Book Trivia and Giveaway Today!!!

I’m hosting Book Trivia today over at Shelley’s Book Case on my Organized Mysteries series. The prize is a pair of Organized for Homicide mugs so the winner can keep one and give the other to a BFF if she/he wants to do so and share the same kind of friendship Kate & Meg share. Or the winner can keep both–I won’t judge (LOL!). This is for U.S. and Canadian residents only, for winners in any other countries I’ll send an Amazon gift card. If you’ve read Organized for Murder and Organized for Homicide, or you’ve seen enough posts and chatter on the books that you think you can bluff your way to a win, come play–we’d love to see you there. Here’s the link Shelley’s Book Case.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]

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It’s That Time of Year Again

I know, it’s always “that time of year” for something all year round, but now it’s time for all of those end of the year things we have to remember. From donations for taxes, to giving groceries to food pantries, to making sure the walk is shoveled for the octogenarian who lives next door–it’s time for all of those end of the year tasks that just make us feel good.

Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is around the corner, or that Santa is still marking his Naughty-and-Nice list, but I find I smile more this time of year when I’m loading up my Honda wagon to give something away. Library donation for 2014Last week it was books for the annual library sale, held locally here the last weekend before Halloween. More than a dozen boxes later, and the back of my wagon was full, the tires were challenged, and I was ready to go. My librarians were thrilled.

I’ve always given away a box or three of books each year about this time, but this year I decided to gain space while I did my drop-off, and added any books I didn’t scream over as I contemplated giving them away. And I’m so glad I did. For the first time, I found the book sale work space more than half empty at the library. That had never happened before. Usually, I had to search by this time of year to find an empty horizontal surface to stack my donation boxes. This year, I had my pick of floor space. There were some books already donated, sure, but it was obvious to me that ebooks are affecting more than just brick-and-mortar book seller locations.

Best of all, my library donation means I had one floor-to-ceiling bookshelf completely clear and ready for use in my writing business–without buying another piece of furniture. I have several more individual shelves with available space in other rooms of the house, now, and ready to take on Christmas decoration duties (after Thanksgiving, of course) without my having to shift stuff to make the new seasonal stuff fit.

By the first of November, I will go through my pantry and see what I can share with local food banks. I always buy larger stocks when canned goods are on sale or I have a lot of coupons, and I’m thinking that if I share so someone else has a bit more at Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll be able to enjoy my dinner that much more.

Yes, anytime I make a donation I get a receipt. The nonprofits are happy to furnish receipts and my taxman is happy to see the small paper slips as he fills out my return. And while the deduction is likely never as high as the value of what I actually give, the return on my happiness is truly too great to calculate. Giving makes me smile, and getting a smile back is worth all the time, cost and effort.

What about you? Do you have a favorite nonprofit or group you like to give to each year?

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Because a Writer Can’t Wear All the Hats, We Find Experts

Fiction writers may be great at creating characters and brainstorming plots, but sometimes real facts get in the way, and that’s when we turn to outside sources. For example, I’m playing around with a darker than usual suspense story right now that is only alive and thriving because I was able to interview an iron worker about his job. You see, I would never be able to walk confidently across the beams that make up the skeleton of a high rise building. Lucky for me, however, I found someone who not only could, but was willing to tell me about it so I could add color and authenticity to my story and main character. My source was male, and my fictional protagonist is female, and when I told him this he gave a great gaffawing laugh and said, “Let me know when the book is published. I can’t wait to show my kids.” He has five children, and I forget how many grandkids. I can’t wait to hear their reaction either.

For my already published works, I’ve picked friends’ brains for efficient ideas that work in their homes, listened when they told me ideas I did naturally were some of the best they’d ever heard, and even bought a professional organizer coffee so she’d tell me some of her stories about closet makeovers. I haven’t used the latter in any of my Organized Mysteries yet, but I’m sure to a few books down the line. I even got the help of an eye doctor to fine tune one of my plot points for Kate McKenzie in Organized for Murder.

But I don’t just focus on main characters. I’ve interviewed interior designers so I could get Valerie’s character correct, even though she’s a secondary character, and–I suppose–a main adversary to Kate and Meg. Since Valerie is a catalyst, I know it’s just as important to keep her and her actions completely real as it is for me to do the same for Kate and Meg. For the latest, Organized for Homicide, I interviewed a longtime interior designer who had segued into house staging after a friend of a friend of a friend connected us. She was halfway across the country from where my office sits, but the telephone is a wonderful thing, and we had a marvelous visit. I fired off my questions what a stager does and why, and she sent her answers a couple of weeks later, and gave me permission to use her exact words in my book. She even told me how she would stage the Collier’s kitchen when I described the room, which is where so much of the action takes place. I thought her generosity of information was very brave, since when I spoke to her my first book wasn’t even out yet, so she had no idea if my cozy mystery would be a good one or not. I’m sure that’s likely why she preferred I didn’t acknowledge her contribution in the book, for as she said, “My corporate clients aren’t so likely to want my name to appear in genre fiction. Please take no offense; it’s simply a business judgement call on my part.” And I didn’t take offense. Why should I when she’d been so generous with the information I really needed?

For my other series, The Bodies of Art Mysteries, I’ve gone back over the art history notes I took in college, and spoken to curators and docents at my two local fine art museums. You can get a ton of information from docents–trust me on this. Docents truly are a museum’s best cheerleaders. I’ve also visited the National Galleries in Washington DC (yes, we have two), the Canadian National Gallery in Vancouver, and the National Gallery in London. Believe me when I say the old chestnut “you’ve seen one museum, you’ve seen ‘em all” is the farthest thing from a true statement. Every museum is different–and that goes for more than just those labeled a ‘National Gallery’. And after I get back home and need a refresher on a museum, I need only locate one of the many YouTube videos that other tourists have shot with their cameras and phones, then posted later for the public to see. You’d be surprised at how good some of these videos really are.

