Sunday, December 4, 2016

COLD COMFORT Read an Excerpt


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“Thanks. Take the rest of the cookies.” Claire slipped her feet into her shoes and went to the counter for something to put the treats  in. “Riley ate a cake last night and doesn’t need any more sugar.” She slid the cookies into a red bag and handed it to Mary. “Tell Damien hi and I’ll see him Friday afternoon.”
Claire let Mary out the front door and locked it behind her. “Damien’s working with us on Fridays after school and all day Saturdays this season,” she said to Riley. “He’s a nice boy.”
“I did not ‘eat a cake’ last night. Maybe a big piece, but that’s all,” he said, following her to the back. He guessed she was over her mad spell—good woman. No grudge.
She spun around and walked backward for a couple of steps, facing him with a wide grin. “Okay, half a cake.”
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When the smile reached her eyes, the corners crinkled. He caught her arm, afraid she’d stumble. He felt like a cat with a mouse—one hint and he’d have been on her. Shaking his head, he turned her around again and let go. “It was going to waste.” God, but he needed to finish this job and get out of here. “By the way, didn’t I tell you not to leave the store without me?” He gentled his voice, not wanting to be too hard on her, scare her.
“Yes, I believe you did,” she said, stooping to adjust a little tin soldier who kept watch over a glittering ballerina.
Maybe he’d been too easy. “But you went out anyway.”
“Yes, I did.” She looked up, giving him a guileless smile.
He glared. “I mean it. Don’t go out alone.”
She straightened. “I’ll try not to.” She spoke carefully, her tone deliberate.
“You’ll try?” He couldn’t believe her. He definitely hadn’t scared her. “Someone is trying to kill you,” he snarled.
“Yes, I know.” Her gaze met his without blinking. Under the honey lay a note of steel. “You’re supposed to find out who, not hide me in a closet.”
She was warning him. He stepped out of her path, at a loss, as she sailed toward the restroom with the empty cider carafe.
When she came back, she indicated the cash register. “I need to close out and take the money to the bank. I didn’t have time this afternoon. Want to go with me?” Her eyes tilted with amusement.

Riley surrendered. He watched her bustle around the shop, tidying and rearranging. It all looked fine to him. “Okay, then let’s go out for dinner. How about Shields Tavern? Unless you have other plans.” Like the guy next door. Or the nerdy lawyer.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Excerpt from Cold Comfort

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   “I’m off duty now. I can give you a ride,” Parsons said. “Where do you want to go?”
   “Home.”
   “You sure? Don’t you have family or a friend you could stay with?”
   “No, no one.” She thought about Walt Kramer, her former fiancĂ©. She could hardly call him—he’d eloped with his secretary—his pregnant secretary—two months before the wedding. Six months later, it still stung. Tears of self-pity stung her eyes. Roughly, she wiped them away. Get over it.
   The officer wheeled her outside the door to his car and settled her in the seat.
   Numb from shots and pills, she described the events of the past week. “For three nights, I noticed a car with one dim headlight—it could have been following me.”
   “I’ll put it in the report. Keep watching for that odd light. Anything else?”
   She rubbed her forehead. “Maybe. Several times I had this prickly sensation of being watched. I thought I must be imagining it. And someone may have been inside my house.”
   “May? Did you report it?”
   “I started to, but I couldn’t find anything missing—only the rumpled bedspread and the scent of tobacco and aftershave. No signs of anyone breaking in. I couldn’t be sure all these . . . it wasn’t my imagination.” Maybe she should have called, but she’d been raised to take care of herself. She nibbled her fingernail, then shoved her hands under her thighs. “I didn’t want to overreact.”
   “To be honest, you wouldn’t have gotten much attention.”
   “I found one of the dolls in my storeroom with its head crushed.” But how could she report a broken doll? “It could have been an accident. It just didn’t look like one.”
   He nodded. “Someone’s being very clever, trying to scare you without leaving real evidence.”
   “Last night I got a phone call.” The voice replayed in her head, making her skin crawl. “As soon as I realized what he was saying, what he wanted to do, I hung up and turned off the ringer.”
   “Caller ID?”
   “No. But I added it today.”
   “Not much else you can do unless you get an unlisted number.” He glanced at her with apology in his eyes. “Chances are he watches enough TV to know how to hide his number.”
   “Tonight, just before he ran off, he said he’d be back.” She tightened her arms around her midriff.
   “He knows your name, and it sounds like he’s seriously focused on you,” Parsons said. “I’m afraid you’ve got a stalker.”
   A stalker! Her stomach turned over. A chill ran through her. The word sounded so much worse than a one-time thief or mugger. Why would anyone be stalking her? Since she’d abandoned her dreams of a family, her whole life centered on the store. She didn’t go out, didn’t search for her soul mate in cyberspace, didn’t do anything that would attract attention.

   “He was waiting for you. I found broken glass on the porch from the light bulb. It didn’t burn out.”