Force of Habitby Alice Loweecey
Giulia Falcone is convinced she's going to Hell. First, because she left the convent. Second, her new job with a private investigator has her sneaking around and lying. Adjusting to life in the outside world isn't easy. Makeup, dating, and sex are all new to her. And despite a crush on her boss Frank Driscolla foul-mouthed, soft-hearted ex-copGiulia is
Giulia Falcone is convinced she's going to Hell. First, because she left the convent. Second, her new job with a private investigator has her sneaking around and lying. Adjusting to life in the outside world isn't easy. Makeup, dating, and sex are all new to her. And despite a crush on her boss Frank Driscolla foul-mouthed, soft-hearted ex-copGiulia is sure he'd never fall for an ex-nun.
Her first case involves drop-dead handsome Blake Parker, a man with immense wealth and an ego to match. He and his fiancée are getting disturbing "gifts" with messages based on biblical verses. When Giulia is drawn into the stalker's twisted game, salacious photos of her appear, threatening her job and her friendship with Frank. No one imaginesleast of all naïve Giuliathe danger ahead, when following the clues turns into a fight for her life.
Book one in the dangerously habit-forming Falcone & Driscoll Investigation series
"A spirited debut...her fresh take on crime fighting is a delight."Publishers Weekly
"Loweecey will have a wonderful opportunity in future books in this series to further develop these characters...[fall] in love with what is sure to be a hit series."Suspense Magazine
An ex-nun signs on as administrative assistant to a private eye.
Somebody who really doesn't want rising businessman Blake Parker to marry his blue-blood fiancée Pamela van Alstyne has been sending them anonymous notes with insults and threats couched in biblical language. When Blake comes to Driscoll Investigations to get the sender identified without any of the bad publicity a police report might generate, Frank Driscoll tells his assistant, Giulia Falcone, that she'd do better than him at interviewing the most likely suspects, Blake's five ex-girlfriends. Giulia, who until 10 months ago was Sister Mary Regina Coelis, isn't eager to tackle the job, and her awkward conversation with snobbish Sandra Falke, who tells her, "You seem new at this," shows why not. But it doesn't matter that Giulia lets the women she's supposed to be interrogating get the better of her because she quickly ends up at the center of the case herself. Threatening notes and packages are sent to her; a stranger assaults her outside her apartment; a series of doctored photos persuades her boss that she's slept with the client, a narcissistic sexpot who couldn't believe she'd turn him down; and a turn toward what she fondly hopes is true love provokes a climactic scene she aptly describes as "porn theater of the absurd" and an anticlimactically overextended epilogue.
Loweecey's debut is not by any means your mother's detecting-nun story. Let's hope the promised series allows Giulia to lick her wounds in private while the suspects and their troubles take center stage.
Read an Excerpt
FORCE OF HABITA FALCONE & DRISCOLL INVESTIGATION
By ALICE LOWEECEY
Midnight InkCopyright © 2011 Alice Loweecey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGiulia Falcone—formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis—popped a tangerine Life Saver in her mouth to stifle a curse.
No wonder the client was desperate. She would be too if a stalker had sent her notes that escalated from adoring to obsessive. Given the choice, she'd rather be chased by a rabid Doberman.
The office door squeaked, letting in the aroma of fresh coffee. Giulia looked up. Light from the hallway glinted off the title on the frosted glass: Driscoll Investigations.
Frank Driscoll stood in the doorway, a steaming cup in each hand. "Any ideas?"
"I enjoy having a boss who looks like Nick Charles bring me coffee." Giulia tilted her head to one side. "If you put on the suit jacket, you'd be the image of that classic detective."
Frank's blue shirt, gray shadow-striped tie, and charcoal trousers sat well on his muscled, six-foot-tall body. Very well.
Stop it, Giulia. He's the boss.
She pushed the notes away. "This is one sick broad. Why couldn't you need help with a nicer case? Like someone looking for their long-lost twin sister."
