A Novel Murder
87 pages

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87 pages

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Unexplained visions, murder and mayhem…that’s what Michelle’s life has come to, and she desperately wants out of her detective position to be behind her own desk, being the author she’s forced to conceal behind a pseudonym. Even though the fodder for her first book came from past cases, if she can just write her break-through novel under her real name, she’ll leave the force, switch her genre to romance, and pursue the relationship she wants with her hunky partner. His desire is evident, but fraternization on the job is forbidden, and she can’t gamble with the income she needs. Still, maybe those horrible visions seen through the killer’s eyes will go away for good if she’s no longer part of the local police department.



Publié par
Date de parution 26 juillet 2013
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9781773626284
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


N1ovel Murder
By Ginger Simpson
Digital ISBNs
EPUB 978-1-77362-628-4
Kindle 978-1-77145-085-0
WEB 978-1-77362-627-7
Amazon Print 978-1-77362-626-0

Copyright 2013 by Ginger Simpson
Cover art by Michelle Lee
All rights reserved. Without limiting therights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publicationmay 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 theprior written permission of both the copyright owner and the abovepublisher of this book.
Chapter One
The smell of decomposition hung heavy in theair of the small bedroom—a nauseating odor that defied description.A homicide detective in Philadelphia for nearly five years,Michelle Wallace still found dealing with death unsettling. Sheclutched a tissue to her nose to help block the stench. Nervesbeneath her skin shuddered as she surveyed the posed body of thedeceased. On the queen-sized bed, a naked woman in her latetwenties or early thirties lay with arms crossed over her breasts,her blue eyes fixed in a permanent stare toward the ceiling. Hermouth, lips painted bright red, twisted in what was probably herlast attempt to scream. The piece of rope embedded around herthroat left ligature marks on her otherwise flawless skin.
The room hummed with activity while uniformedofficers with gloved hands went through drawers and the closets. Noone dared touch the body until the medical examiner arrived.Michelle didn’t need confirmation. She already knew. In an unbiddenvision, she’d seen the bits and pieces unfold. The occurrencesweren’t frequent or regular, and when young, she’d tried to seek anexplanation from her mother but got only a dismissive wave andwords uttered about an overactive imagination.
Shell’s gaze shifted to the nightstand,noticing the novel next to the lamp, titled The PerfectCrime . Would there be ramifications if her fellow officers knewshe authored the book. Her pseudonym, consisting of her initialsand her mother’s maiden name, kept her writing persona separatefrom her professional side. Although proud of her work, she darednot brag. The guys would never let her live down the fact she’dused facts from past cases to pattern her storylines. Only Mom andher best friend, Naomi, knew about Michelle’s fiction passion andthey’d been sworn to secrecy. No book signings or personalappearances would be scheduled until she wrote that breakthroughnovel, earning her rights as an author and enabling her to leavethe force.
Her attention flipped back to the hecticscene transpiring around her, especially the three officers oglingthe shapely corpse. Shooting them an icy glare, she motioned themaway. “Geez, move it along, you guys.” She rolled her eyes,disgusted at the lengths some men went to for a glimpse of a baredbreast—even on a dead woman.
Finishing his conversation with the buildingsuper in the hallway, Michelle’s partner, Tony Rizetti, strodeinside. He eyed the body, his brow raised. “How long you thinkshe‘s been dead, Meesh?”
God, she hated his nickname for her. Whycouldn’t he call her Shell like everyone else? So many times she’dasked, but the sparkle in his eyes when he defied her showed hisstubborn side.
Already certain of her answer, she shrugged.“Three, maybe four days—but that’s just a guess.” The lie about thetime rolled off her tongue as smooth as butter. She turned and eyedthe body, knowing for sure that exactly three days ago the womanhad been brutally attacked and murdered.
Tony checked his notes on a small pad hecarried in his pocket. He flicked to another page. “Her name’s CaraAustin. Neighbors on this floor called the super and complainedabout a strange stench. When he got no answer to his knocks orphone calls, he used his master key and found her just likethis.”