The Art Mysteries series gives me ideas on where I want to travel next, and helps me fall into our destinations that much quicker. A few years ago we went to London, and I not only used sights I’d gained from the trip in Counterfeit Conspiracies, and the upcoming Marked Masters, but I’ve been able to relive many of the high points of  the trip by posting on this blog. In previous posts I’ve talked about the Tower of London, Harrods, the Baker Street Underground station, and even one wild trip my husband and I experienced on a double decker bus one crazy afternoon.

So while it would be nice to just sit at my desk and type away all day on my keyboard, coming up with absolutely perfect stories all the time, it doesn’t always happen. Lucky for me, however, there’s always some wonderful expert out there who is happy to give a lowly author a heads up on facts we all truly need to make a story work.

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Organized for Homicide Chapter Two Excerpt

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]As promised, finishing up the excerpt with Chapter Two of Organized for Homicide. Chapter One was posted this week on Tuesday and Thursday, with a post in between to tell about a giveaway at Dru’s Book Musing blog. The release date for Organized for Homicide is tomorrow, September 8th–YAY!–and available in print and every e-book format at all the wonderful bookseller sites. Yes, links are available on my page Where to Buy My Books–see the link on the masthead above.

Okay, commercial is over. Here’s–

CHAPTER TWO

The next fifteen minutes or so went better than Kate originally feared. Meg covered the pantry, mud room, and scoped out the garage, determining whether any additional packing material was needed for those spaces. Kate kept an eye on the roving real estate agent and made notes about the kitchen. Lots of appliances and plenty of glassware abounded, so a whole host of specialty packing.

The kitchen held court in the sunny southwestern corner of the house, and almost felt like it smiled whenever Kate stepped inside. Bright and light, with its carved wood cabinetry fronted by glass and brass, the open design with hidden built-in appliances flowed into the great room like a well-composed poem. She recognized the style as the same kind of hybrid contemporary craftsman-esque she’d nearly swooned over at her first footstep into the door. Kate moved over to one of the glass enclosures, running a hand over the gorgeous hand-turned curves and lines, and marveled at the graceful expansiveness the design provided. And like the great room, it shared the same floor to ceiling windows along the south wall. Passive solar warmth invaded the space and warmed her soul.

When they’d arrived, Kate found the view shielded by caramel colored rolled blinds which probably cost as much as she would make on this job. She reminded herself to lower the shades again before they left.

Somewhere around the twenty or twenty-one minute mark after the agent arrived, the explosion occurred. Timothy had obviously gotten Blaine Collier’s attention.

“Erin! What the hell are you doing here? Where are you?” Collier appeared in the foyer, and spotted them in the kitchen. He stormed into the room.

Meg raced in from the garage, but Kate put up a hand to stop her before she could stumble into the middle of the fracas. She was out of direct sight of the pair, but could watch what went on. Kate took a slow step back to distance herself, and reached for the cell phone in her pocket. Just in case.

Erin lowered her phone and shoved her laser tool into her handbag. She pasted on what looked like a patented fake smile, all teeth and no enthusiasm, and moved closer, extending a hand to shake. “Blaine, so good to see you again.”

Collier had his jacket open, the sides pushed and held back by hands at his waist. The man always reminded Kate of a television personality, personable but competitive. However, that day he looked like Joe Volcano instead.

“You were told to stay out of here until we’ve moved.” His reddened complexion and cold tone made Kate even more unnerved than seeing his aggressive stance.

All pretense over, Erin pulled back her hand and twisted the large gold bangle bracelet on her other wrist. “I didn’t come while you and your family were here, Blaine. I followed the rules.”

“The rules…No, the law, is that you don’t get within three-hundred feet of me or my family. That includes this home as long as it belongs to me. And it still belongs to me!”

Meg mouthed restraining order, and Kate nodded. This was turning into quite an afternoon.

“Well, you knew I was here and came on your own.. Which means you’re the one who’s actually breaking the court order, Blaine,” Erin said. She dashed to the windows when he raised a fist.

But she was safe. The sound of a police siren called out from the road, and a second later revolving lights strobed through the windows.

Erin straightened her shoulders, and circled the island, walking behind Kate, as she headed for the front door. “I’ll just go and get this misunderstanding cleared up right now.”

“You’re going to be in jail if you set foot in this house again before we leave for California!” Collier thundered. She slammed the door on exit, and he pounded his fist on the countertop.

A knock on the door sent Collier to the front door. Kate and Meg peeked around the corner to see the town’s uniformed constable, Jim Banks.

“I warned her and sent her on her way, Mr. Collier,” Banks said, removing his hat as he spoke. “The first time is just a misdemeanor, and I didn’t think you wanted to have to take the time to swear out a complaint and all. But I warned her the next infraction would be taken much more seriously.”

“Thanks, Jim.” Collier shook his hand. “My new company hired her without consulting me. Just chose her for her sales record. I’ve tried to get them to hire someone else, but the contract is filed and it would take too much work to undo, thanks to Erin’s uncooperatinguning nature. I may have to hire a security guard. Got any names I can speak to?”

“I’d hold off for a bit and see if common sense prevails. Nothing like talk of spending time in jail to shake people into acting right.”

Collier nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.”

“Well, good luck to you, sir.” Banks anchored his cap back on his head and gave a wave as he walked away.

The women scooted over to the counter and opened the project notebook. They pretended to be engrossed in the notes.

“Uh…Sorry about that.” Collier made a circle with his hand, indicating where he and Erin battled a few minutes before.

“Oh, no worries.” Kate smiled. “We’ve just added a note to the file to not admit her again.”

“Not that she gave us any choice today,” Meg said, crossing her arms. “Pretty pushy, in more ways than one.”

