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

 

ACTS OF MALICE, a Lavender Raines/Mac “Mackey” Mackenzie Novel ~ Cover Reveal

AOM CoverDetective Story, murder mystery, national security

Heroine Lavender Raines and hero 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

 

First Chapter of GOODBYE NOEL

Not just a Christmas novel…New Year’s themes. A story about new beginnings.

The best way to decide if you’ll like a novel is to read a chapter.

Chapter One

Long Island, NY

December 1946

Katrina Lenart nodded toward a break in the leafless maples and snow-covered pines lining Hill Street then pointed with her black cable knit glove. A fat blue jay sat on the tip of a pine branch and quirked his head at her, almost mocking. The sun, more the color of wheat than yellow, floated in the pale, cloudless, winter sky, surrendering little heat.

“It might seem like we’re almost there to you, but we still have to climb that hill.” It wasn’t high, but steep, as if a pitiless hand had gouged earth from its side. She turned her head back and squinted against the glare off the snow, adjusting her black velvet earmuffs, stitched into a floret on one side, all the rage since the war.

“Said just like a female.” Willie Brogna grinned, pulling the toboggan behind him, his rubber boots stomping deep impressions in the fresh fallen snow. Pivoting, he gave her a wide smile. “I know you’re just being nice, helping me try out my favorite Christmas present. With my sister on her honeymoon and all, I don’t have anyone to be my guinea pig.” He resumed his climb, out-pacing her, and chuckled under his breath.

Determined to put her best friend’s teenage brother in his place, Katrina lengthened her strides and arrived at the top of the incline breathing hard. “People often comment on how nice I am… and courteous. Willing to help those in need.” She tossed off a teasing smile.

The tall, lanky teen snorted then tugged on his hand-knit gloves, securing them, and flexed his fingers.

Shading her eyes with a glove, she gazed south, unable to see the village of Sanctuary Point or the Great South Bay through the trees. Though she knew icy wind whipped them both. The weather forecast said a storm was headed their way. Directly below, the ground dropped away into an empty lot. Beyond that, Hill Street and the tiny Bauer cottage.

“Are you ready? I’ll steer and you take the rumble seat.” Willie knelt and positioned the toboggan for the first run down the steep hill. “Don’t forget to hang on tight, I’m gonna let ‘er rip, if that won’t bruise the dignity of Memorial’s most promising nurse.”

Katrina gave him a playful smack on the arm. “How you do go on. Just watch out for that huge bump down there.”

“Aw, that’s not even a blip on the radar.”

She hunkered down behind him and clasped her arms around his waist. The toboggan sped down the hill, her hair airborne behind her. Icy snow crystals flew into her face. They hit the bump and went aloft. “Willieee,” she shrieked.

They landed so hard her teeth clattered.

When they came to a stop, Willie jumped off. “While we were in the air, I saw something near Mrs. Bauer’s cottage. Does she have a pet? A cat, maybe? It looked like a hurt animal… something bloody.”

He trotted across the street. “It’s not in the yard. It’s away from the house. Closer and to the side of the road.” He hastened down Hill Street, slipping and sliding, to the edge of the Bauer property.

Katrina hurried down the sloping street after him, her arms stretched out for balance. If this were his idea of a practical joke, she’d let him have it.

Willie bent over the object on the ground. Rising, he twisted toward her. “Well, it’s not an animal. It’s a piece of soiled cloth.”

Rushing to his side, she tried to catch her breath. “That’s blood on a kitchen towel. Not a lot, but sufficient to warrant concern.” Please, Lord, let everything be all right in the Bauer house.

“Do you suppose Mrs. Bauer cut herself out here? But why would she come all the way out here with a kitchen towel?”

“We’d better check on her.” Katrina raced back up the hill after Willie along the length of the lot, as fast as she could. She slipped but regained her footing on the Bauer’s icy walk. When she reached the stoop, she panted in short painful gasps.

Willie hurdled the two steps and came to a stop on the miniscule porch. The front door stood ajar.

Uneasiness halted her winded, ungraceful gait. Yet, Katrina followed until she stood before the door and called out, “Mrs. Bauer, hello.”

Willie nudged the door and shouted. “Mrs. Bauer, are you in there?”