He flipped his notebook closed and stashed itin his breast pocket. “So, Meesh, I guess whether or not our victimwas sexually assaulted will determine if this is our case.” Asjunior detective, Tony always turned to her for guidance. “Is thereanything I should be doing until…?”
Michelle met his inquisitive gaze. At leasthe was asking now, instead of striking out on his own as he had inthe beginning—and usually creating a mess she had to fix. “Did youask the superintendent if he noticed any strange visitors coming orgoing from this apartment?”
Tony hung his head. “No.”
“Then go back and talk to him again. Find outhow long she’s lived here…if he has a phone number for her next ofkin—anything that can jumpstart the investigation for whoever takesit on. We’ve got to cover those bases whether it’s a sex crime ornot.”
Tony gazed at the corpse. “I’ll bet youanything sexual activity took place. Why else would she be naked?”He popped the gum he chewed.
Impatience jolted her last nerve. “If askinga few more questions is too tough for you, I’ll take care of it.Believe it or not, lots of people sleep in the nude. I do.”
The hair on the back of her neck bristled asshe stared at the dead woman. Of course, the vic hadn’t beensexually assaulted. Along with the talent to write novels,Michelle’s ability to “see” things allowed her to view images she’drather not. Always the victim but never the culprit. Just sketchydetails and she didn’t know why. She’d known about this particularmurder even before anyone even called it in. What was neverrevealed was the “when, where, why or whodunit,” but she hadvisualized the brutal demise of a shapely woman with blondehair—the very same color of the long tresses splayed across the bedpillow.
“So you really sleep in the buff?” Tonyinterrupted her thoughts. “Good to know.” He dropped one eyelid ina wink and flashed a crooked smile.
Her cheeks heated. Why in the world had sheadmitted something so personal to someone she’d worked with foronly a month? Ever since he’d been assigned as her new partner,she’d struggled to ignore his chocolate brown eyes and handsomeface. There were times she thought she detected a shared interest,but the department maintained a firm rule about co-workers keepingrelationships focused strictly on business. Her jaw tensed. Shedrew her admiring stare from him. “Never mind. Get your assdownstairs and find out everything you can about our dead littlemiss here.”
Thankfully, her concern over the case kepther from ogling her hunky partner. Taking out her impatience on himwas the perfect cover to hide her attraction.
Michelle flipped through the stack of paperson her desk. With the first murder she’d envisioned months agoturned over to another precinct and solved, she saw no connectionwith her current case. As far as Cara Austin’s death, nothing inrecent police reports indicated similarities to any other pendingcases. Shell had no theory, but had kept silent about the firsthomicide until official notification came through. She wasn’t readyto become a freak show on national television. No one ever believedin mediums or people who claimed to see visions, even she didn’tuntil she was old enough to understand her clairvoyant experiences.Why she began to bear mental witness to assault crimes, she had noclue, especially since she never saw the perpetrator. Thankfully,this had been Shell’s first vision in months…since a middle-agedwoman died from a gunshot wound to the heart. That murder had beencredited to a disgruntled husband.
Hiding her face in her hands while restingher elbows on her desk, Michelle wrestled with thoughts about thestrange powers she possessed. Or did they control her?
Hailing from Arizona, she and her parentsmoved east when her father garnered a promotion to policelieutenant. Sadly, he passed from a heart attack two years later,and as his only child, she’d followed in his legal footstepsalthough writing was in her blood as much as the law. Her talentfor penning stories made landing a contract with a local publisherfairly easy. The fact that the characters who spoke to her weremurder victims wasn’t her fault.
“Meesh, you gotta headache?” Tony appearedthrough the squad room double doors waving a paper in the air.
She straightened and then flipped her hairout of her eyes leaving his question unanswered.
“No evidence of sexual activity.” Tonyvalidated what she already knew, crossed the room and sat at hisdesk, which faced hers. “In fact, according to her neighbors, sheled a very quiet life. I guess finding the perp is up to us, afterall.”
Michelle’s head was pounding from toomany overtime hours, she rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I’m notsurprised.”
His obvious excitement percolated his drive,and he thrummed his fingers on the desktop. “I thought for sure wecould pass on this one, but guess not. You called it, baby.” Heleaned forward and cocked his head. “What made you so all-firedsure she hadn’t been violated?”
