Monday, August 26, 2019

What to do With a Family Crisis, a Homicide, and an Old Flame Coming to Town. Not a Normal Christmas for Jillian Bradley!

Family and friends have gathered at Jillian's house in Clover Hills to celebrate Christmas, but Jillian's plans for a lovely Christmas Eve are rudely interrupted by a power failure. And a homicide. Not only does Aunt Jillian find herself with a house full of company to entertain in the dark, but she also receives a call from Detective Walter Montoya, who finds himself in the dark, trying to solve the bizarre murder of a worker found dead in a maintenance shed at a power station. With Teddy at her side, Jillian is determined to solve the mystery. A classic whodunit!


Warmed by the fire, Teddy had fallen asleep on the sofa. Although the heat was lulling me to sleep as well, I needed to put the final touches on my weekly gardening column. Glancing at my Yorkie that slept so soundly made me smile. Pausing to stretch a moment, I was drawn to the Christmas music playing on the radio and hummed along. Silver Bells happened to be a favorite of mine.
Last article of the year.
How much longer did I want to be doing this? The internet held such a wealth of information on gardening nowadays. Perhaps people didn’t need to read garden columns in papers anymore. Still, I did have loyal fans who enjoyed holding the hard copy in their hands. Maybe I could keep writing another year. My thoughts were interrupted.
Oh, good. Time for the noon news.
I turned up the volume.
“This is AP radio news,” said the announcer, “WASHINGTON: A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed on a nighttime mission in southwestern Afghanistan yesterday morning. Initial reports from the scene indicated as many as three soldiers may have been killed, with another soldier seriously wounded….”
“Oh, dear! Not another helicopter.” I winced.
“In a brief statement, the American military command in Kabul confirmed the reports of three casualties. Unspecified weather difficulties may have played a role in the crash, but enemy action has not been ruled out. The name of the wounded soldier was released as Corporal Kenneth Romero of Hackensack, New Jersey. He was listed in grave condition and being flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to undergo evaluation.”
Not my nephew-in-law! My heart skipped a beat thinking how Kaitlin must feel hearing the news about her husband.
“I need to call my brother immediately, Teddy. Where’s my iPhone?”
He whimpered and stared at me, now alert, sensing something bad had happened. Jumping off the sofa, Teddy raced into my office and yipped at a small table next to the wing back chair.
“You’re such a good dog!”
After I clicked the number, Teddy crawled into my lap to comfort me as I waited for Daniel to answer.
Will they still come for the holidays?
They were due to arrive tomorrow afternoon, the day before Christmas Eve.
“Daniel? It’s Jillian. I just got the news. Is he okay? Have they told you anything?”
He paused before answering.
I could tell Kenny’s condition was serious.
His voice sounded strained. “All they said was he’s alive and at the medical facility at Ramstein. We won’t know anything more until they do a complete evaluation.”
“What about his injuries?”
“Too soon to tell. But he’s alive and conscious. It’s a miracle he survived. Hey, don’t worry. We’re still flying in tomorrow. Kaitlin is holding up pretty well, considering what a shock this is. She’s being strong for the kids.”
“I’m glad you’re still coming. We’ll ride this out together. I’ll be praying for his recovery day and night.”
“Thanks, sis. I’ll call if we hear anything. Otherwise, we’ll see you tomorrow afternoon. I’m having a shuttle bring us to your house. With six of us, you can’t imagine how much luggage we have!”
“I can’t wait. And Teddy’s going to love all the attention.”
“Oh, by the way, we have an extra guest coming with us. I hope it’s okay.”
“Extra guest? Are you teasing me?”
“Just a little. Kaitlin’s dog sitter had to cancel at the last minute, and with the holidays, everyone is booked. You don’t mind him coming, do you?”
“The pug? No, of course not. The more the merrier! Teddy will be thrilled to have a playmate.”
I looked at Teddy to catch his reaction.
He understood we were talking about him.
He woofed as if to say, “Depends on the playmate.”
I had to chuckle. “Teddy’s not so sure, but I think they’ll be fine. I can’t wait for you all to get here. And Daniel, let’s believe Kenny’s going to be okay.”
“I appreciate your positive attitude. I love you.”
I sat back on the sofa and prayed. Lord, please put Your hand on Kenny right now and cover him with Your healing touch. Amen.
“Come on, Teddy, let’s get those cookies baked and decorated. The kids will be here tomorrow.”
He pricked up his ears at the word cookies and followed me immediately into the kitchen where I had assembled all the ingredients.
I took my favorite Santa Claus apron off the coat rack in the laundry room and tied it on.
After the oven was set to 350 degrees, I began mixing the dough. Teddy lay on the floor, rested his head on his paws, and watched as the mixer buzzed. He looked so cute in his Christmas sweater and jingle bell collar. I knew people thought I was crazy for the way I dressed him, but I didn’t care.
Soon, the pleasant aroma of freshly baked cookies filled the house.
The weather had been colder this year. Heavy rain predicted for the next several days would add to the chill. I didn’t mind — rainy weather meant sitting by a cozy fire reading a book and sipping tea from one of the lovely teacups I’d collected over the years.
That reminded me — my turn for hosting the garden club was Wednesday, the day after Christmas. At least plenty of goodies would be on hand, and fruitcake, of course. I didn’t care if I was the only one who enjoyed the old fashioned concoction — Christmas only came once a year.
With the baking finished, I put aside some of the confections in a goody bag prepped for an inmate.
Just a few months had passed since Rhonda O’Brien had been incarcerated for taking part in the demise of several elderly victims in Half Moon Bay. I made a promise to befriend her in spite of her ill treatment of me. The visit would be the second attempt to reach out to the lonely woman.
I had no reason to visit her other than my understanding of her loneliness and the empathy I felt. The man she loved had committed suicide rather than face multiple charges for murder, unlike my husband who died courageously saving the lives of his friends during Vietnam.
Knowing dogs were not allowed inside the prison (except for the police-collared variety), I dropped Teddy off with Cecilia, my very pregnant personal assistant.
Whatever was I going to do without her after the baby was born? I never left Teddy alone anymore after my last Yorkie had been kidnapped.
Cecilia, supporting her swollen belly with one hand, answered the door and invited me inside. She reached for Teddy. “Come here, you sweet little doggie.” My personal assistant was beginning to sound like me!
“I can’t stay, dear. I’m running a teeny bit late for an appointment.”
“I can’t believe you’re going to visit Rhonda again. She was so standoffish last time!”
“I know, but it’s Christmas, and she has no one. I can relate to her situation. Now, Teddy, be a good dog and I’m sure Cecilia will take you for a nice walk if the rain lets up. You don’t mind do you?” I handed her the red rhinestone-studded leash.
“Of course not. I need to go for a walk myself. The doctor said walking could help start my labor. I’m a week late, you know.”
“Dear me. Well, just be careful you don’t slip. I’ll be back soon…especially if she’s unfriendly.”

