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Good Bones is on sale now through May 8 for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBooks. Read an excerpt and the first chapter below.
The first time Detective Jake Sumner spied the old house, he sensed the good bones. Little did he know the purchase of the property included an unusual tenant far from resting in peace. Can the new psychologist in town help him treat a ghostly trauma case or is his growing attraction to Katherine Fleming best left buried?
With the aid of a mysterious white cat and a mystical mirror, Katherine and Jake join forces to solve a murder. Can they stop a killer from claiming the next victim or will their investigation only lead them six feet under?
Jake flicked on the light. Other than faded floral wallpaper, the single decoration on the walls was a large antique gilded mirror. The glass was old, dotted with hazy black splotches where the reflective silver coating had worn away. Katherine’s image was blurred and barely recognizable. She ran a finger over the window sill, and it came away covered in dust. “Your tenant is a lousy housekeeper. This room doesn’t seem as if anyone has been in here in years.”
“Yeah,” Jake murmured. “It’s not her thing.”
“I don’t understand,” said Katherine. “Where is she?” Without warning, the temperature plummeted. Katherine shivered, hugging her arms to her chest. “Why is it so cold?”
Jake’s lips pressed together in a thin, tight line. His gaze fixed on the mirror.
The lamp flicked on and off. Katherine’s pulse soared. “Detective?”
Jake glowered at the lamp, his face red with anger. He grabbed Katherine’s arm. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have brought you here—”
The French doors slammed shut. From outside came a muted thud as the front door closed as well. Katherine shrugged off Jake’s grip. “W-what are you doing? This isn’t funny.”
“It’s not me.” He peered at the mirror. “I’m sorry, Dr. Fleming. This is a bad idea. We should go now.”
Don’t leave me.
“W-who said that?” Katherine turned around to face the mirror. Her eyes widened in horror as the black splotches slid toward the center of the glass. “Trick.” Katherine clutched at her shirt. “It must be a trick.”
The blotches whirled together. A misty shape formed. Arms…legs…now torso…now head…an image of a person appeared from inside the gilded frame. Facial features blurred beyond recognition, but the body was definitely female. Katherine’s legs refused to move, a scream died on her lips. Shaking, she raised a trembling arm. Instead of mimicking her movement, the reflection remained rooted in place. “T-that’s not me.”
A plaintive whisper filled the air. Help.
A blast of frigid wind whipped the curtains and knocked Katherine into Jake. With the sound of breaking glass, a vaporous arm separated from the mirror and reached toward her.
“Out now!” Jake dragged Katherine across the room. He yanked open the parlor doors and shoved her into the foyer.
The unearthly plea followed Katherine out of the house.
Jake slammed the front door shut behind them. The muted cry faded away.
The irony of living on a dead-end street didn’t hit Katherine Fleming until days later. For the moment, only morning coffee called. She reached for the pantry door and her hand froze halfway. Didn’t she finish the last drop yesterday? Her eyes went to the shopping list on the refrigerator. The big red letters of BUY COFFEE mocked her. Running low on caffeine first thing in the morning usually resulted in a snarly growl or two, but not today. Today was Saturday—all hers. Forget the budget and celebrate. “Treat yourself at the coffee shop downtown.
“Darn right, I will.”
Katherine snatched her key, stuffed the shopping list and charge card in her pocket, and bounded down the stairs from the second floor to the lobby. She paused outside the entrance in the shallow recess with the intercom buttons for each apartment. Although the calendar technically said winter, her nose caught the faint scent of budding greenery. A smile played around her lips. The past few years of frigid Chicago cold suffered during graduate school were now only an unpleasant memory. Up north, folks still shivered. Spring was week away and always arrived with a burst of pastels, soft gentle tones to ease Earth back to life after winter dormancy.
