Seashells, Spells &Caramels by Erin Johnson
1st in Series
Release Date -
Imogen’s spent her twenties in Seattle, saving every penny and missing every party, to follow her dream of opening her own bakery.
When that dream goes up in flames, she accepts a spot in a mysterious baking contest—one she doesn’t remember entering. She travels to a bustling, medieval village off the coast of France and discovers an enchanting world of magic and mystery, and learns that she, too, possesses powers.
Unable to so much as cast a spell, Imogen struggles to keep up with the other witches and wizards who have come from all over the magical world to the Water Kingdom's big competition. She juggles relationships with a sweet new friend, a snarky baking fire, and a brooding, handsome baker. As Imogen falls for this bewitching world, she fears she won’t master her magic in time to win the job of Royal Head Baker, and will be forced to return to the shambles of her non magical life.
It only gets worse, when a competitor drops dead in the middle of the big white baking tent, and Imogen’s the prime suspect. Now, she’ll not only have to survive the vampire and psychic judges, but also clear her name by finding the real murderer, before they strike again.
With a killer on the loose, a missing prince, and the Summer Solstice Festival fast approaching, Imogen will have to bake like her life depends on it- because it just might.
Rehearsal Dinner “You’re late.” I whirled to find Victoria standing in front of me. I smoothed my hands over my dress and stood straighter, blowing my bangs out of my eyes. “Victoria. Hi.” Her blond locks cascaded over her shoulders in perfect curls, her shimmery golden cocktail dress matching her flute of champagne. She glanced at the table behind me. “Dinner’s about to start and you’ve barely begun setting up.” “Right. Well….” I considered explaining what my whirlwind of a day had been like. From rushing to the store to buy ingredients, edible flowers, and more cupcake carriers, to baking three different batches of batter till I got it right, to decorating a cake and eighty cupcakes, to transporting it all by myself across town. Once I’d arrived at the mansion, I’d made four separate trips up and down the slippery stone pathway that led from the street to the manicured garden out back. But one look at Victoria’s on-edge expression, and I held my tongue. I tried to change the subject, lighten the mood. “This is… incredible, so beautiful.” Her arched brow pulled higher. “You’re here as staff. The beauty is for the guests to enjoy. Get to work.” I burned with annoyance. “Right, will try my best not to enjoy the beauty.” I unpacked a carrier of cupcakes, setting an edible flower atop the cream cheese frosting of each one. The cake table sat at the back corner of the peaked white tent, a little removed from the guest tables, the string quartet, and the dance floor. Victoria edged closer, speaking out of the corner of her mouth. “My parents divorced when I was five, you’d think they could figure out how to be in the same five-hundred-foot radius of each other. But no, I have to play go-between.” She heaved a great sigh as she scanned the tent and lush garden beyond it. “Ugh, and Ben’s psychic grandfather isn’t even here yet.” Without thinking, she picked up one of the little white-topped cupcakes and scooped a fingertip of the frosting into her mouth. I watched her reaction with trepidation, biting my lip. She closed her eyes and sighed. No longer speaking, she peeled away the crisp white wrapper and took a huge bite of the little cake, a soft moan escaping her lips. I opened my mouth to tell her a white frosting mustache lined her upper lip, but she tilted her head back, closed her eyes and let out a low groan. My cheeks grew hot, and I debated if I should interrupt my boss’s sensual encounter with my cupcakes to let her know that an old man with bushy white brows stood a few feet away, watching her. When he cleared his throat and Victoria startled, I pretended to be engrossed with arranging flowers on the cake. The old man took a few steps closer. He held out a hand, and when she offered hers, he held it to his lips instead of shaking it. My brows lifted. I didn’t know anyone actually did that. “You must be Victoria.” His voice rumbled deep from inside his chest. He wore a deep blue velvet suit, and his eyes twinkled. “And you are?” Her tone walked the fine line between civil and icy. The old man chuckled. “Why, I’m Ben’s grandpa, Arthur.” I sucked in a breath and sensed Victoria stiffen next to me. The psychic diplomat grandpa she cared so much about impressing? “Of course!” Her voice went up an octave. “Silly of me, of course. So good to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you.” “I’m sure you have.” The silence stretched on too long, and I glanced over my shoulder. Victoria’s blue eyes blinked rapidly, and she opened and closed her mouth several times while her fiancé’s grandpa watched, his head cocked to one side, a bemused grin twisting his lips. Finally, Victoria spat out, “I’m sorry, when you