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Authors: A. Gardner

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A. Gardner - Poppy Peters 01 - Southern Peach Pie and A Dead Guy

BOOK: A. Gardner - Poppy Peters 01 - Southern Peach Pie and A Dead Guy
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A. Gardner - Poppy Peters 01 - Southern Peach Pie and A Dead Guy
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Poppy Peters
A. Gardner
Gemma Halliday Publishing (2015)
Tags:
Mystery: Cozy - Culinary Academy - Georgia
Mystery: Cozy - Culinary Academy - Georgiattt
After an injury derails Poppy Peters' ballet career, she gathers the courage to follow in her grandmother's footsteps and attend Calle Pastry Academy in a small town in Georgia. Poppy has her work cut out for her, not only fitting in with her charming (and not-so-charming ) Southern classmates but also proving her worth to her teachers after her first publicly humiliating attempt at making the school's famous peach pie.
But Poppy's pastry problems go from bad to worse when she's suddenly accused of stealing expensive black truffles, and her attempt to clear her name goes awry—resulting in her finding a dead body instead! If Poppy's going to survive this culinary experience, she'll need to find the missing truffles and track down a killer, all while honing her baking skills to compete in the school's dessert competition for a coveted pastry internship in Paris. Can Poppy prove she's one tough cookie? Or is her life about to crumble?

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SOUTHERN PEACH PIE & A DEAD GUY

 

by

 

A. GARDNER

 

 

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Copyright © 2015 by A. Gardner

Cover design by Yocola Designs

Gemma Halliday Publishing

http://www.gemmahallidaypublishing.com

 

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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CHAPTER ONE

 

My first encounter with a southern guy isn't going so well. So far I've admitted I have never tried sweet tea, and my big toe is a little too long for the shoes I am wearing.
Nice one, Poppy
. Now he is going to think I am a weird westerner with a foot fetish. I try hard not to look down at my black, high-heeled boots.
Why am I the only one on campus wearing any black?

"My name is Cole," the man says with a grin on his face. I reach out to shake his hand. My palms are sweating just like every other place on my body.
I haven't even turned thirty yet, and I'm already having hot flashes.
It is going to take me some time to get used to this heat.

"Poppy Peters," I reply. I wipe my forehead and underneath my eyes. I bite my lip when I see a bit of smeared mascara on the side of my finger. It is so humid my makeup is melting off. "Is it always this hot here?"

"Welcome to Georgia." Cole chuckles and shrugs as we walk towards the student bakery. Cole is one of the first students I bumped into at the registration office. His lemon-colored T-shirt shines bright compared to his dark skin, and his impressive physique makes me look at him twice. His eyes are intriguing—an even mix of blue and green.

As we walk, I can't help but admire how lush the vegetation is on campus. Every tree outstretches towards the sidewalks, providing a much needed break from the glaring sun. The patches of grass remind me of ocean waves, if the ocean sparkled like emeralds. Even the flowerbeds near the Administration building had bundles of purple and orange wildflowers that couldn't be contained.

"What's that smell?" I ask. "And don't say it smells like
fresh meat
. I heard a teacher in the Registrar's Office use that joke about a hundred times."

"I'll show you."

I follow Cole across campus until the heavenly smell of baked bread and sugary doughnuts grows stronger. I long for that smell sometimes. It takes me back to my schoolgirl days when I spent my weekends in the kitchen with Grandma Liz. My Grandma Liz came to Calle Pastry Academy when she was in her early twenties. I imagine her tiny frame and long, dancer legs. It's a miracle that she came to this school and still stayed so thin.

"Whoa," I blurt out. My eyes widen when we come to a historic-looking building with brown-orangey bricks and tall windows that line up across the front. Through the glass I see a bustling bakery with a long line of students and campus visitors extending through the front doors and outside onto the sidewalk. I join Cole at the back of the line and discreetly adjust my black top and dark blue leggings. A serious change in wardrobe is in order if I plan on staying here.

When I was in high school, Mom always told me that I wore too much black. Ballerinas like me were supposed to be
light and dainty
, like an airy piece of sponge cake with non-fat whipped cream (no more than a dollop). Although I was one of the top dancers in my grade, I guess I looked too much like a slice of chocolate torte.

