Brewing Death

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chapter-1

drop-cap-erin was surprised to hear the back door opening. Vic, her partner at the bakery, entered the kitchen. The tall, blond girl surveyed the mess the kitchen was in, cookbooks and boxes of herbs and tea strewing the counters and tables and shook her head in mock dismay.

“I leave you alone for the day and come home to the house looking like it was hit by a tornado!” she drawled.

Erin looked at the clock on the wall. “It can’t be that late already!”

“I suppose this means you didn’t make supper.”

Not that they usually had anything fancy for supper. Even on the rare days when one of them took the afternoon or the day off while Bella covered a shift at Auntie Clem’s Bakery, there was usually so much else to do that the evening meal was a frozen dinner or something at one of Bald Eagle Falls’s fine eating establishments. Erin shook her head ruefully.

“I don’t think I even had lunch.”

Vic walked toward the fridge. In the living room, Erin heard a thump as Orange Blossom jumped off of the couch, and by the time Vic had her hand on the handle of the fridge door, he was into the room, meowing chattily at one of his favorite people. Vic looked over at his food dish.

“It doesn’t look like you forgot to feed Blossom, though.”

“How could I? He’d never let me forget that!”

Vic opened the fridge. Orange Blossom wound around her legs, vocalizing loudly. “Oh, is there something in here you would like?” Vic teased him, looking over the shelves.

He would have been happy to stick his head in the opening and climb right up into the fridge, but Vic blocked him with her leg. She found the roast chicken from a couple of nights before and pulled the container out of the fridge. He followed her as she cleared a little space on the counter to set it down.

“Sorry,” Erin apologized, looking around at the mess, “I’ve been cleaning.”

“I think you’ve got it backward. Cleaning is when you put things away.”

Vic cut a little slice of the chicken and put it in Orange Blossom’s dish, and he attacked it with vigor. Erin’s nostrils flared at the smell of the chicken, and her stomach rumbled loudly, reminding her that she had neglected it since breakfast. Used to bakers’ hours, breakfast had been a long time before.

“I wanted to clear some space in the cupboards,” Erin explained. “These things are taking up so much room, there’s nowhere for me to put my own recipe books.”

Vic nibbled at a piece of chicken. “You’re getting rid of all of these?”

“No, not all of them. They’re sorted into groups…” Erin knew that it looked like chaos, but there really was a method to all of the books strewn around. “I’m keeping most of the handwritten ones,” she indicated the hardcover notebooks full of recipes; the same kind of notebooks that her Aunt Clementine had written her journals in, “and a few other classic ones that look really interesting. “I thought Adele might be interested in some of the ones on herbs and remedies, and maybe take some of the teas.”

Vic nodded. While Erin had spent some time helping Clementine back when she was a little girl and the bakery was a tea room, she hadn’t made a dent in the wide variety of teas and herbs that had stocked Clementine’s cupboard. Adele, who lived in the cottage at the other end of Clementine’s wooded property and acted as Erin’s groundskeeper, would put them to better use.

“And the rest of them?” Vic inquired.

“You can take what you want. What’s left over after that… I’m not sure what I’m going to do with. I don’t know whether there is anyone in town who would be interested in them.”

“Maybe you could put some of them on display at the bakery and see if anyone had any interest in them. Or we could hold an auction and get you a new car!”

“There’s nothing wrong with my Challenger,” Erin protested.

“Nothing that a complete overhaul of the engine, transmission, and exhaust system wouldn’t cure,” Vic agreed with a wry smile.

“Do you want to make some sandwiches?” Erin’s stomach was protesting at the smell and sight of the chicken Vic was nibbling away at. “I’ll clear some space…”

“All of these recipe books, and you just want to make sandwiches? Shouldn’t we be making chicken á la king, or chicken fettuccine alfredo, or something more sophisticated than sandwiches?”

“I can’t wait for anything fancy. Just slap some mayo and mustard on some bread and we can have a quick supper.”

