Tag Archives: Spot On Publishing

Kiki Lowenstein and the Gray Bunny by Joanna Campbell Slan

The toddler cried so loudly that I was tempted to cover my ears with both hands. Little Marissa was distraught, and she wasn’t afraid to tell the world how upset she felt. Her mother lifted the brown-eyed, blonde cherub from the stroller, balanced the baby on one hip, and jostled her gently. “Sh, sh,” Allison Straker whispered to her daughter in a comforting voice.

“I’m sorry, Allison, but are you sure?” Clancy Whitehead, my dear friend and right-hand person, was polite but exasperated. “Isn’t it possible Marissa dropped her gray bunny on the way into the store?”

Allison shook her head. “Afraid not. I remember her having it while we were looking at the albums. It sticks in my mind because Marissa took Gray Bunny out of my hands and kissed him. I was thinking what a cute photo it would make.”

She was right. Here at Time in a Bottle, the premiere scrapbook and craft store in St. Louis, we live for great photos like the one that Allison was describing. According to our accountant, this shop has become a destination business. People come from all over the United States to visit us because we’ve earned a reputation as being consumer-friendly, knowledgeable, and on-trend with our selections. Unlike some shops, we’ve always been child-friendly, too. In fact, this week marked our first eight days of being dog-friendly as well. Gracie, my harlequin Great Dane, has always hung out in the back in her doggy playpen. But now we have four-legged friends roaming the store. As a result of the change in policy, we have more traffic than ever. There could be problems down the road, but for now, having fur-babies around is a pleasant distraction.

Of course, right this minute, the problem wasn’t with a fur-baby. It was with a real-life, skin-and-bones, baby who was upset because her favorite toy was missing. Clancy and I had no choice but to launch a search party.

“Glad I dressed down today,” said Clancy as she looked over at me. We were both on our hands and knees, crawling around the floor. I started to say that her designer-label black jeans and black silk blouse didn’t exactly qualify as dressing down to me, but I was interrupted as two dogs went hurtling past. Sunny, a white terrier, was hot on the heels of Athena, a beautiful King Charles Cavalier spaniel. The two were having a great time running around the store in circles. As they made their circuit, Bailey, a little mixed-breed mutt, probably a Bichon-poodle cross, barked her encouragement. She was sitting off to one side, chewing on something. The way she held her prize between her two front paws was really cute. Meanwhile the dog owners were having a grand time talking about their fur-babies’ antics. Sunny and Athena were owned by two neighbors in the same apartment building, while Bailey belonged to Mrs. Thatcher, a new customer from the southern suburbs.

“Clancy, did you look under the rolling shelves?” I sat up, resting my butt on my calves.

She nodded. “Yes, I have crawled every square inch of this store.”

I thought a second. “Could Marissa have tossed it and could it have landed somewhere higher than the floor? Like on a lower level shelf?”

“Worth a look.” Clancy struggled to her feet. Once up, she offered me a hand. I wobbled a bit, but eventually I made it to a vertical position. “You take the left side of the store, and I’ll take the right.”

Ten minutes went by. My canvass of the store was interrupted several times by customers with questions. However, I stuck to good search protocols by walking a grid pattern. Even so, I didn’t see Gray Bunny, although I did hear Marissa continuing to cry. I felt sorry for the toddler, but worse for her mother who couldn’t console her baby.

“Found it!” Clancy shouted. She waved a limp gray form over her head.

I raced from the back of the store to where my friend was standing. Allison heard Clancy’s good news. She joined us from the front of the store. We arrived at Clancy’s side simultaneously as my pal gingerly held up the stuffed toy. Marissa reached for Gray Bunny, but Clancy held it just out of the baby’s grip.

“Allison? You might want to take Gray Bunny home and wash him before you give him back to Marissa. I’m just warning you because the toy is wet with slobber.” Clancy’s index finger and thumb held the bunny away from her body in the universal gesture of disgust.

“What happened? Where’d you find it?” I realized a chunk was gone from Gray Bunny’s ear.

Just then, I felt a tiny scratching at the back of my calf. I turned to see Bailey, pawing my leg.

“Don’t pick her up.” Clancy glowered at the mass of white curls and the merry black eyes. “She’s our culprit.”

Allison’s eyes traveled from the dog to the toy that Clancy was still holding. “What do you mean?”

“I had to wrestle this out of Bailey’s mouth. She was chewing on it. See? Part of the ear is missing.” Using her free hand, Clancy pointed to the weird chunk taken out of Gray Bunny’s floppy ear. “I even took a photo of Bailey holding onto the toy for dear life.”

“Bailey? Bailey, where are you?” Mrs. Thatcher called out. We signaled for her to come over and join us. When she heard the story, she shook her head in dismay. “Did Bailey do that? Did my little lambkins steal somebody’s toy? Bailey? That’s not nice. I am so, so sorry! She loves her stuffed toys at home.”

“Let’s chalk this up to a case of mistaken identity,” I suggested. “Bailey couldn’t distinguish dog toys from Marissa’s lovey, could she?”

I scooped up Bailey and handed her to her owner, while Clancy passed the soggy toy to Allison, who shrugged and handed it to Marissa. “A little dog slobber never hurt anyone. As long as we’ve got Gray Bunny all is well.”

With that, all of us returned to the enjoyable business of talking about crafts and hobbies. A little later when the store was empty, Clancy and I had a good laugh over the incident.

“I want to show you what I made with our photo-editing software while you were busy with customers,” she said, handing me a WANTED poster. In the center was a color photo of Bailey with Marissa’s toy in her mouth. Hanging from the dog’s neck was a fake sign with numbers like authorities put on someone who’s been arrested. But the funniest part was the text that read: All thieves will be prosecuted! Two legs, four legs, six legs, a dollar. We will prosecute, even if you holler!


You can read more about Kiki in Fatal, Family, Album, the 13th book in the “Kiki Lowenstein” mystery series.

After learning that their nanny isn’t the person they thought she was, Kiki and her husband Detweiler must face tough decisions about childcare. And then the drive-by shooting of a forgettable woman changes everything. How far is Kiki willing to go to protect her children–and the children of a woman she’s never met?

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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan is the award-winning and national bestselling author of three mystery series. The first book in this series—Paper, Scissors, Death–was a finalist for the Agatha Award. There are now thirteen books and nearly 30 short stories detailing Kiki’s life. Learn more at joannacampbellslan.com.

All comments are welcomed.

Kiki Lowenstein and the Sour Note by Joanna Campbell Slan

After six weeks of teaching various Zentangle patterns, or “tangles” as they’re called, I’d gotten a pretty good idea which of my students exceled and which ones were struggling. My name is Kiki Lowenstein; I own a scrapbook and crafts store. My job is to encourage every student, no matter what the finished product looks like. This particular week, I’d taught a challenging tangle, a basket-weave design. I’d purposely saved this pattern for last, because it takes a lot of concentration. As usual, we’d done the design on a tile, a small square of high quality paper that’s ideal for Zentangle purposes. Not surprisingly, the results were mixed. My star student, Darcy Rosenblatt, caught on right away. So did Vanessa Johnson, a long-time customer. The rest of my students worked diligently, struggling to master the complex design. I spent an inordinate amount of time with Lydia Connelly, who was the class problem child. She had been honest when she had told me, “I can’t draw a straight line.” To my horror, I discovered she couldn’t even draw a straight line with the help of a ruler. Bless her heart, she made up for finesse in pure enthusiasm.

Darcy and Vanessa not only executed the new pattern perfectly, they went ahead and shaded their tangles in such a way that they looked three dimensional. Both women were way ahead of their classmates.

“Since this is the last class in our Level One session,” I said, “I’d like to take pictures of your work. Please spread all your tiles on this work table. While I take photos, you can help yourselves to the goodies on our food table.”

“How’s life with your grandson?” I asked Vanessa, after I’d finished with my picture taking.

“Izzy is a sweet young man, but Lord love him, he has the attention span of a gnat. Left his cello at music school, and he has a concert coming up that he needs to practice for.” Vanessa shook her head. She was a commanding figure, a big dark-skinned woman in cornrow braids. Her soft brown eyes always drew me in because they radiated warmth and friendship. “I need to teach that boy a lesson,” she added.

I chuckled at that.

After a clap of my hands to get their attention, I announced, “I’ve finished taking my photos. You are welcome to pick up your tiles and take them home. Thank you all for coming and don’t forget to sign up for our Level Two session.”

No one was in a hurry to leave. Instead, we chatted with each other as we munched on nachos and cheese, mock Margaritas, and chicken quesadillas. I love watching my students build friendships and support networks. Closer to nine p.m., people migrated away from the food and toward the work table. While they gathered their tiles, I opened Tupperware containers and filled them with leftovers. I’d no sooner snapped the lid on a plastic tub when Darcy shrieked. “They’re gone! All gone! My tiles have disappeared!”

Of course, I’ve had problems crop up while teaching, but this was a new one. Generally, people feel proud of their work. At the very least, they feel possessive. Why on earth would someone steal another person’s art? The pieces had to be misplaced.

I fisted my hips. “Okay, everybody. Start looking around. No one leaves until we find Darcy’s tiles.”

There was a general flurry of activity. Students turned their purses and satchels inside out. I crawled under the tables and searched. Finally, one conclusion was obvious: The only person who had resisted opening her handbag was Lydia.

“Lydia?” I asked gently. “Please go through your things.” With tearful eyes, she reached deep into her purse and withdrew all six of Darcy’s tiles. Lydia couldn’t meet Darcy’s eyes as she pushed the stack across the table toward their owner. A mumbled, “Sorry,” accompanied the artwork.

“What on earth made you do that?” Darcy’s face flamed red with anger. She was a short, stout woman with wide hips, and a face like a bulldog. Her art was a point of pride.

Tears spilled down Lydia’s face. I handed her a tissue. Her voice broke as she said, “Harvey keeps saying I’m no good at this. He won’t let me take any more classes. I thought if I showed him your work, Darcy, he’d think I improved. It was a dumb idea to take your tiles, but it was the best I could come up with.”

Vanessa shook her head. “You mean to tell me that man of yours controls what you do for fun?”

“Harvey’s in charge of our budget. He says it’s obvious that Zentangle lessons are wasted on me.”

That churned my stomach. The rest of the group asked Lydia questions like, “Has he always been this way?” and “Are you having money troubles?”

In minutes, we learned that Harvey was always controlling to a degree, but as a former high school football coach, he was also a big believer in mastery. “He took golf lessons from an expensive pro for three years to get his handicap down to the single digits. He attended a top-notch tennis academy so he could get to the top of the charts in the local Y. It’s not that he doesn’t want me to have a hobby. It’s just that he thinks it should be something I’m good at.”

“Do you enjoy doing Zentangle?” I asked.

“You know I do.”

“Then this is really just about the money.” Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest. “You need to convince him it’s worth the small amount you spend to take classes.”

That’s when I got an idea, one that could solve problems for both Vanessa and Lydia. “Vanessa, why don’t you loan Lydia that cello Izzy keeps forgetting? Lydia, when you get home tonight, show Harvey the cello and tell him that instead of taking Zentangle classes, you’ve signed up to buy the cello on a payment plan. Say it’s a Stradivarius. Tell him you’re going to take lessons from a teacher who’s with the St. Louis Symphony. Come up with a big number as your tuition.”

Vanessa and Lydia exchanged amused glances. Vanessa shrugged. “Sounds like a plan. You in, Lydia?”

“You know it.”

Sure enough, when the next week rolled around, I gave Lydia a call. “I’m hoping I’ll see you for our next Zentangle session.”

