Something Wicked

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Everyone--including mystery bookstore owner Annie Laurance--loves Arsenic and Old Lace.  But something wicked is poisoned a local summer stock production as cast members stab each other in the back and props are sabotaged.  Worst of all, the star, aging Hollywood beach-blanket hunk Shane Petree, butchers his lines--while getting top billing in bed with wives and teenage daughters around town.  No wonder somebody wants to draw his final curtain.  With a little help from Miss Marple, Poirot, and Agatha the Bookstore Cat, a pompous prosecutor tries to pin a murder on Max, Annie's own leading man.  Unless Annie can prove her darling's innocence, their wedding date's off!  Invoking the tried-and-true methods of her favorite literary sleuths, Annie snoops around the greasepaint and glitter of the show-stopper scene if she doesn't watch it, because theatrical murderers never play fair.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Something Wicked

1
 
The bicycle tires left a single track across the rippled tide-flat. The rider pedaled slowly, obviously enjoying a sunset outing, admiring the silvery glow of the chalky gray strand, the creamy gold of the gently waving sea oats on their wind-sculpted dunes. Every so often a weathered gray boardwalk provided access from the beach to the homes hidden behind the dunes. But the rider was oblivious to the tangy salt scent and silken caress of the breeze now flowing back to sea as the sun set. Instead, it was the emptiness of the scene that pleased, for no one moved on this stretch of Broward’s Rock beach so far as the eye could see.
 
So, the first objective had been met, an unobserved approach.
 
At the next boardwalk, the rider dismounted and dropped the bicycle on its side. The scuff of sneakers against the sand-filmed wooden slats couldn’t be heard over the rustle of the breeze through the sea oats. It took not quite thirty seconds to reach the patio behind the Buckners’ rambling beachfront house. A pink-and-yellow plastic sea horse rocked in the shamrock-shaped pool. Blue terry-cloth beach towels hung from webbed chairs. A Fortune magazine fluttered on a cane table, held in place by carelessly dropped, salt-rimmed goggles.
 
“Sandy? Dick?”
 
The call hung unanswered in the hush of twilight.
 
The bicyclist stepped over a furled beach umbrella, called out again, and knocked sharply on the French doors, but, just as expected, no answer came. The Buckners were not at home. There was always noise, motion, confusion, and disarray when Dick and Sandy were there.
 
A warm flush of anticipation suffused the bicyclist. And when the door, unlocked, swung in, there was a sharp, heady sense of triumph. Of course, Dick and Sandy left their doors unlocked. They were careless, messy, and heedless.
 
The den smelled of pipe smoke and an odd combination of dried newsprint and paints from Sandy’s collages. The Sunday papers littered the floor. Across the room the last shafts from the setting sun glittered on the glass panes of the gun case.
 
Now, crumpled gardening gloves were pulled from a jacket pocket and donned. A gloved hand twisted the handle.
 
An ugly twist of sheer fury flamed for an instant.
 
The hand rattled the handle. Locked. Locked!
 
But they were so careless, so idiotically undisciplined.… The haze of anger cleared, cold analytical thought returned, the gloved hand swept above the case, and a key clattered to the floor.
 
Less than a minute later, the bicyclist rode off into the dusk. Two target pistols in a capacious carryall thudded against the right leg as the rider pumped, a solitary figure against the dusky sky, enjoying the solitude of an evening outing on the beach.
 
 
 
2
 
Shane shifted the tiller, and the wind kicked into the sails. Sweet Lady surged ahead. He savored the heavy heat of the noon sun, the beading of water against his bronzed skin. He glanced down at the matted golden hair on his chest. By God, he still had the body women lusted for. He ignored the puffy softness of his belly and admired his trunk-thick legs. He recalled the quick glance of interest from that dark-haired girl on the Dancing Cat. Maybe he’d ask her over for a drink when he got back. He liked the look of her legs, long and slim, and a soft little butt. The familiar heat coursed in his crotch. Then he remembered. Shit. Another rehearsal. But only a few more days and all that would be over. He would be free. Free of this stuffy, boring island. Free of Sheridan. His shoulders hunched. Sheridan kept badgering him to learn his lines. Said it would look better. Hell, what difference did it make? God, he’d be glad to see the last of Sheridan, go his own way.
 
Only a few more days.
 
 
 
3
 
Carla knew the room was a perfect backdrop for her: the muted bone of the linen-sheathed sofa and chairs, austere yet luxurious; the woven cotton rug with alternating diamonds of rust and brown, cobalt and moss green; the crystal clarity of the glass coffee table with its gleaming beveled edges. She moved through the open doors and stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the sound. Moonlight swept over her. She glanced down at her soft satin trousers. Turning, she slowly looked back into the living room and the mirrored wall opposite. Her reflection shimmered in the moonlight—jade green silk jacket, ivory trousers. She saw an apparition from long ago, cheeks faintly flushed, long ebony hair hanging straight and still. God, she hadn’t looked like this since … Her mind veered away, but the pain that slumbered in her marrow flared, and she felt a moment’s panic. She’d sworn that it would never happen again. Never. It hurt too much.
 
She glanced at the crystal goblets waiting on the jewellike table for the finest, lightest white wine, the best she could offer. And after wine, after conversation, words with long pauses and longer glances, she knew what would happen. A touch, a caress, and the explosion of passion that hurt and destroyed but transformed.
 
And yet, she knew—in her heart—she knew how it would end. But she was so tired of loneliness and the shell she had built to keep out the world. So tired. So hungry to be touched.
 
The front doorbell rang.
 
Carla glanced once more at her own loveliness, then—her face uncertain, her eyes clouded with yearning—she moved toward the door.

- About the author -

An accomplished master of mystery, Carolyn Hart is the New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty-five novels of mystery and suspense including the Bailey Ruth Ghost Novels and the Death on Demand Mysteries. Her books have won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She has also been honored with the Amelia Award for significant contributions to the traditional mystery from Malice Domestic and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. One of the founders of Sisters in Crime, Hart lives in Oklahoma City, where she enjoys mysteries, walking in the park, and cats. She and her husband, Phil, serve as staff—cat owners will understand—to brother and sister brown tabbies.

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Something Wicked

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Something Wicked

— Published by Bantam —