At the outset of Howell's sprightly sequel to 2008's Handbags and Homicide, handbag-obsessed 24-year-old Haley Randolph is working part-time at L.A.'s Holt's Department Store, owned by her quasi-boyfriend, Ty Cameron, to pay back the debt she's accumulated-buying designer handbags and clothes, of course. When fashion model Claudia Gray, Ty's former girlfriend, turns up dead in a women's restroom at Holt's, the police soon determine that Claudia ate poisoned fruit from a fruit bouquet from Edible Elegance, Haley's mom's company, sent to the victim. To eliminate her mom as a murder suspect as well as herself, Haley launches her own investigation while dealing with her relationship with Ty and another new boyfriend. While some readers may decide the author ends too many chapters with the exclamation "Oh, crap," Howell has concocted a solid mystery sure to appeal to younger, fashion-conscious mystery fans. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Purses and Poison (Haley Randolph Series #2)by Dorothy Howell
Fashion sleuth Haley Randolph is back for another murderous romp with the stylish set at Holt's Department Store. . .
When Haley arrives at the Holt employee luncheon and fashion show, she spies a sick server hiding in a back room. Deciding to help out, Haley grabs a uniform. The catered array of food and personalized fruit bouquets from Edible Elegance is a hit… See more details below
Fashion sleuth Haley Randolph is back for another murderous romp with the stylish set at Holt's Department Store. . .
When Haley arrives at the Holt employee luncheon and fashion show, she spies a sick server hiding in a back room. Deciding to help out, Haley grabs a uniform. The catered array of food and personalized fruit bouquets from Edible Elegance is a hit until top fashion model Claudia Gray is found dead in the ladies room. Now, it's going to take more than a Chanel sample sale to ease Haley's panic once she learns Claudia's been poisoned. For someone thinks murder is the height of fashion--with Haley's name on the label.
"A quick read with lots of humor." --Booklist
"A solid mystery." --Publishers Weekly
"Haley Randolph is a hoot. There is no way to get through Howell's latest without laughing out loud at least once a chapter." --Romantic Times
"A treat for those with a passion for fashion. No doubt this sassy heroine's in for a long run." --Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
PURSES and POISON
By Dorothy Howell
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Dorothy Howell
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'm in love," I swore.
"You're in heat," Marcie replied.
My best friend, Marcie Hanover, and I were at the South Coast Plaza, one of L.A.'s trendiest shopping centers, and I was within seconds of performing a carnal act on a display case.
"Forget it, Haley," Marcie told me.
"But it's a Judith Leiber," I said, caressing the glass case with my palms. Inside was the most gorgeous evening bag I'd ever laid eyes on-and I've seen a lot of bags. Marcie has, too. We readily admit to our handbag addiction.
In fact, over the last couple of months the two of us had moved beyond being compulsive, crazed, white twenty-somethings obsessed with designer purses. We were no longer simply handbag whores. Now we were handbag whore businesswomen.
Or trying to be.
"You can't get that bag," Marcie insisted, gesturing at the display case.
"Austrian crystals," I said-actually, I think I moaned-"elegantly handcrafted."
"It's got a satin lining."
"Walk away from the case, Haley."
"And comes in a gorgeous box."
"Step back. Now."
"With a keepsake bag!"
"It's two thousand dollars!"
Best friends can really spoil a mood sometimes.
Marcie was right, though.Marcie is almost always right. I couldn't get the bag-right now, anyway-thanks to the new direction my life had taken.
Only a couple of months ago I, Haley Randolph, with my dark hair worthy of a salon-shampoo print-ad in Vogue, my long pageant legs, and my beauty-queen genes-even though they're mostly recessive-had figured everything out. And not only did I know what I wanted, but I also knew how to get it. Yeah, yeah, I knew I was twenty-four now. A huge chunk of my life was gone already. But that wasn't the point. The point was that I was going for it.
Marcie and I left the store and moved through the mall with the rest of the late morning crowd. That gorgeous evening bag had taken possession of my brain; I'd probably lie awake all night figuring a way to get it.
"Are we still going to that new club tomorrow night?" Marcie asked.
Hearing about an opportunity to party snapped me out of my Judith Leiber stupor.
"Yeah, sure," I said.
"No homework this weekend?" Marcie asked.
Damn. Homework. I'd forgotten about it. Again.
In a startling moment of clarity worthy of a Lifetime Channel movie, I'd made the decision to forgo my career, such as it was, in accounting, and blow off a move to San Francisco to pursue a higher education. I'd wanted a real career, a profession. Something of substance, importance, where I could have a positive impact on the lives of others-plus, make a lot of money and buy great handbags, of course.
I still didn't know exactly what sort of position that would be, and didn't really care, as long as I could be the person in charge and everybody else had to do what I said.
Businesses wouldn't let you make the big decisions, take over, and run things unless you had credentials-go figure-so I was now pursuing my bachelor's degree. The college counselor, who was obviously overdue for a stint in rehab, thought that because I had every weekday free, I should take a full load. That's six classes, or something.
But I didn't want to overwhelm myself by taking on too much, so I cut my schedule down a little. The classes I picked were tough, though. Both of them.
So far, college seemed a lot like high school, so I didn't understand what the fuss was all about. Plus, the instructors were taking themselves way too seriously. They expected us to complete every single assignment and actually pay attention in class. I was just there to complete the course; they seemed to think I wanted to learn something.
I wasn't worried about my grades. English was easy-all I'd done so far was copy stuff off the Internet-and I'd be able to keep up the good grades in Health, as long as that girl who sat in front of me didn't start covering her paper.
Marcie and I left the mall and said good-bye in the parking lot, and I took the freeway to Santa Clarita, a really great upscale area about thirty minutes north of Los Angeles. I had an apartment there, which was terrific, and a job there that wasn't. But that's okay, because I was on my path toward a highly successful future ... somewhere, doing something.
Holt's Department Store was seven minutes from my place-six, if I ran the light at the corner. It was a midrange store that sold clothing and shoes for the whole family, jewelry, accessories, and housewares, mostly.
The corporate buyer in charge of the clothing ought to be taken out behind one of the stores and beaten-or worse, be forced to wear Holt's clothing. Believe me, no one lies awake at night plotting a way to purchase anything on our racks.
I had started working there last fall just before Thanksgiving as a salesclerk. It was supposed to be through the holidays, but then all sorts of crap happened. I ended up with a hundred thousand dollars in the bank and a gorgeous boyfriend.
Somehow, things hadn't turned out exactly as I'd imagined. Having a hundred grand wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be, and Ty Cameron, the man I thought I'd fallen in love with, well, I wasn't sure where things stood with him.
Which was totally his fault, of course.
That's why I desperately needed that Judith Leiber evening bag. If a beautifully boxed clutch with Austrian crystals, a satin lining, and a keepsake bag couldn't cheer you up, was there any hope for mankind?
I pulled into the parking lot in front of the Holt's store. It was almost empty. The store was closed until 6:00 p.m. today to get ready for "our biggest sale of the season." That's what the sign in the front window said. But, really, the inventory team was working inside and didn't want to be bothered with customers.
I know exactly how they feel.
I swung around back and parked. The area outside the loading dock had been completely transformed. A big white tent-top had been erected. Latticework screens circled the tent and blocked out the view of the Dumpsters. Tables were decorated with pastels, and a runway led from a curtained platform. Another table held a couple dozen wrapped gifts. Potted green plants and blooming flowers were everywhere. One of the loading dock doors was open and I saw the caterer's staff working inside the stockroom.
Holt's had decided to treat us employees to a luncheon and a fashion show of the new line of spring clothing we were going to carry. They were also raffling off prizes.
I had to admit, the place looked great and the idea was a good one. I didn't really want to admit it, though, since the whole concept was Sarah Covington's, Holt's vice president of marketing.
I hate Sarah Covington.
Which is all her fault, of course.
An RV was parked near the stage, and I could hear teenage girls inside, giggling and chattering. I guessed they were the models, excited about strutting the spring fashions on the makeshift catwalk.
