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Authors: Kate Carlisle

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1 A High-End Finish

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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PRAISE FOR THE
NEW YORK TIMES
BESTSELLING BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES

“A delicious, twisty tale, it features food, friends, fiends, and a mysterious antique cookbook that binds them all. Kate Carlisle’s most delectable installment yet. Don’t miss it!”

—Julie Hyzy,
New York Times
bestselling author of the White House Chef mystery series and the Manor House mystery series

“Saucy, sassy, and smart—a fun read with a great sense of humor and a soupçon of suspense. Enjoy!”

—Nancy Atherton,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Aunt Dimity mystery series

“A cursed book, a dead mentor, and a snarky rival send book restorer Brooklyn Wainwright on a chase for clues—and fine food and wine—in Kate Carlisle’s fun and funny delightful debut.”

—Lorna Barrett,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Booktown mystery series

“A fun, fast-paced mystery that is laugh-out-loud funny. Even better, it keeps you guessing to the very end. Sure to be one of the very best books of the year! Welcome Kate Carlisle, a fabulous new voice in the mystery market.”

—Susan Mallery,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Evening Stars

“Suspenseful, intelligent mysteries with a sense of humor. . . . Kate Carlisle never fails to make me laugh, even as she has me turning the pages to see what’s going to happen next.”

—Miranda James,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks mystery series


A Cookbook Conspiracy
is another superb entry—and this one is succulent as well—in Kate Carlisle’s witty, wacky, and wonderful bibliophile series . . . highly entertaining.”

—Carolyn Hart,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Death on Demand mystery series

“A terrific read for those who are interested in the book arts and enjoy a counterculture foray and ensemble casts. Great fun all around!”


Library Journal
(Starred Review)

“Carlisle’s story is captivating, and she peoples it with a cast of eccentrics. Books seldom kill, of course, but this one could murder an early bedtime.”


Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Well plotted. . . . Carlisle keeps the suspense high.”


Publishers Weekly

“Kate Carlisle weaves an intriguing tale with a fascinating peek into the behind-the-scenes world of rare books. Great fun, and educational too.”


Suspense Magazine

ALSO BY KATE CARLISLE

FIXER
-
UPPER MYSTERIES

A High-End Finish

BIBLIOPHILE
MYSTERIES

Homicide in Hardcover

If Books Could Kill

The Lies That Bind

Murder Under Cover

Pages of Sin
(novella: e-book only)

One Book in the Grave

Peril in Paperback

The Cookbook Conspiracy

The Book Stops Here

OBSIDIAN

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Copyright © Kathleen Beaver, 2014

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.

OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

ISBN 978-0-698-15389-9

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

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.

Version_1

This is for my brother, Bill, whose colorful descriptions of his life as a painter of Victorian buildings in San Francisco I have audaciously stolen for this book.

Love you, Bill.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

With this new mystery series, I would like to thank a few people who helped me bring it to life.

Many thanks to the brilliant Susan Mallery, Christine Rimmer, and Theresa Southwick for helping me construct the wonderful world of Lighthouse Cove.

I owe so much to Maureen Child for her gentle prodding and companionship on our journey up the creek.

I wouldn’t make it through a month without my mystery pals, Hannah Dennison and Daryl Wood Gerber, and their constant support, humor, and intel.

I’m completely indebted to Jenel Looney for her amazing creativity, passion, and talent.

As always, I am grateful to my agent, Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, for her unfailing guidance and enthusiasm.

I’m honored and thankful to work with my wonderfully insightful editor, Ellen Edwards, and the fantastic team at New American Library/Penguin.

It was particularly helpful to grow up with a general contractor for a father, so I give special thanks to my dad for those fascinating trips to the dump. Who knew I would be able to use such uplifting experiences in a book someday?

And finally, a big fat thank-you to my family, especially my husband, Don, whose good looks, patience, and bartending skills make every day worthwhile.

