Read an Excerpt
Death of a Kitchen DivaA Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mystery
By Lee Hollis
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2012 Rick Copp and Holly Simason
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHayley Powell stood at the stove in her tiny, cramped kitchen, which would embarrass any self-respecting chef, stirring her homemade mushroom Bolognese sauce with a wooden ladle, and wondering where the time had gone. It was three years to the day since her divorce was finalized. And the thought of dating again had never even crossed her mind. Until now.
Hayley had decided to take a chance and accept an invitation to dinner from a strapping six-foottwo, deep-voiced hunk of man who had been pursuing her. She had been dragging her heels, making up excuses like she wasn't emotionally ready, or work was too busy, or there was something going on with one of her kids. She had basically exhausted her supply of reasons to avoid going out with him.
So when her admirer kept pushing the issue, she finally gave up, threw her hands up in the air, and uttered that one dreaded word. "Yes."
And then she immediately agonized over it. Why did she have to say something so stupid as "Yes"? Especially when "No" was so much easier. If she had just said "No," right now she would be curled up on her couch, petting Leroy, her dirty white Shih Tzu with a pronounced underbite, and sipping a Lemon Drop Martini, while settling in for a cheesy yet addictive Lifetime TV movie starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.
She turned the heat up on the burner and reached for a package of pasta shells to pour into another pot of boiling water, when the sauce bubbled up and splashed on her dress. Hayley stared numbly at the dripping stain for a moment. She refused to let this minor catastrophe get the best of her. No, Hayley thought to herself, she was going to remain calm and collected and solve this.
Think, Hayley, think. Club soda. There had to be some club soda in the fridge to blot out the stain. She crossed the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door just as her thirteen-year-old son, Dustin, strolled by, swigging down the last of the club soda and tossing the empty bottle into the recycle bin out on the porch of their small two-story house on a quiet neighborhood street.
"When's dinner? I'm starving," Dustin said, his eyes drooping as he scratched his blond hair, before wandering back into the living room to finish watching a rerun of Family Guy.
"Five minutes," Hayley said, desperately rearranging the items in the fridge to get a good look at everything, her hopes fading that she would find another bottle of club soda.
It was time to try something else. She hurried into the laundry room, only to find a giant pile of clothes on the washer, stacked so high her son's Superman T-shirt on top nearly touched the ceiling. She hadn't done a load in almost a week so finding another outfit that didn't smell like dirty socks and was not covered in dog hair was completely out of the question. Maybe she should cancel the date until she could get it cleaned.
Yes. That's what she would do.
Hayley looked up at the clock above the washer/ dryer. It was already a quarter to seven. Her date was due to arrive in fifteen minutes. How rude would that be, canceling at the last minute? He'd just have to understand.
"Mom! Have you seen yourself in the mirror?" Hayley's fifteen-year-old daughter, Gemma, said as she burst through the front door just as Hayley hurried out of the laundry room.
"Is the stain that noticeable?"
Gemma glanced at the front of her mother's dress. "Yes. But I'm talking about your makeup. Did you let Jessica at the salon do your face again? You know she makes you look like a two-dollar hooker."
Gemma, still in her soccer uniform, her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, followed her mother into the kitchen and set her knapsack down on the counter. She opened it and pulled out a hand mirror and shoved it into Hayley's hand.
Hayley didn't want to see the damage. She knew it was going to be bad. But it was like coming upon a car wreck. You just can't help but look.
"Jesus wept!" Hayley cried. Her face was so caked with makeup she looked like something from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. The mascara was so dark it appeared she hadn't slept in weeks. And the Strawberry Frost lipstick Jessica had raved about made her lips look so big and fat, her date would probably be accused of punching her in the mouth before they were even seated at the restaurant.
"You're right, I can't go out looking like this." Suddenly the sauce stain on her dress seemed like an afterthought as she grabbed a dishrag from the counter and started furiously wiping the gunk off her face.
Gemma, who was fit and statuesque and already taller than her mother, steered her toward the staircase. "I'll finish making dinner. You go find something in my closet to wear."
"Your closet? I can't go out looking like a Gossip Girl," Hayley wailed.
Hayley hadn't gotten up three steps when a commercial came on the TV and Dustin, who never ever took his eyes off the television, happened to glance out the window.
"Somebody just pulled into the driveway," he said, then picked up the remote and started channel surfing.
"No, this isn't happening. He's early."
"By the way, it just started raining," Dustin said, cracking a smile.
"It's not funny. You know my hair frizzes when it rains," Hayley said.
Dustin nodded and then burst out laughing. "Yeah. You look like a Chia Pet!"
