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FIVE AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS
By The Numbers Book 4
BY LEEANN BETTS
Join Carly Turnquist as she accompanies husband Mike to his twenty-fifth college reunion in Arizona. However, a sleepy little town is about to wake up to its first murder in over a hundred years, and Carly’s nose for a mystery is on high alert.
FIVE AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS
By The Numbers Book 4
BY LEEANN BETTS
With this many people in one place, two things were bound to be true. One of these people was a killer.
And one of these boring college types would soon die.
If not for her insatiable curiosity about the three hundred complete strangers she was about to meet, Carly Turnquist, forensic accountant, would not be caught dead in this chintzy reception room in a hotel in the middle of Nowheresville, Arizona.
Because in her world those two things would be true.
And she always had way more fun in her world than in the real.
She wasn’t having anywhere near the fun Mike had assured her she would enjoy.
After all, it was his college reunion, not hers.
And in Arizona in July, to boot.
Feeling as though she’d stepped onto the set of a low-grade college frat movie, she hovered in a dim corner near the buffet. The only good thing she’d seen here tonight was the shrimp cocktail.
And even that looked picked-over three hours into the meet-and-greet.
She sighed. Her shoes pinched, her back ached, and if she had to smile at one more person gushing to her about what a great guy her husband was, she might lose what she’d already eaten. The air conditioning blew a chill breeze across her bare arms, and once more she wished she was tucked into her jammies in her hotel room, dipping into the new murder mystery she’d picked up at the airport.
That, and the extra-large bag of malted milk balls.
A portly man with thinning hair and thick glasses standing across the room held her gaze then made a beeline for her.
Mike, Mike, where was Mike? She spotted him in a corner, his back to her. An older man—perhaps a professor—gestured with his hands. A peroxide-blonde stood beside him, smiling at the man on her right, whose strong chin and well-coiffed hair tweaked a memory. Did she know him? Several others stood in the group, including a tall, thin man reminding Carly of Vincent Price, the actor, as well as a couple of women, academic types, judging by their large eyeglasses and severe hair styles.
No time to reflect on them now. Portly Guy was still threading his way—not very graciously—through the folks on the dance floor. She glanced toward the door leading to the restrooms. Too many people in the way. She’d never make it in time. Maybe the patio. She side-stepped her way to the French doors which opened on to a flagstone path that wound its way through a cactus garden. Barrel-shaped plants, beaver-tail shaped arms, and looming saguaros stretching to the stars, festooned with white Christmas tree lights, marked her escape route. Couples huddled in darkened alcoves, the liquor causing the years to slip away, no doubt, rekindling old loves and igniting new ones.
She shivered, although the night air was much too warm for her to be truly cold.
She was so glad Mike hadn’t gone the way of most of his classmates—paunches, wrinkles, baldness—men and women alike seemed to have passed through some sort of time machine, appearing on the other side of fifty looking like the before ads for a cosmetic surgery office.
Glancing over her shoulder, she halted. She’d lost Mr. Portly in the crowd. Or perhaps he wasn’t really coming for her at all.
She paused near a waterfall, the bubbling water making her suddenly thirsty. Perhaps a glass of sparkling water would go down good right about now. She headed back toward the party, sidestepping a couple firmly wrapped into each other’s arms—and lips.
She peered through a pane in the door to make sure Mr. Portly-Guy wasn’t anywhere near, when a cold hand on her shoulder made her yelp.
She whirled to face its owner.
“Carly Anne Stevens, is that you?”
Tall and thin as a scarecrow, Harrison Dyer, accountant to The Family, faced her.
Carly stepped back, forcing him to retrieve his hand. One of Harrison’s annoying traits was he always stood too close for comfort. “Carly Anne Turnquist now.”
He grinned at her, his formerly brace-encapsulated smile now gleaming white. Unnaturally so. “So good to see you again.”
She glanced around. Where was Mike when she needed him? She spotted her husband in yet another clutch of classmates and spouses, nodding at something the same much-older man—one of his former professors—Binkle, Bunkle? A man Mike revered—was saying. The professor’s hands gestured in the air, making his point. His florid face—whether from exertion or too much alcohol, she wasn’t certain—made his white hair appear snowy.
She sighed. Mike wasn’t going to rescue her. She turned back to Harrison. “I didn’t know you were alumni here.”
Some emotion she couldn’t quite identify flickered across his face—anger? Resentment? Embarrassment? But the expression was gone in a flash, leaving the half-smile and partly-curled top lip she remembered so well.
That, and his annoying habit of looking at everybody except the person he was with.
Or maybe that’s just how he treated her.
Harrison eyed the room behind them. Music filtered through the half-opened door, and a number of couples edged toward the dance floor. “No. I’m here on business.” He rolled his eyes. “No rest for the wicked, you know.”
“I think the phrase is ‘no rest for the weary’.”
