Blood Rubies: New Excerpt

Blood Rubies by Jane K. Cleland is the 9th Josie Prescott Mystery about the antiques expert who is hired by a celebrity chef to appraise what turns out to be a fake, and deadly, heirloom (available December 2, 2014).

Ana Yartsin is on the verge of becoming a celebrity chef. Her custom Fabergé egg-shaped cakes have brought her national attention, as has the story behind the cakes: Her family owns the spectacular Fabergé Spring Egg snow globe, a magnificent example of the master craftsman’s work that includes five ruby-red tulips. As she prepares to be filmed for a reality TV show about the launch of her bakery in Rocky Point, New Hampshire, Ana hires antiques expert Josie Prescott to appraise the precious egg and snow globe.

The show's pilot will show Ana planning the desserts for the upcoming wedding of her friend Heather to investment guru, Jason. When Josie arrives at Ana's home, however, she finds Jason murdered and the priceless snow globe smashed beyond repair. All that remains for Josie to examine are bits and pieces—which to her shock reveal that the Spring Egg was a fake.

What has happened to the real Fabergé snow globe, if it even existed? And what does that have to do with Jason's murder? Never one to resist a puzzle, Josie teams up with her reporter friend Wes to investigate.

Chapter 1

Ana Yartsin stood beside one of her custom Fabergé-egg-shaped wedding cakes, unfazed by the frenetic activity swirling around her. The film crew was larger than I’d anticipated—I counted twenty-two people, including a uniformed security guard—and they all seemed to be doing things with frantic urgency. A young woman with pink hair and a star tattoo on her neck dabbed at Ana’s cheek with a fluffy powder puff. Someone named Mack called to someone named Vinnie to check the light meter. The security guard, a big guy with a crew cut and a gun on his hip, stood near Ana, his eyes on the move. Timothy Brenin, the producer/director, dashed up to talk to a short man with spiky yellow hair carrying a clipboard, then called to Mack that we had another hour of good sun.

Timothy, tall and lean like a greyhound, dressed all in black like the New Yorker he was, approached Ana with a huge smile. I’d met Timothy briefly last week when I’d stopped by to order a cake for my office manager Gretchen’s baby shower. He and Ana had asked me to come back and place the order again, this time on camera. They were in the early stages of filming a TV pilot for a reality show based on Ana’s life, capitalizing on her dual role as a newly minted celebrity pastry chef with an ability to communicate Martha Stewartesque tips for gracious living and a recently divorced young woman ready for a fresh start.

Timothy spotted me, and his smile grew even broader. “Good to see you again, Josie!” He turned to Ana. “Why can’t everyone be like her—on time and smiling?”

Ana laughed. “Because she’s one of a kind. Lucky us!”

Timothy squeezed my arm affectionately, then turned toward Ana. “I just took a call from People wanting to know the skinny on the show.”

“Oh, Timothy!” Ana exclaimed. “What a coup!”

“I knew your life would be perfect for a reality show!”

Ana laughed. “Talk about an upside-down compliment. My life is so chaotic, it’s ideal for a prime-time exposé.”

“True, true.” Timothy flashed another grin, then flitted away calling something to Mack about moving cameras to catch the sun. Vinnie wheeled a camera to the left. “No, no! To the right. The right!”

Ana’s eyes twinkled. “Survive a nasty divorce and a breach with your father, start to bake wedding and special occasion cakes based on Fabergé eggs, move to a small town on the rugged coast of New Hampshire where you don’t know a soul, start a business on a wing and a prayer, and you, too, can have a reality TV show.”

I chuckled. “I think the fact that you’ve won a gazillion awards for your pastries might have a little something to do with it, to say nothing of your charisma. Oh, let’s not forget that your Fabergé egg cakes aren’t just gorgeous, they’re unbelievably delicious, too.”

“You’re very sweet, Josie, but I cannot tell a lie—I’ve only won a couple of awards.”

I waved her correction away. “You’re destined for great success.” I raised my chin and spoke in a tone of mock superiority. “Do not argue with me. I know these things.”

