Fashionista and part-time sleuth Haley Randolph has landed her ticket to ride: a job planning events for big-deal Hollywood clients. But her nasty new boss sets her up for disaster by assigning her a hugely complicated Beatles-themed bash. On her way to check out the party's custom yellow submarine cake, Haley finds the baker lying in a pool of blood--here, there and everywhere! And of course the police are eyeing her as the murderer. . .
With a suspect list that leads down a very long and winding road, Haley will be working at least eight days a week to keep herself out of those awful blue prison outfits--while tracking down the season's hottest bag: the Enchantress. But a cunning killer may be much closer than she thinks!
"Enjoyable." –Publishers Weekly
"Appealing, full of light and breezy writing, a lovable cast of characters and touches of humor." –RT Book Reviews
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Evening Bags and Executions
By DOROTHY HOWELL
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Dorothy Howell
All rights reserved.
The girl who had this job before me was murdered.
That should have been my first clue.
But, honestly, that little chunk of info hadn't seemed like a big deal when I'd applied for the position. And the fact that I'd been hired pretty much over the phone didn't seem significant, either.
So I, Haley Randolph, with my worthy-of-a-romance-novel-cover dark hair, my I'm-enviably-tall five-foot-nine-inch height, and my too-bad-they're-mostly-recessive beauty-queen genes, had accepted a position as an assistant planner at L.A. Affairs, the biggest, coolest event-planning company in Los Angeles.
I mean, jeez, what else could I do? I needed a job—or, really, a paycheck—plus I owned eight fully accessorized business suits left from a job I'd had a few weeks ago—long story—that I absolutely had to wear somewhere.
Everybody has their priorities.
My life had taken a lot of hits in the last month or so, but I'm proud to say I'd rolled with all of them. Some other person might have been knocked for a loop at losing the best job in the entire world, as I had, or been devastated beyond belief at breaking up with their totally hot boyfriend, as I had. But not me. Oh no. In fact, I was doing way better now than before those things happened. Really.
My whole future had suddenly crystallized—like when you see a to-die-for Louis Vuitton satchel in the display window and know that, no matter what, you're going to buy it—and I knew exactly where my life was headed and how I was going to get there.
So here I was facing down birthday number twenty-five pretty soon—the dreaded hump year on the downhill slide to the my-life-is-over-I'll-never-have-fun-again big threeoh—and I was perfectly okay with it. I swear.
That's probably because, at long last, I'd settled on the career I wanted. It didn't even bother me that it required that I finally get my bachelor's degree.
The decision had come to me in a flash at three o'clock one morning when I was sitting alone on my couch, eating Oreos stuffed with M&M's, dipped in fudge, and topped with chocolate chips—my own personal recipe—and watching television. I'd discovered the History Channel—do they have interesting shows, or what?—and believe me, a lot of fantastic ideas can spring up during those all-night documentary marathons.
I'd decided I wanted a career as a corporate buyer. I mean, jeez, it seemed like a natural fit for me—I loved to shop, I had great taste in absolutely everything, and I wasn't intimidated by crowds, even on Black Friday.
I'd actually been hired to work as a buyer, sort of, a few weeks ago at a fabulous company downtown. I ended up working as their corporate event planner instead—long story—but everything had turned out okay. Kind of.
That life-altering, future-defining decision made, I'd registered for four classes at College of the Canyons—most of them were online, but they still counted—and was loving every one of them. Really.
My life was rolling along great now. I had my totally cool apartment in Santa Clarita that was about thirty minutes north of downtown Los Angeles. It needed a little fixing up but was still fabulous. My best friend Marcie Hanover and I were giving killer purse parties, though, really, I hadn't had much time lately to plan a party. I had tons of really great friends, even though I hadn't seen any of them in a while. I still had my part-time sales clerk job at Holt's Department Store and, yeah, I only made about eight bucks an hour, but it was okay. And the best part of my life was that my mom and I were getting along great.
I left my Honda in a parking garage off Sepulveda Boulevard in Sherman Oaks and headed for the building that would be my new home away from home. It was a gorgeous Southern California morning in September. Nearby were lots of office buildings, banks, apartment complexes, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria with terrific shops and restaurants.
Showing up for the first day on the job could be intimidating for some people, but not me. Let's just say that I'd done this quite often in the last few years. I'd worked as a lifeguard, receptionist, file clerk, and two weeks at a pet store before moving on to a fantastic job in the accounting department of the Pike Warner law firm last fall. Things hadn't turned out as well as I'd hoped—there was that whole administrative-leave-investigating-pending thing—but I'd moved on.
The one constant in my life, employment-wise, was my job at Holt's. I'd taken a part-time sales clerk job there about a year ago and, well, there had been a few—okay, more than a few—problems, but every job had its moments, didn't it?
That's where I'd met my boyfriend, Ty Cameron. He was the latest in five generations of his family to own and be completely obsessed with running the chain, plus he'd opened several boutiques he'd named Wallace, after some ancient ancestor, and had just finished negotiations for Holt's International.
