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Lemon Pies and Little White Lies (A Charmed Pie Shoppe Mystery Book 4) by [Ellery Adams]

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Lemon Pies and Little White Lies (A Charmed Pie Shoppe Mystery Book 4) Kindle Edition

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From the bestselling author of The Girl in the Corner comes a story that asks: what would you risk for a shot at happiness?| Learn more
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Ella Mae pressed chocolate cookie crumbs into the bottom of a springform pan with deft, quick motions. She then moved to her commercial stovetop and gave the marshmallow creme simmering in the saucepan a gentle stir. Satisfied, she turned the burner off and set the saucepan in a stainless steel bowl filled with ice. When the marshmallow creme was sufficiently cooled, Ella Mae reached for the liqueur bottles on the worktable and poured small amounts of crème de menthe and white crème de cacao into the fluffy mixture. Next, she squeezed in four drops of green food coloring and watched the white and green spiral around the tip of her wooden spoon before the green finally overpowered the white. She continued to stir until all traces of white were gone.

“Green as an Irish meadow,” she declared to the empty room.

Ella Mae’s mind began to wander. She thought of all the things she needed to accomplish that day and of the endless list of tasks still awaiting her. She glanced down at the saucepan again and frowned. She couldn’t remember if she’d added the crème de menthe.

Shrugging, she grabbed the glass liqueur bottle and added a generous splash to the mixture. After giving it a good stir, she leaned over the pan and inhaled deeply.

“Minty fresh,” she murmured to herself and wiped at a drip running down the liqueur bottle with the hem of her apron.

Feeling pleased with her morning’s work so far, Ella Mae hummed as she entered the walk-in freezer to fetch her beater attachment and a large mixing bowl. The cold air permeated the warm cocoon of marshmallow and mint that enveloped the entire kitchen and Ella Mae shivered. She didn’t want to feel. She didn’t want to think. She just wanted to bake, cook, and plate and repeat those steps over and over until it was time to close The Charmed Pie Shoppe for the day. After that, she could collect Chewy, her Jack Russell terrier, from doggie daycare and go home. HGTV and The Food Network awaited her there. As did her cooking magazines and page after page of glossy photographs and new recipes.

The oven timer beeped and Ella Mae backed out of the freezer, dropped the cold beaters and bowl on the counter, and pulled on a pair of oven mitts. She transferred six shepherd’s pies, a trio of potato and green onion pies, and a dozen corned beef hand pies to the cooking racks. The scent of hot, buttery crust and fresh spices settled on her shoulders like a shawl, but she didn’t pause to savor the aromas.

Instead, she poured heavy cream into the chilled bowl, attached the beater to her commercial mixer, and switched on the appliance. She stared at the white liquid as it frothed and churned in the bowl while her right hand involuntarily slid into her apron pocket and touched the letter nestled inside.

“No! I can’t,” she said, withdrawing her hand with the swiftness of someone whose fingers have come too close to a fire. “I have a business to run. I’m on the Council of Elders. Everyone’s looking to me for answers. I need to stay focused.”

Ella Mae’s stomach growled and she removed one of the steaming shepherd’s pies from the cooling rack and cut herself a thick wedge. While the mixer whirred, she savored every bite of pie. She had so little time to sit and enjoy a meal these days that she decided to take a few, precious minutes to enjoy this one. When her pie was done, she raised her coffee cup to her mouth and drained the tepid liquid. She then reached out to set the cup on the table, but her eyes had strayed to the window above the kitchen sink and she missed. The cup fell, and when it struck the kitchen floor and smashed into pieces, Ella Mae shouted, “Opa!” She’d survived so much over the past two years and wasn’t about to let a broken cup bother her.

Turning her attention back to the whipped cream, she cursed. She switched off the mixer, dipped the beater in the cream, and raised it again. In lieu of stiff peaks, the mixture was grainy. For the first time in her life, Ella Mae had overbeaten the cream.

“I’ll just add a little sugar,” she said, heading for the dry-goods shelf. Grabbing the sugar container, she pried off the lid and scooped out a heaping tablespoonful. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” she sang and dumped the sugar into the cream. She turned on the mixer again and finally achieved the desired result. At last, she folded the rescued whipped cream into the green marshmallow mixture and then poured the whole thing over the chocolate-cookie-crumb crust.

She carried the pie to the freezer and placed it at the end of a row of a dozen green pies. “That should be plenty for takeout orders and afternoon tea. I hope I made enough four-leaf clover cookies.”

Back at the worktable, she saw that Reba or Jenny had left her an order ticket and had also dumped a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. The lunch rush was over, but there were still customers in the dining room. The Charmed Pie Shoppe had become so popular with locals and tourists alike that people often had to wait until two o’clock for a table. And since afternoon tea service started at three, Ella Mae baked and plated for hours in a row. She rarely left the kitchen, taking brief coffee or meal breaks perched on a stool next to the dishwasher. From this vantage point, she could stare out across the small rear parking area and over the Dumpster to the block beyond. On a clear day, she could see the roof of the fire station, its shingled gray gable rising a few feet above the brick building housing Havenwood Insurance. At certain times, the sun would hit the fire station’s Dalmatian weathervane just right and it would wink like a star. Ella Mae would gaze at the glowing copper and think of Hugh.