She peered between the door and its frame into dimness. “Mrs. Bauer… Noel, it’s Katrina, your neighbor.”

“This is getting us nowhere.” Willie gave the door a shove.

The living room was chilly and silent — something definitely not right. Mrs. Bauer wouldn’t leave the door open on such a cold day, not even a crack. Katrina eased in. “Hello, anyone home?” She stepped around the couch and froze.

Noel Bauer lay on her living room floor, in front of a decorated Christmas tree. Blood pooled beneath her head.

“Oh, my Lord.” Katrina rushed to the woman and knelt, applying two fingers to her neck. “Willie, she has no pulse.”

“I mean, I know you’re a nurse, but are you sure?”

“She’s dead.” Katrina’s voice shook in her throat. “She’s not breathing and her body temperature isn’t warm.”

“The telephone lines come up here, so I’ll bet she has a phone. We’d better call the police. This is awful.” His eyes darted around the room. “There… in the kitchen.”

Katrina took a deep breath and calmed herself. How strange and brutal life could be. Yesterday, gay and carefree, she stood as maid-of-honor in Willie’s sister’s wedding. Today she’d found Noel Bauer’s corpse.

She hurried to the phone, dialed the village operator, and asked to be connected to the police station. After relaying the information to young Officer Classen, whose mother worked with her at the hospital, she sank onto a chair at the table and held her head in her hands. There was something peculiar about the position of Noel Bauer’s body Katrina couldn’t put her finger on, as if she were reaching for something.

Cries of an infant came from the bedroom down the hallway.

*****

Standing by the Christmas tree, Katrina rocked the baby wrapped in a pink blanket. She took a small green and white glass ornament from the top of the tree and dangled it before the tiny face. “Look how pretty. Your mommy made such a lovely tree for you.” Her eyes misted, and her gaze slid to the lifeless form on the floor. The house reflected the woman’s efforts to turn a meager cottage into a comfortable home with touches of handcrafted style and elegance. On the wall above an aging sofa, a needlepoint wall hanging in a simple frame depicted two swans floating on a lily pond that could well have hung in a fine gallery.

“Detective Daltry’s here.” Willie turned from the window and hurried to open the door.

Ian Daltry entered with rookie-officer Robert Classen at his heels. The detective removed his brown fedora freeing a riot of salt and pepper hair. He nodded toward Katrina. “Miss Lenart, you phoned the station?”

“Yes, Willie and I found Mrs. Bauer.” She glanced at the teen, who stood by the front window, a stricken look on his face, and her heart went out to the boy. Her gaze shifted to the detective and then down to the body. “She’s gone.”

Detective Daltry placed his hat on the coffee table and bent over the still form. The blood on the floor, dark and thick, had begun to coagulate. It gave off a metallic smell. Straightening, he looked at Katrina, his lips in a tight line. “You’re right. She’s dead. I’d guess less than an hour.”

Katrina took a halting step toward the body, but the detective put up a staying hand to stop her. She cleared her throat. “Severe trauma to the head. She couldn’t survive a wound like that.”

“That’s my take on it. I’ll phone the medical examiner.”

Willie pointed. “Phone’s in the kitchen.”

Katrina took a quick step forward. “Is it murder?”

The detective pivoted, and the intensity of his eyes pierced her soul. “I really can’t say Miss. It’s very early in the investigation.” He turned on his heel, crossed the living room, and disappeared.

Katrina followed stiff legged part way across the room. She felt cold, and it wasn’t just because the door had been open. She wanted to do something, but didn’t know what. It wasn’t illness that had killed Noel Bauer, and it wasn’t accidental death. What else could it be but murder? She shuddered. How awful for Mrs. Bauer and this poor dear baby.

Officer Classen stepped forward and blocked her path. “You can’t go into the kitchen.”

She stopped in her tracks, stroked the infant’s soft hair, and held her closer. “I had no idea Mrs. Bauer had a new baby. She closed the house in early spring last year and was gone over six months. She’s been back only about three months.” Since then, she’d been reclusive, but why?

The baby grabbed for the ornament and cooed.

