I’m currently working on a new romanctic suspense novel, “A Cut Above.” Read on for synopsis and an excerpt from Chapter 1! (PLEASE NOTE: chapter one is NOT edited and may contain minor errors.)
Allison Chase couldn’t believe her luck – a blossoming home chef cast on the world-wide phenomenon SuperCooks, and she’d made it to the top three. A half a million dollars and the prestigious title was within her grasp.
When her life crashes before her eyes, she’s forced to cope with the disaster of failure.
And after the show ends, when her friends end up suffering a myriad of tragedies that the cops don’t seem to care about, it’s up to Allison to figure out who was cut – that is, and who’s doing the cutting.
From Chapter 1:
“Five! Four! Three! Two…”
I bolted upright, clutching my sheets between whited fists. Every single time I closed her eyes the nightmare plagued me: that final countdown.
The one I’d missed.
The most important one of my life.
How could I have been so stupid? It was the chance of a lifetime. I spent all my savings to fly out to L.A. from Iowa to try out for SuperChefs, and made it to the top three. Millions of people watched me cook every week, and I was killing it.
But it all came down to that stupid timer…
And a little bit of Chicken fried… my cell phone ringtone blared as I fumbled for it on my nightstand. A voicemail, from a little after midnight hours ago. I briefly glanced at the time: a little after four in the morning. Ugh, I had to be up in two hours for my minimum wage job at a local bagel shop. I didn’t remember passing out last night, but given the bottle of wine on my nightstand, that was no surprise. The question remained: who would call me so late?
“Ali!” a female voice shrieked into the phone after I’d dialed my voicemail password. “Ali, you’ve got to help me…” the voice was drowned by a shrill scream.
At first, I laughed. Don’t judge me – I just have that sense of humor, and so did Laurie. The voice was familiar, my friend Laurie, from the show. She’d been cut early on, but we remained fast friends, especially since she was just a hop, skip, and a jump over in Des Moines. How did two small-town Iowa girls make it on SuperChef? Maybe it was some cruel joke. She’d been cut at number seventeen, and me at number three. I could still see her chubby little form in her cherry swing dress with those cat-eye red-rimmed glasses, brandishing a butcher knife like she was Jason and hissing cha, cha, cha, ka, ka, ka as a joke when we were filming on set. It was a shame she couldn’t take her cooking – or her seasoning – seriously enough to make it very far.
God, I missed that filming lifestyle. It had consumed me for an entire year, and I’d do anything to get it back.
But what was up with Laurie? Was this another one of her jokes? I dialed her number, but got nothing but a busy signal. Odd for a cell phone, but I figured a tower was down or something. I shrugged and threw my legs out of bed. My mouth was parched and I figured since I was up I might as well trudge to the bathroom for a glass of water.
In the darkness of my bedroom – I didn’t even bother with the light on my nightstand – I nearly tripped over a suitcase laying sideways on the flood next to my bed. What was that doing there? I vaguely remembered taking it out of the closet last night, but then after that… nothing.
My head pounded suddenly, and I pressed a palm to my forehead as I kicked the suitcase aside and ducked into my tiny bathroom across the hall. My entire apartment was only four-hundred square feet, just about all I could afford on barely above minimum wage.
My life kind of sucked, but at least I was still able to stay in the cooking industry. It was leaps and bounds from the collections calls I used to make before SuperCooks had changed my life.
I finished in the bathroom, just as my phone rang. I hurried back into the bathroom and snatched my phone up without even looking at the caller ID.
“Greg!” I shrieked. Greg had been our resident baker on SuperChefs. He’d been in the top five with his winning profiteroles, but in the end a fallen cheesecake would be his undoing. Even so, Chef George Bailey had given him an internship with his famous restaurant, La Chat, in New York City. I only heard from Greg a few times a week, mostly via our social media.
“What the hell time is it there?” I mumbled.
“It’s five in New York,” he grumbled, sounding half asleep, but a strain in his voice that made my eyes widen. “I know it’s early there, but… have you turned on the news?”
“No, I… Just a sec.” I grabbed the remote and flicked on the small TV perched on the dresser at the end of my bed.
“I was just scrolling through Reddit and saw this post… hang on, sharing it with you. Go to WHO13 station on your TV.”
I flipped through my mediocre cable channels, the free ones, until I found the local news station. My phone beeped with a new notification.
“You might remember Laurie Newstead as a contestant on the world-wide seventeenth season of SuperChefs. Miss Newstead was eliminated early on, but as news of her tragic death…”
I dropped the remote. It bounced off the bed and to the hard carpet, where the batteries promptly spilled on the floor.
“Ali, you there? Did you see it?” Greg’s voice was more shrill now. “Laurie…”
“She’s dead,” I breathed into the phone, my heart slamming against my chest. “She…” I almost blurted, called me, but I couldn’t get the words out. A voice in my head screamed, I have to call the police.
“I gotta go,” I told Greg abruptly. “I gotta…”
I ended the call and leaned forward, enraptured with the news broadcast.
“Miss Newstead was found tragically murdered in her Des Moines apartment late last night. The police are asking for anyone who may have heard anything around midnight to please call…”
I scribbled the number into a note on my phone, and flipped the TV off.
Who would want to do this to Laurie?
Sure, her sense of humor was morbid and weird like mine, but she was such a sweet soul.
Idly, I scrolled through the Reddit post Greg had shared with me. It was from some subreddit called r/weirdsupercooksdeaths. The first post was about Laurie, which I scrolled quickly past, only to find comments about three other cast members.
Bethany, who I vaguely remembered as contestant twenty and the first to be cut, electrocuted to death in her own home during a renovation project. No foul play was suspected, but that didn’t matter to the commenters, who had developed wild conspiracies from suicide over being cut so early to murder by one of the judges. A few of them made me laugh.
The next contestant was Kenneth, who had had some kind of psychotic break and walked into traffic. I remembered him – a tall Asian man with two small girls at home. My heart broke for him. The commenters had something to say about him, too – including being pushed.
Then there was Jullianna, a small mousy girl with thick glasses and an affinity for overalls. She’d perished in a car accident – or according to Reddit, had she been run off the road?
I pulled open Snapchat, sent a selfie rolling my eyes to Greg, and captioned it, Some people need lives.
The irony of my own boring life wasn’t lost on me.
My phone dinged with Greg’s reply. Don’t you think this is kind of freaky?
That someone is killing SuperChefs? Nah. It looks like a bunch of freak accidents.
Well, I’m going to keep following this and let you know. Four out of twenty of us are dead…
Then wouldn’t the police have said something to the rest of us? I texted back. Let it go, , Greg, you’re like a dog with a bone.
Well, when I was in the academy…
You failed out of the academy, remember? To become a cook? I dropped and emoji to lighten the mood.
No answer for a few minutes, as his little face icon kept popping and out, then the three dots revealed he was typing. Watch yourself, was all he said finally.
I ran a hand over my face and set my phone aside. It was almost thirty minutes until my alarm would go off, so I decided to get up and do a little tidying before work.
My kitchen was a mess, including a bloody butcher knife in the sink next to the half-consumed roasting pan with bits of beef, potatoes, and carrots clinging to the tray. It came back to me, then, I’d tried my hand at beef au vine, brined and then slow roasted in red wine, which would explain my finishing off the bottle sans glass and not remembering much of last night. Overall I needed to perfect my recipe, as it had come out a little too vinegary to me. I needed some butter or a hit of brown sugar next time to cut through that acid.
Yawning, I started my tiny counter dishwasher and double checked the drain in the kitchen sink, then plodded to the bathroom for a shower. Bagels and Lox would get their main baker soon enough.