“Delaney’s choice of setting, gossipy milieu and colorful...suspects help keep Ellen scrambling and move the action right along.” —Publishers Weekly
And Murder for Dessertby Kathleen Delaney
Ellen McKenzie and her fiancé, Chief of Police Dan Dunham, are on their way to the very upscale Harvest Festival Dinner, hosted by Ellen’s niece, Sabrina, and her husband, Mark Tortelli. New to Silver Springs Winery, the Tortellis know their jobs depend on the success of this event; the reputation of the guest chef hasn’t helped calm their nerves… See more details below
Ellen McKenzie and her fiancé, Chief of Police Dan Dunham, are on their way to the very upscale Harvest Festival Dinner, hosted by Ellen’s niece, Sabrina, and her husband, Mark Tortelli. New to Silver Springs Winery, the Tortellis know their jobs depend on the success of this event; the reputation of the guest chef hasn’t helped calm their nerves. Otto Messinger is noted for his temper tantrums. Tonight’s guest list seems to include everyone who has ever had a feud with Otto, a fact the little chef is thoroughly enjoying. The dinner progresses, a little shaky but without disaster. Then it’s time for dessert. But where is Otto? It is Sabrina who finds him, quite dead, in a wine fermenting tank.
Harvest Festival Dinner at the Silver Springs Winery sounds ideal, and it is-until master chef Otto turns up dead before the sumptuous final course in Delaney's auspicious first outing in California wine country. Real estate broker Ellen McKenzie and her fiancé, chief of police Dan Dunham, are soon embroiled in the case. Ellen's niece Sabrina and Sabrina's new husband, Mark Tortelli, were counting on this splashy event to solidify their reputation as new managers of Silver Springs-especially since there's some question as to why they left their last job. The legendarily cantankerous Otto had numerous fans but even more foes, including Mark's father. Feuding shareholders and real estate developers further threaten the winery's tranquility, and Ellen must sift through all the drama to find the killer, while planning her wedding and solving family problems. Delaney's choice of setting, gossipy milieu and colorful (if somewhat predictable) suspects help to keep Ellen scrambling and move the action right along. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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And Murder for Dessert
By Kathleen Delaney
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2007 Kathleen Delaney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSundays are supposed to be a day of rest, but it rarely works out that way for real estate agents. Or, for that matter, Chiefs of Police. For some reason, this Sunday I had no appointments, no open houses, and no responsibilities. Evidently neither did Dan. If he did, he was ignoring them.
He sat at my kitchen table, eating pancakes, feeding bites of sausage to Jake, my yellow tom, and muttering under his breath while he turned pages of our local paper. I leaned up against the counter, slowly sipping coffee, watching him. In spite of his old brown bathrobe and his forty-some years, it was a most pleasant sight.
The phone rang. He looked up, frowned and raised one eyebrow at me. I sighed, and reached for it. There went our peaceful morning. Because it was, of course, one of my clients, wanting to see a house, or needing to ask a complicated real estate question that couldn't possibly wait until office hours on Monday, or Dan's office, calling to tell him about some murder that needed his immediate attention. It wasn't a client. And it wasn't a crime.
"Catherine. What a surprise." I hadn't heard from my sister in over a year and couldn't imagine what she wanted. That she wanted something was never in doubt.
"Ellen. I'm surprised you're home. I thought you'd be at work, in which case, I would have left you a message."
"Humn. I thought that was your busiest day." The implication was strong that I was shirking. Typical Catherine. "I got your number from Mother. I knew you'd divorced that good-looking doctor, but when she told me you'd gone back to that dreadful little backwater town, it was obvious you'd lost your senses. She says you're living in our old house. And real estate! Isn't that what bored housewives and retired military men do?"
"Ah." As usual, I had no idea how to respond to Catherine.
"My daughter—you do remember Sabrina, don't you?"
Did she really think I'd forgotten my niece? I hadn't seen much of her. Catherine lived in splendor on the East Coast and couldn't be bothered to bring her to California, but that didn't mean I'd forgotten her.
"Sabrina and her husband are moving to Santa Louisa."
A double bombshell. I had no idea Sabrina had married. No one had told me, or invited me to the wedding. Had there been a wedding? And coming here? Why? I didn't have long to wait for that answer.