Coupled with the dreary weather, the women’s correctional facility was the least festive environment I could think of. Rhonda sat across from me behind the screen, looking far worse than I’d seen her the last time.
I handed her the small bag of treats. “These are for you. I thought you might enjoy some Christmas cookies.”
Rhonda took the sack perfunctorily and set them down on the counter.
“Thank you,” she said in a faint tone.
I waited for her to say something but she sat stoically, staring past me. I still wanted to reach her.
“Rhonda, can I do anything for you?”
She turned her gaze slowly and faced me.
“You can burn in hell!” The look of hatred in her eyes was unmistakable. She blamed me for Ira Sinclair’s death. 
I stood and lowered my head. “I’m sorry for your loss, Rhonda. But I’m also sorry for the men and women who died because of what you and Ira did.”
I couldn’t stay any longer. “I’m going to go. I won’t bother you anymore.”
Her stoic gaze returned as the guard escorted her back to her cell.
The bag of cookies lay abandoned on the counter.

I was depressed now thinking I had failed with her, but what more could I do? Rhonda O’Brien had gone over the edge. I’d better just get Teddy and return home. Presents still needed to be wrapped, and a stack of mail waited. Christmas cards poured in from friends and fans this time of year, and I always took the time to answer each one personally.
The rain came down in a steady downpour as I arrived to pick up Teddy. I opened my umbrella and held it overhead as I walked quickly to the door.
Cecilia invited me in for a cup of tea.
With no fireplace in their tiny condo, I longed to be sitting by mine. I scanned the room and noticed piles of belongings — papers, books, and laundry everywhere — Cecilia had nowhere to store them.
I thought back to when I was first married living in a tiny quadplex. Still, I managed to find a place to put everything away, but I didn’t work full-time like Cecilia did as a contributing journalist for a newspaper. I simply stayed home and threw dinner parties. More like playing house, looking back.
Cecilia returned with the tea tray. I refocused on the present.
“I wasn’t up for baking this year,” she said, “I just picked up something. Hope you don’t mind.”
She set the service on the modern black coffee table then handed me a mug and a slice of chocolate cake. “I put the sugar in for you — three teaspoons.”
I smiled at her efficiency, beginning to miss her already when her baby would come.
“Actually, the store-bought stuff is pretty good,” I said. “Truth be known, I’ve picked up things to serve myself!”
We drank our tea and devoured the delicious cake in just a few forkfuls.
Cecilia groaned.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “Has your labor started?”
She sighed. “It’s only the baby turning over trying to get comfortable. It takes some getting used to.”
She repositioned herself on the sofa, spreading a throw over her legs.
“Well, before too much longer that baby will be here. You still don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy?”
“No. We wanted to be surprised. It’s old-fashioned, I suppose, but that’s what we decided. The nursery is in yellow and green so the colors will suit either…ooh!” Cecilia moaned a second time.
“Do you want me to call Walter? Where is he anyway? Working?”
“No, he’s out shopping. He didn’t want to be going out at the last minute. We only have Dad and Daisy left. Dad wants some kind of tool. He told Walter what he wanted, and I just said to find a gift that looked like Daisy and buy it.”
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” I smiled picturing the bustling woman so immersed in her plant care business. “I hope you steered him in the right direction!”
“He’ll probably get her something to do with cooking. I think she asked for a counter top grill. Knowing Walter, he’ll figure out a way to make the gift benefit him. More tea?”
“No thanks. I need to get home to wrap gifts and go through my cards. I’d better be going. Are you sure you’re okay, dear? I can stay longer if you need me.”
“No, I’m fine. I did take Teddy for a walk before the rain started.” She glanced outside the front window. “The weather’s clearing a little. It’s probably a good time to drive home. Forgive me for not walking you to the door. I’m really tired!”
“Well, when you get a sudden burst of energy and start cleaning the entire house, you’re about to go into labor. Trust me, I’ve heard enough stories about women cleaning things. Of course, I wouldn’t know first-hand.”
“I’ll take note, thanks!”
“Merry Christmas, dear. Enjoy Christmas Eve with Daisy and your Dad. Tell them I said hello.”
“I will. If I make it. Merry Christmas to you and Teddy. Tell your family hello for me, too.”
Cecilia had to travel an hour away to where her father lived in Half Moon Bay. I worried whether or not her labor might start during the trip. Would there be time to get back home for the delivery? I tried to stop the circular thoughts.
Why did I have to fret so? Perhaps because I thought of Cecilia as the daughter I never had. Anyway, it was good to visit with her. I always enjoyed tea and cake.
Then, I was home at last!
Twinkling white Christmas lights outlined the roof of my house. This year I had hired a service to hang them. A cheerful wreath on the door added to the festive scene. Another first was hiring the LaBelle sisters, a pair of professional decorators, to come and decorate the interior. Everything would be perfect.
I finished wrapping all the gifts in red paper and gold silk ribbon and placed them under the tree. Teddy enjoyed playing in the scraps, but I had to wrestle them away so he wouldn’t eat them. The dog loved trash!
What a Christmas this was going to be. Eighteen adults, four children, two toddlers, two dogs, and oh, I mustn’t forget — my dear friend Prentice Duvall would be joining us, too.
I did enjoy being with him. Besides finding him easy on the eyes, with slightly graying temples and a small tummy pooch, Prentice treated me like a lady and catered to my every whim. In fact, I learned to be careful what I admired because he would want to buy it for me immediately!
As the owner of the finest art gallery in the area, he was certainly the most interesting man I knew. Prentice was not only a gentleman — he had a dry wit that made me laugh whenever we spent time together.
The subject of marriage had come up on several occasions, but the memory of my late husband still lingered. Up until now, I hadn’t needed anyone else to fill the void and had remained a widow. The older I grew, the more unsavory the term became. Recently I had begun to resent my “widow” status.
A quick supper for me, dinner for Teddy set out with fresh water and a small cup of milk, brought the day to a close. The house had been scrupulously cleaned by my house cleaners in preparation for my company. I had attended to every detail. Tomorrow after church, I would take a rest and wait for the family to arrive.
“Time for bed, Teddy,” I said.
He stretched his front paws and yawned.
“Napoleon’s coming to see you,” I said.
Teddy pricked up his ears at hearing the name and cocked his head a little to one side.
“You’ll have fun. I promise.”
Teddy sneezed a tiny “achoo” in protest. 
I carried him into my room and placed him on his towel at the foot of the bed. “Night-night, little one. Tomorrow is going to be full of excitement, so I won’t have much time to spend with you.”
He circled around several times then settled down to sleep.
As I got ready for bed, first indulging in a luxurious bubble bath, relaxing in the soothing hot water, a picture of Rhonda’s face contorted in hate flashed across my memory. I tried to drive the image away, dismissing her forever. It wasn’t easy.
When I finished my bath it was time for the hourly news. I turned on the radio, hoping for an update on Kenny. No further information — only the report of the crash.
I silently prayed again for Kenny to get the care he needed in Germany and for him to come home as soon as he could.
When finally I stretched out in my cozy bed, sleep came immediately. 
When my eyes opened again it was morning.  

Read more!


See you in my books!
~Nancy Jill

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pacific Beach Book 5 - Revenge or Justice?