“Absolutely!” She laughed. “I did exactly as you suggested, Kiki. Once Harvey got a good look at the cost of me learning to master the cello, he nearly fainted. Then I gave him a choice: cello or Zentangle. You know exactly what he chose. Isn’t that funny? Izzy’s cello hit a sour note—and I never even took it out of the case!”

~The End~


You can read more in Cookin’ Up Crime, the sixth book in the “Happy Homicides” anthology series.

Our biggest collection of seasonal cozy (traditional and clean) mysteries yet! Fifteen award-winning, multi-published, and bestselling authors share food fantasies with a fatal twist. And as always, the book comes with a special code so you can email for a FREE bonus file with recipes and craft ideas that go along with the stories. Included are Kiki Lowenstein and the Smoothie Operator by Joanna Campbell Slan; Dying for Spiced Tea: A Beach Tea Shop Short Story by Linda Gordon Hengerer; A Gift for Gus: A Pecan Bayou Mystery by Teresa Trent; Recipe For Murder: A Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mystery by Terry Ambrose; Nectar of the Dogs: A Golden Mystery by Neil S. Plakcy; Irish Texas Chili Story: A Jonathan Boykin Short Story by Randy Rawls; Dot Didn’t Do it: A Pineapple Port Mini Mystery by Amy Vansant; Simmer to Death by Christina Freeburn; Food for Thought: A Rosalie Hart Mystery by Wendy Sand Eckel; Catering to Murder: A Shelby Nichols Adventure by Colleen Helme; Murder, Moonlight, and Muffins: A Myrtle Grove Garden Club Short Mystery by Loulou Harrington; F is for Fruitcake by Micki Browning; A Death in Customs: The Cozy Tea Shoppe Mystery Series by Vered Ehsani; Silent Harmonies by Vincent H. O’Neil; and Fish Fried by R. V. Reyes.

About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan is the award-winning and national bestselling author of three mystery series. The first book in this series—Paper, Scissors, Death–was a finalist for the Agatha Award. There are now thirteen books and nearly 30 short stories detailing Kiki’s life. Learn more at joannacampbellslan.com

Get Love, Die, Neighbor: The Prequel to the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series absolutely free by going to BookHip.com/QJXAHT.

All comments are welcomed.

Life’s sweet mysteries with Cara Mia Delgatto by Joanna Campbell Slan

“They don’t go together.” EveLynn stared out the display window while watching the happy newlyweds who had just left my store. EveLynn is my employee, and I’m Cara Mia Delgatto. I own a shop called The Treasure Chest. We specialize in upcycled, recycled, and repurposed goods with a coastal theme.

As I followed her gaze, I had to admit that EveLynn made a good point. Kristin and Gerry Escada were a visual mismatch. He was tall and thin; she was short and plump. He had a chiseled, handsome face, while hers was as round as a full moon. On my mental attractiveness scale, he was an eight and she was maybe a five. All in all, the Escadas seemed an unlikely pair.

“EveLynn? That’s a personal remark.” Honora patted her daughter on the shoulder. Besides being EveLynn’s mother, Honora is the oldest and the wisest of my employees. Because EveLynn has Asperger’s, Honora is constantly battling to teach her social skills. Typically, I keep EveLynn off the sales floor, because I never know what she’ll say. But today she was setting out a new batch of her placemats, napkins, table runners, and tote bags. Her handmade soft goods are a real hit with our customers.

Honora continued, “Remember? We don’t make personal remarks.”

Evelyn pouted. “That was not a personal remark. I stated the obvious. She likes blues and greens. He likes red and orange. She likes Country and he likes Mid Century Modern. Those styles and colors don’t go together when you are decorating. That is a fact.”

“Yes, dear.” Honora seemed to think the conversation was finished, but Evelynn had staked out her position and intended to protect it. “People who get married should go together,” she said, turning to me for affirmation. “Tens go with tens. Eights go with eights. That’s how it works. I know I’m right. That’s how it works, right, Cara?”

Rather than argue, I smiled at the young woman. “It’s more complicated than that. I think love is a mystery.”

***

After work, my employees were invited to my house for dinner. Honora and EveLynn decided not to join us. EveLynn is rigid when it comes to schedules, and this particular night was the one she’d set aside for watching Outlander on TiVo.

However, my other two worker bees, Skye Blue and MJ Austin, took me up on my offer. At my house on Jupiter Island, they helped me mix up a salad while a pan of my frozen lasagna heated in the oven. After we ate, we took our wine glasses onto my deck. The view from my place is terrific. I have 185’ of beachfront property. Looking out over the endless horizon, we sipped glasses of California red by Ménage À Trois. Palm leaves rustled overhead. Waves lapped at the sandy beach. The sky was black as a bottle of India ink. In the absence of light pollution, the array of stars overhead was positively dizzying. The Treasure Coast of Florida truly is paradise.

“Really, how could things be more perfect? A good bottle of wine, a sweet breeze, the sound of the waves, and my besties,” Skye said. She lifted her glass in a toast. Her silent proposal was answered by the raising of two more glasses, mine and MJ’s.

“I don’t know if this will make ‘everything more perfect,’ or not…” MJ began in a halting tone. “But I have an announcement to make. Pete has asked me to marry him.”

“Again?” Skye smiled over the rim of her glass.

“Doesn’t he do that every year? At least once?” I added.

“It’s different. This time I’ve decided to accept,” MJ finished.

We squealed in excitement, and hugs were dispensed all around. Ever since MJ was diagnosed with breast cancer, Pete Harris has practically moved in with her. He’s taken incredible care of her. So, this announcement shouldn’t have come as a surprise, except that it signaled a changing of MJ’s mind. Previous to this, she had vowed never to marry again.

“Spill it.” Skye bumped MJ’s foot with her toes. “Inquiring minds want to know. What made you accept him this time?”

MJ took a long slow inhale, blew it out, and said, “To be perfectly frank, in the past I always said no because he’s so ugly.”

