Excerpt from the new Corey Shaw Mystery by Alex Morgan

Legacy of Hephaestus

by

Alex Morgan

Blurb:

Paranormal sleuth Corey Shaw is wrapping up what’s left of his European vacation by enjoying the beautiful men in Europe.  During his visit, the largest yellow diamond in the world is stolen from a factory in Amsterdam.  On his way home, an attempt is made on his life, and his house is broken into upon his arrival home in Boston. Just as Corey finds the “Lava Diamond”, a professor from Boston College disappears while on sabbatical at Bergen University in Norway.

Drawn into the fray, Corey travels back across the Atlantic to search for the professor only to discover a connection between the missing prof and the “Lava Diamond”.

Excerpt:

As Corey paused to watch, one of the players leaned over the table to line up a shot and glanced up, locking gazes with him. His face split into a big grin. His short crop of curly red hair and blue eyes reminded Corey of Prince Harry of England, only sexier. The man returned his attention to his shot, although his smile remained.

Corey noted the long, sinewy forearms with a vascularity that spoke of strength and musculature. The pool player slid the pool cue back and forth several times through his long, out-stretched fingers, making Corey think he was insinuating something rather than lining up a shot. He thrust the pool stick forward, striking the cue ball, sending it flying across the table where it collided with the 4 ball with a sharp crack. The 4 darted off at an angle, straight into the corner pocket. Murmurs of approval rippled through the spectators.

‘Harry’ straightened up with a slight grin, acknowledging the mutterings of encouragement, and circled the table with his gaze on the remaining balls. His navy blue T-shirt hung over muscular pecs, and the short sleeves had been rolled up, exposing bulging biceps. An emblem on his shirt indicated he worked for a longshoreman company at the port. Or at least the company owned the T-shirt.

His path brought him next to Corey, where he stopped and bent over the table in front of him, bumping him with his round ass, contained in tight blue jeans.

LegacyOfHephaestsus_cvr

“Sorry,” he said over his shoulder. His tone did not sound apologetic, and Corey nodded with a twitch of an eyebrow.

In an automatic, involuntary move, Corey reached out and placed an open palm on Harry’s back pocket. The ass didn’t yield under his touch.

“Nice,” Corey whispered, and Harry shifted his weight back, pushing into Corey’s hand. He fired off another shot, sinking the next ball.

Corey watched him as he circled the table several times, stopping to line up a shot and sink a third ball. Within a few short minutes, Harry had cleared the table and shook hands with his opponent to a smattering of applause. He turned to face Corey across the room just as another challenger stepped up to him. Harry glanced at Corey as if willing him to be patient and stick around.

Corey nodded again and backed against the wall, out of the way. Harry racked the balls in seconds and broke, sending them in all directions, sinking two. He continued to make short work of his opponent, clearing the table in several turns.

Before the game ended, Corey sought out the bar and ordered two Heinekens. When he returned, Harry was shaking hands with the loser.

Not wanting to look too eager or desperate, he approached the pool player with a slow pace. Harry looked up with a beautiful smile as Corey proffered the beer.

Bedankt,” Harry said.

“Good game,” Corey said, taking a sip and hoping the gorgeous man understood him.

“Do you play?” Harry asked in perfect English and took a swig.

“I’ve dabbled now and then.”

“You’re American,” Harry said. “On holiday?”

“Only a couple of days. Then I go to Oslo before heading home.”

“Perhaps I could show you some of the sights of our beautiful city,” Harry said with a suggestive wink.

“I like what I see in here.” Corey returned the gesture.

 

Wilde City Press: Alex Morgan

http://www.wildecity.com/authors/alex-morgan/

EXCERPT: Lloyd A Meeker’s new Russ Morgan Mystery – Blood and Dirt

Blood and Dirt

by

Lloyd A Meeker

Blurb:

Family squabbles can be murder. Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that’s escalating in a hurry. Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation. Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point. Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age. His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane, and good. Now, that’s really dangerous…

Set-up:

Evan Landry wants to hire Russ to find out who wrecked his sister Sarah’s legal marijuana grow, located on the family ranch in Mesa County, Colorado. Landry want his step-sister Marianne to be the guilty party, and expects Russ to prove it. The Ellis/Landry family has marinated in toxic animosity for years. Evan is in Russ’ Denver office, in their first meeting. The first half of this scene is at Clare London’s site… http://clarelondon.com/2015/08/21/lloyd-meeker-visits/

Excerpt:

I couldn’t deny family intrigue was fascinating to me. Over the years, I’d encountered a long parade of bizarre relationships, toxic secrets, competition for affection or mere attention, and vendettas. However, I’d also seen reconciliations and witnessed the most beautiful demonstrations of compassion and forgiveness and understanding. I smiled at my own discovery. Maybe I had just figured out why I’d become a specialist in family complexities.