The quaint surfing town of Pacific Beach becomes a destination for murder when a young starlet and her other are found brutally murdered at the Pacific Terrace Hotel where Jillian's family reunion is taking place. Their reunion takes a terrifying turn when Jillian's nephew is arrested as a prime suspect and Jillian must move quickly to find the real killer and prove her nephew's innocence. 
   There is no shortage of suspects, including an unsavory doctor who attended the popular teen star and a mysterious guest at the party where the starlet dies. But why is her mother murdered with her? Working at Jillian's side to find the perpetrator of these bizarre killings are her faithful assistant Cecilia Montoya, and Teddy, Jillian's Yorkie companion who sniffs out his won clue.

                        1 The Nightmare

June 8—San Diego, California

   Caroline played innocently in her own front yard with her new puppy when the car struck her down. The golden-haired mutt had been rescued by her father before their neighbor could drop the defenseless dog off in the country to fend for itself. Caroline named him Buddy. 

   The frisky pup gently licked the little girl’s face as she hugged him. Wanting to pretend he was her baby, she coaxed Buddy to be still and struggled to put the pink doll dress over his head. Normal play for a five-year-old girl. Finally, she succeeded and giggled at how funny Buddy looked in the frilly doll dress. 
   Caroline’s nine-year-old brother was in the driveway of their modest home. The boy stooped over the back tire of his bicycle and attached playing cards to the spokes with clothespins. He imagined the cards made the sound of a motorcycle like his uncle’s 650. 
   The children’s mother watched her daughter but needed to go inside the house to check on a cake in the oven. Her mind was burdened with how to pay the bills from her handy-man husband’s meager paycheck. The afternoon was late, and it was almost time for him to come home from work. 
   Supper was almost ready, a meager meal of Hamburger Helper. But there would be cake. No matter how hard they struggled to merely survive, they remained a close-knit family. 
   And then the unthinkable happened. A late-model car came out of nowhere, speeding, swerving wildly. 
   Caroline’s brother watched helplessly as the driver ran up over the curb and into their yard. Buddy scampered away in the pink doll dress, terrified, and Caroline sat frozen on the lawn, staring wide-eyed as the car came toward her.    
   The boy watched in horror as the car struck her small, defenseless body and tossed it further into the yard. He heard the tires squeal as the car raced off—the driver not even bothering to stop. The boy, almost in shock, had enough presence of mind to notice the license plate. His parents had drilled both of their children with the importance of protective safety measures. Now the numbers were burned into his memory forever. He frantically ran to his sister and wondered how he was going to help her. 
   The frightened boy bent down and cradled her bloodied body in his arms. Angry and helpless, he vowed the maniac would be caught. 
   The mother, hearing screeching tires so close to her house, came outside, drying her hands on her apron, to see what was going on. She looked in the yard and found her son holding the lifeless body in his arms. She ran toward them, holding her head with her hands, and screamed at the terrible thing that had just happened. 
   The boy turned to her. “Call 911!” 
   That was the beginning of the nightmare—for the mother, for the father, and for the nine-year-old boy.

June 18—Twelve Years Later

   The nightmare culminated in a tragic double-homicide at the Pacific Terrace Hotel where I stayed. Before the ordeal, I remember feeling so happy. The San Francisco Enterprise had just published two great articles for my Ask Jillian gardening column, and I had time for a breather. I also looked forward to attending our family reunion. 

   My personal assistant, Cecilia Montoya, came with me to help take care of Teddy, my Yorkie companion. The three of us flew into San Diego International Airport two days before the tragedy occurred.

See you in my books!
~Nancy Jill

Monday, August 12, 2019

How Does Jillian Make a New Lifelong Friend in "The Mark of Eden"?

The Mark of Eden Book 4

From the back cover...

After a frantic call from a couple on their honeymoon, Jillian returns to Half Moon Bay to help. Two elderly men are found dead in their recliners, and now another man is missing. This time it's the distraught father of the bride, Jillian's personal assistant Cecilia Montoya. Their investigation must be incognito since the groom, Detective Walter Montoya, can't work on the case due to a conflict of interest. The clues culminate with Jillian and Teddy taking a cruise to Catalina Island, but it's only an entree into a strange clinical world where she almost becomes a victim herself. Will Teddy be in time to save the day?