Michelle shrugged. Play it like the pro youknow you are, she chided herself. “I can’t explain it…just a gutfeeling and experience. The crime scene was too pristine…the killerspent too much time posing the body—a sure sign of remorse. Mosttimes, the victim is raped, beaten or repeatedly stabbed. Bloodspatter and condition of the body immediately screams anger orretribution. None of that was present in Cara’s apartment.”
“So, are you ready to tackle our case?” Herocked his desk chair back and forth.
“I suppose so.” She closed the “Austin”folder on her desk. “Did the crime scene yield any prints?”
“No, everything was wiped clean. The lab ischecking out the twine or whatever the killer used to choke her,but their conclusions probably won’t be all that helpful.”
She pushed back from the desk and stood. “Anylittle bit of information helps. While we wait for the completedreport let’s go back to the vic’s apartment and do a little piecingtogether of our own.”
* * *

The superintendent, a frown winkling hisjowls, unlocked the apartment and then moved aside as Michellebatted away the yellow crime scene tape. Before she had a chance tostep inside, fingers bit into her shoulder. She jerked around andturned an icy stare on the small-statured man “What…?”
“Yeah….” Tony stepped forward and peered downhis nose. “Keep your hands to yourself, Bernie.”
Deeper ruts furrowed the super’s alreadycraggy brow. His flushed cheeks puffed out with a mock smile.“Sorry, but I need to know how much longer you cops plan to bepoking around here? Every day this apartment goes without a tenant,I lose money.”
“Really?” Michelle’s mouth gaped.“ That’s your biggest worry? A young woman in the prime ofher life was murdered in your building, and all you can think aboutis money?” She shook her head and pointed down the corridor. “Getout of my sight before I order the whole place locked down until wefind out exactly what happened.”
The plump, ugly little man scurried awaywithout another word.
“Can you really do that?” Tony’s browarched.
“Do what?” She stepped inside, Tony followingclose behind.
“Shut down the entire building?”
She smiled over her shoulder. “Probably not,but he doesn’t know that.”
Tony laughed. “Well, you sure scared the crapout of him. Did you see how fast he moved?”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “I wish it was that easyto take care of all pests.” She paused for a moment and then cockedher head toward her partner. “Bernie?”
“Yeah, his name is Bernard Goldman.”
Michelle moved to the bed, noting theindention in the pillow upon which the victim had breathed her lastbreath. Haunting visions of the woman’s face while struggling withher attacker crept into Shell’s head. How the poor woman’s neckveins bulged as her very last gasp of air was denied her—thetwisted agony shadowed the sky blue eyes that once sparkled. Ashudder crept along Michelle’s spine. Why was the message deliveredto her so incomplete? Why show her what was happening as the crimeunfolded and never give details of how the information was supposedto help her save anyone if she couldn’t get there beforehand? Allher visions did were taunt her and point out how helpless shereally was.
“What are you staring at?” Tony nudged her,while pulling on his gloves.
“Just thinking. If the guys didn’t find anyprints or clues to the murderer, we’re going to have to rely onasking lots of questions and delving into the victim’s background.Who had a grudge against her? Who hated her enough to kill her? Whodid she trust enough to let inside?”
Michelle bent and examined the linens butstill glove free, allowed only her gaze to wander the crumpledsheets and blanket. Visually, nary a stray hair or stain gave anypromise of gathering the perp’s DNA. Of course, if there had beenanything worth checking, the CSI guys would have found it.
She straightened, tamping back the longing tomake the bed—wanting to hide the obvious and make the world rightagain—to deny what really happened. She may have failed to preventCara’s murder, but standing there, looking at the very spot wherethe dead woman heaved her last breath, Michelle vowed to find theperson responsible and make them pay.
“Hey, Meesh.” Tony appeared from thebathroom, tugging off his blue plastic gloves. “I can’t findanything. There’s only the usual stuff in the medicine chest.Evidently, she took pride in her appearance. I found tons of haircare products, skin creams and make-up, but nothing out of theordinary not even a prescription drug.”