"This is the student bakery," Cole says. "We'll all be working here as part of our culinary training. A friend of mine came here a couple years ago. He told me all about it." He lifts his chin and speaks more formally than I'm used to.

"No kidding."

"Uh-huh." He keeps a grin on his face, and clasps his hands neatly in front of him. "The kitchen I work in back home isn't nearly as big as this one."

"And where is home?" I ask. I have him pegged for somewhere here in the South. I can hear it in his voice. Plus, he's way too polite.

"Atlanta," he answers. "Not far from here. But I grew up in Louisiana."

"Gotcha." I inhale another whiff of cooling pastries, and it makes my stomach rumble.

"What about you?" I can see him eyeing me as he pretends to look at something across the quad.

"Oh, I'm just your classic Oregonian ballerina looking for a fresh start."

"Ballerina?" he comments. "You don't look like a ballerina."

"Yep," I laugh. "That's what my over-bearing instructor Elena Povska said right before I fell on the bar and injured my back."

"Ouch."

Cole has that same look on his face that I've seen way too many times. His eyes are soft and sympathetic, and he's trying not to cringe. He's probably imagining my back cracking and me yelling on the floor in pain.

"I always hated it anyway." I grab a strand of my dark hair and look around at the rest of the student body. I stand out here. It feels like high school all over again, except my mom didn't send me off with a packed lunch of tuna on wheat, three pieces of celery, and a sugar-free breath mint.
The dancer's diet.

"What about cooking? How do you feel about that?"

"I
love
it," I respond. "You know, my grandma came here. I always wanted to be just like her."

We move forward in line.

"Really," Cole says. "What does she do now?"

"After she graduated, she went back to Portland and opened her own bakery. My dad sold it after she passed away."

"Sorry to hear that," he replies.

"Circle of life." I brush off the subject and move on to avoid having to hold in any tears. I hate crying in public, even if it is only a little sniffle. "So are you going to be living on campus?"

"The program is so intense that I think just about everyone is."

"Right," I mutter. "Please tell me all the apartments have some wicked AC units or industrial fans or something?"

"Chill," he jokes. "You'll get used to the heat."

I laugh as we finally move indoors to the most coveted part of the line. I take a deep breath and close my eyes as I step across the threshold, enjoying the cool air against my cheeks. Cole watches me with a twisted smile.

"Do you think they'll let me stand in the freezer for a few minutes?" I say quietly.

"Newbies." Cole shakes his head. "What is the weather like in Oregon?"

"Portland is nothing
like this." My eyes pop open when I smell something glorious. Something that teases my taste buds before I even see it. "I smell pie."

"The school's famous peach pie," Cole adds. "We will be learning how to make it pretty soon."

"I've never made a pie that smells like that. It…I don't even know how to describe it."

"It speaks to your soul?" he guesses.

"Soul food," I laugh. "Very funny."

We take a few steps towards the register, and I see the entire display of pastries and baked goods sitting neatly behind the glass. The rest of the bakery is smaller than I expected. There are a handful of café tables and a community board with flyers hanging on the wall. Most customers take their treats to-go. Most of the building is kitchen space. I move closer to get a better look at the assorted flavors of pies, buns, doughnuts, and Danishes. I don't see any labels. Only a chalkboard behind the counter with today's flavors written on it.

"Oh-my-gosh," I gasp, being careful not to drool all over my brand-new top. "It's like the ultimate PTA bake sale in here. I've never seen so many sugary things in one place."

"Don't kill me, but you only have a few minutes to decide what you want. It's almost our turn to order."

"How in the world am I supposed to do that?" My insides start to panic like they used to right before a curtain call.

"Well," Cole says, placing a hand on the counter. "Have you ever had a beignet?"

"Based on our initial sweet tea debate, what do you think?" My eyes jump to a pan of gooey-looking cinnamon rolls with orange icing. "What are those?"

"Buzz's rise and shine orange rolls," he answers. "The founder's son came up with the recipe."

"So many choices," I comment. I tap my heel against the tile floor and get a glance into the kitchen, as a student comes out with a pan of hot blueberry scones. My stomach churns a little as I think about putting on my chef's apron and joining in on the dough kneading and doughnut frying.

"What will you have?" Cole nudges my shoulder. I realize that I've been daydreaming the past few minutes, and now it is time for me to place my order. I'm oblivious. If I had the cash on hand I would order one of everything.

"We'll take two beignets, one of those hot blueberry scones, and an orange roll for Miss Indecisive." He pulls out his wallet and pays before I can object.

I place my hands on my hips and watch as he collects our box of baked delights.

"You forgot the coffee," I joke. I drink coffee like I drink water. It was the only way I could practice ballet ten hours a day and still stay standing. Cole hands me a napkin and the orange roll I stared at while in line. "Thanks, you're a peach."

"You're different from other women I've met here so far," he comments. He takes a bite of his beignet and quickly wipes the powdered sugar from his lips. We snag the last open café table and sit down across from each other.

"I know," I reply with a mouth full of citrus icing.
Dang, that is good.
My eyes dart to a sign pinned on the community board as I chew. It flaps in the breeze whenever someone opens the bakery door.
"It's the high-heeled boots, right? They're a little too Goth for my taste, but I had to have them."

"No." He grins. "I like the boots. Keep the boots." He breaks the blueberry scone in half and hands me a piece. I see steam rising from the center and the rich, royal blue color of the blueberries inside. "How does a ballerina end up in a place like this? Aren't you guys all about working out all day and eating tofu?"

"I hate tofu," I reply. The paper on the community board waves as a breeze drifts through the front door. At first I only glance at it, but then my gaze freezes on two words that are printed in all caps.
MISSING STUDENT
. I stare at the picture on the poster of a younger looking student named Tom Fox who, according to the poster, went missing last semester. Underneath Tom's picture that was copied from his student ID there is a contact name and phone number for a woman named Brooke.

"Uh, Poppy?" Cole chuckles.

I realize that I have been studying the poster of Tom Fox instead of listening to Cole. He's staring at me curiously.

"Sorry." I tilt my head towards the community board. "Do students disappear often around here?"

"There's at least one per semester," he jokes. "But, honestly, stuff like that happens at every school, doesn't it?"

Not one this small.

"Maybe."

"Anyway," he continues. "Back to my question before you spaced
out. Are you a culinary genius and you're just not telling me?"

"Okay, fine," I admit. "I've never worked in a kitchen before, but I'm a fast learner." I pause from devouring my orange roll and think back to my dancing days. I hated them. Every morning I would wake up wishing I had followed the advice that Grandma Liz gave me before she died. She told me to do what I love and the rest would all fall into place. Some of my best memories are baking with her. Grandma Liz was fearless. Anything I asked her to make she would try, and it always turned out to be amazing.

"You've at least made a pie before, right?"

"Of course I have," I answer, raising my eyebrows.

"From scratch?" he adds.

I let out a long breath.

"Define
scratch
." I bite the inside of my cheek and wait for him to tease me some more, but he doesn't. I'm too embarrassed to admit that I used store-bought dough the last time I made pie.

"Don't worry about it." He nods and continues eating his half of the blueberry scone. "I'll be your first official tutor."

"Thanks. I think I'm going to need it."

I've always had the baking bug, as Grandma called it, but all of high school I put it on the back burner to perfect pliés for my Juilliard audition. Mom said that four years there would work wonders for my career, and she was right. Until the day that all changed. After my back injury pushed me out of the dancing world, I realized I wasn't only good at
one
thing. I had a chance at a fresh start. A clean slate. I remember the look on my mom's and dad's faces when I told them I applied to go to Calle Pastry Academy like Grandma had. They thought I was joking. The sensible thing to do would be to become a professional ballet coach in Los Angeles or New York City. I love big cities, but I don't love them as much as a tray of Grandma's homemade snickerdoodles with extra cinnamon.

"Welcome to pastry school, Lil' Mama." Cole laughs.

 

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My heart races as I knock on the door to my new apartment. When the school first opened in the early 1900's it was a restaurant and hotel. Later, when it was converted into a cooking school, the hotel portion became student dorms, and since then the campus has grown. The student apartments are a newer addition, but walking up to them still felt like walking up to my college dorm room. The apartment buildings look like the rest of the buildings on campus. They are all made of tan-colored stone with rows and rows of bright green brush surrounding the edges. Every patch of green on campus has fruit trees and budding wild flowers. Being surrounded by all this foliage reminds me of home, minus the mosquitoes the size of mini cupcakes.

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