She laughed, a pretty tinkling sound. “Thank you.” She squeezed my hand. “You sure know how to puff a girl up.”

Timothy stood in the center of the driveway and did a 180-degree survey, taking in the position of the ribbons of thick black cables and the pole-mounted overhead lights and reflective panels. He nodded and turned toward Ana. “All right, darling, get ready for your closing monologue.”

The yellow-haired man hurried over to help Ana down from her canvas-backed director’s chair and led her to a spot near the edge of her undulating lawn overlooking the serene sun-flecked ocean. She wore a lightweight baby blue buttoned-to-the-neck cashmere cardigan with a blue and tan floral-patterned swirly skirt and tan pumps. Her shoulder-length honey gold hair shone in the midday sun. She was my age, midthirties, but she looked younger. I moved off to the side, out of the way.

Timothy shouted, “Rolling!” A moment later he called, “Action!”

Ana smiled at the camera as if it were a friend. “Heather and Jason did exactly the right thing in talking to me at length about their dream wedding cake. They didn’t use vague words like ‘beautiful.’ They were specific. They wanted a milk chocolate cake with gold-colored creamy frosting. They wanted the swan boats from Boston Public Garden, where Jason proposed, represented in the decorations.” Ana paused for a second, letting her words sink in. “Here’s the lesson: Everyone involved in helping you plan your wedding or special event wants nothing more than for you to be thrilled with the result—but they can’t read your mind. You need to know what you want, and you need to communicate it clearly. Do that”—she paused again and smiled, a dazzler—“and your dreams will come true.”

Three seconds later, Timothy yelled, “Cut! Fabulous, Ana, just perfect!”

My scene was scheduled next.

“Let me give you a quick once-over, Josie.” The pink-haired woman appeared from the left and stared at my face.

“I just came from the makeup tent,” I told her.

“And it shows. You look awesome! You just need a tiny de-shining.”

Her feathery puff tickled, and I giggled.

Once I was sufficiently de-shined, I joined Ana, waiting for me by the lawn. “You’re a hard act to follow, Ana. I hope I don’t mess up.”

“You’ll do great.”

“Just act naturally,” Timothy instructed.

I laughed. “Right. Like it’s an everyday occurrence that I’m filmed ordering a cake.”

“Once you’ve completed your appraisal of the Fabergé Spring Egg snow globe, Timothy wants to record us discussing it.”

“At least I’ll be on comfortable ground. Compared to this, talking about antiques is easy. Speaking of which, are we still on schedule?”

Ana held up crossed fingers. “Dad checked in for his flight. He’ll be here tomorrow, snow globe in hand.”

“Is the egg as beautiful as Ana says?” Timothy asked, an anticipatory gleam in his eye.

“From the photos, oh my. Picture this: a huge, perfectly round snow globe. Visible through the glass is a baby pink enamel egg. On the egg is an enamel and emerald tree, dripping with diamond and rose quartz cherry blossoms. When the globe is gently shaken, silvery slivers create an illusion of rain. You push a spring-loaded latch and boom! The egg pops open. Inside is a gold-and silver-colored basket filled with five ruby red tulips.”

Timothy rubbed his hands together and made a lip-smacking noise. “I can’t wait to see it.” Something in the background caught his eye, and he shouted to Mack. “Back up camera three for a long shot. I want to get Josie walking up not down.”

“It’s a kitchen, not a garage!” Ana protested, laughing.

“Absolutely, darlin’! Josie, you start walking toward the structure that looks like a garage from the end of the driveway. You’re excited. You’re hopeful that Ana’s cake will make Gretchen happy. Got it?”

“Got it,” I said, feeling awkward, hoping I wouldn’t get tongue-tied or stupidly giggly, wanting to do well for Ana. My mouth went dry. I hate being in the limelight.

“See ya in a sec,” Ana said merrily. She walked to the office-cum-studio-cum-commercial-kitchen she’d built in her detached garage, a stopgap until her bakery business was large enough to justify a full-blown production facility, and disappeared inside.

Everyone was looking at me. My heart pounded against my ribs and my throat closed and my cheeks burned.

Timothy stood off to the side, near the pathway that led to the house. “Pretend we aren’t here, Josie.”

“Okay,” I said, then started coughing. “Sorry about that.”

“No prob!” Timothy said. “Take your time.”

The yellow-haired man appeared with a glass of water, and after I’d sipped some, the pink-haired woman studied my lips, then nodded.

“Start again,” Timothy said.

Fake it till you make it, my dad used to say. “Okay,” I said, and this time my voice sounded like me, like a calm and controlled me. I started up the driveway toward the renovated garage.

“Rolling!” Timothy yelled. “Action!”

The sun was bright for March. A soft breeze rustled the tall grasses that grew along the property edge. I reminded myself to smile. I felt silly smiling at nothing, but I did it anyway.

Ana stepped out as if I’d called her. Her warm and welcoming smile reached her eyes and drew a more genuine smile in response from me.

“Josie! I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Thanks, Ana. What a beautiful location.”

“Isn’t it?” She gazed out over the ocean. “When I was a kid, this was where we spent summers. I’m delighted to be back in Rocky Point, to be a permanent resident.” She turned to face me. “Come on in and tell me how I can help.”

We stepped inside together. The walls and ceiling were painted snow white; the chairs were persimmon and cobalt. I could hear faint clinking and whirrs from the bakers at work in the rear.

“Oh, wow,” I said, looking around. “It’s so elegant.”

A score of mahogany easels positioned in four diagonal rows showed two-part photos, fronts and backs, of various Fabergé-egg-shaped cakes, some large enough to serve a hundred people, most sized as individual portions. Just as each of the eggs Peter Carl Fabergé made for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1917 held at least one surprise, so too did Ana’s cakes. From one side, the cakes appeared to be ornately decorated ovals. From the other side, the “surprise” was visible, positioned in a hollowed-out area reminiscent of an open-air theater. The surprises varied according to the occasion, the season, and Ana’s whimsy; they included bouquets of flowers, a throne, a woodland scene, and a traditional bride and groom exchanging vows. All decorative elements were crafted out of frosting.

After I’d walked the aisles taking in all the options, Ana asked, “What’s the occasion?”

“My office manager, Gretchen, is having a baby. I’m throwing a surprise Jack and Jill baby shower for her and her husband.” I told her the date and grinned. “I expect about thirty people. I think Gretchen and Jack would love one of your Fabergé egg cakes.”

“Wonderful! Do you have a theme in mind?”

“Hawaii. That’s where Gretchen and her husband met and fell in love.”

“How lovely. We could do a couple gazing at a baby in a lei-draped cradle with some palm trees and turquoise water in the background.”

“That sounds perfect. Maybe with a rising moon.”

“I love that idea!”

Ten minutes later, after I selected pineapple cake with orange-mango frosting, signed the order form, and left a deposit, Ana walked me out.

“Cut!” Timothy called. “We’ve got it. That’s a wrap. Take fifteen and we’ll pick up with Ana’s Tips for Gracious Living.” He squeezed Ana’s hands. “Ana, you just keep getting better!” To me, he added, “Well done, Josie! Thanks.”

I felt light-headed with relief that it was over. “You’re welcome.”

“Do you have a minute?” Ana asked me as I turned to leave. “I’d love to introduce you to my friend, Heather, and her fiancé, Jason. I’ve known Heather for years. Jason is an investment guy—Jason Ferris—do you know him? You might have seen him on TV.”

“I don’t think so.”

“He’s a pretty big deal in some circles.”

“You sound skeptical.”

Ana laughed. “Not so much skeptical as jealous. All the time they’ve been dating, a couple of years now, I’ve just been trying to cover the rent. Here he is, the building-personal-wealth guru. Having ‘wealth’ is a foreign concept.”

“My gut tells me that’s about to change for you.”

“From your mouth to God’s ears.” I followed her across the driveway to the fieldstone path that led to the porch. “I don’t mean to sound disingenuous.” She laughed, half self-deprecating and half thrilled. “The last six months have been incredible. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to celebrate a little.”

“Is that why you started your snow globe collection?” I asked, thinking of the two snow globes she’d already delivered to us for appraisal, one a Victorian Christmas scene, the other featuring a winsome black-haired beauty ice-skating with a handsome cavalier on a glistening frozen pond.

She’d purchased both at a Midwest antiques store because she’d fallen in love with them, one of the joys of collecting. They were sold “as is,” with no information provided or available about the objects’ history or authenticity. From the lightbulb logo on the base, we were hopeful that the Christmas scene was an original Vienna Snow Globes creation. The other one remained a mystery.

“Yes, actually,” Ana said. “A thousand dollars may not sound like much to some people, but to me, that I had an extra thousand dollars in the budget … well, it’s huge. If you tell me they’re only worth two dollars each…” She laughed. “Let’s not go there.”

I wished I could reassure her, but we never revealed partial information. It wasn’t unusual for an antique that seemed promising at the start of the appraisal to turn out to be phony, and vice versa.

After a few seconds, I asked, “How do you know Heather?”

“We’ve been friends since we were kids—our families spent summers up here. She and I lived together in Boston for a couple of years after college, until she got serious with a guy and moved in with him—my brother, actually.”

“That sounds as if it might be awkward.”

“Not until Peter caught her in bed with Jason.”

“Ouch.”

“Luckily, civility and maturity prevailed.”

We climbed onto the covered porch. Ana reached for the doorknob, then paused. She stood quietly for several seconds, looking down as if she were trying to figure out whether her shoes were too pointy. When she raised her eyes, I saw a complicated mix of emotions. Concern and apprehension, certainly, but there was more—in addition to worry, I saw anger.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“I just fibbed. Civility and maturity didn’t rule, at least not at first. Peter punched Jason so hard he broke his nose.”

“Yikes.”

“I know. Fortunately, Jason decided not to press charges.” She shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I don’t blame Jason. The media would have had a field day. A straight-arrow TV personality ends up on the losing end of a brawl over another man’s live-in girlfriend. He’d be a laughingstock, which wouldn’t suit Jason’s view of himself at all.”

“Definitely not good for business. How’s Peter doing?”

“Fine, I guess. He sure dates a lot.” Ana grinned. “They tend to have curvy figures and names like Trixie and Bambi, if you catch my drift.”

“Not necessarily wife material, but an effective antidote to heartbreak?”

She chuckled. “That’s one way to put it.”

“What about you and Heather? Did it affect your relationship?”

“Totally. I didn’t speak to her for a year. I’d trusted her completely. That she could do something like that shook me to my booties.”

“Like an earthquake.”

“Exactly. Ground I thought was stable wasn’t.”

“Yet here she is, helping you with your show.”

Ana turned and stared out over the ocean. “She called me out of the blue last summer. I’d just split with my husband.” She shrugged and turned back to face me. “Since Peter’s doing all right, it’s stupid for me to hold a grudge.”

“Good for you. Not holding grudges is a sign of real maturity.”

“Do you think so?” She smiled. “Let’s go in so you can meet the guilty parties.”

All change is hard, I thought. Even when the change takes you back to familiar ground.

 

Chapter 2

Ana’s house was a surprising mix of traditional and contemporary design. The cottage itself was one of a dozen built by William Carlington between 1814 and 1833. Since that time, it had been completely overhauled. Walls had been removed to create an open layout. Recessed lighting and energy-efficient windows had been installed. Directly in front of the entrance, a fieldstone wall, original to the house, contained a fireplace large enough to roast an ox. All the furniture was ultramodern, mostly made of sleek white leather and steel.

Heather stood at a black granite kitchen island squeezing lemons into a pitcher. She was petite, even shorter than me. Her skin was super fair, and I wondered if she used whiter-than-her-skin-tone foundation or if this was her natural color. Her chin-length black hair was held off her face by a turquoise headband. Her eyes were hazel. Prisms from her huge—I guessed three karats—yellow diamond ring flicked along the counter. Jason was tall and classically handsome, with chiseled features and backswept brown hair. He leaned against a wall by the French doors that opened onto a slate patio, tapping into his smart phone. I guessed he was older than Heather by a dozen or so years.

“How did it go?” Heather asked Ana as we approached the counter.

“Fabulous, of course, since Josie was the guest.” All signs of Ana’s angst had vanished. “Josie, meet my good buddy Heather Walker. Jason? Let me drag you away from work for a moment. This is Josie—Josie Prescott. She owns a big-deal antiques auction house here in Rocky Point.”

“Hi!” Heather said, smiling.

Jason looked up momentarily. “Hey.”

“Hi,” I said.

“Josie’s doing the Fabergé Spring Egg appraisal, right?” Heather asked as she stirred in some simple syrup.

“Right. Timothy wants to use it in the pilot, so I figured I’d better get my insurance up to date. I’m embarrassed to admit that it hasn’t been appraised in eighteen years.”

Heather laughed. “You don’t need insurance—your dad’s house is a fortress!”

“True … still, eighteen years is a long time.” She shrugged. “Anyway, since I was going to have that one appraised, I decided to have Josie look at them all.”

“Have you seen the other two, the Christmas scene and the skaters?” I asked Heather.

“Are you kidding? I was the one who encouraged Ana to buy them. ‘Live a little,’ I told her. ‘You’re starting to make some money. Enjoy it!’ For once she listened to me.”

“What are you talking about!” Ana said, smiling at Heather. “I always listen to you.”

Heather shot Jason a look I couldn’t read. “As if. You’re the smart one. If I have any brains at all, it shows in my talent for surrounding myself with people who are brighter than me.” She dipped a spoon into the lemonade for a taste, then scrunched up her nose. “Tart.” She ladled in some more simple syrup and stirred, then took a clean spoon for another taste. “Yum.” She poured glasses and offered them around. “Lemonade, anyone?”

I reached for a glass. “Thanks!” The lemon flavor was bright and fresh. “What do you do, Heather?”

“I’m Jason’s research assistant.”

“We share that interest, then,” I said. “A lot of my work involves research.”

“Do you specialize?” Jason asked me without looking away from his device, making me wonder whether he’d been listening to our entire conversation or just happened to overhear that remark.

“No. We’re a full-service house. I run monthly high-end themed auctions and weekly tag sales. Which means I need a lot of inventory, so I buy anything and we deal in everything.”

I’d caught his interest, and he took a step toward us. “I collect chess sets. Just got a beauty—English boxwood.”

“Nice!”

Jason cocked his head, reading my expression. “Not impressed?”

“I’m always impressed when a collector finds an object they love.”

“But…?”

“English boxwood chess sets aren’t particularly rare.”

“What is?”

“Decorative glass. Exotic woods, like rosewood. Anything from the eighteenth century or earlier.”

“How much should I have paid?”

“There are too many variables for me to say without examining it—who made it, who owned it, who played with it, its condition, and so on.”

“I like your style, Josie. I host a weekly investment show on cable and write a monthly newsletter, both calledFerris Investor News. We should talk. I’m always looking for expert investment advice I can pass on to my viewers and readers. When I get back from my honeymoon, let’s brainstorm how we can work together.”

“I’d love it,” I said.

I extracted a business card from the sterling silver case my boyfriend, Ty, had given me for my last birthday and handed it to him. He pulled one from an inner pocket of his wallet for me.

“In the meantime, will you appraise my collection?”

I tucked his card away. “With pleasure!” I explained our procedures, and Jason said he’d stop by to sign the paperwork in the morning.

“More lemonade?” Heather asked.

“Thanks.” I held out my glass for a refill. “Where are you going on your honeymoon?”

“Australia,” Heather said.

“Bedarra Island,” Jason said with a cocky grin.

“That’s on the Great Barrier Reef, right?”

“You know it?” Jason asked, impressed.

“I read about it inTravel & Leisure.

“It’s very chichi,” Heather said, half embarrassed, half excited.

“I have a reputation to uphold,” Jason said. “My audience expects me to live the good life, to live their dreams.”

I couldn’t tell if he was joking.

Heather placed her hand on her hip. “You’re taking me to Bedarra to impress other people?”

I couldn’t tell if she was joking, either.

“No. I’m taking you to Bedarra because you’re the perfect woman I’d given up hope of finding. I want to impressyou.

“You silver-tongued devil, you. You sure know how to make a girl feel special.”

“That’s the idea,” he said, turning back to his phone.

She stirred the lemonade.

Ana stood off to the side, her eyes moving from Jason to Heather and back again.

“This lemonade is delish,” I said to change the subject. “Do you share Ana’s love of cooking?”

“God, no! In fact, I can barely boil a steak. Oh, wait, I just remembered! You don’t boil steak.”

I laughed. “Then I assume you’re not having a do-it-yourself wedding. Who’s your caterer?”

Jason wandered back to the window to catch the light and started reading something on his phone.

“Ana is taking care of the wedding cake and desserts, natch. Everything else is being handled by the Blue Dolphin.”

“That’s my favorite restaurant!”

“Me, too!” Ana said.

Heather giggled, her eyes beaming mischievously. “Josie’s talking about the food, Ana, not the chef.” She turned her gaze to me. “The executive chef, Ray, has been spending an awful lot of time going over the menu with Ana.”

Ana laughed. “That’s just because he’s trying to placate his pastry chef, Maurice. Talk about temperamental! Jeesh!”

“Everybody’s got attitude,” Jason said, not looking up from his device. “Like this guy here.” He tapped his screen. “He reads my investment newsletter, loses money, then has the gall to blame me.”

“Aren’t people supposed to follow your advice?” Ana asked. “Isn’t that the point?”

“Hell, no. They’re supposed to educate themselves, not follow the herd. It says so plainly at the top of each issue and at the start of each episode.” He grinned at me. “Caveat emptor—right, Josie?”

“I don’t know anything about your business. In mine, we warranty what we sell. Every antique or collectible’s pedigree is set out in writing, or it’s sold ‘as is.’ I don’t want clients to misunderstand what they’re buying.”

He winked at me. “I knew I’d want to do business with you.”

I couldn’t think of a reply, so I stayed quiet. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do business with him.

“Enough work for today,” Heather said, her tone issuing a challenge.

Jason didn’t look up or reply.

“Jason? It’s time for us to go. Chuck and Sara await.” She smiled in my direction. “The wedding is in five days, this coming Saturday, and folks are starting to arrive. Chuck is Jason’s best friend—his best man. He and his wife got in today, and like most of us, they’re staying at the Pelican. Who wouldn’t want to take an extra few days in Rocky Point, right?”

“At least March seems to going out like a lamb,” Ana said. “Some years, people might be arriving in a blizzard. Or trudging through mud. I remember one year—”

Ana broke off as Heather gaped at something behind us. Her jaw hung open. She took a step back as her already pallid complexion turned paper white. Ana and I spun around.

A good-looking man about my age, maybe a few years older, strolled toward the island. I hadn’t heard the porch door open or close. Seemingly, he just appeared out of thin air. It was eerie. He had light blue eyes and longish blond-brown hair, and he was shorter than Jason by half a foot, and far stockier. He didn’t look fat, though; he looked strong.

“Hey, Ana!” he said, smiling. “Heather. Jason.”

“Peter!” Ana said, rushing toward him.

He hugged her. “Hey, sis!”

“Peter,” Heather said, turning the word into a plea.

“Nice to see you, Pete,” Jason said, joining Heather at the island. “Let’s go, babe.” Jason touched her elbow, and she scurried from the room. He followed her with a swagger, pausing at the threshold to look back at Peter. “Quite a coincidence, your showing up this week.”

“Didn’t you think I’d come to cheer Ana on?” Peter asked. “Come on! It’s not every day she films a pilot for a TV show.”

Jason shook his head, communicating contempt. “You’re not fooling anyone, Pete.”

Peter spread his hands, palms up. “You’ve got it all wrong, friend. I’m here to celebrate.”

“Bad idea, dude. Bad karma. It’s time to be on your way.”

“Thanks for the tip. I think I’ll stay a few days, though.” Peter said something that sounded likeSimyet blezh de cevyo and grinned.

“Family above all,” Ana translated, looking from Peter to me to Jason, then back to me. “Our family motto, inherited from our Russian forefathers.”

“That’s right,” Peter said. “Words to live by.” Peter placed his arm around Ana’s shoulders, and squeezed.

When Jason didn’t comment, Peter’s grin broadened. “You’re staying at the Pelican, right? Me, too. I’ll probably see you around.”

Jason glared at him for a few seconds, then marched out. The screen door slammed. No one spoke.

“Why are you staying at a hotel?” Ana asked. “I have room here.”

“Too much activity going on, what with the TV shooting and all. Plus, they have a killer gym at the Pelican. You know me. I need my workouts.” He squeezed her shoulder again and picked up a glass of lemonade. “I’ll be here every day, though, clapping like a crazy man, watching my beautiful sister work.”

Ana stared at him, trying to read between the lines, perhaps.

After a few seconds, I became uncomfortable witnessing their unbroken silence and walked to the French doors, looking past a small whitewashed gazebo, past the rambling roses not yet in bud, past the feathery grass border, to the ocean, wishing I were somewhere else, anywhere else. I could faintly hear the waves crashing against the boulders. Ana’s yard looked like it belonged in an article about dream locales, the ones that promise memory-laden lazy days and soul-searing romantic nights. Empty promises, usually.

“As you might have gathered, Josie,” Ana said, “this is my brother, Peter, up from Boston.”

I turned to face them. Ana was smiling, patting her brother’s arm.

“This is Josie Prescott, Peter. I’ve told you about her.”

Peter gave a two-finger semisalute. “Hey.”

“Nice to meet you.” I returned to the island and slid my empty glass onto the counter. “Thanks for the lemonade. I’ve got to get back to work.” I headed for the living room. “See ya!”

As I stepped onto the porch, I heard Ana say, “Tell me the truth, Peter. What are you doing here?”

I closed the door, whispered, “Whew,” and walked slowly to my car.

Timothy sat on a director’s chair, drinking Coke from an old-fashioned small green bottle. The yellow-haired man pushed a large black crate up a ramp into an 18-wheeler.OSCAR’S MOVIE RENTALS was stenciled on the side.

“So what do you think of your first television role?” Timothy asked as I drew near.

“I think I’m lucky the star of the show and her director are so talented.”

“You’re too modest! You have a flair, Josie. The camera loves you.”

Timothy was a diplomat. I’m old enough to know that the camera doesn’t love me. It doesn’t even like me much. I don’t have good angles. I don’t have a best side. I look like what I am—a pretty enough woman with a too-round face, chin-length nothing-special brown hair, a wide mouth, and big brown eyes. For Timothy’s purpose, though, I didn’t have to look good. My job was to help Ana shine, and if I excelled at that, from his perspective, I was a star.

I extended a hand for a shake. “Thanks, Timothy. I’m glad you got usable footage.”

I was behind the wheel, latching my seat belt, when Peter strode down the driveway. Ana hurried after him, then stopped short of the street, letting him go, her eyes shadowed with uneasiness.

Copyright © 2014 by Jane K. Cleland.

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Jane K. Cleland once owned an antiques and rare books business in New Hampshire, and  now lives in New York City. Her first novel, Consigned to Death, was an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller and was nominated for the Macavity, Agatha, and David book awards. The second in the series, Deadly Appraisal, won the David Award for Best Novel, as did the seventh, Dolled Up for Murder.

Comments

  1. Holmes

    Every book these days seem to have a cat on it. Does that make this one a cozy?

  2. Marjorie Manharth

    Doubt if it’s a cozy – would love to finish reading it.

  3. lakwanzawilliams0432

    I would like to finish reading more very interested!!!

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