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The biscuit witch, p.1
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       The Biscuit Witch, p.1

           Deborah Smith
 
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The Biscuit Witch


  Promo Page

  “‘BISCUIT WITCHES,’ Mama called them. She’d heard the old Appalachian term as a girl. She’d inherited that talent. My mother could cast spells on total strangers simply by setting a plate of her biscuits in front of them.”

  Standing in the dark outside the famous old mountain diner, two lonely people realize they’ve found each other . . .

  Tal’s laughter drained off. She eased from under my friendly arm. My excellent sensitivity to a woman’s changing moods rang a loud alarm.

  “I’m not married to Eve’s father,” she informed me. “I don’t want anything to do with him. And I’ll never let him share custody of my daughter.”

  “I’m sorry for upsetting you.”

  She shook her head. “Not your fault. I’m testy about it.” She nodded toward her daughter and the miniature goat who’d befriended her. “I have to go back to my biscuits. You’ll stay out here and make sure Eve doesn’t butt him again? I think her head’s harder than his.”

  “I’ll be right here. Don’t you worry. You can trust me, Tal. If you feel like telling me what’s up with this visit of yours . . .”

  Her eyes went darker, the way they had when she looked at biscuit dough. I stopped talking. She was studying me, what I was made of. Suddenly the moment was close, intimate, filled with the kind of personal scrutiny that can segue, very quickly, into a kiss. My god, I’d only known her a few hours, I wasn’t lubed with alcohol or drugs, and I was beginning to shiver because I’d left my coat inside. And yet I felt hot and giddy.

  Her breath came quick. A bit agitated, in a good way, I hoped. “This is going to sound strange,” she said. “But . . . some people have an odd talent. They see colors around other people. Auras. They see colors that go with sounds and emotions. All sorts of things. I have . . . a similar . . . oddness. Sometimes, people give off a scent. Not a real scent you can smell in the air. More of . . . an emotional scent. It’s in my mind.”

  She was clearly embarrassed about the admission. I would never make fun of woo-woo notions. I have a few myself, and besides, in the Cove, “woo woo” is a daily occurrence. Just like in Asheville, where they sell t-shirts that say, “It’s not weird, it’s Asheville.”

  “Do I have a good scent?” I asked.

  “Scotch whiskey and cinnamon buns.”

  A compliment. Definitely. A good thing. A grand thing, even.

  I brought hungry thoughts to her.

  Praise for Award-Winning Author Deborah Smith

  “An extraordinarily talented author.”

  —Mary Alice Monroe

  “A storyteller of distinction.”

  —Book Page

  “An exceptional storyteller.”

  —Booklist

  “Deborah Smith just keeps getting better.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Praise for The Crossroads Café

  “Unforgettably poignant.”

  —Booklist

  “A top five romance of 2006.”

  —Library Journal, starred review

  “A perfect 10.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “The best romance of 2006.”

  —The Romance Reader

  “A true treasure.”

  —Romantic Times BookClub

  “A book that readers will open again and again.”

  —Romance Designs

  Winner of a HOLT Medallion and a Reviewer’s International Award (RIO)

  Other Novels by Deborah Smith

  A Gentle Rain

  Sweet Hush

  On Bear Mountain

  The Stone Flower Garden

  Charming Grace

  The Crossroads Café

  Alice At Heart

  Diary of a Radical Mermaid

  A Place to Call Home (audiobook)

  Blue Willow (audiobook)

  Silk and Stone (audiobook)

  Miracle (audiobook)

  When Venus Fell (audiobook)

  The Mossy Creek Series (contributor)

  The Sweet Tea Series (contributor)

  The Biscuit Witch

  A Crossroads Café Novella

  Book One of The MacBrides

  by

  Deborah Smith

  Bell Bridge Books

  Copyright

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

  Bell Bridge Books

  PO BOX 300921

  Memphis, TN 38130

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-304-7

  Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

  Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Smith

  Printed and bound in the United States of America.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers.

  Visit our websites – www.BelleBooks.com and www.BellBridgeBooks.com.

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  Cover design: Debra Dixon

  Interior design: Hank Smith

  Photo credits:

  Cupcakes (manipulated) © Ruth Black | Dreamstime.com

  Sunburst / compass textures (manipulated) - Sofka_QWE - Fotolia.com

  Textures (manipulated): Yobro10 - Dreamstime.com

  Title Lettering @ Jaguarwoman Designs:

  Ewtb:01:

  A Rambling Dedication and Then Some

  My mother has been gone for six years now, and I find that the piece of my heart that will always belong to her wants to be a mama, just as she was. It’s the only way I can share the mystical realm of mamahood with her. I know she’s up there in Mama Land, watching me from an old kitchen chair in front of a screened window filled with sunlight and the scent of fresh mowed grass. She has a smoke in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other. Her favorite lap dog, Burford the Killer Miniature Schnauzer, is growling at the mailman outside. An episode of Matlock has just ended on the TV, and Golden Girls is about to start. She checks in on me during the commercials.

  This morning she knocked one of my candle sconces off the wall in the kitchen entry. They’re her sconces; actually, I just inherited them for safe-keeping. She uses them as her go-to signal. I’m never quite sure what she’s trying to tell me, but whenever a sconce falls off its nails I stop and listen hard.

