Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Excerpt - Dead in a Park: Leah Norwood Mystery #2

     After lunch, I headed back to the Scents and Sensibility.  We continued to have a steady stream of customers throughout the afternoon.  I was helping a customer decide on a purchase when a hush fell over the store.  The sudden silence caught my attention.  I looked up to see Marcus Cantono standing in the doorway. 
     Marcus is tall and muscular.  His shoulders fill out his shirt nicely, and he has a flat, lean stomach.  He is very well built, and drop-dead gorgeous.  He has jet-black hair that he wears a little too long and a classically handsome face with startling blue eyes.  Although incredibly handsome, he exudes danger.  It is in the way he walks, the way he stands, the way he carries himself.  I don’t think he's even aware of it.
     Most of the times I had seen him before, he had been dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and black leather jacket.  But now he was dressed in a business suit that looked like it cost more than I made in several months.  The style was sharp and professional, nevertheless he still managed to look menacing.  It didn’t make him any less attractive. 
     He is part of the Cantono family, but as far as I know, all his businesses are legitimate.  When we met, Marcus had taken a liking to me.  He told me he had returned home as his mother was in poor health, and he wanted to help her.  He had also told me that I didn’t have to be afraid of his family.  That was the main reason I wasn’t worried about any of them coming after me.  My gun might be a deterrent, but he was a bigger one.
     Marcus is another man who kissed me and then disappeared from my life.  He had shown up at my store on New Year’s Eve and informed me I was his date for the evening.  I didn’t have a better offer so I told him to pick me up in two hours at my apartment.  I went home and put on my most flirty skirt, and we went out for dinner and dancing.  At the stroke of midnight, he kissed me.  I still remember the look of disappointment on his face.  I had a feeling my face mirrored his. 
     “Well, damn,” he had said.  “It looks like we are destined to be just good friends.”
     Looking at him standing at the front of my store, it was hard for me to believe the kiss had done nothing for me.  He was still the best-looking man I have ever seen.  Too bad there was no chemistry.  A twitch of his mouth indicated that he was trying to hide a smile.  He knew the effect he had on people.  The women in the room were half afraid and half aroused.  When I narrowed my eyes and glared at him, the twitch turned into a full-fledged smile.  I shook my head as several women gasped including the one next to me.
     “Emma,” I called.  “Can you please come help Annie?  She wants a box set of Vanilla Vine.”
     Emma hurried over to me with wide eyes.  I gave her a quick smile, pointed at Marcus, and said, “You, come with me.”
     As Marcus followed me to the back room, the conversations started up again.  I knew his visit would be the main discussion topic.  Harry jumped up the minute we entered the room.  He stopped when he saw Marcus, and I waited to see how he would react.  We didn’t know much about Harry’s life before he arrived at the shelter, but in general, he was a friendly and happy dog.  The only two people he had reacted negatively to were both men. 
     Marcus looked at Harry and smiled widely.  “You got a dog?”
     I nodded, stunned at Marcus’ reaction.  I don’t know what I had been expecting, but the pure joy on his face was a surprise.  Marcus knelt on the floor and held out a hand to Harry.  The dog took one sniff and stepped forward eagerly.  Marcus took Harry’s head in his hands and rubbed briskly.  The dog shook with delight.
     “I love dogs,” Marcus said.
     “I would have never guessed,” I replied dryly.
     Marcus grinned up at me, and my heart skipped a beat.  We might not have chemistry when we kissed, but he could still take my breath away.  He gave Harry one last pat and then stood.
     “How are you?” he asked me.
     “Fine.  Why are you here?”
     “I can’t just stop by to visit a friend?”
     I raised an eyebrow and cocked my head before asking, “We’re friends?”
     “I thought we were…hoped we were.”
     “I haven’t seen or heard from you in almost two months.”
     “You’re pissed,” he said.
     “I’m not pissed,” I replied sharply.  Okay, so maybe I was a little pissed, but I wasn’t going to let him know that.  “That doesn’t seem friend like to me, that’s all.”
     “I could say that I haven’t seen or heard from you in almost two months, either,” he said.
     “Yes, but I don’t have your phone number or your address.”
     “Ah,” he said.  “Then the fault is mine.  In my defensive, I have been busy.  My first restaurant in the area is schedule to open in March.  I have been working non-stop.”
     Marcus had been a successful restaurant owner in L.A. before moving back to Reed Hill.  He planned to continue that success here.  When we had gone out on New Year’s Eve, he had told me about his plans.
     “I’ve seen the ads for Bella’s.  I'm looking forward to eating there.  Now, why are you really here?”
     He laughed softly.  “I heard you found another body.”
     “Word sure gets around fast.”
     “Yes, it does.  Are you okay?”
     “I’m fine,” I replied.  “It wasn’t as traumatic as the others.  No blood and I didn’t know him.  That probably shouldn’t have made it easier, but it did.”
     “Are you sure you didn’t know him?”
     Something in his voice made me pause.  I trusted Marcus, but I didn’t know him that well.  Although he seemed to be on the right side of the law, his family was as close to a crime family as we had in Reed Hill.  I walked over to my desk to give me a moment to think.  I leaned against it and looked at him.
     “I didn’t see his face so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think I know him.”  If I hadn’t been watching, I wouldn’t have seen the relief that flew across his face.  “Why are you so curious?”
     For a moment, Marcus looked uncomfortable.  He shifted slightly and looked away.  Could the Cantonos be involved with this new murder?  I didn’t want to even think about that.  In spite of what I had said earlier, I did consider Marcus a friend. 
     “It’s not curiosity, it is concern,” he answered smoothly.
     “Well, thanks but there are no need for concern.”  I walked around to the other side of the desk.  When I look back at him, he was studying me carefully.  “What?’
     “You are not going to get involved again, are you?”
     I huffed out a breath and sat down.  “No.  Why do you even care about that?”
     “Because the last time you found a body, you were run off the road and almost choked to death.”
     “Candace was crazy.  This body has nothing to do with me.”  Again, Marcus looked uncomfortable.  I started to worry.  It was obvious he knew something.  “Marcus, what are you not telling me?”
     “Nothing,” he said quickly and headed for the door.  “Keep that dog close to you.  What’s his name anyway?”
     “Harry,” I said slowly. 
     The grin was back.  “Harry?”
     “I didn’t name him,” I said with a sigh.  “Marcus, what’s going on?”
     “Nothing,” he said again.  He walked over to me and gave me a kiss on the forehead.  He then picked up a pen and wrote on a piece of paper.  “My phone number and address.  We are friends, Leah.  Call me if you need anything.”
     I stared at the door after he left wondering what to do.  I knew Damian Cantono was still in jail, but the Cantonos had a lot of friends.  Drugs were one reason why a well-dressed man in a business suit might be in the wooded area of the park.  Drugs in Reed Hill equaled the Cantono family.  Marcus had told me he would make sure the “family business” was shut down.  For the first time, I wondered if he had lied to me.

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