Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August Highs and Lows

August is my birthday month. I'm at an age where I'd just as soon forget birthdays, but since I'm getting so old, my kids seem to think it's remarkable and we should all celebrate. So that's what we did and we all had fun. We had dinner with two of our daughters and their husbands and my youngest granddaughter, who is 17. I was thrilled that she decided to stick around to celebrate with her grandma.

I got a new computer at the beginning of the month and of course had a guru transfer everything from one to the other. Of course not everything transferred--I have 3 old versions of Word Perfect filled with files as well as my Word files. We managed to find them finally.

What didn't come through were all my addresses in my address book. I now have Outlook where I had Outlook Express before. It may be a better mail program, but it certainly is confusing. Not only did I lose addresses, but I lost all my groups which I'm still working on.

The guru spent 4 hours at our house the first day and after I played with the computer and found out what all else was wrong or I couldn't find, he came back for another 3. Thanks to Mozy, an offline back-up service, I restored some missing stuff.

And this all ties back to my age--I'm getting far too old to keep learning all this complicated stuff. Had a big promo weekend that was great fun. Headed to the coast where I participated in a library's book and and craft fair, saw old friends, made new ones, stayed in the Santa Maria hotel where movie stars and politicians stayed in the hotel's first years--still a fabulous place. We headed down the coast to our kids' house and before the birthday celebration, went to the movies, out to eat, and I was the "cultural" speaker for a women's group. No one fell asleep and they laughed a lot, so I think I was happy. Of course that was part of the highs.

Another low was losing my Internet connection on the little Acer computer I take with me on trips. I did something wrong--think I can fix it, but the whole weekend away I was unable to get on the Net and do things I needed to do.

Another high, headed up to the mountains and spoke to a writers group connected to the Willow Bridge Bookstore about working with small presses, and the changes going on in the publishing industry right now. I love that bookstore and I always see old friends there and make new ones.

Received the cover for my new Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Invisible Path, and also the galleys which I've corrected and sent back.

So, though August has been a bit bumpy, I lived through it. Now, it's on to September and new adventures which will include promoting Invisible Path.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Haven't We Done This Before?

Jennifer Aniston, 41, with no serious partner in sight, said that “Women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle, they don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child. They are realizing if it's that time in their life and they want this part they can do it with or without that [a male partner]."

Bill O’Reilly, Fox News favorite rabble-rouser, of course, scenting big ratings by taking on a popular actress, worked himself into a lather and boldly declared, "She's throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that, 'Hey you don't need a guy. You don't need a dad.' That is destructive to our society."

We’ve got the worst economy in decades, we’re in two wars, and global warming may melt the ice cap and flood downtown Cincinnati – but the glib comment of an actress hawking her newest film, a romantic comedy where she ends up with the father of her baby – yeah, that’s what is destroying our society.

Of course, we’ve been to this rodeo before. Back in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle picked a fight with fictional news reporter Murphy Brown, who was pregnant and unmarried. "[I]t doesn't help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.'”

I thankfully am married to the best father on earth. We take our parenting seriously, and have never been worried about gender roles in how we parent. Similarly, I was blessed to have been raised by the best father on earth who thought I was the bees knees (his words, not mine), and from whom I learned what was important in picking a mate. So I’m not minimizing for a millisecond that Dads play a vital role in raising healthy, strong, independent children.

But when I think of all those children languishing in foster care, in limbo in orphanages around the world, and I think of all those adults who long to be parents – then no, Mr. Reilly, I’m not worried if a single adult male or female, or a gay couple, choose to open their hearts and homes to children who need at the minimum one caring parent, if not two. And I'm not even going to insist that those outside of traditional marriages must adopt rather than birth their family. That's not my concern and it's not their sole responsibility to offer homes to children in need.

Let’s not be trapped in a time warp created by 1950s television. Perhaps the Anderson family from “Father Knows Best,” was composed of working Dad, stay-at-home Mom, and three adorable children….but that was a fantasy even then. Heck, I knew from the get-go that my family was different from what I saw on the small screen – my mother worked full-time; my dad never wore cardigans; and my sister’s father was not mine. My parents argued, loudly at times, unlike the fictional Andersons – and yet, I know now that I couldn’t have had a better set of parents.

What children need are caring parents who are committed to loving and raising strong, healthy kids. How that family is created is less my concern than that the adults are fully engaged in the hardest job on earth – parenting.

What none of us need are actors and pundits using false arguments about real issues to drive up ratings.

What say you Stilletto Faithful?

Marian aka the Northern Half of Evelyn David

Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Drops the Ball by Evelyn David, coming Spring 2011

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sneak Peek at Dead Lift

Hi, everyone. I hope you're enjoying the Stiletto Excerpts! Today I'm sharing a sneak peek at the first few pages of Dead Lift, coming on December 1st.

Claire Gaston’s amber hair rode flat against her head, giving the impression she’d just climbed out of bed. Any make-up had worn away too, yet she still looked closer to forty than her real age—which I knew from her file was fifty-three. In any case, Claire was twenty years my senior, had spent a day and a night in the clink, and still looked better than I did after a comfortable night of sleep and a shower.

We picked up telephone handsets on either side of an opaque window in the jail’s visitation room, and I tried to ascertain whether she regarded me with hope or just curiosity.

“I’m Emily Locke,” I said, “part of your defense team.” I smiled, trying to give the impression I withheld judgment, even though I wasn’t sure that was true. “Sorry about the circumstances.”

She leaned forward and rested her elbows on a countertop that extended away from the dividing window. Richard Cole, the private investigator I worked for, often said that it was a good practice to mirror a subject’s body language during interviews, so I did. My forearms ended up in something sticky.

“Are you the investigator my lawyer hired?”

“I’m that investigator’s lackey.”

She tipped her chin up but didn’t speak.

“Hope you don’t mind.” I pulled a folded paper from my purse. “I brought a list of things to clarify. My boss is painfully deficient with specifics.”

“What every woman looks for in an investigator.”

“Actually, he’s very good. We just work differently.”

Claire surveyed the tiny countertop on her side of the glass and brushed invisible debris onto the floor. “Ask away.”

“Let’s start with your kids.”

She inhaled and seemed to hold the breath. “They’re all I think about.”

“Who’s keeping them?”

“My parents.” Her gaze fell. “Even though they’re too old to be caring for kids.” She traced imaginary shapes on the countertop with neatly manicured fingers that reminded me of my best friend Jeannie’s hands. “You probably know I’m in the middle of a divorce.”

She glanced up long enough to see me nod.

“Daniel’s not their father. My second husband, Ruben, moved back to Argentina last year. Our custody fight was . . . I’m ashamed of it. And now with me here—” she looked around our tiny, divided cubicle— “he’ll come back and take them away, I know it. I didn’t kill Wendell Platt. You have to help me prove it before Ruben swoops in and disappears with the boys.”

“It would help me to understand what’s going on with Daniel.”

Claire leaned back and crossed her arms. Richard would have said I’d put her on the defensive.
“What does he have to do with this?”

I cupped my chin in my hands and watched her for a moment, trying to figure out if she was angry. “Police are reconstructing your day on Thursday, trying to figure out where you went and what you did before Dr. Platt’s murder. I hear you and Daniel had quite a fight.”

She straightened and opened her mouth to argue, but I raised a hand and continued. “We’ve all said things we didn’t mean, don’t worry. The trouble’s that the police want to interview Daniel but can’t find him. You were the last person to see him and witnesses say you were enraged. It doesn’t help to have extra suspicion directed at you.”

