Digging Up Secrets – #5 in Victorian Mansion Flower Shop Mysteries

Released May 2018

This book is part of a new multi-author cozy mystery series with Annie’s Attic and is only available through subscription. Learn more about the series and their subscription service at: Annie’s Attic

About Digging Up Secrets:

Nothing is coming up roses for Kaylee Bleu. Not only are all of the plants in her flower shop going thirsty because of a busted well pump, but a competing florist of Orcas Island is stealing customers from The Flower Patch. As if that wasn’t enough to turn her into Florist Grump, a new client who could be Kaylee’s golden ticket to the lucrative country club set is also her most persnickety yet–and continuously threatens to take her business elsewhere. 

But all of that seems like no big deal when Kaylee’s plumber discovers a fractured skull in her shop’s yard. The remains belong to Danny Lane, a troubled teenager accused of killing a high school girl in a boating accident thirty-five years ago. The consensus around Turtle Cove was that the boy fled town shortly after the accident, but Kaylee thinks the holes in that story are as big as the grave-size pit dug up around her well pump. 

Unfortunately, somebody on Orcas Island wants Kaylee to leave the past buried. At first, she refuses to be intimidated by menacing messages and frightful pranks. But when suspicious accidents begin to befall witnesses close to the cold case, Kaylee’s seeds of doubt blossom into dread. She must decide how deep she’s willing to dig to determine if Danny’s death was an accident . . . or murder. 

 

The Hound and The Fury – #17 in Amish Inn Mysteries

This is book #17 in the multi-author Amish Inn Mysteries series from Annie’s Attic, about a lawyer turned inn keeper and sleuth.

It is only available through mail or Ebook subscription at AnniesFiction.com. Or you might find it at a used bookstore. 

About The Hound and The Fury: 

A dog show has come to Pleasant Creek, and Liz Eckardt is hosting both two- and four-footed guests at the Olde Mansion Inn. Lucky for her; Liz’s old friend Amy is there to help handle the details. They’re decorating for Christmas, scenting the air with delicious treats and catching up on old times. A visit to the dog show seems like the perfect way to unwind after a busy day. 

But fur is flying at the venue where the competition is being held. More than a few people are barking mad at one of the judges. It seems he has a predilection for pets of the toy variety, and the owners of the big dogs may not be getting a fair shake. When the judge goes belly-up, stabbed with Liz’s knife, Liz knows she must are into action. Someone’s committed murder in the first pedigree, but who? 

Meanwhile, one of Liz’s guests has hightailed it out of town and the Pleasant Creek Police are on his trail. Chief Houghton has commanded Liz to stay away from the investigation, but she can’t seem to obey. Convinced her guest’s disappearance is not just a clever trick, she can’t help but nose around. Turns out the murdered man had more than one enemy willing to fight tooth and nail to see him dead–and some of them lie sleeping under Liz’s own roof. 

Can Liz and her pack of pals, Amy, Beans, and the Material Girls, collar a criminal before more trouble is unleashed?

–Editor’s Comments

Since I outline a fair amount before I write, dismissing ideas that won’t work before writing the scenes, I couldn’t find any deleted scenes to share for this novel. Likewise, because my critiquers are great at helping me polish my manuscript before submitting it to my editor, my editor made only a few minor comments on specific details, such as her gun fitting into her purse in one scene and not in next, and whether she would have her finger hovering over the trigger when confronting an intruder.

She wouldn’t, by the way, she would have it on the trigger guard–a cat’s whisker away. 😉 

Now I did make a fair number of changes to my first draft based on my critiquers’s comments, but for the most part, the changes were so incremental that I don’t have a significant before and after scene to share.

The scene that proved the most challenging to fix to make it believable, was when Serena babysits little Jed, after all, people are trying to kill her what sane father is going to leave his child in her care?

In my original version, Matt is desperate to get his expecting wife to the hospital without their toddler, but I neglected to mention that part, and it seems he’s merely desperate for an evening alone with his wife before baby #2 arrives. 