"You figured out the messages?" Frank kicked the door closed and set a sleeved paper cup next to her. "I apologize for the cup, but Common Grounds doesn't have espresso-sized paper."
"I worship you." She removed the lid, inhaled, and sipped. "I take it back. I worship their espresso."
"Women are fickle."
She swallowed a smart remark after a glance at the challenge in his grinning, freckled face. "As your dutiful assistant, I'll graciously overlook that."
Frank went into his office and rolled his chair next to her. "Tell me what the letters mean."
"They mean that this woman needs to learn the true nature of love. Stalking her ex with the Song of Solomon is wrong on so many levels."
"What makes that wrong? What's the Song of Solomon?"
"Heathen. Ever hear of the Bible? The Song of Solomon is probably the most beautiful love poem ever written." She sipped espresso. "It's also filled with euphemisms for men's and women's naughty bits."
He picked up one of the messages. "Really? I don't see that in here."
"She's leading up to it. The first one was innocuous. But think about the second one: 'Your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes. Take me away with you—let us hurry!'"
Frank slurped from his own paper cup. "I wouldn't mind a woman writing that about me."
Men. All ego and appetite. "You would if she sent your fiancée a message that says, 'Tremble, you complacent woman; shudder, you who feel secure! Beat your breasts, for you will be completely forsaken.'"
"That's part of the greatest love poem?"
"No. It's from one of the Prophets, I think."
"You don't know? I'm shocked. Didn't you teach this stuff when you were Sister Mary-whatever-you-were?"
"I tried not to rub the kids' noses in the R-rated parts." Giulia tilted the cup to get the last intense mouthful. "What about you? Didn't the nuns teach you anything in school? You come from a good Irish Catholic family."
"My brothers gave me all their hoarded cheat sheets." Frank leaned back in the chair and scooted away. "I'll go to Confession on Saturday." He stood and opened the window. The early June breeze filled the room with fresh air and the smell of frying sausage from the pizza place across the street.
The phone rang.
"Good afternoon, Driscoll Investigations." Giulia aimed her empty cup at the trash while listening. "One moment, please." She hit the Hold button. "It's Mr. Parker. Want to take it in your office?"
"Nah." Frank rolled back to her desk, hand extended. She hit Hold again.
"Frank here, Blake ... Already? ... What was in the box? ... Okay." He made a "gimme" gesture, and Giulia handed him pen and paper.
"Calm down." He held the phone between his ear and shoulder and scribbled. "Here's what I need you to do. Bring me the package and a list of everyone you've dated in the past three years ... Of course, names, addresses, and phone numbers ... See you at six."
He lobbed the phone at Giulia and she hung it up.
"The Golden Boy of Cottonwood, Pennsylvania, is not happy. New deliveries to him and the Perfect Fiancée."
"Creepier than the others?"
"Hers was. A dissected snake in a jewelry box. His was a pair of lovebirds."
"No—they came in a box that had air holes drilled in it." He shook his head. "She dyed them pink and blue."
Giulia laughed. "Sorry. Good heavens. How does this woman sleep at night?"
He stacked the letters and tapped their edges on the desk. "You sure these are all quotes from the Bible?"
"I'll check the Old Testament for the 'tremble and shudder' quote tonight."
* * *
Giulia jogged past St. Thomas Church as the electric carillon finished "O Sanctissima" and the Angelus bell rang. That meant it was six o'clock. The Latin words looped in her head as she finished her last half-mile.
Oh, come on. It was high time she dragged herself into the twenty-first century and jogged to Metallica or Queen. She could stretch the budget to cover an iPod Shuffle, even though she'd already pawned the plain gold "wedding ring" she received the day she took final vows and became a "bride of Christ."
She flexed her bare left hand. After she left the convent she'd kept the ring as a reminder of the mystical union she'd once shared with God Himself. But money got tight when she lost the waitressing job in the Mexican place after dropping an entire stack of enchilada-filled plates. The pawnbroker gave her seventy-five dollars for the ring, and peanut butter on cheap white bread had never tasted so good.
