LAST DAYS, New Release ~ in nutshell capsule & read First Chapter.

A palm tree beach

LAST DAYS ~ In a nutshell…

A spry elderly woman has died mysteriously in a Florida coastal town, and the head of a clandestine organization in Washington D.C is interested in the case. All evidence, or lack thereof, points to accidental death, but Detective Katerina “Kat” Andruko has nagging doubts. She also has doubts about a mysterious phone call profiler Dimitri Garmonin, PhD, her intended, took and hid from her. ~~  As if that wasn’t enough, Kat’s former fiancé and fellow law enforcement officer gleefully taunts her, predicting the demise of her relationship with Dimitri. Her future mother-in-law thinks she’s less than demure and not suitable marriage material for her son. ~~  Meanwhile, all leads on the elderly woman’s death go nowhere. Old enemies at the local TV station are calling the police incompetent. They air an unfavorable segment about Dimitri. Just as Kat and Dimitri reluctantly begin to believe the death was accidental, the woman’s neighbor goes missing.  [Cover Reveal To Come]

Chapter One

 Pelican Beach, Florida ~ Mid-March

Det. Katerina “Kat” Andruko

 I had to confront Dimitri. If he was serious about making a total commitment to share his life with me, there couldn’t be secrets.

I took the antique pierced earrings he had given me at Thanksgiving out of my jewelry box. Lovely. Alexandrite set in rose gold. They had belonged to his grandmother. Recalling that moment, I still got a magical rush. With this gift, handcrafted nearly a century ago in St. Petersburg, we’d taken a step into a deeper relationship.

Mere moments after giving me the earrings, Dimitri’s phone rang. He turned his back on me and informed the other party I was in the room. The enchanting romance of the moment evaporated, but I let it go. It was Thanksgiving. My sister and her chef Nick Anastos had closed the restaurant and prepared a feast fit for royalty, a family tradition my Larissa proudly kept going. She and Nick ran the Andruko Chophouse, the restaurant my parents started. She, Mari, and I lived in the upstairs apartment. 

A knock on my bedroom door jolted me to the present. “Come in.”

The twerp stuck her head in, or should I call her Your Royal Highness Emo-Princess Mari? Her BFF had recently chopped my niece’s lush brunette hair into an uneven chin-length do, if you could call it that. I thought my sister was going to have a cow when she first saw it. The entire head of hair was now dyed purple.  “Hey, what’s up? You going out?”

“I wasn’t planning on it. I’m not on the schedule for a shift today.”

“Oh, thought maybe you were cause you’re holding those fancy earrings. Thought you might have big plans with Dimitri.” She drew out each syllable of his name and offered a self-conscious grin.

“No plans.” I shrugged.

“Mom brought fresh-baked baklava up from the restaurant that Nick just made. Want some?”

“You bet. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“If you don’t hurry, I’ll eat them all. Fair warning.” The door slammed behind her.

I took a last, long look at the earrings, and placed them back inside the jewelry box, then sighed. The holidays had been a whirlwind of merriment, rejoicing, and romance. I’d given Dimitri ample opportunity to explain that mysterious phone call. I’d even tossed out a few leading questions.

“Which he dodged.” Whoa, I surprised myself by stamping my foot as the words blurted out.

Even though it bothered me, I hadn’t found the right time to pin him down. His mother came from New York for Christmas and New Year’s. She was polite as could be but hovered over him displaying etiquette that could only be described as old world.

Then he announced he had a special Valentine’s Day planned. He brought a dozen pink roses and a box of chocolates to the apartment. But that wasn’t the special part. He whisked me away to a Cooking Class for Lovers at the Pelican Beach Hospitality Institute. Along with three other couples, we prepared a fine French meal. It was served to us by a few of their full-time students acting as waiters. And now his birthday was approaching. There would always be something. I had to do what I had to do.

I sighed again and hustled into the kitchen. Mari hadn’t been kidding. She sat at the table, stuffing her face with the honeyed confections.

“Save at least one piece for me.”

She half-stood pushing out her chair. It screeched against the floor as she swallowed the last morsel and licked her fingers. “I gotta go. I’m meeting Ashley.” With that, she rushed out the door. Her sneakers pounded down wooden steps leading to the back door of the restaurant and reserved spaces for family and employees in the parking lot.

Larissa turned from the sink where she’d been washing dishes. “Her behavior has been so much better since the holidays.”

“I don’t want to cast blame, but without Carla’s influence, she and Ashley have grown up a bit in the responsibility department.” Carla had been one of Mari’s closest friends who had not set a good example. She’d been murdered by a serial killer the previous fall.

Larissa dried her hands. “Have you gotten all the arrangements finalized with Mackey for Dimitri’s birthday party?”

“I better have. It’s in three weeks.” I took a quick bite of baklava to hide the frown about to overtake my face.

“And Chef Hote has the menu?”

“Yup.” I took another bite and glanced away from her.

“Did you place a birthday cake order with that Christian baker we want to give business to?” She took a step toward me.

“Yeah, she closed her shop and is running the business from her house. I understand it’s going well for her.”

Larissa nodded once, slowly. “You’ve got the party room booked, decided on a menu, ordered the cake. So, what’s wrong?”

I backed toward the door, grabbed my beige bomber jacket off the pegged coat rack on the wall. “Nothing’s wrong.” With that, I shot out, closed the door behind me, and rushed down the stairs.

Larissa yelled after me, “Now you’re acting like your niece, and that’s not good.”

I climbed into my lightning-blue Ford Fusion, my pride and joy, and sat there for a moment. My heart pounded, and it wasn’t from having run down the steps. If I confronted Dimitri, would it end our relationship just as it was about to begin?

I took a circuitous route to his beach house, wending my way through side streets, as my thoughts roamed to a few not very cozy places. Finally, I pulled into his drive. The house sat across the street from the ocean upon ten-foot-high cinder block pillars. This was to protect it from the highest storm surge after a violent hurricane. I drove under the structure, into his personal carport, and parked next to his white Chevy Tahoe.

I climbed the twenty-five steps to his small porch and front door. I’d counted them more than once. When my heart rate lowered, I rang the bell.

Dimitri answered, wearing a pair of cut-offs and a worn tee. He was barefoot. “Hey, my love, I just made coffee. Want some?” His voice had a slight Russian accent which I found alluring. After he closed the door, he kissed me lightly on the corner of my mouth.

Now, how do I get past that and deliver a one-two-punch ultimatum? Maybe I’d better soften it a bit. I brushed my cheek against his and murmured, “Love you, too, and I’d love a cup.”

The serving and sipping of coffee would give me time to organize my thoughts. I sat and tried to make myself comfortable on the cushioned couch in the open-concept great room.

He brought out two mismatched mugs. One was a Florida Gator’s mug– orange with a gator’s green head on it. The other said: Profilers Do It With Good Behavior. He’d gotten that one via Secret Santa at the department’s Christmas party. The consensus of opinion was Detective. Danny Lee had given it as a gag-gift. Lee shrugged and said, “If you knew, it wouldn’t be Secret Santa, would it?”

Dimitri and I both took our coffee the same way, with a splash of milk, or black on the job if that’s all that was available. I leaned forward, took the profilers cup, and took a sip. “Good coffee, as usual.”

He sat next to me on the couch. “I got it at the Surfside Motel. They started serving their guests Jamaican Blue Mountain roast and are also offering it for sale. I ran over and bought a bag. I get whole beans because, as you know, my favorite part is the coffee maker’s grind-and-brew feature.”

I cleared my throat and shifted my position so my back was straighter. “Dimitri, I want to talk to you about something.”

He was about to take another sip but stopped. “I see.”

I launched right into it and told him I was disturbed about the mystery phone call. “I’ve tossed out quite a few leading questions about this in the last few months, and each time you’ve changed the subject.”

He looked directly at me. “I guess I have. I swear to you on my mother’s life, it has absolutely nothing to do with another woman.”

