Hearts and Daggers
Alana O'Neill has solved a few crimes through her work as bookkeeper in her Uncle Vernon's antiques mall. One of those cases even led her to Robert, now her brand new husband. In the midst of getting ready to host a Blast From the Past festival at the mall, she finds herself helping to solve a murder. Over twenty vintage recipes are included after this story, though Alana is not always a good cook.
The laptop in front of her didn't lie. Alana rubbed her eyes and looked again. The antique mall, like so many during the difficult economy, was in danger of closing. It might not happen tomorrow, perhaps, but within the next six months it could be a reality.
She got up to stretch before heading out to the floor to have a brainstorming session with her eighteen year old son, Elliott, who seemed to have an unlimited supply of money generating ideas.
"These are in very good shape."
She heard Ell's this-is-a-find-but-I don't-want-to-pay-too-much-for-it voice from beyond the open office door. The eighteen-year-old was bent over the front counter examining a stack of at least twenty-five books with silvery covers. A redheaded woman stood in front of him. She'd spread several objects on the counter, including some pretty but inexpensive glasses from the 1970's, some aprons and embroidered towels and a few handmade dolls. Lovely things, but nothing that would sell well in the mall, Alana knew. As part of a new promotion Elliott had created, people could bring in boxes of stuff older than ten years, and get a store credit of a dollar per pound. People got more value than they would at a garage sale and ended up spending more in the store, while Alana got a bunch of cookbooks, her collecting passion.
Yet, Elliott was excited about something. After he weighed the woman's box, he turned to a set of books next to the box. Alana rose from her chair. She craned her neck to get a better view of the books.
"Hey, Mom, look at this."
As she edged closer, she was reminded once again that her son had surpassed her in height as well as computer and antique -savvy. He straightened, and she saw twenty-eight Time Life volumes on the Civil War, in two stacks of fourteen.
Elliott didn't usually let the customer know how valuable objects were that they brought in. While he wasn't trying to cheat people, folks often over-priced their treasured belongings, the store couldn't afford to pay those prices and still make a profit.
But she knew this wasn't for the store. She had just been complaining to Inez, another booth owner who stopped in the mall, that she didn't know what to get her husband Robert for their first Valentine's Day together as a married couple. He was very interested in the Civil War, and had even attended reenactments in the area around Pinehurst, the Chicago suburb they lived in.
She nodded when Elliott looked six inches down into her eyes. The boy began to bargain.
Alana could afford the $75 for the set. She could also afford the $20 for the embroidered tea towels. But the store couldn't afford to keep giving up good possible sales, she thought after the happy woman left.
"I knew you couldn't resist the towels, Mom. We have more towels than dishes!" Elliott was looking up the value of the Civil War book set online. He whistled softly. "The price for these is all over the place, anywhere from $20 for an odd volume to $500 for the set."
A Fire Within
Gallery owner Rebecca Standish is under attack, a charred body is thrown through the window of her art gallery and her life is threatened. To make things worse, her ex lover shows up. The only man she ever loved and he left her for greener pastures. Now he wants back in her life. Rebecca doesn't need the added stress and demands he leave her alone.
Kirk Adams, tough Chicago Fire Fighter, made plenty of mistakes, but loosing Rebecca was the biggest. He's determined to win her back, no matter the cost. Her life in danger, he'll do anything to stay close and protect her, and that includes her anger. She doesn't forgive easily, but Kirk is determined to win back her trust.
When things escalate and the victim's identify is revealed, Rebecca is under attack, and Kirk knows he has little time to gain the upper hand.
Can rugged firefighter Kirk Adams, keep the love of his life Rebecca Standish safe from someone bent on fiery revenge?
He burned. A fire within consumed him. He burned for his lost love.
He burned for vengeance. He burned with hatred
Rebecca Standish was dreaming. She had to be, but the blaring ringing did not relent. She tossed restlessly in her bed, plagued by a recurring nightmare. Like always, it began with the dissonant ringing of the telephone demanding her attention. In the past, the dreams would quickly morph into the hiss and crackle of flames. This time the noise remained incessant.