I stuck out my hand. “Yes, I’ll take your assignment. I’ve never had anything to do with marijuana cultivation, so this should be especially educational.”

“Good.” Landry gave my hand a perfunctory shake that said my answer was no surprise to him—he’d expected my agreement before he walked in. At the same moment, he slid his other hand into a jacket pocket and handed me a check. Already made out to me. “A retainer,” he said with cool nonchalance. “You don’t need to create an invoice until you’re done, then we can see what’s left to cover.”

Nodding, I tucked the check into my desk drawer and pulled out my simple one-page engagement letter.

“Now,” Landry said as we finished up the formalities, “you get all the dirty laundry.”

I got ready to take notes.

BloodDirt_cvr-Full Size

It was a convoluted story, with all the elements of a classic family melodrama, a perfect breeding ground for bad blood. Stanford Ellis, the current owner of the Ellis Ranch, was in his sixties. He’d married young, and sired three children: Stanford Jr., Marianne, and William, who everybody called Billy even though he was now in his late twenties.

When Billy was four, Mrs. Ellis decided the rancher’s life was no longer for her and disappeared, leaving her husband with three small children to raise and a ranch to run.

Stanford, being an old-school rancher, knew that a rancher needed a wife, so he got himself another one—Carolyn Landry, who already had two children of her own by a previous marriage.

Although Carolyn had frequently asked Stanford to formally adopt her two children Evan and Sarah, he’d refused. Maybe it was some vestige of arrogance about the Ellis name and Ellis blood that prevented him from saying yes. Maybe it was something else, but while Stanford Sr. was perfectly decent to his second wife, the two children she had brought into the family remained Landrys.

According to Landry, Stanford Sr. might have been obstinate about that particular issue but was indecisive about everything else. After Carolyn’s death, his refusal to take a firm stand with his brood left the children to cope with each other without many boundaries except, strangely, at the dinner table. There, Stanford controlled everyone’s behavior with a dictator’s fist.

By middle school, an internecine rivalry had begun, with the Ellis children pitted not only against the Landrys, but against each other as well. Each child developed their own way of fighting or at least coping.

Sarah had become something of a Birkenstock hippie, spending more time with animals and plants than people. She did passably well at school and began working for the local rancher’s co-op after graduation.

When she could show that marijuana was a viable cash crop, she negotiated a very favorable lease with Stanford Sr. for space in an old barn the ranch no longer used, complete with water rights.

Evan had stayed under the radar of family conflict as much as possible until he came out in high school, then he defiantly took on all comers. He’d escaped as soon as he could, moving to Denver where being gay wasn’t such a big deal, got a grunt job in a restaurant and learned the business as he worked his way up to chef, managing partner, and, finally, owner.

Stanford Jr. had never really accomplished much of anything. He was smart but chronically unrealistic. He daydreamed, was undisciplined and grandiose, and drank far too much and too often. Marianne was the most social of the Ellis children and went off to study journalism after high school. She was now part of the TV news team at the Grand Junction station. She made sure she was part of all the social circles on the western slope that counted, few as those were.

Billy wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but was kind and reliable. He and Ellis Senior did all the physical work on the ranch. Billy had gone through high school as a member of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. He’d raised prize-winning animals to show at the county fair. He was born to be a rancher.

Stanford Sr. had made the competition and distrust among the siblings worse by making vague promises and threats about who would inherit parts of the ranch land when he died, and the story changed all the time.

Maybe he thought that was the only club he had to maintain control, but whatever the reason, the lion’s share of blame for sibling animosity rested at the patriarch’s door, as far as Evan Landry was concerned.

