Displaced from its New Orleans venue, a red-hot touring production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is opening right in the heart of Zinnia, and featuring hunky star Graf Mileau! Sarah Booth, who had her own brief stint with Mileau himself, is less than thrilled. Graf is now linked with his costar, Renata Troviola, a dyed-in-the-wool diva who plans to ride Graf's coattails all the way to Hollywood. But Renata's trip to the top comes to a screeching halt on the play's second night when someone laces her lipstick with cyanide.
It seems Renata was stirring up plenty of drama behind the scenes, making enemies galore: her long-suffering makeup artist, an extremely harsh critic, an angry audience member. . .even boy toy Graf had a motive. But the most damning evidence points to Sarah. Now, to save her reputation, Sarah reckons she'll have to bring the curtain down on a mystery with more twists and turns than the Old Muddy. . .
Praise for Carolyn Haines and her Southern Belle mysteries:
"Funny, ingenious. . .and delightful." --Dallas Morning News
"Wickedly funny. Devilishly clever. Scintillatingly Southern. Carolyn Haines is an author to die for." --Carolyn Hart
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By Carolyn Haines
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Carolyn Haines
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Chapter OneWhen the cold January wind blows across the empty cotton fields, it's hard to remember the lush summer heat. Dahlia House has weathered more than a hundred and fifty winters, standing against wind and rain and war. Sitting on the porch, bundled in the new, red, polar fleece jacket that was one of my love's many Christmas gifts, I try not to let the fading daylight leave me blue. The holidays have come and gone, another season slipped away, a new year begun.
My resolution this year is to leave the past behind. Since the death of my parents, I've dragged my guilt behind me like a ball and chain. No more. Coleman Peters, the sheriff of Sunflower County, is recuperating from a gunshot wound to his chest and has filed for divorce from his psycho wife. By springtime he'll be a free man. I, too, must shed the things that bind me to a time and place that no longer exist. Divorce, a mere legal maneuver, is easy compared to severing memories.
Looking out on the brown fields that meet the gray sky on a distant horizon, I find it impossible not to think of the past. Only a year before I was in the Big Apple learning that my Big Dream wasn't going to happen. I would never tread the boards of Broadway as a leading lady. While my talent was a blinding star in Mississippi, I was barely a fizzle in New York City. I'd come home in defeat.
"I do declare, if there'sone word that won't be allowed on the premises of Dahlia House, it's de-feat!"
I didn't have to turn around to realize who was speaking. Jitty, the resident haint of Dahlia House, had come to devil me in the broadest Southern accent I'd ever heard. It wasn't bad enough that I was suffering from SAD; now I was afflicted with SMG, sassy-mouthed ghost.
"Jitty, I'm not in the mood for your cornpone rendition of Scarlett. Can't you see I'm sinking into a perfectly good funk?" I swiveled to take a gander at her. She had the annoying habit of skipping through the decades for her wardrobe. When last I'd seen her she was all Marie Antoinetteish. My jaw dropped several inches as I took in the layers and layers of pale pink tulle that swung on hooped petticoats. The dress was perfectly fitted to her nineteen-inch waist. With her wide-brimmed hat she looked like the unthinkable-an antebellum belle.
"Honey chile, you keep sittin' out here on the gallery mopin' about the past, you gone put the funk in dysfunctional." She snapped a fan open and laughed beguilingly behind it.
I rose to my feet. "Jitty, I've put up with hot pants and flapper fringe, poodle skirts and Trekkie suits. I've even been through French Revolution garb, but I draw the line at this"-I pointed at her dress-"mockery of my heritage!"
"You're the one who can't let the past go." She sashayed around the porch, her hoop skirts swinging to reveal ruffled pantaloons.
I was saved from a response by the sound of a tooting horn. Tinkie's new Cadillac cruised down the driveway. When I turned back to Jitty, she was gone.
The Cadillac stopped and Tinkie sprang from behind the wheel, her gaze sweeping over the drying garlands of cedar and magnolia leaves I'd used to decorate the porch.
"Christmas is over, Sarah Booth. It's bad luck to leave those decorations up." She snatched an end of a garland and pulled. Since her visit to Dr. Larry Martin had revealed that the pecan-sized lump in her breast was completely gone-vanished!-Tinkie had been a ball of fire.
"I'll help you with this," she said as she tore the greenery free of the house, "but then you'll have to help me."
"Help you what?" I was wary of Tinkie's deals.
She dropped the garland at her feet, her face alive with pleasure. "Finish the preparations for the cast."
"No!" I wanted no part of it. "When I left New York, I gave up all ambitions of hanging out with actors. I don't even like actors."
Her bottom lip protruded slightly in a pout that brought grown men to their knees. "Don't be that way, Sarah Booth. This is going to be wonderful. A New York production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the biggest thing that's ever happened in Zinnia."
"And it wouldn't be happening now if a hurricane hadn't destroyed the entire Gulf Coast." It was true. The production had been booked into the Beau Rivage Casino and a category-five hurricane had devastated the coastline of Mississippi.
"I hate to benefit from someone else's misfortune." She pulled another garland free of the balustrade. "They had to go somewhere, though, and we're fortunate that The Club had a stage and auditorium."
"Yes, what would the debutantes in town do without the facilities of The Club?" I rolled up the garlands she was destroying. Inside the door was a garbage bag for just this purpose, and I grabbed it and began stuffing. Tinkie was half-finished pulling down what had taken me two days to put up.
"You're just upset about Graf Milieu." She yanked a garland with such force that the tacks I'd used to secure it scattered over the porch.
"Graf is nothing to me." If I said it often enough, it would be true. In fact, I had no romantic feelings left for him, but I did have shame. He'd seen me defeated, running home from New York with my tail between my legs because I wasn't talented enough.
The sound of a loud bay drew both of our attention to the Cadillac. Sweetie Pie, my invincible hound, was standing on her hind feet, paws against the window, looking for Tinkie's little dust mop, Chablis.
"Where is your dog?" I asked. Tinkie seldom went anywhere without the Yorkie.
"I'm having her topknot layered and glitzed. She has a seat for opening night. Chablis, in case you've forgotten, is a huge fan of Tennessee Williams."
I cast a sidelong look to see if she was teasing. Tinkie sometimes took it a little too far with Chablis, who was manicured, primped, and treated like a child prodigy. I loved the little rascal, but I didn't believe she cared for stage productions.
"I'm only kidding," Tinkie said as she grasped the last of the decorations. "But I am having a cocktail party at Hill Top on opening night, and I want Chablis to look her best."
"Right." I stuffed the last of the cedar into my trash bag and tied it shut. "So what, exactly, is it you want me to help you do?"
"The cast is due to arrive tonight. I want to have fresh flowers in the dressing rooms-"
"Dressing rooms?" I wasn't a member of The Club, but I'd been there plenty. There weren't any dressing rooms.
"Renata Trovaioli insisted that she must have her own dressing room, so while I was ordering new construction, I had one fixed up for Graf and Sir Alfred Bascomb. Can you believe it?" She clutched my hand. "Sir Alfred Bascomb is going to be here in Zinnia. He's incredible. I saw him in Lolita." She looked like she was going to swoon.
"An incredible bore." I'd had one encounter with the Brit, and it had left me emotionally gutted. The man had looked down his hawkish nose at me and told me to get elocution lessons. "He doesn't find Southern drawls the least bit interesting."
"Did you see him in The Gentleman Caller? I mean ..." Her hand went to her heart. "I cried for days!"
"Yeah, boo-hoo." The more she talked the more I knew I didn't want any part of her plans.
"Sarah Booth, did you really sleep with Graf? He's probably the most handsome man I ever saw. I'll bet-"
The question came out of the blue and struck like an arrow in my heart, bringing a kaleidoscope of images of the two of us as young lovers in the most fascinating city in the world. I held up my hand, palm toward her face. "Talk to the hand, Tinkie. My New Year's resolution is to leave the past behind me." I gave her a glare. "Graf is the past. No good comes of digging it up."
"You did sleep with him!" She arched an eyebrow. "I sure hope Coleman isn't the jealous type. Then again, he survived your fling with Hamilton Garrett V, and he is still married."
"Not for long. His marriage is a technicality." Coleman had filed for divorce in November. The case was slowly winding its way through the court system, and hopefully by spring he'd be shed of Connie and her insanity.
"Coleman hasn't been sleeping over here." She spoke fact. "The two of you haven't consummated your relationship, have you?"
I kept my gaze on the bag of Christmas rubble. "Coleman has honor. He doesn't want to start with me until he's completely free of Connie." I cleared my throat. "He was also shot in the chest, if you remember."
She shook her head slowly, her blue gaze holding mine until I looked away. "Honor is one thing, Sarah Booth, but to leave you all alone Christmas Eve. That's just plain stupid. He could sleep over and hold you. What's-"
"I haven't been alone." In another minute my blabbering mouth would be telling Tinkie my concerns-or even worse, all about Jitty. Tinkie would call the men in white suits. "I mean Sweetie Pie was with me, and Coleman came by. We built a fire, and we exchanged our gifts." What I didn't say was that he'd been careful to leave before our passions sent us upstairs to my bed.
"I hope you didn't serve him any of that fruitcake you made. After Virgie's deadly batch, I can't imagine ever eating fruitcake again."
"Coleman understands tradition. And fruitcake is the only tradition I keep at Christmas."
