Who would want to kill ordinary guy Arnie Meister? Reporter and small-town sleuth Merry Kramer was on the trail of the supposed killer when she uncovered more murder suspects than she ever thought possiblean ex-wife, an ex-girlfriend and suspicious business associates. Nothing added up.
But with Merry embroiled in the story, danger wasn't far behind. And those she thought trustworthyeven charming Curt Carlylemight not be who they seem .
About the Author
Gayle Roper has always loved stories, and as a result she's authored more than forty books, most recently See No Evil (Love Inspired Suspense, Feb 2007). Gayle has won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance and has been a repeat finalist in both the RITAs and the Christy Awards. Several writers' conferences have cited her for her contributions to writer training.
She enjoys speaking at writers' conferences and women's events, reading and eating out. She adores her kids and grandkids and loves her own personal patron of the arts, her husband, Chuck. Visit her at www.gayleroper.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Merry, could you drop me at my parents' after work?" Jolene Meister asked as we left The News office for lunch.
"My father brought me in this morning."
I'd only have to go out of my way a couple of blocks, so I said, "Sure. No problem."
And that easily and innocently I precipitated my involvement in murder.
Jolene and I walked to Ferretti's, the best eating our small town had to offer. The winter wind on this dingy December Tuesday bit through my new red coat, and I suspected my nose was turning almost as rosy as my wool blend. The two scars on my nose that I'd gotten in a bike accident when I was eight years old would be turning a contrasting blue.
Ah, well, I thought. If I smile, I can have a patriotic face: red nose, white teeth and blue scars.
Gene Autry was serenading downtown Amhearst about Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer over a tinny public address system by Santa's little house. How come a cowboy had made millions off a deer's red nose and all I got from mine was a color scheme?
"Hey, Jolene." Ferretti's hostess, a brassy blonde named Astrid, seated us with a smile, then left.
It never ceased to amaze me how everyone in Amhearst knew everyone else. As a recent arrival I found it both cozy and unnerving. "How do you know Astrid?"
"I went to school with her younger sister, Elsa. She's a real dingbat."
"Who? Astrid or Elsa?"
Knowing Jolene as I did, that probably meant that the two women were very nice and rather intelligent.
"Does anyone ever move away from Amhearst?"
"Sure." Jolene indicated our waitress whose name tag read Sally. "Sally's daughter Caroline moved to California to be in the movies, right?" She looked at Sally.
"Yeah," Sally said. "But she moved back home last month. Astrid's sister, Elsa, got her a job as receptionist at Bushay's. Elsa's Mr. Bushay's administrative assistant."
Didn't sound like dingbat territory to me, but it sure sounded like Amhearst.
I ordered a Caesar salad and Jolene ordered a huge plate of eggplant parmigiana.
When Sally disappeared with her order pad, I looked at Jolene.
"And how do you know Sally?"
"She and my mom were in the PTA together."
"And you know Caroline, the would-be movie star?"
"Sure. She was three years ahead of me in school."
Jolene shrugged and pressed her hands to her cheeks.
"Do I look flushed to you?"
"Like you're getting sick, you mean?" Jolene was a hypochondriac.
I looked at her big brown hair and bangs, her bright brown eyes, her flawless skin. "You look great to me." In an overblown sort of way.
Our lunches came, and I looked from my salad to Jolene's spicy, cheesy dish. "How can you eat that and not gain weight? It's swimming in oil. It's not fair."
"Fair?" She leveled a forkful of dripping eggplant at me.
"Is it fair that you have two gorgeous men chasing you?" She snorted, a noise that sounded decidedly odd coming from her delicate nose. "Don't give me fair, Merrileigh Kramer. I'm not listening."
I grinned. I'd never in my life had one man chasing me with any real enthusiasm, and suddenly I had two. It made me feel nervous and powerful. It made me giggle.
It also made me check over my shoulder constantly because I hadn't quite figured out how to break the news to my new boyfriend that my old boyfriend, suddenly ardent, had come a-courting. And what was worse yet, old Jack didn't even know that a warm, delightful and charming man named Curt Carlyle existed.
"So Jack just showed up at your door on Sunday?" Jolene buttered a piece of Italian bread with real butter.
I crunched a particularly large chunk of romaine. "You go with a guy for six years, and he refuses to make a commitment," I began.
"Six years?" Jolene's voice squeaked with disbelief.
I held up a hand. "Don't ask. Just accept my word that he's charming and I was stupid. Anyway he's hardly contacted me since I moved here in September, and boom! There he is. Although I guess it really wasn't boom, was it? Four months is hardly boom."
"Merry Christmas, my Merry," he'd yelled when I opened my door Sunday afternoon. He pushed a giant silk poinsettia into my hands, smiling broadly at my confusion. Then he grabbed me and hugged me tightly, crushing the poinsettia painfully between us.
"What are you doing here?" I demanded, ever gracious.
"Is that any way to greet your sweetheart come this great distance just to be near you?"
Just four months ago I'd have swooned with delight if he'd deigned to call me his sweetheart. Now all I felt was an incipient case of heartburn.
"I've moved to Amhearst," he said, taking off his coat without an invitation. "At least for a while."
I think he thought I was paralyzed with delight, but it was horror as I tried to imagine him fitting into the new life I'd found when I fled my old in despair over him.
He threw his coat across the back of the chair. A sleeve flopped down and slapped my dozing cat, Whiskers, in the face. He sat up with a sleepy scowl and decided right then and there he didn't like Jack. When Jack saw the cat, I could tell that the feeling was mutual.
Bad sign. "You've moved to Amhearst?" My voice was heavy with disbelief. "Why?"
"To be near you, sweetheart." His eyes went soft and dark.
"But" I sputtered. "Your job.You didn't quit your job!" Jack was a CPA with a large firm back home in Pittsburgh.
"Of course I didn't. I'm here doing an audit on Bushay Environmental, and it'll take weeks at the very least."
I planted my fists on my hips. "Your company sends you here, and I'm supposed to believe that indicates undying affection for me?"
"I campaigned for this assignment," he said earnestly. He reached for my hand, and I suddenly saw him as a giant vacuum cleaner, ready to suck me up and spit me back into the past. The image terrified me. I dodged him, leaned over and filled both arms with Whiskers, who immediately began to purr.
Jack either didn't understand my move or made believe he didn't. He kept on talking as if he always reached out and found nothing, as if it didn't matter that I preferred a cat to him.
"Amhearst isn't exactly a desirable location," he informed me. "It's out here in the western edge of Chester County miles away from anything."
I scowled at him as if he'd insulted me. I liked Amhearst, and part of its charm was its rural setting. And Philadelphia was only an hour away, for heaven's sake.
As usual he missed my reaction. I used to wonder if his lack of response to how I felt was a power play designed to get his own way, or if he was just too dense to see what was in front of him. As I watched him in my living room, I decided he was just dense. That idea made me sad.
"I asked to be sent here instead of Atlantic City and a casino audit." He reached over Whiskers and touched my cheek. "I gave up a plum assignment, and all for you."
Atlantic City in December didn't sound all that plum to me. Cold, damp, depressing.
Jack continued to recount his campaign for the Bushay job, trying to convince me of his ardor. "'You've got to send me to Amhearst,' I told Mr. Proctor. 'I want the Bushay job even though it means weeks away from home to complete it.'" He smiled impishly. "I didn't tell him about you."
I raised a skeptical eyebrow as Whiskers jumped out of my arms.
"But I knew you were my reason." He reached for me again. "My girl."
I dodged his grasp again by grabbing my coat from the clothes tree in the corner and throwing it over my shoulders. "Well, I may have been your reason for coming here, but I'm not sure I'm your girl anymore."
And I walked out. I had absolutely no place to go, but I knew I'd never again have such a wonderful exit line. And six years of no commitment was a long, long time, no matter how you looked at it.
As I finished my tale, Jolene eyed me with something like admiration. "So where'd you go?"
"To The News. Where else?" I crunched more Romaine. "Was he there when you got home?"
"I didn't get home until ten-thirty, and Jack can't stand waiting for five minutes, let alone five hours."
Jo's eyes widened. "What did you do for five hours?" Suddenly I felt embarrassed because I knew what her response to my answer was going to be. I cleared my throat. "I had a date."
"What?" she shrieked, just like I knew she would. She started to laugh so hard I thought she'd choke on her eggplant.
"This guy moves all the way from Pittsburgh for you, and you go out with someone else? Merry, my estimation of you has jumped off the charts. You are a wild woman after all."
My mind tried to comprehend me as a wild woman, but the idea was as impossible to grasp as a soap bubble from a wand was for a child.
"You're so lucky," she said. "I haven't had anyone chasing me in years." Her lovely brown eyes looked forlorn beneath her brown bangs.
"Of course not. You've been married."
She shrugged carelesslywhich said volumes about her view of marriage. "But I'm not married now."
"True and false. You're not divorced, either. Maybe you and Arnie will get back together yet."
Again the careless shrug. Poor Arnie. I hoped he wasn't pining for her because it looked like he'd waste away to nothing before Jolene returned.
She mopped up the last of her eggplant with the last of her bread. "So what did Curt say when he heard Jack was here?"
I concentrated on corralling the last of my salad. "He doesn't know yet."
"What?" She laughed until I thought for sure her mascara would run.
I looked at her sourly. Clowns in the center ring didn't give the laughs I did. "I plan to tell him next time I see him."
Her smile was a mile wide. "You're afraid to tell him."
I stuck my chin in the air and gave my version of her snort. I wasn't about to admit she was right.
"One thing I want to know," Jolene said, making one of her patented changes of topic. "How can someone who looks so much like a football player be an artist?"
I smiled, picturing Curt's dark curly hair and glasses and shoulders so broad he could block an entire movie screen at thirty paces.
"I think I'm falling in love with you," he told me recently.
"No, you're not," I said in something like panic. "We hardly know each other. Love takes time to grow." I knew because my mother had told me so all my life.
Still, when he looked at me a certain way, my knees buckled, I had trouble breathing and my heart barrumped in time with the Minute Waltz.
"Things between Curt and me are fragile," I told Jolene.
"New. Too new. I don't know how to tell him."
I must have looked as disconsolate as I felt because Jolene patted my hand. "It'll work out. Don't worry." She grinned at me. "Just keep me informed, you hear?"
We took our checks to the cashier by the door. Jolene eyed me while she waited for her change.
"You didn't tell Curt about Jack. Did you tell Jack about Curt?"
I made a big deal of buying one of those little foilwrapped mints.
She snickered. "You're better than any movie I ever saw, girl. And I want to be around when they meet."
Perish the thought! "I have to visit the ladies' room," she said. "Come on." I followed her into the cozy, well-lit room, admiring her black leather and faux-fur coat and black boots. The lady had style if not class.
I looked at myself in the huge mirror over the sink. My short, thick, spiky black hair was drooping a bit as usual. I wet my fingers and ran them through it, trying to wake up the mousse that was supposed to keep it sticking up in what the beautician had assured me was a very stylish do when she cut off my almost waist-length hair back in August.
Sighing, I gave up on my hair. I stared instead at the Christmas candle sitting on the vanity.
Christmas. My first in Amhearst, and I was facing it with some excitement (two men) but also with much misgiving. For the first time ever, I wouldn't be with my family for our warm and wonderful celebration. No fat Christmas tree with Grandma Kramer's heirloom angel gracing the top bough. No hot mulled cider that Dad tried to foist on everyone. No marvelous turkey smells and no Aunt Sissy's famous pumpkin pie.
Jolene would have a warm, cozy family Christmas with hugs and presents and all that stuff. She wouldn't sit alone all day, staring at her cat. That would be me.
Every time I thought about my holiday solitude, I suffered mild depression. As a result my little apartment on the first floor of an old carriage house sported only a wreath on the door. I hadn't gotten myself a tree or put electric candles in my windows like everyone else in Amhearst. Of course I now had a silk poinsettia sitting on an end table.
It was my job that prevented a trip to Pittsburgh and home. I had only Christmas Day off, if being on call means "off."
"Someone has to be available in case a big story breaks," said Mac, my editor at The News. Then he grinned. "I guess you've drawn the short straw, Merry." He didn't even feel sorry for me.
I kept telling myself that I didn't mind. I was an independent career woman, pressing on with my new life. I didn't believe myself for an instant. But, I reminded myself before I started weeping on the spot, I was the one with two men!
Not that I needed or wanted two. One would certainly be more than enough since monogamy was my preferred lifestyle. I just had to decide which one.
"Hey!" Jolene said as she came out of a stall. "You're smiling. Which one are you thinking about?"
"Not telling." I swung my purse strap back onto my shoulder and slammed the bag itself into the blonde woman walking out of the other stall.
"Oh, I'm sorry!"
She smiled at me, her gray eyes crinkling at the corners.
"Don't worry about it. It's o"
Her voice faded to nothing, and her face lost its pleasant smile. She stared past me with a sudden look of great distaste. I blinked and turned to see what she was looking at, and there stood Jolene. Her face had also lost all its charm and warmth.
"Well, well," Jo said. "Look who's here."
"Hello, Jo," the woman said in a tight, tense voice.
"How are you? And how's Arnie?"
"We're both fine." Jolene matched icy politeness for icy politeness. I could get frostbite just standing here.
"Tell him I said hello," the woman said.
"Like he cares," Jolene spat the words like little pellets flying from a straw to land stinging blows on the back of an unsuspecting neck.
The woman sighed in disgust. "You haven't changed a bit, have you?"
Jolene bristled. "Watch it, Airy. I don't like being in the same room with you any more than you like being in the same room with me."
My eyes widened. I am Polly Peacemaker, and if I'm caught in conflict, I never know what to do. But it appeared I was the only one uncomfortable here. These two women were obviously sluggers, though Jo was clearly batting champ.
"Believe me," Airy said, "if I'd known you were going to be here, I'd have avoided Ferretti's at all costs."
Jolene, face haughty, sniffed. "My coworker and I were having a business lunch."
Airy sneered. "Don't give me that snotty attitude about your job, Jolene. People at your level don't have business lunches."
Jolene glared. "You just think you're so smart."
I looked at Jolene, disappointed. Certainly she could do better than that worn-out old line.
"Tell me." Airy's voice dripped acid. "Which of us graduated valedictorian? Um? It certainly wasn't you."
What?At twenty-five years old or so, she was bringing up high school? What was next? Elementary school jealousies?
"Like test grades show intelligence," Jolene scoffed with a wonderful disregard for the entire educational system. "I'd rather have my social smarts than your boring IQ any day."
"You used to be nice, you know." Airy nodded slightly as if agreeing with herself. "Up until about third grade. It's been downhill ever since."
Yikes, I thought. Elementary school. "And you've been jealous of me ever since." "Oh, pu-lease! I'd kill myself before I ever became like you."
A woman pushed the ladies' room door open and froze halfway in, caught by the nastiness of the voices. She locked eyes with me for the briefest of seconds, then
Not me, I wanted to tell her. I'm an innocent bystander. I know better. I have class.
Jolene and Airy hadn't even noticed her. They were too busy pouring out a lifetime of vituperation.
Suddenly Jolene turned sly. "By the way, Airy, how's Sean?"
All color drained from Airy's face. "Don't you even mention his name," she hissed. "Don't you even think about him."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Let author Gayle Roper take you on the adventure of your lifetime. A great cast of charters, Merrileigh will have you struggling to choose between two romantic interests. And if that doesn't keep you at the edge of your seat a murder defiantly will. Jolene is a purely selfish coworker, with crazy parents, a dead husband and secret boyfriend. I was keep guessing who the murder was until the very surprising end. This is a great read for anyone who likes a little romance, laughs and mystery. This is a great book with surprises around every corner.
Merry is taking a co-worker home when they find the co-worker's estranged husband dead on the kitchen floor. Merry can't resist digging to find out a little more. But can she solve the crime? This book is equal parts mystery and romance. The characters are so great, I cared about both. And both story lines were strong and well worth reading.