A Decadent Way to Die (Savannah Reid Series #16)by G. A. McKevett
Plus-sized P.I. Savannah Reid prides herself on cracking even the toughest cases. But her latest investigation is leaving her hungry for answers as she tries to unmask the identity of a cunning, would-be killer. His prey? Legendary designer Helene Strauss, creator of the world-famous Helene doll. While Helene's brassy, take-no-prisoners style made her a huge success,… See more details below
Plus-sized P.I. Savannah Reid prides herself on cracking even the toughest cases. But her latest investigation is leaving her hungry for answers as she tries to unmask the identity of a cunning, would-be killer. His prey? Legendary designer Helene Strauss, creator of the world-famous Helene doll. While Helene's brassy, take-no-prisoners style made her a huge success, it also made her quite a few enemies.
Before long, Savannah is sure she has a handle on the case. But when two key players turn up dead in Helene's sizzling hot Jacuzzi, Savannah will have to start from scratch--and question everything she thought she knew about the Strausses' twisted family tree. . .
"Superb." --Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"McKevett serves up plenty of action." --Kirkus
"Fans of Diane Mott Davidson will appreciate this one." --Library Journal
A private eye divides her time between finding her latest client's would-be killer and confronting her longtime assistant's abusive beau.
Dollmaker Helene Strauss is an octogenarian with attitude. She runs her family business with an iron fist while keeping a tight rein on her rebellious granddaughter Emma and her drug-addled grandnephew Waldo. When Helene shrugs off several attempts on her own life, Emma, kicking her concern up a notch, consults with Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency's Savannah Reid (Wicked Craving,2010, etc.). Savannah's especially eager to catch the aspiring murderer because Helene reminds the detective of her own beloved family matriarch Granny Reid. And questioning Helene's liposuctioned niece Ada and her boy toy Vern only focuses her radar. But she's distracted by her assistant Tammy Hart's budding relationship with her new boyfriend Chad, who seems bent on isolating Tammy and controlling her behavior. When Helene's maid Blanca is found electrocuted in the family's hot tub along with a naked Vern, Savannah springs into action, searching the Strauss estate for whatever caused the spa to spark. And when Tammy turns up with bruises on her face, Savannah pounces, teaching Chad a lesson in how not to treat a lady.
McKevett's 16th serves up plenty of action, then concludes with an author's note directed at abuse victims who don't have Savannah to protect them—and who should know that whatever happens in fiction, physical confrontation with an abuser is not only ineffective but dangerous.
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A Decadent WAY TO DIEA SAVANNAH REID MYSTERY
By G.A. McKevett
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Land sakes, boy, my tailbone's done taken root to this floor," Savannah Reid said as she shifted from one side of her aching rear to the other. "Who'd have thought there wouldn't be a solitary decent chair in this joint?"
Beside her sat Dirk Coulter, an only slightly apologetic look on his face. "If there was one, you know I'd let you have it," he said.
"Yeah, sure. That's right up there with, 'If I win the lottery, I'll give you half.' Giving away something you ain't got is easy as falling off a wet log."
"Whatever happened to, 'It's the thought that counts'?"
"The thought counted two hours ago, when we still had snacks to eat and my butt didn't feel like a shark was gnawing on it."
With a sigh born of bone-deep weariness or moderate annoyance—with Dirk it was hard to tell the difference—he stood and walked to the other side of the small, dark pharmacy.
After bumping into a number of displays and rummaging around a bit, he plucked some items off a shelf.
When he returned, he dumped a rich assortment of candy bars into her lap. "There ya go ... snacks. Compliments of the house."
He peeled off his old leather bomber jacket, folded it twice, and slid the impromptu "cushion" between her back and the wall. "Lean on it or sit on it, whichever gives you the most relief."
"Aww, that's so sweet."
"Just keep your bellyaching to a minimum—"
"And you were doing so well ..."
"Shh," he said. "I don't want those numbskulls out there to hear us arguing in here and pass on the break-in."
Savannah scowled up at him. "Maybe you should choose your words a mite more carefully. 'Bellyaching' is up there with 'nagging' and 'female moodiness.' They could get a guy smacked upside the head."
Savannah handed him one of the candy bars and unwrapped another for herself. "And speaking of burglars ... excuse me for stating the obvious, but didn't you just steal these goodies off the shelf?"