“Even though our family dynamic puts a nest of vipers to shame,” Landry said, winding up his story, “Ellis insists that when we are on ranch property, we all eat dinner together.” He gave me a joyless smile. “And you’ll get to join us in that unique pleasure on Monday night.”

That didn’t sound particularly attractive to me.

Landry stood and shrugged his sport jacket into place. “Arrive at the ranch as soon as you can. I’ll introduce you to Stanford Sr. before dinner. He’s promised everyone’s full cooperation, and he’s the only person who can make that promise. So you’ll be operating under his aegis as well as mine.”

He laughed bitterly. “My aegis is not half as far-reaching as Stanford’s, so stay alert. The only reason I’m still tolerated on the property is because I’ve got money and because Sarah’s marijuana operation is now a more reliable income stream than the ranching operation.”

Enigma_100dpi_cvr

He shook his head. “The Ellises have the land, and the Landrys have the money. You’d think that would offer an easy solution, but family blood and pride seem thicker than poverty and envy. Or their cure.”

“How do I get to you on Monday?”

“Oh, right.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out another piece of paper. “I sketched this map. It’s easy. It’s on the west side of the Gunnison. South of Grand Junction to Whitewater on 51, then west on 141 a few miles. You’ll see the sign for Ellis Ranch, north side of the road. Get there no later than four o’clock. Call me if you get lost.”

We shook hands again, me agreeing to his instructions. He let himself out, and I watched him cross the street toward a high-end Mercedes sedan. Its lights blinked, ready and obedient, as he approached. Evan Landry was used to being the boss.

 

 

Interviewing the Talented, Multi-Genre Author of Sunset Lake; John Inman

 

John, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.—-

I’m thrilled to be here.  Thanks for having me.

Let’s start off with, where do you live?—- 

I live in beautiful San Diego, home of the 2015 GayRomLit get-together in October!  Woohoo!  There are so many people I want to meet I can’t wait.  This will be my first writer’s convention.  I’m a little nervous but it should be a lot of fun.

Spirit

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?—-

I’m married.  My husband’s name is John too.  We’ve been together for ten years and married for two and we live in the South Park section of the city.  We have two cats, Max and Leo, who think they own the place.  For exercise I walk about 10 miles a day and for fun I read, watch movies, and piddle around in the yard.  That’s about it.  Oh, and we take in as many stage shows as we can.   For my birthday last month, John took me to see a production of Cabaret.  It was great.

I’ve read somewhere that you only recently began submitting your writing for publication; How long have you been writing and why did it take you so long to submit to publishers?  —

That’s not quite accurate.  I’ve  been writing fiction since I was a kid.  I spent my whole life submitting stuff to publishers and never got my foot in the door anywhere.  It was only after I ran across the website for Dreamspinner Press, and after I got to know the wonderful Elizabeth North, who runs the place, that I ever received an acceptance letter.   I was sixty before I sold my first book.  Since then, I think I just signed my 24th contract, or thereabouts.  I write fast even if I did get off to a slow start.  It just goes to show, you should never give up.

Do you get to write full-time or are you maintaining an evil day job?—-

I’m retired so I’m one of the lucky few who can write full time.  I usually crank out 3 or 4 hours at the computer every morning pecking away at whatever story I’m working on at the time then I go back to it several times during the course of the day.  When I’m in the middle of a story I don’t think of much of anything else.  The other John seems to understand and stays the hell out of my way. Poor guy. Right now I’m just finishing up a romantic thriller titled, MY BUSBOY.  I should have it off to DSP in a couple of weeks.  Don’t know what I’ll work on next.  Maybe another comedy.

Ahardwinterrain

Is A Hard Winter Rain your first novel? Can you share a little of where you got your inspiration for the story and how long it took you to write it?—-

Rain wasn’t my first novel, but it was up there.  When I wrote Rain I was still working so it took me longer to finish. Don’t remember how long exactly.  Almost a year, I think, since I was working and didn’t have a lot of time to write, plus Rain is longer than a lot of the other novels.  It’s still a favorite of mine though.  I was so thrilled when DSP picked it up.  It was one of the first ones they bought.  I walked on air for a week after that.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the greatest thrill of my life, bar none.  As for inspiration, I was a hairdresser for forty years and I wanted to write something about a character in that field.  I’m not as butch as the guy in the book, but I was able to draw on a lot of stuff knowing the business the way I did.  I remember also being excited about incorporating the weather into that story.  We had just had a rainy winter in San Diego and I thought the storms would make a great backdrop for a thriller.

