As Gouda As Dead (A Cheese Shop Mystery)

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9781410481993: As Gouda As Dead (A Cheese Shop Mystery)

Someone is cheesed off . . .
Providence, Ohio, is celebrating Valentine's Day with weeklong events, including lovers' baskets with heart-shaped cheeses at Fromagerie Bessette. Charlotte Bessette is celebrating by finally walking down the aisle with the man of her dreams, handsome artisanal cheese farmer, Jordan Pace. But when a beloved bar owner is discovered murdered on Jordan's farm, he believes they should reschedule their wedding given the grim turn of events.
Charlotte is heartsick over the postponement. This killer crossed the wrong woman. No one, but no one, is ruining her wedding plans!

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About the Author:

Avery Aames is the Agatha Award-winning author of the Cheese Shop Mystery series, including "Days of Wine and Roquefort, To Brie or Not to Brie, Clobbered by Camembert, Lost and Fondue, " and "The Long Quiche Goodbye. "She loves to cook and enjoys a good wine. She speaks a little French and has even played a French woman onstage. And she adores cheese. As Daryl Wood Gerber she also writes the Cookbook Nook Mysteries.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CHAPTER

“Where are you taking me?” I asked. “And don’t ‘Hush, Charlotte’ me again.” I hate being blindfolded, hate not being able to see. Even as a girl, I despised it. I remembered one time when my oh-so-sly cousin coerced me into following him into a cave. We encountered shrieking bats and spiders and—ick—something creepy-crawly with a long tail that skittered across my foot.

“Hush, Charlotte,” Delilah said. The moment I’d arrived home from work, she and Meredith, my other best friend, had kidnapped me.

“It’s Thursday night, for heaven’s sake. I’ve got to open Fromagerie Bessette early tomorrow. We have so much to do to prepare for next week’s Lovers Trail event before I—”

“We’re going to a party.”

“A bachelorette party,” Meredith added.

“Yours.” Delilah pushed me at the small of my back. “Now, move it.”

“Look.” I tried to dig in my heels, to no avail. “I’d be game for whatever you have up your sleeves if I didn’t have things to do.”

Tons of things: decorations to put up and gift baskets to create for the Lovers Trail event. Not to mention all the things I needed to do for my impending nuptials: a hem to stitch, boutonnieres to fashion. Did my sweet friends care? Not a whit. They were giggling too hard to care about anything.

A brisk gust of February wind attacked me. I shivered from the cold. “Where are we?” I demanded. Delilah had escorted me out of her car a minute ago; we were on foot. On cement. A sidewalk, I was pretty sure. I heard light traffic. I detected the faint smell of cinnamon and coffee. Were we near Café au Lait, a delicious coffeehouse designed with a French flair? I could use a cup of coffee. “At least take the blindfold off. It’s tugging the back of my hair.”

“No, ma’am,” Delilah said.

Ma’am,” Meredith sniggered. “That’s right. You’re going to be a ma’am soon. Maybe we should continue to call you Miss Charlotte for a while longer.” More giggles erupted from Meredith. How had Delilah talked her into this escapade? Meredith was usually the reliable and sane one. Sure, back in high school, she had been sneaky, but now? “Sounds like something right out of Gone with the Wind,” she continued. “Miss Charlotte. Hmm. Which do you prefer, Miss Charlotte or Mrs. Jordan Pace?”

I didn’t know who, where, or what was on the agenda for tonight, but in three days, on Sunday, I was moving forward with my life and marrying the man of my dreams—Jordan. A sizzle of desire shot through me just thinking about him. Prior to moving to Providence, Jordan had been the chef and owner of an Italian restaurant in upstate New York. One night outside the restaurant, he saw two thugs attack a third man. Without hesitating, Jordan, a former military man, sprang to the third man’s defense. Days later, Jordan entered the WITSEC program to testify against the survivor, whose buddies had been the lynchpins of a gambling ring. Entering WITSEC had landed him in Providence, Ohio. Lucky me.

“This way, Miss Charlotte.” Delilah steered me to the right.

A door opened and I breathed easier. I recognized the jingle of the chime above the door. We were entering Fromagerie Bessette. The aroma of a potent Irish Cheddar cheese—our last sale of the day—hung in the air. I detected a hint of the quiche I’d made in the morning, too—apple bacon Gouda. It had been rich with a smoky, savory flavor.

“Let me go and tell me which way to go.”

“Uh-uh,” Delilah said.

“C’mon.” I could navigate blindfolded through the shop without their help. I often dreamed about Fromagerie Bessette—or as the locals called it, The Cheese Shop—and its displays of cheeses, honey, mustards, and specialty crackers. Yes, I was a major cheese geek. Being a cheese shop proprietor was a dream job. I had inherited the shop from my grandparents, who had migrated from France to the States after World War II and had raised me to love the shop as much as they did.

Delilah joggled me. “Oops.”

Although I would have been safe if I’d been allowed to grope along on my own, with Delilah as my guide, I instinctively reached out in front of me. Good thing I had. My foot hit something hard. “Ow.” I grasped what had attacked me—a display barrel, the old oak cask kind with metal struts. “You did that on purpose.”

