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Death by Devil's Breath
     

Death by Devil's Breath

5.0 5
by Kylie Logan
 

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Cold-blooded murder can be hot as hell…

In Las Vegas, the stakes are high—and so is the Scoville scale. Maxie Pierce and the Chili Showdown are in town for a very heated contest devoted to judging the legendary and notorious-for-being-self-combustible Devil’s Breath chili. The guest judges are casino performers with a taste for chili and an

Overview

Cold-blooded murder can be hot as hell…

In Las Vegas, the stakes are high—and so is the Scoville scale. Maxie Pierce and the Chili Showdown are in town for a very heated contest devoted to judging the legendary and notorious-for-being-self-combustible Devil’s Breath chili. The guest judges are casino performers with a taste for chili and an eye for publicity.

Maxie is already going mad organizing the event, dealing with her snide half sister, Sylvia, and trying to figure out her hothead of security, Nick. But when a local hack comedian drops dead in the middle of the Showdown, it isn’t the spicy dish—it’s poison. And Maxie is going to have to shuffle through a full deck of suspects to pick out the culprit.

INCLUDES DELICIOUS RECIPES!
 

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
08/01/2014
Maxie Scoville and the Chili Showdown have rolled into Las Vegas to judge the hot Devil's Breath chili contest. With casino performers as judges, everyone is looking to get in on the act, until one local comedian drops dead in the middle of the showdown, falling into his chili. When it's revealed that poison, not the dish, did him in, Maxie sets out to identify the culprit and discovers almost as many suspects as there are cards in a deck. Maxie, while also dealing with her half-sister as a business partner, her missing father and the showgirl still carrying a torch for him, and heated comments from her head of security, has to take a chance that she can win big, without losing her business or her life. VERDICT Logan's second culinary mystery (after Chili Con Carnage) carries itself well through the multilayered story line.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425262429
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/05/2014
Series:
A Chili Cook-off Mystery Series , #2
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
564,014
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

For chili lovers everywhere!

Acknowledgments

CHAPTER 1

The way I figured it, I had about three minutes.

The seconds tick, tick, ticked away, and before I could waste another one of them, I squirmed in my seat, cocked my leg at a funny angle, and stretched the toe of one stiletto toward the evening purse that was on the floor in front of the empty seat to my left.

Success! Or not.

My shoe snagged the sequin-covered purse, but my thigh muscle protested. I winced, morphed the expression into a smile when Jorge LaReyo, the man who ran the tamale stand at the Chili Showdown and who was sitting on my right, happened to glance my way, and counting on that smile to distract him, gave the purse a little nudge. Lucky for me, the floor in the theater of Creosote Cal’s Cactus Casino and Hoedown Hotel was faux hardwood. The purse slipped, skittered, and slid to a stop directly in front of me.

Head up and my gaze never leaving the stage three rows ahead of me, I dipped and grabbed, then sat back, unsnapped the little golden clasp at the top of the purse, and dared a look down. That’s when I grumbled a curse. The stage was brightly lit, but out here in the theater seats, the lights were dimmed. Teeth gritted, I pretended to be interested in the proceedings up there in the spotlight at the same time as I slipped my hand into the purse and felt around.

“It’s an ordinary deck of cards!” Up onstage, the man billed as The Great Osborn! waved a deck of cards still in its box above his head, then showed it to my half sister, Sylvia, who he’d called up from the audience to help with the trick. “I’m going to take the cards out of the box.” He did. “And then I’m going to make one of them magically disappear. But not until my lovely assistant here . . .” He wiggled his eyebrows at Sylvia and got a laugh from the audience. “Not until she chooses five cards and, without looking at them, places them facedown on the table.”

The Great Osborn was middle-aged, and his belly hung over the royal blue cummerbund he wore with a black tux that was a little threadbare at the elbows. When he looked from the brightly painted prop table to Sylvia, his eyes gleamed.

But then, Sylvia is known to have that sort of effect on weak-minded men.

It’s her fairy tale–princess looks that do them in, of course. The honey-colored hair she had pinned into a knot at her nape, the elegant line of her neck, the high cheekbones, and perfectly bowed lips. The pink dress dusted with sequins didn’t hurt, either.

Of course, the sparkly dress was exactly why she’d been invited to help The Great Osborn with this particular trick in the first place. From the magician’s vantage point onstage, it was impossible to miss a woman in the audience who twinkled like a drag queen on steroids.

Lucky for me.

Sylvia’s moment in the spotlight gave me the three minutes I needed.

Three minutes that were quickly slipping away.

“Lose something?”

I didn’t have to glance to my left to know when Nick Falcone slid into the seat next to mine. But then, the temperature in the auditorium shot up a couple dozen degrees at the same time an army of goose bumps popped up on my arms and a shiver cascaded through my body.

Ex-cop. Now head of Showdown security.

Deliciousness personified.

Attitude.

How could a girl have any other reaction?

This girl, it should be noted, kept her cool in spite of it all.