Dirk shrugged as he bit into the bar. "I told the owner this moonlighting gig would cost him a couple hundred plus expenses. The candy's a necessary expense."
"And you get paid whether we catch the bad guys or not?"
"Yeah. Sweet, huh? Plus an expense account. Makes me feel like a private investigator, like you."
"Only you've got a badge."
Savannah tried not to sound bitter when she said those words. Most days she could convince herself that she was perfectly happy not to be a member of the San Carmelita Police Department anymore.
And some days she believed it.
She believed it on rainy days. Rainy days in July. Rainy days in July when the moon was in conjunction with the sun, Venus, and Jupiter ... and she was struck by lightning twice before she got out of bed.
The rest of the time she experienced a small, nagging sadness that she was no longer a cop and Dirk's honest-to-goodness partner in crime detection and bad-guy nabbing.
Though tonight was almost as good, staking out a small, privately owned pharmacy that had been burglarized three times in the past month.
When the harried proprietor had informed the police that he intended to keep watch, night after night, with a shotgun in hand and dispatch the repeat thieves to the Promised Land, Dirk had volunteered his services ... and Savannah's.
Dirk frequently volunteered her services. And, usually, she enjoyed it. When else did one get to play cops and robbers, eat pilfered candy, and manipulate a close friend into being deeply beholden all in the course of one evening?
"So, how much of that couple of hundred were you figuring to throw my way?" she asked, licking the chocolate off her thumb and forefinger.
His mood seemed to drop a few notches in spite of the recent sugar infusion. "Oh, I don't know. How much were you thinkin'?"
"A good backrub, and I'd probably call it even."
He brightened instantly. "Sure. I'd be glad to give you a backrub."
"Not you, sweet cheeks. A professional massage. One you actually pay money for."
She gave him a sideways glance and saw the slightly protruding lower lip. It looked ridiculous on a forty-plus, ruggedly handsome—with the emphasis on rugged—grown man. A cop who, for more than twenty years, had rubbed elbows with society's worst. Occasionally, fists and elbows, too.
Dirk didn't complain much when having to chase, tackle, and cuff the unbathed, undeodorized, alcohol-marinated, chemically altered, and ethically deficient. But ask him to part with a dollar and his mood plummeted.
And Savannah found the whole process quite entertaining.
"What's the matter?" she said, giving him a playful dig in the ribs with her elbow. "Don't you think I'm worth it?"
"Yeah, I guess. But those massages are expensive."
"Eh. About half of what you're getting for this gig should cover it, plus a pedicure and maybe—"
"Don't you shush me, boy. I—"
"Shh! I hear something."
Then she heard it, too ... the distinctive jiggling of a doorknob at the rear of the store.
She chuckled as a shot of adrenaline hit her bloodstream. "They think they're actually gonna come through the door like regular customers?" she whispered.
"Why break a window and climb through if you don't have to?" he replied as he stood and offered her a hand up.
"True." She rose and shook the stiffness out of her legs. "If you're gonna go to all that work, actually breaking in, a body might as well get a real job."
The doorknob rattling had stopped, and they could hear the scuffling of footsteps in gravel beside the building as the burglars made their way around to a window.
"That's how they got in last time, right?" Savannah said, her lips close to his ear.
"Yeah. And, more importantly, how they got out."
"Then, let's get over there."
They hurried to the other side of the store, being careful not to bump into any of the shelves or displays in the semidarkness.
For some reason, Savannah thought of the old pharmacy in the tiny, rural, Georgia town where she had been raised ... so far, in so many ways, from San Carmelita, the posh seaside resort in Southern California.
As a child, Savannah had often imagined how fun it would be to spend the night locked in that store, which was a combination drugstore and five-and-dime. Having the place to herself—the ice cream counter, the comic book stand, the candy shelves, not to mention the paper dolls and coloring books—would have been pure heaven to a poor kid without a cent to spend on such luxuries.
But as she took a position on the right side of the window and squatted behind a stack of boxed baby diapers, she had to admit: This was far more fun than any childhood fantasy.
Listening to the youthful male voices muttering to each other outside the window, she felt a teeny bit sorry for them ... for anyone who was so poverty-stricken, or drug-addicted, or lacking in moral upbringing that they resorted to stealing as a way of life.
But she felt a lot sorrier for the guy who owned the place, whose insurance rates had skyrocketed because his store and the other businesses in the area were being continually burglarized.