"Sabrina's husband makes wine. It's supposed to be a good job, but I'm not convinced. Anyway, they, well, it seems that their last job ended a bit abruptly, some kind of conflict over winemaking or something, and they got jobs with a place in Santa Louisa called Silver Springs."
"Silver Springs? That's the most prestigious winery on the central coast. He's their new winemaker? That's a wonderful job."
I could almost hear a sniff. "Maybe. Anyway, they'll be there tomorrow. I told them they could stay with you while they house hunt. After all, you have all that space and it is the house where we grew up. You can find them a rental. Sabrina will call you."
The line went dead.
I stood for a moment, looking down at the phone, then carefully placed it back in the cradle. Dan put down his paper and grinned at me.
"I take it that wasn't for me."
"It was Catherine." I filled my coffee cup before turning around to look at him. "Why would it be for you? Did you give the station this number?"
"Of course. Do you think there's anyone in town who doesn't know I spend half my nights here?"
He grinned at me. I sighed.
"From the scarcity of conversation on your end, I take it Catherine wants something and was giving you instructions."
"Sabrina, my niece, and her husband are coming to stay with me. Tomorrow."
The newspaper was pushed away and he sat up straighter. "Why?"
"Sabrina's husband, whose name I never got, is the new winemaker at Silver Springs and it sounds as if Sabrina is going to work there as well. They took the job rather suddenly and need a place to stay."
"And Catherine immediately thought of you. How nice." There was a pause. "What's Sabrina like?"
"I really don't know. The last time I saw her, she was fourteen. Pretty, shy, a few years older than Susannah, but completely intimidated by her."
Dan laughed. "Vivacious, confident, beautiful Susannah? I can't believe it." Dan and my daughter had taken an instant liking to each other. He admired her irrepressible vitality and she liked the way he treated me. So did I.
"You may think that's funny. I didn't then. It was the only time we went back east to visit and—well, it wasn't a success."
Dan's expression changed. The grin faded. "Is that why you didn't tell her about our wedding?"
"She didn't give me a chance." I turned away to top off my cup. "Besides, you only asked me last night. We've got plans to finalize before we start announcing the date and—"
Dan didn't say anything, but he kept watching me. I wondered if he knew about the butterflies, make that starlings, fluttering around in my stomach.
It had been close to midnight. We'd had dinner on the coast, had taken in a romantic movie, and finished the evening with a very satisfactory episode of our own. I was in bed, more than half asleep, cuddled close to Dan, my face buried in his shoulder, when he murmured, "I think we should get married. December would be good. That's only four months, but that's plenty of time, isn't it?"
"Sure," I agreed, and fell asleep, full of contentment, completely at peace.
This morning the sun had streamed through the bedroom window, promising a beautiful fall day. I was instantly awake, wondering what I'd done. I crept out of bed and into the bathroom, staring at my face in the mirror. My marriage to Brian McKenzie had been a slow, disintegrating disaster. Could I face that possibility again? Dan wasn't Brian, but still ... I washed my face, brushed my teeth and hair and resolutely returned to the bedroom, prepared to tell Dan I liked our relationship just the way it was, him spending several nights a week, lunches, dinners, no commitments. He lay there, smiling at me, the gray in his hair bleached to gold by the sun. Damn the man. He looked like he belonged in my bed.
"Where've you been? I missed you." He pulled the cover back and looked at me expectantly.
Oh well, I thought. Oh well.
Only now we were in my kitchen, doing ordinary things, like eating pancakes, and the doubts were back.
Time to change the subject. "More sausage? There's one left."
"Give it to Jake. He's begging for it."
"Dogs beg. Cats expect the best as their God-given right." I cut up the sausage and put it in Jake's dish. "Dan, there was something funny about my conversation with Catherine."
"Other than the fact that she bothered to call you at all?"
I smiled somewhat ruefully. Dan had grown up next door to us. His parents and mine had been best friends. He was in and out of our kitchen as much as his own. Catherine and her supreme indifference to anyone's needs but her own was no surprise to him. "That, of course. And, since I've lowered my standards by returning to this backwater town and becoming a lowly real estate agent, I can make myself useful and find them a rental."
"You don't do rentals."
"I know." Evidently I did now.
"She called Santa Louisa a backwater town?" He sounded torn between amusement and irritation. "Guess she doesn't know about the new housing tracts, all the new restaurants the wine industry has brought here, the new shopping center ..."