“Do you want them on buttermilk biscuits?” Vic suggested. “We had a few left over.”

“That sounds great.” Erin started to gather the books into piles, so they would take up less room, arranging them by the type of recipes they contained. “I can’t believe how fast the time flew by today. I thought I could have this done in an hour, but it’s stretched out to take all day.”

“Did you get anything else on your list done?” Vic rummaged through the fridge to pull out the condiments and a salad. Orange Blossom was done his chicken and was sniffing around the edges of his bowl like he might have missed some. He wandered over to Vic, making inquiries to see whether she would give him anything else. “That’s enough, Blossom, or you’re going to get fat!”

The cat sat back on his haunches, looking offended. He licked his paw and started to wash his face.

“I did some laundry and some other general cleaning up and tidying. Took three bags out to the garbage bin, so I must have gotten something done today.” Erin stopped and surveyed the kitchen, hands on her hips. “It won’t take that long to put these away, into boxes or back in the cupboard. At least I’ll have gained some cupboard space.” She had her own recipe books that she needed a place for, mostly printed on letter-size paper and inserted in clear plastic sleeves in binders. Running a gluten-free bakery that tried to cater to a variety of dietary restrictions, she was always on the prowl for new recipes and techniques, and she couldn’t store all of them in the kitchen and tiny office at the bakery.

She and Vic worked together for a few minutes, Vic getting supper prepared and Erin sorting the books into boxes and putting a few back into the cupboard.

“You didn’t find any journals mixed in with those?” Vic inquired, nodding to the hardcover notebooks.

“No. I was kind of hoping that that missing journal might be in there. But I’m afraid it must be lost or stolen for good.”

“You think Uncle Davis has it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t see how he could have gotten his hands on it, but we didn’t have an alarm system yet around the time of the funeral. So, who knows? Maybe.”

“Officer Piper has already searched his house. It wasn’t there.”

“I don’t think Terry could have missed it,” Erin agreed.

Vic helped get the table cleared and put out the sandwiches and salad.

“Why don’t you wash off the dust and take a break?”

Erin agreed. She was used to being on her feet all day at the bakery, but for some reason, her day of cleaning and sorting out the kitchen had left her feeling more tired and sore than usual. She was happy to get off her feet to enjoy a light supper with Vic.

 

Erin’s usual routine of sitting with Vic in the living room and making lists before bed to organize the next day’s activities was comforting to her. She liked to get everything down on paper and have some idea of what the shape of the day would be. Of course, she never got everything on her lists done, but she was pretty productive.

Orange Blossom was curled up on Vic’s lap while she read a book, and the brown and white rabbit, Marshmallow, was lying on Erin’s feet.

The next day was Sunday, which meant the ladies’ tea at the bakery, an old tradition Erin had resurrected from when it was a tea room. Tea, cookies, and gossip. Even though Erin wasn’t part of the church community at Bald Eagle Falls, she had come to enjoy the quiet Sunday ritual and the chance to visit with her friends in a more relaxed environment.

“You could take a few of Clementine’s teas to the ladies’ tea,” Vic suggested. “There might be a few adventurous souls willing to try something new.”

“I might do that.” Erin added it to her list of things to take with her to the bakery in the morning.

“Just make sure they’re labeled. None of those bags of unlabeled herbs.”

“I can tell what most of them are, even if they don’t have labels. I can identify any of the teas Clementine used to serve in the tea room.”

“But some of those… I don’t know. They just look dubious to me.”

“I’ll give them to Adele. She can use them or compost them if she doesn’t know what to do with them. Her herbal knowledge is pretty good.”

“As long as no one expects me to drink anything unidentified.”

Erin laughed. “We’re not going to poison you, Vicky! Has Adele ever given you anything that’s hurt you?”

“So far, I’ve been able to avoid drinking anything she has made.”

Erin was almost expecting her to make the sign of the cross to ward off any evil. Adele was a practicing witch, and despite Vic’s acknowledgment that Wicca was just a pagan religion and Adele was not going to work any magic on them, she avoided eating or drinking anything Adele made. Erin had never suffered any ill effects from Adele’s herbal teas, but Vic just couldn’t bring herself to take the chance.

