Main Sweetheart in High Heels: A High Heels Mysteries Short Story
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Here’s what critics are saying about the High Heels Mysteries: "A saucy combination of romance and suspense that is simply irresistible." - Chicago Tribune "Stylish... nonstop action...guaranteed to keep chick lit and mystery fans happy!" - Publishers’ Weekly, starred review "Blending romance and humor, Maddie and her madcap friends are an enjoyable treat." - Parkersburg Sentinel "It's rare to find a romantic mystery that's so funny, but this is certainly one of them. Maddie Springer (is) a ‘Versace’ Nancy Drew everyone can appreciate." - Press & Sun Bulletin "Maddie Springer is like a cross between Paris Hilton and Stephanie Plum, only better. The dialogue is snappy and the suspense beautifully interwoven with Ms. Halliday’s unique humor. This is one HIGH HEEL you’ll want to try on again and again " - Romance Junkies OTHER BOOKS BY GEMMA HALLIDAY Viva Las Vegas High Heels Mysteries: Spying in High Heels Killer in High Heels Undercover in High Heels Alibi in High Heels Mayhem in High Heels Christmas in High Heels (short story) Sweetheart in High Heels (short story) Hollywood Headlines Mysteries: Scandal Sheet The Perfect Shot Deadline (coming soon!) SHORT STORIES & NOVELLAS BY GEMMA HALLIDAY Haunted (novella) Watching You (short story) Confessions of a Bombshell Bandit (short story) * * * * * SWEETHEART IN HIGH HEELS by GEMMA HALLIDAY * * * * * Kindle Edition Copyright © 2011 by Gemma Halliday All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are eith; er the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Kindle Edition License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work. * * * * * SWEETHEART IN HIGH HEELS * * * * * Chapter One Being the wife of a cop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Take now, for instance. I was supposed to be having a nice, romantic dinner with my husband at our favorite Italian restaurant. The ambiance was perfect – drippy candles, couples holding hands at tables for two, soft music, dim lighting, and me in a brand new black, strapless dress that perfectly matched the new slingbacks on my freshly pedicured feet. The only thing missing from my romantic evening? The man. I was sitting at the table alone, enjoying my third helping of bread as I waited for my husband who was now… I looked down at the readout on my cell phone… officially twenty minutes late. Not that I wasn’t used to Ramirez showing up late. It had actually become kind of a theme in our marriage so far. My husband was Detective Jack Ramirez, L.A.P.D. homicide division. To say his work schedule was unpredictable would be the understatement of the century. Most of the time, I tried not to let it bother me. I was, after all, self-employed as a high-end footware designer, so it wasn’t hard to set my own work hours around his. Sure, it meant some late nights alone and some early mornings listening to his cell go off as the captain called him into investigate another dead body abandoned on their precinct’s turf. But usually I could let those minor annoyances roll off me as par for the course being a cop’s wife. Usually. Tonight had been a special night. One we’d planned weeks in advance. I’d checked and double checked to make sure he was scheduled to have the night off. I’d even reminded him that morning about our seven o’-clock reservation. And yet, here I was. Alone. Again. Some days, I wished I’d married a nice reliable plumber. My cell rang in the sparkly silver purse I’d picked out to match my slingbacks, and I checked the readout. Ramirez. “Hey,” I said, hitting the on button. “Where are you?” I silently prayed he’d say on the 405, stuck in traffic on his way to meet me. “Maddie, I’m so sorry,” he started. Damn. No good news ever began that way. “Sorry for being just a few minutes late to dinner?” I asked hopefully. Ramirez sighed on the other end. “Look, I’m really, really sorry, but I’m not going to be able to make dinner tonight after all.” I felt my hope melt faster than the romantic candle in the center of my table for one. “Great.” “I wish I could be there,” Ramirez quickly added. “Who is it this time?” I asked. “Who?” “The dead body. I am assuming you’re standing me up for a dead body, right?” I could hear a pause on the other end. “I’m really sorry. But, yeah, we’ve got a body in Chatsworth.” It took a certain kind of girl to keep from taking it personally that her husband routinely chose dead bodies over her. Too bad I wasn’t that kind of girl. “Again?” I moaned, unable to keep the whiney toddler out of my voice. “I’m sorry,” Ramirez repeated for the umpteenth time. “Look, I gotta go.” “Will I see you later?” I asked, signaling the server for our bill. Which, hopefully, would be small considering all I’d had was bread and water. I could hear Ramirez shaking his head in response on the other end. “I doubt it. Looks like it’s going to be a late night. It sounds like it’s a real mess over here.” Even as he said it, I could hear sirens in the background, signaling he was approaching the scene. “Fine,” I said, not even trying to keep the sulk out of my voice. “I guess I’ll see you… sometime.” “Sorry, Maddie,” Ramirez said again. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.” Then he hung up. I looked across the restaurant at a couple in the corner, holding hands, smiling at each other, sharing a bottle of the same wine Ramirez and I had planned on ordering. What did you want to bet he was a plumber? * * * “He left you alone at Giseppi’s?” My best friend, Dana, stared at me with wide, unbelieving eyes as she cranked her elliptical up to nine. I nodded. “Yes. Again,” I added for emphasis. I took a long sip from my water bottle. Even though my machine was only on four, I was sweating twice as hard as Dana. To say I was a regular at the gym would be a bigger exaggeration than calling Snookie a celebrity. Usually it took an act of God or a too tight favorite pair of jeans to get me here. But when Dana had called me that morning, I’d been in the mood to blow off a little steam, and the gym seemed like as a good a place as any to do that. So, I’d relented. A decision I was having serious second thoughts about now as I sweated a river. “Geeze, Maddie, I’m so sorry. I know you were looking forward to a night out finally.” “And you know what’s even worse?” I added. “It gets worse?” “He didn’t even come home last night. Called from the station around midnight saying he was pulling another all-nighter. That’s three this week. I swear I fall asleep to Conan more than I sleep with my husband.” “Dude. Sucks,” Dana said, shaking her head in sympathy as she ratcheted her machine up another notch. “Tell me about it,” I mumbled. “Oh, hey! I know what will cheer you up,” Dana said. “What?” “Shopping. You picked out your awards dress yet?’ she asked. Last year I had been lucky enough to land a gig as the shoe designer for a period film that was nominated for a Viewer’s Choice Award for best picture. Not that I, as the lowly shoe designer, would get an award if we won, but it had garnered me an invitation to the red carpet event – my very first. I nodded. “Yep. I decided to go with the vintage Versace.” “The black one?” “With the rhinestones.” “So pretty,” Dana cooed. “And, I designed the perfect shoes to go with them. They just arrived yesterday. Gorgeous.” Dana let out a girlie “eek!” and scrunched up her shoulders. “I can’t wait to see them!” “Okay, enough about me,” I said, the thought of red caret fashion pulling me out of my pity-party for one. “Tell me about your night out with Ricky.” Dana rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Where to even begin?” “That good, huh?” “Well, Ricky had this thing to go to on Wilshire. Some big shot producer’s birthday party. But the paparazzi must have got wind of it somehow, because they chased us all the way from his place in Hollywood to the event. It was like we had our own parade with flash bulbs going off all over the place.” Dana was dating Ricky Montgomery, the movie star. He’d started his career on the primetime drama Magnolia Lane, playing a gardener so hunky that every desperate housewife on the street lusted after him. But three seasons in, his character had been killed in a Homeowner’s Association riot, and Ricky had moved on to film roles, the latest of which had just launched him from supporting actor to full-fledged leading man status. On the up side, he’d been able to pull some strings and get Dana a part playing opposite him, meaning that my actress slash aerobics instructor best friend had finally been able to drop the slash aerobics instructor part of her job description. On the downside, she’d been featured on TMZ twice already with less-than-flattering photos of her leaving Ricky’s place early in the morning, post-party and pre-coffee. Living in the public eye had its price. (Even if that price was in the millions per picture.) “But was the party good?” I asked, huffing as I lowered my machine down a level. Dana shrugged. “I guess. I mean, it was all business, you know? Schmoozing with the right agents, rubbing elbows with the right producers. I never thought partying would be so much work. But at least Ricky made it up to me when we got back to his place.” She grinned. But then must have seen the look on envy my face, as she quickly said. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. Look, I’m sure Ramirez will make it up to you soon, too.” “That’s what he keeps promising,” I agreed, though I had my doubts about his ability to make good on that promise before his captain called him in again. “Well, what about Valentine’s Day?” Dana asked. “Surely you guys have something special planned?” I nodded. “Definitely.” Not only was this coming Saturday our first Valentine’s Day together as a married couple, but it was also our first anniversary. Yes, we’d gotten married on the most romantic holiday of all. And I was determined that our first anniversary would top it. “I rented us a room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The honeymoon suite. Complete with champagne, caviar, and a hot tub for two.” “Ooooo,” Dana said. “Very romantic.” “The only problem,” I told her, “is that I have no idea what to get Ramirez for a Valentine’s anniversary gift.” “Lingerie?” she suggested. “That’s more for me, isn’t it?” “Not if it’s the right lingerie,” Dana said waggling her eyebrows up and down. I grinned. “Point taken. But I was hoping to come up with something a little more personal.” “How about a personal love poem?” I actually snorted at that suggestion. Out loud. (Though, in my defense, I’d been working out for over an hour. I was lucky I could produce breath at all, let alone a snort.) Ramirez was a cop. A tall, broad shouldered cop with a scar over one eyebrow and a tattoo of a panther running down his arm. Tough Guy didn’t even begin to describe Ramirez. Not that he didn’t have feelings. I’m sure he did. In fact, I knew he did, or I never would have married him. But I was pretty sure he did love poems about the same way I did boxing… with one eye shut and cringing the whole time. “No. Love poem is out.” Dana pursed her lips together, thinking. “Okay, well what about something sexy. Like… handcuffs?” “He’s a cop. He already has handcuffs.” “Fur lined ones?” I rolled my eyes. “Vetoed.” “Okay, maybe not handcuffs. But I know this place that has all kinds of sexy stuff like that.” “I don’t know…” I hedged. “Trust me, it will be fun.” “What’s the place called?” “Peach’s Pleasure Den.” “It sounds like a sex shop.” “It’s very classy.” “A classy sex shop?” “Come on, Maddie,” Dana said, turning to me and shutting off her machine. “A couple sensual toys might be just what you need to keep Ramirez sleeping at home more often, you know what I mean?” Honestly? It had been so long I almost didn’t know what she meant. Which, even though I still had my reservations, prompted me to nod in agreement. “Okay. Fine. I’ll go look.” Dana grinned. A big, wicked thing that instantly had me second guessing my decision. “Look!” I emphasized. “Just look.” * * * Peach’s Pleasure Den was located two blocks south of Laurel Canyon in Studio City, right between a dry cleaner and production company with the NBC logo emblazoned on the side of the building. In the windows of the Pleasure Den were mannequins dressed in bright red lingerie with little pink feathers and hearts placed in strategic places. The sign above the door flashed “open” in pink neon, and the sign to the right of the window said to ask about their latest latex fetish gear. I was having serious second (and third, and fourth) thoughts. “You know, I’m not sure this is really Ramirez’s kind of place.” “Trust me, Maddie,” Dana said, grabbing me by the arm and steering me inside. “This is every man’s kind of place.” The second we stepped through the doors, I felt a blush hit my cheeks. To our right was a tall counter holding a cash register and an assortment of condoms in bright colors and, if the sign beside them was to be believed, “tantalizing flavors”. To our left was a rack of shelves displaying various facsimiles of the male anatomy made out of rubber and plastic– most in sizes I was pretty sure real guys never came in. Behind the rack was a wall of leather collars, whips, and straps that I’d bet my favorite stilettos would leave Ramirez even more speechless than a love poem. And on the far wall was what looked like rubber clothing in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, all studded with thick metal zippers. “You know what?” I said, taking it all in. “Maybe some nice lingerie would do the trick after all. I hear Victoria’s Secret is having a sale. Let’s go.” I grabbed Dana’s arm, but she shook me off. “Relax, Maddie. I’m sure Peach can suggest something that’s just your speed.” I hoped she wasn’t talking literally as I eyed the display of “super powered vibrating friends”. “Peach?’ Dana called out, rounding the counter that held the register. A doorway behind it led to what I’d guess was a stockroom or office. “You here, Peach?” Dana called through the open doorway. No one answered. “She’s probably in the back,” Dana decided. “Wait here, and I’ll go get her.” “You’re leaving me alone?” I asked, my voice going higher than I’d have liked. Dana grinned. “Geeze, Maddie. They’re just toys. They don’t bite.” She paused. “Well, most of them. I’d stay away from the vampire fetish section if I were you.” I opened my mouth to protest, but before I had the chance, she’d disappeared. I wrapped my arms around myself, somehow feeling unnerved being surrounded by all the… sex. Which of course, was ridiculous. I was a grown woman. I was a married woman. So some people liked a little plastic in the mix while they had sex. Big deal, right? Once I had myself halfway convinced that I was handling this new experience like a worldly adult, I dared to venture toward a shelf labeled, “Romantic Games.” I was looking for romantic. And I liked monopoly. Maybe a game was the thing. I picked one up called “Truth or Dare”. I’d played a version of that at junior high sleepovers. Maybe this would be fun. Maybe Dana was right – Ramirez might get a kick out of this. I turned the box over and read the rules. I only got halfway down – between the hot wax card and the whipped cream penalty - when I realized this was not monopoly. I set the box back on the shelf. I was just about to find Dana and call this the bad idea it was when I heard a scream from the back room. “Maddie!” Dana yelled. “Come quick!” As much as seeing what the back room held terrified my faux worldly self, the panic in Dana’s voice had me charging through the doorway full force. So fast that I ran smack into Dana’s back as she stood transfixed in the center of the storeroom. “Dana, are you okay-” I started to ask. But I never quite finished that statement because, as I looked past her, I saw what had had her screaming bloody murder. It was, in fact, bloody murder. Or, to be more precise, the body of a woman, laying twisted on the floor, the front of her T-shirt soaked in blood. Chapter Two Several screams, “ohmigod”s and one 911 call later, Dana and I were huddled on the curb outside the Pleasure Den while policemen and crime scene techs swarmed the store. It had been immediately apparent that Peach was dead, and, at the risk of contaminating the crime scene, Dana and I had bolted outside and not gone back in since police arrived. At least, that’s what we told the first officer on scene. The truth? We’d been so squicked out by the dead body we’d both bolted for the door before the words “crime scene” even entered our minds. “Ms. Springer?” one of the uniformed officers asked, approaching us. I swallowed, clearing my still-too-dry throat. “Yes?” “A detective would like to talk to you.” I looked past the uniform and saw a dark haired guy in a leather jacket getting out of an SUV. Uh oh. I knew that detective well. “Uh, are you sure maybe you couldn’t take my statement instead?” The uniform gave me a funny look. “I think it would be better