No sooner does Savannah complete her first case—finding the long-lost sister of a local real estate broker—than murder enters the picture. Framed in a diabolically clever double-cross, she sets out to find the real culprit. . .only to discover that she's the prime suspect among the lovers. Losers and liars lurking in the shadows of the victim's past. Each of them has a motive. Not one of them has an alibi. Now Savannah must call upon all her own resources to sort out the baffling clues, clear her own name, and corner a killer whose appetite for murder is growing everyday. . .
In BITTER SWEETS, G.A. McKevett serves up a mystery where the suspense is sweet and everyone gets their just desserts. And in Savannah Reid, she gives us an earthy, exuberant sleuth to believe in, root for and care about.
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"Just take a deep breath and dive right in there, sugar." Savannah Reid pointed to the body that lay in a pool of sunlight and red gore on the polished oak floor. "Welcome to Homicide 101."
The young would-be detective, who stood beside Savannah, crossed her arms tightly over her chest, crumpling the front of her impeccably tailored suit. She swallowed hard and turned a sickly shade of green that was a tad more chartreuse than the elegant jade silk she was wearing.
Savannah chuckled inwardly but kept a straight face. What a wimp, she thought. This one was nice and fresh. It didn't even smell. Wait until Miss Tammy Prissy-Pot had to examine a truly ripe corpse that had been lying around, unrefrigerated, for a month of Sundays. She'd be tossing her cookies for sure.
Savannah enjoyed the company of her new assistant, in spite of the fact that the two women couldn't have been more different.
Tammy's strict attention to detail and left-brained approach to life irritated Savannah from time to time. Mostly because the contrast highlighted Savannah's own disorganization that sometimes bordered on outright sloppiness.
But Tammy was bright, curious, humble about what she didn't know, and eager to learn. Training her was turning out to be quite a pleasure for Savannah – if she could only get her past her queasiness.
"Come on, shake a leg," Savannah drawled in a Georgia accent as thick and sweet as peach pie filling. She knelt beside the body, which was lying on its side, sprawled across the floor near a large bay window. The low afternoon rays of the California sun streamed in, illuminating the crime scene and leaving little to the imagination. "Let's get to it. What's first?"
"Well," The tall, slender blonde's voice had slid at least half an octave up the scale. "This ... um, this guy ... he's the victim, and ..."
"No kidding. Duh." Savannah grinned good-naturedly. "Get down here and check him out. He's not gonna bite you. Not now."
Gingerly, Tammy stepped a tad closer and chose a clean spot on the floor to place one knee.
"Next time you might want to wear something a bit more casual," Savannah suggested, pointing out her own attire of slacks, sweater, and loafers. "Stiffs don't care how you look."
"Holy cow, Savannah, you're so crude."
"Who, me? Naw, I'm just a bit earthy. You should watch an autopsy with Dirk. He's got some great one-liners that would make you split your bloomers laughin'."
At the mention of Dirk Coulter, Tammy wrinkled her pert nose. "Yeah, I'll bet he does," she replied dryly.
"All right, down to business, kiddo." Savannah's face changed in an instant, the teasing smile gone, her blue eyes intense and calculating as she studied the body on the floor. "The victim of a violent crime is often the only witness, other than the perpetrator," she began in a serious monotone, reciting by rote. "They can give you the most accurate account. That is, if they can talk when it's all over. Obviously, this guy ain't sayin' much. So ...?"
"We look to the crime scene to tell us what happened," Tammy supplied.
"That's right. Tell me what happened."
She quickly scanned the victim. "Somebody — or bodies — handcuffed this guy, blindfolded him, and shot him in the back of the neck."
"From a distance or close range?"
Tammy leaned over to study the entrance wound. "Close range."
Savannah waved her hand, indicating the room in general. "Was our killer organized or disorganized?"
Tammy chewed on her lower lip for a second. "I'd say organized."