“Hugh’s gone,” she told herself, and read the order ticket once more.

She plated a generous wedge of shepherd’s pie with a side of field greens and was just spooning charred corn salad into a bowl to go along with a serving of corned beef hand pie when she heard the blare of a car alarm.

Ella Mae didn’t pay much attention to the wailing until a second alarm sounded. And then a third. The noise was fairly loud and Ella Mae guessed that the cars were parked nearby. She barely had time to register this thought before voices raised in angry shouts added to the cacophony. Ella Mae couldn’t tell what had made the people so upset, but she knew either Reba or Jenny would inform her sooner or later.

She didn’t have to wait long.

Reba burst through the swing doors and cried, “Do you hear that devil’s racket outside?” She put her hands on her hips and surveyed Ella Mae. “Mr. Jenkins just drove on the wrong side of the street. He scraped four parked cars from bumper to bumper, takin’ off their side mirrors as he passed, and then plowed through the Longwoods’ picket fence, flattenin’ their collection of garden gnomes as he went. Mrs. Longwood is fit to be tied.”

Ella Mae glanced toward the window. “Oh.”

“That’s all you have to say?” Reba pulled a red licorice stick from her apron pocket and shook it at Ella Mae. “What did you put in that Leprechaun Pie? Mr. Jenkins had two pieces.”

Ella Mae feigned great interest in the parsley on the cutting board. “Are you asking if I enchanted our Saint Patrick’s Day dessert?”

“You know damn well I am!” Reba snapped. “Seein’ as you transfer your emotions into the food you make, I’d like to know what you put in those pies.”

Shaking her head, Ella Mae said, “Nothing. I’ve been deliberately trying not to use magic when I’m . . .”

“Down in the dumps?” Reba narrowed her eyes and bit into her licorice stick. “Or just plain drunk?” In a flash, she closed the space between herself and Ella Mae just in time to catch Ella Mae’s next exhalation. “You smell like a Peppermint Pattie dipped in paint thinner. How much of that mint liqueur have you had?”

Ella Mae felt her cheeks grow warm. She walked to the sink, turned the faucet on, and held a dirty dish under the water. “I haven’t had a drop. I wiped the bottle with my apron, which is why I smell like I do.”

Reba grabbed the plate and loaded it into the dishwasher. “I hope so. You’ve always been a glass of vino after work kind of girl.”

“I still am. Though sometimes I have two, but that started when Hugh left,” Ella Mae said.

“I know you miss him, but it’s not like you two broke up. He told you he needed to travel—to search for a way to reclaim his lost powers—and you said you understood. It’s only been a month and he’s sent you letters. I see you readin’ and rereadin’ them.” Reba frowned. “Is that why you put too much booze into your pies? I’m assumin’ that’s what happened because you’ve been real distracted lately.”

“It was a mistake, and I only made it with a few pies. Not all of them. I didn’t think I’d added that much more. I guess my magic somehow amplified the effects,” Ella Mae said and continued to wash dishes. The steam from the water rose in diaphanous plumes around her face, masking her anguished expression.

“I’m going to deliver those orders and then I’m coming back here to pinch you,” Reba warned.

“You already pinched me for luck today. And guess what? It didn’t work.”

Reba left with the food. When she returned, she turned off the faucet and took Ella Mae’s red, water-wrinkled hands in her own. “What’s got you so sad?”

With a resigned sigh, Ella Mae withdrew Hugh’s letter and placed it in Reba’s palm. Reba had just unfolded it when Jenny Upton, The Charmed Pie Shoppe’s newest waitress, entered the kitchen.

“Where are those chocolate coins?” She frantically scanned the room, her gaze passing right over Ella Mae and Reba. “The ones wrapped in gold foil. I need them and I need them now.”

Ella Mae heard the note of desperation in Jenny’s voice. “I thought we made plenty of Saint Patty’s Day gift bags for the customers.” She pursed her lips. “But let me think. I ordered those gold-wrapped chocolate coins in bulk and they came packaged inside a cardboard treasure chest. That’s where I put the extras.”

“Then lead me to that treasure chest. And they’re not for a customer. They’re for me,” Jenny added. “I had to give every customer a zap of energy before they left. They all had the Leprechaun Pie and were as tipsy as sailors on furlough. I was afraid to let them drive or cross the street on foot.” She jerked her thumb toward the front of the store. “Look what happened when Mr. Jenkins got behind the wheel. Unfortunately for him and a hundred lawn gnomes, he paid his bill and slipped outside before I could touch him. And if I don’t eat some chocolate, I won’t be able to zap you, Ella Mae.”

Ella Mae scowled. She was Jenny’s boss, not some naughty child who could be pinched by one employee and given magical doses of energy by another. She whipped her head around to chastise Jenny, but was overcome by wooziness and stumbled to the closest stool. Putting both hands on the seat to steady herself, she suddenly remembered having placed the extra chocolate coins between containers of cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar. Plunking down onto the stool, she waved at the dry-goods shelves. “The treasure chest is on the second shelf from the floor.”

By this time, Reba had finished reading the letter and had placed it on the worktable where Ella Mae did most of her prep work. Two sharp knives were resting on the wooden surface and Reba’s hand closed over the paring knife. Her lips were compressed into a thin line and Ella Mae knew she was angry.

