Read an Excerpt
The Prince of Philly
Jimmy Carmani was halfway from the police station to his apartment when his radio crackled and dispatcher Erin Taylor's melodic voice filled his car. "Jimmy, where are you?" she asked.
"Just about home. Why? What's up?"
"I just got a call from Travis Brooks and he says he's being held at gunpoint by Sheri Marcoli at her place. You want to check it out?"
"On my way," Jimmy replied, wondering if his voice held the utter shock that swept through him. The idea of Sheri Marcoli holding Travis at gunpoint was stunning. The idea of Sheri holding anyone at gunpoint was ludicrous. It had to be a mistake.
He remembered a year ago when somebody had called into the station to say that Sarah Fisher, one of the women from the nearby Amish community, was beating a man to death with a hoe.
Jimmy and his partners Frank Delaney and Steve Kincaid had sped to the scene where they found Sarah using a hoe to beat a rug hanging on a clothesline.
This had to be something similar. There was no way that Jimmy would believe that sweet, caring, petite Sheri Marcoli even owned a gun.
His apartment was just off the main drag of the small town of Wolf Creek, Pennsylvania, but he headed in the opposite direction, turning onto a road that would take him up into the mountains where Sheri's small house was located on five acres of thick woods.
Jimmy had only been there once about two months ago and that had been because of the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Sheri's aunt. It had been a little over three months since Liz Marcoli had disappeared from her home. She'd just vanished and while the case was being investigated as a criminal one, there had been no real clues and it was on its way to becoming a very cold case.
Liz Marcoli was the last thing on Jimmy's mind as he veered onto a narrow gravel road. It was far more likely that Travis Brooks, the owner of the Wolf's Head Tavern, had gotten himself liquored up and was holding a gun on Sheri for some unknown reason.
This thought forced his foot down harder on the gas pedal, making rocks ping against the underside of his car. Of the three Marcoli sisters, Sheri was the youngest and the smallest and although Travis rarely got a snoutful of his own products, it wasn't unheard of.
Jimmy gripped the steering wheel tighter, his Italian blood heating as he thought of Sheri defenseless against a drunk with a gun. He turned right onto a lane that he knew would carry him directly to the front of Sheri's cabin.
Sheri's bright yellow pickup was parked in front of the charming cabin, but there weren't any other vehicles in sight. Jimmy parked and got out of his car, his hand on the butt of his gun as he approached the front door.
He knocked and when there was no answer he called out. "Sheri Marcoli? It's Detective Carmani."
"Around back, Jimmy," her voice came faintly from behind the house. He didn't hear any stress in her tone, but he didn't remove his hand from his gun as he went around the side of the house and toward her backyard.
When he stepped around the corner he froze, stunned at the sight of Sheri with a shotgun to her shoulder and pointed toward the wooded area where in the distance Travis Brooks stood with his hands over his head and a panicked look on his face.
"Thank God you're finally here," Travis exclaimed. "She's gone plumb crazy. She's had that shotgun aimed at me for the last twenty minutes and told me if I moved an inch she'd shoot me."
Although Jimmy gave a faint nod in Travis's direction, his entire focus was on the miniature Annie Oakley. Tight jeans hugged her slender legs and she wore a black T-shirt with Roadside Stop, the name of the store she owned, in gold lettering across her small breasts.
She held the gun with a familiar ease that was both intriguing and appalling, for it was so far out of line with who he'd believed her to be. At her side was a dog, a black mix of breeds that was the size of a small Shetland pony.
"He's got a crossbow at his feet," Sheri said, as if that explained everything. "I warned him the last time he was hunting on my property that the next time I caught him I'd shoot him."
"I was on the trail of a feral pig, the biggest damn piece of pork I've ever seen," Travis replied. "That swine has been tearing up crops and some of the locals want it killed. I didn't realize I'd crossed onto your property, Sheri."
She kept holding the gun steady. "I've got No Hunting signs posted everywhere. How can you see a big pig and not see one of my big signs?"
"Sheri, you need to put the gun down," Jimmy said softly. "You know you aren't going to shoot Travis."
"Why shouldn't I? He's trespassing and he knows how I feel about hunting. My land is a sanctuary for animals."
"Sheri, I was on my way home from the station when I caught this call. If you shoot him then I'm going to have to arrest you and there will be tons of paperwork and I won't get home until after midnight and I do need my beauty sleep," Jimmy replied.
A hint of a smile curved her lips. The late evening sun sparkled in her chestnut-brown hair and when she looked at him her amber eyes held a hint of amusement that let him know she'd never intended to use the weapon.
She turned her gaze back to Travis and her eyes narrowed. "This is your last warning, Travis Brooks. Stay off my property with that crossbow of yours."
"I promise I'll be more careful in the future and the next time you come into the tavern your tab is on me," Travis answered.
Sheri lowered the shotgun so it pointed to the ground. "I wouldn't want to mess up your beauty sleep," she said to Jimmy.
"I appreciate that." Jimmy waved at Travis. "Get your crossbow and get out of here fast in case the lady changes her mind."
Before the words were completely out of Jimmy's mouth Travis had grabbed his crossbow and vanished from his shadowed spot in the woods. Jimmy turned back to Sheri, this time the smile gone from his face.
"Are you crazy?" he asked. "Do you have any idea how dangerous a gun can be? It might have accidentally gone off. You could have killed Travis or yourself."
"No, I couldn't have." Sheri stepped back toward the concrete patio and leaned the shotgun next to the back door. "It isn't loaded."
She moved to one of the patio chairs, the dog following at her side and sitting next to her as she sat. She motioned Jimmy to a chair as he continued to stare at her in surprise.
He walked to the chair next to hers and sank down. She pointed to the small patch of mowed lawn before them and the woods that surrounded it.
"These five acres are not just my sanctuary, but a safe home to any wild creatures that come here," she said.
He'd never been in her backyard and now he found himself studying it with interest. It was common knowledge that Sheri loved animals, but knowing it and seeing it were two different things.
Bird and squirrel feeders hung from trees limbs; a blooming flower garden surrounded a big birdbath. A salt lick was mounted on a post to attract deer and a tin tub at the very edge of the yard he assumed was used to put food scraps to feed bear, raccoon and any other scavenger in the vicinity. It was definitely an animal's paradise.
There was also a brightly striped hammock and a wrought-iron table next to it a perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon or lounge for a while before bedtime.
"No hunters allowed," she said firmly.
"Sheri, it's a dangerous practice to threaten a man with an unloaded gun," he said, and tried not to notice the heady floral scent that wafted from her and rode the light breeze to tease his nose.
"Would it be better to threaten a man with a loaded gun?" she asked.
"It would be better if you got rid of that gun altogether," he replied. He eyed the dog who sat like a statue next to her. "He's a big guy and very well behaved."
"His name is Highway and he's very well trained," she said as she stroked the top of the dog's head. "Highway, make nice," she said.
Jimmy tensed as the behemoth dog got up and approached where he sat. Highway opened his mouth, appearing to grin when he sat down and offered his paw.
A surprised laugh escaped Jimmy as he shook the dog's paw, and then Highway returned to sit at Sheri's side. "Did Jed train him?"
Sheri nodded. "I found him on the side of the highway between Wolf Creek and Hershey a little over a year ago. There were two of them, puppies about four weeks old, tossed out and abandoned. I picked them up, brought them home and tried to keep them alive. I lost one, but Highway was a fighter. Once he was old enough I took him to Jed for some special training. Highway would kill somebody if they threatened me. All I'd have to do was give the right command."
Jed Wilson was a talented dog trainer who lived in Wolf Creek and worked with search and rescue and cadaver dogs. He also trained tiny poodles not to piddle on the rug and apparently big dogs to protect and defend.
"I'd prefer you not give that command right now," Jimmy said drily.
Sheri smiled. "Don't worry. You're no threat to me. Highway is the main man in my life until my prince comes along."
"Prince?" Jimmy raised an eyebrow.
She nodded, her shoulder-length thick hair swaying with her head motion. "You know, my golden-haired, blue-eyed prince who will share this enchanted cottage in the woods with me for the rest of my life."
"And when, exactly, are you expecting this prince to show up?" Jimmy asked, his mind working to keep up with the conversation that had gone from guns, to killer dogs and now to a prince with blond hair who would provide her with her happy-ever-after ending.
She shrugged her slender shoulders. "Could be tomorrow, could be in a year. Who knows, but I'm a patient woman and I'm only twenty-six. I have time. I'm willing to wait until fate blows him in my direction. Forgive me, I'm being a bad hostess. Would you like something to drink? Maybe some iced tea or a cold beer?"
What he'd like to do was to sit here and talk to her forever, to get to know the woman who had captured his attention from the moment she and her two sisters had walked into the police station three months ago to file a missing-persons report for their aunt.
Instead he stood and shook his head. "Thanks, but I should probably head on home." He had a feeling if he spent too much time with Sheri he might like her even more than he already did, and one of the few things Jimmy was certain of was that he wasn't any kind of a golden-haired prince.
Sheri stood, the dog rising to all fours, as well. "Thanks for coming so quickly, Jimmy. I really just wanted to scare Travis. This is my property, not his personal hunting grounds and he needed to be reminded of that fact."
"I'll remind him again the next time I'm in the tavern," he replied. On impulse he reached into his pocket and took out a pad and pen. He scribbled down his personal cell phone number and handed it to her. "Just in case you get the urge to hold somebody at gunpoint again. Call me first and I'll see if I can talk you down."
She smiled at him, her eyes twinkling with amusement. "Night, Jimmy."
She headed inside the house as he walked around the side and back to his car. Minutes later as he made the drive to his apartment, he thought of what Sheri hadn't asked. She hadn't asked for any updates on her aunt Liz's case.
That indicated to Jimmy that she'd already given up hope of the woman ever being found and that was a tragedy. Jimmy couldn't imagine what it must be like to have a missing loved one.
Of course, Jimmy had no loved ones in his life. Despite the fact that she'd just held a man at gunpoint, Sheri Marcoli was a caring and gentle woman who deserved a prince and a happy ever after.
No matter how attracted he was to Sheri, he knew he was the antithesis of that prince. Black-haired and dark-eyed, Jimmy also sported two tattoos, had literally fought his way through life and had only known love for a brief period of time when he'd been eight years old.
As he pulled into the parking space in front of the small apartment he rented, he dismissed thoughts of Sheri Marcoli. He was a man apparently built to be alone, as he had been through most of his life.
What he needed to concentrate on was the mystery of Liz's continued disappearance and the most recent case of an armed robbery at a local convenience store.
Work. That's what Jimmy did best. Solving crimes was his talent, his passion. He was good at it and he had a feeling he'd be very bad at loving and being loved.