Who better than food and cocktails columnist Hayley Powell to book a caterer for the Island Times holiday party? But Hayley’s quest for a cook turns into the pursuit of a killer who caters to no one . . .
Office Christmas parties can sometimes mean career suicide—but they rarely lead to murder. Hayley thought Garth Rawlings would be the perfect caterer for this year’s bash, but when the gourmet sees her budget, he goes galloping.
Unfortunately his run is short-lived. Garth is found dead on the floor of his kitchen, with his delectable creations burning in the oven. Faced with a spread of suspects, Hayley is determined to discover who would want to take out the Christmas caterer, because—no matter what the season—justice must be served . . .
Includes seven delectable recipes from Hayley's kitchen!
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Death of a Christmas Caterer
A Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mystery
By LEE HOLLIS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Rick Copp and Holly Simason
All rights reserved.
"I hate Christmas!"
"You don't mean that," Hayley said, gripping her four oversize shopping bags while racing to catch up with Mona, who was veering toward the crowded food court at the Bangor Mall.
"Yes, I do!" Mona barked as she plowed through a family of four that had failed to get out of her way fast enough. She made a beeline for Sbarro pizza and slapped her hand down on the counter, causing the pimply-faced kid behind the register to jump. "Pepperoni slice! Scratch that. Make it a whole pie!"
"Thanks, Mona, but I'm not really that hungry," Hayley said.
"Good, because I wasn't offering. If I'm going to get through this day, I'm going to need a large pizza and a pitcher of beer. I am so sick and tired of these annoying holiday crowds swarming around here in a panic like rats on a sinking ship!"
Hayley noticed a little curly-haired blond cherub, around six years old, in an adorable reindeer jumper listening to Mona and fearfully clutching her mother's coat. "Mona, lower your voice. You're scaring children."
"Kids are the worst! Snot-nosed, screaming brats! You know Christmas would be so much better if it was adults only. Just some spiked eggnog, a warm fire, and a Duck Dynasty marathon on TV. Heaven!"
Mona suddenly noticed the pimply Sbarro employee in his creased paper hat just staring at her. "What? Do I have to come back there and knead the dough myself? Hop to it! I'm starving!"
The kid nodded, turned quickly, and accidentally knocked over a stack of paper cups because he was so nervous dealing with this possibly unstable customer.
"And no husband!" Mona barked. "He's more whiny and needy than my boatload of kids. Honestly, Hayley, just one year I'd like to spend the holidays putting my feet up and relaxing instead of brawling with some sumo-wrestling supermom who wants the last Power Wheels Barbie Jammin' Jeep for her spoiled-rotten spawn!"
"You really do paint a picture, Mona."
Mona eyed the pimply kid; his hand shook as he ladled tomato sauce onto the pizza dough and splashed it around before slipping on a plastic glove and dunking his hand into a vat of mozzarella cheese.
Hayley rummaged in her coat pocket, pulled out a slip of paper, and then began to peruse it. "Look at how much stuff I still have to buy. I knew we should have gotten our Christmas shopping done right after Halloween. I never learn. Every year I plan on going early to avoid the crowds on Black Friday. And then I never get around to it and I have to go on Black Friday, but this year I had the flu the entire Thanksgiving weekend and now I'm way behind on everything."
"Don't get so worked up, Hayley. You need to chill," Mona said.
With her mouth agape, Hayley glanced at Mona, but Mona missed the jaw-dropping irony of her statement. Mona was too busy pounding her fist on the counter and yelling at "Sbarro Boy."
"Did you go to Italy to pick up the pepperoni? How long does it take to get a pie in the oven?"
"Mona, if you don't stop shouting at the poor boy, he's going to have a nervous breakdown!"
Mona groaned and turned to the frightened teenager. "Sorry, kid, I'm like a growling bear when I'm hungry," she said, slapping a twenty-dollar bill down on the counter. "This is yours if I'm chowing down my pizza in the next ten minutes."
Sbarro Boy had that pie in the oven in nineteen seconds and was now grinning from ear to ear.
Hayley studied her list. "Gemma wants an iPad mini and Rihanna concert tickets. Dustin wants one, two, three ... six video games for his Xbox. There's no way I can afford all of this."
Mona dipped into her coat pocket, pulled out a pen, and thrust it in Hayley's face.
"What's that for?"
"Start crossing stuff off. Seriously. Why put yourself through this? Your kids will appreciate whatever you can afford to give them."
"You're right. I don't know why I feel the need to go overboard every year."
Hayley's cell phone chirped. She pulled it out of the back of her jeans and looked at the caller ID. "Oh, God. It's Danny."
"Don't answer it," Mona warned.
"I have to. The kids are going to go visit him during February vacation and I sent him their flight info this morning before we left for Bangor. He just needs to sign off and pay me back half the cost."
Danny Powell was Hayley's ex-husband. He moved to Iowa after they divorced and was now living with a girl half his age named Becky.