One of the early versions

My cell phone rang. Matt Speers. “I thought you might appreciate an update on the hit and run investigation.”

“You caught the driver?”

“No, but thanks to the traffic cam at the intersection near the accident, we got the license plate of the guy who flicked the cigarette. He claims he didn’t do it deliberately.”

“Did you believe him?”

“Yeah, I did. He doesn’t have a record. And no known ties to XYZ Import/Export or any of its employees.”

“That’s good. Thanks, I appreci—”

“Yeah, I was kind of hoping I could take you up on your babysitting offer.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

“Uh, you sure you want me anywhere near your child so soon after someone tried to make a bus sandwich out of my car?”

Silence.

“Matt?”

“I’m desperate, Serena.” He sounded desperate too. Really desperate.

A smart woman would take that as a major clue. That and the muted crying in the background.

“I’ve asked a buddy on duty tonight to drive by every half hour to make sure no one’s lurking around.”

“Okay, I need call and cancel some plans and can be at your place in about half an hour.”

“Um, I was hoping I could bring him to your place.”

“Uh.” I glanced around my living room. I only had a few breakables that I’d have to put up. Maybe the change of scenery would distract the poor guy from whatever was bothering him. “Sure, I guess that would be okay. How soon?”

“Two minutes.”

“Two minutes? Where are you?”

A knock sounded at my kitchen door.

By the time Matt and his wife left, their 23-month old son, Jed, was happily pushing his toy truck around my living room floor as Harold watched suspiciously from under the sofa and occasionally took a swat at the trucks wheels when it got too close.

Final Version

Pounding erupted on my door.

“Hold your horses,” I called out, then checked the peephole because it wasn’t like Nate to hammer my door, and he wasn’t due for half an hour.

Matt Speers stood in the hall, looking haggard, his two-year-old son on his hip.

I yanked open the door. “What’s wrong?”

“Good, you’re home.” Matt shoved a diaper bag at my chest. “I need you to take care of Jed until my mother-in-law can get here to pick him up.”

“What? Uh, Matt, someone tried to make a bus sandwich out of my car last night. You don’t want me anywhere near your child right now.”

Matt’s face went pasty, but he shook his head. “It can’t be helped. I’ve got no one else close enough. I’ve got to get Tracey to the hospital. There’s something wrong, but she refuses to go in with Jed along. She doesn’t want him to be frightened. She almost died with the last—” His voice faltered.

I scooped Jed into my arms. “Okay, go. Go.”

“Thank you. And pray. Please.” He raced off without any further instructions.

Jed looked at me as if he might burst into tears at any second, and my heart did a nervous flutter.

“Hey, buddy,” I said, bouncing him in my arms. “We’ll have fun. Wait until you meet Harold.”

Harold took one look at the little guy and darted under the couch.

“Chicken,” I said. I shut the door behind us and glanced around my living room. I only had a few breakables that I’d have to put up. Hopefully the new surroundings to explore would distract him from his parents’ panic.

“Uh!” Jed pointed to the replica of my grandfather’s old Ford pickup I had sitting on the bookshelf.

“You want to play with the truck?” I asked.

He eagerly reached for it.

“Okay.” I set him and the truck on the floor and then grabbed a box to collect up everything potentially dangerous that looked too enticing to a twenty-month-old.

Jed happily pushed his toy truck around my living room floor as Harold watched suspiciously from under the sofa and occasionally took a swat at the truck’s wheels when it got too close.

©2016 Sandra Orchard

 

–Excerpt

I tore my gaze from the porch that wrapped around the drug dealer’s house and cringed at the number on my phone’s call display.

Mom said there’d be days like this.

Tanner, still decked out in his SWAT gear, peered over my shoulder as the phone vibrated insistently in my hand. “Good thing you’re a field-hardened FBI agent, so you don’t let little old ladies scare the pants off you.”

I sent him a silencing glare. Ignoring his grin, I turned away from the rest of the team traipsing in and out of the building, and clicked Connect. “Hi, Nana,” I said, injecting fake cheerfulness into my voice. “What’s up?”

