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You'll Be The Death Of Me
By Stacia Wolf
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2006 Stacia Wolf
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMolly Downs was dead. The DNA of the body found at the bottom of the ravine matched that of a hair taken from her hairbrush. The whereabouts of the famous actress, missing for months, were no longer a mystery. But one question remained: who had killed her? As Detective Ben Stark gazed about the room, looking from the shocked boyfriend to the estranged mother crying crocodile tears, only Allison Leavitt's emotions rang true. She swiped at the hot tears that coursed down her cheeks.
Oh, why did she always cry? Why couldn't she keep her stupid emotions under control? One would think that after killing off at least fifty victims, she'd be immune to all of this, handling it like any other facet of her chosen career. But, no, once again she sat there blubbering like a child.
Saving the latest chapter of her current murder-mystery, Allison-known as the reclusive author 'Al Leavitt' to 'his' many fans-shut the computer off in resignation. Long experience had taught her that writing would be impossible until she calmed down her over-sensitive nerves. Snuffling deeply, she reached to turn off the lamp.
Something smacked her shoulder with a hard sting, and tiny flecks of red scattered across the darkened computer screen. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a dark figure fleeing into the night through her partially open French doors.
Instinctively her hand flew to her back, tangling in her hair; pulling it back, she found it smeared with red. She'd been shot! Standing up, she let out a horrendous screech and waited for her world to darken, her life to fade away.
Instead, she heard a giggle. She pivoted around and her gaze flew to the figure standing in the apartment doorway. She instantly recognized Paige Hilton, her best friend and the major bane of her life. Allison's spare key twirled about her index finger.
Holding out her blood-red hand, Allison whispered, "I'm shot."
"Relax. It's only paint," Paige told her dryly.
Allison felt her eyes widen as she tried to understand. Her usually quick mind refused to work. "Paint? Why would I bleed paint?"
Guffawing, Paige entered the room. "You aren't bleeding, dummy. It's a paint ball! Water-based paint, by the way. Cleans right up. When you told me yesterday that you were killing Molly off tonight, I remembered how you always get so depressed when a character dies. I thought I'd distract you with your own murder."
"My own murder?" Flicking an amber curl from her face, Allison could only stare at her friend.
"What are you tonight, a parrot? Yes, your own murder, and there are clues. It's up to you to find out who killed you."
A game. Paige was playing a game with her. As comprehension sank in, a huge grin lit Allison's face. This could be precisely what she needed to break this silly funk.
"That does sound like fun. Where do I start?"
Paige went through the French doors and out into the illuminated courtyard. "The pool, of course. Where else would a good mystery begin?"
* * *
"I heard her scream," Birdie Talbot, Jay 's landlady, repeated for the fifth time in the last two minutes, her voice wobbly with tears. "And her door was ajar. Allison never leaves her door unlocked. Part of writing murder mysteries, I suppose. Makes you paranoid. When I looked in, I could see blood! Blood everywhere!" She clutched Ping, the mottled brown-and-white mutt that she insisted was a valuable Chinese Crested show dog. The animal responded by sneezing all over Jay. The bell on the strange little dog's fat blue velvet collar jingled; a matching blue cap sat precariously on its head, held on by an elastic band.
Detective Jay Cantrall wiped off the dog's offending spray as he followed the surprisingly swift, rotund woman toward the door that his mysterious next-door neighbor hid behind. He'd lived there for a week and had yet to see her. She never seemed to come out of her apartment, but he heard noises from time to time. Music, not too loud, and sometimes thumps, like maybe she was exercising or perhaps something more ... primal than that.
He couldn't think about that now; his cop instincts kicked in strongly, telling him that something fishy was going on. Something didn't seem right.
"We're so lucky you're here. A police officer in our building now-can you imagine? Allison lives next door to a police officer and still-" She began that strange warbling cry again. Mrs. Talbot might feel lucky, but Jay didn't share her sentiment. As for the police officer in the building-Jay's partner, Pearce, had lived here for over a year.
They arrived at Allison's partially opened door. Mrs. Talbot waved him through, her chin wobbling dramatically as her expansive bosom heaved under her bright pink and turquoise muumuu. "I can't go in there," she warbled. "When I think about that poor child-oh, I just can't."
Jay tamped down his irritation with her dramatics. Being a cop included dealing with witnesses. This particular witness bordered on hysteria; becoming harsh with her wouldn't accomplish a thing. He forced his lips into a reassuring smile that he hoped didn't look as phony as it felt.
"That's fine. You wait here and I'll take a look around, okay?" At her nod, he turned away and entered the darkened apartment. As soon as he left her, he reached to the small of his back and pulled out the revolver he'd hidden there when she'd summoned him. No use taking any chances.
The empty room's décor didn't seem typical of a woman. A lone lamp at the computer desk and a matching floor lamp near the open French doors were the only illumination. Instead of fluffy, floral furniture, frilly knick-knacks and pastel artwork, it was decorated starkly. A black futon with pillows in various shades of silver graced one wall; a smoky glass and wrought-iron coffee table sported only a few magazines. Narrow glass shelving covered another wall, displaying a massive collection of Hot Wheels, many still in the original packages.
Walking fully into the apartment, he couldn't miss what Mrs. Talbot had described-bloody streaks on the polished wooden floor surrounding the computer desk. He could tell that point of impact had occurred a couple of feet above the desk; he saw splatters as far as the tiled kitchen floor about a dozen feet away. Not wanting to disturb any evidence, he didn't approach the area.
A single trail of footprints went through the blood, heading toward the French doors. The victim's, or the attacker's? Had to be the victim's, since he saw no drag marks of any sort. Could she still be alive? His heart accelerated at the thought. There might still be time.
But his feet didn't move. Frowning, he looked at the crime scene one more time. Something wasn't right.
The smell. That sickening metallic smell of fresh blood. It didn't coil his stomach; that familiar feeling was absent. Kneeling down, he touched the blood gingerly and brought his finger to his nose.
Cursing under his breath, he wondered what kind of prank he'd been pulled into. At that instant, two figures burst through the French doors, laughter announcing their entrance.
Leaping to his feet, Jay pointed his gun at the intruders. They stopped instantly; one gave a shriek of fright, while the other stared at him, mouth opening and closing, guppy style.
His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her. Even hidden under a baggy shirt and shorts, Jay couldn't help but appreciate her lush figure. It reminded him of a curvy 1940's-era pin-up girl. Impossibly blue eyes surrounded by creamy skin and framed by a riot of ginger-colored curls coiled his stomach all right, but in a different manner than what he'd expected when Mrs. Talbot had first asked him for help. Nope, this was pure sexual tension, a recognition that reached every cell in his being, every pore-
Damn, he needed some time off. Thoughts like that didn't belong in his head while on the job.
Excerpted from You'll Be The Death Of Me by Stacia Wolf Copyright © 2006 by Stacia Wolf. Excerpted by permission.
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