Daisy Larsen bustled. She bustled at home tending her garden, feeding the cat, and getting out invoices for her plant care business named ‘The Plant Lady.’ She even bustled as she made calls throughout the day, watering, fertilizing, and grooming plants of every size and description. Her kind-looking face held a spirit of honesty and forthrightness, but that did not deter her from being a woman unafraid to take charge.
Daisy made a tidy sum from her plant maintenance business, enough to pay the rent, to feed herself (and the cat), and to have some fun money which she usually used on the weekends going out with friends for dinner and a movie. She looked forward to it being the end of the week. Tonight, she’d have a chance to kick back and relax before the upcoming fun.
The Plant Lady, dressed in a blue plaid shirt and jeans, pulled up in front of her client’s house that afternoon. She parked the van and began gathering up her purse and clipboard holding the checklist and billing statement for the month. She thought about how nice it would be to finish this last call, to get home, and kick off her shoes. Then, of course, she’d pop open a soda and check the mail.
Last call. Yes, old Mr. Pascal and his nine houseplants. She had cared for them this past year and a half.
Hoisting herself out of the van, she flung the strap of her purse over her shoulder, held the clipboard in one hand, locked the door with the other, and congratulated herself for remembering to set the parking brake. The hills in Half Moon Bay were unforgiving if you forgot to put it on. Her car rolled down a hill once and struck a parked car. That was enough of a lesson for her.
As she started up the walkway, she noticed the blinds were closed.
She hoped he was home.
Upon further examination, she found a few dead spots in the yard. Most unusual. Mr. Pascal had an automatic sprinkler system and one of the best lawn services in town.
She approached the door and rang twice. It was her special ring, to alert him that it was her. When no one answered, Daisy decided to knock.
“Mr. Pascal? It’s Daisy, The Plant Lady. Anybody home?” She called again even louder.
Not home?
She decided to check her calendar to make sure she had the right day, although she seldom got her appointments wrong.
“That’s strange.” She found it was indeed the correct day. “I’d better check my phone to see if he left a message.”
There was no message from him.
Peering through the front door pane, she noticed a light on in the living room, which wasn’t unusual. Mr. Pascal spent a lot of time reading, as he had often lent her books.
After Daisy knocked again and still no answer, she began to worry that something might be wrong. She wondered if he’d had a stroke or something. After all, he was elderly.
“I’ll try the back and see if I can get in.”
She couldn't ignore someone who might be in need.
Daisy tucked the clipboard under her arm and tried opening the back door. It was unlocked. She pushed it open halfway and stopped. An unpleasant smell greeted her. Mr. Pascal needed to empty his trash!
Daisy wondered if he might be in the shower, but the water wasn't running—that she could hear.
“Mr. Pascal?” She called softly at first. She finally yelled. “Mr. Pascal, are you home?”
He was sitting in his recliner in the living room, presumably taking a nap. The TV was on, the volume turned low.
Daisy knew he was hard of hearing, so she called his name in a crisp tone as she walked toward him.
Mr. Pascal did not answer. In fact, he didn’t move at all.
Oh dear. He’s dead. Mr. Pascal’s dead!
Although she had been to a few funerals, Daisy had never been this close to a dead body before, and the stench filled her nostrils. The room began to feel stifling. She went weak in the knees, and her stomach began to turn. She wanted to sit down, but she had sense enough not to touch anything.
Glancing around the room, she took note that nothing was out of order. It didn’t look like a robbery. Still, something was bothering her about the room. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Perhaps he died of heart failure. After all, he was elderly, and people did often die like that.
Poor old Mr. Pascal. He had never spoken of having any family. It had been just he and his wife until she died about a year and a half ago. He had only hired Daisy to keep the plants alive. It was a small way to continue to feel his wife’s presence. She had cared for the plants as if they were her children since she had been unable to conceive.