“I think Charley is going to come by for the ladies’ tea tomorrow,” Erin said, changing the subject.

“Really? I thought she said she wasn’t comfortable around ‘all those church ladies.’”

Erin smiled and nodded. “I know. But I think I’ve persuaded her just to give them a chance. If she wants to make friends in Bald Eagle Falls, she’s going to have to socialize somehow.”

“And if she’s going to open up The Bake Shoppe, she’s going to need to know her clientele,” Vic agreed.

Erin’s stomach clenched into a knot. She took a few deep breaths, waiting for it to subside. She knew she should be happy that her newfound half-sister was willing to consider opening up a legitimate business, putting her criminal activities with the Dyson clan behind her. It was just that Erin wasn’t sure how it would impact her business at Auntie Clem’s Bakery. She’d said from the start that she believed the town could sustain two bakeries but, deep down, she wasn’t one hundred percent sure it was true.

“She won’t be opening up The Bake Shoppe for a while. She’s still fighting over whether she can open it up on her own while Davis is in prison, when they are each only fifty-percent owners once the probate goes through.”

“She’ll be able to open it. It’s more valuable as an operating bakery than sitting there closed up. Uncle Davis really can’t win that argument.”

“I suppose.”

Thinking about Charley and Davis made Erin uneasy. She was happy to have her sister in Bald Eagle Falls so that she could get to know her. But Charley had some pretty rough edges and wasn’t the kind of person that Erin would have associated with normally. And she was determined to prove Davis’s involvement in Trenton’s death and get his half of the inheritance.

Erin added a couple more items to her list, and wiggled her toes, making Marshmallow shift and look up at her. “I think I’m going to head to bed.”

Vic lifted Orange Blossom from her lap to cuddle him and kiss the top of his head. “Yeah, me too,” she agreed. “Even though we can sleep in on a Sunday, my body just doesn’t get the message.”

Erin nodded. “See you tomorrow, then. Where’s Willie these days? Working out of town again?”

Vic stood up and put Orange Blossom down. “I don’t know. We decided to take a break for a while.”

Erin stared at her, mouth open. “You decided to take a break? From each other? What happened?”

But even as she said it, Erin knew. Things had not been the same since they had returned to Bald Eagle Falls after rescuing Charley and solving the murder she’d been wrongly accused of.

Vic sighed. Her mouth twisted into a grimace that she tried to hide. “I told him who I was. I didn’t keep that from him. But he didn’t tell me who he was. He knew our families were enemies, and he didn’t tell me.”

Willie had initially had a hard time with Vic being a transgender woman, but had eventually been able to get past it. But he hadn’t told her that he was a Dyson, the clan that had been feuding against Vic’s family, the Jacksons, for generations.

“You told me once that you knew Willie had secrets, but you were willing to wait until he was ready to share them with you.”

“Yeah.” Vic considered. “I guess that’s one that I would have liked to have known up front. Other stuff from his past I could wait for, but he should have told me that. At least given me the chance to decide if I wanted to get involved with someone who’d fought against my family.”

It wasn’t just that Willie had been born a Dyson. Vic probably could have handled that. But he had been a soldier for them for five years, and that wasn’t so easy for her take.

“I’m sorry,” Erin said softly, shaking her head. “You should have told me. I just thought he was off working. I didn’t know the two of you were having trouble.”

“I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I’m still not ready. But you’re a friend. You should at least know.”

“Okay.” Erin looked down at her lists instead of staring at Vic and trying to analyze her. “I won’t ask about it. You just let me know when you’re ready.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Vic bent down to give Orange Blossom one last scratch. Marshmallow got up and hopped over to her for a share of the attention, and Vic scratched the base of his long ear.

“All right, babies, time for bed. You guys be quiet for Erin and let her sleep.”