Hand in purse, I cast an oh-so-casual glance in Nick’s direction, biting back my disappointment when all I felt inside the purse were the usual essentials: wallet, tissues, contact case.

“Just looking for my lipstick,” I told Nick, then I pretended to be interested when The Great Osborn looked at each of the cards on the table and asked a man sitting in the front row to write down their names as he called them out. “Ace of diamonds. Three of hearts. Queen of spades. Seven of hearts. Six of clubs.”

Finished, he slipped the cards back in the deck and had Sylvia take the list and search through the deck for the original five cards she’d chosen.

“But there are only . . .” No one could do wide-eyed wonder like Sylvia. How she made herself blush a color that perfectly matched her outfit—and on cue—was anybody’s guess. She went through the entire deck one more time before she surrendered and put a hand to one cheek. “Only four of my cards are in the deck! The six of clubs is missing!” she gasped.

“That’s because . .” With a ta-da sort of motion, The Great Osborn opened the box the cards had come out of and extracted the missing six. “It’s here!” he said, and smiled and bowed when everyone applauded.

Except for me, of course. But then, clapping would have been a little hard since one of my hands was still in the purse.

And Nick. He didn’t clap because he was too busy leaning in nice and close. His hot breath brushed my ear when he whispered, “It might help you find your lipstick if you looked in your own purse.”

He never had a chance to notice the frigid smile I shot his way in response. That’s because the trick was over, and The Great Osborn kissed Sylvia’s hand and shooed her back to her seat.

Nick got up and sidled out of the row. Sylvia waited until he’d exited, and flush from her triumphant stage appearance, she sashayed back to her seat.

That left just enough time for me to replace her evening bag exactly where she’d left it.

“So?” Funny how she could twinkle even when the lights weren’t trained on her. “What did you think? How did I do?”

“Shhh!” I said, even though it didn’t matter. The Great Osborn took his final bows, and Creosote Cal himself strolled to the center of the stage and told everyone it was time for intermission.

“But don’t you go far,” he said, his pseudo-cowboy twang in keeping with the boots, the jeans, and the ten-gallon hat that fit in with the Wild West theme of Cal’s hotel in Vegas, where the next day we’d be opening another Chili Showdown. “Y’all are gonna get your booth assignments in a few minutes, and then, we’ve got a real treat in store for you. Hang on to your funny bones, pardners, because Dickie Dunkin is up next.”

I popped out of my chair, but dang, I couldn’t get away from Sylvia fast enough. Not when Jorge and the other folks to my right were being slowpokes about getting out to the aisle.

She knew I was stuck, and Sylvia pounced on the moment. “The Great Osborn said I was a natural,” she purred.

I’m not a big believer in batting my eyelashes, but this seemed as good a moment as any to give it a try. “A natural what?” I asked her.

I guess the way she puckered her lips made them need freshening up, because she got her lipstick out of the purse that only moments before had been in my hot little hands.

From the other side of the aisle, I saw Nick raise his eyebrows.

I ignored him.

I was getting pretty good at it. The ignoring part, that is. In spite of his deliciousness and all. Nick and I had actually been thrown together a time or two only a short while before when a Showdown roadie was murdered and I (yes, that’s right, little ol’ me) solved the crime. Nick wasn’t happy. About me investigating, and especially about me taking credit where credit was certainly due. But then, if there was one thing I’d learned about Nick in the weeks since I’d joined the Showdown to take over my missing father’s chili and spice truck, it was that Nick was never happy.

Far be it from me to try and be the one to bring some sunshine into his life.

“There’s my two favorite girls!”

Tumbleweed Ballew was one of only two people in the world I’d let get away with that kind of happy-family horse hockey when it came to talking about me and Sylvia. The other was his missus, Ruth Ann, and when they closed in on us, they were both grinning like prom queens.

Tumbleweed and Ruth Ann were the administrative heart and soul of the Showdown, and they’d been family friends for years, ever since back before I was even thought of when my mom showed up looking for work at Texas Jack Pierce’s Hot-Cha Chili Seasoning Palace and stole the job—and Jack’s heart—from Sylvia’s mother.

“We’ve got booth assignments!” Ruth Ann and Tumbleweed wore matching outfits: jeans, denim shirts, vests with long leather fringe on them. Ruth Ann had an envelope in her hand, and she waved it in front of me. “Bet you can’t wait. You checked out Deadeye when you got here, didn’t you? Isn’t it a hoot?”

The simpering smile that I’d thought was a permanent fixture on Sylvia’s face melted around the edges. Her lower lip protruded. “I think tacky is a much better word. Honestly, Tumbleweed”—she turned to the seventy-year-old—“how did you get talked into this whole fake Western thing? It’s going to make us look—”

“Like we can actually get into the spirit of things and have a little fun?” I refused to wilt beneath the acid stare that came from my half sister. That didn’t mean I ignored her. It was plenty fun to goad Sylvia. In fact, it was one of the joys of my life. “Get with the program! This is Vegas! Everything’s supposed to be over the top. And it’s all for fun!”