"The crime scene appears controlled, not chaotic. No signs of violence — other than the gunshot. Restraints were used." She nodded toward the victim's hands, manacled behind his back. "I doubt those handcuffs were just lying around, so the killer must have brought his own. The murder weapon is gone and not much other visible evidence left behind. Looks pretty organized to me."
Savannah nodded. "So, what sort of guy are we going to be looking for?"
Tammy hesitated, searching for the right mental file to access. "Profile of an organized killer: high intelligence, socially and sexually adequate, probably lives with a partner, high birth order, controlled, masculine, charming."
Savannah grinned. "Sounds great."
"Yeah, really." Tammy relaxed for a moment, then resumed her recitation. "And he'll anticipate being questioned – if we can find him, that is."
"If we do, what will be our interviewing techniques?"
"Have a direct strategy and stick to it. Be certain of all your details; he will be. He'll only admit what he absolutely has to."
"You've been doing your homework," Savannah said, flashing the younger woman the dimpled Reid smile that never failed. Her feminine features — wide blue eyes, Betty Boop mouth and heart-shaped face framed with midnight brown curls — were deceivingly demure. Southern belle daintiness stopped there. In her line of work, Savannah seldom had the opportunity to indulge the genteel side of her personality.
Thank goodness Granny Reid in Georgia didn't know what a tomboy she had become.
"I think I'm going to make a detective of you yet," she told Tammy.
The blonde's cheeks flushed from Savannah's compliment. "Yeah, well, I've been hitting the books."
"How about a victim profile?"
Tammy's self-satisfied grin evaporated. "Victim profile? Oh, I guess I didn't get that far."
"The victim can tell us a lot. Before some bastard took his life, he or she was a living breathing human being." With a brief, but almost-reverent expression on her face, Savannah reached down and gently brushed a lock of hair back from the man's forehead. "What kind of a person he was can tell us something about the individual who destroyed him. Tell me about our victim."
"He is ... was ... a large man. Well over six feet tall, probably close to two hundred pounds. Caucasian. I'd say mid-thirties, dark brown hair, green eyes. Extremely handsome."
"You noticed that, too, huh?"
"Hey, you told me to be observant." With the tip of one finger she brushed the sleeve of his hound's-tooth wool jacket. "Expensive clothes, not wearing a wedding ring, quality haircut."
"Broad shoulders, slender waist, great buns," Savannah added salaciously as she leaned over and goosed the body's rear end.
"Sa-va-nnah! For heaven's sake, have some respect!"
"Aw, lighten up, sugar," she replied, laughing. "Trust me, at this point he ain't gonna take offense."
The phone on the nearby desk jangled, startling both women.
"Good Lord," Savannah said. "A call. A real call! Could it be ...?"
"Maybe. It might be. Should I answer it?"
"Of course. That's what I'm paying you for."
Tammy sprang to her feet and hurried to the roll top desk tucked in the corner of Savannah's living room. After clearing her throat, she picked up the phone and spoke with what Savannah classified as a rather bad Marilyn Monroe impression, "Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency," she breathed. "May I help you?"
Excited, Savannah clutched the body's jacket sleeve and shook it. "Ryan, a call. We finally got a call."
"It's probably a wrong number," the corpse responded, raising his head and stretching his long limbs. "Mind if I get up now? This cursed floor of yours is hardwood, you know."
"Yeah, yeah, sure," Savannah said, grabbing him by the lapels and raising him to a sitting position. Absentmindedly, she rubbed some of the stage blood off his face and began to undo his handcuffs while listening to Tammy's end of the conversation. It sounded promising. Hallelujah! Their first client!
"Yes, Mr. O'Donnell," Tammy was saying, "I'm sure we could help you find your sister. But I think you should speak to Ms. Savannah Reid herself. Yes, she's the owner of the agency – a retired, thrice-decorated, police detective. That's right. One moment please."
Tammy cupped her hand over the mouthpiece and "cut a rug" as Savannah's Granny Reid would say, wriggling her diminutive butt and jumping up and down on her three-and-a-half-inch heels. "We've got a case, we've got a case."
"Glory be," Savannah muttered as she grabbed the phone out of her assistant's shaking hand. "Maybe we won't starve after all."
* * *
Brian O'Donnell. Medium height, slender build. Distinctive dark red hair, brown eyes and curl-tipped mustache. Forty-seven years old. Residence — Orlando, Florida, fifteen years. Occupation — real estate broker. Married. Looking for sister.
Savannah glanced down the yellow legal pad on her lap at the notes she had taken over the last twenty minutes. Sticking the end of her pen in her mouth, she chewed it thoughtfully, then, remembering that she was trying to quit, she returned her attention to the man sitting in the matching wing chair across from her.
His eyes met hers over the rim of the mug as he sipped the steaming coffee. "Do you think you can help me, Ms. Reid?" he said, after licking a drop from his mustache. "Do we have enough to go on?"
"Actually, you aren't a bad detective yourself, Mr. O'Donnell. You've given me more here than I would have hoped for."
"Good. I'm glad to hear that. Finding my sister means a lot to me.
Savannah watched as his hands closed around the mug. Although his posture was casual with one sneaker propped on the opposite knee of his semi-worn jeans, he held the cup handle more tightly than necessary. She jotted the fact down on her mental legal pad.
That was the main reason why Savannah had decided to offer her clients coffee or tea when she first interviewed them here in her private office — okay, her living room. The steaming beverage of their choice and whatever home-baked goodies she had in her kitchen were more than a token of Southern hospitality. While eating and drinking, a person often allowed his or her carefully constructed facade to slip, revealing a candid glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes. Experience had taught her that a lot could be learned about a person just by watching the way he seasoned his coffee or chewed a cookie. Brian O'Donnell had inhaled his three chocolate chippers without stopping to savor a single crumb. Definitely not a hedonist, like herself.
Savannah had worked hard at convincing herself that the silver tray, bearing coffee, whipped cream, cinnamon sticks, various liqueurs, and chocolate curls had nothing to do with the constant cravings of her own sweet tooth.
Setting her china cup aside, she picked up the stack of papers which O'Donnell had laid on the coffee table between them. "This may seem like a rather personal question, but I'd like to know why finding your sister is so important to you," she said, flipping through the assorted documents.
Brian's face was haggard with harsh, angular lines, a bit pale, with smudges under both eyes. Within the first two minutes after they had met, Savannah had surmised that, either he didn't spend enough hours in bed, or he spent more hours tossing and turning than snoring. But, at the mention of his sister, his expression softened, and he turned to gaze thoughtfully into the blaze of the fireplace, which she had lit for his benefit. Another cozy touch designed to set a client at ease. And it seemed to be working.
"My mother died when Susette was five and I was seven," he said. "A sudden illness. Some sort of flu, I think. Dad wasn't really sure. He didn't feel adequate to raise two children on his own, thought a girl should have a mother to teach her, you know, girl things."
Savannah nodded. "Go on."
"So, he put Susie up for adoption. I remember the day they came to take her away. She and I both cried a lot, begged Dad not to go through with it. I know he loved her. But I guess he had to do what he thought was best."
He was silent for a long moment, staring into the flickering blaze. Then, he cleared his throat and took a brisk slurp of coffee.
"Susie was a pretty good kid, for a girl." He gave Savannah a sideways glance. "No offense."
Savannah shrugged. "Some of us aren't too bad."
"She couldn't fish worth a damn, but we had a tree house and....
As his voice faded away, Savannah decided not to push it any further. His reasons for wanting to locate his sister, spoken and unspoken, were pretty clear.
"Is the tree house still there?" she asked softly.
"Yeah. And I still live on my father's property, where we were when she was given away. I have three boys of my own now. There's a picture of them there with the other stuff I brought you. They've made some improvements to the old shack — they call it a fort — but I think Susie would still recognize it. I want her to see it. If she's got kids, I want them to meet my boys."
"I understand." Savannah thought of her own brothers and sisters in Georgia — all eight of them — and felt a pang of homesickness. "But why now?" she asked. "Is this your first attempt to locate Susette ..." She referred to the papers. "... or Lisa, as she's called now?"
"Oh, no. I've tried off and on for years without any luck. Then, a couple of months ago, my dad passed away. He wasn't wealthy, by any means, but he did leave some money for Susie, I mean, Lisa. Before he died, he asked me to try one more time."
O'Donnell's face eased into a tired, sad smile. "But he wouldn't have had to ask," he added. "I would have looked for her again anyway. I don't think I'll ever give up. Not until I find her. She's the only family my boys and I have anymore. Other than my wife, of course."
"Of course." Savannah studied the pile of papers in her lap. Work. Finally, a job to sink her teeth into. It had been too long. "One more thing, Mr. O'Donnell. Why did you choose our agency?"
He smiled and for a moment he didn't look quite so tired. "Like I said, I traced Lisa to San Carmelita. I know she was living here three months ago, but now I've lost her trail. While I was in the library, trying to find some records, I came across an old newspaper article and –"
He paused and looked slightly embarrassed.
Savannah decided to let him off the hook and supply the rest. "You read about my little ruckus with the police chief and the city council."
"And about me getting kicked off the force."
"Yes, but you solved your case anyway. That's what counted. I figured if you could whip City Hall, you could solve a little problem like mine."
Savannah leaned over and offered him her hand. "Thank you. I hope I can live up to your high expectations."
"I'm sure you will." He took her hand, and they shook solemnly.
"Mr. O'Donnell, you've hired yourself a detective agency," she said. "And we're going to do everything we can to find your sister for you."
Hot dang, she thought as she watched the stress melt from his face. It sure felt good to be back to work, to be doing something useful in the world.
She reached for his mug. "Now, how about another cup of coffee? This time let's do it right. We'll dose it with a slug of Bailey's and slap some whipped cream on it."
* * *
Although Savannah had migrated to the Southern California seashore years before, she prided herself on the fact that you could never quite squeeze the last drop of juice out of a true Georgia peach. Southern California or southern Dixie, it didn't matter when it came to entertaining friends and family.
Like her Granny Reid and generations of ladies before her, Savannah lived in mortal fear that someone, somewhere, might suffer a pang of hunger while in her presence. It simply wasn't allowed.
Except, maybe, for Dirk.
Facing him across her kitchen table at this, the first official personnel meeting of the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency, Savannah was beginning to get a bit peeved as she watched him reach for his sixteenth chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie. She had baked a plateful. There were two left.
After having served as his partner on the San Carmelita Police Force, and having been his closest personal friend for years, Savannah had to admit, she loved the guy. But she harbored no illusions about him. Dirk was a real pig, in more ways than one.
"Would you like me to put this meeting on hold for half an hour or so and go fix you a meal, Dirk?" she asked. "I could whip up a leg of lamb with mint jelly, prime rib and a creamy horseradish sauce, or maybe Chateaubriand?"
He lit up like the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree during a power surge. "Would you? That'd be great!"
Shaking her head and sighing, Savannah shoved the plate down the table and out of his reach.
"Have a cookie, Ryan," she said to the previously expired corpse.
Excerpted from "Bitter Sweets"
Copyright © 1996 G. A. McKevett.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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This was a quick read. The characters are very dynamic, and once you begin reading, you'll feel you too are trying to untwist the wires. You will keep guession until the end.
Best Series Ever! I have read all the Savannah Reid books and love every one of them! Savannah and her crew of the Magnolia Detective Agency are fantastic, funny and I wish I knew these people in person! Every story is a new adventure and you get to know the characters more and more as the series progresses. I can't wait for the next installment! I would recommend this book and this series to anyone! Awesome! Don't pass them up, great reads, every one!
What a great book in a wonderful series! DaU Cudahy, Wisconsin
I love this series. If you like the Stephanie Plum series you will love thede books.