“Yeah, well, if it happens again, just call 9-1-1 immediately.”

“I’ll do that. Oh, but one more thing.” Kate pulled the envelope from where she’d stashed it in the back of her notebook. “This came earlier for Sydney. I signed for it. I hope you don’t mind.”

After he glanced at the address, Collier said, “No, but I hope Erin didn’t see this.”

“No, she was here, but in the media room at the time.”

He did a rat-a-tat-tat on the countertop with his knuckles. “Well, it’s all good then. I’ll take Dustin and Dara for burgers tonight while Sydney is at skate practice. I’ll also call a security team to come out in the morning to write up an estimate. No point in taking a wait and see attitude on this. You’ll both be here to let them in, right?”

“Yes.”

Another rap of the countertop with his knuckles, and he walked back to the foyer, calling over his shoulder, “In the meantime, though, I need to get back to the office. Let Timothy know if you need anything else.” He raised the envelope over his head as he opened the front door. “And thank you for this.”

“You’re welcome,” Kate said

She caught herself holding her breath until the front door closed, and assumed Meg was doing the same since her partner had remained absolutely silent.

Meg motioned with her hand, and they slipped to the window to watch his silver Mercedes pull out of the drive.

“What do you think about that?” Kate asked.

Her friend had already pulled out her smart phone. “What I think is…” Meg put the phone to her ear. “This is the perfect reason why it’s good I’m married to a newspaper journalist. Excuse me while I see what kind of dirt I can dig up on Ms. Erin Parker of Vermont Views Realty.”

Okay, that’s the end of the ‘shorter’ Chapter Two, and the murder is right around the corner. Can you guess who the victim is? In the meantime, here’s one of Kate’s Moving 101 Tips

Box Organization As You Go

Every person in the house needs their own color for ease in sorting personal belongings later. That works great for individual areas, but things get trickier for areas utilized by the whole family. Especially when the house or the family are larger than average. Some people give each room its own color, too, when boxing up items for a move, but that can make it difficult to find and quantify so many different colored labels. Instead, number the boxes in big block figures for each room using a unique sequence. For example, kitchens usually need to be unpacked the quickest, so label each box that contains kitchen items with 100-series numbers from 101 to 199. The bathroom can be 200-series, and so on for every room. For example, the first box filled for the kitchen is 101, then 102, 103…

The non-living areas can start with alpha letters, like G01 for the garage, P01 for the porch, etc.

Also, for boxes that must be unpacked first, seal the edges with red duct tape, instead of regular packing tape, so the boxes will be easy to spot when you reach your new home.

 

* * *

 

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Organized for Homicide–Finishing up Chapter One Excerpt

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]As promised, here’s the rest of Chapter One of Organized for Homicide (it was a really long chapter–LOL!), and I will post Chapter Two very soon. If you haven’t read the earlier post, you can Click Here for the first part of Chapter One. This is the book that comes next in the series started by Organized for Murder (and that book, Organized for Murder, is still on sale for 99 cents this weekend in all e-formats). The book this excerpt is taken from, Organized for Homicide, will be released this coming Monday, Sept. 8th. And now, here’s more Kate & Meg :)

The Rest of Chapter One–

“Come on, let’s go in,” Kate said, “I just brought you out here to see the view.”

“And it really is a nice one,” Meg walked back to the railing and squinted, cocking her head to one side so her short fiery curls bounced with the movement. “You can’t see it from here, but we used to climb Mount Equinox when I was in high school.” She pointed to the north. “We’ve been talking about taking the boys camping again sometime this summer. We should all go when school’s out, both our families. This job will be completed by then.”

“Well, we’d better get a move on if we want to get finished on time.” Kate clasped the project notebook to her chest. “I want to show this balcony to Keith before the house sells, too. I don’t know if we could add a balcony on our house and make it look right, but I’d love something like this outside our master bedroom.”

“I like this over-high railing, too,” Meg said, running her hand along the polished wood resting atop the steel bars and put everything at nearly chest level. “Anything waist high and you run the risk of someone still accidentally going over the side. At least with boys like mine, that is. Something this high makes such a thing less likely.”

Kate took another cleansing breath and smiled. “I could get used to this.”
The two women reentered the house and Meg commented, “My feet just disappear in the carpet pile. Do you think Collier would mind if I worked barefoot?”

“Probably.” Kate rolled her eyes. “Let’s keep our shoes on just in case, Ms. Troublemaker.”

“Spoilsport.”

“Sticks and stones, my friend.”

They were grinning when they reached the hall. “Come on into Dara’s room. I’ll show you how we’re going to start on the closets,” Kate said.

The youngest daughter’s bedroom was a fairy tale setting, with mountain top castles painted high on the walls, and wildflower meadows near the baseboards to merge with the thick carpeting. Kate knew her daughter Suzanne would love the room, but was equally aware that twin Samantha would roll her eyes unless it was tied somehow to soccer or Barbie. She sighed. Right now the twins preferred sharing a room, but the battles for style were becoming more frequent. A compromise, and probably new room assignments would be coming soon.

“Something wrong, Kate?”

She shook her head. “Nothing a look in ‘The Great Big Book on Parenting’ won’t cure.”

“Well if you ever find a copy, I want a peek, too.”

“Deal,” Kate said, and grinned. One of the things she liked best about Meg is how her parenting style was just as make-it-up-as-you-go as the McKenzies’ efforts. “The closet is over here.” She slid away a section of an alpine mountain, and revealed an almost wall to wall enclave of clothing and accessories. “I asked Collier and Lila to help the kids sort out the clothes they wouldn’t be wearing before the move, so we can pack them ahead.”

Meg looked in the closet and around the room. “I don’t see any boxes.”

“We’re just doing the clothes now. We don’t need boxes.” Kate reached for a high shelf and pulled down a box of extra tall garbage bags. “I put these here last night. There are several boxes of trash bags in each closet.” She shuffled clothes around on the rods, so like items, in this case winter clothing, hung together on the rod closest to the door.

