This morning Susan Griffin awoke to a great start—no dead
Tightening the robe around her waist, she poured a cup of
coffee and stepped past the sliding doors onto her patio.
Nothing would please her more than to greet the arrival of
fall—leaves of red and gold, a nip in the air, perhaps a
dusting of frost. Dream
Mother Nature had yet to pay a visit to Louisiana.
Everywhere Susan looked lush green trees continued to thrive
in an environment as hot and humid as a steam bath. At
seven o’clock, the garden thermometer registered
seventy-eight degrees and climbing. Hello!
As she lifted the cup to her lips, the sun’s tingling rays
laughed their way up her arms. Susan was no match for
such an enemy. With a sigh of resignation, she
sauntered back into the cool comfort of her apartment.
Marmalade, her Calico cat, pranced around an empty bowl and
screeched a whiny meow.
“Okay, Your Highness, I’m coming.” Susan shook out a
cup of dried cat food. “It’s not like you’d starve if
you missed a meal.”
A glance at the clock told her she was falling behind time.
She had less than twenty-five minutes to shower and dress if
she wanted to get to the Bawdy Boutique before eight.
Good thing she had laid out an outfit the night before, or
she’d never make it. Twenty minutes later, she was
dressed and out the front door.
Her quick departure allowed just enough time to stop by
Tilly’s Diner. Susan had a winning sales team, and she
enjoyed spoiling them with hot, sausage biscuits. At
five minutes to eight o’clock, she arrived at her boutique.
The brick structure with a courtyard entrance never failed
to bring a smile to her lips, but the pleasant thoughts
vanished the moment she stepped from her Camaro. The
parking lot had turned into a sauna.
A blue suede skirt, matching blazer, and high-top boots from
the new winter line might look fashionable, but if she
didn’t get into air conditioning soon, she was going to melt
like the Wicked Witch of the West. As she scooted past
the fountain surrounded by ferns, her keys dangled from her
hand. “Help me,” she whimpered, mimicking the infamous
character. The minute she opened the door, a blast of
cold air assaulted her. Her body tingled, and her
stomach muscles tightened. The sensation was
fantastic, almost as good as sex…almost.
Susan lingered at the front of the shop while the air
conditioning revived her. Patting perspiration off her
chin, she pushed damp, blonde tendrils from her forehead.
Soon, the good thoughts returned. Her little shop was
an owner’s dream. Overhead vents stirred fragrances
from the perfume counter, a subtle way to greet customers.
Display racks and tables put the latest merchandise at their
fingertips. Behind glass cases filled with jewelry and
other accessories, intimate apparel tempted the more
adventurous buyers. A glassed-in office occupied space
at the rear of the store near a door that led to a
She took pride in having accomplished her goal--to come home
to Palmetto, a town far removed from the frantic pace and
dangers of the Big Apple…or so she thought. Soon after
her arrival, a near fatal fall and several gruesome murders
had catapulted her into a world of mystery and intrigue.
In her wildest dreams, she had never imagined herself
involved in solving such horrific crimes. Only
recently had she come to realize that she was exactly where
she was supposed to be, doing exactly what fate had
The smell of sausage and biscuits chased away those thoughts
and snapped her back to reality. She was wasting time.
There was much to do before opening the store. As
Susan turned on the overhead lights, a Toyota Tundra pulled
into the lot and parked alongside her car. Her lips
crinkled into a smile at the sight of the familiar vehicle.
Detective Wesley Grissom often stopped by during the day,
but never this early. That good looking hunk was
another reason she had returned home. Still, she
couldn’t imagine what he was doing here at this time of the
morning. His first stop was usually the sheriff’s
department where he’d meet up with his partner, Charlie
She opened the door and waved.
“Morning,” he called, stepping down from the cab of the
truck and tossing a camouflage cap onto the seat.
Instead of a suit and tie, he wore a long-sleeved, chambray
shirt and a pair of faded jeans. Susan liked how the
denim snugged his muscular thighs and how the sunlight
danced through his sandy hair. Her stomach fluttered
as he lumbered toward her.
His casual dress and the ATV in the bed of his truck told
her he was headed for the woods. A recent discovery
had shed light on a particular cold case, and he was eager
to look for additional evidence. Halfway to the
building, Wesley raked his hair from his forehead.