Orange Blossom followed Vic into the kitchen, yowling at her about how hungry he was, but she wasn’t fooled. She went out the back door and across the yard to her apartment over the garage. Erin heard her pause on her way out to arm the burglar alarm. Erin wasn’t sure she felt any more secure with the alarm set, since the last intruder had managed to disable it on entering. But it was just a precaution. There was no one after Erin. Not anymore, thanks to Orange Blossom and Vic’s marksmanship skills. It was a good thing she’d had so much practice shooting gophers and other critters when she was younger.

 

Erin had expected that Charley would jam out at the last minute and not show up for the ladies’ tea when church let out. She wasn’t an atheist, like Erin. She’d been raised Christian, but had obviously left those beliefs behind when she had left home to work with the Dyson clan, whose views were distinctly opposed to any of the teachings Erin knew of the Christian faith. Even if they went to funerals and to Easter and Christmas services, they really didn’t follow the teachings of Christ as Erin knew them.

But Charley showed up. She wasn’t in a dress like most of the church ladies would be, but she wasn’t in blue jeans either. She’d taken the time to find something appropriate, to put her hair, dark like Erin’s, back in a knot behind her neck, and to keep to a natural look with her makeup, just accenting her brown eyes and small mouth.

“I made it,” Charley declared. “I actually got myself out of bed early and got myself all dolled up for your friends.”

Erin couldn’t help looking at the clock on the wall. Early?

“Considering I’m usually going to bed when you’re getting up, that’s early for me,” Charley asserted.

“Yes, it is,” Erin agreed. “You’re here just in time, the others should be arriving soon.”

Mary Lou was the first to arrive. As usual, her short gray hair was perfectly coiffed and her neatly tailored skirt suit looked like it had been made just for her. She smiled and nodded at Charley. “I’m so glad you could make it, Miss Campbell.”

“Oh, no! Just call me Charley. No one calls me Miss Campbell.”

“Have a seat, Mary Lou,” Erin invited, gesturing toward the tables, all ready for the group of women. “How were your services today?”

“Very nice,” Mary Lou said. She chose her usual chair and sat down. She closed her eyes for an instant, looking tired. “Yes, it was a beautiful spring service. I always enjoy a talk that centers around renewal and new life.”

“Good.” Erin waited for Mary Lou to pick out her usual English Breakfast, and then poured the water from the waiting teapot for her.

Mary Lou nodded her thanks and stared off, distant.

“What kind of tea do you like?” Erin asked Charley.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m pretty easy. Just tea. Black, green, I don’t really care.”

Erin considered, mentally cataloging the kinds of tea in the baskets at the middles of the tables. “How about… Earl Grey?” she suggested, pulling one of the yellow packets out.

Charley shrugged. “Sure, sounds good.” She sat down, not right next to Mary Lou, but not off on her own, either. Erin put the teabag in Charley’s cup and poured the water for her.

Other women started coming in the door. Melissa, with her mass of brown curls, eyes sparkling as she gossiped with Clara Jones, who she sometimes worked with at the police department’s administrative office. Clara was wearing a green dress, which Erin wasn’t sure looked good with Clara’s brassy curls and oversize jewelry. Clara seemed to enjoy drawing attention to herself, positive or negative.

Lottie was there, along with several others of the usual crowd. They all got quieter at the sight of Charley. Though Erin was sure they knew who Charley was, she introduced her anyway, trying to make everyone feel comfortable. Vic brought out the platters of cookies and confections, and everyone chattered at once, admiring the treats and discussing which were their favorites. Erin circulated, pouring water and making sure everyone had everything they needed. Eventually, everyone had been served, and there was nothing much more for Erin to do than just enjoy her guests and listen to them talk.

“I understand you are trying to open up The Bake Shoppe again,” Melissa said to Charley. “How is that coming along?”

“Slower than a herd of turtles,” Charley answered, shaking her head. “I mean… I know small towns do things slow, but how long can it take to decide the place is worth more open than closed?”