With her hands shaking, Daisy called 911, then left through the back door and went to her van to wait for the police.
It was only a matter of minutes until two police officers arrived. Daisy got out of her van to meet them. The man apparently in charge, a solidly built, sandy-haired officer wearing an official looking blue uniform and white Stetson hat, lumbered over to her. He wore a holster and gun, yet carried himself with such confidence that Daisy wondered if he ever even used the weapon.
“Are you the one who called?”
“Yes, sir. I’m Daisy Larsen.”
“I’m Chief Deputy Frank Viscuglia.” He presented his badge. Turning to the man behind him, who presented his badge as well, the chief said, “This is Officer John Mueller, my deputy.”
Daisy could only nod briefly at the introductions.
The two officers took rubber gloves from their pockets and put them on. “I’d like for us to go inside if you don’t mind, ma’am,” said the officer in charge.
Daisy did mind, but felt it was her duty as a good citizen to cooperate with the police. She took a deep breath and led them around back, explaining how she had found the back door open. Then she showed them Mr. Pascal.
When the chief saw that there was indeed a corpse in the living room, his demeanor changed from skeptical to alert. He ordered an ambulance, then adjusted his Stetson, took out a notepad from his pocket, and turned to Daisy.
“I need to get your statement. What did you say your last name was?”
“It’s Larsen, Daisy Larsen. I’m sorry, but I think I’m still in shock, finding him like that. He was fine when I stopped by the last time.”
“When was that?” The chief made an entry in his notes.
“It was two weeks ago. I do his plants bi-weekly.”
“And that was the last time you saw Mr. Pascal alive, correct?”
“Yes, it was.”
The chief noticed the sadness in her voice.
“May I get your address and phone information?” He continued to make notes.
Daisy took in the room. How had Mr. Pascal become such a neat housekeeper all of a sudden?
Glancing at the mantel, Daisy said softly, “It’s gone.”
“Ma’am?” asked Deputy Mueller, “What’s gone?”
“Her picture. Mr. Pascal’s picture of his wife is missing. It was in a beautiful silver-filigreed frame. He always keeps it, or kept it, where he could see it when he sat in his chair. Now it’s gone.”
The chief stopped writing. “Who do you think might have taken it?”
“I can’t imagine! He had no family that I knew of. Who would want a picture of someone else’s wife? Something just isn’t right about it. Look.” She pointed to the television Deputy Mueller was about to turn off. “The remote…that remote was next to the TV when I came in. Mr. Pascal would have had that remote by his chair if he had been watching something.”
“Good point.” Viscuglia pulled out his phone and dialed. “It’s the chief. We’ll need a forensics team. Some suspicious circumstances.” He gave the address. “Mule, get a picture of the body and one of the TV. There might be something.”
“Thank you,” said Daisy. “It’s the least we can do if someone killed him.”
“Truthfully, ma’am, if this is a homicide, we’d better find the killer or he might kill again, if he hasn’t already.” The chief paused and thought back a few years when another middle-aged woman had raised similar questions at a crime scene.
Chief Viscuglia looked at Deputy Mueller. “I think that will be all for now. Ms. Larsen. We’d like to talk to you some more, but first, I’ll get a coroner’s report so we’ll be starting with as many facts as we can.”
“I can meet anytime you want. I’m sure my clients will cooperate in rearranging their appointments. Most of them are real troopers. And after all, this is their civic duty.”
“Thank you, Ms. Larsen. We’ll be in touch and talk to you later.”
“Sir, what’s to become of his plants? Would you like me to take them and find good homes for them? I mean, after the investigation, of course.”
“I’m sure that would be okay. I’ll let you know when you can come get them.”
“Thank you. I’m sure Mr. Pascal would have appreciated it.”
The chief motioned for them to leave, adjusted his Stetson again, and held the door open for her with his gloved hand. “In case of fingerprints.”
As Daisy got back into her van, suddenly the thrill and adrenaline kicked in. She couldn’t wait to call her mother and tell all of her friends what had just happened. 

