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He May be a Distinguished Member of the Community. But Joey isn’t Buying What he’s Selling.

Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I wouldn’t know. I have no power.

My name is Joey and I’m an unabashed bumpkin. I live in a quaint and quirky country town named Deer Hollow. We’re pretty simple and laid back in the Hollow. But that doesn’t mean the occasional murder can’t happen here. It’s just that when it does, it seems more surprising somehow.

Especially when a corpse turns up in the mayor’s kitchen.

(Psst! If you’re keeping track, he does have power.) But don’t worry, we’re on it. By “we” I mean me, the Greek deity (my boyfriend Hal), and my sweet Pitbull Caphy. Yeah, I didn’t include my snooty Siamese cat, LaLee or our adorable pot-bellied pig Ethel Squeaks. Not because I love them any less. But let’s face it, the cat isn’t going to get her paws dirty delving into a messy murder, and the pig…well…she tends to hoard all the evidence in her little tent in my kitchen, so…

5 Stars! Another Exciting Nonstop Action Pack Laugh Out Loud Cozy Mystery!!!

“I said I didn’t want peas,” a cranky elderly woman I didn’t know barked out. “They give me gas. I wanted the green beans.”

I bit back a retort and apologized, grabbing the plate back. “I’m sorry. I’ll go fix it.”

“Miss!” I barely made it two steps before one of the pre-teens in booth four waved me over.

I forced myself to smile. “Yes?”

“We asked for catsup twenty minutes ago. Our fries are cold now. We want new fries.”

I looked around the table and fought panic. Six plates with burgers and fries. I’d have to drop off the pea-phobic lady's plate and come back. It had been a long time since I’d hustled plates, and I wasn’t sure I could carry six of them at once. That meant two trips, and my dogs were beyond tired.

Max came up behind me and handed the kids a bottle of catsup. “Stop torturing Joey,” she told the complaining teen, glowering down at him. “Or I’ll tell your mom I saw you kissing Missy Palentine outside the library last night.”

The boy’s pimply face paled, and he slumped in his seat.

I fought a grin. Whispering, “Thanks!” to Max, I hurried to the kitchen for a pea-extraction. Stopping in front of the pass-thru window, I was surprised to see Hal working the grill. “Where’s Tom?”

Hal looked up, his handsome face flushed from the heat of the grill. His dark eyes twinkled as he looked at me. “Cigarette break out back. I think he’s smoking a whole pack. He’s been gone for a while.”

I frowned. “You doing okay?”

He actually grinned. “I’m having a ball. Did I ever tell you I worked in a place a lot like this to put myself through college?”

“You did not.” I grinned back. “But now that I know, I’m going to make you do all the cooking from now on.”

He arched a midnight brow. “I already do all the cooking. Even, it seems, when we go out to eat.”

I laughed. He wasn’t wrong. “Can you swap out these peas for green beans, please?” I leaned in. “Peas give her gas.” He grimaced and quickly made the switch. Handing it back to me, he said, “Even if Tom’s heading for Mexico right now, I’d rather be back here than dealing with all those people out there.”

“You have no idea,” I whispered. “It’s an angry crowd.”

I took the plate back to the old woman. “Here you go.”

“About time,” she groused.

I turned away so I wouldn’t say something about how rude she was. The booth nearest the door was empty, and the table was covered in dirty dishes. I went to get the bin and started filling it.

The door jangled, and I looked up to find a familiar face coming through the door. When the server from the mayor’s house spotted me, she blanched, glancing at the door as if she was considering making a run for it.

I gave her a smile and picked up the now-full bin. “If you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll wipe this down and get you menus.”

I hurried away, hoping she didn’t leave. I’d love to question her about what she saw in that kitchen. When I returned, the woman was sitting down across from a dark-haired man who was around the same age. They were both wearing the white shirts and black trousers of the catering crew.

“Sorry,” I said, offering another smile. “Apparently, there’s a flu going around, and poor Max was short of help.”

