Before I jump right into giving you the excerpt, I want to let you know, this is the UN-EDITED version of the first two chapters. Things may change between this post and actual publication, in fact, they most likely will change a little.
I also wanted to let you know, I don’t have a release day set. Between taking on orphan kittens, my father-in-law’s illness, and some personal things, I haven’t gotten to write much over the last month or so. And it seems as soon as I catch up, I’m behind again. I promise though, this Willa Friday novel, and the next Gotcha Detective Agency novel will release in 2018.
Without further ado, I give you the (unedited) first 2 chapters of Breakfast, Bouchy & Murder:
I decided if I’m going to stop styling food for clients; I needed to step up my blogging game. In doing that, I spent a three-day weekend at a blogging conference. Now my head is spinning. I learned so much, and I also learned a new way to make money from making and photographing my recipes. And yet I also came away feeling cheated.
“Hi, I’m Willa Friday,” said the extroverted introvert at least two-hundred times. Not to mention the three-hundred plus times I said, “My food blog is A Dish in Thyme. I used to be a food stylist.”
To say it overwhelmed me would be misleading, flabbergasted would be a better word. I had no idea a lot of the other food and mommy bloggers weren’t even writing their own content. Right? Who knew? They hired out either the recipe creation, or the photography, or both. And many mommy bloggers purchase their content, then personalize it. Whoa, stop the presses. And then there are online services who just make and sell articles and recipes. What a business I’m in, and I realized in knew nothing about it. I’m not even going to go into search engine optimization, because I’m not sure I understand it yet.
On the plane, I had my laptop out and my noise cancelling headphones on. I spent most of the time furiously typing and trying to get all my handwritten notes into my computer. Most of the brilliant, six-figure a month earning bloggers had their tablets with them, and they typed during every expert panel. I scribbled on my legal pad, which was now next to me on the plane while I typed.
The flight attendant told us to put up our trays and stow our items to prepare for landing before I knew it. I couldn’t remember a flight from Tampa to San Francisco ever going so fast. Eager to be home and dreading the drive back to reality. I felt blessed to have met so many like-minded people while at the blogger conference, and I wanted to stay another week. Reality meant I was another week behind on work, and based on my emails and voicemail, I had new clients I needed to get back to. Not to mention my assistant had gone AWOL.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever get this food blog off the ground, to where I could sustain my lifestyle with no food styling clients, but I had renewed vigor. I also had ideas for new recipes.
The one disappointment of the trip was the lack of good wines from smaller Sonoma County vineyards. I missed the delicious wines of my home state and vowed to pour a glass as soon as I got home.
Already exhausted from the lack of sleep, and so many hours of peopling, I listened to a blogging podcast on my drive home. As I stood at the baggage claim, I search my podcasts and downloaded the latest from my favorite blogger. I’d have it cued and ready when I got to the car.
I put my phone away as I saw my luggage drop into the carousel. I heaved my single checked bag from the carousel and pulled up the handle, wheeling it behind me as I pulled my phone from my back pocket. First, I sent my daughter, Tommy, and my ex-husband, Peter, a text to let them know I was on my way home, then I pulled up my photos.
The air was crisp and cool as I exited the baggage claim area and walked out onto the sidewalk.
If I’d known how many pictures I would take over the last three days, I’d have found another way to remember where I parked my car. I stopped at the curb to scroll through the pictures. As I swiped my thumb across the photos for the third time, I got bumped from behind and my phone went flying into traffic.
A car rolled up, and I wasn’t sure if they had smashed my phone or not. Since the car didn’t look like it would be moving any time soon, I turned to look beside me at the woman who’d slammed into me.
“Excuse me, are you going to reach under that car and get my phone?” I asked, not even trying to keep the irritation from my voice.
She flipped her silver hair back with one hand and glared at me? “What are you talking about? Why on earth…”
“You bumped into me and knocked my phone into traffic.”
She shrugged. “You should be more careful.”
Her luggage screamed money, with the LV logos all over them. She wore high-waisted, skin-tight skinny jeans and a pastel floral print blouse fashionably tucked in at the front of her left hip. Even with her shiny silver hair, I knew she couldn’t be older than me. She also looked like she expected the seas to part for her. Sort of like a younger version of my mother-in-law, Hattie Friday. Only, I don’t think they had cell phones when Hattie was this age, they may have still had rotary dial-up.
“This may come as a surprise to you, but the world doesn’t revolve around you, it revolves around my mother-in-law.” Just then, the car on top of my phone rolled forward, and I stepped off the curb.
I put my left hand out to keep the next car from moving forward, then bent down and retrieved my phone from the asphalt, knowing full well it would be smashed to bits after being run over, no matter how much I paid for the protective cover.
When I picked it up, I saw it had damag just the bottom right corner. Maybe that car hadn’t run over it. The driver of the car honked, and I nearly peed myself. I waved and stepped back onto the sidewalk. The silver haired lady was gone.
After about a minute, I found the photo I’d taken of the ramp color and number and looked for signs to direct me to the parking garage elevators. Thankfully, the drive home was uneventful, because my good mood vanished when my phone flew out of my hand.
As I rounded the bend to Vendredi Winery, I smiled. Home sweet home. The lights of the bed-and-breakfast, Vendredi restaurant, and the path up the driveway welcomed me home.
As much as I enjoyed getting away, I couldn’t wait to sleep in my bed. And I fully intended to drop my bags at the foot of my bed, grab a glass of wine, and crawl directly into bed. Well, maybe not directly. I had to wash the travel dirt off me first. No way was I climbing between the sheets with all those airport germs on me.
After a long, hot shower, I padded into the kitchen barefooted, wearing sweats, with my hair still wrapped in a towel. The light was on, so Peter must have come home from the restaurant early.
“You didn’t text or call when you got home,” Peter said.
“I’m sorry. I wanted to take a shower and crawl in bed. I didn’t get much sleep at the conference.” I took the glass of white wine he handed me.
“A new varietal from the winery.”
I sipped from the ice-cold glass. “Crisp. I like it.”
He showed me the bottle and asked, “Are you hungry?”
I didn’t have to answer since my stomach growled loud enough to speak for me.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” He handed me a small bowl.
“I different take on ceviche. I’m testing it before I put it on the menu. The staff loved it. But they love everything I make.”
I laughed. “That’s so not true. Remember the chicken with some kind of weird cream sauce. I don’t even remember what you called the sauce. Oleg didn’t even try to pretend it was good.”
“I’m trying to forget that one. But thanks for reminding me.” He grabbed his glass of wine and headed to the living room.
“Just keeping you humble.” I followed him into the living room and sat down on the couch.
The ceviche was delicious, and when I asked him what his twist on the recipe was, he refused to tell me. I’d get it out of him soon enough. Or I’d bribe his chef, Oleg Petrovich, since he knows how to make all of Peter’s recipes.
“Tell me all about the conference? Do you still want to be a full-time blogger?”
I nodded because my mouth was full.
“Well, that’s good, because that conference wasn’t cheap. You’ll need to pay for it somehow.”
I knew he was kidding, but I was tired enough that his comment irritated me. I stuffed another forkful of ceviche in my mouth to keep from retorting with a snide remark.
We ate in silence for a few minutes. The peaceful silence between two people who know each other well and don’t fill the need to fill the space. When I looked up, Peter was staring at me.
“Do I have food on my face?” I wiped my mouth and chin with the end of the towel on my head for good measure.
“No, I’m just glad you’re home.” He got up and took his bowl to the kitchen.
I stayed in the living room and finished my food and wine. When I took my dishes to the kitchen, Peter was gone. I didn’t think he’d be able to stay for long. Monday meant wine tasting night. Based on the cars in the parking lot, Vendredi’s reservations were booked. I thought it weird he walked out without a word.
I rinsed my dishes and put them in the sink, pulled the towel off my head, and headed to my bedroom. Exhaustion hit me like a Mack truck. I dropped my towel into the hamper and fell onto the bed.
By 9:30 I’d called my assistant, Jacob Jackson, three times, and texted him six times. No response from any of them, and his phone went directly to voicemail. This wasn’t like Jacob at all. Normally, I’d have let it go, but he hadn’t checked in with me for two days. I figured he had a long weekend working at Peter’s restaurant and probably hanging out with the other staff after work.