Shell wandered the room not bothering thegaping bureau drawers the police already rifled through or daringventure into the closets they’d searched. The small desk beneaththe window displayed a dusty outline of where a laptop had been,and the drawer handles and edges around the oaken surface stillbore the powder left from fingerprinting. Atop a stack of paperslay a recently dated paycheck. Drawn on a corporate name she didn’trecognize, the only thing she made out from the scribbled signaturewas someone’s first and last initial: “C”. Obviously not a robberyor the perp didn’t want to risk his/her identity for such a smallamount of money.
She continued scanning the room. Thewindowsills and doors had also been dusted. Her trained eyes soughtanything that might have been missed or a small detail perhapsoverlooked.
She paused in front of the flat-screenedtelevision, noting the built-in DVD player. As she turned to saysomething to her partner, he bumped against her, jarring her offbalance.
“Christ, Tony. Pay attention,” she snapped.“And quit following me. If I wanted a puppy, I’d buy one.”
“Sorry, Meesh.” He slunk backwards. “I’llsearch the other side of the room.”
“Good idea, Sherlock.” She immediatelyregretted her snappy tone, but the frustration at working withsomeone with such amazing sex appeal niggled at her. Instead ofdwelling on his good looks and cursing the department for assigninghim to her, she nitpicked him, hoping to sway her attraction.
Pulling a glove on one hand, she turned herattention back to the DVD and hit the eject button. An unmarkeddisc slid out. Once in a while, even the best missed something.“Hey, Tone, I got something here.” She dangled the disc in the airuntil he held an evidence bag beneath it. After sealing the iteminside, she withdrew a black felt-tip pen from her pocket andmarked the collection date, time, and location. She printed,Austin, in bold across the top then slipped the plastic bag intoher satchel-like shoulder bag.
She took one last look around. “C’mon Tonto,the Lone Ranger’s ready to ride.”
“Huh?” Tony flashed a confused look thatalmost made her laugh.
“I meant, there’s nothing left to do here, solet’s blow this joint.” As he joined her at the door, she slappedhim on the shoulder. “I guess you Italian kids never watched oldwesterns.”
* * *
Tony strode into the squad room, his darkhair damp and drooping onto his forehead from the unbearablehumidity the weather forecast predicted. He plopped into his chair,shoved a stray curl from his perspiring brow and pulled out hisnotepad. Leaning on his elbows, he gazed across the desks. “Okay, Idid whatcha asked and added the building super to the suspect list.Seems the worst offense he’s committed is being ugly.”
Michelle’s gaze strayed to the bulging bicepsstraining against the confines of Tony’s white sleeves. She’dalways been attracted to dark, handsome men, and no denying Tonywas definitely eye-candy. Realizing she stared, she leaned back inher seat and tried to refocus. “So, did you get any useful leads?
“The tenants I talked to all said Berniedoesn’t come around much other than at the first of the month tocollect the rent or when something needs repaired. No one remembershim being overly friendly with anyone, our victim included. He‘s aloner type who might be obnoxious but I don‘t think he’s akiller”
“Yeah, well no one thought Ted Bundy was amurderer either, but he killed more than thirty-five women in sixstates.”
“Bundy…wasn’t he that law student who managedto escape from prison twice before they offed him?”
“One and the same. See, you can never makeassumptions in our line of work.”
“But, doesn’t the law say people are innocentuntil proven guilty?”
“Exactly, but we have to treat everyone as asuspect until we prove otherwise.”
“Okay, okay, you made your point. I’ll dosome more digging on Bernie. Oh, by the way, he did tell me our vicworked as a dancer at some dive called, Kitty Katz.”
Michelle stood, arched, and massaged thesmall of her back. “Let’s call it a day and start tomorrow with afresh perspective. We’ve already put in over eight hours, and theLieutenant will have a cow if we claim any more overtime. I’m goinghome, and I suggest you do the same.”
“Wanna grab a cuppa joe first?”
She wanted to respond with an immediate ‘yes’but spending her entire workday with him was enough to test herwillpower. Instead, she shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m beat. Raincheck?”
“Sure.” His shoulders sagged with apparentdisappointment. “I guess I’ll just head home and catch some zzzzs.See you tomorrow.”
