Authors: Traci Angrighetti
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What people are saying about
Traci Andrighetti's Franki Amato Mysteries
"Traci's writing is sharp and funny; the world she paints leaps off the page and makes the reader laugh out loud…A thoroughly enjoyable new voice in fiction!"
—Kristin Harmel, Internationally bestselling novelist (The Sweetness of Forgetting)
"Traci Andrighetti's Limoncello Yellow had me tickled pink! Her smart, sassy heroine, wacky cast of characters, and vividly original settings had me glued to the page. I can't wait to read more from this author!"
—Gemma Halliday, New York Times bestselling author
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Copyright © 2014 by Traci Andrighetti
Cover design by Lyndsey Lewellen
Gemma Halliday Publishing
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
To my beloved grandmother, Annie Lee Andrick, for saving those old Nancy Drew books just for me
would not have come into being if it weren't for Gemma Halliday. When I sent her a sample of
, the first book in the Franki Amato Mysteries, I never dreamed that it would be published. Not only did Gemma publish it, she convinced me to make it a series. And I am forever grateful.
I am also thankful to my family for their role in the writing of this book. A very special thank you goes to my son Dmitriy for being as patient as he could while I wrote; to my mother, Carolyn Andrighetti, for being my biggest fan and for catching my mistakes (She has
had a special talent for that, btw.); and to my husband, Graham Kunze, for reading various passages and listening to me drone on and on about plot issues.
Speaking of the plot, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Detective Ruben Vasquez and Wally Lind, both of whom graciously spend their free time answering the questions of writers like me, and to my friend Gregg Charalambous for inspiring the character of Troy. (He knows why.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a sincere
to my longtime friends Elio Guida and Corinna Semorile and their freaking
children, Alberto and Vittoria. Not only did they allow me to spend part of our vacation in New Orleans writing
, they're responsible for my return to Oak Alley plantation, which served as the inspiration for
Last but not least, I'd like to thank all my friends who lent me their names for
. You know who you are, and if you don't, you'll have to read the book to find out!
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"Who takes their secretary to a working dinner at a freaking bed and breakfast?" I asked aloud as I sped down Great Mississippi River Road in Louisiana plantation country. I didn't usually talk to myself, but the stress of the situation more than justified it.
"I mean, what's wrong with a restaurant in the French Quarter? People travel from all over the world to eat there."
I steered my 1965 cherry-red Mustang convertible out from behind the 18-wheeler to make sure the black BMW was still up ahead. As soon as I'd spotted it, I dropped back behind the hulking truck. I couldn't let Bradley know I was following him.
Bradley Hartmann was the president of Ponchartrain Bank on Canal Street in New Orleans. With his shocking blue eyes, full lips, and chiseled jaw, he was without a doubt the sexiest bank executive this side of the Mason-Dixon line. And he was mine. We'd been seeing each other for the past three months, ever since his divorce was finalized. Okay, maybe we started seeing each other a bit before then, but that was an accident. I promise.
The problem was, now that his ex-wife was out of the way, his sexy new Chinese-French secretary was in the way. All six feet of her. And at five feet ten inches myself, I wasn't used to looking up to a woman, especially not one as lowdown as Pauline Violette. She did everything she could to keep me away from Bradley—including scheduling these weekend working dinners at bed and breakfasts outside of town. And judging from the way she batted her violet, almond-shaped eyes at him, it was clear why.
"How is it even possible that her eye color matches her last name?" I asked as I hit the gas. "Her boobs are clearly manmade, so those eyes have to be too."
I glanced out the passenger window to try to catch another glimpse of Bradley's BMW, and a flash of pink caught my eye. But it wasn't the coral-pink hue of the thousands of oleanders that framed a stunning, three-story, columned plantation home. It was the pink crinoline skirt of the woman standing on the balcony. It was a hauntingly beautiful image, like something you'd see in an old oil painting.
Unfortunately, the road started to curve sharply, but I was too busy staring at the Southern belle to notice. My tires hit the soft shoulder, and I jerked the steering wheel hard to the left. But it was too late. My car slid sideways right into a swamp.
" I exclaimed as I realized what had happened. And I did want my mother. Because when I restarted the engine and tried to drive to land, I discovered that I was stuck in the filthy swamp mud.
I threw open my car door, mentally whispered a farewell to my new boots, and stepped into the black swamp water. I trudged around to the back of the car and saw that the rear passenger tire was the problem. I needed to find some wood or stones to put beneath it to try to gain traction. Just as I was about to turn around and head for shore, I made a horrifying discovery. The water was moving.
That's when a bumpy black reptile lifted its moss-covered head above the surface of the murky swamp water, and I came face-to-face with an alligator.
The unsightly beast opened its toothy, cavernous mouth and made a loud hissing sound.
Make that an angry alligator.
"G-good gator," I stammered, frozen with fear.
The alligator lowered its head back into the water and began swimming in a circle, its large cat-like eyes trained on me like the sight of a gun.
"Nice b-boy, Al," I said as I began inching backward through the watery, foul-smelling mud. In case the alligator decided to charge at me, I needed to make it to the driver's side taillight to have a clear shot at the open car door. "Or, maybe you're an Alli?"
As though confirming my suspicion, she slapped her tail hard against the surface of the water.
I estimated her to be around six feet in length—precisely Pauline's height. Then I promptly reminded myself that during my rookie cop days in Austin, Texas, I'd once tackled a male ostrich that was getting frisky with some mothers at a petting zoo. Plus, I'd seen the Gator Boys
the Swamp Men wrestle alligators on TV, so I figured that I could take her if push came to shove, er, thrust came to lunge.
Alli stopped near the stump of a bald cypress tree and opened her mouth, revealing eighty or so two-inch-long yellow teeth.
Okay, maybe not.
I took another step backward, and she resumed circling.
"That's right, girl. Just keep swimming," I whispered, advancing another inch or two. "It's good for your waistline." I took another step, and my right foot sunk into what felt like a muddy mass of tree roots. I tried to pull it out, but it was stuck solid. Just like the rear tire of my Mustang.
I felt a fresh wave of fear wash over me, but I knew I had to keep calm. I took a deep breath of the putrid swamp air and tried again to free my foot.
"Franki?" a male voice called.
"Bradley," I breathed. "Oh thank God." My relief quickly gave way to dismay, however, when I realized that he must have seen me following him and Pauline before I ran my car off the road. But surely he would overlook that minor detail now that I was standing in filthy, mosquito-infested swamp water
being stalked by an alligator.
"Don't move," he said in a calm, even tone. "You don't want to startle him."
No, I most certainly don't
, I thought.
"As soon as he turns to swim away, make a dash for the other side of the car."
"Don't you think I would've done that by now if I could?" I asked, trying to control my increasing hysteria.
"Why can't you? What's wrong?"
"Let me see… Where should I start?"
"Franki," he began, a note of tension creeping into his voice, "why can't you get to the car door?"
"My shoe is caught on something." Should I add that my new boots were the knee-high lace-up kind—with triple buckles?
"Okay, then slip your foot out of your shoe," he said through clenched teeth.
No, now was clearly not the time to tell him. "Um, it's not exactly the slip-your-foot-out-of-your-shoe kind of shoe."
There was a heavy silence.
"Then we're going to have to wait him out," he said.
I gasped. Was he seriously not going to come into the water and pull me out? I mean, saving me from an alligator was the least he could do after planning to take his secretary to a B&B, right?
"If I move, he could attack," Bradley explained. "And you're his closest target."
Before I could protest, I heard an ear-splitting bellow behind me. I jerked my head to the left and saw the largest alligator I'd ever seen. At roughly fifteen feet in length, he was practically a dinosaur.
Terror shot through my body like a white-hot flash of lightening. But I fought to keep my wits about me because the gargantuan gator was standing near Bradley. And as mad as I was about Pauline and the whole leaving-me-to-the-gator thing, I could hardly let Bradley be eaten by a Tyrannosaurus alligator on my account. I had to do something. And fast.
I started jerking my trapped foot as hard as I could. But each time I did, I sunk deeper and deeper into the gooey swamp bottom. The water level was now above my knees, and my panic level was considerably higher.
"You've got to stay still," Bradley warned. "He's extremely dangerous."
"April is mating season. I think he's looking for a mate."
"Well, tell him Alli isn't interested. And neither am I," I added, just in case.
The big gator bellowed again, causing the hair to stand up on my arms.
Had my refusal offended him or something?
"He's headed toward the water now," Bradley said. "Stay calm."
"Easy for you to say," I muttered under my breath.
I heard a splash as the alligator entered the swamp. At that same moment, Alli dipped beneath the surface of the water. Now there were two of them. Lurking.
Oh God, oh God, oh God. I promise I'll never lust after an alligator handbag or shoes again for as long as I live if you let me survive this,
I thought. Then I held my breath and waited.
The swamp was deadly silent, except for the croaking of some green tree frogs.
I started when I heard the sound of a car door opening.
"Bradley, get back in the car!" Pauline called. "It's not safe."
No need to worry about
, I thought. Not only was the sultry secretary trying to steal my boyfriend, now she was also trying to convince him to leave me for gator food.
"I need you to stay in the car, Pauline," he replied. "I can't have anything happen to you."
Wait a minute. He can't have anything happen to
? What about
I felt a sudden surge of anger-induced adrenaline course through my body. With a steely calm, I crouched down, unbuckled and unlaced my boot and pulled my foot free. Then I yanked the boot out of the tangled roots and rushed around to the driver's seat. I'd paid three hundred bucks for those boots, so there was no way I was leaving one of them in the swamp—gators or no gators.
The second I got into the car, I pulled my 9mm purple Ruger from the glove compartment box. I looked out my driver's side window and saw Bradley kneel down to examine my rear tire.
"Start the engine and press the accelerator," he called.
I did as I was told and watched through the rearview mirror as mud flew from the spinning tire.
He motioned for me to stop. "Let me find something to put under the tire, and then I'll have you try again."
"Be careful," I said.
With my gun in hand, I surveyed the area for hungry—or horny—alligators while Bradley gathered a few small cypress branches.
He arranged the branches beneath my tire and stood up, wiping his hands. "Okay, now."
I hit the gas full throttle and felt my tire gain traction. The car started forward and then spun out to the right, just as something struck the side of my car. I had a terrifying thought. O
ne of the alligators had lunged for Bradley and hit my car instead!
I threw the car into park and leapt out with my gun drawn.