Authors: Dyann Love Barr
Tags: #Romance, #Select Suspense, #Entangled, #suspense
Eat. Love. Murder.
Sparks and insults fly when Top Chef Tilly Danes matches wits with the annoyingly sexy Jordan Kelly. As members of the judging panel for the Culinary Channel’s Personal Chef Showdown, they agree on only one thing: Maxwell Etheridge, the third judge on their panel is an arrogant pain in the butt. Neither one would mind seeing him strung up like a ham hock. When their nemesis shows up not only dead but also missing an important body part, Tilly and Jordan are thrust smack in the middle of TV’s most shocking homicide...
Everyone is a suspect: the show’s host, the contestants, and even the victim’s lover. When Tilly and Jordan are pulled deeper into the investigation, those pesky sparks of antagonism transform into undeniable, incredibly inconvenient, red-hot attraction. And if they thought the sparks were hot while fighting, the heat between the sheets is an inferno. As the bodies start piling up, Tilly and Jordan must find the killer—and a recipe for love—before they become the murderer’s next course!
Dyann Love Barr
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Dyann Love Barr. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Select Suspense is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Tori Spence
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition November 2014
I would like to thank my husband Dennis, who never loses faith in me. He’s a true knight in shining armor.
Kansas City, Missouri
She’d cut out Maxwell Ethridge’s tongue, chicken fry it, and make him eat the damned thing with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. Or better yet, Tilly Danes decided, she’d flatten his fingers with a tenderizer so he would think twice before he skewered her in his blog. The international food critic probably relished attacking her in front of the whole “foodie” world, especially on the day of the big Personal Chef Showdown for The Culinary Channel.
She tapped her high-topped sneakered foot in anticipation of a full out slugfest with Ethridge while she waited for the elevator to make it to his floor. Over and over, she slapped the printout of the offensive blog against her thigh. She didn’t have to read it—she knew every cutting word by heart.
“A countrified bumpkin with the taste buds of a lard-fed hillbilly. Her overexposed presence in the media is an offense to those who care about refinement and excellence in food. Get this short, fat cow off the air and out of our lives.”
Her muttered words echoed off the metallic walls of the elevator car. Oh, he would
Okay, maybe her butt could be a tad smaller and her thighs needed a bit of attention. Her body had nothing to do with her ability to create some of the best Southern comfort food in the nation. She blamed her short and curvy figure on her genes. Her mother had been petite and her grandmother round as a basketball. Who could beat those odds?
That didn’t give the man the right to slam her food and make such a personal attack.
He had a lot of nerve saying she couldn’t cook. People from all walks of life ate at her restaurant—blue collar, white collar, governors, and even the president of the United States. The only consolation she had was the fact the food critic had done a number on the other judge, Jordan Kelly, as well. He might be Moriarty to her Sherlock Holmes, but he didn’t deserve to have Ethridge smear him like a stomped cockroach.
She hadn’t asked to become a celebrity chef. She’d spent most of her adult life in the kitchen of Ruby’s Diner and then Tilly’s Table. All she’d ever aspired to was serving food that made people happy. It wasn’t a fault that a food critic for an illustrious magazine tasted her strawberry-rhubarb pie and started her on this mad ride to fame.
She clenched her teeth so hard that her jaws screamed in protest. If it weren’t for Greg Hirschberg, the owner of The Culinary Channel, she wouldn’t be stuck judging on the panel with Ethridge. Well, she’d just have to suck it up and smile while Jordan rubbed elbows with her at the same judges’ table. His snarky comments weren’t nearly as vitriolic as Ethridge’s, but they hurt nonetheless.
No, if she were honest with herself, she’d admit that Jordan disturbed her on a different, more primal level than Ethridge. Ruby, her foster mother, would say he made her as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers. Her romantic fantasies lasted only as long as it took for Jordan Kelly to open his mouth and criticize her culinary skills. He knew which buttons to push to make her come out swinging.
She couldn’t worry about him right now. Ethridge was the first thing on her morning’s agenda.
The elevator doors opened to the sight of Jordan marching past her with murder in his dark eyes. His long legs ate up the distance between her and Ethridge’s room, his stiff white chef’s coat crackling with each step. It hit her, in that instant, that he had the same goal in mind—flaying Ethridge alive.
No, no, no.
She planned to be the first one to lay in to the critic. She took off as fast as her feet would take her until she stopped, a scant second before Jordan. A
Do Not Disturb
sign hung on the doorknob. She planned to show the jerk, and the man in front of her, what disturbed really looked like.
“Out of my way,
.” He tried to strong-arm his way past her. The touch of his hand on her shoulder sizzled through her blue denim chef’s coat. She refused to let herself be distracted by his movie star good looks. She had dibs on the food critic from hell.
She pushed back. Hard.
“I don’t think so.” She held the now crumpled paper in front of his face. “Not until I tell him what I think of his review of my new cookbook, and all the other vile things he said about me in his blog. I’m goin’ in first.” She braced her hands on either side of the doorjamb, arms wide to keep him from going past. “You can have what’s left.”
“You’ve got that wrong,
There’s only going to be a few grisly remains when I’m done, but you’re welcome to them.”
“It’s Tilly.” She made her point by standing a bit taller than her scant five feet. “No one calls me Matilda except my mother—and she’s dead.”
He took a step forward, blood in his eyes. A dark flush ran over his chiseled cheekbones, and his sensual mouth pulled tight over his ultra-white teeth. The gods had done a little dance around him when they put him together. Too bad they hadn’t given him a personality to match his looks.
He moved closer, until they were toe-to-toe. The sheer size of him cut into her personal space with the precision of a Santoku knife.
“He wrote that I was a two-bit hack who tries to pass off last night’s leftovers by using smoke and mirrors.” His last words were a snarl. For a second, she wasn’t sure he hadn’t grown a set of fangs.
“Well, he does have a point.” The heat of anger flushed her face as she stood her ground. “That dish you demonstrated last night looked like somethin’ green that a cat spit up on.”
Mousse di Tonno con Cuore di Carciofo
.” His low growl stopped her cold. “Or can’t you think past that butter-soaked brain of yours?”
“Tuna puddin’ on artichoke hearts. I get it.” A little devil prompted her to taunt the furious man in front of her. “You’re still pissed that I beat you in the
Fire with Fire Battle
on The Culinary Channel.”
“You blinded them with that Southern fried country routine until it dulled their taste buds. I’m not buying it.”
She batted her lashes and cocked her head to one side, arms still stretched out to block his way. “Well, I declare, Mr. Kelly, the veins in your neck are gonna pop for sure if you keep this up.”
Jordan’s nostrils flared. The snarl turned into a full-fledged growl. “A smile and simper only goes so far,
In spite of everything she disliked about him, her body gave a hiccup of desire that weakened her knees and made her heart stammer. “Okay, okay. Pax.” She stepped back until her butt hit the door. It gave under the pressure of her backside. “What the…”
She swiveled her head around to see a darkened room. The sound of the shower running gave her goose bumps. “Somethin’s not right.” Her bad mojo meter kicked into high gear.
He frowned down at her. “You think? His review sucks. I’m going to hammer it home into that thick skull of his that I don’t like being called a third rate chef.”
“No. Listen.” She shook her head. “The shower is runnin’.”
“So, even slimeballs have to soap up occasionally.”
“Who takes a shower and forgets to lock their door in a hotel?”
“Sounds like a perfect time to tell him off. Get him while he can’t make a break for it.” He put his hand on her arm lightly. “I’m going in, even if I have to pick you up and throw you over my shoulder.”
Her breath caught at the mental image while her heart continued to tap dance against her ribs. “No, you don’t have to do that.” She stepped aside and raised her chin to show he didn’t intimidate her.
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
He stuck his head through the crack of the opened door. “Maxwell Ethridge.” A second or two of silence passed. He tried again. “Jordan Kelly here. I want to talk to you.”
The eerie quiet at the end of the hallway unsettled her. Empty breakfast dishes sat on trays outside the doors along the corridor and unread newspapers lay in front of the rooms of those who obviously slept in this morning.
“And Tilly Danes,” she called out from behind Jordan. Again, no reply. “Maybe he can’t hear us over the water. I say we wait.”
“Not me. I’m going in.”
“Not without me, you’re not.” She wasn’t about to clear out of the battlefield and let him take the first swipe at Ethridge. She moved closer. The scent of fresh soap and sandalwood tickled her nose and her fancy. A surge of hormones had her jittering in her high tops.
“Afraid?” He looked over his shoulder at her, one eyebrow raised in question.
Had he actually felt her tremble? Being without a man for so long had finally eaten away her brain. Or maybe menopause knocked at her biological door. She was edging close to thirty, that had to be it—the beginning of menopause. “No. I’m not afraid.”
She shook her head and peeked around Jordan’s back.
“Prepare yourself for the possibility of witnessing Ethridge’s bare ass.”
“Lead on, Macduff.” She pressed closer as he snaked through the opening of the door and into Ethridge’s suite.
Maybe his mind could focus on confronting Ethridge if her lush body wasn’t pressed so close to his back. Her hands urged him forward. “Quit pushing.” His gruff command forced her to step away.