I handed them menus.

“You work here?” the woman asked, looking surprised.

“Just for tonight. What can I get you to drink?”

By the time I brought two sweet teas to the table, the couple was ready to order. I took their orders and hesitated. The woman’s expression turned wary. “I’m sorry, I just wondered if you were doing okay? Finding that guy was…” I shuddered.

She chewed her bottom lip. “It was gruesome.”

“Yes.”

“You and your friends seemed pretty chill about it, though.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. Telling her that I found bodies all the time probably wouldn’t go over very well. I settled on, “We date cops.” The truth. Sort of.

As if that explained everything, she nodded.

I offered my hand. “I’m Joey.”

The woman shook it. “Karinne Magness.” She nodded at her dinner companion. “That’s Prince.”

“Nice to meet you, Prince. I love your music,” I quipped. 

He gave me a flat stare in return. “Whatever.”

Alrighty then. I nodded toward his clothes. “Looks like you worked the party too?”

“I did. I was on the dessert table.”

“My favorite place,” I said, grinning. Talking about food made my stomach rumble. I was really going to enjoy that banana cream pie Max had set aside for us.

He shrugged. Clearly, the guy had no sense of humor.

“It’s quite a shock about your boss, huh?”

Karinne shuddered. Prince frowned at his silverware.

“Do you know of anybody who might have wanted him dead?”

Prince snorted. “That list is long. The guy was a jerk.”

Karinne glared at him. “That’s not fair, P. He was understandably nervous since the client threatened him like that.”

My spidey senses perked. “Mayor Robb threatened Jonathan Calliente?”

Karinne looked irritated by my question. “I told that cop this.”

I fought not to cringe. If she refused to tell me because she’d already told one of the deputies her story, there’d be nothing I could say to get her to open up. I couldn’t exactly say I was a cop. Though, I might be able to throw the PI card at her.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to go that far.

“The cop didn’t seem all that interested. But I think it’s important. Jon was a nervous wreck after the argument.” She glanced at her companion. “He was a little short with everybody because of it.”

“This was before the party?”

Shaking her head, Karinne clarified. “Just after it started, I guess. That woman got right in John’s face and told him he’d never work in the area again. She said the mayor would see to that.”

“What woman?”

“I don’t know her name. The petite blonde. She works for the mayor. You know her. She was with you in the kitchen this afternoon.”

I blinked. Cecily? “But you said the mayor threatened him.”

Karinne gave me a sigh of exasperation. “She’s the mayor’s right hand, isn’t she? You don’t think a man like Robb would do his own dirty work, do you? I’ve had experience with these politician types. Believe me, they’re not going to stick their necks out. And they’re used to taking what they want.”

Karinne was bitter. That was obvious. I wondered what kind of experience she’d had. But I didn’t want to get her off track by asking. Besides, she was right. I didn’t think Robb did his own dirty work if he could help it. In fact, I knew he didn’t. But what if the dirty work was Cecily’s own? “Do you know what it was about?” I asked. “What did he do that made her threaten him?”

Karinne shook her head. “I have no idea. All I heard was her telling him he’d never get another job.”

Prince fidgeted in his seat, drawing my gaze to his guilty face.

“What?” I asked. “Do you know something?”

The order pickup bell jangled. “Order, Joey,” Hal called out.

Prince nudged Karinne’s arm. “Come on, I’m not hungry anymore.”

Not wanting to chase after them and cause a scene, I watched them walk out of Sonny’s with a sinking feeling in my gut.

Prince knew something that might throw light on the murder. And I’d just lost my chance at finding out what. “Jeezopete!” I said under my breath, heading to the window to pick up my order.

When Intentions turn Savage

The best chocolate begins with imagination and ends in murder. 