Not in north Florida. Floral fireworks of azaleas and crepe myrtles would explode open any day in neon shades of hot pink, coral, and brilliant crimson. Within a few weeks, the hibiscus at the corner would transform into a riot of sunny orange blossoms lasting through summer. Katherine heaved a contented sigh. She couldn’t wait.
When Katherine arrived at the Sandy Shoals Counseling Center in mid-January, her boss, Dr. Jeremy Ingalls, teased about her eagerness for warm weather.
“Wait until July,” he warned with a grin. “I was born here. The short walk across the parking lot will leave you drenched in sweat and misty-eyed for six-foot snow drifts. The air is so humid it’s like breathing through a hot, wet sponge.”
Diana Weller, the office manager, shook a playful finger at him. “Don’t scare her away on the first day. You’re trying to grow the center, remember? Besides, you returned from New York to practice here, so how bad can it be?”
“Bad.” Jeremy winked. “Why do you think I escaped for fifteen years?”
Katherine gave a mental shrug. Who cares what the summer will bring? Today, cotton ball clouds dotted brilliant blue skies while a gentle breeze wafted through bare tree branches speckled with tiny lime green buds. Spring beckoned.
She turned the corner and ambled toward the shopping district. Finding the apartment had been pure luck. It was a perfect location. Close enough to the city center for walking, far enough down the street to muffle all the traffic noise, and, most importantly, within her limited budget.
Strolling along the sidewalk, memories of weekend walks with her grandfather returned. Katherine’s mind began the familiar back and forth as echoes of his gentle prodding rang in her head.
Play the game with me, Kathy.
I’m going for coffee.
Aw c’mon, kiddo, humor Grampa. You know you can’t resist.
Her lips twitched in an unconscious smile. He was right. She never could. Okay, but just once.
Atta girl. Who do you see?
Katherine peered down the street. A man in his mid-twenties lounged against the bus stop sign on the corner. A young woman speaking on her cell phone strolled up and stopped next to him. She wore a snug low-cut t-shirt. The tattoo of a dolphin peeked out above her left breast. A gold dolphin pendent hung low around her neck, drawing anyone’s eye to her ample cleavage, including the man. His gaze flicked to her. His stance straightened as he squared his shoulders. The woman ended the call and dropped the phone in her purse. She glanced at him. Her gaze met his for an instant and then she turned away, but her head inclined slightly in his direction. She tugged at the hem of her shirt, flattening the material over her breasts. Her posture eased, a hip jutted out as she angled her body toward him.
Grampa’s mental voice nudged gently. Well?
The placement of the dolphin tattoo draws immediate attention to her breasts. Her dress and body language suggest inflated value placed on physical attributes which can mask deeply rooted feelings of intellectual inferiority. The man will make his intentions known before he gets off the bus. He’s not looking for deep commitment, but she’ll accept. I predict a short passionate relationship followed by an equally passionate breakup. She’ll blame him for the reason it ended badly. In truth, she’s blinded by appearances and isn’t mature enough to see past them at this point.
A bus arrived at the stop. The man stepped aside for the woman to enter first. She smiled at him and casually flipped back her hair. He followed and took the seat next to her.
Not bad, kiddo.
“Thanks, Grampa,” Katherine murmured, brushing aside a tinge of melancholy. Although he had passed away several years ago, his absence was still deeply felt. The imaginary talks in her head proved only a pale substitute.
Katherine strolled past the bus, fighting the temptation to jump onboard and offer the woman her card. The well-meant gesture was sure to prove pointless. People wouldn’t accept counseling help unless they first recognized a problem. She wasn’t there yet.
Pity. Katherine stifled a sigh. Another client would be nice. Diana booked her calendar with anyone who called for an appointment and didn’t specifically request Jeremy, but Katherine was a new counselor. It took time to build a reputation and get those important referrals. The inheritance from her grandfather had funded her education, but she had plenty of open slots, and regular living expenses now. Fortunately, enough money remained in the budget for the occasional indulgence.