Dimitri’s mother was precious to him. For him to make that assertion was startling. I took a breath. “I didn’t think it did. I think it’s related to something in the last murder investigation. That Pentagon weapons designer was our prime suspect. Then his assassination was quickly hushed up. It was like he’d never come to town. You and Mackey both disappeared for two days. Then you came back, and both of you acted as if nothing had happened.”

“We took a couple of days off and went to his hunting cabin. Nothing illegal or nefarious.”

“I didn’t know you and he were such good friends, or that you hunt.”

He shrugged one shoulder. “We weren’t terribly good friends. It was spur of the moment, and I do hunt. We’re friends now.”

“You forget, I’ve seen your hunting skills, and I’m not so sure you hunt four-legged, furry creatures.”

He laughed. “You don’t miss much, and that’s why you’re becoming the world’s greatest detective.”

“You’re charming, but that’s silly.” I took another sip of coffee.

He reached out and touched my hand. “During that phone call an elderly gentleman asked me to check on the safety of some people here in town on the down-low. As he requested, I checked once a month over the last three months, and they seemed to be doing fine. End of story.”

“Well, if that’s all it was…”

Genre Confusion ~ in mystery fiction and crime fiction

A crime scene

Not Who ‘dun it, but what is it?

Mystery Fiction and Crime Fiction are often lumped together as if they are part of one fiction genre. I believe they are their own separate genres (for clarity sake). Further complicating things, today’s mystery and crime fiction works overlap and often slip-and-slide into each other. Then within the genres a novel may fit into more than one category so that determining what genre and/or category the novel falls into is often subjective. My novels have been called detective stories, murder mysteries, and cozy thrillers. Of course, the reader is always right. However, I’d like to shed some light on what we find in the world of today’s mystery and crime fiction novels. BTW, according to the list below, most of my novels fall into the mystery fiction genre and the soft-boiled detective story category. ~~ Below, I’m looking at novels written in English, mostly in American English.

Mystery Fiction

The Murder Mystery Novel:  This is a classic whodunit, a puzzle. The reader follows the clues as the sleuth discovers them which leads to who committed the crime. It’s usually a murder but can be arson, a bombing, kidnap, cyber crime, theft, embezzlement, stock manipulation and fraud, and a host of others. The author will create red-herrings (false clues), making it difficult for the sleuth and the reader to determine who the criminal is. In the end , the sleuth will catch the bad guy, and hopefully the reader will be surprised.

Detective Stories (hard boiled/noir):  Featuring a professional law enforcement officer (police detective, military police, forest ranger, canine detective and his/her dog, District Attorney’s investigator, a state investigator or state trooper, a private detective, military police, cyber crime detectives, and the like. They are often fighting their own demons such as alcoholism/drug addiction, an abusive past, etc. The murder and perhaps also other crimes happen in unsavory or bleak settings with rough and coarse or disreputable secondary and tertiary characters. Quite often there is coarse or vulgar language. The violence is most often graphically described.

Detective Stories (soft boiled):  These feature professional detectives, but are lighter in tone. There will be more psychology and less action, sometimes humor. The main character(s) will most likely have personal issues but these difficulties will be disclosed in a less gritty manner. Secondary and tertiary characters will be a mix of upstanding and disreputable. There will be less explicit or no explicit language and less violence.

Procedurals: The main character is a professional detective (as described above) or a medical examiner, a forensic behavioral psychologist (a profiler), a forensic scientist (pathologist), and so forth. They stress realistic police operations and/or realistic science where the investigator is constrained by law and department regulations. Departmental politics, even town/city politics will have some bearing.

The Cozy:  This style has traditionally featured well bred characters and a closed community setting. However, today’s cozy could just as easily have a bartender or trailer park owner as its main character instead of a leader in the community. Often there are charming or eccentric characters. The modern cozy doesn’t have to stay in a closed community, but could cross state lines as well as crossing national boundaries. The crime entails minimal violence, may have happened before the story began or occurred off-scene. It may be described, but not graphically.

The Caper:  This is a crime story with a high degree of comedy. In many ways, this is a cousin to the cozy. It may feature an incompetent amateur sleuth who solves the crime by accident (Pink Panther). Or the investigator is competent but a series of zany and outlandish occurrences continually happen to thwart him/her. Or she/he has contrary and/or eccentric family members, or business partners, or whatever that mess things up in a humorous manner. Still, he/she manages to catch the criminal.

