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Strung Out To Die

Book 1 in the Divorced Diva Cozy Mystery Series

Holly Harper’s life is finally getting back on the right track after her divorce from “what’s his name.” She and a group of divorcees have formed a strong bond plotting creative ways to get back at their exes and created a self-help group known as The Divorced Divas where their meetings are held in Holly’s bead store, The Beaded Dragonfly.

It’s no secret that Holly’s ex husband, Sean Harper, and the wealthiest bachelor in Swanee, Doug Sloan, don’t get along because Sean is constantly fixing all of Doug’s shoddy handy man work. Plus all the Divas would love to get their claws in some of Doug’s money.

When Doug ends up dead on the floor of The Beaded Dragonfly with a string of cat eye beads around his neck, it’s up to Holly to figure out whose framing her.

Strung Out To Die

Book 1 in the Divorced Diva Cozy Mystery Series

Strung Out To Die

Excerpt

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Chapter One

 

“She is going to be the death of me,” I grumbled, wondering why Marlene had left the empty bead boxes stacked up next to the front door.

Wheak, wheak. Willow, my pet pig, trotted in and plopped down next to the stack of boxes. She was as good as a vacuum cleaner when it came to beads lying on the floor.

“No, Willow. No beads today, just empty boxes.” I shooed her to the back as I slammed the front door with my foot.

The thin shop walls rattled, sending empty boxes tumbling to the floor. At least I thought they were empty until I heard glass beads trickling out onto the hardwood. Frantically, I pushed them out of the way and crawled on my hands and knees to stop the sparkly gems from rolling under the shelving unit that my stupid ex-husband had put up. Sean had a brilliant idea—or so he thought—that if he screwed the shelves up on the wall, it would make an excellent display, leaving a two-inch gap at the bottom.

Idiot.

I think he did it on purpose. He knows I hate to clean, especially under the beds, couches or anything that has an under. These shelves have just enough space underneath for the dust bunnies and loose beads to find a home.

“Ugh.”

The Under.

Willow scrambled out of the back room, nose down and her tail twirling in the air as though she was about to take off ass first.

“Stop!” I yelled, throwing myself down on the ground. There was no way I was going to take her to the veterinarian for another enema. That was not a pretty sight for anyone involved. Especially a pig or the beautiful beads she so loved to gobble up.

Willow darted to the back, with her tail tucked as if she knew what would happen if she did eat another bead.

With my butt stuck up in the air, (which was not particularly my best attribute) I squeezed my eyes shut and shoved my hand into the depths of the unknown. I’m not very fond of putting my hand in The Under, much less a dark Under.

Head on the floor, I peeked into the dark abyss. I couldn’t see a thing.

I stood up and adjusted my waistband. Yes, since my divorce from dumbass, I’ve gained a few extra pounds eating too many pieces of Agnes Pearl’s homemade fudge. The spry eighty-five year-old wealthy widow pays Marlene in room, board, and fudge to take care of her. Because Marlene likes to stay the same size six, she brings the delightful chocolaty treats to me and the other Divorced Divas.

The Divas, for short, was a group formed in the most unlikely of ways. I was driving through Swanee on a rough day. Sean hadn’t paid the alimony, and in the back of my head, I knew I needed to make a payment to the Sloan’s for rent.

The church sign read, “If you are divorced. Stop here. Meeting at 7pm.” As luck would have it, it was 7pm. I whipped my little VW Beetle into the parking lot and marched right in.

The women greeted me with open arms, and we’ve been close ever since.

We found laughter and tears while bashing our ex-husbands and cheering each other on. Diva Flora tended to take suggestions literally. Once, she cut all the armpits out of her husband’s business shirts, put them in a garbage bag and dumped canned kidney beans on them. When he came to get his garbage bags of clothes, he had a little treat inside. Needless to say, the Divas group got a visit from Noah Druck, our local cop. He suggested we bash our ex-husbands, only figuratively from then on, unless we wanted a slew of lawsuits.