Her stomach growled and she picked up her pace. Around the block, past the dollar store, down to the gas station. She smiled and waved at the evening mechanic as he locked up.
"You got yer mace, lady?" he called.
Giulia pulled the mace-sprayer necklace out of her T-shirt, and he gave her the thumbs-up. When she turned the corner, he was at his nondescript van making his first sale of the day. Perhaps it was another mace necklace or a hand-dyed shirt ... or pot in a small bag labeled All-Natural Herbal Tea. She wondered if the gas station's owner turned a blind eye to that part of the van's supplies. She really hoped the mechanic was supporting an invalid mother with the drug money, but even she knew that thought was painfully naïve.
St. Thomas' carillon changed to "Panis Angelicus," and she grimaced. Even country-western on a portable radio would be better than moldy Latin hymns.
You'd never have said that in the convent, Falcone. Thought it maybe, but never let it pass your lips. Maybe Sister Mary Fabian was right and you really are going to Hell.
Then at least she'd arrive in good shape. She laughed and started an extra lap around the block.
* * *
Giulia had surrounded herself with most of the papers from the corner filing cabinet when Frank walked in at nine the next morning.
"Frank, did your last assistant ever update the computer files?" She waved a handful of manila folders at him.
"Good morning to you, too." He stopped short, setting down a lumpy, translucent package on her desk. "Why is everything on the floor?"
"Because it's the only way to see what's been stuffed in here." She groped on the cabinet top for her breakfast peanut-butter sandwich. "Don't worry." She swallowed a bite. "It'll be back together by five. I'll start transferring everything to the hard drive tomorrow."
"Forget about the files for now. I want you to do something else." He pushed her chair toward her. "Sit down."
Her stomach fluttered. Had she screwed up? Maybe he loved old-fashioned filing. Or hated Windows. Why had he waited an entire month if he didn't like her methods? He knew she hadn't much experience with "regular" jobs. Few other twenty-nine-year-olds had a résumé that jumped from bagging groceries in high school to pouring coffee ten years later. Some Catholic school systems treated the habit and veil as instant teacher qualification. Six weeks of Methods and eight years' experience didn't count anywhere else, though. She needed this job. For the first time in nine months, her checking account had a buffer.
"What?" She sat.
He unwrapped more than a dozen layers of plastic wrap from the package to reveal a long, flat jewelry box. "This is the snake received by Pamela van Alstyne, Blake's fiancée."
She opened it and coughed. "Nasty."
"I'll open the window. Car exhaust is better than that smell." He walked two steps to the outer wall and pushed up the bottom sash.
Giulia unfolded the paper stuck in the lid. " 'Go down, sit in the dust. No more will you be called tender or delicate. Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered.'" She studied the ex-grass snake. Its peeled skin stuck to the bloody cotton wadding beneath it. "Does the fiancée actually have any deep, dark secrets?"
"I ran a background check on her. Your life in the convent was more exciting." He took out two envelopes from the same pocket and gave her a folded pink paper from the top one. "This came with the birds. That's 'Passion' you smell. My last girlfriend liked to douse herself in it. Every time we kissed, I sneezed."
She snickered and opened it. " 'Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.'"
She held the note in two fingers to hand it back, resisting the urge to say, Just tell me what you want, Frank. "Phew. Cloying. See what I meant about those euphemisms?"
He nodded. "Even I got that last one." He set the note on the desk and held out the second envelope. "I want you to interview Blake's last five girlfriends."
Her jaw dropped. "Me?" She shut her mouth with a click.
"People talk to you. Here's your cover story: Pamela's mother hired you to see how Blake treats his women, because he seems too good to be true. You can also hint that her mom wouldn't object to busting up the happy pair."
"But ... I mean ..." She sat straighter. "That'd be lying."
"Spare me." Frank slid off the desk and pushed the window higher. "This is the real world, Giulia. I lie all the time when I deliver subpoenas. Nobody'd open the door for me otherwise."
No, no, no. She took this job for peace and quiet. Routine. No surprises. "I'm just an administrative assistant."