“Fun.” She rolled her baby blues. “A wing of the building that’s meant to look like a Western town.”

“Yeah, the town of Deadeye,” I reminded her.

A shiver snaked over Sylvia’s slim shoulders. “Sweet. And what’s the point of Deadeye anyway, except to make more work for us? If we’ve got to move all our merchandise and supplies out of our trucks and into one of those hokey little booths—”

“There’s a sheriff’s office, a blacksmith shop, a general store. Even an undertaker.” When Tumbleweed chuckled, his belly shook. “These next few days are going to be more fun than a pillow fight! Visitors will get to walk down the main street and stop into each of the little shops to do business with our vendors.”

“And this . . .” Once again, Ruth Ann waved the envelope in her hands. “Here’s your assignment.”

In Sylvia’s world, time was money, and she didn’t like to waste either. She plucked the envelope out of Ruth Ann’s hands and opened it. When she read the single piece of paper inside, her jaw dropped. “The bordello? You’ve actually assigned Texas Jack’s stand to the bor . . . the bor . . .”

“Now, now, honey.” Tumbleweed put a hand on her shoulder. “It ain’t like we’re casting you two girls in a bad light or anything. It’s just that we looked the place over. You know, earlier in the week when we got here.” He leaned closer. “It’s the biggest space in Deadeye,” he confided. “And the nicest. We convinced Creosote Cal to assign it to you gals because we wanted to make sure you got the best spot.”

“Well, I think it’s hilarious and who knows . . .” Because I knew it would annoy her, I poked Sylvia in the ribs with one elbow. “Maybe we’ll end up getting a little action. Hey, what happens in Vegas—”

I didn’t get the chance to finish; Sylvia had already walked away.

“Seriously.” I shook off the bad vibes of Sylvia’s annoying Sylvia-ness. “We appreciate the plum spot. I can’t wait to see it.”

“There’s a bar along one wall where you can set up your spices,” Tumbleweed said.

“And even a red velvet fainting couch!” Ruth Ann grinned. “You’re going to love it, Maxie, honey. And Sylvia . . .” She looked toward where Sylvia made her way toward the ladies’ room. “She’ll come around.”

“Yeah, like in about a million years.” This didn’t bother me especially. After all, it wasn’t news. Sylvia was and always had been a stick-in-the-mud. You’d think a woman who had been arrested for murder back in Taos and owed her freedom to me finding the real killer would relax a little and get over herself. But then, we were talking about Sylvia.

I decided right then and there that it didn’t matter. The night before the opening of every Showdown was always a party, and I wasn’t going to let thoughts of Miss Tighter Than a Tick spoil my evening. Especially not in Vegas. “You ready for tomorrow morning?” I asked Tumbleweed.

His grin traveled ear to ear. “Devil’s Breath chili judging first thing in the morning! I’ve got to admit, having it be event numero uno was a stroke of genius.”

“And your idea!” Ruth Ann wound an arm through her husband’s and smiled up at him. She was a dozen years younger than Tumbleweed and as stick-thin as he was beefy. When I was a kid and fantasized about the perfect family that I did not have, I always thought of Ruth Ann and Tumbleweed. Unlike my own parents—divorced going on twenty years—they’d stayed together through thick and thin. I always thought they were the perfect couple, and over the years nothing had made me change my mind.

“Karl Sinclair is here, you know,” Ruth Ann purred. “That ought to attract plenty of attention to the Showdown.”

Sinclair was a showman extraordinaire. He billed himself as the champion of hot chili and had a legion of followers from all over the world. Well, tomorrow’s event ought to prove if he had the chops to go along with his reputation. Four regional winners coming together to earn a national title that was as hot as . . .

Well, as hot as Devil’s Breath.

See, in the chili community, Devil’s Breath is an all-encompassing name for the hottest of the hot. I, for one, was thrilled that this special category had been added to the cook-off for the weekend show along with the usual divisions: traditional red chili (made with any meat and red chili peppers but absolutely no beans or pasta), chili verde (made with any meat and green chili peppers but absolutely no beans or pasta), salsa, and homestyle (made with any combination of ingredients including beans and pasta). The Devil’s Breath contest was garnering us plenty of publicity and putting us on the map here in Vegas, where, let’s face it, you have to be over the top to get noticed. And since I love chili—the hotter the better—and after the contest, attendees could donate money for charity and get a taste of each of the finalists’ recipes, I couldn’t wait.

“What a weekend it’s going to be!” Tumbleweed beamed. “Why, we’re even going to have a wedding.”

“You mean weddings,” his wife corrected him. “And speaking of that . . . oh, Reverend!” Ruth Ann waved toward a woman who made her way through the crowd toward us. “Reverend Linda Love,” she told me as an aside while we waited for the minister to come over. “She owns the largest wedding chapel in Vegas, and on Sunday, she’s going to officiate at a ceremony that will get her in the record books. The largest mass wedding ceremony—”

“Ever performed in Nevada at a Western-themed hotel on a Sunday afternoon.”

