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A Little Night Murder: A Blackbird Sisters Mystery

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Overview

Murder under the stars...

Nora Blackbird—pregnant at last!—is spending summer afternoons wallowing in the Bucks County pool of her best friend, Lexie Paine, who has just been released from prison. At night, Nora is covering Philadelphia’s high-society events for the local newspaper. And this time she doesn’t have to look far for a good story.

Next door, a Broadway show is in rehearsal at the estate of Toodles Tuttle, the long-deceased but ...

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A Little Night Murder: A Blackbird Sisters Mystery

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Overview

Murder under the stars...

Nora Blackbird—pregnant at last!—is spending summer afternoons wallowing in the Bucks County pool of her best friend, Lexie Paine, who has just been released from prison. At night, Nora is covering Philadelphia’s high-society events for the local newspaper. And this time she doesn’t have to look far for a good story.

Next door, a Broadway show is in rehearsal at the estate of Toodles Tuttle, the long-deceased but ever-legendary composer. Reigning over the estate is Toodles’s diva widow, Boom Boom. The demanding old broad still rules with an iron fist, and considering the chorus line of enemies she’s racked up over the years, her death has been a hotly anticipated event. So imagine everyone’s dismay when it’s her beloved daughter, Jenny, who drops dead—from a cause that is anything but natural—just as the lights are set to go on for the lucrative new Toodles musical.

Yet murder is only an overture to the drama to come....

Nora’s sister Libby, a soon-to-be-grandmother, has gotten herself into a sticky situation, wooed by both a lowly bug exterminator and a cheesecake-loving Broadway impresario. Edgy sister Emma has a dangerous new boyfriend who may jeopardize her show-jumping exploits. And the love of Nora’s life, Mick Abruzzo, has been desperate to prevent Nora from meeting the most notorious member of his mobbed-up family—his mother.

Now Nora has to deal with the bump-and-grind of her personal life, and also bring the curtain down on a daring killer—before he forces her to exit stage left, permanently.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
06/30/2014
In Martin’s diverting 10th Blackbird Sisters mystery (after 2013’s Little Black Book of Murder), the financially strapped Philadelphia blue bloods—Nora, Emma, and Libby—have plenty on their collective plate. Nora is pregnant, and a wedding might be in the mix. But she has a job to do as a reporter for the local rag—either to reveal the scoop on fellow society maven Lexie Paine, recently released from prison, or find out what’s going on with the killing of Jenny Tuttle, daughter of a famous composer. Emma appears to be tangled up with a questionable boyfriend, and Libby is trying her hand at a new money-making venture while looking for a new man. Meanwhile, Nora’s love, Michael Abruzzo, is trying his best to clean up his organized crime family’s business. Getting to the facts of Jenny’s murder may be less trouble than settling the personal conflicts in this engaging if chaotic outing. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Aug.)
VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Adrienne Amborski
A Little Night Murder is the tenth installment in Martin’s A Blackbird Sisters Mystery series written for the adult audience. Nora Blackbird, a member of Philadelphia’s blue blood society, is a columnist for the society page of the local newspaper, Philadelphia Intelligencer. Her family’s dwindling fortune has forced her to take a job. Nora is expecting her first child with ex-mobster Michael and planning their upcoming wedding. In addition to the hectic details of her personal life, Nora is spending the summer with her friend, Lexie Paine. Recently released from jail due to a financial scandal, Lexie is the next-door neighbor to the estate of the late Broadway legend Toodles Tuttle. The questionable death of Toodles’ daughter, Jenny, entangles Nora in the investigation of murder and mayhem.Nora’s sisters, Emma and Libby, play prominent roles in the story and add humor and drama to the details. Full of vintage fashion references and quirky characters, this mystery is entertaining. Although part of an established series, Martin provides the reader with enough background references for A Little Night Murder to be read as a stand-alone title. With a lack of mysteries written for teens in the cozy genre, A Little Night Murder could be a worthy read for female teen readers looking for a foray into the world of adult cozies. Reviewer: Adrienne Amborski; Ages 17 to Adult.
VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Gwen Amborski Teen Reviewer
A Little Night Murder is well written and fast paced. The novel is laced with light humor and mystery. While the book is an overall good read, it may not be the type of novel to appeal to teens. Teens may not relate the older characters. Reviewer: Gwen Amborski,Teen Reviewer; Ages 17 to Adult.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-07-17
A reporter whiles away the final days of her pregnancy juggling beaux and solving murders. Nora Blackbird (Little Black Book of Murder, 2013, etc.) is feeling the heat on her aging Bucks County farm as she counts down the days until the arrival of Baby Girl Abruzzo, the first child she expects this summer. The second should arrive closer to fall courtesy of her nephew Rawlins, whose brief but torrid affair with an older woman left her with an unwanted bun in her irresponsible oven. To avoid the swelter, Nora hangs out poolside with her friend Lexie Paine as Lexie avoids the reporters who've stalked her since her recent release from prison. Next door to Lexie's mansion, Fred Fusby pounds the piano as Boom Boom Tuttle, widow of legendary Broadway composer Toodles Tuttle, rehearses for her comeback in a recently discovered extravaganza penned by her late husband. The cast has barely taken a break when Boom Boom's middle-age daughter, Jenny, is found dead in her room. Nora's boss, Gus Hardwicke, editor of the Philadelphia Intelligencer, wants her to exploit her ties to the Tuttles to get the scoop on Jenny's death. He also wants her to rat out her friend Lexie to the Intelligencer's crime reporter. Mostly, though, he wants to get into her pants, undeterred by her burgeoning belly. Nora, who's planning to marry Baby Girl's dad, mobster Michael Abruzzo, is both repelled and fascinated by Gus' ardor but makes intermittent attempts to find Jenny's killer for the sake of her job. Martin's insistence on casting Nora in the dual roles of Earth Mother and Love Goddess deep-sixes any hope of a decent mystery.
Library Journal
08/01/2014
The Blackbird sisters are back in their tenth outing (after Little Black Book of Murder) dealing with Philadelphia's high society. Broadway rehearsals next door at the Tuttle mansion are in the spotlight, as is the shocking murder of a Tuttle daughter. Nora attempts to deal with drama—from the killer and her own family.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451415271
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/5/2014
  • Series: Blackbird Sisters Series , #10
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 53,260
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Martin

Like her heroines, the Blackbird sisters, Nancy Martin comes from a distinguished Pennsylvania family whose ancestors include Betsy Ross, a hanging judge, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She is the author of the Blackbird Sisters Mysteries: Little Black Book of Murder, No Way to Kill a Lady, Murder Melts in Your Mouth, A Crazy Little Thing Called Death, Have Your Cake and Kill Him Too, Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die, Some Like it Lethal, Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds, and How to Murder a Millionaire.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

As I waited in the frigid backseat of a limousine, watching the front gate of a women’s prison on an otherwise beautiful July afternoon, I wondered if I could tap politely on the door and ask the warden to please incarcerate my sister. Just for a few days of peace and quiet.

She was sitting beside me, skimming the newspaper and driving me crazy. Which I could do nothing about, because I had asked her to do me a favor, and as usual she’d agreed faster than she could touch up her lipstick.

“Why on earth,” Libby demanded, “are some men so infatuated with their man parts that they take pictures?” She rattled the offending newspaper. “Really, Nora, here’s another story in your paper about a fellow who photographed himself and sent the picture to fourteen women in his workplace. His colleagues called him Thunder Dick. I think that probably just encouraged him, don’t you?”

Distracted, I said, “Uh-huh.”

“If Mr. Dick truly wanted to arouse the interest of a woman, he should have photographed himself washing dishes. Now, that’ssexy! These days, a picture of a man lathered up with Palmolive suds would make me faint with desire.”

“Uhm,” I said.

“But maybe he could be pictured without his shirt.” She began to stare off into the distance, her eyes going dreamy, her lips turning slack. “Bare chested. With a splash of lotion on his skin to catch the candlelight. Because—”

I finally began paying attention. “Are you having a stroke?”

