For Better or Hearseby Laura Durham
Wedding planner extraordinaire Annabelle Archer is used to dealing with difficult personalities -- neurotic brides, despotic mothers, and prima donna bridesmaids. However, being chased from a swank hotel kitchen at knifepoint by a shrieking Chef Henri takes the cake. Soon after, Washington's most thoroughly despised culinary artist is/blockquote>… See more details below
Wedding planner extraordinaire Annabelle Archer is used to dealing with difficult personalities -- neurotic brides, despotic mothers, and prima donna bridesmaids. However, being chased from a swank hotel kitchen at knifepoint by a shrieking Chef Henri takes the cake. Soon after, Washington's most thoroughly despised culinary artist is discovered dead, impaled on an ice sculpture -- a crime which surprises no one, since revenge is, after all, a dish best served cold.
Unfortunately, the police think the hotel's sometimes temperamental but always stylish catering exec (and Annabelle's good friend) Georgia Rhodes did Henri in -- so the planner and her posse set out to put the real murderer on ice. But when the corpse of a rival culinarian turns up in a walk-in freezer -- and more nasty chef-deaths quickly follow -- the suspect list suddenly shrinks . . . as do Annabelle and her cronies' chances for survival, if they get caught poking around in a killer's kitchen.
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For Better or HearseAn Annabelle Archer Mystery
By Laura Durham
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Laura Durham
All right reserved.
"I barely escaped being sliced up like a sushi roll, Richard." My shaking hand pressed the cell phone to my ear as I paced the marble lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. "I'm not exaggerating, either. Chef Henri tried to kill me." The only thing worse than working with a temperamental bride is dealing with a temperamental chef, and as one of D.C.'s top wedding planners, I'd had my share of both.
"He refuses to serve the Peking Duck as a passed hors d'oeuvre, but with all these additional guests, we don't have room to do it as a station." I'd called my best friend, and arguably the city's best caterer, Richard Gerard, for some insight into the mind of a culinary despot. While I had a wedding at the Fairmont Hotel, Richard had one at the Dumbarton House in nearby Georgetown. His guests weren't due to arrive for another hour, and I could hear the clattering sounds of setup in the background.
Richard let out a high-pitched shriek. "We do not throw things, people. If I see anyone else tossing my imported Hungarian salad plates on the tables, heads will roll." He switched to his most calming voice. "Now Annabelle, you know he has a valid point. The real art of Peking duck is in the carving."
I should never have asked for practical advice from someone who matched the food at a dinner party to the outfit he planned to wear.
"Richard, he chased me out of the kitchen with a knife and threatened to walk off the event if I ever set foot in there again."
"He's a chef. They're known for being dramatic, especially this one." A gasp. "Who put this cloth on the sweetheart table? I specifically requested the linen pintuck for the bride and groom, not the satin stripe."
I tapped my square-toed black pump in rapid fire. "I've about had it with chefs. I knew Henri had a reputation for being difficult, but I had no idea he would be so evil."
"You think you've seen evil?" Richard gave a low whistle. "You should hear the stories his former employees tell."
I didn't have time for Richard's stories now. They usually involved at least one person wearing something "totally wrong for them" and ended up with Richard giving an impassioned speech worthy of an Oscar.
"Okay, I get it, but what am I supposed to do?" I walked to the heavy glass doors leading from the lobby to the Colonnade room and glanced at my watch. The guests would be arriving from the church in a few minutes, and I had a chef who had threatened to walk off the job if I questioned his creative control again.
"Where's Kate? Maybe she could bat her eyelashes at him and he'd be a little more agreeable." Richard referred to my faithful assistant. Faithful to me, that is, not to any man she'd ever known.
"At the church. Anyway, I think it would take a bit more than eyelash batting to calm Chef Henri down."
I walked into the Colonnade and smiled. I often described it to my brides as "dramatic, yet feminine," and it ranked as one of my favorite ballrooms in the city. Walled entirely in glass, it looked out onto an open air courtyard that had a massive granite fountain and brightly colored flowers that were changed according to the season. At the moment, they were vibrant autumn shades of yellow and orange.
Inside, waiters lit votive candles around the ledge of the raised gazebo that took up the center of the room. Garlands of red roses curved around the gazebo's whitewashed columns, and tiny rosebuds strung on transparent thread hung between them to create a delicate curtain effect.
The bride had wanted to use elements from her Chinese background to personalize her wedding, so we'd incorporated lots of red, the Chinese color of celebration, and used signs from the Chinese zodiac in everything from the invitations to the ice sculptures. Huge mounds of deep crimson roses sat in the middle of each square table on crisscrossed red satin runners, and menu cards personalized with each guest's zodiac sign had been tucked into the napkins.
Two giant ice carvings, a tiger and a rabbit, rose up from huge blocks of ice and faced each other across the room. The ice tiger stood on its hind legs with his two front paws extended, and represented the groom's zodiac sign, while the rabbit had been carved in profile on its hind legs and represented the bride's sign. The sculptures were lit from above with beams of white light, and they glistened like fine crystal. Despite my usual distaste for ice sculptures, I had to admit that the room was striking.
"I swear these waiters are going to push me over the edge. I don't think a single one read the look book I put together for this event." Richard's voice crackled at me through static. "Are you still there, darling?"
"I'm admiring my handiwork, that's all." I walked back out into the hallway that led to the Colonnade.
"Is this the same little wedding planner who didn't think she could compete with the grand dames of the industry only a couple of years ago?" A gasp. "Flat-fold napkins, people, not fan-fold. This is not a Rotary lunch."
I adjusted the flower arrangement on the marble credenza next to the ladies' room and cradled the phone against my shoulder. Glancing in the mirror above the flowers, I brushed a long strand of auburn hair off my face. I pinched my cheeks to give them a bit a color and noticed that I actually had hollows now. The one advantage to having brides run you ragged -- no time to eat!
"I've come a long way under your watchful eye, Richard."
"Don't mention it. Name your firstborn child after me and we'll call it even."
I laughed. "That's a safe promise since I haven't even had a date in months." To be completely honest, I hadn't had a real boyfriend since I started Wedding Belles four years ago.
Excerpted from For Better or Hearse by Laura Durham Copyright © 2006 by Laura Durham. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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