The upright bass strings resonated, the notes deep and husky. In the background, the finger-snapping began. Peggy Lee’s voice threaded over the top of the rhythm. It was playful, hot, and full of delicious promise. She was doing her best to convince me that I couldn’t possibly know the depths of her love, could never understand how much she cared.
Johnny noted my delighted expression when I placed the lyrics, and he smiled. He was standing over me, backlit by a crackling fire, naked from the waist up. His Levis hung low on his lean hips, and the shadows from the fire played off the soft curl of his blonde hair, the marble cut of his biceps, and the strength in his hands hanging loosely at his sides.
The chorus of the song scorched out of the speakers.
Believe me, I felt the heat.
Johnny was love and rockets and romance and sweetness. We’d officially been a couple since December, not even two months, but we’d casually dated before that. That’s how I was gonna write the story, anyhow. Another person might interpret my “casual dating” as more like “neurotic dating,” with me constantly worrying what a great guy like Johnny was doing with someone like me, and subsequently doing everything I could to sabotage our budding relationship.
You see, I’m a little messed up.
I’m an only child, the daughter of an alcoholic who died driving drunk the summer before my junior year of high school. He’d killed someone else in the accident, and I became a pariah in my hometown of Paynesville, Minnesota. Come the end of my senior year, I was only too happy to skedaddle that wide spot on a map.
Ink not even dry on my high school diploma, I took off for the Cities. I did all right for a while. Earned my English degree from the University of Minnesota, waited tables at a Vietnamese restaurant on the West Bank, hit the bars but only on weekends. Eventually, I found myself attending more bars than classes, dating Bad Brad, and wondering if this was what my alcoholic dad’s life had looked like in his 20s. I didn’t like the direction—or lack thereof—in which I was headed.
A year ago last March, I received a shittily-wrapped gift when I caught Brad cheating on me, a few hours later, was flashed by a homeless man while crossing the Washington Avenue bridge. Nothing like stumbling across two unexpected penises in one day to crowbar you out of a rut, you know what I mean?
When my friend Sunny called soon after the doubleheader and asked me to take care of her dog and cute little prefab house on the most gorgeous 100 acres in all of Minnesota, I didn’t so much leap at the offer as trust-fall into it. The gig was only supposed to last March through August while Sunny explored Alaska with Dean, her unibrowed lover, but late last summer, the couple landed a year-round job on one of the fishing boats, and here I was, an unofficial Battle Lake resident for coming up on a year.
I imagine I’d have gotten into the small town rhythm sooner—I’d been born and raised in a little burg, after all—if it weren’t for the dead bodies popping up regularly. One corpse a month, every month since May, matter of fact.
A guy I had a crush on here, a statue thief there, and pretty soon, it added up to me stumbling over ten murders in as many months. I didn’t like to think about that record because when I did, I was inevitably brought to two conclusions: 1) I was jinxed with the mother of all cooties: dead-body finding, and 2) it had been twenty-three days since I’d skated over a frozen corpse on West Battle. I could almost hear the clock ticking down on February. When and where would the next murder be?
You can read more about Mira in February Fever, the 10th book in the “Murder-by-Month” mystery series, published by Midnight Ink. The first book in the series is May Day.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on February 16 for the chance to win a copy of FEBRUARY FEVER. Three lucky commenters will be randomly selected. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winners will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes.
About the author
The author of twelve novels and numerous short stories, Jess Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter writing, “It’s not easy to make people laugh while they’re on the edge of their seats, but Lourey pulls it off…[A] very clever series.” Jessica is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology at a Minnesota college. You can find out more about Jessica and her books at www.jesslourey.com.