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Chapter 2: Night of the Cupid

“You should have got the chocolate.” Sheriff McCourt stood outside the barn, her breath clouding the air.

“I should have got the chocolate,” I repeated dully. I studied the ice sculpture, melting on my passenger seat. Deputies moved purposefully in and out of the nearby barn.

“What’s that extra little piece there?” The sheriff motioned toward the broken bit inside a cupholder.

“Ah... The sculpture slid forward on the seat when I hit the brakes too hard. I wasn’t looking and grabbed for it, and it... snapped off.”

“Oh.” She adjusted her broad-brimmed hat, her blond curls spilling from beneath it. The sheriff was petite, with a Shirley-Temple air. A lot of criminals underestimated her because of it. “So you gelded him?”

My face warmed. “It, not him.”

“You gelded it.”

“It was an accident,” I said, flustered.

“That can’t be to scale,” she muttered.

“It might have melted a little on the way over,” I admitted. “More than the rest of the sculpture, I mean.”

“You mean it was bigger?” She gazed speculatively at me. “How are things with Arsen?”

I shifted my weight. “Great. He’s amazing.” Though he had been a little jumpy lately. “His security firm is doing really well.” I think his sudden success might have surprised even him.

But my love life was neither here nor there. A murder had been committed. And it was lucky I’d been the one to discover the body. After all, I had experience in such matters. The sheriff and I had worked together on several cases. I was kind of her secret weapon, a sort of citizen-insider.

She sighed, her breath pluming. “Your sculpture doesn’t really matter much now. I think you’re out of luck for that refund.”

“Actually, the swan sculpture I ordered was right there on the table. You wouldn’t mind if I...?”

Her cornflower eyes took on a chilly glint. “It’s a crime scene.”

I sighed. “Right. It’s just that the ice sculpture wasn’t cheap.”

“You should have got the chocolate.”

“I should have the got the chocolate.” We stared at the sculpture some more. A trickle of water ran down its brawny chest. “But I wanted to support a local business.” The nearest business supplying chocolate sculptures was two hours away in Sacramento.

“And I appreciate your civic spirit. Well. Let’s get it out of your car.” She reached for the sculpture’s head.

“Is it evidence?”

“Not if it melts.”

The statue was even slipperier now. I’ve no idea how we got it out of my Crosstrek without dropping it. We set it beside a sledgehammer leaning negligently against the barn.

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Her death couldn’t have been an accident, could it?”

“No. But the ice was already melting in her chest. If you hadn’t come across her so soon, we wouldn’t have had any evidence to preserve.”

“So it was murder.” Like I said. Lucky me.

“You said she had a helper drop your sculpture off?”

I nodded. “It’s not mine, but yes. He’s someone named Victor. He’s in his mid-twenties? I think Dixie knows him.”

“Oh, goodie,” she muttered, and I grimaced.

Once, in a fit of youthful exuberance, Dixie had stolen a sheriff’s car. It had happened years ago, but there was still some bitterness between the two women. And I got it. It’s hard to trust someone who was once arrested.

A red van squelched wetly up the dirt drive.

“I think that’s him now,” I said.

The van pulled up behind my SUV. Victor stepped from the car in his blue Henley top and jeans.

The sheriff sucked in a breath. “Whoa.”

“I know,” I muttered. I was in an amazing relationship, but not even I’d been blind to Victor’s good looks.

He caught sight of the sculpture and frowned. Victor strode to the barn. He hefted the sledgehammer.

“Wait,” the sheriff barked. “Stop!”

Muscles bunched beneath his shirt. In a single swift movement, he swung the sledgehammer, smashing it atop the ice sculpture’s head. The sculpture cracked and scattered into hundreds of pieces that rocked on the dirt.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” The sheriff drew her gun from her belt but kept it aimed low, at the ground. “Put that down. Right now.”

He dropped the sledgehammer, and it thudded to the earth.

