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Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The books do not have to be read in order.
Having lived in Switzerland for the past two decades, Brooke has taught English, run a business and learned French, German and Italian. You can find him online at www.FrederickLeeBrooke.com. Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!
Monday, June 24 Shannon Mayer Ch. 1
Tuesday, June 25 Scott Bury Ch. 2
Wednesday, June 26 Raine Thomas Ch. 3
Thursday, June 27 Emily Walker Ch. 4
Friday, June 28 Simon Jenner Ch. 5
Saturday, June 29 Amberr Meadows Ch. 6
Sunday, June 30 Anne Chaconas Ch. 7
Monday, July 1 BestsellingReads Ch. 8
Tuesday, July 2 Tyler-Rose Neath Ch. 9
Wednesday, July 3 Naomi Leadbeater Ch. 10
Thursday, July 4 Mohana Rajakumar Ch. 11
Friday, July 5 Helen Hanson Ch. 12
Saturday, July 6 Marilou George Ch. 13
Sunday, July 7 J.C. Martin Ch. 14
Monday, July 8 Corinne O’Flynn Ch. 15
Tuesday, July 9 Tawdra Kandle Ch. 16
Wednesday, July 10 Martha Bourke Ch. 17
Thursday, July 11 Connie M. Chyle Ch. 18
Friday, July 12 Cyndi Ch. 19
Saturday, July 13 Kenneth Hoss Ch. 20 YOU ARE HERE
Sunday, July 14 Andrea Kurian Ch. 21
Monday, July 15 Andy Holloman Ch. 22
Tuesday, July 16 Marilyn Diekman Ch. 23
Wednesday, July 17 Christine Nolfi Ch. 24
Thursday, July 18 Jennifer Chase Ch. 25
Friday, July 19 Patricia Sands Ch. 26
And now what you've all been waiting for, the excerpt:
We hugged for a long minute. I was thinking what bad luck June had, and such a sweet girl, much sweeter than I’d ever been. When we pulled apart both of us had to wipe away tears. I’d had no idea.
“I’m so over it now, really. You’ve got to believe me, Annie. That’s the only reason I could confess to it. Everyone knew you and he were…you know, you guys were like Romeo and Juliet over there. You guys were legendary. I was happy for you, but I was a bit jealous sometimes. Michael is…you know, he’s just so gorgeous. But you’re so beautiful, too, and you were always so nice, I mean, it was like you two belonged together. I never let him know. Michael never knew a thing. Even now. And he never will. I see now that he would’ve been totally wrong for me, and I would’ve been wrong for him. I’ve seen that for a long time. I’m only telling you because I feel…somehow such a kinship with you.”
I knew what she meant. “It’s because I’m over him too. We both got over that addiction.”
“I’ve never known anyone so manipulative,” June said. “Like that trick with your ring. I can’t imagine how you suffered, Annie. Was he just keeping it in his pocket? Does he actually love you or hate you, with a dirty trick like that?”
“He plays with people’s feelings.” I was thinking of last night when we made love. Or at Alison’s apartment when he said, I could wait forever.
“Do you think he hurts people intentionally?”
He had told me stories about neglect in his childhood, his life on the streets in Buffalo, his trouble with the law. All that went into the psyche of Michael Garcia. He had every excuse for being a hustler, hurting people. But intentionally?
“It’s not like that,” I said.
“But he hurt you when he put on that charade in front of everybody,” June said. “Now they all think you’re engaged to him.”
“He likes his pranks.”
I continued to defend Michael, but June had me worried me as we drove back to the party. She was right that Michael must have had some kind of plan. He must have known he was going to steal the ring even as he made love to me. Did he really think that telling everyone we were engaged made any difference in reality?
“How often have you seen Michael and Husker in the last six months?”
“This is the first time,” June said. “I’m not very social.”
I looked at my ring as she parked. I was glad I’d called Salvatore earlier. He was waiting for me. He’d even encouraged me to take this trip. June’s words went through my mind. I always lost something on every road trip I ever took. I’d lost my ring but then found it again, against the odds. I hoped I hadn’t lost Salvatore.
“You’ve really achieved something with your bakery,” I said as we walked toward the party.
“We’re just getting started.”
“Maybe Salvatore and I could come down together sometime, and I could work for you while he relaxes a little.”
She kissed me on the cheek as we walked. “Anytime you want, Annie. I can’t wait to meet him.”
We found most people in the backyard. It was one in the morning and the crowd had thinned out some. A band played loudly on the deck. I realized Michael was the one prancing around with an electric guitar across his belly, singing “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. He was covered with sweat, drops of it flying off as he tossed his head from side to side. Three other guys backed him up. I recognized Husker on the drums, another vaguely familiar guy on keyboards, and someone I didn’t know on the bass.
“So much better than the canned music they had before,” June said.
Too late, I saw Todd hurrying toward me through a clump of people. He had his iPhone in his hand.
“Michael kept asking about you,” Todd shouted.
“I can look after myself,” I said.
“They ran out of drinks.” Todd said. That explained why people were leaving.
“They’re actually not half bad,” June said.
“They’ve been playing for the last hour. Hi, I’m Todd.”
I made the introductions.
“You’re married to Annie’s sister?” June asked. She knew I had a sister.
“Only on paper, at this point,” he said. “You’re only the second female vet I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, after Annie.”
“There were more than four thousand of us over there,” June said.
The song ended. Michael asked everybody for attention. He took a long drink from his beer, wiped the sweat off his face with the short sleeve of his T-shirt, and gazed into the crowd with fire in his eyes.
“So I see my fiancée is back,” he said. “Annie, come on up for this next one.”
“I’m not your fiancée,” I shouted in a really loud voice. Everybody in the backyard heard me this time. A lot of them laughed. I made sure I hit him with an angry look to go with. “I’m serious. I wouldn’t think of coming up.”
Michael might not have heard, but he got my body language. He wasn’t going to drag me. He had the advantage of the microphone.
“Woman’s got a mind of her own. That’s what I always loved about you Annie. So anyway, this next one I wrote myself. This one’s for you, Annie Ogden.”
Husker pounded a short intro on the drums, the guitar and bass hit a chord together, and the song started. I looked at June as the music blasted out through the amplifiers. We did sister eye rolls as Michael did his best Jagger imitation. I saw a couple of guys handing out papers to everyone on the lawn. When I got mine, I saw Michael had printed out the lyrics of the song. Another ode to Annie Ogden.
“What’ll Salvatore say about this?” Todd shouted over the music. Michael had turned up the volume. Maybe at the lower volume he thought I might ignore his message.
“I’m flying back tomorrow,” I shouted back.
“Which flight?” Todd asked.
I just shrugged. I wouldn’t have told him even if I’d known. The last thing I wanted to do was share a flight with this ass.
Michael’s song was slow and bluesy, and whoever had a partner was dancing on the lawn. I tried not to listen to the words, which contained my name, over and over. I avoided meeting his stare. People kept looking at me, watching for my reaction. Alison had been right. He was dangerously obsessed. He probably wanted me at the party just for this moment. He knew I was with Salvatore, and the only way he could get close to me was to smash into me or lure me somewhere. The only way he could express how he felt was with a public display. That was about to change. No more public displays.
Suddenly I felt like leaving. I could go back to the motel, get a few hours of sleep, head to the airport in the morning and just wait for a flight. I looked around for Todd, now that the music had stopped, and saw him up by the stage. Michael was handing him his guitar. People were going in and out of the house. I saw Michael go in, shirtless. June had gone to wait in line for the bathroom.
I was still standing there alone on the lawn, surrounded by people, when Michael emerged from behind a group of guys and grabbed my hand. It looked like he’d put on a fresh shirt. I snatched my hand away and checked to make sure I still had my diamond.
“Don’t touch me,” I said. “I don’t want to lose it again.”
“Did you like your song?” His eyes pleaded for approval. It was the same look he’d had last night in the Corvette when we pulled over. He had one hand on my shoulder. He was pushing me.
“Where are we going?”
“I need a break. I’ve been playing nonstop for an hour and a half and partying before that. Let’s go get something to eat.”
“Michael, get a grip on reality,” I said. “I’ll go and get something to eat if you swear you accept that I’m engaged to Salvatore.”
“I know that,” he said. “That’s what that ring’s all about.”
“Well, start saying it in public. And there’s a couple of other things we need to talk about too.”
“That sounds promising.”
“Don’t get your hopes up.”
We had reached his Corvette. I got in on the passenger side. For a minute I hesitated. I hadn’t said goodbye to June.
“Where are we going?”
He backed out of the space, and took off down the quiet street at a slow speed. “Let me think a minute.”
“We could go back to that place where we had breakfast. That was a 24-hour place,” I said.
“It’s a possibility, but I know another place. I just have to make sure it’s open.” He had his phone in his hand and dialed while driving.
“Don’t go for anything fancy. Pizza would be fine. I’m just a little hungry, that’s all.”
He was talking now. “Yeah, you open? Great. Be there in twenty.”
He closed up the phone and shot me a smile. In the dim light of the car, even that look sent a zinger through my nervous system. I was still angry with him for that stunt with the ring, and I was going to stay angry. But I was going to keep last night in my memory forever.
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