Another detective, one of Chief Viscuglia’s former protégés, was walking out the front door of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel arm-in-arm with his new bride, Cecilia.
Oahu was gorgeous this time of year. The air was warm and tropical, caressing the islanders and tourists alike with its delightful scent of plumeria and ginger blossoms.
The newlyweds took the sidewalk down the street toward the aquarium, strolling hand in hand.
“Happy?” Walter Montoya, Jr. looked lovingly at his new wife.
“Yes.” She laid her head against his shoulder for a moment. “I still can’t believe Jillian gave us this honeymoon for a wedding present. It’s so incredible!”
Walter nodded and looked at her. “Jillian is one in a million. A little eccentric the way she fawns over Teddy, but in spite of that little quirk, she’s the most generous person I know, and one of the brightest. I don’t know how we were lucky enough to meet her, Cecilia.”
Cecilia smiled in a knowing way and let go of his hand.
“I don’t believe it was luck at all.”
“You mean you believe it was fate?”
“Well, yes and no.”
“I know,” he said in a kidding kind of way. “You think God worked this all out ahead of time, don’t you?”
She looked at him a little defensively and slowed her walk.
“Yes, I do, and I think you should be glad He did. I know I am. Think about it, sweetheart. How else could two people like us, with absolutely no backgrounds to speak of, wind up like this? You’re an up-and-coming-detective for Clover Hills now, I’m a journalist with some excellent stories to my credit, and here we are on our honeymoon in Hawaii staying at the oldest, most charming hotel on Waikiki Beach. No, my darling, this did not all happen by chance. And who knows what else God has planned for us?”
“All right, my love.” Walter smiled. “I do agree with you. But I think I’d agree with anything you said right now because I love you so much.”
“Look.” She nodded to the right. “The aquarium is just up ahead.”
They started to walk towards the entrance, but Cecilia held back.
“Just a minute. I promised Dad I would call him and I just now remembered. He said I didn’t have to, but I said I wanted to.”
“Sure, honey. We’ll sit down over here while you make your call.” After sitting down on a bench, Cecilia called her father.
A family passed by and stood in line to get their tickets while Walter waited patiently.
Cecilia frowned. “He’s not answering.”
“Maybe his battery is dead.”
“I don’t think so, dearest. He charges it every night before he goes to bed. I’ll try again after we go through the aquarium. I saw an advertisement for it back at the hotel, and the exotic species they have are quite remarkable. I’m sure Dad’s all right.”
But the moment those words left Cecilia’s lips, she felt a slight pang of doubt. 