“I need you to come see me.”

“You nee—are you okay?” My heart stuttered. If anything happened to Nana . . .

“Of course I’m okay. Stop stammering, girl.”

Tanner, still hovering close enough to hear her strident tones, snickered.

I placed a muffling hand over the phone.

“Excuse me,sir,” I said sweetly. “Don’t you have a forgery to Bubble-Wrap?”

“Forgery?” His stunned look was so comical I forgave myself for rushing to a verdict before my usual careful perusal. Not that I was in any serious doubt about this particular painting.

“Really?” he said, broad shoulders slumping. When I arrived on scene, he boasted they’d turned up art so hot it was still smoking.

“Yup. Fake.” I, too, felt a pang of genuine regret that the “Renoir” hanging in the drug dealer’s den wasn’t the one on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

But I’d left Nana hanging.

Straightening my shoulders, I put the phone back to my ear. “Sorry, Nana. Um, I have to be at the youth drop-in center by seven to teach the art class, so . . .” I glanced at my watch and cast about for a workable solution, but there just wasn’t enough time. “I’m afraid—”

“Never mind,” she interrupted. “Obviously, you’re at work.” Where you shouldn’t be taking personal calls, her tone implied. “Call me when you get home.”

“Okay,” I said to dead air.

Annoyed at myself for the guilty feeling I couldn’t stop from churning my stomach, I turned to study the front of the house once more. Something was niggling at my brain.

“Um . . . Tanner,” I said, hesitating.
“Yeah?”
“There’s something . . .” I squinted against the dropping September sun, mentally reviewing the interior.
He grinned. “Stop stammering, girl. Spit it out.”

“Ha, ha.” Wait . . . “Oh, that’s got to be it!” I stuffed my phone in my pocket and headed back inside.

Tanner followed me. “What’s it?”

I stopped at the door to the den and glanced at the window three feet from the side wall.

“Serena? What’s going on?” Tanner pressed, trailing me to the next doorway, this one into a bedroom.

“The window is three feet from the wall, just like in the other room.”

“So?”
“Where’s the attic hatch?”
“Mason checked the attic.”
“Humor me.”
“Don’t I always?” Tanner said. “I’m a funny guy.”

“Uh-huh.” He actually had the quickest wit of any guy I knew, even if he did run to cheesy puns sometimes.
Not that I’d admit that to him.
“Over here.” He steered me toward a stepladder set up near the back door. “But there’s nothing up there except insulation and mice.”

“Mice, huh? Are you trying to scare me out of looking?” I started climbing, and Tanner moved in to hold the ladder steady.

I pushed open the hatch and stuck my head into the attic. “See?” Tanner said.
“Yes, I do.” I stepped down a couple of ladder rungs and flashed him a grin. “A false wall six to eight feet in from the back of the house.”

Tanner squeezed past me and beamed his flashlight around the vacant space. “Unbelievable. Mason should’ve caught that.”

“The wall’s covered in cobwebs and dust. It wouldn’t have registered unless you were looking for it.”

Tanner muttered something I couldn’t make out, but having been on the receiving end of his displeasure during my FBI training—granted, always earned—I didn’t envy poor Mason.

Tanner hoisted himself into the attic, then balance-beamed his way across a joist to the wall and examined every inch of it. “I don’t see any way to access what’s behind it.” He shone the light over the attic’s insulation-covered floor and then the shoe impressions he’d left in the dust on the joist. “It doesn’t look like anyone else has been up here recently. There must be another ceiling access panel.” He climbed back down, eyeing me with interest. “How’d you know to look for a secret room?”

I shrugged evasively.

Tanner followed me back to the room where the fake Renoir had been found and swept his flashlight beam over every inch of the ceiling. “There’s no other way up there that I can see.”

I maneuvered around the agent photographing evidence. The wall between this room and the next was decorated in wood panels and elaborate moldings that looked uncomfortably familiar. I ran my fingers along the moldings.