“—let’s face it,” she said as if I had not spoken, “the right lighting can conceal a lull in a person’s gym routine or a temporary overindulgence in burritos. What is it about men and burritos? I find it puzzling, don’t you? I mean, why have a burrito when you could have chocolate? Does That Man of Yours use lotion?”

I blinked, pretty sure I’d missed something important. “What?”

Libby finally folded up the paper and sighed. “Nora, your hormones have addled your brain. By the time your baby is born, you won’t be able to keep two thoughts in your head at the same time.”

During the past several months, she had repeatedly volunteered to help guide me through my pregnancy. So far, her most practical advice was for me to scrub my nipples to toughen them up for nursing.

“I’m a little distracted at the moment, Libby.”

She pointed out the front-page article that had started her rant. “Why is your newspaper on such a penis kick this summer? I liked it better when journalists got obsessed with fun things like movie stars and shoes. Why don’t you write a nice article about summer sandals?”

I love my sister—both of them, that is—but sometimes I wish we were back in the days when I could lure Libby into a closet with a Butterfinger bar and lock her up for ten minutes of solitude. My solitude, that is.

In the front seat, the chauffeur had been studiously ignoring my sister’s rambling discussion of male anatomy. But suddenly he said, “There she is, Miss Blackbird.”

The door of the stark prison building opened from the inside, and my best friend stepped out into the sunlight. If her first instinct was to wince at the searing sunlight, she suppressed it. But then, Lexie Paine, as close to royalty as anyone in Philadelphia got, was all about self-control. She put on a pair of very dark glasses and squared her shoulders. Then, wearing the same black Armani suit she’d worn in court the day she’d confessed to manslaughter, she walked briskly toward the fence that separated the free world from the prison where she’d been incarcerated for nine and a half months. She carried a ragged manila envelope, which I presumed contained all that remained of her considerable fortune.

“She doesn’t look fat at all.” Libby leaned over me to peer out the window. “I hear they serve white bread at every meal in prison. I might as well glue white bread directly to my thighs. One jaywalking citation and I’d be a poster girl for Jenny Craig.”

I opened the car door and bailed out onto the hot, cracked asphalt of the parking lot. “Stay here,” I said to Libby. “And remember what I told you. No reporter can find out where Lexie is going, okay? Don’t tell a soul.”

“What do you take me for? I am perfectly capable of keeping a secret when it’s—”

I closed the door on my sister’s next volley of claptrap.

For the past several days, since hearing of my friend’s upcoming release, surprising Lexie had seemed like a good idea. Now, though, I had every expectation she might slap my face and hitchhike out of there. For my role in her incarceration, I might have deserved that.

She walked straight through the gate, and from behind her sunglasses she said coolly, “Nora, I knew you were pregnant, but isn’t this overdoing things just a bit?”

“Maybe a little.” Noting that she did not hug me, I said, “Lex, we need to get in a car right away.”

Lexie did not obey my request. She stood still, back stiff, head high. I could not see her eyes behind the glasses. Back when she was young, after a blue-blooded cousin broke her bones and assaulted her, Lexie had reinvented herself into the girl who’d never be a victim again. She became the smartest student in her Ivy League class. Then a powerful woman who crushed the competition on Wall Street. Now that she’d been to prison, I wondered how she planned to reinvent herself one more time.

She said, “Why should I get into your car?”

“Because you’re going to be the hottest news story of the summer,” I said, “and you’d hate that. We’re trying to protect you from the reporters. Lex, please get into the car.”

A long, awful moment stretched, and I wondered whether the most important friendship of my life had ended.

“No,” she said. She turned her face up to the sun. “No. Just for a minute, let me breathe.”

With her face tilted to the sunlight, she reached out and took my hand. Clutched it, really, and her chilly facade crumbled. “Thank you, sweetie. I was afraid my mother might show up today, and there are times when you just can’t face your mother. You’re such a welcome relief, I can’t tell you.”

I felt the bubble of tension break in my throat. She had stuck by me during the worst time of my life, and I intended to do the same for her.

For now, I said, “I brought Oreos.”

She laughed unsteadily and let me go. “You’re a lifesaver. But you shouldn’t be doing this. It’s not going to be easy being my friend now.”

“You think I’m a stranger to scandal?” I asked with a smile.

“Good point.” She removed her sunglasses and brushed something that might have been a tear from the corner of her eye. “Your tribulations have made you stronger, haven’t they? All right, let’s go—but why three limos?” She gave the three idling black cars and two hired taxis a composed inspection.

“Television trucks are waiting out on the street, and so are about a dozen print journalists. There’s even one man with a camera on a motorcycle. We’re going to do our best to lose all of them before they can figure out where we’re going. And Libby’s going to stage a scene to attract their attention.”

Libby chose that moment to rap her knuckles on the car window and wave brightly at Lexie.

Lexie waved back, trying to conceal her trepidation. “What kind of scene?”

“I thought it best to leave the details to her. But I’m sure whatever she dreams up will do the trick. This way.”

Lexie followed me to the second limousine. “Has your beau plotted all this?”

“It was a team effort. Ready now?” I opened the rear passenger door for her.

Our escape was touch and go. I thought the reporters spotted us. But in the rearview mirror we saw Libby bail out at a traffic light and feign a shrieking meltdown—scattering the contents of her handbag, which might have included several rubber snakes. Later she told us that reporters called an ambulance because they thought the chauffeur was having a heart attack. I also learned that my sister scored a date with a traffic cop who stopped to help.

A few days after that, Lexie was still successfully concealed from the press, although lounging around the pool at her mother’s summerhouse felt more like a vacation at a luxury spa.

“Who knew you had such a cunning side?” Lexie said, seated in her bathing suit at a glass-topped patio table under a striped umbrella.

I was drifting in the cool bliss of the swimming pool, on a large pink noodle. “It’s a recessive gene I inherited from my parents.”

“Ah, yes,” Lexie said. “Are they still in Argentina, avoiding tax extradition?”

“They’re on a cruise at the moment. I imagine them stowed away in a first-class cabin and dining with the captain every night.”

“They certainly know how to live the good life,” Lexie said. “So does my mother. Not that high living made her a bad parent. She did help me avoid the creepy math tutor who kept wine coolers in his briefcase. And her advice about majoring in business instead of fashion merchandising was very sound, too. But to her dying day, she’ll shout that going to jail was my own fault. And she’d be right. I think I need help, sweetie. You have to help me relearn all the lessons of civilized society. You always do the right thing.”

Maybe because I was floating so comfortably, my first thought popped out unbidden. “I try to do the right thing because I screwed up once. And Todd died.”

She set her tea down on a table, and she got serious fast. “Your husband got himself killed with drugs and stupidity, Nora. That wasn’t your fault.”

It felt like my fault, though. I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t dragged him to the right doctors, hadn’t locked him up or tied him to a bedpost—anything to keep him away from cocaine. In my worst moments, I feared I had enabled him.

I didn’t want to make the same mistake with Lexie—do nothing, that is. When I’d heard a judge intended to release her for reasons too complicated for anyone to understand yet, I had telephoned her formidable mother and asked to be the one to pick her up. I suggested Lexie be allowed to go into hiding at her mother’s palatial summerhouse on the Delaware, just a half hour’s drive from downtown Philadelphia and a few miles from my home. Here, I intended to keep watch on my friend.

Except for the occasional cutting remark that seemed to pop out of a hard, angry place inside, she seemed to be a little better every day. My biggest concern was that Lexie was being denied her best recovery strategy—her work. She’d heal faster if she could be allowed back into her office.

But that was impossible.

Lexie went on. “For a woman so concerned about appearances, my mother certainly has no qualms about her own reputation. She’s on her fourth husband—have I told you? The polo player went back to South America, so she married a yachtsman from Newport. She’s an enthusiastic wife, but mothering never suited her. Does that worry you, sweetie? The possibility of evolving into a terrible mother now that you’re hatching one of your own?”

“Most of the time I’m too hungry to worry,” I said. “Tell the truth. Do I look like a manatee?

She tilted down her sunglasses to make a better examination of me wallowing in the water in all my pregnant splendor. Diplomatically, she said, “That swimsuit is very flattering, Nora.”