"I swear, every time you talk to him, Hayley, he makes you feel bad. Let it go to voicemail."
"I really could use his help buying a couple of things on the kids' Christmas wish lists."
"Have you met your ex-husband? Now you're just hoping for a friggin' Christmas miracle."
Hayley smiled and clicked on her phone. "Hi, Danny."
"Hey. Listen, this isn't going to work for me."
"These tickets you bought for the kids to come see me during their February break. Three hundred apiece? What were you thinking?"
"They were the cheapest I could find."
"That's because you have them flying out on a Saturday. Weekends are always more expensive to travel."
"I couldn't book them for a Friday because I work, Danny. I'm out of vacation days and I can't afford to take any time off right now."
"How is that my problem?"
Hayley took a deep breath. "I understand how pricey it is. I was barely able to scrape together my half, Danny."
"It's too expensive. I can't pay you right now."
"I thought you were working extra shifts at Walmart during the holiday season."
"Yeah, but I got bills to pay, Hayley. You know how much it costs to heat our house in Des Moines during the winter?"
"No, I don't, Danny. Because it's just fun in the sun here in Maine!"
Hayley heard girlish giggling on the other end of the phone. "Who's that?"
"That's just Becky. We're having a Christmas party here for a few friends and she got into the holiday punch a little early. Happy hour somewhere in the world, right?"
"Merry Christmas, Hayley," she heard Becky sing before she erupted into a fit of giggles.
"Tell her I said 'Merry Christmas' back." Hayley sighed.
"Are you talking to the girlfriend?" Mona asked.
"Hey, Danny, what'd you get Becky for Christmas this year? A Crown Disney Princess Tea Set?" Mona yelled before snorting at her own joke.
Hayley quickly covered the phone with her hand. "He can hear you."
"Good. Mission accomplished," Mona said, laughing.
"Is that Mona?" Danny said.
Hayley could picture her ex scowling. He never did like Mona. Mostly, because Mona always despised him and never wanted Hayley to date him, much less marry him.
If Hayley had only listened to Mona in high school!
But then again, he did help her bring two of the most amazing kids into the world—just one mother's opinion.
"Well, you tell her I'm taking Becky to Bermuda for Christmas!" Danny shouted. "That's right! We'll be lounging by the pool while she's trying on that pair of itchy gray wool socks her deadbeat husband buys her every year."
"Wait. What? I thought you just said you were broke."
There was a long, uneasy silence.
"Danny? Are you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm here."
"You're going to Bermuda?"
"Now don't jump down my throat. We got a good deal. And I bought the package before I knew how much the kids' plane tickets were going to cost."
"That's why you can't pay me back?"
The only place Danny had ever taken Hayley when they were married was to a campground in Moose Head Lake one weekend. They had to leave that spot early, since it rained the whole time and a Maine black bear ate all of their supplies while they went into town to buy umbrellas and a box of wine.
Hayley didn't want to engage Danny any more than she already had. She took another deep breath and calmly held the phone to her ear. "Okay. I'm sure you'll pay me back, just as soon as you can."
"Absolutely. There's a girl at work who is about to drop a baby after New Year's and she's promised to give me some of her shifts while she's out on maternity leave so I can make some extra cash."
"Fine. Now would you do me a favor? Dustin really wants this new Metal Gear video game that just came out and I was hoping you might be able to—"
"No. I told you, Hayley. I'm broke."
"It's under thirty dollars."
"No can do. Sorry."
"What? Did you spend your last twenty bucks on a new thong for Becky?"
She just couldn't resist.
"You really should stop spoiling the kids, Hayley," Danny said.
"Please. Not this again."
"You do this every year. Every December, around this time, your bank account is empty and yet you just can't help yourself. You max out your last working credit card buying all of this junk the kids don't need just so they have a nice Christmas. And we both know why."
"I don't need a lecture from you, Danny."
"You overcompensate because you feel guilty."
"Somebody's been watching Dr. Phil again."
"It's true. You divorced me, and now the kids are the victims of a broken home, and you can't live with yourself, so you go all out to make up for it during the holidays, just to alleviate some of the guilt."
"'Alleviate'? I didn't know you played Words With Friends."
"You can make fun of me all you want. We both know I'm right."
"Have fun in Bermuda," Hayley said, pressing the red end button on her smartphone screen.
She turned to Mona.
"Come on, Mona. Let's go. We have some serious shopping to do."
"Don't let him get to you, Hayley."
Hayley fished a Visa card out of her bag. "I think this one may have some credit left on it."
"You're going to regret this, Hayley."
"Gemma needs some new ski boots. Let's start at Dillard's."
"What about my pizza?"
"Get it to go."
Mona knew there was no point in arguing; Hayley was on a mission.
Hayley knew that when she was driving back to Bar Harbor in Mona's truck, the flatbed filled with shopping bags, she would realize Mona was absolutely right. Once again she had allowed her husband to get underneath her skin because she knew on some level he was right, and she just played into his hand by spending far too much money on the kids.
Was it so wrong to want them to have a merry Christmas?
She would just pray that there was no expensive emergency between now and the time Sal doled out her year-end Christmas bonus at the Island Times, where she worked.
But unbeknownst to Hayley, there was indeed going to be an emergency. A really big one. And it wasn't going to involve a threatening phone call from a creditor.
No. This emergency was going to involve a dead body.CHAPTER 2
He kissed her softly on the lips.
Her body shivered as he gently placed a hand on the small of her back, drawing her closer to him.
She was light-headed from the spiked eggnog they had been drinking and she giggled like a schoolgirl as he brushed his lips against her.
She hated that she laughed while he was pressing himself up against her, but romantic moments like this—especially ones as passionate as this one—always made her nervous. And she had a bad habit of laughing, which invariably broke the sexual tension.
But he didn't seem to mind.
He had told her on numerous occasions that he loved her laugh.
She tried desperately to rein in the giggling, but she couldn't help herself.
A chortling sound escaped her lips.
Oh, God. How embarrassing.
With one hand still resting on her lower back, he raised the other behind her head and tenderly pulled her face toward him until their noses touched. Then, more forcefully, he buried his mouth over hers. They embraced tightly, groping, tearing at each other's clothes.
She ripped open his red-and-white-plaid shirt.
Luckily, the buttons didn't pop out.
There was a t-shirt underneath.
This was going to take a little more effort.
He released her long enough for her to get a good grip on the undershirt and yank it up over his head.
She sighed at his rock-hard abs.
For such a busy man, he sure did have a lot of time to work out at the gym.
She ran her fingers over the soft mat of hair that spread across his chest and then followed it down the treasure trail on his torso.
He pushed her down to the floor, crushing a half-wrapped cardboard box.
Nothing breakable was inside. Just a dress shirt for her son. So there was no need to stop at this point.
This was so much better than that Fifty Shades of Grey book she had been forced to read in her women's book group last summer.
This was actually happening. And there were no whips or chains involved.
She had never been big on props during lovemaking. Just the essentials. Like a condom.
The lights from the Christmas tree illuminated his smiling face as he lowered himself on top of her and he slowly, methodically unbuttoned her blouse.
Maybe Mona was right.
Josh Groban singing "Silent Night" through the iPod speakers.
Their thrashing bodies knocking a few low-hanging bulbs off the tree.
Christmas was so much better when it was adults only!
He had reached the last button on her blouse and was working at unsnapping her bra now.
That's when she heard a cough. From upstairs. One of her kids was awake and moving about. Probably heading to the bathroom.
Hayley quickly thrust a hand out and nudged Aaron away from her as she strained to hear what was going on upstairs.
The mood was definitely broken.
"What's the matter?" Aaron asked, still shirtless and looking incredibly hot.
"I think I heard one of my kids."
"Well, I don't want them wandering downstairs for a midnight snack and seeing their mother having sex underneath the Christmas tree."
"Okay. Let's go upstairs to your room and lock the door and we'll be as quiet as little mice. Although I'm not sure how capable you are of not making noise."
"What do you mean?"
"Are you forgetting what happened on top of my office desk last week when you forgot yourself and started moaning and got all of those poor dogs in their cages out back barking like crazy?"
Aaron was the local veterinarian.
Hayley had been dating him for months.
Her kids loved him. In fact, her daughter Gemma worked part-time at his office as a receptionist a few days a week after school to learn the ropes, since she was planning on going to veterinarian school one day.
But the fact that Gemma and her youngest child, Dustin, were both fans of the handsome vet, with the rock-hard abs, still did not make her anywhere near comfortable hosting him at her house overnight. It certainly was not because she was a prude. Far from it. However, her ex-husband Danny's accusations that she was guilt-ridden over the divorce might have held a kernel of truth. She didn't want her kids getting attached to another father figure until she was absolutely sure. Her last relationship, with Lex Bansfield, a caretaker at one of the opulent seaside estates, had dissolved after his boss passed away and he moved out of town to find work. But right around the time she met Aaron, Lex showed up on her doorstep with plans to open his own contracting business in their hometown of Bar Harbor. He had expected just to pick up right where they left off. Hayley had to break the news that she had met someone else. So ever since that tough conversation, the two of them had kept a respectful distance. Mindful of the fact her kids had fallen in love with Lex and were heartbroken when they split up, Hayley wasn't willing to put them through that again. Not until she was 100 percent certain that Aaron was the one.
Gemma was already a goner. Working for Aaron had cemented her opinion of him. She adored him. Dustin, though, was a tougher nut to crack. He was never one to be effusive; but after a night on the couch with Aaron, laughing at a Cartoon Network Adult Swim show he shouldn't have been watching, he shrugged and told his mother, "I guess he's all right." Which, when translated from Dustin-speak, meant, "The man is a god!"
Excerpted from Death of a Christmas Caterer by LEE HOLLIS. Copyright © 2014 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.