"An enjoyable down-home mystery inside a warm family drama." Midwest Book Review
Paws-itively Guiltyby Cindy Keen Reynders
Lexie Lightfoot, owner of the Saucy Lucy Cafe, doesn’t have an ounce of law enforcement training in her body, but when a friend goes missing and Lexie finds her buried in a garden, she decides to lend the police department a hand. Once the investigation begins, Lexie and her sister Lucy manage to rattle a few old skeletons and dig up secrets that folks… See more details below
Lexie Lightfoot, owner of the Saucy Lucy Cafe, doesn’t have an ounce of law enforcement training in her body, but when a friend goes missing and Lexie finds her buried in a garden, she decides to lend the police department a hand. Once the investigation begins, Lexie and her sister Lucy manage to rattle a few old skeletons and dig up secrets that folks would rather leave hidden. When things start to cook, the sisters and Lurch, their adopted oversize canine investigator, find themselves in a heap of hot water.
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By Cindy Keen Reynders
Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
Cindy Keen Reynders
All right reserved.
Chapter One Pale moon and starlight bathed the inside of Gabe Stevenson's Jeep with a muted glow, adding to the romantic mood. Lexie Lightfoot felt giddy, like a teenybopper on her first date. The warm breeze blowing through the open windows cooled her cheeks, flushed with anticipation.
The Jeep's tires crunched gravel as Gabe drove higher up the hill and pulled into a secluded spot beside pine, spruce, and aspen trees. A cluster of lights from the small town of Moose Creek Junction twinkled in the valley below.
Déjà vu, Lexie thought. I've been here before, done this before.
She licked her lips and her heart pounded like a hammer. Nervous hiccoughs threatened, but she managed to swallow them. The last time she'd visited make-out hill, it had been with her now ex-husband Dan, when they were both sixteen. They'd often snuck away from prying eyes to come up here for hot, heavy petting and smooch action.
Ah, the innocence of youth.
As a preacher's daughter, Lexie had never blended well into her father's obedient flock. She strayed. Terribly. A wild and independent streak prompted her into forbidden, promiscuous behavior. God forbid if her parents had found out about her field trips to lover's lane. She'd have been grounded for life. Her father would have threatened fire and brimstone, promising that her very soul was bound for perdition.
Lexie didn't go to hell. However, the petting got so hot and heavy up here one night, her daughter, Eva, had been the result. Because of her pregnancy, she and Dan had married far too young. Looking back, she had many times asked herself: Why, oh, why didn't I listen to Mom and Dad?
Lexie forced herself to focus on the present. She wasn't a snotty-nosed teenager any longer. She was a grown woman with a reputable business and a nineteen-year-old daughter. It wasn't Dan Lightfoot who sat beside her. It was one of Westonville Police Department's finest officers-Detective Gabe Stevenson. He was by far the coolest guy she'd met after moving back to Wyoming. Unfortunately, most of the guys she'd dated since she returned home had wound up six feet under, but that was another story.
Moose Creek Junction, Wyoming, was a backwater, one-stoplight town. Full of gossiping townsfolk and self-righteous harpies: the armpit of America. Nevertheless, it was where Lexie grew up. It held memories of her parents, now deceased. Her sister, Lucy; her brother-in-law, Otis; and her daughter, Eva, lived here. Regardless of the town's faults, it represented Lexie's personal history. It symbolized who she had been before marrying Dan Lightfoot, The Undertaker, who now lived in Tidewater, California, with his witchy new wife and baby daughter.
What made her marriage fall apart?
It was a special recipe, a unique blend of nasty ingredients. 1.) Add a good helping of Dan's funeral home business, which diverted his attention from Lexie and their marriage. 2.) Throw in his wandering eye, which got him involved with numerous bereaved widows. 3.) Sprinkle with too much comfort given by Dan to said bereaved widows, resulting in extramarital affairs. 4.) Add several pinches of hitting and yelling, along with several liberal dollops of lies. 5.) Roast for several years in a hot, unforgiving environment, which successfully kills all love and respect.
Voilà. Put a fork in it. It was done, done, done.