Slinging his jacket over his shoulder, hesauntered out the open double doors.
Michelle’s tongue darted across her lips.She’d been without a man in her bed for so long, the way his slackshugged his firm buttocks and draped down his muscular thighs madeher tingle in places she’d forgotten. As soon as she wrote hernumber one ranking novel, resigned from the force and was no longerrestrained by the non-fraternization rule, Tony had better watchout. Until then, writing and work didn’t leave time for dating letalone the opportunity to develop a relationship. Still, she missedhaving someone in her life.
With Tony gone, she pulled her gaze from thedoor and gathered her thoughts. She had a crime to solve and a tonof paperwork to do. Her mouth gaped into a yawn. Tomorrow hauntedher already. She opened her bottom drawer, shouldered her purse andgave the detective at the next desk a parting nod.
Chapter Two
Michelle opened the front door to the soundof her home phone ringing. She tossed her purse on the sofa andpicked up the wireless handset. “Hello.”
“Hey, Shell, it’s Naomi. I almost hung up,figured you weren‘t home.”
“I just walked in. What’s up?”
“Nothing special, just thought you might liketo get together for a bit. I’ll bring the wine.”
“Sounds good. Give me about an hour to showerand change.”
“You got it. See you soon.”
Shell smiled as she placed the phone back inits charger. Despite being as different as night and day she andNay, as she called her, had been best friends since their sophomoreyear in high school. Michelle, cocoa-colored hair, slender, andbrown-eyed stood a good head taller than her light brunette galpal. Naomi had curves, but her stocky build always led to hercomplaints about watching what she ate. Where Nay was laid back andpatient, Michelle moved like a speeding bullet and had a shortfuse. She’d learned to control her temper on the job, despite thestupidity of most people, and she had bite marks on her tongue toprove it. A night with a friend was just what she needed…especiallysince she’d turned down Tony’s invitation.
In the bedroom, she grabbed a pair of jeans,her well-worn Philadelphia Eagle tee and some clean underwearbefore heading for the adjoining bathroom. While she waited for theshower to warm, her mind strayed to the ashen face of Cara Austin.Again, Michelle puzzled over why she was cursed with seeing someonekilled while hints of the perpetrator evaded her. Why were hervisions so sporadic? First the gunshot murder and now this secondgrisly scene of the Austin murder. Though she’d ignored all theearlier and questionable minor instances of shoplifting andburglary, no way could she disregard a life lost. Still, with noclues to pursue, speaking up would only affirm she was as crazy asthe visions made her feel. If ever anyone needed an on-off switch,she did.
Showered and awaiting her friend, she tooktwo wine glasses from the cabinet. The idea of a good whiteZinfandel and relaxing with someone who knew all her secrets madeher smile. Naomi had no other family. She’d been an only child whenher parent died in a car accident years ago. Nay was more like asister than a friend, and only God and Nay knew the number of timesMichelle kept her mouth shut until reporting calls came in and thennot act surprised when dispatch assigned calls for the very crimesshe’d witnessed in her mind. If she couldn’t use her friend as asounding board, Michelle would probably be in a nut house. Withthat thought, tension stiffened her shoulders, and she tightenedher grip on the crystal stems.
A knock on the door kept the delicate glassfrom crumbling. Michelle took a relaxing breath and crossed theroom. The stress disappeared when she saw Naomi. “I don’t know ifI’m happier to see you or the wine in that bag you’recarrying.”
“Well, I’m not sure whether to be insulted ornot.” Nay laughed. “Tough day, eh?”
“You have no idea.” Michelle took the sack,removed two bottles of wine and tossed the brown paper in the trashbefore fishing in the drawer for the corkscrew. She paused beforeopening the first bottle. “Get comfortable, I have lots to tellyou.”
Naomi slipped off her tennis shoes, sat, anddrew her legs up around her. “More visions?”
Michelle balanced two rim-filled glassestaking care not to spill as she sat. She handed one goblet to Nayand took a large sip from her own. The fruity alcohol tingled downher throat. She crossed one long leg over the other, wiggling herbare toes. “Bad this time. I almost tipped my hand when Irecognized the dead woman as the same one I saw beingmurdered.”
