Death of a Country Fried Redneck (Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries) (5 page)

Stop the presses. Wade Springer? Talking about
her?
Hayley casually pinched herself to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep at her desk and was dreaming.
“Do you know she snuck into the kitchen of that little cafe we ate at yesterday and cooked me my breakfast?” Wade said.
He turned to Hayley and winked. “Best omelette I ever had. I went to give my compliments to the chef, I forget his name. . . .”
“Kelton, he’s a friend,” Hayley managed to get out.
“Kelton, that’s right. Anyway, he came clean and told me about Hayley.”
“I could have that restaurant shut down for something like that,” Billy Ray said.
“Oh, don’t be squawking like a flustered hen, Billy Ray. I think it’s about the sweetest thing I ever heard,” Wade said, charmed.
“I have some phone calls to make,” Billy Ray sniffed, knowing he wasn’t getting anywhere with his boss, so he may as well retreat to another room.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been entirely inappropriate misrepresenting myself,” Hayley said.
“You’re not misrepresenting yourself now. I know exactly who you are.”
“Thank you for understanding. I better go.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
Hayley couldn’t think of anything more exciting than being held against her will by Wade Springer.
But she knew
that
was definitely a dream.
“Not until I get a taste of that famous fried chicken I read about.”
“So you read my column?”
“Every word. And it just so happens I need someone to cook for me while I’m in town. Nothing fancy. Some grits for breakfast, maybe a packed lunch for when I go sightseeing, a light supper. Think you can handle that?”
Hayley knew it would be impossible again for her to speak so she just nodded.
“Great. You can start tomorrow.”
“What about your dinner tonight? I can whip something up when I get off work.”
“No, I already have plans.”
“Oh. Okay.”
“You and I are going to go out to celebrate your coming to work for me.”
Hayley’s jaw nearly hit the floor.
Did Wade Springer just ask her out on a date?
No, of course he didn’t.
On the other hand, it did sound a lot like he just asked her out.
On a date.
With him.
Sometimes dreams really do come true.
Chapter 5
 
Mass hysteria.
That’s the best way to describe what was happening in Hayley’s house as she prepared for her dinner with Wade Springer.
What to wear.
How to flatten her hair.
And why did she have to eat a tub of ice cream after work? Her stomach was now actually protruding over her belt. Would Wade mind her wearing stretch pants to dinner? Jenny Craig would be so disappointed in her. This was all too much.
Deep breaths, Hayley. Deep breaths. She had to focus.
Makeup. She needed to put on her makeup. And not too much mascara because she sometimes looked like a hungover raccoon.
She hadn’t been this excited about a date since the first night she had gone out with Lex.
Of course, that night she wound up arrested before she even left the driveway. But that was another story.
Wait.
Hayley stopped herself.
Date.
She was thinking about this dinner as a date. What on earth was she doing? This wasn’t a date. Wade was her employer as of today. She was letting her imagination run wild.
She needed to calm down.
Hayley fumbled through her bedroom closet for a sweater that didn’t have too much noticeable dog hair on it. She yanked out a sleek black one. Black was slimming, right?
A pair of white pants.
Some slip-on shoes.
Nothing too dressy.
But smart.
And professional. Yes, that was key. She had to be professional.
She applied some CoverGirl and Olay Simply Ageless Foundation.
Yeah, right.
Simply Ageless
. Who comes up with that stuff?
She frowned at a small zit on her face as she stared at herself in the dresser mirror, and then rubbed more foundation on her face.
This was such a complicated process.
Gemma burst into the room. Hayley noticed that she was wearing a too tight t-shirt and way too short cut-off jeans for a girl her age, but she didn’t have time to argue with her daughter. She would deal with it later.
“Mom, did you check the voice mail? We have a code red situation. Lex called and wants you to call him back when you get a chance.”
“Now why would Lex calling be a code red situation?”
“Because you’re going on a date with another man, and not just any man. A huge country-singing superstar and maybe he knows about it and is calling to test you.”
“First of all, Gemma, this is
not
a date.”
Maybe if she said it enough times she’d actually believe it.
“I’m working for Wade,” Hayley said. “We’re just meeting to discuss menus. Even if he did know, Lex couldn’t possibly object.”
“Then why are you so dressed up?”
Hayley brushed some dog hair off the front of her sweater. “This is not dressed up.”
“For you it is.”
Hayley flashed her an annoyed look.
“Now listen to me, Gemma. I don’t want you breathing a word about this dinner to anyone, do you hear me? I don’t want it spreading all over town. There’s enough gossip around here as it is.”
Gemma gave her one of those panicked looks that said,
I’m going to reassure you, but I am totally lying.
“Okay.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing.” Another panicked look.
“Gemma . . .”
“Okay, I may have posted something on Facebook.”
“What? What did you post?”
“I might have said something along the lines of...
OMG! My mother is going out on a date with Wade Springer tonight
.”
“Gemma, you didn’t!”
“Well, you are!”
“It’s not a date.”
“Don’t worry. No one will read it.”
“You have seven thousand Facebook friends and there are only five thousand year-round residents in Bar Harbor!”
“Don’t hate me because I’m popular.”
“Did you mention where we were having dinner?”
“Of course not.”
“Good.”
“But you might want to go talk to Dustin. Soon.”
“Why?”
“He’s downstairs tweeting and you know what a big mouth he’s got.”
Hayley flew out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
Too late.
Dustin had already sent out seventeen tweets about his mother’s big date with Wade Springer, even discussing the specials at Town Hill Bistro where they were planning to dine.
Hayley immediately called Wade and suggested they not go to dinner since she didn’t want gawkers interrupting them. Instead, she suggested a drink at the Balance Rock Inn, a very high-end bed and breakfast set back from the rocky shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where guests could enjoy a cockail outside and watch the cruise ships in the harbor set out for their next destinations.
There was also an outdoor gazebo with cushioned chairs and love seats in which to enjoy a glass of wine with your significant other, but that was way too romantic, so there was no way Hayley was going to suggest they sit there.
 