She looked elegant in a black bathing suit with a black lace cover-up designed by an artist who knew how to make a woman’s nearly naked body look chic, not tarty. I, on the other hand, was simply glad there were no harpoons handy, since it would be easy to mistake me for a great white whale.

I said, “I have eight weeks to go. We Blackbird women get big early.”

“Well, you look happy,” she said. “Having a family has always been important for you, hasn’t it? Just don’t let it overwhelm you, please. Women who have nothing to discuss but diapers bore me to tears.”

She wasn’t herself, I said inwardly. It wasn’t her nature to be hurtful. She had spent the last months holding back her thoughts and emotions. Letting other people make all the decisions for her must have been excruciating for a woman who had commanded a fast-paced investment firm. But her usual control had cracks now, and I was the recipient of her lapses in kindness. This phase would fade, however. After Todd died, I had been alternately a crazy bitch on wheels or a lump under the coverlet. Lexie moved in with me—against my wishes—and fed me, talked with me, stuck by me until I could function again.

She slipped off her cover-up and waded down the steps of the shallow end. With the seemingly unshakable composure of herMayflower forebears, she put her palms flat on the surface of the water and canted her face up to the sun again. Her black ponytail hung down between shoulders just starting to tan. She inhaled a deep, cleansing breath of fresh air and let it out on a sigh.

She said, “The press continues to be baffled about my whereabouts?”

“So far, so good.” I didn’t want to bother her with the details, but there was a full-scale hunt going on—complete with baying hounds and irate letters to editors from former clients whose fortunes had been ruined by the millionaire investment whiz who got out of jail thanks to a team of mobbed-up lawyers.

“I’m grateful for your help, Nora,” she said. “Although I miss my own digs.”

“This is the right place for the moment,” I said.

“I’ll probably have to sell my house, you know. To help with the Cause.”

“I hope not, Lex.”

She shrugged. She had taken to making light of her effort to repay all the clients who’d been swindled by her former partner at the Paine Investment Group. I knew she was obsessed with getting the hundreds of stolen millions back into the hands of investors who had trusted her firm with their life savings. After all, she said, it was her name on the brass plate that still hung on the building in the center of Philadelphia, not her larcenous partner’s. But it was going to take time. And sacrifice.

Meanwhile, she admitted to feeling guilty about her luxurious hiding place. Her mother’s mansion—one of many pieds-à-terrearound the world—stood on a Bucks County bluff overlooking the river. This little-used summerhouse was only a convenient few miles down the road from Blackbird Farm, my family’s formerly grand but now crumbling estate. The differences between the two properties included air-conditioning—my house had become a sweltering oven in July—and the sumptuous swimming pool, which had been built before the Great Depression by one of Lexie’s robber baron relatives. It resembled a Roman bath. The mosaic on the bottom of the pool depicted a Bacchanalian banquet scene. The surrounding garden was guarded by two marble Praetorian Guards, spears in hand, glaring stalwartly off into the woods behind the mansion.

Indoors, the great house’s many gracious amenities included a billiards room with cigar burns courtesy of J.P. Morgan, a salon where polo teams could be plied with cocktails and a servant’s wing with forty numbered bells in the hallway. That wing was currently empty, since Lexie couldn’t afford more than the services of her longtime houseman, Samir, who had taken a deep pay cut to continue to loyally shop, cook and keep house. Lexie confided to me that he had accepted the job offer because he was writing a book in his spare time—subject unknown so far—and he was glad to have his own sprawling suite in the essentially empty house for staring glumly at his computer screen. To our tremendous gratitude, Samir made our lunch every day and regularly appeared with frosty pitchers of herbal tea.

It was not Samir, however, who came through the diaphanous curtains of the French doors and stepped onto the bluestone terrace of the pool, carrying our refreshed iced tea pitcher in one hand and pinning a portfolio under his other arm. Rather, it was a tall, hulking man with an infamous reputation.

He said to Lexie, “I think I just scared the bejesus out of your butler.”

“Don’t worry, darling,” Lexie called to him, “he recovers quickly. Michael, is Nora expecting twins, do you think?”

The father of my baby put the fresh pitcher on the table. “Doctor says just one. Last month, she showed us the pictures to prove it, ’cause I had my doubts.” He ambled to the edge of the pool and smiled down at me. “How was yoga class?”

I paddled over to the stairs. “Great. Baby Girl loved it, too. She was very peaceful.” I put my wet hand up to him.

Michael Abruzzo, who had sworn he was getting out of organized crime, was still frequently mistaken for a wanted criminal. He had big shoulders and a broken face, and in public he often kept up a kind of benign menace that could scatter a crowd. But he helped me out of the pool as if I were precious glass. From a nearby lounge chair, he pulled a towel and clasped it around as much of me as it could cover.

I stretched up on tiptoe and gave him a kiss. “Did anyone follow you?”

He raised one eyebrow. “You’re kidding, right?”

“After that masterful display of evasive driving during last week’s escape,” I said, referring to Michael’s command of the lead car in our prison escape plan, “I don’t mean to cast any doubt on your criminal expertise, but—”

“I didn’t have any reporters on my tail today. Lexie’s undisclosed location is still a secret.” He kissed me again. “Did you tell her?”

I smiled up into his blue eyes. “I was waiting for you to get here.”

Lexie perked up. “Tell me what? Are you two keeping secrets?”

I clasped his hand, and he squeezed mine back. I took a deep breath and faced my friend. “We’re getting married. A week from Friday. We picked up the marriage license yesterday.”

“Darlings!”

Lexie leaped from the pool and hugged us both, leaving a wet splotch on Michael’s shirt and me feeling tearily happy.

With her eyes shining, too, she cried, “After all this time, all your ups and downs—how romantic. Friday? Where? What can I do? Lord, I can’t afford an extravagant gift, so it will have to be a service of some kind—anything.”

“The main service? Don’t tell my sisters. Either one of them. We’re trying to do this quietly, and you know Libby. Given enough time, she’ll rent a circus tent and hire the Harlem Globetrotters to officiate, so I’ll wait until the eleventh hour to invite her.”

“Of course. Not a word from me. But—could we invite friends here for a shindig after? It might have to be hot dogs and potato chips, but I bet there’s some of Mama’s champagne in the cellar. Let me throw you a reception.”

“I don’t think that’s smart. The press will certainly view our wedding as something out of The Godfather, and there would be photographers in helicopters who would spot you. So, no, we’re going to see a judge in her chambers. Judge Scotto—do you know her? And maybe you’d sneak out of here long enough to be a witness? We need two. It will be very quiet.”

Suddenly Lexie had real tears in her eyes—a flash of her former intuitive, empathetic self. More than anyone, she understood the complexities of my relationship with Michael—all the reasons why I had been afraid to marry him, share a life and family with him, as well as the sometimes irrational rationales that compelled me into his arms. Although Michael and I came from different worlds—different kinds of dysfunctional families—we shared the desire to create a stable family for ourselves. Lexie recognized that.

She gave me another, gentler hug. “You’re getting married before the baby comes. Very wise. I wish you both all the happiness you deserve. Of course I’ll be a witness. And I’ll keep your secret, I promise. Libby would certainly make a big production, indeed. I won’t breathe a syllable.”

“Not to anyone.” Michael hooked his thumb back at the house. “Not even to the person I brought along today.”

“Who did you bring?” I asked, surprised.

“Somebody to meet you. She’s in the house, powdering her nose.”

I had already noted that he’d come wearing an old white dress shirt, sleeves folded back over his forearms, the tail untucked over his usual jeans. The look was a significant sartorial upgrade from his customary black T-shirt, which alerted me that he had brought someone important. “Maybe I should go put on something more suitable?”

“You look great. She’ll be here in a minute. Meanwhile,” he confessed, “I need to talk to Lexie.”

Although intrigued about who had come with him, I said, “What are you two working on? Is Lexie teaching you all there is to know about business?”

Lexie gathered up a towel for herself. “Your groom doesn’t need me to play teacher, sweetie. I’ve mentored MBAs with less insight into the financial world. In fact, it’s the other way around this time. And he’s keeping me sane. If I didn’t have something complicated to think about, I’d be going crazy.”