“Glad I caught you.”
“You timed it just right. I have sausage and
biscuits.” She held up the take-out bag from Tilly’s
Diner. “Coffee won’t take but a minute.”
Tucking her purse under her arm, Susan made her way to the
office, assuming Wesley would follow. But after
putting on the coffee, he still hadn’t entered the store.
She walked up front to see what was keeping him.
Susan’s new sister-in-law, had corralled him.
Obviously excited about something, she had left her car door
open and was talking as much with her hands as with her
mouth. Whatever she was saying, she had his undivided
attention. This was one time Susan wished she could
read lips. When Kara inched closer, it was all Susan
could do not to interrupt them.
Susan and Wesley were well on their way to reestablishing a
long-ago romance, and she didn’t care for the way Kara was
flaunting her charms, sister-in-law or not. The
five-foot, eight-inch beauty might belong to her brother,
but she was a magnet when it came to guys. As Kara
shifted her weight from one curvaceous hip to the other, the
movement seemed hypnotic. Long lashes shadowed
mysterious onyx eyes. She had pulled her shiny, black
hair into a twist, but a few wispy tendrils had escaped and
danced about her face. The slightly unkempt hair-do
suggested a just-woke-up bedroom look.
Kara wore Capri pants and sleeveless shell, tailored to
leave nothing to the imagination. There was no chance
of her melting.
Wesley seemed mesmerized by whatever she was saying.
After nodding several times, he mumbled something then said,
That much Susan could decipher.
“I do hope I’ll hear from you,” Kara said in a voice loud
enough for Susan’s benefit. Flashing a smile, Kara
batted her lashes and climbed into her late model, white
Wesley waited until she had pulled onto the highway before
he headed in Susan’s direction. Once inside, he
gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
“Let me grab a cup of coffee, and I’ll tell you.” In
the office, he filled a mug and helped himself to a sausage
Susan took a seat behind her desk and waited to hear what
Kara was up to. It bugged her that she knew so little
about her, only that Kara had won over her brother in a
whirlwind romance. A confirmed bachelor, Edward had
fallen hard, and by the time he had introduced Kara to the
family, they had already made wedding plans. They were
to be married by a judge in chambers.
Then with less than a day’s notice, the two had upped and
eloped to the Bahamas. Susan was still upset with her
brother for the change in plans.
She had seen little of Kara since the newlyweds had
returned, and now she showed up here, having tracked down
Wesley. That was not a good sign. “So, what did
she say?” Susan asked.
Wesley took a chair beside her. “She thinks she can help me
with my cases.” He took another bite of biscuit and
washed it down with some coffee. “She also warned me
to be careful, said the Tarot cards foresaw danger.”
“Well, that’s not news. You face danger every day on your
Kara claimed to have psychic powers, but Susan had yet to
see any proof. Supposedly, Kara had left home in
southwest Louisiana as a teenager to live with an aunt in
New Orleans. It was there she had discovered her gift.
Susan knew all too well about precognitive experiences, but
too many charlatans used séances and Tarot cards to scam
people. It would take more than Kara’s word to convince
Susan that her sister-in-law was for real.
Wesley wadded his biscuit wrapper and tossed it in the
trash. “Remember the first day we met Kara, the day
she and Edward announced their engagement? You and I
were discussing my cold case. She found the story
about the young girl’s disappearance intriguing. This
morning, Kara asked if she could see a picture of Edith.
She also wants to hold the bracelet that the hunter recently
found. Seems touching items that belonged to a victim
helps her with…well, with whatever it is she does.”
Susan searched his hazel eyes, trying to get a read on what
he was contemplating. “Do you really want her
Wesley shrugged. “I told her I’d give it some thought.
Before I make any decision, I want to check with New
Orleans. She claims to have worked on some of their
cases.” He reached across the desk and squeezed
Susan’s hand. “I keep hoping you’ll come through for
“You know I’d help you if I could.”
Once again, she thought about the past murders, and how she
became involved in the cases. Susan, like her
grandmother, had visions--flashes of people and scenes that
had proved helpful in solving the murders. But for the
past few months, she hadn’t had any paranormal experiences,
and that was fine with her. She wanted to spend time
in her shop, building her clientele, not traipsing around
the countryside searching for clues that might solve a
The idea of Kara taking her place in helping Wesley didn’t
sit well. How could she be sure Kara wouldn’t take
advantage of him? He could be a great help to her in
establishing her business in Palmetto.
Wesley leaned forward, getting Susan’s undivided attention.
“You’re not worried about a little competition, are you?”
It was as though he had read her mind. “Of course
not,” she said, avoiding eye contact.
Wesley got up and put his mug in the sink. “Hate to
eat and run, but duty calls. Charlie’s going to meet
me at the Burger Shack.”
Susan pictured the small diner located a few miles south of
“The hunter found the bracelet in the woods across the
highway,” Wesley said. “He gave me a map of the entire
area, and I’ve marked it off in grids. While the depth
of the woods is only a few miles across at the Burger Shack,
going south it fans out like an inverted pyramid and extends
all the way to Lake Pontchartrain. What we face is the
proverbial needle in a haystack.”
“Any way you can get extra help?”
“On a cold case? Not likely. Even I can’t work
on it except for when I don’t have an active case. Of
course, I can work on it on my time off, and I often do.
Well, I’d better hit the road and see if Charlie’s up to the
task. He called to say he had a late date and is slow
getting it together this morning.” Wesley stared at
her with laughing eyes. “I’m glad I’m off that
Taking her hand, he pulled her up and into his arms.
His soft, warm lips found hers and sparked a yearning deep
inside of her. Wesley managed to do what no one else
ever could—turn her mind into mush and her body into a
quivering mass of nerves.
“Any chance we can continue this tonight?” he whispered in
Running her hand through his hair, she stole another kiss
before he stepped away. “I’d like nothing better.
How about I whip up something for dinner?”
“Anyone here?” Melanie Oliver, one of Susan’s
employees, waved to let Susan know she had arrived.
Susan looked through the glass petition at the petit
brunette. She looked stunning in brown slacks and a
cream-colored sweater. Melanie’s late husband,
Terrance, had been Wesley’s partner. Terrance had died
during an explosion while executing a warrant. Because
he was first to open the suspect’s door, his body had caught
the force of the blast, saving Wesley’s life.
Susan watched as sadness dulled Wesley’s eyes. He
never saw Melanie that he wasn’t haunted by that night.
She knew what he was thinking--why Terrance and not me?
“Be right there,” Susan called.
She hugged Wesley’s arm and together they crossed to the
front of the store.
“Good to see you, Wesley.” Melanie bent down and put
her purse under the cash register.
“You, too. I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m on the
clock. You two ladies have a lovely day.” He
gave a partial salute and made a quick exit.
Susan and Melanie stood staring at one another.
“Does he ever slow down?” Melanie asked.
“Not when he’s working a case.” Susan removed a dress
from a rack and hung it on the end for display. “We
might as well get started. I’m afraid it won’t be easy
selling winter clothes in eighty degree weather.”
“Maybe we should push lingerie today,” Melanie said, her
blue eyes sparkling.
“You know what? Christmas is only a couple of months
away. Why don’t we entice customers with a
pre-Christmas discount? Help me carry the grease-board
easel. We’ll set it up close to the highway. We
can also use some balloons and ribbons from the warehouse.”
Within minutes, she and Melanie had decorated the easel and
advertised in huge letters a thirty-percent discount on new
arrivals. They set up their handiwork on the
boutique’s property, but close to the highway. A horn
blew then someone turned into the parking lot.
“That was quick,” Melanie said. “I’ll go inside and
handle the customers.”
“Okay, but I don’t think this person is coming to shop.”
A scarf and maybe some earrings were the extent of Myrtle
Thigpen’s past purchases. The middle-aged woman exited
the car and called to Susan. “Yoo-hoo, Susan, could I
have a word?”
“Sure. Let’s go inside where it’s cool.” Susan dabbed
at the perspiration on her brow and held the door open for
Myrtle. “I’m always glad to see you, but I’m pretty
sure my thirty percent discount isn’t the reason you’re
here. What can I do for you?”