I had to give Reverend Love credit. When she finished the sentence for Ruth Ann, she smiled in a way that told me that even she knew how crazy it sounded. But like I said, this was Vegas, and you didn’t get to be the proprietor of the most mega of the wedding chapels in the town that wild and crazy built without having a little bit of attitude, and a lot of circus ringmaster going for you.

I could tell Reverend Love had plenty of both.

She was a tall woman of sixty, slim, and she wore her chin-length blond hair stylishly mussy. The hairdo added a casual little bit of pizzazz to what might otherwise have been a forbidding persona: black power suit, sparkling diamonds at neck and wrists, a watch that no doubt cost more than the worth of Texas Jack’s entire enterprise.

She shook hands all around. “I hope you’ll all be here for the ceremony,” she said, taking each of us in with a glance. “Tumbleweed and Ruth, like I told you when we made the arrangements, you could always renew your vows.”

“That’s a great idea!” I said.

That made Reverend Love turn her attention to me. “And how about you?” she asked. “If you’ve got a special someone in your life, Sunday would be the perfect day to make it official.”

“Oh no!” My hands out flat, I backed away, both from the woman and the thought of such a thing. “Been there, done that,” I told her, which wasn’t technically true because Edik and I were never married. “Not going to make the mistake again.”

The reverend’s smile never wavered. “Love is never a mistake,” she said. “No matter the outcome. It’s that moment of commitment that matters. The way it shines through the universe and touches the world with love.”

Maybe.

Or maybe Linda Love had never had her credit cards scammed and her bank account emptied by a rock band lead guitarist she thought she loved.

The old memories came crashing down, and a shiver snaked over my shoulders. I twitched it away and changed the subject as much as I was able, scrambling to remember any little bit of info I’d heard about the weekend ceremony. “One of the performers from here at the casino is going to assist you, right?”

“Absolutely!” Reverend Love glanced around at the crowd, obviously looking for the performers. Like The Great Osborn, each of them—except for Dickie Dunkin, who was slated to be up onstage next—had already done an abbreviated show for the gathered vendors. “Each of the regulars here is going to perform one more show this weekend, and whoever sells the most tickets, well, that’s the performer who will help me out with the ceremony and be immortalized along with me in the record books.”

“I hope it’s that magician fellow we just saw perform,” Tumbleweed said, rocking back on his heels. “He was mighty good. Did you see the way right there at the end, he made that card magically move from the table back into the box?”

I didn’t have the heart to point out that even I could have gotten away with that trick. That six of clubs had never left the box to begin with.

“Or that wonderful singer, Hermosa,” Ruth Ann piped up.

Again, I kept my mouth firmly shut. Hermosa (just Hermosa, one name, like Cher but without the looks or the talent) had treated us (and oh, how I use those words in the broadest sense) to a medley of songs right before the magician came onstage.

“Or Yancy. Don’t forget Yancy. He’s a perennial favorite here at Creosote Cal’s.” With a nod, the reverend indicated the elderly African-American man who chatted with a group of people on the other side of the room. I’d come in late and had missed Yancy Harris’s performance, but I remembered seeing the poster that advertised his act when Sylvia and I checked in. Yancy was blind, had been all his life, and according to what I’d heard about him, he could wail on the piano keyboard like no other man around.

“And then there’s Dickie, of course,” Tumbleweed reminded us.

Was it possible? Did I actually see the reverend’s eternally pleasant expression droop at the mention of the comedian’s name? It sure didn’t last long. But then, a middle-aged balding guy in an orange-and-brown-plaid sport coat came up behind the reverend and wound an arm around her waist, and whatever expression had been on her face, it was lost in a tiny screech of surprise.

“Talking about me, aren’t you, sweetie?” Dickie Dunkin himself, I recognized him from the posters out in the lobby. His publicity photos had obviously been taken by a skilled professional—or thirty years before. They didn’t show the bags under Dickie’s eyes, or the blubbery jowls. They definitely weren’t scratch and sniff, either, because if they were, I would have caught wind of the musky aftershave Dickie must have applied with a soup ladle.

“You are going to stay around for my act, aren’t you, Reverend?” Dickie asked, then gave me a broad wink. “She’ll stay. I know she’ll stay. Reverend Love here, she’s a real doll!”

One more squeeze and Dickie hurried onto the stage.

It was our cue to get back to our seats.

I slipped into mine just as Sylvia came to hers from the other aisle.

She smoothed her skirt. “Busy mingling, I see.”

“Maybe.” We’d just gotten off the road a couple hours before and parked our RV and the food truck we hauled behind it, and I hadn’t bothered to get dolled up like Sylvia had. I was wearing skinny jeans and a skin-hugging top that was nearly as dark as my short, spiky hair. Vegas, remember, and I wasn’t about to be intimidated by the likes of Sylvia because I went for casual (and pretty sexy, if I did say so myself) rather than for her sober good taste.

I smoothed my hand over the legs of my jeans. “Mingling is good for business.”

“Business is good for business,” Sylvia shot back and I braced myself. If she started into another lecture about price points and profit margins, somebody was going to have to call the Vegas boys in blue because I was going to go off on her.