You’re known in much of your writing for comic flair, including in stories with a gay mystery/thriller theme, such as Hobbled and Spirit. Is it important to you to include some humor in your writing?—-

I don’t know how important it is, all I know is I seem to do it.  I can’t help myself.  I think every good piece of fiction needs a little humor to lighten the load of a heavy story.  Sometimes I know I go a little overboard — haha — but like I said, I can’t seem to help myself.  I try to write what I like to read, and since I like to read humor, that’s what I do.

I read an interview you did with author Carole Cummings where she described you as DSP Publication’s “answer to Stephen King” – that’s a very impressive compliment. Have you always had a special place in your heart for horror?—-

I almost fell off my chair when I saw she had written that.  First of all, because he’s one of my idols, and second of all because I would never compare myself to Stephen King.  In my opinion, as far as horror goes, nobody matches the King.  Just being mentioned in the same sentence with him was enough to make me swoon.  Do 65-year-old gay men swoon?  I don’t know.  Maybe it was just a stroke.

Hobbled

You write in many genres; M/M Romance, Horror, Mystery/Thriller, all very well received from your fans. Do you feel you have different fans per sub-genre, or do they cross over?—-  

I had never really thought about it.  I do know some of my loyal readers that I’ve gotten to know tell me they prefer comedy or romance, and sometimes those are the ones who aren’t too crazy about horror.  But like I said before, I strive to write what I like to read, and I pretty much like to read everything.  With every new book I write I try to shoot for something different than what I’ve written before.  That’s why I never thought I’d ever write a series.  I thought I would be too bored.  Fooled me.  Somehow when I did Serenading Stanley, I fell in love with the characters so much I had to bring them back.  The third Belladonna Arms book comes out August 17th and I’m already thinking about a fourth. So never say never.

Where do you get your ideas for a story; tell us about how you can up with your latest release “Sunset Lake”?—-

Sunset Lake is the closest thing to autobiographical that I’ve ever written.  I don’t mean the plot — I haven’t killed any little old ladies, I swear — but I mean as far as the setting goes.  Nine Mile may not really exist but it is absolutely a dead ringer for the little farming community where I grew up in Indiana.  A lot of the characters in the story are people I knew growing up as well.  Mrs. Shanahan for instance, lived on an adjoining farm.  The lady who died at her piano in the story was actually a maiden aunt of mine and she really did sit in the closet with a cat on her lap during thunderstorms.  Sunset Lake was a stripper pit that everyone used to swim in and it was just as beautiful as the one in the story.  There’s a lot of me in that story.  A lot of the way I grew up, a lot of the morals I still believe in.  I don’t think anyone comes from a farming community like that but that it leaves a mark on you, and over all I think the marks are an asset to the person you become in later life.  There’s a lot of love to be found in an environment like that.  A lot of honesty.  A lot of goodness.  It’s a healthy way to grow up.  Which doesn’t really explain why I decided to kill them all in my book.

SunsetLake

And as for horror having a special place in my heart?  You bet.  I love writing horror.  There are no constraints when you’re writing horror.  Anything goes.  You can steer your reader anywhere your imagination wants to take him without any boundaries of reality to stand in your way.  It’s fun trying to scare that person out there holding your book in the middle of the night, all alone with nothing but your words to keep them company.  I like the spooky, gory stuff.   I like it in movies and I like it in the books I read.  For me, there’s nothing remotely resembling work about writing a horror story.  It’s just plain fun.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?—-

The novel I’m just finishing up, MY BUSBOY — I have one scene left to write and then some editing — is a love story between a well-known writer and a busboy he meets at his favorite neighborhood restaurant.  As most of my stories do, it takes place in San Diego.  For conflict, we have a crazy ass stalker who’s driving the writer nuts, and before the story is over the stalker goes off the deep end and becomes truly dangerous.  You have to watch those fans, haha, you never know what they’re going to do.  I’m pleased with the way the story is ending up.  In fact, I just wrote most of the big “battle” scene this morning over a pot and a half of coffee.  I’ll probably have to tone it down a little bit after the caffeine wears off.  This is one of those novels, unlike A Hard Winter Rain, where the romantic part of the story takes center stage.  It’s a very sweet book, I think.  Even with all the action at the end.  I hope people will like it.