“No one can find Daniel?”

I shook my head. “Know where he might be?”

She shook her head in return.

“Why the divorce?”

Her shoulders relaxed, like she was resigned to surrender her privacy as well as her marriage.

“Neither of us could be faithful.”

My stomach flip-flopped, but I stayed quiet. Richard said sometimes people will volunteer extra information if you give them a chance.

This didn’t turn out to be true for Claire. After a few moments, I asked her to continue.

“It’s complicated,” she said. “For years we’ve talked about parting ways. Last month I finally filed.”
“What was your relationship with Platt?”

Claire shook her head, more to herself than to me, and screwed her face into a queer sort of smile that could only be described as sarcastic. I was considering how to re-phrase when she surged toward the glass and banged it with her fist, sending me back in my chair so violently its legs scraped the linoleum.

“I’ve never met Wendell Platt!”

All I could do was try to control my breathing.

“Never met him,” she said. “No one believes me.”

She settled back into her chair and I tried to convince myself the person in front of me was the same woman from thirty seconds ago.

“He was murdered in his home,” I said. “Your fingerprints were at the scene.”

“Worse, honey. They were on the weapon.”

Rachel Brady is the author of Final Approach and the upcoming mystery, Dead Lift. Rachel lives near Houston, Texas, where she's an engineer in a research lab at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pleating for Mercy, Excerpt

Enjoy this excerpt from the up and coming Dressmaker's Mystery,

Pleating for Mercy, from NAL, September 2011

Chapter 1

My great-grandmother, a feisty firecracker of a women named Loretta Mae Cassidy, had a way of getting just what she wanted. Whether it was a copy of the Sunday newspaper delivered right to her doorstep, a sneak preview of the newest arrivals at the big chain craft and fabric store in the neighboring town, or me, back in Bliss, Texas, you could lay money down that if she wanted it, it would happen...one way or another.

Yes, what Loretta Mae wanted, Loretta Mae got. The fact that she’d passed on six months ago hadn’t changed that. If you asked anyone in Bliss if they felt it was strange that Loretta Mae was still getting what she wanted, even though she’d gone to a better place, they’d say, “Heck no, that ain’t strange at all. You’re talkin’ ‘bout Loretta Mae. She’s a Cassidy, and those Cassidy women have always been a little touched, if you know what I mean.” And then there’d be a not-so-subtle wink because, of course, everyone in Bliss knew that every woman from the Cassidy family tree was, well, not insane like being ‘touched’ implies (the old timers in Bliss who kept this story alive tended to exaggerate), but just a bit...charmed.

We all had small ‘gifts’ that are, shall we say, inexplicable. But we’d all worked hard to stay on the down low. We didn’t want our own contemporary Texas version of the Salem Witch Trials.

I was the exception to the rule as I didn’t know what my gift was. Like every Cassidy from the beginning of time--or the beginning of Texas--whichever came first--Loretta Mae, who I’d always called Meemaw, was born and raised in Bliss. And she’d hated that I’d left. “Mark my words, Harlow Jane Cassidy. You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl. What’s in Los Angeles that’s not in Bliss?” she asked when I announced that I was moving to California.

“A college with a degree in fashion design,” I said.

I saw the skepticism in her liquid blue eyes which were the mirror image of my own, but she kept quiet.

“What’s in New York that’s not in Bliss?” she asked after I’d left L.A. and moved into a rundown walkup in Manhattan, but her eyes had turned cloudy and she looked puzzled, as if her world had been shaken. “You’re chasing something you already have,” she added, as if I were Dorothy and only had to click my heels together three times to realize I already had the success of Stella McCartney.

She hadn’t gotten what she’d wanted then--me, back in Bliss--but I was here now. The old farmhouse just off the square at 2112 Mockingbird Lane looked different with my things added to what I’d kept of Meemaw’s. I lived on one side of the house and I’d turned the other half into my dressmaking studio and boutique. Buttons & Bows. The name was a tribute to Loretta Mae. Her collection of old buttons, bows, and ribbon took up an huge section of the attic. I’d spent a whole day marveling at the sheer volume of the collection, ignoring the rest of the attic, the one area of the house I hadn’t tackled. It stretched nearly the entire length of the house and was filled with a century’s worth of stuff. The discarded furniture and boxes could wait, but the antique buttons and ribbon, cording and lace?

They could not.

I’d spent my first weeks back in Bliss working on the house and visiting my family. My grandparents lived on a ranch on the outskirts of town. When I’d gone to visit, I’d found my granddaddy in the house. He’d grumbled, his silver hair tousled, his cowboy hat falling from his paunchy stomach to the floor as he shook away his sleepy fog. We played a game of gin rummy before his eyes started drooping again. Back in his recliner, he said about my grandmother, “She’s out with her goats,” and then he sank back into his dreams.

I’d found Nana in the barn tending to a premature kid who’d been born to a feisty goat. The mama goat didn’t want anything to do with her offspring so Nana was nursing it. “Happen across anything interesting in the old house?” she asked after a while.

I sat beside her as she fed the tiny goat from a baby’s bottle. I knew what she was really asking. “They don’t exist, Nana. That story’s nothing but legend.”

She stared at me like I’d gone and smacked the goat upside the head. “That story is fact.”

“It’s not fact. There’s nothing to prove it.”

“Yes there is, and it’s right under our noses.”

I shrugged. There was no point arguing with her. “Well, I haven’t seen anything.”

She huffed, batting a buzzing fly from its flight path around the kid’s face. She tilted her chin up and peered at me from under the rim of her tattered straw cowboy hat. “You listen here, Harlow Jane,” she said. “Butch Cassidy was your great-great grandfather. You carry his name, for pitty’s sake. We all do, no matter who we marry. Cassidy is who we are and don’t you never forget that.”

I’d heard the story a million times, but most of the time I thought it was pure fiction. “My great-great grandmother really rode with him?” I asked, as if I hadn’t posed the same question a hundred times over the years.

“She did, and she robbed her share of stage coaches,” Nana said. “Even a train in Colorado, I believe. Cressida Harlow, your namesake,” she added, as if I could forget I was named after a bandit and his alleged bride, “only stopped when she got pregnant.” The goat squirmed in my grandmother’s arms. She hunched over it, whispering in its ear until it stilled and began lapping at the oversized nipple on the bottle.

“But he died in Bolivia,” I said, skipping ahead in the story, but leaving out the fact that Cressida and Butch’s daughter, Texana, supposedly received a letter and some trinket from her father long after he’d supposedly died in South America.

Nana shook her head. “No!” The kid detached from the bottle and bleated. Nana gave me the stink eye as she spoke softly to the baby goat. She was a goat whisperer. That was her gift, not that it had served her any over the years. But it was what she did. She was like the pied piper of goats. “Sorry, my love.” After the kid quieted down and went back to the bottle, she said, “Your great-great granddaddy faked his death. He came back to the states. Settled in Washington.” She gestured with her hand, dismissing that part of the story. “Don’t matter where he lived. Only that he did and that he sent that letter to his daughter Texana and she passed it on to her daughter. Loretta Mae,” she added in case I’d forgotten the family lineage. “God a’mighty, I pray Meemaw didn’t go off and hawk it, or somethin’. Her mind was pretty loosy goosy at the end.”

“Well, I haven’t seen it,” I said again to appease her, “but I’ll be on the lookout.”