Stop it, Lexie told herself. This was no time to act like a space cadet. She was on a hot date with a very sexy detective who had a special glint in his eye. Her marriage was history-her future bright.
Gabe got out of the Jeep, came around, and opened Lexie's door. "Come here," he said in a husky voice, taking her hand and helping her out.
As they stood in the fading warmth of the spring evening, Gabe pulled her close and stroked her hair. Lexie was momentarily concerned the wind had blown it into a mess of red, twisted strands. A rat's nest galore. Gabe didn't seem to care.
"How did you like the movie, hon?" he asked, then leaned over and nuzzled her neck.
"Mmm, what movie?" she returned breathlessly. Actually she'd watched very little of the picture. She couldn't even remember who was in it. She'd been too jazzed up, sitting next to Gabe, enjoying his strength, his warmth.
I am definitely in lust with this man. Nothing sexual had happened. Yet. However, their date tonight teased Lexie with a promise of things to come. She felt attracted enough to Gabe to go all the way with him. Yikes, I sound like I'm sixteen. Either way, she thought they might wind up in bed. The vision of them together made her shiver with yummy anticipation.
Gabe looked intently at her with hazel eyes, a wave of dark brown hair slanting across his forehead. "Are you cold?"
"You know I like you a lot, don't you, Lexie?"
"I hope so, because I like you, too."
He grinned. "You're a good woman, and you're beautiful. You know that?"
Lexie shrugged. "No."
She giggled, but not for long. Gabe's soft mouth closed in on hers and they kissed-long and sensually. Gabe's whiskers brushed against her face. Rough, but exciting. The spicy scent of his cologne, Drakkar, filled her nostrils.
It had been so long since she'd been with a man. Too long. Lexie eagerly absorbed Gabe's masculine attention and gave herself over to his passionate embrace. She craved his touch, longed to feel his heart beating against hers.
Locked together, Lexie and Gabe leaned against the Jeep. Lexie knew he wanted her. Lord help her, she wanted him, too.
Finally he pulled away and took a deep, ragged breath. "Can we go somewhere? I mean, uh ... ah, hell. You know what I mean."
"Think you're safe to drive?"
"Yes, ma'am. Not a problem."
They got in the Jeep and as Gabe drove back down the hill, he said, "Your house?"
"Sure. Aunt Gladys and Frenchie are gone tonight. They went to visit his nephew in Denver." Lexie started to hiccough and tried like hell to swallow it. It was no use. Talk about your personal ticks, nervous hiccoughs were hers. The bane of her existence.
"Are you all right?" Gabe asked her, his brow knitted with concern.
"Fine." Hiccough, hiccough. "You know I always do this."
"When you're nervous."
Gabe grinned devilishly. "No need to feel anxious around me, darlin'. Tonight I'm your handyman. I'll fix whatever problems you have."
Gabe parked in front of Lexie's house, shoved a hand into his back pocket, and pulled out his wallet. "Damn it," he muttered, searching through it.
Lexie frowned. Hiccough. "What?"
"I don't have any, well, you know." Gabe gave her a questioning stare.
"Don't look at me. I don't keep those things on hand." Hiccough, hiccough.
"Wait a minute. We might be in luck." Gabe reached into his glove compartment and produced a small package. He gave a whoop and flipped it over. "Crap. It's expired. Want to walk on the wild side?"
"No way," Lexie shot back, watching the hard-to-resist grin melt on Gabe's face. "Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt and wore it out scrubbing dirty diapers."
Gabe snapped his wallet shut and put it away. "Is there anywhere in town we could get one?"
"What time is it?" Hiccough, hiccough, hiccough.
"Bertie keeps the Loose Goose"-hiccough-"open till ten."
"Let's go." Gabe switched on the engine and took off down the street, taking the curve too fast and squealing tires. He burned rubber as he took another corner, his jaw set with determination.
Lexie hoped her brother-in-law, patootie-head Otis Parnell, the town sheriff, was home sawing logs and dreaming about chasing rabbits, since he had never been any good at chasing crooks. No doubt his deputy, Cleve Harris, was over at the city slammer, snoring away at his desk.
