I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Ours was spent under a mountain of wrapping paper surrounded by what looked like a toy hurricane. I cannot count how many tiny trucks, legos, and squeaky baby toys we now have. It's insane. And totally fun. :)
Also this Christmas, I had a new book release! (Yay!) DANGER IN HIGH HEELS is the 7th book in the High Heels Mysteries series and follows fashion designer turned amateur sleuth, Maddie Springer, as she investigates a murder on the set of the hit reality TV show, Dancing with Celebrities. Check out the excerpt below...
DANGER IN HIGH HEELS
Buy now at:
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/dygmeq7BN: http://tinyurl.com/cacmqb6
Paperback print: https://www.createspace.com/4053914
* * *
The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the traffic was even flowing on the 405, and I was out of the house enjoying an afternoon cocktail on the patio of a trendy Melrose restaurant with an old friend. Life was good.
"So, where was I?" I asked, momentarily distracted by the overwhelming goodness of my life. (And possibly the effects of the cocktail.)
"I haven't the foggiest," my companion remarked dryly, his British accent lilting across the table to me.
"Right. Livvie," I said, remembering my train of thought. "I swear it was just the cutest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. She and Max were outside, and we'd propped them up with their Boppy pillows, and Max had his binkie on his belly, and Livvie just reached out and got hold of it with her chubby little fists and..." I paused, stealing a glance across the table at my companion. He was smirking at me, raising one eyebrow in an is-this-chick-for-real? expression.
I bit my lip.
"Sorry. I'm doing too much baby talk, aren't I?" I asked.
The smirk turned into a full-fledged grin as he sipped his martini. "Maybe just a smidge."
Recently I'd stumbled across a very odd phenomenon. Not everyone in the world thought my twin babies were as fascinating as I did. Crazy, right? But I'd found that when I was telling the story of how my three-month-old daughter, Olivia, or Livvie as we'd taken to calling her, was spitting up on her car seat or how my son, Max, exactly three minutes younger than his sister, was prone to colic, my fashionably single friends all seemed to yawn, roll their eyes, or smirk (as was the current case) and suddenly remember some very important appointment they were late for. Go figure.
I sighed, reaching for my pomegranate margarita. "Point taken," I mumbled. "Honestly, I swear I can carry on an adult conversation, too."
He waved me off. "Not at all, love. Your Boppy, binkie, boopie-whatever little munchkins sound delightful."
"They are. You know, you really should come see them sometime."
"Uh-huh," he said. "I will. As soon as they stop drooling and leaking from their back ends."
My turn to smirk. Felix Dunn was not what I'd call a baby-person. I'm sure he didn't actually hate them. And he had probably even been one once. But I had a hard time picturing him in the vicinity of one now.
Felix was the managing editor of the L.A. Informer, Hollywood's most notorious tabloid, making him much more comfortable stalking an A-lister down the Sunset Strip than holding an infant that may "leak" at any moment. I'd met Felix years ago when we'd both ended up in Las Vegas tracking down a group of Prada smuggling drag queens. Clearly that had been in my pre-husband-and-kids lifetime. But Felix's life was, as far as I could tell, pretty much the same as it had been back then.
Felix was not overly tall, but not what you'd call short either. He had a slim build, sandy blond hair, and blue eyes that always seemed to be twinkling beneath his sandy brows with some sort of secret knowledge. He was dressed today in his usual uniform of a button down shirt and khaki pants, though I noticed that since he'd been promoted from reporter to editor, he'd traded in his sneakers for a respectable pair of oxfords. John Varvatos, if I wasn't mistaken. A splurge I was surprised at, considering Felix's usual tendency toward thriftiness.
"Okay, Dunn," I conceded, "I've got a moratorium on the baby talk. So what was it you wanted to discuss this afternoon?" I asked, switching gears.
Two days ago, Felix had called me out of the blue and asked if I could meet him for lunch. Not that I didn't appreciate the afternoon out, but, as I mentioned, Felix wasn't known for his extravagant generosity in the cash department. If he'd agreed to pay for lunch, I knew he had an agenda.
"Right." He leaned his elbows on the table, studiously avoiding getting any marinara sauce from his pasta dish on his sleeves. "I need your help with a story we're working on. Specifically, I was hoping you could give me some background information on someone."
I raised an eyebrow his way. "Sounds intriguing."
