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Professor Ronald Green never saw any of it coming. He never expected to meet Diane Brewster, begin an affair with her, or nearly destroy his marriage and family. More than anything, though, he never imagined Diane’s death, or that he would become the main suspect in her murder. Then, just when Green felt his life had become as twisted and insane as possible, he discovered that Fate had at least one more turn in store for him. For Diane’s death had only been one of many, and the killer had several more people in his sights, including, quite possibly, Ron Green himself.



December 15

Even for the Midwest at the end of the year, it was far too frigid and blustery of a day to be standing outside looking down at a corpse.

Although December usually wasn’t all that cold around here, despite what residents of Florida or California might think, the temps this year had been a bit lower than average since October, and today the cold had come slamming in from the north like a visiting mother-in-law.

On top of that, Detective Third Grade Jack Hollis had stayed up late the night before watching a boxing match on pay-per-view and hadn’t bothered to catch the local weather. So had waltzed out of the house this morning wearing merely a mid-weight jacket, which he now cinched closer to his throat.

“You ought to dress warmer,” said one of the patrolmen from the car that had first called in the incident. Hollis, at thirty five, nearly ten years the guy’s senior, thought about retorting but figured it wasn’t worth the effort.

Instead, he looked back down at the body.

The deceased, dressed appropriately for the weather, lay on the pavement behind a Chinese restaurant. With little blood and no obvious rigidity of the body, the death appeared relatively mild.

At first glance, it seemed as if the man had simply lain down face up on the asphalt and died.

Hollis knelt down for a closer look at the corpse.

“Where’s your other half?” one of the patrolmen asked.

“Giving a deposition downtown,” Hollis replied, not taking his eyes off the corpse on the ground.

Peering closer, he saw a thin tendril of blood seeping out from the back of the man’s head. Hollis stood up and went over to one of the crime scene techs. He’d been jammed up interrogating a witness when the call came, accounting for his being among the last to arrive on the scene.

“Got any ID on him?” he asked the tech.

The young woman looked down at some notes she held in her hand.

“Yeah, we’ve already gone through his license and called in to records. Name’s Randall Cummings, fifty-two years old. Records has him listed as the manager of a Save-Rite Furniture Store.”

Hollis looked up and down both sides of the alley.

“A furniture salesman? Where’s his store located?”

“We’re not sure yet. There’s three of the chain in town. One of them’s only about twelve blocks away.”

“Meaning that considering the time of day, he could have come down this way for lunch,” Hollis said.

Before the tech could respond, one of the patrolmen called out.

“ME’s here.”

Hollis turned to see a blonde, around thirty or so, heading towards the scene of activity. As he went to meet her, she was pulling on a pair of thin latex gloves.

“Hey, Tracey.”

“Jesus, Hollis,” she said, “did you have to get me out on such a cold day?”

“Don’t blame me, kid. Blame Randall there.”

“Hmph.” Just as Jack had done when he first arrived, she knelt down and performed an eyeball inspection of the late Mr. Cummings.

“Has he been photographed yet?” she asked.

Hollis glanced at the techs, received a nod in return.

“Yeah. He’s all yours.”

“Then let’s see what we’ve got.” As she spoke, the doctor cupped her hands under the dead man’s shoulders and gently shifted him about a 45-degree turn.

“And there’s your cause of death, at least nominally,” she said, pointing to the small hole drilled into the back of his skull.

“Single bullet?” Hollis asked as he bent down for a closer look.

“Looks like,” the ME said. “Which is actually a little odd.”

“Why odd?” Hollis asked, though he already had a suspicion.

“Well, it looks small caliber. Probably .22 or so.”

“Execution style.”

She looked up at the detective. “You suggesting this guy was hit?” she asked.

“It wouldn’t seem likely. A furniture salesman in his fifties? If he was hit, it’s doubtful it was over something like drugs or women.”

“Maybe gambling?”


Hollis fell silent as the ME went about her business although even he could pretty much guess what had happened. With no exit wound, the small caliber bullet had no doubt buried itself somewhere inside the skull, probably after ricocheting around for a while.