"And you were a teacher for eight years. You can talk to strangers." He appraised her while a passing fire-engine siren faded. "You got a decent suit?"
She glanced at her jeans and button-down striped shirt. "My job interview suit."
"That navy blue one? Good. Blake only dates women with money or status, so you have to blend in with that crowd."
Giulia scrambled for a way out. Detectives pried. Dug under people's skin. Exposed them. That was okay for Frank—he liked people who zipped their mouths shut. Thought they were a challenge. And he used what he learned only for doing good. But she'd had too much of prying in the convent.
"I need you, Giulia." He set down the envelope and paced from the window to the filing cabinets and back. "These women won't give me the time of day. I'm the social equivalent of their pool cleaner." He leaned both arms on the desk, facing her. "But they'll dish dirt to another woman."
She took out the list. "This one's on the north side—that's ten miles from here. This one, too. The last one's in Pittsburgh. I don't own a car."
"That's what Enterprise is for. You can drive, right?"
"Thought so. By the time you go home and change, they'll have a car waiting outside your apartment." He stared at her. "What?"
He didn't understand. She needed to be invisible. From people. From God. The dissected snake lay right in front of her. One of these five women probably disemboweled it. They'd look at her like that. God looked at her like that. Stop. Don't bring your baggage to work.
One more—businesslike—try. "I have no idea how to collect the information you need. I am completely green on interviewing techniques. I—"
He turned his back to her and walked into his office. His old desk drawer rattled and banged. He returned a moment later and slapped a Day-Timer into her hands.
"Never used. The precinct guys got it for me when I opened. There's a pen inside." He squatted in front of her and looked up into her eyes. "Giulia, I get the feeling this is my big break. The case that'll get me word-of-mouth rep. I need to crack this."
Blast. He treated her like more than a typing and filing grunt. And he sure knew how to make big, green Bambi eyes. Could she say no to a legitimate employer request? Hey—if she did this for him, and he got more cases, he could hire a real assistant and she could go back to anonymity.
"Will they be home at this hour?"
He grinned and bounced up. "Guaranteed. They're society types. The only way they'd be out is if they're doing charity work. No big fundraisers are happening till the August Children with Cancer auction."
"All right. I'll call them from home. Give me half an hour before you send the car."
"Tell me how to thank you."
Never ask me to do this again. "How about hiring someone to clean the bathroom?"
"Does it need cleaning?" He looked genuinely puzzled.
She rolled her eyes. "Not today, because I scrubbed it yesterday." As she opened the door, she said, "Can you print out directions to the Pittsburgh address? I'll pick them up on my way to the first girlfriend's."
Excerpted from FORCE OF HABIT by ALICE LOWEECEY Copyright © 2011 by Alice Loweecey. 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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Meet the Author
Alice Loweecey is a former nun who went from the convent to playing hookers on stage to accepting her husband's marriage proposal on the second date. A regular contributor to BuddyHollywood.com, she is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She is the author of Force of Habit and Back in the Habit. The author lives with her family in Amherst, N.Y. Visit her online at: AliceLoweecey.com.
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Alice Loweecey's Force of Habit is well written and a page turner. The former nun heroine's adjustment and job problems ring true to life. Being thrust into the real detective world is life changing for her.
Very enjoyable new series detective, former nun written by a former nun.
All Guilia Falcone wanted was a job that paid the bills, as assistant to the hunky PI, Frank Driscoll. What she got was a whole lot more than she bargained for, as he ropes her into participating in potentially dangerous investigative activities and lands her in the middle of the action. Way too soon for recently ex-nun Falcone, she's confronted with a whole new world of stalking, fetish and just plain old-fashioned sexual attraction. When she becomes a target for the stalker it makes the need to solve the crime all that more urgent, and personal. Alice Loweecey weaves a healthy dose of believable levity throughout this accomplished and engaging debut as Guilia and Frank try to uncover the culprit behind their narcissistic client's escalating threat. I'm looking forward to more in the Falcone and Driscoll series and the evolution of both Guilia's professional and private life.