I decided not to take offense, patted myself dry and reached for my T-shirt. But her words gave me pause. Was this the reinvention I had been expecting? With some humor, I said, “Should I be worried?”

Michael didn’t respond as he settled into a lounge chair. He fished his reading glasses out of the pocket of his shirt and opened the portfolio of papers. Also in the portfolio was a small laptop, which he flipped open.

Lexie said, “Since I can’t get a job to save my life—not with my licenses revoked and all my former associates pretending I have the plague—your groom and I thought we’d put our heads together on a project.”

“A project,” I said lightly. “Is it legal?”

“In some countries.” Michael matched my tone. “Do you want to know more?”

“The less, the better. I don’t want to be served with a subpoena in the maternity ward.”

Lexie bit her lip, but Michael smiled at me. “That’s my girl.”

I sat in the chair next to his. For all our jesting, I trusted he wasn’t going to break any laws. His own precarious legal status—on parole for racketeering with the rest of the notorious Abruzzo family, and at risk of returning to prison if he so much as sneezed in the wrong direction—was worth minding. But I wasn’t sure where Lexie was headed.

I pulled on the T-shirt. Due to my dire financial straits, I had been forced to dig into my sister Libby’s collection of hand-me-down maternity clothes, which meant I was bending my fashion rules considerably. Libby’s taste ran to gaudy items with funny sayings printed on them.

Today’s bright yellow T-shirt read LET ME OUT, IT’S DARK IN HERE. I had counted on nobody seeing me except my close friend, but here I was, stuck looking ridiculous.

Michael sent me a sideways glance and smothered a smile.

“It was free,” I reminded him.

“It’s not bad,” he said. But any minute he was going to burst out laughing.

Saving me from further embarrassment, my cell phone rang in the depths of my beach bag, and I struggled up to reach for it.

Lexie saved me the trouble. She found my phone, saying, “You’re working hard these days, Nora, despite our lazy afternoons. Is the social season heating up?”

“It never cooled down,” I said, accepting the phone. “But my editor has been on vacation. Now that he’s back on American soil, he’s shouting for my head.”

“Why?”

“I misbehaved while he was away. It’s time to pay the piper.”

But the phone stopped ringing in my hand.

Of all the people who phoned me, only my editor was so impatient that he’d hang up after only two rings. I checked the caller ID. Yes, Gus Hardwicke was obviously back from Australia.

“Why is he shouting?”

“In his absence, I may have exceeded my station.”

“I like what you’ve been doing lately,” Lexie said. “The article about the ten best charities and the ten worst? That took real reporting. If that sort of thing is your new direction, I think it’s great.”

“Mr. Hardwicke may not think so. There have been irate letters to the editor about the ten worst charities. People complained that I discouraged donors.”

She was impatient. “Why give money to a charity that sends less than five percent of the funds they raise to their actual mission? They’re giving all their income to professional fund-raisers! That’s outrageous.”

“Even five percent is better than nothing, some might say.”

My phone chirped—a signal I had received a text. I checked. From Gus.

Where is Lexie Paine???

I should have guessed he’d already be hot on the trail of Lexie’s story. I put the phone away before she could see the screen.

I knew I should call him back, but instead I decided to put off the inevitable for just a few more minutes. I dried my legs while Michael asked Lexie a convoluted question about currency exchange and offshore bank accounts. I sipped tea and tried not to think about large-scale international money laundering.

But their financial confab was interrupted by music from the house next door. From the distance of two football fields away, the trilling of opening chords on a piano rose over the treetops. I couldn’t see from our poolside vantage point, but I heard a pair of voices join in, singing warm-up scales.

Lexie rolled her eyes. “Cue the howling dogs. The music is starting early today.”

Michael glanced up from his computer screen to listen. “What’s going on?”

“It’s my neighbors.” With one hand, Lexie indicated the half-hidden mansion that stood behind a screen of tall trees. “Back in the day, my great-grandfather and his brother built these twin houses up here. The brother sold his to Toodles Tuttle.”

“Toodles?” Michael grinned.

“You know all about credit default swaps, but not Broadway theater?” Lexie demanded.

To Michael, I said, “Toodles Tuttle was a very famous composer. He wrote musicals.”

“Tap dancing and chorus girls, right?”

“Exactly,” said Lexie. “He made a fortune at it, too, which was how he could afford the house. But Toodles died a few years ago. Now his wife lives next door, the old harridan, with a slew of minions who obey her every command. The gardener told me she recently discovered one of her husband’s unproduced musicals, and they’re trying to get it ready for the stage. She’s looking for investors, if you’re interested.”

Just then one of the singers hit a flat note, and Michael winced. “Sounds like a losing proposition to me.”

But Lexie looked thoughtful. “A totally new Toodles musical? It might be very lucrative.”

“From what I’ve heard these last few days,” I said, “the songs are pretty good. We can’t see the dance rehearsals, of course, but—”

“Uh-oh.” Michael’s expression changed. “Dance rehearsals? I think I just figured out something.”

“Yoo-hoo!” a voice called musically from the house. “Is everybody decent? Or are you skinny-dipping?”

Michael got to his feet and said to me, “Brace yourself.”

The woman who came up the stairs was a tall, sixtysomething redhead with impossibly long legs, displayed in a leopard-print skirt much tighter and shorter than anyone her age should be seen wearing. She also wore bright blue eye shadow and livid red lipstick and had piled her fiery hair high. Maybe my mind was already on Broadway, but my first thought was that she looked like a woman ready to take center stage.

Lexie scrambled up and extended her hand to her newest guest. “Hello, I’m Lexie.” She skipped her last name.

“Hiya, doll. I’m Bridget O’Halloran. Great to meet you at last!” She pumped Lexie’s hand with enthusiasm. “Mickey has told me all about you. Except he didn’t mention you were such a looker.”

“Mickey, hmm?” Lexie sent Michael an impish look.

Which he missed, because he was pulling me to a standing position. “Uh, Bridget, Lexie’s just a friend. This is her house. But here’s Nora.”

Off-balance and unwieldy, I wobbled in the tall shadow of Bridget O’Halloran, shielding my eyes against the glare of the sunlight to look up into her face. She was exactly the kind of woman who appeared on The Real Housewives of some-such place—lots of extra hair that couldn’t possibly be natural and clothes that managed to look both expensive and very cheap indeed. She was wearing false eyelashes, but the vivid blue of her eyes gave her away. I knew instantly who she was.

She inspected me, too. From the curl on her lip, I could see she wasn’t pleased with the picture I made. To keep the chlorine out of my hair, I had configured a less than chic topknot with a cheap banana clip. I had liberally coated my nose with white sunscreen, too. And my silly shirt wasn’t going to win any runway accolades.

I smiled bravely, however, and put out my hand. “How do you do?”

“How dooo you dooo?” she parroted back at me, then laughed. A laugh with an edge of hostility. “You sound like you’ve got a silver spoon shoved up your—”

“Nora,” Michael intervened, “this is Bridget O’Halloran. My mother.”

Lexie made an involuntary squeak in her throat and shot me a wide-eyed stare that managed to say, His mother?

Michael had been born the son of Big Frankie Abruzzo—the boss of most of the organized crime that still operated in southern New Jersey—and Big Frankie’s paramour, an exotic dancer who had willingly handed over her child to be raised with the rest of the Abruzzo boys by Big Frankie’s wife. Michael referred to his biological mother by her first name, and he told me he’d been in touch with her off and on his whole life. Whether Bridget still saw Big Frankie, I wasn’t sure, but judging by the diamond bracelet on her wrist and the large designer handbag on her toned arm, I guessed she was accepting generous presents from somebody with very deep pockets.

She looked around the pool. “Nice joint you’ve got here,” she said to Lexie. “I once had a boyfriend who had a pool like this. He was a champion Olympic swimmer. He wanted to marry me, but I didn’t like the idea of living with a man who wore a Speedo all the time. You don’t have any guys in Speedos, huh? Because they’re kinda fun for the short haul.”