Good thing she didn’t have the chance.

The stage lights dimmed, and a single spotlight turned on Dickie Dunkin.

We clapped politely.

And I settled back, all set to enjoy a little comedy.

At least until Dickie opened his mouth.

“Hey, did you see who’s here? It’s the Lee family!” The comedian pointed down toward the front row, and like everyone else in the audience, I craned my neck to see who he was talking about. Turns out it was Tumbleweed and Ruth Ann.

“Ug and Home!” Dickie announced with a flourish. “Get it? Ug Lee and Home Lee.”

A couple people actually had the nerve to laugh.

I was not one of them.

“Not here.” Just as I was about to jump out of my seat, Sylvia’s hand came down on my arm. “You’ll embarrass us,” she said.

“I’ll pop that idiot in the nose.”

As if this was exactly what she expected, Sylvia was ready with an answer. “That’s what he wants. It’s how he gets attention. Dickie picks on everyone and everything in the room during his shows, and the madder they get, the more he picks. Look, Tumbleweed’s laughing.”

He was, but not with a whole lot of enthusiasm.

Ruth Ann, it should be noted, was not.

“And that Reverend Linda Love!” Both hands to his heart, Dickie went into a pretend swoon. “Have you heard about the big wedding on Sunday here at Creosote Cal’s? That’s going to be something, huh? And I’ll let you in on a little secret . . .” As if it was actually what he was going to do, he leaned toward the audience. “You know, the one who sells the most tickets to his show in the next couple days is going to help out Reverend Love with her ceremony. Come on, folks! You know where you’re going to be on Saturday night. My show. My show!” He pointed a finger at his own chest. “If you’re not, you’re idiots. Or you’ve got lousy taste. But then, I’m guessing you must not be the brightest bulbs in the box anyway. Otherwise you wouldn’t be traveling around with this crazy cook-off show! I don’t even think any of you are Americans. I think you must all be from Chile. Chile! Get it?”

Somebody must have; there were a few laughs.

“Hey, as long as you’re all here.” Dickie glanced around the audience. “I figure you’re all experts, and I’ve been meaning to ask you, where do you find chili beans?”

Someone in the back row thought Dickie was serious and called out the name of his own stand, to which Dickie replied, “Idiot. You find chilly beans at the North Pole.”

He actually got a couple laughs out of that one.

“So, back to that wedding ceremony. You know, the one Reverend Love is going to perform. Reverend Love, she’s a real doll.” He put a hand to his eyes and scanned the audience. “Where are you, Reverend Love?” he asked and waved when he saw her. “A doll,” he said. “A real doll. And since I’ll be selling the most tickets this weekend, I’ll be helping her out with the ceremony. She’s going to be marrying a whole bunch of people, all at the same time. Hey, Osborn!” He leaned back and looked into the wings. From where I was sitting, I could see that The Great Osborn was watching the show. “Bet you’re not gonna be one of them, huh?”

It was an inside joke so it was no wonder nobody laughed. Especially not Osborn, who threw a look at Dickie that could have incinerated asbestos.

Water off a duck’s back. This time, Dickie aimed his sights on Yancy Harris.

“You see who’s over here.” From the stage, he pointed down to where Harris sat all the way at the end of the same row I was in, sunglasses on and a white-tipped cane in one hand. “Hey, Yancy, you see what I mean by all this, don’t you? I mean, you see what I mean, don’t you?”

Yancy shook his head and I couldn’t hear him, but I saw a muscle bunch at the base of his jaw at the same time his lips moved. Something told me the words weren’t a glowing review of Dickie’s shtick.

“And then there’s Hermosa! You all saw her here earlier this evening, didn’t you, folks?” Dickie pointed to the back of the theater, and we all turned in our seats when he waved Hermosa toward the stage. It took a moment for the spotlight to find her, but when it did, it followed along. She was a chesty woman with a big head of bleached hair, and she was squeezed into a green dress that fanned out at the bottom, like a mermaid tail. She took tiny, mincing steps up to the front of the theater.

“She’s something, isn’t she, folks?” Dickie clapped and the audience joined in. “Hermosa has an unforgettable voice. And have you seen the way she sways left and right when she really gets into a song?” Dickie swung his hips back and forth. “You know why she does that, don’t you? It’s harder to hit a moving target!”

I didn’t even bother to groan. But then, I was pretty busy watching Hermosa curl her lip, toss her head, and turn on her heels to march out of the theater.

Me? I was pretty much with Hermosa. I’d had enough of Dickie Dunkin. I got up out of my seat to leave.

“Hey, where you going, sweetheart?” Dickie called after me and checked his watch. “We had it all planned. You’re not supposed to meet me in my dressing room for another fifteen minutes. Hey, that would be something, wouldn’t it? That little chickie and me.” He whistled low. “Talk about a hot tamale! And believe me, when it’s all over, I’m going to talk about it plenty!”

By the time I punched open the door and walked out, I wasn’t even mad, just disgusted by stupid Dickie and his stupid jokes.

