A wedding caterer, a florist…and a dash of poison.
“Wow, this dough is sexy!”
As their wedded bliss starts to show signs of serious strain, Violet and her new husband, Jake, put their feelings aside to focus on catering a wedding that could make or break her career.
When murder ruins the rehearsal dinner, and her sister, Greta, the florist, becomes the prime suspect, Violet risks everything to clear her – and still deliver the beautiful wedding her new friend deserves.
But will she be in time before the killer dishes out seconds?
A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder takes you on a culinary journey you won’t forget!
Targeted Age Group:: 20 – 65+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I discovered mystery novels with recipes, I knew I had found my niche!
I got to include my favorite recipes AND weave a complex mystery!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Some inspiration from real people and lots of names that I couldn't use on my kids
“Wow, this dough is sexy!” Violet's exclamation cracked through the echoing studio apartment. “I should make strudel more often!”
Her new husband, Jake, took a half-second to drag his sharp eyes away from his decrepit laptop where he was tapping out his latest military-themed mystery novel.
“What? Oh, that’s funny, Vi. I thought you said . . .” he chuckled, then stopped and looked puzzled again. “Wait, what?”
The smell of yeast and fresh, green apples permeated the small space and caught Jake’s attention now. Violet flipped her dark hair with a saucy grace that she reserved only for her husband and glanced over her shoulder without stopping her kneading.
“You heard me,” she said with a smile in her voice. “This dough is sexy! If cars can be sexy, then dough can be too! Really though, feel this!”
She whirled on her heel with her ball of silky, elastic dough, making her A-line skirt inflate, and bounced it to the living room area where Jake had his papers erratically radiating out on the floor in a starburst. He leaned back in his black desk chair and poked the ball with a lackluster index finger and a neutral face. At first it was just to humor her, but then he really cupped the warm, round mass with almost reverent hands.
“Whoa! Totally!” Jake finally sounded piqued. His eyebrows raised and he cracked a hint of his signature, crooked smile.
Violet was practically giddy when she returned to slap the dough on the lightly floured granite counter. Jake fell into repose again as he wrapped up the thought he had been ticking out on the keyboard. This was unusual. Normally Jake was more of a talker and Violet was a listener, except when he got her gushing about food. Now, she was practically vibrating with nervous energy.
“I think I need to stretch it out farther than last time. The video I watched got it so thin that you could see through it! It was amazing!” Violet said as she quickly duplicated the feat.
“Mmm-hm,” was all that Jake uttered as he doubled over in his chair to hiss all his research into a rough pile.
Violet lapsed into silence and relaxed by a degree as he cleaned up the floor that she had just mopped that morning. She drew her weapon of choice, her favorite chef’s knife, and raced through a bowl of peeled apple wedges, slicing them evenly in a blur of movement.
“Uh, Don called. Asked if we could hang out Saturday, so I told him it’d have to be the weekend after that. Cuz you and I are busy with that crazy catering job.”
Any enjoyment and relaxation that Violet had accumulated escaped her now. She dumped her pile of perfect slices with exasperation.
“We're so behind already! I don't know how you convinced me to bake for us tonight. I should be making choux pastry!” Violet's annoyance and despair vacillated back.
“It's okay,” Jake said. “You wanted to use up those apples to clear the kitchen while I wrapped up, and I'll be able to help you now. I just finished!”
When Violet wiped her brow with a shaking wrist instead of congratulating him, he tried to
“It'll be fine! I know it's a big job, but you need to relax and look around. Everything is going pretty well!”
“I can't relax! This job isn't just big, it's make-or-break.” Violet knew she was panicking needlessly. She took a deep, calming breath and went on. “Everything I've been working towards depends on this.”
“There are things more important than work.” Jake came up behind her and squeezed her shoulders. His fresh musk and strong hands reassured her more than his words. “Tomorrow we will be able to get tons done.”
Violet wrestled with another deep, slow breath as Jake tried to distract her. “That smells good. What are you making again?” He loved food, while Violet loved cooking. “Crisp apple strudel,” Violet sang, making a tentative attempt at being soothed as she fed Jake a spiced apple slice from her bowl of filling as she mixed. Then she pulled the bowl closer and spooned the mixture onto the flattened dough.