“Not today,” Lexie said with a smile.

“So,” Bridget said to me, “how come you won’t marry my son?”

Her blunt question shocked me into a stutter. “Uh, I—I—”

To Lexie, Michael said, “Bridget speaks her mind.”

Bridget’s glare turned even frostier on me. “He says he asks, and you say no. Now you’re as big as a cow with his kid, and you still won’t get married? How come? You too good for him?”

“Why—of course not.”

“He says you’re cursed or something, and that’s why you’re putting off a wedding. What’s that all about?”

“The Blackbird curse,” I said.

“What kind of curse? Is it for real?”

“My family—that is, all the women in my family—tend to be widowed young. And although I really don’t believe in that kind of thing, I admit I worry that something terrible might happen when—”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me,” Michael said. “Back off, Bridget.”

“Hey, I’m not making judgments,” Bridget said, raising both hands as if the local sheriff had commanded her to reach for the sky. “I just don’t like the idea of some rich society girl thinking her shit doesn’t stink.”

“Bridget!”

“How about some iced tea?” Lexie interjected before Michael could further object to his mother’s choice of words. “Or—is it too early for gin and tonics?”

“Gin and tonic would hit the spot,” Bridget said. “Plenty of lime. Light on the tonic.”

“Coming right up!” With an apologetic look thrown over her shoulder, Lexie fled toward the house.

Michael’s cell phone rang in his pocket. He took it out and glanced at the screen before apologizing to me. “Sorry. Business. I gotta take this.” He walked to the far end of the terrace before answering his call. If I’d had a towel in my hands, I’d have twisted it up and used it to strangle him.

As both of them abandoned me to fend for myself, I was left standing in front of Bridget O’Halloran while she dug into her handbag and rooted out a stick of gum. She peeled it open, giving me another chilly once-over that made me feel like the fat lady at a carnival sideshow. Dropping any pretense of politeness, she said, “How far gone are you?”

“Seven months,” I replied, mustering good cheer.

“Still puking every morning?”

“No, I’m past all that. I feel wonderful, actually.”

“It’s a girl, Mick says.”

“Yes, we’re delighted.”

“Girls can be trouble. I sure gave my parents the runaround. Got a name picked out yet?”

“Not yet. Michael is cautious about giving a name to someone we haven’t met yet,” I said, although I wondered if his mother might change her mind about me if I offered to name our firstborn after her.

“I once had a boyfriend who was the superstitious type. He was a swami, wore beads, real in touch with his feelings. But he ran off with a hippie chick, and last I heard he was telling fortunes outside a circus. I said good riddance.” She folded the gum into her mouth, continuing to squint at my silly shirt. “You and my Mick aren’t exactly a match made in Vegas, know what I mean? Like, the odds aren’t good.”

“We couldn’t be happier,” I assured her.

“Wanna know what I think?” She glanced around to make sure we weren’t being overheard. Then she glared straight into my face. “I think you’re a gold digger holding out for something better to come down the pike. You’re broke, right? And he’s just starting to hit it big. Well, he’s more than the dough he carries in his pocket, lemme tell you. Mick’s the best of the best. You should grab him before he goes back to one of the real women he used to date.”

The gold-digger crack infuriated me. But her last remark sidetracked my sputtering temper. “The real women he—?”

Bridget turned her back on me and walked to the edge of the terrace, toward the piano music. “So, what’s the story next door?”

“Just a minute,” I said.

But she bulldozed over me. “I hear they’re auditioning for a musical. A Broadway musical. What do you know about it?”

“They rehearse a lot, but other than that—”

“You know anybody over there?”

“At the Tuttle house? Why do you ask?”

Bridget turned on me, tall and aggressive. “Do you know anybody who could get me in?”

“Ah,” I said.

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You came here to get an introduction to the Tuttles,” I said, unable to keep the note of accusation from my voice. “You want an audition.”

She lifted her chin. “And why not? I’m still damn good on my feet, babycakes. And I can belt a tune as good as anybody. They’d be lucky to get me in their little show.”

I had my doubts that any Toodles Tuttle musical could be called “little,” not even if it had been discovered long after his demise. But with another look up and down Bridget O’Halloran’s spectacular body, I had to agree with her. She might look very good indeed on a Broadway stage. She had presence and sex appeal and a certain well-traveled womanliness that said star quality.

She said, “Mick tells me you’re connected. That you know everybody who’s anybody. So how about getting me an introduction to your friends?”

“They’re not my friends,” I said. “I’m barely acquainted with the Tuttles.”

“But you do know them, right?”

“Not enough to ask a favor.”

She glared at me a little, then finally smirked. “Well, sometimes a girl has to make her own opportunities.” She lifted the latch on the pool gate and let herself out. “I once had a boyfriend, a big-shot psychiatrist in Hollywood who had kind of a mommy problem, if you ask me, so we worked on that, him and me. Good times. Anyways, he always talked about seizing the day. So I’m gonna do a little seizing.”

“Wait! You can’t just walk over there and expect an audition.”

“Can’t I?”

“Surely it’s unprofessional—”

Bridget stepped through the gate and headed across the lawn. Over her shoulder, she said, “Tell Mick I’ll be back in half an hour, babycakes.”

CHAPTER TWO

Iran to find my sandals, determined to chase Bridget across the lawn. But I had to sit down to put them on, and with my ungainly belly it was almost an impossible task. By the time I managed to wrestle one on, Bridget was out of sight.

Michael came across the pool’s flagstones, pocketing his phone and looking annoyed.

“Everything okay?” I asked, panting with the struggle to reach my feet.

“It’s complicated,” he replied, still distracted by his call.

I decided I didn’t have to be sympathetic. I gave up on my sandal and threw it at him. “You had to leave me alone with your mother?”

He caught the sandal one-handed and looked genuinely apologetic. “Sorry. I have a couple of pots on the back burners, and one of them just boiled over. Where’d she go?”

Lexie appeared, carrying a tray with bottles and glassware. “I don’t have any limes! I hope lemon will do. Oh, dear— What happened to—? Where did she—? Was it something I said?”

“Nothing anybody says ever bugs Bridget.” Michael went down on one knee to help me with my sandal. “She’s indestructible.”

Lexie set the tray on the table. “She’s not exactly what I expected.”

I stuck out my foot to make Michael’s job easier. “I’m not sure what I expected, either, but she certainly isn’t it. Will she tell anyone about Lexie?”

“She doesn’t read the news, so she probably doesn’t know who Lexie is.” He slipped my sandal onto my foot and looked around. “Where did she go?”

I said, “I think she went to audition.”

“For the play?” Lexie cried.

“I knew it!” Michael got up and was suddenly pacing around me. “I should have figured out she had another motive for coming here today. Is this going to upset the neighbors?”

“They’re a bunch of crackpots themselves,” Lexie said. “They probably won’t notice the arrival of one more. It’s like a screwball comedy over there—music and dancing and cocktails at all hours. If Fred Astaire were alive, he’d be swanning down the staircase in a tuxedo.”

“Well, there’s no stopping Bridget when she gets an idea in her head,” Michael said grimly. “I better go after her before she accidentally tells the whole world where Lexie is. You should have seen her the time we waited at a stage door to get the Phantom guy to autograph her blouse. She practically mugged him.”

“You saw Phantom of the Opera?” I said, thinking there were still things I didn’t know about the man I was about to marry.

“Half of it. When I was a kid, she dragged me to shows all the time. Mostly, I fell asleep, except when the girls in little outfits came out. Phantom was the show when she finally let me start waiting in the lobby. I learned to play poker from the guy who sold tickets.”

“How old were you?” I struggled to stand up.

He helped me to my feet. “Seven or eight. He cleaned me out of my allowance. Bridget got it back for me, but I don’t want to know how she did that.”

With a wicked grin for me, Lexie said, “You can find out when you have holiday dinners together, Nora.”

The thought of sharing holidays with Bridget O’Halloran set off a siren in my head. That’s when we heard a bloodcurdling scream from across the lawn.

“Oh, shit,” Michael groaned. “She sucker punched somebody.”

We could hear shrieks coming from over the rooftops of the adjacent mansion. The shrieks changed, though, and didn’t sound like the cries of neighbors who’d let the wrong person through their front door. This was fear and panic.

“Someone’s hurt,” I said. “Or in trouble.”

“Stay here, both of you,” Michael ordered, already heading across the flagstones. “Call 911.”

He boosted himself over the wall and ran across the sloping lawn. Just as fast, Lexie and I had our cell phones in hand, but she was quicker at hitting the numbers. I heard her speaking to the emergency call center, so I went across the terrace to the gate. The screams diminished to loud wails, no less disturbing. I found myself steadying Baby Girl with a trembling hand.

“What do you think has happened?” I asked Lexie when she arrived at my side. She was still holding her phone to her ear. Together, we watched Michael disappear around the Tuttle hedge.

Lexie put her palm over the phone. “Old Mrs. Tuttle and her daughter have been moldering in that house since Toodles died. Maybe the old lady finally kicked the bucket. I’ve asked for an ambulance. I’m on hold, but— Nora, wait!”

I couldn’t stop myself. I lifted the latch on the wrought-iron gate and went through. Lexie followed, phone still to her ear. We hurried across the lawn together, passing the overgrown flower borders full of blowsy peonies and tall foxgloves in a riot of pinks and lavenders. I couldn’t move very fast, and by the time we arrived at the other house, the wails had diminished to loud weeping. We found ourselves on a wide stone patio very much like the pool deck of Lexie’s house—except no pool. Someone had secured colorful duct tape to the tiles, as if marking off a performance area. Fourth of July streamers still fluttered overhead, looking faded. The second-floor windows of the house were cranked open, and we could hear voices raised upstairs.

“Hello?” I shouted up at the open windows.

A distressed female face appeared above us, and the woman called down, “It’s Miss Jenny! We think she’s dead!”

“Jenny?” Lexie was shocked. “That’s Gloria’s daughter!”

The woman disappeared, and Michael stuck his head out the window.

He said, “Did you call 911?”

Lexie pointed at her cell phone. “Yes, I’m still on the phone with them. The ambulance should be here soon.”

He looked grim. “Too late for that.”

“Can we help?” I asked.

He hesitated, then nodded. “Come up. Maybe you can talk these people down off the ceiling.”

We hurried around to the front of the house, where an extravagant blue Bentley was parked in the curve of the driveway. We rushed past it and through an open door. Inside, the mansion had exactly the same layout as Lexie’s. The only difference was in the decor and condition of the home. Where Lexie’s digs looked as if a Roman emperor had just moved out, this one looked as if it had been decorated by Busby Berkeley. Art deco furniture and sconce lighting, marble floors in a checkerboard pattern. But the walls hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades. The once-elegant furniture was shabby, and the floors needed a thorough cleaning.

In the front hallway, Lexie and I almost fell over a piano bench. Gathered around the baby grand stood a group of weeping young people, all of them dressed in rehearsal clothes and dance shoes. They were crying in one another’s arms, with all the drama you might expect of a theatrical troupe.

I didn’t see Bridget among them.

Lexie and I rushed up the staircase—she was much faster, but I doggedly tried to keep up—past a row of dusty-framed theater posters that advertised old Tuttle musical productions. We headed toward the sound of raised voices.

On the second floor, Michael shouldered his way past another weeping couple, who embraced in the corridor. Looking unnerved, he indicated a bedroom with a jerk of his head. “I’m not good with hysterical women. And there’s a bunch of them in there. I’ll go wait for the ambulance.”

Lexie and I went into the bedroom.

On the floor lay a dead woman.

It’s hard to upstage a dead body, but old Mrs. Tuttle, widow of the famed Broadway composer Toodles Tuttle and the star of quite a few of his shows, had what it took. Seventysomething years old, but looking every day of ninety, she stood over the deceased while clutching her throat as if to hold back sobs of grief.

The main thing about the old woman?

She was blue.

Her skin was an inhuman shade of indigo.

Perhaps the strange color of her skin was enhanced by her green satin turban, decorated with a crusty emerald brooch pinned drunkenly over one eye, and her swirling green paisley caftan, belted with what appeared to be a coiled drapery tieback. She looked like an ancient blue Scarlett O’Hara wearing curtains from a Sunset Boulevard mansion. Except her skinny blue legs were encased in a pair of knee-high compression stockings that sagged around her birdlike blue ankles. Her blue feet were crammed into gold mules with moth-eaten marabou on the toes. Jungle red lipstick had escaped the outline of her mouth, and her mascara looked as if it had been accumulating for months. Her rheumy eyes bulged with melodrama.

She croaked, “My life is over!”

To the rest of us, it looked as if her daughter’s life was the one that was over.

The elderly woman gave another incoherent cry of sorrow. With one blue hand clamped around her blue throat in a gesture that originated before movies had sound, she reached her other desiccated claw for my help as she swayed precariously between conscious thought and a bad actress’s imitation of fainting. “My precious little girl is dead!”

Her daughter was neither little nor a girl, but she was definitely dead. And the mother was definitely alive, but in danger of collapsing right down on top of the corpse. I took a firm grip on her skinny blue arm and said, “Mrs. Tuttle, let me help you sit. I’m Nora Blackbird. Remember me? You used to sing duets with my father at parties.”

“Oh, yes.” She let me assist her down on a frayed ottoman beside a lumpy reading chair. She peered up at me. “Your father isn’t much of a singer, but he makes up for it with charm. He’s a mensch. And what a dancer! He can really cut a rug. But your mother—she’s a shiksa with more chutzpah than most, isn’t she?”

“Yes, Mrs. Tuttle.”

“And your grandmother never liked us—Toodles or me. Oh, she acted real polite, but she couldn’t hide it. She hit me in the schnoz with a champagne cork once. Call me Boom Boom. That was my stage name, you know. I’m reviving it for the new show.Bluebird of Happiness. It’s going to be a blockbuster.”

I was not the only person in the room who noted how easily Boom Boom Tuttle was distracted from her daughter’s demise. A large woman in Hollywood’s idea of a nurse’s uniform stood frowning at Boom Boom, and the couple who had been weeping together in the hallway came in and also stared doubtfully at the lady of the house. Even Lexie seemed unable to mask her surprise at Boom Boom’s eagerness to forget her daughter’s death in favor of a new Tuttle musical.

To be certain, I knelt down and reached to touch Jenny Tuttle’s neck. Although I had met Jenny a few times, I wouldn’t have called her a friend. But I remembered her.

Specifically, I remembered Jenny, middle-aged and self-conscious, playing the piano as invisibly as a church organist while her father charmed an audience with his songs.

My thoughts went back nearly twenty years to a time when I was home from boarding school for the holidays. Christmas greenery and lavish ribbons disguised the peeling paint and crooked banister of Blackbird Farm. My parents preferred to entertain rather than spend their time doing mundane things like fixing leaky toilets and replacing burned-out bulbs, so the glow of candles usually hid the worst of their deferred maintenance. Back then, the house was alive with music and champagne and much laughter. Parties were a weekly occurrence. But one night we had a special guest.

Handsome even in his later years, Toodles Tuttle had breezed through the front door of our sagging homestead, bringing a cloud of sparkling snowflakes in his wake. Out of that cloud had appeared shy Jenny, wrapped in a cape that looked like a horse blanket beside her father’s dapper tuxedo.

Toodles went straight into the living room to spontaneous applause, but my father—elegant even in his tatty dinner jacket—gallantly helped Jenny off with her cape. Tossing it over his arm, he bent down to kiss her cheek. “Happy New Year, Jenny.”

Daddy didn’t usually pay attention to the plain women. He specialized in pretty, vivacious females who reflected back his effervescent ways. He must have experienced an unusual moment of kindness that evening. Jenny Tuttle, plump and otherwise colorless, had turned pink at his kiss. She couldn’t find her voice.

Daddy led her off into the living room, bending over her as if she were as fascinating as a beautiful princess. “You’ll favor us with some music tonight, won’t you, dear? Nobody can tickle the ivories the way you can.”