walked up, I was just testing the baked goods. I wanted to make sure they were up to stand—” The old man cut her off with a wave of his hand. “I like a person who can truly enjoy themselves now and then, you know?” He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling under his bushy brows. “I’ll leave you to your taste testing, but I’m glad to have met you and look forward to getting to know you more in the future.” He turned to go, but paused and eyed the cupcakes strewn about the table. He raised his eyes to mine. “May I?” I smiled. “Of course, sir.” I’d only had time to place flowers on top of some of them. I searched one out and handed it to him. He gave me a nod. I watched him wander off a few steps, peel back the wrapper, and take a bite. He then stopped and turned back to me, a question on his face. He cocked his head to the side, opened his mouth to say something, then glanced at Victoria and seemed to think better of it. He gave me another nod and wandered off toward the tables. What was that about? I watched him disappear into the crowd. Victoria turned, her face blank with shock. “He said he wanted to get to know me better… in the future… as if… there will be a future, with me and Ben.” I smiled. “I think you’re in.” Her face softened, and her lips tugged into the first genuine smile I thought I’d ever seen her give. “I passed the test.” She giggled, a sound so startling from Victoria that my brows shot up under my bangs. It seemed to startle her too, because she covered her mouth, then giggled again. Even more shocking, she grabbed my hands in hers and held them tight. “Thank you, Imogen.” I swallowed. “For what?” “I don’t know exactly, but I think you’ve helped me out, quite a lot in fact.” She gave my hands another little squeeze, then turned and scanned the crowd. She gave a squeal, another foreign noise coming from my boss, and waved someone over, bouncing on her heels. She turned to me, smiling. “Here he comes.” Okay, who are you, and what have you done with Victoria? A tall, handsome man in a tuxedo strode toward us, looking from Victoria to me to Victoria. She took his face in her hands, pulled him down closer, and gave him a kiss that had my cheeks burning. I suddenly found my shoes very interesting. After a few moments, my boss pulled away from the man I assumed (hoped) was her fiancé, and turned to me. “Imogen, Ben. Ben, Imogen. She made the most delicious cupcakes.” Ben eyed Victoria with a mix of doubt and wonder, his brows pulling together. “You ate… a cupcake?” Victoria nodded emphatically, threw an arm around me, and pulled all three of us into a conspiratorial huddle. “Don’t tell my trainer.” She burst into giggles. Ben asked, “Have you… uh, had some drinks?” Victoria, mouth full with another dessert, shook her head, then said around her food, “No, bug id sounds lige a goo idea.” She took a hunk of cupcake and pushed it toward Ben, who looked at it cross-eyed, then opened his mouth and chewed. The more he chewed, the more glazed his eyes got. He took Victoria’s hands. “Dance with me.” Had I accidentally spilled a bottle of rum in the batter? I glanced at my desserts strewn about the white-linen-covered table. They seemed innocent enough. I looked back at the frolicking couple and smiled. Probably just love. Halfway to the dance floor, Victoria pulled Ben to a stop, their kissing and giggling drawing stares and then indulgent smiles from the other guests. She pulled her fiancé back to me as he fished around inside his jacket. “Didn’t want to forget,” she explained as Ben pulled out a checkbook and pen. He scribbled something, ripped out the check, and handed it to me. “I added a little extra,” he said in a low voice. “I don’t know what you put in those cupcakes, but they’re pure magic—I’ve never seen Victoria like this.” He winked and off they went, literally skipping to the dance floor, where they somehow managed to shimmy to the string quartet music, pulling other friends and couples up to join them. I sighed. Once I opened my bakery, would it be enough? Victoria and Ben stared into each other’s eyes. Or would I still want someone to share everything with? I flipped the check over and read $4,000. What? A little extra? My mouth fell open, and I pressed the check to my chest, letting out a high-pitched squeal that probably only dogs could have heard. Four thousand dollars! Thank you, baking gods. And now, finally, I really, truly had enough money to open my bakery. The realization nearly knocked me over. After dinner and speeches, a waiter announced that dessert would be served. Time flew by as I sliced and served cake on little glass plates and said, again and again, “Yes, the flowers are edible,” and “No, I didn’t put in any liquid courage.” Apparently, Victoria wasn’t the only one whose spirits were lifted after eating a few bites. Soon, the entire party danced and swayed and laughed all over each other. People rushed up, smiling like naughty children, and dashed off with a cupcake in each hand. Champagne flowed, cocktail glasses clinked, and couples from their twenties