Later, as I sat in my workroom, hemming a pair of slacks, I thought of all the places Meemaw could have hidden a letter. A million, I decided. She was a clever old woman and she’d gone to her grave with the secret--if there was one--and it was likely we’d never know the truth.

I’d taken to talking to my great grandmother during the dull spots in my days. “Meemaw,” I said, “I wish you were here.” I had so many questions, and had missed so much being away from Bliss for the last fifteen years.

A breeze blew in through the screen, fluttering the butter yellow sheers that hung on either side of the window. A small part of me wondered if Meemaw could hear me from the spirit world. She’d wanted me back with her, after all. Was it so farfetched to think she’d be hanging around now that she’d finally gotten what she’d wanted?

Thanks to Meemaw, my life had done a complete 180 in the blink of an eye. Three months ago I’d been in New York helping to develop couture designer Maximilian’s low-end line. Now I had my own shop. What had been Loretta Mae’s dining room was now my cutting and work space. My five year old state of the art digital Pfaff sewing machine and Meemaw’s old Singer sat side by side on their respective sewing tables. An 8 foot long white-topped cutting table was pushed up against the wall, unused as of yet. High on my list of things to buy was a dress form. I’d never owned one since they’d been supplied by the design manufacturers I’d worked for. Now that I was on my own, I needed one.

I pulled a needle through the pant leg. Gripping the thick synthetic fabric sent a shiver through me akin to fingernails scraping down a chalkboard. Bliss, Texas was not a mecca of fashion; so far I’d been asked to hem polyester pants, shorten the sleeves of polyester jackets, and repair countless other polyester garments. No one had hired me to design matching mother and daughter couture frocks, create a slinky dress for a night out on the town in Dallas, or anything else remotely challenging or interesting.

“If things don’t turn around, I’m not going to be able to pay the property taxes,” I muttered, forgetting for the moment all the reasons I’d thought leaving New York had been a good idea.

A flash of something outside caught my eye. I looked past the french doors that separated my work space from what had been Meemaw’s gathering room and was now the boutique portion of Buttons & Bows. The window gave a clear view of the front yard, the wisteria climbing up the sturdy trellis archway, and the street beyond.

I sighed, disappointed. Whatever it was had gone and all was quiet again. As I finished the last stitch and tied off the thread, the front door flung open. The bells I’d attached to a ribbon and hung from the knob danced in a jingling frenzy. I jumped, startled, dropping the slacks, but clutching the needle.

A woman stepped into the boutique. Her dark hair was pulled up in the back into a messy, but trendy, bun and I noticed that her eyes were red and tired looking despite the heavy makeup she wore. She had on jean shorts, a snap front top that she’d gathered and tied in a knot below her breastbone, and wedge-heeled shoes. With her thumbs crooked in her back pockets and rotating one foot in and out at the ankle, she reminded me a little too much of Daisy Duke--with a muffin top.

Except for the Gucci bag slung over her shoulder. I’d lay money down that the purse was the real deal and had cost more than two thousand dollars, or I wasn’t Harlow Jane Cassidy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More from "Third Degree"

My head landed next to Trixie’s front paws. She immediately set up a howl, barking like she was rabid. In between barking, she licked my face. I must have looked pretty bad if she was that concerned. She started circling the parking meter and uttered a few low moans. I heard strains of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” coming from inside Beans, Beans, a lot of cursing, and finally, a loud and booming, “Dudes!”

I’m going to have much bigger problems than wearing a bathing suit to a pool party, I thought, as I touched the welt growing under my eye. I struggled to my feet with a little help from Greg, who was wearing a tee shirt that said “Don’t Need a Permit for These Guns” with arrows pointing to either arm. Greg is big, but he’s not fit, and despite the pain I was in, I was feeling a little punchy. I burst out laughing, which turned to crying in mere seconds.

“Dude,” he said, taking my elbow. “Come inside. I’ve already called the police.” He took in the two men and shook his head sadly. Jesus, Greg’s homeboy, would not be pleased. The two men were still rolling around on the sidewalk, and nobody was trying to intervene now that they were out of Greg’s shop; the crowd obviously ascribed to the “don’t get involved” line of reasoning or else they just enjoyed watching a good donnybrook. I heard sirens as the police raced down Main Street and pulled to a stop in front of the store. The two men separated and I recognized one of the fighters: George Miller, the head of the Department of Public Works, who stood against the plate glass window of Beans, Beans, panting heavily and pointing at the other man. The only reason I knew him was that I handed him a fat envelope of cash every year for his crew because god knows, they had taken many a garbage collection from outside my house that wasn’t really on the Monday “approved” garbage list. Like a sleeper sofa. And a few paint cans that weren’t exactly clean. And more dog waste disguised as regular garbage than I could tally. I loved those guys and felt compelled to show my love once a year. I didn’t recognize the other guy and couldn’t imagine what had brought him to blows with the head of the DPW.

A group of people who had been in the coffee shop had come out onto the street and were clustered a few feet away, mumbling quietly about what had happened. A couple of other patrons were still inside the store, their noses pressed up against the other side of the glass window. Miller said nothing because he couldn’t catch his breath. He bent over at the waist and put his hands on his knees.

The other man, the one without the shoe and the tan that stopped at his ankle, rested against a parking meter. “You’ll be sorry, Miller,” he said, much too calmly for someone who had just engaged in such strenuous fisticuffs. He was in his mid-forties, with a crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses that sat askew on his face. Unlike Miller, who was a rough-hewn kind of guy with a ruddy complexion, he didn’t seem like the type who engaged in these kinds of shenanigans on any kind of regular basis. Having seen Miller around town, dealing with the townsfolk and his crew with a demeanor that could only be described as “impatient,” I was not entirely surprised to see him as one half of the brawling duo. The other guy, however, seemed like he would be more comfortable at the local country club—the one that cost a quarter of million dollars just to apply to—than rolling around Main Street with the head of the DPW.

Two policemen approached the men. Greg knew both of them. “Hi, Larry. Joe,” he said, his meaty hand still gripping my elbow. “I’ll be inside. These two are up to their usual b.s., but this time, they’ve hurt someone else,” he said, pointing to me. I’m hurt, I thought? That wasn’t good news. I kind of suspected it but I didn’t like getting confirmation from an outside source.
Larry, I presumed, motioned to me. “Do we need an ambulance, Greg?”

“Oh, good god, no!” I said, more forcefully than I intended. Larry gave me a curious look. The last thing I needed was to be taken away by ambulance. I’m kind of famous around these parts, and not for anything good, so I just wanted to go home and put a package of frozen peas to my face and forget that I ever ventured into town that morning.

“You might want to get that looked at,” Larry said, hitching up his pants while studying my face. He turned to George Miller, who was fidgeting by the window and looking like he was considering taking flight. “You’re not going anywhere, George, so stay put,” he said. Larry pointed at my face. “You know, you really might want to get that looked at,” he repeated.

I didn’t know what “that” was and I was afraid to find out. I put my fingers gingerly to the place next to my nose and felt a lump. However, when I pulled away, there was no blood and I took that as a good sign.