“I guess you're right,” Violet said, returning their conversation to the subject that was making her OCD flare up. “I am hoping to hit the farmers’ market in the morning and start shopping for the Jorgensen/Moretti wedding. Then I want to do more shopping, organizing, and make a detailed list of all the prep work we need to do. Then I can put you to work, Mister!” There was a slight smile in Violet’s voice again, but the grin didn't spread to her eyes.
“I can cook some stuff while you're gone, too,” Jake said as he kissed her shoulder. Violet sighed with satisfaction and said, “Thank you.” Jake snickered deeply in a way that made Violet weak in the knees. “I could actually feel you unclench. Feel better?”
He asked it as he turned her around by the hips and pulled her close to him. His clear blue eyes sparkled, and Violet only answered with a prolonged kiss. He looked deep into her eyes as the oven beeped to indicate that it was preheated.
“What are your plans for tonight?” he whispered, rubbing his nose against the nape of her neck. Violet cringed as their growing conflict rose close to the surface. She tried to act natural as she turned on him to face the counter again. His rust-colored 5 o’clock shadow rasping around to her other shoulder as she spun.
“I-I don’t think we have time for that conversation right now.” Violet tensed and cooled like a custard.
“Hey, it’s not . . . don’t worry. We don’t have to decide anything tonight. I just . . . miss you.” Things between them had cooled off in the last month, though neither of them wanted to address it. Since Jake had brought up having kids now, and Violet had hinted that she was not ready, intimacy was a minefield of a topic.
“Are you ready?” Violet tried to push aside the looming issue, but it ate at the corner of her already chaotic mind. As she rolled the strudel, her hands worked the inside and Jake’s arms were around her while his big hands kept up with her on the outside edges.
She gathered her courage, “Well then, we’ll have about an hour to do anything we want when I get this in the oven.”
Then, in one fluid motion, Jake stepped aside as he opened the oven door, and Violet slipped the cookie sheet in. Before the door had even closed all the way, Jake scooped her up as they walked away and turned off the lights.
As Violet’s eyes inched open, she smelled apple strudel from the night before. It would make a delectable breakfast with some scrambled eggs. But that could wait. In the early morning glow that came sneaking in across the studio apartment to their bedroom area, Violet lay watching her husband. With her index finger she grazed his copper scruff. His tall frame was stretched out on his stomach with his arms over head, accenting his muscular shoulders, while his slow breathing was bordering on a snort.
He snored occasionally, but she didn’t care. She loved him so much that she still got ‘gaga’ sometimes. They had been married for almost a year, but she was still amazed that a man this wonderful actually wanted to be with her forever. Everything had been a dream until recently.
Violet’s eyes traced the curve of his back as she brushed her fingernails down his spine. When her gaze returned to his face, Jake’s eyes were alive with startling intensity. His icy blue eyes were rimmed with red, but fully and immediately awake.
“When can we babysit Lindy again? Have you made any plans with Greta?” Jake asked, rolling to his side. Babysitting their niece was one of his favorite hobbies.
“I don’t know, we haven’t…” Violet left the sentence unfinished. She knew where this was going.
“Kids are the coolest.” He broached the subject without subtlety. “Do you think we’re ready to start?”
Ready to have kids? Now? He had aimed several times to bring up this subject lately, but never this directly. The same knee-jerk reaction flew out that had put him off the last two times. “We don’t have time for this conversation right now.”
“Then make time.” Jake monotoned as he rose to an elbow. “What?” Violet tried to laugh off the uncomfortable tone. “We’re busy!” “Do you mean too busy to have kids or too busy to talk about having kids?” Jake retorted. Clearly he had been ready for this.
“Well, I don’t know…” Violet stumbled to catch up with the topic. “I want to know what you want, Violet.” Jake’s voice softened, then he pleaded. “Do you want kids?”
Violet let out another nervous snicker and threw herself out of bed. “No way!” Now it was Jake’s turn to look blindsided. “What do you mean? Why not?” He tried to laugh along, but the hurt showed on every inch of him.
“Our apartment, of course!” Violet could not keep a rebellious edge out of her voice. “It’s a studio! And even the foot of our bed is the walkway at the front door! The only interior door that closes is to the bathroom!”
She could feel herself getting defensively rigid. Violet didn’t mean to be throwing out this affront into Jake’s face, but it was impossible to stop now that the flood gates had opened. It was automatic and hurtful. She wasn’t sure that she was arguing her true feelings, but she didn’t actually know what her true feelings on the subject were. Her mind only raced to poke holes in
Violet scrambled to regain control of herself and perched on the edge of the bed to hug Jake around the shoulders as she jabbed with a soft joke. “We can’t have the baby sleep in the bathtub, or huddle in the bathroom anytime we are trying to get the baby to fall asleep.”
Jake stiffly and slowly removed her arms and retorted. “So we’ll move. We’ve talked about it anyway!”
Violet’s hackles rose now as she stood again. “Yeah! Remember why we decided to hold off? Our new business! We can’t move and we can’t have a baby while we are trying to get a new business off the ground!”
“It is ‘off the ground!’” Jake mocked Violet’s tone faintly as he joined her on his feet. “You have semi-consistent jobs, it’s making a little money, it’s fine! When we got married, we said we shouldn’t have kids right away because you were still trying to buy off your friends’ parts of the business. Fine! But how long are we supposed to wait?”
Violet had indeed started the catering business with some friends during culinary school but had borrowed money from her parents to buy off those partners as they had moved on to “bigger and better things” elsewhere. That debt to her parents was not the elephant sitting on her chest that it had once been, but it still had a hold on her.
“When we are not in debt anymore? When the business is actually making money? When it's not the worst possible time to have this conversation?” Violet’s mind was clawing wildly for any ledge to hold on to. While all the things she said were facts, none of them had yet rung true as her real reason. Her doubt. Her fear. “If the company is still in debt, at all, that’s not ‘making money!’ And I can't believe you're bringing this up now! This wedding will make all the difference. We can't get distracted!”
They stood fuming silently for a moment, digging their heels in and not willing to admit that the other was making a good point. Then Jake squinted slightly into Violet’s eyes and let his head cock to one side.
“Is this all because you’re a neat freak?” Jake sucker punched Violet with words that he knew she hated.
Violet’s teeth ground together, and she spat back at him. “You make enough of a mess! I can’t even keep up with you! Now I’m supposed to clean up after a mini version of you too? Are you going to help at all?”
Even as Violet said the words, she knew she regretted them. Jake had really strived and made great strides in his cleanliness, and all for her and her compulsions. Especially when Lindy was over, he would help pick up after their wreckless wrestling. He had even been cleaning during parts of this argument, retrieving clothes that they had flung around the room the night before.
Before Violet could take a deep breath and settle down enough to apologize, Jake had walked out the door. No wallet, no socks, just jammed on his pants and sneakers and went for a walk.
She hated it when he left a disagreement. She knew that he hated not getting credit for trying to conform to her requests. She realized that they both needed to find their way back from the things they had done and said out of anger.
That morning was a long one, replaying their conversation and filling in all the arguments she wished she had said.
Can’t you understand that my catering company is my baby, my passion, and our lifeblood?
She both wished she had said it and was thankful that she hadn’t. It very well could have made it worse. It made it sound like she didn’t want to have kids at all.
As Violet waited for Jake to return, she perched on the balcony and watched the sun tickle the first morning clouds. She watched the froth on her mug of drinking chocolate swirl as her mind churned over all of it. She probed her mind for answers. Why wasn’t she ready for kids? Should she be ready for kids or was she right in her argument about the logistics of it all?
When Jake’s footfalls sounded on the doormat, Violet was still worried that she was not ready for this conversation. She still had not hit on the true reason her mind utterly rejected the idea.
“I’m sorry I left,” was all Jake said as he deposited his shoes and keys in their neat and tidy places.
“I’m sorry that I was saying things…just out of anger.” Violet began to tear up. “You do help. You help a lot. I’m sorry. I’m not ready, but, well, I don’t know. I’m just not ready.”
Violet sobbed into his shoulder now. He wrapped her in his arms that were still muggy from the outside air. He squeezed her so tightly that she struggled for breath, then released her and held her at arm’s length.
“Hey, all that stuff you mentioned. You’ve got a point, but I still think we can do it. We are working on the catering business and that chunk of debt, sure, but I’m making money. And making enough that we can move anytime we are ready! It’s really just…”
Jake visibly struggled for the right words while still trying to stay calm. Violet knew he was so anxious to have children that it was difficult for him. As a child, he had no direct, long-term father figures. Instead of making him apprehensive to take that journey himself, it made him eager.
“It’s like all that doesn’t matter!” He finally snapped, then gritted his teeth to regain his composure. His frustration melted into despondency. “Does this mean you don’t want to, ever?”
“I can only guess that I will want to eventually,” she said. But would she? Violet knew that she would someday regret not having kids, but she didn’t want to resent them or Jake if she started before she was ready. “All I know is that I’m not ready now.”
“When then?” Jake shook her slightly. His sad slate-colored eyes were especially translucent as tears gathered in them slowly.
“You can’t predict these things, but…soon.” It was all that Violet could commit to, and it seemed to appease Jake for the time being.
They agreed to revisit the subject after this upcoming, massive catering job. In Violet’s mind, this weekend was everything, and nothing could distract her from this. Status quo had to be maintained until this business got to a stable footing.
But Violet needed to do some serious pondering before they could have that conversation. The idea terrified Violet. Kids? As much as they loved their niece, she was a handful. Lindy was so particular about how things had to be done that she could be scary. As a baby she had screamed the whole time they would babysit. Jake was patient and bounced her by their big window the whole three hours, but how could they do that every day? And every kid was loud and messy!
As she walked around the kitchen, tweaking and re-tweaking the kitchen towel and perfecting the stacks of forks in the silverware drawer, Violet had to admit that Jake had a point. Violet couldn’t sleep till the dishes were done, she couldn’t eat at certain establishments with questionable food handling, and she couldn't sit down at her sister’s house ’til she had cleaned it.
Couldn’t Jake understand that? He knew about her neuroses. He said he loved them! He also said that he always wanted to have kids. How could he reconcile those two loves?
Love is a strange beast, she thought now as she brushed her teeth before her morning excursion. How could he love her for being a ‘clean-freak’ and still want her to love a baby that would ruin everything stored under three feet? Mostly, how could Violet still love her husband as much as she did with a new person that she would presumably love even more?
A new thought struck Violet as she rinsed with mouthwash. Would Jake continue to love her if she didn’t want to have kids? Could she maintain this status quo without giving Jake what he wanted? Could she lose him if she wasn’t ready?
Violet stopped dead in her tracks. The farmers market was teeming, and she had almost walked straight into the taut leash between an energetic child and his obviously drained grandmother. The weather was finally getting cooler now that it was the first week of fall, but Violet could only think about how awful it would be to have to shop for work with a child in tow. Violet was already ‘glowing’, as her mother insisted she put it, without the extra work. Her dark hair seemed to absorb every bit of the glaring, late morning sun and it made her wilt like a spinach salad. Violet yielded to the older woman, dipped her head into a coy half-smile, and continued to dodge past them to get back to the loud river of people ebbing and flowing through the Downtown Austin farmers market.
She loved this market despite people lifting things over their heads and wafting their body odor in her face. Her skin crawled if she thought about the rank smells and germs, but she looked past the breath, the dogs, the heat, and all the perishable foods sitting out in the midst of it all.
This multiple-day catering job meant she needed to focus, shop, and buy produce now. She would need to fully stock her catering fridge that stood in the office of her tiny apartment before Thursday when the long rigmarole of successive parties would begin.
This whole wedding had to be perfect. Was she ready? Paul was the groom and his parents were long-time family friends. Violet’s mother and Paul had teamed up to get Violet this job. Paul had even dated Violet’s sister, Greta, fairly seriously for a while and now he was marrying a woman who was the closest to ‘high society’ that Austin had. Her family hosted events and held fundraisers several times a year, so if Violet could impress them, maybe she could book more catering jobs, even expand her business. She imagined hosting parties attended by Austin celebrities like Brooklyn Decker and Matthew McConaughey, but she was getting ahead of herself.
Violet forced her mind back to her task and stopped at a stall selling cocoa nibs. This crowd would have taste, experience, and would know the difference between Ghirardelli, Guittard, Hershey's, and true European artisanal chocolate. Paul’s grandmother was a bit of a food critic and had the money from her husband’s business and some family money to support this foodie-habit for her whole family.
