After a recent brush with death, plus-sized P.I. and bride-to-be Savannah Reid has decided to stop sweating the small stuff. But when an event planner comes in to arrange her wedding, Savannah discovers that murder can ruin even the best laid plans…
Hailed as the wedding planner to the stars, Madeline Aberson has orchestrated some of the most exclusive soirees in Hollywood. But when Madeline becomes embroiled in a nasty divorce, her life falls apart, and rumors swirl that her parties have become total duds. Desperate for work, Madeline finds herself planning far less glamorous affairs, including none other than Savannah Reid’s wedding to Dirk Coulter.
It doesn’t take long for the opinionated Madeline to get on Savannah’s last nerve, and when the big day finally arrives, Savannah can’t wait to send Madeline packing. But when the bride finds Madeline’s body face down in the pool, floating among an elegant array of rose petals, it’s clear that someone has already hastened the diva’s departure. For better or for worse Savannah and Dirk put their wedding on hold, vowing instead to find out who killed Madeline and why…
“This ain’t exactly the roarin’ hot time we had planned for
this evening, huh, babe?” Dirk Coulter said to the woman
at his side.
Savannah Reid couldn’t take her eyes off the red wall of
flames that had jumped the fire line half an hour ago and was
rapidly consuming the town’s community center. The building
where she and the guy next to her were to have exchanged wedding
vows an hour ago.
“Not even close,” she said, slipping her arm around Dirk’s
waist and leaning against him. “I had much more ambitious plans
for you this evening, big boy.”
He put his arm across her shoulders and pulled her closer. His
voice cracked a bit when he kissed the top of her head and said,
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get your wedding gown out, Van.”
She blinked back some tears that had nothing to do with the
smoke in the air or the ash falling like dirty snow around them
and the crowd assembled to watch the battle. It was all-out war
between the San Carmelita Fire Department versus Mother Nature,
and Big Momma was winning.
“Hey, you tried,” she replied. “If you’d tried any harder, I’d be
bailing out my groom-to-be on our so-called wedding night, and
that’d just be the cherry on the crap sundae.”
“I only hit him once.”
“Yeah, and that was one time too many, you knucklehead.”
Dirk flexed his hand. “A love tap . . . that’s all it was.”
“And if you and Jim weren’t poker buddies, he’d have pressed
charges then and there.”
“Eh, he knows I’m a man under duress. If there’s anything
harder on a guy’s nerves than gettin’ hitched, it’s having the place
he’s supposed to do it in get torched on his wedding day.”
“Well, you be sure and mention that ‘duress’ business to him,”
she said, “ ’cause here he comes now. And he ain’t lookin’ none
An enormous fireman was elbowing his way through the mob,
composed of countless other firefighters, copious members of the
media, town cops galore, and an overabundance of run-of-themill
When Jim Barbera reached them, he stuck his finger in Dirk’s
face and said, “I don’t care if you do have a gold detective’s
badge, Coulter. Don’t you ever lay a hand on me again like that
or I swear, I’ll—”
Slipping deftly between the two men, Savannah flashed the
firefighter her best Southern belle, eyelash-batting, deep-dimpled
smile. “Please don’t hold it against him, Jim,” she said in a soft,
down-homesy drawl. “Dirk was willing to risk life and limb to go
into that burning building to rescue my wedding gown. And I know
you’d have done the same for that pretty little wife of yours . . .
what’s her name . . . Lilly? She’s expecting, isn’t she? And this is,
what, your third youngun?”
“Uh-huh.” Jim was trying hard not to succumb to Dixie
charm. “You shouldn’t have let your man go into a burning building,
Savannah,” he grumbled. “Not for anything. That’s the
Savannah could feel her dander rising. The dimples got a tad
less deep, the smile a bit less wide. The drawl had a bite to it
when she said, “In the first place, he ain’t my man just yet, thanks
to this blasted fire. And even if he was—knowing him like I do—
I don’t reckon I’ll be doing a lot of ‘letting’ him do this or that.
He’s got a mind of his own and that’s the way I like it . . . most of
Fortunately, Jim got a call on his cell phone. He answered it
with a predictable degree of gruffness, considering the conversation
he was having, the smoke he had inhaled, and the fact that
the fire behind him had totally engulfed the structure he and his
company had been fighting to save.
“Yeah,” he said into the phone. “Oh? Okay.” He glanced
around at the bystanders, then at Dirk. “Coulter’s standing right
here. I’ll tell him.”
He stuck the phone back into his pocket. “That was the
chief,” he said. “They’re at the point of origin. It’s the same guy
again . . . a pentagram drawn in the dirt and a black candle in the
center of it.”
Immediately, Savannah turned toward the mob of spectators,
and her eyes began to scan each face in the crowd, one by one.
Nobody had to tell her what Jim and Dirk were thinking as they
did the same. Odds were high that their arsonist with the creepy
rituals was among them, watching with everyone else, enjoying
the drama, the destructive fruits of his labor.
What was the point of unleashing hell on a community if you
couldn’t be there, firsthand, to watch the calamity?
This was his fourth fire in less than a month. They had to
catch him before he burned the whole county down.
After a long, dry summer, Southern California had enough
problems with wildfires without a pyromaniac getting his jollies
by setting more.
“The wind shifted two hours ago,” Jim said. “And they announced
it on the local news.”
“He had to know it was coming this way,” Savannah added.
“Plenty of time for him to get here.”
Dirk switched from his Grumpy, Thwarted-Bridegroom Mode
to his usual—Harried, Cynical Police Detective Mode.
His modes didn’t vary much.
“Let’s socialize,” he said to Savannah, “mingle a bit.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Jim told them. “I’m gonna get back to
work, if I’ve got your word, Coulter, that you won’t be trying to
rescue any more bridal apparel.”
But Jim didn’t need to finagle any promises out of Dirk. Ruined
wedding plans pushed aside for the moment, Detective
Sergeant Coulter and his still bride-to-be were on a mission.
They had an arsonist to apprehend and a strong, personal investment
in his capture.
“If I get my hands on him,” Savannah said, as they headed for
the crowd of onlookers, “I’m gonna mash him like a spider on a
sidewalk, until he’s nothing but a big, greasy spot.”
“No, you’ve gotta save me some.”
Dirk took her hand and led her over the uneven, rocky ground
with a paternal tenderness that was sweet and touching.
Three months ago—when both of their lives had been changed
forever—all that loving concern had meant the world to her. His
constant attention and unfailing devotion had been exactly what
she had needed to survive her ordeal and heal the damage that
had been done to her body and spirit. She never would have
made it without him.
Two months ago, his endless support and help had been comforting,
even convenient, as he had scurried about, running errands
for her, waiting on her hand and foot.
But now, she was getting tired of being treated like a victim.
She was a survivor. And all this solicitous hovering was getting to
be a bit much.
Gently, she withdrew her hand from his. “Let’s split up,” she
said. “We’ll cover more ground that way. You work this end of the
crowd, and I’ll take the other end. Meet you in the middle.”
Instantly, disapproval registered on his face in the form of his
standard-issue showdown-at-high-noon cowboy scowl. “You’re
gonna go by yourself?” he said.
“Yes. I am. Just like I go to the little girls’ room all by myself.”
She gave him a smile that was sweeter than her words. After all,
he wasn’t deliberately being a pain in the rear end; he meant
So, she wouldn’t smack him upside the head . . . this time.
But he wasn’t going to let it go. “I don’t know how happy I am
about you going off by yourself so soon after—”
“Then, darlin’, you can just get happy in the same bloomers
that you got unhappy in,” she said as she started to walk away
She smiled back at him over her shoulder, and lightly scratched
the tip of her nose with her middle finger.
Chuckling, he shook his head. “Well, at least don’t tackle anybody.
You know what the doctor said.”
As she left him behind and worked her way to the opposite
end of the crowd, she tried not to think about what the doctor
“Ms. Reid, you’re a very lucky lady. Three of those five shots could
have easily been lethal, had they been an inch or two to the right or the
No, some memories should remain on the shelf marked, “Best
“The worst is over, Savannah girl,” she whispered to herself, as she had so many times during the past three months. “The
worst is over and done with. Move on.”
She passed a group of teenaged girls wearing far less than their
mommas should have let them out of the house in. She checked
them off her mental list.
Most arsonists were male. And the majority of them had practical
reasons for setting their fires. Revenge, insurance fraud, or
to destroy the evidence of other evil-doing . . . those were the
most usual reasons for blaze-setting.
But Savannah remembered, all too well, the class she had
taken while still on the police force, the points the arson specialist
had made when profiling what he had called the “pure arsonist.”
Though rare, there were individuals who derived their own
strange brand of sexual gratification from setting fires, watching
them burn, and reveling in the secret joy of knowing they had
created the ensuing havoc.
She ran down the mental checklist: 90 percent male, usually
white, ages seventeen to twenty-six, with possibly some form of
mental illness, substance abuse, previous felony convictions.
And she decided to add one more qualifier: mud-wallowin’,
slop-suckin’ pigs, who ruin other people’s wedding days.
Of those assembled to watch the mayhem, only a few fit the
description, and even fewer when she ruled out those young
white men who were excitedly chattering with others about the
drama before them.
Instinctively, she knew she was looking for a loner.
And at the edge of the crowd, she found one.