Come to think of it, I guess I wasn’t the only one. There hadn’t been very many laughs packed into Dickie’s performance, but there had been plenty of people—Tumbleweed and Ruth Ann, Hermosa, The Great Osborn, Yancy Harris—who looked like they would have liked nothing better than to commit murder.

CHAPTER 2

We moved into the bordello that night.

We carried boxes and arranged merchandise, and Sylvia grumbled the entire time. I, it should be noted in the interest of fairness, didn’t let that get to me. Yes, the Deadeye house of ill repute was as corny as can be with its fake red velvet, its grainy photographs on the walls of women in various stages of undress, and its faux bar (complete with bottles of colored water to look like liquor), but Tumbleweed was right. It was the biggest spot in Deadeye, and there was plenty of shelf space for us to display the spices and chili mixes and peppers we sold. It was also immediately to the right when folks walked in from the casino. Primo. And with me out front all weekend dancing and waving people inside dressed in the giant red Chili Chick costume I wore at every Showdown, I predicted our profits for the weekend would be primo, too.

The next day was Thursday, and walking into Deadeye, I decided life was good and Deadeye . . . Deadeye smelled like hot-enough-to-self-combust chili heaven!

I took a deep breath, savoring every bit of the aroma that wafted out of the auditorium at the far end of the “street” between the rows of shops. The general store was next door, and the night before, after I was done setting up Texas Jack’s Hot-Cha Chili Seasoning Palace in our spot and before I moseyed into the casino to lose twenty bucks at video poker, I helped Gert Wilson put her crockery and pot holders and cookbooks on display there. Next to her was the bakery shop, where the bean guy who’d taken over for the late (not so great) Puff sold his dried beans and, beyond that, the sheriff’s office. As if the Universe was conspiring to get my goat, just as I looked that way, Nick walked out. Sheriff’s office. Security. Get it? I bet Creosote Cal thought he was one hilarious guy.

Just so Nick didn’t get any ideas about lecturing me for the purse-stealing incident the night before, I turned my back on him, and while I was at it, I closed my eyes and tilted back my head, too. The fragrance of hot spices didn’t just tickle my senses, it punched me right in the nose, and from there, it tingled its way into my lungs. My eyes watered just a little. My breath caught. My stomach growled.

I couldn’t wait until after the judging, when I could get my hands on a couple bowls of Devil’s Breath.

I was so busy indulging my chili fantasies and dreaming about the butt-kicking good times my taste buds were in for, I would have completely missed the tapping noise if it wasn’t followed by the polite sound of someone clearing his throat.

“Didn’t mean to bother you.”

I opened my eyes to find Yancy Harris, white-tipped cane in hand, sunglasses in place, and a smile on his face. Yancy wore a black suit that was a little too big for his slim frame and a fedora with a jaunty red-and-gray feather in the band. He lifted his hat in greeting. “I asked at the front entrance and I was told Miss Maxie Pierce was the woman to see.”

“Well, you’ve got the right person,” I told him. “What can I do for you?”

As if he could actually see and make sure we were alone, Yancy looked around before he stepped nearer. “I’ve got a problem of a delicate sort of nature,” he confessed.

I was already shaking my head before I remembered it was a waste of time. “I’m not exactly a delicate sort of person,” I told him.

Yancy laughed. “This, I have also heard. That’s why the guy out front said you could help. You see, my problem is a chili problem.”

“Chili.” The word escaped me on the end of a sigh. “Chili problems I can handle. What do you need?”

“It’s more like what don’t I need. You heard about the contest judging this morning, right?”

I stopped myself on the brink of a nod. “Devil’s Breath. Yeah, it’s going to be fabulous.”

“Well, I’m one of the judges.”

This was not news. I knew that Yancy would be judging along with Reverend Love, Hermosa, The Great Osborn, and Dickie Dunkin.

“A celebrity panel of judges,” I said, repeating the words on the posters I’d seen plastered all over the hotel. Even though I was pretty sure celebrity wasn’t completely accurate, I had to admit it was good publicity. “It’s going to be a blast.”

“Exactly what I’m afraid of.” Yancy patted his stomach. “See, from what I hear, this Devil’s Breath is hotter than a two-dollar pistol. And my stomach . . . whew!” Yancy blew out a breath that smelled like peppermint. “Now this isn’t something I want to get around,” he confided. “Can’t have people thinking I’m just an old man who can’t handle his food. But I’ll tell you what, I’m not as young as I used to be and I’m not sure my stomach can take it. Not if this Devil’s Breath stuff is as hot as everybody says it is. When I asked out front, the man said you might know what to do. You know, to tone down the spiciness so that I don’t sit up there at that judges’ table and go up in smoke.”

“I get it.” I did. Though I was a lover of all things hot (the aforementioned Edik being the perfect example), I understood people who liked less fire with their chili. I would never want to be one of them, but I understood. Honest.

