Authors: Josie Brown
Tags: #action and adventure, #Brown, #chick lit, #contemporary romance, #espionage, #espionage books, #funny mysteries, #funny mystery, #guide, #handy household tips, #hardboiled, #household tips, #housewife, #Janet Evanovich, #Josie Brown, #love, #love and romance, #mom lit, #mommy lit, #Mystery, #relationship tips, #Romance, #romantic comedy, #romantic mysteries, #romantic mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #Suspense, #Thriller, #thriller mysteries, #thrillers mysteries, #Women Sleuths, #womens contemporary
“Trust me, if you got to keep the proceeds, you’d be looking harder at the bottom line, too. I’ve got a kid ready for college. All she’ll consider are the Ivy Leagues! Have you seen what tuitions run these days?” He shakes his head in wonder. “I’m thinking about a food truck. Cupcakes maybe.”
I tilt my head as I consider that option. “That would go over pretty big in this neighborhood. Tell you what. If you get Ryan to approve it, I’ll slip you some of my recipes. I’ve got a killer one for coconut, and also my red velvet is to die for.”
He hits me with a high five. “You’re on.”
When my kids finally make up their minds, their choices are predicable. Mary wants a Fudgesicle, whereas Trisha goes for a Dreamsicle, and Jeff can’t make up his mind.
“Oh, hurry up already,” Mary mutters to him.
“Why?” Jeff smirks back. “Is your boyfriend coming over again tonight to tutor you in ‘math?’” He makes kissing sounds as he hugs himself.
“He might.” Mary glances over at me as she tosses her hair from her left side to her right one. It’s a nervous trait. “What’s it to you?”
“Nothing.” Jeff shrugs. “But I would have thought that, by now, you would have gotten tired of him flirting… with
Before I can say anything to put a stop to Jeff’s nonsense, Mary rubs her Fudgesicle in Jeff’s face and stalks off.
Jeff licks the tip of his nose. “Not bad! I’ll have another,
I put my hands up. “No, Jeff, you won’t. Enjoy what’s left of Mary’s pop.”
“No buts. Now, go apologize to her. Take Trisha with you. And by the way, you’re doing the dinner dishes tonight.”
He knows better than to argue. He trudges off after her, hauling his little sister behind him. I can hear him begging her for a bite of her Popsicle. Her way of saying no is to stick the whole thing in her mouth.
Jack puts his arm around my shoulders. “One thing I can say for Trevor, he’s got good taste in women.”
That earns him a kiss from me. “Mary doesn’t understand that I wasn’t showing off. I just didn’t want the children and their friends to get hurt.”
“Why don’t I have a talk with her? Maybe I can give her a man’s perspective on the issue.”
“I’d appreciate it. Thanks for stepping in, Jack.”
“You know what they say, ‘Father knows best.’” His kiss is deeper and longer than mine was to him.
Yes, I melt into it. And yes, I wish it could go on forever.
If only he were really their father.
If only he were really my husband.
Soon, I pray. Very soon.
Pretty Presents Start with the Packaging
Holiday gifts for neighbors or co-workers don’t have to be expensive. Instead of buying, try making or baking!
A dozen gingerbread cookies, biscotti, deep, dark maple walnut fudge, or a handmade Christmas ornament will be appreciated even more, if its packaging is also pretty and inviting! For example, fill a Mason jar with your goodies, then cover the tin lid with a holiday-themed napkin before twisting it tight. For something with more portability, fold heavy holiday craft paper evenly over the top of goodies in large sandwich bags, staple shut, then decorate with stamps, tinsel, ribbons or bells, and voilà! You have a pretty present!
Very important tip: Nothing says “old-fashioned” better than murder by arsenic, a powdered poison that is undetectable in sweets topped with confectioner’s sugar.
Another very important tip: Wear gloves when creating your packaging, or when packing your gifts. We wouldn’t want to leave fingerprints that would bring the police to our well-lit and beautifully wreathed front door, now would we?
“You are older looking than your online dating photo, Nadia,” General Melmud Massoud Shammam says as he scrutinizes me from top to bottom.