We Divas loved meeting and came up with all sorts of fun evil plots in our head, but that’s where they stayed. The church wasn’t able to accommodate additional meeting times, so we moved them to different Diva’s houses and then finally to The Beaded Dragonfly.

I glanced around again, looking at the unswept floor and all the bead boards lying on the table that still had wire clippings and crimp beads that needed to go in the trash. Obviously, Marlene hadn’t gotten around to any of the closing cleanup, which surprised me since I saw her in the parking lot of The Livin’ End bar when I was leaving.

After work last night, I went to grab a quick drink at the bar with my best friend Ginger Sloan Rush. I left Marlene to finish the nightly chores, which included checking off the new inventory, cleaning the bead boards, and taking out the trash. She hadn’t said a word about not finishing her work at the shop. She’d just been eager to get into the bar.

There wasn’t anything worse than coming in on a Saturday morning, The Beaded Dragonfly’s busiest day, to a room full of mostly empty boxes with a few stray beads left in them, before I’d even had my second cup of coffee; especially when I had my very first bride coming in for her consultation.

The bride, Margaret McGee, was the break I needed. This job was exactly what I needed to help get me back into the black. If I could land this client, I was sure she had several bride-to-be friends, and they might also need some jewelry. I rubbed my hands together hoping this was my break.

I was tired of depending on Sean’s alimony along with a few beading customers here and there to make ends meet.

I looked back at the boxes. Of all days.

I pay Marlene to do those things. It was only minimum wage, but at least it’s better than nothing. Plus, she got to design and make all the jewelry she wanted—for free. That was exactly what she wanted when she first stepped her high-heeled shoes into The Beaded Dragonfly.

I rummaged through the desk drawer to see if I could find a flashlight so I could track down the runaway beads.

I got sidetracked when someone tapped on the door and looked up. I had only thirty minutes until the shop opened, and I needed all thirty to get at least some of the out-of-stock items filled. I’d have to trust that Beautiful Beads Wholesale sent everything I ordered.

There stood Noah Druck with his hand on his holster like he was ready for some gun slinging right there on the steps of my bead shop.

The beads lost to The Under were going to have to wait.

Noah folded his massive arms across his chest as he waited for me to unlock the door. Lines creased between his brows as he narrowed them.

If he wasn’t a cop, I might be interested. He’d come around a time or two to the cottage to make sure no one was bothering me, and on both occasions we had a beer and a little friendly banter, but nothing came of it.

His compelling blue eyes, firm features, and confident shoulders told me he was here on more than just a friendly visit.

“Morning, Holly.” Noah took his hat off, leaving a ring around his dark hair.

I felt the urge to ruffle it up a bit, like I did my carpet when something like my laundry basket sat in one spot for too long, but resisted.

“Well what brings you over to The Beaded Dragonfly this morning? A glass bead bracelet to go with your police blues?” I referred to his uniform, and wanted to lighten the tension I found forming around his eyes.

He shuffled his body weight to each side and moved his hand back down to rest on his gun. There it was. The flashlight I needed was neatly attached to his holster. I felt my eyes light up like a starry night.

“Can I come in?”

Without even answering or waiting for an answer, he pushed by me into the shop. I backed up to oblige, keeping my eye on the prize.

I reached out in hopes I could just borrow the flashlight for just a couple minutes, only for him to smack my hand away.

“What are you doing?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Just because I’ve known you all my life, doesn’t give you the right to grab things from me while I’m on duty.”

I pulled back, realizing he was right. He was never too far behind Sean when we were in high school. It was as if I was the third wheel. Once we got married, Sean and Noah had a falling out, leaving just the two of us in the marriage.

“I need a flashlight for a second.” I pointed to it.

With a finger flick, he had it out of the holster, flipped it in the air, and handed it to me.

“All you have to do is ask and maybe bat a couple eyelashes.”

I did my best batting and took it.

“Where’s Marlene?” His posture straightened up and his neck craned to see in the back of the shop.

“Don’t get me started on her. Hold onto this for a second.” I gave him the flashlight back.

