Okay, I know, it's not Wednesday anymore (I'm still trying to figure out what happened to last week), but I wanted to share a couple of deleted scenes from my culinary mystery--which still needs some tweaks before I start submitting, but we're getting there. When I sent it out for the most recent round of critiques I cut the first three chapters--not because they weren't good, but because it was taking too long to get to the murder, and I wanted a more immediate payoff for the readers. I love Tess though, and writing the first scene was a joy and shows what a great, strong character she is, so I thought I'd share. The story is tentatively named Rocky Road Brownie Murder, and will include some seriously fabulous recipes I've developed to go with it.
Also, at the bottom of the excerpt you'll find a couple more quotes and links to reviews of my latest book, Blank Slate.
Former Chapter 1
It was late as I walked through the halls of the hotel on my way to the manager’s office. Though I’d been working in the restaurant inside the five-star DeMille Hotel for nine years, I still found the back halls creepy after midnight. I didn’t know why the hotel management offices were tucked in the dark end of the building, but I suppose that wasn’t my fiancé’s fault—his grandparents had built the hotel before he was born.
I looked at the enormous princess-cut diamond on my left hand and smiled as I approached his office. We’d been engaged five weeks and one of these days I was going to get him to commit to a date for the wedding. In the meantime, I’d already begun making lists.
Other hotel workers waved and greeted me as I made my way up the back steps to the office area. My fiancé, Bronson, was the hotel manager and after all of the power struggles with Karen that night, I needed some timeout with someone who would just hold me close. Unfortunately Bronson thought well of the woman—who had cheekbones thin as an ice skate blade and with a temper almost as sharp. This meant complaining about work—as I had with other boyfriends—was out of the question.
His office door was closed when I arrived, but the light beneath it told me he was inside, so I walked in.
And found Bronson in a heated embrace with Karen. Karen!
My stomach fell to my feet—or was it my heart? They pulled apart and Karen looked at me, a gleam of triumph in her blue eyes while her red hair frizzed around her head in an uneven ball.
Bronson turned to see who had interrupted and his too-handsome face took on a look of panic. Worry filled his brown eyes and he shoved Karen away. “It’s not what it looks like, Tess.”
Karen snorted. “Give me a break, Bronson. It’s exactly what it looks like, and it’s not a recent development. It’s past time she found out about us.” She folded her arms across her emaciated frame, her elbows pointing to either side like scalpels.
He turned and glared at Karen, then swiveled back, his face melting into conciliation as he walked to me. “Tess, calm down, this is just a thing. A fling, really. You know, before we get married. I love you.” His perfect, talented lips were swollen from their kisses.
I still stood there like an idiot, frozen in place, but his words shook me out of the shock. I threw the chef’s hat on the ground. “You’re cheating on me. With her. And it’s just a thing?” What kind of idiot did he think I was?
“I’m sorry.” He reached to put his hands on my arms.
I backed away, not wanting him to touch me. “Sorry doesn’t cut it.”
“Tess, be reasonable. You’re so busy, I never see you anymore. I didn’t mean to, it just happened.”
“What do you mean it just happened?” Karen screeched. “What am I, some passing distraction?”
I should have realized something was going on. Why hadn’t I paid attention? I narrowed my eyes at him, noticing his dark hair was mussed and his shirt pulled out of the belt. “You think that’s an excuse?” I balled my hand into a fist and slugged him in the shoulder.
The jerk moved no more than an inch at my effort. I should have gone for his face instead. He took my hand between his. “I told you I’m sorry.”
“Not good enough.” I pulled off the two-karat diamond he’d given me five weeks earlier and threw it at him.” I could feel tears begin to well in my eyes, despite the fact that I was more angry than sad. I wouldn’t give Karen the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I whirled around to stalk away.
Then her saccharine voice called out to me. “Be here tomorrow at four. If you’re late, I’ll have to write you up.”
Forget that! “Write me up all you like. I won’t be here, because I quit!” I slammed the door behind me.
The anger stayed with me, burning hot as I grabbed my things from my locker downstairs and rode the El to my condo. Chicago at night—especially in March—was cold and dark. Snow swirled around me as I walked the block from the train station to my building. The tears began to pour down my cheeks even as the freezing wind stole my breath. I trusted him, I love him. How could he do that to me?
Though I had never been the type to say things in the heat of the moment, to throw away a job I had loved—at least I had loved it until Karen started working there a few months earlier—I didn’t regret my decision to leave. The sole reason I hadn’t started looking for another job was because of Bronson.
I was sobbing as I passed the doorman of my building. He called out to me, asking if I was all right, if he could help, but I waved him off and entered the elevator. It was after two in the morning so I didn’t encounter any of the other building residents as I traversed the shiny oak floors, the walls covered in matching wainscoting and a rich red paint above.
I collapsed as soon as I entered my condo. The nubby fabric of the sofa rubbed against my cheek, comforting me. Bronson hated this old relic from my parents’ home. I loved it.
I’m not sure how late it was before I stumbled to my bed, slid out of my clothes and under the covers.
* * *
The first thought to pop into my head when I woke the next day: I didn’t have a job anymore. While this ought to have thrown me into a state of panic, despite my comfortably padded savings account, it gave me a sense of freedom. No more Karen. Then my heart plummeted as I remembered why I didn’t have a job anymore.
Bronson DeMille was the lowest form of scum out there. I had another bout of crying, followed by a whirlwind cleaning effort in my condo. By lunchtime the place was immaculate, and I knew I needed a break before I made decisions about what to do with my life. Quitting flat out wouldn’t win me any awards when I went looking for another job, and let’s face it, jobs as a pastry chef weren’t as plentiful as one could wish—especially if I wanted to continue working in a restaurant as elite as the one I just left. I couldn’t imagine taking another job if it didn’t allow me to do cakes.
I’m not just talking about any old cake. Vanilla, chocolate, carrot, and red velvet were all great—and my recipes are award winning and some of the best on the planet. Most of them were private, secret recipes neither Karen or Bronson had ever seen, I thought with some satisfaction.
One of the reasons the hotel had such a great reputation for weddings and parties was because of my cakes. So maybe I was just a tad deserving of fame—but I wasn’t surprised by that as much as the attention I got for my everyday desserts, many of which were also my own private recipes. Wedding and anniversary cakes were more fun than anything, and both meticulous and time consuming to make. And they taste fabulous.
And if I didn’t want to add to the padding on my hips by baking all afternoon, I really had to find a distraction.
It was only twelve-thirty, I thought. If I left right away, I could be in Arizona before dinnertime the next night. Then I could bake and share my woes with my best friend, Honey.
Thinking this, I hurried to my room and started throwing clothes into my suitcase. I packed for two weeks, not knowing how long I would stay. Then I threw in the various bags into my Outlander—and because the mood struck me, my personal cake decorating supplies. I topped it off with my secret recipe book. You never knew when you might need an emergency chocolate lava cake.
I took a moment to program the trip into the Mapquest function of my Blackberry and I was on my way.
"I definitely wanted to keep reading to see how it would all unravel. Besides, Heather is a very talented writer. Her characters feel like friends, and I enjoyed getting to know them." Read more of Lara's review here.
"...Heather Justesen is a phenomenal author, has several books to her claim and can write a "clean" kissing scene that will curl your toes." Christine Bryant. read more here.
"I was lucky enough to read this story early on and see Heather work her magic with authentic characters and wonderful plot lines." --Rachelle Christensen, read more on her blog.