Exclusive Excerpt: Fever in the Dark: A Jane Lawless Mystery by Ellen Hart

In FEVER IN THE DARK by MWA Edgars Grand Master Ellen Hart, Fiona and Annie return home from their one year anniversary trip to discover that their poignant proposal video has been posted on YouTube and has garnered hundreds of thousands of hits. The video is on the verge of going viral, and there’s enormous media interest in Fiona and Annie, as their fame comes just on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the country. As some of the attention starts to turn vicious, Fiona pulls in an old friend, private investigator Jane Lawless, to help separate the harmless threats from the potentially harmful.

As the media storm continues to grow, Fiona revels in the attention, but Annie is furious. Fiona has always known that Annie has secrets, but her newfound notoriety threatens to bring Annie’s past straight to their door. And then, when a murder occurs and Annie and Fiona are both suspects, it’s up to Jane to prove their innocence…although the more she learns, the more she starts to wonder whether they actually are innocent.

Blurb:

Annie’s Notebook

Letter #2

Dearest Dirtbag:

A new year.  A new letter.  Lots to celebrate, right?  I’m sure Bridget and Noah are still the golden couple, and you still think I’m a despicable home-wrecker.  You’re glad I had to good sense to disappear.  Which means the new year changes nothing.

Wanna know a secret?  Bridget flew to Boston right after New Years.  I wondered when one of you would figure out where I was and come calling.  She came to Sharif’s apartment yesterday while I was here at the coffeeshop, demanded to know where I was.  Like a good soldier, he lied for me, said he had no idea what she was talking about.  But Bridget spotted my leather jacket tossed over one of the chairs in the living room, so he was busted and had to come clean.

You’re probably not interested, but I’ll give you the blow by blow.

Bridget found me sitting at “my” table in the coffeehouse.  At first, I couldn’t believe she was right there in front of me.  I was so excited I burst out of my chair and hugged her.  We held each other for a long time.  But then, she didn’t know I’m a home-wrecker.  She sat down, took off her gloves.  It was beastly cold and her clothes were way too Pasadena to keep her warm.  I offered to get her something hot to drink.  She seemed kind of nervous, so she got right to the point, like she always does.  (I’ll do this like I’m writing a novel.  Just so you know, it’s the complete truth.)

“Why did you leave school?” Bridget asked.  “Leave home?  Why did you run away and not tell anyone where you’d gone?  You never even said goodbye the night of the wedding.  I didn’t know you’d left until Noah and I got back from our honeymoon.”

I sidestepped the question.  “Did you have a wonderful time?  Santorini, right?  Are the sunsets as spectacular as they say?  Did you stay in one of those pristine, white-washed villas?”

Reluctantly, for it wasn’t what she’d come to discuss, she did give me a few details.  I could see she still glowed when she talked about her husband, her new life.  Eventually, she came back to her questions.

“I kind of got into it with Mom and Dad,” I said as an explanation.

“I figured as much.  But they wouldn’t tell me what it was about.”

“No?”

“And anyway, what’s that got to do with me?  I didn’t do anything to upset you, did I?  Why wouldn’t you let me know where you were?”

I gave her that tried-and-true cliche:  “It’s complicated.”

She took my hand.  “Please, Annie.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

It was such a broad question I almost laughed.  “I’m gay,” I said.  Her reaction was about what I had expected–like watching a rock hit a windshield in slow motion.

“Are you…sure?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said.  “I like to have sex with women, not men.  That’s pretty much the definition.”

Her lips formed an “O,” as if she might say something more, but she remained silent.  She began to fidget, releasing my hand and taking my napkin, wiping a coffee spill off the table.

“Are you surprised?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said.  “You’d think I’d know if my sister was gay.”

“Not necessarily.  You have no idea how blind straight people can be.”

That caused a frown, a moment of deep indignation.  “You don’t look like a lesbian.”

“What’s a lesbian look like?”

“You know.  I don’t have to spell it out.”

“Ugly?  Mannish?  Sad?  Hostile?  I can think of a lot of straight people who fit that definition.”

“Don’t be obnoxious.”

We were off on a tangent which had nothing to do with why I’d actually left.  I felt sorry for her because she was so completely in the dark.  That’s when I wondered if I should tell her the truth.  But no, you’ll be relieved to hear that I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

At some point in the conversation, Bridget covered her stomach with her hand.

Realizing what the gesture might mean, I asked, “Are you pregnant?”

“Three months.  I’m not showing yet.”

“Are you…happy about it?  Is Noah?”

Her eyes shimmered.  “Over the moon.  Both of us.”

That was the end of the conversation, as far as I was concerned.  But she wasn’t done.

“Do you have…a girlfriend?”  Saying the last word seemed to cause her actual pain.

“Several.”  I wasn’t seeing anyone.  I sure wasn’t going to tell her that it had taken me a year to work up the nerve to leave the apartment and walk to a coffeehouse a block away.

“Nobody special?”

“I like to keep my options open.”  Such a load of bull.

“You know, Annie, there are people who can help you…change…who you think you are.”

“I’m perfectly happy with who I am.”

“Then why leave home?  Why change your life so radically?”

“Because nobody in my family shares that opinion.  I choose to be around people who support me.  Think about it.  Would you want to spend your life with people who hate your husband, who say he’s the scum of the earth and you were a fool for marrying him?”

“Now you’re being ridiculous,” she said.   She asked about school.

I told her I was rethinking my decision to become a doctor.  That’s true.  I’ve got another profession in mind.  And no, I’m not planning on taking up stripping.

Oddly, after a few more minutes, we didn’t seem to have much to say to each other.

I told her to go home.  To have a safe journey.  She asked if she could tell you where I was living.  I told her no.  If I wanted to get in touch, I would.  By the end of the conversation, I was shivering inside.  I don’t think she saw it, or if she did, she didn’t say anything.  There was no way she could understand and no way for me to explain it.  Certainly not that day.  Probably never.

And so she left.

Are you happy?  Do you consider me a grownup now?  Did I pass your test?

Fuck you.

 

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