Plus-sized P.I. Savannah Reid prides herself on cracking even the toughest cases. But her latest investigation is leaving her hungry for answers as she tries to unmask the identity of a cunning, would-be killer. His prey? Legendary designer Helene Strauss, creator of the world-famous Helene doll. While Helene’s brassy, take-no-prisoners style made her a huge success, it also made her quite a few enemies.
Before long, Savannah is sure she has a handle on the case. But when two key players turn up dead in Helene’s sizzling hot Jacuzzi, Savannah will have to start from scratch—and question everything she thought she knew about the Strausses’ twisted family tree…
“Superb.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“McKevett serves up plenty of action.” —Kirkus
“Fans of Diane Mott Davidson will appreciate this one.” —Library Journal
“Land sakes, boy, my tailbone’s done taken root to this
floor,” Savannah Reid said as she shifted from one side of
her aching rear to the other. “Who’d have thought there wouldn’t
be a solitary decent chair in this joint?”
Beside her sat Dirk Coulter, an only slightly apologetic look on
his face. “If there was one, you know I’d let you have it,” he said.
“Yeah, sure. That’s right up there with, ‘If I win the lottery, I’ll
give you half.’ Giving away something you ain’t got is easy as
falling off a wet log.”
“Whatever happened to, ‘It’s the thought that counts’?”
“The thought counted two hours ago, when we still had snacks
to eat and my butt didn’t feel like a shark was gnawing on it.”
With a sigh born of bone-deep weariness or moderate annoyance—with Dirk it was hard to tell the difference—he stood and
walked to the other side of the small, dark pharmacy.
After bumping into a number of displays and rummaging
around a bit, he plucked some items off a shelf.
When he returned, he dumped a rich assortment of candy bars
into her lap. “There ya go . . . snacks. Compliments of the
He peeled off his old leather bomber jacket, folded it twice,
and slid the impromptu “cushion” between her back and the
wall. “Lean on it or sit on it, whichever gives you the most relief.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet.”
“Just keep your bellyaching to a minimum—”
“And you were doing so well...”
“Shh,” he said. “I don’t want those numbskulls out there to
hear us arguing in here and pass on the break-in.”
Savannah scowled up at him. “Maybe you should choose your
words a mite more carefully. ‘Bellyaching’ is up there with ‘nagging’
and ‘female moodiness.’ They could get a guy smacked upside
Savannah handed him one of the candy bars and unwrapped
another for herself. “And speaking of burglars . . . excuse me for
stating the obvious, but didn’t you just steal these goodies off the
Dirk shrugged as he bit into the bar. “I told the owner this
moonlighting gig would cost him a couple hundred plus expenses.
The candy’s a necessary expense.”
“And you get paid whether we catch the bad guys or not?”
“Yeah. Sweet, huh? Plus an expense account. Makes me feel
like a private investigator, like you.”
“Only you’ve got a badge.”
Savannah tried not to sound bitter when she said those words.
Most days she could convince herself that she was perfectly
happy not to be a member of the San Carmelita Police Department
And some days she believed it.
She believed it on rainy days. Rainy days in July. Rainy days in
July when the moon was in conjunction with the sun, Venus, and
Jupiter... and she was struck by lightning twice before she got
out of bed.
The rest of the time she experienced a small, nagging sadness
that she was no longer a cop and Dirk’s honest-to-goodness partner
in crime detection and bad-guy nabbing.
Though tonight was almost as good, staking out a small, privately
owned pharmacy that had been burglarized three times in
the past month.
When the harried proprietor had informed the police that he
intended to keep watch, night after night, with a shotgun in hand
and dispatch the repeat thieves to the Promised Land, Dirk had
volunteered his services... and Savannah’s.
Dirk frequently volunteered her services. And, usually, she
enjoyed it. When else did one get to play cops and robbers, eat
pilfered candy, and manipulate a close friend into being deeply
beholding all in the course of one evening?
“So, how much of that couple of hundred were you figuring to
throw my way?” she asked, licking the chocolate off her thumb
His mood seemed to drop a few notches in spite of the recent
sugar infusion. “Oh, I don’t know. How much were you
“A good backrub, and I’d probably call it even.”
He brightened instantly. “Sure. I’d be glad to give you a back-
“Not you, sweet cheeks. A professional massage. One you actually
pay money for.”
She gave him a sideways glance and saw the slightly protruding
lower lip. It looked ridiculous on a forty-plus, ruggedly hand-
some—with the emphasis on rugged—grown man. A cop who,
for more than twenty years, had rubbed elbows with society’s
worst. Occasionally, fists and elbows, too.
Dirk didn’t complain much when having to chase, tackle, and
cuff the unbathed, undeodorized, alcohol-marinated, chemically
altered, and ethically deficient. But ask him to part with a dollar
and his mood plummeted.
And Savannah found the whole process quite entertaining.
“What’s the matter?” she said, giving him a playful dig in the
ribs with her elbow. “Don’t you think I’m worth it?”
“Yeah, I guess. But those massages are expensive.”
“Eh. About half of what you’re getting for this gig should
cover it, plus a pedicure and maybe—”
“Don’t you shush me, boy. I—”
“Shh! I hear something.”
Then she heard it, too... the distinctive jiggling of a doorknob
at the rear of the store.
She chuckled as a shot of adrenaline hit her bloodstream.
“They think they’re actually gonna come through the door like
regular customers?” she whispered.
“Why break a window and climb through if you don’t have
to?” he replied as he stood and offered her a hand up.
