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Authors: Daryl Wood Gerber

Grilling the Subject

BOOK: Grilling the Subject
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“[A] delectable page-turner with a tasty mix of characters, crime, and cookbooks, blended beautifully in a witty, well-plotted whodunit that will leave you hungry for more.”

—Kate Carlisle,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Bibliophile Mysteries

“There's a feisty new amateur sleuth in town and her name is Jenna Hart. With a bodacious cast of characters, a wrenching murder, and a collection of cookbooks to die for, Daryl Wood Gerber's
Final Sentence
was a page-turning puzzler of a mystery that I could not put down.”

—Jenn McKinlay,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, the Library Lover's Mysteries, and the Hat Shop Mysteries

“Readers will relish the extensive cookbook suggestions, the cooking primer, and the whole foodie phenomenon.”

Library Journal

“A mystery featuring a cookbook bookstore is completely irresistible, especially when the author combines it with complex and very well-developed story lines.”

—Kings River Life Magazine

“You really can't go wrong with a cozy by this author whether she is writing as Daryl Wood Gerber or Avery Aames. All her stories are completely captivating and very entertaining.”

—Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Daryl Wood Gerber






An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014


A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Daryl Wood Gerber.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit

eBook ISBN: 9780698187573


Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / August 2016

Cover art by Teresa Fasolino.

Cover design by Jason Gill.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.


To my husband.
You will always be in my


“Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”

~ Dale Carnegie

Thank you to my husband, Chuck. I am so blessed to have been loved by you. You fill my thoughts constantly and you always will. Your enthusiasm and support were without bounds. I could not have accomplished so much without you as my team partner.

To my family and friends, thank you for all your love and support. I cherish you.

Thank you to my talented author friends, Krista Davis, Lucy Burdette, Julie Hyzy, and Jenn McKinlay for your enthusiasm for writing. Thanks to my brainstormers at Plothatchers, Krista, Janet, Kaye, Marilyn, Peg, and yes, another Janet (we all have aliases, I think!). Thanks to my blog mates on Mystery Lovers Kitchen: Cleo, Krista, Leslie, Mary Jane/Victoria, Roberta/Lucy, Linda, and Sheila. Love you all! Thanks to the Delicious Mystery group and the Cake and Dagger crew (you know who you are)!

Thanks to those who have helped make
A Cookbook Nook Mystery
series a success: my fabulous editor Kate
Seaver as well as Katherine Pelz and Roxanne Jones. Thank you to my fabulous artist, Teresa Fasolino. Another superb job!! And thanks to my copyeditor Amy Schneider for your terrific attention to detail.

Thanks to John Talbot for believing in every aspect of my work. Thank you to Sheridan Stancliff, you are an Internet and creative marvel. Thank you to Kimberley Greene, I appreciate everything you do for me.

Thank you, librarians and booksellers, for sharing the delicious world of a culinary bookshop owner with your readers.

Thank you, readers, for allowing Jenna Hart and her family and friends to join you in your imagination. Thank you for sharing your love of my books with your family and friends. An author's story cannot come alive without readers!

Chapter 1

didn't mean to.
It was an accident. But as I swooped past one of The Cookbook Nook's display tables while carrying a stack of cookbooks in my arms, my elbow nicked a spine. That set off an event that would make a domino-chain-reaction physicist proud. Every book that I had carefully placed upright fell.

All the customers in the shop, a few still dressed in their Sunday finest, spun to take a peek. My cheeks burned with embarrassment.
Slick, Jenna, real slick.
Why was I off my game? I had been on edge since I'd awakened this morning. I took a tumble over a log on the beach during my morning walk, and then I burned the toast, broke a glass, and snagged my favorite lacy white sweater on the door latch. Each time I blundered, I felt like I was being watched—judged—by an unknown someone.

“Shoot,” I muttered under my breath. I didn't mind the mess. Ever since I'd quit working as an advertising executive in San Francisco and returned to Crystal Cove to help my
aunt Vera open a culinary bookshop—nearly a year ago; how time flies—I had arranged and rearranged The Cookbook Nook multiple times. I had assembled books by chefs, by theme, and by difficulty of recipe. Customers seemed to enjoy the rotation. I think they secretly liked the personal attention the staff at the shop provided when they asked for help locating a title.

“Eek!” Bailey Bird, who was my best friend and also my employee, shrieked at the top of her lungs, which sent my already pinging nerves into overdrive. She was at the back of the store near the children's table, trotting in place. Her multicolored bangles jangled; her summery skirt flounced up and down. “Jenna, help!”

I rushed to her, my flip-flops flapping. My hair caught in my mouth; I sputtered it out. “What's going on?”

“Eek!” she shrieked again.

She wasn't on fire. I didn't see a mouse.

“Are you practicing the flamenco?” I asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“Spiders. You know I hate spiders!” She tap-danced, trying to nail her prey with the toes of her espadrille sandals. “Help!”