Katrina lifted the glass bulb away from the tiny hand. “Oh no, you don’t. You’re a quick little lady, aren’t you? Yes you are.” She made an exaggerated smiling face and shook her head. “Such an energetic little thing, you are.”

The baby started fussing.

“And now your mood has changed. Are you cold, sweetheart?” Katrina pulled the blanket tight around the infant, rubbed her tiny hands, and blew warm breath on them.

“I’d like to throw a log on the fire for the baby, but can’t touch anything until we complete our investigation.” The young officer shifted from foot to foot.

“I understand. You can’t make an exception for the baby?”

“No, if we disturb things we might be destroying the fingerprints of the killer.”

“I see. I think she’s cranky more than cold, though it is chilly in here.”

Detective Daltry emerged from the kitchen and advanced toward her. He touched the pink blanket. “A girl.” A tremor ran through his fingers, and he dropped his hand to his side.

“Isn’t she pretty?” Katrina stroked the infant’s face. When she glanced up, she thought she saw pain flicker in the detective’s eyes, and then it was gone.

“Her mother was lovely. By all accounts a cultured lady. Such a shame.” Officer Classen stood over the body with a camera. “Detective, do you want me to start taking photographs?”

He cleared his throat. “Yes, begin with the body and work out to the periphery of the room. Don’t spare the film.”

The child gurgled, squirmed, and kicked her legs against the coverlet wrapped tight around her.” Aren’t you a feisty one?” Katrina kissed the baby’s little fist. “You’re going to be fine. Somehow, I’ll make sure. I promise.”

The detective rocked back on his heels and raked his hand through his hair, mangling it. He cast a quick glance at the hearth. “With the fire nearly out and the door opening and closing, perhaps the child shouldn’t be here. I can phone my neighbor. She watches my daughter when I’m working. I’m sure she’d look after the little one until we figure out what to do with her.”

The baby made a face and fidgeted, her knees pumping.

“No. That’s not necessary.” Katrina held the baby tighter, her need to protect this infant growing by the second. “I live down the street, and I’m a maternity nurse. If you consent, I’ll take her home. I’m sure my mother will agree to mind her while I’m working at the hospital.”

A huge wail came from the tiny mouth.

“Maybe she’s hungry.” Willie took two quick steps. “Let me see if there’s milk in the kitchen.”

The detective shook his head. “Sorry, off limits. You can’t touch or remove anything. We haven’t done a walk-through yet, and they’ll want to brush for fingerprints.”

Katrina placed the baby on her shoulder and rubbed her back in a circular motion. “This child can’t drink bottled milk. I’m sure her mother nursed her, most do. We’ll have to make formula from evaporated milk.” What did men know about babies?

“Won’t you need a baby bottle?” Willie plunked both hands on his hips.

“Yes, or something similar. I need to get this baby home where Momma can help me.” Katrina bounced the fussing infant in her arms and checked the seat of the diaper. “She’s dry and didn’t leave us a present in her pants.”

Detective Daltry moved to Katrina’s side and stroked the baby’s back. “Officer Classen can drive you home.” He turned toward the rookie cop. “Wait up on the photos and take this young woman and the child down the hill. When you get to the edge of the Bauer property, drive on the wrong side of the street. On your way back, get that cone out of the trunk and mark the spot. I’m calling the troopers station to see if they can get any tire impressions near where we picked up the bloody towel.”

“If Lorne Kincade was finished with trooper training, we’d get that done right quick.” Robert opened the door and held it for Katrina.

“You bet you would.” Willie tried for a grin, but only one side of his lips lifted. “Thing is, he won’t even start the training until he and my sister get back from their honeymoon.”

Katrina rocked the baby whose face had turned bright pink. “Heavens to Betsy, let’s not rush the newlyweds home in our talk.” She tried for a smile and managed a small one.

The detective pivoted toward the window. “Mr. Brogna… Willie, I’d like you to stay. I have questions for you. Miss Lenart, I’ll question you later.”

The infant emitted a piercing cry.

Katrina hurried toward the door. “Our house is the first one on the right side.”

Purchase Links:

Amazon (including Kindle). http://tinyurl.com/7ppnrk5

Barnes & Noble (including Nook): http://tinyurl.com/cgp7e6o

Sony Reader Store.   http://tinyurl.com/d88n7b2