Back on the mainland, in the quaint upscale town of Clover Hills, California, Jillian Bradley was enjoying a brief morning excursion into downtown where she had decided to pay a visit to her favorite gallery. Even though she knew she really didn’t need any more art for her home, she couldn’t resist looking at what was for sale.
Prentice Duvall, the proprietor, was with a customer when she entered. Seeing who had just stepped through the door carrying a cheetah-print dog satchel, Prentice paused, waved a hello, and motioned for Jillian to join them.
Placing a friendly kiss on his cheek, Jillian smiled. “Hello, Prentice. I can wait until you’re finished. Please, go ahead. I’ve come to take a peek at the new exhibit.”
“No, it’s quite all right, Jillian. It’s always good to see you. I want you to meet a favorite customer of mine. This is Dr. Ira Sinclair. Dr. Sinclair, Jillian Bradley. She writes the “Ask Jillian” column for the San Francisco Enterprise.”
Dr. Sinclair extended his hand, “This is a pleasure, Ms. Bradley. I’ve seen your column in the Enterprise. You’re quite famous.” He was a portly man with faded strawberry blond hair and ruddy skin. Shrewd hazel eyes stood out behind his blond lashes. He wore an expensive sports coat over neatly pressed slacks. His ears stood out a little farther than most, as if he were equipped to hear more things than most people did.
Prentice started to pet the tiny Yorkie in the satchel, but instead remarked, “I thought I’d heard from someone that Teddy passed away recently, but here he is!”
The tiny dog yipped excitedly several times because of the attention.

Jillian admonished his behavior.
“Bad dog,” she said, placing her fingertip firmly on his nose. ”We don’t bark inside stores.”
He hung his head in shame and huddled down inside the satchel. She patted him gently. “You know I love you, but you need to mind your manners.
“Actually, you’re right on both accounts,” she said. “Many people don’t know that I’ve always had a Yorkie. When one of them would pass away, I couldn’t help but replace him with another one.”
“I see. I’m sorry for your loss, but who is this little guy?”
“This is Teddy number two.”
Jillian turned to Dr. Sinclair and smiled.
He didn’t seem to mind the interruption of his business with Prentice. “Please go on, I’d like to hear the explanation, too.”
“I suppose I’m just sentimental.” Jillian stroked the tiny dog gently. “After I lost my husband many years ago, I bought myself a Yorkie and named him Teddy after my husband, Ted.”
Prentice nodded. “He was quite a dog, as I remember.”
“Yes, he was a dear companion for me. After he died, my niece had a Yorkie that needed more attention than she could provide, so she asked me to give him a home.”
“And you did.” Ira looked approving.
“I did. It’s taken some getting used to because he’s so much more active than my last dog. I’m training him, though, and thoroughly enjoying it. He’s quite fierce!”
Prentice spoke up. “Dr. Sinclair is an entrepreneur, Jillian. He and I were selecting some new pieces for his office. Jillian has quite a knack for choosing fine art. She’s quite the collector, Ira.”
Jillian studied the entrepreneur for a moment. “Are you an art lover, Dr. Sinclair?”
“I’ve never thought about it. But I’d like your opinion, Jillian. I mean, it sounds like you have a real appreciation for fine art. I, on the other hand, have difficulty trying to decide, because I like them all.”
“I don’t know if I could be of any help.” She couldn’t help feeling flattered. “I find selecting art is about personal taste. A piece should either be something you can’t live without, or wouldn’t care if you never saw it again.”
“I like that.” Ira nodded. “Prentice, I think I should get to know this lady better.”
Jillian blushed. That remark made her feel like a young co-ed again, and since she and Prentice often dined together, she could tell by his face that he took Ira’s remark as personal competition for her attention. Sensing the tension, she decided to change the subject.
“I should be getting back to work, and it’s time for Teddy’s nap. Dr. Sinclair….”
“Please, call me Ira.”
“Well, Ira, it was nice meeting you.”
Ira pulled a business card from his inside coat pocket and handed it to her. “I want you to visit my office at your first opportunity. You’ll be able to get a better idea of what art I need. If I haven’t heard from you in three days, I’m calling to escort you personally.”
Jillian took the card and felt both flattered and honored at the interest he was taking in her. He was self-confident, for sure.
“I’ll be happy to come take a look, but I’m not sure when I can get away. Well, I really must be going.”
“Are we still on for dinner tomorrow evening?” Prentice made it a point.
“As far as I know. I’ll call you if my plans change.” She gave him another small kiss on the cheek and, with Teddy in tow, left the gallery.
Dr. Ira Sinclair watched her in admiration until she was out of sight.
Turning back to Prentice, he asked, “How long has she been a widow?”
“Too long,” said Prentice. 

