It’s been another long, hot week here in Virginia and while I hate to wish time away, I’m beginning to yearn for Fall. But one thing I’m not ready to let go of yet are the fruits of summer, especially blueberries. August may be a bit late for blueberries but we had such a late spring that I’m still finding piles of them at the grocery store. And as we continue with Allison Pinckney’s Bridal Tea story (Allison is the heroine in the third Deadly Force book IN SEARCH OF TRUTH) in Maddie Ashton’s Charleston home (last week we served Raspberry Crumb Bars), I’m adding one of my all-time favorite blueberry recipes: Blueberry Crumb Cake.

Allison Pinckney ~ “After giving my toast, I sat down and listened while the women around the table (my best friend Maddie and her almost-eight-year old daughter Susan, Juliet Montfort, Charlotte Marun, Emilie Tremaine, Sarah Walker, and Samantha Barclay) discussed the men we loved. All of them were ex-Green Berets running a sketchy gym known as Iron Rack’s in Savannah, and they’ve had a rough few months. Actually, they’ve had a rough six years. Their enemies are determined and fierce and my fiancé Zack, along with his men, are always trying to figure out when the next battle will happen.

And as I sat there, my chest tightened. We’d all been through so much so far, and I knew that this story was far from over. When Mrs. Pickles, Susan’s black cat, jumped into my lap I silently prayed we’d all survive.

“Enough with this sad talk!” Vivienne Beaumont stood and nodded to the caterer who hovered nearby. “Please bring the champagne out to the garden.”

“I don’t understand,” Charlotte finished her blueberry coffee cake and added, “I thought we were having tea?”

Vivienne waved a regal hand and left the conservatory. Slowly, we all followed her outside. Because Vivienne–Zack’s wealthy godmother–always ran whatever show she was invited to while the rest of us usually just fell in line. Things were easier that way.

Just before we left the room, I snagged another piece of the Blueberry Crumb Cake and ate it–very inelegantly–as I headed into the garden. (yes, the cake is that good!) But then I stopped at the gate. Someone, probably Maddie, had decorated the garden with another table with tea sandwiches and scones. Smaller tables surrounded the food and another table, off to the side, was piled high with gifts wrapped in the prettiest papers.

“What is all this?” I asked.

Sarah took one arm, while Samantha took the other, and we all walked around the fountain. I loved the cooler mist that caressed my arms as we walked by.

“This part,” Sarah whispered, “was supposed to come later.”

“But,” Samantha said, “what Vivienne wants, Vivienne gets.”

“That’s right,” Vivienne appeared in front of them and took my hand. As Vivienne led me to a chair near the present table, she added, “I’m sick to death of living in the wreckage of the past and the future. Today is about happy things. And you marrying Zack has made me happier than I’ve been in a long time.”

I squeezed her hand, and then sat. That meant so much to me, I didn’t have the right words to offer back. So instead I took a glass of champagne from the caterer who carried crystal champagne flutes on a silver tray. I loved high teas, especially all the cakes and sandwiches, but I loved champagne even more. “Thank you, Vivienne.”

She kissed my cheek and walked over to the present table. When Charlotte and Emilie moved toward the food–specifically the Blueberry Crumb Cake, Vivienne clapped and glared at them. Emilie immediately grabbed Charlotte’s hand and dragged her to a table.

Except Charlotte, who didn’t know Vivienne as well, said, “I’m hungry.”

“We shall eat more in a bit.” Vivienne glanced at Maddie. “Where’s Susan?”

Maddie sat in a chair next to me, her pink skirt dragging along the carefully cultivated lawn. “Inside with Mrs. Pickles. She won’t come out until we’re done.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” Vivienne handed her a present, “this is not appropriate for children.”

Not sure what to think, I opened the first present and pulled out a…pink lace neglige. “Oh.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. But at least I knew why Susan had to stay inside.

Maddie chuckled, “So, that’s from me. And this isn’t just a bridal tea–“

“Because teas can get so tedious,” Vivienne said as she gave me another present. This one had purple ribbons all over it. “So, we decided to add some spice. And right now, we’re having a lingerie shower.”

Good grief. I glanced at Sarah who just shrugged. Emilie laughed as she sipped her champagne while Juliet and Charlotte whispered about something. That couldn’t be good.

“Okay,” I said, afraid to open the present in my lap. “So, lingerie, as in… nightgowns?”

Vivienne gave them all an elegant shrug. “Among other things.”

“Go on,” Samantha urged, “that one is mine.”

A moment later I held the sheerest white peignoir set I’d ever seen. To be honest, it was beautiful. But I felt the flush rush up my neck. My face was probably tomato red by now. “Uh, thanks.”

Samantha smiled and handed her another package. “This one is from Emilie.”

I opened it and found the tiniest lace bra and panty set ever made. It was so delicate, it had to be illegal. “It’s lovely.” I blew my future sister-in-law a kiss, trying not to feel weird about the entire thing.

Vivienne snorted elegantly–everything she did was elegant–and said, “We’re all adults here. And you, my dear, need some more champagne.”

Agreeing, I took another full flute. After downing half the glass, I opened the next package. Sarah’s gift was a lilac-colored silk robe with matching slippers. “Wow. This is gorgeous.”

Sarah tilted her head and smiled. “Vivienne helped me find it.”

“Yes,” Vivienne gave me another box. “Sarah needed help.”

“I still think,” Sarah said indignantly, “that Allison would’ve loved the Iron Rack’s sweatpants and T-shirt. They’re so comfortable.”

Vivienne waved a hand in dismissal. “Open it, Allison. It’s from Juliet and Charlotte.”

I glanced at Juliet and Charlotte, not sure what to think about their private whispers. This box was much bigger than the others, and Maddie helped me open it. I tore apart the tissue to find a white lace corset with garters and sheer silk stockings. “Wow.” I said as I held up the corset. “This is so beautiful.”

“It’s all because of Vivienne,” Juliet said. “Vivienne has this buyer in Paris–“

“Yes, dear,” Vivienne interrupted gently. “No need to mention Charles.”

Vivienne’s lingerie buyer was a Frenchman? Of course he was. Because everything Vivienne did was over the top. “Well,” I said as I laid the corset into the box, I love it. I love everything. Thank you so much.”

Vivienne handed me an envelope. “There’s one more. Except it’s not for the wedding night.”

I opened the pale purple stationary and found a business card for Couture Bridal Underpinnings. A custom shop in New Orleans. “What is this?”

“Once you choose your wedding dress, you’ll need the perfect undergarments. And Claire, a dear friend of mine in the French Quarter, will custom make whatever you need for the day.”

I was even more speechless than before. Instead of grappling for words, I stood and hugged Vivienne. “That’s the loveliest–“

“Now, now,” Vivienne pushed me away but I could tell she had tears in her eyes. “It’s nothing.” She clapped and the caterer appeared with more trays of food, including more Blueberry Crumb Cake. “It’s time to feed Charlotte and Emilie.”

All of the women laughed and they moved toward the table. And while Vivienne organized everything and everyone around her to her satisfaction, I hugged each and every woman there, thanking them for the gifts. But I could tell they had no idea how I truly felt–no idea that a few months ago my life was empty and sad and I never thought I’d ever be happy again. It wasn’t until IN SEARCH OF TRUTH happened that I found my own strength and my own true love. And as Susan ran out, with Mrs. Pickles in her arms, I’m reminded that no matter how bleak things seem, friends always bring hope and love. And I’m grateful for all of them.


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