I pushed up the sleeves of my second-favorite lacy white sweater, hiked up the knees of my trousers, and crouched to inspect. Afternoon sunlight highlighted two spiders: one, including its legs, couldn't have been the size of a pea; the other wasn't much larger. They must have materialized from the box of books Bailey had brought from the stockroom. I rose to my full height, nearly a head taller than my pal, and said, “They're itty-bitty.”

“Jenna Hart, dagnabbit, do something! Or are you too old and feeble?”

“Ha!” I was an official thirty-something now. I had celebrated my birthday a couple of weeks ago, not with a big bash, just a May fling with friends. I didn't feel older, but I was definitely looking at life differently—in decades rather than
in years. Weird. Maybe that was the thing that was bothering me. Age. Life. Zipping by.

“C'mon,” Bailey pleaded.

Tigger, the darling ginger kitten—now
—who rescued me when I first moved back to Crystal Cove, darted from beneath the children's reading table and pounced at one of the spiders. He didn't catch it. His quarry fled to safety under a floorboard.

“One flew the coop,” I quipped.

“Get the other one,” Bailey cried.

I wasn't a fan of spiders, but I would never make such a ruckus about teensy creatures. Wait. I take that back. I might—
—squeal if I saw a black widow spider.

“C'mon, Jenna! Pronto. Puh-lease!”

“Okay, hold your horses. Calm down. You're going to drive away customers,” I quipped, if my antics over by the display table hadn't already scared them off.

A number of customers, their arms filled with cookbooks to purchase, were backing toward the exit.

“Don't flee, folks,” I said. “She's overreacting. Everything is fine.” To Bailey, I said, “Stop it. You're yelling so loudly, you'd think we've encountered an onslaught of bugs worthy of a Steven Spielberg movie!”

“I'm s-sorry.” Her teeth were chattering, her eyes as wide as saucers. She didn't like bugs. Any kind. Her fear stemmed from a time, way back in grade school, when a trio of boys dumped her in a woodpile. Her hair at the time, unlike the short hairdo she sported now, had been long and quickly became a nest for a horde of creepy-crawlers. Over the last year, my aunt Vera, who for the past forty of her sixty-something years liked to dabble in alternative methods of coping by telling fortunes or doing hypnosis and aura readings, had tried all sorts of sense therapy with Bailey to help her overcome her dread, but nothing had worked.

Hmm. Maybe I should consult my aunt about the weird vibes I had been experiencing all day.

“Swat it,” Bailey pleaded.

I snatched a piece of construction paper off the children's table—the table was always set with artistic goodies so kids could have fun while their parents shopped—and I flailed at the teensy spider. I caught it with one blow and glanced at my buddy. “Feeling better?”

“I will if I'm able to nab one of Katie's delicious barbecue muffins before they're all gone.”

A half hour ago Katie Casey, my other best friend and the inventive chef of The Nook Café, an adjunct of the bookshop, had set out a tasty display of barbecue muffins for our customers to snack on. People had been flocking into the store ever since to taste the savory delights. Sure, they intended to purchase cookbooks, too, but the cheese-and-ground-beef-stuffed muffins were fast becoming legendary. Katie promised to cook all sorts of yummy ranch-style food throughout the week, like mini cups of baked beans, cornbread, and even a cake decorated to look like a cactus. I'd begged her to include her finger-licking-good, dry-rub ribs, but she said they would be too messy for the shop. I agreed, but I craved them.

Why was she hooked on a barbecue theme? Because this week and on into next week, Crystal Cove was hosting the Wild West Extravaganza. The WWE promoted family-friendly, animal-friendly events all over the West Coast. Sure, there would be rodeo events, but no steer wrestling and no bulldogging. There would be horse races, rope jumping, stunt fighting, and more. To get ourselves in the mood, we had rimmed the front door of the shop with the image of an old jail and decorated the shop with all sorts of western doodads.

“Jenna! Bailey!” Ava Judge, one of our regular customers, flew through the front door in her typical designer suit and smart high heels.
That was how people would describe her. She had a sizzling personality and high-octane energy, all wrapped up in a raring-to-go athletic body. She played tennis two to three times a week—great for a forty-something—and most often won. As she always did, she flourished a real estate
flyer. She never missed an opportunity to promote her business.

Ava scooted to a stop and thrust the flyer at me. I accepted it. A million-dollar home in the hills was for sale. “Where's Vera?” she asked.

“On a date. With the deputy.” I returned the flyer to her. “Why?”

“It's so sad.” Ava's voice caught. I took a closer look at her perfectly made-up face. Tears pressed at the corners of her eyes. She fished in her oversized, crammed-to-the-gills tote; her hand came out empty.

Realizing she was searching for a tissue, I dashed to the sales counter, fetched a tissue from a box, and returned. I handed it to her. “What's got you so upset?”

“Haven't you heard?” She dabbed her eyes, then stuffed the tissue in her bag. “The promoter for this week's event . . . died.”

“Oh no.”

“Was he murdered?” Bailey asked.

I whacked her. “Not every death is suspicious.”

“Some are.”