Nay’s eyes widened. “Murdered? Notagain!”
“Yep…and I hope this is the last instancewhere I actually witness someone struggling to live. Of course,I’ve put up with dozens of other useless cinemas playing in myhead, but nothing like this in a long time. The first was killed bygunshot. This one wasn’t.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember when that case wassolved. The butler didn’t do it.” She giggled.
Michelle cast a sobering stare at her friend.“Not funny. I’m still struggling with guilt from practically usingthe scene in my novel, especially when I thought I’d created theidea. I had no idea I foretold the future.” She uncrossed her legs,leaned forward, placed her glass on the coffee table, and thensplayed her fingers through her hair. “I’m telling you, this wholevision crap is bizarre. Why the hell is this happening to me?”
Her friend shook her head. “I don’t know,Shell. I’ve read about seers and people who claim they can tell thefuture, but I’ve never heard of anyone who sees only scenes throughsomeone else’s eyes.” She hugged her knees and her gazeintensified. “That’s how it is with you, isn’t it? Like watchingexactly what the…the…what do you call that person?”
“In this case, murderer . And yes,that’s exactly what happens. I never see the ‘perpetrator’s’ faceor much more than the immediate surroundings, but I instantlyrecognize the crime scenes when I’m sent there to investigate.”
“So, how was this last one killed?” Nayrubbed her hands together like a child eager for the end of a fairytale.
“You know of course, I’m not supposed to bediscussing the crime with you.”
“But you can trust me. You already told thewhole world when you wrote a novel about the first one, forChrist’s sake.”
“No, I didn’t…not exactly anyhow. Fictionwriters use creative license all the time to alter the facts a bit,and that’s what I did. I didn’t reveal the entire truth about howthe woman died because I didn‘t know then. I had no idea what Iwrote would really happen.” She leaned back and took a drink fromher glass, savoring the flavor. “Oh, I love this stuff. I think Icould easily become an alcoholic if these visions continue.”
Naomi plopped her feet on the floor andplaced one hand on her hip. “Don’t change the subject. Explain thiscreative license thing…and what embellishments?”
Face toward the ceiling, Michelle lolled herhead from side-to-side, lessening the day’s tension. “No one wantsto read about shoplifters or petty thieves. I added a little spiceto the gun-toting heroine by making her cases a little moreexciting. You know…armed robbery, hostages…things like that?” Sheturned an intent stare to Naomi. “Besides, I had no way of knowingall the details when I wrote back then. I only mentioned a womanwas shot, the killer in my book wasn’t her husband.”
“Yes, but if I remember correctly, thedetails about her appearance in the newspaper matched those in yourbook exactly.”
“Yeah, that was a big mistake, but everythingwas so fresh in my mind at the time. I had no idea her death wasgoing to morph into a real case.”
“Okay so your first novel described the firstvictim verbatim, along with the way she died. Right? Or am I goingto have to go home and read the book again?”
Michelle jerked her shoulders back. “Stopintimating I knew about the case when I wrote the damn book! Atleast, I portrayed the murder differently from how that womanactually died.” She heaved a sigh. “Imagine how you’d feel if youwalked in on a scene you practically described in writing monthsprior. ”
“Pretty creepy, I’ll bet.”
“That’s an understatement. I was one of thefirst on the scene today too, and believe me, I was totallyshell-shocked when I viewed the latest vic. I sure as hell won’t beadding her description to any future characters.” Michelle ran herfingers through her hair again. “If anyone sees a connection to thefirst murder in my book, I could lose my job before I retire towrite fulltime.” Relaxing against the sofa back, she managed asmile. “Of course, someone would have to find out my pen name andactually buy the book, and I don‘t see any of my co-workers as thereading type.”
“Speaking of co-workers…how’s it going withyour new partner?” A teasing sparkle glistened in Naomi’s eyes.
“Tony? Hmm, he’s doing okay, but the man’sdefinitely got more looks than brains sometimes. I feel like I haveto tell him to do the simplest things. It’s not like he’s new tothe force, just the detective unit. Hell, he’s been a cop for overfive years, he should know the basics and not depend on me to makeall his decisions.”