Jenny drew alongside Reba and dumped the treasure chest on the table. “Here,” she said, handing Reba a chocolate. “You look like you could use some candy.”

“I never leave home without it,” Reba said, taking a fresh licorice twist out of her apron pocket. She tore off an end and chewed furiously while Jenny unwrapped a dozen coins as if her life depended on it.

While the two women devoured their confections, Ella Mae stared at Hugh’s letter. She then slid off the stool and fetched a ball of dough from the walk-in. Shoving the knives and letter to the side, she dusted the surface of the worktable with flour and reached for her rolling pin. She freed the dough from its plastic wrap and began rolling it out, forcing it to grow wider and thinner, wider and thinner.

“Okay. Between the chocolate and the three cans of Mountain Dew I chugged on the front porch, I’m starting to feel like myself again,” Jenny said. “Are you ready, Ella Mae?”

“Just clear the fog in the poor girl’s head,” Reba said. “She’s had some discouragin’ news and I want to talk it over with her.”

Before Ella Mae could protest, Jenny put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. A jolt shot through Ella Mae’s body. For a brief, delicious moment, her blood turned to liquid sunshine—white hot and radiant—and hummed in her veins. Her fatigue evaporated like chimney smoke swept away by the wind and her mind was sharp and focused. “Thanks, Jenny,” she said, smiling gratefully. “I’m still in awe of your gift.”

“Yours isn’t too shabby either.” Jenny pointed at the round circle of dough. “By influencing people’s emotions, you can alter their behavior. Talk about powerful.” She smiled. “So what’s going into this pie?”

Ella Mae transferred the dough into a buttered pie dish. “My heart.”

Reba and Jenny exchanged worried glances as Ella Mae placed the dish in the oven.

“What happened?” Jenny asked.

“Hugh wrote that he hadn’t found what he was looking for in England or Scotland so he’s heading to Ireland. If that doesn’t pan out, he’s going to Greece. He’s put his assistant manager in charge of Canine to Five, informed the fire department that he’s no longer available to volunteer, and said that I shouldn’t wait for him—that he’s not coming back until he’s the man he was before I . . .” She trailed off.

“Before the source of his power was taken and used for the common good,” Reba finished for her.

Ella Mae threw out her hands in exasperation. “But he doesn’t know that! He doesn’t know what I am. I couldn’t sit him down and say, ‘Hugh, you’re in love with a magical being. Not only can I make charmed pies, but I can also command butterflies. And according to some ancient prophecy, I’m the Clover Queen, a position that means I’m responsible for the safety and well-being of lots of enchanted people.’”

“Of course you couldn’t tell him.” Reba tenderly brushed a strand of hair off Ella Mae’s cheek. “He isn’t like us. Sweetheart, he never will be one of us.”

Ella Mae nodded. “I know that, but I love him. I’ve loved him for most of my life. Since I knew how to love. And no matter what he said in this letter, I’ll wait. If it takes twenty years, then so be it. I have to hold on to the hope that, one day, I can be completely honest with him and he’ll be able to forgive me for what I did to him.”

“What kind of existence will you have pining for him for twenty years?” Reba asked very softly.

Ella Mae faced her friends. “I don’t plan on pining. You see, I’m going to bury everything I feel for Hugh into this pie. And then, I’m going to freeze it. I hope it’ll be like pausing a movie—that it’ll give me the freedom to focus on work and the rest of the people I care about.”

Jenny looked doubtful. “Is that possible? Can you really transfer enough of your feelings that you actually stop, well, feeling?”

“When it comes to these particular emotions, I have to try,” Ella Mae said, sounding like her strong, determined self again. “Hugh’s wasn’t the only letter I received in today’s mail. The township committee has accepted my proposal to have The Charmed Pie Shoppe sponsor Havenwood’s Founder’s Day celebration.”

Reba arched a brow. “Why would we want to do that?”

“Because it gives us an unprecedented chance to gather our kind from all over the country. If I can convince Elders from other communities to meet, we can discuss how to unite, grow stronger, and break a very old curse.”

Jenny pumped her fist in the air. “Yes!”

“Founder’s Day is the first of May. Beltane. Our biggest party. A celebration I dream about all year,” Reba said, her eyes gleaming. “And with all these visitors, we’ll have hundreds of magical people in our grove. Good-lookin’, half-naked men from all over the country dancin’ around a bonfire. Tall Texans with cowboy hats, bronze-bodied surfers from California, men from the Dakotas who know how to keep a girl warm at night.” She grinned at Ella Mae. “This is your best idea ever.”

“Make sure to leave a few half-naked men for me,” Jenny said, and then issued a wistful sigh. “Too bad May is weeks and weeks away.”

Ella Mae waved her hand around the pie shop. “Don’t worry. With all we have to do to prepare for this event, the time will pass with lightning quickness.”

“Speaking of which, I’d better zip back to the dining room and check on our customers,” Jenny said and rushed off.

Ella Mae removed the pie dish from the oven and set it on a cooling rack. She then retrieved raspberries, heavy whipping cream, and a bar of white chocolate from the walk-in. She dropped the items on the counter and went to the dry-goods shelves for a bottle of orange liqueur, a package of unflavored gelatin, and a jar of currant jam.