 
Too late.
When Hayley arrived at the Balance Rock Inn, Wade was waiting for her in the gazebo. She hoped and prayed he wasn’t thinking she was trying to make more out of this than it was.
A simple business meeting.
Wade looked gorgeous in his red print open shirt and white cowboy hat and tight jeans and cowboy boots. He had a simple gold neck chain that sparkled in the moonlight.
“I took the liberty of ordering us some wine,” Wade said as he took Hayley’s hand and led her over to one of the love seats. “I’m more of a beer kind of guy, but I knew I was meeting a lady, so I went for the Pinot Noir.”
“Thank you,” Hayley said nervously.
Wade poured them each a glass and handed her one. They clinked glasses. “Here’s to your fried chicken. May I not gain too much weight while I’m here in Bar Harbor.”
Hayley sat there sipping her wine, feeling completely out of her element. But Wade was perfectly at ease, talking about how he hiked the Precipice Trail today, which climbs a thousand feet up the east face of Champlain Mountain in the park. He said how strenuous it was, but how much he loved it and couldn’t wait to conquer more trails while he was in town. He couldn’t believe how beautiful Acadia National Park was, a little jewel so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the major cities. He was an outdoorsman, happiest when pushing his physical limits.
God, Wade was sexy.
Hayley took another sip of wine. “Did you get the menus I e-mailed you? I want to know about any allergies you might have, or if there is something you really don’t like, although I’m pretty familiar with your eating habits, having read about you all these years.”
“I’m sure I’m going to love everything you cook for me, Hayley,” Wade said with a wink.
Was that wink a flirtatious gesture?
Hayley took another sip of her wine.
Great. She was calming her nerves with lots of alcohol.
Always a sound plan of attack.
Suddenly, her eye caught something.
There was a figure crouched down behind some bushes a few feet away, watching them. He was small and wiry, the size of a kid, maybe eleven or twelve years old.
Hayley squinted to get a better look, and then there was a blinding flash that surprised both her and Wade, followed by a rustling in the bushes as the kid ran off in the dark.
Hayley shrugged. “I guess a fan wanted a photo for his scrapbook.”
“Happens all the time,” Wade said, smiling, and then he refilled their glasses with more wine.
Hayley wasn’t exactly tipsy when she and Wade left the Balance Rock Inn, but she was feeling warm and fuzzy inside, and fought every urge to rest her head on Wade’s broad shoulders.
If she could reach one.
Wade was tall.
Maybe on her tippy toes.
Wade insisted on walking Hayley home, but Hayley laughed and assured him the town was very safe and her house was just a few blocks away, and it was such a beautiful night.
He gave her a sweet peck on the cheek that nearly caused her to lose her balance.
Before he could press the matter of escorting her home any further, she left.
As she walked home, Hayley felt confident she could prepare at least three meals a day that would make Wade happy and she was getting more excited about the idea of being Wade Springer’s personal chef.
When Hayley got home, she noticed Liddy’s Mercedes parked in the driveway.
The house was lit up like a Christmas tree, unlike most of the other homes on quiet residential Glen Mary Road.