In Violet’s mind, Paul’s grandmother would be a sort of guest of honor, after the bride and groom, of course. She would be the person to impress. While both families were active in the community and could bring in a lot more business for Violet, Francesca LeBaron was a devotee of the culinary arts and a famous grump. It would be much harder to make a splash with her. She was not the type to tolerate mistakes just because you were a friend of a friend. Everything
would have to be perfect, but if Violet could really impress her, she could hire more people, get the larger catering jobs, and abolish the small dark corner of accumulated debt to her parents that always lived in her mind.
Granny Franny, although Violet herself had never dared to call her that, intended to pass her money on to Paul and his brother, Luke. This would be good news for them eventually. When the money did fall to them, Violet knew that she was in good with them, and her little catering business would definitely benefit from their added income.
Would they be as socially and politically involved as their grandmother? Would she ever meet the Mayor or Lance Armstrong at their benefit banquets? And how much would their income grow? There may not be as much to pass on to her grandchildren as everyone thought. No, Violet knew she must seize this opportunity. Now.
Since Paul was marrying this girl, what was her name? Lori? Lauren? Lara? Something like that. She would have to ask Greta when she called her later. Now that he was marrying this girl, all his future money worries would just evaporate off like simmering alcohol. She was rich, cultured, and warmly beautiful. Violet guessed that Paul would be able to afford the life that he had always been trying to live. He might not even need his granny’s money anymore!
As Violet noticed a sign and wrote down lamb pastrami reubens in her little lined notebook, her stomach rumbled. The scenery had been so captivating that she had forgotten to eat lunch. Lamb Pastrami Reubens were twelve dollars! The catering business didn’t pay that well!
She continued upstream and finally arrived for the smells of fish sauce and onion at ‘Coat & Thai.’ Another patron turned away from the food truck with their signature Pad Thai noodles, floating the intoxicating aroma around her face and making her stomach growl afresh. She actually liked her own spring rolls better than most restaurants’ versions, but the cool, crisp and sticky finger food sounded like the perfect refreshing lunch for the warm, piercing sunshine. She dipped her head under the low edge of a tilted table umbrella and got in line.
“Four dollars,” the pregnant, blonde cashier said bluntly as a sheen of sweat collected into a drop on her jawline. Ever since Jake had brought up the subject of kids, pregnant women seemed to be everywhere. Even this one seemed familiar somehow, like they had met before. Some time before she was haggard and uncomfortable from pregnancy.
The throng of foodies, hippies, restaurant-owners and tourist rubberneckers was especially stereotypical here at the farmers’ market. Even the pregnant blonde that she had just spoken to had a tattoo and a piercing. Violet was too old-fashioned to fit in here, but she didn’t care. Wearing a simple ruffled t-shirt and fitted jeans with her clean, shoulder length hair, she considered herself a plain, traditional Christian girl. Maybe even vintage. She had always placed cleanliness and skin care over make up and perfume.
Despite her height and being naturally attractive, she was always easily able to avoid attention when she wanted to, which was most of the time. An observant people watcher and an accidental eavesdropper, she preferred to think of herself as a good listener.
She watched these people swarming around the farmers’ market, wondering how to serve as the invisible caterer but also to get noticed by the right people.
After the first bite of gummy rice paper wrapper, bracing lettuce, and tender shrimp, Violet felt much better. She swept her gently wavy, mahogany hair behind her ear before bending over for another taste. These rolls reminded her of an amuse bouche that her mom had made for a nice
party. She had prepared snow pea wrapped shrimp instead of hiring a caterer. They had always believed in working hard and not spending money. Maybe she should serve one of these appetizers for this job? The more things she could prepare in advance and serve cold for the rehearsal dinner, family luncheon, bachelor party, bachelorette party and the wedding, the better.
It was going to be one formidable weekend. She had to be ready.
When Jessica discovered mystery novels with recipes, she knew she had found her niche.
As an avid home chef and food science geek, Jessica has won cooking competitions and been featured in the online Taste of Home recipe collection. She also tends to be the go-to source for recipes, taste-testing, and food advice among her peers.
Jessica is active in her local writing community and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. She received a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University but has always enjoyed writing and reading mysteries.
Jessica is originally from California, but now has adopted the Austin, Texas lifestyle and loves to smoke barbeque, shoot, ride, and wrangle. She enjoys living in the suburbs with her husband and young children, but also enjoys helping her parents with their nearby longhorn cattle ranch.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Buy A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder Print Edition at Amazon
Links to Purchase eBooks
Link To Buy A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder On Amazon
Have you read this book? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!