“I’m confused,” Meg said. “Why would you want to just toss them in the sacks? Won’t the client get mad if clothes are a wrinkled mess when they unpack?”

Kate winked. “No wrinkles, no folding. Watch this.” She pulled out a bag, then moved to the section of the closet holding Dara’s winter dresses, and took a second to shake the bag open. With one hand, she pushed back neighboring clothes and held them back with one shoulder, so a collection of dresses about a foot wide now hung separately. The opened garbage bag was placed around the hem level of the dresses, and then moved up toward the hanger hooks. When the bag completely enclosed all of the dresses, Kate cinched the top tight around all of the hooks, wrapped the plastic drawstrings around the hanger tops for extra support, then tied everything together.

“Now, we can lift this bag in one piece,” she explained, using one hand to grasp the hidden hangers and remove all of the dresses at one time from the closet rail. “The movers can hang up the bags in the moving van, or they can be laid down flat. But either way, wrinkling is minimized, and unpacking clothes is nothing more than hanging everything in the new closets and pulling off the sack.”

She pulled a stack of adhesive-backed pink labels from her pocket and slapped one on each side of the bag. “There. Now the preprinted pink label will highlight for movers that it needs to go into Dara’s room in the California house.”

Meg’s eyes were wide. “That is an amazing idea. I knew you were clever, but your bag of tricks never fails to amaze me.”

“Thank you, all accolades are truly appreciated.” Kate moved back into the middle of the room and spun slowly to take in the scope of the area. “This room doesn’t look too hard, but we’ll probably have to do all of the packing ourselves. Dara is helpful, and likes to do things herself, but she’s only eight. She’ll probably need a little guidance, and we’ll have to double check any of the boxes she does pack.”

They turned as both heard running footsteps on the stairs. Sydney, the Colliers’ oldest daughter, moved into sight, backtracking when she passed the doorway. The teen’s long hair, brunette with highlights, flowed down the back of her green and white Hazelton High t-shirt in thick, layered curls. “Oh, sorry to disturb. I needed to come home and grab a hoodie for my run tonight. It’s supposed to turn cooler with a chance of rain, and coach won’t let us leave after practice if we aren’t dressed for the weather.”

“You didn’t disturb us,” Kate said. “It’s nice seeing you again. This is Meg Berman. She helps me in my business.”

The teen came into the room, a soft smile lighting her face. She shook hands with Meg, then cupped hands around her elbows in an almost protective measure. “Nice meeting you.

“So what’s your sport?” Meg asked.

“Competitive figure skating. Individual. You know, like Michele Kwan.”

“You have Olympic dreams?”

“Definitely.” Sydney started backing out of the room. “I hate to be rude, but I only had enough time to run here and get back to school.” She offered a quick wave. “It’s good seeing you again, Mrs. McKenzie.”

“You too, Sydney. If you’re driving, be careful,” Kate said.

“I have a friend waiting for me outside. Bye.”

Less than a minute later her footsteps again hit the stairs, this time heading down to the first floor and out the front door.

“Professional hopes, I suppose?” Meg mused. “I know from reading the paper she’s an honor roll student.”

“And promising entrepreneur as well. Come on, and let me show you her workshop,” Kate said, and led the way to a small room tucked away a few doors down the hall. A long cherry wood table filled up the middle space, holding an astounding collection of jaw-dropping purses, totes, belts, and even boot toppers. Another smaller table standing against the closet wall displayed knives and curved tools, along with a high beam lamp and a wheeled chair. The whole back wall held bins filled with a variety of leather, fabric, beads, buttons, and bindings of every sort. A dull black, heavy-duty sewing machine sat under the only window. “This is Sydney’s business. And she told me in no uncertain terms she would pack all of this herself.”

Meg wandered over to the work table and touched a wooden handle of a tool whose looks implied it poked holes in leather. “This is pretty astounding.”

“What’s astounding is how much she gets for all of these pieces.”

“What’s the average price?” Meg asked.

Kate quoted a figure high enough to make her friend gasp, then added, “She hooked up with a New York designer who added them to her collection. The items are all made from natural materials, and Sydney uses as many recycled pieces as she can. People have really been drawn to the line.”

Fingering one of belts, Meg asked, “I wonder what she would charge me directly if I ordered one of these for Gil.”

“If she gives you a price break, let me know, because I want a tote like this one.” Kate held up a leather bag with flowers worked into the grain, each petal individually tinted with muted shades. Copper wire finished off a kind of frame to most pieces, coiling through the sewn edges around the outside. On the tote Kate favored, antiqued brass closures offered function as well as fashion for anyone not wanting to leave the top completely open.

She started to look at the finishing inside, but heard the doorbell chime.

“That’s what we get for gawking. We had no idea someone had driven up.” Meg said, following Kate back into the hallway. “At least this time the person didn’t just pop up behind us.”

As the women moved to the stairs, Kate said, “This house is so spread out, it makes it easy to miss things, unless you’re on the back deck or where we were earlier on the master bedroom balcony. If we hadn’t been talking so much and looking out toward the national forest, we’d have noticed Lila’s arrival, since out there is the only direct view to the driveway because of the trees.”

At the bottom step, the flooring transitioned to parquet, and Kate’s heels clicked as she hurried across the foyer. The skinny two-story sidelights showed someone at the door, but the person stood too close, and all Kate could make out was a lustrous head of chestnut hair. At first, she thought Lila may have returned, but realized this visitor wasn’t wearing a full skirt.