MIXED-CATEGORY: Romantic Suspense: Romantic suspense most often falls under the mystery fiction genre as it’s usually on the soft-boiled side and has a happy romantic ending. However, we are seeing more and more gritty romantic suspense novels where the twisted mind of the villain is openly on display. Romantic Suspense is actually a combination of a genre (romance) and a category (suspense which falls under the crime fiction genre). Historical Romantic Suspense: As above, but the story is set in the past. Supernatural/Paranormal Mysteries: This is also a mix of a genre (mystery) and a category (paranormal which falls into the speculative fiction genre). Fantasy Mysteries (a mix of two categories, mystery and then fantasy which falls into speculative fiction).

MYSTERY FICTION SUB-CATEGORIES: heists (often told from the criminal’s point-of-view), historical murder mysteries, legal mysteries, medical mysteries, pet detectives (most often cats in a cozy novel or series, but can be a police dog or bomb or drug sniffing dog in a police procedural, or another animal), equine mysteries. More that are usually cozies – cooking/food mysteries, knitting/sewing mysteries, tea/coffee mysteries, granny mysteries, mommy mysteries, bridal mysteries, and many more. Location based: there are a slew of Florida based mysteries, British Isles mysteries (set in the British Isles, though not necessarily written by a citizen of the UK), Cape Cod mysteries, New Orleans and Mississippi River mysteries, Caribbean Island mysteries, and many more.

Crime Fiction

The Suspense Novel:  This type of story is designed to take the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride and can be quite psychological. There is a murderer or some other type of heinous criminal, and the main character’s job is to catch him/her. The depravity of the criminal’s mind is often displayed. This can be done quite graphically, bringing the story into a noir designation. The protagonist might not be in law enforcement, or could be. There is always a high level of danger either to the main character, his/her loved ones, community, or even her/his nation. The main character may not know what motivates the criminal and must find out. Why, is a big question. Often, at some point, the tables turn and the highly intelligent criminal pursues the main character. How can the protagonist stay alive is the other big question.

The Thriller: There is a threat to the social order, an affront to societal norms and decency. This category most often lands on the noir side and can get very dark before the light comes. The criminal or crime is introduced right up front in most cases, although the motive may not yet be known. The story may have a forensic behavioral analyst (profiler) either as a main or secondary character. There will be tension from the outset and the threat level will increase from there. The protagonist or her/his loved ones will be threatened by a highly intelligent criminal.

Thriller Sub-Categories: the psychological thriller, the spy/espionage thriller. In the legal and medical thriller, while investigating the crime against the community or nation, the lawyer or doctor (or their loved ones) will personally be threatened by the criminal outside of the legal or medical settings.

An Over-Arching Subcategory: Multi-Cultural and Diverse Subcategory. Over-arching because it can be found in both the Mystery and Crime Fiction genres, and in any of the categories and sub-categories.  These novels provide mystery and suspense while giving readers a peek into new ethnic or racial communities and cultures. Another Distinct Subcategory: The Racial/Ethnic Subcategory. This is written, most often, by a member of a racial or ethnic group for the enjoyment of members of that same group. Still another, Over-Arching Subcategory: Christian and clean Mystery and/or Crime Fiction. These novels can be found in either genre and any practically any subcategory but not all. There will be no on-page sex, no profanity, and limited violence and no glorification of these. The Young Adult and New Adult Subcategory: These are also mixes of genres (YA and NA) and the various mystery and crime fiction categories. The extremely dark categories would not be appropriate for this subcategory. Middle-Grade Mystery is a combination of mystery (a category) and (middle-grade which is a genre). These novels must be appropriate for pre-teens and under (Nancy Drew, Lady Grace Cavendish).