On the opposite side of the community center’s parking lot, on
a small hill dotted with sagebrush, stood a solitary figure—a young,
Caucasian man, dressed in baggy, dark clothes, who looked like
he had just emerged from his mother’s basement for a rare outing.
He was farther from the fire than the rest of the spectators,
but from his elevated position, he had one of the best views in
Gradually, Savannah worked her way through the crowd to get
closer to him and have a better look.
Leaving the rest of the spectators, she casually strolled across
the asphalt parking lot toward his hill, trying her best to watch
him without being too obvious. Instead of making a beeline for
him, she turned left and meandered in the direction of a path
that appeared to lead from the lot up to where he stood.
Concerned that he would spot her, she moved slowly, trying to
stay behind any tall brush that would provide cover. Fortunately,
he seemed so fixated on the scene below that he was oblivious to
Drawing closer, she could see that he was young, probably
early twenties. He was dressed all in black, and once, when he
turned her way for a moment, she caught the glint of a large, silver
medallion around his neck.
Her pulse rate quickened. She was pretty sure she’d seen a
star on the pendant. Maybe a pentacle?
Ducking behind a tree, she reached into her jacket pocket,
pulled out her cell phone, and gave Dirk a call.
“Yeah?” he said.
“Other side of the parking lot, on the hill,” she whispered.
“The guy in black, watching the fire. I think it’s him.”
“Where? Oh, yeah. I see him.”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“On the far side of the crowd. Where are—? What the hell!”
She grinned. He’d spotted her. And even from sixty yards
away, she could read his indignation in his body language. She
gave him a little wave.
Instantly, he started to elbow his way through the spectators,
heading in her direction.
“Don’t even think about taking him yourself,” he told her.
“You wait for me.”
Savannah’s grin disappeared. “I know the drill,” she said.
And she did. Having been a cop—his partner, in fact—she
knew all too well about waiting for backup. But it was one thing
to wait for assistance as part of the routine. It was another to have
someone—especially a former partner—tell you to do so because
he was afraid you couldn’t handle a situation by yourself.
“Be very careful, Ms. Reid,” she could hear the doctor saying. “I
know your work involves physical altercations from time to time. You
can’t afford to—”
“Oh, shut up,” she whispered to the voice in her head.
“No,” Dirk barked back. “I won’t shut up! You wait for me!”
Rather than admit she’d been talking to herself, she just said,
“I’m waiting, okay?” and clicked the phone off.
He’ll be here lickety split anyway, she thought to herself as she
watched Dirk push through the crowd like a football player
within a few yards of a Hail Mary touchdown. Even if he has to
mow down women, children, and a couple of grandpas to get here.
Poking her head out from behind the tree, she sneaked another
peek at her suspect.
And saw him staring right at her.
Nailed, she thought. Shoot f’re. Now what?
She stuck her best ain’t-it-just-a-fine-day look on her face and
came out from behind the tree. “Boy, this here’s a steep hill,” she
said, strolling up the path toward him, pretending to be out of
breath. “But it looks like you got the best view from up here.
Mind if I join ya?”
The look on his face told her, yes, he minded. Very much.
He also looked quite excited . . . in a way that reminded her of
when she’d walked into the bathroom and caught her younger
brother, Macon, with a girlie magazine.
She took one quick glance down at the front of his pants.
Yep . . . highly excited.
He also looked highly annoyed.
“Get outta here,” he said. “I don’t want company.”
“Well, now . . . that ain’t very neighborly of you,” she said,
continuing to close the distance between them. “I just want a
good look at the fire. That’s all.”
“Look at it somewhere else,” he shouted, getting more agitated
by the moment. “Leave me alone.”
Then, under his breath, she heard him mutter, “You’re ruining
As she drew within ten feet of him, she could see his medallion
clearly. And, yes, it was a pentacle, a large, inverted one,
hanging on a thick chain, in the center of his chest.
She wanted to glance back over her shoulder and see where
Dirk was now. But she didn’t want to give away the fact that she
had reinforcements on the way.
Besides, Dirk had to have seen her continue on up the path.
And knowing him as she did, she was certain he was now racing
toward them, grubby sneakers barely touching the ground as he
He was a darlin’ . . . if a pain.
She stopped about six feet away from the guy and studied him
carefully. Approximately five feet, six inches tall, weighing at
most a hundred and thirty . . . he wasn’t a very large man. She’d
wrestled much bigger. And won.
Even from that distance she could smell alcohol on him. His
eyes looked glassy. His speech was slightly slurred when he said,
“I’m not kidding, lady. You go someplace else to watch it. I was
Taking one step closer, she fixed him with eyes so cold they
would have given pause to someone more astute, someone less
fixated on his sexual obsession.