When Bunny generously offers Jaine a gig writing Marv's new advertising campaign, Jaine accepts the job, and an invitation to her upcoming soirée. But at the party Bunny cruelly rules the Cooper mansion and before the evening is over, someone poisons Bunny.
The police arrest Lance, but Jaine knows his murderous urges end at her closet door. Setting out to clear his name, she soon discovers a list of suspects longer than Bunny's credit card bill. . .
"Zany. . .series fans will find Jaine as funny as ever." --Publishers Weekly
"If you love a good mystery, this book is for you." --New York Journal of Books
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DEATH OF A TROPHY WIFEA Jaine Austen Mystery
By LAURA LEVINE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Laura Levine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was Sunday morning and all across Los Angeles, the sun was shining, palm trees were swaying, and birds were tweeting their little hearts out. Yes, it was a picture perfect day in L.A. Except for one tiny part of town where storm clouds had descended and showed no signs of dissipating:
Here at Casa Austen, it was definitely monsoon season.
If, as my good buddy Siggy Freud once said, the two most important things in life were work and love, I was in deep doo doo. It had been weeks since my last freelance writing assignment. And the only men in my life were my longtime companions, Ben & Jerry, who were, in fact, keeping me company that very moment as I soaked in the tub.
With a sigh, I reached for a towel to wipe the fog from my sunglasses.
Why, you ask, was I wearing sunglasses in the tub? It's a long, ghastly story (one you can read all about in Killer Cruise, now available wherever fine paperbacks are sold), but thanks to a recent visit from my parents, my walls were painted a hideous shade of Tropical Orange.
Oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C, but trust me, you don't want them on your walls. And in the confines of my tiny bathroom, they were particularly blinding. I yearned to hire a painter to get rid of the mess, but no way was that going to happen, not with my checkbook on life support.
I gazed up at my cat, Prozac, who was sprawled out on the toilet tank.
"Oh, Pro," I moaned. "Life stinks."
"Cheer up, kiddo."
These comforting words did not come from Prozac, who was engrossed in a thorough examination of her privates, but from my next door neighbor Lance. Lance and I share a 1940s duplex, a modest little place with antique plumbing and walls the consistency of Kleenex. Due to these flimsy walls—and the fact that Lance can hear toilets flushing in San Diego—Lance is practically my roommate.
"Get out of that tub, lazybones!" he shouted. "I'm taking you to brunch."
"But, Lance," I said, eyeing the remains of my Chunky Monkey breakfast, "I just ate."
"That never stopped you before."
"Forget it. I am not about to stuff myself right after breakfast."
"I'll pick you up in five minutes."
"Make it ten," I sighed, unable to resist the lure of free calories.
I dragged myself out of the tub and threw on some elastic-waist jeans and a T-shirt. An outfit that failed to impress when Lance showed up at my apartment.
"My god, Jaine!" he gasped. "I've seen homeless people in nicer clothes."
Of course he has. Lance works as a shoe salesman at Neiman Marcus in the heart of Beverly Hills, where even the homeless wear designer labels.
"Thanks," I snapped. "You look lovely, too."
And in fact, he did look rather spiffy in perfectly creased chinos and a country club sports jacket, his tight blond curls gleaming with expensive goop.
"Sweetie," he chided, "you can't wear that outfit to The Four Seasons."
"The Four Seasons? But that place is nosebleed expensive."
"Not to worry, hon. My treat. I've been racking up sales like crazy lately. Neiman's is even talking about making me a buyer."
"Congratulations!" I said, happy that at least one of us was doing well.
"C'mon." He marched me to my bedroom. "Let's find you something decent to wear. You can't be seen in public in that outfit. Or in private, for that matter."
For some insane reason, Lance is convinced I am fashion-challenged, insisting that moths come to my closet to commit suicide.
"Gaaack!" he cried, holding up a perfectly serviceable polka dot polyester dress. "I may go blind!"
Ignoring my dagger glares, he rifled through my hangers and handed me a pair of simple gray slacks.
"But, Lance, they don't have an elastic waist."
"I can't wear a set-in waist to brunch. How am I supposed to go back for seconds?"
"You're not. Put 'em on. And this blouse, too."
I stomped off to the bathroom, where I donned my Lance-approved outfit.
"Much better," he said when I presented myself for inspection.
"Thank you, your grace."
"Of course your hair's a mess," he said, eyeing my mop of curls swept up in a scrunchy, "but I don't have the energy to deal with that now."
Thank heavens for small favors.
"Let's go," he said, leading the way to the living room.
"Bye, honey," I called to Prozac, who had resumed her perusal of her privates on the sofa. "We're off to brunch."
