Christmas Eve and have set the date for our big day as this coming Christmas Eve. It doesn’t give us a huge amount of time to get organised (or save up), but we only want a simple ceremony and reception, nothing grand.
“I have a surprise for you,” Jack says, stepping away, grabbing my hand and beaming me a dangerously gorgeous smile.
I tilt my head to one side warily. “Jack, is this another one of your romantic outdoor interludes, because Brenda is still sitting in the farmhouse and…”
He laughs. “No, not this time. It’s a different kind of surprise. You know about the big food festival in Delamere, the one I’m the official security consultant for? Well, turns out Cherry Bakewell is going to be one of the star guests. She’ll be doing talks and demonstrations and even judging the big bake-off competition.”
Yes. I do know. Only too well.
I smile and reply nonchalantly, “Yes, I’d heard about it.”
“Well, with your recent interest in all things cakes, and given that I’ve spotted you reading some of her recipes online, I thought you might like to meet her.”
“You know Cherry Bakewell?” I gape at him. Thanks to Jack’s past work for the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency, he’s met loads of famous people over the years.
“No,” he admits. “But I do know her manager and agent, a guy called Marvin. When I worked at the CCIA, we did some work for one of his other clients. He’s been in touch about me keeping an eye on Cherry when she’s in town for this baking festival in Delamere. The guy’s a complete pain and made some complaints about the agency’s service on that job I did before. He wanted things done one way, and I went off-plan. We ended up having a bit of a…well, let’s call it a disagreement. Main thing was, the case was solved, so in the end he was happy. Anyway, I’m supposed to be Cherry’s unofficial bodyguard for the next few days, and I arranged for you to go and meet her at her hotel for tea, cakes and a chat. What do you reckon?”
“Oh, wow! That’s amazing.” I must admit, since I started my battle to make delicious and delectable cakes, Cherry Bakewell has been my go-to woman online for ideas and advice. She has a brilliant website packed full of inspiration and loads of do’s and don’ts. “When do I get to meet her?”
“This afternoon,” he says. “I said we’d be there at two o’clock.”
be there. Oh, that means I won’t be able to chat to her about the competition or quiz her too much about my baking disasters if Jack’s going to be there. I bet she could have given me some top wedding cake tips, too.
“And, get this,” he continues. “She’s staying at the Roseby.”
The Roseby is
hotel in this part of Cumbria. It’s nestled among the hills, overlooking a lake. With its own private marina and wall-to-wall five star luxury, it’s where all the celebrities stay. It’s also where most of Jack’s work takes place, the guarding of the aforementioned celebrities and their priceless possessions.
I slide my hands around Jack’s neck, stand on tiptoe and give him a thank you kiss.
“You’re very welcome,” he whispers in my ear, correctly interpreting my unspoken message.
His phone buzzes into life, and he pulls it from the back pocket of his jeans. While he’s distracted, I dash across the farmyard and into the kitchen. There’s no sign of a cake.
“Where is it?” I breathlessly ask Brenda, crossing my fingers that this cake is a vast improvement on my previous attempts.
“Sorry,” Brenda says, giving me a supportive cuddle. “It’s in the bin. Better look next time.”
“I’m running out of time, Brenda.” I lean against the kitchen worktop feeling deflated. “I’m going to need to find somebody who can make a wedding cake on a shoestring budget, aren’t I?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get it right and then you can make an amazing wedding cake and supply the village store with delicious cake creations just like your Aunt Molly used to.”
That’s another reason for my dogged determination to get to grips with baking. Brenda is encouraging me to make baked goods for the shop to sell and, naturally, I’m keen to develop a possible new revenue stream.
“Sorry, gotta go. Duty calls,” Jack says, poking his head around the farmhouse door. “I’ll pick you up at about one this afternoon for our trip, OK?”
I nod enthusiastically. “OK.”
“Oh, and whatever you were hiding from me in the kitchen, it smells good. Save some for me for later?”
“I wasn’t cooking,” I protest.
Jack winks and disappears, off to sort whatever it is he needs to do.
“I need to get going as well, I’m afraid. I’m babysitting one of the grandchildren this afternoon. Are you two off somewhere nice later?” Brenda asks me as she gathers together her coat and bag.
“Afternoon tea with the one and only Cherry Bakewell,” I beam. “Jack knows her agent and manager apparently.”
“Oooooh, lovely.” Brenda nods approvingly. “You’ll be able to quiz her about what’s going wrong with your baking and get some tips ahead of the competition.”
“Not so much, I’m afraid. Jack’s going to be there, too, so I’ll have to be careful what I say.”
“Why don’t you just tell him about your baking ambitions?”
I shrug. “It’s embarrassing that I’m so useless at it. I mean, how hard can it be to make a decent cake? I wanted our wedding cake to be a special surprise for him, too. When he proposed to me on the top of the mountain in the snow, we celebrated with the Champagne he’d brought along and the iced carrot cake I’d somehow managed to create. It would be a lovely touch to celebrate our engagement and our wedding with a cake I’d made. Plus, maybe a part of me doesn’t want him to know his wife-to-be is a baking nightmare.”
Brenda laughs. “I think he probably already knows, sweetheart. Not much gets past Jack.”
True enough. Maybe that’s the real reason he arranged this little chat for me this afternoon with Cherry.
“Well, have fun. Where are you meeting the Queen of Baking?”
“At the Roseby,” I say with a delighted smile.
“You’ll be needing to put on your afternoon tea finery in that case. Everyone dresses up at the Roseby.”
I glance at the clock and then at my current attire of mud-spattered jeans and one of Jack’s old sweatshirts with the sleeves rolled up about a dozen times. “I think I’d better get started on looking presentable now then!”
I can’t believe I am about to meet Cherry Bakewell. She’s a baking legend, having had her first cookery book published about thirty or so years ago. Whenever I’ve seen her on the TV she comes across as friendly and helpful. I’m really looking forward to this.
On the way over to the Roseby, we pass the park in Delamere where the huge striped marquees are already gracing the muddy grass area and being prepared for the start of the festival. Once we’re out of the bustling tourist town, we take the road which skirts around the lake and whizz straight up to the huge metal entrance gates at the hotel. We don’t have to stop, buzz the security intercom and then wait for clearance because Jack has a remote activation key fob for it, in case of any security emergencies. The lengthy driveway sweeps up the hill, through the trees and curves towards the impressive stone and slate building, the main part of the hotel.