Sympathetic nods from around the table. They all knew about small-town bureaucracy and how hard it was to get people to make a decision.

“I managed to get ahold of Joelle Biggs,” Charley went on. “Asked her if she’d come meet with me to go over everything.”

The room fell utterly silent.

Charley looked around, her eyes wide. She looked over at Erin and raised her brows. “Uh… what?”

“Why would you ask her to come back to Bald Eagle Falls?” Erin asked, her voice coming out much more calm than she really felt.

“She holds Davis’s power of attorney, so if I can get her to agree with me, she can just sign a consent on his behalf, and then the trustees don’t have a leg to stand on. We’re the only two beneficiaries of the bakery, and if we both say we want to go ahead and open it up again, why would they object? As soon as it’s gone through probate, we’re the ones who are going to making all the decisions on it.”

“Why would Joelle agree to come back here?” Lottie demanded. “She’s the one who killed Trenton Plaint! How could she dare show her face here again?”

“We couldn’t prove that it was done intentionally,” Vic pointed out. “I guess she knows there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Erin saw Charley’s eyes flash. She certainly intended to do something about it, and Erin worried that it wasn’t just having a little chat with her. Yes, she wanted the bakery open, but that wasn’t all she wanted.

But instead of protesting, Charley just gave a lazy shrug and raised her teacup to her lips. “I don’t see how it’s anyone’s business but my own.”

The other ladies huffed and rolled their eyes but didn’t come up with a reason that Charley should have to justify herself to them. It was true, as much as they liked to know all of what was going on and to give endless advice on the right way to do things, they didn’t have any control over what Charley and Joelle did and weren’t in a position to be making any demands. Of course, that hadn’t stopped them when Erin had moved into Bald Eagle Falls to open a second bakery. She had been the outsider then, and everyone had made it clear that she should be reopening the tea room rather than a bakery. Especially a gluten-free bakery, of all things.

“We’ll just have to see how it all unfolds,” Erin said, hoping to soothe the nettled tempers. She looked over in Vic’s direction. Vic was the one who was best at defusing things. She always seemed to know the right thing to say.

“Can’t knit a sweater before the sheep is shorn,” Vic agreed, making everyone laugh.

In a few minutes, the conversation moved on to other things, and Erin gave a sigh of relief. She would have to keep an eye on Charley. Maybe inviting her to the ladies’ tea hadn’t been the best idea.

chapter-2

drop-cap-surprisingly, it was Mary Lou who was the first to stand up and make motions toward leaving. She was usually one of the last ones to go, sticking around to help gather up the dishes and brush away the crumbs to help Erin and Vic out.

She caught Erin’s eyes on her. “I’m sorry. Duty calls. Roger hasn’t been feeling well this week. I don’t want to leave him to himself for too long.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Erin sympathized. “Is there anything he’d like? I could send you home with some cookies…?”

“No, that’s fine, thank you. Don’t want to do business on the Sabbath. What he really needs is for me to be home.”

“I meant I would give them to you, not that you had to pay,” Erin tried to correct the misunderstanding.

“I’m certainly not taking anything without paying for it. You’re running a business here, and you’re going to need every sale you can get.” Mary gave a significant look in Charley’s direction. Her meaning was clear. Erin was going to be in trouble when The Bake Shoppe reopened.

“We’ll manage,” Erin assured her. She didn’t feel quite as certain as she let on. The bakery’s first year had not been an easy one, and she wasn’t yet mentally prepared to face the competition of another bakery in town. There would still be people who had to come to Auntie Clem’s for the gluten-free baking, but not enough of them to support the business. How many others would stay loyal to Auntie Clem’s if they didn’t need gluten-free or other allergen-free goods? Would they all just go back to The Bake Shoppe when it opened?

Mary Lou put her thin, well-manicured hand on Erin’s arm as she walked by. “That’s right, dear,” she agreed. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

 

Erin didn’t expect Joelle to show up in town right away. In spite of what Charley had said, Erin figured Joelle would play it cool, saying that she would come but in no hurry to do so. What murder suspect in her right mind would just waltz back into town as if she didn’t have a care in the world?

But the week wasn’t out before Erin saw Joelle, with her chic yoga pants and long, spidery limbs, walk right by the bakery. Erin turned to Vic to point Joelle out, but Vic had already seen, and had turned toward Erin, eyes wide, mouth open to make a comment about it.

Erin grinned. “Miss Joelle Biggs is back in town,” she acknowledged.

“Still can’t believe Charley was able to talk her into coming.”

The bakery was pretty quiet, with only the elderly Potters standing there looking at the display case and waffling over the choices. Vic slipped out from behind the counter and walked to the front window to watch Joelle’s progress down the street.

“Where is she going?” Erin asked.

“They must be meeting at The Bake Shoppe.”

“Should somebody go over there…?”

Vic’s eyebrows went up. “And do what, exactly?”

“I don’t know. Make sure they don’t kill each other.”

“And pray tell, how would we do that?”

Erin leaned on the counter, trying to come up with an answer. The last time she had been into The Bake Shoppe was when Trenton had died, poisoned by the muffins Joelle had purchased at Auntie Clem’s Bakery. Just thinking about it made her muscles tense up and her breathing grow shallower. She and Terry Piper had spent hours keeping up CPR until an ambulance from the city could get there. Erin rubbed her biceps. What an ordeal that had been. And a hopeless one, as it turned out. Trenton had never revived.

“I don’t know. But I don’t think they should be left alone together.”

“We’ve got no reason to go into their place of business. We can’t stop them from having a meeting.”

Erin fought the urge to bite her nails. She tried to distract herself, turning to the Potters with a pasted-on smile. “See anything you like today?”

“We were thinking of the chocolate muffins,” Mrs. Potter started out, her quavery voice slow and deliberate.

“Good choice,” Erin approved. She reached for the muffins. “How many would you like?”

“But then we were looking at the blueberry ones,” Mr. Potter put in.

Erin wasn’t fooled a second time. She waited for the next installment in the story.

“We did have muffins last week,” Mrs. Potter noted.

“Yes. So, something a little different this week? Maybe cookies or some fresh rosemary bread? I know you like that…”

“Mrs. Potter likes the rosemary,” Mr. Potter disagreed. “I like the poppyseed.”

“I have poppyseed bagels today,” Erin said desperately, pointing to them.

“Mmm…” Both of the Potters gazed into the display case, considering the poppyseed bagels and everything else in turn.

Erin raised her eyes to Vic, who was turning away from the front window with a mirthful smile. She walked back to her place behind the counter. “You can’t rush the future,” she advised placidly.

Erin settled back to wait. It wasn’t like there was a line up behind the Potters. Things would be quiet until school let out. Assuming Charley and Joelle didn’t kill each other.

 

The doorbell rang after supper, and Erin had a pretty good idea who it was going to be. She hadn’t set the burglar alarm yet, and she took a careful look through the peephole before opening the door to him.

Officer Terry Piper and his faithful partner K9 stood on the steps waiting. Erin smiled at her favorite police officer. “Come on in,” she invited.

They made themselves at home, Terry sitting down in his preferred chair, and K9 lying down at his feet with a snort and a sigh.

“What can I get you?” Erin offered. “Coffee? Cinnamon rolls?”

“Oh, both of those sound great,” Terry approved. “I don’t know when the last time I had a cinnamon roll was.”

“And you’re on duty tonight, so coffee is okay?”

He nodded his agreement. K9 watched Erin intently while she went into the kitchen to warm up a roll. Orange Blossom jumped down from the couch, hissed at K9, and then stalked after Erin on stiff legs.

Erin tossed him a couple of kitty treats while she warmed up the cinnamon roll, and he skittered across the kitchen after them like a kitten, making her laugh. Erin put a doggie biscuit in her pocket to free up her hands for the coffee and roll, and took them into the living room.

“I should probably have come into the kitchen to eat this,” Terry commented, taking the plate from her. “I don’t want to make a mess in your parlor.”