if the detective took it.” “Oh, I think it would be worse.” Much worse. But, since he had the gun and I didn’t, I didn’t protest (much) as he helped me up off the curb. I shifted from foot to foot as I watched Ramirez stop to exchange a few words with the responding officer. The guy pointed my way, and Ramirez looked over. Very slowly I could see him raising an eyebrow at me. Oh boy. He sauntered over, cocked his head at me. His face was unreadable cop through and through. I did a little one finger wave. “Hi.” “Hi.” His voice was flat, monotone. Total Bad Cop mode. “Officer Patterson tells me you found the body?” “Well, technically, Dana found it first,” I said, gesturing to my best friend. Ramirez looked from me to her, giving her the same blank poker-faced stare. “Hi,” Dana said. She waved, too, though it didn’t have much more affect than mine had. Ramirez did a deep sigh through his nose, then turned back to me. “And what, exactly, were you two doing here?” I bit my lip. “Um… buying you a Valentine’s anniversary present.” Both of his eyebrows went north this time. “Here?” I nodded. “Um… yeah?” Only it sounded more like a question. “You see, I was pretty sure you didn’t want a love poem, because I don’t really like boxing, so I figured you’d be more into something like a game. Only the game said if you lose the whipped cream penalty challenge you have to endure the hot wax kisses, which I wasn’t sure you were really into, but at least it was better than the latex fetish wear hanging on the wall, but then Dana did this really big scream and I-“ “Enough!” Ramirez put his hands up. I clamped my lips shut and did a zipping-them-closed motion. Ramirez did another deep breathing exercise, and I wasn’t sure, but I thought I could feel him mentally counting to ten. “Where was the body when you found it?” “Store room.” “And she was already dead then?” “She was covered in blood and her eyes were staring at the ceiling,” I said, cringing as I relived the scene. “We didn’t check for a pulse, but I’m pretty sure she was dead.” Dana nodded in agreement behind me. “Poor Peach.” “Did you touch anything?” Ramirez asked. I shook my head in the negative. “No. We were very careful to leave quickly so we didn’t contaminate the crime scene.” “Plus, we were scared shitless,” Dana added. “That, too,” I agreed. “You should have been,” Ramirez said. “Jesus, Maddie, what if the killer was still in there?” I felt my face pale. “Was he?” Ramiro paused a moment, then shook his head. “No. It looks like she’s been dead at least a couple hours.” “How did she…” I trailed off, even talking about dead bodies kinda squicking me out again. “…expire?” I finally settled on. Ramirez let his gaze stray to the front door. “The ME will have to examine the body back at the lab for official results, but I can tell you that she was stabbed. Several times,” he added. I swallowed. “Any idea who by?” Ramirez shook his head. “Someone angry, that’s for sure.” “A crime of passion?” Dana piped up. Which sounded a little melodramatic to me, but Ramirez nodded. “I guess you could put it that way. Stabbings tend to be very personal” “So not robbery then?” I asked. Ramirez shook his head. “Doesn’t look like it. The register was intact and nothing obvious is missing. We’ll have to check what’s in the store against the inventory to be sure, but it looks like whoever did this was only after Peach.” Which chilled me to goosebumps even standing in the warm, California sun. * * * After taking our official statements, Dana and I were released, and she dropped me off at home before racing to Ricky’s to tell him about the “Sex Shop Murder”, as she’d already started calling it. I tried to block out the image of poor Peach’s body by jumping into the sketches I was working on for a pair of boots for my fall line, but my heart wasn’t in it. Instead, I flipped on the TV, watching for a sign of Peach on the news as I made myself a dinner of macaroni and cheese from a box with diced green chilies. (After years as a single girl, I was slowly easing into this whole domestic goddess role. I’d mastered doing my make-up while sharing the one bathroom mirror with Ramirez as he shaved, but cooking was something I’d yet to conquer.) I was halfway through a bowl of over cooked macaroni (I wasn’t kidding about the no-cooking thing), when Ramirez walked through the front door. I paused mid bite. “Hi.” “Hey,” he said, throwing his jacket onto a chair. “What’s for dinner?” I looked down into my bowl. “I wasn’t expecting you home.” “I’m not home.” I raised an eyebrow his way. “I’m just grabbing a quick bite and a nap before heading back out.” I frowned. “You didn’t sleep last night, either.” “No time.” He sniffed at the pot of my Kraft creation on the stove. He took a bite, shrugged, added another handful of chilies and spooned some into a bowl. “I gotta work the case while it’s still hot.” How many times had I heard that before? “Right,” I said, doing my best Understanding Wife. “I guess as long as you still have Saturday night off, I can wait until then to see you.” Ramirez paused, a forkful of macaroni halfway to his mouth. “Saturday?” I felt a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. “Valentine’s Day. Our anniversary.” Ramirez cleared his throat, shifted on his feet, looked down into his bowl. “Um, yeah. About that…” “Oh no. No, no, no, no. Don’t you dare!” “Maddie…” “Don’t you dare cancel on me. Not this time. Jack, it’s our anniversary,” I said, instantly dropping Understanding Wife and breaking out my whiney toddler impersonation again. “I know,” he said. “But I have this case.” “You always have a case!” “Yes, and I always have to work them. It’s kind of my job.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Yeah? And I’m kind of your wife, though you wouldn’t know it.” He narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “It means we never spend any time together.” “We’re together now.” My turn to narrow my eyes. “This is our anniversary we’re talking about, Jack. Our first anniversary. Not to mention Valentine’s Day! Surely you can get some time off?” “I had time off planned, Maddie, but the first forty-eight hours are the most important in any case. I can’t just drop Peach because it’s some made up holiday.” I clenched my jaw. “Some ‘made up holiday?’ You think Valentine’s Day is some joke? That celebrating our love doesn’t matter?” “I didn’t say that.” “Fine,” I yelled, really gaining steam now. “Fine, you know what? If this day means so little to you, I don’t want to spend it with you anyway.” “Jesus,” Ramirez mumbled under his breath. “What was that?” “Nothing. Look, I have to work, okay? We can celebrate some other day.” “Right. Like last night.” Ramirez gave me a blank look. “Do you even know what we were supposed to be celebrating last night?” He pursed his lips together. “If I say no, you’re going to be mad right?” “Wrong. I’m already mad.” “Swell.” “And it was my birthday. We were supposed to be celebrating my birthday last night.” Ramirez frowned. “Your birthday was in October.” “Exactly!” I threw my hands up. “You had a case then, and we had to cancel. We’ve had to cancel three times since then. It’s February and I’m still waiting for my October birthday dinner. At this rate, we’ll be celebrating our first anniversary when we’re ninety.” “Exaggeration, much?” he countered. I clenched my jaw. “Sleeping on the couch, much?” Ramirez threw his hands up. “Look, Maddie, there’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry. But unless this case solves itself in the next two days, my hands are tied.” “Fine.” I picked up my macaroni bowl and stalked to the bedroom. “Enjoy your nap,” I threw back at him. Then added, “On the couch!” and slammed the door behind me. * * * I’d like to say that I slept the long, satisfied sleep of those who have had the last word. But, the truth was, having the last word isn’t nearly as satisfying as having your husband cuddled up beside you. In fact, getting the last word, much like being married to a cop, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I spent the entire night tossing and turning, feeling guilty for yelling at him. The more I didn’t sleep, the more I realized how unfair I was being. It wasn’t as if Ramirez chose to work on our anniversary. He was right; there wasn’t much he could do about it. And it wasn’t fair to Peach’s family to put her murder on a backburner just because we had plans. As much as the demands of his job were unreasonable, so, I realized, were my expectations. By the time the sun finally peeked through the bedroom curtains, I felt like a regular heel. I stumbled out of bed and toward the scent of coffee in the kitchen. I blinked at the full coffee pot. Even after our fight, Ramirez had made me coffee before he left for work. That’s it, I was officially the worst wife ever. But, I had an idea how I could make it up to him. Something he’d said last night had stuck with me, and I suddenly knew exactly what I was going to get Ramirez for our Valentine’s anniversary. I grabbed the phone and dialed Dana’s number. Three rings into it, I heard a groggy, “Hello?” “Hey. It’s me.” There was pause. “What time is it?” I glanced up at the clock over the sink. “Seven.” Dana groaned. “Way too early.” “Sorry. Late night?” I asked. “Film premier. We didn’t get in until three.” “Ouch.” “Tell me about it. My feet are killing me, my head hurts, and I feel like a squirrel has been nesting in my mouth all night. You know, being the girlfriend of a movie star isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.” “You too, huh?” I mumbled. “What?” “Never mind. Listen, want to meet me for coffee? Say, half an hour?” I heard rustling on the other end as Dana pulled herself out of bed. “If there’s caffeine involved, I’m so there.” * * * Forty minutes later I was showered, dressed in a pair of jeans, my favorite pink blouse with white pinstripes down the front, and a pair of silver, sequined pumps, sitting at a table at Starbucks as Dana sipped her non-fat, no-sugar, soy decaf latte across from me, listening to my brilliant plan. “I know what to get Ramirez for our Valentine’s anniversary,” I told her. “What?” Dana asked, licking latte off her lips. “A day off.” She raised an eyebrow at me. “And how are you going to do that?” “Simple. I’m going to solve this case for him.” Dana barked out a laugh. “Oh, yeah. Simple.” “Okay, maybe ‘simple’ isn’t exactly the right word,” I conceded, “but I’m sure we can do it.” The truth was, I had helped Ramirez on cases before. In fact, there had been at least one time when I’d actually cracked the case wide open for him. Not that I was a Sherlock Holmes by any means, but, at least in this case, I did have one advantage. “You knew Peach,” I pointed out to Dana. “That’s a distinct advantage to us.” Dana bit her lip. “I didn’t know her that well. I mean, she was kinda more of an acquaintance than a good friend.” “But you know enough about her life to have some clue as to who could have wanted her dead?” Again with the lip biting. “Maybe?” Dana said. Though she didn’t sound quite as confident as I might have hoped. “Okay, let’s go at this in an organized way.” I grabbed notebook and pen from my purse. I wrote the word ‘suspects’ at the top of the page. “Ramirez said the crime felt personal to him.” “Right!” Dana agreed. “A crime of passion.” “So we should start with those closest to Peach. Did she have a boyfriend?” I asked. Dana nodded. “Yes!” she said triumphantly. “I met him at the store once. Vic something.” “Perfect!” I said. I wrote ‘Vic Something’ on the paper. “What about family?” Dana shook her head. “Sorry. No idea.” “Okay, well, what if her death was business related? Who else works at the store?” “There’s Gage. He’s her business partner. Peach ran the place, but Gage came in to do the books and inventory and stuff like that.” I wrote the name down. “Anyone else Peach spent time with?” “Oh! Celia!” “And she is?” I asked, writing the name down. “Her roommate. Peach told me they shared a place in Echo Park.” I wrote ‘roommate’ next to Celia’s name. “Got an address?” Dana frowned and shook her head. “Sorry.” “That’s okay,” I said looking down at the list. “This is a good start. So, who do we question first?” Dana shrugged. “I say the boyfriend. Crime of passion and all.” I nodded. “Suspects, here we come!” Chapter Three Unfortunately, our enthusiasm proved to be greater than our actual knowledge about the suspects. Without Vic’s last name or number or anything about him, it was a little hard to track him down for an intense interrogation. Instead, we decided to go back to the Pleasure Den and see what we could find out about the boyfriend there. As I pulled my little red Jeep up to the curb outside the shop, we could see crime scene tape still lying on the ground just outside the doors. The neon ‘open’ sign was shut off, but I could see movement inside the shop. Dana and I knocked on the glass door, and a minute later a guy wearing an earring in his eyebrow and a flannel shirt that looked stained in at least three different places came to the door. “We’re closed,” he yelled through the glass. “I know. We wanted to talk to you about Peach,” I shouted back. “What?” He put a hand to his ear. “We want to talk about Peach!” He shook his head. “I can’t hear you!” “PEACH!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. The guy jumped back. “Oh.” He pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the door, pulling it open a crack. “What do you want?” he asked. “Hi. I’m Maddie Springer and this is my friend, Dana. Um, we were wondering if we could ask you some questions about Peach.” He frowned. “Why? Are you reporters?” “No,” Dana said, shaking her head. “We’re helping the police with the investigation.” I elbowed her in the ribs. “Uh, sort of. We’re…” “She’s married to the detective in charge,” Dana said, pointing at me. I shrugged and did a feeble little laugh. “Uh, yeah, anyway, we just wanted to ask a couple questions about Peach if you don’t mind.” He bit his lip, probably trying to figure out what sort of official capacity the wife of a police detective had, but finally nodded. “Yeah. I guess so. Come on in.” He opened the door, letting Dana and I through before locking it behind us again. The place looked much the same as it had yesterday, the only difference the faint dusting of black powder on several of the surfaces near the cash register. Apparently CSU had covered all robbery bases after all. “What do you want to know about Peach?” the guy asked, crossing his arms over his chest and taking a wide, defensive stance. “You’re Gage?” I guessed. He nodded. “And you were Peach’s business partner?” Again with the nod, but he didn’t speak. This was going to be harder than I thought. “So, what, exactly was the partnership?” Gage shrugged. “It was a 50/50 split. I’m not exactly a people person-” Shocker. “- but Peach had the personality to deal with the public. I was more behind the scenes. I did the ordering, books, inventory. Peach did all the customer service stuff. She also did some product development.” “Product development?” I asked, hoping I didn’t live to regret the question. “Peach was very creative. She came up with a few original items. Our personal massagers do very well, and her line of latex wear is selling off the charts,” he said, gesturing to the wall of rubber clothes I’d noticed the day before. “So, business is good, then?” Dana asked. He grinned wide, showing off a pair of gold teeth in front. “It’s great. The economy tanks, and people are depressed and looking for cheap fun. Can’t get any cheaper or more fun than sex, right? Sales were up 10% this month.” I couldn’t help being impressed. Sales had decreased 3% in the fashion industry. “Did Peach have any enemies?” I asked, switching gears. “Anyone you can think of that might have wanted to hurt her?” Gage shook his head. “Not really. Peach was the sweetest person ever. It’s got to be some random weirdo. I mean, most of our clientele was your average Joe looking to spice things up with the missus, but once in a while we did get a crazy in here.” “Did Peach mention any crazies in particular? Anyone giving her trouble?” He shook his head. “Not to me. Sorry.” “She was dating someone,” Dana prompted. “Vic I think his name was. Do you know where we can find him?” He shrugged. “Sorry, I didn’t get into her personal life. But I’m sure her roommate would know.” “You have an address for her?” I asked. Gage nodded, then grabbed a Post-it from behind the counter and wrote Peach’s address down on it. “Thanks,” I said as he handed it over. “Anything else?” Gage asked. “’Cause I’ve got a ton of work to do now getting orders filled on my own.” “Um, just one more question,” I said slowly, trying to figure a way to word this that wouldn’t be construed as an accusation. “Uh… can you tell us where you were yesterday when she was killed?” He barked out a laugh. “Really? You think I killed Peach? I mean, why on earth would I do that?” “We’re just covering all bases,” I assured him. He shook his head. “Look, without Peach, I’m sunk. I gotta deal with customers, which bites, you know? I need to find a new front person fast.” “And now that she’s gone, who gets her 50% of the business?” Dana piped up. Oooo… good question! I leaned in waiting to hear how he answered it. Gage paused, then crossed his arms over his chest again in an unconsciously protective gesture. “I do.” Dana and I shot each other a look. “What? What was that look?” Gage asked. “Nothing.” “I didn’t kill her. Look, the business was more of an asset to me with her here. Owning 50% of a thriving business was a lot better than having to deal with the whole thing myself.” That made a certain sense, I supposed, but I wasn’t totally convinced. And it must have shown on my face because he added, “Look, you want to know who had issues with Peach, talk to her roommate.” He pointed to the Post-it he’d given me. “Why?” I asked. “She and Peach had a big fight just last week.” “Really?” I asked. “About what?’ “I don’t know the details, but Peach came in here all pissed off, ranting about how her roommate wouldn’t leave.” “Leave?” Dana asked. “Peach was kicking her out?” Gage nodded. “Why?” “Beats me. Ask the roommate.” Believe me, I intended to. * * * Ten minutes later we pulled up to Peach’s house. It was a small bungalow on a street lined with palm trees, small front yards, and friendly looking garden gnomes. The homes weren’t large, but were big on old Hollywood charm, and I knew the zip code carried a hefty price tag. Just blocks from prime shopping and restaurants, I could see why Peach’s roommate wouldn’t want to leave. But would she be willing to kill to stay, was the question. I parked my Jeep at the curb and we walked up the paved pathway to Peach’s front door. I gave a knock, and two beats later it was opened by a slim woman with jet black hair and a healthy smattering of tattoos down her sleeveless arms. Her eyes were rimmed in red like she’d been crying, and a tissue was clutched in her right hand. “Celia?” I asked. She frowned, her gaze going from Dana to me. “Who’s asking?” “Uh, my name is Maddie Springer, and this is Dana. She was a friend of Peach’s,” I said, stretching the truth just a little. “We were wondering if we could ask you a couple of questions about your roommate.” Celia bit her lip. “This isn’t really a good time,” she said. Then punctuated the statement with a loud sniff. I nodded. “Right. I’m terribly sorry for your loss.” Celia turned to Dana. “You were a friend of Peach’s?” “Um, yeah. We met at the shop.” Celia nodded. “It’s hard to believe she’s really gone, you know? I mean, it’s like some sort of bad dream or something.” “The police think Peach was killed deliberately,” I said. “Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to hurt Peach?” Celia shook her head. “No. Peach was a total sweetheart. Look, why don’t you come inside.” “Thanks,” I said, as Dana and I stepped over the threshold into the living room. The bungalow was small but cozy, two big sofas taking up the bulk of the room. A fireplace sat on one wall, a bright stained-glass screen covering its dormant mouth, and the hardwood floor was covered in patterned rugs. The surfaces were free of clutter, and it looked as if someone had recently been on a cleaning binge, not a speck of dust was to be seen anywhere, and a lingering scent of Windex hung the air. Celia sat on one of the sofas, pulling her legs up under her. Dana and I perched on the opposite seat. “How long had you and Peach been roommates?” I started. Celia pursed her lips together. “About two years. We met through a mutual friend just after I moved to L.A. She had a spare room, and I was looking. It worked out perfectly.” She paused, then looked down at her hands. “At least it did.” “So, Peach owned the house?” Celia nodded. “She inherited it from her grandmother a few years ago.” “It’s a nice neighborhood,” Dana said, dropping a subtle hint and leaning into gauge Celia’s reaction. But Celia just nodded again. “Yeah. I like it.” “It would be a shame to have to leave a neighborhood like this,” Dana said. Celia paused. She looked from me to Dana. “It would,” she hedged. “What are you getting at?” So much for our subtlety skills. “We heard that you and Peach had an argument last week,” I said. “That she was kicking you out and you didn’t want to go. Is that true?” “Yes and no,” she said. “That’s pretty vague,” I pointed out. “Okay, yes. Peach was talking about me moving out, but it’s not what you think.” “What do we think?” Dana asked. “We were getting along fine, there were no problems between Peach and I.” “But she wanted you out.” “Peach thought her boyfriend was about to propose. If he did, she said they’d want some privacy here. That’s all.” “So, why did you two argue.” Celia pursed her lips together. “Look, I didn’t mean to upset Peach, but I told her I thought that was a big if.” “Why is that?” I asked. “They’d only been dating a couple months.” I raised an eyebrow. “That’s fast,” I said, remembering the two years it took Ramirez to pop the question to me. Dana must have had the same thought as she leaned in and whispered, “Ricky and I have been dating for eighteen months!” I ignored her, turning to Celia again. “If they’d just started dating, why did Peach think he was going to propose?” “I guess she’d been dropping hints about settling down, and two weeks ago she saw a ring box hidden in his sock drawer. She said she didn’t open it, because she didn’t want to totally spoil the surprise, but she was sure he was going to pop the question soon.” “And she didn’t like hearing that you weren’t,” I said, imagining how that conversation played out. Celia shook her head. “Like I said, I didn’t mean to upset her, but I didn’t want her to be disappointed either, you know?” “So you weren’t worried about moving out?’ Dana asked. Celia shrugged. “If a ring was in the box, if he popped the question, and if he wanted to move in here. That’s a lot of ifs.” She had a good point. And, while a nice rental in L.A. was hard to come by, I had a tough time picturing the woman before me killing to stay in this one. But, just in case, I asked, “Where were you yesterday morning?” Celia blinked at me. “Here. Why?” “Alone?” Dana asked. “Yeah. Alone. I’d had a late night and was sleeping in.” Not exactly an airtight alibi, I noted. “This guy that Peach was seeing,” I asked, “Know where we can find him?” Celia nodded, then dug into her back pocket and came out with a cell. “Peach was staying there a couple nights a week, so she gave me the number for emergencies.” She rattled it off, and Dana punched it into her own cell. We thanked Celia for her time, then as soon as we got back in the Jeep, Dana dialed the boyfriend on speaker phone. Four rings in, he finally picked up. “Hello?” came a gravelly voice. “Vic? Hi, my name is Dana. I was a friend of Peach’s.” The guy on the other end sniffed loudly. “Oh,” he said. Then did another sniff. “It’s terrible, huh?” Dana nodded in the car. “Terrible. Look, I was wondering if maybe we could meet. I have a few questions I’d love to ask you about Peach.” “Yeah,” he said, his voice low. “Sure. I guess so. For Peach.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard his voice crack on that last statement. If it wasn’t actual grief consuming him, he was doing a hell of an acting job. We agreed to meet up at a coffee place near his house, and twenty minutes later Dana and I had our second round of lattes for the day. We settled into a table near the back and a couple minutes later a tall, dark haired man walked in. His eyes were rimmed in red, and his shirt was miss-buttoned, leaving an extra hole on one side. Taking a wild guess, I hailed him over to our table. “Vic?” I asked as he approached. He nodded, then said, “Hi,” in a somber voice, shaking hands first with Dana then me. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said, feeling like a broken record. He nodded again. “Yeah. Thanks,” he said. His voice came out as a cross between Ross from Friends and Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Then again, considering the circumstances, I hardly expected peppy. “You were friends of hers?” he asked us. “Dana was,” I said gesturing to her. “I can’t believe she’s really gone,” he said. “You’d known Peach a couple months?” I asked. “Yeah. We met at club on Sunset. I was drawn to her immediately. She was just so sweet.” That seemed to be the consensus. On the other hand, sweet people usually didn’t have the kind of enemies that stabbed them to death. “You had a good relationship?” “The best!” “So good you were going to propose, right?” Dana asked. Vic blinked at her, shock registering clearly on his face. “Propose? God, where did you hear that?” “So, you weren’t going to ask her to marry you?” I clarified. “No. God, no. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I totally dug Peach. But we’d only been dating a couple months. No way were we ready to get married.” “Peach thought you were,” Dana said. “She thought you were going to pop the question soon.” Vic shook his head. “Why on earth would she think that?’ I cleared my throat. “Uh… apparently she found a ring box in your sock drawer.” Vic did some more blinking, then sat back in his chair. “It was an earring box. I bought her earrings for Valentine’s Day. Geeze, she really thought I was going to propose?” Dana leaned in and whispered to me, “I knew no man could propose in two months!” I ignored her, instead asking Vic, “The morning Peach died… where were you?” “Home, I guess.” “Alone?” “Yeah. I telecommute. Why?” I shrugged. “No reason. Just checking.” We thanked the still shocked Vic for his time, told him again how very sorry we were for his loss, and left. “So,” I said when we got back to the car, “we have a boyfriend who isn’t proposing, a roommate who isn’t being kicked out, and a business partner who isn’t losing money.” ”And a victim everyone described as super sweet,” Dana said. I turned to her. “Did you think she was sweet?’ Dana bit her lip. Then nodded. “Yeah. She really was. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her.” Which left us back at square one. This was proving to be a much harder Valentine’s anniversary present than I’d thought. Chapter Four Dana had to meet Ricky for a “thing in the Hills”, so I dropped her off at her place. She gave me a hug goodbye along with a reminder that tomorrow was the Viewer’s Choice Awards, and we had 9 AM appointments at Fernando’s for our hair. I promised I’d meet her there, then headed home myself. On the off chance that Ramirez might come home for food and a nap again tonight, I decided to have a nice home-cooked meal ready for him. Taking stock of the ingredients I had on hand, then searching through AllRecipes.com’s database, I came up with pot roast. I chopped, spiced, boiled, and simmered all afternoon, and by the time I heard Ramirez’s key in the lock, I had to admit, it smelled pretty good in there. “Hey,” he said, throwing his keys on the kitchen counter. “What smells so good?” “I made pot roast,” I said, beaming with domestic goddess pride. He raised an eyebrow. “You made it?” I swatted him with a dishtowel. “Watch it, buster.” He grinned. “All right, I give in. Hand me a plate. But, I have to make it quick. I gotta get back down town in an hour.” “That’s it? All you get is an hour?” I asked, doing my best to hide my disappointment as I dished him up a serving. “ME’s report came in on Peach. We need to get back to the CSU lab.” “Why?’ I asked, my ear perking up. “What was in the report?” “Lots.” “Very funny. Care to elaborate?” “Well, guess how she died,” he said, leaning back on his heels, a small smirk of I-know-something-you-don’t-know playing on his lips. “Um, stabbing? Or bleeding out or whatever you guys call that,” I guessed, stating the obvious. He shook his head. “Nope. Turns out the stabbings were post mortem.” I frowned. “Wait – post? That means she was already dead?” “Yep.” “Why would someone stab her if she was already dead?” Ramirez shrugged. “That’s a great question. Could be they didn’t know she was dead. Or maybe they were trying to make the murder look like something it wasn’t. Could be they were even trying to get rid of evidence by confusing the crime scene. Hard to tell at this point.” I pondered this. Dana and I had been going on the theory that the murder was personal based on the stabbing. But if Peach had been killed another way, maybe someone was trying to make it look like it was more personal than it really was. Which begged the question… “So, how did she really die?” I asked. “Asphyxiation.” “She was strangled?” “Or suffocated. We didn’t find any obvious ligature marks on her neck, but the ME did say she had the telltale petechial hemorrhaging around the eyes that indicated lack of oxygen.” “So, someone suffocates Peach, then stabs her multiple times?” I shook my head. “Kinda seems like overkill.” “You’re telling me. Double the wounds, double the missing weapons, double the paperwork. Which,” he said, “is why I only have an hour to eat and get back out there.” He stabbed at a piece of beef and brought the fork to his mouth. He chewed, paused, did a kind of grimace, then slowly swallowed. “What do you think of the roast?” I asked hesitantly. He looked down, finding a piece of lint on his shirt inordinately interesting. “It’s good.” “You can’t look me in the eye and say that, can you?” “Do I have to?” “No.” I sighed. “Go grab a burger.” Ramirez grinned. “And that’s why I love you.” He leaned in and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. Then he grabbed his keys and called, “Don’t wait up,” over his shoulder before shutting the front door behind him, Leaving me alone for the evening. Again. * * * While I would have liked to follow up with a couple of our suspects, the following day was, as Dana had reminded me, the Viewer’s Choice Awards, which meant a morning of visiting the hair stylist, the make-up artist, and the nail artist, and then finally squeezing ourselves into Spanx and skin tight dresses in order for our limos to be outside the Kodak Theater in Hollywood to walk the red carpet before the show started taping live for the east coast viewers at 2pm. By the time our limo was in fact in line on Hollywood Boulevard, inching toward the red carpet behind all the other limos, I had to agree with Dana that being a movie star was actually hard work. I was sausaged into a black, sequined Versace dress on loan from one of my fav boutiques on Melrose. While I was in absolute love with the dress, it was at least a size too small, but, thanks to my supportive undergarments, I was able to just barley get into it. God forbid someone should hand me an hors d'oeuvre during the after party, because I might pop a seam. On my feet were, of course, a pair of my own designs from my Spring collection – four inch black stilettos with a Swarovski crystal design down a satin T-strap from the ankle to the toes. Which, thanks to the fabulous skills of Fernando’s salon, were painted in a deep, blood red that perfectly matched my lipstick. My hair was done up in a forties-inspired look with soft waves and the ends tucked under. At one point I passed a mirror and could have sworn Veronica Lake was staring back at me. But, as glamorous as I felt, it was nothing compared to the way Dana and Ricky looked together. A more golden couple, I could not imagine. While I was taking shallow breaths to stay in my dress, Dana’s fit her with an easy elegance that had me feeling just the teeniest bit jealous. (Only the teeniest because I knew first hand how many hours in the gym that easy elegance required.) She wore a nude colored, full length dress in a simple bias cut, with a slit up the right leg ending just high enough to be sexy, but not so high as to attract attention on street corners. Her hair was loose, in big, perfect curls, and, while the dress was elegantly simple, she’d tricked it out with a borrowed set of vintage diamonds – a necklace, cuff bracelet, and long, dangling earrings. The whole effect was grace and beauty that perfectly complemented Ricky’s Prada tux. If Dana didn’t end up on the best-dressed list tomorrow morning, I was personally writing Joan Rivers a letter of complaint. In fact the only thing marring Dana’s graceful get-up was the fact she was twisting her hands into knots on her lap. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she said, glancing nervously out the window. “Relax,” Ricky said, putting a hand over hers. “It’s the red carpet. I’ve never done the red carpet.” “It’s just the Viewer’s Choice. It’s not like it’s the Oscars or anything.” “Fifteen million people in sixty-five countries watch this live.” Ricky turned to her with a raised eyebrow. “Really?” She nodded. “It’s true. They do,” I said, being one of those who just last year had been glued to the screen myself. I had to admit, I was feeling just the slightest scooch of the nerves myself as I watched the red carpet draw closer. “Huh. I didn’t know that,” Ricky said, though he leaned back in his seat like it was no biggie. Of course, he didn’t have to walk it in four-inch heels, either. “What if I trip?” Dana asked, voicing my very thoughts. “What if my heel gets caught, or I step on Angelina Jolie’s train, or my bracelet gets caught on Ryan Seacrest’s mic wire? I don’t think I can do this.” “Too late,” Ricky said, giving her a wink. “We’re next.” He was right. I looked out the tinted limo windows to see the car in front of us pull to a stop and two guys in tuxes and headsets open the back door. I gasped out loud when I saw Johnny Depp emerge. “Ohmigod. Did you see who that was?” I asked, gawking like a super fan. “Johnny Depp!” “I think I’m gonna faint,” Dana said. “I think I’m gonna pass out on the red carpet. Ohmigod, what if I pass out on the red carpet?!” “Deep breaths. You’re gonna do fine, babe,” Ricky reassured her. “I need a paper bag,” Dana said, putting her head between her knees. “Let’s go. You can do this. It’s show time, babe,” Ricky said, grabbing her hand as the guys with headsets opened the back doors for us. Of course, as soon as we were out of the limo, I was ushered around the back side of the red carpet, where publicist, agents, personal assistants, writers, producers, and anyone else not on the A list stood. In this crowd the Spanx were a little looser and the jewelry a little smaller. But I didn’t care. I was at a red carpet event, and I was loving it. I watched as Dana glided down the walkway, her arm through Ricky’s, a huge smile pasted on her face. She really was a good actress. You’d never know she was seconds from passing out a moment earlier. Ricky leaned in as they posed for photos near a potted palm tree, whispering in her ear as flashbulbs assaulted them. I could see any lingering tension drain from her face as she leaned into his touch. For all her complaining about celebrity, I could tell that there was nowhere else in the world Dana would want to be more than right there. Ditto for me. I soaked it all up, enjoying my red carpet experience to the fullest. I saw Sandra Bullock in a beautiful ivory gown, Helen Mirren in a gorgeous emerald dress, and Julia Roberts sparkling in a short sequined outfit with a long chiffon skirt. Very daring, and sure to hit the Best Dressed radar later. I was in fashion heaven, not to mention just the teeniest bit star struck as I gawked in awe at all the star power surrounding me. Which is probably why I didn’t see her until I felt my backside bump up against hers on the other side of the red carpet. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, turning around to apologize. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that my stiletto heel was on her train, and when I turned, I pulled her backward with me. I heard a gasp, a strangled cry, and then she tipped backward, stumbling on her pumps. Her right heel broke underneath her, sending her toppling over, right into my arms. Which, unfortunately, were not as gym pumped up as Dana’s were, and collapsed under her weight, sending us both falling to the ground. “Help! She’s trying to kill me!” the woman shouted. I blinked as I looked down at her face. Holy hell, I’d knocked over Betty White! “Ohmigod, I’m so sorry.” “Help!” she screamed again to the guys in headsets swarming around us. “I’m so, so sorry. Here, let me help you,” I said, trying to crawl out from under her. Only, instead of lifting her, I only managed to roll her onto her side. “Help!” she cried again, though it was kind muffle by the red carpet as she was now face down, butt in the air. Finally one of the guys must have heard her over the noise, as he reached down and, in one swoop, had both Betty and I on our feet. I had a feeling we were not the first red-carpet-plus-high-heels casualties he’d rescued. “She’s trying to kill me!” Betty yelled, pointing a finger at me. The guy in the headset took a menacing step forward. “No!” I said, shaking my head. “I just tripped and fell. It was a accident. I’m so, so sorry, Mrs. White.” “Look at my shoe,” she said, lifting her right foot. “You broke my heel! How am I supposed to present the award for best comedy actress with a broken heel?” She scowled at me, narrowing her eyes. Was it wrong that a little part of me was giggling inside at the thought that Betty White scowled at me? I am so sorry,” I repeated again. “Here, let me see if I can fix it,” I offered, getting down on my hands and knees as I inspected Betty’s foot. “I’m a professional.” “A professional what?” Betty scoffed. “Shoe designer.” I stood up. “And, unfortunately, my professional opinion is that this shoe is toast.” “Well, I could have told you that,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “What size are you?” I asked. “What size shoe? Seven,” Betty said. “Why?” I took a deep breath and made the ultimate sacrifice for my comedy idol. “Take my shoes.” “What?” I slipped the crystal t-straps off, losing four inches of height instantly. “Take these. They’re sevens, and they’re designer originals. They don’t match your dress exactly,” I said, taking in her bright turquoise outfit, “but they’re better than going barefoot.” Betty took a shoe in one hand, turned it over, inspected all sides. “Nice,” she finally said. “Okay, I’ll trade.” She slipped her broken shoe off, along with the matching pump on the other foot, and swapped with me. “I have to say, I’m not used to heels this high,” she said, suddenly towering over me in my stilettos. “Between these and the suffocating unitard I’ve got on under this dress, I’ll be lucky if I can make it onto the stage.” I nodded. “I hear ya. The Spanx are horrible, aren’t they?” Betty laughed. “Oh, honey, I’m about twenty years past Spanx. I’ve got industrial grade latex holding this body in. I tell you, I’m suffocating under here.” I paused, staring at her. “Wait - what did you just say?’ Betty blinked. “What? What did I say?” “Latex,” I repeated. And then I knew just how Peach had died. * * * “It was the latex suits she made,” I told Dana three hours later as we rode in Ricky’s limo to the post-awards party. It had been all I could do to contain my theory to myself as I watched one star after another thank everyone they’d ever met from their agent to their third grade music teacher all through the show. Never had an awards show crawled by so slowly. But by the time I finally met up with Dana again in the lobby, I was sure I knew exactly what had happened that morning at the Pleasure Den. “What about the latex suits?” Dana asked, leaning in. “Gage said Peach was creating an original line of latex wear. Well, suppose she was making something new that day, something that wasn’t quite finished, and, when she went to try it on, it got stuck on her. The latex is so tight and unforgiving, all it would take would be a few seconds of it covering her face and she wouldn’t be able to breathe. She’d pass out and suffocate with the latex costume on.” “But the police didn’t find her wearing any latex,” Dana pointed out. I nodded. “I know. Someone must have come in and seen her dead like that. They took the suit off and stabbed her, making it look like she’d died from stab wounds instead of suffocation.” “But why would anyone do that?” Ricky asked. “I mean, dead is dead. What’s the difference how it happened?” “None, to Peach. But it made a difference to the suit.” Dana raised an eyebrow at me. “The suit?” “Remember how Gage told us the latex was a huge seller? Chances were if someone died in one of their latex suits, it would affect business. Big time. If it got out that the suits weren’t safe, the shop was finished.” “So, Gage did it! Wow, how did you figure that out?” “Well, I had a little help,” I admitted. “I called Ramirez during the musical number and told him about the latex. He did some digging through the evidence CSU collected from the shop and found a latex suit in the trash that had Peach’s DNA all over it. It also had Gage’s fingerprints. When they confronted him with the evidence, he broke down and confessed.” “So he found her in the suit?” I nodded. “He immediately realized what it would mean for the shop, so he ditched the latex and stabbed her with a box cutter from the store room to make it look like she’d died that way.” Dana bit her lip. “But he didn’t really kill her. I guess the Sex Shop Murder was really just the Sex Shop Tragedy.” “That’s right.” I nodded. “Peach’s death was purely an accident. Everyone was right. She really was too sweet for anyone to have wanted to hurt her.” “Poor Peach,” Dana said, looking down at her hands. “What a way to go.” “And her partner. Gage?” Ricky asked. “What’s going to happen with him?” “Ramirez said they charged him with obstruction, but he thought the DA would go lightly on him.” “And Ramirez?” Dana asked. “Now that the case is closed….” she said, trailing off. I grinned. “Ramirez has tomorrow night off.” * * * I turned onto my side on the bed, showing off the ruffles along the bodice of the pink lingerie I’d bought just before heading to our romantic rendezvous at the Beverly Hilton. Yes, I’d taken Dana’s advice after all and bought lingerie for Ramirez. However, I’d done so in the intimates section at Macy’s and not at the Pleasure Den. I think we’d both had enough of that place to last us awhile. Ramirez had gone in to the station early to finish up the paperwork on the case, but he’d promised on a stack of jelly donuts (not made by me) that he’d be here by 7 PM. It was 6:58. And I was poised to be perfect when he made his entrance. I tried out a pouty look in the mirror across from the bed, abandoned that idea (I looked more pissed than sexy), then went for a coy smile, instead. Much better. I pasted the coy look on my face and stared at the door, careful not to move as I had the ruffled bottom of the baby doll slip strategically placed on my thigh to cover all the good stuff… for now. (wink, wink) 6:59. 