Wordsmith Jaine Austen's ship has finally come in. Her new teaching gig on a fancy cruise line nabs her a free vacation--and access to a 24-hour buffet! But sooner than you can say "bon voyage," Jaine's all-expenses-paid trip to the Mexican Riviera seems destined to be a wreck. . .
Things are already off to a rocky start when Jaine discovers a stowaway amidst her luggage--her persnickety cat Prozac. Jaine's sinking sensation grows stronger at dinner, where she meets chatty Emily Pritchard, a wealthy seventy-year-old who's traveling with her two nephews. Jaine can't help noticing the tension among them, especially when the cruise's charming--and sleazy--British dancer, Graham, whisks Emily out onto the dance floor.
Soon Emily is accepting Graham's invitations to every social event on the ship. Two nights later the bubbly couple announces their engagement, but the news is quickly overshadowed the next morning by the discovery of Graham's body with an ice pick protruding from his chest. . .
Between hiding a furry fugitive, flirting with Emily's nephew Robbie, and baiting the hook for a clever murderer, Jaine is about to dive into her most dangerous case yet. . .
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A Jaine Austen Mystery
By Laura Levine
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One The good news about my cruise is, I didn't get seasick. The bad news is, I almost got hacked to death by a raving loony. But, hey. Life's funny that way. My life, that is. Just when I think things are going smoothly someone comes along and tries to eviscerate me.
But let's rewind to the day it all began, shall we?
My neighbor Lance was stretched out on my bed, watching me as I raced around tossing clothes into a suitcase.
"I still can't believe you're going on a cruise by yourself," he said, shaking his blond curls in disbelief.
Yes, it's true. I, Jaine Austen, a woman whose idea of a Mexican vacation is a two-for-one Burrito Day at Taco Bell, was about to head off on my first cruise to Mexico. Or, as we cognoscenti say, Me-hi-co! And the best thing was, it was absolutely free!
I'd answered an ad in the L.A. Times from a cruise company looking for lecturers, and much to my surprise and delight, they'd hired me. All I had to do was teach a few lessons on Writing Your Life Story, and the generous folks at Holiday Cruise Lines were picking up my tab.
"But, Jaine," Lance pointed out, "the average age on these cruises is dead. How do you expect to meet anybody?"
"I'm not going on the cruise to meet anybody. I'm going for the adventure, the scenery, the Latin culture."
Oh, who was I kidding? I was going for the twenty-four-hour buffet. Imagine! Dessert on tap any time day or night. Talk about heaven.
"Gaack! You can't possibly be taking that," Lance said, pointing to a perfectly serviceable Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs T-shirt. "They'll make you walk the plank in that thing."
"This happens to be a collector's item," I sniffed.
"A garbage collector's," he sniffed right back.
Some people just don't appreciate kitsch.
"I'm sorry I can't take you to the pier like I was supposed to," he said, grimacing at a pair of my elastic-waist shorts, "but I've got to be at work in a half hour."
"That's okay. It's not your fault I'm running so late," I said, eyeing my cat, Prozac, who was perched atop my dresser. "A certain someone took a tinkle on my open suitcase this morning. Which meant I had to run out and buy a new suitcase and do an emergency load of laundry, which slowed me down a good hour or three."
Prozac glared down at me through slitted eyes that seemed to say:
You're lucky it was just a tinkle.
"Poor thing is upset that you're going away," Lance tsked.
"Upset? That's putting it mildly. Think King Kong with hairballs. I don't see why you're making such a fuss, Pro. After all, Grandma and Grandpa are flying in all the way from Florida to take care of you."
Her tail twitched the way it always does when she's on the warpath.
Your parents are not my "grandma" and "grandpa." And if your mother tries to put a bow in my hair like she did the last time, I won't be held responsible for the consequences.
"Hey, I'd better get going," Lance said, springing up from my bed, "or I'll be late for work. Which reminds me, we're having a sale on Jimmy Choo. Want me to pick up a pair for you?"
Lance, who is gainfully employed as a shoe salesman at Neiman Marcus, can never seem to remember that the only thing I can afford from Jimmy Choo is his box.
"No, thanks." I smiled wanly.
"Well, good-bye then," he said, taking me in his arms for a farewell hug. "Have fun on the poop deck, whatever the heck that is."
After Lance left to fondle rich ladies' feet at Neiman's, I finished packing, all the while dreaming of seven days lolling in a deck chair and soaking up the sun. When I was done, I turned to Prozac, who was still glaring at me from her perch atop my dresser.
"So long, sweetheart," I said, scooping her in my arms. "You be good now, hear?"
Yeah, right. Whatever.
Wriggling free from my grasp, she leapt onto my bedspread, which she began clawing with a vengeance. I'd be surprised if it was still in one piece when I got back.