"You're so close to being grounded. Show some respect," Hayley warned but she knew it was pointless. Dustin was already doubled over, his face red, guffawing.
Gemma rushed out of the kitchen with two plates of shells and sauce sprinkled with some grated Parmesan cheese and handed one to her brother.
"Here's your dinner. Now scram and give Mom some space," Gemma said, grabbing the remote away from him with her free hand and shutting off the television. "And take Leroy."
The Shih Tzu had already sensed a car in the driveway and was yapping with all his might and running around in circles. Leroy talked a good game but he was a tiny wimp and could probably be taken out by a large Maine Coon cat.
Dustin reached down and scooped him up, then barreled past his mother with his dinner and disappeared upstairs to his room.
Gemma saw the panicked look on her mother's face and put down her plate on the coffee table and gave her a hug. "You look beautiful. Honest. You do."
Hayley wasn't quite ready to believe her.
Gemma smiled. "He didn't ask out your dress or your hair or your makeup. He asked you out. And you're great. So there's nothing to worry about."
"Stop it," Hayley said. "You'll make me cry."
"Good. Maybe it'll wash away some of that crap on your face," Gemma said as she picked up her dinner plate and bounded up the stairs.
"Tomorrow night we do a family dinner, just the three of us, at the dining room table. No more eating in your rooms and chatting with friends on the computer."
"Yes, Mother dear," Gemma said with her usual sarcastic tone as she slammed the door to her bedroom shut.
Hayley took a deep breath. She heard footsteps walking onto the front porch. She sucked her thumb and futilely tried to rub the stain out of her dress. No go. That sauce was there to stay. Her date would just have to deal with her disastrous appearance.
Of course, of all the men she could have gone out with, it would have to be Lex Bansfield.
Lex was tall, dark, sexy, and had a good job as a caretaker at one of the large sprawling seaside estates in the coastal tourist town of Bar Harbor, Maine, where they lived. He had only moved to the island four years ago, so he was still considered fresh meat by all the unattached women in town. And a few of the attached ones, too.
Hayley and Lex were planning to dine at Havana, an upscale Cuban restaurant at the end of Main Street, where the Obamas had dined when they vacationed in town one summer. Hayley and Lex would surely be spotted there by a few locals so she knew the whole town would be buzzing.
Hayley put on her brightest smile and opened the door. But Lex wasn't standing there for her to greet. It was two uniformed police officers. Both were young, no more than twenty-five, one tall and lanky, the other shorter and bald with a goatee. She instantly recognized both of them.
"Hi, Donnie. Hi, Earl," Hayley said, her smile replaced with a look of confusion. "How can I help you?"
Hayley used to babysit both of them when they were little boys and she was a teenager. She couldn't believe how fast they had grown up. And she couldn't help but be surprised by the fact that both of them had become cops. Mostly because they were hell-raisers and a handful when she was put in charge of them—and she had expected them to both wind up in prison someday.
Donnie, the taller one, couldn't look Hayley in the eye. She noticed he was shaking a little bit. "We're here ..."
He couldn't bring himself to say it.
"I'm in a bit of a rush so if you could just spit it out, please?" Hayley said.
Earl, the shorter one, cleared his throat and stepped forward. "We're here to place you under arrest, Mrs. Powell."
Hayley laughed. "I'm sorry, what?"
Earl unlatched some handcuffs from his belt. "You're under arrest."
Hayley still thought it was some kind of joke. "For what?"
"Murder," Donnie piped in, finally getting a little braver.
There was a stunned silence as Hayley processed what was happening. "This isn't funny, you guys."
"No, ma'am, it isn't," Donnie said as he gently turned her around. "Place your hands behind your back please, Mrs. Powell."
"You have the right to remain silent," Earl said as he snapped the handcuffs on Hayley. "You have the right to an attorney ..."
Earl turned to Donnie. "Is that right? Is attorney next?"
"Yes, I think so," Donnie answered.
Hayley thought of her kids. She didn't want them to see their mother being carted off in handcuffs. She called out, "I'm leaving now! I won't be too late!"
She heard muffled grunts and replies from upstairs. They weren't really paying attention, and Hayley decided for once that was a good thing.
Donnie and Earl escorted Hayley toward a squad car, and she noticed a couple of neighbors peering out their windows, engrossed in all the action happening in her driveway. She thought it couldn't get any more humiliating.
And that's when Lex Bansfield pulled into the driveway in his jeep. He was wearing a nice blue dress shirt with a white T-shirt underneath, khaki pants, and shiny black shoes, a far cry from his usual Eddie Bauer work boots. He looked so handsome, and as he stepped out of the jeep with a shocked look on his face, Hayley noticed he was gripping a beautiful bouquet of red roses in his fist.
Hayley offered up her best smile. "Lex, would you mind if we postponed our date?"
Lex nodded, a little too stunned by the scene to reply.
"At least until I can make bail."
And with that, Officers Donnie and Earl stuffed Hayley into the back of their police cruiser and shut the door.
Chapter TwoOne Week Earlier ...
Hayley Powell was bored. She had been at the Island Times, one of two local newspapers in Bar Harbor, for almost four years. She loved the paycheck. Any single mother raising two kids and trying to keep a roof over their heads—even one that leaked into the dining room when it rained—would in this economy. A leaky roof on a house that still wasn't even completely paid for. A house in desperate need of a new coat of paint, with a front porch that had recently almost collapsed under the weight of her Shih Tzu Leroy. Yes, Leroy, who was barely ten pounds.
Okay, so the house wasn't in the best shape, but at least her car was running. A white Subaru Outback wagon with a brand-new transmission that cost her so much she now couldn't afford to buy new windshield wipers. Maybe there was a Native American tribe nearby that would be willing to do some kind of dance to keep it from raining. You had to get creative when funds were low.
Making ends meet was becoming more and more of a challenge for Hayley, especially given her ex-husband's spotty track record with his child support checks. Danny Powell had been her high school sweetheart. Tall and good-looking. Wildly charismatic. She couldn't resist him. And as it turned out, not many other women could either. Tiger Woods could learn a thing or two from this guy.
After the divorce, Danny had moved to Iowa. He'd followed a girl half his age, who had dumped him within three weeks, but he'd decided to stay and make his fortune. In Iowa. Danny was never the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
Last she heard, he was a store manager at Target. With a steady job like that, you would think he could be on time with the check. But Danny was always a man of excuses, so Hayley stopped expecting him to come through on a regular basis, and tried to manage things on her own. Every cent she made went to new uniforms for Gemma's soccer team and art supplies and computer software for Dustin's budding career as a comic book artist.
But as the office manager at the daily paper, Hayley had the most duties to perform and made the least amount of money of anyone on staff. She spent her days putting out fires. Fielding phone calls from irate readers upset over the misspelling of their names when they appeared in the paper. Even in a blurb about their DWI charge in the Police Beat section. Really? You actually want people to know the correct spelling of your name when you're arrested?
Then there were the reporters to deal with, who constantly argued over who got to cover what story. A high school football game was much more desirable than a city council meeting debating a new irrigation project. Who wouldn't rather be outdoors on a crisp, cool fall day?
And the Christmas party was a huge responsibility. With a paltry budget of a hundred dollars, Hayley was in charge of planning an elaborate office celebration featuring live carolers, a Secret Santa gift exchange, and an impressive set of goodies she would spend weeks baking and frosting. It had been a welcome change from that of her predecessor at the paper, who bought a box of wine and some stale sugar cookies, then absconded with the rest of the money and bought new ski boots at L.L. Bean.
There was no shortage of appreciation for all Hayley's hard work at the paper. She did her job with her usual trademark humor and good cheer. No complaints. Low maintenance. Her boss Sal Moretti, editor in chief, would always rub his eyes when tired and frustrated, and say, "At least Hayley is here to make sure this whole damn place doesn't fall apart."
Hayley repeated those words over and over in her head on the morning she marched into Sal's office to ask for a raise. It had taken her a whole week to work up the nerve. The only time Sal's temper flared seemed to be when someone asked him for more money.
Sal was a bit stocky, which made no sense considering that he hit the gym every morning, but he also had a sweet tooth and kept a stash of candy in his top drawer alongside a bottle of bourbon. He was also boisterous and loud, almost as loud as Hayley. Sal said it was because he was Italian. But others questioned his reasoning. Not all Italians have a wife who is partially deaf in one ear.
One night Sal and Hayley had stayed late at the office to finish putting the paper to bed to make up for a holiday, and someone called the police with a noise complaint. They said there was a party that was out of control at the Island Times. Probably fifty or sixty people. It was just Sal and Hayley and a couple of empty bottles of Blackstone Merlot.
Sal and Hayley talked in shorthand. After four years together, they had a routine and system on how to run the paper. In Hayley's mind, she was indispensable to the Island Times. And she prayed Sal would recognize that fact.
On her way into the office that day, she stopped at the coffeehouse next door for a hazelnut latte, which she knew was Sal's favorite. She handed it to him as she sat down in a creaky chair across from his desk.
Sal sipped his latte, his eyes closed, a smile on his face. "You're too good to me, Hayley."
Excerpted from Death of a Kitchen Diva by Lee Hollis Copyright © 2012 by Rick Copp and Holly Simason. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.