Drifting slowly toward consciousness, she turned on her side and put a pillow over her face. Still, the clanging continued. She jerked upright in bed and froze. Not again. Please not again. It seems just like yesterday and it was three years ago. Her heart raced as she reached for the phone and waited for doom.
A monotone voice spoke her name. "Miss Standish?" She listened with growing dread as her alarm clock twinkled the witching hour in big red numbers. Midnight. She switched on the nightstand light and mentally prepared herself.
"Yes," she whispered.
"This is Joe from Acorn security. The alarm at your gallery was triggered."
"What happened? A fire?" She tightened her grip on the phone. Her knuckles white, she forced herself to relax. Her gallery burned down once before. I can't go through this again. Please God, don't let it be a fire.
"No, no fire but there is an emergency. The front window in your gallery was broken. The crash sounded the alarm. The police are on their way."
"So am I. Thank you." She hung up and covered her face with her hands. What now?
She hurriedly dressed and threw a long sweater coat over her shoulders and went downstairs to wait for a cab. Not a tall woman, five-six in bare feet, Rebecca always wore heels which added to her height. She had a woman's body with curves in all the right places and hair as black as night with eyes to match. A self-assured woman who at the moment felt anything but; her gallery was in trouble once again. At least this time it wasn't engulfed in flames. Probably a drunkard with time on his hands. Her hands trembled as she wrapped the sweater securely around her body.
Although Rebecca lived only a few blocks from her gallery, an easy walk, but jarred by the call she opted for a cab.
The short ride didn't give her enough time to calm down; her hands still wobbled when she reached into her purse to pay the cabbie. She stepped onto the sidewalk in front of her gallery, took a deep breath and looked at the destruction.
Colossal windows surrounded a huge double door entry, the effect usually both welcoming and awe inspiring. Displays were artistic, whimsical and well placed. During the day, passersby often stopped in to look at the treasures within -- an eclectic array of styles from sculptures and paintings to anything that caught Rebecca's eye. Not so this morning.
The night sky added to the winter chill in the air and the red, pink and white light display in the Standish Gallery window foretold of the upcoming holiday season, Valentine's Day.
In FRAMED, ER nurse Caroline Rhodes learns she’s been included in the will of Geraldine Miller, an elderly woman Caroline befriended while caring for Mrs. Miller’s sick husband. The odd wording of the will forces Caroline to travel to Chicago where she meets the other Miller heirs—niece Marie Fulton and husband Jack, and nephew Paul-Henri Girard, Marie’s brother and, by his own admission, the black sheep of the family. Gathered at Geraldine’s former home, the quartet is astonished when lawyer Henry Hillerman tells them their total inheritance consists of some relatively inconsequential items that must be removed from the house within an hour or be lost to them forever.
Mary V. Welk
Caroline assumed a proper look of interest as Hillerman explained various terms and clauses in the will. Try as she might, though, she found it difficult to focus on his words. Paul was staring at her, his dark eyes glistening with what she suspected was humor at the scene unfolding in the kitchen. She resisted meeting his gaze, aware that she was strangely attracted to his good looks and devil-may-care attitude.
She guessed him to be around her age, give or take a year, and maybe an inch or two taller than she. Whereas Jack possessed the muscular build of a dedicated gym rat, Girard had the wiry frame of a street fighter, lean but tough to the bone. He had a strong face, angular in shape and tanned by the sun to the color of milk-whipped coffee, and he wore his smoky-black hair long and tied back in a ponytail. Dressed in jeans and an ebony silk shirt, he appeared totally at ease despite the tension in the room.
"I have an appointment here in one hour with the people conducting the estate sale. I believe sixty minutes should give you enough time to clear your belongings from the house, after which I will lock all the doors. You will not be allowed to reenter until the sale on Wednesday when you can bid on anything else you may want of your aunt's belongings. I will contact you three again..." And here he motioned to Marie, Jack, and Paul. "...after the house has been sold and all debts paid. Those debts, I may add, include the bill for my services as executor of the will."
"I'll expect a fully itemized account of all monies earned or paid out by the estate," said Paul. "And that includes your bill, Mr. Hillerman." He stood up and extended a hand to Caroline. "Since there's little else for me to do here, why don't I help you gather the paintings you inherited from Geraldine?"
Caroline's first thought was to dismiss Paul's offer. But something in his smile caused a well-remembered tingle to course through her body.
"Thank you," she said, fighting down a blush. "Where should we start?"
After a quick canvas of the house, Caroline found herself more confused than ever.
"These are all paint-by-number pictures, and not very good ones at that. Not that your aunt didn't try," she added with a quick glance at Paul. He had his back to her and was examining a still life painting of fruit spilling from an overturned white wicker basket.
"Her eyesight wasn't all that good," he replied. He lifted the picture from the wall and turned so Caroline could see it. "I'm sure she meant these apples to be red, not purple. And the bananas sure don't look appetizing painted blue." He grinned. "Probably couldn't make out the tiny numbers on the canvas."
Caroline smiled. "I remember her telling me how much she loved to paint landscapes when she was young. I assumed she'd had some training and would start in where she'd left off." She let her gaze roam across the walls of what had probably been a second floor bedroom before Mrs. Miller turned it into her studio. The fruits of Geraldine's labor could be seen everywhere. "Obviously, my assumption was wrong."
Paul set the picture in an empty box he'd found in the basement and reached for its companion, a painting of vegetables overflowing a basket similar to the first one but reddish-brown in color. "I don't recall ever seeing her paint when I was young. Of course, art is a very private obsession. For all I know, Aunt Geraldine might have spent every night locked away in the attic with her pots of paint."
"Seeing these paintings, I doubt it, Paul. Or should I call you Paul-Henri?"
"Stick with Paul. I only use my full name when I'm trying to impress a beautiful woman."
Caroline raised one eyebrow. "That remark could be taken in two different ways. I'll take it to mean you're not trying to impress me."
Paul pressed the painting into her hands, but kept his own hands firmly on the frame. "And that's exactly how I meant it," he said softly. "I wouldn't try to fool a woman who's not only beautiful, but also smart. You're both, you know."
The look he gave her sent shivers down Caroline's back. Then he winked and, gently pulling the painting from her hands, placed it in the box with its partner. Caroline shook her head as he removed another picture from the wall.
"You are a liar, Mr. Girard," she said with a smile. "A good liar, but a liar nonetheless."
"Well, yes, I've been called that from time to time, most often during a poker game when an opponent fell for my bluff. But I'm not bluffing you." He lowered another picture into the box. "As I said, you're too smart for that."
"Right." Caroline grimaced as she stacked two smaller paintings in the box. "Smart would have been staying in bed this morning rather than driving from Rhineburg to Chicago after working a sixteen-hour shift. And as for beautiful..." She snorted disdainfully. "You and I both know I look like hell. No chance to shower, my hair is a mess..."
"I wouldn't say you look like hell," interrupted Paul. "Maybe death warmed over, but not... Ouch!" He gingerly rubbed the arm Caroline had just punched. "Say, lady! No need to wallop a guy for agreeing with you." Moving in closer, he cupped her chin in his hand, then slowly stroked her lips with his fingertips. His voice turned husky as he said, "No matter what you say, I still think you're beautiful."
Caroline looked into Paul's dark eyes and saw danger. Her brain screamed no! but her body said it's been sooo long. She felt herself responding to his touch, melting into his arms...
"Hey! Are you guys kissing?"
Caroline broke away and walked to the window. She could feel Paul's eyes on her back, knew he was laughing, felt silly as a teenager caught in the back seat of her boyfriend's car. She couldn't help it. This was nonsense, stupid of her to fall victim to sexy looks and a smooth line. She was both embarrassed and angry with herself. Angry too with Paul, who sounded totally at ease as he spoke to his nephew.
"Hey, champ. You find those baseball cards Aunt Geraldine left you?"
"Got 'em right here," said Tim.
The three-novella romantic suspense book HEARTS AND DAGGERS authors: