Tag Archives: mystery

Soul Mates Cover

Introducing Soul Mates, #4 in the cozy mystery series, Death By Chocolate


Love, romance and happily ever after. Isn’t that what we all want? The question is how far will someone go to get it? What happens when someone takes advantage? One of Maxine’s best friends, Tanya, has decided to open a dating service, Soul Mates, and Maxine wants nothing but the best for her. But when an accident nearly kills one of the guests at a wine and truffle mixer there are some serious questions left unanswered. Luckily Maxine is there to support her friend and help Detective Patrick Shannon as he digs deeper into some of the guests backgrounds and intentions. Sometimes her help is unwanted – but that’s never stopped her before. 

With all this going on will anyone find their happily ever after? Will Maxine and a certain detective?

Excerpt

Chapter One

“They’re all good catches,” Tanya said lightly as she stopped to talk briefly to Maxine. Maxine just looked at her. She’d been more than a little doubtful when Tanya had mentioned her latest venture.

A ‘boutique’ dating service she’d called it. “Anyone can go on Plenty of Fish or Craig’s’ List. But sometimes you get what you pay for.” What Victoria needed was a more exclusive dating service. Run by someone who really cared.

“Moi,” Tanya had said, smiling.

Maxine hadn’t had the heart to point out that she had no experience as a business owner. Or, perhaps more to the point, was still grieving the loss of her last boyfriend.

Instead, as an opening present Maxine agreed to cater a wine and chocolate mixer. Tanya had chosen to hold it in one of the new condominiums in the newly built, Harbor Lights.

The luxe condo was filled with dozens of Victoria’s singles all dressed in their best, trying to look nonchalant as they mingled, wine glasses in hand. High atop Victoria’s inner harbor the view was breath taking, but most of those gathered together tonight weren’t stopping to admire it. They were there to meet someone – that special someone to be exact.

Perhaps living in a city that drew visitors from all over the world for it’s spectacular scenery, gardens, world class shopping, historic buildings and some of the best museums in Canada, made them immune to the beauty of the inner harbor. Perhaps when you’re trying to find a romantic partner to spend the rest of your life with a skyline of twinkling lights from buildings around the harbor didn’t interest you.

Dressed in suits and cocktail dresses most were trying desperately to pretend they were here, not out of a sense of desperation, but for a lark.

“After all, it’s not as if I can’t get a date,” Marla trilled. “But who wants to go to a bar?” The owner of a designer discount store and an attractive woman in her early thirties she appeared to be appraising each man, trying to find the diamond in a pile of rubble.

Any troubles Tanya had in letting Zak go, of dwelling on what might have been were carefully masked tonight as she flitted from group to group making sure everything was going smoothly.

Maxine should have been thrilled for her. And she was, she really was. She was just a little worried.

Detective Patrick Shannon had expressed his doubts as well.“A dating service,” he’d said, open disdain in his voice. “Is she trying to find every fraudster or con man out there?”

“That’s a little harsh isn’t it?” Maxine said, on the defensive for Tanya. They were getting ready to practice some of the self-defense moves she’d been working on. For some reason he thought she needed them. Maybe because she’d been involved in solving a few mysteries and people tended to get nasty when they thought you were onto them.

He’d sighed heavily as he looked at her with those gorgeous blue eyes. “You know I’d be as happy as anyone if I thought Tanya had found her calling. But this – has disaster written all over it.”

His words had given her the fuel to attack him full on with a series of kicks that would have taken out a lesser man.

Instead he’d blocked a couple and then caught her, pulling her down and pinning her with his arms. As she looked up at him she’d found her heart beating not with the adrenaline rush of someone cornered by a killer or crook. No, her heart beat with the knowledge this man desired her as much, and maybe more, as she did him.

Their eyes locked and her arms wrapped up around his neck welcoming the touch of his lips on hers, of the heat spreading through her as his lips claimed hers, of skillful fingers searching her body, exploring every inch of her.

Self-defense lesson over.

Which didn’t mean he’d changed his mind about Tanya’s latest venture.  “It’s not exactly as if she’s got a great track record herself here.”

“That’s why she wants to do this,” she’d said deftly filling chocolate truffle shells with different flavors of truffle. “She’s decided to take the money Zak left to do something that will not only help her but benefit everyone she works with.”

He raised a questioning eyebrow as he reached for a truffle. “Mother Teresa I get, Gandhi – but how does a dating service come into this?”

She gave him a slight swat. “I’ve got enough to do without having you eat all the truffles as I make them.” She placed a plate of deformed truffles before him taking the sting out of her words. “Here. They taste as good but they’re not good enough to serve.”

“Tanya has decided what the world needs is more love. And by opening a dating service she’ll be helping men and women find their own true love.”

“And this is different from other dating services how?”

“She offers individualized attention. And she picks ‘premium’ men and women to represent.”

“OK, so she’s probably not going to pair the local beauty queen with a beer bellied guy who works at Walmart but how does she know they’re what they say they are?”

“She screens them,” Maxine said triumphantly. “Each member goes through an hour long initial screening. If she accepts them they pay anything from a onetime fee of $1000.00 to upwards of ten to get her professional help and expert advice.”

Patricks’ eyes bugged out at Maxine’s words. “Up to ten thousand dollars?”

“Some of her clients are rich,” Maxine said airily. “This is an investment in their future. After all if a business man or company is looking for a key person for their company they’ll spend thousands in an executive search. What could be more important than finding the perfect person to share their life with?”

He looked at her. “And Tanya is qualified to do this – why?”

“She’s my friend,” Maxine said hotly. “And as she says she’s got a lot of experience dating.”

“It’s the relationship thing that she seems to have a problem with,” he said dryly.

“It’s not her fault Zak was killed,” Maxine said, her voice developing a slight frost. “Besides she’s working with a couple of psychologists and relationship experts.”

“So how does this translate into dozens and dozens of truffles,” he’d said with a frown looking at the trays of chocolate truffles spread before them waiting to be ferried down into a waiting van by Heath and Marcus.

“My opening present. I agreed to cater a wine and truffle mixer for Soul Mates.” Since Maxine was the owner and operator of Au Chocolat it made sense.

Patrick shook his head. “I hope she doesn’t expect miracles.”

“It’s going to be huge success,” Maxine said. At least if she had anything to do with it. Tanya was overdue for some luck. “Grandma Ellie’s behind her.”

“Grandma Ellie probably talked her into it,” Patrick grumbled as he picked up a tray of truffles to take down stairs.

“Bite your tongue,” Maxine said sharply. “This was not Grandma Ellie’s idea.”

“Ah hah,” Patrick said with a grin. “You’re not feeling all that confident either, are you?”

“OK, I’ll admit it wouldn’t have been my first choice of business for her.” She gave him a warning look, stopping an, ‘I told you so in its tracks’. “But since she made the decision I’m doing everything I can to support her.”

And from what she could see since they’d arrived, her confidence had been well placed. There seemed to be an abundance of both men and women mingling together with none of the awkwardness of a high school dance.

“Good job,” she told Tanya as she stopped to talk to her for a moment.

“You really think so,” Tanya said anxiously. “I wanted something around Valentine’s Day that would take the pressure off and let them get comfortable with mixing in a social situation.”

“So they talk to each other and that’s it?”

“For tonight,” Tanya said hastily. “They each have numbers.  If they’re interested in getting to know someone further they ask for a number chip which they hand into me or one of my Heart Match Attractors,” she said gesturing in the direction of one of them.

Maxine noticed they were wearing the same, classic style of cocktail dress as Tanya herself, with a discreet pin containing their name. While both attractive, they didn’t hold a candle to Tanya’s blonde good looks.

Except for the man. Dressed in a well cut suit he was – gorgeous. The suit didn’t reveal anything too much but the classic cut managed to bring out his tanned good looks. Dark brown hair framed a face, classically handsome with green eyes, flecked with copper.

“Holy hotness,” Maxine said as she got her first real look at him. “Where did you find him?”

Tanya laughed. “Down girl. Believe it or not in the universities’ MBA program. All ready for someone to take him under their wing and groom him. But you’ve got a boyfriend. Or is Patrick an off again?”

Maxine smiled. Detective Patrick Shannon was indeed in the more than friends category at present. Which put her firmly off the market at least until they figured out how serious the relationship was.

“So what do your assistants do?”

“They help me work with some of my clients.” She pointed over to a girl who looked to be no more than twenty who was looking out at the water, as if in a world of her own.

“Katey McAllister. Twenty-two, one boyfriend – very bad break-up. Her mom’s concerned about her. So she talked her into signing up with us.” She gave a small hand signal to Mr. Gorgeous and he gave her a slight nod before picking up a glass of wine from a passing server and heading over into Katey McAllister’s direction.

For some unknown reason Maxine felt uneasy. Everything sounded good. This was exactly the type of reason people signed up with dating services. To find someone. And yet…

“Patrick’s worried about you. He says dating services are a con man’s dream.” A detective with the Victoria PD Patrick had seen enough to know not everyone was as honest and upfront as one would hope. And some had a very dark side indeed.

“That’s perfect,” Tanya said airily. “We do a background check on all our clients before we take them on but if he sees something suspicious he can give me a head’s up and I’ll be even more careful.”

Maxine had to be happy with that. She spotted Grandma Ellie in a small knot of people talking and laughing, looking as if she were having the time of her life. Which, knowing Grandma Ellie, she probably was.

“I know Grandma Ellie was on-board with this project but she looks more like a client here than-“

“That’s because she is,” Tanya said excitedly. “We don’t have an age limit for our clients.” She scrunched her nose up. “Mind you I did warn her there weren’t a lot of clients in her age range. You know what she said?”

“Tell me,” Maxine said with a touch of resignation.

“She might as well be the first. As people of her generation became aware of us they’d be signing up. You’re never too old for love,” Tanya said putting air quotes around the words, “I hope I have her attitude when I’m older.”

Maxine rolled her eyes. Grandma Ellie dated more than she had when she was single. She should’ve expected this. A striking woman in her early seventies she’d help raise Maxine and when Maxine’s grandfather had died Grandma Ellie had been devastated. But after a year or so she’d started dating again.

“Life is for the living,” she’d proclaimed more than once. It was an attitude that had served her well. But if anyone hurt her they’d have Maxine to deal with. Not only was she close with her Grandma Ellie. She lived in a small apartment in the bottom half of Grandma Ellie’s house. It was an arrangement that suited them both.

A scream shattered the night. Maxine’s heart shot into her throat and she nearly dropped  her drink while Tanya’s head swiveled around in the direction of the scream.

“Dear God, what was that?”

Talk stopped as everyone stood suspended in silence, in time, waiting.

“Somebody call an ambulance….”

Tanya started towards the screaming followed closely by Maxine and Detective Shannon. The screams came from the direction of the balcony window, increasing in volume and terror as they got closer. The guests crowded in close to the window talking, but parted to allow them through.

“She didn’t seem upset when she went out.”

“Maybe it’s a gag.”

Maxine felt bile rising in her throat. This was no gag.

The source of the screams was immediately apparent.

A woman hung over the balcony while a man clung desperately to her leg. Even as he tried to pull her up his grip on her loosened and she slipped a couple more inches towards death.

Maxine’s heart beat with a heavy drumming feeling in her chest as she stood there, immobilized. Thankfully Detective Shannon was not. He moved towards the railing, removing his belt as he went.

“The police have been called, they’ll be here any minute,” Tanya was saying as she approached the pair.

“I’m going to lose her,” the man gasped, terror on his face.

And then Patrick was by his side. “Hold on.” He leaned over the balcony. Way over and Maxine felt her heart in her throat.

He was a trained professional she reminded herself. He knew what he was doing. He was a trained professional. He was… oh dam. Did he have to lean so far over? Her heart hammered in her chest as she held her breath.

He was using his belt to wrap it around the women’s leg, telling her it was going to be alright. Maxine bit her knuckle to stop herself from crying out, from saying something she shouldn’t.

“It’s going to be OK,” he was telling the woman, speaking in a calm and reassuring voice. “We’ve got you. You’re going to be fine.”

He glanced at the man opposite him who was sweating bullets and looked terrified. “Take a couple of deep breaths.”

The other man looked at him, relief mixing with the terror. Maxine could see him visibly relaxing as the sound of sirens approaching filled the air.

“You OK now,” Patrick said nodding at the man.

He nodded briefly.

“On the count of three we’re going to pull her up.”

The man looked terrified.

“We may not be able to get her up but I think if we work together we could.”

“And if we don’t -”

“We’ve got her. We just wait until we get more back-up.”

“OK,” he said, seeming to calm down.

“One, two, three,” Patrick counted. “Ready?”

“Ready,” the man said.

Together they hoisted the woman up as everyone watched, not daring to breathe.  Her hands grabbed desperately at air, at the smooth railing with no purchase afforded and finally at Detective Patrick Shannon, eyes terrified, breath coming in gasps as he righted her, with the help of the other man.

“911 has been called,” he said, not unkindly. “And your friend…”

“No,” she shook her head wildly, the word sharply punctuating the air. “Not him. I barely know him.”

The man stood in front of the assembled mass. An attractive man in his late twenties to early thirties he was wearing a suit that showed a body in good shape, sandy brown hair and a face that was both pleasant and at the same time completely forgettable.

Maxine felt a surge of sympathy for him, for both of them.

“It’s true,” he said apologetically. “I stepped outside for a moment to have a cigarette.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Patrick said, crisply. “Who knows how this would have ended if you hadn’t been here?”

Strangely the woman seemed to be putting as much distance between herself and her rescuer as possible so that Patrick ended up sandwiched between them. Maxine couldn’t help thinking it was odd behavior even as Tanya moved forward.

“And we’re so glad you were. Along with Detective Shannon.” She nodded at both of them smiling. From somewhere she’d found a blanket and she wrapped it around the young womans’ shoulders leading her to a nearby sofa.

“Sophia, that is your name isn’t it?” Tanya said, not unkindly, “we’re going to get the paramedics to check you out and make sure you’re OK. And the police will want to find out what happened.”

She shook her head. “The railing looks fine, how did you – never mind, I shouldn’t be asking,” she said shaking her head. “I’m just, we’re all are so glad you’re alive.”

Soul Mates Cover

 

Available on Amazon.com

Merry Christmas!

 

Holly garlandMerry Christmas and Happy New Year. Whether  you stay home and celebrate with family or find yourself travelling I hope you’ll find a few minutes to relax and get lost in a book.  As my gift to you I’m making A Christmas Wedding to Die For and Lost In Vegas #free through Amazon.

A Christmas Wedding To Die For features Maxine, a chocolatier and caterer who finds the bride near death at a wedding she’s doing the cake for.  The bride is saved by Maxine but Maxine has got her hands full finding out who’s responsible so the bride does get her HEA.

In Lost In Vegas Kate McLaren’s last chance to redeem herself by putting her boyfriend’s fail-safe black jack system into action to make payroll for her salon. Make that ex when the system fails miserably and she’s left high and dry in Las Vegas. Click on the cover to go directly to the Amazon link.

Enjoy!

A Christmas Wedding To Die ForLost In Vegas

 

A New Beginning

Blogs are like children. They need a certain amount of tending or they go off course at times. Mine has. I had intended to ramp up again in September which turned into November and…Luckily one friend did volunteer to guest and wrote a lovely post from Phoenix, the black cat,  for October.

And I haven’t been entirely lazy. In fact I can safely say I’ve been busier than ever having joined with some good friends and fellow writers to create a Sisters of Suspense blog which will be publishing their first Snippets of Suspense anthology this week.

And I’m still with Authors Billboard where I also blog monthly and am in the latest Book Bites for Romantic Suspense. I did a FB party with them last week which was great fun and a learning experience as well. I offered a booklet of Maxine’s chocolate recipes for anyone signing up to my newsletter and something went wrong. Nothing was showing for newsletter sign ups. I must say I was crushed. We’re talking chocolate recipes from Maxine of Death by Chocolate series and no one was interested?

It turns out when I changed the paragraph saying anyone signing up would get a free booklet of Maxine’s chocolate recipes I inadvertently removed some code. Thankfully my genius son was able to fix it and so, if anyone should want a copy of Maxine’s Chocolate Recipes the link is here.

Look for more blog posts from me and guest authors, I’ll also be sharing blogs from the Sisters of Suspense Blog and Author’s Billboard and I’ll be doing more Well Writer blogs. For this week I’ll be sharing a blog I did for the Sisters Of Suspense. What Would You Do is a blog on the terrorist attacks on Paris and Beirut and how that affects us. As well it’s a blog on the Syrian refugees. It’s impossible to speak for everyone or to know the answers to such horrifying events. It’s also impossible to ignore them.

He Cast A Spell On Me

phoenixBy Phoenix, via Shereen Vedam

Shereen Vedam is a good friend and fellow member of the local Vancouver Island Romance Writers. It’s my great pleasure to host her cat, Phoenix, from A DEVLISH SLUMBER, a book I highly recommend.

 On a cool day in May, 1814, at the back of an alley next to an ale house in London, England, a young boy held me upside down, taunting a society lady who had been cuddling me earlier. Then the boy threw me hard to the ground at a mound of horse manure. I thought I was going die. I yowled in terror, but instead of hitting the hard pavement, I landed in the palm of a strong male hand

Terrified, I clambered up the man’s sleeve and huddled in the crook of his neck, inhaling his musky smoky scent and praying that I would be safe there. You see, people don’t like black cats, not even little ones like me. Moments passed and he talked to the lady in an angry tone. And then the lady took me back into her arms.

Though she was very nice, I had felt safer with the man. I enviously stared at his neck and shoulders as he walked down the street beside us. He looked strong and capable of protecting a little kitten. I wanted to be back up on his shoulder. It wasn’t until later that the lady thrust me at my rescuer and walked away. I quickly scampered up and plastered myself against his neck, and hoped he wouldn’t notice me. I tried not shiver but it was hard because I was so scared. To my shock, he let me stay and even took me home. That is when I claimed him as my new master.

Once we entered the house, the women there said I was filthy and full of fleas. Although I clung to my master’s jacket and waistcoat, they pulled me off and soaked me in a bucket of soapy water. I managed to escape and, for several hours, scurried into every dark corner of the home, from basement to attic, in search of my master. Everywhere I went, the women chased me. Then they lured me closer with a plate of fish. Before I’d swallowed a single morsel, I was back in the bucket of soapy water. I fought back ferociously. By the time my master and I were finally reunited, my attackers were wetter than I, and sported some seriously deep scars that they’ll not soon forget.

No one in that house touches me without permission anymore, and I ride proudly on Master Daniel’s shoulder. I trust no one, except Master Daniel. Trusting is dangerous when you’re a black cat. Most everyone assumes I’m bad luck if they see me cross the road, even though all I’m doing is following my master when he steals a ride on the back of a carriage. And don’t get me started on all those tall tales about witches having black cats for familiars. To be clear, Master Daniel is not a witch! He’s a fire-shifter. Though I’m not crazy Snap of fingersabout fire, I love it when he starts a flame in the hearth with a snap of his fingers to warm up our attic bedroom.

My life has never been so good. My master ensures I’m always fed, even if sometimes he goes hungry. And he takes me all across London, and I get to climb trees and play in the grass. Though he is definitely not a witch, I have to admit, on the day my master rescued me, I think he cast a spell on me. Because I would follow him anywhere.

 How do you feel about black cats? Would you take one home?

One lucky commenter to this blog post will be randomly chosen to win an ecopy of Shereen Vedam’s recent release, A Scorching Dilemma, a Cinderella-inspired Regency paranormal romance.

PREMISE of A Scorching Dilemma

Scorching dilema cover

He’s not exactly Prince Charming…

Fire shifter Daniel Trenton has only nightmarish memories of his mysterious past. As an orphan, raised on the streets, he does not have much in the way of prospects, but he is fine with that . . . until he falls in love with the daughter of a duke. Unfortunately, pursuing her would mean her social destruction. So he promises himself to leave her alone for her own good. But when her safety is threatened, Daniel has no choice but to become the hero she so desperately needs.

Heiress Faith Rosemary Went always believed she would be given the choice of who to marry. So why is her father demanding she wed a man she’s never met, a man whose family terrifies her? But when she resists the match, her prospective bridegroom’s family kidnaps her and whisks her away to Gretna Green. Having no one but herself to rely on, she sets off to rescue herself before she’s ruined, or worse. Luckily, she discovers Daniel is already there.

Daniel’s investigation into Faith’s disappearance unravels two decades of lies, multiple murders, and a fire-shifting family history that spans three centuries. His newfound discoveries put him in the position to proudly and rightfully proclaim his place in society and, more importantly, proclaim his love for Faith.

But will he be able to prove the truth before Faith is forced to choose the wrong man?

EXCERPT from A Scorching Dilemma

As Faith took her place, her mother’s smile faltered. “My dear child, whatever has happened to you?”

Faith followed her glance to where the kitten had soiled her gown. And her pristine white shoes were now a grimy brown despite her avoiding the muck in that alley. This was why Mrs. Hutchinson had wanted her to change. She released a sigh. “I am sorry, Mama, but I found a tiny creature in need of rescue.”

Her mother shook her head, but with humor. “Faith, you cannot bring home every stray you find.”

“It has been that way since she was little,” the duke said, his eyes softening. “Faith, you are no longer a child. You cannot continue to run around like a hoyden rescuing puppies.”

“It was a kitten, Papa, and I did not bring it home. I met a kind gentleman who agreed to care for the animal.”

One of her father’s eyebrows shot up.

Faith understood his surprise. She was rarely forward with strange men. Her cheeks warmed at her parents’ silent study of her, and maybe a little from the remembrance of said gentleman.

The entire time Mrs. Hutchinson had been scolding her in the carriage, Faith had been envisioning her rescuer’s sparkling blue eyes and bravery with those young ruffians. And when he reached past her to catch that poor terrified creature in his strong gentle hand, her breath had caught in awe.

“This is reason enough to proceed with our plans,” her father finally said in a stern tone. “Talking to strange men in the street, indeed. And Mrs. Hutchinson allowed this?”

“It was not her fault, Papa.”

“Would you care to tell us about this gentleman?” her mother asked.

“He is irrelevant.” Her father glanced at her mother. “Would you care to give her the good news?”

Good news? Faith had thought something dire had transpired. “What has happened?”

“A very felicitous event, my dear,” her mother said. “Your friends will be jealous when they hear of it. Your father has received a proposal for your hand in marriage.”

Faith gulped as the shock registered. Feeling she was not yet ready for the trials of marriage, she had gone to great pains to dampen the enthusiasm of any gentlemen who courted her. With caution, she said, “From whom, Mama?”

“The Duke of Morton.”

Faith breathed in profound relief. She was not acquainted with this particular gentleman, though she had heard a great deal about him from her friends who had been swooning all Season at a duke coming into marriageable age. But he was not for Faith. Even if he was wealthy and titled, he was far too young. For a moment, her parents had frightened her. She did not even know Morton. “There must be a mistake then, Mama, for I have not been introduced to this gentleman.”

“There is no mistake.” Her father moved from where he had been standing by the window. He looked anxious, as if her response to this offer was of utmost importance.

Faith’s curiosity went on high alert. Her father had never intimated before this that her making a match was urgent. In fact, she had assumed he found her coolness towards her suitors amusing. “Is something the matter, Papa?”

“No,” he said, but skirted her gaze.

“But . . .” Faith protested, worry rising in her chest. Were they seriously considering this proposal?

“We have given you ample opportunity to make a match on your own,” he said, sounding long-suffering. “Two years we waited, Faith, while you smiled at every eligible gentleman but never encouraged one. Though, I might add, you sometimes did a good job of discouraging them.”

“None warranted encouragement, Papa.” Until now. How could she admit that she had finally met a man who commanded her romantic interest but that he was entirely unsuitable? Yet, his act of chivalry this morning marked him as exceptional.

Not only had he saved her kitten, he had then, despite his protests, agreed to take care of it. Faith’s heart warmed at that thought. Though her father had often scolded her about the strays she brought home, he would always turn around and convince one of his parliamentary friends into adopting it. She had thought no other man in this whole world could compare favorably with her father. Today, one had.

“Well, this suitor does merit consideration,” her father said, crossing his arms. “And we have accepted this match on your behalf.”

Accepted? Faith’s heart shuddered.

Writers and authors are also readers and I’m no exception. I read this book and loved it. This is the Amazon link.

http://www.amazon.com/Devilish-Slumber-Rue-Alliance-Book-ebook/dp/B00TT7UGR2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1445896402&sr=1-1&keywords=Shereen+Vedam

Author BIO

Once upon a time, Shereen read fantasy and romance novels to entertain herself. Now she writes heartwarming tales braided with threads of magic and love, and mystery elements woven in for good measure. She’s a fan of resourceful women, intriguing men, and happily ever after endings. If her stories whisk you away to a different realm for a few hours, then Shereen will have achieved one of her life goals.

 

If you wish to learn more about Shereen’s very own black cat, check out her post on USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog:

http://happyeverafter.usatoday.com/2015/09/08/shereen-vedam-black-cats-saffie/

 

Preview – Soul Mates, #4 in the Death By Chocolate Series

hearts Love, romance and happily ever after. Isn’t that what we all want? The question is how far  will someone go to get it? And what happens when someone decides to take advantage? One of Maxine’s best friends, Tanya, has decided to open a dating service, Soul Mates, and Maxine wants nothing but the best for her. But when an accident nearly kills one of the guests at a wine and truffle mixer there are some serious questions left unanswered. Luckily Maxine is there to support her friend and help Detective Patrick Shannon as he digs deeper into some of the guests backgrounds and intentions. Sometimes her help is unwanted – but that’s never stopped her before.

 

Chapter One

The luxe condo was filled with dozens of Victoria’s singles all dressed in their best, trying to look nonchalant as they mingled, wine glasses in hand. High atop Victoria’s inner harbor the view was breath taking, but most of those gathered together tonight were not stopping to admire it. They were there to meet someone – that special someone to be exact.

Dressed in suits and cocktail dresses most of them were trying desperately to pretend they were here, not out of a sense of desperation, but for a lark.

“After all, it’s not as if I can’t get a date,” Marla trilled. “But who wants to go to a bar?” The owner of a designer discount store and an attractive woman in her early thirties she appeared to be appraising each man, trying to find the diamond in a pile of rubble.

“They’re all good catches,” Tanya said lightly as she stopped to talk briefly to Maxine. Maxine just looked at her. She’d been more than a little doubtful when Tanya had mentioned her latest venture.

A ‘boutique’ dating service she’d called it. “Anyone can go on Plenty of Fish or Craigs’ List. But sometimes you get what you pay for.”

Tanya, herself, had had her own run of bad luck. Her last boyfriend had met an unpleasant end at the annual Craigdarroch Castle’s fundraiser. Maxine had been injured herself as she’d struggled to find the truth behind what seemed to be a ghostly accident.  And Tanya had had a hard time letting go of Zak, of what might have been.

So when she’d told Maxine she’d found what she wanted to do with her life Maxine had been thrilled for her. Until she realized exactly what that entailed. Detective Patrick Shannon had expressed his doubts as well.

“A dating service,” he’d said, open disdain in his voice. “Is she trying to find every fraudster or con man out there?”

“That’s a little harsh isn’t it?” Maxine said, on the defensive for Tanya. They were getting ready to practice some of the self defence moves she’d been working on. For some reason he thought she needed them. Maybe because she’d been involved in solving a few mysteries and people tended to get nasty when they thought you were onto them.

He’d sighed heavily as he looked at her with those gorgeous blue eyes. “You know I’d be as happy as anyone if I thought Tanya had found her calling. But this  has disaster written all over it.”

His words had given her the fuel to attack him full on with a series of kicks that would have taken out a lesser man.

Instead he’d blocked a couple and then caught her, pulling her down and pinning her with his arms. As she looked up at him she’d found her heart beating not with the adrenaline rush of someone cornered by a killer or crook. No, her heart beat with the knowledge this man desired her as much, and maybe more, as she did him.

Their eyes locked and her arms wrapped up around his neck welcoming the touch of his lips on hers, of the heat spreading through her as his lips claimed hers, of skillful fingers searching her body, exploring every inch of her.

Self defence lesson over.

Which didn’t mean he’d changed his mind about Tanya’s latest venture.  “It’s not exactly as if she’s got a great track record herself here.”

“That’s why she wants to do this,” she’d said deftly filling chocolate truffle shells with different flavors of truffle. “She’s decided to take the money Zak left to do something that will not only help her but benefit everyone she works with.”

He raised a questioning eyebrow as he reached for a truffle. “Mother Teresa I get, Ghandi – but how does a dating service come into this?”

She gave him a slight swat. “I’ve got enough to do without having you eat all the truffles as I make them.” She placed a plate of deformed truffles before him taking the sting out of her words. “Here. They taste just as good but they’re not good enough to serve.”

“Tanya has decided what the world needs is more love. And by opening a dating service she’ll be helping men and women find their own true love.”

“And this is different from other dating services how?”

“She offers individualized attention. And she picks ‘premium’ men and women to represent.”

“OK, so she’s probably not going to pair the local beauty queen with a beer bellied guy who works at Walmart but how does she know they’re what they say they are?”

“She screens them,” Maxine said triumphantly. “Each member goes through an hour long initial screening. If she accepts them they pay anything from a one time fee of $1000.00 to upwards of ten to get her professional help and expert advice.”

Patricks’ eyes bugged out at Maxine’s words. “Up to ten thousand dollars?”

“Some of her clients are rich,” Maxine said airily. “This is an investment in their future. After all if a business man or company is looking for a key person for their company they’ll spend thousands in an executive search. What could be more important than finding the perfect person to share their life with?”

He just looked at her. “And Tanya is qualified to do this – why?”

“She’s my friend,” Maxine said hotly. “And as she says she’s got a lot of experience dating.”

“It’s just the relationship thing that she seems to have a problem with,” he said dryly.

“It’s not her fault Zak was killed,” Maxine said, her voice developing a slight frost. “Besides she’s working with a couple of psychologists and relationship experts.”

“So how does this translate into dozens and dozens of truffles,” he’d said with a frown looking at the trays of chocolate truffles spread before them waiting to be ferried down into a waiting van by Heath and Marcus.

“My opening present. I agreed to cater a wine and truffle mixer for Soul Mates.” Since Maxine was the owner and operator of Au Chocolat it made sense.

Patrick just shook his head. “I hope she doesn’t expect miracles.”

“It’s going to be huge success,” Maxine said. At least if she had anything to do with it. Tanya was overdue for some luck. “Grandma Ellie’s behind her.”

“Grandma Ellie probably talked her into it,” Patrick grumbled as he picked up a tray of truffles to take down stairs.

“Bite your tongue,” Maxine said sharply. “This was not Grandma Ellie’s idea.”

“Ah hah,” Patrick said with a grin. “You’re not feeling all that confident either, are you?”

“OK, I’ll admit it wouldn’t have been my first choice of business for her.” She gave him a warning look, stopping an, ‘I told you so in its’ tracks’. “But since she made the decision I’m doing everything I can to support her.”

And from what she could see since they’d arrived her confidence had been well placed. There seemed to be an abundance of both men and women mingling together with none of the awkwardness of a high school dance.

“Good job,” she told Tanya as she stopped to talk to her for a moment.

“You really think so,” Tanya said anxiously. “I wanted something around Valentine’s Day that would take the pressure off and let them get comfortable with mixing in a social situation.”

“So they’re just supposed to talk to each other and that’s it?”

“For tonight,” Tanya said hastily. “They each have numbers.  If they’re interested in getting to know someone further they ask for a number chip which they hand into me or one of my Heart Match Attractors,” she said gesturing in the direction of one of them.

Maxine noticed they were wearing the same, classic style of cocktail dress as Tanya herself, with a discreet pin containing their name. While both attractive, they didn’t hold a candle to Tanya’s blonde good looks.

Except for the man. Dressed in a well cut suit he was – gorgeous. The suit didn’t reveal anything too much but the classic cut managed to bring out his tanned good lucks. Dark brown hair framed a face, classically handsome with green eyes, flecked with copper.

“Holy hotness,” Maxine said as she got her first real look at him. “Where did you find him?”

Tanya laughed. “Down girl. Believe it or not in the universities’ MBA program. All ready for someone to take him under their wing and groom him. But you’ve got a boyfriend. Or is Patrick an off again?”

Maxine just smiled. Detective Patrick Shannon was indeed in the more than friends category at present. Which put her firmly off the market at least until they figured out just how serious the relationship was.

“So what do your assistants do?”

“They help me work with some of my clients.” She pointed over to a girl who looked to be no more than twenty who was looking out at the water, as if in a world of her own.

“Katey McAllister. Twenty-two, one boyfriend – very bad break-up. Her mom’s concerned about her. So she talked her into signing up with us.” She gave a small hand signal to Mr. Gorgeous and he gave her a slight nod before picking up a glass of wine from a passing server and heading over into Katey McAllister’s direction.

For some unknown reason Maxine felt uneasy. Everything sounded good. This was exactly the type of reason people signed up with dating services. To find someone. And yet…

“Patrick’s worried about you. He says dating services are a con man’s dream.” A detective with the Victoria PD Patrick had seen enough to know not everyone was as honest and upfront as one would hope. And some had a very dark side indeed.

“That’s perfect,” Tanya said airily. “We do a background check on all our clients before we take them on but if he sees something suspicious he can give me a head’s up and I’ll be even more careful.”

Maxine had to be happy with that. She spotted Grandma Ellie in a small knot of people talking and laughing, looking as if she were having the time of her life. Which knowing Grandma Ellie, she probably was.

“I know Grandma Ellie was on-board with this project but she looks more like a client here than-“

“That’s because she is,” Tanya said excitedly. “We don’t have an age limit for our clients.” She scrunched her nose up. “Mind you I did warn her there weren’t a lot of clients in her age range. You know what she said?”

“Tell me,” Maxine said with a touch of resignation.

“She might as well be the first. As people of her generation became aware of us they’d be signing up. You’re never too old for love,” Tanya said putting air quotes around the words, “I hope I have her attitude when I’m older.”

Maxine rolled her eyes. Grandma Ellie dated more than she had when she was single. She should’ve expected this. A striking woman in her early seventies she’d help raise Maxine and when Maxine’s grandfather had died Grandma Ellie had been devastated. But after a year or so she’d started dating again.

“Life is for the living,” she’d proclaimed more than once. It was an attitude that had served her well. But if anyone hurt her they’d have Maxine to deal with. Not only was she close with her Grandma Ellie. She lived in a small apartment in the bottom half of Grandma Ellie’s house. It was an arrangement that suited them both.

A scream shattered the night. Maxine’s heart shot into her throat and she nearly

dropped the drink while Tanya’s head swiveled around in the direction of the scream.

“Dear God, what was that?”

Talk stopped as everyone stood suspended in silence, in time, waiting.

“Somebody call an ambulance….”

Tanya started towards the screaming followed closely by Maxine and Detective Shannon. The screams came from the direction of the balcony window, increasing in volume and terror as they got closer. The guests crowded in close to the window talking, but parted to allow them through.

“She didn’t seem upset when she went out.”

“Maybe it’s a gag.”

Maxine felt bile rising in her throat. This was no gag.

The source of the screams was immediately apparent.

A woman hung over the balcony while a man clung desperately to her leg. Even as he tried to pull her up his grip on her loosened and she slipped a couple more inches towards death.

Maxine’s heart beat with a heavy drumming feeling in her chest as she stood there, immobilized. Thankfully Detective Shannon was not. He moved towards the railing, removing his belt as he went.

“The police have been called, they’ll be here any minute,” Tanya was saying as she approached the pair.

“I’m going to lose her,” the man gasped, terror on his face.

And then Patrick was by his side. “Hold on.” He leaned over the balcony. Way over and Maxine felt her heart in her throat.

He was a trained professional she reminded herself. He knew what he was doing. He was a trained professional. He was… oh dam. Did he have to lean so far over? Her heart hammered in her chest.

He was using his belt to wrap it around her leg, telling the woman it was going to be OK. Maxine bit her knuckle to stop herself from crying out, from saying something she shouldn’t.

“It’s going to be OK,” he was telling the woman, speaking in a calm and reassuring voice. “We’ve got you. You’re going to be just fine.”

He glanced at the man opposite him who was sweating bullets and looked terrified. “Take a couple of deep breaths.”

The other man looked at him, relief mixing with the terror. Maxine could see him visibly relaxing as the sound of sirens approaching filled the air.

“You OK now,” Patrick said nodding at the man.

He nodded briefly.

“On the count of three we’re going to pull her up.”

The man looked terrified.

“We may not be able to get her up but I think if we work together we could.”

“And if we don’t -”

“We’ve got her. We just wait until we get more back-up.”

“OK.”

“One, two, three,” Patrick counted. “Ready?”

“Ready,” the man said.

Together they hoisted the woman up as everyone watched, not daring to breathe.  Her hands grabbed desperately at air, at the smooth railing with no purchase afforded and finally at Detective Patrick Shannon, eyes terrified, breath coming in gasps as he righted her, with the help of the other man.

“911 has been called,” he said, not unkindly. “And your friend…”

“No,” she shook her head wildly, the word sharply punctuating the air. “Not him. I barely know him.”

The man stood in front of the assembled mass. An attractive man in his late twenties to early thirties he was wearing a suit that showed a body in good shape, sandy brown hair and a face that was both pleasant and at the same time completely forgettable.

Maxine felt a surge of sympathy for him, for both of them.

“It’s true,” he said apologetically. “I just stepped outside for a moment. I was going to have a cigarette.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Patrick said, crisply. “Who knows how this would have ended if you hadn’t been here?”

But the woman seemed to be putting as much distance between herself and her rescuer as possible so that Patrick ended up sandwiched between them. Maxine couldn’t help thinking it was strange behavior even as Tanya moved forward.

“And we’re so glad you were. Along with Detective Shannon.” She nodded at both of them smiling. From somewhere she’d found a blanket and she wrapped it around the young womans’ shoulders leading her to a nearby sofa.

“Sophia, that is your name isn’t it?” Tanya said, not unkindly, “we’re going to get the paramedics to check you out and make sure you’re OK. And the police will want to find out what happened.”

She shook her head. “The railing looks fine, how did you – never mind, I shouldn’t be asking,” she said shaking her head. “I’m just, we’re all are so glad you’re alive.”