A Bad Day for Scandal: New Excerpt

A Bad Day for Scandal by Sophie Littlefield
A Bad Day for Scandal by Sophie Littlefield
When Prosper homegirl turned big-city businesswoman Priss Porter returns to town with a body in her trunk, she calls Stella Hardesty to dispose of it. Her uppity ways don’t convince Stella to take the job, and Priss attempts to blackmail her with a snapshot of Stella doing what she does best: curing woman-beaters by the use of force.

Stella refuses to cooperate and goes home, only to hear later that Priss and her brother, Liman, have gone missing after calling in a disturbance. Stella is implicated when Sheriff “Goat” Jones discovers the scarf she left behind at the house. He warns her to stay local but Stella and her partner, Chrissy Shaw, go looking for Priss in Kansas City, where they discover that she runs an unusual business. When Priss herself—along with two other bodies—turns up in a pond belonging to one of Stella’s ex-clients, Stella must investigate a host of suspects, including a crooked but libidinous female judge, a coterie of jealous male escorts, and a Marxist ex-professor.

 

Chapter 1

“I believe I’d like to stick my face right smack in the middle of your pie,” Sheriff Goat Jones said in his whiskey-over-gravel voice, causing Stella Hardesty to nearly drop the pan she was holding.

Instead, she glanced quickly around the kitchen to make sure they were alone and took a nervous step backwards, tripping over her mutt, Roxy, who was prowling for crumbs that might have fallen from the dinner dishes.

“Easy there,” Goat cautioned, his voice going even smokier. Without asking, he took the grasshopper mint pie—which Stella had carefully removed from its bakery box and planted in her mama’s old pie tin, to make sure that when the moment came to present her would-be boyfriend with his Saint Patrick’s Day dessert, he would be suitably impressed—and set it aside as though it were a plate of stale saltines. “You’re as skittish as a filly wantin’ broke.”

“Oh, my.” Stella managed to breathe shakily before Goat backed her into the corner of the countertop and settled his big hands on her hips. He let them slide slowly down to cup her ass, which she had jammed into a Spanx Hide & Sleek Hi-Rise Panty before slipping on the slinky purple faux-wrap dress that her daughter, Noelle, had given her as a surviving-being-held-at-gunpoint-together gift the prior fall. Stella was fairly sure she would enjoy the sensation of Goat’s strong fingers kneading her flesh if it hadn’t gone numb in its fierce polyester–Lycra prison hours ago.

She tilted up her face and let her eyes flutter closed and waited for what sure looked like it was about to be the third time the sheriff kissed her. She might be a bit long in the tooth to be called a filly—in fact, she would probably be on the glue factory side of midlife, in terms of horse metaphors—but if this law enforcement bad boy wanted to break her, well, sign her right up for being broke.

His hot, soft, gorgeous mouth had just brushed against hers when there was a clomping of heavy, clumsy feet and Todd Groffe’s disgusted adolescent voice cleaved through the beautiful moment like a split melon.

“Hey, get a room! There’s kids here!”

Stella wriggled out of Goat’s grasp, yanking at her skirt to make sure it hadn’t somehow followed her thoughts and slipped scandalously up her thighs.

“Todd,” she said as sternly as she could manage, “the sheriff was just helping me with—”

“I don’t guess you need to tell me what-all kind a help you was gettin’,” Todd snapped, hands fisted on his skinny hips. “Only you might just want to keep things PG in here for Melly and Glory.”

On cue, two little blond-pigtailed girls dashed into the room carrying a woven bread basket between them. Dinner rolls bounced and flew from the basket, causing Roxy to abandon her search for scraps under the kitchen table and lope across the room, ears flying. Her powerful tail whipped in delight, and as she skidded to a graceless stop, snout colliding midair with an escaped roll, she managed to take out both little girls at once. They went down in a heap of matching pink jumpers and blond curls and patent-leather Mary Janes, and sent up an impressive wailing duet.

“Now you done it,” Todd muttered as he stepped away from the fracas. “I just wash my hands of y’all. You’re gonna have to deal with Mom.”

Stella glanced at Goat and saw that his cornflower blue eyes glinted pure mischief. He managed to give her ass a surreptitious little squeeze just as the mother of the three children came dashing into view, which Stella figured was just as well, since her odds for getting any more action seemed slim. Her best bet now was probably to settle everyone’s nerves with dessert.

Goat helped serve while Sherilee Groffe got the kids sorted and soothed, and before too long, everyone had an enormous slice of pie in front of them. Saturdays usually meant a visit from Stella’s daughter, Noelle, who lived half an hour away in Coffey and often brought her brimming baskets of laundry and stayed for dinner. Saint Pat’s Day was merely an excuse to turn laundry-and-pizza night into a party, and Stella had fixed her mother’s corned beef and cut out paper shamrocks for the little girls to color. As for Goat, a recent easing of a tense situation in the sheriff’s department had given him his first free day in months, an opportunity Stella was not about to let slip by.

“I think me and Joy have something to say,” Noelle said as Stella slid into her seat. Twin pink spots stood out on Noelle’s smooth porcelain cheeks, and Stella smiled. She hadn’t seen the girl so happy in years, and since they’d only recently ironed out a few rough spots in their relationship, she had learned to cherish every moment they were together.

Tonight, Noelle had styled her short fuchsia hair, which she usually gelled into spikes, into a sort of 1940s starlet upswept do. Thick black eyeliner heightened the effect of a screen siren, as did the vintage empire-waisted dress that nearly concealed the trumpet vine tattoos that wound across her shoulders and collarbones. Stella sighed with happiness—her baby girl was looking as fresh and lovely as a ripe peach.

I ain’t got nothin’ to say,” the young woman seated next to Noelle said, blushing. Joy was a new friend—at least, new to Stella. Unlike many of Noelle’s friends from the salon where she worked, Joy appeared to have given about as much thought to personal grooming as Todd, and in fact, her plaid flannel shirt and baggy jeans looked like she might have borrowed them from the boy. “And I don’t think—”

“We’re gay,” Noelle blurted, beaming.

Joy colored even further. “Ain’t it a little early to be lettin’ that cat out of the bag?” she stage-whispered. “I mean, since you and I ain’t hardly—”

“Excuse me?” Stella asked, unsure she had heard right. As far as she knew, her daughter had always preferred men—just not nice ones. Noelle had an unfortunate track record of dating the sort of sorry woman-hurting scum that Stella routinely dealt with professionally, but after dumping the last in a line of such losers last fall, Noelle had seen the light and made a vow to be single for the rest of her natural life.

Noelle’s grin slipped a little. “What I mean is, we’re about to be gay. Mama don’t need to know the details,” she added for Joy’s benefit.

“Mrs. Hardesty, I’m real sorry, I sure don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.” Joy didn’t quite meet Stella’s eyes. “I know it must be kind of a surprise. I told Noelle this is the kind of thing most folks like to hear in a private-type setting. I mean, my folks are still kind of getting used to the idea, and I told them I liked girls back in the third grade.”

“Oh, dear,” Sherilee said. “Todd, take the girls and watch some TV in Stella’s bedroom.”

“I know what gay is,” Todd retorted.

“What’s gay?” one of the twins piped up, taking a giant bite of pie, half of it tumbling onto her jumper.

“It’s where a couple a guys or a couple a girls—”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course,” Sherilee cut him off firmly.

Stella saw Todd wince in pain as his mother’s high- heeled shoe connected with his shin under the table. He sighed heavily and yanked his little sisters out of their chairs and dragged them, complaining loudly, down the hall.

“ ’Course, I’m bi,” Joy continued, taking a delicate sip of her coffee, which Stella had liberally spiked with Kahlúa. “I’m only, like, maybe a half or two-thirds or possibly three-quarters gay.”

Noelle shook her head in besotted amazement. “And ain’t that just a regular wonder, seein’ as you look gayer than anyone else I know.”

“That don’t really have all that much to do with it,” Joy said. “The face a person shows the world—why, it’s like a little window onto the soul. But maybe with curtains or miniblinds or something like that on it. That’s what I’ve learned about myself, anyhow.”

“Whipped cream?” Stella asked faintly. She was having trouble keeping up with the conversation, and she wasn’t sure she was up for further revelations at the moment, especially after having her make-out session with Goat cut short.

“I do have a strong feeling you’re my type,” Noelle said, ignoring Stella and gazing at Joy like she was a cupcake in a bakery window. “I think it’s safe to say I’m going to be the pretty one, and you’re the, you know. . . . Is it okay to say butch? I mean, I’m new at this—is that like an insult or something?”

“How long have you two known each other?” Goat asked politely. He didn’t look the least bit ruffled by the strange turn the conversation had taken.

“A little while,” Noelle said at the very same moment Joy murmured “Not long.” They looked at each other and giggled.

“Well!” Stella said brightly, trying to figure out some new direction to take the conversation. The effort was cut short by the ringing of her cell phone from where Stella had left it on the kitchen counter—Todd had set her up with some new screaming metal band’s latest abomination as her ringtone. “Excuse me.”

The phone was always on, charged, and at hand, because Stella’s side business, though secret, was never closed. Her clients were as likely to need her on weekends and in the dead of night as not. More likely, as a general rule.

“Stella here,” she answered, putting the phone to her ear and jogging down the hall to the bathroom, the only place she could be guaranteed a little privacy. As she pushed the door shut and locked it, a voice she hadn’t heard in years came on the other end.

“This is Priscilla Porter,” the caller said, managing to convey in those few syllables the sort of frosty condescension that implied she was doing Stella a favor merely by talking to her. “It seems I’ll be requiring your services.”

 

Chapter 2

Details were not forthcoming. Unlike most of Stella’s clients, who tended to sob their way through extensive if meandering and not always sense-making litanies of their trials and woes, Priss didn’t seem inclined to spare any extra words.

“The situation is in your area of expertise,” she said in a fakey clipped smarty-pants voice that Stella figured she must have picked up by watching that hoochie-looking brunette gal on CNBC, the one who was always talking about business as though she were describing how to jam a stick up your butt.

“I don’t guess I know what you’re talking about,” Stella said, deciding she didn’t like Priss any more now than when the gal had taken off for the big city a decade and a half ago at the age of eighteen. News of Priss’s successes—college, then business school, then some fancy job in Kansas City, where she evidently made bucketloads of money (though she never saw fit to send any to her poor sickly mother, who died in the same  housecoat she’d been wearing to the market for years)—had filtered back to Prosper from time to time. It was generally met with a fair bit of grumbling, either because folks were jealous or just plain irritated, since at one time or another, Priss had managed to alienate nearly every man, woman, and child in town with her priggish, superior ways. “My business is selling sewing machines, if you remember.”

“Oh. Yes. Your husband’s shop. God rest his soul. So you’ve managed to keep it profitable?” Priss didn’t bother to mask her skepticism.

“It’s done very well, actually,” Stella lied, seething. In truth, Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales—which she was now running with the help of her assistant, Chrissy Shaw, allowing her to concentrate more on her sideline business—barely covered its costs and eked out enough extra to keep her in generic laundry detergent and Maybelline mascara and an occasional dinner out at Red Lobster.

“Lovely. So delighted to hear it. I’m looking forward to hearing more about you, Stella, but this is a matter of some urgency, so I wonder if we could continue this conversation here at the farm—I’m staying with Liman.”

Stella figured Priss was looking forward to hearing about her about as much as she was looking forward to her next mammogram—but her distaste was overshadowed by surprise that Priss was staying with her brother: Priss hadn’t deigned to visit the ramshackle family home in years.

“Look here, Priss, I’ve got guests.  We’re in the middle of dessert. I’m using china, for heaven’s sake.”

That last bit was stretching it—Stella didn’t own any actual china—but she had taken pains to go through the dishes and pick out the ones on which the fruit-bowl design was least worn.

“Of course. And you know that I am loath to interrupt such a special gathering.” Priss sighed, even over the phone lines managing to communicate a certain lack of sincerity. “In fact, I’m willing to double your usual rate.”

That stopped Stella cold.

Money troubles were a storm cloud that followed her everywhere she went. A small inheritance had helped her pay off her house and car before she sent her husband, Ollie, to an early grave. The wives and girlfriends who started coming to her for help with their own abusive men paid Stella for her services— most of them. But Stella didn’t exactly make big dollars. It was difficult to squeeze gobs of cash out of shell-shocked, bruised, worn-down women who often found themselves without any source of income once their no-good men had their attitudes forcibly adjusted by Stella.

And while nobody, neither the newly liberated women nor Stella herself, figured they were any worse for the trade, it generally took a certain amount of getting-back-on-their-feet time before her grateful clients could start up a payment plan.

Adding to Stella’s tenuous financial position was a recent hospital stay, courtesy of a case gone dramatically wrong to the tune of a couple of bullets, and a long recuperation during which she was unable to work. Her water heater had developed a difficult personality, likely as not to blast her with a surprise jolt of cold water midshower, and the garage door hadn’t worked right since a spate of tornadoes blasted through town last October. Her roof was about to go, damaged by those same tornadoes. She’d recently acquired a dog, and the pretty white fence that kept Roxy from escaping the backyard had set her back more than she’d planned.

The bottom line was that Stella was barely keeping the lights on and food in the fridge, much less fixing everything that was broken. An infusion of cash would be most welcome.

Still, a bitch was a bitch, and Saturday night was Saturday night, and Goat Jones in the chair next to her, rubbing his calf against hers in a manner that suggested it wasn’t entirely accidental, and might in fact lead to more rubbing and friction a little later, was an ace in the hole that had to be worth something.

“I doubt you could afford me, Priss,” Stella said.

“It’s Priscilla now. Nobody calls me Priss anymore—”

“Everybody here does,” Stella corrected her. “You’re just not around to hear us.”

“—and I can probably afford a lot more than you think. How does a deposit of, say, five thousand dollars sound to you?”

Stella blinked. She took the phone away from her ear, stared at it, and considered. Five thousand dollars sounded like a hell of a lot of scratch. That might cover the water heater and the garage door and a little fun money to boot. She swallowed hard, put the phone back to her ear, and opened her mouth.

Then she thought of Goat, who had come to dinner in a soft gray sweater that felt like a little baby lamb. Thought about how that sweater might feel against her skin as she tugged it off him in a moment of crazy monkey-love passion.

Thought about driving out in the dark and cold to the old Porter place to get bossed around some more.

“It sounds like you’re not keeping up with inflation,” she said coldly. “I’ll need ten thousand up front, and that buys you a conversation, no promises.”

There was a silence on the other line, and then Priss laughed. “My, my, my, Stella Hardesty. So it’s true what they say, you’ve grown yourself a backbone. Fine. I’ll have the check waiting. Do see that you get here at your earliest convenience.”

Priss hung up without saying good-bye, and Stella slipped the phone thoughtfully into her pocket.

“Darn it all,” she announced to her guests. They’d soldiered on through the dessert course without her. The twins—back from their brief television break—were wearing smears of pie on their darling faces, and Todd was well into a second piece. “I have to go help Mindy Jorgenhammer—her alpacas got out.”

All of them?” Todd demanded. “That’s a shitload of alpacas.”

“Todd!” Sherilee exclaimed. “Watch your mouth!”

“I’ll help you, Stella,” Goat said, pushing back his chair.

“We could all help,” Sherilee said uncertainly. She was that particular breed of lady who never failed to offer to lend a hand, despite juggling three children and a mortgage and a pain- in-the- ass no-good ex and a shit-for-pay job in another town.

“Sit, sit,” Stella said as cheerily as she could manage. “This happens all the time, and it’s just a two-person job. You all would be in the way. And you’d scare them. Very skittish, alpacas. Really, it’s best if I go by myself.”

She turned to Goat, who was standing at the ready next to his chair. She allowed herself one last appreciative up-and-down view of his fine broad-shouldered form before sighing and grabbing her purse off  the breakfront.

Duty called.

“Y’all know where I keep the good stuff,” she said a little wistfully. “Just make sure to leave me a little shot of Johnnie for when I get back.”

 

Chapter 3

In the car, she queued up her lookin’-for-trouble playlist and turned up the heat. Winter was hanging around this year, and it was a clear, star-dusted night, the latest cold snap dappling everything with a sparkly coating of frost in the moonlight. As she pulled out into the street, Melissa McClelland filled the Jeep with her moonshiney voice singing “Solitary Life”:

Better keep the heat off ’till the snow falls, I’ll fill up on whiskey, rye and reruns

“Hmmph,” Stella muttered to herself. A dire expedition, indeed. She turned down the volume and hit Chrissy’s number on the speed dial. After a few rings, her assistant picked up and Stella could hear what sounded like a drunken fraternity party fast deteriorating into a riot in the background. In fact, it was a sort of family reunion, occasioned by a distant cousin’s wedding. The ceremony itself had been a modest noontime affair, but it was the extended post- nuptials house party that prompted Chrissy’s many siblings and aunts and uncles to make the trip to Prosper.

“It’s me!” she hollered.

“Well, I can see that from the caller ID, Stella.” Chrissy, too, was shouting to be heard. “Everything okay?”

“Not sure. Got a call from Priss Porter, of all people, wants me to come over to the farm, but she won’t tell me what for.”

“Did you say Priss Porter?” Stella could hear high-pitched screaming in the background and what sounded like dueling air-raid sirens. “I didn’t know she was back. Man, I hate that stuck-up bitch.”

“You know her?”

“Yeah, she babysat a few times until Mama found out she was going around calling us trash. Like the Porters was some sorta fuckin’ royalty or something.”

“What-all you got going on there?” Stella asked as a man’s voice started barking orders.

“Oh, we’re just cleaning up from dinner. My brother Mac’s boys brought this toy car thing and they’ve run track all over Mom’s sofas and I guess she’s fit to be tied, and Dad wouldn’t help so she threw a plate at him, and Tucker’s got gum in his hair and Ginger’s upstairs trying to get the boys to apologize only she’s threatening to take a hairbrush to their butts and so things got a little out of control.”

Stella never ceased to be amazed at the sheer velocity and volume of goings-on in the extended Lardner clan. Chrissy was one of six kids, most of whom had run through a spouse or two and produced a slew of towheaded cousins for Chrissy’s two- year-old boy, Tucker. Chrissy herself was a widow; she’d started out as one of Stella’s clients.

“I hope y’all are keeping the firearms locked up tonight.”

“Stella!” Chrissy gasped. “Of course we are. There’s kids here. We put everything away after the turkey shoot, and that was hours ago.”

“Get anything?” Chrissy had told her all about one of the more colorful Lardner family traditions, which dictated that every male family member over the age of twelve sneak out to the state forest preserve early the morning of a wedding to shoot at wild turkeys. Lardners were generally crack hunters; the fact that they never managed to bag a bird was due to the other Lardner tradition of starting such mornings with ample amounts of schnapps in their coffee.

“Well, Pete and Mac got them a couple of squirrels. And then Dad almost took out a cow that wandered into the woods— that would of sucked. But Mom had a couple a store turkeys in the oven by the time they got home, so it all worked out. How’d your dinner go? Git you an extra large serving of sheriff?”

Stella ignored the teasing tone. At twenty-nine, Chrissy was about two decades more modern in her thinking than Stella was, and saw nothing wrong with a lady pursuing a gentleman full steam ahead. Stella herself was stuck in the wait-for-him-to-make-the-first-move habits of another generation, which might account for the fact that, despite the blistering kiss that had ratcheted up their relationship back at a party Stella threw to celebrate the wrap-up of her last big case a while back, things hadn’t moved along perceptibly since.

That, and the man had been busy. A series of snafus at the county sheriff’s office in Fayette, related to a recent murder case Stella had accidentally gotten involved in, had led to a flurry of butt-covering and reviewing of policies and reassessing of procedures by Goat’s boss, Sheriff Dimmit Stanislas. Goat and his fellow deputy sheriffs, who hailed from Fairfax and Harrisonville and Quail Valley, had been spending a fair amount of time commuting to Fayette to be retrained and reoriented and rededicated and otherwise made to suffer for mistakes they hadn’t personally made. The experience had left Goat both irritable

and largely unavailable in the evenings and on the weekends, until now. Tonight’s make-out session in the kitchen could have been a breakthrough—at least, if Priss’s call hadn’t messed things up.

“I used the alpaca thing,” Stella admitted grumpily.

“Aw, you did? That was one of the best ones!”

Stella had lined up a number of get-out-of-trouble contingency plans  here and there all over the county. Most had been set up with the help of grateful ex-clients happy to do her a favor. Mindy, for instance, owed Stella for dealing with Rayburn Gish, a neighbor who made a habit of wandering over drunk and standing in the driveway howling up at her to come down and party with him, occasionally hauling out his man-parts and waving them around as an additional enticement.

Luckily, he hadn’t been too tough to discourage, and in return, Mindy had promised to serve as an alibi the next time Stella needed one.

After making a quick call and apologizing for cutting Mindy’s evening short, which Mindy reassured her was no big deal, since she’d only been watching the History Channel, Mindy rang off to let the alpacas out of their pens—to lend credibility to the story—and Stella drove the rest of the way to the Porter farm with nothing but Melissa McClelland’s soulful tunes to distract her.

Lights were, if not blazing, at least switched on here and there around the Porter homestead. Set in a clump of dispirited-looking trees amid a patchy sprawl of alfalfa fields, the farming of which Liman Porter had contracted out to leave himself more time for lounging around the house in his undershorts after his mother’s death, the house had seen better times. Paint blistered and peeled off the siding, the chimney leaned, and rails were missing from the front porch banister.

A car was parked at a haphazard angle in the roughly circular gravel drive that wound crookedly up to the house before quickly veering back to the main road as though it didn’t want to get too close. The car didn’t share the same hangdog air as the rest of the place: it was glossy and sleek and expensive looking.

Stella spotted a figure wrapped in blankets sitting in a weather-beaten wicker chair on the porch. She parked the Jeep behind the Mercedes and cut the ignition, then approached the porch cautiously, icy wind whipping her face.

“That you, Priss?” she called. Now that she was closer, she could see that there were towels layered with old quilts around the shivering figure, and that the person was huddled miserably against the wind. “What on earth are you sitting out here in the freezing cold for?”

“It’s Priscilla now,” the person said, standing and letting the blankets and towels fall to the porch. “I didn’t realize you were going to take forever to get here. How far could it possibly be, Stella, not more than four or five miles—what took you so long?”

That gave Stella pause—here she’d left the comfort of her toasty warm home and that nice spiked coffee and the promise of more Goat than she anticipated being able to handle, to come out to what was left of the sorry Porter homestead to visit with a woman who was pretty much despised by everyone in town.

“I had to change. I wasn’t about to come out here in my nice clothes.”

Priss gave Stella’s outfit a flick of examination and lifted her nose in the air—a nose that, Stella noticed in the dim light cast by a buggy porch lamp, had had the bump carved out of it. Porters all had ungainly noses; Priss was the first one who could afford to do anything about it, as far as Stella knew. She climbed the porch steps and took a better look, but in the poor light, she couldn’t make out the rest of Priss’s features to see if

she’d bought herself any other alterations and enhancements.

“Is that your, ah, professional attire?”

Stella looked down at the hot pink fleece jacket she’d layered over a T-Bones sweatshirt and a pair of flannel-lined jeans and her fake-fur-topped snow boots. The jacket was sprinkled here and there with little sparkly crystals and featured a rhinestone-studded zipper. It had been a birthday gift from her friend Dotty Edwards, who had purchased it from QVC and owned one herself, in lime green. Dotty bought everything from drain uncloggers to fine faux jewelry to handcrafted teddy bears with little knitted sweaters from QVC, and she often got so swept up in the online-shopping rush that she couldn’t stop herself from buying twos and threes of things—Stella was frequently the lucky recipient of the excess.

“This’ll do, I guess,” she said, narrowing her eyes at Priss’s own cold- weather gear, which included a pair of shiny black boots with high pointy heels, and a shimmery black cape sort of affair that swung around dramatically but left long swatches of Priss’s forearms exposed. “Depending on what you want to hire me for. Speaking of which, if you have in mind to get right down to business, which I guess you must, seein’ as you’ve been waiting for me out in weather like this, how about if you show me a little good faith cash.”

Up-front payment was something Stella rarely insisted on. In fact, finances were generally among the last things she and a client talked about, well after the litany of misdeeds and mishandling and mistreatment that brought them to Stella in the first place, and generally after a soothing cup of hot chocolate or a resolve-firming jolt of Johnnie Walker Black or a steadying can of ice-cold Fresca, whatever the client seemed to require. Sometimes it was several meetings before payment came up at all.

But Priss was pissing Stella off. Part of the reason was obvious—the woman had left town at the age when most other local gals were trying to decide whether to pop out their first baby before or after racking up a Prosper High School diploma. She’d headed for the city, where rumor was she’d earned not just an undergraduate degree but also a business school diploma, which showed the kind of gumption Stella could respect—but then she somehow landed a job that rained money down on her but didn’t leave her time to come back and visit any of the local folks, even the few who’d managed to tolerate her when she still lived in Prosper. And that kind of thing—turning your back on the ones who brought you up—Stella didn’t cotton to that one bit.

Still, an unpleasant thought lurked around the edges of Stella’s mind, and she sighed and dragged it into focus: Priss’s life path— all but the frosty, ungrateful bitch part—was uncomfortably close to the dream Stella had carried around for Noelle for many years until she finally got it through her head that her daughter had her own ideas about her future. Specifically, Noelle did not wish to be a doctor or a teacher or a scientist—she dreamed, since the age of five, about becoming a beautician, and now that she had become a darn good one, the girl had the sort of career satisfaction that Stella guessed everyone was entitled to.

Maybe, she admitted to herself, she ought not judge Priss quite so quickly for her own ambitions and decisions.

“Well, I guess you can describe the job first,” she said, softening.

“I’ll do better than that—I’ll show you,” Priss said, going down the steps in her high heels with surprising agility, leaving neat little footprints in the dusting of snow that had accumulated on the ground. She practically sprinted across the drive, the loose gravel not even slowing her down, and aimed a key ring at her car. It beeped and the trunk popped and Stella caught up just in time for the expensive German-engineered mechanism to glide soundlessly open, the tasteful interior lighting revealing one sorry-looking dead man who, judging by his color, had been departed from the living long enough to get used to the idea. 

Copyright © 2011 by Sophie Littlefield


Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri. Her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, won an Anthony Award for Best First Novel and an RT Book Award for Best First Mystery. It was also shortlisted for Edgar, Barry, Crimespree, and Macavity Awards. The second in the series, A Bad Day for Pretty, was named a New York Times Notable Book. Sophie lives near San Francisco, California.

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