The Saturday morning crowd had thinned by the time Katherine entered the coffee shop. She paused at the door and recognized a familiar face at the pick-up counter. April Ortiz waited for her order behind a man in a gray t-shirt. She was one of Katherine’s first clients, but she hesitated to approach. April had made excellent progress, but canceled her last appointment two weeks ago and hadn’t rescheduled yet. A patient might find it awkward to run into her counselor in a social setting.
April looked from the counter and spotted Katherine at the door. Instead of dismay, she brightened and motioned her over with an excited wave of the hand.
“I did it,” April blurted even before Katherine said hello.
Katherine’s eyes widened. “I thought you weren’t going until next month.”
“I meant to call and tell you, but I’ve been so busy. He phoned two weeks ago after an unexpected opening and I said to myself I’m ready to do this. Can you believe it?” April gave an excited hop on her toes. “I’ll buy you a mocha latte to celebrate. With whip and extra sprinkles.”
“Thanks, but that’s not necessary—”
April leaned around the man and called over the counter to the server. “Add another mocha latte to the order, please. Both to go.”
Katherine bit back a smile. The experience certainly hadn’t changed April’s take charge attitude. No wonder she had sought help. “I’m so proud of you. I know how hard it was to let another person assume control.”
“I didn’t expect him to be so gentle and finish so quickly,” April crowed, “especially with my history. We were done before I knew it.” She beamed at Katherine. “You wouldn’t believe the total satisfaction when he touched me deep inside and I didn’t flinch.”
The shoulders of the man in the gray t-shirt stiffened. His head which had faced front toward the counter angled slightly in their direction.
“Nervousness is expected,” said Katherine, “after such a long time and considering he was a stranger.”
“No kidding, but I never felt anything more than a few butterflies. I kept reminding myself I had your recommendation and you’d only send me to a caring man who was a real pro and had a lot of experience. Still, I can’t say it wasn’t awkward. He was so nice though, and helped me feel comfortable. Before I knew it, I was flat on my back and staring at the ceiling.”
“So, spill it,” said Katherine. “I’m dying to hear the details.”
“He asked me to open. I did. No hesitation. No screaming. Then he slipped in a finger. At least, that’s what he said, but I didn’t feel a thing. To be honest, by that time I had my eyes closed.”
The man in the t-shirt shuffled on his feet, edging a fraction closer.
“Number 27 order up!” The man startled at the barista’s call. He snagged a cup of coffee and a plate with a bagel and cream cheese, but instead of taking a seat he lingered at the counter fiddling with the napkin dispenser.
“He began with only the slightest bit of pressure,” continued April, “but something inside me definitely moved. I kept thinking, ‘This is so weird. I can’t tell if he has his whole hand in there or just poking round with his long pointy doo-dad.’”
The man’s hand jerked and pulled out a fist-load of napkins.
“Was there any pain? asked Katherine.
April snorted. “With all the drugs he slipped me? I was flying high. I was sore for a few days afterward, but he gave me a bunch of painkillers. I tell you, the whole experience was amazing.” She sighed. “He was awesome. Is it weird to have a crush on your dentist?”
The man’s lips twitched in a smile. He tossed the napkins on top of the bagel.
“Yes,” said Katherine with a straight face. “Particularly since he’s four inches shorter than you, gay, and nearly old enough to be your grandfather.”
April grinned and jabbed her in the shoulder. “What do you mean, yes? You’re a psychologist. You’re not supposed to tell anyone they’re weird. I knew a gal my age was too young to have a real degree. Where’d you get it? Off the internet?”
“Yup, got a two-for-one special. I’m also High Priestess in the Awesomely Enlightened Temple of Awesomeness. Besides, I didn’t say you were weird, but it’s definitely unexpected to have warm-and-fuzzy vibes for a dentist coming from a person with a dental phobia a few short weeks ago. Not to mention, working up the courage to have an impacted wisdom tooth pulled. It proves how far you’ve come.”