Tonight would not be a good night for Detective Stevenson to be picked up for reckless driving.
Lexie stifled a giggle, then hiccoughed. Maybe swallowing backward and burping will help. Nope. Nothing doing. She would gross out Gabe for sure. The hiccoughs continued to plague her, rampaging through her diaphragm like an army of demons.
Gabe lurched his Jeep into a parking place at Bertie's and killed the engine. Since Herb Musselman had retired and closed his little grocery, it had become the only store in town.
The lights inside the Loose Goose went dark. Disappointed, Lexie said, "I bet Bertie just closed."
"Darn it," Gabe growled. Undaunted, he swung out of the Jeep and bounded up the front steps.
Watching Gabe's eager stride, Lexie giggled, hiccoughed, and giggled again. Nice that a man would want her that bad. She never figured that would happen again. Not in this lifetime, not on this planet.
She felt old, used up, and past her expiration date. She recalled a story she used to read her daughter, Eva, many moons ago-The Saggy Baggy Elephant. Exactly how she felt about her body. Her boobs, her butt, and even her thighs resided in the vicinity of her ankles. Gravity challenged and gone with the wind.
Fortunately, Gabe didn't seem to notice. Think again, moose breath. Gabe had never seen her naked. Gabe did not know her in the biblical sense. He had no clue how the ravages of time had robbed her of her youthful shape or how her body had betrayed her. It was a crime.
Holy crap. Do I really want to do this?
Lexie panicked. Trying to calm her ricocheting nerves, she concentrated on the determined detective rapping his knuckles on the front door. Crickets chirped innocently, the sound filling the night air.
"Bertie," he called out reassuringly. "It's Detective Stevenson."
Lights flooded the store and Bertie opened up, her forehead furrowed with concern. "Is everything okay, Officer?"
"Sure. I just need ... something."
Bertie took pity on him and stood aside so he could enter.
Lexie took the opportunity to swallow her blasted hiccoughs and burp backward. It sounded disgusting, like a garbage disposal with a paper clip in crosswise. Thankfully the routine usually did the trick.
Still nervous, Lexie looked around Gabe's truck. She hated sitting out here cooling her heels while Gabe was on a mission for love gloves. It made her feel like a cheap tramp, or perhaps like she was desperately seeking sex. Holy mama! She chewed a finger, tapped her foot, and looked around. A paper on the dashboard caught her eye.
She reached for it, thought, I shouldn't snoop, but latched onto it anyway. Like Pandora's box, the paper tempted her. Did it contain vital information about the man she might share carnal knowledge with? No way could she resist taking a gander.
Gabe hadn't divulged much about himself or his past. He still hadn't introduced her to his daughter, Jade. Why did he behave so mysteriously? Was he hiding something? A deep, dark secret, perhaps?
Maybe he didn't want to get too close to her. Did he only want her to be his friend with benefits? Nothing more? The rat fink. Is that all he thought of her? Did he think she was that easy?
With that thought gnawing away at her, Lexie unfolded the page, her hands trembling. A streetlight illuminated the typewritten words-a recent e-mail transcript between Gabe and someone named Melanie.
Melanie? Lexie stared at the words on the paper, her heart squeezing with mistrust.
I'm sorry about what happened, Melanie, Gabe wrote. I never wanted it to turn out like that. You deserve better. I miss you so much and I hope to see you soon. Maybe we can pick up where we left off. You know I love you and I'll always be there for you.
Lexie tensed. Who was Melanie? What was going on between her and Gabe?
I love you, too, Mel wrote back. I hope I can come back soon. Life without you just doesn't seem right. You and I should never have gotten so upset with each other. Please stay in touch. Kisses-Mel.
Paralyzing barbs pricked Lexie's skin. The anticipation she'd felt was immediately doused, like a flame smothered in ice. She no longer wanted to get horizontal with Gabe. What was going on? Was he in love with someone else while he was making time with her?
Why not? He was a typical man. Men didn't care about feelings. They got what they wanted when they wanted it. Sex was merely a bodily function for them. Like brushing their teeth or plucking their nose hairs.
