EXCERPT: The Woman from Planet X

Chapter One

An elbow pressed into my side. “Come with me if you want to live,” a masculine voice rumbled.

Slowly, I turned my head.

He wore a pinstriped suit like a 1920s mobster. His black hat set off his square jaw and tanned skin. And he looked delicious beneath the antique lights that glowed golden in the old theater’s high, beamed ceiling.

“With a palooka like youse?” I shook my head, and the beads on my ivory flapper dress shimmied faintly. “Nice try, buster.”

My boyfriend Arsen grinned, his hazel eyes twinkling. He adjusted his fedora. “A guy can dream.”

The red velvet curtains drifted shut on the stage’s speakeasy scene. Voices rose, the guests mingling with the actors in the dining area.

I sighed and drew a triumphant exclamation point after a name on my voting sheet. “I knew the wife was the killer.” It was too bad the only prize was the satisfaction of a job well done. Alas and alack, such was the life of an amateur detective.

But the drive alone over the mountains into Nevada had been worth it. The road trip had been glorious—late-blooming wildflowers unfolding across Sierra meadows. And Nowhere, Nevada was... unique.

“I thought the killer was the one-eyed man,” Arsen said ruefully.

“You can’t trust people who look that suspicious. Villainous looks are almost always a red herring, unless they’re playing a double game.” But what were the odds? With roughly two hours to solve the mystery, the players didn’t have time for quirky twists and turns.

I adjusted a stray tendril of hair that had fallen from my chignon. I’d put my blond hair up and hoped it looked twenties enough. Pin curls would have been more elegant, but I knew my fashion limits.

A waitress in a crimson flapper’s outfit wove through the crowd in the old-timey dinner theater. She carried an enticing silver tray with flutes of champagne.

And though my bladder was bursting, I edged toward her. I’d just reward myself with champagne.

“Did you have fun?” Arsen leaned in and kissed me lightly. The bristles of his five-o-clock shadow scratched my cheek, and a hummingbird fluttered inside my chest. He smelled of soap, and on him, that clean, simple scent was enough to make me melt.

“Investigating a murder when no one’s actually been killed?” Heart thumping, I looped one arm around his waist. I leaned against his muscular form, wrinkling his suit. “It’s perfect. I needed this break.” The last year had been an unfolding series of disasters, and those didn’t include my B&B’s ancient roof that I still couldn’t afford to replace.

But tonight… Tonight had been perfect.

My insides lurched. Everyone knows you never think that. Just when you think it, something goes wrong. It’s a universal rule or something.

Not that I’m always obsessing about things that can go wrong. Much.

Arsen pulled me closer and rested his chin on the top of my head.

The waitress flashed past, out of reach, the red feather in her headband swaying.

“Maybe we should have invited Sheriff McCourt,” I said lightly. “She would have loved it.”

Sheriff McCourt, I should explain, is one of those tough, no-nonsense, independent types. I admire her tremendously. But like a hero in a Greek tragedy, that which makes her great is also her biggest weakness. She has a hard time accepting help.

Arsen’s face spasmed. “Didn’t she threaten to arrest you the last time you saw her?”

“She didn’t mean it. Civilians aren’t supposed to be a part of her team. She only said that to keep up appearances.”

“Yeah,” Arsen said slowly, releasing me. “I’m not so—”