Tinkie's expression shifted to something close to pity and her blue eyes brimmed with tears. "I'm sorry, Sarah Booth. I know how much you miss your family."
I shrugged because I didn't trust my voice. I did miss my parents. Years hadn't dimmed the hurt, and the best thing to do was simply not to talk about it. "I'll help you, but only today. I'll take my car; I want to be home before the actors arrive."
"Don't trust yourself with Graf?"
The devil had danced away her tears. I couldn't help but smile. "I have no feelings for Graf except regret. I remember too well what a pompous ass he is."
"Then why won't you stay and welcome all of them?"
"Because I have a date with Coleman at eight." It was a lie born of pride. The trouble was that I hadn't seen Coleman all week. All I could do was pretend.
"Okay," she agreed. "I'll meet you at The Club."
I grabbed the huge vase of American Beauties and started back into The Club. My back was killing me. I'd never thought I could be exhausted by hauling flowers and fruit baskets, but Tinkie had worked me like a field hand. She was a regular Patton at cracking out orders. I had serious sympathy for the numerous employees of The Club who fell under her regime. Oscar, as president of Zinnia's only bank and largest stockholder of The Club, wielded a big stick. Tinkie had borrowed it for this event, which had become her special baby. She was determined that Graf, Renata Trovaioli, Alfred Bascomb, and company would have every amenity a large city could provide. Zinnia would not be looked upon as a backwater.
I put the flowers on the dressing table especially crafted for Renata Trovaioli, a woman I'd once been an understudy for in a Marsha Norman play called 'Night, Mother. Renata had been the worst kind of prima donna, and there wasn't a night that went by that I didn't wish she'd fall into the orchestra pit and give me my chance. I'd loved the play. Renata, though, was healthy as a horse. The only thing that might kill her would be a flying house from Kansas. I couldn't conjure one of those up, so I never had a chance to speak even a line of the play. Renata, on the other hand, won a Tony.
"Sarah Booth, quit daydreaming and put that vase down. I need someone to help me hang these pictures. They're only reproductions, but Renata is a huge fan of Van Gogh. I thought these would be homey." Tinkie held a painting of a vase of sunflowers with a frame that must have weighed ninety pounds.
"Could you hold it up there so I can see how it looks?" She pointed at a wall.
Hefting the painting with a small grunt, I lifted and lowered and shifted and eased until she declared perfection. "Hold it right there. I'll be back with a nail and hammer."
This work was far more difficult than pulling down a bit of garland. I'd make Tinkie pay.
When at last the picture was hung, I stepped back. "I'm going home, Tink. It's after six." I was starving and my shoulders were on fire. "Everything looks great." And it did. She'd done a spectacular job. The space looked like the backstage area of an elegant theatre. The lighting was flattering, the area for costumes plentiful, the sofas and chairs more comfortable than what I had at home. She'd blown through a wad of cash, but her plan was to auction off everything any of the actors touched. She'd recoup her outlay and make additional money for The Club's Hurricane Relief Fund.
"Is that-it couldn't be Sarah Booth Delaney!"
The baritone voice froze me to the spot. I closed my eyes and swallowed while Tinkie did her best sorority squeal.
"Why, it's Graf Milieu! Sarah Booth, turn around and look. It's really him!"
I knew it was him. I'd recognize his voice anywhere. I'd saved phone messages from him, simply to hear that rich, sexy voice. I spun around, pasting pleasant on my face. "Why, Graf, you look marvelous."
No hardship to say that. His dark hair was touched by gray at the temples, and there were a few additional character lines at the corner of his eyes, but the hand of time had touched additional handsomeness into perfection.
"Sarah Booth, you've never looked lovelier."
Before I could do anything, he swept me into an embrace. His lips, so warm and firm and tasting of peppermint, closed over mine. The kiss went from friendly to sexy in a nanosecond. "I've thought about you every day for the past year," he whispered into my ear. "The only reason I came to this godforsaken hole was to see you."
"Easy, Graf." I wiggled free of his arms. My heart was pounding, and I couldn't look at him. His words were vindication for an old, ugly wound. When I'd left New York, he hadn't made a single attempt to stop me. Not even a please. He'd remained silent as I picked up my last suitcase and walked out into a bitter winter day. He'd watched from the window as I'd gotten into the taxi. He didn't even wave.
Since I'd been home, he hadn't bothered to call. Not even once. Not even to make sure I'd gotten home safely. When I left New York, I left his sphere of awareness. Or so I'd thought.
"Why, Sarah Booth, you look pure flushed." Tinkie sucked in her bottom lip. It popped free and I heard a gasp behind me. Sir Alfred Bascomb stood only two feet away.