Ty is—was—a way hot boyfriend. He looked fabulous in his expensive suits and drove a totally cool Porsche. Our breakup was something we decided on together, and it was for the best. Really. So I'm perfectly okay with it. Perfectly okay. Perfectly.
The lobby of the building that housed L.A. Affairs was all glass and red marble. A lot of well-dressed men and women streamed into the elevators carrying briefcases and messenger bags, everybody seemingly anxious to get into their offices and start the day.
I'd selected a black business suit—one of the eight Marcie had helped me shop for a few weeks ago—for my first day on the job, and carried my Louis Vuitton satchel and day planner. Marcie had offered to come to my apartment last night and help me pick out my outfit, as a best friend would, but I'd told her not to.
I'd been offered a job here at L.A. Affairs a few months ago but had blown it off to go to London with Ty. After my fabulous job had ended a few weeks ago, Marcie had suggested I contact them and see if they were still interested in hiring me, and since Marcie was almost always right about things, I gave them a call. They got back to me right away with an offer. The woman in H.R. hadn't even asked to see my updated résumé, which was a real break for me—long story.
I got out of the elevator on the third floor and walked down the carpeted hallway to the double doors that had L.A. Affairs printed on them in gold lettering. I pushed my way inside and spotted the receptionist standing behind her desk. She jumped when she saw me.
"Oh! My!" She waved her hands as if she were doing a jazz routine, and said, "Are you ready to party?"
I remembered her from when I'd been in the office a few months ago. She was probably somewhere on the high side of forty with blond hair sculpted into the shape of a football helmet, a little on the heavy side, and dressed in one of those tweed suits that make you look like you're wearing a carpet.
She giggled and clasped her hands together. "They make me say that."
"I'm Haley Randolph," I said. "I'm starting work here today."
"Oh! My! Well, you really are ready to party, aren't you?" she said, and laughed. "Welcome. I'm Mindy."
I saw no reason to remind her that I'd been in here a few months ago asking about the girl who'd been murdered.
"Nice to meet you," I said.
Mindy's smile faded. "I haven't worked here long. My husband left me."
I was pretty sure she'd told me about her marital situation the last time I was here.
"He just left me," Mindy said. "Out of the blue. No warning. He just left."
"Sorry to hear that," I said.
"But I'm working here, so everything is fine," Mindy said. "Well, not really. Everything is sort of, well, it's not fine."
Jeez, what was with her? Why hadn't she gotten over her husband as quickly as I'd gotten over my breakup with Ty?
Maybe I could give her some pointers later.
"Which way to H.R.?" I asked.
"Oh! My! That would be Edie's department. I'll call her," Mindy said.
She eyed the telephone console on her desk that had enough buttons on it to coordinate U.S. naval operations in the Pacific; a half-dozen red and yellow lights flashed frantically.
"Oh, jiminy, now let me see if I can find her," Mindy said. She picked up the handset and hit a button. "Hello, Edie? This is—oh, it's not? Are you sure? Yes, okay, I'll try—which extension? Oh, yes, that's right. Okay."
Mindy pushed another button. "Hello, Edie? This is—oh, it's not? Oh, jiminy, are you sure?"
I walked away, figuring that, sooner or later, I would stumble across the Human Resources department.
A cube farm sat in the center of the room, and along the wall was a line of glassed-in offices where, presumably, L.A. Affairs' upscale clientele and the rich and famous of Los Angeles—or their personal assistants—came to discuss upcoming parties and events. The whole place was decorated in chic, sophisticated shades of beige, cream, ecru, and white.
I turned right and walked along another corridor and found a cluster of offices. All of them had little nameplates on the door. I stopped when I saw the one that read EDIE Franklin, Human Resources.
Through the open door I spotted a tiny woman with supershort, pale blond hair rocking a Michael Kors dress and accessories sitting behind the desk. I rapped on the door, and she looked up. From the crinkles around her eyes, I figured forty was in her rearview mirror.
"I'm Haley Randolph," I said.
Edie's eyes widened and she threw herself back in her chair.
"You're here. You actually came," she said, and scrambled to her feet. She rushed around the desk. "Come in, Haley. Please sit down. I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here."
Wow, I hadn't expected such a warm welcome. This job was starting out great.
Edie ushered me into the chair in front of her desk. "Can I get you anything? How about some coffee? Would you prefer tea?"
"Coffee would be nice," I said.
Edie leaned out the door and screamed, "Kayla!"
She gave me a wide smile and said, "This won't take a minute. Just make yourself comfortable."
"What the hell?" A young, dark-haired woman in a YSL suit, whom I presumed was Kayla, walked through the door.
"This is Haley, our new assistant planner," Edie said, presenting me as if I were a Marchesa gown only just arrived from a Milan runway show.
Kayla looked at me with an I-can't-believe-it expression, and said, "You're kidding."
"Would you get Haley a coffee, please?" Edie asked, forcing a smile.
"Does she know about—"
"Just get it. Now!"
Kayla hurried away, and Edie turned back to me with her plastered-on smile firmly in place once more.
"Let's get you settled in, shall we?" she said, and took a seat behind her desk. She pulled a large packet from her drawer and handed it to me. I knew from my extensive experience that this was my new-hire info.
"We're starting you out as an assistant planner. I realize that when we spoke on the phone I mentioned the senior planner position," Edie said.
The senior planner position had belonged to the girl who'd been murdered a few months back—long story. I guess I should have been irked that Edie was offering me a lower position now, but I was really okay with not taking a dead girl's job.
Call me crazy.
"I see you moving up to senior planner in no time," Edie said. Her smile widened. "No time at all, really. And that, of course, means a significant increase in your salary, plus a company car—your choice of color—profit sharing, an assistant planner of your own, a quarterly bonus, a membership in a health club, a weekly spa visit, and a clothing allowance."
Wow, this was a fantastic job, all right. I'd have to give Marcie a big thank-you for insisting I apply here.
Kayla dashed into the office, sans coffee.
"Haley needs to come to the breakroom with me," she told Edie.
"I haven't finished going over her benefits," she replied.
Kayla's eyes widened and she leaned forward.
"Immediately, Edie. Haley needs to come with me immediately."
"Oh!" Edie popped out of her chair. "Run along with Kayla, if you will, Haley. I'll get back with you on benefits later today."
She shooed me out of her office, and I walked down the corridor with Kayla. We turned a corner and I heard a door slam behind us, followed by a woman screaming at the top of her voice.
"Who's that?" I asked.
Kayla rolled her eyes. "Vanessa Lord. She's our top event planner. Brings in all the high-dollar clients. L.A. Affairs would be circling the drain if it weren't for her—and she knows it. The rest of us just have to put up with her."
"She doesn't sound very happy," I said.
"Vanessa is never happy," Kayla said. "Nothing suits her. Ever."
"I feel sorry for the assistant planner who has to work under her," I said.
"Um, well, actually," Kayla said, "you're her new assistant."
"Okay, look, I realize this isn't your fault, technically," Vanessa said. "But you need to resign. Today."
I sat across the desk from Vanessa in her immaculate office that overlooked Sepulveda Boulevard. I figured she was only a few years older than me. She had on an exquisitely styled, black Armani suit. Her dark hair was in a sophisticated updo. Her makeup and nails were perfect.
I couldn't find a single thing wrong with her appearance, which was really irritating.
We'd met two minutes ago when Edie—fresh from her screaming match with Vanessa—had introduced us, then left to have her Zoloft prescription refilled, no doubt.
I could easily see how Vanessa had made the decision that she didn't like me so quickly because, already, I knew I didn't like her, either.
I saw no need to share that revelation with her since I really wanted to keep this job—at least long enough to wear each of my eight fully accessorized business suits a minimum of one time. Collecting a paycheck would be nice too, since I'd received a troubling e-mail from my bank a couple of days ago.
"Why do you think I should resign?" I asked.
"Because I don't like you," Vanessa told me.
Jeez, no wonder H.R. was so quick to hire me.
"Don't take it personally," Vanessa told me. "I liked my last assistant. She quit. I want her back, but H.R. refuses to meet her demands."
I figured those demands included providing her with a cross and an unlimited supply of garlic to sleep with.
"As long as you're here, H.R. has no incentive to rehire her," Vanessa said. She pulled a sheet of paper from her drawer and slapped it down in front of me. "You can write your resignation on this."
I was tempted to write something, all right—two choice words came to mind—but I didn't.
"I'm not going to resign," I told her.
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
Jeez, what grade were we in?
"Look," I told her. "I'm going to keep this job until I decide to quit. And there's nothing you can do about it."
Vanessa gave me serious stink-eye and pressed her lips together so tight, I thought cartoon steam might actually come out of her ears.
"We'll see about that," she said.
Vanessa stomped out of her office and screamed, "Kayla! Where is Edie? Kayla!"
I went to my office.
Kayla, who was probably hiding under a desk somewhere right now—not that I blamed her, of course—had showed me around the office complex while Vanessa had been screaming at Edie earlier. I'd gotten spoiled by having my own private office at my last job, so I was really glad to see that I had one here, even if it was right next door to Vanessa's office.
It came with a neutral-colored desk, chair, credenza, and bookcase, and was accented with splashes of vibrant blues and yellows in the wall prints. I gazed out the window down Sepulveda Boulevard, hoping to spot a Starbucks—home of my all-time favorite drink on the entire planet—nearby. I knew one was located in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, but that was about a five-minute walk from here—I preferred something under three, in case of an emergency.
I sat down at my desk and realized the morning was flying by and essential matters absolutely had to be taken care of. I pulled out my cell phone and made lunch plans.
Luckily, Marcie had anticipated my first day on the new job and had taken off a half day from her job at a bank downtown—is she a terrific BFF or what? We met at the Cheesecake Factory at the Galleria.
Excerpted from Evening Bags and Executions by DOROTHY HOWELL. Copyright © 2013 by Dorothy Howell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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