I thought I’d fall off my Adirondack chair. As it was, I spilled wine onto my jeans. This confession had a similar impact on Skye. She sputtered a mouthful of wine into a napkin. MJ reached over and slapped Skye between the shoulder blades. I sopped up the spill on my pants. When we were back to a semblance of normal, I told my friends what EveLynn had said in the store today about couples needing to match up in the looks department.

“It’s true.” MJ nodded, more to herself than to us. “I’m an eight or a nine, and Pete’s a four. I have always married handsome guys, and look where it got me? Six marriages and six divorces. All the time, Pete has been waiting in the wings. And it took this, this cancer, for me to see him for who he was.”

“Hello? Ladies?” A masculine voice called out from the shadows.

Pete appeared as if conjured from thin air. While MJ grabbed her purse and finished her wine, he stood nearby, holding open a cashmere shawl. He’d gotten it for her to wear while getting chemo, after noticing how cold she got in the treatment room. As we watched, he wrapped her in it tenderly. Pete treated MJ like a princess, and it did my heart good to know MJ recognized his devotion.

As the two of them stood cloaked in darkness, I had the chance to study them carefully. MJ had been honest in her appraisal. I’d judge her to be a nine or ten, and Pete? Well, he was definitely not much to look at. In silhouette, the man was built like an egret, all legs and a receding chin. Full face, he wasn’t much of a prize either. Once MJ was ready, Skye and I gave quick goodbye hugs to her and Pete. After they left, Skye and I returned to our lounge chairs. I poured us another helping of wine.

“I am so happy they’re going to get hitched,” I said.

“Me, too,” Skye agreed. “I’ve heard people ask, ‘What does MJ see in him?’ That makes sense because MJ is a real looker. She’s just gorgeous, and Pete is…um…”

“Unattractive.”

“Unattractive. That pretty much covers it.” Skye sighed deeply. “But the longer I watch them together, and the more I see of him taking care of her, I forget how he looks. I mean, if you asked me right now, I couldn’t describe him clearly. I really couldn’t. There’s this halo around him, you see? The glow of it changes his features. It’s like, I used to see him with my eyes, and these days I see him with my heart. I guess that MJ sees him that way, too.”

I raised my glass, and she raised hers. “To life’s sweet mysteries.”

~~ The End ~~

Cara Mia Delgatto believes in second chances. After the passing of her parents, and her son’s moving off to college, Cara seizes the chance to start a new life. . .but her past has a way of catching up with her. Will she ever really be free? You can read another Cara Mia Delgatto short story by Joanna in Happy Homicides 5: The Purr-fect Crime. It’s only 99 cents until May 26, 2017.


About the author
RT Reviews has called Joanna Campbell Slan “one of mystery’s rising stars,” and it’s easy to see why. She’s the award-winning and national bestselling author of three mystery series. Her first series, the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery series, was an Agatha Award Finalist, and features ace scrapbooker Kiki Lowenstein. Previous to writing fiction, Joanna penned seven scrapbooking technique books and wrote for Creating Keepsakes, Memory Makers, and PaperKuts. She has taught scrapbooking online, on cruises, and in Europe, as well as here in the US.

Her historical mystery series–The Jane Eyre Chronicles–starts where Charlotte Bronte’s classic left off. Reviewers have said, “For readers who love Jane Eyre, she lives on in Joanna Campbell Slan.” Joanna also is under contract for two other mystery series yet to be released. In her past life, Joanna was a television talk show host, an adjunct professor of public relations, a sought-after motivational speaker, and a corporate speechwriter. She is the mother of Michael Slan, an executive with Team Dignitas e-sports, and she is married to David Slan, CEO of Steinway Piano Gallery-DC. The Slans and their dog make their home on Jupiter Island, Florida. Connect with Joanna at joannacampbellslan.com.

All comments are welcomed.

Kiki Lowenstein and the Sweetest Gift by Joanna Campbell Slan

love-die-neighborA sad little boy snuggled next to me on the spare bed in the guest room. Heat radiated from Erik’s body and a wet whistling sound came from his stuffy nose. “Mama Kiki, I doh-ne feel too good,” he whimpered. “My troat hurts. My dose hurts.”

“I know, honey. I know. Try to get some sleep.” I hugged him close. Because I am his adopted mother, he calls me “Mama Kiki” when he is tired or when he doesn’t feel his best. I don’t mind. He will always miss his birth mother, Gina, who died in a tragic accident. More and more he turns to me when he needs a cuddle, but once in a while, he’ll cry for no apparent reason as her memory surfaces and breaks his heart all over again.

“Oh-tay, Mama Kiki,” he said, as he rolled on one side so he could breathe. I rubbed his back gently. Soon he snored and snuffled his way to dreamland.

In hopes that Erik’s head cold would not get passed around, we’d kept him isolated from the other kids. My oldest, Anya, was spending the weekend at her best friend’s house. Ty, the baby, was staying at my in-laws’ house in Illinois. My husband was working a double-shift so he’d have time off for Christmas.

Although I hate missing any days of work at my scrapbook and crafts store—especially in the run up to the holidays–I love spending time with Erik. Even when he doesn’t feel good. When he woke up, I brought him a bowl of chicken noodle soup. A hand on his forehead proved his temp was normal. His eyes were bright and mischievous. Like most kids do, he had bounced back quickly from his malady.

“I is bored,” he announced, after drinking the broth from his second helping. “What can we do? Can we make things? For gifts? For Anya and Ty?”

I pride myself on being crafty, turning trash into treasures. Therefore, I could not possibly tell him no. Instead, I reviewed the supplies I had and brainstormed what sorts of gifts we could conjure from those raw materials. In a flash, the answer came to me—personalized tree ornaments! And I knew just what to use as the basis for our creations: wooden clothespins. Brawny, our Scottish nanny, had recently purchased a new package.

After retrieving a half-dozen of the pegs, I taped waxed paper over the kitchen table. Erik helped and the job went quickly. Next I dragged out all my acrylic paints, lightweight cardboard, markers, tape, pipe cleaners, scrapbook paper, tacky glue, and scissors. Finally I retrieved the bag of fabric scraps we save for projects like this one. Opening my iPad, I suggested that Erik think about what each family member might like. For my husband, Detective Chad Detweiler, Erik chose a cop. I found an image online. Using that as a guide, Erik painted the clothespin’s face and added navy fabric trimmed with gold to copy the uniform. It was cute as all get-out. For his sister Anya, he chose a girl soccer player with a ponytail made of yellow embroidery floss. For Ty, he fashioned a baby with a big blue diaper and a pacifier made of paper. For Brawny, there was a figure in a kilt.

“Go away,” he told me. “You has to be surprised.”

Heeding his instructions, I turned my attention to loading the dishwasher and folding laundry. “You can look,” he said at last while waving his arms over four small packages and one larger one wrapped in tissue paper.

The size of the big present didn’t make sense to me, but rather than question Erik, I said, “How about we put your gifts under the tree? Did you label them? Good. Okay, let’s get you back to bed.”

~*~

Christmas morning dawned cold and rainy, but inside the house we were toasty warm. Detweiler and I had gotten up early to put the last touches on the kids’ gifts. Brawny had joined us to slide a breakfast casserole into the oven. The delectable aroma of sausage, cheddar cheese, and onions mingled with coffee as it brewed. In our great room, the fireplace glowed as real logs snapped and crackled. We could hear Erik’s slippers slap the floor as he ran into Anya’s bedroom and woke her up. Their collective squeals echoed down the stairway. Footsteps pounded their way down the staircase. Baby Ty woke up with a wail, and Brawny raced upstairs to fetch him from his crib.

As the kids danced around the kitchen table, they shouted, “Merry Christmas!” Detweiler grabbed up Erik and added a few baritone “ho-ho-ho’s” for good measure. Anya threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly. Rather than force the kids to sit through breakfast, we adjourned to the family room. As soon as Brawny appeared with Ty on one hip, Anya and Erik were given permission to open their gifts. In the blink of an eye, colorful paper was ripped off boxes. There followed cries of delight and shouts of joy.

“For you,” said Erik, as he handed out his wrapped parcels. Brawny’s eyes filled with tears as she marveled at her tiny Scotswoman before hanging it on the tree. Anya was delighted with her soccer girl and found an empty spot for the player between two branches. Detweiler laughed and praised his son for the uniformed cop before perching the ornament on a limb near the tree top. Brawny opened Ty’s gift and then hung it up before the baby chewed on it.

“Dis is for you.” Erik waved the big parcel at me.

Resting it in my lap, I slowly untied the gold ribbon and peeled away the blue tissue paper. Inside were two figures. Their pipe cleaner arms were entwined, and they held each other tightly. One had red embroidery floss for hair and the other had dark golden yellow. One had green eyes and the other blue. To the back of their white fabric dresses, Erik had glued wings cut from cardboard and painted gold. These were trimmed in gold pipe cleaners.

“Twin angels?” I held the figures up and everyone looked them over.

“Can’t you see?” Erik pointed to the clothespin with red floss and green eyes, “Dis is Mama Gina.” Next he pointed at the figure with golden yellow floss and blue eyes. “Dis is Mama Kiki. They is angels. My angels. Put them at the top of the tree so they can watch over us.”

~The End~


Love, Die, Neighbor is the 13th book in the Kiki Lowenstein mystery series, published by Spot On Publishing, December 2016.

A Prequel to the Mystery Series that has won the hearts of fans all over the world!

As the mother of an active toddler and the wife of an often-absent husband, Kiki Lowenstein already has both hands full. But when the Lowensteins move into their new house on the same day the construction crew leaves, Kiki must learn to juggle boxes, baby, and big expectations. Her determination to be a good neighbor hits a serious roadblock when she angers the Nordstroms, the couple who live next door. Then Sven Nordstrom dies under mysterious circumstances, and Kiki is forced into the one role she never planned on playing: amateur sleuth.

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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan’s most recent book is Love, Die, Neighbor: A Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series Prequel. The first book in this series—Paper, Scissors, Death–was a finalist for the Agatha Award. There are now thirteen books and nearly 30 short stories detailing Kiki’s life. Learn more at joannacampbellslan.com

All comments are welcomed.

Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a Kindle edition of Love, Die, Neighbor. The giveaway ends January 2, 2017. Good luck everyone!

My Musing ~ Happy Homicides 4: Fall Into Crime edited by Joanna Campbell

Fall into Crime edited by Joanna Campbell is the fourth book in the “Happy Homicides” mystery series. Publisher: Spot On Publishing, August 2016

Fall Into CrimeFall into Crime has stories about crimes taking place in the fall. From back to school to Halloween, autumn is a season about change and transition. We feature authors from the first three volumes, as well as several new to our anthology family. Cuddle up and read more cozy mysteries.

Fall Into Crime authors and stories: Cara Mia Delgatto and the House of Refuge by Joanna Campbell Slan; Dying for School Tea by Linda Gordon Hengerer; The Glass Birdhouse by Carole W. Price; Bobbing for Murder by Lesley A. Diehl; Raven House by Nancy Jill Thames; Falling for Murder by Teresa Trent; Dead Men Tell Tales by Maggie Toussaint; All Hallow’s Eve Heist by Anna Celeste Burke; Accident, Suicide, or Murder by Randy Rawls; Haunted Hair Nights by Nancy J. Cohen; Spirit in the Rock by Terry Ambrose; Haunting in Himmarshee by Deborah Sharp. Bonus Story: Kiki Lowenstein and the Doodoo by Joanna Campbell Slan.

This is a nicely done collection of short stories. It was good to see some favorite authors in this anthology and discover several new-to-me authors whose stories have me wanting to read more of their work. The mysteries in this collection were easy reads that were both engaging and entertaining and just enough of a tease to whet your appetite for more.

Exclusive Short Story with Kiki Lowenstein by Joanna Campbell Slan

Happy Homicides 4Author’s Note: Kiki Lowenstein short stories appear in each of the Happy Homicides Anthologies. However, this story was especially written for Dru Ann’s blog.

The beauty of autumn in St. Louis is enough to burst your heart right out of your chest. The colors are glorious, a feast for the eyes. There’s the scarlet of sumac, the brilliant red of sugar maples, and ginkgo trees do it up right with leaves appearing in shades of yellow, red, and burgundy. Actually, I was thrilled to be taking Ty to the pediatrician for his nine-month check-up. With Halloween just around the corner and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I looked forward to quality time with my baby boy. Enjoying the scenery on our way to the pediatrician’s office was a bonus.

We arrived at the office five minutes early. After signing my name—Kiki Lowenstein Detweiler–I found a comfy armchair and put down the baby carrier and the diaper bag. Two other mothers waited with their kids, one with a boisterous toddler and the other with a noisy eighteen month old, or so I guessed the child to be. A few minutes later we were joined by a thin young woman carrying a very quiet child in a car seat/carrier. As she put her diaper bag right next to mine, I noted we owned the same style of container.

In short order, the mom with the toddler was called back to the inner sanctum. Ty cooed and played happily with toys hanging from his carrier, and I would have gotten engrossed in a magazine except the mother seated across from me couldn’t sit still. She jiggled. She flipped her hair. She stood up. Sat down. Picked up a magazine. Scanned the pages. Put it on the table.

Finally, she picked up her child, a girl if the color pink was an indicator. The baby appeared to be the same age as Ty, but while our son was a busy dude, this child was as limp as a dishrag.

The woman with the eighteen-month-old baby was called by a nurse and disappeared.

The thin young mother put her baby girl back in the carrier. I gulped and tried to hide my shock at how flaccid the child’s body was. Ty is my second biological child; I’ve had some practice at this mothering gig. Not only that, I own Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and crafts store, and we get mothers in and out all day long. However, I can’t recall ever seeing a baby that devoid of muscle tone.

None of your business, I told myself. Let it go, Kiki!

I tried not to stare, but my eyes kept drifting to the mother. I took in her dirty hair, her faded jeans, and her thin frame. There but for the grace of God, I thought. I’d weathered tough times financially, and I’d come to a good spot in life. I prayed that God would help this forlorn looking woman. Chewing my bottom lip, I fought the urge to engage her in conversation.

The frosted glass partition slid open. The receptionist glanced at both of us moms. “Mrs. Rayburn? We need you to fill out a few–”

But the receptionist didn’t get to finish.

“Paperwork?” The young mother interrupted. “Like what?”

“Your address, phone, contact information–”

“My address? Contact information?” With wild eyes darting around furiously, she grabbed her child and her things and rushed out of the office.

~*~

After Ty’s checkup, I called Detweiler to tell him our son was hale, hearty, and doing well. When my husband suggested that I bring Ty over to the police station, I chuckled. Detective Chad Detweiler has always wanted to be a dad. In a six-month span, he became father to Anya, my thirteen-year-old daughter from my first marriage; Erik, the five-year-old son of his first wife; and Ty, our biological son. For most men, that would be daunting. For Detweiler, it’s a dream come true. Of course he wanted to show off our baby. And yes, I could drop by the police station and let all the folks there pinch our little guy’s chubby legs.

“There she is,” said Police Chief Robbie Holmes, my father-in-law by my first marriage. “Let me look at that little booger of yours.” Holding out both hands, Robbie reached for Ty. Just as quickly, his nose wrinkled in distaste. “Um, Kiki? I think your son has left you a small deposit.”

That sent me running back to the car for the diaper bag. While carrying it through the hall into the station, I nearly ran smack into Otto, a German shepherd. The big dog sat in front of me, blocking my way. “Nice dog,” I said as I bent to pat him. But I didn’t get that far, because Lloyd, his handler and a K-9 officer, grabbed my arm.

“Whoa.” Lloyd put up a palm to stop me. “Kiki? What’s that you’re carrying?”

I thought he was teasing me. “Duh, a diaper bag. Come on, Lloyd. You’re a dad. Haven’t you ever done diaper duty?”

“Yes, I have,” Lloyd said, glancing up as Detweiler and Robbie came around the corner. While I stood rooted to the spot, Lloyd gave Otto a command. The dog dropped to a prone position and whined. “Wow,” Lloyd shook his head. “Kiki, I need to take a look at that bag.”

The four of us—not including Ty, who was handed over to Mabel, a dispatcher, and a great-grandmother who happened to have diapers in her desk drawer—stepped into a conference room. I opened the bag, looked inside, and gasped. “This isn’t my bag. Rats! I must have picked up that other mom’s stuff while I was at the doctor’s office. That’s not the brand of formula Ty drinks. Those aren’t the same kind of diapers I buy for him.”

“Okay,” Lloyd said in a calm voice. “Let’s take this from the top. When did you last see your bag and where have you been that you picked up the wrong one?”

~*~

As it turned out, the young mother I’d run into at the pediatrician’s office was Tiffany Rayburn, a meth user. She’d shown up at the doctor’s office because her little girl had been lethargic, and she didn’t know why. The answer was in the bottom of the diaper bag. Otto had alerted on a soggy plastic bag, punctured by teeth marks. Seems that Tiffany’s little girl had chewed on a bag full of meth.

“What will they do to her?” I asked Detweiler that night, as I lay next to him with my head in the crook of his arm. Our bed was comfy, the day had been long, and I should have been asleep, but I kept thinking about Tiffany.

“I’m not sure. She needs a rehab program, but she’ll probably wind up in jail. It’s not just the meth. It’s also child endangerment.” Detweiler’s breath was warm on my scalp. His breathing slow and regular. “I realize you’re upset about this. I know you. You feel responsible, don’t you? That’s one way to look at it. Another is that if you hadn’t grabbed the wrong bag, Tiffany’s daughter might be dead by now. The officers who busted the Rayburns’ trailer arrived in time to take the little girl to the hospital and get her proper treatment.”

I blinked back tears. I felt awful about Tiffany but . . . at least her little girl was safe. Sort of. Detweiler didn’t say anything more, but we both knew the child’s chances at a normal life were slim.

Still . . . at least she had a chance. Slim or not.

–The End–


Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Crime is the fourth book in the Happy Homicides anthology, published by Spot On Publishing, August 2016.

homicides-boxsetThis is a bountiful harvest of cozy mysteries, including six novellas and seven short stories. Only 99 cents.

TWO-fer Alert: Buy Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime and get Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Crime absolutely free! Two books for the price of one (only 99 cents) –and you get two enormous bonus files full of recipes and craft project ideas absolutely free. But hurry, this limited offer is good from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4 only.

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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan is the national bestselling and award-winning author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, praised by Kirkus Reviews as being, “A cut above the typical cozy.” The first book in the series was shortlisted for the Agatha Award.

Connect with Joanna: Website | Pinterest | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook

All comments are welcomed.

A New Day in the Life of Cara Mia Delgatto by Joanna Campbell Slan

All Washed UpMJ Austin’s eyes traveled up and down the length of me, only to finish with a disapproving glare. “You are a mess. Not even a hot mess. Just a dirty mess. And you need mulch around your sea island ficus. It looks unfinished.”

“Thanks heaps.” I tossed my trowel onto the sandy soil. MJ’s one of my two full-time employees at The Treasure Chest, a darling store I own in downtown Stuart, Florida. The shop specializes in upcycling, recycling, and repurposing goods. While MJ’s a wonderful asset and a good friend, on occasion she’s blunt to the point of being nasty. This was definitely one of those times.

“Don’t get that dirt on me.” She stepped away. MJ wore a lime green shift that hugged her curves. The plunging neckline was partially filled by a collection of gold statement necklaces. On her wrists she wore gold cuffs. A whiff of expensive perfume trailed her every move.

I, on the other hand, smelled like the inside of a locker room. I wore a sleeveless men’s tee shirt that had once been white and an old pair of my son’s cut-off jeans. My late father’s belt held up my britches. Correction: The dirt stuck to my pants held them up. I’d been working on my lawn for three straight days, weeding, trimming, planting, and moving existing plants to better spots. For the most part, the place looked great. But MJ was right—it badly needed mulch. There was no demarcation between the landscaped areas and my grass. In a week, two at the most, I’d be right back out here digging up weeds.

The proposal from the lawn care company had priced mulch way beyond my budget. No way could I afford the wood shavings, nor could I pay the laborers to spread out the ground cover.

I had told MJ as much when I asked her to come by. She’s a keen gardener, although I’ve never seen her get dirty. I think she wears gloves, a sun hat, and knee pads when she works. Her manicures are too expensive to spoil, her complexion too even to risk sun damage, and her clothes too nice to get soiled.

“Look,” I said. “I didn’t ask you here to give me a hard time about getting grubby. I asked you because I want your opinion on what I can do instead of mulching.”

“Hmmm,” she rested a finger against her chin. “I once saw a garden where the owner spread seashells and chunks of coral. That might work. We’ve got a lot of old coffee bean bags back at the store. Why not spread a few under the shells? I’d even help you collect the seashells. I bet Skye would, too.”

“Genius. Pure genius,” said our friend Skye when I phoned her to ask her for help. “I’ll bring the bags. How about this Sunday?”

On the appointed day, my chums and I combed the seashore for shells, hunks of coral, and what Skye called “fossils,” clumps of the remains of crustaceans. When they left at four, both women were worn out by dragging heavy mesh bags of treasure back to my house.

After a quick sandwich I gulped down for dinner, my grandfather came over. Poppy helped me scrape and dig around my plants. With his help, I was able to spread the burlap bag pieces on the ground.

For the next five days, I knocked off work at three and came home to pour seashells and rocks on top of the burlap. After an hour or two of hard work, I snapped leashes on Gerard, my Bahamian Potcake dog, and Jack, my Chihuahua. While they roamed the sand, I picked up more shells, including a few empty but broken leopard crab shells. The intense orange and black pattern of spots offers a vivid explanation of how these crabs got their name. After I spread the seashells, fossils, rocks, and coral, I carefully positioned the fragile leopard crab pieces on top. I planned to take a photo of my work and send it to my pals, but sunset came faster than I anticipated.

“I’ll take a photo and show the girls tomorrow,” I told my dogs while I fed them their dinner.

After a long hot shower, I collapsed in my bed. My makeshift mulch was beginning to take shape. It really, really looked good. Best of all, it cost me nothing but sweat equity.

But when I went outside to take my photo the next morning, the leopard crab shell pieces were missing. Where on earth did they go? Had I dreamed them up?

leopard-crab1It didn’t make any sense. It took another eight days before I found one more chunk of a leopard crab shell. This time, I took a photo after I set it by my plants.

That night I crawled into bed totally exhausted. I awakened when Gerard pawed at my arm and whimpered. “Poor boy. I should have taken you out before I fell asleep. Hang on, buddy. Let me get my shoes. I’ll grab the leash and a flashlight.”

Jack bounced to his feet. He was eager to go outside, too. After leashing up the dogs, I turned on the flashlight and opened the side door.

Not surprisingly, both animals needed to sniff around for the perfect spot. Little Jack had lifted one leg and taken aim at a sea island ficus bush when Gerard nearly yanked my arm out of the socket.

“What the….?” I raced along behind the big yellow pooch. When he came to an abrupt stop, I did too.

There in the triangle of light thrown by my flashlight beam was a large, shadowy creature. His beady black eyes glared at us. In his tiny pink hands, the opossum held a chewed up bit of something. One minute the critter was baring his pink lips and snarling at us; the next, he disappeared into the night.

But not before taking my prized piece of leopard crab shell with him!

