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Chapter 1

I was in the middle of laying out the ingredients for my carrot muffins when the call came. It's lucky I hadn't started mixing them, because you can't just run off and abandon muffin batter for an hour and expect it to be okay. I didn't even understand who it was at first. All I heard was something about no refund on a credit card bill, the word retreat and that I "better do something about it."

"Who is this?" I said when the caller finally took a breath.

"Casey, this is Tag Thornkill," an exasperated voice responded. He could have left off the last name. I mean, it's not like I know a bunch of Tags. Immediately my demeanor changed from irritated at the interruption to concerned. Tag is my current employer, or half of the pair, anyway. He and his wife Lucinda own the Blue Door restaurant, which is where I presently work. I'm the dessert chef. Tag doesn't know it, but I also bake muffins for some coffee spots in town using the Blue Door's kitchen. Lucinda had given her okay and saw no problem with the arrangement as long as I brought in my own ingredients.

So every night when the restaurant closes and everyone has left, I come in and bake the restaurant's desserts for the next day, along with batches of muffins for the next day's coffee drinkers.

Let me be clear from the start: I'm not one of those fancy cooking school graduates who does French pastry. I had never even thought of baking as being a career. It was just something I started doing when I was a kid. It might have been a reaction to having a mother who was a cardiologist and thought cookies only came in white boxes from the bakery.

My first experience as a dessert chef happened at a friend's bistro. He didn't care that I didn't have any formal training. The truth was in the cake. He loved what I baked and hired me. Unfortunately, he sold the bistro after six months and it became a hot dog stand that didn't offer dessert.

After that I tried law school, but by the end of the first semester, I knew it wasn't for me. Nor was being a substitute teacher at a private school. Then I tested out a lot of other professions. In other words, I worked as a temp. I did things like handing out samples of chewing gum on street corners, spritzing perfume on anyone I could get to slow down at a department store, some office work and my favorite, working at a detective agency.

My poor mother was beside herself. If I'd heard it once, I'd heard it a zillion times. "Casey, when I was your age, I was already a doctor and a mother. And you're what . . . ?" Talk about knowing how to make me feel like more of a flop. My father wasn't all that happy, either. He was a doctor, too; a pediatrician. When I broke up with Dr. Sammy Glickner, things really hit the fan. He was my parents dream come true- Jewish, not just a doctor, but a specialist a urologist and nice. They said nice; I said bland. Well, not totally bland. He was very funny in a goofy sort of way.

But I needed a fresh start. And who better to help me with it than my father's sister, Joan Stone. Let's just say we both had the black sheep thing going. Her main advantage was she actually had a profession-actress. She wasn't an A-list star like Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts. Most of her parts were playing somebody's Aunt Trudy or the noisy neighbor down the street. Her one claim to fame was she'd been the Tidy Soft toilet paper lady long enough to build up a nice nest egg before she left L.A., moved up north and started a new career.

But now back to the call.

With a nice tone, I asked Tag to repeat what he'd said.

"I was checking Lucinda's credit card receipts. There is a charge for Yarn2Go . My dear wife explained that was your aunt's business and the charge was for some kind of yarn trip." He paused as if he expected me to say something, and when I didn't, he continued. "I checked all of her later bills and there was no mention of a refund. What do you have to say about that?"

The "oh no" was purely in my head. Barely three months after I'd left Chicago and relocated to my Aunt Joan's guesthouse in the northern California town of Cadbury by the Sea, my aunt had been killed in a hit-and-run accident. It was horrible. There were no witnesses, and the cops still had the case open, though it didn't look like they were going to find the driver. I didn't care that the cops, my parents and all of my aunt's friends insisted it was just an unfortunate, random accident. I didn't buy it.

Here are the basic facts. It was six thirty on a Sunday morning. My aunt never got up before eight. No one could explain, at least to my satisfaction, why she would have been out walking by the water at that hour. It was barely even light. I simply didn't buy the cops' explanation that maybe she'd taken up an exercise program and not mentioned it to me.

I mean, I was living in her guesthouse, which was just across the driveway from her house. True, we'd agreed to stay out of each other's lives, but still . . .

My aunt had left everything to me, and when I'd met with the lawyer, he'd brought up her retreat business. While Joan had still done occasional acting gigs, her real passion had become putting on these retreats that she called "vacations with a purpose." Basically all I knew about them was that they had to do with making things with yarn and she used the hotel and conference center across the street to host them. Joan had tried to explain more to me, but she got totally frustrated when I kept mixing up crocheting and knitting. I knew that you needed two things for one of them and one for the other, but not which for which. Needles, hooks, not my thing. All my creative endeavors had to do with baking.

I had told the lawyer I had no interest in continuing the business for obvious reasons. He'd looked through the papers I'd brought in and said they appeared to be for her taxes, so for all intents and purposes, the business was over.

"So what are you going to do about it?" Tag repeated, pulling me back to the here and now. I said something about checking into it when I got home, but that wasn't good enough. I could practically hear him pacing. Tag was one of those people who went around straightening pictures on the walls at other people's houses. He couldn't deal with things being out of order or unsettled. He said he wouldn't be able to sleep until it was straightened out. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was ten o'clock. I really wanted to continue making the muffins, but I knew Tag would be frantic until he had an answer, and he was sort of my boss. So I decided to run home and check. I'd finish the muffins when I returned.

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