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In this second book of the critically acclaimed Broken Vows Mystery series, Jolene Parker and her police-deputy husband Ray have found new love in their life together. They're foster parents for Noelle, an adorable baby whose fugitive birth parents hightailed it out of their touristy Finger Lakes-area town. Jolene and Ray want to make their parenthood official, but the adoption hits a mysterious roadblock when the given name of Noelle's mother traces back to a dead girl. As Jolene races to find the true identity ...
In this second book of the critically acclaimed Broken Vows Mystery series, Jolene Parker and her police-deputy husband Ray have found new love in their life together. They're foster parents for Noelle, an adorable baby whose fugitive birth parents hightailed it out of their touristy Finger Lakes-area town. Jolene and Ray want to make their parenthood official, but the adoption hits a mysterious roadblock when the given name of Noelle's mother traces back to a dead girl. As Jolene races to find the true identity of the birth mother, she discovers an unsolved murder . . . and learns that her family may be in extreme danger.
The first book in the series, For Better, For Murder, was a finalist for the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel
"Bork juggles multiple puzzles deftly in the witty For Better, For Murder."-KIRKUS REVIEWS
"In this promising series debut, Bork has created an interesting cast of complex characters that readers will enjoy getting to know."-BOOKLIST
Trying to finalize the adoption of their foster child puts a vintage-car dealer and her husband in peril.
In For Better, for Murder (2009), Jolene Asdale's bipolar sister Erica gave her an unusual Christmas present: an infant girl, born to teenaged Abigail Bryce and her stickup-guy boyfriend Theo Tibble, who at least have the sense to know they're in no position to raise a child. Baby Noelle has brought joy to Jolene, reuniting her with her husband, Deputy Sheriff Ray Parker. In their attempt to legalize the adoption, however, Jolene and Ray run into a strange obstacle. "Abigail Bryce" turns out to be an alias, and when Jolene discovers her at a racetrack in Canandaigua, she sees Noelle's birth mother arrested for slashing Theo's throat. Once in custody, the girl clams up despite the pleas of her lawyer, Catherine Thomas, who just happens to be Ray's ex-girlfriend. All she'll say is that Noelle is in too much danger for her to say anything more. A drive-by shooting at Noelle's babysitter's house convinces Jolene that whoever she is, the girl's not kidding. So she leaves her mechanic, Cory Kempe, in charge of unloading her prize 2006 Ferrari Spider, which has been tricky to sell since a corpse was found in its front seat last year, so she can put her full energy into finding a killer and saving her beloved daughter.
Murder is one of the least interesting transgressions in Bork's tale of deception and redemption.
From the showroom window of my sports car boutique and repair shop, I watched the Fourth of July parade pass, trying to tell myself it was the reason no one had come in today. Otherwise, surely the 2006 Rosso Corsa F430 Ferrari Spider gleaming under the showroom pin lights would cause someone to salivate.
Even through the showroom glass, I could tell the Wachobe High School marching band was in good form. A ten-foot float of their mascot, the Wachobe Bumble Bee, trailed them down Main Street as a man-sized, costumed version boogied with high-spirited spectators along the curbs. The wind had kicked up with all the heat, no doubt heralding the thunderstorm predicted for later this afternoon. The color guard struggled to keep their flags under control, and the cheerleaders flashed more panty than cheer.
A six-foot-three, 220-pound man hustled past the window, blocking the sun and my view for a moment, a pink bundle in his arms. I headed toward the showroom entrance to greet him, surprised to see Ray and Noelle this early in the day.
"Darlin', I got called in. Car accident. You'll have to take Noelle." My husband, Ray Parker, a county deputy sheriff, took a minute to kiss our baby's cheeks over and over again, generating a storm of appreciative giggles. Then he lifted her flowered shirt and pressed his lips to her tummy, blowing a loud and long raspberry. She latched onto his dark hair and tugged.
"Hey, no. Ouch."
Ray pulled Noelle's hand away from his hair and held out all twenty pounds of her to me. As I took her in my arms, Ray got a proud yet wistful look on his face. He didn't like losing his precious daddy days with our almost-seven-month-old foster child, but he would have countless days with Noelle as soon as we finalized her adoption.
"We'll have to reschedule our picnic. I'll be home as soon as I can."
I swallowed my disappointment. This wasn't the first time Ray's job had come between us and a day in the park, and it wouldn't be the last. "It's a plan."