  Whazzup, Ma?

  She knew I’d be writing this dedication for The Biscuit Witch today. I’m telling you about her and Mama Land because that sconce fell off. I think this was her goal.

  I am trying my best to carry on her Mama traditions. I’ve decided it’s my duty to find young people within the age groups of the children I might have had, and to pester them. To dote on them, give them advice whether they want it or not, worry about their decisions, cheer their victories, and remind them that they are unique, glorious, grand and special.

  “Team Awesome” is what we call Brittany Shirley, Danielle Childers, and Jenny McKnatt at the offices of Bell Bridge Books. All three are smarter than I ever was at their ages, also prettier, funnier, and more mature (in fact they’re more mature than I am now.)

  The world is safe in their hands. The future is bright. If I could go back in ti
me and pick out the best of the litter to be a mama to, I’d pick them.

  And so this book is dedicated to them and to all of us, the daughters (and sons) of Mama Land.

  I’ll go put that wall sconce back into place. I hear you, Ma. I miss you.

  This book would not exist without the arm-twisting, cheerleading, ever-patient leadership of my sister-of-the-heart, Debra Dixon, the best editor I’ve ever had, bar none, and the yarn mentor who got me addicted to knitting and crochet, which is why people run from me when they see me coming with more scarves to give away. Nor would it exist without co-sister Pam Ireland, aka SHE WHO WRITES THE CHECKS, also known as THE DOG WHISPERER. She has tried her best to counsel me as a Dog Mama, and it’s not her fault that my furry children are obese, lazy, impolite and play way too many video games.

  Last and never least, without my Hubby, Hank, there would be nothing. No books, no celebration, no serenity, and probably no Me. My shadow would lurk in corners, trying to reprogram the TV remote, reset the default on the smart phone’s ringtone, and make the laptop stop beeping. Many electronics would suffer. There would be no homemade veggie stew, no bills paid on time, no ebooks designed, no batteries jumped, no bed warmed, and no one to yell, “What the dang was THAT about?” during Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Pawn Stars. There would be no soulmate, and no soul. Just me in a house filled with broken machines. I would adopt dozens of cats, dogs, goats, rabbits, ferrets, parakeets and chickens. Also miniature donkeys and full-sized ducks. I would fill the windows with colored glass bottles and answer the door carrying a shotgun while wearing a housedress with “Blessed are the Cracked, for they let in the Light,” hand-lettered across the bosom in food coloring.

  It would be sad. And smelly.

  I’m so glad I have him, and DD and Pam and Team Awesome and all our mutual friends to keep me out of that housedress. This one’s for you all, y’all. With love.

  Quote

  “Of course there’s magic in food! It’s the lure of our hopes and dreams. A good meal can make people smile, forget their sorrows, remember their friends, and fall in love. That’s why we take food to funerals. To remember how good it tastes to be alive.”

  —The late biscuit witch, Jane Eve Nettie MacBride, mother of Tal, Gabby and Gus, great grand-niece of the infamous biscuit witch, Mary Eve Nettie, and close cousin to the famous biscuit witch, Delta Whittlespoon of The Crossroads Café

  Prologue

  Delta rescues another lost and hungry soul

  Dear Doctor Firth,

  I run my kitchen and my life by two sayings: Good food speaks louder than words, and Nobody’s a stranger, just a cousin waiting to be recognized.

  Maybe that second one is a southern idea, even more than most. Howsomeever, here goes.

  I read about you at Whittlespoons R Us, the online genealogy newsletter for my husband’s (Sheriff Pike Whittlespoon of Jefferson County, North Carolina) family. Your great-grandfather Angus Firth of Glasgow is Pike’s third cousin twice removed on his daddy’s side, through the Jefferson line, meaning it’s likely that you share the Jefferson appreciation for cloven-hooved animals, liquor, family, good food, and the other passions of living. (Sex! Football!)

  I know you are in your cups at this time, drinking, taking pills, and sleeping under trees, but I have some experience rehabilitating lost souls in that regard, and so I am enclosing a box of my biscuits and a cold-wrapped container of cream gravy for dessert. Please eat and write back.

  We need a veterinarian of your gumption here in the Crossroads Cove of Jefferson County. My famous movie-star cousin, Cathy Deen Mitternich, and her husband, Thomas, have purchased assorted goats for their estate on Wild Woman Ridge, and our local berry farmers and lesbians, Alberta and Macy Spruill-Groover, wish to add sheep to their collection of critters and abused women they shelter. We could use an animal doctor who doesn’t mind progressive Oddness.

  If you are willing to move up here, I have Jay Wakefield’s permission to offer you a no-rent fixer-upper on his property at the nearby haunted village of Free Wheeler. Since Jay has become a friend of yours already, you know he is one of the richer-than-Midas-and-stingier-than-Scrooge Wakefields of Asheville, but did you know this? He’s related to me on his grandmother’s father’s side, so he’s got a soft heart for peculiarities. I’ve been dosing him with biscuits and gravy since he was a bitter teenager stuck in a private boarding school, and I believe I’ve greased his view of the Wakefield family curse.