CONTENTS

Praise for the New York Times bestselling Bibliophile Mysteries

Also by Kate Carlisle

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Cast of Characters

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Excerpt from
This Old Homicide

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Shannon Hammer—
contractor in Lighthouse Cove, California

Jack Hammer—
Shannon’s father

Uncle Pete Hammer—
Shannon’s uncle, winemaker and owner of the Town Square Wine Bar

Chloe Hammer—
Shannon’s sister

Jane Hennessey—
Shannon’s best friend and owner of Hennessey House, the newest small hotel in town

Lizzie and Hal Logan—
Shannon’s friends and owners of Paper Moon book and paper store; their kids are Taz (11) and Marisa (13)

Emily Rose—
Shannon’s friend and owner of the Scottish Rose Tea Shoppe

Marigold Starling—
Shannon’s friend and owner, with her aunt Daisy, of Crafts and Quilts

Eric Jensen—
the chief of police

Mac Sullivan—
a famous crime novelist

Tommy Gallagher—
police officer and Shannon’s high school boyfriend

Whitney Reid Gallagher—
Tommy’s wife and Shannon’s worst enemy from high school

Jennifer Bailey—
Whitney’s best friend

Penelope “Penny” Wells—
the new bank loan officer

Wendell Jarvick—
Shannon’s short-term tenant

Jerry Saxton—
a real estate agent and Shannon’s blind date

Joyce and Stan Boyer—
Shannon’s homeowner clients

Luisa Capello—
a high school friend

Cindy—
head waitress at the Cozy Cove Diner

Rocky—
cook and owner of the Cozy Cove Diner

Augustus “Gus” Peratti—
Shannon’s auto mechanic

Wade Chambers—
Shannon’s head foreman

Carla Harrison—
Shannon’s second foreman (husband, Chase, and daughter, Keely)

Todd, Billy, Sean, Johnny, Douglas—
Shannon’s crew

Jesse Hennessey—
Shannon’s next-door neighbor and Jane’s uncle

Mrs. Coleen Higgins—
the neighbor across the street

Chapter One

“You could’ve warned me that installing drywall would be hell on my manicure.”

I looked down from my perch at the top of the ladder and saw my best friend, Jane Hennessey, scowling at her hands. They were smeared with sticky joint compound. She had flakes of drywall stuck to her shirt and there were flecks of blue paint highlighting her blond hair.

“I did warn you, remember? I told you to wear gloves.”
And a hat,
I thought to myself, but didn’t bother to mention it aloud. I wondered, though, where in the world that blue paint in her hair had come from.

“The gloves you gave me are so big and awkward, it’s hard to work in them.”

“I’m sorry, princess,” I said, hiding a smile. “Why don’t you go rest and I’ll finish up here?”

She laughed. “And have you rubbing my nose in the fact that I’m hopeless at manual labor? No way.”

“I would never do that.” But I laughed, too, because of course I
would
do that, and I’d expect her to do the same for me. We had known each other since kindergarten and had become best friends when we realized that the two of us were taller than all of the boys in our class. These days, I was still pretty tall at five foot eight, but Jane was two inches taller than me and as svelte as a supermodel.

Despite her delicate hands and my teasing, she had never been a stranger to hard work. This might have been her first experience with hanging drywall, but there was no way she would give up before the job was finished. This place was her home as well as her business, so I knew she wanted to be involved in every aspect of the renovation.

Jane had inherited the old mansion—formerly a brothel—three years ago, after her grandmother died. The imposing structure was a glorious example of the Victorian Queen Anne style, with an elaborate round tower rising three stories at the front corner; steeply gabled rooftops; four balconies; bay windows; six fluted chimneys; and a wide-planked, spindled porch, which spanned the front and wrapped around one long side of the house.

But except for the common rooms on the ground floor and Jane’s grandmother’s suite on the second floor, the rest of the house had been dangerously moldy, musty, and drafty when we first started to work on it. During our first inspection, we’d found rodents living inside one wall, a nest of bees swarming in the attic, and termites infesting the wood on the western side of the house. The plaster in some rooms was cracked or simply gone. To put it mildly, the place was falling apart. Through much of the initial demolition work, we’d had to wear full-face respirators to protect ourselves from the mold, asbestos, and toxic dust, among other substances.

The rooms that hadn’t been devastated by the ravages of time had been ruined by something almost worse: bad taste.

Jane’s grandfather had had a peculiar fondness for 1970s-era wood paneling and had used it to hide much of the richly detailed Victorian-era wallpaper throughout the house. The gorgeous mahogany bay windows in the dining room had been covered over with a high-gloss pale pink paint. And in the bedroom where we were currently working, the decorative redbrick chimney had been disguised with fake yellow plastic flagstone paneling. Plastic!

No wonder Jane’s grandmother had divorced the man.

Luckily for Jane, though, she had a best friend in the construction biz. Namely, me. I’m Shannon Hammer and I own Hammer Construction, a company that specializes in Victorian-home restoration and renovation right here in my hometown of Lighthouse Cove. I took over the company five years ago when my father, Jack, suffered a mild heart attack and decided to retire.

I had agreed to help Jane refurbish the mansion with the aim of turning it into Hennessey House, an elegant small hotel. It was the perfect solution for Jane, who had studied hotel management and had been running the Inn on Main Street for the past five years. I enlisted some of my guys to help us out, too, whenever their presence wasn’t demanded at one of my other job sites. After three long years, we were getting close to finishing all fourteen guest suites. The extensive repair and intricate repainting of the exterior of the house had been completed last week. The day after that, Jane had met with a landscaper to start taming the wildly overgrown gardens that circled the large house. When she wasn’t busy working on the property itself, she was tweaking Hennessey House’s new Web site.

In two months, she would officially open for business and the place was already sold out. Everyone in Lighthouse Cove was excited for her.

“Okay,” Jane said, rubbing her hands clean with a wet towel. “What’s next?”

“Once the mud you’re applying is dried and sanded,” I said, “we’ll be ready to paint this room.” I climbed down from the ladder and picked up the pole sander to smooth out a section of dried mud on the opposite wall. “And before you know it, we’ll be done.”

“Hallelujah.” There was true relief in Jane’s voice and I couldn’t blame her for it. When she’d insisted on helping me get this last room completed, I’d warned her that while installing and finishing drywall wasn’t terribly hard, it was frankly a big pain in the butt and seriously time-consuming. I admit I’d skimmed over the details about the damage it could do to one’s nails, but I figured that was a given.

Many homeowners I’d worked with thought that hanging drywall was a simple matter of screwing some four-by-eight sheets of the hard wallboard to some studs and voilà! You had a wall. If only that were true, but no. You had to measure and cut the drywall to fit the walls and ceiling. This wasn’t easy, for at least three reasons.

First, because you had to cut the boards evenly, so that involved clamps and rulers and math.

Second, because drywall boards were heavy and awkward for a person to maneuver around a room.

And third, because drywall had to be cut twice. I could explain why, but it still might not make sense.

And then you needed to figure out exactly how far apart the wood studs were and make marks on the drywall sheets accordingly. This way, you’d be sure you were screwing the sheets into the wood and not into semi-empty air. This involved more math and measuring. With newer homes, the wall studs were typically sixteen inches apart, but with old Victorians like this one, you just never knew.

I could go on and on about the joys of hanging drywall. No wonder I lived alone.

But here was the really fun part: once the drywall sheets were screwed to the studs, you had to cover up the seams, or joints, with joint compound. Joint compound was a muddy concoction known more simply as—wait for it—mud. You spread the mud along the seams and over the screw holes and then sanded it down to make the wall smooth and flat enough to paint.

Once you had a layer of still-wet mud over the seam, you ran a strip of special tape over it. Then you covered that tape with another thin layer of mud and left it to dry, sometimes overnight. The next day you would apply another, wider layer of mud, smooth it out, and let it dry. After one more layer of mud was applied and dried, the sanding began.

For someone unfamiliar with the process, it probably seemed like a great, big waste of time. But, trust me, if you missed a step or cut corners, you could screw up the wall and be forced to start over.

It was enough to make a grown contractor cry.

I preferred to do things right the first time. And, luckily, during those long, waiting-for-the-mud-to-dry periods, there was plenty of other work to do.

“This is going to look great,” Jane said, stepping back and taking in the room.

I almost laughed as I glanced around. We were staring at four walls covered in plain old drywall with wide white swaths of dried mud running every which way. A paint-spattered tarp lay over the old hardwood floor. Our tattered work shirts were equally spattered. My heavy tool chest, miscellaneous pieces of equipment and power tools, several buckets, and a stepladder were gathered together in one corner. It looked like a typical unfinished construction site to me, but I knew what she meant. I said, “It’ll be beautiful once the walls are painted and the ceiling is spackled and the moldings are added and the floor is finished.”

An hour and a half later, Jane and I were covered in fine white dust from all the sanding we’d done, but we were finished for the day. After removing our masks and goggles and shaking the worst of the dust off outside, we washed up in Jane’s laundry room sink.

“Oh, shoot, it’s getting late,” Jane said, drying her hands on an old dish towel. “I almost forgot you had a date tonight.” She glanced at me. “I hope you plan on showering when you get home. You look like a raccoon.”

“Thanks. And please don’t call it a date.”

“Oh, come on. You’ll have a good time.”

I gave her a look. “Really?”

She chuckled. “No, probably not. But at least you’ll be able to enjoy a good meal. And Lizzie will be off your back for another few months.”

“Promise?”

“Well, no.”

I frowned. “I don’t know why she’s picking on me when you’re the one who dreams of having a great romance.”