As she drove home, Jillian considered whether to pursue Ira’s offer. She didn’t like being told what to do and was a little uncomfortable with his aggressiveness. By the time she got home, she had made up her mind to forget the whole thing. I really don’t have time. He was probably only flirting with me. If he was an entrepreneur, he could afford an interior designer to choose art for him. He didn’t need her. Still, for a woman in her sixties it was nice to be flirted with.
Jillian took Teddy out of the satchel and let him out in the back yard to run around for a moment. She looked admiringly at her picturesque garden, remembering the lovely wedding of Cecilia and Walter in her gazebo only a few weeks ago.
Teddy raced around, yipping at a bird who had intruded on his territory, as if wanting to make a good impression on her with his watchdog skills.
It made her smile. She was glad she had agreed to take him. The Yorkie was such an intelligent breed of dog, and she was going to teach this one the manners he lacked.
Teddy was tuckered out after the training session.
Jillian picked him up and laid him on his special blanket on the living room sofa, while she went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.
“I think I’ll have blackberry sage this time.” She filled the kettle, set it on the stove to heat, then took down a pretty pink-flowered teacup trimmed in gold from the cupboard, along with a small bowl of sugar cubes, and placed a small silver spoon on the saucer next to the cup. While she waited for the water to boil, she went to her Chippendale secretary desk, opened up her computer, and got ready to work on her column.
“I’d better check my e-mails before I start, just in case.” Before she hit the inbox button, the teakettle whistled and she went back into the kitchen to finish making the tea.
“No cookies this time. I have to keep this weight off or I won’t fit into anything.”
She thought of how fortunate she was to have Marlea Bartelt, her personal shopper who was so gifted, knowing exactly what to buy. All Jillian had to do was tell her what the occasion was and Marlea brought four complete ensembles over.
With her cup of tea in hand, Jillian returned to her computer and checked her inbox. Scrolling down and deleting anything unessential, she came to a curious message from her personal assistant.
    Please call me.Cecilia
After figuring out it was three hours earlier in Hawaii, Jillian made the call. She glanced down at Teddy, fast asleep on his back with all four paws in the air. Not a care in the world. She wondered why Cecilia had called and hoped it wasn’t serious. A lover’s quarrel perhaps? I suppose I’ll soon find out.
It was Walter who answered Jillian’s call, which surprised her.
“Is everything all right? I just got Cecilia’s e-mail.”
“Hi, Jillian. Everything is fine. We’re having a fantastic honeymoon, thanks to you. It’s like Paradise over here. How are you and Teddy getting along?”
“Just fine, thanks. I’m in the process of training him. He’s very smart, I’m happy to say.”
“I’m glad. I’m handing the phone to Cecilia. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Jillian?” Cecilia sounded concerned, no matter what Walter had said.
“I just got your message. What’s the matter, dear?”
“I’m not sure anything is the matter. I just needed to talk to you and get your advice.”
Jillian had no idea if Cecilia was about to ask anything delicate, but since Cecilia’s mom had died, Jillian was prepared to answer any questions as if she was the young woman’s own mother.
“I’ve tried to call my dad several times and I can’t reach him. I’m worried that something has happened.”
“Did you try calling his work?”
“Yes. They said he told them he was taking some time off and would let them know when he was coming back.”
“That doesn’t sound like your father, Cecilia. Did he actually talk to them?”
“No. That’s just it. They received an e-mail. They called him, of course, but he never answered. Jillian, I’m really worried.”
“Now listen, Cecilia. I’m sure there must be a reason he wanted to be by himself. I know he’s been grieving since losing your mother.
“I know, Jillian, but it’s just not like him to go off like this and not let me know.”
Cecilia began to break down and cry.
Jillian felt a little worried. After all, this was their honeymoon. They shouldn’t have to be worrying about her dad, but Jillian could sense both of them were.
Walter got back on the phone again. “Sorry, Jillian. Cecilia is pretty upset and I am, too. We haven’t told you the worst part.”
“What is it, Walter? How could it be worse unless they found him…?”
“Yeah. Only it’s not her dad they found. It was another older gentleman.”
“In Half Moon Bay?”
“Yeah. I was checking with work when I came across it.”
“I thought you were supposed to be on your honeymoon.”
“I only checked after Cecilia couldn’t get hold of her dad.”
“I see. Does this mean you’ll be coming home soon?”
“I’m afraid so. It’s only one day earlier than we’d planned. I was able to get an earlier flight. I could stay forever, though.”
“You can tell me all about it when you get home. Now what can I do in the meantime? Just tell me.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get back. Just be ready. And pray that her dad’s okay. I don’t like it, Jillian. I don’t like it one bit.”
“I will, Walter. Tell Cecilia I love her and not to worry. I will pray. Take care now, and I’ll see you when you get home.”

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See you in my books!
~Nancy Jill