7:01. 7:05. By ten after, my right hand was falling asleep from being propped under me, and the smile was starting to make my cheeks ache. I took a deep breath and gave up, abandoning my pose for the moment. I shook out my legs and arms, grabbing for my cell on the night table to make sure I hadn’t missed a call telling me someone else had had the nerve to get murdered in his jurisdiction on our Valentine’s anniversary. I reached for my phone… but instead of connecting, my still-asleep arm collapsed under me and I fell right off the bed. “Uhn.” I landed on my face, my baby doll hiked up over my butt, my lace bodice twisted under me. And, of course, that’s when I heard my husband’s voice. “Maddie?” I squinted my eyes shut, embarrassment washing over me. “Uh, hi.” “Hi. Watcha doing down there?” he asked, a grin lacing his voice. I cleared my throat, pulling myself up off the floor with as much dignity as I could. “Waiting for you,” I said, tugging the hem of my lingerie down. “You’re late.” Ramirez glanced at the clock on the nightstand. “A little,” he admitted. “But, I’m here.” “Huh.” I crossed my arms over my chest, not yet ready to let this one go. Especially since he’d caught me on the floor and not in my perfect sexy-coy pose. “I think you should forgive me,” Ramirez said, taking a step toward me. “Because I brought you something.” He held out a box to me. It was pink, about a foot long, and wide. “Shoes?’ I squealed, all immediately forgiven as I grabbed it from him and tore the top off. “Not just any shoes,” he said as I pulled them from the tissue. He was right. They were the shoes I’d had specially made for the Viewer’s Choice Awards and given to Betty White. “Ohmigod, where did you get these?” Ramirez grinned. “I have a friend on the force who knows Betty’s personal assistant. She got them back for you.” “You are the best!” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Check inside the strap,” he instructed. I did, turning the shoes over. Along the interior of the leather T-strap, in permanent sharpie marker, was Betty White’s autograph. I think I squealed again. “These are now officially the best pair of shoes I own.” I smiled at him. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome. Happy Valentine’s anniversary, Maddie,” he said, coming in for a kiss. A very warm, soft kiss that made me tingle in all the right places. “So,” he said when we finally came up for air. “Remember when I said I’d make all those missed dinners up to you?” “Yes?” I said. Ramirez grinned, his eyes going dark and wicked. “Lock the door.” * * * * * About the author: Gemma Halliday is the author of the High Heels Mysteries, as well as the Hollywood Headlines Mysteries series. Gemma’s books have received numerous awards, including a Golden Heart, a National Reader’s Choice award and three RITA nominations. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is hard at work on several new projects, including a mystery series for teens debuting in 2011, and a new mystery series for adults, set to be published in 2012. To learn more about Gemma, visit her online at www.GemmaHalliday.com * * * * * SNEAK PEEK of the exciting first book in the Hollywood Headlines Mysteries by Gemma Halliday: SCANDAL SHEET Chapter One TEEN SENSATION ON MORAL VACATION: LAST NIGHT THE INFORMER CAUGHT EVERYONE’S FAVORITE TEEN ACTRESS, JENNIFER WOOD, AT THE HOLLYWOOD MARTINI ROOM WITH A MEMBER OF A BOY BAND IN ONE HAND AND MARY JANE IN THE OTHER - “Shit!” “Tina!” I swiveled in my chair to face my boss, Felix Dunn, standing in the doorway to his office, hands on hips. “What?” “Swear Pig.” I pursed my lips. “That doesn’t count.” “I just heard you say ‘shit.’” “It was computer related. Everyone knows computer-related swearing doesn’t count.” He narrowed his eyes. Clearly my argument wasn’t cutting it. “It’s your own fault, you know,” I protested, changing tactics. I’d been typing up a juicy tidbit about the It teen actress, who’d been caught with a joint in her hand at last night’s after-party, when my backspace button stuck, taking out one very cleverly worded line, even if I did say so myself. “I mean, how many centuries old are these things anyway?” I went on. “Would it kill you to buy some new hardware once in a awhile?” He shook his head. “Swear Pig, Bender,” he repeated, then disappeared back into his office. “Shit.” “I heard that!” I stuck my tongue out at his door and dropped two quarters into the purple piggy bank on my desk. Somehow our newly appointed editor in chief was under the impression that yours truly swore too much. I have no fucking idea where he got that impression. But he’d set up the Swear Pig as a way to break my bad habit. Personally, I was fine with my bad habit. It’s not like I was shooting heroin or anything. Which brought me back to my story. I swiveled around, pushing my glasses back up onto my nose and put my fingers to keyboard, recreating my perfect line. IT MAY BE ONE JOINT TODAY FOR OUR FAVORITE FAIR-HAIRED TEENY-BOPPER, BUT WITH THE WAY HER LIFE IS SPIRALING OUT OF CONTROL, CAN COCAINE, METH, OR EVEN HEROIN BE FAR BEHIND? HOW MANY BLONDES DOES IT TAKE TO SPELL “REHAB?” I sat back in my chair, surveying my work. Okay, so it was a little mean. And the truth was Wood claimed someone had thrust the “stinky cigarette” into her hand just before the paparazzi flashbulbs went off, after which she’d promptly threw it out. But, seriously, she played the perky “Pippi Mississippi” in a tween cable show. This was tabloid gold. I hit “send” letting my daily gossip column zip through the L.A. Infomer’s network to Felix’s inbox, then gave my knuckles a satisfying crack. I glanced at the clock. Quitting time. And somewhere there was a big beefy burrito dinner with my name on it. I grabbed my Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox that doubled as my purse and made for the exit. Unfortunately, not before Eagle Eyes Dunn could catch me. “Bender?” I thought a dirty word and turned around to find him leaning against his office doorframe. “Did you want something, chief?” “You finish up that Wood piece yet?” he asked. “Just emailed it to you.” I loved it when I was one step ahead of the boss. “What about Pines?” “Pines?” Edward Pines was the director who’d recently been arrested when police found a stack of pornography under the seat of his car during a routine traffic stop. Not that naked bodies were a novelty in Hollywood, but these particular magazines had included photos of thirteen-year-old boys in the buff. I don’t care how much his last action pic grossed, that guy was total Hollywood roadkill now. “What about him?” I asked. “Being arraigned today. It’s your story, right?” Damned straight. My headline the morning after Pine’s arrest had read: PINES PINES AFTER PINT-SIZED PRE-TEENS. What can I say? I have a thing for alliteration. But as much as I was relishing the story, I wasn’t thrilled with the timing. “He’s being arraigned now?” My stomach growled. “It’s dinner time.” “The news waits for no one, love. Cam’s meeting you at the courthouse,” he said, ducking back into his office. So much for my burrito. “Shit.” “Bender…” “I know, I know.” I reached into Strawberry Shortcake, pulled out another quarter, and dropped it into the ceramic pig on my way out. At this rate, I’d be broke by Christmas. SCANDAL SHEET Available now at Amazon.com!