Making chocolate is a labor of love and an age-old art. As a connoisseur of the sweet, creamy stuff herself, Blaise is excited to be working at an exclusive confectioner’s shop, run by a woman whose reputation for being a creative chocolatier is legendary. Madeline Foss’s past might be murky and slightly dark, but her chocolate is delicious. And nothing says love like chocolate. Or at least, that’s what Blaise has always believed.

But when her new boss ends up dead, she quickly realizes that nothing says murder like jealousy and ambition. And there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to overcome a savage intent.


She floated into the room in a cloud of raspberry and chocolate chiffon, her arms waving around her head and her eyes swiveling to take in every display with a slightly hostile, but eminently discerning eye. “Les grains de café enrobés de chocolat!”

Blaise settled the last perfectly formed rectangle of toffee onto its tray in the glass case and glanced up. “I’ve got them ready to put out. I’ll do those next.”

Madeline Foss nodded and stopped in the middle of the cozy little shop, an index finger pressed against her ruby-red lips as her cool, gray gaze swept the tables and danced over the glass display cases. “The brittle is messy,” she told Blaise.

“I know. I’ll do that after the chocolate covered coffee beans.”

Les grains de café enrobés de chocolat,” Madeline corrected, her upturned nose lifting with disdain.

“The grains de whatever, yes.” Head down so her boss couldn’t see when she rolled her eyes, Blaise closed the case and moved over to the tray of pretty plastic containers filled with coffee beans coated in creamy, rich chocolate. She fought the urge to inhale their scent, knowing that Madeline, in her Queen of England persona, would consider it gauche.

Madeline’s cell rang and she tugged it from an invisible pocket in the cloud of chiffon, glaring at the screen. “I’ll be in my office, Blaise.” She turned and swept toward the back of the shop, her outfit billowing around her like a designer flag in a windstorm.

“Yes?” Her voice was tight and shrill. It was her “I don’t like you, so why are you talking to me” voice.

Blaise shook her head. She’d taken the job as an experiment, thinking she might like to get into the confectionary business. She’d learned a lot and enjoyed creating the sweet delicacies as much as watching people’s eyes light up when they came through the door and looked around. But dealing with the talented yet decidedly temperamental Madeline had been a bit more than Blaise had bargained for.

Still, she’d been surprised to discover she really liked her new boss. Once she’d realized there was a soft center under all that prickliness.

Her own cell rang a couple of moments later as the back door snicked closed, sending a cold draft of early Winter air in Blaise’s direction. Blaise frowned toward the hallway that led to Madeline’s office, the private restroom, and the exit.

Had her boss left for the day without saying anything?

Irritation flaring, Blaise answered her phone without looking to see who it was. “Hello?”

A shrill bark met her greeting. Her temper sifted away and Blaise grinned. “Hey, Miss Ivy. How’s my beautiful girl?”

Panting noises preceded a soft whine, and Blaise chuckled. “Dolfe, how many times have I told you not to whine on the phone.”

“It works for the fur-brats,” a sexy, deep voice told her.

“That’s because they’re little and cute.”

“I’m not cute?” His voice filled with pretend hurt.

“Cute is not the word I’d use for you, no.” Gorgeous. Sexy. Painfully masculine. She grinned.

His chuckle made her all warm and sizzly inside. “What time will you be done tonight? The brats and I want to go to that new drive-in restaurant for dinner.”

“The brats told you that, huh?”

“They did. I happen to speak fluent fur-brat.”

Laughing, she glanced through the front windows at the lead-gray sky beyond. “It’s cold and ugly outside, Honeybun.”

“We won’t be getting out of the car.” She could almost hear him smile. “Besides, I’ll keep you warm.”

“More like the two dogs on my lap will keep me warm. You won’t be able to reach me through all the fur and teeth.”

Dolfe sighed. “Story of my life. Time?”

“Five o’clock. I’m almost done setting up for tomorrow.”

“Perfect. We’ll see you then.”

A short, muffled scream had Blaise turning toward the back again. “What the…?” She disconnected and started toward the office. “Madeline?”

The hall was empty. The office door was locked. Madeline kept it locked whenever she left the room. Blaise’s boss wasn’t a very trusting person and the office’s proximity to the back exit, which led to an alley featuring a stinky dumpster, a few employee cars, and zero security cameras didn’t improve her trust issues.

Blaise tugged the bathroom door open and stuck her head inside. “Madeline?”

Nothing.

A cold breeze skimmed down the hall and the metal door to the alley clacked against the frame. It wasn’t latched.

It was unlike her boss to leave it open. Unless she’d been in a hurry. Or upset.

Frowning, Blaise hurried toward the door and eased it open, peering into the alley as an icy blast of wind scoured across the space, sending bits of debris skimming over the dingy asphalt and carrying the stench of the dumpster down the way to her nose.

Her boss’s car was still there, sitting alone under the security light that hadn’t come on yet.

“Madeline…?” Blaise’s voice cut off as she spotted a length of raspberry chiffon dancing on the air near the dumpster. Shivering violently, Blaise stepped into the alley. “What are you doing out here? You’re going to get frostbite.” She headed for the cloud of chiffon, rubbing her arms and looking around for any indication of why Madeline had come into the alley.

“You know, I took the trash out earlier, right?”

A pale hand lifted above the dumpster and Blaise gave a startled yelp as a rangy orange cat jumped from the rusty container and dropped lightly to the ground. The cat turned to stare at her, its startling green gaze filled with distrust. The stray’s tail whipped from side to side and Blaise took note of the dark stains around its mouth. She grimaced. “Dumpster diving, huh?”

Madeline must have been trying to capture the cat. The woman was cat crazy. She had six cats of her own, all rescued off the streets of Indianapolis. Blaise frowned as the cat ran away, her gaze drawn to the pale hand resting against the side of the dumpster. “Please tell me you didn’t fall into that dumpster trying to help the cat?”

She stepped on something that crunched under her boot. Looking down, Blaise frowned at the familiar phone, its back encased in faux purple jewels. She picked it up and grimaced at the cracked screen. “Um, Madeline…I think I broke your phone.”

Silence met her statement. “Madeline?”

Blaise hurried over, jerking to a stop as she got close enough to see inside the trash receptacle.

Blaise gave a sharp scream, her hand snapping up to cover her mouth.

“Oh, Maddie…” Tears burned her eyes and slid down her cheeks, dripping to the stained and debris-strewn asphalt beneath her boots.

Madeline didn’t respond.

She’d never respond again.

Wherein May was Sad out of only one Eye

I tucked the tiny bottle of fake tears more deeply into my tissue and sniffed daintily, scoping out the assembled crowd of mourners with a practiced eye. My baby blues caught on a handsome, dark-haired man standing back from the rest, and I did one of those embarrassing jerk-away things with my eyes, hoping he didn’t notice me noticing him again.

He totally noticed me.

He’d been staring at me since I’d arrived at the viewing an hour earlier. And his expression was anything but friendly. Somehow my eyes kept traveling to him, though I swear on the life of my spunky Pomeranian, Shakespeare, that it was pure accident.

I wasn’t ogling the mourners.

Really, I wasn’t.

Of its own volition, my gaze accidentally slipped over the spot where he’d been again, and I blinked.

He was gone.

To cover my surprise, I turned to the elderly woman next to me and let my bottom lip quiver. I gave a practiced little sob and squeezed the fake tears in my tissue just as a big hand landed on my shoulder.

I yelped, gripped the tiny bottle as if it was the only thing keeping me from plunging a thousand feet off a bridge to my death, and then yelped again as I shot a stream of faux sadness right into one wide blue eye.

Fake tears ran like the River Jordan down my artificially pale cheek. “Oh!” I exclaimed as I tried to deal with the mess.

I jerked around to eye the owner of the hand and forgot how to speak.