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.—-

I’m really honored that you asked me.  I hope we can do it again some time.  It’s been a lot of fun.

Find John Inman on the web:

Website:

http://www.johninmanauthor.com/John_Inmans_Site/Welcome.html

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/John-Inman/e/B005MJ3S6W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/709667.John_Inman

Dreamspinner Press

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/AuthorArcade/john-inman

 

Excerpt: New Lesbian Mystery by Kate McLachlan – Ten Little Lesbians

Ten Little Lesbians

by

Kate Mac

Blurb:

Ten women, guests at the lesbian-owned Adelheid Inn, are stranded in the Cascade Mountains after a mudslide closes the only road out. One goes missing. One is killed. More than one is not who she pretends to be, and every one of them has a secret. When another woman is attacked, it become clear there’s a killer in their midst, and it has to be one of them.

Is it Beatrice, the judge, surly and sad after the death of her long-term partner? Or her niece, Tish, angry and sullen at being kept under Beatrice’s thumb? Or is it Carmen, Beatrice’s childhood friend who lured her to the Inn under false pretenses?

It couldn’t be the Mormon girls, Amy and Dakota. Or could it? Perhaps it’s Paula, the gallant butch, or her date, the lovely and silent Veronica. A blind woman couldn’t do it, but is Jess really blind? And what about Holly, the hotel manager who is just a bit too perky, or Lila, the mysterious owner of the hotel?

One thing quickly becomes clear. They’d better find out, before there are none.

Excerpt:

BEATRICE WAS THE first down for breakfast but someone, either Holly or the invisible Lila, had transformed the dining room into a breakfast buffet. A tray of ice on the sideboard held milk, juice, hard-boiled eggs, jam, and butter. Beside that was a coffee maker, an assortment of coffees, a toaster, three kinds of sliced bread, a tray with donuts, and several boxes of cereal. On the table were stacks of bowls, plates, utensils, glasses and cups.

Beatrice tucked a brew pack into the coffee maker and moved to the French doors. She opened them and looked out at a partially covered patio with white wicker chairs and tables. The sun was shining and the air was still and warm. Probably too warm. Heavy clouds hovered over the mountains, which were very near, and promised a storm later on. She took her coffee to a round table for four in the shaded half of the patio and sat. It might be her last chance to have coffee outside until spring, so she might as well take advantage of it.

She had been there only a moment when she heard movement from the lounge. She looked up, and Paula appeared in the doorway with a mug in her hand.

Drat. Of all people.

“Good morning, sunshine.” Paula sat in a swing lounge on the edge of the patio.

“Morning,” Beatrice said.

“Oh come on, Bea, you can act a little better than that. At least pretend you don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” Beatrice said.

“Well, you don’t love me.”

“No, I don’t love you.”

“Damn, you’re honest.” Paula kicked the ground to set her swing in motion. “Anyone else up?”

“I haven’t seen anyone,” Beatrice said, “but someone set out the breakfast things.”

“I meant guests.” Paula took a sip from her mug. “So what’s the story about your niece? Trish?”

“Tish.”

“She’s kind of cute. Probably get fat when she’s older, though. Curvy girls do.”

“Leave her alone,” Beatrice said. “She’s too young for you. Besides, you have a date here, remember? A skinny one.”

Paula made a face. “She’s a dud. So how are you doing? I haven’t seen you since Leigh’s funeral. Are you dating yet?”

Beatrice felt like she’d just been punched. A lot of people had asked her if she was ready to date, and it was common for people to mention Leigh’s death, but no one had ever linked the two together like that, as if one were the cause of the other. “Shut up,” she whispered harshly. “Don’t talk about Leigh.”

“Geez, I’m sorry,” Paula said, but not like she was sorry at all. “It’s been four years, hasn’t it?”

It had been three years, seven months, two-hundred and fifteen days, but Beatrice didn’t bother telling Paula that.

Jess stepped onto the patio at that moment and Beatrice was spared from having to respond. Jess carried her cane in one hand and a bowl with a spoon in the other. She wore cargo shorts and an orange T-shirt that said “Caution: Slippery When Wet.”

“Good morning, Jess,” Beatrice said, and added, “There are two tables out here, one round and one square, and eight chairs. And a swing.”

“But I’m on it,” Paula said. There was room on the swing for three people, but Paula spread her legs wide, like a man, to claim it all.

TenLittleLesbians

“Good morning.” Jess moved forward and guided herself around the chairs until she found one in the sun. She sat and ate her cereal without speaking again.

Beatrice finished her coffee and tried to quell the painful throbbing of her heart caused by Paula’s thoughtless words. She was about to rise and get another cup when Carmen appeared in the doorway. She had a glass of milk in one hand and a plate with donuts in the other, and she was grinning. She joined Beatrice at her table. Beatrice settled back down. She couldn’t leave Carmen to fend with Paula by herself.

“Look,” Carmen said. “They’re homemade.” She took a bite.

“Donuts for breakfast?” Paula asked.

Carmen looked up, saw Paula, and her face turned brick red. She spit the bite of donut out onto the plate.

Beatrice felt her stomach turn, not at the gooey mess on the plate, but at Carmen’s whipped puppy demeanor around Paula.

“It’s not your business what she eats,” Beatrice said.

“It was my business when we were together,” Paula said, “but she wouldn’t listen to me then either. She just kept getting fatter and fatter.”

“It was not your business then either,” Beatrice said. “Unless you’re feeding a small child, it’s never your business what someone else puts in her body.”

“No, it’s all right,” Carmen said, pushing the plate away. “I don’t need to eat this.”

“It’s my business when I’m putting my business in her body,” Paula said and laughed.

“God, what are you, sixteen?” Beatrice pushed the plate of donuts back at Carmen. “Eat what you want.”

Carmen blinked at the plate and bit her lip.

A thumping signaled the arrival of Tish. She paused in the doorway and rested her armpits on the crutches. Her denim skirt was already short, and the crutches hiked it up even further so that her ass nearly hung out. Paula was right. Tish had a cute little body now, but she would probably be fat someday.

“Can somebody get me some breakfast?” Tish asked.

Not even a please. When did the girl become so graceless? She’d been such a sweet kid. She had rough times, of course, and her coming out had been brutal, but she’d always been polite, at least. Beatrice had let her go the last few years. Things seemed so much easier for gay and lesbian youth these days, and she’d thought Tish didn’t need or want guidance from an aunt thirty years her senior. That was a mistake, she realized now. Somehow during that time, the Tish she knew had gotten lost.

Nobody responded to Tish’s plea, and Beatrice felt the others eye her. She was the correct person to help, but she didn’t want to reward Tish’s rudeness.

“Aunt Bea?” Tish asked, disrespect in the very tone of her voice, and Beatrice wanted to send her to her room without any breakfast at all.

Jess stood. “I’ll help.”

Beatrice flushed and rose from her chair. “No, no, I’ll do it. Sit down, Jess. You too, Tish. I’ll bring you something.”

Tish clomped onto the patio and joined Jess at her table.

The breakfast room was dark after the brightness of the patio, and it took a moment for Beatrice’s eyes to adjust. She popped a couple slices of raisin bread into the toaster and poured a glass of orange juice. She turned to lean against the sideboard while the bread toasted and was surprised to see Veronica sitting at the table. She wore crisp yellow capris and a white top, daisy fresh, but when she looked up Beatrice saw that her eyes were swollen. Either she hadn’t slept much the night before, or she’d been crying.

“Good morning,” Beatrice said.

“Good morning.” Veronica’s voice was husky, and Beatrice guessed crying.

“Paula’s on the patio,” Beatrice said.

“I know,” Veronica said. “That’s why I’m staying in here.”

Beatrice liked Veronica, she decided. “If you need to get away from her,” she said, “just let me know. I’ll help.”

The toast popped up, and Beatrice was still buttering it when Dakota barreled into the room clad in nothing but a thin ribbed tank top and boxer shorts.

“Have you seen Amy? Have you?”

“No,” Beatrice said. “Not today.”

Veronica shook her head.

Dakota ran out the French doors. “Have any of you seen Amy this morning?”

Beatrice heard a chorus of no’s. She followed Dakota outside and set the toast and juice in front of Tish.

“She’s gone,” Dakota said.