I had to laugh. "I'm sure Catherine still thinks we have one stoplight in town and that going out to eat means the bowling alley. But that's not what's bothering me. She told me Sabrina and her husband had left their last job in a hurry. Some kind of conflict."
"So? People do change jobs, sometimes because it's a move up their own personal ladder. Getting a job at Silver Springs is hardly a move down it."
"I know, but Catherine said there was some kind of problem. At least, I think she did. It all sounds so rushed. I wonder what happened."
Dan pushed aside his paper and got up. He came around the table to where I was leaning up against the counter. He took my coffee cup and put it on the countertop behind me. His hands slid down my shoulders to my waist and he pulled me close. His mustache scratched my ear, then my neck. It felt wonderful.
"They got a better job, Ellie. That's it. A better job. Quit worrying about them and start worrying about wedding plans. We're—"
The phone rang.
I squirmed out from under Dan and reached for it. "It's for you."
I could tell by the look on his face our peaceful Sunday was gone.
"Four-car pileup on 46E, just inside our city limits," he told me, already on his way towards the stairs and his clothes. "Sounds like I'll be a while."
He pushed open the swinging door that led to the dining room, paused, and turned back. "How long are Sabrina and her husband planning on staying here?"
I had no idea. "Just a few days, I'm sure."
"Yeah? I'll bet you a hot fudge sundae it's more like a couple of weeks."
The door swung shut. I picked my coffee cup back up, wondering if Dan was right.
He got his hot fudge sundae. A month came and went and they were still with me.
Chapter Two"Sign here." I pushed the contract in front of Mark Tortelli, Sabrina's husband. He looked down at it dubiously.
"Are you sure this is the best we can get?" he asked for the fifteenth time.
"Yes," I answered, trying hard not to grit my teeth. I didn't do rentals, my office didn't do rentals, and finding them this little house had cost me several still-to-be-paid back favors. "We've been over this, Mark; there are very few rentals, and practically none who will take dogs. Especially standard poodles. He's big. Landlords worry. And this rent is fair. Sign."
He scowled at the paper, but he signed. "You're sure this is a month to month?"
"Yes." We'd been over that point just as many times. Why it was so important to Mark, I didn't know. I thought he and Sabrina were both thrilled with their jobs and planned to stay around for some time, so a lease would have been better, but Mark had been adamant.
"Sabrina," he finally said, "here, sign right under me."
Sabrina obediently signed, and I picked up the rental agreement. A month of Mark's mood swings and Sabrina's nervous attacks was about to end. I should have been relieved, and part of me was. Another part, a much smaller part, was going to miss them. Mark wasn't easy. He was charming one minute and ready to bite someone's head off the next. Anyone's but Sabrina's. He treated her with a tenderness that astounded me. She was simply a nervous wreck. She was startled at the ring of the phone or knock at the door, and she clung to Mark like a drowning sailor does to a life preserver. But not all the time. Sometimes she was fun, laughing, joking, helping Mark in the kitchen, where he delighted in showing off his not inconsiderable cooking skills. That part I'd miss. The rest of it ...
"Okay," I said, "I'll drop this off on my way to the office and we'll all be back here for the big dinner. Oh, I need the deposit check as well."
Mark opened his desk drawer, pulled out his checkbook and started to write. "How do I make this out?"
I told him and turned to go, stepping over Paris, who was stretched out in the middle of Mark's office floor. Snowy white coat, coal black eyes, and the personality of a born clown, he was the main reason it had been so hard to find Mark and Sabrina Tortelli a rental. Dogs, especially dogs the size of a standard poodle, were not universally welcomed by landlords or by cats. My yellow tom, Jake, would be ecstatic on moving day.
"Ellen." Sabrina's soft voice stopped me.
I turned, prepared to wait. It sometimes took a minute or so for Sabrina to get out what she wanted to say and this time was no exception.
"I wondered," she started, "ah, if you, ah, had to get back to the office right now. You know, if you had an appointment or anything."
As it happened, I didn't. I was planning on using the afternoon to do my nails, wash my hair, and make sure the zipper on the dress I had planned to wear tonight still was willing to go to the top. And I made the mistake of saying so.
"Well, if you have a little time, I was wondering if, you know, if you wouldn't mind, I thought ..."