Daddy flattered Jenny onto the piano bench in a shadowy corner, where she sat for the rest of the night playing one Toodles Tuttle tune after another. Her father sang his own jaunty lyrics, and the guests alternately sang along or danced in the living room, where the moth-eaten carpet had been rolled up. That night, nobody noticed Jenny. When Daddy asked me to, I prepared a plate from the buffet laid out on silver platters in the dining room and delivered a midnight meal to her with a glass of champagne. Remaining at the piano, she ate and drank in snatches between musical numbers.

The only time I remember noticing her after that was when my parents danced together—just the two of them performing for the crowd, Daddy spinning and dipping Mama, who laughed and didn’t miss a beat. Jenny fumbled a few notes, though, as she watched my glamorous parents in each other’s arms.

At the time of the party, we had no servants in the house anymore. Although Grandmama was quietly selling off her silver and jewelry, we no longer had the money to pay household help. So as midnight neared, it was my grandmother who struggled to open a bottle of champagne for thirsty guests. She squeezed her eyes shut and put her thumbs awkwardly against the cork. With an explosive pop it had sailed into the crowd, and champagne foamed onto the floor. Laughter erupted, and then applause. I hadn’t recalled where the cork had landed, but Boom Boom had obviously not forgotten.

I remembered Jenny that long-ago night being . . . pathetic. Collapsed on the rug now, she looked even more pitiable.

I intended to feel for a pulse, but as soon as my fingers touched her flesh I knew she was gone. Jenny had been dead for some hours.

Her body lay on a small area rug beside the bed, feet bare, nightgown twisted around her crumpled legs. With one hand, she had seized a handful of the fabric over her heart, and although the muscles of her fingers had loosened in death, the message was unmistakable: A pain in her chest had come on suddenly.

On the floor beside her pocket lay a small, faded photograph. I looked closer. It was a typical school portrait of a child—maybe six or seven years old, a homely boy with a fringe of dark hair he was clearly trying to hide behind. He had a knobby chin, and his front teeth were missing. Clearly, though, the photo had meant something to Jenny. She had kept it close, and it was in her hand when she died.

I knew better than to touch the photo—or anything else—but I couldn’t stop myself from closing Jenny’s half-open eyes.

“Her heart,” the nurse said, standing over me. “She had a weak heart.”

Boom Boom wrestled a crumpled hankie from a pocket and sniffled into it. “I never thought Jenny would go before me. I only hope God took her gently.”

Gently? Glancing around, I thought Jenny’s death had been anything but gentle. Her bedclothes were twisted. The jumble of bottles and cans on her bedside table had been knocked awry in the throes of her agony. Her cell phone lay yards away on the carpet. I wondered if she had brushed if off the table and had been trying to reach it to call 911 when she was fatally stricken.

The only corner of the room that seemed undisturbed held a small shrine to Toodles Tuttle. On an upright piano sat a large framed photo of the famous Broadway composer. He wore a tuxedo and smiled beguilingly at me from across the room. Every day, Jenny Tuttle must have awakened to her father’s smile.

“Poor Jenny,” sobbed the man behind me. “Poor, poor Jenny!”

The woman with him had a corona of blond hair with the texture of cotton candy. Her voice was squeaky. “Don’t get hysterical, Fred. You’ll trigger one of your asthma attacks.”

I looked up at the couple and wracked my brain. They looked familiar to me. He was sixtyish but working to look younger. He wore loose-fitting trousers on extraordinarily long legs with saddle shoes and had tied a scarf jauntily around his neck. His thinning hair was as jet-black as an advertisement for hair dye.

She was younger—a spritely character from Dr. Seuss with a pink-cheeked face beneath the halo of bright blond hair tied up with a ribbon. Her petite body was encased in a purple leotard with a matching tutu around her hips, tap shoes on her tiny feet. A mad grin seemed stamped permanently on her face.

The man finally snuffled up his tears and gave me a trembling smile. He put his hand down to me to shake. “How do you do? I’m Fred Fusby. I’m the music director of the show.”

The baby-voiced woman with him said, “You probably recognize us. We used to be Fusby and Fontanna, the famous dance duo? Fred and I starred in seven Tuttle musicals. I’m Poppy Fontanna.”

“Hello.”

Poppy Fontanna almost curtsied as she shook my hand. Out of her mouth spilled what sounded like a string of well-memorized words from an old review. “People say I embody everything Toodles wanted musical theater to be—lively and sophisticated with a touch of sexy panache.”

“You were on Broadway?” I asked, striving to be polite as we spoke over the dead body of their idol’s daughter.

“Yes, Sunlight before Rain? Happy Heels? Now Fred and I do road shows—you know, the traveling companies, bus and truck revivals of the old musicals. He has arthritis in his feet, though, so he stopped performing with me and conducts the orchestra instead. Anyway, when Boom Boom called and said she’d found a brand new Toodles Tuttle musical—of course Fred and I were on the first plane here. We’re thrilled to help bring to life Bluebird of Happiness.”

Fred wiped his eyes. “We were so excited. But now—oh, this is a terrible tragedy. Jenny won’t be here to enjoy the—the—”

“To enjoy her father’s final work,” Poppy finished for him. As he dissolved into sobs again, she gathered Fred into a comforting hug and patted his back as if he were a child.

“Oh, I dunno,” Boom Boom said from the ottoman. “Maybe we’ll find some other music Toodles left behind. This old house is chock-full of his stuff.”

“Miz Tuttle,” the nurse interrupted briskly, “I think it’s time you had a lie-down, don’t you? I’ll make you some tea, and you can pull yourself together.”

“Okay, okay, Higgie.” To me, Boom Boom said, “This is my nurse, Miss Higginbotham.”

Just then the paramedics appeared at the doorway with their gear and a wheeled stretcher. The first paramedic took one look at Boom Boom’s blue skin and said, “Wow, I’ve never seen anybody so cyanotic before. And still be conscious, that is.”

The second paramedic elbowed his partner aside and saw me on the floor. He grinned happily. “Great! I haven’t delivered a baby in months!”

“There’s no baby. Not yet, anyway.” I moved aside so he could see the body of Jenny Tuttle sprawled out on the floor. He lost his smile and went down on one knee to feel for a pulse, just as I had.

Michael helped me up off the rug. The scene in the bedroom broke up quickly, but not before I decided that I had witnessed exactly that—a theatrical scene. Fred and Poppy slipped out of the room with the precision of a dance team that did everything smoothly. Lexie gave me a wide-eyed look that indicated we had more to discuss, but she stepped forward to help the nurse assist Boom Boom off the ottoman and out the door. I could hear Boom Boom’s nattering voice as they led her down the hallway.

The paramedics took over, and Michael bent to help move their equipment. I faded to the back of the bedroom. The drama of the last several minutes suddenly hit me in a wave of nausea. I felt a little woozy. To my left, I saw a half-open door and slipped through it. I found myself in a lady’s dressing room with an adjacent bathroom.

Unsteadily, I sat down on the slipper chair at the dressing table. In the makeup mirror, my reflection looked pale. I tried to shake the nausea off, but my head continued to spin.

To compose myself, I focused on the dressing table. It was crowded—not with makeup, but with cans of soda pop and prescription bottles. A lot of prescription bottles. I couldn’t help looking at the labels, and I discovered that the bottles contained an assortment of diet pills—many of them the same prescriptions I had encouraged my sister Libby to dispose of a year ago when she went on a crash diet. No wonder Jenny had appeared smaller than when I saw her last. She’d been trying to lose weight. The rest of the bottles seemed to be vitamins and supplements—some of the labels in Chinese. Others from pharmacies with Canadian addresses. The wastebasket at my feet was filled with more empty soda cans. I recognized the name of an energy drink I had been warned to stay away from during my pregnancy.

Michael stuck his head around the door, his face full of concern. “You okay?”

“So-so.”

He came to my side. “The paramedics are calling the coroner. We can’t get out through the bedroom right now. The door is blocked by their gear. So we’re stuck. You might as well stay here and calm down.”

“I’m calm. Except—my goodness, have you ever seen anything as bizarre as Boom Boom Tuttle?”

