When Hayley is invited to do a cooking demo on one of daytime's most popular talk shows, it's a welcome distraction from her empty nest blues. And the newfound fame certainly has its perksespecially when Olivia Redmond, the posh bacon heiress of Redmond Meats, offers Hayley a writing gig with a juicy paycheck.
But Hayley's good fortune fizzles fast. The heiress is found dead with her pet pot-bellied pig, Pork Chop, squealing bloody murder beside her body, and clogged arteries aren't to blame. It turns out Olivia's inherited a wealth of enemies over the years, and as Hayley trims the fat off a mounting list of suspects, it's clear that being rich and hot-tempered can be a recipe for disaster…
Includes seven delectable recipes from Hayley's kitchen!
Praise for Death of a Christmas Caterer
"A fun Christmas cozy." Library Journal
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Death of a Bacon Heiress
By LEE HOLLIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Rick Copp and Holly Simason
All rights reserved.
Hayley Powell wished she was anywhere else as she picked at the last of her butter croissant and sipped what was left of her now cold coffee.
Bruce Linney was still talking.
Hayley checked the time on her cell phone. He had been prattling on for at least fifteen minutes. She sighed, brushed some stray crumbs off her light green blouse, and fixed her eyes on Bruce, pretending to at least be mildly interested.
She hated attending staff meetings at the Island Times newspaper.
Everyone gathering around a shoddy, scratched wooden table in a makeshift conference room with framed clippings of past landmark stories on the wall and discussing the major local news the handful of reporters were currently following.
A summer cottage break-in.
A controversial city council vote on new lobster boat regulations.
The high school swim team setting new records.
All topics Hayley was definitely interested in hearing about. It was just that Editor in Chief Sal Moretti, the big cheese at the paper, always scheduled these meetings during lunch, and he couldn't resist chowing down on a pastrami and rye sandwich during the meeting. Which was fine, but his mouth was so full half the time he was unable to speak and it provided crime reporter Bruce Linney with an opening to hijack the proceedings.
Bruce loved to hear himself talk.
And today was no exception.
"Now, we don't know what kind of secret project Dr. Alvin Foley was working on at the time of his disappearance, but I am following up on a few leads and hope to have some answers in the coming days," Bruce said.
Dr. Alvin Foley.
Now there was a fascinating story.
A young Stanford-educated scientist with an impressive résumé who had moved to Mount Desert Island three years ago to work at the Jackson Laboratory, a leading genetics research center located on the outskirts of town.
Kept to himself.
Hayley had run into him several times at the Shop 'n Save, and he would always make a point of smiling and saying hello.
He seemed to love cooking. He was always buying exotic ingredients to experiment with new dishes. One day it was Thai. The next Indian.
Hayley always felt guilty because she was the one who was supposed to be setting the culinary trends in town; after all, she was the paper's resident food columnist. But her grocery cart always seemed to be filled with Cheetos and packaged macaroni and cheese.
She hadn't seen Dr. Foley at the grocery store in a few weeks because he had mysteriously vanished without a trace.
No evidence of wrongdoing.
But the rumors were flying around town fast and furious.
Was he working on some kind of top secret medical breakthrough cure at the lab, and was someone willing to do him harm and steal his research in order to beat him to the punch?
That was the kind of rampant speculation everyone was gossiping about at the grocery store, at the high school baseball games, at the church socials. It was all anyone could talk about.
Hayley's phone buzzed.
She looked down at it, cradled in her lap, hoping it might be Aaron or one of her kids, but it was just Liddy confirming their girls' night out at Drinks Like A Fish, her brother's bar, after work.
Hayley felt a lump in her throat.
She was missing her kids big time.
Gemma was attending the University of Maine at Orono, studying for a bachelor degree in animal and veterinary science, and Dustin had recently been awarded a huge opportunity to spend the spring semester in Boston taking a college prep course in graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
She was so proud of them. But they were growing up so fast.
It scared the hell out of her.
She hated to admit she was suffering from a bit of empty-nest syndrome.
For so many years she had dragged those kids out of their beds to get ready for school, made them lunches, yelled at them to finish their homework. She had grown so accustomed to her roles as guardian, caretaker, and drill sergeant she was a little lost now that those roles no longer needed to be filled.
It was tough going home after work to an empty house.
She still had her loyal and loving dog, Leroy, and her demanding and moody cat, Blueberry, but it just wasn't the same.
"Now, I interviewed Dr. Foley's parents in Oregon and they said he had no enemies to speak of and was a dutiful son. They don't see any reason why anyone would want to hurt him. I put in some calls to Stanford and spoke to his professors and they all said the same thing."
God, Bruce was still talking.
This was not new information. Bruce had presented all of this exact information at last week's staff meeting ad nauseam. But he wanted to put on a good performance for Sal and show him he was still working hard on the case.
As for Sal, he wasn't even listening. He was opening his mouth as wide as he could to slide in the second half of his pastrami sandwich.
Hayley returned to her own thoughts again.
The handsome local vet she had been dating for a while now.
She had thought their relationship was progressing.
He seemed engaged. He was certainly affectionate.
But over the last month or so he had seemed to pull away.
She'd heard from him less.
He'd canceled a couple of dinner dates.
When she texted him or left a voice mail, he would take longer than usual to get back to her.
It was starting to worry her.
She had no idea where all of this was leading, or even whether this was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, but she had grown so fond of him and didn't want to lose him from her life —
"Excuse me, Hayley, did you hear me?"
Hayley snapped to attention. "I'm sorry, what?"
"I asked you a question," Bruce said, scowling, arms folded across his chest.
"I didn't hear it," Hayley said, clearing her throat. "Could you repeat it?"
"Am I boring you?"
Hayley bit her tongue.
Don't answer that.
Don't answer that.
"I'm just a little distracted today, Bruce. My apologies. What was your question?"
"I asked you if you had any plans to investigate the Dr. Alvin Foley story," Bruce said, eyes fixed upon her like a laser beam.
"Why would I write about that? I'm the food-and-cocktails columnist. You're the crime reporter."
"Good. I'm happy to hear you're clear on that. Because my gut is telling me this is a big and complicated story, and we don't need some amateur sleuth sticking her nose into it and muddying the waters," he said smugly.
Muddying the waters?
Hayley couldn't even count the number of times she had jumped into a criminal investigation in the recent past and did Bruce's job for him. And she still let him take all the credit in his own column.
He should be on his knees thanking her. But she decided to stay mum. She simply nodded in agreement and let him continue his one-man show.
Hayley had zero plans to interfere with Bruce's fact-finding mission anyway. She was too preoccupied with her personal life.
Or lack thereof.
Besides, there was another story, completely unrelated to the strange case of the missing scientist, that was about to rise above the horizon.
And it was a doozy.
This one did not involve a missing person.
This person would be found very much dead.CHAPTER 2
"I bet it's the Chinese government trying to steal our scientific research!" bellowed one lobsterman at the end of the bar at Drinks Like A Fish. "You can't trust 'em. Nope. Can't trust 'em."
And with that, the grizzled, bearded lobsterman downed his mug of beer and slammed the empty glass on the bar, signaling Hayley's brother, Randy, who was owner and barkeep, to pour him another.
Hayley sat on a stool at the other end of the long wooden bar, nursing a Jack and Coke and waiting for her two BFFs, Liddy and Mona, to arrive. She had finished work a little early and showed up at the bar to catch up on all the gossip with her brother before the girls arrived, but today's happy hour was particularly busy, and Randy barely had enough time to say hello.
"They got spies everywhere," another weathered fisherman said, nodding in agreement. "You just watch. In a week or so, maybe a month, a new doctor will show up to take that missing guy's place at the lab, and he'll be one of them. That's why they grabbed him. So they could replace him with one of their own and have all that top secret research at their fingertips!"
The other men, who were hunched over the bar and slurping their own warm beers, grunted and nodded their heads. They had a consensus.
Chinese spies were infiltrating Mount Desert Island.
That had to be the explanation for Dr. Alvin Foley's disappearance. Not that he had some kind of family emergency and had left town without telling anyone. Not that he hadn't liked his job and chose to quit without handing in a formal resignation. It couldn't be something so simple.
No. It had to be much bigger.
And none of the locals would be satisfied until they spotted James Bond parachuting onto Sand Beach from a passing plane to take out the nefarious evildoers bent on world domination.
Randy caught Hayley's eye and grinned. This was par for the course at his bar. Men out in tiny boats on the harsh, unforgiving sea all day hauling traps for meager wages enjoying some downtime by clouding their minds with alcohol and allowing their imaginations to run wild before returning home to their families.
Another bearded man, with a black cap and wearing overalls, sat at a table a few feet from the bar. He raised his own mug, clutching the sides with his pudgy red hands and dirt-lined fingernails. "I think you got it all wrong, bub. It ain't the Chinese. That's just crazy talk."
Finally — a voice of reason.
"It's the Russians!"
"The Russians can blend in better as long as they learn to lose the accent. Nobody would suspect 'em. You drop an Asian inside the lab and I'm already suspicious."
The fact that many Asian men and women already worked at the Jackson Lab apparently was an undisputed fact lost on these men.
The door to the bar flung open and Liddy hustled inside. She hurled her tote bag on top of the bar and slid up on the stool next to Hayley. "Sorry I'm late. I was showing a property to a couple from Brunswick who couldn't make up their minds. I hate wishy washy people. Just make a damn decision!"
Randy came over and smiled at Liddy. "What can I get you, doll?"
"Something sweet. Like a mojito. No wait. A daiquiri. No, I don't want to risk a brain freeze. How about ... What are you drinking, Hayley? Oh, no, forget it. I don't want a Jack and Coke. Let me think. ... Should I go simple and have a Rose Kennedy? But vodka gives me a headache...."
Just make a damn decision, Hayley thought.
There was no way she would ever say that out loud.
"Where's Mona?" she asked.
"I saw her outside trying to find parking for that ridiculously big truck she drives. I know! I'll have a sea breeze. No. Make it a greyhound. I'm in a pineapple mood."
"You sure?" Randy asked.
"Yes. Wait. No. Yes."
"Yes ..." Liddy said, still not sure.
"I'm going to go make it now, okay?" Randy said, backing away.
"You can always order something else if it turns out to not be what you want," Hayley suggested.
"You're right. Fine. Go make it, Randy."
Randy was already pouring from the carton of pineapple juice.
"Now what were we talking about?" Liddy asked.
"Wishy washy people who can't make up their minds," Hayley replied.
"Right. God, I wanted to shoot myself. How does anybody deal with people like that?"
The lobsterman with the weathered face who had first proposed the Chinese spy theory was now wagging a finger at the man seated at the table as he downed yet another beer, white foam settling into his thick, shaggy beard. "Of course, it could also be Middle East terrorists! The Jackson Lab is a prime target for those nut jobs. Just think what would happen if they got their hands on some deadly airborne virus. They could just pop open a vial and let the wind do the rest. Bar Harbor could be ground zero for a bioterrorist attack!"
"What the hell are they talking about?" Liddy asked, stirring the greyhound cocktail Randy had just slid in front of her.
"Don't ask," Hayley said, shaking her head.
Mona burst through the door, red faced and eyes blazing. She marched over and struggled to lift her bulky frame up onto the last remaining stool alongside Hayley and Liddy.
"Sorry I'm late. Liddy stole my parking space!"
"I did no such thing," Liddy said, setting down her drink. "Oh, this is too sweet. I'm going to order something else."
"I pulled my truck ahead to parallel park it in the space right out front, and Liddy came roaring up behind me in her fancy Mercedes and just pulled in and took it. I had to go park behind the drugstore."
"I was doing you a favor, Mona. There was no way that monster truck you drive was going to fit in that tiny little space. You would have taken the front bumper off Hayley's car in the space behind it and right now you'd be on your knees begging her for forgiveness."
"There was plenty of room for my truck. You were just being your usual selfish, everything-is-mine self!"
"Well, at least you're both here now," Hayley said, hoping to calm the situation.
"That is so typical of you, Mona, pinning your bad decisions, like buying that gas-guzzling crime against the environment monstrosity, on me! Well, I won't have it."
So much for calming the situation.
"Oh, and I suppose that expensive Mercedes you tool around town in runs on cow dung?" Mona screamed, waving her hands at Randy to bring her usual Bud Light.
Hayley knew the only way to stop the sudden escalation of Liddy and Mona's latest diatribe against one another was to take drastic action.
Like dropping a bomb.
And that's exactly what Hayley decided to do.
"Aaron's going to break up with me."
Liddy and Mona stopped yelling at each other instantly.
"How do you know?" Liddy gasped.
"It's just a feeling I have. He takes so long to return my calls and texts. We hardly see each other. We had dinner a week and a half ago, but that's it. He says he's busy with his practice, but I think it's more than that."
"Have you talked to him about it?" Mona asked.
"I'm working up the courage. I think I'm avoiding a conversation because I dread how it might end."
"Honey, you could be misreading this whole thing," Liddy said. "Sometimes when a man suddenly pulls away, it could mean a number of things. He could be telling the truth and he's just busy, or he's dealing with a personal problem he doesn't want to drag you into...."
"Or he really is getting ready to dump you...." Mona offered.
Liddy grimaced and shook her head. "Or ... there is another reason he may be avoiding you, and I have seen this happen so many times. There is the possibility that he's getting ready to ..."
Her voice trailed off.
"What, Liddy, what? Getting ready to what?" Hayley cried, unable to take the suspense.
"Propose!" Liddy screamed at the top of her lungs.
She was so loud the gaggle of fishermen stopped their heated discussion about Chinese and Russian spies invading Maine and turned to see what all the fuss was about at the other end of the bar.
"Now, that's just ridiculous...." Hayley said, laughing it off.
"Think about it. You've been dating a while now. You've both expressed your feelings to one another. Gemma's already at college and Dustin has one foot out the door, so there's no awkward stepfather drama to deal with."
"Mona, help me here...."
"I think she may be on to something," Mona said, shrugging.
Et tu, Mona?
Hayley couldn't get her mind around the idea of Aaron proposing. It was way too soon. And she wasn't even sure how she felt about the prospect of getting married again.
She had already failed spectacularly once. She wasn't ready to dive in again.
Or was she?
Part of her was excited.
Part of her was scared out of her mind.
And part of her was supremely skeptical.
A proposal? That couldn't be it.
Or could it?
It would be a miracle if she got any sleep tonight.
As Liddy breathlessly detailed her theory as to why she was right about this, Hayley noticed Mona nodding, totally on board with Liddy's thinking.
Liddy and Mona agreed on something.
Now that was the true miracle.
Excerpted from Death of a Bacon Heiress by LEE HOLLIS. Copyright © 2016 Rick Copp and Holly Simason. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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