“What the—” I sputtered. “I wanted a refund on that!” Okay, yes, that was impossible now. But he didn’t know that. Unless he was the killer. My jaw set.

Victor shrugged. “Never liked that sculpture. I suppose the neighbors complained about the noise again. Look, Kelsey can’t help it. When inspiration strikes, it strikes.”

The sheriff strode toward him and holstered her weapon. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Why are you here?” he asked.

Deputy Owen Denton stuck his blond head out of the barn door. “The coroner’s on his way, Sheriff.”

Victor paled. “Coroner?”

Sheriff McCourt glared at her deputy. The young man’s mouth puckered, and he ducked back inside the barn.

“Coroner?” Victor repeated more loudly. He turned to the barn.

The sheriff grabbed his arm. “I’m sorry to inform you Ms. Delaney is dead.”

Victor staggered and braced one broad hand on the barn. His brow furrowed, his eyes widening with confusion. “No. She can’t be. She was alive this morning.”

“When did you last see her?” the sheriff asked.

The skin bunched around his startling blue eyes. Muscles corded in his neck. “But she can’t be dead. I saw her.”

“When did you see her?” she repeated more quietly.

He swallowed. “At eleven thirty. I picked up some sculptures to deliver, and she was alive. She was right here. Alive.” His hands fisted. “Enrique.” He glanced at the shattered sculpture.

“Who’s Enrique?” I asked.

“Let’s speak privately,” the sheriff said to him. “Over there. I’ll see you later, Susan.” She led him to the far corner of the barn.

“Oh,” I said. “Yes. Of course. You need space.” I pressed my lips together. How was I supposed to hear Victor’s testimony now? Pretending I wasn’t part of the sheriff’s investigative team was often a real challenge.

Rummaging in my oversized purse, I pantomimed a search and pulled out my phone. I put it to my ear, as if I were on a call, and edged closer to the sheriff and Victor.

“...jealous,” Victor was saying.

“Witsend,” the sheriff barked.

I jerked, dropping my phone. “Yes?”

She scowled. “Go home. Denton!” she bellowed.

The young deputy hurried from the barn. “Yes, Sheriff?”

“Escort Ms. Witsend home.”

“Oh.” I picked the phone off the ground. “That isn’t necessary. I have my own car.”

Her jaw clenched. “Follow her home,” she ground out, “and make sure she gets there.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The deputy touched the rim of his hat.

Fine. She’d no doubt tell me all about the interview later. After all, it was no good being her secret weapon if everyone knew I was her secret weapon. Though after that incident with the stolen garden gnomes last year, the town was aware I tended to get involved.

The deputy’s black and white SUV trailed behind me as I drove back to Wits’ End. I pulled into the gravel driveway, stepped out and waved.

The deputy’s car just sat there, idling at the end of my drive. I huffed a breath. Denton was taking his escort job seriously. I walked up the Victorian’s porch steps and waved to him again from the first screen door.

Finally, his SUV pulled forward. It glided down the court.

“Took you long enough,” Dixie said from behind me, and I jumped. “Did you have to beat the refund out of her?” she asked.

I let the screen door swing shut, edged past her on the closed porch, and opened the door to Wits’ End. “No, it was terrible. Kelsey was dead.”

Dixie blinked. “Dead? Why was she dead?”

I walked into the foyer and stopped in front of the reception desk. In his dog bed beside it, Bailey yawned.

“I have no idea,” I said. “I found her dead with an... icicle like thing through her heart. Someone had broken it off one of her sculptures. I think they stabbed her with it.”

My cousin stilled. “You’re not kidding.” Leaving the front door open, she trailed after me into the foyer.

I crossed the faux-Persian rug and shut the door. “Of course I’m not kidding. Why would I kid about that?” I studied her. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head, her pink-tipped hair quivering. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m just… I saw Kelsey last week. I can’t believe she’s dead.”