Greg spoke up. “I’ll be inside when you want to talk to me.” He let go of my elbow and untied Trixie from the parking meter. “Under these circumstances, Trixie can come inside. It’s hot. She probably needs some water.” Joe made a grunt of protest at the dog being inside a food establishment but Greg shot him a look. “You take care of these morons, Joe, and I’ll take care of Alison.”
We made our way into the shop and the crowd of gawkers parted to let us pass. Greg asked that anyone who was just rubber-necking to take it outside as he was going to close up shop to straighten what had been upended in the fight. I took in the usually tidy space: two tables were turned over, as were a few chairs. The fighters had also broken the glass that fronted the muffin case. I took Trixie’s leash from Greg and walked her around the damage and to the back of the coffee shop, where everything was just as it should be, tables and chairs completely upright with a few empty coffee cups left behind.

Greg tossed me a cold, wet rag from behind the counter. “Here. Put this on your eye.”

“How bad is it?” I asked.

“You have a welt. I saw the whole thing. If you hadn’t turned around to talk to Trixie, you would’ve lost an eye.”Jeez. Life with an eye patch. Or a glass eye. I had never considered that. “Thanks, Greg,” I said, holding up the wet rag. It wasn’t the cleanest first aid I had ever seen and it smelled like coffee, but beggars can’t be choosers. I put it on the welt and immediately felt better. “What’s going on with those two idiots?” I asked, hooking a thumb toward the sidewalk.

Greg grabbed a broom from behind the counter and began sweeping up the glass in front of the muffin case. “Miller has a real problem with Wilmott.”

“The guy without the shoe.”

“Oh,” I said, and pulled Trixie closer to me as Greg bent down to pick up a few shards of glass from the floor. I now knew exactly who he was talking about. Carter Wilmott was from an old village family, independently wealthy, and considered himself something of a whistle-blower when it came to the village. I had never met him so didn’t realize it was him. But my assessment of the ankle tan was correct; the Wilmotts kept a huge yacht in the marina next to the train station and were known for being avid sailors. Carter had a lot of time on his hands, what with the independently wealthy part, so he spent his time posting on a blog dedicated to the village and its goings-on. The blog was called “Our Village Matters” and he was merciless in his criticism of local politicians, national figures (particularly Republican ones), and apparently, the DPW. I had been living on campus during the last few weeks of the spring semester and reading the blog—a guilty pleasure—was one of the ways I kept up on what was happening in the village. Apparently, I had missed the DPW screed. But knowing Wilmott’s M.O., I am sure it was yellow journalism at best. I think I even remember a sarcastic post about Greg and his novelty tee shirts; it was a wonder Greg still let him come into Beans, Beans. But then again, Greg was a peace-loving man and I could see him forgiving Wilmott his rants.

Greg finished cleaning up the glass and brought Trixie a bowl of ice cold water, just like he had promised. She dove in as if she had been in the desert and lapped up the water, spilling most of it over the sides with her enthusiastic slurping. He pulled up a chair. “Let me see,” he said, and held out his hand.

I handed him the towel. “I should go check this out in the bathroom,” I said and got up.
Greg gave me a look that indicated that that may not be such a good idea. But what was I going to do? Walk around avoiding mirrors? No time like the present. I went back to the unisex bathroom and turned on the forty-watt bare bulb that hung over the toilet and took a good look at myself in the ancient mirror.

“That’ll leave a mark,” I said to myself. I washed up and dried my face on some scratchy paper towels and returned to the coffee shop, where Greg was continuing to clean up the debris that was littered around the front counter. I offered to give him a hand but he declined.

“The place will be fine once I get it cleaned up,” he said. The bell on the door jingled and we turned to find Carter Wilmott making his way back into the shop. Greg shook his head. “You know what, Wilmott? You’re not welcome here anymore. You are banned from Beans, Beans,” he said, albeit in the kindest way one could communicate another’s persona non gratis status.

Wilmott swayed a bit on his feet, and grabbed his throat. He looked at me and I could see a thick sheen of sweat on his brow. “I just wanted to say…” he started, but began coughing violently. Even Greg, who was as mad as I had ever seen him, stopped what he was doing and leaned across the counter.

“Do you need some water, Carter?” Greg asked.

Before Wilmott could answer, George Miller burst through the door of the shop, his feet falling heavily on the broken glass, making a noise not unlike my cereal makes when I pour in the milk. Miller drew a fist back and with a forceful roundhouse punch, landed a blow to Wilmott’s head. I cried out just as the police followed Miller inside.

Wilmott went to his knees. I got up from my seat, in that weird position of feeling like I should do something yet not knowing what that might be. I made one step toward Wilmott as Greg made his way from around the counter, moving faster than I was.

Wilmott rocked from one side to the other, and caught my eye once more. “…to say that I am sorry,” he said, and fell face first into the pile of dirt and glass that Greg had swept into a tidy mound. I made a tiny sound while Trixie moved to behind the counter, terrified of what had just transpired.

Greg knelt beside Wilmott, Larry the cop doing the same. The other cop grabbed Miller in a strangle hold, using his free hand to handcuff him. Greg moved to the side, worriedly knitting his hands together in front of the counter, while Larry the cop expertly flipped Carter’s body over and began CPR. He pounded on the man’s chest, sweat beginning to roll down his cheeks down his cheeks. He continued for two or three minutes and then checked Wilmott’s neck for a pulse.

He rocked back on his heels, his face a mask of sadness and incomprehension. For some reason, he looked at me and said, “He’s dead.”
Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dispel the Mist

The rain had washed the dust and grime off the trees and hillsides. Early morning dew sparkled like gems on the weeds that crowded the gullies lining the narrow road leading to the reservation. A scruffy coyote darted across the road in front of Tempe’s Blazer. She remembered sitting in her grandmother’s lap listening to Indian stories. All of them were filled with animals, and many had a coyote as a major character. She could hear her grandmother’s voice in her head.

People spread out all over the mountains, taking all the land and eating all the good food. The animals didn’t have any place to go. Eagle, chief of the animals, told them they shouldn’t stay in their usual places because People had taken them over.

Eagle asked, “Where do you want to go? What will you be? I’m going to fly high in the air. I’ll live on squirrels and deer.”

Hairy Man said, “I’ll go live in the big trees and hunt only at night when the people are sleeping.”

Dog said, “I’ll stay with People and be their friend. I will follow them and maybe they’ll give me food to eat.”

Buzzard said, “When something dies I will smell it. I will find it and eat it.”

Crow said, “When I find something dead, I will pick out its eyes.”

Coyote said, “I’ll eat grasshoppers. That’s how I’ll live.”

Hummingbird said, ‘I’ll get my food from the flowers.”

Condor said, “I’ll go far off into the mountains. I’ll find food to eat there.”

Woodpecker said, “I’ll gather acorns and make holes in the trees to keep them safe.”

Bluejay said, ‘I’ll make trees grow all over the hills. I will work for my food."

Rat said, “I will go where the old trees are and make my house in them.”

That was when the animals stopped being like us and scattered all over the countryside.

When Tempe was a little girl she loved sitting on her grandma’s lap and listening to the old stories. She’d never questioned her grandmother about any of the tales, but she’d wondered about some things. One question that she wished she’d asked was, “Who was the Hairy Man?” She returned to the job at hand when she reached the sign announcing the Bear Creek Indian Reservation. Thanks to the tutelage of Nick Two John, Tempe knew that the original inhabitants of the San Joaquin valley were the Yokut-speaking tribes. They occupied the lands along the rivers and creeks flowing from the Sierra. The Indians who lived on the reservation kept their goal of self-government and self-sufficiency. Nick had told her that there were plants that could be picked in all seasons that were healthier than anything in the market. Tempe wondered how anyone could tell the difference between the good plants and the ones that Nick said could be used to kill.