“You mean Mama Smurf? Was she wearing blue makeup?”

“She seemed to be blue all over. Do you think her color has anything to do with the show they’re working on? It’s called Bluebird of Happiness.”

“She’s sure got the blue part down.”

“Have you found Bridget?”

“Not yet. But the cops are on their way, and she has a sixth sense about cops. Maybe she beat it already.” His gaze grew concerned. “You’re not going to faint, are you?”

“I’m not going to faint,” I said. “But I—I knew Jenny Tuttle a little. She used to come to the parties my parents threw. She was very sweet. It was a shock seeing her like that.”

Michael looked contrite. “I’m sorry I called you up here.”

“No, I was glad to help. But perhaps we should give the family some privacy now.” I glanced through the adjacent Jack-and-Jill bathroom to a second door on the other side. “Maybe there’s another way out of here.”

In Lexie’s house, most of the bedrooms shared a connecting bath. I got up and went to the other door. I tried the knob, and it turned. Michael came behind me as I opened the door.

We walked through a small bathroom and into another bedroom.

And found Michael’s mother on the bed with a man.

CHAPTER THREE

Bridget sat on the bed, slipping on her shoes. From a standing position, the man was stepping into his loafers.

Michael stopped dead. “Oh, hell, Bridget. What have you been doing?”

I thought it was pretty obvious, but his mother smiled up at him from the bed. “Don’t get the wrong idea, Mickey.”

“Wrong idea?” Michael’s voice went up ten notches. “Is there any other idea?”

I touched his arm. “Michael—”

“It isn’t what it looks like.” With the flourish of a magician’s assistant, Bridget indicated the shoeless man. “Meet Mr. Oxenfeld. He’s the producer.”

Oxenfeld had taken one look at Michael, and all the color had drained from his face. He snatched up his shoes and backed himself against the closet door, hugging his loafers as if for protection.

Bridget said, “He promised me an audition.”

“In bed?” Michael demanded.

“A singing audition,” Bridget insisted. “Dancing, too. We came up here to discuss it in private. There was a lot of shouting going on downstairs. We couldn’t hear ourselves think.”

Michael said, “You weren’t the least bit curious about the shouting?”

“Don’t be rude.” Bridget mustered a motherly tone. “I was in labor with you for two days.”

“Only because you didn’t want to leave the roulette table. A lady was found dead in the next room.”

“Dead!” Oxenfeld squeaked. “Who? Boom Boom?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Oxenfeld,” I said as kindly as I could, “but it’s Jenny Tuttle who’s gone. It looks as if she had a heart attack.”

“Jenny! Oh my God!”

If Oxenfeld had looked shaken at being discovered in a compromising position, he suddenly appeared to be on the brink of a heart attack of his own. He ran past us into the connecting bath, then had second thoughts and made an abrupt about-face to dash back into the bedroom. Clutching his shoes under one arm, he yanked open the door and fled into the hallway.

Bridget called, “Hang on, babycakes!”

But when Oxenfeld didn’t come back, she turned to me and said, “Thanks for nothing. I had a perfectly good audition going, and now you’ve ruined it.”

Michael grabbed his mother by the elbow and hauled her to her feet. “Forget the audition. We’re getting you out of here now.”

“But—”

“The cops are due any minute. Do you really want to get mixed up in a police investigation?”

After a second’s consideration, Bridget said, “You’ve got a point. I—uh—have a few speeding tickets they might want to discuss.”

“I thought so.”

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2014

    Excellent!

    I love all of the books in this series!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2014

    Nook Fan

    Another winner! Next in the series cannot publish soon enough!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 5, 2014

    Another wonderful read

    Nancy Martin hooked me with the first book, and continues to do so with each book that is better than the last.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 31, 2014

    This book is just as entertaining as the rest of the series. I love them all!!

    I love the Blackbird Sisters series. This new book is just as enjoyable. Very entertaining read!!

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  • Posted August 14, 2014

    Another winner by Nancy Martin. I absolutely LOVE this series an

    Another winner by Nancy Martin. I absolutely LOVE this series and this book did not disappoint. I was on the edge of my seat with all the twists and turns. Nora Blackbird is pregnant with Michael Abruzzo's baby and is looking forward to her upcoming nuptials. Throw in a Broadway show, society events Nora attends for her job at the newspaper, her boss Gus' advances and a murder, and you are in for a phenomenal ride. I would give this book more stars but they only let you give 5. I can't wait for the next book in this series. Thank you Ms. Martin for your wonderful writing and for always making me want to come back for more!

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  • Posted August 13, 2014

    I loved this story. Nora is a wonderful character. People from h

    I loved this story. Nora is a wonderful character. People from her past return her kindness. Her sisters add wonderful story lines because they are so colorful. Mick. Oh. Mick. I love him more and more. This story has some twists and turns. Please read it. I was sad when I finished it!  Such a clever story! You rock Nancy!

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  • Posted August 13, 2014

    Another delightful story in the Blackbird Sisters series....I am

    Another delightful story in the Blackbird Sisters series....I am never disappointed when I read one of these books. If you haven't read them, start in the beginning and be ready to enjoy these books. It's a clever mystery and plot, plus you get to enjoy the clothes and crazy or eccentric characters. I'd love to meet Nora as I am sure that we would be friends!

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  • Posted August 5, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    A Little Night Murder by Nancy Martin

    Nancy Martin's 10th novel in the Blackbird Sisters Mystery series, A Little Night Murder will have readers thinking Broadway and delivery rooms. Martin continues her story of three once privileged sisters who have seen better days in her latest cozy offering. This is the perfect mystery for theatre lovers and mystery buffs alike, as it focuses on the murder of the daughter of a late musical genus. Readers looking for a series with strong family ties (even to the mob) won't be disappointed with this one!

    What I liked:

    I always look forward to the next adventure with Nora Blackbird and her sisters Libby and Emma. There never ceases to be a lot of drama where these three are concerned but it is there deep rooted love and respect for each other that solidifies the series. Sisters will be sisters! Sometimes they don't get along, or don't approve of each other's decisions but they always have each others backs. Nancy Martin does such a good job of showing that in every novel she writes about the Blackbird sisters. The bond between sisters is full of magic and murder in this case.

    A Little Night Murder finds the sisters in some stressful situations as Nora is about to have her first child with Nick, who happens to be a former mobster. She is trying to plan a wedding, preparing to meet her soon to be mother in-law, fending off advances from her boss both professionally and personally, and then a murder drops in her lap. Now that is stress! Nora as always personify's grace under pressure. I love the fact that Nora is able to keep up her sensuality and her sexiness even though she is about to deliver. It was crucial to the love triangle aspect of the story.

    Meanwhile both Libby and Emma are having trials of their own including, a son, who is having an unwanted baby with an older woman, two male suitors to choose from, exterminator, or cheese cake maker, and new business idea that might be more trouble than profit.

    On top of everything else that Nora has going on, she ends up in the middle of another murder investigation. As a reporter for the Philadelphia Intelligencer, Nora often finds herself covering the social scene and the trials and tribulations of the Philadelphia elite. And where the rich and famous are, chaos follows, often in the form of murder. I loved the idea of the theatre ties to this mystery. There was a lot of potential here for this mystery to take on a Broadway quality and I enjoyed all of the behind the scenes production tidbits and interesting facts. The nods to familiar musical names was also fun but I felt like this novel focused so much more on Nora's personal life than on the mystery itself.

    What I didn't like:

    Add all these things together and you can see that there is a lot of family and personal issues going on in this mystery. Cozies often rely on the personal lives of the characters to fill in the gaps, but in this particular novel, they tended to take over a little bit, leaving the mystery on the back burner. I wanted to see Nora leading the way in discovering Jenny's killer, when most of the book was more about her coming babies (plural) and her love life. Not that I was disappointed in those aspects of the story, I just wanted a more balanced approach to the novel.

    Bottom Line:

    I am probably going to love any novel about the Blackbird Sisters, because Nancy Martin has made them interesting and lovable characters, but this one was little light on the mystery and heavy on the personal d

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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