A dull, foggy feeling settled in my chest. Dixie was so self-sufficient she’d crossed into hermit territory. I didn’t think she had many friends. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you two were close.”

“Remember the moment,” she murmured.


“It was a sort of momento mori saying she had. Not remember you will die, but remember the moment. That’s what she always used to tell me.”

I set my leather-bound planner on the desk and opened it to a blank murder investigation page. Arsen had given me the planner, tailoring pages to our investigative lifestyle. We hadn’t used them in quite some time.

I found a mechanical pencil. “What can you tell me about Kelsey and Victor? And someone named Enrique.”

Dixie folded her slender arms. “Here’s the deal. Kelsey and I weren’t friends. I was just her wingman sometimes. She had, like, three guys on the string—Victor, Enrique, and Anselm. I got to know them better than I did Kelsey. She was just using me.”

I noted the names in my planner. “That doesn’t sound like much fun for you.” I straightened.

Dixie shrugged. “Kelsey paid for my drinks. The guys are all decent dancers. It wasn’t bad.”

“No, but...” My heart pinched. Wouldn’t Dixie have liked a real relationship?

“It was fine,” she said shortly.

And none of my business. “Would you make a list of the contact info for everyone you mentioned? I’ll need to know where they work, and whatever else you know.”

“Does Hannah know yet?”

“Hannah who?”

“Hannah Delaney. Kelsey’s sister.”

“Oh.” A sister. The poor woman. I stared at my shoes. I was an only child, but I could imagine what she was about to go through. “I don’t know,” I said quietly. “Probably not yet. The sheriff will have to tell her.”

Dixie gnawed her bottom lip. “This bites. Hannah’s pretty cool.”

“Were you two close?”

“No, but she’s got a friend who works with the DOD. Sometimes she gets me good UFO intel.”

The door to the kitchen swung open, and Arsen stepped into the foyer. Catching sight of us, he pulled up short. Arsen pivoted on his heel, as if to return inside the kitchen.

“Arsen?” I said.

He froze and turned to me, a broad smile on his face. “Oh, hey Susan. I didn’t see you there.” His khaki-colored tactical Henley strained against his broad shoulders.

And this is why Victor—attractive as he was—hadn’t sent me into a girlish tailspin. I had Arsen, one of the handsomest men in town, and definitely the best.

“Have you heard?” Dixie said. “The ice sculptor, Kelsey Delaney, was killed. Murder. Susan found the body.”

“Whoa.” Arsen strode across the foyer, his tanned brow furrowed with concern. He ran his broad hands down my arms. This close, I could smell the fresh, clean scent of his soap. The light from the chandelier glinted off his whiskey-colored hair. “I’m sorry. Are you okay?” His hazel eyes darkened with concern.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I just finished with the sheriff, and I barely knew Kelsey. But she was Dixie’s friend.”

“We weren’t friends,” she said flatly.

I shook my head. “But—”

The exterior screen door slammed.

Arsen frowned. “Are you expecting someone?”

“There’s one more guest checking in today,” I said.

The door swung open. A big redhead with frizzy hair strode inside. She dropped a massive sky-blue suitcase on the Persian carpet with a thunk. The woman spread her arms, the fabric of her longish pink parka crackling. “Witsend! You came to greet me!”

I blinked. Did I know her? She did look familiar… “I—uh—what?”

She ambled farther inside, craning her neck at the chandelier. “I thought I’d take you up on your offer to stay.” Bailey rose from the dog bed. He shook himself and came to sniff the newcomer’s thick-soled shoes.

“To stay?” I parroted, recognition dawning. Red hair. Broad shoulders. Desperado grin. No. This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening.

“Is this a friend of yours?” Arsen asked.

“The best kind of friend.” The woman reached out and grasped Arsen’s hand, pumping it enthusiastically. “We met in jail.”

Night of the Cupid launches October 31st! You can still get the pre-order discount and buy the ebook at only $3.99 if you order now!

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