“Did what?” Delilah guffawed.

“Shh,” Meredith cooed. “Charlotte, just a few more feet.”

Gingerly, I shuffled across the hardwood floor praying I wouldn’t wind up with ten stubbed toes. At least I was wearing a pair of Ugg boots; they were padded and perfect for the winter. I still couldn’t understand a girl wearing them in the summer, but I wasn’t a fashion guru.

“Where are we headed?” I asked. “The annex?” The wine annex, which my cousin managed and stocked with some of the finest wines this side of the Rockies, was situated to the right through a stone archway. “Ooh, are we having a wine tasting?” I was always up for one of those.

“Sort of,” Meredith said.

I had known Meredith and Delilah since I was in grade school. The two of them were like night and day. Meredith was blonde and sun-kissed with freckles; she had a rosy disposition. In contrast, Delilah had dark curly hair, striking features, and a wicked sense of humor. Meredith was an elementary teacher and soon would run the Providence Liberal Arts College. She was married to my cousin, and stepmother to my pre-teen twin nieces—I referred to them as my nieces; they were really my first cousins once removed. Delilah ran The Country Kitchen diner across the street. She had returned to Providence after her career on Broadway stalled. Weekly, the three of us and a few other women went out for girls’ night. I imagined tonight’s bachelorette soiree was going to be an entirely different kind of event.

“What are we going to do at the party?” I said.

“It’s a secret,” Delilah answered.

“How many people?”

“Just a few of us.”

“All girls?” I asked.

“No boys allowed,” Delilah said.

“Well, almost no boys.” Meredith snorted.

What had gotten into her?

A chilly wisp of air tickled my nose. Abruptly Delilah pivoted me and ushered me in the direction of the cold. Good thing I’d worn a cashmere sweater and corduroy trousers. I knew where we were headed. Downstairs, into the cellar. My cousin and I, with Jordan’s help, had installed a wine and cheese cellar. It was one of the best investments we had made. Even after cheese makers shipped wheels of cheese to us, we preferred to age some of them a tad longer.

I stepped down the stairs, drinking in the luscious perfume of cheese. The temperature in the cellar ranged from a cool fifty-five degrees to a toasty fifty-eight. Heat affects the speed with which wine and cheese age. We had painted the cellar white and had fitted it with wood racks. In addition, we had commissioned a local artist to paint a faux window with a view of the rolling hills of Providence in the eight-foot, semi-round alcove. Below the painting stood an oak buffet as well as a mosaic-inlaid table with chairs. Perfect for a small gathering.

My left foot touched the cellar floor. “C’mon, ladies, out with it. I smell something nutty with a hint of charcoal and fresh herbs. Are we having a cheese tasting party?”

I heard more tittering. Not from my guides. From other party members already in the cellar.

“Please say something,” I pleaded. “Wait, do I also smell . . . suntan oil?”

Meredith brushed my arm with something furry.

I recoiled. “Ew, what is that?”

“It’s a paintbrush, silly.”

I moaned. “We’re having an art party?” I’d heard about them. They were very au courant. “I’m not an artist,” I protested. “Isn’t this supposed to be all about me?”

“No, you goon,” Delilah said. “This party is about all of us giving you a fabulous sendoff into married life. Get with the program.”

“Don’t worry,” Meredith reassured me. “None of us are artists.”

“You are, Meredith,” Delilah chimed.

“I’m not sure about this kind of art.” Meredith pinched me.

“What do you mean ‘this kind of art’?” I cried, truly hating being in the dark . . . about anything. “Take off my blindfold. Now!”

“Don’t get snippy.” Delilah released my hand and moved behind me. She started to untie the scarf she had slung around my head. “One, two, voilà.”

“Surprise!” the other party guests yelled.

When my eyes adjusted to the light, I realized each was wearing a cream-colored artist’s smock over warm winter clothing, and each held a glass of sparkling wine. A gorgeous spread of appetizers was laid out on a long table behind them: biscuits stuffed with ham, mini quiches, and one of my all-time favorites, a cranberry crusted cheese torte.

“Turn around,” the women said in unison.

When I did, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

CHAPTER

In the nook with the faux window that held a view of Providence stood the handsome yet darling Deputy O’Shea . . . wearing nothing but boxer shorts. The kid—okay, he wasn’t a kid, he was pushing thirty—blushed. He reminded me of something right out of a Calvin Klein ad. His skin was bronzed. His abs were perfectly formed. His hair hung rakishly across his forehead.

Rebecca Zook, my slim assistant, traipsed to me and gave me a hug. “Hooray! You really are surprised. I was so afraid I would spill the beans. An art party!” Before coming to work at Fromagerie Bessette, Rebecca had lived a sheltered life in an Amish community. She left the fold to explore the world, and though she now considered herself worldly, she was still the epitome of innocence. She swooped her long golden hair over her shoulder. “Don’t you love it?”

