Both At the Crossroads and Dead in the Alley are off to early readers. But what does that mean? First, it means that I have completed drafts of both books. Yay!
Second, I now need big picture comments from a couple of readers. What that will tell me is if they had problems with characters, whether the story flows, if there are gaps, repetition, contradictions. I'm not as interested in typos and grammar for this pass through.
I thought I'd share a couple of snips today, one from each book. Just remember, by the time the final version is out, these bits might or might not still be there.
AT THE CROSSROADS
I brush tendrils of hair off her face and bend down to kiss her, brushing her lips with my tongue She leans in, her hands resting against my chest. When I let her go, the cats are on the counter, licking at the metal mixing bowl.
“Good thing you put the mousse into the fridge.” Cress snickers as Thorfinn nudges the bowl toward the edge.
I grab the bowl and put it in the sink while Cress herds the cats into the living room and closes the pocket doors. Growls and hisses fill the air. The cats bang their paws against the closed doors.
The counters are piled with pots, pans, bowls, chopping boards, and various implements. I hanker after a skivvy to do the washing up. As arms come round my waist, kitchen matters fade into insignificance. Cress strokes my back, and a shiver of pleasure runs up my spine.
Her breath whispers against my shirt. “I thought this was supposed to be a casual get-together, not a formal state dinner.”
I move away, turn, and look at her. That’s when I realize that my glasses are so smeared that I can hardly see. Taking them off and wiping them with the bottom of my shirt, I mumble, “You were right. Lasagna would have been perfect. I could have made it last week.”
Her laugh rings around the room bouncing off the copper-bottomed saucepans. “Oh, Max. I adore you. And I adore your cooking. Lasagna would have been easier, but the promise of a Sunday roast on a Saturday, well.” She has her hands on her hips, eying me up and down. “Prime rib with all the trimmings and creme brûlée.” She sighs and gazes at me, her eyes heavy with promise. “Who could resist that?”
Giving her a squeeze, I manage to tear my eyes away and turn to the sink. “I’ll rinse and you load.”
In half an hour, the kitchen is clean, and garlic and onions perfume the air along with the rich smell of roasting meat. We grab a few minutes to make out on the couch, while we wait for our guests. The charcuterie platter is still in the fridge so as not to tempt the cats, who have been released from their imprisonment. The Prosecco is chilled and waiting.
The cats leap onto the sofa, attempting to maneuver between our bodies. We move apart and they drop down between us. As I stroke soft fur, I feel warm and at peace. Grant Manor, as Cress has christened the house, is a haven.
She has agreed to my suggestion that once the condo reconstruction is finished, she will rent it out for a year, giving me hope that we can make this permanent. I’m so happy that she is inhabiting the office I set up for her rather than writing at Toni’s Patisserie that I have arranged for daily deliveries of eclairs from a local bakery.
I’ll do almost anything to make her want to stay.
DEAD IN THE ALLEY
The sound of a motorcycle revving up outside the New Eleanor Bistro was so commonplace that I barely noticed it. The skid, the scream, the sound of breaking glass got my attention. Vince, our maître d’ and sommelier, ran in the front door and grabbed me. “You don’t want to go out there, Bay.”
I glared at him, “Why not?”
“It’s…it’s a hit and run. Call 911.”
He shook his head. “Too late for that. Just have the police come.”
“Anyone we know?”
Vince dropped heavily to a chair and dropped his head into his hands. When he finally looked up at me, his eyes were swollen, and rivulets ran down his cheeks. He kept clearing his throat but no words came out.
I ran to the phone at the reservation stand and dialed 911. I gave them the small amount of information that I had, then went back to Vince.
A hand on his shoulder, I tried to shake him to attention. The misery on his face told me that whoever had died, Vince knew them. “Come on, Vince. Who was it? What happened?”
He swallowed a sob and mumbled a name.
“Who? I couldn’t understand what you said.”
Finally, slowly, he got up out of the chair. “Derrick.” The name came out as a shout. “It’s Derrick. He was hit by a motorcycle. When I got out there, the rider was just peeling out. Just left him in the street. Didn’t even check. And Derrick…Derrick…broken and bleeding on the street. I rushed over but he just died. Never said a word.”
Tremors hit me. I sank to my knees as the sound of screaming enveloped me. “Dead, dead, no, no, no.” I wanted the voice to shut up, leave me to mourn. The realized that the voice was mine. And I couldn’t stop the screaming or the tears as I curled on the floor in ball of despair.
I don’t know how long I just laid there, helpless to do anything more than cry. Then the police swarmed in, Vince helped me to my feet, and got me into a chair.
“Mrs. Anderson?” A policewoman stood in the doorway.
Eyes clouded with moisture, my voice cracked, and my throat burned. “Bishop.”
“Excuse me?” She sounded puzzled.