“If you drop crumbs, the animals will vacuum them up.”

K9 put his head back down between his paws with a grumble. Erin pulled the biscuit out of her pocket.

“Did you think I forgot about you?”

K9 sat up eagerly and took the treat from her, then lay down with it to eat.

“They’re just like kids,” Terry said. “Feed them once, and you can expect to have to do the same thing every single time you see them. It’s a good thing we spend plenty of time walking, or we’d both be fat.”

“You don’t need to worry about your weight,” Erin dismissed, glancing at Terry’s heavy work belt, buckled at exactly the same hole as always.

“Where’s Vic tonight? Did she and Willie make up?”

“Did you know they were on the outs? I didn’t realize it until Saturday.”

He nodded, grunting something through the cinnamon roll.

“She went to see Adele,” Erin said, in answer to his question. “We haven’t seen much of her lately and I have something to give her.”

“How is that working out? You don’t regret letting her live in the cottage and being your groundskeeper?”

“No. She’s great. She doesn’t get in the way and make demands. She makes improvements and keeps rowdy teenagers to a minimum. It’s worked out just great.”

“Good. I wasn’t sure, when you took her on, that it was the right thing to do. None of us really knew anything about her.”

Erin gave a little shrug. “We all have to start somewhere. I felt good about her, and I know what it’s like to be new in town and need a little bit of help. She doesn’t ask much. She just… needed a friend, I guess.”

“Sometimes people can mislead you… I’d hate to see someone take advantage of you. You can’t trust everyone.”

“I don’t.”

He studied her for a moment, then nodded and went back to eating his cinnamon roll. He licked his fingers. “Oh, those are so rich. Great job, Erin.”

Erin’s face warmed at his words of praise. She took the empty plate from him, trying to mask her embarrassment.

There were voices in the back yard, and then Vic and Adele came in through the back door and into the kitchen.

“Hello,” Vic called out, giving Erin and Terry a wave.

Adele hesitated for a moment. “You have company.”

“Come in, come in. Terry’s not company, and neither are you. You’re family. The more the merrier.”

Adele considered, then inclined her head. She walked through the kitchen into the living room. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much the last week. Nothing is wrong, I’ve just had… a lot to do.”

“That’s fine. We just wanted to make sure that you were okay. You’re kind of isolated, and if something happened to you… well,” Erin shrugged uncomfortably, “I’d want to know about it sooner rather than later.”

The stately woman said nothing.

“Anyway,” Erin realized she was still holding Terry’s empty plate in her hand and walked into the kitchen to put it in the sink. “I have some things that you might like. You don’t need to take anything you don’t want, but…”

Erin gestured to the boxes she had filled for Adele. Adele opened one of the lids and looked at the jumble of teas and herbs.

“Sorry, it’s not organized…”

“No, this is fine,” Adele said, poking through the contents. “I’d be happy to take it back to the cottage and have a look through it. Thank you.” She opened the other box and picked up the recipe books on top. “These look intriguing.”

“I don’t know if any of it is worth anything to you, or if you already know all of this…” While Erin had kept a few baking books for herself, she really didn’t have any use for the old herbal remedy books Clementine had collected.

“These are lovely. There’s always more wisdom to be gathered.”

“Good.”

Adele opened the hardcover notebook that had Clementine’s own recipes in it. “Oh, are you sure? This looks special.”

“They’re Clementine’s tea recipes and other herbal remedies. I’ve kept some of her other recipes, but I don’t have room for everything. If you don’t want it…”

“No, I’m honored. I just wanted to make sure you really wanted me to have that one. You can ask for it back if you change your mind…”

“No, really, it’s for you. I don’t have the time to spend on herbal remedies as well as everything else already on my plate.” Erin giggled at her own pun. “Go ahead, use it as you like. I hope you can get something out of it.”

“Thank you. I’ll put it to good use.”