Two of my friends were already seated at a table. Bella was tall, black, and working at Holt's to save for beauty school. Girlfriend knew hair. I was thinking she was into an international landmark phase. Today, her hair looked like the Eiffel Tower. Next to her was Sandy. White, young, pretty, and, judging by the idiot she dated, had the word doormat tattooed across her back.
They'd saved me a seat, which was way cool, so I gave them a wave as I headed for the steps leading up to the loading dock. Then Rita planted herself in front of me and folded her arms.
"The store is off-limits," she said. "You can't go in there."
Rita was the cashiers' supervisor, though from the way she dressed-stretch pants and tops with farm animals on the front-you'd think she was the corporate clothing buyer.
Rita hated me. I hated her first. Then she took it to the next level when she jacked the purse party business idea Marcie and I came up with and stole all our customers. Now I double-hated her.
"The inventory team is working in the store," Rita said. "Absolutely nobody is allowed inside."
"If I throw a stick, will you leave?" I said to her.
"Nobody." Rita sneered and leaned closer. "And that includes you, princess, no matter who you're sleeping with."
Rita gave me one last nasty look and stomped away.
I was pretty sure she was referring to my sort-of boyfriend, Ty Cameron. He was the fifth generation of his family to own and run the Holt's stores.
You'd think that would entitle me to a few perks around here-I don't think there's anything wrong with preferential treatment as long as it benefits me-but no. I was still pulling down seven bucks an hour; plus, I had to actually wait on customers.
Contrary to what Rita and most everyone else thought, Ty and I weren't having sex. Yet. Which was totally his fault. Okay, well, maybe some of my fault, too.
I bounded up the steps to the loading dock. The servers were bustling around getting ready to take out the first course. I recognized the caterer, Marilyn something-or-other. Everything looked and smelled great.
In the corner sat dozens of bouquets of chocolate-dipped fruit, cut into the shapes of flowers, and arranged in little terra-cotta pots. They were from Edible Elegance, my mom's latest experiment with living in the real world.
My mom was a former beauty queen. Really. Before she married my dad and had my brother, sister, and me, Mom was prancing the runways, performing-I'm not sure what Mom's "talent" was; she told me, but I wasn't paying attention-and wishing for world peace.
Mom never really hung up her crown. Once a beauty queen, always a beauty queen, apparently-sort of like the marines, except the marines aren't quite as ruthless. She was still involved with the pageant world and a coven, as I liked to think of them, of other ex-queens, though I wasn't sure how, exactly; I wasn't paying attention to that either.
Just where Mom got the idea of the Edible Elegance fruit bouquets I don't know-I doubt Mom knew, either-but they'd been making a splash at L.A. events for a few months now. I helped out with the business, sometimes.
So you'd think that my mom was a hardworking, inventive, highly motivated businesswoman. Right?
No. My mom's idea of running a business was to hire a manager, turn the whole thing over to her, and see what happened. This, of course, drove the old geezer who oversaw the trust fund Mom's grandmother left her-along with a fabulous house in LaCanada Flintridge-absolutely crazy.
That's my mom.
I checked out the fruit bouquets. Everything looked great. The crew Mom's manager hired had done a terrific job. They'd added a chocolate name tag to some of the bouquets, which I hadn't seen before, and I thought the personalization was a nice touch. I guess Mom was still coming up with some ideas after all.
Outside I heard Jeanette Avery, the store manager, on the mic welcoming everyone to the luncheon. Jeanette was in her fifties, looking to retire in a few years. She was dedicated to Holt's. This inexplicably manifested itself in her attire. She always dressed in Holt's clothing. Today, she had on a purple-and-yellow-striped dress. The remaining nine dresses that had been shipped to the store were on the clearance rack.
I was about to head outside and take my seat with Bella and Sandy when I noticed someone in the domestics department section of the stockroom. At first I thought it was a member of the inventory team, sent to the store for the day, then saw the gold vest, white shirt, and bow tie, and realized it was one of the servers. A girl, twenty years old, maybe, leaning heavily against the big shelving unit.
She didn't look so good.
I walked over, and the closer I got, the worse she looked. Sweaty, yet flushed, palm on her stomach like she might throw up.
"Need some help?" I asked.
She jumped as if I startled her, and pushed herself up straight.
"No, I'm fine," she insisted. "I'm great. Just great."
"No offense, but you look like crap," I said.
She gulped hard, as if she was trying to keep something down. "I'll be okay. I-I will."
I could tell she didn't believe it-and I certainly didn't believe it-so I nodded toward the food station where the salads were being plated.
"I'll go tell them you're sick and you need to go home."
"No!" she said, suddenly springing toward me. "Don't do that. You'll get me in all sorts of trouble. I need this job. If I don't finish out the day, I don't get paid. And I'll never get hired again."
"Yeah, but if you're sick-"
"Look, I need the money. I've got school and rent and everything."
I started feeling a little queasy myself. Money problems, job problems. It all seemed eerily familiar.
But I couldn't let this girl get sick and ruin the day. The store employees had been through a lot these past few months. They deserved a nice luncheon, a sneak peek at the spring line, and a prize raffle in a vomit-free environment.
Plus, Holt's had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to set this up. That witch Sarah Covington-Ty thought the world revolved around her, he let her intrude on everything, and I do mean everything-had put a great deal of effort into it.
And Ty was my boyfriend. Sort of. This was his store, his luncheon, his reputation. I couldn't just stand there and do nothing.
"I'll serve for you," I said.
Her eyes widened-they looked really watery. "You can't do that-"
"I've done it before," I told her, which wasn't true, but what was the big deal? All you had to do was set plates on the table.
Besides, I knew the caterer, sort of. Marilyn whatever-her-last-name-was had catered several events I'd attended; plus, I'd seen her at my mom's house-Mom certainly wasn't going to cook at her own dinner party.
I was sure Marilyn didn't know who I was, but if I mentioned Mom-something I rarely do-I knew she'd be okay with me filling in, rather than be shorthanded or have the server barf all over everything.
"It will be fine," I told her. "Just give me your vest and tie, and take off. Nobody ever looks at the wait staff, anyway. I doubt anybody will even notice."
I knew my friends outside would notice. But so what? I'd just tell them I'd spit in their dessert if they gave me a hard time.
"Look," I said, "if you throw up in the food, they'll send you home, and you won't get paid, anyway. Plus, they won't hire you again."
She stewed on that for about a minute, then gave me her vest and tie, and slipped away.
I dashed up the big concrete stairs to the second floor of the stockroom, feeling pretty good about myself that I'd done something to help out that girl. And I'd probably saved the entire promotional event. Ty would surely be impressed. Sarah Covington wouldn't have done what I was doing.
I'll have to work that into the conversation with Ty, somehow.
In the juniors section of the stockroom I pulled a white blouse off a hanger-just why on earth Holt's carried white blouses, I didn't know. No one was in the stockroom-it was off-limits to employees today and the inventory team was still working in the store-so I changed into the blouse, put on the vest, which was a little big but oh well, and the bow tie, and got back downstairs in time to grab a tray of salads and head outside.
Wow, look at me go. Making the big decisions, putting them into action-and I didn't even have my bachelor's degree yet.
Then I froze at the top of the loading dock stairs.
Oh my God. Oh my God.
There stood Claudia Gray.
Claudia Gray. Gorgeous-and I mean gorgeous-poised, confident, beauty queen, and high fashion model Claudia Gray.
Not only did she know my mother, not only did she know all of my mother's friends, but she was Ty's ex-girlfriend.
Oh my God. Now I thought I might throw up.
What was she doing here? Then I saw her talking to some of the models and realized she must be their pageant coach.
I ducked back into the loading dock, nearly causing a pileup among the servers behind me.
I couldn't go out there. I couldn't. Claudia looked fabulous, and I had on a caterer's uniform.
What if Claudia recognized me? What if she told my mother-and my mother's megabitchy pack of backstabbing friends-that she saw me here? At Holt's?
Excerpted from PURSES and POISON by Dorothy Howell Copyright © 2009 by Dorothy Howell. 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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