“There’s baking soda,” I told Yancy. “You can mix a teaspoonful of that into the chili to tone down the heat. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any of that in the RV, but there are limes!” I’d already taken a few steps toward the exit (disguised as a livery stable door) that led to the parking lot and the RV where Sylvia and I lived on the road when I remembered this surefire remedy. “I know I’ve got some limes in the fridge. A couple squeezes of that ought to help.”

A smile made Yancy’s face fold into a thousand crinkles. “Much obliged,” he said and added a little bow. “You don’t think this will get us in trouble, do you? I mean, I understand these cook-off contestants are a serious bunch. If they think I’m messin’ with the flavors of their chili—”

I waved away his objection with one hand, then grumbled to myself. The man was blind. I had to be more aware and more considerate. “It’s not like this is a part of the official contest,” I told Yancy. “This Devil’s Breath championship is pretty much just for bragging rights, not some big prize. And besides, a squirt of lime juice isn’t going to change the taste of any of the entries all that much. It’s just going to tone down the heat.”

I promised Yancy I’d meet him back in the auditorium, and a few minutes before the judging was scheduled to start, I had a tiny Tupperware container of lime juice in my pocket, and I squeezed (pun intended because that’s what I’d just done with the limes) my way through the throng of spicy-chili lovers who waited outside for a chance to watch the judging and grab a bowl of fiery goodness.

The air inside the auditorium wasn’t just filled with anticipation; it was peppery and perfect. Inside the door, I paused so I could take a moment to bask in the spiciness, my gaze roving over the stage. To my left was the long table where the judges would taste and score the entries. To my right and directly opposite, the four regional winners were busy cooking.

See, that’s how the chili categories of cook-offs work. In the salsa category, contestants can make their mixtures and bring them along to the contest finished. But for the chili categories, everything has to be cooked on-site. Oh, not things like canned tomatoes or tomato sauce or pepper sauce or the beer that many competitors use in their chilies. But the meat and anything else they throw in, yup. That has to be prepared at the event, and contestants usually have between three and four hours to do it all. Which means these contestants had been here chopping and mixing and working their magic since before the sun came up.

Curious as to how it was going, I watched the first contestant stir his pot. I have to admit, it was a little strange to see a man in monk’s robes at a chili cook-off, but from what I’d heard, Brother William had all the right reasons. His monastery back in Minnesota was looking to make some extra cash, and they’d decided a chili mix was just the ticket. In fact, I’d heard they’d already chosen a name for their mix: Devil’s Breath with an Angel’s Touch. Cute marketing. We’d see if his recipe lived up to it.

The second man at the table was Karl Sinclair, he of the giant touring motor home with his picture painted on the side of it. Karl was a perennial Showdown contestant, and he’d won a few titles in his day. My opinion? The hype got him further than his cooking ever would. But then, Karl was pretty good at hype.

The third man was someone I didn’t recognize from the circuit, a young guy with golden hair that gleamed in the stage lights. In fact, everything about this guy was shiny, from his perfect setup to his glistening chili pot. He wore khakis and a pristine white shirt, the sleeves rolled above the elbows, all topped with a white (how did he keep it so clean?) apron. I watched him mix, sniff, and add a little salt to the chili pot, thinking that he looked more like a model in a cooking magazine than a contestant at a cook-off.

But hey, who was I to judge? I’d had people tell me I looked more like a bartender at a biker spot than a woman who sold chili spices.

The fourth and final contestant . . .

My gaze swung toward the woman who chopped peppers down at the far end of the table. Tall and in her forties, she moved with ease, like she was perfectly at home with a knife in her hands. For a couple seconds, I watched her graceful movements: the quick, efficient way she diced the peppers and the way she swept them off the cutting board and into her chili pot. She blew a curl of dark hair out of her eyes, put a hand to the small of her back, and stepped back for a moment’s rest.

That’s when she looked up and her eyes met mine.

What was that I said about her being good with a knife? Well, she was plenty good with daggers, too, because that’s exactly what she shot in my direction. If looks could kill, I wouldn’t just be dead, I would have been drawn, quartered, and buried deep.

Meet the Author

Kylie Logan is the author of the Button Box and League of Literary Ladies series, as well as the first Chili Cookoff Mystery, Chili Con Carnage.