In the restaurant business, the night begins when the last patron leaves and the doors are locked. It wasn’t unusual for the staff to have a few drinks in the bar, then head to a bar in town until it closed. Heck, I’d done my share of that back in the day, then headed to a 24-hour restaurant for food. Those were crazy days, and I wondered how I woke up the next morning at eight and got to school, or wherever.
Yes, I was married with child, but I still knew how to have fun. So did Peter. We alternated weekends with friends. I thought we were hip and cool, but now I realize many people probably saw us as irresponsible. Tommy didn’t turn out so bad. At least I didn’t think so.
I couldn’t waste anymore time trying to figure out where Jacob was, and why he hadn’t shown for work. I had a lot of catching up to do. I booted up my desktop computer to see if Jacob had left any notes. We usually shared notes via an online networking app, but it didn’t have any new messages the last few days.
“Hello, anyone actually working today?” Hattie Friday peeked her head in, then stepped into my studio.
Crap, I forgot to lock the door. “Nope, no one’s here today. Come back next week.”
This was exactly the wrong thing to say. Hattie waltzed in and right up to my desk.
“You’re finally back from vacation?” She looked over my shoulder at my computer.
I clicked the screen saver on.
Petite Hattie wore a form-fitting black shantung and black stilettos. Her silver-gray hair had been cut into a stylish reverse bob that hung just above her shoulders. And as always, her natural makeup made her look years younger than her seventy-something years.
I’d tell her real age, but I’m not sure. She gives a different number every time she’s asked.
“I wasn’t on vacation, and you know it. I was at a conference.” I swiveled my chair around to face her. “Have you seen Jacob’s car here the last few days?”
She furrowed her brows as she considered my question. “Were you paying me to babysit him?” She put her hand out as if I should pay her.
“Never mind, I’ll ask Peter,” I said, trying not to sound as miffed as I was.
“I haven’t. Last time I saw his car was Saturday morning. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t here. I just didn’t see it. I was out and about most of the weekend.”
I tilted my head and squinted one eye. “Really? You and the sheriff canoodling again?”
Hattie waved me off. “Please, how old do you think I am? Canoodling.”
I laughed. Avoiding answering the question told me everything. She and Sheriff John Waters were back together. That made me smile. “Okay, whatever.”
“Anyway, I saw your car, and just wanted to stop in and see if you had a nice vacation while we slaved away preparing for harvest.”
With grape harvest just around the corner, the place was buzzing with people when I left, and if I looked outside, I’m sure it still was.
“If you’re so busy prepping for harvest, why are you dressed like you have a hot date?”
Hattie grinned. “Ruth and I have a hot date. But it’s just a threesome, nothing you’d be interested in.”
“You, Ruth, and John? That’s sort of creepy.”
Hattie reached down and picked up a pen from my desk. “You know I’m not that kind of girl. Nice pen.”
I had pens with a stylus on the end made for my trip. They had my blog’s logo and website imprinted on them. After I got to the conference, I realized how stupid it was. Everyone had pens they were giving away. Mine would get lost in the shuffle. Oh, well, live and learn. I’d find a better calling card for the next conference. And speaking of conferences, if I wanted to afford to go to any, I’d need to get my butt to work.
“Where are you going?” I asked as I looked at my watch.
“I really am meeting with Ruth. We’re stopping by to pick up Doris Mayes, then we’re headed to San Francisco for the day.”
“What a treat. Is it a special occasion?”
“No, Ruth just wants to not be home while the painters are there, and Doris needs to get away from her grandson.”
I remember Hattie talking about Doris’s grandson coming to live with her. He’d just come out of rehab, and Doris took him in so he wouldn’t go back to hanging with the same crowd. I had plenty of experience with addicts in my family, and I understood the need to start fresh. But starting fresh was a lonely prospect, especially when all your friends were still addicts and didn’t want you to be clean. That’s peer pressure to the Nth degree. Even with recovery programs, it wasn’t easy until you made new friends.
“How are things going with him?”
“How do you think? It doomed him from the day his mom named him. I’d be a drug addict too if my name was Merlin.”
“Merlin Mayes,” I said.
“Right, what an idiot. Anyway, Doris isn’t used to sharing her home with anyone, at least not since Stewart left her. And she likes living alone. Besides, that townhouse of hers is only 2500 square feet. I couldn’t do it.”