 

Rhapsody In Red (a Preston Barclay Mystery, Book 1) by Donn Taylor ~ a review as a tribute to US military veterans

A Rhapsody in Red

What a great main character ~

Preston “Press” Barclay, PhD is retired US Army, special operations and is a professor of history in a quasi-Christian university that at one time was a true Christian college. The powers that be at the school, in an attempt to be ‘inclusive’, removed the crosses off the buildings and hired a Mara Thorn, a Wiccan, to teach religious studies. They also made quite a few other politically correct changes that irk Press Barclay.

Mystery novels and thrillers are awash in retired spec ops main characters hunting down the bad guy(s) and solving crimes. In the overwhelming number of cases, the authors depict these US veteran main characters in an honorable light. Press Barclay is certainly an honorable man, and he searches for a killer while reciting lines from classic literature as well as from the Greek classics. It’s refreshing to see a military veteran portrayed in that way…and in this novel this particular scenario is often humorous.

On that note…what a great story. The author’s use of subtle wit woven throughout the plotline often had me grinning. Press has an enemy hailing back to his days in the military…police Captain Clyde Staggart. When Press and Mara find the body of fellow Professor Laila Sloan, Staggart sees this as an opportunity to hang the murder on Press. If he also charges Mara with the murder, thems the breaks. Staggart completely disregards that Professor Sloan had more than a few enemies of her own. So, Press and Mara take matters into their own hands and begin their own under the radar murder investigation. They break laws (breaking and entering, among others), rules (stealing one of the university’s pass keys), and angering all of their colleagues on campus. Press is attacked and knocked out, Mara’s car is bombed, they are chased by hired killers and wind up hiding out in a motel. Then to add insult to injury, they’re both suspended from their jobs at the university.

Press spends every Wednesday night in utter despair battling music that runs unbidden through his head as he mourns the loss of his pianist wife Faith. It’s become a ritual he observes but can not control. The music can turn from an adagio to sudden discord. These are internal musical hallucinations, a malady he shares with Beethoven.  These hallucinations can often be jarring, have a sweetness, even humor.

This novel is perfect for the reader who loves literary witticism, high jinks, and a riveting sleuthing all from a Christian perspective.

ribbon-greenAOM Cover  US special ops veterans now under the auspices of a quasi-clandestine organization search for who in the deep state brutally killed Lavender Raines husband. Retired Marine Raider Mackey feels overprotective of her though she seems to disdain him.  ACTS OF MALICE

Angels & Imperfection by Dan Arnold ~ a review

Angels Imperfection

Not angelic. He’s quite imperfect.

This is an unusual mystery/thriller in that the novel is a series of cases, some of them unrelated to the main story line. However, each case whether related to the plot line or not fleshes out the main character, and John Wesley Tucker is not your run-of-the mill private investigator. He’s a devout Christian who sees himself as a shepherd for the Lord here on earth…though in many cases a flawed one. He can rush into a fight almost on impulse, is quite capable of packing a punch, and is not afraid to use a fire arm.

Tucker is hired to do a background check by a powerful and wealthy oil man who has political aspirations and immediately is attracted to the man’s beautiful employee. He asks Christine out on a date which enrages and prompts the oil man’s personal assistant to make unwanted advances toward her. Christine resigns and not long after Tucker hires her as his receptionist. By mutual agreement, their relationship becomes one of employer to employee and they begin to develop a deep friendship. Christine doesn’t believe in God and Tucker witnesses to her. My only criticism of this engaging novel is some of the witnessing dialog goes on too long and interrupts the movement and pacing of the story line. I think it would have been better to cut up the apologetics and sprinkle it throughout the story.

The main characters are highly likeable, and I rooted for them. Secondary character Detective Sergeant Tony Escalante, and Tucker’s best friend, is also likeable and one of the good guys. Tucker pays attention to the rambling of Dustin, a homeless guy with mental issues who seems to be in touch with the supernatural world, and this helps the P.I. solve a child abduction case. The bad guys are truly incorrigible, very dangerous, and they move the mystery forward as they maneuver selfishly to satisfy their dark desires. And their desires are truly evil. This is a novel of good vs. evil. #ChristFic #Cleanread

Purchase Angels & Imperfection on Amazon

ALIAS RAVEN BLACK by Barbara E. Brink ~ a review

Alias Raven Blac,

Christian Mystery, Romantic Suspense, International Crime and Intrigue

 

A fun, fast and furious journey with Brenna Blackman (alias Raven Black). The FBI has finally caught up with the erstwhile Raven Black. So has her father who has secrets of his own. He dad, hired a young, handsome private detective to find Brenna. Needless to say, Thomas falls in love with her.

