MURDER AT THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, is now available on Amazon Kindle!
Embezzlement, Blackmail and Murder
On the Oklahoma Panhandle!
When Liz O’Brien returns home to make peace with her ailing mother, she expects boredom and monotony. Instead, she finds a morass of secrets that land her in the crosshairs of a killer. Who would have thought that Tumbleweed, an Oklahoma panhandle town so tiny it could disappear as a mirage, would be rift with embezzlement, blackmail and murder?
Plus: The romantic designs of handsome cowboy from her past, really throw Liz for a loop.
Here’s how the story begins:
“Everyone has something they want to hide, but you have more than most.” Christabel Steele flipped her hair backwards, a movement that she knew accentuated her beauty. She pictured her sleek, golden hair fanning in practiced perfection over her right shoulder. The gesture usually mesmerized men and annoyed women. But today her quarry’s eyes glazed with fear. Christabel licked her lips, savoring the moment. Like an antelope caught in underbrush. But instead of blood, I’ll taste money.
Emotional pain radiated from her dupe, and Christabel drew strength from the suffering. Her earliest memory was watching her father suck marrow from a steak bone while he skillfully tormented her pliable mother. Without so much as raising his voice, the man could cause his beautiful, gentle wife to turn pale as moonlight and cry like a baby. Christabel had watched and learned. Daddy had been dead five years now, but she still worshipped him. He had taught her well.
“I still have trouble understanding how you found out.”
“You mention that each time you come, and my answer never changes.” Christabel laughed. “Your tawdry little secret was clear to me from the beginning. I saw and recorded every detail in my journals.” Christabel swirled the half-filled champagne glass, never moving her gaze from her prey. “I’ve kept notes on what I’ve seen for a very long time. I started back in the second grade when I got in trouble for tellin g people’s secrets.”
“You’ve been a monster since a child! A bad seed.”
“Oh, please.” Christabel licked her lips again, savoring her victim’s pain, which was stronger than she had expected.
“And you think people will continue paying forever?” The prey’s voice tightened and Christabel’s lips curved higher.
“Well you have, haven’t you?” Christabel moved her body sensuously against the sofa. “And not just in cash.” Her enjoyment intensified as the person’s misery grew. “I never tell my victims everything I know about their little indiscretions. A pinch of uncertainty adds excitement to the hunt. Then, the slightest hint of knowledge and you all get the same stricken look on your faces—like an antelope just before a mountain lion pounces. I watched that once on TV.”
The victim flinched and Christabel laughed.
“Growing up, I watched my parents carefully. I inherited Mother’s beauty, and Daddy’s brain. I learned how to get what I wanted by mirroring him.” Christabel smiled. “Knowing is power and power is even better than sex.”
“You’d do this even if cash wasn’t involved, wouldn’t you?”
Christabel arched an eyebrow. This one was smarter than she’d thought. “Perhaps. My family has run Tumbleweed since the late 1800s. We’ve always called the shots here—my father before me and his father before him. I like making people dance to my tune. And I like the money.”
Her life was perfect.
Then she remembered Liz. Why the hell hadn’t her cousin stayed in Tulsa where she belonged? Everyone claimed the bitch had been a huge success. Crashed through the glass ceiling and became VP of some company. Now she’d returned and wanted her house to herself.
She’d hated her cousin forever! It was Liz’s fault she’d gotten pregnant and had that embarrassing baby with his brown skin.
Christabel flicked her tongue across her scarlet lips remembering the night a heartbroken Liz had eloped on the rebound to marry that worthless Danny O’Brien. I thought she was gone forever. Oh, the hell with her.
Christabel took another swallow of the expensive wine. Her victim always brought the finest. She frowned and sniffed the glass. She had left the room for only a moment in order to carry that wretched cat upstairs and lock the beast in Liz’s room. Could there be something in the champagne? Christabel smiled. Impossible. Too much fear. “You brought the money?” She held out a small aristocratic hand. “All of it?”
“Yes.” Her victim sat quietly, and the quietness annoyed Christabel. She sipped the champagne again. Of course, it tasted the same; it was her fourth glass. She drained the flute, then smiled. She’d finish the whole bottle and offer none to her prey. Daddy had taught her how to hold her liquor and how to keep victims in their place.
“You promise not to tell?”
“If you pay, I never tell.” Christabel let contempt curl her lips upward, then enjoyed the resentment mirrored on the victim’s face. Christabel laughed. “At least, I haven’t yet.”
The room grew suddenly warm. The fragile stemmed glass weighed heavily in her hand and her head spun. What was happening to her?
A black pistol appeared from a pocket as if by magic, grasped by the visitor’s white-knuckled fingers. “Sit still.” The voice was hard and angry and not a bit frightened.
“What the hell...?” Christabel asked. It took her a minute to regroup. She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot. You shoot me and your sins become public. My cousin Liz will give my journals to the police. You won’t be able to pay her to stay silent. Miss Perfect wouldn’t take a bribe to save her own life.”
“I’m here now, and I’ll find the books before she comes home.”
“Books? I quit writing on paper years ago.” Christabel’s words started to slur. “Even if you find my old journals and smash my iPad, there are tiny things called thumb drives you’ll never find.”
“I’ll take the chance.” Her visitor reached into the same pocket and pulled out a plastic bag, passing it to Christabel. “Put that over your head.”
“You think I’m crazy?” Christabel felt even dizzier. Her eyelids were heavy. If only she could close them for a minute, she’d be all right…back in control.
“If you don’t do what I say, I’m going to shoot off one side of your face.”
Not her face, her beautiful face! This couldn’t be happening. She was the hunter. She had never been prey.
“I won’t kill you. I’ll just take off one cheekbone. I’ll even call 911 before I leave. Only, no man will ever look at you again. Your outside will be as ugly as your inside. That’d be worth going to jail for.”
The image so terrified Christabel that she slipped the bag over her head, leaving the bottom open to breathe through. She’d stall. Keep talking. She’d think of a way to get the edge. She always did, just as Daddy always had.
Her visitor walked behind her and put the barrel of the pistol against her face. Christabel sat still, not daring to move. She felt fingers reach forward and tighten the bag around her neck. The gun seemed like ice against her skin.
Christabel drew in a sharp breath, and then the plastic shrink-wrapped her mouth. She couldn’t raise her hand, and she couldn’t breathe! She might really die! For the first time, she knew what fear meant, then blind terror.
The last sound Christabel heard was glass shattering when the champagne flute slipped from her fingers.
Print copies will be available soon!