“Because I’ve already been her guinea pig once this year,” Jane said dryly. “I threatened to put spiders in her shoes if she ever tried to set me up again.”

Our friend Lizzie was blissfully married, with a darling husband and two great kids. Lately it had become an obsession of hers to arrange blind dates in the hopes of getting her friends married off and happy, whether they wanted to be happy or not. Of course I wanted to be happy, meet a nice guy, and settle down, but the very idea of going on a blind date to accomplish that goal made me shudder with dread.

Lizzie’s persistence had worn me down, though, and I had finally relented. Tonight I would meet Jerry Saxton for dinner at one of my favorite seafood restaurants on Lighthouse Pier. Dinner—that’s all it was. I refused to call it a blind date (even though that’s exactly what it was). I’d never met Jerry, but Lizzie had insisted he was a great guy, nice-looking, and successful, with a good sense of humor.

As I dried my hands, I mentally shrugged off most of my concerns because, as Jane said, at least I would enjoy a good dinner and maybe even have a few laughs.

But on the four-block drive home, I thought back to another one of Jane’s comments earlier that day. She had wondered aloud why a man with all those so-called wonderful qualities needed to be set up on a blind date. It was a good question. Maybe he was wondering the same thing about me. I sighed as I pulled into my driveway, knowing it wouldn’t do any good to dwell on those questions right now. In less than two hours, I would discover exactly why Jerry Saxton had agreed to go out with me.

•   •   •

I greeted and fed my dog, Robbie—named for Rob Roy, because Robbie is an adorable, smart West Highland terrier—and my cat, Tiger. My father had given me Tiger as a kitten a few years ago, picking her out of a litter because the color of her fur was so similar to my hair color. I named her Tiger because of her dark orange stripes and because she was oh so fierce.

I managed to shower and dry my impossibly thick, curly hair in record time. Getting dressed took a few extra minutes because I was undecided about what to wear. Nice pants and a jacket? A dress and high heels? Jeans and a sweater? The weather was mild for October on the Northern California coast, but the wind was always unpredictable, especially by the water. A chilly breeze could kick up in a matter of seconds.

I thought of the wide, worn wooden slats of the pier and shoved my high heels back into the closet. I could just see myself getting a heel stuck and wobbling like a goose in front of the whole town.

“Boots, no heels,” I muttered. I slipped on my best black pants and a pretty teal blouse that brought out the green in my eyes. My short black leather jacket completed the outfit, along with earrings and a pair of black ankle boots. If Jerry was shorter than five foot ten, he would thank me for eschewing the high heels.

The easiest way to get to the pier three blocks away from my house was to walk. As I passed my next-door neighbor Jesse’s house, he came scooting out the door and down his front walkway to greet me. Jesse Hennessey was a good old guy, a former Navy man now in his seventies. I’d known him practically since I was born because he was not only my neighbor, but also Jane’s great-uncle. I always made time to chat with him.

“I’ve got five dollars on you, kiddo,” he said, his voice raspy from years of drinking, smoking, and brawling.

I frowned for a second, but then it clicked and made perfect sense. “Are you telling me there’s a betting pool going on? Over me?”

“Sure is,” he said, and cackled. “It’s not every night that young Shannon Hammer goes out on a blind date. Everyone in town wants in on this action.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. And a little creeped out, too. There wasn’t much I could do about it now, though. We walked together toward Main Street. “I’m going to regret asking, but what’s the bet?”

He snickered. “Either you go home with the guy or you wind up kicking him in the, uh, you know, the family jewels. It’s even odds, I might add.”

“That’s . . . horrible.” I had to press my lips together to keep from laughing. Jesse was known for his salty language. I was pretty sure it was just for shock value, especially when it came to me and Jane.

I tried for a serious look. “I’m going to have a perfectly nice time tonight, Jesse, so I wouldn’t bet money on either of those outcomes. They’re beyond long shots.”

“But that’s why there’s so much cash riding on this.” He rubbed his hands gleefully.

“You’re all crazy—you know that?”

“Yeah, I know. But what the hell? If nobody wins, the money’ll just roll over into the next big pot.”

I was almost afraid to ask the next question. “So, which way did you bet?”

“I figure you’ll kick him in the nards.” He grinned. “Don’t disappoint me.”

I laughed. Couldn’t help it. I knew he meant it as a compliment, but, honestly, here I was, heading for the first blind date I’d ever been on and I was the subject of a betting pool down at the pub. This was life in my small town, and the pub was the epicenter of it all. That’s where the betting always started.

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