While planting lavender, Abigail Mackenzie observes a new swarm of honeybees thickening into a corpus in the apricot tree. Her heart sinks. A swarm is the last thing she needs in her already over-scheduled morning. Not rescuing those bees could spell the end of her hive and kill an important income stream—one she needs to pay the mortgage and keep the renovations going on her dilapidated farmhouse. If she rescues the bees, it means abandoning the lavender she needs to get into the ground before the roots dry out. She won’t get to the DA in time to be paid for her part-time investigative work, and she’ll be late delivering the order of honey to Jean-Louis Bonheur, Las Flores’s celebrity chef. To lose her bees will be a dire consequence, but to lose face with the mercurial Chef Jean-Louis could be a far worse fate, making the choice an easy one.
Abby dashes into the shower, changes into jeans and a T-shirt, and then loads the ten jars of honey in the backseat of her Jeep before navigating a course to town. The acacia along the Farm Hill Road has blossomed into sprays of yellow bloom, the scent of pine and eucalyptus permeates the warm spring air, and the chorus of songbirds creates a cacophony that Abby enjoys . . . were it any other day. But today, she’s running late. And it won’t do to be late when Chef Jean-Louis is expecting you. He’d made that clear the last time she delivered her honey and had a flat tire en route. Recalling the chef’s tirade that day, Abby withers.
Chef Jean-Louis has been blessed with thick brown hair, large brown eyes, and a physique that would shame a gym rat. Women all over town ogle him until they discover that the handsome and highly creative French-Canadian chef—whose hair-trigger temper has become legendary along Main Street—is gay. With their fantasies of romantic trysts duly tamped out, the ladies nevertheless become avid followers and regular customers after just one bite of the chef’s heavenly honey madeleines, tasty tarte tatin, and amazing apricot-almond clafouti.
Pulling into a parking space on Lemon Lane behind the pastry shop, Abby grabs the honey and her invoice and dashes to the back door that stands ajar. She expects to see Chef Jean-Louis clad in his white chef’s shirt and toque blanche, rolling out dough, and listening to his favorite opera area. But not today. The only sound coming from inside the pastry shop is the commercial refrigerator humming.
Abby senses trouble when she smells the burnt cake in the pastry shop kitchen and notices the disarray of the chef’s work station. He has always taken pride in running an efficient, organized kitchen, even as he works. Where is Chef Jean-Louis? Her years in law enforcement have taught Abby that when something doesn’t smell right or look right, the best course is to proceed with caution. Her senses on high alert, she instinctively reaches for the gun that she no longer carries.
When she rounds the corner of the island and looks over at the partially open pantry door, she sees him—the chef lies sprawled on the floor, eyes clouded over, lips a cyanotic hue of blue. Her heart hammering, Abby doesn’t want to believe he’s dead, but after feeling for a pulse and detecting none, she calls Las Flores Police Chief Bob Allen to report a one-eighty-seven . . . homicide.
Thoughts racing, Abby ticks through a list of people who might want the chef dead. They include the building owner who has threatened to ice the chef over a lease dispute; the devious council woman who’s hired the chef to cater her fundraisers, the town’s colorful eccentric schizophrenic to whom the chef provides free coffee, the chef’s jealous protégé, a couple of loan sharks, and a homophobic biker. The police and newby ME assert that the death is a suicide. The chef’s brother Philippe remains unconvinced; he hires Abby to track down the killer.
Her entanglement in the case deepens until a clue emerges in a most unusual way that leads her to identifying the murderer. Just when she thinks she’s solved the case, her prime suspect is also murdered. Unexpected plot twists drive rising tension until Abby finally cracks the case through some dogged gum shoe work and a little help from her friends.
You can read more about Abby Mackenzie’s adventures in A Beeline to Murder, the first book in the NEW “Henny Penny Farmette” series, from Kensington Publishing.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on Monday, October 5, 2015 for the chance to win a print copy of A Beeline To Murder. (US entries only, please.) Good luck everyone!
Meet the author
Meera is an internationally published author of nearly two dozen books, some translated into other languages. She lives on a farmette near Northern California’s wine country, east of the San Francisco Bay, where she grows heirloom vegetables, maintains an orchard of fruit and nut trees, keeps chickens and bees, and deals with the daily drama of life on a farmette fixer-upper. When she isn’t renovating her 1947 farmhouse, Meera indulges her lifelong passion for cooking and baking, especially foods with an international flair. She blogs about her farmette life at www.hennypennyfarmette.com and her writing life at www.meeralester.com. Readers are welcome to contact her at either websites.