She glanced at her watch. There was plenty of time to drop in on Cruz Murphy before her appointment with Daniel Burcena. Instead of taking the turn off to the casino, she headed into the main part of the reservation.

Life on the rez had improved a great deal since Tempe made her first visit several years ago, though not the way the residents drove. Despite the fact that the street was two lane and full of blind curves, big trucks and SUVS as well as sedans, whipped around corners without slowing down. Despite having lots of experience driving fast on winding mountain roads, Tempe never drove with such abandon unless she was headed for an emergency.

New homes had sprouted up everywhere. A health and education center had been established. Tempe headed toward the building sporting a sign that read, “Bear Creek Public Safety Department.”

A white truck with Public Safety printed on the side along with the Bear Creek logo was parked in front. Tempe hoped that meant Chief Murphy was inside.

She parked her Blazer behind the truck, got out and surveyed the area. A chain link fence surrounded the stucco building painted in bright shades of red, blue and yellow. The gate at the side stood open. The front door was unlocked. Tempe opened it and stepped inside. At the front desk behind a counter, sat a young, plump Indian woman, probably about the same age as Tempe. She looked up and grinned. “How can I help you?”

“I’m Deputy Crabtree and I wondered if I could speak with Chief Murphy,” Tempe said.

“He’s in his office. I’ll tell him you’re here.” The woman smiled again and walked down a short hall, knocked on one of the doors, and stepped inside.

In a moment, she was back. Still smiling, she beckoned to Tempe. “This way.”

Tempe moved around the counter and down the short hall. The receptionist, held the door open for her.

A muscular man with a buzz cut, wearing a light khaki shirt and dark tan trousers came around a battered oak desk, his hand extended.

Tempe grasped it and his handshake was warm and strong. She studied him and noticed though his skin color and eyes were dark, his features reflected more of his Irish heritage.

When he released her hand, he smiled displaying healthy white teeth. “Deputy Crabtree, I think this is the first time we’ve met, though I’ve certainly heard about you. Take a seat and tell me what brings you out to the rez.”

Tempe chose one of two chairs opposite the desk. Like the desk, both had seen better days. It was an oak desk chair with a lumpy cushion. “If you’d like, call me Tempe.”

“I’m Cruz and I’m having difficulty remembering to answer to Chief Murphy. I keep wondering who he is.” Cruz grinned. “Welcome to my office, such as it is.”

Mismatched file cabinets lined one wall. Boards supported by cement blocks served as bookcases which held a few books. The only decorations were a beautiful dream catcher and a framed copy of a diploma from the University of Southern California for Murphy Cruz’s MBA in Public Safety.

“I have an appointment with Daniel Burcena in a little while. I thought I might stop by and see you first. Nick Two John is a good friend of mine. He suggested that I meet you.”

Though Cruz’s expression didn’t change, Tempe could tell by the movement in his eyes that he was digesting what she’d said.

“Nick Two John is a good friend of mine too. We grew up here on the reservation. He is a few years older, but I always looked up to him. He knows so much about the old ways.”

“Detective Morrison is in charge of the investigation into the death of Supervisor Quintera and I’m on special assignment helping him with that investigation,” Tempe said.

Again, Cruz’s dark eyes shifted slightly. “I heard she died of a heart attack.”

“Yes, that’s what it looks like. However, there’s some doubt surrounding her death because she had no history of heart disease nor was any found during the autopsy.”

“Detective Morrison suspects foul play?” Cruz leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands on top of the papers on his desk.

“He does.”

“Who does he think might have killed Lilia?”

Because he used the supervisor’s first name, Tempe to asked, “Did you know Supervisor Quintera on a personal basis?”

“Lilia was extremely helpful when the tribe first proposed starting our own public safety department. Because Lilia knows my family and she knew what I majored in at college as well as my seven years service as a police officer in San Luis Obispo. She suggested I become the Chief of the department. She attended my swearing in ceremony. Has the sheriff’s department identified a suspect?”

Tempe sighed. “There seem to be several.”

“I’m guessing her husband, Wade Bates, is the primary.”

“Your guess would be correct. Because he’s a nurse, he would have access to medicine that might cause a heart attack. It seems he wasn’t the most faithful husband.”

“Yes, I’ve heard rumors to that effect, though I hadn’t heard anything about Lilia considering divorce. Anything else that might be a motive?”

“The detective is looking into whether or not there was enough insurance money to tempt Bates. But there are others who might have wanted Supervisor Quintera dead.”

“I’m guessing some of the others might be here on the reservation.”

“Maybe, though I don’t know. What I do know is some of the Indians were disappointed that Lilia wasn’t more enthusiastic about the proposed hotel on the highway.”

Cruz nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard rumblings of that nature. However, I don’t really see how killing Lilia would help. This is the first time she hasn’t supported the reservation with a proposed plan.”

“On the other hand, given time,” Tempe said, “she might have been one of the major sponsors. I don’t think she was happy with the way she was expected to champion it before the proper environmental tests were done and the permits acquired. Maybe someone out here was unhappy about her reluctance and acted without thinking.”

“In a murder case, anything is possible. What are you going to talk to Daniel Burcena about?”

“I have no idea. He’s the one who called me.”


“Claudia Donato is worried that a hotel on the highway will lure away Bear Creek Inn’s customers.”

“Worried enough to do something to Lilia?”

“I don’t believe either she or Nick would think the supervisor’s death would stop the building of the hotel.” Tempe changed the subject. “When I was talking to Nick Two John, he told me about the plants that grow wild out here that could be used to poison someone and look like a heart attack.”

“Most of those plants grow wild everywhere. I wonder why he’d mention that to you?”

“I don’t know, but why would he want me to talk to you? I thought perhaps you might know something about someone on the reservation that would be helpful to this investigation.”

Cruz Murphy leaned back in his chair. He ran his hands over the top of his buzz cut and then cupped his head. “The reservation is a small community and like any small community all sorts of gossip floats around. I’ve heard plenty of talk that might be related to Lilia’s death, some about Lilia, her husband Wade Bates, Indians who live on the rez and some who live off of it. Because it’s all rumor and innuendo which has increased since the news of Lilia’s death, I’m not going to repeat any of it unless you come up with specific questions.”

Tempe glanced at her watch, nearly time for her appointment at the casino. “My husband would applaud you. Can I come back if I do have questions about someone?” She stood.

Cruz lifted himself from his chair and shook her hand again. “Of course. I’d like to hear what Dan has to say. He might be more inclined to tell you the gossip.”

