Authors: Susannah Hardy
The questions beginÂ .Â .Â .
“I'm Detective Hawthorne,” he said, unnecessarily. “I need to speak to”âhe looked down at a notebook he'd flipped openâ“Mrs. Nikâ, Nikâ”
“I'm Mrs. Nikolopatos,” I said. “Please call me Georgie.”
It's about time the cops got here
, I thought.
“I'm looking into the death of Domenic DiTomasso, sometimes known as Big Dom.”
“I'm not sure how I can help you.” This guy was definitely scary. I guess that's a good thing in law enforcement.
“We understand that you and Mr.”âhe consulted the notebook againâ“Morgan found the body.”
“Yes, Keith was giving me a ride to the spa on Valentine Island when we found him.”
“You were just motoring on by and saw a floating body?” His tone was skeptical. My hackles rose.
“And you went over to investigate?”
“Why did you disturb the body?”
I took a deep breath and refused to be baited. I'd seen enough winter reruns of cop shows to know that he was trying to throw me off balance and get me to admit to something. For God's sake, was I a suspect?
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2015 by Jane Haertel.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14008-0
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market / January 2015
Cover illustration by Bill Bruning.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
For Mike and Will, because this book, and every book, is for you.
And in memory of Gary Stacy and William Appleby, Jr., two extraordinary teachers who inspired me to write, and without whom this book would never have come to be.
To Mike and Will (yes, you get a dedication
an acknowledgment), thank you for supporting me every step of the way, and for making the sacrifices of eating out, going to the movies, or going fishing when I needed time alone to write. You are my greatest loves, now and always.
To Vivienne Lynge, who made me know it was possible to write a book and finish it. I raise my fruity girlie drink in your direction.
To Casey Wyatt, Sugar Jamison/Ginger Jamison, Katy Lee, PJ Sharon, Regina Kyle, T.L. Costa, Gail Chianese, Jamie K. Schmidt, and the rest of the ladies and gentlemen of the world's most dangerous writers' group, the Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers of America (CTRWA), for their unwavering friendship. Come to think of it, you all deserve a toast with a fruity girlie drink as well.
To Jesse Hayworth, Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib, Kristan Higgins, Thea Devine, and Laura Bradford/Elizabeth Lynn Casey, for their invaluable advice on breaking into and navigating the publishing world. Thank you, ladies, for everything, from the bottom of my heart. I hope I can pay it forward someday.
To my agent extraordinaire, John Talbot, and my fabulous editor, Michelle Vega, for taking a chance on a newbie and for making this book so much better than I ever thought it could be.
And to Laurie Paro. She'll know why.
The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.
âTHUCYDIDES, ANCIENT GREEK HISTORIAN,
460 B.C.â404 B.C.
When you marry a gay man, it shouldn't come as a surprise when he leaves you.
I stuck a clean spoon into the vat of Greek tomato sauce I'd been stirring, gave it a taste, and added another handful of oregano and a pinch of cinnamon. The Bonaparte House kitchen staff bustled around me, but I barely noticed them.
This wasn't the first time my husband had gone off for a day or two. He usually headed over the border to Montreal, an easy drive across the St. Lawrence River by way of the international bridge from Bonaparte Bay, New York.
But this time feltÂ .Â .Â . different. I couldn't say why. Call it intuition, a gut feeling, whatever. This time, I wondered whether he'd left me for good. For another man.
“Etty-six!” My mother-in-law, Sophie Nikolopatos, brought me out of my thoughts and back to the present. The last dinner of the night had just left the kitchen. Sophie rose from her chair, a pained expression on her elfin face, and limped out of the kitchen toward the central staircase leading to our living quarters on the second floor. She beckoned me to follow. As though I didn't have a couple of hours of work left to do tonight, even after we closed. Managing this place meant sixteen-hour workdays, all summer long. I shut off the burner and complied.
“Have you heard from Spiro yet, Georgie?” she demanded, out of earshot of the busboy and servers.
“Not since the night before last.”
Sophie extended a wad of loose papers toward me with one hand and patted her apron pocket, which was bulging with most of the night's cash receipts, with the other. “We had a good night. Many lamb specials.”
I nodded and took the paperwork. It had been a real struggle to get her to accept credit cards, and Sophie still resisted the computerized ordering and payment system I'd installed a few years ago. She kept track of the business by hand and memory. I usually just tossed the stuff when she wasn't looking.
“No thanks to that no-good son of mine,” she said. “Close up for me, dear, will you? I want to go upstairs.”
“Of course.” I closed up every night, and opened up every morning, and handled pretty much everything else too. Sophie owned the place but was more or less a figurehead. Spiro was the spoiled, lazy heir to the kingdom. I loved them bothâSophie like the mother I didn't have, and SpiroÂ .Â .Â . Well, I don't know what we were to each other, really. Cohabiting co-parents, perhaps, to our daughter, Callista. I felt a pang of loneliness as I thought about my beautiful girl, even though I knew she was safe and happy visiting her great-aunt in Greece.
Sophie's eyes narrowed. “You sick? You're not talking much.”
Sick? No. But I'd been stewing all day. If Spiro divorced me, I'd not only be out of a marriage. I'd be out of a job. After twenty years, I didn't know how to do anything else. And I didn't want to. This restaurant, with the living quarters upstairs, was my home.
But it wouldn't do to bother Sophie. She had enough to worry about. “I'm fine.” I mustered up a smile for her. “Go on, now. I'll finish here.”
“I can't believe he no call his mother.”
Depending on what he was doing, I could. “Don't worry. I'll track him down. Good night,
Her face relaxed, and she smiled back at me. “
, dear. You a good girl.” She patted my cheek, in a gesture that meant she loved me. In her own slightly skewed way.
A door slammed in the kitchen, followed by the unmistakable sound of china hitting the tile floor and shattering. Sophie spun on the heels of her immaculate white walking shoes and hustled back the way we'd come, cursing in Greek. Our dishwasher, Russ Riley, was in for a tongue-lashing. Breaking china was pretty close to stealing, in her book. I had to work to keep up.
“Sophie, Sophie, Sophie! Where are you, my darling?”
I smelled him before I saw him. Domenic “Big Dom” DiTomasso leaned up against the stainless steel prep counter as the overhead fan blew a wind of stale cigar smoke my way. His dark trousers were held up with a black leather belt positioned under the overhang of his considerable belly. His snowy dress shirt was open at the neck, revealing a pile of thick salt-and-pepper hair curling up and over the collar.
Sophie trotted into the kitchen, the limp forgotten. Her eyes flashed.
“Why do you come here, Domenic, and mess up my etty-six? Don't you have your own etty-six?”
Big Dom owned the Sailor's Rest, a restaurant a couple of doors down from the Bonaparte House. His place was our main competition. Once at the beginning of the season, once at the end of the season, and periodically in between for the last few years, Big Dom approached Sophie with an offer to buy her out. She refused, holding out for more money or because she just didn't want to sell to Big Dom; I was never sure.
“You beautiful creature,” he purred, a three-hundred-pound kitten in cuff links.
“Please leave my restaurant, Domenic. You are frightening my customers away.” She smiled, though. Her eyes weren't flashing anger, as I'd thought. She wasÂ .Â .Â . flirting with him?
“Sophie, your customers are already leaving. Come out and have a drink with me.”
“I don't think so,” she said loftily. She smoothed her cap of auburn-dyed curls with one hand, looked at her nails, and cut her big dark eyes back at him.
“A woman like you should not be working. You should be spoiled and pampered. Let me buy this place. Then you can take your family and go back to your beautiful island. I will come with you and keep you warm in the winter.” He grinned suggestively.
She ignored that last bit, and I shuddered at the thought of living, even part of the year, in any kind of proximity to him. Of course, whether I would be spending any more winters in Greece remained to be seen.
“How much?” The offer had never been enough before, but I guess she couldn't resist hearing it again.
He leaned forward and put his big tanned face close to her ear.
I was roosted over by the massive Victorian sideboard that served as the waitress station, and I couldn't hear what he was saying.
“Pah!” She practically spat at him. “Get out of here, Domenic!” She let loose with a tsunami of Greek that even I, who had a pretty good command of the language after all these years, could only partially decipher. One phrase I caught would translate loosely into English as “horse's genitals.”
He laughed and made a courtly bow, no small feat for a man of his proportions.
“You haven't seen the last of me, my goddess.” He turned and swept out of the kitchen with another slam of the door.
“That man is aâa menace!” she shouted after him. “I'm gonna put him out of business. You wait and see!” She turned and stormed off upstairs.
After the last of our employees had left, I locked the front doors, shut down the exterior lights, and headed into my office. I sank into my sumptuous down-filled chair and ottoman, ridiculously expensive but so worth it. I poured myself a glass of Cabernetâfrankly, I've never cared for the Greek
, which tastes like a pine tree. My feet ached and a deep fatigue settled into my muscles as I willed myself to relax.
I booted up my laptop, scrolling through my in-box and hoping for a message from Callista. I deleted all the ads for Viagra, a little bit wistfully just the same. It had been a long time since I'd had any romance in my life. The missive from a deposed Nigerian prince also went to the recycle bin.
I sipped my wine and set it back on its coaster on my desk. A message caught my eye. The address field read “Sender Unknown,” but the subject line was “GeorgieâUrjent.”
Crappy spammy speller,
I thought, and clicked on the message. Too late, I realized my mistake. Hopefully my computer hadn't just become infected with a virus or worm.
FIND IT AND BRING IT TO ME OR YOU'LL BE SORRY.
I shrugged and hit the