Everywhere Jane and her lovable, misfit pug, Binky, look, there's a suspect odder than the last, including two grown, very troubled kids, an ex-wife strung out on Botox and a current wife who's a cross between Donna Reed and a sex kitten--all of them eager to blame Roland's death on Violet.
The deeper Jane digs, the less she wants to know. Every truth leads her deeper into danger, and soon, Jane wonders if her first official case might also be her last. . .and if the client she's been asked to clear just might be the coldest black widow of all. . .
"Jane's cool, reader-friendly attitude makes this funny new series a winner." --Publishers Weekly
"Bush has another hit on her hands." --Romantic Times
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Bush
Kensington PublishingCopyright © 2007 Nancy Bush
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI had mere seconds to get out of the bedroom. There was no bolt for the door and no escape back the way I'd entered. I stood frozen, my hands useless appendages in front of me, my frantic heartbeats a roaring surf in my ears.
Three strong strides and I was at the sliding glass door that led to the bedroom balcony. The door opened soundlessly to an itsy-bitsy, terra-cotta tiled area wrapped by a wrought-iron rail. I looked down two floors. For a dizzying moment I considered jumping but the patio below was cold, unforgiving stone.
I whirled back to stare across the room. Twelve feet of carpet led toward the bedroom door, the only other exit. My pursuer was not far behind. From my peripheral vision I caught sight of the maple tree. I glanced over. Too far from the balcony, but just outside the bathroom window.
I could hear his approaching footsteps from the exterior hall. Quickly, I scurried into the bathroom and threw open the window. One branch was close enough to reach. For an instant I considered climbing down as I was: gowned, bejeweled, wearing the most expensive shoes I ever planned to purchase.
Kicking off the shoes I threw them out the window. I ripped the zipper of the dress downward, yanked the slinky lavender silk dress over my head, sent it flying after the shoes. As I pulled myself through the window, cursing the space which was scarcely large enough for me to wriggle my shoulders through, I heard the door open. A mewling sound entered my throat but I held it back. I reached for the branch, missed, reached again, arms shaking, fingers splayed.
I heard his breathing.
My fingers connected and I hauled myself out with adrenalin-laced strength. I swung my legs upward to catch the limb with my ankles and hung like a lemur. Then I shimmied toward the tree trunk and carefully eased myself down the bole. I lost swatches of skin. My pulse hammered in my ears. My face was wet with tears.
When my toe hit the ground I drew a breath and silently thanked my lucky stars. I glanced upward. He was on the balcony looking down at me. In that strange, heightened moment between quarry and prey, I was very, very glad I stood where I was.
The voice came from somewhere to my right, near the front of the house, as I stooped to pick up the gown Violet Purcell had given me. I shivered, glad Violet had talked me into the padded, lacy bra, equally glad I'd held out for bikini underwear rather than a thong.
The newcomer was my other admirer, Martin.
I smiled at him as he approached, hoping my lips didn't quiver. I could feel the gaze from the man on the balcony boring into the back of my head. I shook out the gown. Stepping into it, I said with forced nonchalance, "Would you mind helping me zip up?"
I thanked the fates Martin liked me enough to obey without question.
There's a weird-oh in every neighborhood.
The old lady with 49 cats. The man who's formed art pieces out of painted car parts and littered them across his front yard. The couple who've carved mysterious symbols in the bark of a tree and hung a plaque on the limbs declaring themselves lovers of evergreens, while fir needles blanket their dilapidated roof and hang in a shroud of spider webs from the sagging eaves.
I fear that Dwayne Durbin is becoming the latest neighborhood weird-oh.
Ever since the accident that broke his leg and somewhat incapacitated him, he's taken to spying on the properties across Lakewood Bay, his leg wrapped in a cast from ankle to thigh, his eyes glued to a pair of binoculars. A strange chortling sound issues from his throat. He can tell you more about the Pilarmo's dog and the Wilson's new alarm system than you should ever want to know.
I've sort of been trying to avoid him these last few weeks. He's drawn me into watching the sexcapades of a nameless couple whose energetic and inventive forms of copulation both impress and shock me, which is saying a lot. Dwayne has named all the houses/families he spies on; these two he calls Tab A and Slot B. Their stamina and vitality while inserting said Tab A into Slot B makes me wonder about my own tepid sex life. A few random kisses is all I can measure in the plus column.
Which is the main reason I've been avoiding Dwayne: my newly refined awareness of him. Yes, he's an attractive member of the male gender, but so what? Dwayne is still my boss/business partner and that is IT. Thinking about him in any romantic context is just plain trouble.
I reminded myself of this as I parked my Volvo wagon next to his truck which sat on the concrete pad outside his cabana. I'd told him I would bring lunch and so I had. The white bag containing a stack of plastic containers lay on the passenger seat.
Before I climbed out of the car I took a deep breath. I'd been using the excuse that, as temporary lead investigator for Dwayne Durbin Investigations (of which only Dwayne and I make up the company employees), I'm too busy digging into the death of one Roland Hatchmere, the third and most beloved ex-husband of our client, Violet Purcell, to hang around much. I'd gone so far as to call from my cell phone near heavy freeway interchanges and scream over the roar of the traffic that I would report in when I'm closer to Lake Chinook, the town in which we both reside. It's a testament to Dwayne's interest in his friends across the bay that he hasn't been calling me on my bullshit. He knows me too well to seriously believe me. Honestly, I don't think he notices that I'm having such a hard time with the current form of our relationship which should piss me off but worries me more than anything else.
But when Dwayne asked me to bring him a burger from Standish's I broke down and agreed. What can I say? I want to see him. Still, I couldn't just be little miss fetch-all so, in a moment of pure orneriness, I drove to a new deli neither of us had tried before and bought an array of items in little white boxes that looked great but might be more healthy than either of us would normally choose. Why do I do this? I don't want to even speculate.
As I let myself inside his cabana I put my feelings for Dwayne aside as best I could and instead scolded myself for not being further along on the Violet Purcell matter. The problem for me is Violet herself. Before Dwayne's accident, she'd made a strong play for him and they looked to be heading into that "you woman, me man" thing with the speed of a freight train.
I hadn't liked it one bit. And so I was having trouble treating Violet as a paying client who needed rescuing. To be fair, Violet is currently so distracted by her own problems that she appears to have no interest in Dwayne whatsoever. I'm not going to be fooled, however, because these things have a habit of resurfacing just when you're sure it's safe to go back in the water.
Not that Dwayne's for me. I'm just saying ...
I was juggling my laptop in its smart, gray wool case, a cup of black coffee from the Coffee Nook, the white bag containing our lunch and a copy of the Lake Chinook Review and I dropped everything in a heap on Dwayne's kitchen counter. Dwayne, as ever, was on his back dock. He heard me arrive and from where he was stretched out on his longue, he half-turned his head in greeting. I could see his profile in front of the green waters of Lakewood Bay. It arrested me for a moment, as the sky had darkened in that eerie way that foretells of a thunderstorm, something that rarely happens in Oregon. I looked through the window at the gray-green sky just as a shot of lightning sizzled across it, leaving a bright after-image against my retina. Dwayne picked up his binoculars and scanned the heavens. It was November and unseasonably warm. As I off-loaded my items, thunder rumbled and then a horrendous blast of rain poured down. Loud rain. I looked up sharply. Hail, actually.
I squeezed through the twelve-inch opening - all that Dwayne's sliding glass door allows as his desk is shoved up against it - and rushed outside to the dock. Dwayne was struggling up from his chair. I grabbed his arm and together we managed to knock over his small side table as we squeezed back through the door to safety. In those few seconds we both got soaked to the skin. After that we stood just inside and stared at the black sky and silvery, bouncing hail.
I felt the warmth of Dwayne's skin through the damp. I could smell him. Something faintly citrusy today that spoke of last summer. I've never been one of those women who wants to 'drink in a man' but I felt that desire now so strongly I could scarcely think. It took serious willpower to move away from him.
Abruptly the hail stopped.
"Cool," Dwayne said thoughtfully, brushing at his shoulders. Bright drops of water melted into the light blue cotton before my eyes.
I said, "Lunch is on the counter."
"This is from that new gourmet catering shop on B Street."
Hope died in his face. "Tell me there's nothing with raisins."
"There's nothing with raisins."
Beets, though. I knew better than to mention them as I opened the white bags and pulled out clear, plastic containers of dishes that had made my mouth water as I stood in front of the counter. Dwayne eyed the Szechuan noodles suspiciously and actually sniffed the container of chicken, arugula, corn and rice. The purple red beets swimming in their own juice he studiously avoided. I didn't blame him. I'd thrown them in mainly for the shock value. I don't mind a beet but their tendency to dye clothing with one ill-placed drop kind of puts me off.
"I suffered a moment of worry about my health."
Dwayne grunted as he swept some plates and silverware from his drawers. He moved with surprising grace on his crutches, dishing up heaping helpings onto two plates. He stuck a serving spoon in the beets but didn't partake. I felt duty-bound to have some and left a spray of magenta beet juice in a semi-circle on Dwayne's counter. I found a paper towel and swiped it up. I didn't tell him about the drops that landed on his dish towel. I was pretty sure no amount of washing was going to get those suckers out. He gestured at me to ask if I wanted something to drink but I lifted my Coffee Nook cup in response.
I sank onto his couch, which doubles as my work station, and Dwayne perched on one of his kitchen stools. He's transformed his jeans to accommodate his cast, in effect making one pant leg only about twelve inches long. His cast takes over from there and it has various writings on it. I wondered about the sweet little red heart with initials.
"Anything new?" he asked, scooping up the Szechuan noodles and eyeing me.
"Roland Hatchmere's family doesn't think much of Violet. They'd like to see her go down for this."
"She didn't kill him."
"So you say. And so says Violet. But somebody hit him with the tray she gave as a wedding gift." I forked in some rice and pea mixture that had a hint of saffron.
Dwayne swept an arm toward my laptop case. "You got a report for me?"
"There's nothing to report."
"Give me a list of the players: Hatchmere's family members, the wedding guests, people from work. There's a reason somebody killed him."
I fought back a natural obstinance, finished my salads, then switched on my laptop. Dwayne loves hard copy. He's always yammering about how I should spend more time logging data and generating pages and pages of information to impress the client, and he likes to look at information on paper himself. Seeing facts on paper helps him think. Unfortunately I wasn't kidding: I had nothing to report. Since Violet had announced to me and Dwayne that she was suspected in Roland Hatchmere's death, I'd barely learned anything of note. Certainly nothing worth writing up and printing off.
We finished our meals and Dwayne was nice enough to thank me and even pay for the food. I tried to demur but he smiled faintly and ignored me, so I pocketed the bills. I'm pretty sure I should be embarrassed by my cheapness, but I can't stop looking at it as a good thing.
I pretended disinterest as he picked up the Review and started reading. Perversely, as soon as I was clearly dropped from his consciousness I wanted to be right back in there.
I said, "I'm having trouble getting the Hatchmere clan to talk to me. I've left messages ... I even dropped by the house, once, but I got the door slammed in my face."
"Who slammed it on you?"
"The daughter. Gigi Hatchmere. Or, wait ... Popparockskill ..."
"It's still Hatchmere. Ceremony never came off when Roland didn't show." He shook the paper and opened to another page as he headed back outside.
"Have you got any bright ideas on what I should do next?" I called but Dwayne was outside and either he couldn't hear me or he didn't care.
Annoyed, I pulled up my file on Violet and wirelessly sent its meager contents to the printer as I slid another look Dwayne's way.
He'd put down the paper and was standing in the strange darkness created by the storm, staring up at the sky. I followed his gaze and saw a crack between clouds where sunlight spilled through, looking like a sheer, glowing curtain of white and yellow, the kind of odd illumination that as Dwayne moved in front of it, surrounded him with a brilliant aura.
"Saint Dwayne," I muttered.
"What?" he hollered.
Oh, yeah, sure. Now, he hears me? "Nothing."
I headed to the printer which is currently set up in Dwayne's spare bedroom and looked at the pages. It was disheartening how little progress I'd made. Nobody, but nobody, wanted to talk to anyone associated with Violet. I'd placed a few calls and gotten a few polite "noes" and a few more "you've got to be kiddings". One guy, some Hatchmere family friend known as Big Jim, just laughed like a hyena and hung up on me.
Gathering up the two pages of potential interviewees, I sensed a nub of anxiety tightened in the pit of my stomach. For all his inattention, Dwayne was going to want some hard answers. But Violet was anathema. And no one wanted to talk to a friend of Violet's - friend being a stretch of the truth of our relationship - but I suspected Dwayne wasn't going to see it that way.
"Come on out here, Jane," Dwayne called, apparently sensing I'd returned to the living room as his eyes were once again glued to his binoculars.
He was back on the longue, though I suspected there might be some moisture soaking into the seat of his jeans. The outdoor furniture and dock were still wet from the hail blast.
Squeezing back outside, I felt a frigid huff of wind whip beneath my black suede vest, press my shirt to my skin and generally bring me to goose bumps. Dwayne's cowboy hat, never far from his side, was now scrunched on his head. His long, light blue denim-clad left leg, and casted right one, stretched toward the small, slatted-wood table we'd knocked over on our scramble to get back inside. I righted the table and put it beside his chair. Apart from his shirt, there was no protection against the elements but it didn't look like he cared much.
My eyes followed the line of his legs and I felt a twist of sexual interest. I gritted my teeth. And him being a semi-invalid. What did that say about me?
"Take a look here," he said, handing me the binoculars. "Straight over there is Rebel Yell ..." He pointed at a white two-story house across the bay and a little to our left. I looked through the lenses. "Parents, two teenage girls, lots of drama."
"You've named another one?"
"Named 'em all. It's next to Tab A and Slot B, just to the west side."
I gazed at Tab A and Slot B where the man and woman had been cavorting into every sexual position known to humankind all fall and tried to keep my mind off Dwayne. But it was difficult not to notice the tautness of skin across his bared chest, the feel of hard upper arm muscles. Dwayne and I had done a bit of that mating dance, nothing too serious, and then Violet had entered our world. Sometimes, late at night, when my mind whirled on a repetitive track, I remembered those moments with uncomfortable inner jolts that seemed to hit my heart and parts down south as well. "We've watched them before," I said neutrally.
"Mm," he agreed. "Tab A'll be home in a couple hours. Lately they've been turning on their outdoor fire pit and then heading just inside the slider door and getting to work. Lovemaking by the fire. Guess it's what you do when you don't have an indoor fireplace."
"Can't wait for that."
"Next to them is Plastic Pet Cemetery, where old lawn ornaments go to die."
"The Pilarmos. With the dog."
Dwayne nodded. "Thing howls and looks like a wolf."
I centered my binoculars on the Pilarmo's tired, dark blue bungalow. Kinda looked like my cottage only worse, if that was possible. Probably worth a small fortune. I could make out gnomes and plastic pink flamingos and faux cement bird baths decorating a large portion of the back yard. A grayish wolf-dog cruised around the corner and disappeared from view.
"Then there's Do Not Enter."
I moved my glasses to aim toward a shell of a house where the beams and a skin of plywood comprised the walls. The roof was half on. "Why is it Do Not Enter?"
Excerpted from ULTRAVIOLET by Nancy Bush Copyright © 2007 by Nancy Bush. 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.