"I am flushed. With hunger." I strode away from Graf and Sir Alfred, heading for the hallway that would, eventually, lead to an outside exit. I had no use for either of them. "I'm going home, Tinkie," I called behind me. "I have plans."
"In the arms of the great, big, handsome sheriff, who is still legally married," she called after me, and I knew it was for Graf's benefit. I heard her high heels tapping after me.
Betrayal stung me. "Coleman is your friend," I whispered to her even though we were well out of earshot. "How could you?"
"Every cook knows an extra hunk of meat improves the stew." She grinned. "Sarah Booth, Graf looked at you like a starving man would eye a T-bone."
"How flattering. And how accurate. I'd be his next meal, and then he'd move on to dessert-if I were even slightly interested, which I'm not." I put my hand on her arm. "Tinkie, you don't know the history between us. He treated me poorly."
The mischief fled from her eyes. "You're right. I don't know the history. It's just that you've been so down lately. Coleman isn't making you happy, and I thought a harmless flirtation with Graf might perk you right up."
The problem was that Graf was never harmless. He could charm the knickers off the Queen Mother, and there was always a price to pay for being the object of his attentions. "Not a good plan. Let's get this production up and running so these people can vamoose."
"Okay. No more meddling." She stood on tiptoe and kissed my cheek. "If you promise to laugh a little more."
"I promise." Anything to keep her from trying to set me up with Graf.
Renata Trovaioli swept into the hallway. Her hair was a tangle of Medusa curls and her ice-blue eyes were offset with kohl that gave her an exotic aura. "That stalking bitch is hanging around the front door. I was promised there would be security to protect me. She's going to kill me. She is! She's got a poster and is marching back and forth calling me a heartless killer!"
I had no idea what Renata was talking about, but Tinkie stepped forward to handle it.
Excerpted from Ham Bones by Carolyn Haines Copyright © 2007 by Carolyn Haines. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It met my expectations except.... somewhere around page 75 I figured out the murder and I thought Sarah Booth should have, too.
This was a slow read at first but get very interesting towards the middle and end. I like seeing Sarah taking a chance on something new
Sarah Booth Delaney has a chance to live out her dream of stardom when a road show of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" gets diverted to her hometown Zinnia following a hurricane that destroyed the original venue. Sarah Booth gets reacquainted with old flame, leading man Graf and leading lady, Renata. Sarah Booth had understudied Renata in New York so it was only natural that she is asked to do the same for this production. She is not too concerned, everyone knows Renata would rather die than miss a performance. Which is exactly what she does, die. Now Sarah Booth is the leading lady and the leading suspect in the murder. I have really enjoyed this series, but this outing takes on a definitely darker tone. Of course it is a first person narative and Sarah Booth is a suspect for murder, but she has definitely lost some of her humor and optimism in this book. I found myself wanting to give her a good shake.All and all, pretty good with an interesting ending.
What is wrong with this reviewer...killjoy...giving away the end of a book before anyone even gets to read it! Delete that review at once..this is a travesty.
I just finished Ham Bones and though the plot was very interesting, I felt the ending of the book left much to be desired. I only hope there is another book coming post haste as I felt the readers were left hanging and unsatisfied (dropping Coleman? Never!!!)
A year ago, Sarah Booth Delaney realized she would never make it as a Broadway star so she returned home to Zinnia, Mississippi where she opened up a private detective agency with her best friend Tinki. She left behind her lover Graff who made no move to stop her he promptly entered into a relationship with diva Renata who Sarah was once an understudy for in a Broadway play that won the star an award.---------------- Sarah is not exactly thrilled that Graff and Renata are coming to Zinnia to put on the play Cat On A Hat Tin Roof. Graff tells Sarah that Renata has been behaving erratically and he wants Sarah to be her understudy she finally agrees but instead works like a gofer driving to Nashville to pick up a special trade of lipstick made especially for the pampered star. During her intermission, Renata keels over and dies the coroner determines cyanide poisoning was cause with the lipstick as the mechanism. Other circumstantial evidence enhances the lipstick pointing to Sarah as the killer. Sheriff Coleman Peters who professes to love her arrests her. When she is freed on bond Sarah with Tinki at her side sets out to prove her innocence by seeking to uncover the identity of the real killer.--------------- Sarah blossoms in HAM BONES as her coping skills give her a confidence she never had before. If she is cleared of the charges she has new chance to renew her relationship with Graff and going to Hollywood. Readers will root for her to make it with Graff, as her relationship with the sheriff has done nothing but her. The victim had a lot of enemies with enough motives to want her dead. Sarah has to figure out which one of them actually put their desire into practice, as to all of them felt strongly enough about her to do so. When it comes to rattling southern bones, Carolyn Haines writes an exciting down home cozy.---------------- Harriet Klausner