"Lana Paulson. She's in fashion. You know her, correct?" Felix asked.
I nodded, the name jogging an old memory. "Sure. She and I went to design school together. She was my roommate. But that was forever ago." And, at the risk of dating myself unnecessarily, I wasn't going to admit to Felix just how long ago "forever" was. In school Lana'd had a flair for the dramatic, and after graduation she'd taken her talents to Hollywood, designing costumes. I, on the other hand, had gone the footwear route and started my own line of high heeled shoes. "Last I heard Lana had a boutique on Melrose and was wardrobe assistant at some TV network," I told Felix.
He nodded. "Actually, she's the head of wardrobe for UBN now."
"Wow. Good for her," I said, honestly meaning it as I sipped my drink again.
"Anyway," he continued. "One of my reporters recently got a tip that some wardrobe items have gone missing from one of the network's shows."
"Missing?" I asked.
"Stolen," he clarified.
"Exciting. Your paper must be thrilled."
Felix grinned. "Trust me, I am. This is a major story." He paused. "If it's true."
"Ah. So, you want to know if Lana can be trusted."
Felix nodded. "Exactly. Is this a case of an overworked wardrobe woman being careless or an actual crime?"
"Okay, tell me about the theft."
"Well," Felix said, leaning back in his seat again. "The source claims that three separate times now costume items have gone missing. Last, it was the lead's outfit, and the whole production had to shut down. Cost them a day's worth of shooting time, and Lana was in some very hot water with the execs. Time is money."
"So you think maybe she's just claiming theft to cover her ass?" I asked, reading between Felix's cynical lines.
Felix shrugged noncommittally. "What do you think?"
I leaned back in my chair, letting the warm sun wash over my shoulders. "That's a tough one. Like I said, it's been years since I've seen her. Was she a little dramatic? Sure. But this is Hollywood. That's kind of a given."
Felix pursed his lips together, clearly not hearing the answer he was looking for.
"But," I added, "she was good at what she did. Fashion was her life. I couldn't see her simply misplacing something that important. If it were up to me, I'd be inclined to believe your source."
Felix nodded. "Perfect." I could see juicy headlines dancing in his eyes.
I grinned at him. "Since when are you tabloid boys so concerned with the truth, anyway? Don't I seem to remember a time when you pasted my head on the body of Pamela Anderson to pump up one of your stories?"
Felix narrowed his eyes at me. "You're never going to let me live that one down are you?"
I shook my head, feeling my blonde hair whip at my cheeks. "Nope. Not in this lifetime."
"Truth is, those were different times. B.T. Before Twitter," he clarified. "Now, we print something that isn't on the up and up, and everyone and their mother is online calling us liars, propagandists, you name it. Subscribers are a lot more savvy." He paused. "Or possibly just cranky. Either way, we have to be a bit more careful about checking our facts if we don't want to lose followers."
"Well, hurray for Twitter. I'll be expecting a retraction to print any day now," I said, signaling the server for another drink. Hey, I wasn't driving home, Felix was paying, and it was the first time since the twins had been born that I'd left the house without a diaper bag. I was going to enjoy my adult afternoon to the fullest. "So, how are we going to catch the thief?" I asked. "You want me to talk with Lana? Go undercover on her show? Ferret out some suspects among the cast?"
Felix gave me a funny look over the rim of his martini glass. "Maddie, love, you're a mum now. I wouldn't ask you to do any of those things."
I paused. "But didn't you just say you needed my help?"
"Your background on Lana is plenty enough help," he assured me.
"It is?" I asked, feeling a tiny prickle of disappointment.
"More than enough," he added. "Besides, I've got Allie on the story, and I'm sure if there is a thief at the network, she'll get to the bottom of it."
I felt a frown marring my perfect afternoon out.
Allie Quick was one of Felix's star reporters on the Informer staff. She also just happened to be his girlfriend, ten years his junior, and the living embodiment of Barbie. While my first impression had been dumb-blonde all the way, she'd actually proven to be a good reporter, so I had to give her credit there. However, I suddenly had the faintest feeling of being replaced by a younger model.
"But what does Allie know about fashion?" I protested. "I mean, I could at least have lunch with Lana. Get the details for you."
Again Felix shook his head, closing his blue eyes and doing a frown-slash-smile thing that had "patronizing" written all over it. "Don't worry a bit about it, Maddie. Allie's got it under control. In fact, she's meeting Lana this evening at her boutique to get the full story."
"Hmm. Well, tell her to say 'hi' to Lana for me," I mumbled.
Felix nodded. "Will do. But don't worry, love. Really, we've got this one. You just go home and enjoy your drooling monsters. Leave the heavy lifting to those of us not graced with the joys of motherhood."
An hour later Felix had dropped me off outside the nineteen-fifties style bungalow I shared with my husband and two kids. My babysitter's, A.K.A. Mom's, car was parked in the drive, and I could already hear shouts of teeny tiny protests from beyond the front door as I walked up the slate pathway.
Even though I loved my twins with all my heart, I paused just a moment before opening the door, enjoying my last breath of freedom before I pushed inside the house. Where I was immediately assaulted with wails (from the twins), baby-talk (from mom), and a loud sigh (probably from me).
"Mommy's home," I announced from the doorway, dropping my purse on the floor and kicking off the kitten heels I'd worn to lunch.
"Perfect timing, Mads," Mom called out, emerging from the twins' bedroom with a screaming bundle swaddled in a pink blanket. With a pink body suit on. And pink booties. And a pink, wool hat. I prayed it was Livvie.
"I think they're hungry," she said.
"Mom, you do know that it's eighty-five degrees out, right?" I asked, taking the baby from her and peeking beneath the layers. Thankfully we had a female.
"But it's winter," Mom protested.
"We live in L.A. Winter means T-shirts instead of tank tops."
Mom shook her head at me. "Babies need to be kept warm," she said, picking up an almost identical blue bundle from the play mat in the corner of the living room.
"Warm, yes. Cooked, no," I protested, removing Livvie's hat to expose a soft dusting of blonde peach fuzz along her scalp.
But Mom waved me off. "I'll get the bottles, you hold," she commanded, shoving the blue bundle into my arms as well.
Luckily, both babies were fabulous eaters (I had no idea where they got that trait. Couldn't have had anything to do with the nightly tubs of Ben & Jerry's I'd ingested while pregnant.), and as soon as we'd settled them in their respective carriers with their little bottles of milk, they were both happy as clams, the roars of tiny screams ceasing. After a good six ounces a piece, a pair of burps loud enough to make their father proud, and two wet diaper changes, they both settled into blissful newborn happiness, cooing at each other on the play mat again.
"Okay, I'm off," Mom announced, wrapping a polyester scarf around her neck and grabbing her purse. "There's a sale today at Sears, and Dorothy and I both have coupons."
I cringed. As much as I loved my mother, the one thing in this world that I was most thankful for was that I had not inherited her sense of style. Somehow her fashion sense had peaked around 1989 and stayed there ever since. Today she was clad in a pair of acid washed jeans that were at least two sizes too big in the rear, white Keds that looked as if they'd been bedazzled with pink rhinestones along the top, and a bright green sweater with a kitten chasing a ball of yarn on the front of it. With matching green eye shadow that went clear up to her eyebrows. Sadly, I was not surprised she was buying clothes at a store that sold power tools.
"You know, I have a gift card for Nordstrom, Mom. I'd be happy to take you shopping there any time," I offered, trying to steer her in the right direction.
But Mom waved me off. "Nonsense. That stuff is way too overpriced. Take these jeans for instance. You know what I paid for these?"
I looked down at their pale denim glory. Whatever it was, it was way too much.
"$14.99," she said proudly. "What a steal, huh?"
I bit my lip, holding back the slew of snide remarks bubbling up in my throat. She was, after all, my mother.
"You know," Mom said, a scary light bulb look going off in her eyes. "If Dorothy has a couple of extra coupons, I could pick up a pair for you. I think they're still on sale."
"Oh, gee, wow. That would be...yeah, you know I think I'm good on jeans right now."
"It would be no trouble."
"I'm...still trying to lose baby weight. Not a good time to buy new clothes."
"But you have to wear something."
"I'm good. Honest."
"I have never been more sure of anything in my life."
Mom shrugged, slipping on a leopard print jacket. "Okay, suit yourself. But if you change your mind, just send me a text," she said, pointing to her cell. Texting was Mom's latest thing. Her husband had finally convinced her to join this century and bought her a smart phone for her birthday. Fifteen times a day I got little notes telling me she was "loling @ ur stepdad" or "h8ing the new amricn idol jdg".
"Will do," I promised. And thanks for watching the kids," I added as she stepped out.
"Any time, Maddie," she called over her shoulder before shutting the door.
Whew, close one.
I left the twins to their happy babbling while I changed the laundry, put away a load of clean dishes, and checked my email. Basically doing the frantic mad-dash that had become my everyday holy-crap-no-one's-crying-quick-get-something-done routine. It lasted the average fifteen minutes before a foul smell came from Livvie's corner, and Max started protesting in shrill, ear-drum splitting cries. I'd swear the child was destined to become a lead singer of a heavy metal band.
I was just cleaning up Livvie's mess and pleading with Max to stop yelling, when a text vibrated from my pocket. I did a silent prayer that it wasn't from my Mom saying she'd found acid wash in my size. I put Livvie down, swapping her for her brother, then checked the readout. It was from my husband.
Homicide just came in. Gotta stay late. Sorry. XOXO
I sighed. (Though the sound was swallowed up by Max's howls.) My husband was detective Jack Ramirez, L.A.P.D. Homicide. And, while we had both agreed that I, and not my husband, would be the one taking a hiatus from work when the twins arrived, I hadn't realized at the time that it meant I'd basically be a single mom most nights. Not that it was his fault. A notoriously unpredictable work schedule kinda came with the territory. I mean, it was hard to convince people to get killed just between the hours of nine and five.
I looked down at the twins. "Well, I guess it's just you and me again tonight, noisemakers."
* * *
The next morning found the twins in a much better mood, my husband gone again before dawn, and me sipping a cup of very strong coffee across the living room floor from my best friend, Dana.
"You didn't sleep again last night, did you?" Dana asked, stealing a glance at me over the rim of her coffee cup. Organic with soy milk and Stevia sweetener.
"Does it show?" I responded, checking my eyes for lower lid bags in the fun-house style mirror attached to the twins' playmat.
"Just a little," Dana said. "But I have some concealer samples that will do wonders."
I sipped at my coffee (non-fat, no-calorie sweetener, sugar-free vanilla syrup) while I watched Dana dig into her purse.
I first met Dana Dashel when we'd both attended John Adams Middle School in Reseda. She'd been the only other girl in seventh grade who understood the power of tasteful eye make-up. Her hair was a light strawberry blonde, her eyes a bright blue, and she was at least five inches taller than I was, bringing her within a breath of supermodel height. And her addiction to the gym was almost as strong as my addiction to junk food. (Or maybe I should say my pre-baby-weight addiction to junk food. I was currently at three months sugar-free and hating every minute of my glucose sobriety.)
Dana was an actress who, in addition to landing several hot supporting roles lately, was the face of the Lover Girl cosmetics commercials. Which meant she always had free samples.
I gratefully took the proffered concealer, applying a generous helping in the baby mirror.
"Last night wasn't as bad as some," I told her. "I did get a solid three hour stretch at one point."
"You should get out of the house," Dana told me. "Maybe some fresh air would wear them out."
"Fresh air like at the mall?" I asked, warming to the idea.
"Actually, I was thinking of visiting Ricky on set."
Ricky Montgomery was Dana's boyfriend, a movie star, and had abs you could do laundry on. He and Dana were rivaling George Clooney and whatshername as the top celebrity couple in TMZ's latest polls. Ricky's current gig was on a reality show called Dancing with Celebrities. Ten celebrities from various walks of Hollywood life paired up with professional ballroom dancers to compete for the ultimate title of Celebrity Dance Champion. Each week they engaged in tricky tangos and wild waltzes for the viewing public, who then voted off their least favorite dancer/celebrity combo. They were only in week three of live competitions, but so far Ricky and his partner, Irina Sokolov, had been fan favorites. Not surprising since the show's demographic was mostly female, and Ricky was currently being touted as "Hollywood's most eligible bachelor" (according to People). Possibly one reason Dana was a frequent visitor on the set.
"I wish I could," I said, sincerely meaning it. The costumes looked to die for on TV; I could only imagine the fabulosity in person. "But I'm not sure they'd be welcome," I added, gesturing to the pudgy pair of babies currently blowing raspberries at each other.
"Are you kidding? They're so cute, I'm sure no one would mind them."
"Right, no one would mind me bringing a pair of screaming infants to a closed set. And their huge diaper bag. And their milk, their changing pads, their playmobiles, their-"
"Okay, okay, I get the point," Dana said holding her hands up.
"Sorry, but I'm kinda homebound at the moment," I said, sipping my coffee again.
Dana sighed, letting Max grab her finger with his chubby fist. "I want one of these."
I raised an eyebrow at her. "I'll sell you one cheap."
She grinned, elbowing me in the ribs. "No, I'm serious. I mean, I've always thought of myself as the motherly type."
I raised the other eyebrow. "Really?" Honestly this was the first I'd heard of it. Dana had always been more of the film-opening type than the diaper-genie type.
"Well, okay, maybe not always," she admitted, "but I can feel it ticking, you know. The 'biological clock,'" she said, rolling her eyes and doing air quotes. "I have a bad feeling its alarm may go off soon."
I shook my head. "Honey, you have plenty of time." Dana was my age. I refused to think of any clock running out on either of us anytime soon.
But Dana shook her head. "No. I don't. Not really. I mean, even if Ricky were to pop the question today, we'd need at least eighteen months to plan the wedding, then we'd want to go on an extended honeymoon, and we always said we'd like to travel a little before bringing kids into the picture, so we're looking at three years down the line before I even get pregnant. Then another nine months on top of that, and if we want him to have a sibling that could be another two years before baby number two comes along and then... boom! Too late. Hot flash city and I'm all barren."
I blinked at her. "Wow. You've really thought this through."
Dana sighed. "Well, I've had a lot of time to think about it. You realize that Ricky and I have been dating for almost three years now, and he's not so much as breathed a whisper of a ring."
"I'm sorry," I said, laying a hand on her arm. "I didn't realize it's been that long."
"It has." She tickled Max under his chin, resulting in a smile full of spit bubbles. "At this rate, I may never get one of these."
"Well, listen, you are free to borrow mine any time you like."
She smiled. "Thanks."
"Hey, doesn't Dancing with Celebrities air on UBN?" I asked Dana, trying to steer the conversation back to more comfortable subjects than barrenness and blaring biological alarm clocks.
Dana nodded. "Yeah. Why?"
"Well, I just saw Felix yesterday..."
Dana raised an eyebrow at me. "Tabloid Boy? What's he up to?"
"The usual. He wanted to know about a schoolmate of mine who is working wardrobe for the network. He has a source who says someone is stealing clothes."
"Ooooo, naughty. So, what did he want you to do? Go undercover? Investigate?" She asked.
I frowned. "No. That's just it. He just wanted to know about her character. He didn't want me to do anything."
Dana scrunched up her nose. "Why not? You're like totally good at finding things out."
"I know, right?" I agreed. "He's got Allie Quick on it instead."
Dana scrunched her forehead up to match her nose, making a face that would produce Botox-proof wrinkles if she wasn't careful. "You're way better at investigating than Allie."
I shot her a grateful look. "Thanks."
"Hey, you know what?" she said.
I bit. "What?"
"I bet Ricky could get us into wardrobe at UBN with no problem."
"Really?" I asked.
"Sure. I mean, he's there all the time. I bet he totally has access."
I sucked in the side of my cheek. What harm would there be in just visiting the set, checking out the wardrobe department, and chatting with an old friend?
"Ricky wouldn't mind?" I asked. "I mean, I don't want to cut into his rehearsal time."
Dana waved me off. "Are you kidding? He's usually dying for an excuse to take a break. That Irina is a slave driver."
I pursed my lips. In that case, it was almost irresponsible of me not to look into Felix's theft story. I sort of even owed it to Felix to help him out, right? I mean, I'm sure if I thought hard enough I could think of a time in the past when he'd helped me out. At the very least, he'd bought me two pomegranate margs at lunch. I really should return the favor.
"An insider's view is something that Allie would never be able to get," I mused out loud, knowing that the network had a strict no-paparazzi policy. It did not, on the other hand, have a no-friends-of-the-girlfriends-of-its-stars policy.
Dana nodded. "Totally. We'd be way inside."
I looked down at the twins gurgling a little spit bubble symphony. "You know, if we could get them to nap in the car, maybe they'd be quiet on set after all."
* * *
P.S. Book #1 in the High Heels mysteries, SPYING IN HIGH HEELS, is currently free at Kobo! Download it here: http://tinyurl.com/d6ef96e