Tanner studied me. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for a secret panel.”
“Uh-huh. And you seem to know exactly what you’re doing here, Nancy Drew, because . . . ?”
I expelled a breath. “There was one at my grandfather’s house, okay?”
“Your grandfather? The one who was murdered?”

“Yes.” I blew away a strand of long, blond hair that had escaped my ponytail. “Maybe you could be helpful instead of giving me the third degree?”

“Sorry.” Tanner beamed his flashlight at the section of paneling I was running my hands over.

My breath caught as my fingertips made contact with the pressure sensor I’d been seeking. “Tanner, I’ve found—”

“Wait!”

Primed to open it, I tossed a frown over my shoulder. “Are you really going to pull the SWAT-clears-every-room- first rule on this one?”

“No, I thought I’d rock-paper-scissors you for the privilege.” He motioned me to get out of his way.

My finger still on the sensor, I sidestepped two feet so he’d have a clear view as I pulled back the panel. “You ready? I’ll slide it open and you can call the all-clear.” I slid it three-quarters of an inch and froze. “Uh-oh.”

Tanner cursed. “Please tell me you’re messing with me.”

I gulped. “You don’t hear that ticking?”
He crouched down and shone his flashlight through the gap I’d opened. “Blast, Serena, don’t move a muscle.” Yeah, got that.
“Blast!”
“Tanner, could you stop using that word?”

© 2016 Sandra Orchard

–Deleted Scene

I couldn’t track down any full scenes I deleted (with the exception of a significant spoiler scene, which you can access in our Let’s Chat About Serena Jones Facebook Group for those who have finished the series). For the most part, once reader votes came, I merely modified and rearranged the order of certain segments.

But below is an example of a small portion of a scene, my editor suggested deleting/changing.

Original Version

I made a move to follow [my mother], but Tanner sidestepped and blocked the door. “What do you say tomorrow night I take you out for dinner to one of the seafood restaurants on the island? Or we could get it as a picnic and watch the sunset like Harrison Ford and Sabrina do in that movie you like.”

“How do you know I like that movie?”

“I was your field-training officer for how many months? And I’m sure you talked about it at least a dozen times.”

“My mom told you, didn’t she?”

“Your dad.” He winked.

Terrific. Now my parents were tag teaming against me.

The sparkle in Tanner’s eyes dimmed a fraction. “Or did you already have a date with Nate?”

Editor’s Comments:

It felt to me like Tanner went from 1 to 60 in one line. Maybe a compromise…. It could be that Tanner starts out by pointing out that she is supposed to be on vacation….so how about “we get some dinner at…” It’s more of an activity rather than “taking you out for dinner” and I’d omit the romantic beach picnic part. Unless you really do want Serena’s head spinning so early in the novel.

Final Version

I made a move to follow, but Tanner sidestepped and blocked the door. “Hey, I’m sorry your trip isn’t shaping up to be much of a vacation.”

I nodded. I mean, what could I say?

“How about we get dinner at one of the island’s seafood restaurants tomorrow night?” he suggested. “Take your mind off things for a little while at least.”

I didn’t immediately answer and his eyes dimmed a fraction.

“Or did you already have a date with Nate?”

 

 

–Editor’s Comments

My critique partners were invaluable in their suggestions for improving scenes. One was rooting for Nate and one for Tanner so their comments helped me nicely balance Serena’s interactions with both men. Here’s an example of how one helped me spice up a Tanner scene my editor had already accepted before final page proofs. 

Original Version

Tanner drove to the fish market at Menemsha, where he must’ve preordered our picnic, because he told me to wait in the car and was back out with our supper of seafood salad, lobster sandwiches, and lobster bisque within five minutes. I decided not to mention that I wasn’t all that fond of lobster after he’d gone to so much trouble. At least it wasn’t frog legs. I shuddered at the memory of the platter Aunt Martha had tried to feed Nate and I one evening last autumn.

Critique Partner’s Comments:

I think Tanner should already know Serena doesn’t much like lobster, even though it’s highly classy and all. lol  Maybe instead, he can hold up the food and announce “Lobster this, lobster that, blah blah!” Then when Serena feels her face falling, Tanner can grin and go, “Just kidding! I got tuna fish”

My Final Version:

The salty breeze coming through our open windows felt good on my overheated cheeks, and I relaxed a bit at the familiar feeling of working a case with Tanner. He pulled up to the fish market at Menemsha, and put out a hand to forestall me when I slid my seatbelt off.

“Ordered all your favorites ahead,” he said, hopping out of the car. He stuck his head back through the open window. “Prepare to be dazzled.”

Oh-kayyy. Not so familiar, this oddly date-like behavior. But…kind of nice. A pleasant warmth spread through me as I watched him pull open the door and disappear into the market. Being pampered now and then wasn’t such a bag thing.

A few minutes later he strolled back out sporting three bulging paper sacks. He opened my door with a flourish, then handed me the bags, one at a time. “Lobster salad. Lobster sandwiches. And – tah dah!” He smiled before setting the last bag in my lap. “Lobster bisque.”

“Oh,” I said, as my warm fuzziness vanished. “Um, thanks.”

Irrational disappointment churned through me. Okay, so Tanner clearly didn’t remember the story I’d shared about my regrettable date with the guy who’d tried to impress me by cooking a big lobster dinner, and then made me help with the dishes. After I’d thrown up. It was over a year ago, after all.

And Tanner was so clearly pleased with himself. He’d been trying to be nice, even if he’d missed the mark on the food. I guess it wouldn’t kill me to do a stakeout on an empty stomach. Maybe there were some plain rolls or something.

I forced a smile as he slid into the driver’s seat, then drew back in surprise when he burst out laughing.

“Aw, Jones.” He gave my arm a mock punch. “That’s so sweet. You were gonna spare my feelings, weren’t you?”

“What?”

He checked for traffic then pulled out, still chuckling. “I hope you weren’t going to go so far as to actually eat the alleged lobster, so I wouldn’t feel bad.”

“Alleged lobster,” I repeated blankly.

He turned and grinned at me. “Because vomit is seriously unromantic.”

“What?” I said again, then turned the first bag around to look at the order receipt stapled to the top.

Fish tacos, crab enchiladas, clam chowder.

No lobster anything.

“Idiot,” I said and turned to look out the window so he couldn’t see the grin spreading across my face. I loved crab enchiladas. He did get all my favorites.

Wait. Had Tanner just said ‘unromantic’? Like, as in…maybe he wanted this stakeout to be romantic?

© 2016 Sandra Orchard

–Excerpt from Opening of Over Maya Dead Body

I snatched my bag off the luggage carousel at Boston’s Logan Airport and plunked it next to my parents as a sticky fingered urchin tried to liberate the brightly colored ribbons I’d tied to the handles.

“Look at that little angel,” Mom said indulgently to Dad and Aunt Martha.

The pig-tailed blonde rewarded them with an impish grin then skipped toward a grandparently looking couple.

Mom exhaled a wistful sigh. “That should be us.”

The little angel bypassed the couple and pounced upon another passenger’s brightly colored bag, squealing “Doll!”

The sour-faced owner yanked his luggage out of the child’s reach.

“Don’t stare. It’s rude,” Mom scolded.

But like a car-wreck rubbernecker, I couldn’t rip my gaze away when a gaudy red statue tumbled out of the bag and panic streaked across the man’s face. Besides… “I’m paid to stare at people.”

The little girl scrambled after the souvenir, but a K-9 officer beat her to it.

The souvenir—probably meant to be a miniature replica of a Mayan god—reminded me of a case where a crooked European art dealer dipped artifacts in resin to smuggle them out of Egypt. Not that I thought this guy, who’d landed on one of the pre-cleared Caribbean flights, was an antiquities smuggler. Only…

Was that sweat popping out on his forehead?

The officer who’d rescued the seemingly cheap souvenir studied it a moment, crouched low where the dog could sniff it, and sourpuss’s fingers danced a number on the sides of his legs before he reached out a shaky hand and asked for it back.