Using her Raven Black crimes against her, FBI agents blackmail Brenna to go into very dangerous waters undercover as a nanny in the house of a ruthless, heartless mobster. Brenna has no skills with children, is pretty indifferent to them. Surprise, surprise…she soon falls in love with both children and is ready to put her own life in danger to protect them.

This is primarily a law-and-order detective novel driven by Brenna/Raven trying to get evidence against an evil man who is a killer…the father of those children. The drive to bring this corrupt, depraved killer drives the story, and it is also story with Christian characters maintaining their values, living their lives and doing their jobs. I recommend it as a suspenseful, seat of your pants read.

Purchase ALIAS RAVEN BLACK on Amazon

Guarding Candy Kane by V.B. Tenery ~ a review

Guarding Candy KaneChristmas novella, Mystery, RomSuspense

This is a wonderful Christmas mystery. I enjoyed reading the mystery driven part of it and the Christmas part of it. Loved the main characters. At points, the suspense was chilling, by the end it was uplifting and filled with Christmas cheer.

I loved the Colorado setting. In one scene we’re walking with the characters through the quaint village of Christmas Tyme, with all its cheerful seasonal decorations. Then in another scene, we’re in the snow-swept Colorado wilderness fearing for the characters’ lives.

The author is a skillful writer who takes the reader through a delightful Christmas mystery and adds that something additional that makes it a read that’s on more than one level. If I had one question to ask the author, it would be: “What’s next?”

Purchase GUARDING CANDY KANE on Amazon

ACTS OF MALICE ~ Release Day!!!

AOM Release pngIt’s here! Release Day for ACTS OF MALICE. It was on Pre-Order, but now, TODAY, it is officially released!!!

Detective Story, murder mystery, national security

Lavender Raines and Mac “Mackey” Mackenzie are polar opposites. Thought not a holiday novel, per se, ACTS OF MALICE has Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s scenes that will touch your heart, make you gasp, have you laughing, or all three.

ACTS OF MALICE IN A NUT SHELL…

ACTS OF MALICE:  A taut and compelling classic murder mystery with a national security underlying theme. Interpersonal relationships, greed, dry humor. Unrequited Love. Uplifting.

Lavender Raines gets the ‘doorbell ring’ no wife ever wants to get. Her husband has been brutally murdered, and the FBI is more secretive than helpful. The problem is, his body was found in Caracas when she thought his business trip had taken him to New Orleans.

Mackenzie just opened a second beach resort-town restaurant, this one in Ribault Beach, Florida…but now the clandestine security organization that from-time-to-time sends him on covert missions wants him to find Lavender’s husband’s killers.

Forces from within the “Deep State” have shaped circumstances that will alter the course of both their lives. Then a local man is murdered. Mackey is emotionally shut down about his life, but protective of others. Lavender is a pillar of strength in her family, but distrusting of Mackey and guarded around him. Can they find common ground amidst this treachery and turmoil?GreenStar Burst

Excerpt:

Chapter Five

Lavender Raines

Yawning, my mother entered the kitchen with a lazy, graceful sway. She tightened her fuchsia kimono-style bathrobe and headed for the coffee maker. “I didn’t sleep well at all last night.”

I placed my coffee mug on the kitchen table and swiveled in my chair to face her. “Was the guestroom bed uncomfortable?”

“Well … no, Darling, not really.” She waved, limp-wristed, as if she were shushing me. “I need to get some coffee in me.”

“On the counter. Help yourself.”

She poured coffee into a mug. “I simply can’t understand why George’s parents didn’t fly in to attend his memorial service.”