Reba eyed the liqueur bottle warily. “What are you doin’ with that?”

“Mixing it with the gelatin, cream, and chocolate. And I’m not serving it to our patrons.” Ella Mae crossed the first and second fingers of her right hand and held them over her heart. “Promise.”

Satisfied, Reba crossed the room and opened one of the swing doors a crack. “Only two tables are occupied,” she said. “I think the rest of the customers raced outside to watch Mrs. Longwood soak Mr. Jenkins with her garden hose.”

“That poor man,” Ella Mae said, pausing in the act of breaking the bar of white chocolate into small pieces over a heated saucepan. Stirring in the rest of the filling ingredients, she said, “I’m responsible for the damage to the parked cars and to Mrs. Longwood’s gnomes, not him. What if he’s given a Breathalyzer test? He could be in big trouble. He might lose his license. Or worse.”

Reba shook her head. “I called Officer Wallace and told her exactly what happened. She’s going to help us out. Her report will make it sound like Mr. Jenkins’s car malfunctioned. Leak in the brake line or that sort of thing. His insurance company will cover the damage and my buddy at the body shop will mess with those brake lines long before the insurance rep shows up.”

“Thank goodness for Officer Wallace. I never realized what an advantage it could be to have one of our kind on the police force.”

“She’s not the first person to relocate to Havenwood because of you,” Reba said. “Thousands of folks would give half a lung to live in a place where they can renew their powers anytime they want. You’ve changed the rules, honey. And I have a feelin’ you’re just gettin’ started.” She picked up the bottle of orange liqueur. “You can’t afford to be distracted. Your life isn’t your own anymore.”

Ella Mae knew Reba spoke the truth. “You’re right,” she said. “On both counts. Let me finish with this pie and then I’ll be fine. Really, I will. But I have to do this alone, okay?”

Reba searched her face. “Okay, then. But remember, Jenny and I are just on the other side of those doors if you need us.”

When she was gone, Ella Mae placed Hugh’s letter in the pie dish. She unfolded it so she could see his familiar handwriting on the thin airmail paper. She traced the letters of his name, one at a time, silently pledging to love him as long as she lived. “But the part of my heart that you claimed needs to hibernate. I don’t know when I’ll see you again, and like Reba said, my life isn’t my own. It belongs to the people of Havenwood, and they don’t need a lovesick girl leading them. They need a woman. Fierce and fearless.”

Ella Mae beat more cream, creating picture-perfect stiff peaks before folding the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. As she gently worked her rubber spatula through the pie filling, she closed her eyes and thought of Hugh. Memories flashed through her mind like a high-speed slide show. There were images from the recent past: Hugh asleep in her bed, his Great Dane stretched out across his feet; Hugh frying bacon; Hugh frowning over a crossword puzzle; Hugh leaning in to kiss her. And then she went back further in time, to the first moment she’d seen him. He was still a boy then, and she, a shy and awkward girl. Despite her youth, Ella Mae’s heart had tripped over itself when Hugh had turned his bright blue-eyed gaze in her direction. She’d felt a rush of heat, of terror, and a longing she hadn’t fully understood.

“I understand it now,” she whispered and then poured the creamy white filling over the letter.

While waiting for the filling to set, Ella Mae tidied the kitchen and washed the raspberries. She then melted a small bowlful of red currant jam and dropped the berries into the ruby liquid. Using her fingertips, she tenderly coated each berry and then removed the pie dish from the refrigerator. Gingerly pinching a raspberry between her fingers, she inhaled the sweet scents of white chocolate and jam, and as she gently pressed the berry into the filling, she willed her memories of Hugh’s touch to enter the fruit. She repeated this act over and over, transferring into each berry the feel of his hands, the sound of his voice, his musical laughter, the hunger in his kisses, the glint of humor in his brilliant blue eyes, and the way his body moved when he danced. She pictured how he swam like a dolphin, the way he rolled on the ground when he played with his dog, and how he stood, taut and rigid as a steel beam, directing water from a fire hose at a wall of angry flames. She put all the things she felt about this remarkable man—the man she’d loved for most of her life—into the pie.

Feeling oddly vacant, Ella Mae dropped a handful of dark chocolate morsels and two tablespoons of butter in a glass bowl and cooked them in a microwave. Pouring the melted chocolate into a pastry bag, she piped dark hearts over the surface of the berries. The hearts overlapped until they were unrecognizable, but if Ella Mae looked very closely, she could follow the path of the lines and see the shapes she’d created.

She continued to pipe until the chocolate was gone. With a weary sigh, she sealed the pie in an airtight container and put it on a high shelf in the freezer.

By the time Reba returned with the first of the teatime orders, Ella Mae was ready to work again.

“Are you all right?” Reba asked.

“I will be,” Ella Mae said and smiled.

Reba nodded. “I believe it. While you plate this order, why don’t you tell me what you have in mind for this Founder’s Day event? We should focus on the future now.”

“Yes,” Ella Mae agreed. Taking a deep breath, she prepared to leave the past behind. “My idea is for us to host a one-of-a-kind celebration of pie. It’ll be called History in the Baking. We’ll invite cooks from across the nation to participate and encourage them to bring friends and family along. There will be pie bake-offs, presentations, lectures, cooking classes, and large cash prizes.”