I found Sabrina's insecurities irritating, but anyone who had spent a lifetime with my sister was bound to have some. I tried not to let my impatience show. "What do you need, Sabrina?" I tried to make my voice reassuring.
"Well, Melanie is home sick. She thinks it's a cold, but it might be the flu, and we certainly don't want her around if she's sick ..."
I broke in. "You need help? Is that it?"
"If you don't mind. The tables take so much time, and I really want them to be, you know."
Light brown hair pulled tightly into a ponytail, huge brown doe eyes filled with anxiety, faded jeans threatening to fall off of skinny hips, she looked like an abandoned waif. I've never been good at saying no to waifs, abandoned or not, and this time was no different. Tonight's Harvest Festival Dinner at Silver Springs winery had been a constant source of nervous conversation since Mark and Sabrina had arrived. It seemed to be some kind of milestone for them, so table setting was obviously in my immediate future.
"Of course, I don't mind," I replied, pushing thoughts of a leisurely tub bath out of my mind. "What do we do?"
She immediately brightened. "Oh, thank you. We'll start with the glasses. I'll get them down from the attic and ..." She broke off and looked around. "Let's get going."
Mark pushed himself back from his desk and came around to gather Sabrina in his arms. He dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. Still holding her, he reached out and, a little awkwardly, patted me on the arm. "Thanks, Ellen. Tonight needs to, we told you, after tonight everything's going to be fine." He squeezed Sabrina again. "Gotta go find Hector." He hurried out of the office.
"Mark's not very good at handling stress," Sabrina said with a little sigh. "It's just got to be perfect. I don't think I could handle starting over again."
Mark wasn't good with stress? He wasn't the one I would have picked. And starting over? Again? Did their jobs really depend on this dinner? I found that hard to believe, but it would account for Sabrina's bad case of nerves and Mark's hair trigger temper. I'd wondered why they had left Napa so abruptly, but my gentle probing had gotten me nothing but evasions. Had something gone wrong with the job up there? They obviously didn't want to talk about it, and it was none of my business anyway. But I had become fond of both of them in the month they had stayed with me, in spite of all the mystery and mood swings, and I wanted them to be happy. However, I was more than glad they were going to be happy in their own kitchen and not mine.
"Okay," I repeated. "I don't have much time. First, point me to the fax machine so I can get this contract over to the owner of your house. We don't want someone else to get in before us. I'll drop the check off on my way back into town. Second, where are those glasses?"
I watched Sabrina straighten up, smile, and grab a clipboard off of Mark's desk. "First, go find Hector and have him bring up the wines for tonight. Here's the list." Her tone was almost brisk. "You'll find him on the cellar floor. The stairs are that way. Then come into the tasting room. I'll be there."
I faxed my contract, wondering a little at Sabrina's abrupt switch to competent manager, a side I hadn't seen much of until today. Odd, I thought as I walked down the corridor between the offices and the kitchen on my way to the back stairs that led to the cellar floor. I could hear agitated voices behind the closed door that led to the kitchen, one high-pitched voice in particular, and thought Mark and Sabrina weren't the only ones on edge about tonight's dinner. The corridor ended, and steep stairs led down to the cellar floor. The odor of fermenting wine filled my nostrils, and the chill in the air made me shiver. It was ninety degrees outside on this early fall day, but wine isn't fond of heat so the storage room and fermenting tanks were never allowed to bask in it. I wondered how I was supposed to locate Hector in this stainless steel maze, but Sabrina had made it clear that she needed the wines on that list. Some were to be served with dinner but most were for sale. Evidently wine sales after a successful dinner could be substantial. I'd looked at the menu and the different wines that she planned to pour that evening, and had no trouble believing that, for a number of people, budget concerns would be poured away with the wine.
Excerpted from And Murder for Dessert by Kathleen Delaney Copyright © 2007 by Kathleen Delaney. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Kathleen Delaney is a recently retired real estate broker. The mother of five grown children and grandmother of eight, she has also bred and shown national-award-winning Arabian and Half-Arabian horses. She recently left California for South Carolina where she now lives and writes.
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And Murder for Dessert - Review by Martha A. Cheves, Author of Stir, Laugh, Repeat Ellen's plans for her day sound relaxing. 'I had decided that Tuesday morning was mine. Mark, who hadn't been fired, was at the winery. So was Sabrina, who hadn't been arrested, and they had Paris with them. Jake and I were going to clean house. Monday, I had taken two listings, written one offer, and then spent the evening alone with Jake, sitting on the front porch. I wondered what had happened at Lighthouse Winery that had Mark and Sabrina so upset, why Frank had sold his restaurant, why Otto had let Jolene stay at his place for free, and why she wanted to. Mostly I wondered what Dan was doing.' Ellen McKenzie is a recently divorced, moved back to the old home and town, real estate agent who has been informed by her sister that her niece Sabrina and her husband Mark would be staying with her until they found their own place. Mark is a wine master who left his last job under mysterious circumstances that he nor Sabrina want to discuss. Dan is the significant other in Ellen's life that wants to become her next husband. He's also the Chief of Police. Frank is Mark's dad who is a temperamental chef that sold his own restaurant for reasons he doesn't want to divulge. And then there's Otto who is another temperamental chef that has been hired to create a dinner at the winery with the dishes being complimented by the wines. But, Otto's temperament ends up in disaster for Otto as well as others who are connected to the winery. In And Murder for Dessert, author Kathleen Delaney created characters that are so realistic. There's Aunt Mary that you want to find yourself wishing you had an aunt like. There's Jake the cat that you want to cuddle with. Otto who you would like to throw something at before he throws something at you. Jolene the reporter who you want to slap just for the heck of slapping her. And Carlton who you want so desperately to get caught in one of his own schemes. So who will die and who will commit the murder? The suspects are many and the clues are few. I can say, I was and I wasn't surprised at who the murder turned out to be but. The ending could have gone several ways. And Murder for Dessert was a very enjoyable book to read. 2007 Poisoned Pen Press 241 pages ISBN# 978-1-59058-423-1
Ellen McKenzie never thought she¿d get remarried. So why is she now engaged? She¿s really not sure how it happened. She loves Dan Dunham, Santa Louisa Chief of Police, but marriage? Her niece, Sabrina Tortelli, and her husband Mark are coming to stay with Ellen. Mark is the new winemaker at Silver Springs Winery, and Sabrina will be managing the tasting room and doing special events. Ellen, a realtor, has been wrangled by her sister Catherine to let them stay with her while Ellen finds them a rental. At the Harvest Festival Dinner at the winery, guest chef Otto Messinger and Frank Tortelli, Mark¿s dad, get into a verbal fight. Soon after Otto is discovered dead in one of the old fashioned wooden fermenting tanks. Sabrina and Mark are both suspects, but Sabrina appears to be their prime suspect. Ellen doesn¿t believe Sabrina did it. She sets out to find out who did, with the help of her Aunt Mary. To complicate life even more, an old high school classmate of Ellen¿s is back in town and trying to pick up their ¿romance¿ where it left off. Funny thing is, there was no romance! Can Ellen keep Sabrina out of jail and find the real killer without becoming the next victim? I really enjoyed this book. Ellen is such a wonderful character. The interaction between the various characters is well written. The story moves at a good pace. The winery is a good setting for this story as well. I highly recommend this book.
And Murder for Desert Kathleen Delaney Poisoned Pen, Jul 2007, $24.95 ISBN: 1590584236 In California, realtor Ellen McKenzie and her fiancé Police Chief Dan Dunham attend the Harvest Festival Dinner at the Silver Springs Winery in nearby Santa Louisa. Though somewhat estranged from her snobby sister Ellen and Dan go to celebrate her niece Sabrina's husband Mark Tortelli becoming the new winemaker although Ellen did not know her niece married as she was not invited or even informed until now. As Chef Otto explodes over minor inconveniences, his rival Chef Frank arrives to celebrate his son being named the winemaker. Frank and Otto are more than competitors as they hate each other with a passion that rivals their love of cooking. However, it is not Frank who the police, including Dan, believe killed Otto, found floating in the fermenting tank it is Sabrina they suspect. Not one to sit idly by while her niece goes down, Ellen investigates even though she is unprepared for a second homicide. --- Ellen¿s personal life adds depth to a fine amateur sleuth tale as she has doubts about marrying for the second time after years in a horrific marriage to a physician Dan recognizes her hesitation and does his best to prove he is not her former rat of a husband. Although the killer is obvious, the investigation is still fun to follow due to Ellen¿s antics. She knows she should stay out of it but cannot because blood is thicker than water. --- Harriet Klausner