Looking over at Dirk, who was crouching behind a display of paper towels and toilet paper rolls, she could see the same light of excitement that she felt, shining in his eyes. Though neither of them would admit it, they were hardcore thrill junkies.
They lived for these moments.
He reached for his sidearm, a Smith & Wesson revolver, pulled it, and pointed the barrel toward the ceiling.
She pulled her 9mm Beretta from her shoulder holster and did the same.
"Get a rock," she heard one of the guys outside the window say.
"Here. This'll do," replied another.
She steeled herself for what was coming next. She turned her face away from the window, as did Dirk.
It didn't take long.
A moment later, something heavy crashed through the window, spraying glass for ten feet inside the store.
Some landed in her hair. She shook it out.
"Reach through there and unlock it," one of the burglars said.
"Window's nailed closed. Don't you remember last time?" replied his buddy.
"Oh, yeah. Give me a boost. I'll climb through."
Savannah heard a guy grunting as he lifted his companion.
Okay, she thought, so there's a little bit of honest labor in thievery.
A sneaker and a denim-covered leg poked through the broken window, followed by a butt, a torso, and then a head.
In the dim light, she could see the long, stringy, brown hair and the scraggly goatee. His black tank top revealed a large, distinctive tattoo of a vampire demon on his shoulder.
She knew him! It was Josh Murphy.
She and Dirk had busted Josh years ago, when she had still been on the job. He and his brother, Jesse, had robbed some high school kids on the beach on prom night. And Jesse had even gotten fresh with one of the girls, named Rosa Ortiz, adding sexual assault to his charges.
A few months ago, Savannah had run into Rosa in a grocery store. She'd told Savannah she still had nightmares about her prom night.
Suddenly, this assignment was a lot sweeter.
Sure enough ... no sooner had Josh climbed through than Jesse followed. But as he was straddling the window pane with its jagged bits of remaining glass, he yelped with pain.
"Damn!" he said, grabbing his groin with his gloved hand. "I cut myself."
"Yeah, whatever," his brother replied. "Shoulda been more careful."
"Thanks for the sympathy, you no-good sonofabitch."
Savannah wondered if it occurred to Jesse that he had just insulted his own mother. Or if he would care.
Probably not, she decided. Her past, brief associations with Jesse Murphy hadn't left her with an abiding faith in his intelligence or his respect for motherhood.
Remembering how Momma had jumped to her feet during her boys' trial and screamed obscenities at their victims, Savannah decided maybe Jesse was right about his brother's heritage.
"I'm not kidding," Jesse said, hopping around, clutching his crotch. "I'm seriously bleeding here."
Savannah cringed as Josh reached for one of the packages of toilet paper right by Dirk's head. She saw Dirk duck as Josh's hand nearly swiped him.
"Here," Josh said, pitching the pack at Jesse. "Do what you gotta do, and let's get on with this. We told Butch we'd have the oxycottons and percs to him tonight. You know how he gets when we stand him up."
Jesse ripped off his workman's gloves and tore open the package. He pulled out a roll of the toilet paper and jammed it against his wound. "Owww! Next time we're goin' in the door, or we ain't goin' in at all," he said. "I'm getting too old for this climbing-through-the-window crap."
But his brother was already in the back of the store.
Josh vaulted over the pharmacy counter, took a flashlight from his jeans pocket, and trailed the beam up and down the shelves.
When he found what he wanted, he grabbed a couple of plastic bags from beneath the cash register and began filling them with bottles and boxes. "You gonna help me out here," he said, "or you gonna dance around, playin' with Big Jim and the twins?"
Jesse tossed away one roll of blood-soaked toilet paper, got out a fresh one, and pressed it to his privates. "Screw you and hurry up," he said. "When we get outta here, you gotta take me to the hospital. I mighta cut something off."
"Nothin' you'd ever need."
"It could be hangin' by a thread."
"Story of your life, dude." Josh crawled back over the counter, holding the bags filled with pharmaceutical booty.
"Let's get outta here, man. I gotta go get sewed up," Jesse said as he followed his brother back to the broken window, shuffling along with the roll of toilet paper clasped tightly between his thighs.
Savannah could hear her pulse pounding in her ears as they drew closer. Her hand tightened around the grip of the pistol.
"We ain't goin' to no hospital," Josh said. "They report stuff like that to the cops, you moron."
"You're the idiot. That's gunshots they report. Not cuts on your nuts."
"How're you gonna explain that? It's obvious you did it climbin' through a broke window."
"I'll tell 'em your pit bull bit me."
"I don't got no pit bull."
"Well, I ain't gonna tell 'em your stupid cat scratched me. How wussy would that sound?"
When Josh reached the window, he handed Jesse one of the bags and then started to bang on the windowsill with his flashlight, clearing the remaining shards of glass.
"Get it all," Jesse said. "I ain't climbin' back through there unless you've got it all outta there."
Savannah leaned her head out from behind the shelves, just enough to see Dirk. He saw her, gave her a nod, and they both jumped out of their hiding places.
"Police!" Dirk yelled. "Freeze!"
The brothers jumped and spun around to face them.
"I said 'freeze!'" Dirk repeated, stepping closer to them.
Savannah moved into the light, so they could see her ... and more importantly, her Beretta pointed at them.
"What the hell?" Jesse dropped his bag and his roll of toilet paper and backed up against the wall, hands raised.
Josh lowered his bag, too, but he locked eyes with Savannah. And even in the dim light, she could see the hatred on his face and a rage that showed no sign of surrender.
He raised the flashlight in his other hand ever so slightly.
His eyes narrowed.
"No!" she shouted, sighting down the barrel of the raised gun that was aimed at his head. "Don't even think about it! Drop the flashlight!"
"Drop it!" Dirk said. "Now!"
Instead of lowering the torch, he raised it a bit higher.
"You're gonna die, Josh," Savannah said. "Drop that weapon, or in about two seconds, we're gonna blow your brains all over your brother."
She took a step closer to him and her eyes went arctic cold. "Is that what you want?" she asked, her tone as icy as her eyes. "You wanna die today, Josh ... like a whupped dog ... right here in front of your little brother?"
Josh weighed his options, looking at the business end of Savannah's Beretta, then Dirk's Smith & Wesson.
"It ain't worth it, bro," Jesse said. "Give it up."
After what seemed like twelve or thirteen years to Savannah, Josh Murphy let the flashlight slip from his fingers. It clattered to the floor.
"Put your hands on your heads," Dirk said. "And turn around."
Instantly, Jesse did as he was told. Josh took a bit longer before he obeyed.
"Palms on the wall," Savannah told them, "feet apart. Wide apart."
Jesse yelped as he spread his feet. "I'm cut, you guys," he said. "I'm bleeding like a pig here. I'm about to die."
Revolver in his right hand, Dirk used his left to pass Savannah a pair of cuffs. "So, what do you expect us to do about it, Jesse?" Dirk asked. "Want us to tie a tourniquet around it? Cinch it up nice and tight? Cut off the blood flow?"
"Uh ... no."
"I didn't think so."
Savannah holstered her weapon, pulled Josh's hand down, and clamped a cuff on one of his wrists, then the other.
As always, she felt a small sense of relief once the suspect was manacled. "It's the hands that'll hurt you," was the motto that had been drilled into her throughout her training.
And having the more aggressive of the two robbers under control, the worst part was done.
She compared it to eating your liver and onions so that you could enjoy your chocolate cake dessert.
As she cuffed Jesse, Savannah could see the blood dripping onto the floor from his crotch. Dark red blood stained the whole seat of his jeans.
The guy wasn't kidding; he really was badly cut. They were going to have to make an unscheduled pit stop at the hospital.
Dirk grabbed Josh and headed toward the back door.
Savannah followed, with the leaking brother in tow.
As Dirk used the pharmacy owner's keys to open the back door, Savannah waited patiently with her prisoner.
"Jesse," she told him, "you make a piss-poor burglar. You oughta take up some other line of work. Wasn't there something worthwhile you wanted to be when you grew up, other than a low-life scumbag who's always getting busted? Didn't you have a dream, boy?"
Jesse shrugged, thought about it, then gave her a sheepish little grin. "Yeah, I wanted to grow up and be Superman ... or the Incredible Hulk ... or maybe Spider-Man."
"And you were how old when you decided on 'super hero' as a life vocation?"
"Oh, I don't know. When I was about seventeen or eighteen. I dropped outta school in the tenth grade ... got held back a few years."
Excerpted from A Decadent WAY TO DIE by G.A. McKevett Copyright © 2011 by G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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