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Death by Devil's Breath 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
MarieHahn13 More than 1 year ago
This clever series has me hooked. It's smart, spicy and always so exciting! Death by Devil's Breath is the second book in the series, and it's set in the always alluring Las Vegas. What a fantastic setting for such a unique theme! The eclectic group of judges and guests at the chili contest are just to die for, and Maxie and her entourage of characters are just as delightful as they were in the first book, Chili con Carnage. The story is fast-paced and the chili makes your mouth water (there are recipes included!). I've loved the first two books and I'm so looking forward to the third. I hope it's just as sassy! I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own.
TessT More than 1 year ago
A Chili Showndown in Las Vegas? Well, stranger things have been known to occur there. Maxie Pierce is trying to get things organized, without the help of her father, Jack, who has gone missing. The one thing people are missing most is his Devil's Breath Chili. No one makes it better, or hotter!  Kylie has given us another fun read. This is the 2nd book in her Chili Cook-Off Mystery, Chili Con Carnage being the 1st. If you feel that you have never read one of Kylie's books, you may be wrong. Kylie has written under the names of, Case Daniels and Miranda Bliss.  Several series that she has written are The Button Box Mystery, The League Of Literary Ladies and the Chili Showdown, all under the name of kylie. Under Miranda Bliss she has given us The Cooking class Series, and under Casey she has written the Pepper Martin Series. Pick up a book under any of the above names, and if you're a cozy fan I'm pretty sure you'll like it. A copy of this book was sent to me by the author in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Cold-blooded murder can be hot as hell… In Las Vegas, the stakes are high—and so is the Scoville scale. Maxie Pierce and the Chili Showdown are in town for a very heated contest devoted to judging the legendary and notorious-for-being-self-combustible Devil’s Breath chili. The guest judges are casino performers with a taste for chili and an eye for publicity. Maxie is already going mad organizing the event, dealing with her snide half sister, Sylvia, and trying to figure out her hothead of security, Nick. But when a local hack comedian drops dead in the middle of the Showdown, it isn’t the spicy dish—it’s poison. And Maxie is going to have to shuffle through a full deck of suspects to pick out the culprit. INCLUDES DELICIOUS RECIPES! Dollycas’s Thoughts What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but this Chili Showdown almost gave Maxie more than even she could handle. She even gets a blast from her past! Maxie is a smart protag with just the right amount of spice. She and her half sister Sylvia are supposed to be running their dad’s business, Jack Pierce’s Hot-Cha Chili Seasoning Palace, together since he has disappeared without a trace, but it is not going well. The Showdown has been assigned to the Deadeye, a Western town set up in a section in the hotel/casino. Their booth assignment happens to be the bordello, well it is the “biggest” and “nicest” place in Deadeye but Sylvia is not amused at all. She is also not happy by all the things keeping Maxie from working at the booth. Besides trying to find a killer she keep having costume issues and the Chili Chick is not doing much dancing. Logan has not only taken us to Las Vegas she has introduced us to some of the performing “headliners” at the Casino. Sadly one of them dies and the mystery begins. These people are not all who they appear to be and have some secrets needed in a story like this. They are all vying to assist in breaking a world’s record as Reverend Linda Love officiates the largest mass wedding ever to be performed on a Sunday afternoon in Nevada at a Western themed hotel. Kylie Logan writes such great stories. I am excited every time I hear about a new one coming out. Death by Devil’s Breath is just so funny. Don’t get me wrong, the mystery is very well plotted and the characters and settings are fantastic, but I have some pictures in my head of Maxie in the Chili Chick costume that will be with me forever. I have not laughed this much while reading a book in a long time.
Justpeachy1 More than 1 year ago
Death by Devil's Breath is the second book in Kylie Logan's Chili Cook-Off mystery series featuring Maxie Pierce. This heroine has just about as much spice as her award winning chili seasonings. Logan captivates readers with the lure of the cook-off circuit and the antics that go on behind the scenes, while giving them a good solid mystery and tons of humor. A great addition to this series which is sure to be a winner! What I liked: Who doesn't love a good bowl of hearty, meaty chili? It's one of my favorite meals on a cold day or even on a sunny one, if the mood strikes. Kylie Logan has really stumbled onto a great idea with the Chili Cook-Off mystery series. Cook-off circuits tend to be filled with over the top characters and outrageous personalities, but most of all these people are serious about their food and their reputations. A breeding ground for a good mystery? I think so... In the first book in the series, Maxie Pierce joins her sister Sylvia in running the Hot-Cha Chili Seasoning Palace. She hired Nick as her head of security and a cast of comical characters was born. Kylie Logan's use of humor is one of the best parts of this series. Not only does she give her heroine a 'spicy' personality, but she puts her in all sorts of situations that showcase her unusual sense of humor and view of life. She is a lot of fun to read and readers will find themselves laughing their way through this book. That's not to say that murder is a laughing matter, but comic relief lightens the mood of the book. Local comedian, Dickie Dunkin ends up dead in his bowl of Devil's Breath Chili. There is a cast of performers and tons of other suspects. It's Vegas and anything can happen. The mystery aspects of the story were solid. The clues were strategically placed throughout the story. It was a toss up as to who I thought the killer might be. Funny thing was... it wasn't either of the ones I had picked out. The mark of a good mystery writer! What I didn't like: Maxie's relationship with her sister, Sylvia is typical of siblings, but sometimes it gets a little monotonous. I wanted to grab them both and give them a good shake a time or two, but I think that might be part of the charm of the series. I also wanted to know more about the mystery surrounding their father, and I didn't think we got too much further on that front in this book. Bottom Line: Readers who are looking for a comical mystery will love this one. Tons of humor, a cast of characters that are loyal even if they don't always get along. And a mystery thread that runs throughout the series. That means I'm looking forward to the next one and that I think you'd be missing a real treat if you pass this one up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago