Authors: Dianne Castell
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
aranoia is what keeps you alive…or maybe it’s biscuits and gravy. Being a cop, Bebe Fitzgerald was usually up to her eyeballs in paranoia, but right now she’d much rather have the biscuits.
She aimed her flashlight around the scorched hull of the old casket room in the partially rehabbed morgue. She should be concentrating on the crime scene but, sweet mother, she was starved! She hadn’t eaten in how long, an hour? Was this stress eating brought on by this fire that nearly toasted her two best friends, an old murder now turned personal, missing jewelry everyone thought they had a right to, and fretting over what might happen next in the Promised Land of butter, cream, and all things fried?
The odor of damp and charred hung in the Savannah air even though the fire was three days old. A layer of grimy soot blanketed the ceiling, chandelier, and floor, ruining her new gray suede Hush Puppies. The fire marshal chalked the fire up to spontaneous combustion from cleaning rags in the corner; Bebe chalked it up to Prissy and Charlotte snooping where they shouldn’t and winding up in the middle of bad mojo that followed Prissy everywhere.
A door creaked. “I’m a cop. Come out. Bring food.” Never do a case on an empty stomach. She tore for the opening, ran down the hall, then up two steps yelling, “Stop.” Least that’s what she started to say till ramming a broad chest covered in a McCabe’s Tavern T-shirt with beer and burger logo. She’d kill for a beer and burger…and the broad chest looked pretty yummy.
He pointed toward the retreating footsteps. “I’m a cop, too. I’ll take the front.” He shot across the scarred marble floor, leaping paint cans and drop cloths; she headed for the half-rebuilt porch on the south side. Edging between the double doors, she rounded a pile of lumber and smashed flat-out into burger guy.
“Umph!” His eyes—brown like jumbo chocolate chips—widened. Their bodies fused like grilled cheese to bread till they stumbled and fell into a pile of sand waiting to be concrete.
“Damn.” He closed his eyes and flopped back. Then the eyes opened and a slow grin tripped across cherry marmalade lips. She had a thing for cherry marmalade. Until this moment she didn’t realize just how big a thing.
“Or maybe not damn at all.”
And maybe not cherry marmalade at all. The smile grew.
“Sorry your intruder got away.” His breathing slowed, hard leg muscles relaxing against hers, his hand at her waist, warm and strong. Sun sliced through the partially collapsed roof as she licked her bottom lip, thinking of his lips and all the rest of him snuggled nice and close.
“You’re new at the station?” Dumb question. This guy she’d notice with his great abs, ripped torso, and the foody shirt.
“Got in from Atlanta last night.”
“Atlanta? Atlanta’s a fine place. I have to babysit some hotshot detective from Boston and did you know that fraternizing with other cops is nothing but trouble, and I’m thinking you might be trouble. Did I really just say all that? You wouldn’t happen to have a package of peanut butter crackers on you by any chance?”
He shook his head, and she tried to think of something besides lips and limbs and peanut butter. “How long did you say you’re here for?”
“I think I’m your baby.”
That got her attention and she shoved crackers to the back burner and sat burger guy on the front because he was…hot. She’d heard of instant attraction, but for her this was a first. The fact that this guy was holy-crap handsome and she hadn’t had a man in her life for over a year might have something to do with it.
She touched his cheek, because a year was a long time between cheek touching. Rough, stubbled, strong, male. Her negative ideas about fraternizing vanished, and she kissed him, wanting to see if he tasted as good as he looked.
And he tasted better! She must taste pretty darn good, too, or he wouldn’t be kissing her back as his leg snuggled between hers looking for its own soft place to land.
“God bless Atlanta.” Her mouth formed the words against his as the sky parted and angels sang “Cheeseburger In Paradise.” So this is what she’d been hungry for! Bon appétit!
“More like Boston to Atlanta,” he said against her mouth. “Then drove to Savannah. The precinct captain sent me here to find you, and if this is your take on babysitting, I think I’m a fan.”
“Boston? You’re Boston?” The angels vanished, taking the cheeseburger, and she scooted back, sand grinding against her skin and creeping down her back, into her panties and places where she’d be finding sand for a week.
“I was in Atlanta for a conference and some Georgia congressman said you have a problem with an organized gambling ring. I wound up here, not that I’m complaining.”
“But I am. It’s another Northern invasion. Yankees think they got to be in charge or we’ll start running around down here and lynching folks, is that it? This here is Savannah and the only things organized are church time, party time, and martini time and not necessarily in that order, and are you sure you’re from Boston?”
“Does the name Ray Cleveland mean anything to you? Looks like you and I are working together investigating him.”
“Mr. Cleveland owns a restaurant out on Thunderbolt Island. I ate there last week and the only ring was of the onion variety.” A sweet-looking guy finally comes into her life and then he has to open his cop mouth and Ray Cleveland pops out.
“Word has it Cleveland runs a hell of a lot more then food.”
“Word has it that interfering cops who don’t know squat about the Low Country should damn well butt out of what doesn’t concern them and go back where they came from.” But he really did have a great kiss.
“Well as I live and breathe,” said Prissy St. James as she sashayed around the corner of the morgue, hands on swaying hips, auburn hair flowing like she was some African goddess coming down the Nile. “What is all this ruckus about and…oh my goodness…looky what we have here, a little beach party smack dab in the middle of my rehab project. Mighty convenient for you two that the owners are away shopping in Beaufort for the day and my crew and I are late showing up.”
Sister Roberta and Sister June followed Prissy. Dressed in baggy overalls and carrying a circular saw and paint buckets, they didn’t look their usual Sunday degree of sisterliness, and that was good since damn and hell had just been thrown out for all the world to hear. Bebe stood, swiping sand from her skirt and blouse. “I came to check on the fire damage and see if we overlooked anything that might give us a clue as to what happened here with the fire. Then I heard someone rummaging and—”
“And then you went and found him.” Looking totally put together in overalls and white blouse, Prissy shook Burger’s hand. “I’m Prissy St. James of St. James and Sisters, the heavenly rehabbers. These are Sisters Roberta and June, who also run a shelter for teens, and that’s our sandpile you two are cavorting in.”
“Actually it’s Ray Cleveland’s sandpile,” Bebe said. “And this man’s here with the intention of putting Cleveland in jail.”
“Saints preserve us and holy mother in heaven!” Prissy yanked her hand away and the sisters gasped, made the sign of the cross, and took a step back as if the devil had landed. Prissy said, “Ray Cleveland in jail! Now that is without a doubt the very worst idea I’ve ever heard. What if we go and find you someone else to put in jail? There are enough scallywags here in Savannah that you could have your pick, because Mr. Cleveland’s a fine man. He lent us the money to start up St. James and Sisters, donated that brand-spanking-new wing over at the senior citizens’ center and the sit-a-spell reading room at the library, and—”
“And plays Santa to the kids at the orphanage,” Burger said, his face still all cop. He slid his badge from his back pocket, pulling his jeans tight, and he had really great tight jeans and…and for the love of Pete, did he have to be from Boston?
“I’m Donovan McCabe, and that great-guy routine is how criminals cover up what they really do. Look good to the community on one side while fleecing it clean on the other. You need to take a closer look at Cleveland.”
“And maybe I need to be MapQuesting you back where you came from,” Prissy muttered as Bebe cursed herself for wanting nothing more then to fleece Donovan McCabe right here and now. He was some great kisser and she was downright pathetic.
He nodded at the sisters. “Nice meeting you.” He faced Bebe. “I’ll see you at the station.”
“Not if she sees you first,” Prissy snarled as Burger made for the front of the morgue. “She’ll be running the other way as fast as she can.”
Sister June and Sister Roberta hoisted a ladder toward the front porch as Prissy kicked at the pile of sand and said to Bebe, “Well, wouldn’t you know it? You finally get a man in your life and he winds up being some pitiful low-rent come-here intent on stirring up a boatload of trouble for no good reason except for putting away Ray Cleveland, and that simply cannot happen. So, just don’t stand there like a fencepost, Bebe Fitzgerald, think of something to fix this.”
“Huh? Me? Why me?”
“He’s a cop, you’re a cop, and maybe you shouldn’t do all that running away, after all, because you’re even a pretty woman cop. For once in your life you’re going to have to use the pretty part to get the job done.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I know, I know,” Prissy whined. “And that’s the most sorry part of all of this. How can someone who looks like they should be prancing down a runway in New York City be so clueless about their own demeanor? I’m thinking you need to flirt, strut, shake your moneymaker to distract this McCabe person from his Ray Cleveland obsession. You need to ditch the ugliest suits God has seen fit to put on this here Earth and somehow you went and found and probably paid good money for. You need to show off some of your come-to-mama cleavage and this-way-to-heaven thigh and your can’t-touch-this derriere and…”
Bebe grabbed her jacket at the throat with one hand and held down her skirt with the other. “I don’t strut or cleavage or heaven.”
“Well you had a good start going over there in the sandpile and you’ll just have to keep it up for a while till we can think of another plan to get rid of Boston Boy. We’re desperate here and you two were exchanging feels-ups and spit a minute ago. If Mr. Cleveland gets sent up the river, half of the new businesses and charities in Savannah will go begging, including me and the good sisters, and we’re right in the middle of rehabbing the morgue. You don’t want to be on the bad side of the sisters; that’s like being on the bad side of God.” She narrowed her brow. “And you definitely don’t want that now, do you?” Prissy pushed Bebe’s hand away and undid the top button of her new navy poly-blend suit.
Bebe rebuttoned. “Think of something else.”
“Guess I need to pull out the big guns.” Prissy held up her scarred pinky finger, batted her big black eyes, frowned like a ten-year-old, and added a girly sniff for good measure. “One for all and all for one. The four of us with our cut tiny ten-year-old fingers in Bonaventure Cemetery under that big full moon, pressing pinky-to-pinky, blood-to-blood, making us sister-to-sister.”
“And BrieAnn fainted, Charlotte got lost, and the cops came and dragged us all back home and our parents grounded us for months.”
“But we’re blood sisters forever; there’s no changing that.” Prissy flashed the pathetic look and no one did pathetic better than Prissy…except maybe Charlotte and BrieAnn when they needed something.
“I never pull the blood-sister routine on you guys. You and Char and Brie always pull it on me.”
“Honey, you’re a cop with a big old gun hanging off your hip and a siren and flashing lights on your car. You don’t need the pinky routine.”
“I should have been an IRS agent. Bet you wouldn’t be wanting me to do pinky stuff if I worked for the IRS.” Bebe took a shortcut between the flaking white-painted columns on the porch. She ran under the sisters’ stepladder, not worrying two cents about having bad luck since she’d gotten her quota for the day. She caught up with the man who had turned her day into…well…crap.
“Look,” she said, huffing from the ten pounds she’d put on from her sudden food addiction. She pulled Burger to the side behind the three-tiered moss-covered iron fountain she remembered glistening in the sun years ago. “Why are you doing this? I mean, Cleveland hasn’t been a blip on anyone’s radar for thirty years. Why now all of a sudden?” And why in holy blazes did he have to smell of sunshine and sex? The sunshine part she could handle, but the sex part…
“This Georgia congressman says he has firsthand information on Cleveland running a gambling syndicate, and he wants it shut down. Gives his state a bad name. I’m here to poke around and see what’s going on.”
“You have no jurisdiction.”
“That’s where you come in.”
“What if I can interest you in poking something else, something better?”
His eyes went to black, her breathing stopped along with her heart, because what he thought was not what she meant…was it? He backed her against the fountain, the rim of the lower pool at her legs, the cool metal not doing squat to get rid of the heat in her stomach even if he was the enemy. She sizzled. He smiled. Some enemy.
“You are definitely the most interesting thing to come my way in a long time. Why do you wear that suit? Those shoes?”
“The department frowns on us running around naked.” Her mouth went dry at the thought of being naked next to Burger.