to eighties snuck off into the shrubberies. What had gotten into everyone? The string quartet, persuaded into playing the conga, churned out the familiar song as a middle-aged man sat next to them, an upended ice bucket between his knees, playing the “drum.” The line of guests snaked between tables. I peeled my eyes away from the conga line as a beautiful guest sauntered toward me. She smiled, her teeth bright against her dark skin. Her hair, tightly curled and piled atop her head in an enormous bun, bounced as she swayed her hips to the music, her snow-white gown catching the candlelight from the tables. “Cake or a cupcake?” I asked for the umpteenth time. I smiled and held up one of each. She tapped a slender finger against her lips as her dark eyes darted from one to the other. The diamond bracelets she wore slid up toward her elbows as she threw her hands in the air. “Oh, ow about zem both, eh?” I grinned and handed over the plates. I loved French accents. Not that I’d ever been to France, or anywhere really. Before I’d moved from St. Louis, I’d never even been out of state. “Are you ze baker?” I nodded. “I’ve been earing all night about ze desserts.” She stepped closer and lowered her voice. She smelled like jasmine. “I eear they’re just bearsting weeth mageeck.” She winked, then held the cupcake up to her mouth, gingerly taking a bite around the wrapper. She moaned and bent her knees, sinking halfway to the ground. “Incredible. Just incredible. You should enter ze contest, you reeally should. And I don’t do false flattery, believe me.” I raised a brow. “The contest?” She looked me up and down. “You reeally don’t know? Ze Water Kingdom’s holding a contest for ze new royal baker. Last one died recently.” She looked around and leaned closer, her voice hushed. “Ze official word is she died of a ‘art attack, but if you ask me, eet was dark mageeck. Somezing underhanded, you know? Murder.” She leaned back and straightened. How much had this woman had to drink? “Zat shouldn’t scare you zough. I reeally zink you should enteer, zhere’s steel time. I probably ’ave a flyer somewhere.” She set the plates down and fished around in her sparkly white clutch. “Zey’ve been distributing zem all over ze kingdoms. Anyone can apply, anyone at all… well almost, no shifters, ze usual, but ze’ll take emigrants like you.” She poked around some more in the tiny clutch. Pretty sure if you haven’t found it by now, it’s not going to suddenly appear. The bag looked like it could barely hold a credit card… maybe. She looked at me and shrugged her slender shoulders. “Can’t find one.” She glanced around and then winked. “Don’t usually break ze rules when traveling on visa, you know. But I am here as ze date of ze retired ambassador, so if I geet in a beet of trouble, he’ll just geet me out.” I scanned the conga line. Did she mean Ben’s grandpa? A small sound, a zap, like snuffing a candle out with wet fingers, made me turn toward her again. In her hand she held a large, brown sheet of paper. “We’ll just keep zat between us, eh?” Goose bumps prickled up the back of my neck and arms. I looked between the paper and her face. Where had it come from? It was too large to fit in her bag without folding, yet it was completely smooth and crisp. She handed it to me. The oddly thick paper seemed to be coated in wax. I sniffed it and smelled honey. “Well, I’m off.” She lifted the plates. “Thank you for ze delicious treats. So good to have met you.” I nodded, not sure how I felt about this strange and beautiful woman. “You too.” “Think about eet.” She lifted her chin toward the flyer in my hand and danced her way back to the party. I held the waxy paper up to my face and read, “The Magnificent Contest for the Water Kingdom’s Next Royal Baker.”
This is delightfully delicious fantasy with romantic overtones. A combination of the popular televised Great Bake-Off shows and catty reality dramas, this fast paced competition is set in a magical kingdom worthy of tolerance between species which admits we will never all get along. Deception plays various roles, not all of them evil.Sometimes people just wish to fit in. No life is perfect.
In fact, I would say this Great Baking Competition called together a cast of misfits.
Imogen is a very likeable protagonist, even when reduced to her worst circumstances.
Most of the"bad guys" even had something redeeming about their characters.
I worried about how Imogen would fare even as I pulled for another sympathetic yet worthy contestant to win. I felt Imogen would land on her feet.
Although there is a romantic thread it does not over power the main experience of the book.
Iggy is one of my favorite charcters.
A native of Tempe, Arizona, Erin spends her time crafting mysterious, magical, romance-filled stories that’ll hopefully make you laugh.
In between, she’s traveling, napping with her dogs, eating with her friends and family, and teaching Pilates (to allow her to eat more).
In between, she’s traveling, napping with her dogs, eating with her friends and family, and teaching Pilates (to allow her to eat more).