Ray smoothed the wrinkles from his perfectly creased gray uniform. He looked good in his uniform, all masculine and muscled. Heck, he looked good in anything—and nothing, too. The few white strands in his dark hair and the crinkles around his eyes only added to his allure, especially coupled with his heartbreaking grin. I only hoped when people looked at me they thought thirty-seven looked as good.
He pecked my lips and headed out into the crowd, which clapped for the marching band's rendition of "Cabaret." My gaze followed him as he walked away, feeling a familiar tingle at the sight of his sexy butt and remembering with a grin how irresistible it had been in the shower this morning.
Then I greeted Noelle with a few hugs and kisses of my own. She pressed sweaty palms to my cheeks and giggled. The scent of Gerber rice cereal and formula on her lips and Johnson's No More Tears in her wispy blondish-brown curls were like baby perfume.
Her wide blue eyes studied my nose, then my pearl necklace. She made a grab for it, yanking it off and scattering the pearls across the waxed floor.
Noelle watched them roll. Her fascination killed any irritation I felt. She had that effect on me.
I rubbed my nose against hers. "Help Mommy pick up the pearls."
I bounced her around the showroom, stooping to insert pearls into my pant's pocket. It would be just my luck to have a customer stray in from the parade and slip on them. Even though my insurance was paid up, I didn't want to take any chances.
Something smacked against my showroom window. I heard a cracking sound. I straightened and swung around, cupping the back of Noelle's head with my palm and pushing her into my chest. She stiffened and let out a wail.
Seconds later, my showroom picture window lay in pieces on the floor, mixed with the pearls. Six high school boys in low-hanging Bermuda shorts and exposed boxers struggled to extract the Wachobe Bumble Bee from the window frame.
Noelle's wailing ceased and her eyes grew wide. She gasped.
I thought of an exclamation but managed to keep it to myself. At least no one was hurt.
One of the boys waved. "Sorry, ma'am." The Bumble Bee swayed down the street, and the crowd began to break up. A few passersby shook their heads at the sight of my ruined window. I gave them a rueful smile as I wondered how much this mess would cost me. Lately almost everything seemed to cost me.
An athletic-looking man with blond hair and silver-rimmed glasses strolled through the showroom door. He stopped to gaze in surprise at his sandal-clad feet, which had kicked up loose pearls and glass.
He looked up at me. "Are you open?"
I gave him my best saleswoman smile. "We are. We just had a little accident with the window. How can I help you?"
He stepped closer, almost on tiptoe. I held my breath he didn't slip or get cut.
"I spotted the Ferrari before the parade began. I've been looking for one for months. They're getting to be quite rare. Any chance I could get a test drive?" The man thrust out his hand. "Dave Barclay."
I shifted Noelle to my left hip and shook his hand. "Jolene As ... ah, Parker, owner of Asdale Auto Imports. I'll be happy to assist you. Unfortunately, the police have the parade route blocked for another hour. Can you stop back later today ... or tomorrow morning? That might work out better." I needed time to get both the showroom and my thoughts together.
"Tomorrow morning around ten would be great. I'll bring my wife."
I watched him walk out the door. Had he heard the story about the Ferrari? Normally, I wouldn't allow a test drive for a customer off the street, given the value of the vehicle, but I'd make an exception for this man and this car.
Dave Barclay was the man—a self-made millionaire who hawked Mennonite-crafted wooden furniture and quilts in New York City, furniture and quilts made in the hills around here, Wachobe, New York, the western portal to the Finger Lakes region. Locally, the quilts sold for around six hundred dollars, the furniture less. In New York City, they netted sixteen hundred to three thousand a quilt, with a proportional markup on the furniture. I wished I'd had the foresight to export them instead of importing foreign cars. Maybe I'd own a two-million-dollar cottage on the lake, instead of an arts-and-crafts bungalow in the middle of town and a struggling sports car boutique. Dave Barclay had the money to buy the Ferrari, no doubt about it.
"Do I even want to know what happened here?"
Cory Kempe, my garage mechanic and confidant, stood in the entranceway, toeing the pearls and glass. He wore a cat costume with a huge mane of black fur, sharp claws, and runny makeup that no longer hid his glistening porcelain skin. His poodle-tight auburn curls looked damp with sweat.
I shook my head. "Then you'd be as depressed as me."
He slinked across the showroom, wagging his tail at Noelle. "Would petting the kitty make you feel better?"
Cory's nearby Broadway-quality theater troupe was doing Cats this month and a few of the locals with a role in the production had marched in the parade as advertising. He was one of the smaller cats, standing five-foot-one, three inches shorter than me. The makeup artists loved to enhance his girly eyelashes.
"I wish. Who'd you call the last time the window got broken?"
Cory reached for Noelle, who went to him happily. "Marty Simmons Glass. He's in the yellow pages."
I headed toward my office. "Watch the glass doesn't ruin your costume."
"It's hotter than he ... an oven in this thing. It could use some air holes."
While Cory set Noelle on the conference table to play peek-a-boo, I dialed the glass company and arranged for an immediate visit. The owner warned me he would have to charge double time for the holiday visit. I had to agree since I didn't think the town fathers would take too well to having the window simply boarded over.
My sports car boutique sat right in the middle of our upscale tourist town, at the head of its seven-mile-long lake which was ringed by million-dollar homes, euphemistically called "cottages." Wachobe's major tourist attractions included lakeside cottage rentals for thousands of dollars a week, delightful restaurants, a dozen wineries, and a trendy shopping district. But the cedar shingles and white trim on my shop contrasted sharply with the 1790s picturesque brick and clapboard storefronts that ran along the rest of Main Street, and my modern cars didn't blend well with the charming Victorian image the town fathers wanted to project. Already they had hinted my shop might be better located on a back street. Certainly boarded windows would not say "Welcome Tourists" in the tried and true Wachobe way.
After hanging up the phone, I took a minute to smooth my bob as well as the creases from my linen pantsuit, which had hung a little loose the last few weeks. The humidity had made my brown hair more wavy than usual, and I didn't need to look in the mirror to know that my blue eyes had dark circles under them. Would I ever get this business permanently in the black?
I walked into the showroom to stand next to Cory. "The glass company will be here in twenty. Don't you need to catch up to the rest of the cast?"
Cory tickled Noelle under her chin, eliciting giggles. "Nah, the parade's over. They're having a picnic in the park. I can join in anytime." He proceeded to blow kisses into Noelle's tummy and was rewarded with more giggles.
I leaned my back against the Ferrari while I explained to Cory about Ray's need to cancel our family's holiday picnic, my ruined pearls, and the nonexistent showroom window. "But bad luck comes in threes, right? So my streak is over."
Cory pried his hair out of Noelle's fingertips. She protested with a wail. He gave her his tail to play with instead. "I thought death comes in threes. The newscasters always say that when someone famous dies, and within a month or so they're usually proved correct."
I put my index finger to my lips. "Shhh. Don't say anything about death." I pointed to the Ferrari. "Dave Barclay is coming in tomorrow for a test drive. I don't think he's heard about the car." A dead man—a murdered one, to be precise—had been left in this Ferrari six months ago, right here in this showroom. But Dave and his wife were summer residents of the town. Maybe the news hadn't traveled.
"Excellent. My lips are sealed."
I doubted the rest of our town would be so cooperative.
Noelle tired of Cory's tail and reached for me. I scooped her up.
One glance at my watch told me it was naptime. We waved goodbye to Cory, who gave us a final, glorious tail wag before disappearing down Main Street. In my office, I settled Noelle on her back in the portable vinyl playpen. She opened her mouth for her pacifier, inhaled it, and closed her eyes. Six or seven loud sucks later, she slept. Such a good baby.
I closed the door behind me as two men in maroon and green Marty Simmons Glass polo shirts appeared in the showroom. The short stout one with no neck was clearly in charge, and he looked me up and down so thoroughly as we shook hands that I felt the need to check to make sure my fly wasn't open. When his bloodshot eyes remained on my breasts a little too long, I resisted the urge to snap my fingers and point to my face.
"Are you Marty Simmons?"
"No, I'm his brother-in-law." He turned his back to me and pointed to the window. "Replacement glass for this is gonna run you. I'm not sure we even have anything this big in stock."
His cohort, a pimply lad of maybe eighteen, nodded vigorously in support of his claim.
I swallowed my impatience and tried to charm them with a smile. "You've replaced it for us in the past. Perhaps you could measure it and check your inventory. I need it fixed today. If you can't do it, I'll have to call someone else."
That got them moving. Apparently they didn't know their company was the only glass company within fifty miles of Wachobe. In minutes, they confirmed the availability and price of the replacement. I tried to recall my deductible and couldn't. Tomorrow I could sort it all out when the rest of the town, including my insurance agency, reopened for business.
By three o'clock, the showroom had a new window. The installers had almost lost it a couple times in the swirling winds, but apparently my streak of bad luck had ended. I wanted to go home but observed the first rule of parenthood—never wake a sleeping baby.
A familiar face appeared in the window and waved an ice cream cone. My attorney, Greg Doran, strolled into the showroom and offered me a lick of his black cherry treat. I declined.
"I didn't expect you to be open today. I planned to give you a call tomorrow." Greg slurped the melting ice cream off his hand and took a few huge bites to get things under control.
"No." He finished his cone and looked around. "Do you have a restroom?"
I pointed. "In the corner."
"Be right back. I need to wash my hands."
While I waited for him to return, I pondered the possibilities. Greg was handling our adoption, a rather unconventional one to say the least. My sister Erica had talked two of her "friends" into signing custody of their baby over to Ray and me—unbeknownst to us until the baby was dropped in our laps and the birth parents had left town on the lam. Just one of many awkward positions Erica had placed Ray and me in over the years, but now that we had Noelle and our life was so much richer, it was impossible to remain angry.
Greg reappeared and looked around. "Can we sit down?"
"Sure." I led him to the round table next to the reception desk. "What's going on?"
He crossed his hairy legs. I realized it was the first time I'd seen him in anything other than a suit and tie. His flip-flops revealed freakishly long second toes, and his khaki shorts and white polo both had purplish ice cream stains. Greg was the best lawyer in town, maybe even in the Finger Lakes region, but, at the moment, he didn't look so competent. Perhaps that was appropriate for delivering bad news.
"I've run into a wall with the adoption. We may need to hire a private investigator. Or maybe Ray can take some time off."
My heart accelerated, pressing on my chest. Tears blurred my vision, and I looked skyward to contain them. "Why? I thought you'd filed all the necessary papers. I thought we were weeks away from finalizing."
"I did, and we were. But a red flag popped up."
"What red flag?"
Greg picked at the stain on his shirt. "You know I contacted all the birth parents' family members to make sure they didn't want to claim Noelle."
"Theodore Tibble's family wanted nothing to do with her, or with Theo."
"Right." I remembered doing the happy dance when Ray and I learned that.
"We never found Abigail's parents. Her application at the convenience store and her apartment lease named Theo as her emergency contact. The previous employers she listed had never heard of her. So I wrote her family off since she had signed all the necessary papers to make Noelle yours before she left town."
That was a nice turn of phrase. Greg could have said "before she split" or "before she ran from the law" or even "before she escaped." Must be the lawyer in him that made him so vague. "Okay. So now you've found them?"
"What then, Greg? Can you just tell me?" Now I understood why the messenger got shot so often—for trying the recipient's patience!
Greg leaned his forearms on the table and folded his hands. "It turns out Abigail's name and social security number don't check out. Abigail Bryce was born in Canandaigua, New York, eighteen years ago."
"So? Lots of eighteen-year-olds have babies these days." Too many, in my opinion, but this one happened to please me.
Greg looked down at his hands. "Yes, but this Abigail Bryce never made it to eighteen. She died in June of last year, five months before her eighteenth birthday. Hit and run. No witnesses. Police thought it might have been a drunk driver, given it occurred around the corner from a bar at two-fifteen in the morning. They never apprehended the driver."
My chest felt tight. I forced myself to breathe. "But that's over a year ago."
I tried to fill in the blanks. "Noelle's mother stole Abigail Bryce's identity?"
Greg shrugged. "So it appears."
"Then who is Noelle's mother?"
"Damned if I know."
Excerpted from For Richer, for Danger by Lisa Bork Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Bork. Excerpted by permission of Midnight Ink. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted October 11, 2011
"For Richer, for Danger" is the second in the Broken Vows Mystery Series. Not only is this book a good mystery, it's also a lesson in relationships and what can happen when good friends and life partners keep secrets from each other.
Protagonist Jolene Parker and her police-deputy husband Ray love each other deeply. But their marriage is rocky because Ray wants children and Jolene, for reasons I can't divulge here, does not. They become foster parents for an adorable baby girl and the experience draws them closer together as a couple. They want to make their parenthood permanent, but the adoption proceedings hit a roadblock when the given name of the baby's birth mother traces back to a dead girl.
Lisa Bork's characters are richly drawn and complex. "For Richer, for Danger" is not a typical cozy with frothy fun on every page. Rather, it makes a reader care about the characters long after the book is over. In this book, as in life itself, no one is ever guaranteed a happy ending. You have to work for it.
Reviewed by Susan Santangelo, author of "Moving Can Be Murder" for Suspense Magazine
Posted November 22, 2011
No text was provided for this review.