Interesting. I stepped closer for a better look at that souvenir and surreptitiously snapped a photo with my smartphone.

“Serena,” Mom said, pleadingly this time.

Right. I was on vacation—four glorious days on Martha’s Vineyard to relax and celebrate Uncle Jack’s engagement. A tingly feeling shivered down the back of my neck as if Mom wasn’t the only person eyeballing me. A quick glance about the luggage claim area pinpointed a military type in civilian clothes, and I had the sudden urge to echo Mom’s don’t-stare order.

Of course somehow in the split second, or three, I’d looked away, Gaudy Souvenir Guy had vamoosed.

I returned to my parents. “Hey, where’s Aunt Martha?”

Mom did a frantic half jig. “I don’t know! She promised me she wouldn’t pull any of her crazy antics this time. Ward, did you see where she went?”

Laser-focused on the exit, Dad sloughed off the question with a “Check the restroom” and grabbed the handle of Aunt Martha’s bag to lug along with his own.

Aunt Martha had moved in with my parents a year and a half ago, following her hip surgery, and begun accompanying them on holidays. Living under the same roof hadn’t curbed her independence one iota.

“Oh, dear,” Mom fussed.

Aunt Martha scurried toward us from the direction of the exit, not the restroom. Her eyes beamed with that gleeful sparkle they got when she fancied herself onto a good mystery.

I smothered a grin. At least I wasn’t the only one making mysteries out of molehills.

“Oh, good, here you are,” Mom said and steered us all toward the bus stop. The two-hour bus ride would take us to Woods Hole where we’d catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard—another forty-five minute ride, give or take.  

Aunt Martha nabbed a seat next to me on the bus. “He took a cab.”

“What? Who took a cab?”

“That guy with the statue you were staring at back there. I tried to catch a glimpse of his name on his luggage tag but couldn’t get close enough.”

I inwardly groaned. Aunt Martha was in her mid seventies and had become an incurable armchair sleuth since retiring from a job as a globetrotting personal assistant to some corporate bigwig. Trouble was she didn’t know that armchair sleuth meant you were supposed to stay in your seat, not chase suspects through airports.

“Aunt Martha, I really have no interest in the man.”

“Nonsense. I saw the way he was squirming. He was guilty of something. You couldn’t have missed that. Do you think he was smuggling drugs inside that little statue?”

“No, honestly, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’m on vacation, remember?”

“Pffft, tell me you’re not going to visit the Artisan’s Spring Festival and all the art galleries on the island this weekend.”

I shrugged. Aunt Martha knew me too well for me to outright lie. Sure I rambled through secondhand shops and galleries in every town I visited, but it really wasn’t because of my job as a member of the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

“Besides,” Aunt Martha went on, “a little mystery makes everything more fun. Like this mystery bride-to-be your Uncle Jack has swept off her feet.”

Uncle was actually an honorary title. Jack was an old college friend of Dad’s who’d invited us to vacation on the island every summer. Of course, I hadn’t been able to join Mom and Dad since finishing high school.

“Have you ever heard Jack mention her?” Aunt Martha asked.

“No, I haven’t talked to him since Christmas.” And it was now early May. A lot could happen in the romance realm in four months, especially when you got to be Uncle Jack’s age and were still single.

Not that I knew such things from personal experience, being only twenty-nine. The only guys who’d come close to sweeping me off my feet were criminals trying to pull a fancy judo move before they ran.

Although…Tanner had nearly dunked me into an algae filled pond during an ill-fated surveillance op involving paddleboats and mobsters, but that was a whole other story.

And it certainly didn’t qualify as romance.

My phone beeped, and I glanced down at the text alert. Huh. Speak of the devil.

I opened the text.

Work is oddly peaceful…. It’s almost like I’M on vacation.

A smile curved my lips, but I searched through my emoticons for the happy face that was rolling its eyeballs and hit ‘send’. Then I added:

Ha, ha. You know you miss me.

“Serena!” Mom was frowning at me. “Is that Tanner? You know we love him, but, honey, you’re on vacation.

How’d she know it was Tanner?

Before I could work that out, my text alert beeped again.

What I miss is your Mom’s bangers and mash.

A photo of a pathetic-looking take-out burger popped up on my screen.

I laughed out loud. In my rookie days, when Tanner was my field-training agent, Mom had gotten it into her head that if she fed him, he’d make sure I stayed safe.

Boo hoo, I texted back, then conspicuously returned my phone to my purse under Mom’s watchful eye.

Mom leaned across the aisle and said, “You looking forward to seeing Ashley?”

“Sure, it’ll be great to see her again.” Maybe.

I stomped down on the faint, ridiculous twinge of hurt that’d never quite gone away. Ashley was Jack’s real niece and we’d been bosom buddies as far back as I could remember…if I didn’t count my last visit to the island. Ashley had gotten mad at me and I never did figure out why. Not that I tried very hard, I guess, after she hadn’t replied to the last letter I’d sent her. She seemed to think I should know and hoping she’d have forgotten about whatever miffed her by my next visit seemed easier than figuring it out. Only with college and all, I stopped spending my summers on the island.

Two and a half hours later, Aunt Martha and I settled in at a table on the restaurant deck of the 1:15 ferry to Vineyard Haven. And…whom should I see nursing a drink at one of the tables while perusing what looked like an art journal, of all things?

Gaudy Souvenir Guy.

“You’re staring again,” Mom said, dropping into the seat opposite me, while Dad fetched us something to eat.

Aunt Martha glanced over her shoulder and her face lit.

I sent her a cautioning look. Let’s just say, Mom didn’t share Aunt Martha’s penchant for mystery solving. The only mystery she was keen to solve was why I hadn’t gotten married yet. And given her grandchildren. Most definitely in that order.

I unscrewed my water bottle cap and downed a swig.

As if Aunt Martha had read my thoughts, or more likely Mom’s, she teased, “If I’d known you’d want to man-watch, I would’ve invited Nate along for you to look at.”

I spluttered a mouthful of water across the table. Nate was my apartment superintendent—an apartment I’d taken over from Aunt Martha, complete with cat, when she moved in with my parents. Dad’s allergies meant Harold—the cat—couldn’t go.

Then again, maybe it’d all been a conspiracy she cooked up to get Nate to notice me. Come to think of it… the airport’s metal detector didn’t go off when that supposed metal hip of hers shimmied past.

I stifled a smile as I mopped up my water with a paper napkin. Nate was actually a great guy. He had Bradley-Cooper good looks and shared my love of both art and old movies. And he annoyed Tanner to no end, which was a fun bonus.

“If Nate was here, then who would watch Harold?” I asked.

“Exactly,” Mom said and dismissed Nate with a resolute hand flick. “There will be plenty of eligible young men for her to meet on the island.”

Translation: if Nate had been interested in making a move he would’ve done it by now.

“Do you really want her falling in love with a man who lives over a thousand miles away?” Aunt Martha countered. “You’d never see your grandkids.”

Mom looked startled then horrified as if she’d never considered the ramifications. Apparently the invitation to an engagement celebration on Martha’s Vineyard—the perfect setting to entice her single daughter, me, to entertain romantic thoughts of my own—had blinded her to the logistics of who might catch my eye.

Aunt Martha gave me a sly wink, and I grinned. Thanks for the assist.

Dad arrived at the table with a large basket of french-fries and four burgers, which thankfully, looked much more appetizing than Tanner’s sad little lunch had.

Grinning to myself, I pulled out my phone and snapped a shot of our yummy looking burgers as Aunt Martha excused herself to wash her hands. I was just typing: Where’s the beef? Oh, look, it’s on Martha’s Vineyard! when Aunt Martha stopped next to gaudy souvenir guy and my fingers stilled.

She stooped down, pretending to adjust her shoe, although I’m sure she was really eyeballing the tags on his luggage.