Reba’s brows shot up her forehead. “Where’s the cash comin’ from? Not from my salary, I hope.”

“No.” Ella Mae laughed. “We’ll charge every contestant a registration fee, and I’ve already asked the manager of Lake Havenwood Resort about using their kitchen for classes and their auditorium for the presentations. He was willing to waive the fee for these facilities, seeing as our event is likely to ensure new bookings and plenty of advertising for his hotel.”

“I don’t get the history part,” Reba said and started to slice a Leprechaun Pie into even wedges.

“Pies have a long and rich history,” Ella Mae began. “Ancient Egyptian bakers made a form of pie dough, but the Greeks were the first civilization to produce a real pie. Of course, the pies were of the savory variety for centuries. The dough was just a container to hold a protein-packed filling. It wasn’t until the fifteen hundreds that the bakers began experimenting with fruit pies.”

Reba still looked puzzled. “So the contestants bake an old recipe—a really old recipe—and then talk about that country’s culture?”

“Exactly. You could make a Roman mussel pie, for example. Of course, only the wealthy Romans could afford mussels, so you’d have to explain what the different classes of that period would use as their filling. For extra impact, you could dress like a Roman.”

Shaking her head, Reba said, “Not a chance. You can’t hide enough weapons under a toga. Give me a kimono. Or one of those medieval gowns. Do you know how many throwing stars I could tuck inside those bell sleeves?”

Ella Mae laughed again and was surprised by the levity of the sound. She felt much lighter, as if a burden had been lifted. With a shock, she realized the transfer had worked. She’d used her gifts to store her longing for Hugh in a white chocolate mousse raspberry pie. She could think of him now without feeling that needle-sharp ache in the center of her chest. Her love was intact, but it was a love without pain. It was more like the memory of love. Pure, sweet, and distant.

“Anyway,” she continued animatedly. “The contestants don’t have to restrict their recipes to foods made in ancient times. America has a storied pie-making history. Pie has always been very important to this nation.”

Reba loaded her serving tray with the completed orders. “Shoot, everybody knows that. I bet there wouldn’t have been an America if the pilgrims hadn’t made pumpkin pie for the natives durin’ the very first Thanksgiving.”

“There wasn’t any pumpkin pie,” said Jenny, who’d entered the room in time to catch Reba’s last remark. “That’s a total myth. They ate fowl and venison at the inaugural Thanksgiving. There might have been a savory pie, but definitely no pumpkin.”

“All right, Einstein. You stay here and trade history lessons with Ella Mae. I need to serve my customers.” With a scowl, Reba left the kitchen.

When she was gone, both Ella Mae and Jenny stifled laughter behind their hands.

“She really hates being corrected,” Jenny said. “And I don’t dare press a point with her. The woman has a whole arsenal of weapons concealed under her clothes. She might be smaller and older than me, but she could kick my butt from now until Tuesday.”

Ella Mae retrieved a plastic bag filled with sugar-cookie dough from the walk-in and began to roll it out on the worktable. “Reba’s been my bodyguard since I was born. I’ve never seen anyone fight like her. She’s almost fifty, but her reflexes are quicker than those of a pissed-off rattlesnake.”

“I’m glad she saves her venom for our enemies,” Jenny said. “Though it would be nice if we didn’t have enemies for a spell. I’d like to enjoy a peaceful spring.”

At that moment, one of Ella Mae’s aunts burst through the swing doors, leaving them to flap wildly in her wake.

“You need to come with me!” Aunt Verena bellowed.

Ella Mae was unfazed by her aunt’s tone and volume. The oldest of the famed LeFaye sisters didn’t possess an indoor voice. She was also accustomed to people leaping to obey her. When Ella Mae didn’t, Aunt Verena pointed at the cookie dough and said, “Put down that rolling pin. We need to go!”

“It’s the middle of tea service,” Ella Mae protested. “I can’t just—”

“Yes, you can!”

Reba entered with another order ticket. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Can you take over for Ella Mae for a few minutes?” Though Verena towered over Reba and was nearly double her girth, she spoke to her with deference and affection. Reba might not have been a LeFaye, but she was still family. “There’s something she needs to see.”

Reba nodded and turned to Ella Mae. “You’d best listen to your aunt.”

Knowing that Aunt Verena wouldn’t insist unless it was extremely important, Ella Mae untied her peach apron, hung it on a wall hook, and quickly washed her hands. “I hope you aren’t the bearer of bad news,” she said, reaching for the dish towel. “It’s a holiday, after all. We’re supposed to wear green, pick four-leaf clovers, and look for pots of gold at the end of rainbows. We’re supposed to be merry.”

Verena looked pained. “Honey, there’s nothing to be merry about. And there’s nothing to celebrate. This news is beyond bad. And things are about to get worse.”

And with that, she turned and pushed on the swing doors with such force that Ella Mae thought they’d fly right off their hinges.

Chapter 2

Ten minutes later, Verena opened her front door, and called, “She’s here!” Stepping aside, she shooed Ella Mae into the foyer, and said, “They’re all in the sitting room.”