Hayley shook her head, smiling to herself. Liddy and the kids were probably on pins and needles waiting to hear every detail of her night with Wade. She was tired, but would give them a few highlights before she turned in for the night.
But when Hayley walked in the back door and through the kitchen there was no welcoming party to greet her. She heard the sound of rummaging down the hall and followed it to the living room, where she stopped and gasped.
The room had been turned upside down. The shelves were emptied, books and framed photos piled high on the floor. The couch and chairs were moved, the dining room table upended.
“What is going on here?” Hayley said as she spotted Liddy on her hands and knees going through a basket of magazines.
Liddy’s face was pale and gaunt. Like she hadn’t slept in days. She wasn’t even wearing one of her signature Donna Karan ensembles. She was in a sweatshirt and jeans and flip-flops.
Liddy in flip-flops?
This had to be something bad.
Real bad.
“Where are the kids?” Hayley asked.
“Upstairs,” Liddy said. “They’re searching the bathroom. I think I went up there to use it the last time I was here, but I’m not sure.”
Liddy looked lost and broken.
“My God, Liddy, what’s happened?”
“My diamond earrings? The pair I bought at Tiffany’s on my last trip to New York and spent a fortune on when I knew I shouldn’t? But then I said to myself, ‘Liddy, you deserve this!’ and I called you from the counter so you could talk me out of it, but I really wanted you to tell me to go for it and you didn’t disappoint. . .”
“Yes, Liddy, I remember. What about them? Did you lose one?”
Liddy nodded and then burst into tears.
Hayley rushed forward and embraced her.
Not the end of the world. At least, in Hayley’s mind. She was raising two kids as a single mother and just wanted to pay her heating bill for the winter. But Liddy was an entirely different creature altogether. And, to her, this
was
the end of the world. So as her closest friend, Hayley needed to be there for her.
“Don’t worry, honey, we’ll find it.”
She started to pull out of the hug, but Liddy clutched the sleeve of her sweater tightly.
“I’ve searched everywhere. The kids are still looking upstairs. This is the last place I could’ve lost it. And we’ve turned this whole house upside down and . . . nothing.”
“You guys find anything up there?” Hayley called, finally freeing herself from Liddy’s grasp and walking over to the foot of the stairs.
“Nope,” Dustin said before she heard him walk back into his room and turn his attention to his PlayStation.
“Sorry,” Gemma said before her cell phone chirped and she, too, abandoned the search.
“I know I’m making too big a deal out of this, especially with all the starving children in the world, but I loved those earrings, Hayley, and if I wear just one, I’ll look like a really well-off gypsy.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll find it.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t even ask you about your big date. How was it?”
“Fine. Nothing special,” Hayley said before adding, “And it wasn’t a date.”
 
Hayley decided not to go on and on about the deliciously charming and gorgeous Wade Springer, and how the night could not have gone more perfectly. There was no reason to rub salt in the wound. Her friend was hurting.
So, instead, she pushed her ratty stained couch to the other side of the room and joined in on the search for her best friend’s missing diamond earring without missing a beat.
That’s what friends are for.

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