“I have a favor to ask. Ever since my sister’s death,
I’ve tried to stay busy. Cooking is something my
friends and I enjoy, so we formed a culinary club. As
a sideline, we decided to make monthly contributions to the
Palmetto Food Pantry.”
“That’s very thoughtful,” Susan said, wondering where this
“Well, when I visited the pantry last week, I discovered it
was low on everything. The director told me that
unless something was done, many families would go hungry
this Thanksgiving.” She paused and clasped her hands
as if in prayer. “We wouldn’t want that, would we?”
Myrtle had that school-teacher look that required a no-ma’am
“That would be terrible,” Susan said.
“Then I remembered what a terrific job you did raising money
for Melanie when her husband was killed. I’m hoping
you’d be willing to do the same for the pantry.”
Myrtle glanced across the shop at Melanie and gave a
With the holidays approaching, Susan wanted to concentrate
on end-of-the-year sales, but she couldn’t bear the thought
of someone going hungry. “Well, I--”
At that moment, A. K. Williams wheeled her red Mustang into
the parking lot and came to a screeching halt near the front
door. Susan’s business partner knew only one
speed--fast. She scooted from the sports car and
hustled toward the boutique. Her turquoise silk sheath
shimmered in the sunlight, and the flowing scarf fluttered
with each step of her matching, five-inch heels. Yep,
she had it all together, except for her hair. The humidity
had plastered her short red curls to her head like the Betty Boop character…something
Susan thought best not to mention.
A. K. used to be a manager at the Bawdy Boutique, but now
she was Susan’s business partner in the Purple Pickle, the
costume shop located adjacent to the boutique’s parking lot.
“How come I didn’t hear about the sale?” A. K. asked,
fanning her face with her hand.
“Because I just thought of it. I’m glad you’re here.
Myrtle has a problem, and I think you’re just the person to
“Me? Hi, Myrtle, what’s up?” A. K. stopped and
checked out her appearance in one of the floor mirrors.
My hair’s a disaster.”
While she poked and lifted her curls, Myrtle
explained the situation.
“And you think I’m the one to handle this?” She gave Susan a
Susan spoke up before A. K. could decline. “Next week
is Halloween, a great time to sell costumes. Maybe you
could tie it into a fundraiser. I’m sure you can come
up with something.”
A. K. twisted her mouth from side to side and tapped the toe
of her stiletto against the slate floor, something Susan
knew A. K. did when she was deep in thought.
“No…yes…no,” A. K. mumbled and shook her head.
Myrtle stared at A. K. as if she had lost her mind.
“I’m sorry if I--”
Susan held up her hand. “She’s thinking, Myrtle.”
Like a neon sign, A. K.’s face lit up. “Got
After a few moments of silence, Susan asked, “Well, are you
going to give us a hint?”
“Not yet. I want to work out the details. She
turned to Myrtle, who still had a confused look on her face.
“Don’t worry, friend. We’re going to stuff the pantry
like a Thanksgiving turkey. Susan, I need to borrow
Sheila for today. She and Debbie will have to run the
costume shop so I can think this through.”
Debbie and Sheila, both about nineteen, were Susan’s first
employees. They often alternated working between the
Bawdy Boutique and the Purple Pickle, and there was nothing
they couldn’t handle.
“Well, I can’t wait to hear what you have in mind,” Susan
Myrtle raised her eyebrows, which tended to elongate her
already narrow face. “Me,
too. Halloween is a holiday I prefer not to celebrate,
but if it’ll help the needy, I shouldn’t complain.
They say the Lord works in mysterious ways.” She
tucked her purse under her arm and turned toward the front
door. “Let me know if I can be of help.”
Watching Myrtle march to her car, Susan was reminded how the
thin woman with her holier-than-thou attitude had gathered
her followers and had picketed the opening of the boutique.
Myrtle, a pillar of the church, had made claims that the
shop’s decadent apparel had no place in Palmetto. Only
when she realized that the shop also offered designer
clothing and accessories, did Myrtle stop with the protests.
But it was the tragic loss of Myrtle’s sister that had
really cemented their friendship.
“Whatever made you think Myrtle would be willing to work
with me?” A. K. asked. “We’re not exactly compatible,
and now that I run a costume shop, she must really believe
I’m the devil’s handmaiden.”
“Look at it this way—it’s your chance to score points.”