Ella Mae hurried through Verena’s large kitchen into the sitting room. Usually a bright, cheerful space filled with soft chairs, colorful art, and music, the room was now shadowy and quiet. The plantation shutters had been closed. Uncle Buddy’s vintage record player had been silenced. The television, normally hidden from sight inside a large cabinet, was on. Scenes flickered rapidly across its flat screen, casting an eerie blue-and-white glow on the faces of the women gathered before it.

Ella Mae’s mother and her other aunts, Dee and Sissy, turned to look at her. Their grim expressions were unnerving. Ella Mae saw something in their eyes she wasn’t used to seeing. Her aunts were afraid.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Her mother grimaced. “There’s a terrible storm off the coast of Scotland. It’s gaining wind strength and speed by the hour and is expected to make landfall by tonight.”

Ella Mae was drawn to the image on the television screen. As she watched, a massive spiral of dense clouds rotated in slow motion over the North Sea. A man was speaking, but his voice was too muted for Ella Mae to understand him clearly. “Could you turn up the volume, please?”

Aunt Sissy, headmistress of the Havenwood School of the Arts, nodded and pressed a button on the remote control.

“. . . bearing northwest,” the meteorologist was saying. “This storm breaks all the rules, and is behaving like the winter storm of 1953. We’re expecting high wind speeds—one hundred and twenty miles per hour or more—and significant flooding. Evacuations are underway, especially in the north. Those in and around the Orkney Islands have been ordered to evacuate. There will be no place to hide when this storm makes landfall.” The man pivoted, and a map of the United Kingdom filled the screen. He lifted his hand, tracing the Scottish coastland north until he came to what Ella Mae had always thought of as the tip of the rabbit’s ears—the northernmost point of the landmass—and then circled a collection of islands off the coast with his index finger.

“Is this a live broadcast?” Ella Mae whispered.

Aunt Sissy shook her head. “We recorded it thirty minutes ago. That’s when our weather channel airs the European forecast. But this story is so big that it’s bound to be on every news station by this evening.”

“Since you’ve all listened to the report already, could someone please tell me why I had to leave work for this? I don’t mean to sound insensitive,” Ella Mae added quickly. “I feel for the people in the path of that monster—”

“That’s just it,” Aunt Dee said in her soft, gentle voice. “This thing is a monster.”

“It’s bound to destroy at least three ancient magical groves,” Aunt Sissy said. She tended to use dramatic pauses, emphasis, and gestures when she spoke. “Long ago, groves weren’t necessarily built on high ground. Our kind didn’t have to hide as completely as we do now.” Her eyes were filled with sorrow. “No ash tree, not even a magical one, can withstand the force of this wind.”

Ella Mae’s mother took the remote from her sister’s hand. “Losing groves is tragic enough, but there’s more to this story. The Scots have named this storm after a figure in their folklore. An evil figure.”

“Nuckelavee!” Verena cried. “A terrifying and gruesome creature that lived in the sea, only coming ashore to devour humans. According to legend, it had a huge head and a protruding mouth that hung open in a terrifying grin. The monster was skinless, so its yellow veins and slime-covered muscle were visible to the naked eye. And if that isn’t horrible enough, Nuckelavee’s poisonous breath could wither crops and kill livestock. It’s his destructive power and supernatural strength that influenced a Scottish paper to name this super storm after him.”

“In the old tales, all one had to do to escape this mythological creature was cross over a body of fresh water,” Aunt Dee said. “That won’t help the Scots tonight. This storm is a swirling mass of water and wind. It will sweep across rivers, causing them to overflow as it moves inland. As you heard, the experts are calling for massive flooding. The entire coastline of northern Scotland may be forever altered.”

Verena took an atlas off the coffee table and pointed at a map of Scotland. “The storm will sweep from east to west. The groves in its projected path are here, here, and here.” She tapped the map in three places. “Nuckelavee will rip the ash trees right out of the ground, leaving thousands of our kind without a safe haven.”

Now Ella Mae understood why her family was so upset about the news. Her mother took her hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. “There’s more.” Her mother pressed the play button on the remote. “They’re going to show a satellite photo of the storm. It’ll repeat over and over again, and then the meteorologist will point out the unusual shape of the storm’s eye. That’s why we’re all gathered here. And it’s also why we called you to join us. Because of the shape of that eye.”

Perplexed, Ella Mae focused on the screen as the map was replaced by a satellite image. Ella Mae didn’t understand all the meteorological jargon, but it was clear that Nuckelavee was massive. The camera view changed, zooming closer and closer to the center of the rotating clouds.

“And if this storm weren’t unusual enough, take a look at this eye,” the weatherman said, his voice filled with wonder. “In this image, the eye appears to take a familiar shape—one closely associated with today’s holiday.”

Ella Mae’s mother paused the program again. “Do you see it?”

Cocking her head slightly, Ella Mae approached the television. She kept her gaze fixed on the center of the screen, frowning in concentration.

And then, she saw it.

“It can’t be,” she whispered. She stretched out her hand, silently asking for the remote, and then hit the rewind and play buttons several times, causing the storm to rotate from right to left with agonizing slowness. “It’s a clover,” she said in astonishment. “The eye is shaped like a four-leaf clover. And not just any clover either.” She raised her palm and turned it toward her family, inviting them to compare the puckered skin near her wrist to the frozen image on the television screen. The storm’s eye was a perfect match to Ella Mae’s burn scar.

