When Interior Decorator Madison Night accepts an assignment in Palm Springs with handyman Hudson James, she expects designing days and romantic nights. But after spotting a body in the river by the job site, she causes a rift in the team. Add in the strain of recurring nightmares and a growing dependency on sleeping pills, and Madison seeks professional help to deal with her demons.
She learns more about the crime than she’d like thanks to girl talk with friends, pillow talk with Hudson, and smack talk with the local bad boys. And after the victim is identified as the very doctor she’s been advised to see, she wonders if what she knows can help catch a killer. An unlikely ally helps navigate the murky waters before her knowledge destroys her, and this time, what she doesn’t know might be the one thing that saves her life.
“If you love Doris Day, you’ll love Madison Night, decorator extraordinaire. She specializes in restoring mid-century homes and designs, and her latest project involves abductions, murder and vengeance.” – Books for Avid Readers
“[Vallere] has a wonderful touch, bringing in the design elements and influences of the ’50s and ’60s era many of us hold dear while keeping a strong focus on what it means in modern times to be a woman in business for herself, starting over.” – Fresh Fiction
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books, Doris Day.
Books in the Madison Night Humorous Mystery Series:
MIDNIGHT INK (prequel novella in OTHER PEOPLE’S BAGGAGE)
PILLOW STALK (#1)
THAT TOUCH OF INK (#2)
WITH VICS YOU GET EGGROLL (#3)
THE DECORATOR WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (#4)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...
Author Bio: After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. She is a Lefty Best Humorous Mystery Nominee and, in addition to the Madison Night series, writes the Material Witness and Style & Error mysteries. Diane started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since. Visit her at www.dianevallere.com.
About the Author
Susie Berneis is a versatile voice over artist with numerous narration credits to her name. She has an ear for dialect and a love for the process of developing characters, cultivated in her 20-plus years of experience as a community and regional stage actress. Based in Ann Arbor, (home of the University of Michigan, where she received her BA in English and Theatre) Susie now takes great joy in playing all the characters she encounters in her narration.
Read an Excerpt
If Hudson had gotten his way, I wouldn't have known about the trip to Palm Springs until we arrived at the airport. Perhaps it was the fact that I'd already experienced the frustration of traveling with a suitcase filled with someone else's clothes thanks to a baggage mishap at the airport a few years ago, or that there are some things you'd just rather do for yourself. Either way, his romantic notions of whisking me away with already packed suitcases were thwarted by my naturally inquisitive nature.
"It was a nice idea," I said. "Impractical, but nice."
"It was supposed to be a surprise." Hudson bent down and grabbed my bag from the conveyor belt.
"Maybe I don't like surprises," I said.
"Who doesn't like surprises?"
The kind of person who had lived through more than her share of them.
Hudson James had been my contractor for five years and my leading man for five months. I'd resisted the attraction for as long as I could because his talents had become vital to the success of my decorating business, Mad for Mod. But there was more to life than business, and I'd been pleasantly surprised by how easily we'd merged the various aspects of our individual lives. If only his cat and my dog got along as well as we did, we'd be golden.
"That's all of the luggage," Hudson said.
"Check the tags."
"Madison, exactly how many vintage turquoise Samsonite suitcases do you think are floating around in the world?"
I smiled. "You'd be surprised."
He flipped over the black luggage tag, exposing my pink, yellow, and blue business card. Madison Night, Mad for Mod.
While Hudson adjusted the stack of suitcases on the rolling cart, I let Rocky out of his carrier and attached his leash. He looked up at me with his large brown eyes. He was a Shih Tzu, small enough that he was allowed to ride in the airplane cabin with the rest of us, but he wasn't used to being cooped up for quite so long. I scooped him up, kissed him, and then set him down. He immediately ran over to Mortiboy's carrier and sniffed. A lazy black kitty paw stretched forward and swatted at Rocky's nose. Mortiboy was under the influence of a veterinarian-prescribed sedative, but that didn't mean he would let Rocky get the wrong idea about which one of them was in charge.