Here she was, preparing herself to become Gabe's booty call. Did he just want to keep her around for the occasional romp in the hay, no strings attached?
"Oh, hell, no," she told herself as righteous indignation burned inside her. Quickly, she refolded the e-mail and shoved it back on the dashboard.
Clutching a small package in his hand, Gabe emerged from the store. His smile said, I'm gonna get some nookie tonight, and he whistled a jaunty I'm a stud tune.
Take a flying leap, Lexie thought as anger streaked through her.
When Gabe climbed in the Jeep, she announced icily, "Take me home."
He lifted a brow. "That's where we planned to go, darlin'."
"Quit calling me that. I want to go home alone."
Gabe blinked. "Huh?"
"You heard me." Lexie knew she sounded unreasonable. Gabe probably thought she'd lost all her marbles. Too bad, so sad. She couldn't let him know she'd snooped and found the incriminating e-mail.
Gabe reached for her hand. "What's wrong?"
Lexie pulled away. "I just want to go home. In fact, what am I saying? I live right around the block."
Grabbing her purse, Lexie hopped out and stormed down the sidewalk toward her house.
Gabe started the engine and followed alongside her in his Jeep. Leaning out the window, he gently coaxed, "Please get in. We need to talk."
"Oh, go soak your head."
Lights switched on in several houses along the street. Dogs barked, howled, and bayed at the moon. People in fuzzy bathrobes parted curtains and peered out their front windows.
Oh, brother! This is great. Just great.
If last year's fiasco with Carma Leone killing off her dates and setting fire to her house wasn't enough, now she would be a complete laughingstock. Her neighbors and customers would snicker among themselves. They'd have a heyday discussing how one of Westonville's finest had followed her home one night like a lost puppy dog.
Too darned bad. So what if people talked? Blasted small-town rubberneckers, the lot of 'em. She would just ignore them. Easier said than done, but she'd give it her best shot.
As for Deputy Dog, he could just forget about marking another notch in his gun holster. She would not fall victim to his charms, no matter how persuasive.
"Leave me alone," she snapped. "I don't want to see you any more."
Gabe stopped the Jeep. "So it's over between us? Just like that?"
"Yes." Lexie stood still on the sidewalk, her insides knotted with misery. She noted Gabe's exasperated expression and felt a twinge of regret, but held her ground.
"What about your aunt's wedding? Do you still want me there?"
Lexie had forgotten about Aunt Gladys and Frenchie's wedding that would be held in a week. Aunt Gladys had asked her and Gabe to be attendants. Oh, well. "I don't see any harm in the two of us walking down the aisle," she returned, hopefully disguising the catch in her voice.
"Your choice." Gabe gunned the Jeep's engine, flipped a U-turn, and drove away.
Lexie watched his vehicle fade into the darkness, feeling as though her heart would burst. Quickly, she walked to her house, went inside, and leaned against the door. As she closed her eyes, tears strained through her eyelashes and rolled down her cheeks. She had really liked Gabe. She enjoyed spending time with him, wanted to know him better, hoped the future held good things for them as a couple.
Son of a banana. Who was she kidding?
She kind of loved him.
* * *
God himself had possibly never envisioned a more beautiful event than this-Aunt Gladys's wedding day. Thank goodness the wind wasn't blowing a million miles an hour, typical Wyoming weather practically any time of the year.
Lexie filled her lungs with fresh June air and basked in the sunshine bathing her skin with warmth. As soft orchestra music drifted on the gentle breeze, she studied the flower-studded front yard of the Saucy Lucy Cafe, currently filled with relatives, friends, and guests.
A striped canopy arched above the refreshment table, which held a large, tiered white cake covered with delicate pink roses, curling green tendrils, and tiny plastic bride and groom statues. Bowls of nuts and mints were interspersed with platters of finger sandwiches filled with egg, chicken, and ham salad. Punch bowls had been filled, and champagne chilled in silver ice buckets.
Excerpted from Paws-itively Guilty by Cindy Keen Reynders Copyright © 2008 by Cindy Keen Reynders. Excerpted by permission.
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