“The eye shifts by the end of this segment,” Aunt Dee said. “When it reforms, it’s circular again. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it’s just a freak occurrence.”

There were no noises or murmurs of assent following this remark. None of them believed in coincidence.

Ella Mae crossed her arms over her chest, tucking her trembling hands out of sight. Icy dread chilled her blood, and every cell in her body trilled with the same wordless message: Danger.

“What does this mean?” Ella Mae gestured wildly at the screen. “Our kind can’t be responsible for this. Why would someone or a group of people deliberately destroy our groves—the source of our power?” She looked from her mother to her aunts. “No one is capable of creating a storm of this magnitude. Maybe a group could increase the intensity of a storm, but to manipulate it until the eye looks like a clover? That can’t be the result of magic.” She hesitated, thinking of all the earth-shattering discoveries she’d made over the past year or so. “Or can it? Is it possible?”

Her mother frowned. “We don’t know, Ella Mae. We have as many questions as you.”

“That’s why we called you!” Verena declared. “Nothing will stop this storm from its current course of destruction, but if a group of our kind is truly capable of manipulating the weather, these people pose a threat of catastrophic proportions.”

“We must discover exactly who they are and what they’re after. And quickly,” Aunt Sissy added. “You remember what happened when we all joined hands. Consider the havoc we created, and there were only five of us.”

Ella Mae thought back to the summer night when she, her mother, and her aunts had grasped hands. A fireball of light had formed in the center of their circle. It had been a swirling, gaseous sphere—like they’d taken a scoop out of the surface of the sun. It had dangled in the air for half a heartbeat before shooting through the window in a burst of dazzling light and broken glass. “A meteor? A bomb? I’m not sure what we made, but judging from the state of the sunroom window and the way the lake steamed where it struck the surface of the water, it definitely had destructive powers.”

“You and Suzy need to see if this has happened before. Search through as much of our recorded history as you can,” Verena said.

Ella Mae’s mother nodded. “Not only do you have the use of all the materials at Partridge Hill, but Opal Gaynor is also offering access to the library at Rolling View. She’s never shared resources before, and I’m glad to see that she’s sticking to her vow to serve her community. I doubted your decision to make her an Elder, but you were right, Ella Mae. We need her.”

“I’ll call Suzy as soon as I finish watching this and set up a time to meet,” Ella Mae said, and sank into one of Verena’s club chairs to listen to the rest of the special report. Nuckelavee churned over the North Sea, beating the waves into a frenzy. The wind bent the treetops along the coastline until they looked like dancers bowing before an audience.

The next group of images showed scenes of people in line at hardware stores, putting sandbags around their homes, and loading possessions into their cars. The segment ended with footage of an old woman shooing her chickens inside a henhouse. The wind ruffled the birds’ feathers, and a galvanized bucket rolled across the muddy yard. The woman’s hair, which had been fastened in a bun, suddenly came loose and floated above her head like a dollop of whipped cream. Seeing this, Ella Mae was reminded of another woman. A local woman who’d once given her a recipe for banoffee pie.

“Fiona Drever is from the Orkneys,” she said, turning off the television. “Her daughter still lives there. I should pay Fiona a visit. It must be terrible for her to watch this monstrous storm bear down on her childhood home. I think I’ll make her a pie before closing shop and head up the mountain to deliver it. Suzy won’t be able to help until she gets off work anyway.”

“That would be a nice thing to do.” Aunt Dee smiled in approval. “What will you put in Mrs. Drever’s pie?”

Ella Mae paused to consider the question. “Chocolate, pecans, and comfort. I’ll serve it warm with a cup of strong tea.” She glanced at her watch. “Speaking of tea, I need to get back to the pie shop. Reba and Jenny can serve the dessert pies, but they can’t bake cookies and take care of customers at the same time. I’ll let you know if Suzy and I discover anything useful.”

“Until then, all we can do is pray for our brothers and sisters in Scotland,” Aunt Sissy said, clasping her hands together. “May they all get out of Nuckelavee’s way in time.”

•   •   •

Verena drove Ella Mae to the pie shop in silence. It was only when she pulled up to the back door that she turned to her niece and said, “You seem different today. More clearheaded. I haven’t seen you like this since before Hugh left.”

“I found a way to put my feelings for him on hold,” Ella Mae said, opening the passenger door. “Thank goodness I did too. If that clover in the middle of the storm was meant as a threat, then no one in Havenwood is safe. Isn’t that why you’re all so frightened? Because of that clover-shaped eye? Because it matches the burn on my hand?”

Verena nodded, her mouth pinched with worry.

“I have no idea what the presence of that clover means, but I do know that I have to be sharp as a knife’s edge until I solve the mystery behind the storm.”

“Cha ghéill sinn gu bràch!” Verena cried.

“Cha ghéill sinn gu bràch,” Ella Mae echoed with slightly less gusto. Her mind had already turned to future tasks.

When she entered the kitchen, Jenny was loading a tray with servings of Leprechaun Pie. “What did you just say?”

“It’s a Gaelic war cry,” Ella Mae explained. “It means ‘We’ll never fall back.’ Reba and I have shouted it a few times before, always in moments of trial.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Let me guess. We’re not going to have that peaceful springtime I was hoping for.”

Ella Mae gave Jenny an encouraging smile. She didn’t want to discuss the storm with anyone other than Suzy yet. “Maybe we just need a bit more luck. Speaking of which, I don’t see any green on you today. Has anyone pinched you yet?”

Jenny glowered. “Yes, and once was enough, thank you very much! Mr. Ledbetter had half of my butt cheek between his fingers. I swear he’s been waiting to do that since I started working here.”

Despite the fact that Mr. Ledbetter had been way out of line, Ella Mae laughed. The man had pinched many a female bottom in Havenwood. Seeing as he was on the far side of eighty-five and legally blind, it was difficult to admonish him. “With all the squats you do, he probably couldn’t grab an ounce of fat.”

Looking pleased, Jenny said, “I won’t have buns of steel if I keep eating pie twice a day. Anyway, I don’t think old Mr. Ledbetter will pinch anyone ever again.”

Ella Mae, who’d been gathering ingredients for the chocolate pecan pie, froze. “He didn’t go after Reba, did he?”

Grinning, Jenny nodded. “She wrapped his fingers in duct tape and told him if he couldn’t learn to keep his hands to himself, she’d be delighted to apply that tape to other parts of his body.”

Both women were doubled over with laughter when Aiden Upton entered the kitchen through the rear door.

“Oh, I see how it is,” he muttered crossly. “I’m sent off on deliveries while you ladies live it up without me.”

Jenny walked behind her brother, jerked her thumb at his backside, and smiled at Ella Mae. “What do you think? Would Mr. Ledbetter like a piece of that? We could put Aiden in an apron and parade him next to Mr. Ledbetter’s table.”

Aiden waved his hands in protest. “No aprons! It’s bad enough that I have to drive a pink mail truck. I draw the line when it comes to peach-colored aprons. My reputation as a ladies’ man suffers enough doing this job, thank you very much.”

Ella Mae tried to speak, but the image of Aiden bopping around town in her pink truck, which was emblazoned with images of pies and silver stars, had her laughing all over again. What made it so funny was that Aiden Upton could be the poster child for masculinity. Measuring well over six feet, he towered over the rest of The Charmed Pie Shoppe staff and was as brawny as a bull. His arms and legs were tree-trunk thick and his chest was as solid as a boulder. He wore tight T-shirts featuring soda or junk food logos that emphasized his incredible physique. Today’s was a faded green Mountain Dew shirt.

“Come on, Aiden,” Ella Mae said once she had herself under control again. “You look like the Incredible Hulk’s younger brother. You could dress in a tutu and people would still find you manly.” She gestured at his T-shirt. “At least you wore green. Your shirt probably saved you from being pinched by half a dozen bank tellers during your last delivery.”

Aiden shook his head. “Nah. They know I’m off the market. Even so, the manager gave me such a nice tip that I’ll be able to take Suzy to the Wicket tonight for green beer and pub food.”

“See? Working here has its perks,” Jenny said. She gave her brother’s shirt a tug. “You’re changing before your date with Suzy, aren’t you?”

While Jenny teased Aiden about his limited wardrobe, Ella Mae was on the verge of telling Aiden that Suzy might not be free this evening when she stopped herself. Why should she ruin her best friend’s date? She could start researching on her own and include Suzy tomorrow. One glance at Aiden’s dreamy expression told her how much he was looking forward to celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day with his girlfriend. Suzy and Aiden hadn’t been dating long, but all of Havenwood knew that Aiden Upton was completely smitten with the lovely and clever bookshop owner.

“You two are going to have a great time,” she said, feeling a mild stab of envy. She’d love to spend the evening at Havenwood’s only pub listening to Irish ballads and exchanging bawdy limericks with the locals, but she had work to do. Grabbing a ball of dough and her rolling pin, she started rolling out the crust for the chocolate pecan pie.

“I have one more delivery on the schedule,” Aiden said. “It’s not far from Partridge Hill, so should I just head home afterward?”

When Jenny and Aiden had been forced to leave Oak Knoll, a small town in Tennessee, Ella Mae had offered them temporary lodging in her mother’s large house. At the time, her mother had been trapped in the grove. After her release, she invited the siblings to stay with her at Partridge Hill as long as they wished. She told them multiple times that she enjoyed their company and would be sad to see them go, especially since Ella Mae lived on her own in the renovated guest cottage at the back of the property.

“Yes, go on home.” Ella Mae said and then glanced at Jenny. “What are your plans for tonight?”

--This text refers to the mass_market edition.

Review

"C. S. E. Cooney is one of my favorite narrators." ---Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My! --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00LMGLY2Y
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (April 7, 2015)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ April 7, 2015
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 1872 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 293 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 262 ratings

About the author

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Ellery Adams, a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author, has written dozens of mystery novels. She shares her North Carolina home with her husband, two trolls, and three keyboard-hogging felines. Ellery loves reading, coffee, bubbly, jigsaw puzzles, baking, and rearranging her bookshelves.

Her traditionally published series include The Secret, Book, and Scone Society Mysteries, The Book Retreat Mysteries, The Books By the Bay Mysteries, and The Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries.

Her Indie series include The Supper Club Series, The Hope Street Series, and The Molly Appleby Collectible Series.

For book club discussion questions, lists of Nora Pennington's bibliotherapy titles, and more, visit www.elleryadamsmysteries.com

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