  I can also promise you plenty of friendship among the local women plus Saturday night card games at Pike’s poker trailer, free meals at the Crossroads Café, and enough veterinary business to build yourself a decent income here in the Cove (and also over at Turtleville, our county seat). Most of all, I promise you lots of biscuits.

  Come home, Cousin Douglas Firth of Scotland and now from Florida. You know we are descended from the same stock, don’t you? Mountaineering Irish and Scots and Scots-Irish around here? Plus Cherokee, African American, Vikings, outcast Romans, the Ten Tribes of Israel, and space aliens (That last one is harder to prove.)

  You’ll fit right in.

  Love,

  Cousin Delta.

  Three years later

  A SCOTSMAN, two lesbians, an agoraphobic knitter, five herding dogs, and three hundred sheep walk into a bar and . . .

  Ought to make a fine joke, you’d think. But it was for real, that is, the reality as I’ve come to know and love it, another day in the gently accepting world o’ the Cove, or, in this case, one mile higher than the Cove in altitude, up on the ridges of the Little Sheba, one of the Ten Sisters Mountains.

  Damn sheep don’t need to go to pasture up here. Lots o’ fine pastureland down in the Cove. That’s what I get for hiring Alberta and Macy Spruill-Groover to tend my herd along with theirs. Lesbian feminist shepherds!

  “The feminine urge to explore should be nurtured,” they said.

  “The instincts of the ewes come from the Mother Goddess,” they said. “The Mother Goddess says they must follow the call to roam.”

  Then I say Mother Goddess could come up here by herself in the arse-chilling November cold and risk being run over by a speeding poultry truck or a pack of joy-riding bikers. We were herding the sheep down the Asheville Trace. Even at its best, the narrow old two-lane is a steep, winding launch ramp for idiots on wheels. We’d have taken an off-road route instead, but the temperature was dropping fast. Had to get home before the fall lambs froze to their mams’ teats.

  “Trouble ahead, Doc!” Macy shouted. Alberta started whistling commands to the sheep dogs. I was bringing up the rear, trying not to step in sheep dung, at least not before my new hiking boots got the shine of the Turtleville Shoe Bee Hiking Store rubbed off. Macy and Alberta were hidden around a curve at the front of the flock. Lucy Parmenter looked back at me from her seat atop a tractor, her face going so pale she could be one of my grandmama’s blond ceramic dolls back in Glasgow. Before Grandmama painted their bisque-white faces.

  “No worries, Luce, just hold the course,” I soothed. She nodded shakily then faced forward. For Lucy Parmenter to creep out of her fiber studio at Rainbow Goddess Farm was a huge step forward; driving this tractor pulling a wagon full of lambs was an accomplishment that made Macy, her therapist, dance a jig.

  “No dawdling,” I growled, as the ewes ahead of me began to slow or even stop. Sheep are the lookie-loo’s of the herd world. Give them any distraction whatsoever, and they’ll cause a traffic jam. You’d have better luck making good time on a city highway during rush hour behind a stalled bus full of naked strippers giving away free Lotto tickets.

  Lots of insulting bahs came my way, and the ripple of slow/stop behavior continued to build. Around the curve, the dogs began to bark, and Alberta stopped whistling and started yelling. “Down. Stay. No!”

  “What in the hell is going on up there?
I muttered. Propping my walking stick on one shoulder, I strode through the flock as fast as I could.

  “Tagger’s finally caught a car!” Macy yelled.

  A cranky veterinarian, two lesbian goddess worshipers, a little blond fiber artist who’s about to faint like a frightened bunny, a stalled herd of sheep, five freaked-out Belgian Shepherds, and a giant black bear named Tagger walk into a bar . . .

  . . . and I meet Tal MacBride.

  Chapter One

  Tallulah MacBride, the biscuit witch

  WHEN MAMA died, I heard her heart stop beating. And then, she spoke to me.

  My head was burrowed on her chest as she lay on the cold linoleum floor of our little house in West Asheville. I was six years old. Her heart thumped in my ear in rhythm to my sobs. Around me I heard Gabby ordering “Mama, breathe!” and Gus yelling our address into the kitchen phone.

  But I shut them out so I could concentrate on the softening, slowing, hesitating beat of Mama’s heart. When the sound faded away to nothing, a terrifying stillness rose up inside me. Some people believe a person’s spirit lingers for a while after the body stops living, but not me. The silent darkness of her stopped heart opened like a black well, and I fell in. I can’t describe the infinite emptiness of that moment when the sweet thump of her heart ended, that infinity between one heart beat to the silence of forever. I can only say I tried to follow the trail of silence. Tried to follow Mama wherever she’d gone.

  I want to go with you. Anywhere. There must be an Anywhere if you’re going there.

  Except for what happened next, I might not have survived that plunge. I would have left some important part of my soul behind in the unleavened silence of a dark, distant heaven.

  The aroma of apple pie suddenly surrounded me. Not the pie Mama had splattered on the floor when she fell, but the soul of it, Mama’s soul, just like the angel I’d seen floating in the steam above the stove a few minutes before she collapsed.

 
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