Erin nodded and headed back to the living room. Orange Blossom sat in the doorway of the kitchen, staring intently at Adele, but not going in and demanding a treat like he normally would.

“Why is he looking at you like that?”

“Maybe he would like to talk to me.”

Vic laughed. “Orange Blossom talks to everyone. It’s when he shuts up that it’s surprising.”

Adele extended her fingers and called softly to the cat. “Puss, puss?”

Orange Blossom looked at Erin, then back at Adele, and entered the kitchen, approaching her cautiously. Erin glanced over at Vic and saw that her eyes were big as she watched the cat and the woman who called herself a witch.

“Did you want to tell me something?” Adele asked the cat.

Orange Blossom sniffed Adele’s fingers, then bent his head and smelled her shoes, raising his head again with his mouth partly open.

“You must have stepped in something good,” Vic chuckled.

“Maybe catnip,” Erin suggested. “Does catnip grow around here?”

“Certainly,” Adele said. She gave Orange Blossom’s ears a scratch. “He probably smells Skye.”

“Skye?” Erin echoed.

“The crow.”

“Oh,” Erin had seen the crow that was not Adele’s pet a few times. She got the feeling that he wasn’t often very far away, but he didn’t go into Adele’s house, and he only landed to perch on her shoulder or hand briefly, and then after communing with her would fly away again. “I guess I never knew his name. You never really talk about him.”

“There’s not much to say,” Adele said with a shrug. She straightened. “He’s a crow.”

“You said he’s not your pet; is he—”

“He’s her familiar,” Vic interrupted. “A spirit helper. Isn’t he?”

Adele looked at Vic, her brows drawn down. “Skye is a crow. He likes the peanuts I give him. I wouldn’t speculate on things I knew nothing about if I was you, Victoria.”

Vic flushed. “I just thought… well, witches have animals to help them, no matter what you call them, don’t you?”

“You like having animals around, don’t you?” Adele said. “Orange Blossom and Marshmallow? You grew up on a farm with other animals, probably dogs and livestock, at least.”

“Sure. I like animals.”

“So do I. I like to be close to nature and I like to be close to non-human animals. When you’ve been around an animal for a while, you get to learn its body language and habits. You develop a friendship.”

Vic nodded. “Yeah.”

“Skye doesn’t belong to me. But I miss him when he’s not around.”

Vic didn’t pursue it any further.

“Come in for a visit,” Erin invited, motioning to the living room. They all joined Terry in the living room. Erin sat down next to Terry. “I guess you know Joelle is back in town.”

“Yes, I saw her.”

“Joelle?” Adele repeated.

“Joelle Biggs,” Erin explained, and proceeded to tell Adele the details of Trenton Plaint’s death.

“But what is she doing back in town?” Adele asked. “Does she have friends around here? Other than Davis?”

“No, no one that I know of. Charley wanted her to come back. But I don’t know why she came. I certainly wouldn’t if it was me!”

Adele stared at the dark window. Erin suspected she had other things she would rather be doing. She had come back with Vic to be accommodating and to let them know she was fine, but she had said she had a lot of things to do. They were probably keeping her away from something else. While Erin and Vic had to retire to bed early, Adele would be up past midnight doing whatever it was she did in the woods.

Erin covered a faked yawn. “Well… I’m going to need to hit the sack. Stay and visit if you like…”

Terry looked at his watch. K9 looked up quickly, reading the signal that they were going to leave. “I’d better get back to it,” Terry commented. He gave Erin a quick hug and brushed her cheek with a kiss. “See you tomorrow.”

Erin nodded. “Keep an eye on Joelle while she’s in town…”

“I’ll keep my eyes open,” he promised.

“I suppose I should get to bed too,” Vic said grudgingly.

Adele looked relieved. She rose to her feet in one fluid movement. “Good to see you, Erin. I need to pop over and see Mary Lou. Thank you for the goodies. I’ll have a lot of fun going through them.”

In a few minutes, everyone was gone, and Erin was left by herself to think about the events of the day.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Brewing Death

By P.D. Workman

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