She looked up at me in that loving way of hers that could mean only one thing:
Bring back crab cakes.
Then I grabbed my purse and headed out the door on that glorious Sunday morning, little dreaming that my personal storm cloud was headed straight for Lance.
Chapter TwoBrunch at The Four Seasons is like the Garden of Eden with mimosas.
Tucked away in a lushly landscaped courtyard, the restaurant is cut off from most mere mortals by a carefully tended jungle of tropical vines and gasp-worthy prices.
Lance and I had been seated at a cozy table for two and were now sipping mimosas in the dappled sun, breathing in the heady aroma of gardenias.
Maybe life wasn't so bad after all.
"Ready to hit the buffet table?" Lance grinned.
When it comes to buffet tables, I'm always ready.
We got up from our seats and headed inside, where a lavish feast was laid out. Lord, what a spread. It was probably a good thing Lance made me leave my elastic-waist pants at home. I really couldn't afford to pig out. I'd just take some fruit and a blueberry muffin. And a smidgeon of lobster frittata. And maybe a tad of ham. And a dab of hash. And gosh, those omelettes looked good—
You can see where this is going, can't you?
When I was all done, I practically needed a forklift to carry my plate.
Needless to say, Mr. Goody Two Shoes had just an omelette and a few shards of fruit. Which, if you ask me, was a ridiculous waste of money. I mean, why pay a small fortune for an all-you-can-eat brunch when you're hardly going to eat anything?
"Hey, look," he said as we headed back outside with our plates. "There's one of my customers."
"Over there. The gal at the corner table." He nodded to a primo table, where a striking redhead was engrossed in conversation with a tubby bald guy. Something about the guy looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place him.
"That's Bunny and Marvin Cooper," Lance said as we took our seats. "They're swimming in money. He owns a chain of mattress stores."
"Wait a minute," I said, squinting at the guy. "Isn't he Marvelous Marv, the Mattress King?"
No wonder he looked familiar. I'd seen him in dozens of tacky late-night commercials, wearing a crown and hawking his line of mattresses "fit for a king."
"He and Bunny got married last year. It was the Go To wedding on the Beverly Hills party circuit."
"Isn't she a little young for him?" I asked.
Indeed, Marvin had to be pushing sixty, while Bunny couldn't have been more than thirty. Tops.
"Trophy wives usually are," Lance said, checking out his reflection in a shiny Four Seasons silver knife. "It's a classic Rags to Bitches story. Struggling actress auditions for cheesy mattress commercial. Mattress mogul falls head over heels in love and dumps his wife of thirty years to marry her. Struggling actress now performing nightly on Mattress King mattress."
Men are such idiots, n'est-ce pas? I'd bet dollars to donuts Marvin Cooper had left a perfectly lovely woman, all for a pair of perky Double D's.
"Bunny and I met about a month ago," Lance said, spearing a piece of honeydew, "when she came to Neiman's to buy a pair of shoes. We bonded over a pair of Manolos, and now she's my best customer. We've even gone shopping together a couple of times. Her taste is a bit Frederick's of Hollywood for me, but it's fun tooling around in her Maserati. Anyhow, she's the reason my sales are going through the roof."
"Here's to Bunny," I said, lifting my glass in a toast. "Long may she buy."
"To Bunny," Lance said, clinking my glass.
"Oh, look, she sees you."
Indeed Bunny had spotted Lance and was now jumping up from her seat and heading in our direction.
Showgirl tall with a hubba-hubba bod, she was poured into designer jeans and a tank top so tight I could practically read the washing instructions on her bra. Her flaming red hair tumbled down past her shoulders in a cascade of carefully tousled extensions. Every eye on the patio was on her as she sashayed toward us on her seven hundred dollar Manolos.
Lance got up to greet her.
"Bunny, sweetheart!" he cooed, giving her an air kiss.
"Lance, darling! How's my favorite shoe guru? How much fun to run into each other like this! You look fab, as usual."
"You too, doll."
"Really? You don't think the bracelet's too much?" she asked, waving a mineful of diamonds on her wrist.
"On you, anything looks good."
"You shameless flatterer! That's why I love you, darling."
For the first time, she turned to look at me, hitting me with a blast of designer perfume.
"Who's your friend?"
"Bunny, this is my next door neighbor Jaine."
"She sure does eat a lot, doesn't she?"
Okay, so she didn't really say that, but I could tell that's what she was thinking by the way she was eyeing my plate.
"Jaine's a writer."
"Really?" Her eyes lit up, impressed. Most people are impressed when they learn I'm a writer.
"Yes, she wrote In a Rush to Flush? Call Toiletmasters!"
That's usually when people stop being impressed.
But Bunny didn't seem to mind that my creative muse came from a commode.
"I've seen that in the Yellow Pages. It's very cute."
I smiled modestly.
"It just so happens my husband is looking for someone new to write his commercials. You think you'd be interested?"
"Why don't you two drop by the house this afternoon, and I'll introduce you."
"That's awfully nice of you."
"It is, isn't it?" she said, with a toss of her fabulous mane. "Well, must dash. You know the address, Lance, honey. Oh, and don't forget to bring your bathing suits. We'll be hanging out at the pool."
Bathing suits? My fork froze en route to my mouth. If there are two things in this world I don't do, it's rice cakes and bathing suits.
"Sure thing, Bunny," Lance cried, as she skipped off.
"Forget it, Lance," I said the minute she was gone. "I'm not going. No way are me and my thighs appearing in public in a bathing suit."
"Okay, just tell her you forgot to bring one. But you've got to go. You can't afford to pass up the Mattress King account."
He was right, of course. At this point, I couldn't afford to pass up anything with a paycheck at the end of the rainbow.
We finished the rest of our meal in the sun-dappled splendor of the patio, chatting about this and that. Frankly, I can't remember much of what we said; I was too busy inhaling my mushroom and cheese omelette. In the end, though, I couldn't plow my way through everything on my plate and wound up taking my food home in a doggie bag.
And Lance's, too, if you must know.
Still feeling the glow from our heavenly brunch, Lance and I headed back to our duplex to get ready for Bunny's pool party.
The minute I walked into my apartment, Prozac leaped up from where she'd been napping on my computer keyboard and raced to my side.
"Miss me, honey?"
As if. Where's my crab cake?
I know how much she likes them, so I'd nabbed her one and now crumbled the fishy treasure into her bowl.
She sniffed at it disdainfully.
What—no tartar sauce?
"Oh, stop being such a darn fussbudget and eat it."
Which she proceeded to do with impressive speed, sucking it up like a Hoover on overdrive.
Free at last from Lance's critical gaze, I changed into a pair of comfy thigh-hiding shorts and my "good" T-shirt, an Eileen Fisher number, reduced from an exorbitant seventy-five dollars to an overpriced thirty-nine.
"Those shorts better not have an elastic waist," Lance said when he picked me up a few minutes later.
"Of course not."
And with that lie firmly planted on my lips, I set off with Lance for our poolside adventure.
Chapter Three"Welcome to Casa Extravaganza," Lance said as we drove up the circular driveway to Marvin and Bunny's Beverly Hills estate.
It was extravagant all right, very Vegas Versailles, with so many wings, I almost expected to see a bellboy out front.
"She's a beauty, isn't she?" Lance said as we got out of his Mini Cooper.
"I guess. If you like living in Caesar's Palace."
"I wasn't talking about the house. I was talking about that." He pointed to a bright red Maserati parked in the driveway.
"Isn't she fantastic?" he asked, running his fingers along its high-gloss paint job. "This baby is worth at least a hundred and fifty grand."
"What an outrageous waste of money."
"Bunny's good at that."
After ushering me past a pair of massive stone pillars, he rang the doorbell and set off a volley of cathedral-esque chimes.
A diminutive Hispanic maid answered the door, dressed in a black uniform and a stiffly starched white apron. In her hand she held a feather duster.
"Hi, Lupe." Lance greeted her with a grin.
"Buenos días, Senor Lance." She smiled timidly. "Ms. Bunny and Mr. Marvin are out back at the pool. Follow me."
"I know the way, sweetheart. Don't bother."
The maid scurried off to resume her dusting, and Lance led me down a hallway past a series of ornately furnished rooms. A little too Marie Antoinette–ish for my tastes, but hey, I still have bookshelves made from cinder blocks, so what do I know?
"You've been here before?" I asked as we trotted along.
"A couple of times. Bunny just finished redecorating, and she loves to show it off. She claims she used the same decorator as Gloria Vanderbilt."
I very much doubted that Gloria had a sofa cushion embroidered with the words Kiss Me. I'm Easy.
At last we'd trekked the marathon distance to the back of the house and stepped outside onto a flagstone patio. Now, in my neck of the woods, patio furniture is a couple of lawn chairs and a hibachi. But here at Casa Extravaganza, patio furniture meant matching sofas, dining table, full bar, stainless steel sink with tile backsplash, and a six-burner Viking stove.
"Yikes," I said, looking around. "They've got a whole other house back here."
"Neat, isn't it?"
"But what if it rains?"
"It never rains on the rich. And if it does, they just buy new furniture."
Beyond the patio and down a flight of steps was the pool, a huge turquoise gem glittering in the sun—surrounded by lounge chairs, patio tables, and colorful striped cabanas. All set against a mini-Sherwood Forest of trees.
"Wow," I said, gazing at the vista in awe, "I never realized there was so much money in mattresses."
Bunny was floating on a raft in the pool, scantily clad in a hot pink micro bikini. Marvin sat at one of the tables, chewing on a cigar and going over spreadsheets with a skinny guy in a Mattress King baseball cap.
And hunkered down on one of the lounge chairs was a chubby young woman, her nose buried in a magazine.
"The gal with the magazine is Sarah," Lance said. "Marvin's daughter. She's some sort of chemistry professor."
"That's his daughter? But she's Bunny's age."
"Occupational hazard of marrying someone thirty years younger than you."
"What about the guy in the baseball cap?"
"That's Sarah's husband, Owen Kendall. Started out as a lowly salesman, then married the boss's daughter, and now he's second in command. Classic case of The Son-in-Law Also Rises.
"Well," he said, squaring his shoulders, "time to make our grand entrance."
"Hello, everybody!" he called out.
Bunny looked up and grinned.
"If it isn't my favorite shoe salesman! C'mon down!"
My gut firmly tucked in my elastic-waist shorts, I followed Lance down the steps. Bunny scampered out of the pool in her bikini. Talk about itsy bitsy. I'd seen more latex in a Band-Aid. Then she slipped into a pair of sequined flip-flops and came trotting over to us, her Double-D's leading the way.
Once again, my nostrils were assaulted by her perfume, a distinctive bouquet of tea roses and Raid.
After air kissing Lance, she introduced me to the gang. Marvin greeted me with a vague hello, Owen barely glanced in my direction, and Sarah looked up from her copy of Chemistry Today just long enough to grunt a curt "hi."
I waited for Bunny to tell Marvin I was a would-be writer of mattress commercials, but I waited in vain.
Excerpted from DEATH OF A TROPHY WIFE by LAURA LEVINE Copyright © 2010 by Laura Levine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Laura Levine's mystery series is fantastic in its self. This story was funny and interesting. As far as the "who done it", I was definately not expecting the suspect. It's overall a great book. Definately a buy!
This has got to be one of the best books I've read in a really long time. It was very funny. I have not read the rest of the Jaine Austen series but I am planning on it.
I've read all the books in this series and I have to say this book annoyed the heck out of me. Most of it was because of when the main character talked about eating and she talks about it a LOT. But the part that really got to me was when she would say I'll only have a bite and eat the whole thing. If it was just once or twice in the book, I wouldn't mind but it was all the time. It was like the author was trying to be humorous and in reality it was a lame attempt.
Freelance writer Jaine Austen is trying to land The Mattress King as a new client when his much younger wife is murdered at a party she is giving. Considering she wasn't well liked, Jaine is surprised when her neighbor is accused of the crime. Can Jaine clear him? The mystery was a little too familiar here, but the jokes and crazy situations kept me turning pages in this fast read.
Funny, entertaining mystery with quirky cast of characters who also appear in other books in this series. Witty emails from her parents. A fun read not to be taken seriously. Little bit of earthy dialogue - she is, after all a single girl in L.A. No sex, no gore, no bad language
I really enjoyed this book. It was funny, exciting and had some surprises. I enjoy all of Laura Levine's books and can't wait for the next one. Lots of fun.
This is a good book to read on a rainy day seriously... it wwas fun and entertaaining! Ive read many of her books but this one was my favorite!!!
Laura Levine is a gifted writer and I want to read everyone one of her books. She's been compared to Janet Evanovich, but I think she surpasses Janet in the readability of her stories. I'm glad I discovered Laura Levine's books!
This series is rather predictable, but that is part of it's charm. Take it to the beach or poolside because it can be easily put down and picked back up between swims.
I've read some of the other books in this series for light fast summer reading and for a little entertainment, they were okay and got thru them fast, but this one was not very good. There was no real case and no mystery here only what her next meal was going to be. Very disappointed with book, and the emails from her parents are getting really old and annoying already, also the whole thing with the cat and feeding her fish guts enough already it's getting boring.
Ugh through out the book, all you read about is the main character stuffing her face. She just sounds like a fat pig. And thats throughout the whole book, what she's eating, what she wants to eat, how much she thinks about eating ugh! no no!!! i almost gave up on the book but i finish it just so it didnt seem like a waste of time, but even so just reading it made me feel like I gained 10 pounds. The crime she is trying to solve takes a back seat while she constantly goes through the day talking about food. I love her cat tho.
Not a terrible read, but there's not much meat in this story.