In fact, it’s my bottom that fascinates him the most. To my chagrin, he holds up one of my dating profile pictures in order to compare it to the real thing. “Did you Photoshop your buttocks to look like Pippa Middleton’s? Yes, of course! I see that now! Shame on you, sister, for coveting an infidel’s likeness!” He shakes his index finger at me.
Yeah, okay, busted. It wasn’t my ass. That was Arnie’s idea. I’ll never listen to
again, that’s for sure.
“I should be disappointed, but I am a practical man and prefer hips large enough to bear many, many children. So perhaps you will make me happy after all.”
Ha! Says you
, I think, but I stifle the urge to stick my stiletto into his heart.
Besides, his breasts are bigger than mine, so I’m not sure I’d find his heart underneath all that blubber.
I’d sure have fun trying, though. Like playing a real-life version of that old game, “Operation.”
Instead, I bow my head to the man once renowned as the top torture expert in Qaddafi’s army and murmur, “It is true, sir. Allah has given me many wonderful years. But the life of a fertile virgin is empty if it is not spent at the side of an honorable husband.”
Melmud was ID’ed by Interpol’s Universal Face Workstation as the thug standing with Carl in the munitions exchange video. His payoff in arranging the fatal meeting was a new identity and a one-way ticket to the United States.
Ladies, big FYI: because this coward left his three wives and nine children to face Libya’s mob rule, he’s back on the market. His online dating profile in
(the leading website for men seeking Russian brides looking to move overseas) reads like this:
Join me in America!
Strong, virile and handsome man seeks slim and perfect woman with whom to share his life. Let’s hit the links, and take long walks on the beach at sunset!
Must be Muslim, and a virgin. Natural blonde preferred. Must like golf and also hiking, since sometimes we may spend time camping out in the desert for long periods of time. But I am well-endowed, so it will be worth your while.
Quite a charmer, ain’t he?
Arnie hacked into Melmud’s account and zapped the responses from the few Slavic singletons desperate enough to answer the ad so that I’d be his default choice.
My own response was fine-tuned in the hope of making me sound meek, pious and submissive. My profile photos were shot by a photographer who freelances for
, and all that implies. With the help of a sheer, form-hugging shift and some soft backlighting, the photographer knew exactly how to accentuate the positive.
So did Arnie, who’s a wiz at Photoshop. Pippa has set a very high bar for the rest of us. I may have been wearing a headscarf, but now it’s obvious that Melmud’s eyes weren’t drawn to the shape of my head.
Ideally, “Nadia” would have flown from Moscow to LAX, but thanks to some Arnie’s hacking, the best Melmud could pull off on such short notice was a flight to San Francisco, where he was to meet? her, then fly her into Santa Barbara on his private jet.
A blond female Acme operative with my height, weight measurements (perky breasts and all) and an identical head scarf boarded the flight. When she got off, she went into the fifth stall the closest ladies’ lavatory, where I was already waiting for her. We’re dressed as twins down to our matching headscarves, so anyone following her would presume we’re one and the same. She handed me her ticket to put with my fake passport, changed her clothes and wig, and then there was one.
Melmud’s bodyguard met me at baggage claim and hustled me into another terminal, where Melmud’s private customized Gulfstream G650 was ready to whisk us down to Santa Barbara. The plane is tricked out with a private living room, bedroom, dining room and kitchen galley.
In other words, all the comforts of home for a fugitive on the run.
Now that I’m in mid-flight with my supposed betrothed, I’ll slip him the ultimate mickey—SP-117, a concoction invented by the Russia’s external foreign intelligence arm, the SVR. It’s tasteless, colorless, and leaves the victim clueless as to anything he may have said.
While he’s under the influence, I’ll ask him the whereabouts of the missing munitions cache. But it’s only a fifty-minute flight, so I’ve got to work fast. My problem: being Muslim, neither Melmud nor his thug drinks liquor or caffeine. A glass of water will have to do.
I begin with flattery, in my best Moose-and-Squirrel accent. “Sir, my innate shyness forces me to request that our time together be private.”
By the way he raises an eyebrow at this unexpected modesty it looks like he believes that perhaps he really did find the only virgin on a website loaded with Slavic vixens. I guess he’s giving me the benefit of the doubt because he snaps his fingers at his bodyguard, who disappears into the cockpit with the pilot, closing the door behind him.
I reward Melmud by loosening the top button of my already low-cut, floor-length tunic, revealing the lacy camisole beneath it.
The plane hops over a cloud, giving me the opportunity to tumble against him. Oops! My hand falls in his lap in the hope of bracing my fall. I cover my mouth, as if shocked by this seemingly innocent action.
But when our eyes meet, I lick my lips in anticipation.
His response is Pavlovian in one regard. He’s panting for a treat.
“In my country, we toast the holy union between a groom and his bride.” I lower my head. “Will you allow me to serve you, my honorable fiancé? Just a glass of water, of course.”
He smiles and nods toward the kitchen galley. I bow slightly before gliding to a cabinet and pulling out two glasses.
He is too busy loosening his tie and planning the tests that will prove my virginity to see me slide the medallion on my ring and release the drug into his drink.
As I hand him his glass, he shouts, “
He passes out just as he had begun to slobber all over me.
I shove him off to the far end of the couch. I go over my mental checklist of everything on my list—
I forgot to check the SFO duty-free shop for any Furbys!
Note to self: get better at multi-tasking.
But first things first. Buy time.
I grab Melmud’s cell phone from his pocket and yank the subject’s SIM card from his phone. Then I dial Jack with the satellite connection on the wireless SIM card reader I’ve concealed in my valise.
“How’s our little mail order bride?” he asks.
“Cut the crap. I’ve just pulled out the SIM card. What now?”
“Great! Arnie’s on the line, too. All you have to do is slip it into that little doohickey he gave you. When it’s done, uplink it, and
He’ll have access to a week, maybe two, of previous text messages and traceable cell numbers.”
Uplinking the data on the SIM card takes much too long: all of six minutes, and I’ve still got an interrogation to conduct.
By the time the upload is finished, Melmud’s Kickapoo Joy Juice has kicked in.
“Who is the Quorum?” My voice is gentle but authoritative.
“Infidels. But they pay well for arms. Enough for me to buy the mansion next door to Oprah in Montecito. But Oprah’s dogs crap in my yard all the time. Still, I don’t mind. They are Oprah’s dogs! Some are Labradors, but there are also a couple of Springer spaniels. Not to mention the golf club in Montecito is top notch. I have a two handicap. Soon they will make me a member. I am sure of it.”
Someone should have warned me SP-117 leads to diarrhea of the mouth. If this were just another extraordinary rendition, I’d have already given this dude a Cheney spa treatment and tossed him out the door.
I start over. “Melmud, try to stay focused. What is the Quorum doing with heat-seeking missiles?”
“Taking down a plane.”
. At thirty-three thousand feet in the air, this guy better tell me something I don’t already know, or one of us is going to jump ship. I don’t want it to be me. “Where will it occur? On what day, and at what time?”
“What I know is—”
A sharp rap at the door stops him cold. That damn bodyguard!
In Arabic, the bodyguard is telling his boss that we will be landing in five minutes. He wants to know if there is anything we need.
Melmud is about to say something when I hiss, “Don’t answer!” I reach for my satellite phone. This time I dial Arnie direct.
When he picks up, I whisper frantically, “I need you to dial Melmud’s bodyguard as if it’s coming from Melmud, and give him a message.”
Arnie pauses. “Why would I do that?”
“Because I’m in the middle of interrogating this creep, and the guard is standing right outside the door! I can’t have Melmud answer him out loud. He’s in a trance! No telling what he might say! I need the guard to get a text message telling him to scram! But to be authentic, it’ll have to be in Arabic, and my bandwidth doesn’t stretch that far.”
“Don’t worry, piece of cake. And I’ll make sure the caller ID will show Melmud’s phone. Just text me what you want it to say.”
I think for a moment before sending him this: