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Excerpt for THRILLER 2: STORIES YOU JUST CAN'T PUT DOWN

MIRA
June 2009, ISBN: 077832723X

Genre: Romantic Suspense

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VINTAGE DEATH
By
Lisa Jackson

San Francisco
California

“Don’t go.”

The words rang through the vestibule, an anxious plea, but then that was my mother, always the worrier, forever on the verge of a breakdown. That her voice trembled was no big deal. The original drama queen, that was Mom.

“I have to go, okay?” I yelled my response through the closed bathroom door in the upper hallway. I wasn’t going to put up with her over-hyped paranoia. Not that she didn’t have a reason to be frightened, terrified, even, but, hey, someone had to get the job done and that someone had to be me. No one else was volunteering.

“You should call the police. There was that nice detective . . . what was his name? Kent something? I can’t remember.”

Noah Kent, I thought, Noah way. Noah police. Not this time. “Forget it, Mom.”

“He’s still on the force.”

Of course he was. Noah Kent was a lifer–married to his job. Even after the accident that nearly cost him his badge. Just ask his ex-wife.

“Then call Lucas. You’ve got to still have his number?”

I stopped dead in my tracks.

Lucas Parker.

Ace detective.

Handsome as sin.

And a major prick.

Of course I still had his number.

Oh, yeah, that’s what I’d do. Give Parker a call. “I’ll handle this on my own.” I wasn’t about to be budged. I put on my bra, which, gently padded added two cup sizes to my breasts, giving my slim frame a little bit of a curve . . . like hers.

Then I slipped on a sleek black dress, one with a nipped in waist and wide neck. A little on the sexy side for my taste, but tonight it would do nicely, I thought, critically eyeing my reflection in the vanity mirror. And besides, the invitation had indicated everyone was to wear black–just as there were those “all white” parties, Silvio D’Amato had gone with a black theme. All the better.

After pulling my hair away from my face and securing it, I donned a dark auburn wig which curled softly under my chin and brushed my shoulders. Spidery eyelashes much longer than my own highlighted my eyes, which were now a slightly deeper shade of blue compliments of tinted contact lenses. A little padding tucked into in my cheeks helped with the transformation. My teeth were a little off–-nothing I could do about that but keep my mouth closed when near someone. I added a tiny spot of color under by cheekbones and blended it with my foundation, making my complexion appear seamless. Carefully, I brushed on a touch of smoky eye-shadow.

The effect was amazing.

I was barely recognizable.

No one at the party would suspect my true identity. Which was perfect.

I stepped out of the bathroom, made my way down the hall in three-inch heels, then discarded them for a pair with a shorter heels that didn’t pinch my feet as badly and were that were easier to walk in. Considering the fact that I’d be holding glasses of champagne while mingling with the other guests on uneven flagstones, the second pair just made more sense.

Especially if I needed to run.

And, of course, I snagged a pair of leather gloves that I tucked into my purse.

Once in the hallway again, I paused for a second at the open door to Ian’s room. A cold sense of deja vu settled over me like a shroud. Everything was as it had been. A set of Transformer action figures displayed upon a bookcase with a few Legos, books for a pre-schooler, his twin bed, perfectly made, the blue and white sailing motif evident in the curtains of the bay window . . . oh, God, the window . . .

My throat tightened as I stared at it, the innocent looking panes overlooking the garden and farther away, over the tops of other houses on the hill, the baby with its green waters turning dusky as night approached.

I closed my eyes.

Leaned against the doorjamb.

Thought of him. Ian . . . only five . . . poor, poor baby.

“Are you all right?” Mother’s voice floated up the staircase from the floor below. I had to pull myself together. No matter how much pain blackened my soul, tonight, I had to act as if I were carefree, as if I truly was the woman I was pretending to be.

I took a deep breath before clearing the thickness from my throat. “I’m fine, Mom,” I lied, sounding cheery. “Be down in a second.”

Now, just do this!

At the top of the second floor landing, I stared down the curved steps and faced Dear Old Mom who, on her scooter, gasped as she saw me. “Oh . . . my . . . God . . . I . . . I can’t believe it . . .”

I forced myself down the long flight. “Think I’ll be able to pull this off?” I asked, making my voice breathy and low and twirling at the top of the landing.

“I . . . I . . .”

“You’re in shock.” That was encouraging. Very encouraging. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’” I hurried down the stairs where my mother sat dumbstruck in the marble foyer, soft light from the chandelier bathing her in its kind illumination. At “somewhere north of seventy” she still looked great, her hair a shimmering platinum shade, only a few slight wrinkles visible, her petite body, if not as svelte as it once had been, then damned close.

If it hadn’t been for the scooter, she would seem a decade younger than her age.

“You can’t do this,” she said desperately, gnawing at her lower lip. “You won’t get away with it.”

“Just watch me.”

“Seriously.”

“Look, Mom, no one will recognize me. And she’ll be there.”

“That’s why you can’t go.” Mom was in a near panic. Good Lord, the woman was high strung.

“Just don’t worry. If anything goes wrong, I’ll call and then you can dial 9-1-1 to your heart’s content.”

“No reason to be snide,” she sniffed.

“Then let it go.” In the front hall closet I found a long black coat and a scarf, both of which I donned as Mom fiddled with the cross danging from a chain around her neck. No doubt she was whispering a dozen Hail Marys to save my poor, wretched, vindictive soul.

Little did she know that my own heart was beating as wildly as a Timpani being pounded upon by a frantic heavy metal drummer. My hands were clammy, and adrenaline, fueled by fear, spurted crazily through my veins.

“Just . . . be careful.”

“I will,” I promised, lying again. I reached for the door knob but stopped and faced my poor mother once more. “You know I have to do this. She killed Ian.”