“Kept my maiden name.” In New York, no one gave my name a second thought, but New Eleanor is an old-fashioned place and women usually change their names when they get married. People gave me side-long looks all the time when they realized that Bay Bishop wasn’t just my professional name.
She checked me out, her lips pursed, eyes narrowed. “O-kay, Ms. Bishop.” Her arms were folded across her chest. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Fresh tears welled but I wiped them away as I sniffled a few times. “Thanks.” I could barely push the sound out.
“Did you see anything?” Now that she had gotten over the name thing, her tone was sympathetic.
I shook my head.
“I wouldn’t let her see, Macie.” Vince’s tone was a combination of protective and belligerent.
My head snapped up and I stared at her. Macie Collier had gone to school with my younger sister, Livvy. Even though I had been back for two years, I didn’t realize that Macie had joined the police force here. And how the hell did Vince know her?
“I thought you moved to Detroit.”
“Didn’t like the big city life. I came back about a year ago. Guess you didn’t notice.”
“Livvy didn’t say anything.”
She shrugged. “We don’t hang out much these days. Our lives kind of moved on different tracks after she went to Pratt.” She clears her throat.
I stand and roll my shoulders down. “Do I need to ID the body.”
“You’ll be asked to go to the morgue to do that. The scene is pretty gruesome, so I think Vince was right to keep you inside.”
Gruesome. What does that mean? I slump back into the chair, my lungs working hard to get in any air.
“Looks like the rider hit him, then kind of crunched down on him a couple of times.”
I parroted her words as if that will make them more comprehensible. “Crunched down.”
“Not a typical hit and run. Your husband looked like he might have been targeted. And the rider wanted to make sure the job was done right.”
My gag reflex kicked in along with my overactive imagination. I can picture Derrick, lying in the street, his body mangled, blood everywhere. What I can’t understand is why. Derrick was a brilliant pastry chef and food stylist. His photos were published in glossy food magazines. People came to the restaurant for his desserts. None of that added up to being murdered by motorcycle.
“Could it have been mistaken identity?”
She snorted. “He’s dressed in his chef clothes. So, unless someone else on your staff was the target, I’d say the guy got who he aimed for.”
A tall, burly man loomed up behind her. “Excuse me, Officer Collier.” She stepped aside and he walked over to me. “Ms. Bishop? I’m Detective Fairchild.”
I look up. He’s probably around six feet, shaven head, dark eyes, looks like he hasn’t shaven today. He looks down at my sagging body. and scratches his cheek. “Any enemies you know of?” He hooks a chair with his foot and drags it over so he can sit across from me.
I look down and my watch glints back at me. We’re supposed to open in half an hour. I look around and see Vince, hovering in the corner. I call out. “Vince. Could you put a sign on the door and start calling people with reservations? Tell them we are closed tonight.”
Fairchild breaks in. “Don’t give out any information. Just say unforeseen circumstances.”
Vince nods and walks off toward the office.
I think over our time here. Derrick was well liked in the community. He learned to fish and hunt. Hung out with my brother and his friends. Fit in surprisingly well for a big-city boy. “You were asking about enemies. Not from here. We moved here from New York to open the restaurant, but I don’t think he had any enemies that would have followed him here.”
“Why did you choose New Eleanor?” He tips the chair back, his tone conversational.
“I’m from here. We wanted to open our own place and northern Michigan is much less expensive than New York. Less competition for fine dining too. We could see a better future here.”
Fairchild’s phone beeps. “Excuse me,” he says. He peers at the screen. “The ambulance is going to take him now. I’ll be back to take you down to the morgue to see him. Will you still be here?”
My dad walks into the restaurant. “Bay. You okay?” I can’t read his expression.
“Vince called me. I’m going to take you home. You can find her at the Bishop Inn, Officer Fairchild.”
“Great. We’re still working the scene and the medical examiner needs to look at the body. I’ll be there in an hour or so.”
Fairchild brushes past my dad. I start to stand up again but my legs shake and I drop back to the chair. Dad leans down and kisses my cheek. Then he holds out his hand. “Let’s go, kiddo. Let your staff close the place up.”
He pulled out a handkerchief so I can mop up my face. Today, my family could be my refuge. I stood and let him put his arm around me. I scanned the dining room. The kitchen had emptied out and everyone stood around, looking at me. Ellen, our sous chef, made shooing motions. “Go home with your dad, Bay. We’ve got this.”
I threw her a grateful look as my dad led me back through the kitchen. “Parked in the municipal lot.” His voice was gruff. “The front of the restaurant is blocked off. And you don’t need to see anything right now.”
A siren stuttered, then blared. The ambulance. I swallowed down the bile that rose in my throat as I thought of Derrick, encased in a body bag, being loaded into the ambulance. We’d been together for ten years, married for six. We were a team. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to go on without him.
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