I’d forgotten about the boxes I needed to get out of the way before any customers came in. The Under was going to have to wait some more. I stacked a couple of the boxes on top of each other.

“I really need to talk to her.” He put the flashlight on one of the bead tables. “Let me help you with those.”

“No. I’ve got it.” There was no way I was going to let him see the messy storage room. “What do you want to talk to her about?”

A twinge of jealousy found a pit in my stomach. Men were always falling all over Marlene. He definitely didn’t fit her main requirements. Rich. Rich. RICH.

“Doug Sloan didn’t make it home last night from The Livin’ End.” He stacked another box on top of the ones already in my arms, making the load a little heavy since it was filled with beads. “And as a favor to the Sloan’s, I said I’d look into it.”

I peered around the armful of cardboard and laughed.

It wasn’t unusual for Doug to flaunt the Sloan name around and watch women lay down at his feet. He’d probably hooked up with a young floozy who knew better than to let him go home last night. Marlene would be crushed since she’d been trying to get her claws into Mr. Moneybags for months.

Doug was my best friend and Ginger’s younger brother. The Sloan’s owned almost everything in Swanee, including the cottage I was living in. They owned the hardware shop, the bank, and the grocery store.

The only things they didn’t own were small businesses like The Beaded Dragonfly and Sean’s carpentry business, aptly named Sean’s Little Shack. I never said he was smart, just good in bed.

“You know Doug; he probably went home with some girl.” I hollered over my shoulder on my way back to the storage room. “That will break Marlene’s…”

Something on the floor caused me lose my footing. I teetered and tottered, trying to steady the boxes, but it was too late. The boxes tumbled to the floor, and the beads bounced all over and into The Under. Willow darted out like a vacuum, snorting up all the beads she could.

“Damn.” Disappointed, I turned back toward the storage room door to see what the hell Marlene had left laying on the floor. I let out a blood curdling scream. “Oh my, God!”

It was Doug Sloan.

“What?” Noah ran back as fast as he could. He drew his gun. “Step back, Holly. And take this pig with you.”

I tried to wrangle the bead-eating pet, but she continued to squeal and run the other way when I’d reach for her.

“Holly, please.” Noah looked back and begged as Willow took something near Doug’s head and ran off. “Get that out of her mouth!”

“Here, Willow.” I called for her.

She ran in circles around the table, making me lose my footing again and I fell on my butt.

“Ouch!”

Some beads that were on the floor got embedded in the palm of my hand where I tried to catch my fall.

“Get her!” Noah was still trying to protect Doug—and the crime scene—from Willow’s interference.

Willow squealed her way toward him. Her tail was twirling around like one of those beanie hats with the propeller on top.

“Pull her tail! She’ll spit it out!” I screamed reaching out.

I immediately jumped up and ran over to try to get whatever it was out of her snout. The last thing I wanted her eating was any part of Doug Sloan.

“Pull her tail?” Noah’s eyes had a fear in them I’d never seen.

“You aren’t scared of a pig, are you?” I pulled Willow’s tail and out popped a few of the black and white swirl cat eye beads.

Whew! I was never so happy to see cat eye beads. I was sure she had picked up a body part.

“No. I’m scared because Doug Sloan is dead.” Noah picked up the beads before Willow could suck them up again and held them out in the palm of his hand. “And the weapon looks like it was a string of these. Willow’s eating my evidence.”

 

Chapter Two

 

The police tape wrapped all the way around the shop caused a flurry of activity outside. The police didn’t let anyone in, or me out. Thank God, Willow used kitty litter, or we’d have been in trouble.

“Let’s go over this one more time.” Noah had me sitting in a chair at one of the bead tables while he read through his notes. “You left Marlene here and went to go meet Ginger at The Livin’ End.”

Slowly I nodded.

“But Ginger didn’t show up, right?” He repeated my statement with a question.

“Right,” I agreed.

“You saw Sean and Doug at The Livin’ end.” Noah looked like he was in the third grade, using his pencil to track what he had written from the questions he had asked me earlier.

“Were they talking to each other?” He looked up from under his eyebrows.

“Umm, hmm.” My lips pinched together. I wasn’t going to let anything slip out of them.

I rolled a bead between my pincer finger and thumb as I thought about the conversation—make that the fight I overheard—between Sean and Doug at The Livin’ End last night. But there was no way I was going to give up any more information than I needed to.

Had Sean killed Doug? I wondered, gazing back at Dead Doug’s spot. And if he did, why? Why here? Why frame me?

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Sean Harper.

Leaning to the right, I zeroed in on Noah’s little notepad. He was writing way more information down than I had relayed to him.

Don’t change your posture. I repeated in my head. I had seen far too many CSI TV shows to know that when a police officer questions you, they were taking in everything from the way the suspect sits, to the way they play with their fingers. . . Wait! Am I a suspect?

His eyes narrowed, and he jerked the pad closer to his chest. “And you didn’t come back here after Ginger failed to show up? And you didn’t know Doug was coming here?”

“No, and no, to both questions.” My heartbeat quickened and I folded my hands in my lap so he couldn’t see them shaking.

Suddenly, I was feeling like a suspect, when all I did was literally stumble across Doug’s dead body.

One of the officers slid across the floor, thanks to the entire bead debacle and with a flurry of expletives, he fell and ended up feet-first in The Under with the beads he slipped on. I watched them roll to The Under, secretly wishing I were down there, too.

In the back of the shop, the phone was ringing off the hook. Thank God, I didn’t have a cell phone. I knew the Divas must have been desperately trying to get in touch with me.

“Free Holly!”

There was a small group of people gathered outside of the shop, chanting with their fists pumping in the air. Agnes Pearl stood in front of the group leading them. I couldn’t help but smile at the spry eighty-five year-old.

A police officer stood in front of them with his hands out, barring them from coming up the steps.

The phone continued to ring. Normally I hate talking on the phone, but right now, it would be better than sitting here under the interrogation of Noah Druck.

“Can I get that?” I asked him.

“Fine, answer it.”

I jumped up before he could change his mind. If I was lucky, I might slip and fall from the loose beads on the floor and knock myself out.

“And don’t say a word about the murder to anyone,” he chirped over his shoulder.

“The Beaded Dragonfly,” I answered as upbeat as I could, I was sure it was Flora calling from outside, but it wasn’t.

“What on earth is going on over there?” Bernadine Frisk, one of the Divorced Divas asked.

I could practically feel her beady, jade eyes searing the phone line. “I heard that the police have you surrounded!”

“Free Holly!” Agnes had both fists in the air now, and a scowl on her face.

I swallowed hard, looking around. There seemed to be a lot of police officers’ eyes focused on me. “I. . .” I couldn’t think straight. It was as if the police officers wanted to hear what I was going to say.

Suddenly, my mouth dried. My eyes darted between all of the policemen staring at me. Unabashedly eavesdropping, they had stopped dusting the beads, chair legs, tables, and doorknobs. Did they think that I killed Doug?

“Holly?” Patience wasn’t one of Diva Bernadine’s best traits. “What’s going on? I heard Doug Sloan was found in there. Dead. Is that true?”

“Well, yes. But I’m not allowed to say anything.” Cautiously choosing my words, I added, “Yet.”

“Does this mean we aren’t going to be able to meet there tonight?” Bernadine asked, as if a dead Doug Sloan wasn’t reason enough to postpone a Diva’s meeting.

“I haven’t had time to think about it. Hold on.” I covered the mouth of the phone and said to Noah, “When am I getting my shop back?”

“Not tonight.” Noah looked at the other officers and motioned for them to get back to work. He brushed fingerprint dust on anything clean.

“Not tonight, Bernadine.” I wondered how long I was going to have to stay. I wondered if I needed a lawyer, but was too afraid to ask. If I asked, it would seem as if I was guilty, if I didn’t, it still seemed like I was guilty. So I just kept my mouth shut. “Can you call all the other Divas and tell them we need to reschedule for tomorrow night?”

“Yes I will, but I will be. . .” I didn’t let her finish her sentence. I was in a full-crisis situation, and meeting with the Divas wasn’t on the top of my priority list.

Besides, I knew she’d be waiting on my steps when I got home. After all, she only lived across the lake. Bernadine was the Diva who had to know everything going on in Swanee, especially something big like this.

I hung up the phone and noticed white dust all over the cradle, then realized the powdery mix now covered every surface, and my beautiful beads were no longer glistening. My head hurt thinking about cleaning each and every bead by hand. And how much of an investment I had in them, only to possibly be going to jail for a murder I did not commit.

I couldn’t go to jail, and I had a huge balance on my credit card to pay off.

A police officer with a broom was sweeping up the beads per Noah’s orders.

“Hey!” I yelled. The police officer looked at me. “Do you think you could clean under those shelves?”

After a moment’s pause, he shrugged and bent down, sweeping the broom through the two-inch Under. Beads and dust went everywhere. The officer waved his hand to clear the plume of dust around his head.

Pretty darn pleased that I didn’t have to clean it, I glanced over at Noah, who was giving me the stink-eye. I needed to make a quick phone call.

“I have a client consultation this morning. I think I should call and reschedule.” I really hated to call the McGee’s, but I’m sure they had already heard from the Sloans.

“Fine.” Noah gestured to me to go ahead. “Hurry up. And don’t say anything about Doug.”

Margaret McGee didn’t answer at the cell phone number she’d left on The Beaded Dragonfly’s answering machine. Unfortunately, it was the only number I had for her. I really hoped she checked her messages and wouldn’t just show up and see this mess, because if she did, she probably wouldn’t let me design and make the accessories for her bridal party. That wouldn’t be good.

I was counting on her giving me referrals since she was Swanee’s reigning beauty queen and president of The Junior League. Plus she was the daughter of Swanee’s city attorney, Bear McGee.

Margaret McGee knew a lot of people who I was sure could use a beaded jewelry maker like me.

Chapter Three

 

Once the police were finished and Doug was removed from my storeroom floor, I took a minute for myself. Normally, I’d walk Willow to help clear my head, but not today. Especially not on the Main Street of Swanee. Everyone was still milling around the shop, anxious for news.

Noah’s words rang loud and clear in my mind. “Holly, we really need to get a statement about exactly what you were doing last night. If you don’t cooperate, I’ll be forced to bring you in for formal questioning.”

I couldn’t shake the notion that I might not only be a key witness, but Noah seemed to be alluding that I might be a suspect along with Sean. I walked back to the boxes where I found Willow lying in one of them. Her little dark-spotted pink body was almost too cute to wake up, but I had to get these boxes out of the way, and moving them helped to clear my mind.

Could Sean really have killed him?

“I’ll get you back for this,” was all I could recall overhearing Sean say to Doug last night when I was leaving The Livin’ End.

Fear knotted in my belly. Had I really been married to a killer?

No. No way! Sure, Sean was a jerk and would purposely leave the toilet seat up at night because he knew darn good and well that I pee every single night at two a.m., and leaving up the seat would cause me to fall in, but there was no way he was capable of murder.

If he was, why Doug?

Doug Sloan’s work wasn’t as good as Sean’s was, and he did get most of the carpentry jobs for the city and private residences, but that was only because he had the last name of Sloan. Even then, Sean would go behind and clean up fifty-percent of Doug’s messes. Being the good friend I am, I had never let it come between Ginger, and me, even when I was married to Sean.

I flinched when I heard a knock on the door. Willow jumped up, wide-awake, and ran back to the storage closet as fast as her little hooves would carry her.

I had just gotten rid of the police. The last thing I wanted was a nosy visitor trying to check out Doug’s chalk outline.

I shoved the boxes into the furthest corner to get them out of the way. These beads were not going to get put out today. I’d be cleaning all the dust the police left behind.

Turning the corner, I was surprised to see Diva Marlene’s hot-pink nails tearing the police tape in half. When she saw me coming, she smiled, waving me over to unlock the door.

Reluctantly, I did.

Marlene wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter.

“What happened to Doug? Did the police name a suspect?” Marlene chomped her gum and pushed her way into The Beaded Dragonfly.

Willow ran back out to see who was making all the commotion.

I’d never seen someone chew the hell out of a piece of gum like Marlene did, one piece after another. Many times, I’d had to remind her not to chew so loud during beading class, because no one else could concentrate.

“That pig is going to be a ‘pig on a stick’ if my high-heels catch her one day.” Marlene smacked her lips together and chased Willow back into the storage room.

Groink, groink, groink, Willow snorted out of sight.

Marlene loved to dress in leopard print anything, including high-heels. I’m not sure what her deceased husband did when he was alive, but he sure kept her looking good. Even on her days off, she wore heels. “You never know who you’re going to run into,” she always said, with her acrylic nails batting the air. Amazingly, those claws didn’t stop her from beading.

“That’s not nice, Marlene. Willow will get you back one day.” I picked up the feather duster and lightly brushed it across the hanging strings of beads on the shelves.

Marlene and Willow had a history. Once, when she first come to town, she wanted me to wrap her fancy yellow Spinel diamond so she could hang it from a necklace. Unfortunately, Willow, who will eat anything, snacked on Marlene’s precious stone. Doc Johnson’s x-ray of my sick piggy confirmed that she had eaten the gem.

After Willow passed the gem, (and by that I mean she pooped it out) Marlene took it back and decided she was going to learn the wrapping technique herself, which was fine by me. She and Willow had been at odds ever since.

Marlene threw her hot-pink hobo bag on the counter and pointed at the dust all over the place. “Fingerprint dust?”

“Yep, Noah wasn’t worried about skimping on the powder.” Shaking my head back and forth, I began thinking I should just grab all the beads and dunk them in soapy water. “I’m sorry about Doug.”

“I don’t know what is going on with my love life!” With her elbows firmly planted on the dusty countertop, she rested her head in her hands.

Condolences seemed to be in order since she had just landed Doug after chasing him the past few months.

“Every time I think I find ‘The One’, they up and die on me.” Sighing, she picked up the polishing rag to help clean the sterling silver beads. “I thought I had a chance with him, too.” She raised her shoulders, craned her neck to look over at the tape outline of Doug Sloan’s body.

I’m assuming she was talking about Doug, not Sean. There was no sense in trying to be Veronica Mars when I was sure Sean wasn’t the killer. He might be a snake, but he wasn’t a python.

I put it in the back of my head and dusted the beading tools—even those hadn’t been safe from Noah’s powder.

Setting the rag back on the counter, Marlene dug in her purse and pulled out another stick of gum. “Want one?” She shoved the pack in my face.

“No, thanks,” I mumbled. I couldn’t chew gum, clean the shop, and try to solve this murder. Multi-tasking wasn’t one of my fortes.

“Agnes said Noah Druck came by and asked her all sorts of questions about the work Doug had done for her.” She chomped.

It was no secret that Sean was contracted by Agnes to go in and clean up Doug’s shoddy job. Agnes had made sure she told everyone about it. She even went as far as putting a big sign in her yard the size of a football scoreboard. It had blinking lights and all and said, Doug Sloan=BAD BUSINESS!

Lawyer, Bear McGee, paid a visit to Agnes and threatened a lawsuit on Doug’s behalf if she didn’t take it down. She threatened one back, and included a death threat in her response. Foolish woman was probably regretting those words now.

“I told her to keep her mouth shut. A little old woman like Agnes couldn’t hurt a flea.” Marlene picked up a handful of beads and wiped them half-heartedly. “You think Sean did it?”

I did a double take. I swear there was a glint in her eye.

“Why would you say that?” I grabbed the window cleaner and sprayed it on the counter top.

“Well. . .Doug was killed in your shop, Holly.” She unrolled one too many paper towels.

I grabbed the roll from her. If she was right, my alimony would stop and I’d need to be conservative with everything, including paper towels. Marlene wasn’t good at conserving anything, including men.

“That doesn’t mean Sean did it.” My brows furrowed. Why did I feel the need to defend him when he could be setting me up?