A flood of emotions—love wasn’t one of them—rushed through me. I did my best to curb a fit of giggles. We were going to paint a semi-nude man. My artwork would no doubt turn out looking like a glob. I could bake. I could sew. I could sculpt cakes made out of cheese. I could even refinish furniture. But paint? Most of my creations turned out to be bad Jackson Pollock imitations—splatter with no substance. Nope. I had no talent.

Rebecca said, “Charlotte, cat got your tongue?”

“It’s . . .” What could I say? When Delilah said we were on our way to a bachelorette party, I had expected a simple party. Chitchat. Cake. Nothing too extravagant. This? Every single woman in the cellar, including Meredith, Delilah, Rebecca, and four of my other friends, looked ready—no, eager—to sketch the deputy. My cheeks warmed; my heart thrummed with anticipation. I wondered what Jordan was doing at his bachelor party, kicking back a beer and watching sports? I couldn’t imagine any of his friends hiring a stripper. Perhaps I was too naïve for words.

“C’mon, Charlotte,” Delilah said. “This will be fun. Here’s a smock. Put it on.”

I shrugged off my coat and purse and threw the smock on over my sweater. The smock billowed around my corduroy slacks.

“There,” Delilah said. “Georgia O’Keefe, eat your heart out. Party time!”

The deputy drew near, and the aroma of suntan oil grew stronger. Had he just left the tanning parlor? “Sorry, Charlotte,” he whispered, using my first name instead of the more formal Miss Bessette. “I hope you’re okay with this. I got wrangled into the gig.”

“Who wrangled you?”

“Who do you think?”

“Your uncle Tim?”

“Yep.” O’Shea’s uncle, who owned the Irish pub where my girlfriends and I occasionally spent our girls’ nights out, was a bit of a prankster. “Uncle Tim suggested it to Tyanne.”

He nodded in Tyanne’s direction. Tyanne, a part-timer at The Cheese Shop and the town’s premier wedding planner, was currently dating Tim. They made a cute pair, he with his burly ruggedness and she with her Southern femininity. She caught me looking her way and buffed her fingers on her smock. I mock-glowered at her.

O’Shea added, “The two of them thought it would be a gas.”

“And you?”

“I said, ‘Go for it.’ Granted, this is a one-time deal. If word gets out, it might . . . Well, you understand.”

“Undermine your authority. Got it. It’s our secret.” I nodded. “Aren’t you cold in this chilly cellar?”

“Nah. I go ice fishing and winter swimming. I can take it.”

“Well, deputy—”

“Tonight you can call me Devon.”

“Devon,” the women in the cellar sang in unison. Exactly how much liquor had they imbibed already? Had all of them promised to keep the secret, too?

“Devon, it’ll be my pleasure to attempt to sketch you.”

A telephone rang insistently. O’Shea looked toward a gym bag that was sitting on the floor by the door.

“Uh-uh,” Rebecca said. “No phone calls. It’s a rule.”

He said, “But it could be business.”

“And business could mean bad news. No.” She folded her arms. For a slight thing, she sure could look tough. “You’re officially off the clock. Stay right there. I’ll fix this.” Without asking his permission, she hurried to his bag and rummaged through his things. She swiped her finger across the face of the cell phone and dumped it back into the bag.

She returned and drew me off to one side for a tête-à-tête. “Isn’t the deputy the yummiest?” For the past few months, Rebecca had been sitting on the fence, deliberating whether to choose her former fiancé or Devon O’Shea as a full-time boyfriend. In the end, she didn’t have to decide. Though her former fiancé had protested to the gods above, at his parents’ directive he had sold his honeybee farm and returned to Hawaii. Poor guy. Now Rebecca and O’Shea were an item. I had to admit they were cute together. “Well, isn’t he?”

“Definitely. Yummy. You don’t mind him doing this?”

“Why would I?”

I had no answer for that. I would have been uncomfortable if a half dozen women were ogling my boyfriend with downright lust, but apparently she wasn’t. Maybe I needed to grow up.

“All right, everyone.” Meredith clapped her hands. “Let’s get this party started. Maestro, music.”

Jordan’s sister, Jacky, a willowy, dark-haired beauty who had given up her former life to live near her brother, was in charge of the iPod. She pressed a button and the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” started to play through a portable speaker.

“Turn it off,” I yelped as a shiver shimmied up my spine.

Jacky switched off the song. “What’s wrong?”

“She doesn’t want Councilwoman Bell to hear the noise,” Delilah chirped. “You know how she can be. She complains so much, you’d think she could hear every single sound in town.”

“No, that’s not it. I—” I hugged myself as a painful memory flooded my senses. I was back in the car with my parents. Pre-crash. “Sweet Dreams” was playing on the radio. The wind. My parents laughing. Then the screams. “Just pick another song, okay?” Talk about a mood killer.

Jacky whisked her finger across a playlist, and sultry Latin music started to play. “Better?”

“Thank you.”

“That Mrs. Bell,” Rebecca groused. “I swear, I thought she was so nice when I first met her, but she complains more than our not-so-favorite dress shop owner.”

Delilah tangoed to me with a flute of sparkling wine and...

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