If I cared for hard liquor, which I didn’t, I might want a shot in my coffee before long. “Mother, you know Marianne has early onset dementia. Henry doesn’t want her to be told George is gone. Besides they recently moved into an assisted living apartment in Seattle and are still settling in.” The fact was neither of his parents had any idea their son’s death certificate and funeral papers had been falsified to make it appear he’d died while visiting them. I went along with this charade because I had no idea who was behind George’s murder, or why. I was afraid for Kendall’s safety, as well as my own and my mother’s.

“Yes, yes, of course.” She added two percent milk and artificial sweetener to her mug and stirred.

“What a pretty bathrobe.” I hoped to change the topic of conversation.

She brought her mug to the table and sat opposite me. “This old thing? I got it several years ago at this marvelous little shop when your father and I were in Santa Barbara. Now he’s gone, and George is gone. It’s just us three girls.” She tilted her head and slid her fingers through her highlighted, chin length hair.

Hard liquor was looking better and better. I slipped my hand behind my neck and scooped my hair out from under my knit robe that had seen better days. “Mother, we’ll be fine. You’ll see. We girls will pull through.”

She ran her French manicured index finger around the rim of her mug. “I want more for you and Kendall than pulling through. Really, dear, this house is not in good shape. You should sell it and come live with me in Virginia Beach.”

I stifled a gasp at the same time that Kendall lurched into the kitchen. “Sell the house? No, never. This is Dad’s house. We have to keep it.”

I stood and hurried over to her. “Honey, Grandma was just thinking out loud.”

“Kendall, darling, it isn’t ladylike to eavesdrop.” My mother’s sing-song rhythm was light, with a softness to it.

Kendall pouted. “I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was coming into the kitchen to get coffee.”

I sat down at the table and kept to myself that I’d also been unable to sleep. In the wee hours, selling the house had very briefly crossed my mind. “The house does have a few projects still left to be done. George finished the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Only the bedrooms need a little cosmetic touch-up.”

“Both bathrooms need a complete renovation. The master bath is very outdated. Really, Darling, there’s not even a hint of open concept. With your talent in home décor, you should know that.” My mother wriggled her nose.

“Grandma, you make it sound like Daddy didn’t provide a good place for us to live.”

“Kendall, darling, I’m expressing my feelings. Would you like me to be dishonest with you and your mother?”

Kendall smacked her mug on the countertop, and liquid sloshed over its brim. She ignored it. “Daddy’s memorial service was only yesterday. So, Grandma, I don’t mean to be rude, but if you can’t put him in a good light, don’t say anything.”

She rushed out of the room, her eyes brimming with tears.

Lavender Raines, Afternoon 

A walk along the waterfront might calm my jangled nerves. I’d been a walking enthusiast for years and had been known to go for miles. Sunrise Boulevard wasn’t that far away and was a lovely stroll along the beach.

I slipped into and tied my running shoes. Did I need a sweater? I checked my phone for the weather report. High seventies. No sweater. I’d be exerting myself, and that would keep me warm enough. I slipped the phone into the diminutive leather bag slung across my body.

After a slow trot to the end of our driveway, I turned and inspected the house. A white concrete ranch on residential Catalina Street with a large picture window, a dark-blue front door, and a couple of palm trees in front. We lived in a respectable neighborhood. George had wanted the house. After growing up in the sizable two-story colonial with a pool I thought of as the house my father bought for my mother, I would’ve preferred a three-bedroom townhouse. Still, George, Kendall, and I had been happy here. So, why had I felt so defensive during my mother’s manipulative harangue, feeling almost as if our house was a hovel?

While walking along Sunrise Boulevard at a leisurely pace, the blahs of self-recrimination had set in and settled. When I pulled my gaze up from the sidewalk, I realized I’d turned the corner onto Mystic Drive. I found myself standing before Funky Boutiking and immediately felt a bit better. The quaint shop sat behind the graceful yet casual Blue Dolphin Boutique Hotel.

Ribault Beach benefited from naturally occurring, softly rolling dunes which somewhat protected the city during fierce storms. Sunrise Boulevard, one of the city’s major thoroughfares ran north and south along the beach. At its southernmost end, a small concrete and steel bridge crossed a short expanse of ocean to Cannoner Island.