“All right. Don’t get so touchy, just go on in.” She gave him a poke in the ribs from behind.
He didn’t like the darkened sitting area of the suite. The drapes were drawn against the morning sun. She was correct—it didn’t feel right. “Anyone here? It’s Jordan Kelly.” He yelled over the constant stream of water coming from the bathroom.
“And Tilly Danes.”
Ethridge still didn’t respond. The shower ran on. Jordan reached into the room and turned on the lights. Clothes were thrown everywhere. A bottle of wine spilled its contents in a dark stain on the carpet, a limp salad and a steak were scattered on the floor along with broken, food smeared dishes. The smell of bleach stung his nose. “For once you’re right. Either he had a hell of a party, or we need to call hotel security.”
“I vote for security. He doesn’t have a partyin’ bone in his body.” She pulled her phone from her pocket and dialed the front desk. “We don’t want to use the room phone in case the police show up. Fingerprints. I’ve got the hotel’s number on speed dial.”
She stayed in the living room and made the call while he went into the bedroom. The white duvet on the bed looked as if it hadn’t been disturbed since the maid had smoothed it down. Jordan went to the bathroom door.
A finger of dread tracked his spine and the scene from
played in his mind on a furious, fast-forward loop. He steeled himself to push the shower curtain aside. He wanted to pull in a deep breath, but the reek of chlorine was overpowering. Ethridge lay in the tub, naked as the day he was born. Missing a vital body part.
He cringed at the sight. As much as he detested the guy, no man deserved to have his penis cut off. The body lay slumped against the back of the tub, arms at his sides, with several large gashes in the center of his chest. The sluicing water washed away blood, leaving him as white as the tiles surrounding the tub.
His first reaction was to glance around the bathroom to make sure the killer wasn’t poised, ready to slice and dice him as well. Then came the realization that Tilly was out there, alone in the sitting room. What if the killer had secreted himself in a dark corner? Before he could shut the bathroom door, she marched toward him.
“Security will be up here in a few minutes.”
He tried to block her view of the tub. “Don’t. It’s Ethridge. He’s dead.”
She sidestepped around him and got a good look at the body. She shrieked and turned around, her hand over her mouth. “Omigod! I think I’m goin’ to be sick.”
“Let’s wait outside in the hallway. We don’t want to contaminate the crime scene any more than we already have.” He put his hand on her shoulder and guided her out of the bathroom without any resistance or argument. Once outside, she slid down the wall and onto the carpet, her hands wrapped around her knees. Head down, she let out a muffled groan.
“I’ll never be able to eat another cocktail weenie again.”
The corner of Jordan’s mouth twitched. It was wrong to find a glimmer of humor in the situation, but it was difficult not to, given the amount of grief the critic had dished out. Besides, the mental image stuck in his head like glue. “Don’t
go there.” He crouched beside her. “Are you going to be all right?”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” she said again, sucking in a few gulps of air and holding her stomach.
A wash of sympathy swamped him. She looked so helpless, sitting there trying to keep her breakfast down. He laid an arm over her shoulder and gave her a brotherly pat. “You’ll be okay.”
She lifted her head and lasered him with bright, robin’s-egg-blue eyes. “Oh, yeah? Between Ethridge’s blog, being on the judging panel with you, and now this, I’m just peachy.” The short, flipped up tips of her red hair shook with indignation. “Findin’ a body is just the way I want to start the day. It’s like my foster mother Ruby used to say, ‘Eat a frog the first thing in the mornin’ and nothin’ else could get any worse.’”
“It’s worse.” He removed his arm for fear she might just take a bite out of it.
“What do you mean?”
“Ethridge smeared us in his blog.” He sighed. “We found the body.”
“I may loathe the jerk, but that doesn’t mean I’d kill him and make sushi out of his private parts.” She hugged her arms over her chest.
“Cops don’t look at it that way. All they see is opportunity and motive—we have both.”
Her eyes welled up. He could stand a mutilated body in the bathtub, but tears scared the shit out of him. He focused his attention on the nasty floral pattern on the hallway carpet.
“You stumble over bodies all the time?” She sucked in another deep breath and sniffed. “I don’t remember that in your bio.”
Yes, it’s a definite sniff.
The hair on his neck rose in warning. The police better get here soon or he was a goner.
“No, my best friend Hank Tapper is a cop in New York—homicide. He writes murder mysteries.” He had to focus on anything, the nasty carpet or the sound of running water, anything to keep his mind off her distress. His eyes zeroed in on the textured wall covering. “Whenever he hits a snag, he comes over to my apartment and we brainstorm over a couple of beers.” His eyes crossed from staring too long. He took a chance and gave her a quick sidelong glance.