Moving back to her childhood home in Love, Texas shouldn’t have been end of the world. But Tali Cates can’t see the good things with her eyes clouded by murder and mayhem. The first party for her event planning business is marred when she finds the hostess’s dead body in the outhouse-and the woman’s ghost hovering above.
Ever since her paranormal abilities ruined her marriage, Tali has tried to suppress them. Now, faced with a vengeful ghost intent on ruining her life unless she solves her murder, Tali must come to terms with those very gifts-not to mention some very human elements with violent intent.
The next morning I woke up determined to figure out the whole murder business. I would not allow spirits and murder to ruin my life, and cause my son to be taken away. I’d go back to the ranch and look around the party area. I wasn’t sure what good it could do but it was better than sitting around in the heat, depressed over Sean, the car, money, life.
I drove my rented truck onto the ranch by a back road, parking on the shoulder, and went straight to the area where the outhouses had been. They were long gone, as were the tables. Litter had been cleaned up. Obviously the evidence guys had done everything they needed to do.
No crime tape marred the field. All that was left were trees, grass, humid summer heat and the sounds of cardinals and chickadees. Insects droned in the background. I caught the faint scent of a skunk on the light breeze that teased the trees before it disappeared.Privy to Murder I poked around the trees, bushes, brush areas and found stickers, but nothing else. As I walked back toward the truck, a spot of color flashed, a color that couldn’t be a wild flower. I lost it, found it, lost it again. The breeze must be waving something in front of whatever it was.
I backtracked to see what I could find under the trees. What had I seen? I heard something in the bushes and froze. I didn’t see anyone or anything. I held my breath, listening. Nothing. I let it out, breathed in . . . skunk. The scent was stronger and the breeze had stopped. Just what I’d need. I’d better get back to the truck fast.
“Well, well,” I said out loud. “What have we here?” I reached down and picked up part of a gift bag from the party. The color had run off, the turquoise mottled by mud and rain. It had been crumpled into a ball but it was too heavy to be empty. I pried it open piece by piece, trying not to tear it. When I was able to peer inside I almost lost my grip. Hiding in the bottom of the bag was a large, bloody hunting knife.
I heard the rustling sound again and looked up. The skunk headed straight for me. I clutched the bag and tried to remember the rules-hold very still or run like hell? Hit it on the nose? No, that would be a shark. Pee was involved. Nope, jellyfish.
I decided to run. The skunk turned to spray. Hanging onto the knife, I bolted for the truck. I took a deep breath to scream, but gagged on the smell that now drenched my jeans. I threw the knife into the truck, shed the jeans and leaped in, slamming the locks, to do what? Keep out the skunk?
Now what? I was in the enemy camp, in my bikini cut panties and a short shirt. I needed to call JT He’d be thrilled his boys missed this kind of evidence and pissed off at me for touching it. I reached for my cell phone. Shit fire, it was in the pocket of my jeans, outside, smelling like ten skunks.
I can’t just leave my cell outside, especially as often as it’s been raining. And my car keys were in there with my license. Mumsie always said that shoving everything into pockets would get me into trouble.
I looked around. No skunk. No people. I crept out of the truck. How the blank was I supposed to empty the pockets without getting close to, or touching the jeans? I picked up a couple of sticks from under one of the trees, slid each of them into one of the front pockets and tried to shake the stuff out of the pockets. I managed to get the scent on myself and nothing out of the pockets.
I heard brush crackling, dropped the jeans, and ran toward the truck again, picturing a larger animal after me. I tripped and hit the car door, slamming it shut. I scrambled up and turned around, my back against the truck.
Frank, Betty Ann, and Donna all stood there staring.
“What are you doing on our, um, Frank’s property in your underwear?”
“I always wear underwear, Betty Ann.” Just not in plain sight.
“I enjoy seeing you, Tali, no matter what you wear, or don’t. I smell a rat, actually a skunk. That would explain why your jeans are on the ground?”
“That would explain it. My keys, cell phone are in the pants. I need to get into my truck, get home. Any bright ideas?”
“I have,” Betty Ann said. “Stay on your own property instead of snooping around here. What are you doing anyway?”
“I was looking for an appointment book I thought I dropped during the party, but it doesn’t seem to be here Donna had a perfectly blank look on her face that made her look brain dead, but her eyes glared at me with more animosity than seemed reasonable.
“So, does someone have a pair of slacks or something I can borrow? Frank, any way you can think of to retrieve my belongings from my jeans?” I avoided looking at either of the women so I could keep my temper.
Frank looked so amused I was ready to hit him. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll get my truck and a trash bag so we can load you and your jeans and take you home.”
“I can’t leave my truck here,” I said, picturing the bag with the knife. This wasn’t a secure place to leave evidence. Besides, what if one of them had hidden the knife in the first place? Like Betty Ann. She certainly didn’t look happy to see me.
“Oh for Christ’s sake. I’m not afraid of a little skunk.” Donna grabbed the jeans and shook them hard, throwing the contents everywhere. Then she stalked off, followed by Betty Ann.
I heard a crack when the cell hit the dirt, no calls now, and I’d have to buy a new phone. Crap. I grabbed the keys, my change purse and broken phone.
“Thanks ever so much,” I yelled at Donna’s back. I turned to Frank. “I’d love that trash bag so I can bag up the jeans before I drive home.”
“Back in a flash,” he promised. He kept the promise.
I headed home and prayed no one would see into the truck.