Uh oh. Now she was actually speaking to the guy. I hit ‘send’ then pressed my fingertips to my forehead and watched the pair from behind my hand, so Mom wouldn’t catch me staring again. The look the guy shot Aunt Martha reminded me of Harold’s expression whenever I threatened to give him a bath.

Dad chuckled. “Looks like your matchmaking mission has given Martha ideas for herself,” he said to Mom.

Mom spun around to see what he was talking about and gasped. “That man has got to be forty years younger than her.”

“Mom, please! Dad was kidding.”

Right? I looked to Dad for confirmation, but all he did was smile innocently. “Women can talk to men without it meaning any kind of romantic interest,” I added firmly.

As if to illustrate my point, my phone beeped, undoubtedly Tanner’s comeback to my smug burger pic.

Mom rolled her eyes. “That kind of thinking is why you’re still single.”

Okay, that made no sense. I elbowed my dad to nudge him into stepping up to the plate for me. “Would you think a woman was hitting on you just because she talked to you?” Or texted?

Editor’s Commentary

Thankfully, my editor didn’t request any major changes, but below are examples of a few minor issues she spotted. 

Original Excerpt:

Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, Sidekick grabbed the Gucci bag. It was a crime for disgusting nicotined fingers to be touching Gucci. But better contaminating the bag’s handles than crushing my throat.

Reflexively, I splayed my hand over my neck. After the dozens of what-if scenarios we’d run through, I should know exactly what to do. The undercover agent who’d prepared me for the assignment had said he often made a small buy to build a target’s trust. “We do business. No one gets arrested. Next time the target offers me something more valuable,” he’d said.

I could do that. Other than the letting them leave with the money part.

Editor’s Commentary: 

This confused me…is half a million supposed to be the small buy mentioned above…or is it the idea that she’s going to let them get away to build their trust? But that wouldn’t have been part of this plan, would it?

Revised Excerpt: 

Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, Sidekick grabbed the Gucci bag. It was a crime for those disgusting nicotined fingers to be touching Gucci. But better contaminating the bag’s handles than crushing my throat.

Reflexively, I splayed my hand over my neck. After the dozens of what-if scenarios we’d run through, I should know exactly what to do. “If something goes wrong, keep them talking,” the undercover agent who’d prepared me for the assignment had said. “If they’re talking, at least they’re not shooting.”

An involuntary shiver rippled down my limbs. I could do talking.

Original Excerpt:

The agent propped it on the desk. “We’ll start with possession of stolen property.”

I gasped. “I didn’t know it was stolen.” I pivoted toward Baldy, my eyes wide. “Did you?”

His head shifted in a single, stiff shake at my patent denial.

His sidekick was too busy howling in pain to comment.

Editor’s Comment: 

How about “It was stolen?” then she’ll accuse Baldy of selling her stolen goods in the next sentence rather than asking him if he knew it was stolen…

Revised Excerpt:

The agent propped it on the desk. “We’ll start with possession of stolen property.”

I gasped. “It was stolen?” I pivoted toward Baldy, my eyes wide. “You sold me a hot painting?”

His shoulder rose and fell in a non-committal half shrug.

His sidekick was too busy howling in pain to comment.

 

Original Excerpt:

He jumped out of his vehicle, cables in hand. Then his cell phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “It’s your parents’ number.”

“Dinner. I’d totally forgotten. And Mom’s afraid to call my cell phone.”

“So what does that rank me, fish bait?”

I laughed. “No, you’re SWAT. She probably thinks you can get yourself out of whatever disaster her call might cause.”

Editor’s Comment:

Why would her mom have Tanner’s cell number?

Revised Excerpt:

He jumped out of his vehicle, cables in hand. Then his cell phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “It’s your parents’ number.”

“Dinner! I totally forgot.” Mom must still have had Tanner’s cell phone number on speed dial from the months he’d been my field-training agent. “She’s still afraid to call me when I’m working.”

“So what does that rank me, fish bait?”

I laughed. “No, you’re SWAT. She probably thinks you can get yourself out of whatever disaster her call might cause.”