“Think about it.” There was a bubble pop between her breaths. “He has to pay you alimony. Doug was found in your shop. I even heard a string of beads was found around his neck.”

Bad news traveled fast. Especially around Swanee.

I swear my heart stopped. What if it wasn’t about bad blood between Sean and Doug? What if it was about me and the alimony payments?

“If you’re convicted and put in jail, Sean doesn’t have to pay you a dime. Men can be weasels, honey. Especially when it comes to money.”

Nervously, I scrubbed the countertop wondering if Sean had really set me up. But he didn’t do a good job if he was publicly arguing with Doug at The Livin’ End.

“I was there, you know. At the Livin’ End last night. I saw Sean threaten him,” she confirmed. “The note said to meet Doug at The Livin’ End, and when I went there he acted like he never sent it.” She rolled her eyes just before a big bubble popped on her face. “That’s when Sean confronted him about Agnes and how he was sick and tired of Doug taking advantage of all the elderly folks in town. Between me and you, he even said that someone needed to stop Doug Sloan.”

I didn’t say anything. I had to talk to Sean and get a firsthand account. But one question hadn’t been answered. Why was Doug dead in my shop?

“Marlene, weren’t you supposed meet him here last night?” I had to throw it out there. Let’s face it. Marlene blew into Swanee without telling us much about her past. Somehow, she had talked Agnes, our octogenarian Diva friend, into hiring her as her caregiver without showing any credentials. Agnes might be a couple cups of crazy, but she always knew where her money was. I couldn’t imagine someone putting one over on Agnes.

Marlene’s eyes narrowed and her mouth pursed. “Holly Harper, are you accusing me of killing Doug Sloan?”

“Just asking.” I put my hands up in front of me in case her nails felt the need to claw something. “He was found dead in my business, and it wasn’t a secret you’ve been trying to land him since the day you laid your cosmetically implanted lashes on him.”

I’m not sure how old Marlene was, and couldn’t guess. Everything she had was enhanced, and not by God himself.

I took a closer look at those eyelashes. I’d never heard of anything like it until she told the Divas about her eyelash implant surgery and the money she spent on it.

“I’ll admit he was a challenge, but I’d never kill for a man to love me. What sense does that make? I need him alive! I’m going home. I have a headache. Let me know when the next Diva meeting is.” She tossed her pink bag over her shoulder and slammed the door behind her.

It was probably all the gum chomping that was rattling her brain making it hurt, but she was good at leaving when a situation became sticky. Like the first time she met Ginger Sloan Rush, my best friend and Doug’s older sister. Ginger could spot a phony in a second, and it was clear she had her doubts about Marlene and had practically given her a grand inquisition.

If it weren’t for Ginger, the Divas would’ve never known Marlene was a wealthy widow, even though she never told us how her previous husband died. When we asked, her lips pinched tighter than bark on a tree.

I looked out the window and watched Marlene strut down Main Street toward Agnes Pearl’s house, which happened to be right next to Ginger’s house. Agnes Pearl was going to get a visit from me very soon.

But first, there were a couple of phone calls I needed to make. I dialed.

“Bernadine, it’s me.” I glanced around to make sure no one was listening, even though I knew there wasn’t anyone in the shop. Obviously I couldn’t be too careful now-a-days. I cupped my hand over the handset and spoke softly, “Be at my house in fifteen minutes. Emergency meeting. Call the Divas.”

Without a word, Bernadine knew exactly what I meant. I hung up the phone.

“Come on, girl.” I yelled for Willow. When she came waddling in the shop from the back, I bent down and clipped her leash to her collar. I glanced around at what was once a sparkly, shiny bead shop, and frowned.

One thing I was sure of, Doug Sloan was found dead in my shop and no one was coming forward to admit to killing him. I had a sneaky suspicion that I was being set up, but by whom?

It was going to be up to the Divas and me to find out.

 

end of excerpt

Strung Out To Die

is available in the following formats:

Dec 21, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1481948470

Digital:

Print: