Food and cocktails columnist Hayley Powell will be cooking alongside top chefs at a cookbook author's party. But a killer plans to ruin her appetite . . .
When Hayley's idol, cookbook author and TV personality Penelope Janice, invites her to participate in a Fourth of July celebrity cook-off at her seaside estate in Seal Harbor, Maine, Hayley couldn't be more flattered. She just hopes she can measure up. With a who's who of famous chefs whipping up their signature dishes, this holiday weekend has all the ingredients for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience.
Instead, Hayley gets food poisoning her first night and thinks she overhears two people cooking up a murder plot. The next morning, a body is found at the bottom of a cliff. Tragic accident or foul play? To solve a real cliffhanger, Hayley will need to uncover some simmering secrets—before a killer boils over again . . .
Includes seven delectable recipes from Hayley’s kitchen!
Praise for Death of a Pumpkin Carver
“Well-written . . . the story will keep any reader’s attention. After reading just one and meeting these hysterical characters there is no doubt that you’ll go back.”
About the Author
Lee Hollis is the pen name for a brother and sister writing team. Rick Copp is a veteran Hollywood writer/producer and also the author of three other mystery novel series under his own name and Lee Hollis. He lives in Palm Springs, CA. Holly Simason is an award-winning food and cocktails columnist who lives in North Carolina. You can follow them on Facebook (Lee Hollis), Twitter (@leehollisbooks), and Instagram (leehollisbooks).
Read an Excerpt
Hayley stared numbly at the inscription that had been scribbled inside her book cover only moments before.
She couldn't believe what she was reading.
"To Hayley, one of my inspirations! Keep writing and cooking! All the best, Penelope Janice."
Penelope Janice was Hayley's idol. A cooking and lifestyle expert with her own top-rated TV show on the Flavor Network. When Hayley heard the famous part-time summer resident of Mount Desert Island was going to make an appearance at Sherman's Bookstore in Bar Harbor midweek before the long Fourth of July weekend, she was filled with excitement. Hayley owned all of Penelope's cookbooks in hardcover, and they lined the bookshelf in her living room. Cowboys and Turbans, Penelope's mouthwatering exploration of Mexican-Indian fusion recipes, was a personal favorite. She had met her idol in person a few times in passing at Penelope's famous Fourth of July barbecues she held every year at her palatial Seal Harbor estate for all the local residents, but Hayley had never worked up the nerve to bring one of her cookbooks and personally ask her for an autograph.
Since it was practically a holiday week, Hayley's boss Sal Morretti, editor in chief at the Island Times newspaper, was amenable to her leaving early on a Wednesday in order to get in line for Mrs. Janice's book signing.
By six o'clock when Penelope was scheduled to arrive, the line had already wrapped around the aisles of the store, out the door, and down Main Street, nearly stretching all the way to the Bar Harbor Banking and Trust building blocks away. But thanks to Hayley's careful planning, she was only tenth in line to get her newly purchased hardcover signed.
This latest release, Making Magic out of Leftovers was the perfect title to add to her collection, especially now that Hayley's two kids, Gemma and Dustin, were out of the house and living on their own. She suddenly found her refrigerator stocked with leftovers in Tupper ware containers. She was used to cooking for a family of three for so many years. Four, if you counted the years her ex-husband Danny was in the picture. But for the record, that period of her life she would just as soon forget.
Hayley chatted with a few locals in line with her while waiting for the official start of the book signing, including Martha Hickenlooper, a culinary fan in her own right who had moved back to the island after years working as a chef in Atlanta and gaining fame in some circles for designing meal plans for Delta Airlines.
Martha also considered Penelope Janice a hero.
"Have you read this latest book?" she asked Hayley, breathlessly.
"No," Hayley said, "I just bought it today. I'm going to curl up on my couch between all the barbecues and fireworks this weekend and tear my way through it!"
"It's genius! Penelope has no peer when it comes to creating gourmet recipes you'd expect at a five-star restaurant — and out of the simplest ingredients you can find in your cupboard any day of the week! I mean, the woman is brilliant. I had some leftover cheeses and a few roasted potatoes on hand, and within minutes I had a heavenly casserole like none I've ever tasted! I'm telling you, she is —"
Martha stopped mid-sentence, her jaw dropped, and her eyes grew wide as her attention was drawn to something happening outside the store window.
Hayley turned to see a maroon Chevrolet SS sedan pull up in front of the store, and a petite, fiery redhead in Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, a bright pink blouse, and white capri pants jump out. The fans outside the store burst into spontaneous applause, and although she made several modest gestures begging them to stop, Penelope Janice clearly loved soaking up all of the adoration.
Donna, a heavyset Sherman's Bookstore employee, who was known for wearing thick wool sweaters even in the dog days of summer because she was cold all the time, flew out the door to greet the VIP guest, and then ushered her inside the store with all the fanfare she could muster.
"Hello, everyone, I'm so glad you could make it!" Penelope cooed as the doting fans inside the store followed the leads of the less fortunate ones still standing outside and enthusiastically broke into more applause.
"She looks even prettier in person!" Martha gushed, clapping her hands so hard her palms started turning red.
Donna whisked Penelope down the aisle to the back of the store where her table, pens, and stacks of books awaited.
After a few minutes of glad-handing all of the Sherman's Bookstore staff, Penelope plopped down in her leather chair that had been wheeled out from the back office just for this special occasion. She waved over the first person in line to get her book personally autographed.
Hayley had secretly hoped that she might get the chance to have a brief chat with Penelope while having her book signed, mostly because she wanted to tell her just how much she enjoyed her books and TV show, but gatekeeper Donna kept the chatter between the author and her devoted readers to a minimum by shooing them away the second Penelope handed their book back to them with a bright smile.
It took less than five minutes before Hayley found herself standing before her culinary idol. She clutched her copy of Making Magic out of Leftovers to her chest and stared at the attractive woman with the Lucille Ball hair color.
Hayley was at a complete loss for words — a rare occurrence, by the way.
"Would you like me to sign your book?" Penelope asked politely, as Hayley noticed her lipstick matched her hair perfectly.
Martha had to nudge Hayley in order to snap her out of her trance.
"Oh, yes, sorry," Hayley laughed, shaking her head. "Just make it out to Hayley. That's Hayley with a Y. I mean, in the middle, everyone knows Hayley has a Y at the end. Although I did go to summer camp when I was a kid with a girl who spelled it with two E's at the end. H-A-I-L-E-E. But that's rare —"
"Could you please just hand her your book, Hayley, so she can sign it?" Donna barked, quickly losing patience.
"Gosh, I'm just a bundle of nerves. I guess I never thought I would ever meet you in person," Hayley said.
She handed Penelope the book and watched her start to write her name on the title page inside the front cover, but then she stopped and looked up at Hayley.
"Hayley ... as in Hayley Powell?"
"Yes, that's right," Hayley said, incredulous.
How could this woman possibly know who she was?
"As in Hayley Powell, who writes the Island Food & Spirits column I read every week in the local paper?"
"Yes," Hayley said.
"I'm such a huge fan!" Penelope yelped.
Martha dropped her book on the floor in shock.
"You know my column?" Hayley asked, her mouth agape.
"Of course I do! You forget I live here during the summer. I like to keep up with all the local news. I stumbled across you a few years ago, and I have to say, I've been hooked on your column ever since. I also must confess, I've lifted a few of your recipe ideas for my show, but please don't sue me!"
"No, of course not! I'm flattered!" Hayley cried, trying to remain calm and not dance around the store in a frenzied euphoric state.
Hayley knew a few notable people who spent the summer months on the island and were aware of her column. There was the late Olivia Redmond, a billionaire bacon heiress, and also Rhonda Franklin, the famous daytime TV hostess of The Chat who was an unabashed fan. And there were also more than a few locals who claimed Martha Stewart, a summer resident who bought the old Ford Estate in Seal Harbor, was vaguely aware of her, but Hayley had never encountered her in person.
But Penelope Janice?
Sitting right in front of her with a big toothy grin on her face announcing her devotion to Hayley's obscure small-town musings?
This was a whole other level.
"I've been dying to meet you and talk to you," Penelope said, reaching out and taking Hayley's hand to shake it since Hayley was too dumbfounded to offer it herself. "It's such a pleasure to meet you."
"Mrs. Janice, we have a lot of people waiting in line to get their books signed ..." Donna said softly but firmly.
"Of course, I understand," Penelope said, nodding.
She scribbled a quick note in Hayley's book and handed it back to her.
Hayley stared at it, still unable to comprehend the idea of her being an "inspiration" to someone as talented and accomplished and world famous as Penelope Janice.
Martha pushed Hayley out of the way and took her place in front of the author. "Mrs. Janice, I just have to tell you that I think —"
"Wait!" Penelope shouted as Hayley turned to leave.
Donna grimaced as Penelope waved Hayley back over to her.
"I know this is last minute, but what are you up to this weekend?"
"I — I was going to read your book," Hayley stammered.
"Well, I would never discourage anyone from reading one of my books, but perhaps you can do it at my house in Seal Harbor," Penelope said, smiling.
"I'm sorry, what?" Hayley asked.
"I'm sorry, what?" Martha echoed.
"I don't mean to be forward, but I need you. If I could explain ..."
Donna checked her watch and sighed.
Hayley stepped forward, all ears.
"I'm hosting an event at my house this weekend, sort of a celebrity potluck, if you will, where famous chefs come together and whip up their signature dishes in a friendly competition. The unveiling of the winner will be taped for a segment on my TV show. Well, as luck would have it, Irina St. Pierre, you know, the French pastry chef, is going through a nasty divorce back in New York. She slapped her husband after a court hearing and it wound up on TMZ, so she's in damage control mode now working with a high-priced public relations firm, and she had to cancel at the last minute. So to make a long story even longer, I need a fill-in. But finding a replacement has been somewhat challenging to say the least, given the short notice, not to mention that it's Fourth of July weekend, so I was wondering —"
"I would love to participate!" Hayley screamed.
"She would love to!" Martha echoed.
"That's wonderful! The guests will be staying for an extended weekend. Most of them are arriving tomorrow and are not scheduled to leave until Monday or Tuesday because they need a couple of days to shop for ingredients and prepare their dishes before the competition. My husband and I have also planned a few outings and excursions, so if it's not entirely inconvenient for you —" "You want me to stay the entire Fourth of July weekend at your estate in Seal Harbor?"
"It's not exactly an estate. More like a summer cottage," Penelope said, brimming with modesty.
Hayley smiled knowingly, having seen some of the expansive rooms on a few episodes of Penelope's Cupboard when she shot segments in Seal Harbor. Penelope's idea of a summer cottage was in reality a normal person's idea of a large sprawling estate.
"No pressure though. I know it's last minute and a very busy time of the year," Penelope purred, knowing full well Hayley would instantly jump at the chance to join her potluck party.
And she did.
"Yes! I would love to!" Hayley blurted out. "I just need to check with my boss to see if I can get Thursday and Friday off."
"Marvelous! You will have full access to my kitchen to prepare your dish," Penelope said. "I can't thank you enough, Hayley. You're a lifesaver! I'll have my assistant call you at your office with the rest of the details."
"Thank you, Mrs. Janice, thank you!"
"Please, it's Penelope."
Martha Hickenlooper pushed her face in front of Penelope and screamed, "I'm a chef too, Penelope! In case anyone else is a noshow!"
Donna folded her arms and glared at Martha, but Penelope was unruffled and asked with a tight smile, "Who do I make it out to?"
As Martha carefully spelled out her name, Hayley floated out of the bookstore.
Her lazy, boring holiday weekend at home had just turned into the dream of a lifetime.
Hayley's instincts were right. Penelope's "quaint seaside cottage" boasted spacious dining and living rooms, twelve bedrooms, seven and a half baths, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and stocked pantry. Outside there was also a remarkable combination of covered porches and large sun decks. Surrounding the property were extensive landscaping and colorful gardens with quiet meandering walkways that wind their way to a stunning view of the crystal-blue ocean and the picturesque harbor dotted with fishing boats and summer cruisers.
A perky maid, who introduced herself as Pam, showed Hayley to her room upon her arrival. When Pam swung open the door and Hayley stepped inside, she audibly gasped at the adorable space that had been so lovingly softened by pale pink walls, hanging silk sheers and linen drapes, and an elegant, shell-covered chandelier.
Pam then marched over and dramatically pulled open the curtains, allowing a bright stream of the midday sun to shine through, which lightened the room even more. There was a small dressing table to the left adorned with expensive beauty and skin products and lush towels that matched the walls.
Hayley thanked Pam and reached into her purse to scavenge for a few dollars for a tip, but Pam waved her off, declining any compensation for doing her job. This was a private home, not a hotel. Pam then scooted out the door to give Hayley her privacy.
After looking around and marveling at her gorgeous room once more, Hayley unzipped her bag, unpacked her summer clothing for the weekend, and stored it in the cottage-white antique dresser drawers. Then she changed into a short-sleeve yellow blouse and white shorts, slipped on some low wedge strap-on sandals, and decided to set out to find the kitchen in order to get familiar with it before she started her food prep.
Hayley bounded out of the room, full of excitement over the prospect of hobnobbing with her favorite chefs over a long holiday weekend. But there was also a persistent twinge of nervousness. This whole experience was going to be far outside her wheelhouse.
Halfway down the hall, Hayley got turned around and couldn't find the staircase that led down to the main foyer.
She walked back, turned a corner and headed down another long hallway, but ultimately reached a dead end. She finally stopped to get her bearings.
The house was so big she was now lost.
Hayley smiled to herself.
She suddenly felt something furry brush up against her bare leg, and she jumped with a yelp.
Hayley looked down to see a large fluffy white Persian cat staring up at her with giant copper eyes that seemed to say, "Of course you are going to love me."
"Look how beautiful you are," Hayley cooed, bending down to scratch the top of the cat's head as he closed his eyes, happy, relaxed, and purring, with a proud smile and attitude that said in no uncertain terms, "Yes, I know."
"What's your name?"
Hayley fingered an expensive crystal rhinestone collar around the cat's neck that had a small gold-plated medallion in front with the name Sebastian inscribed on the back.
"Nice to meet you, Sebastian. I'm Hayley," she said, before realizing she still couldn't ditch the habit of talking to animals even though she knew they were never going to talk back unless they were in an animated Disney movie.
"You're being ridiculous!" a man bellowed from behind a closed door just down the hall.
"Do not patronize me, Conrad! I hate it when you patronize me!"
"Well, then stop acting like a petulant child!"
Hayley picked Sebastian up in her arms and he contentedly settled into the crook of her arm, cuddling against her chest, on his back facing up, begging to be scratched. She began to lightly caress his furry white belly as she listened to Penelope arguing with Conrad, whom Hayley knew to be her husband of twenty-six years from her TV show on the Flavor Network.
"I will not be humiliated by that woman this weekend in front of all my peers, do you hear me?"
"What exactly do you think is going on between the two of us?"
"What am I supposed to think? You seem to spend an awful lot of your time with her. She works for me, Conrad! Not you! You don't have to take her everywhere you go like some damn service dog!"
"Do not compare Lena to an animal. That's beneath you."
Hayley recognized the name from Penelope's Cupboard. She was the star's devoted assistant, although there was a rumor on the Internet that Lena was a very talented author in her own right and actually ghostwrote, or at least contributed heavily to, all of Penelope's number-one best-selling books.
Excerpted from "Death of a Cookbook Author"
Copyright © 2018 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.
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