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excerpt from In For a Penny
the first Bay Tanner mystery
excerpt from Chapter 1

The blue and white Gulfstream taxies slowly to the end of the private airstrip, then executes a sharp, 180-degree turn. The pitch of its engines climbs to an ear-splitting whine. I can almost feel her yearning to be off, like one of the Judge’s golden retrievers straining at the leash.

A fierce August sun, glinting off the sleek metal skin of the plane, nearly blinds me. I raise a hand to shade my eyes just as the pilot releases the brake, and the graceful jet seems to leap into the air. With a final wave, I turn back toward my car.

The explosion knocks me to my knees. Windows in the tiny service building shatter. Flaming debris rains from a smoking sky. Instinctively I throw my arms up over my head.

White-hot pain sears my left shoulder, and I choke on the sickly-sweet smell of burning flesh. Dust swirls in the aftershock, and pieces of the dying plane clatter off the corrugated metal hangar.

Inside my head a voice is screaming, but no sound comes. A deathly stillness blankets me...
I struggled to free myself from the grip of the relentless images. My lungs gasped for air, and my heart thudded against the wall of my ribs. I could feel my head whipping from side to side in frantic denial, and still I could not escape.

Again I lie stunned and helpless under the blazing sun. Again I feel the sharp curve of pebbles beneath my cheek, smell the dank sweat that rolls down my side, as I cower on my face in the dirt and listen to my husband die . . .

The shrill of the telephone pulled me back. Heavy silk drapes, stretched across French doors that gave onto the deck, kept the room in total darkness. I fumbled for my reading glasses and flipped on the lamp. I drew a deep, calming breath and picked up the receiver.

“Hello?” My throat was still thick with the horror of the dream-memory, and it came out more like a croak.

The clock radio on the nightstand glowed 7:35. Not exactly an ungodly hour for someone to be calling, but still early enough to send a little shiver of fear skittering down my back. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Hello?”

My hand reached automatically for a cigarette. It was alight, and the first deep, satisfying cloud of smoke had settled into my lungs before I remembered that today was the day I was going to quit. Again.

“Lydia? Is that you, dear?” The tiny voice was barely audible over the pounding of my heart.

No one—no one—ever calls me Lydia. At least not to my face. I was born Lydia Baynard Simpson, but I’m Bay to my friends and to anyone who aspires to join their ranks.

“This is Bay Tanner. Who is this?”

“Oh, yes, of course, dear, how silly of me. It’s just that your dear mama, rest her soul, always called you Lydia, and so that’s how I always think of you. This is Adelaide Boyce Hammond.”

Miss Addie! Lord, I hadn’t seen her since my mother’s funeral more than fifteen years ago. For all I knew, she could have been dead, too. She and Emmaline Simpson had been Braxton girls, inmates of that stuffy academy that had finished so many of their generation of aristocratic Southern debutantes. Her soft, melodious voice conjured up memories of lazy summer afternoons and tea on the verandah.

Unconsciously, I sat up straighter, pulled the sheet tight across my naked breasts, and stubbed out my cigarette. “Miss Addie,” I crooned, “how lovely to hear from you. I hope you’re well?”

The years of my mother’s relentless campaign to turn her tomboy daughter into a proper lady had not been entirely wasted. I could, when pressed, trade social niceties with the best of them.

“Why, yes, dear, I’m quite well, thank you. I was deeply saddened to hear of your poor husband’s untimely passin’. So tragic when the young are taken before their time. I hope my note was of some small comfort to you?”

Note? I didn’t remember any condolence message from my mother’s old childhood friend.

But then, it had been almost a year ago, and the weeks following Rob’s murder had been a blur of physical pain and emotional anguish. I had been allowed out of the hospital only long enough to sit huddled in a wheelchair while dignitaries from Columbia and Washington extolled the virtues of my dead husband. The memorial service had been as much media circus as tribute.

There hadn’t been enough pieces of him left to warrant a burial.


Read the rest of this exciting second book in the Bay Tanner mystery series. Pick up a copy of In For A Penny at your favorite bookstore or online book retailer today!