“Not this time.” Ava shook her head. Her long, highlighted tresses swayed back and forth. “He was bucked off a mechanical bull last night. His second-in-command is going to take his place. Shane . . .” She snapped her fingers.
Snap, snap, snap.
“His last name is . . . oh, help me out . . . what was that TV western called, with the darling gambling brothers?”

” I suggested.

“That's the one.”

“I know Shane Maverick.” He had worked with me at Taylor & Squibb Advertising in San Francisco. “Bailey, you know him. Remember, he worked in sales and had the gift of gab?” Bailey and I had lost touch during college; we had reconnected while working at Taylor & Squibb. She had been in charge of monitoring all the campaigns—on air, in
magazines, and on the Internet. However, city life isn't for everyone, and she, like me, had moved home recently to switch up her future.

“Yeah,” Bailey said. “Shane. Sort of pudgy and out of shape.”

“Not anymore,” Ava said. “He's quite a hunk.”

I nodded. “He sure is.” At one time Shane was a good sixty pounds overweight; now he was ultra fit. I knew because he was the person who had opened my husband's gym locker in San Francisco when I was trying to solve a mystery about his death. My heart snagged at the memory.
Once the love of my life, gone over three years.
Buck up, Jenna. No tears. Not at work.
“I didn't know Shane was involved with the Wild West Extravaganza. The last time I saw him, he was managing a chain of workout centers. One site is located in Santa Cruz, just about thirty minutes from here.”

“He's not doing that anymore,” Ava said. “He did, while the Wild West Extravaganza group courted him and relocated their headquarters to Crystal Cove. He was in and out of town a lot for interviews and training, but now that they've snatched him up, he's moving to town.”

“The WWE relocated here?”

“Sure did. I sold Shane a place in your dad's and my neighborhood.”

I laughed. “And you couldn't remember his last name?”

“We haven't closed escrow yet.”

“Ava, give me a break. You're toying with me.” I gave her a long, knowing look; she obviously liked Shane. “Are you two—”

“No.” Ava cut me off. “He's engaged and living with the piano teacher. The very
piano teacher.”

We only had one piano teacher in town: Emily Hawthorne. She was a regular in the store. She preferred organic food cookbooks, although, come to think of it, she hadn't visited for quite a while. How could she be
I wondered, then blushed. She and Shane must have hooked up months ago on one of his many trips to town.

“By the way—” Ava snapped three times again; I got the feeling she was a habitual snapper. I had seen her snap at service people, like a gardener or a housepainter, and I'd caught her snapping at her clients, too. Nobody seemed to mind. She got things done. On time. A rarity in the real estate business. “Shane is an animal safety buff, so no horses or animals will be hurt this week. Also, he has some new ideas how to drum up tourist interest, and the mayor is on board. She thinks Shane is wonderful. I think she wants him to run for city council in the future.”

“Wow,” Bailey said, “talk about jumping into a new town with both feet. Are you sure he didn't kill the other guy to get the job?”

“Stop it,” I said.

“Murder happens.” Bailey plucked at her coppery hair and threw me a pert look. “You and I know that all too well.” She was referring to the fact that we had been acquainted with a few people who had died under suspicious circumstances. All that sadness was behind us now. A few months had passed without a single incident. To a former advertiser like me who understood flow charts, Crystal Cove was on an upswing statistically.

“Shane is a good guy,” Ava went on. “Promise.” She hoisted her tote higher on her shoulder. “Mind if I browse the shelves?”

“Be our guest.” I made a sweeping gesture and then remembered I hadn't fixed the arrangement I'd destroyed on the display table. I hurried ahead of her to reset the dozens of barbecue- and grill-themed cookbooks.

Without asking, Ava placed a stack of flyers on the sales counter and then moved to our display of Wild West–style aprons. I'd ordered a half dozen fashioned out of bandana material and another half dozen made out of cute cow-print
fabric with red-checkered borders. “Are any of you partaking in the festivities this week?” she asked while holding a cow-print apron in front of her and inspecting its length on her body.

“Tito and I are going to the pole-bending event,” Bailey said. Tito Martinez, a reporter for the
Crystal Cove Crier
, is Bailey's fiancé. “Have you ever seen that? It's sort of like slalom racing for skiing. One horse, one rider, weaving around poles. I hear it's exciting.”

“What about you, Jenna?” Ava asked.

“I plan to take in the horse race.”

“Down Buena Vista Boulevard?”

“Is there going to be another?”

Our fair city, which was set on the coast of California below Santa Cruz and above Monterey, was one long stretch of gorgeous territory, marked by an age-old lighthouse at the north end and a public pier filled with shops and fun things to do at the south end. The weather was beautiful year-round, with the occasional splash of rain or drift of fog. The hills to the east boasted wondrous vegetation and beautiful homes. The crests of the mountains sparkled as the waning sun cast its rays on them at sunset. Buena Vista Boulevard, which is what we called the section of the Pacific Coast Highway that cut through town, was populated with shops and restaurants. A main portion of the street would be closed off and traffic detoured for the horse race.

BOOK: Grilling the Subject
2.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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