The Palm Springs International Airport was easy to navigate. Within minutes our bags were stacked in the back of a Jeep that had been left in short-term parking. Our trip to Palm Springs was only part getaway; Hudson's brother-in-law owned a construction company and had recruited us to work for him for the next two weeks. The Jeep was part of his fleet of vehicles, and he'd mailed the spare key to Hudson before we left Texas. It was yet another detail that I'd gotten out of Hudson during the three-hour flight. The top to the Jeep was off and it was safe to speak for all of us: in what felt like ninety-degree temperature, the passing breeze was welcome, despite what it did to our hair.
I'd recently acquired the estate of an eighty-nine-year-old woman who'd spent her youth as a fit model for a couple of companies that produced sewing patterns. To hear her daughter tell it, Mom had been hired to try on completed garments to make sure the measurements on the patterns were accurate, and part of her compensation was the opportunity to buy said garments at annual sample sales. Hidden amongst the various blankets and sheets sets in her linen closet were deep plastic bins of items that appeared to have been worn once, if at all. Each perfectly coordinated outfit had been packed in a sealable plastic bag with the corresponding pattern. Today's ensemble was Simplicity 6013, a sleeveless A-line tunic with high slits on either side and coral, mint green, and white striped Bermuda shorts underneath. I paired it with coral canvas sneakers, my footwear option of choice.
"Tell me again about the project that brought us to Palm Springs in September? It's not exactly tourist season."
"That's part of the reason why we're here," Hudson said. He grinned.
"You never did strike me as one to do the expected."
"If you can take it, so can I." I reached my hands up and pushed my blonde hair away from my face. "Give me a day to adjust and then I'll be fine."
He slowed for a red light and kissed me on the cheek. "I love your adventurous spirit."
"Is that what you call it? I call it a job," I said playfully.
"The job. Right." He laughed. "It should have been a vacation. You need one. This was the only way to get you out of town."
I reached over and took his hand. Hudson was right; I had a tendency to throw myself into work and the past few months had been no exception. When he'd first mentioned his sister's husband was working on a midcentury modern-inspired project in Palm Springs, it had been my curiosity, not my need for a paying, out-of-state job, that interested me.
"You said your brother-in-law has been planning this for a long time — something about a themed strip mall? What is it we'll be doing?"
"This has been Jimmy's dream. He's been acquiring wreckage from old buildings around the outskirts of Palm Springs for a couple of years now, and he just bought a parcel of land that he plans to develop into a strip mall. We're talking stuff that's been laying around since the fifties. When he first got the idea, it was to buy signs and fixtures cheap and resell to developers, but so much of Palm Springs is rooted in mid-century style and the Rat Pack era that he invested in his own properties. We're here to help him build and renovate what he bought. When we're done he'll rent them out."
"Isn't that a little backward? Don't most rental companies rent out space and allow their tenants to fixture and sign them as they see fit?"
"That's exactly his selling point. His strip mall will be totally cohesive. He's hoping to make it a destination spot by incorporating history into his design. He filed a petition to remove some of the old, weathered external signs from abandoned businesses in Salton Springs and they're going to restore them and use them here. I'm going to help him with the building and construction, and you can help with the decorating."
"So it's going to be authentically mid-mod but new."
"That's the idea. Palm Springs has always been a tourist town. It's in the middle of the desert. Why would you come here? To get away. Real estate is pretty cheap, but a lot of people only live here November to April because the temperature gets to be too hot the rest of the time."
I fanned myself with my hand. "I hadn't noticed."
"Jimmy thought we'd be able to take it because we're used to living in Texas. The temperature is the same there as it is here."
"I don't know if I've gotten used to living in Texas."
"Come on. I thought you said you were adaptable."
"You're right. I think the heat gave me temporary amnesia."
Hudson consulted some directions he'd written on a sheet of printer paper and turned left onto a narrow road. He slowed significantly and we crawled along, passing ranch house after ranch house. I forgot about the temperature, absorbed in the architecture around us. Mid-century style — decorating, clothing, cars, and architecture — was my passion. I'd fallen in love with the look thanks to a steady diet of the Doris Day movies my parents had bought me on my birthday every April third. The actress and I shared more than a birthday. After my parents died in a car accident while I was in college, I'd turned to Doris Day as a role model. She'd experienced her own share of adversity, but remained positive and charming through it all. I'd never once heard of her viewing herself as a victim, and that was the way I wanted to live. So Doris became my guide, and I set about creating the kind of world that she lived in.