April hugged her. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Doctor Fleming. You’re one helluva psychologist.”
Katherine flushed with pride at the heartfelt praise. There was no better feeling than helping a person in need. Call me Katherine. You walked the walk. I only showed you the path.”
April’s phone chimed with an incoming text. She glanced at the display. “It’s from Parker at the station.” April worked at GAB-TV, a local cable access channel. “Aw, crap, a guest canceled. I need a last-minute replacement pronto for Chit Chat with Parker Pratt. We tape today for tomorrow morning’s broadcast.” She grimaced. “God, I hate that title.”
“Have you suggested he change it?”
“I can’t, Parker owns the station and his wife, Connie, is the business manager. I’m only a glorified go-fer. Also, they’re both sweethearts and Parker is an institution. He knows everybody and all the gossip in this town. He used to have his own talk radio show before they bought the cable station. Parker still does a daily podcast, too; mostly local news and community service plugs. Man, finding a new and interesting guest Parker hasn’t already interviewed is a pain. Viewers are getting sick of the Goat Lady gushing over her artisanal cheeses.”
Katherine chuckled. “Come back for more counseling. I’ll help you work up the courage to quit.”
April regarded her with shocked disbelief. “And leave show biz?” She drew in a sharp breath. “I have a brainstorm. God, I’m a genius. Are you free this afternoon?”
Katherine’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“To do a guest spot. You’ll be perfect.”
“Sure—the interview only lasts half an hour. Talk about counseling. You’ll follow Miss Harmony, the pet psychic. Parker tapes after her call-in show.”
April clasped her hands together in prayer. “Please, please, pleeeese. Imagine all the good you can do. A sufferer with that thing…what’s the thing you mentioned once?” Her brows knitted together. “You remember, that thing where a person is too afraid to leave the house.”
“Yeah, talk about that. A poor tortured soul may finally work up the courage to get help all because Dr. Katherine Fleming happened to appear on Parker’s show. Keep in mind,” she added out of the side of her mouth, “this all comes with a boatload of free advertising.”
Katherine regarded her askance. “You’re good.”
“I gotta be. This is a local cable access program airing at seven on Sunday mornings; interesting guests are hard to book. At that time of day, our entire viewer demographic is nut jobs, shut-ins, and people in tinfoil helmets afraid to surf the web because the government will infiltrate their minds—right up your alley.”
Katherine chuckled. “You win, April. I’ll do it. It sounds fun.”
“Bless you,” she gushed.
“Number 28 order up!”
The man in the t-shirt moved away from the counter, and they grabbed their coffees. “Thanks for the latte,” said Katherine.
“No problem. The studio is on 12th Street. You can’t miss it. Be there at 3:30. I’ll give you a tour and run you through the procedure. We tape the spot at 4:00. See you then, Katherine.”
April dashed to the door while Katherine lingered to put the appointment on her phone calendar. She headed to the exit with her mocha latte and spotted the man in the t-shirt at a seat near the front window. Katherine leaned over and whispered in his ear, “You have a very dirty mind.” She scampered out the door, but not before noticing the flash of a dimpled grin in her direction.
Jake Sumner froze at the woman’s whisper. He swallowed a mouthful of coffee and turned around with a grin, but she was gone before the thought occurred to apologize for eavesdropping. Pity, Dr. Katherine Fleming certainly was cute. He could have asked her to join him…Jake shook his head.
Forget it, buddy. You’re about to get rid of one shrink. You sure as hell don’t need another probing parts of your life that need to stay buried.
He craned his neck, catching the last sight of her as she rounded the corner. Not a bad view from the rear angle either. Despite the mental words of warning, his interest had definitely been piqued.
Chit Chat with Parker Pratt, eh? Maybe I’ll catch the show.
End Chapter One
L. A. Kelley writes science fiction and fantasy adventures with humor, romance and a touch of sass. All her books are certified corona free.