I picked up my bags and headed out to the living room, fighting back waves of guilt. In spite of Prozac's abominable behavior, I felt bad about leaving her. What can I say? When it comes to my cat, I'm a hopeless sap, mere putty in her paws.
Oh, well. I couldn't fret. Prozac would be fine. My mother would stuff her with human tuna and spoil her rotten.
I took one last look around my apartment, bidding farewell to my overstuffed sofa and my straggly philodendron plant, then headed outside.
It was a glorious day, complete with crayon-blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and palm fronds rustling in the breeze. What perfect weather to set sail for the high seas. Luckily I'd nabbed a parking spot in front of my duplex. I loaded my suitcase and tote bag in the trunk of my car and was just about to shut the lid when I realized I'd forgotten to pack my Giant Book of New York Times Crossword Puzzles, which I intended to work my way through during my seven days at sea, a succession of free strawberry smoothies at my side.
With a sigh of impatience, I dashed back to my apartment and into my bedroom, where Prozac had abandoned my bedspread and was now busily attacking my pillow. I could've sworn I'd left the crossword book on my night table, but it wasn't there.
I looked in the living room, the bathroom, and kitchen, and was about to give up when I finally saw it peeking out from under the living room sofa. No doubt Prozac had hidden it there-just her thoughtful way of saying "bon voyage."
I grabbed it and raced back out to the Corolla, where I tossed it into the trunk and got behind the wheel, excitement mounting. At last I was headed off for a fabulous week of cruising!
Bidding adieu to the cares and woes of my workaday life, I took off with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.
And-what I didn't know at the time-a cat in the trunk of my car.
Chapter Two Prozac, the little devil, had undoubtedly slipped out of my apartment while I was dashing around looking for my crossword puzzle book. Like an idiot, I'd left the front door open.
Now as I opened the trunk of my car in the pier's parking lot, she sauntered out from where she'd been hiding behind my suitcase and looked up at me in triumph.
Oh, Lord. Fifteen minutes till final boarding. There was no way I could possibly get her back to my apartment. And they'd never let me on board with a cat.
Of course, I could always come clean and confess all. But I wasn't about to give up my free cruise. Not to mention my chances of ever working for Holiday Cruise Lines again. Here was my golden opportunity to wow them with my lecture skills, and line up a whole roster of glam cruises around the Pacific. I'd already mentally booked a twenty-one-day excursion to Tahiti. I simply couldn't give all that up and spend the next seven days back in my apartment watching The Weather Channel with my parents.
No, there was only one sensible thing to do under the circumstances:
Smuggle Prozac on board.
"Okay, kiddo," I said, plopping her into my tote bag. "You're about to become a stowaway."
I zipped up the bag, leaving it open just enough so that she'd get some air.
"And if you don't want Grandma putting bows in your hair for the next week," I hissed as I made my way to the embarkation area, "then stay put and be quiet."
My palms were sweaty as I handed over my suitcase to a burly baggage handler. I prayed Prozac wouldn't blow it and start wailing from the tote. But Prozac had obviously gotten the message and was keeping her mouth shut.
Once my suitcase was loaded onto a dolly, I headed inside a cavernous barn of a building where passengers were chattering happily, waiting on line to get through security.
I quickly called Lance on my cell and left a message on his voice mail, telling him what happened and asking him to please tell my parents I had Prozac with me. Then I took my place at the end of the line, behind a couple with a toddler in a stroller.
All was going according to plan as we inched our way to the security scanner. Nary a peep from the tote bag. I was beginning to think I was going to get away with my stowaway scheme when the toddler in front of me shrieked:
"Kitty cat! Kitty cat!"
I looked down, and to my horror, I saw that Prozac had wriggled her head out of the tote and was looking around, surveying the scene. I promptly shoved her back down again. "Mommy! Mommy! Kitty cat!"
The kid tugged at his mother's jeans, getting her attention. She turned around, a harried brunette with an armful of tour books.
"What is it, Devon?"
"Kitty cat!" he screeched at the top of his lungs, in case anybody didn't hear it the first seven times.
"A cat?" his mom asked, looking around. "Where?"
"Oh, that was Snuffles," I said, with a moronic giggle. "My stuffed animal. I never go anywhere without Snuffles. It's a security thing. I'm working on it in therapy. My therapist says I'm making very good progress, especially with my new meds...."
I tend to babble when I'm nervous.
"Now, Devon," the kid's mother murmured, wheeling the stroller as far away from me as possible, "don't bother the crazy lady."
Okay, so she didn't call me crazy, but I could tell she was thinking it.
By now we'd reached the security scanner.
Holding my breath, I put my tote bag on the conveyor belt.