In a world that was growing ever more casual, I knew that dressing in sixties vintage made me different, but truth was, I was more comfortable in a polyester skirt suit than if I'd worn jeans and a tee. I could hardly remember a time when I looked like everybody else. It had started with a miniskirt here, a capelet there. It wasn't a stretch to see how her style had morphed into mine.
I'd built my whole decorating business around the aesthetic I saw in her movies too. Through the slightly morbid business model of reading the obituaries to identify estates that were likely filled with the kind of items I'd need, I amassed a collection of original (though sometimes in need of TLC) inventory to use in future jobs. Buying estates in whole had the secondary benefit of giving me first dibs at vintage clothes and accessories, which suited my lifestyle.
The Jeep bumped along the narrow road, occasionally swaying from side to side thanks to the uneven terrain. Hudson handed me the sheet of paper. "I recognize where we're at. Emma and Jimmy's house should be just up the street."
"Great. I'm pretty sure Mortiboy's sedative is wearing off. If we don't get there soon, I'm afraid he's going to start plotting revenge against me for keeping him in his cat carrier while Rocky has his freedom."
As if he understood me, Mortiboy let out a long, low meow. Rocky turned around to investigate and the howl was followed up with a hiss. Hudson reached his right hand around behind his seat and stuck his fingers into the grate of the carrier. "Hey, little fella, hang on. We'll be there in a sec." He glanced behind my seat at the cat carrier just as a dirty SUV rounded the corner, coming right toward us.
I yelled. Hudson hit the brakes and pulled the steering wheel to the right. The SUV careened toward us. The Jeep swerved, but not fast enough. The front of the SUV clipped the Jeep. The wheels caught on a snarl of upended tree roots along the side of the road. The Jeep tilted to the left and then fell like a wounded dinosaur. I clutched Rocky to my chest. A cloud of dirt filled the air around us. The SUV backed away from us and drove off.
I undid my seatbelt and climbed out of the car. Rocky crawled across Hudson and hopped in circles in the middle of the road. I grabbed the end of his leash so he couldn't run away and stooped down by Hudson's head.
The heat and dust filled my lungs. I waved my hand through the air to see the damage. Hudson lay very still. A streak of blood ran across his forehead. Seconds after being hit, we were stranded on the side of the road.CHAPTER 2
"Help!" I hollered. "Somebody, help!" I stooped down next to Hudson. "Talk to me," I said. "Say something. Anything."
He opened his eyes and reached his hand out toward me. "I'm okay." He bent down and tried the seatbelt release. It was jammed. "I need you to go to Emma's house and get Jimmy. It's about two hundred feet up the road. He can help." He coughed.
"You couldn't keep the car from tipping. He's not going to be able to lift it."
"He's got a chain on his truck."
I moved Mortiboy's cage to a safe spot by the front wheels of the Jeep. "I don't want to leave you," I said. "What if another car comes along? They aren't going to know you're inside the car. You could get hit — or worse."
"This isn't a busy street. You'll be back before anybody else comes along."
"I'm not taking any chances," I said. I yanked my suitcase out of the back of the Jeep, flipped it open, and pulled out my orange floral bathing suit. I set the suitcase in the middle of the street and knotted the bathing suit to the handle. If nothing else, it would get someone to slow down. I leaned down and kissed Hudson's forehead. "I'm taking Rocky. We'll be back before you realize we left."
Hudson was right about the directions. Around the corner, past several Dracaena plants, was a long driveway. A metallic mint-green convertible sat in front of the garage. I went to the front door and rang the bell. Hudson's sister, Emma, answered.
"Madison! I didn't hear you and Hudson pull up." She started to hug me, but I stopped her with my outstretched hand.
"Is Jimmy here?" I asked.
She looked taken aback. "He's not back from the store."
"I'm sorry to be so brusque, but this is an emergency. Somebody ran us off the road. The Jeep tipped and Hudson is trapped inside."
"Is he hurt?"
"He's okay for now. I'm going back before anybody else drives along that road. It's right up there at that narrow turn. Is there anybody else who can help us?"
"It's just me and Heather." Next to Emma, a small blonde girl stood in a pink T-shirt and jean shorts. Her knees were covered with brush burns that came from tomboyish behavior. Emma turned to the girl. "Heather, keep looking for your bunny. I'm going with Madison."
"What about Rocky?" Heather asked.
"He can stay here with you," I said. Emma reached into a mother-of-pearl bowl next to the door and pulled out a set of keys while I looped Rocky's leash over the metal end of the banister. "I'll be right back," I told him.
Emma pulled the door shut. I ran toward the convertible and jumped in the passenger side. The car roared to life. She backed out of the drive and then drove toward the hairpin turn. When we reached the accident scene, the Jeep was upright and Hudson was sitting on the back, scratching Mortiboy's ears. A man I didn't know sat next to Hudson. The man eased himself down and approached Emma's car.
"Where'd you come from?" Emma asked. She left her giant car parked in the middle of the road and climbed out. I followed suit.
"I wasn't far. Came around that turn and saw a suitcase in the middle of the road. Good thinking," he said to me. "You must be Madison." He approached me and held out his hand. "Jimmy McKenna," he said. "Emma's husband."
"Good thing you came along when you did," I said. "The SUV that hit us must have known what was going to happen. He took off like he was afraid of getting caught."
Jimmy looked down the road. "It was an SUV? I don't think anybody on this road owns one."
"It wasn't an SUV," Hudson said. "It was a truck. A black truck."
"It was a dirty SUV," I said. "But other than that, I can't tell you very much. It happened so fast and as soon as Hudson hit the brakes, the dirt made a cloud around us."
"Those dirt clouds travel fast. You want to make money fast? Open a car wash in the desert." Jimmy turned to Hudson. "You sure you're okay, man?"
"I'm okay. The Jeep's a little worse for wear though."
"That Jeep has seen more action than that. You sure you don't want to go to the hospital and get looked at?"
"I'm fine," Hudson said. He adopted a slight southern dialect. "I got my girl and my cat. Reckon I don't need much more than that, now do I?" "I reckon you don't," Jimmy said. "How 'bout you and Madison follow Emma to the house? I'll bring up the rear to make sure you're safe."
I looked back and forth between the two men's faces. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought Hudson and Jimmy were related, not Hudson and Emma. They acted like friends who'd known each other forever.
Emma was lucky they got along. I glanced in her direction and smiled, but she didn't notice. She was busy looking down the street behind us. One by one we climbed into our cars and started the short procession back to their house. This time Emma pulled her convertible into the garage, leaving room in the driveway for the Jeep and the truck. Emma opened the door to the house and ran out. I untied Rocky's leash from the bannister. He nipped everybody's ankles and then ran inside, hopping around Hudson's niece, Heather. She squealed and ran inside the house with Rocky on her heels.
It sure wasn't like Monday night around my place.
Hours later, Emma, Jimmy, and I sat around the backyard enjoying dinner on the grill. Heather chased Rocky around the backyard, her long blonde hair flying behind her at the same angle as Rocky's long fur. Past the edge of the property line, a large construction crane was silhouetted against an orange sky. A white sign announced new luxury condos under construction. Hudson, who had picked up a nice layer of dirt from being pinned under the Jeep, had gone directly to the shower when we arrived. He joined the rest of us right about when Jimmy was finishing with the first round of burgers.
"Huds, I'm curious. Did you see the driver of this black truck?" Jimmy asked. I could tell from the look on his face that he was poking friendly fun at us. "Madison here says the driver was a tall redhead with a beard."
"And he had a hook for a hand and a peg leg too," I said, playing along.
"So it was a man," Jimmy said.
"I think so. Hudson, did you see him?"
"Not really," he said. "It happened so fast and it was right after Mortiboy started crying."
"Well, if nobody saw him then there's nothing to report," Emma said. She stood over a line of paper plates that each held an open hamburger bun and a short stack of lettuce, onion, and tomato.
"I still don't like it," Jimmy said. "This is our neighborhood. If somebody is tearing up these streets, then it might be worse the next time." He pulled each patty off the grill and slid it onto a bun. "You know what I need to do? Tomorrow, remind me to put up a sign by that hairpin turn. Can't hurt, right? Remind people to slow down."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Decorator Who Knew Too Much"
Copyright © 2017 Diane Vallere.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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