“Such a funny shape.” I placed my flattened hand over my sunglasses to block out the hot sun and stepped to the side, trying to get a better view of the small island. Not used to talking to myself, a giggle bubbled up. Then I giggled again. “Looks like my feet brought me here for a reason.”

Recalling the often-told tale charmed me. French Huguenot settlers in the mid-1500s gave the island that name because its seaward end rose higher out of the ocean than its landward end. They thought it resembled a cannon. Of course, the name had long since lost its French spelling and pronunciation– and Ribault Beach had also lost its French pronunciation.

I turned toward the pale yellow 1950s bungalow that was Funky Boutiking and placed my foot on the first step. Should I go in? “I don’t want to be a burden.” This talking to myself was weird.

The house rested on a foundation of concrete blocks two-feet-high with spaces between them which would allow a rushing storm surge to pass underneath. The bungalow sported a craftsman-style stone porch with concrete steps and blue painted wooden pillars. It was a sturdy little structure.

I held onto the railing and walked up the steps and onto the porch which displayed outdoor and indoor pieces of furniture for sale. I continued into the store.

Abigail Hunter stood at the front counter, behind the register, worry reflected in her eyes.

A well-dressed, thirty-something man on the opposite side of the wooden counter faced her. Randall Creston, another of George’s distant relatives. He hadn’t come to the memorial service. He and his family lived in Crescent Beach, just north of our city. We hadn’t seen him or heard from him for so long, all memory of him had escaped me, until now.

He slapped his hand on the counter. “You and your sister are two stubborn old ladies.”

Abigail winced but still managed a thin smile. “It’s probably true we’re set in our ways.”

“I’ll be back again, and we’ll continue this conversation. I have an appointment in less than twenty minutes.” He turned on his heel and stalked off.

His shoulder nearly brushed against mine as he left. He grunted and nodded. “Good day.”

“Good … day.” I turned and watched him rush out the door, not sure if he recognized me.

When I turned back, Abigail clasped and unclasped her hands.

I walked up to the register. “Are you all right? Wasn’t that Randall Creston?”

“Our cousin Randall, the lawyer. He helps with our finances, such as they are.”

Olivia peeked out from the behind a display toward the back of the store. The sizable bungalow accommodated a small two-bedroom apartment in the back and sat on a half-acre lot. “Is he gone?” She noticed me and rushed over. “Lavender, I’m so glad to see you. I just put on water for tea. Would you like to join us?”

“Thank you, that would make my day.”

The kettle whistled, and the petite woman spun around and hurried to the back.

I returned my attention to Abigail, wondering if I’d just witnessed elder abuse, or perhaps intimidation. “This is none of my business, but it seemed as if Olivia was trying to avoid ‘cousin’ Randall’. I made quotation marks in the air with my fingers.

“Lavender, honey, you have your own troubles. Come sit and have tea with us.” Abigail walked toward an alcove to the side of the front counter.

I sat on the cushioned bench built into the alcove. “Abigail, you and Olivia are my husband’s family. If you’re having any problems, you can come to me.”

Abigail settled her long frame into the seat of an upholstered chair. It was positioned to one side of a small coffee table. “You’re sweet, just like Georgie.”

Olivia bustled in carrying a tray which she placed on the coffee table. “You’ll have to add milk and sugar to your taste. Please help yourself to home-baked oatmeal cookies.” She sat in an upholstered chair on the other side of the coffee table in front of the alcove.

I added a splash of milk to my tea, and then took a cookie which I rested in a napkin on my lap. “Olivia, Randall Creston nearly collided with me as he rushed out.”

She rolled her eyes and mixed two heaping spoons of sugar into her tea. “He’s a very busy man. His clients are the cream of the crop in Ribault Beach. He wouldn’t even come here otherwise, except for this business deal he’s all worked up about.”

“You and Abigail are also his clients?” I sipped my tea.

Olivia shifted in her seat. “We’re his poor church-mouse relatives. His charity account.”

 

ACTS OF MALICE IS NOW ON PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON

NIKE N. CHILLEMI’S AUTHOR PAGE ON AMAZON