I cringed as I saw it moving from within. I fully expected a zillion alarms would go off and I'd be arrested as a cat-smuggling terrorist. But thankfully, nobody else seemed to notice.
Now it was my turn to walk through the human scanner. I pasted a sickly smile on my face and stepped inside, my heart racing at Indy 500 speed, guilt oozing from every pore.
But the security guy just waved me through with a bored flap of his hand.
My heartbeat returned to normal as I retrieved my tote bag and headed outside. I was just about to cross the threshold to freedom when I felt someone clamp my arm in an iron grip.
"Just a minute, miss."
I whirled around to face another security guard, a beefy Brunhilde of a woman with biceps the size of volleyballs.
The jig was clearly up. Man overboard. Time to walk the plank.
"You forgot your crossword puzzles," she said, handing me my Giant Book of New York Times Crossword Puzzles.
I took it from her, my hands trembling with relief.
"Have a good trip," she said, with a big-toothed smile.
"Thanks so much," I managed to sputter.
Then I stepped outside to the dock, where I got my first glimpse of the Holiday Festival, a sparkling white behemoth of a ship trimmed with gleaming wood railings and lavish balconies.
Wow, I thought, gazing up at the beautiful vessel. This was the life!
Down below I could see workers loading crates of food supplies. I only hoped some of them contained chocolate.
I headed for the gangplank, where two ship's officers, handsome Scandinavians clad in white, wanted to see my passport. It was my one final hurdle, and I passed it with flying colors, if you don't count the nasty scratch Prozac gave me when I reached into my tote for my passport.
Operation Stowaway was a success!
At last, my carefree vacation at sea about to begin, I scooted up the gangplank.
Of course, if I'd known the hell that was in store for me, I would've scooted right back down again.
According to my ticket, my cabin was on the Dungeon Deck. Okay, technically, it was called the Paradise Deck, but it was so deep in the bowels of the ship, I practically got the bends riding down in the elevator.
But I didn't care. I was thrilled to have made it past security.
I was making my way along the corridor, looking for my cabin, when Prozac, clearly irritated at having been cooped up in a tote bag with nothing for company but my hair dryer, sprang out of the bag and began prancing down the corridor. "Stop this instant!" I commanded in vain, bolting after her.
Then, just as I was about to catch her, a woman came out from her cabin, an attractive blonde with the statuesque good looks of a Vegas showgirl.
Of all the rotten timing.
"What do we have here?" she cooed, scooping Prozac up in her arms.
Instantly Prozac shot her one of her wide-eyed Adorable looks. Somehow, when it comes to strangers, Prozac always manages to turn on the charm.
"Oh, god," I started babbling, "she snuck out of my apartment when I was looking for my crossword puzzles and it was too late to bring her back home so I had to hide her in my tote bag because I couldn't give up seven days in the sun with a 24-hour buffet and it was all going so smoothly until I found her in the trunk of my car. The last thing I need on this cruise is Prozac."
"I don't know about that, honey. You might want to take one of those Prozacs. Sounds like you could use one."
"No, you don't understand. Prozac is my cat."
"What a sweetheart," she said, scratching the little monster behind her ears.
"You're not going to tell anyone about her, are you? They're sure to quarantine her in some horrible cage, and even though that's just what she deserves, I couldn't bear for that to happen."
"Don't worry, hon." She flashed me a friendly smile. "Your secret's safe with me."
"Thank you so much!"
"I'm Cookie Esposito. I sing with the band in the Sinatra Lounge."
"I'm Jaine Austen. No relation," I quickly added, to forestall the question I've been asked 8,756 times in my life. "I'm one of the ship's lecturers. I'm teaching a course in Writing Your Life Story."
"A writer! How wonderful! Welcome to the Paradise Deck, Jaine. This is where they put all the hired hands. C'mon, I'll walk you to your cabin."
"It's right here," I said, spotting my cabin number.
"Great! Right next to mine," she grinned. "We'll be neighbors!"
What a stroke of luck. At least I'd have one neighbor who wouldn't get suspicious if she heard meowing in the middle of the night.
"If there's anything you need, just knock on my door. Bye, snookums."
This last endearment was addressed to Prozac, whom she reluctantly handed back to me and then headed off down the corridor.
I took the keyless entry pass card I'd been given and put it in the electronic door lock. A green light flashed, and I turned the handle.
Because I was traveling for free, I wasn't hoping for anything lavish in the way of accommodations. I'd kept my expectations low. But apparently not low enough. I blinked in dismay as I stepped into a windowless cubbyhole of a room with all the charm of a broom closet. There was barely room for me and my suitcase, which had been jammed between two narrow twin beds.
Prozac surveyed the scene.
For this I spent forty minutes in the trunk of your car?
With that she leaped up onto one of the beds and began sniffing around, no doubt hoping to uncover some minced mackerel on the bedspread.
Somehow I managed to jam my clothes into the cabin's microscopic closet, then locked my wallet in the room safe, thrilled that I wouldn't be needing it for the next seven days.
I was about to stretch out on one of the beds for a much deserved rest when I realized that there was only one pillow in the cabin-and Prozac was sprawled on it.
"Upsy daisy," I said, lifting her up. "Mommy needs to rest."
She shot me a laser look.
You're not my mommy and I want my pillow back.
I had no sooner rested my head on the pillow when I felt her land with a thud in the general vicinity of my left ear. The next thing I knew, her tail was in my mouth. I gave her a gentle push, and she gave me a not-so-gentle scratch. One thing led to another and we were in the middle of a most undignified scuffle when I heard a knock on the door.
"Who is it?" I called out.
A soft unintelligible reply came from out in the corridor.
I quickly stashed Prozac in the glorified washbasin posing as my bathroom and poked my head out the door.
A skinny guy of indeterminate nationality, dressed in what looked like a bellhop's uniform, stood in the corridor.
"I'm Samoa," he said. "Your steward."
At least I think his name was Samoa. His accent was so thick I couldn't be sure.
"Samoa show you around your cabin."
Not much of a trip there. Besides, I doubted there'd be room for both of us.
"No need," I said. "I'm fine."
His big brown eyes peered over my shoulder into the cabin. In the background I thought I heard Prozac meowing, but thankfully, Samoa didn't seem to notice.
"I'm fine," I assured him. "Just wonderful."
"You need anything, just call Samoa."
What I needed was another pillow, but I couldn't risk having him come back to the cabin.
"Right. Great. Thanks so much," I said, shutting the door on his smiling face.
Excerpted from Killer Cruise by Laura Levine Copyright © 2009 by Laura Levine. Excerpted by permission.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very enjoyable series. I picked them up in the middle and am reading them in random order. Love all the wacky characters! Fun, well written, cozy mystery with no gore, bad language or sex scenes.
Laura Levine's Jaine Austen Series is always full of laughter, suspense, crazy parents, and an even crazier cat (that may be the devil in disguise!?! & the reason I am a dog person!) Every book in the series has been a joy to read!
I loved the book....I am single so I could identify with the main character...and yes,it is something that could happen to me..it was very entertaining,and i will read other books by this author..
A great entry in the series. Both the main plot and the sub-plots are well written. If you haven't met Janie Austen before, you are in for a treat. Janie's parents and neighbors are brought in to the mix, so you aren't always at sea. Of course, Prozac has a major role in the plot, and provides a few laughs.
I tell everyone about this book and series. This one in particular made me laugh. I so enjoy something to read that is fun and entertaining.
Its not just another boring mystery book, its soooo HILARIOUS!! The more you dig through the book,the more exciting it gets! Her writing is not that deep like sherlock holmes.... so i would recommend this to EVERYONE. If you like a good laugh, this is the book for you.
Enjoyed this mystery.
This is another great book by Laura Levine. she is sooo funny!!!! I have enjoyed all the books I have read.
Freelance writer Jaine Austen (no descendent of you know who) is thrilled with a week-long Mexican cruise in return for giving a writing class. She should have known better that the oceanic trek from Los Angles would turn horrific from the onset; Prozac her cat hid in her trunk undetected until it was too late to do anything but bring the feline on board. Jaine cuts a deal with Samoa the steward to allow Prozac on board secretly and in return she will edit his 900 page plus thriller manuscript. Jaine is seated with the Pritchard party whose elderly single matriarch Emily is dancing with gold digging escort Graham Palmer III. He showers her with attention and soon Emily is in love. In spite of his engagement to lounge singer Cookie Esposito, Graham and Emily agree to marry over the objection of her family. Soon afterward, Graham is found dead murdered with a stolen ice-pick. The prime suspect is the dumped Cookie, but Jaine does not believe the singer killed her former fiancé. Jaine investigates with Prozac's help while trying not to fall for Emily's nephew Robbie who makes it clear he wants her. The latest Jaine Austen amateur sleuth (see KILLING BRIDEZILLA) is a laugh out loud KILLER CRUISE that readers will want to join. Jaine spends much of the time extracting herself from one awkward mess after another. The whodunit is clever and her investigation fun, but what makes this terrific tale refreshingly brisk is Samoa and his tome that has nothing to do with the mystery, but plenty to do with a great read. Harriet Klausner
Jaine has earned herself a free vacation by agreeing to teach memoire writing aboard a cruise ship. But things go from bad (her cat stows away) to worse when someone is murdered on board and Jaine's new friend is accused of the crime. Absolutely hilarious as always with a decent mystery as well.