—The End—
~*~


All Washed Up is the third book in the Cara Mia Delgatto mystery series, published by Spot On Publishing, March 2016.

Tear, Down, and Die, the first book in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series, is absolutely free for Kindle and Nook. Get your copy here: www.booklaunch.io/joannaslan/teardownanddie

Our gift to you! You can also enjoy a special FREE bonus file with recipes and craft ideas from Cara and her friends by sending an email here to our computerized autoresponder: CMBonus@JoannaSlan.com

About the Author
As soon as she finishes her writing chores for the day, Joanna Campbell Slan hooks the leash onto her dog, Jax, and they go for a walk on the beach. There Joanna collects seashells while Jax chases sandpipers. When she isn’t washing the sand off her feet, Joanna is busy recycling, upcycling, and repurposing junk. You can see a few of her favorite things at Pinterest, her books on Amazon or contact her at JCSlan@JoannaSlan.com.

All comments are welcomed.

Kiki Lowenstein’s Expected Delivery by Joanna Campbell Slan

Glue Baby GoneTime slows to a crawl when you’re nearly nine months pregnant. Every day is a struggle, because you feel like a klutz. A fat klutz at that. Your joints loosen up, your balance shifts, and your feet become a distant memory. With the first baby, you’re excited and scared. With the second, you just want to get the delivery over with. My little passenger must have felt the same, because the baby struggled to get comfortable, turning and twisting and kicking against me as though my skin was a set of covers he could knock to the floor.

“Show time?” asked Detweiler, in a hopeful tone, as he watched the contours of my belly move around.

“I’m not sure.”

“Amazing, awe inspiring, and slightly creepy,” said my husband. Leaning over to kiss my navel. With my sleep shirt pulled up to expose my baby bump, we could watch my passenger’s progress as he moved under my skin.

“You can say that again.”

“You aren’t going in to work, are you? Today’s the day. As soon as you go into labor, I’ll take the next three days off. I hope your doctor is good at math.”

After he left, I pulled on the only pair of maternity pants that fit, threw a top over my head, and tried to make myself comfortable on the couch downstairs. I was sitting in the same place eight hours later when Detweiler and the kids came home, from work and school respectively.

Detweiler kissed me. “Any progress?”

“No. I might as well be watching paint dry. Not even a twinge of a contraction.”

He laughed. “I’m going to get dinner ready in the kitchen. You stay comfortable.”

I dozed off, only to be awakened by a very angry little boy.

“Where is our baby?” Five-year-old Erik stamped his foot on the floor. Those warm chocolate eyes of his were blazing with anger. “Isn’t he coming yet? That baby is supposed to be here. You said he was coming today. I’ve been looking and looking for him.”

I gathered our son into my arms. Although my belly was too big for him to sit on my lap, Erik could prop himself up against me by leaving one foot on the floor and sprawling the other over my leg. “You’ve been looking?”

Erik nodded solemnly. “Anya told me he’d be driving up in a big car. A shiny one. So I was look-et-ing out the windows for a long time. My fingers is cold. See?”

When he pressed his tiny digits into mine, they were like ice.

“Anya?” I called out to my thirteen-year-old daughter. She was lying on the rug on the floor in front of a crackling fire, pretending not to be listening in on our conversation. So I tried again. “Anya? What did you tell Erik? Hmmm?”

With great reluctance, she set down her pen, pushing aside her notebook, and turned to blink at me. My daughter, sweetness and light, feigning innocence. Slowly she opened her mouth and said, “What? I didn’t hear you.”

“Then we need to take you to an audiologist and get your hearing checked, young lady. What did you tell your brother? Did you mislead him? Cause him to stand and stare out the window?”

“She’s a poopy face.” Erik pointed an accusing finger at his sister.

“No name-calling,” I said.

“Anya? I think you owe Erik an apology.”

I tried to keep my voice neutral, because the family therapist had warned us this would be coming. The honeymoon between the siblings was officially over. When Erik first came to live with us, Anya had treated him like an honored guest. Over the past two months, reality had set in. The boy was adorable, but he was also a pesky younger brother. As such, he often bugged his older sister.

“I told him that because he was getting into my things!” she said, raising the emotional water level in the room. “I asked him twice not to draw in my journal, but he did it anyway!”

“Erik? You have to leave Anya’s things alone. You have your own—”

I gasped as a cramp hit me hard. I was seated in a side saddle position with both legs up on the sofa and to the side. Suddenly I felt a release, as though someone had pulled a plug and warm water ran over the top of my right thigh.

“Did you wet your pants?” Anya stood over me, staring at the wet splotch on our sofa.

“No. My water broke. Remember? I told you this would happen. Please go get Detweiler.”
adorable
Instead of moving, she stood where she was and screamed at the top of her lungs, “The baby is coming! The baby is coming!”

~*~
You can be there for the big event. Go to Amazon today and get your copy of Glue, Baby, Gone to see what happens after Kiki goes into labor.


Glue, Baby, Gone is the 12th book in the Kiki Lowenstein mystery series, published by Spot On Publishing, May 2016.

After the world’s longest pregnancy, Kiki has her baby. But nothing in Kiki’s life goes as planned, does it? You’d think Detweiler would be over-the-moon with happiness, but instead he’s acting like he’s been jabbed with a diaper pin. Anya is sharing inappropriate pictures, Erik is wetting the bed, and someone is trying to steal newborn babies from hospitals in St. Louis. Kiki comes down with a bad case of the new mommy blues, and then one of her worst enemies winds up dead. It’s enough to make Kiki cry like a baby–but help is on the way. Or is it?

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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan is the national bestselling and award-winning author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, praised by Kirkus Reviews as being, “A cut above the typical cozy.” The first book in the series was shortlisted for the Agatha Award. You can get a recipe from this book absolutely free by sending an email to GBGBonus@JoannaSlan.com.

Links: Website | Pinterest | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook

Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a kindle copy of Glue, Baby, Gone. The giveaway will end May 27, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!

All comments are welcomed.