“Can I help—”

Kate was tossed aside, as a tall brunette with a phone sandwiched between her right shoulder and ear shoved the door farther open and stepped inside. Dressed in what was probably her work clothes, a pair of jeans with the Dolce and Gabbana logo emblazed on a pink leather patch on the back pocket and a matching cotton candy-hued silk tee, the woman took aim with a laser device to shoot off points while talking into her iPhone. She used her free hand to rummage blindly through a D&G labeled handbag. “That’s right, Lee Ann, twenty-four foot ceiling in the foyer, some kind of antiqued brass and lead glass craftsman type hanging light. Nice, but not pricey enough. Be sure to make a note. We’ll want to change it out for the viewings. Need to go high end here. The corporate sellers want this turned quickly, and I want the commission to be worth it.”

“Excuse me—” Kate tried, but received only a face-out palm in reply.

“Yes, someone let me in, and I’m heading for the interior rooms now. Just stay on the line and I’ll keep feeding you measurements and notes I want documented.” The woman withdrew a business card case from her bag and flipped it open, extending it as if offering a cigarette. Kate frowned and pulled a card from the pack. Erin Parker. Broker, Vermont Views Real Estate. There was a local office number, followed by a cell number, and a full gamut of social media connection options.

Kate tried again. “Can you—”

“Oh, for heavens sake! Hold on a minute, Lee Ann.” Erin pulled the phone from her ear and faced Kate. Meg moved closer in a show of support. “What are you, the cleaning people? Yes, we’ll keep you contracted until the house closes. But right now I have work to do. I have a primo prospect flying in within two days, and I have to transform this house in the interval.”

“We are not the cleaning people.” Meg looked ready to blow.

“We’re organizing the Colliers’ move.” Kate extended her right hand, so she could not only offer a handshake, but could cut off the direct path between Meg and the real estate pro.

Erin returned the handshake, shook Meg’s hand as well, and before turning back to her phone said, “You two look like soccer moms. I realize it’s nearly time for all of you to line up to retrieve the kiddies at school. If you leave, put the key on that table over there and I’ll lock up.”

She and her rapid laser measure resumed producing measurements for the off-site Lee Ann, and Erin’s long legs took her around the corner to disappear in the hall toward the media room and Blaine Collier’s office.

“I’ll call Collier’s personal assistant and figure what to do next. You go see if you can help her,” Kate told Meg.

“Keep an eye on her. Got it!”

The foyer felt too open for a phone call, so Kate moved into the great room and seated herself on one of the cushy patterned sofas, tapping her phone against the padded, earth-toned arm. The floor to ceiling south-facing windows not only offered a lovely green view, but allowed gentle heat from the sun to warm the room. She took a moment to calm herself, and sent up a quick prayer for Collier to be tied up in meetings so she could speak with his assistant, Timothy, instead. Then she dialed.

Luck, for once! “Hello, Timothy, it’s Kate McKenzie.”

“Sorry, Kate, but Mr. Collier is in a meeting.”

“That’s probably okay. I have a feeling you might be able to help. An Erin Parker is here now, and she wants me to leave her my key. Thought I’d better—”

“No! She’s to have no unsupervised access to the house, by Mr. Collier’s direct order.”

Kate pinched the sharp crease that ran down the left leg of her twills. “Okay. My associate, Meg Berman, is with her now, and I’ll make sure one of us stays with her at all times. But really, we don’t have the extra time to work as monitors too.”

“I completely understand. I’ll make Mr. Collier aware of this as soon as possible, and do what he suggests to remedy the situation. I know you have kids to pick up soon from school.”

If she hadn’t known how efficient Timothy Oakes was, Kate would have been a little creeped out that he knew her schedule. But she did know, and was grateful he was handling the situation and knew the time constraints. “Thanks so much, Timothy. I know Mr. Collier has to be as grateful for your loyalty as I am.”

She heard a sound like a snort, then, “Yes, he says he’ll sign whatever letter of recommendation I need before he leaves.”

“You’re leaving the company, too?”

“It’s a standard corporate policy to let any supporting staff go when a chief executive leaves to take a position with a new company.”

The Collier family had moved to Hazelton four years before when Blaine Collier left a Florida recreational company to head up Green Mountain Boards, an up-and-coming snowboarding business. He was a corporate wunderkind whose expertise made every business he touched a worldwide name. A month ago, Techno-Cal hired Collier to basically do the same to one of their subsidiaries, a company making small yachts and sail craft.

“For some reason I thought you were at Green Mountain Boards before Blaine Collier started working there.”

“I was. Three years longer. Seven in all.”

“And they’re still letting you go?”

“It’s company policy. I understood the risks when I accepted this position.”

“Still…Is Collier helping you find another position somewhere? Has he even asked if you want to go to the West Coast with him?”

“Mr. Collier is doing everything to meet his professional responsibilities in the matter.”

In other words, Kate thought, he’s doing little more than saying “write a letter of recommendation for me to sign and I’ll sign it.” She also recognized that Timothy’s word choice was putting a halt to this conversation.

“I’ve had a few interviews scheduled,” Timothy cut into her thoughts. “Don’t worry, I’ll land on my feet.”

However, she wondered how many of the open positions were at the pay level he likely enjoyed as Collier’s assistant. She was willing to bet the young man would have to relocate out of the Hazelton area. She had no idea who might be able to overhear the conversation at his end, and hoped their discussion and her questions hadn’t compromised him in any way. “Well, I won’t keep you, Timothy. Especially after I’ve given you something else to do. Thanks so much. And we’ll work to maintain a close watch on our visitor. In the meantime, I would appreciate if you called in the cavalry some way, please.”

The doorbell chimed again, and Kate ended her call. When she opened the door, a courier stood on the other side.

“This is for Sydney Collier.” He held a large heavy duty envelope atop his delivery clipboard.

“She’s not here right now.”

“I only need a signature.” He stuck the envelope under his arm, and turned the notepad to face Kate. “Just sign here.”

She grabbed the pen attached to the clipboard and signed her name in the space he pointed to, then accepted the envelope. As she closed the door, she noted the Boston address, and realized it was probably paperwork for the summer Olympic-training program Sydney was looking forward to attending. Kate slipped it into the back of her project notebook, to keep it safe until she could give it to the teen later in the afternoon.

Kate found the women in the media room, Meg standing guard duty at the door, arms crossed and eyes sharp. Erin paced the front of the room, counting the dark blue seats out loud, noting a wear spot in the carpet, and barking dimensions into her phone to the poor invisible Lee Ann.

“Anything suspicious?” Kate whispered, her head angled close to Meg’s.

“Everything. Well, technically annoying instead of suspicious. But nothing that appears criminal.”

“Collier’s PA says he’ll work on the situation. But she’s not supposed to have access to the house unsupervised.”

“So, do we add babysitting services to our cost estimate?”

The women hushed when Erin Parker breezed past them and strode down the hall.

“Appears the kitchen is her next destination.” Meg offered a crooked smile.

“We need to start building our game plan in there anyway.” Kate shrugged. “Let’s go, Wonder Woman.”

“Right behind you, Batgirl.”

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Organized for Homicide–Cover Reveal and Chapter One Beginning

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]As promised, I’m offering excerpts in the next few days of Organized for Homicide in its run-up to the Sept 8th release date. Today is the first half of Chapter One. Hope you’ll come back to sample more the rest of this week :) And in the meantime, the first book in this series, Organized for Murder, remains bargain priced at 99 cents at all ebook booksellers.

Organized for Homicide

Moving 101 tip: When packing up the tableware, instead of wrapping each plate in newspaper, alternate each plate in the packing box with a foam disposable plate. This not only makes packing much faster and easier, but offers more cushion for the fragile plates during transport. Then you can use that newspaper to pack around the sides of the plates so the empty spaces in the box are filled and nothing slides around

CHAPTER ONE

“Here’s the view I mentioned earlier,” Kate McKenzie pushed back the master bedroom’s heavy cobalt drapes and threw open the French doors, leading her neighbor, and sometimes employee, Meg Berman, to the balcony view at the back of the house. Kate moved across custom tile and made a sweeping motion above the artisan railing to encompass the one-eighty-degree landscape beyond the almost alpine, three-story luxury home. The owner, Blaine Collier a divorced father of three, had contracted with Kate’s organizational business, Stacked in Your Favor, to coordinate the family’s move from southwestern Vermont to the California west coast. She breathed deeply and savored the fresh, earthy-leaved smell that rode in the brisk air. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

The sky was a perfect robin’s egg hue above the lush panorama that included the nearby Prospect Mountain ski area, and from this height the edge of Green Mountain National Forest peeked through in the distance. The landscape was peppered with both hard and softwoods, and Kate noted the different greens that dotted the landscape, from sturdy hemlock and balsam trees, to the lovely planes of white pine. She let out an involuntary sigh as the palette unfolded around the house and balcony.

A whiff of wood smoke drifted from a neighbor’s chimney. Well, chimneys plural. Hammered copper chimneys. The few homes in this exclusive neighborhood were executive models, almost anomalies in the rugged state, and each sported multiple fireplaces. Kate counted smoke fingers rising from two chimneys in the luxury contemporary about six-hundred feet away, all glass and metal that looked ready to relocate into the Hollywood Hills or the Swiss Alps. Almost a direct contrast with the warm, wooden peaks and balconies of the Colliers’ contemporary home. These were the only two homes in the housing addition that were not Tudor or overgrown cottage-styled, and she wondered whether the Malibu home Blaine Collier already purchased was similar to either structure.

“It really is lovely,” Meg replied, stepping to the end of the terrace and rubbing her palms along the top of the railing. “Makes you wonder why Collier would give this up, and move his family clear across the country.”

Kate laughed, clasping her project notebook closer to her chest so she could rub her arms and offset the chill of the late May morning. Her seafoam green polo shirt was great for business, with its embroidered logo for Stacked in Your Favor. It had taken some searching to find a color and look both women liked and wanted to work in, and the light green flattered both Kate’s blonde complexion and Meg’s red hair. But even after braving her first Vermont winter, she still wasn’t acclimated for short sleeves in the lower-than-she-was-used-to brisk temps. “Oh, I don’t know. It’s an amazing view, and this balcony alone is probably worth buying the home, but I might be persuaded to trade it for a luxury beach house.”

Meg snorted. “Trade picture perfect changing seasons for endless sunny days, and the risk of mud slides when it rains. Not to mention earthquakes. Naw, I don’t see what Malibu has to offer.”

A bright sunbeam cut through the trees, and Kate stepped into the brightness and sighed. Having lived with her own native Vermonter for ten years, husband Keith, she had begun to think he and everyone from his home state were born with flannel-wrapped veins. Not her, definitely not her. “A little more warmth comes to mind.”

“They’ll be bored in six months and wishing they were back here.” Meg nodded as she spoke. “His ex-wife is staying here in Hazelton, right? And the oldest daughter.”

“Right.” Kate opened her notebook and set it on a wrought iron and Majolica style tiled table. She could get used to this view, this kind of extravagance. But when she’d met Lila Collier the day before, to go over the items getting moved to the ex-wife’s new two bedroom condo, the house hadn’t really seemed like “home sweet home” as much as “a house divided.”

Lila had rubbed the back of her neck as she talked, radiating frustration and more than a little anger, despite the fact that the divorce was already finalized. “It looks nice, sure. But something like this can take over. You start fighting about bills and mortgages, and even someplace nice starts looking like a dungeon.”

In spite of Lila’s words, Kate couldn’t imagine a less dungeon-like home. She told Meg about the encounter, then added, “It’s amazing how the breakup colored the woman’s ideas about the place. I’ve already fallen in love with it and I’m not even looking for a new house. With its cedar closets, huge great room with vaulted ceilings and skylights, gourmet kitchen, carpeting with pad so deep my feet disappear, and custom wood accents everywhere, it’s one of the most welcoming homes I’ve ever walked through.”

“Not to mention the outside amenities,” Meg said, then pointed over the side to the wide stone patio running the length of the back wall. “Can you imagine the barbeques we could have down there all summer?”

Kate flipped pages in her notebook. Each section was color coded, and every person in the family had his or her own individual color. Flipping to the calendar, she checked off the note for the change of address cards and the self-inking stamp she’d picked up at the office supply store on her way over that morning. Change of address notices had been sent weeks before, both by mail and via website services, but she wanted quick and easy cards for her client to use if new needs arose after the move.

For color designations, the father and son were coded to black and blue, respectively, and the daughters, older and younger, as green and pink. The mother’s things had been removed months before. “Lila asked for a couple of paintings and a rug Collier isn’t planning to take with them. He hasn’t decided yet, but anything left over can go when the movers take Sydney’s things.”

“She’s the oldest daughter, right?”

“Yes, and she’s staying here to finish high school.” Kate chewed her lip. There had been a tension the last time she’d talked to her client, and thought she picked up the vibe Collier might be having second thoughts about splitting up his kids. Not that it was any of her business, but…

Meg interrupted Kate’s thoughts, asking, “Is her stuff going ahead of the big move?”

“No, the transport company has subcontracted the smaller part of the job out to an area firm. The local truck will take everything to the mother’s condo the same day as the big move.”

“So, they hug goodbye here and Sydney doesn’t see her siblings until summer break.”

“Thanksgiving, not summer. Lila said Sydney was picked for some great pre-Olympic program in Boston. Has a world-class coach signed on to train her and everything. She’ll be spending the summer figure skating on the indoor ice rink and learning strategy to reach Olympic potential.”

“Ouch. Goodbye family, then goodbye everyone. She’s okay with that?”

Kate sighed. “Who? Mother or daughter?”

“Both, I think.”

There was no good answer to Meg’s question—or any of the others that floated around the issue. She’d met the teen a few days ago, and Kate had felt an immediate connection. The young woman’s story was too close to Kate’s own, with a parent wrapped up in environmental issues, and responsibly raising herself and finding her own way in life. Sydney at least had siblings, and a father who lived the corporate life, but too many things the teen said told Kate the mother was a huge concern to her. Like when she said, “Dad doesn’t need me in Malibu. He’ll have lots of help for Dara and Dustin. But Mom tries not to rely on anyone, and she needs to have someone around to watch her back. And make sure she eats.”

The comment touched too many memories for Kate, and she knew she was already getting too personally invested in this job. But thoughts like that one made her believe it really would be better for the teen to move first, give everyone a small transition ahead of the big break, and offer the older daughter a little time alone with her mother before leaving next month for her own temporary move. Sydney had too many changes ahead to feel obligated for her mother’s well-being, too.

Lila had even suggested something along those lines in the earlier meeting Blaine Collier arranged so Kate could scope out the project. As expected, however, his autocratic personality immediately cut off the discussion. He interrupted and said, “I’m still not completely on board with Sydney staying here at all. Don’t even think about trying to separate her from her brother and sister before the move, Lila.”

Kate rubbed her hand along the edge of her notebook, trying to erase the tense emotions she remembered from the three Colliers in those very different meetings. These people were hurt and still searching for middle ground. She said, “This is their family business, Meg, not ours. We’re just supposed to pack and make sure everything gets shipped in one piece. Send the California stuff with the movers and the stuff Lila gets to her condo in Bennington.”

“I heard Collier tried to have her ruled unfit as a mother.” Meg’s face lost its soft lines and took on a stony expression. “Hard to believe a judge would let him have custody and move the kids three-thousand miles away from their mother.”

“Rumors only tell part of the story. This is a family who loves one another, even if the parents can’t stay together. No one can cause friction like family.” Kate chewed her lip, her heart going out to the ex-wife she’d only met the one time, but whose sad and sordid soap opera script had been the fuel for every gossip maven in town. And as she feared, Meg was just getting started.

“Collier is a corporate guru who’s used to winning. According to all the scuttlebutt, he gathered up any little thing in Lila’s past that even hinted at instability or danger, really pushing how her strong stances on social issues make her fitness as a parent register on the questionable side. It’s so unfair, penalizing her for protecting rights and the environment, and for sticking to her principles.”

“I know but—”

“You aren’t taking Collier’s side in this, are you?” Meg stood with her fists on her hips, the stance that made Kate give her friend the Wonder Woman nickname.

“No, just…” Kate couldn’t completely feel Meg’s sympathy.. Her own parents had been environmental activists whose actions had always kept their familyfamily life anything but steady. She agreed with Meg’s point, and believed no parent should be separated from her children without real cause, but also recognized the risk of talking about the subject in this location. She needed to shut down the conversation. If anyone walked in and heard them it could be her reputation. “We need to get started on today’s tasks. Honestly, we’ll talk about this later when we know more.”

“Know more about what?” A voice asked from behind them.

Both women made tiny eek sounds and whirled. Kate’s worst fears were realized. Lila Collier, ex-wife of her client, and exactly the person they’d just been discussing, stood in the doorway. The woman’s very erect posture made Kate worry their conversation had been overheard, but the deep vertical lines between Lila’s eyebrows and the obvious shadows under her eyes spoke about worries far beyond gossip.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare anyone. I’m Lila Collier.” The tall, trim, dark-haired beauty moved closer, cotton skirt swaying as she walked, and extended a multi-bangled hand toward Meg. She had a calm aura about her that seemed resigned and hopeful at the same time. Once again Kate marveled over the way opposites attracted. This time in the form of bohemian Lila and buttoned-down Blaine Collier,

“Please, don’t apologize,” Kate said, and motioned toward her neighbor. “This is Meg Berman. She helps me with my business.”