I wanted to respond to the 2500 square feet comment, since Peter, Tommy, and I lived in a house nearly a thousand feet smaller. Admittedly, since our daughter left for college, the house felt a little larger, even if she came home at least once a month. And in a few weeks she’d be home every weekend, to help with harvest. I really looked forward to this, even if it would be crazy busy, and everyone would fall into bed exhausted each night.
“I need to scoot. I don’t want to be late,” Hattie said.
I looked at my watch again, but this time I looked to see the day and date, thinking maybe I’d lost time. “On a weekday? What about Hat’s Off?”
“My business is in capable hands. I’ve worked my tush off for decades,” she swiveled her hips so I could get a good look at her tush, “and I will go have fun for a change. I don’t think it will all fall apart without me.”
Under my breath, I said, “It’ll probably run smoother.”
In the last five years, Hattie had become more of a greeter and figurehead than an actual working owner. And yet she arrived at the kitchen of her bed-and-breakfast every morning before her chef. She’d done the same for the Vendredi Winery before she opened the bed-and-breakfast.
“What did you say?” She leaned in and put my pen back.
“Have fun. Tell Ruth and Doris hi.”
She turned on her too-high heel. “That’s not what you said.”
I looked at Hattie’s shoes. “Are you going to walk around San Francisco in those?”
She looked at her feet like she just realized what shoes she had on.
Before I could defend myself, she was out the door, making sure it slammed behind her.
I’m not sure what made me think Hattie would ever change. As far as mother-in-laws go, I could do worse. Though she liked to dig at me and my career choices since I stopped working in the restaurant business with my husband. Running a restaurant in any capacity was a stressful endeavor. Running it with a spouse, multiply that by a thousand.
Jacob came back to mind after Hattie left. I grabbed my phone and called Peter at the restaurant.
“What’s up?” Peter sounded harried.
“Sorry to bother you, but have you seen Jacob?” It sounded stupid as I asked it.
“Not since Thursday. He took the week off. Said he didn’t know how much you’d need him, and he didn’t want to let you down.” I could hear him chopping something as he spoke.
I tapped my fingers on my desk. “He failed at that. He hasn’t returned my texts or calls since Saturday.”
I heard lots of background kitchen noise as Peter switched his phone to speaker. “Since when do you have him work weekends?”
He had a point. “But it’s Tuesday.”
“Maybe he went on a weekend bender,” Peter said as if he didn’t really care what Jacob was doing.
“You realize he dates our daughter off and on, right?”
“They are off now, so I don’t care what he does.”
I didn’t feel like arguing, so I hung up. I could feel my blood boiling because Peter didn’t care if it inconvenienced me. It’s not like I had people to feed. If my assistant quit, it wouldn’t ruin my business. I got that. An assistant in the styling and blogging business wasn’t the same as a sous chef in a restaurant. And my business wouldn’t go under, but I needed to know what I didn’t know. Had I gotten calls? Even though my clients had my mobile number, possible new clients only had the studio phone number. And when I looked at the messages, there weren’t any. So either no one had called, or he’d listened to them and deleted them.
I couldn’t continue to dwell on it. But I hoped Jacob had a good reason for ghosting me. I didn’t want to fire him, and more than that, I didn’t want to go through the hiring and training process again. I’d gotten so lucky with Jacob.
I turned my phone over, so I couldn’t see the screen, then I opened my email. Only 1435 unread emails. I scanned the senders and deleted twelve hundred in minutes. The last 235 would take more time. Dang me for not keeping up while I was gone.
My phone vibrated across my desk. I looked at it and decided nothing could be important enough to interrupt my task at hand. Then it vibrated again. I picked it up. Hattie. I declined the call and put my phone back down.
My studio phone rang. I let it go to voicemail. When it picked up, I heard Hattie’s voice on my machine.
“Willa, damn it, answer your phone. It’s an emergency.” She hung up and my cell phone vibrated again.
“What do you need Hattie?”
“Do you know where Doris lives?”
“Good. Stop what you’re doing and get here now!” The tone Hattie used left no room for questions.
“I need to finish what I’m doing first.”
“Now!” She hung up.
Something in Hattie’s voice scared me. So I stuffed my phone in my pocket and got up. I grabbed my keys off the counter and jogged to my car.