Read an Excerpt
This is how Steve Stiletto, drop-dead gorgeous, globe-trotting photographer, finally got me, Bubbles Yablonsky, Pennsylvania hairstylist and occasional newspaper reporter, to break my chastity vow.
I was relaxing on the back porch one golden, late-summer evening, polishing my nails to a deep and glossy plum. A few of my neighbor Mrs. Hamel’s red tomatoes in our shared garden were plump on the vine. The tiny green grapes were coming into their own and the steel mill was closing down for the night with a pump, pump, pump.
Suddenly the backyard gate swung open and there stood Stiletto, tall and tanned from India’s hot sun. He was wearing tight jeans, the familiar worn leather bomber jacket over his broad shoulders, and those Mel Gibson eyes of his were twinkling their mischievous blue.
“You’re back,” I whispered, the nail polish bottle tumbling down the porch steps.
“Yablinko,” was all he said before leaning down to kiss me, hard and long. He smelled of dusty winds and brutal war. With one movement he swooped me up in his strong arms, and I felt helpless as he kicked open the screen door and carried me upstairs.
“But . . .” I protested weakly.
“Shhh.” He placed me gently on the bed and let his lips trace the curve of my neck. “Listen. I nearly went mad in the desert without you, Bubbles. Marry me.”
He had done it. Stiletto had uttered those two magic words and I was now released from my chastity vow, free to respond with a lusty abracadabra.
After our first, passionate moment of lovemaking, which was furtive and desperate, I ran my plum nails over his broad chest and down his muscular thighs, drinking in the warmth of him, the tingling satisfaction of our mingling.
“Oh, Steve, you’re so”
“For the one thousandth time it’s Chip. Chip. Chip. Chip! When in the hell are you gonna get that straight, Bubbles?”
My eyelids flew open in a flash and I found myself staring into a fleshy, white shoulder.
“Aaaagh,” I screamed. My hands squeezed what they had been gripping under the covers. Not muscle. Flab. Mounds and mounds of gut.
“Oww, stop that. You’re hurting me.”
I bolted upright, pulling the sheets tightly around me. “Oh . . . my . . . God.”
Dan the Man, my fat, adulterous, ambulance-chasing lawyer of an ex-husband, lay next to me in bed, arms behind his head, a scowl on his face.
“No one calls me Dan anymore,” he said. “Everyone calls me Chip. All except you and those buffoons down at Legal Aid.”
“Steve? You mean that punk photographer? How in the bejeezus am I supposed to know?”
Stiletto’s return from overseas must have been a dream. My stomach felt weak and nauseous. I was afraid I’d throw up, maybe. And a headache. Oh, such a headache, like I’d been crowned by an anvil.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I croaked.
“Wouldn’t be surprised considering the condition you came in last night, Bubbles.” Dan threw back the covers, revealing his blubbery belly and a pair of ripped, yellow-striped boxer shorts. “Boy, were you sloshed. You passed out here, right on the convertible couch.”
“I was not sloshed,” I lied. “I was just very, very tired.”
“Right. And as a former Lehigh University frat boy I don’t know from tanked.” Dan snorted as he made his way to the bathroom. “Getting blotto was my major. I graduated summa cum laude in alcohol overload.”
Could Dan have been right? Could I, Bubbles Yablonsky, thirty-four-year-old single mother, hairdresser, aspiring investigative journalist and one of the few living Polish-Lithuanian Barbie dolls in Lehigh, Pennsylvania, have allowed myself to get, gasp, tipsy?
No. I never touch alcohol. It tastes gross and . . .
I dropped the sheet. I was still wearing my spiffy fire-engine-red sequined dress, now wrinkled and reeking of cigarette smoke. My black hose were bunched at the ankles and a gigantic run exposed my big toe.
Ohhh. I collapsed in a heap of self loathing, painfully recalling how I’d spent the night beforeat the bachelorette party for Lehigh Police Department records clerk Janice Kramer, fiancée of Detective Mickey Sinkler and my best source for sealed search warrants.
It was those darn strawberry-kiwi Jell-O shots Janice’s coworkers at the police department brought to the party. They must’ve been spiked.
I winced at the memory of me howling Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” into the karaoke machine at Uncle Manny’s Bar and Grille, which had opened on a Sunday night just to host our festivities. Janice had covered her mouth first in shock and then in delight when I jumped onto the pool table to play air guitar while the other partygoers whooped and cheered. Only Manny had remained glum, his eyes glaring at my spiked heels digging into the green felt.
To top it off I had evidently teetered home and passed out next to my ex, Dan the Man, whoat the insistence of our daughter, Janehad been sleeping on our pull-out couch ever since his socialite wife Wendy had given him the heave-ho two weeks ago. Of this I was certain, however: while I had slept with Dan, I had not slept with Dan. A bug trap full of Spanish flies couldn’t make me do that.
What I needed was sleep, a tall glass of ginger ale, two aspirin and a hot shower with plenty of Ivory soap. But mostly sleep. I closed my eyes and drifted off.
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be getting ready for that wedding?” Dan was suited up for his Legal Aid job and munching on a hoagie. “I thought by the time I returned for lunch you’d be long gone. It’s eleven-thirty.”
Mickey and Janice’s wedding. It was supposed to be at noon. And I was the maid of honor!
“How long did I sleep?”
Dan checked his watch. “About four hours.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“What do I look like? Your personal valet?”
I leapt out of bed. Here I was, unwashed and hungover, lazing about while Mickey’s sweet bride, a kind and shy woman who had trusted me to lead her down the aisle, was probably pacing the narthex in frantic worry. Ugh.
I pushed Dan aside and scrambled up the stairs to the bathroom. Usually a Bubbles Deluxe took a good forty-five minutes if my Sunshine Blonde Number Eight locks were to be teased and sprayed into an indestructible beehive. Eyebrow penciling alone could eat up five. I had, what, ten minutes tops to shower and change into a Bo Peep bridesmaid’s outfit complete with hoopskirt, bonnet and satin-covered staff.
There was no way I could get to the church in time. At best, I’d arrive right when Mickey and Janice were exchanging vows.
But I needn’t have rushed.
For as I was soon to discover, there would be no blushing bride and beaming groom emerging from St. Lenny’s South Side Catholic Church. No dollar dance at Walp’s and fancy smorgasbord. No four-night, three-day honeymoon in the Pocono Mountains sipping sparkling wine by a Hotel Paupack heart-shaped bathtub.
There would be no wedding. Only murder.
Looking back, I blame the Skynyrd.