Nay fixed her with a stare. “Did it everoccur to you that you intimidate him? Maybe he’s afraid not to askbefore he acts on his own. You aren’t the most patient person inthe world. Maybe he feels that?”
Acting as though she’d been taken aback,Michelle slapped her hand to her bosom. “Moi? Whatever do youmean?”
“Maybe you should have a discussion with him.People always appreciate knowing what’s expected of them. I know Ido, and I’m sure you feel the same.”
Michelle clicked a long fingernail againsther bottom teeth. “Maybe you’re right.” She extended her emptyglass. “Your turn to serve, oh wise one.” She curled her legsalongside her body and propped an elbow on the sofa. Resting herchin in her palm, she sighed. “You know, I think you might be ontosomething. First thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to have a chatwith Tony.”
Nay stood and carried both glasses to thekitchen counter and refilled them, but took a sip from her ownbrimming goblet. She glanced at the wet spot dotting her blouse andsmiled at Michelle before she moved, pumping her hands in rhythm toeach step in a desperate measure not to spill.
Passing Shell her glass, Naomi kept theconversation focused on Tony. “Let me know if my suggestion helps,would you? In fact, wouldn’t it be fun if we all got togethersometime? I’m quite anxious to get a gander of this new partner ofyours.” She circled around, took her former seat, her smilebroadening as she leaned in. “I’d like to propose a toast.” Shelifted her zinfandel high. “Here’s to a closer relationship betweenyou and your hunky co-worker.”
A myriad of thoughts flashed throughMichelle’s mind. Close? Hadn’t she been trying to avoid anytype of physical connection? Being partnered with Tony all day wastorture enough—smelling his spicy aftershave, standing so near thathis warm breath washed over her with each word he spoke…seeing thedistinct sparkle in his eyes grow with each appraising glance hecast at her? Now Nay unknowingly proposed an end to all efforts ofanti-fraternization.
Michelle’s hand trembled as she hefted herglass. “I’d like to amend that toast a bit. How about we drink toTony and me having a better understanding of one another.”
“Here, here!” Naomi timed her drink tocoincide with Michelle’s, then set her glass on the table andcurled back into her comfortable position, studying her friend.“Yep, I thought so.”
Michelle crooked her mouth to one side,bothered by the all-knowing tone in her friend’s voice. “Thoughtwhat?”
“You really like Tony, don’t you?”
Again, Michelle faked her ‘taken aback’posture. “What are you talking about? Of course, I like him. He’s anice guy. He just needs a little polishing in a few areas of hisjob.” She rested against the back of the couch, drank from herglass, and washed down the admission she really wanted toshare.
“Well, I think you’d like to polish a littlemore than his work ethics.” Nay, feet on the ground, leaned on herknees. “Admit it, Michelle. You can’t hide anything from me. Youshould know that by now. I can read you just as easily as I didyour novel.”
Michelle rolled her eyes. “You are somaddening.” She paused and twirled her empty glass by the crystalstem. “Okay, okay, I admit I’m attracted to him. He has suchamazing sex appeal…and broad shoulders…and a butt to die for.”
“That’s enough all ready! You’re making mehorny, and Paul is away at a conference.”
“About him. Is that man ever going to ask youto marry him for real?” Michelle never really liked Paul. He hadlittle personality, and although he wasn’t bad looking, hischauvinistic attitude made him ugly. He and Nay had been ‘sort ofengaged’ for three years, but the promised ring nevermaterialized.
“He has asked me.” Naomi insisted. “Don’t youremember how excited I was the night I called you?”
Michelle grasped her friend’s left hand andfixed a stare on her empty ring finger. “Oh, I remember theexcitement, but I don’t see the proof.”
Nay snatched her hand back, hiding it beneathher other one. “Paul’s just been so busy he hasn’t had time to getthe ring. He knows the kind I like, but he’s old fashioned anddoesn’t want me there when he buys it.”
Busy my ass ! Michelle wanted to yellthe words, but she forced an accepting nod and half smile. Paulmight work for a medical supply company, but did they haveconferences every weekend?

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