“True.” She rose and shook the stiffness out of her legs. “If
you’re gonna go to all that work, actually breaking in, a body
might as well get a real job.”
The doorknob rattling had stopped, and they could hear the
scuffling of footsteps in gravel beside the building as the burglars
made their way around to a window.
“That’s how they got in last time, right?” Savannah said, her
lips close to his ear.
“Yeah. And, more importantly, how they got out.”
“Then, let’s get over there.”
They hurried to the other side of the store, being careful not
to bump into any of the shelves or displays in the semidarkness.
For some reason, Savannah thought of the old pharmacy in the
tiny, rural, Georgia town where she had been raised . . . so far, in
so many ways, from San Carmelita, the posh seaside resort in
As a child, Savannah had often imagined how fun it would be
to spend the night locked in that store, which was a combination
drugstore and five-and-dime. Having the place to herself—the
ice cream counter, the comic book stand, the candy shelves, not
to mention the paper dolls and coloring books—would have been
pure heaven to a poor kid without a cent to spend on such luxuries.
But as she took a position on the right side of the window and
squatted behind a stack of boxed baby diapers, she had to admit:
This was far more fun than any childhood fantasy.
Listening to the youthful male voices muttering to each other
outside the window, she felt a teeny bit sorry for them ...for
anyone who was so poverty-stricken, or drug-addicted, or lacking
in moral upbringing that they resorted to stealing as a way of life.
But she felt a lot sorrier for the guy who owned the place,
whose insurance rates had skyrocketed because his store and the
other businesses in the area were being continually burglarized.
Looking over at Dirk, who was crouching behind a display of
paper towels and toilet paper rolls, she could see the same light
of excitement that she felt, shining in his eyes. Though neither
of them would admit it, they were hardcore thrill junkies.
They lived for these moments.
He reached for his sidearm, a Smith & Wesson revolver, pulled
it, and pointed the barrel toward the ceiling.
She pulled her 9mm Beretta from her shoulder holster and did
“Get a rock,” she heard one of the guys outside the window
“Here. This’ll do,” replied another.
She steeled herself for what was coming next. She turned her
face away from the window, as did Dirk.
It didn’t take long.
A moment later, something heavy crashed through the window,
spraying glass for ten feet inside the store.
Some landed in her hair. She shook it out.
“Reach through there and unlock it,” one of the burglars said.
“Window’s nailed closed. Don’t you remember last time?”
replied his buddy.
“Oh, yeah. Give me a boost. I’ll climb through.”
Savannah heard a guy grunting as he lifted his companion.
Okay, she thought, so there’s a little bit of honest labor in thievery.
A sneaker and a denim-covered leg poked through the broken
window, followed by a butt, a torso, and then a head.
In the dim light, she could see the long, stringy, brown hair
and the scraggly goatee. His black tank top revealed a large, distinctive
tattoo of a vampire demon on his shoulder.
She knew him! It was Josh Murphy.
She and Dirk had busted Josh years ago, when she had still
been on the job. He and his brother, Jesse, had robbed some high
school kids on the beach on prom night. And Jesse had even gotten
fresh with one of the girls, named Rosa Ortiz, adding sexual
assault to his charges.
A few months ago, Savannah had run into Rosa in a grocery
store. She’d told Savannah she still had nightmares about her
Suddenly, this assignment was a lot sweeter.
Sure enough . . . no sooner had Josh climbed through than
Jesse followed. But as he was straddling the window pane with
its jagged bits of remaining glass, he yelped with pain.
“Damn!” he said, grabbing his groin with his gloved hand. “I
“Yeah, whatever,” his brother replied. “Shoulda been more
“Thanks for the sympathy, you no-good sonofabitch.”
Savannah wondered if it occurred to Jesse that he had just insulted
his own mother. Or if he would care.
Probably not, she decided. Her past, brief associations with
Jesse Murphy hadn’t left her with an abiding faith in his intelligence
or his respect for motherhood.
Remembering how Momma had jumped to her feet during
her boys’ trial and screamed obscenities at their victims, Savannah
decided maybe Jesse was right about his brother’s heritage.
“I’m not kidding,” Jesse said, hopping around, clutching his
crotch. “I’m seriously bleeding here.”
Savannah cringed as Josh reached for one of the packages of
toilet paper right by Dirk’s head. She saw Dirk duck as Josh’s
hand nearly swiped him.
“Here,” Josh said, pitching the pack at Jesse. “Do what you
gotta do, and let’s get on with this. We told Butch we’d have the
oxycottons and percs to him tonight. You know how he gets when
we stand him up.”
Jesse ripped off his workman’s gloves and tore open the package.
He pulled out a roll of the toilet paper and jammed it against
his wound. “Owww! Next time we’re goin’ in the door, or we
ain’t goin’ in at all,” he said. “I’m getting too old for this climbing through-the-window crap.”
But his brother was already in the back of the store.
Josh vaulted over the pharmacy counter, took a flashlight from
his jeans pocket, and trailed the beam up and down the shelves.
When he found what he wanted, he grabbed a couple of plastic
bags from beneath the cash register and began filling them
with bottles and boxes. “You gonna help me out here,” he said,
“or you gonna dance around, playin’ with Big Jim and the twins?”
Jesse tossed away one roll of blood-soaked toilet paper, got out
a fresh one, and pressed it to his privates. “Screw you and hurry
up,” he said. “When we get outta here, you gotta take me to the
hospital. I mighta cut something off.”