Authors: Christy Barritt
To anyone who's ever felt lonely
THANK YOU TO:
My husband, Scott, for being understanding whenever I get a crazy research idea. You knew I was weird before you married me. And yes, it is important to know if my heroine could drag someone approximately your size down a hallway.
My mom, Louise, for watching Eli when I needed to write. I'm surprised "Two Mom" weren't his first words.
Janet-without your prayers I'd go insane! Your friendship is a wonderful and sweet blessing.
Lori Morris-Hughes. Your giving spirit is such an inspiration. Thanks for listening and answering my endless questions about dead people. You rock.
Jenness Peak, Nancy Farrier, A. K. Arenz, Ginger Casebeer, Susan Sleeman, Jennifer Moore, Cara Putman, and Lynette Sowell. You all helped to make my book stronger. Thanks doesn't say enough.
And my nephews, Christopher, Nick, and Andrew, who always brighten my day with great suggestions on how to make my book better-including dragons, space travel, and three-headed monsters. Maybe one day ...
"THERE ARE two kinds of people in this world."
Riley Thomas did his famous eyebrow cock at me from across the smooth wooden table at the coffeehouse. "And that would be?"
I swirled the remainder of my hazelnut latte before meeting his gaze with a cocked eyebrow of my own. "Those who drink their coffee black and those who don't."
Riley leaned closer, a smirk forming in the corner of his mouth. "And what does the fact that I drink my coffee black mean, Gabby St. Claire?"
I stared at my neighbor-the lawyer-dressed in his pressed shirt and silk tie. His once shaggy dark hair was now cut in a respectable neat trim and lightly gelled. Type A, all the way. That was Riley.
"You're straight-laced, practical, and tough," I said.
Riley's head slowly bobbed as if considering my analysis. "I'll accept that. And what about people like you who drink their coffee with lots of sugar and fancy creams?"
"It means I'm way more interesting, of course" I flashed a grin and pushed the remainder of my drink away in sync with my chair scraping across the tile floor. "And now this extremely interesting gal has to go to work"
I grabbed my sequined purse, a present from my boyfriend, police detective Chip Parker. The bag really wasn't me. At all, for that matter. But bless the dear macho man's heart, he was trying ... for something. I wasn't sure exactly what yet.
"What's the job order today?" Riley leaned into his chair in the laidback manner that always made my heart melt. Well, not anymore. Not now that I was dating Parker. Of course. And not since my-neighbor-the-lawyer had broken my heart by going off and getting engaged ... or should I say re-engaged? ... and right when our relationship was on the threshold of something great. The whole situation was complicated, to say the least. But I was over that. Really. The fact that "Could Have Been So Beautiful" had become my theme song lately was completely irrelevant.
Riley-who'd since re-broken the engagement-waited for my answer, his blue eyes focused on me. My job order. Right. Focus, Gabby. "Mold"
"Mold? That's not exactly a crime scene"
"I know, but what can I say? The crime rate is down. While everyone else in the city rejoices, I still have bills to pay. This man called, wants to sell his old childhood home. Apparently there was a pipe leak, and he needs someone to clean up the crawl space before he sends an inspector out to estimate the home value"
Riley tapped his ceramic mug with his index finger. "Have you ever cleaned up a crawl space?"
I shrugged. "I have the equipment. I need the money. What more can I say?"
His finger paused from its incessant rhythm. "Gabby, I have some filing that needs to be done down at my office. You know if you ever need money ...
Riley was probably remembering the scrapes my job as a crime-scene cleaner had gotten me into in the last few months. But I knew the truthRiley had turned down lucrative offers from several top law firms to start his own pro bono practice. He didn't have the money to pay me. Not now. Maybe not ever. Knowing Riley as I did, I could easily envision him going without his own pay in order to cut a check for me. I couldn't let him do that.
"Nah, this will be a piece of cake" I glanced at my cheap, Wal-Mart watch. "But I've got to run. I told the guy I'd be there in thirty"
"Be careful. You know snakes like to live under houses. It's been a warm autumn so they may not be hibernating yet."
I gripped my purse strap, well aware of the slithery creatures I might encounter. "Yeah. Thanks for the reminder"
I crossed Colley Avenue, the main street that cut through Ghent, an area of Norfolk, Virginia, that I considered to be the equivalent of Greenwich Village in New York. The artsy neighborhood had lots of personality and a wide variety of residents. I loved everything about the community.
My white unmarked van waited in the parking lot in front of my apartment building, a huge restored Victorian that had been divided into five little homes. To most people, it wouldn't be much, but to me, it was a haven where every day was like a new episode of Friends.
My van roared to life, and I pulled out of Ghent, drove through downtown, and headed north toward Ocean View. The neighborhood rested on the Chesapeake Bay and had once been home to the famous Ocean View Amusement Park. People had traveled from miles around to experience the park's roller coasters and rides. A few tragic accidents had closed the place down in the '70s.