Across the room he’d been yummy, definitely an eight-star performance on opening night. But up close and personal, Mr. Hostile was a solid fifteen stars, with a good three-minute standing ovation added in.

Even with the glare on his face.

I couldn’t help wondering why he seemed so angry with me. Surely it wasn’t because I was ogling him at the viewing of the man who was supposed to be my boyfriend. I gave that one a few moments of thought.

Nah. That couldn’t be it.

Hostile Hottie stuck the hand he’d accosted me with in front of my face, all but daring me to shake it. “Eddie Deitz.”

I blinked. “Huh?” Brilliant, MayBell. Oscar-worthy response.

My poor tissue was swamped with fake tears, and there were more of them trailing down one cheek. I couldn’t seem to get them under control. So, I decided to embrace the dramatic substance of the moment. I quivered my bottom lip and sniffled behind the lump of saturated tissue.

Accepting his challenge, I placed a limp paw into his and allowed it to be pumped. “MayBell Ferth. It’s a pleasure.”

Ugh! I wanted to kick myself. Who says that at a funeral? Jeezopete!

His gorgeous green gaze narrowed slightly, bringing my attention to the thick fringe of black lashes framing his eyes.

I’d do a year’s worth of PiYo classes to have lashes like that. And that was saying something because I hated PiYo with the power of a thousand suns.

“Is there something wrong with your eye?” he asked.

I mopped ineffectually at the fake tears with my soggy tissue. “Um, no, I’m just sad.”

Stupid, May. Stupid.

His expression told me he didn’t believe I was sad out of only one eye. I couldn’t blame him for his skepticism.

NOTE: Mourning Commute is available exclusively on Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle you can use Amazon's free Reading App. That's how I read on all my Apple devices! It's also available in Print. 

Happy Sleuthing!

A Strange Profession Makes Great Fiction!

 

 

When I was asked to write Mourning Commute, I spent some time pondering the idea of hired mourning. It wasn't the first time I'd thought about it, I'd actually already written a scene with paid mourners. Perhaps you recall this dignified and sedate scene from Naval Gazing?

***

A long, wailing sob broke the stillness, its fulsome, alarming tenor enough to break through even the little old man’s stupor. He flinched once but, no doubt suffering under nine decades of emphasis on manners and how to behave in polite society, kept his gaze fixed on the casket in front of him.

However, the emitter of the wail was not to be ignored. Another hefty wail broke the silence and it seemed the sound broke something loose in the rest of the assembled mourners. Loud sobbing bubbled up to fill the previously mostly silent cemetery. The sound rose to match the wailing in loudness and, in one or two instances rose above it.

Not to be outdone, one mourner called out, “Help me Lord Ja-eee-sus!” Sounding like a good old-fashioned television preacher working a crowd for money.

With that, the stakes were raised. Never one to let someone beat her at her own game, Agnes let off wailing and, giving her competition a very un-Christian glare, threw back her head and screamed, flinging herself forward toward the unsuspecting deceased.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Agnes caught her oversized sneaker on a blade of grass and toppled, arms akimbo, onto the surface of the casket.

Everything stopped. It was as if someone had been playing with a time machine and, seeing the pure entertainment value in that place and time, hit a giant ‘Pause’ button to savor the train wreck more completely.

***

Yeah, not Agnes's finest moment. But you have to admit it was a good bit of acting. #:0) The truth is that professional mourning has been a “thing” for a very long time. It has its roots in several cultures and is mentioned several times in the Bible. In ancient times, the profession was meant to comfort and entertain a grieving family and was performed mostly by women. The jobs were coveted because they provided a way for women to earn their own money. For the deceased, having paid mourners was a sign of prosperity and importance.

Like her ancient sisters, May Ferth believes her job is a comfort to her clients. She takes great pride in serving the grieving family's needs. But it soon turns out to be the role of her life. May bumps up against a cold-blooded killer while performing her part, and is soon running for her life in a truly ugly pair of shoes!