“Nice meeting you,” Meg said. Kate held her breath to see if her friend would say anything more, and almost sighed in relief when Meg stepped back after the handshake.

“I…” Lila said, waving a hand in the direction of the house’s interior. “I’m probably intruding, but I had some things for Dustin and Dara. A kind of picture-scrapbook for each of them to take in the move. I finished the two books last night.” She half-turned and motioned back toward the other end of the house. “I left the books in their rooms.”

Kate smiled. “I’ll make sure they get packed in the boxes they’ll be carrying with them. So the kids can look at them along the way.”

Lila swallowed and nodded, but didn’t speak for a moment. She looked off in the distance, and took a deep breath before she said, “I know this is an inconvenience for you, all this sorting and packing for two different locations. But…Well, it may not matter. Blaine and I need to talk again, and…” She moved back to the doorway, then stopped for a moment and almost whispered. “Thank you for understanding. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work.”

I wonder what that’s about. Kate hoped they weren’t changing their minds again about Sydney staying, but she could understand wanting the kids to stay together, too.

Kate watched Meg’s face get almost as red as her hair, but no words came from her mouth until they saw Lila’s car drive away. Even from the distance, they had no difficulty reading the word bitch scratched deeply into the paint.

“That’s awful.” Meg pointed at the car. “Does she know who damaged the door?”

“Someone with a sharp key or knife who doesn’t want her speaking out on hot topic issues.”

“And I supposed Collier used this as a means of trying to prove her unfit.”

Kate shook her head. “I think things were long past the point of needing new examples for him. When I met with Lila yesterday, we walked out together. She caught my surprised look, I guess, when I saw the scratches, and she explained they’d been left behind a couple of weeks ago, when she and Sydney went out to dinner together. Unfortunately, Sydney was the one who first discovered them.”

“People can be so mean.”

“But the marks do help prove up Collier’s concerns, whether we like it or not. And given the cryptic way she just spoke, Lila may be coming around to the same idea. Let’s hope Sydney goes for it, if that is indeed the case.”

“All because she’s taken strong stances on feminism, the environment, and civil rights issues. Anyone else would be pleased his wife climbed the environmental corporate ladderladder to the levelnd level.” Meg had a full head of steam and plowed on with her rant, “He had a detective comb every police blotter and newspaper morgue, looking for anything violent that occurred at any demonstration he could prove she or her group participated in. He even claimed her work as a watchdog to monitor voting booths across the northern states during contested elections showed politics was more important to her than the children. Then his attorney argued before the judge and found witnesses to back up the bogus claims that if the kids were left with their mother they ran the risk of being bombed in their home or car by some activist opposed to one of her causes.” Meg ended by making a hrumph sound deep in her throat. “If that woman killed him and I was on the jury, she would walk.”

Oh, boy! Time to divert Meg’s attention. “Okay, here’s the outline for us to use to keep the tasks we need to do in order and to stay on schedule. One thing we still need to consider, however, is moving Dustin’s terrarium. Since your boys have the bearded dragon, I thought you might be able to figure out a couple of options for us.”

“I know what you’re doing.” Meg cocked an eyebrow.

“Never doubted it.” Kate looked her friend in the eye and smiled. Now that the subject was officially changed, she turned attention back to the notebook. “Dustin says he wants his iguana to stay with him during the move. The lizard is a baby, and transporting it shouldn’t be difficult, but the terrarium will be unwieldy. In case the dad overrides the son’s decision—”

“Like he seems to do everyone else’s choices.”

“We need alternative shipping ideas. Just in case,” Kate emphasized the last, and raised her own dark blonde eyebrow in response to Meg’s tweezed brow going even higher.

Meg blew out a big breath. “Okay, I’ll climb down off my soapbox. I’ll make sure all the pets are taken care of. Okay?”

“I think the Labrador will be fine.”

“You never know. Even the nicest dogs can become biters if they get anxious about a move.”

Kate couldn’t help laughing. “Just make sure you don’t take a bite out of Collier.”

Moi?” Meg’s expression was all innocence. “I would never take that pleasure away from Lila.”

Will post more soon :)

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I Guess I Have the Bargain of the Week

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]I have two books coming out soon. The first, Organized for Homicideis another featuring organizational expert Kate McKenzie as chief sleuth and bottle organizer. To coincide with this September 8th release, my publisher has discounted book#1 in the series, Organized for Murder, to 99 cents for a short time in all ebook formats. And the rest of this week I’ll be posting excerpts of the new book, Organized for Homicideso everyone can get a sampling of that story as well.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]In my Organized Mysteries series, Kate and her sidekick, Meg Berman, find that starting a small business sometimes leads to having to do more than your mission statement implies. Sometimes it means figuring out whodunit when someone involved in their business contract gets killed, and law enforcement focuses on the wrong person as the murder suspect. In the first book, Kate is in the hot seat herself, so she is absolutely sure the state police are pursuing the wrong person.

If you already own the first book, thank you, and please come back by in the next few days to read excerpts from the new release. But if you don’t have a copy of Organized for Murder, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to pick up a copy while it’s on sale. I just love a bargain, don’t you? You can click here for the Amazon link to get a Kindle copy or check my Where to Buy My Books page to purchase Organized for Murder in any of the other ebook formats, and where you can also find links to pre-order copies of  Organized for Homicide. All the buy links will be there once it’s available at all booksellers next weekend. I can’t wait to share the excerpts with you this week! Hope to see a lot of you return soon.

One of my favorite things about this series is that I get to share terrific organizing tips I’ve figured out on my own or learned from others. Do you have any favorite things you do every day to keep life organized and running a little smoother? Feel free to tell us in the comments :)

 

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