* * *

Dispel the Mist can be purchased from all the usual places and as a trade paperback or e-book from the publisher website at http://www.mundaniapress.com/ and to see a book trailer and read more about the book, go to my website at http://fictionforyou.com

* * *

Review Snippets:

REVIEW: ...I especially loved the inclusion of Native American folklore, which added even more mystery to the story. This story was like being on a roller coaster that only went uphill. It filled me with the same breath-holding anticipation of what was to come when I finally reached the top.
***** 5 Stars--Marilyn Thompson, Author /Reviewer
Mind Fog Reviews

...Meredith delicately handles the misconceptions of people with a disability which is woven into the storyline. The characters are strong and easy to relate to, making the story more enticing. A must read for mystery lovers. –SingleTitles.com

...The unsettling dreams that Tempe experiences, along with continued involvement at the reservation, bring in the Native American elements that flow through the Crabtree books. One can certainly tell the level of research Meredith has undertaken in order to create this series. In addition, the author's past experience as a caregiver may have played into this book as well. Filled with suspense, mystery and legends, you'll keep turning pages until you reach a satisfying conclusion.–Cheryl Maladrinos

...Dispel the Mist has an exciting and gripping conclusion that brings Native American myth alive with unexpected deus ex machina. Like all good mythology, it has real history and truth at its core. This is a great way to spend a few hours. While the book stands on its own, I recommend that you read the entire series. --Benay Weiss, Reviewer

...This book has been nominated for one of The American Author's Association's annual book awards for 2009. I would say that this is one of the 10 best mystery books I have read in the last two decades! It is a book worth your time reading! It is truly a FIVE STAR RATED BOOK!--W. H. McDonald Jr. "The American Author Association."

Amazon Review 5 Stars
In Marilyn Meredith's "Dispel The Mist" ethereal Native American legends play an equally important part in uncovering a killer as the modern methods of crime detection her heroine, Deputy Tempe Crabtree uses as she tries to solve the suspicious death of a local bureaucrat. Marilyn Meredith is one of the hardest working mystery authors out there today, and always manages to deliver the goods with a solid, entertaining read, sans all of the gratuitous sex scenes and shoot-outs so prevalent in many of today's mystery offerings. "Dispel The Mist," number eight in the Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series, is, in my opinion, her best one yet. --Kenneth R. Lewis, author of Little Blue Whales

Authors Note: The Bear Creek Reservation has a fictional resemblance to the Tule River Indian Reservation. I can see the mountains of the reservation from my office window. Going along on a field trip to the rock shelter that protects the pictograph of the Hairy Man and his family inspired this story.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Evelyn David's Murder Takes the Cake

Weddings can be murder! Murder Takes the Cake is the sequel to Murder Off the Books. Private Detective Mac Sullivan and his furry sidekick, Whiskey, are back for more mystery, romance, and fast food. For a taste of the "cake," read the excerpt below:


Time seemed to pause, then Mac sensed, rather than heard, the initial crack. Instinctively, he ducked behind the open car door, but his reflexes weren't quite as fast as they used to be. Damn middle age. He could feel the flesh on his right arm burning, knew the wetness soaking his clothes and dripping down his hand was blood.

More bullets slapped into the car door, breaking the window and showering him with cubes of safety glass.

"Get down." He hissed a warning to Merrell, but was much too late. Amid a third volley of bullets, Mac saw the Boston cop was face down on the asphalt, hand still in his pocket reaching for his wad of cash.

A bullet ricocheted off the door, striking the floorboard only a few inches from Mac's hip. He needed to be somewhere else and quick. The bullet rounds continued. The shooter had to have more than one weapon or he'd reloaded.

Mac reached for his gun, tucked in a holster next to his left shoulder. The well-practiced movement was almost impossible. His right arm ached. His shooting hand was slippery with blood and felt strange…weak. He looked to make sure he was actually holding his gun.

The motel dumpster, twenty feet away, would offer more protection than an ancient Cadillac door. He decided to chance it.

A hail of bullets erupted as soon as he started running. One bullet bounced off the asphalt uncomfortably close to his left foot. He was three feet from the dumpster when he crouched and pivoted to return fire. The shooter was well hidden. Mac knew better than just to point and shoot. He needed to verify his target. If he could see the muzzle flash, he'd consider firing.

He never got that chance. Another rounds of shots and suddenly he found himself flat on his back, fur in his mouth, a 120-pound wolfhound as his personal bulletproof vest.

Squealing tires signaled the all-clear.

"Get off." He attempted to push Whiskey off his chest, but the dog refused to budge.

"It's okay, girl." He tried to soothe the dog, running his left hand along her back. The quivering furry body told him she wasn't convinced, although she appeared to be unhurt. A few more not-so-gentle pushes and Whiskey reluctantly gave up her perch.

Mac tried to sit up and failed. He'd twisted a muscle in his back when he fell; the muscles in his lower back had seized up. He rolled to his side and crawled next to the dumpster. Leaning against the cold metal, he propped himself upright gingerly and took inventory.

His arm throbbed. His favorite jacket was sliced open and damp with blood, probably ruined. With his left hand, he fished a handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped the makeshift bandage around his upper arm. Conclusion–battered, but he'd live. Whiskey whined and Mac realized she was pacing the space between him and Merrell. For a moment he'd forgotten about Merrell.

Gritting his teeth against the pain in his back, Mac reholstered his gun and crawled over to the body sprawled twenty feet away, across two parking spaces. Judging from the exit wound that had taken off the back of the man's skull, Mac knew there wasn't much point in feeling for a pulse, but he did anyway. There was none.

He could hear sirens in the distance. Somebody had called the cops, but they were too scared to come out to the parking lot to help. He couldn’t blame them. Flying bullets don't usually encourage heroics. Not from strangers.

Mac reached into Merrell's pocket and withdrew the wad of cash. He shoved twenty back in so the cops wouldn't think it was a robbery. He'd make sure Merrell's kids got the money, like he promised.

The ache in his arm was increasing; winning the competition with the pain in his lower back. His gunshot wound now had his full, undivided attention. Mental exhaustion was also beginning to take a toll. Or maybe he was going into shock. Mac leaned against the Cadillac's wheel and waited with his nervous dog for the cops to arrive. He had to figure out just how much explaining he was willing to do. It went without saying that Whiskey would go along with whatever version of the truth he told the police. Partners did that sort of thing.


Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David

Buy the Kindle version at Amazon

Buy the iPad version at the Apple iBookstore

Buy the e-Pub version at The Digital Bookshop

2nd Edition Trade paperback version coming this Fall from Wolfmont Publishing. Limited quanity of autographed 1st edition copies are available now at The Digital Bookshop. For more information click here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Cougar Club

Carla Moss in an interview
with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Aging anchormen are like Santa Claus. The more pot-bellied and bald they get, the more revered. Anchorwomen, on the other hand, are pretty much like Kleenex: disposable and always replaceable
with a newer, prettier box.
“Welcome, everyone, to our annual Survivors Breakfast,” Allison Hoffman greeted the crowd. She theatrically fluffed the fuchsia feather boa draped over her shoulders, flinging its tail-end around her neck. “I do hope you’re all feeling as in the pink as I am this morning. Diva pink, I like to call it, though I believe our guest of honor has put on Chanel pink, isn’t that right, Carla?” the director teased, looking in Carla’s direction.

Carla called back, “It beats Pepto-Bismal pink,” which sent a wave of laughter rippling through the enormous room.

“You all know and love her as the face of Channel Three news. She’s been one of our biggest supporters for over a decade, headlining fundraisers and leading the pack at our annual Save the Ta-Tas Walk. In fact, I can’t think of enough good things to say about her, so why don’t I just let her speak for herself. Without further ado”—she made a grand sweep of her arm, shedding feathers from her boa—“Ms. Carla Moss.”

Carla rose to her feet amidst a thunder of applause and hoots. With a graceful wave to all, she ascended the steps to the stage, accepted a hug from Allison, and settled behind the podium. She adjusted the mike before saying, “Thank you so much for the warm welcome,” as the noise slowly died down.

The lights glinted off her auburn hair and the gold buttons of her suit and shone so brightly in her eyes that she could see no farther than the first row of tables. Beyond that, heads appeared faceless, no more than blurred shadows. But Carla smiled and let her gaze roam the room, as if she could see them all.

As she leaned toward the microphone, she lightly clutched the sides of the lectern. “Wow, what a gorgeous group of woman, oh, and you don’t look too shabby either, sir,” she said, winking at a lonely gentleman surrounded by ladies at a first-tier table. The crowd chuckled heartily, and Carla paused before going on. “I’m here today in celebration of all of you, survivors and co-survivors alike. Honestly, after meeting so many of you before breakfast and hearing your stories, I think this amazing tribe of pink could run the world if it wanted to.”

The audience cheered, and Carla hesitated until the ballroom grew quiet again. “As you know if you’ve heard me speak before, I come from a long line of tough broads. My grandmother had breast cancer when I was in grade school, too young to realize what was going on. All I remember about her diagnosis was my mother crying on the phone and then packing her suitcase to head to Texas. She left my dad and me alone to fend for ourselves for a month while she cared for my grandma. But Granny was a fighter, and she made it through just fine.”

Carla’s finger curled around the lectern’s edges, and her voice wavered ever so slightly. “When I envision a survivor, I think of my grandmother living another twenty years after her breast cancer before she died at 85 of something else entirely. No, the breast cancer didn’t get her. She’d never have let it best her. She’d made it through the Great Depression and several World Wars to see men walk on the moon. A pesky thing like Stage 2a invasive ductal carcinoma wasn’t going to bring her down, and it didn’t.”

More hoots and “here here’s” erupted from the depths of the ballroom, and Carla paused until things quieted down again.

"After she was cancer-free, I stayed with her one summer. Every morning, she got up, stuck on her bra, tucked in her prosthesis, and she soldiered on. It was like nothing had ever happened, and it was like everything had happened. She’d become even more of what she was: more loving, more giving, and more fun. Granny took life by the balls, and she held on,” Carla declared and wet her lips, keeping her composure though the memories touched her still. “She lived her life to the fullest, as we all should, every day, no matter what our circumstances. And I challenge each and every one of you to do the same.”

A disjointed chorus of “amen’s” rang out and others clapped, and Carla felt her nerves finally easing. Her grip relaxed, and she exhaled softly through her glossed lips, holding her emotions in check.

“Even though my mother never had to deal with breast cancer, I still worry about her health, and I worry about my own. I try not to dwell on what I can’t control, but I can’t help wondering sometimes what’s in store for me and my boobs”—she lifted her hands to theatrically cup her breasts, glancing south-ward as she did so—“besides the tug of gravity, pulling them down more every year, of course.”

She smiled at the ensuing laughter, pleased she kept hitting the right notes. Her voice stronger now, she carried on. “What I do know for sure is that I’m not leaving much to chance. I’ve been having mammograms annually since I turned 35 and now with digital mammography—and the occasional ultrasound when my doctor sees something she doesn’t like—I feel like my knockers are being monitored more closely than any Playboy playmate’s.”

A broad grin slipped across Carla’s mouth at the raucous sound of hooting and hollering that followed that remark, which was when even the most lingering of butterflies fled her stomach altogether and she realized her audience wasn’t eating their $30 per plate breakfast so much as eating out of the palm of her hand.

You like me, you really like me, she mused happily and finished up her talk in twenty minutes flat, right on schedule, and left the podium to a standing ovation.

Excerpted with author's permission from The Cougar Club (HarperCollins, 02/10). For more on this book, visit SusanMcBride.com.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hasta la Vista, Lola!, Excerpt

This passage is ripped from the pages of Hasta la Vista, Lola!, the second Lola Cruz Mystery from St. Martin's Minotaur.


* * *

Chapter 1

I can’t even begin to count the number of times my grandmother told me that she would die a happy woman if only I’d join the Order of the Benedictine Sisters of Guadalupe and live a chaste and holy life.

To which I always nodded, smiled, and said, “I want you to die happy, Abuela, pero I’m not going to become a nun.” There were several problems with me and a pious life. If you asked my mother, she’d say I’d sinned over and over and over again, beginning with premarital intercourse [which she suspected but had no actual proof of], and ending with my job. In my mother’s eyes, being a detective necessitates questionable actions and an ‘ends justifies the means’ philosophy.

Which is not actually my philosophy. I do things by the book, and let my conscience be my guide. I was God-fearing so I tried to toe the line, but I was also a driven, independent woman walking a tightrope between modern American culture and my parents’ old-fashioned male-oriented Spanish culture so my conscience didn’t always know which way to go when I hit a fork in the road.

Case in point. It was a brisk Friday night, downtown Sacramento was lit up with twinkling white lights, I was all dressed up, and even though I had no one to go salsa dancing with, joining those crazy Benedictine Sisters still never entered my mind. The nuns might enjoy their celibacy, but I was one hundred percent positive that I wouldn’t embrace a lifetime of abstinence. Hell, I’d just spent the better part of two hours photographing acrobatic sex in a back ally [which had left me un poquito hot and bothered]–all in the name of being the best private investigator I could possibly be–and I was okay with my decision.

I was almost to Camacho and Associates, the small PI firm where I worked. I dialed Reilly Fuller, the Jill-of-all-trades secretary of the office–and my homegirl. I wanted to go out dancing tonight and I knew I could count on her to have my back.

She picked up on the third ring, breathing heavy and almost out of breath. “Lola!”

“Hey, chica. How’d you know it was me?”

“Call waiting.”

I frowned. The phone company had effectively destroyed kids’ innocent prank call fun–not to mention obsessed stalker-girls calling and hanging up on a guy just to hear his voice [not that I’d had any experience with that type of juvenile behavior].

“Lola, I’m in the middle of something,” she said. She panted. “I’ll call you back, okay?”

I’d never known Reilly to willingly break a sweat, so I was curious. I checked the time. 8:40. An odd time to be using the treadmill–if that’s what she was up to. “Are you exercising?”

But electric blue-haired Reilly couldn’t answer me because she’d already hung up.

Huh. My long night loomed ahead of me and dancing wasn’t going to be part of it. Looked like it was going to be me, a container of Mapo Tofu from Schezwan House (my favorite restaurant of all time, coincidentally right next door to Camacho and Associates), my camera hooked up to the office computer, and a whole lot of sex pictures uploading. One at a time.

I turned onto Alhambra and immediately spotted my boss’s truck in the parking lot. I slid my little red CRV into a space right beside it. Apparently Manny Camacho didn’t have plans for Friday night, either. Hard to believe. He was puro Latino machismo Greek God material–dark and brooding and scary in an I-could-do-things-to-you-and-make-you-scream-for-mercy kind of way.

I couldn’t help sneaking a quick peek in the rearview mirror. Low cut filmy dress, Victoria’s Secret Ipex cleavage, clear olive skin, salon-highlighted copper strands framing face, MAC O lips. I would not be put out to pasture because of a roguishly sexy reporter who disappeared for days on end and who I did not want to think about right now.

I grabbed my cell phone, the Nikon, my note pad with the Zimmerman case information, and my new favorite accessory– courtesy of Ebay–my Sexy Señorita drawstring bag. Shoving the notepad into the coral-colored purse, I headed toward the office.

In your face, Callaghan. I had options. Dark and brooding suddenly held a new appeal.

Just as I reached the office, Manny pushed open the door. “Dolores?”

My wedge heels teetered on a crack in the sidewalk. Maybe appeal was the wrong word. Dark fascination? Sadistic curiosity?

Fact is, Manny flustered me without even trying. Not many people could do that. I’d solved my first big case as primary investigator a few months ago. I chided myself. It was way past time to get over the nerves that shot through me when I was around him.

He looked at his watch, then back at me. “¿Que onda? Are you working?”

I nodded. “The Zimmerman case.”

He held the door, apparently waiting for me to continue.

I held up my camera. “Got some great pictures.” Especially if I had contacts at Playboy or Penthouse, which, unfortunately, I didn’t.

“Pictures of–?”

“Of Mrs. Zimmerman, um, making-out with her personal yoga instructor.” Making out might have been understating Mrs. Zimmerman’s activities, but it was the safest answer.

“How’d you get them?”

“I followed them after yoga class.”

Manny’s eyes narrowed as he looked me up and down. “Are you supposed to be undercover?”

My dress was a far cry from yoga-wear, but there was nothing wrong with in looking good on a surveillance job. “They changed after class then went to dinner. Lucky for me I’m a yoga junkie and very flexible–” Maybe not as flexible as Mrs. Zimmerman, but her sexual creativity was in a class by itself– “and have decent cargo room in my car.”

Manny seemed to ponder this, his expression unreadable. “And the photos?” he finally asked.

“After dinner they went around the corner from the restaurant.” Totally classless. Who screw–er, got down and dirty–out in public? “I was across the street. Excellent telephoto capabilities on this camera, by the way.”

He let the door to the office close while I accessed the pictures on the digital camera. I froze when his arm brushed against my back. The touch had been as light as a breath, but any physical contact from Manny Camacho could send a woman into premature orgasm. He moved behind me to look over my shoulder. A zing shot through my body and I gulped. Looking at X-rated pictures with my boss was muy uncomfortable.

I tried not to think about how flexible he might be and whether his slight limp or his cowboy boots would interfere with the Kama Sutra position in photographs three, twenty-seven or thirty-one.

When we’d gone through all the pictures, I stepped away, trying to ignore the charged silence. “Open and shut,” I said. “She’s clearly cheating on her husband.”

“Good work.” His voice sounded strained. I shoved aside the idea that it might be because of the photos, particularly what Mrs. Zimmerman had been doing in shots ten through eighteen.

My PI gene kicked in. Why didn’t he have plans on a Friday night? He had the hottest girlfriend this side of the Rio Grande. Maybe this side of anywhere. Her only competition was the phantom ex-wife who nobody had ever laid eyes on.

Neither were in sight. “You’re here late,” I said casually. “Where’s Isabel?” I pronounced the name in Spanish: Ee-sa-bel.

“Not here.” The corner of his mouth notched up. “Where’s Callaghan?”

There was a good chance that Manny Camacho, ex-cop-turned-super-detective-who-seemed-to-know-everything, knew exactly where Jack Callaghan. Then again, maybe not. He wasn’t psychic, after all, and I hadn’t let on that Jack had been MIA for almost a week now. “Not here,” I said, then quickly changed the subject. “I’m going to upload the photos and write my report for Mr. Zimmerman.” Which brought to mind something else. “I’m ready for a new case.”

Manny pressed a button on his key ring. Two beeps sounded from his truck, a white, lifted kick-ass 4×4. It wasn’t the most unobtrusive vehicle on the road in Sacramento, but it certainly had style. “The report can wait until Monday. We’ll talk about the caseload then.”

I started to stick my phone into my purse and to retrieve my set of office keys. The straps slipped off my shoulder and the bag fell. Manny was right. Uploading the pictures could wait till Monday, but since I had nothing better to do tonight, there was no reason to put it off. “I like to finish what I start,” I said as I bent down to grab the straps of my bag. “I’ll do the report tonight.”

As I straightened, he gave me another slow once over. “Callaghan’s a fool.”

A shiver swept up my spine and I shifted uncomfortably. Reality bit me. I didn’t think I could cross the line into fraternizing with my boss after all and I certainly wasn’t ready to write Jack off, even if he had a few secrets and the annoying habit of disappearing. He probably had a very good reason for dropping off the face of the earth. Again.

He’d better, damn it.



“I said you’re going to break your phone.”

I started. He had? I was? I loosened the death grip on the device, but dropped my purse in the process. “I, um, need to call my mother. See if she needs anything.”

¿Por qué, mi poderosa? ¿Qué pasa?

Ay, ay, ay. Manny had taken to calling me “strong woman”. Now he was calling me his strong woman? I gulped and stumbled back a step. I might be a good Catholic girl, but I wasn’t immune to temptation. “She’s home sick. I, um, think I should buy her some medicine and Ginger ale.”

“Can I help?”

Manny as nurturer? It didn’t compute. “No, no, no!” I just wanted to go upload the Zimmerman pics and go home to my empty flat. Above my parents’ house. That I shared with my brother. “I mean, I’m fine. I can handle it.”

He pressed the button on his key ring again, reactivating the truck alarm. “I have some more work I can do. I’ll stay with you.”

My hackles went up. I thought about jabbing him in the chest and reminding him that my Salma Hayek curves didn’t mean I wasn’t Xena, Warrior Princess, through and through. I didn’t need a protector–or a babysitter.

Thankfully–since it wouldn’t have been a good idea to chastise my boss–or touch his chest–I was stopped by the sound of a horn blaring behind us. A sporty silver Volvo pulled into the parking lot. Jack! My heart immediately slammed in my chest and I caught my breath. ¡Mi amor!

He stepped out of his car, all tousled brown hair and swarthy Irish complexion. His gaze swept over me and an angry dimple pulled his cheek in. My heart lurched again. I could imagine what he thought. I was dressed for a night on the town and Manny wore black and gray, his burnished skin and onyx eyes contemplating Jack with harsh scrutiny.

I took a small step to the side, putting space between Manny and me. No need to stoke the fire.

Not that it mattered, I reminded myself. Jack had up and left for a week–without a word. If he had issues with Manny, that was his problem. You snooze, you lose. I side-stepped back to where I’d been.

Hasta la vista, Dolores.” Manny’s voice had turned gruff.

“Right. See you later.”

His black alligator-skin cowboy boots clapped unevenly against the sidewalk as he walked to his truck.

Jack came toward me. He dipped his head in an almost imperceptible nod at Manny as they passed, and then his eyes flicked to the bodice of my dress.

They lingered and his face tightened, not in the I want to ravish you kind of way I would have liked, but more in a what the hell are you wearing around him kind of way.

Catching my reflection in the window pane, I immediately saw what had caught his attention. It was my 34Cs–in the midst of a wardrobe malfunction. My dress was askew and part of my right breast plumped out of my demi bra. ¡Ay caramba! No wonder Manny had given me a slow burning look after I’d picked up my purse.

I straightened it as Manny pulled out of the parking lot. Shit! Manny had gotten an eye-full of my assets, and he hadn’t uttered a word.

From the way Jack looked from me to Manny’s truck and back, I suspected that he was thinking the same thing. “Purple, huh?” he said when he steadied his gaze back on me. His voice had that low, sexy tone that created instant yearning in the pit of my soul.

“It’s called Lavender Ice,” I said cooly.

“For him?”

“Well, it’s not like you’ve been around, Callaghan.” I ran my hands down my front in full temptress mode. Jack’s gaze smoldered as it followed my actions. Slow torture. God, sometimes it was so good to be a woman.

Buy Hasta La Vista, Lola at Amazon