Still, cases weren’t built on instinct or prior experience, so he stood back and let the lady do her job.

“So how many does this make?” she asked without looking up. “Have you all hit the triple digits yet?”

Hollis grimaced. Over the last few years, most of the force had become hypersensitive to the fact of their city ranking as the murder capital of the country. A while back, some web site or other had even listed it as one of the ten most dangerous cities in the entire world. The only consolation they all had was that, over the last few months, Chicago seemed to be gaining on them.

“Actually,” he said, “we passed the hundred mark at the end of last month. I’m not sure what number this one makes.”

“Well,” the ME said as she stood up and stripped off her gloves, “I won’t be able to put anything down officially till I get him on the table, but it’s pretty obvious what happened here.”

“One bullet back of the head,” Hollis said.

“Right. Which gets back to the oddity.”

“How did he end up lying face up?”

The young ME turned and faced Hollis straight on, flinching a bit as a sharp gust of wind knifed through the alley.

“Exactly. Even a .22, in the back of the skull, should have sent him tumbling forward. This looks almost apologetic. Could it have been some sort of a robbery?”

Hollis glanced over at a couple of the crime scene guys involved in categorizing the contents of the victim’s pockets.

“What’ve you got?”

“Wallet,” said one of the techs, a kid with curly red hair, “with a couple of hundred dollars and four credit cards in it. Look at his left wrist, and you’ll see his watch still on him. Plus we picked up a cell phone and an I-pod.”

“This old duffer with an I-pod?” the blonde ME asked.

Hollis shrugged.

“So we can guess it wasn’t a robbery,” he said.

“Unless your bad guy got interrupted before he could grab the goodies,” the ME said.

“Maybe, but how to account for the corpse being laid out all nice and neat like this?”

Stripping off her gloves, the ME turned and motioned to a couple of ambulance attendants standing off to the side.

“That’s the nice thing about it, Hollis. My part’s easy. I just have to come up with the means. You guys get to do the whole motive and opportunity thing.”

Hollis grimaced as she walked off.

“Oh by the way.” She turned back to him. “I checked with the office before I left. This makes number one hundred twelve for the year. And only sixteen days to go.”


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Struck by Eros SNEAK PEEK

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One jaded woman. Two hot men. A challenge to prove Cupid doesn't always know best.

After a lifetime of dating losers, Noel Chase thinks she’s found love with college professor Len Holder. But Cupid's aim sucks worse than his crap-tacular curse, sticking her with supposed soul mate, Grayson Adler. Grayson is gorgeous, Greek, and an exact replica of the man-whores of her past. No matter what the chubby cherub thinks, Noel is sure Grayson is Mr. Wrong with a capital “W.”

Forced to do Cupid’s bidding, Noel must spend her days with Grayson matchmaking the unlucky-in-loves, and trying to resist Grayson’s charm and do-me-now sex appeal. But when Cupid tries to match her fiancé, Len, with another woman, Noel must make an excruciating decision. Defy Cupid and hang on to Len? Or succumb to her fate and trust Grayson with her heart?



Love, Honor…but I Indulged in Adultery


Last month, Cupid shot my size-six ass with an arrow and saddled me with the soul mate from hell. I lay on my side and looked at the snoring mountain of muscle next to me. Grayson Adler. Supposedly my perfect match in every way, but whoever was in charge of perfect matches perfectly fucked up.

Even though my body shook from a Grayson-induced, post-coital high, I still loathed my couldn’t-be-more-wrong-for-me mate. However, we were stuck together for eternity because of Cupid and his craptacular curse.

A wall-rattling snore broke through the hum of the air conditioner in the over-priced hotel room we met in every two weeks for our do-it-or-die conjugal visit. Grayson reached down and adjusted his erection. His hand brushed my thigh and his touch ignited a spark in my nether regions. Hot and horny, that’s how things were with Grayson and me. Sexual compatibility off the charts. Too bad the rest of our relationship itched like sand in the crotch.

I pushed his fingers away from my leg before lust overrode common sense. Before we ended up having sex for a fourth time this afternoon. “Up and at ’em.” I flicked his earlobe and tugged a lock of his mocha-colored hair. “I’ve gotta get home.”

Grayson sat up and gave me the melt-your-heart smile I’m sure made most women drop an egg. But I knew from past experience that behind his oh-so-handsome features lived a playboy heart and a wandering dick.

He rubbed the sleep out of his baby blues, his elbow bumping into my shoulder. “Noel’s got a hot date,” he sing-songed in his ever-so-annoying way.

“Yep.” I scooted to the edge of the bed, hoping to avoid any further contact.

“Why bother dating when you know you can’t commit?” Grayson stood, and the green and purple comforter fell to the ground. My gaze followed his flexing ass muscles into the bathroom. “It’s like having sex and not being allowed to orgasm.”

“Like a guy would ever have sex without an orgasm.” I wrangled my pink, polka-dot bra off the shade of a tall floor lamp. “Who says I can’t commit?”

“Cupid,” he yelled over the flush of the toilet, then walked back into the room. “The day that arrow stuck in your cute behind.” He grabbed his black, dress pants off the club chair and stepped into them. “So, this date tonight, is it serious?”

“My life. My business.” I plucked my hastily discarded T-shirt and jeans off the nightstand and dresser. “Let’s not forget, I didn’t choose you, you didn’t choose me.” I slipped a T-shirt over my head. “As long as we continue our bi-weekly bump and grind, Cupid will never know we’re just sex-mates. I can do my thing and you can hump anything with a vagina.”

Grayson folded his arms over his Adonis-like chest, tapping out an imaginary beat on his forearm. “Just don’t want you to string some poor sucker along, knowing you could never give yourself one hundred percent.”

“Should I be more like you? How many broken hearts have you left tangled in the sheets?” I slid into a pair of faded low-rise jeans.

“I don’t give a shit about any of the women I sleep with.” He almost sounded proud.

“Present company included.” I slammed my feet into brown leather boots and zipped them up.

“You’ve made it obvious you’re not interested in anything more than a quick roll in the sack.” His lips lifted in a half-cocked smile. “If you’d like, I’d be happy to ratchet up the romance. Roses, chocolates, and moonlight serenades?”

The thought of Grayson showering me with friggin’ romantic gestures reminded me of all the times my ex-fiancé believed candy and flowers could make up for his lack of judgment and multiple indiscretions.

Just one of many similarities. Also, the main reason why Grayson’s name had been chiseled on a long list of people who would never have my heart.

“You ever show up with a box of chocolates and they’ll have to surgically remove them from your ass.” I reached around him, grabbed my purse off the dresser, and marched out the door, slamming it shut behind me, hoping it rattled any ideas Grayson may have of candlelit dinners or late-night walks on the beach.

A college-aged girl sat crisscross applesauce on the floral patterned carpet, leaning against the door of the room next to ours, head on her knees, arms wrapped around her legs, sobbing. My first thought, leave her to her misery, but I had been in a similar situation not more than three years ago.

I stopped mid-step and knelt next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Everything okay, sweetie?”

She looked up, her brown eyes huge, lips quivering, tears mixed with mascara and dark eyeliner streaming down her cheeks. “No. My boyfriend dumped me. He left me here without any money, and no way home.” She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her hoodie then pulled her ponytail over her shoulder. “I left my phone in his car so I can’t even call anyone.”

I reached into my purse, pulled out forty dollars and my cell phone. “You should always keep some emergency money tucked into a pocket, or your shoe. Hell, even your bra.” I handed her the money and phone. “Here, call a cab.”

She accepted my offering and smiled up at me, a smile that softened her features and made her seem even younger. She made the call then held the phone out to me. When I grabbed it her hand touched mine and the air sparked between us. “This means the world to me.”

I took my phone and ignored the current that raced up my arm. “Girls have to be there for each other.” My gaze wandered to the hotel room I had just left. “Heaven knows the men in our lives won’t be.”

After all, my heart had been crushed more times than a junkyard car.

With my back turned to the largest complication in my life, I headed through the tastefully decorated lobby, out the automatic doors, waving to the concierge on the way, and out into San Diego’s thick air. Doris, my prized, pale-pink, vintage 1966 Mustang convertible straddled two spots in the last row of the parking lot. Far away from any chance of dings and dents.

I patted the car’s soft canvas top, unlocked, and folded it back. Slid into the black leather seats, grabbed the hair band off the gear shirt, and pulled my wavy mop into a loose ponytail. With one last look at the hotel exit and an extra annoyed sigh, I stuck the key in the ignition.

It felt good to help someone else, but that tiny bit of happiness didn’t begin to erase my annoyance at Grayson. What right did he have to express his opinion of my personal life? I cranked the key, the engine purred, and I left the hotel parking lot, thankful to be finished bumping uglies with Grayson.

The brisk, October wind pulled a few strands of my hair free, whipping it into my face along with the scent of Aqua di Gio.

Grayson’s cologne.

A reminder that I needed a good scrubbing to remove the stench.

Damn it. Cupid screwed me with his horrible matchmaking skills and crappy aim.

As if sticking me with Grayson for eternity wasn’t bad enough, he’d saddled us with jobs as his mini-me’s here on earth. Every day he expected us to locate and reconnect lost loves. Create soul mates. Play matchmaker to the lonely and shy and desperate.

“What a joke.”

Who was I to meddle in people’s love lives? Mine was a mess. My heart wanted the one thing it wasn’t allowed to have — love with someone besides my cupid-appointed soul mate. I was so screwed up, I made the dysfunctional relationships on Jerry Springer look wholesome.

Tears of frustration, anger, and confusion flowed freely down my face. I swiped at the wet traitors, wishing them away. But the only time I allowed my true vulnerability to show was when I was alone, either in my car, or painting in my studio.

Turning onto Olive Street, the wraparound porch and red front door of my Victorian home came into view. So did a grey BMW sedan, parked in its normal spot on the brick driveway. I hit the brakes. My heart catapulted into my stomach.

Len. My live-in boyfriend of the past two years.

Home? In the afternoon? What the hell?

Backing up, I hid my car in the shadows of the laurel trees lining the driveway and yanked a compact mirror out of my bag. Great. I was sporting my best just-been-fucked look.

Rummaging through my purse, I pushed past the loose charcoal sticks, the battered sketchbook, and numerous colored pencils that cluttered the bottom, looking for a brush, makeup, and perfume. Len would have a coronary if he saw the chaos inside my Coach.

Grabbing my eyeliner out of the bag, I smeared the dark liquid into large globs instead of smooth lines, thanks to my shaking fingers. Placing my hands in my lap, I took a few deep breaths to calm my way-too-guilty nerves. Tugged the tangles out of my long hair, spritzed some perfume to cover the smell of Eau de Sex.

Even with all the effort, I still felt dirty and gross and slutty. But at least I looked closer to a thirty-one-year-old, artsy-fartsy type and less like the Whore of Babylon.

With butterflies still fluttering in my stomach, I turned into the driveway, parked next to the creek that ran alongside my property, and cut the engine. The sound of the water tumbling over the rocks was more comforting than Valium.

I had to walk into the house and lie. Lie to the only person in this world I wanted to be honest with. The whole Len - Grayson situation was a complete and utter mess. But sitting in the car wishing things were different wouldn’t give my drama-filled life a happily-ever-after ending. Nope. There was only one way to find my happy ending. Convince Cupid he made a mistake, hope he released me from this soul mate nonsense, my unwanted job. But most of all Grayson.

“Stop being a wuss.” I opened the car door and forced my foot to meet the concrete.

Pumpkins and gourds lined the wooden stairs to the porch, and Indian corn decorated the front door, just the start of my fall decorations. The click of my boots on the wooden planks barely louder than the ba-dump of my heart. With fingers shaking, I reached for the bronze doorknob. I took one last breath, opened the door, and prepared to make a mad dash that would make the Roadrunner look like Eeyore.

I didn’t make it.

Len stood under the arched doorway to the living room, arms behind his back, his posture stick-up-the-ass straight.

My internal organs all joined hands and did the wave in the pit of my stomach.

After all the weeks of lying, had Len finally found out about my double life? About Grayson? I checked my watch to avoid his eyes, afraid he’d read the deceit. “It’s four o’clock. Don’t you have a class to teach?” My words shook with guilt and fear, but I forced my head higher and my eyes to meet his.

Len’s toothy smile reminded me of the day he surprised me with round-trip tickets to Pompeii, not the smile of someone who had figured out his girlfriend was a lying slut.

“I had something more important to do.” He tugged at the legs of his khaki pants and got down on one knee.

Nooo. No. No. No.

From behind his back he presented me with a single red rose.

Holy shit on a shingle.

The other hand dug in the pocket of his hound’s tooth blazer and retrieved a ring box.

Tiffany’s. Lord love a duck.

“Noel Chase, love of my life, would you marry me?”

My gaze fell to the small square in his palm. The ring box mocked my cheating heart. Taunted me. Teased me. Tortured me.

My stomach rode a roller coaster of guilt complete with enough twists and turns to steal my breath and voice and excitement.

Instead of running to the man of my dreams, who had just professed his undying love, all I wanted to do was shower off the smell of Grayson-flavored sex.

But a gaping mouth wasn’t the appropriate response to a marriage proposal I’d waited two years for. I fell to my knees in front of Len, meeting his brown eyes. “Nothing would make me happier than being your wife.”

In my heart I meant what I said, but the words sounded like a lie. A farce. A bunch of shit. And even worse, Grayson’s comment about stringing some poor sucker along, not being able to fully commit, shadowed what should be the happiest moment of my life with doubt and regret. Damn Grayson and his unwanted opinions.

Len wrapped his arms around me, hugged me tight, and lifted my chin. His lips puckered, ready to seal the deal.

Hell no. No way. I refused to kiss Len with Grayson’s taste on my lips. Shame caused me to twist out of his embrace, jump up, and knock the ring box out of his hand.

“Shit…crap…shoot.” I corrected myself, remembering how Len felt about women swearing. “I’m sorry.” Scrambling to pick up the light turquoise box, the tip of my boot hit it and it skittered away from my fingers.

“Proposal jitters.” Len leaned over, grabbed the box from between my feet, and opened the top.

I reached out to touch the sparkly diamonds nested in the soft white fabric, but spotting my shaky fingers, I hid my hands behind my back.

“It’s a two-carat princess-cut diamond.” When I didn’t respond he filled the silence. “Just like we talked about.”

The boulder blocking any words from leaving my mouth made this the most awkward proposal ever.

Len cleared his throat. “The band is platinum. The clarity of the diamond, nearly perfect. I searched until I found one similar to your mother’s.”

My mother’s ring. The ring I had admired my entire life.

He pulled his promise of safety and security out of the box and reached for my hand. “I had planned on taking you to your favorite restaurant, maybe even the theater to do this.” The cool metal slid over my finger like the hangman’s noose over my throat. “But when I picked it up today, I couldn’t wait a moment longer.”

The perfect circle of metal and diamonds wrapped around my ring finger was sparkly and beautiful, and just what I had always hoped for. But taking it would be wrong.

Great time to grow a conscience.

I had every intention of removing Len’s symbol of love, rattling some skeletons, airing weeks’ worth of dishonesty and deceit. But a mini-me with red hair, green eyes, horns—and, of course, a pitchfork—hopped up on my shoulder. The she-devil whispered the only words I wanted to hear. I deserved Len and to hell with anyone who tried to keep me from him.

With a tug, I pulled Len off his knees, wrapped my arms around him, and hugged him close. Behind his back, I flashed a middle finger of defiance I hoped Cupid saw high up on Mount Olympus.

Fuck soul mates. Fuck Grayson. Fuck Cupid.

I was keeping the ring.


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