Authors: Marie Ferrarella
The crime-fighting Cavanaugh clan returns in USA TODAY bestselling author Marie Ferrarella's thrilling new novel!
Working in a morgue, medical examiner Kristin Alberghetti hardly expects a living, breathing man to walk through the door and make her heart pound. So she's floored when gorgeous playboy Malloy Cavanaugh is her partner on a new case. The cold-case detective has a rep for charming the clothes off every womanâ¦except her. And it's tough to keep her eyes on the prize as the two investigate recently excavated, long-buried bodies at a cacti nursery.
Malloy has no plans to change his bachelor lifestyle, until reclusive Kristin catches his eye. Something about this caseâand his beautiful colleagueâtouches his heart. But can a flowering romance survive the rigors of a brutal case and its infinite dangers?
“You may just have found our first genuine break in this case, Doc,” Malloy declared with enthusiasm.
“You're welcome,” Kristin murmured as she lowered her eyes back to the partially reconstructed skeleton on the table before her.
Which was why she failed to be prepared for what came next. By the time she realized what was happening, it was too late.
Caught up in the moment, Malloy bracketed her shoulders between his hands and delivered a very enthusiastic and yet innocent kiss to her cheek.
The next second, he had released her and quickly crossed the floor, getting halfway to the door.
“I'll get back to you,” he promised half a second before he was gone.
Kristin stared at the opened door, stunned. Half of her was hoping that he would live up to his promiseâand half of her really hoped that he wouldn't.
* * *
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in this exciting miniseries:
Cavanaugh JusticeâWhere Aurora's finest
are always in action...
* * *
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If I ever write an autobiography, it will be called
Taking the Cacti for a Walk
. My husband began collecting cacti and succulents many years ago. Since he worked in aerospace, at times my husband would be required to keep long hours. Long hours during which time the sun could do undesirable things, like turn the temperature very hot or shift position in the sky. All of which would be fineâif it wasn't for the fact that certain types of cacti and succulents cannot tolerate too much heat, while others need to be in direct sunlight for long periods.
Since I was home (with kids and a laptop, not to mention other responsibilities), I was “free” to move these sharp, prickly things around. So I did. From one spot to another. Now, mind you, we're not talking about a plant or two. At one point, there were close to four hundred plants in a whole host of sizes for me to moveâmore than once a day. And let's not even talk about the times it rained. I began to think of my life in terms of pockets of time when these nasty plants had to be moved around, thus the title
Taking the Cacti for a Walk
This book is a direct result of all the field trips my husband and I took, going to out-of-the-way nurseries, looking for specimens to add to his collection. Hey, I had to entertain myself somehow.
Thank you for taking the time to read my book and as always, from the bottom of my heart, I wish you someone to love who loves you back (and if they don't collect cacti, so much the better).
bestselling and RITAÂ®
has written more
than two hundred and fifty books for Harlequin, some under the name Marie
Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website,
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Who Can Pronounce
Cacti and Succulent Names
That Make My Tongue Ache
osephine Alberghetti placed an overly generous portion of lasagna in front of her daughter, then sighed as she took a seat opposite her.
“Mom, you've been sighing like that since I walked in through the door ten minutes ago. What's up?” Dr. Kristin Alberghetti asked her mother.
Josephine pressed her lips together, as if hesitating to give voice to what was fairly bursting to come out. The next moment, the hesitation was over, just as Kristin knew it would be. Drama and her mother were best friends.
“When you first came to me and told me that you wanted to be a doctor, I was so proud I thought I would just burst,” Josephine told her only child. “I wasn't sure how we were going to pay for it with your father, God rest his soul, gone, but I remember being so very, very proudâand determined to help you reach your dream. I was willing to work my fingers to the bone, putting in twenty hours a day to make my little girl's dream come true.”
Kristin knew where this was going. The same place that it had gone before.
“Uncle Gasper lent you the money, Mom,” Kristin reminded her mother patiently. “Actually, he
you most of it.”
Though her father's uncle had fought her, Kristin had stubbornly insisted on paying the man back. It hadn't been easy, but she did it, taking and holding down jobs whenever she could while going to medical school. Through extreme dedication and concentrated energy, at the sacrifice of her social life, she'd managed to graduate ahead of time, thanks to an accelerated program.
But this wasn't about her mother's sacrificesâof which she would have been the first to say that there were a legitimate number. This was about something else. And Kristin had a very strong feeling she knew what that “something else” was.
Kristin and her mother were seated at the table in the kitchen where she had spent her first seventeen years. She had only a little time to spare and had actually popped in to visit in the middle of the morningâtaking a couple of hours of personal timeâbecause her mother had complained about being neglected. Feeling guilty, Kristin had juggled a few things, put a couple more on hold and then dashed over.
Kristin's grandmother, Sophia, a fixture in her life for as far back as she could remember, was also there. Kristin exchanged glances with the older woman now. She knew what was coming, as did her grandmother. Out of respect for her motherâbecause she knew how frustrated Josephine Alberghetti feltâKristin kept her silence. But it wasn't easy.
“But why you took all that wonderful knowledge,” Josephine was saying, “and training and practically just threw it out the window to become a medical examiner, poking around inside of dead people, is really,
beyond me.” She looked at her daughter pleadingly. “Can't you just go into private practice? Think of the good you could be doing.”
doing good, Mom,” Kristin told her mother. This certainly wasn't the first time they had done this dance, but her mother seemed to refuse to remember her good reasons for choosing this route. She patiently repeated one. “I'm bringing closure to a great many families who need answers.”
In response, Josephine rolled her hazel eyes dramatically. “Closure,” she murmured under her breath as if it was a dirty word.
“Leave the girl alone, Josephine,” Sophia told her daughter sharply. The family matriarch smiled at her granddaughter. “She is happy closing things. It is her life.”
it,” Josephine retorted. “How is Kristin supposed to meet anyone when she's standing in the middle of a morgue, surrounded by dead people, for heaven's sake?” she demanded.
“Did you not hear her?” Sophia asked, the volume of her voice increasing as she made her point. At nearly eighty, Sophia Moretti's voice was as strong and loud as when she first arrived in America at the age of twenty-eight. “She is closing things for families. Maybe one of those families has a sonâ”
Kristin stared at her grandmother, grappling with a sudden feeling of betrayal. No matter what, her grandmother had
been on her side. “You, too, Nonny?”
Sophia leaned over the food-laden kitchen table to pat her granddaughter's hand. “I am just trying toâhow you say?â
your mama. Marry, don't marry, it is all the same to me. Just be happy, little one,” she said to her youngest granddaughter. “The family has enough small people already.”
“Easy for you to say,” Josephine pouted, not trying too hard to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “
have lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Sophia pursed her lips together. “We are all family, Josephine. We share. You want some grandchildren? I will let you have some of mine.”
“Listen to Nonny,” Kristin coaxed. “We all live in Aurora. You need short people to hug, you can go over to Theresa's or Lorraine's or Angela's,” she said, enumerating her cousins, all of whom were married with at least two, if not more, children, “and hug one of their kids.”
“I love those children,” her mother replied honestly, “but it's not the same thing, and you know it,” Josephine complained. She looked at her own mother accusingly. “You're supposed to be on my side.”
Sophia raised coarse hands that had been weathered by decades of hard work and pretended to push back her daughter's words of rebuke. “I take no sides. I just sit and listen.”
To which Josephine responded with a contemptuous “Ha!”
Any response from Sophia Moretti was interrupted by Kristin's ringing cell phone.
Josephine sighed deeply as she watched her daughter reach into one of her pockets and take out the offending electronic gadget. To Josephine phones did not belong in pockets, and they certainly didn't belong at a family meal.
Holding her hand up for momentary silence, Kristin listened to the call. Her boss, Sean Cavanaugh, the chief of the crime scene investigation lab, was on the other end of the line.
“Sorry to interrupt your personal time, Doctor, but I'm afraid we need you at a crime scene,” he told her, his deep voice rumbling in her ear. “We've found two bodies so far.”
“So far?” Kristin repeated uncertainly, surprised at the way he'd phrased the news. “Are you expecting to find more?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” she heard him respond wearily. “It looks like there might be quite a few.”
How many were there in “quite a few?” Kristin wondered, a shiver threatening to slide up and down her spine. “That sounds like you've hit some kind of mother lode, sir.”
“That's what I'm afraid of,” he told her. “I'd appreciate it if you got here as soon as you could.”
“Yes, sir. On my way,” Kristin told him quietly.
Sophia lowered her voice as she leaned toward her daughter, taking care not to interfere with her granddaughter's call. “What means this âmother lode'?” she asked.
Josephine sighed as she rose to her feet and began to put away the food she had taken out the minute her daughter had walked through the door. Family mealtimes were treasured, no matter when they took place and how small the family unit at that particular moment might be.
Timing-wise, this had to be a new record.
She transferred Kristin's serving onto a paper plate, then with a minimum number of movements, efficiently wrapped it all up in aluminum foil. “It means, Ma, that Kristin is leaving.”