He waved off her words like they were pesky flies. “Whatever.”
Carly studied Harrison. Although he’d aged—hadn’t they all—he’d changed only in superficial ways. A much better-dressed scarecrow than during their college days, he still watched everybody else as though he was looking for someone more interesting, or powerful, or beautiful, to be with. She sighed. At one point in the past, she’d been flattered that he’d paid even a minute’s attention to her.
Until they danced and he spent their entire three minutes eying the other women in the room.
“So, Harrison, if you’re not here for the reunion, what are you doing in Central Arizona? Not exactly Chicago, is it?”
His smile slipped a millimeter before he plastered the grin back on. “Like I said, I’m here on business. Until the end of the week.”
“What a coincidence we should be in the same place for the first time in over twenty-five years.”
“You don’t think I’m chasing you, do you?”
No, she didn’t think that. He hadn’t when she was twenty-five years younger and twenty—okay, twenty-five pounds lighter. “More likely you’re chasing something in a mini-skirt.”
His jaw dropped, his mouth creating an O. If he’d pointed his thumb at his chest and mimicked Miss Piggy’s ‘moi?’, she wouldn’t have been surprised.
While he’d majored in accounting, he’d minored in drama.
And not the university course.
He leaned in closer. “Actually, I saw you at the airport. Recognized you right away.”
He batted his eyelashes.
If he was trying to appear innocent, he failed miserably.
Carly resisted the urge to step back again. She’d spent three years in classes with Harrison Dyer at the University of Northern Indiana, trying to ignore his sexist innuendos about the other women in their classes, repeatedly turning down his pleas for help. He wasn’t going to chase her off again. “Why didn’t you say something at the airport?”
“Couldn’t catch up with you. You and—is the guy on your arm the mister in Turnquist?”
Harrison nodded, his lips pursed. “Thought so. There is something different about couples who have been intimate, don’t you think? You can tell by their body language. A familiarity, perhaps, that you don’t notice in friends. Even friends with benefits.”
A blonde glided to stand beside Harrison. She looped an arm through his, pressing against his side. Her low-cut dress revealed more skin than Carly thought proper, and her too-red lipstick appeared harsh in the dim lighting. “Are you done here, Harry? I want to go to our room and get more comfortable.” She giggled in a little-girl manner that contrasted with the sun-induced wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. She held out a hand to Carly. “Hi. I’m Misty.”
Yes, you are. Transparent and irritating. Carly returned the greeting. “Carly. Harrison—Harry and I went to college together.”
Misty’s eyes opened wide. “Wow. I’ve never met anyone who knew Harry before he came to Chicago.” Her Midwestern accent sharpened the r’s and rolled the o’s. “Maybe we can get together over coffee and Danish and you can tell me all about this bad boy.” She mock-punched Harrison’s arm. “What do you think, Harry?”
Carly gritted her teeth. While the response might be merely annoying when shot from the mouth of an angst-ridden teen, coming from a man of his age, the word grated on her sensibilities. Still, she wasn’t going to see them again, so she could be pleasant. In short spurts. “Good to see you, Harrison.”
She nodded at his companion then glanced at the woman’s ring finger.
Probably one of his friends with benefits, judging by her body language.
And based on the way she clung to him, Misty would like to make their relationship more than that.
Harrison sidled away a step, putting some distance between him and Misty.
But not him. He’s already scoping out the next one.
Harrison laid a hand on Carly’s arm.
Her bare arm.
She glanced at his hand then at him.
He snatched back his hand as though she’d threatened to bite him.
Which she might well have done if he hadn’t made the first move.
Where was her husband? “What?”
“Can we get together tomorrow? I have something I need to talk to you about.”
“Again, what? We haven’t seen each other in years. We’re not going to be friends in the future any more than we were in college. We don’t run in the same circles, Harrison. I follow the law.”
She left the accusation hanging in the air between them.
Misty huffed, her bangs lifting with the exhalation, then wheeled on her four-inch stilettos. “I’ll be inside when you’re ready to leave.”
He turned toward Carly. “And I follow the money. I have a problem that I think you can help me with. I’ll make it worth your while.”
Visions of sitting around the hotel room while Mike spent the day in a tour of the university, a dedication of a new wing of the library, and lectures about the latest research from the engineering department didn’t exactly thrill her. She wasn’t a sunbather, the town was small and uninteresting, and she knew enough not to venture out into the desert by herself.
Maybe she could survive spending an hour with someone as obnoxious as Harrison Dyer.
After all, she could always say no to whatever scheme he was going to present.
She was a big girl.
She could take care of herself.
Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. No Accounting for Murder and There Was a Crooked Man, books 1 and 2 in her By the Numbers series, released in the fall of 2015 Book 3, Unbalanced, released in January. Book 4, Five and Twenty Blackbirds, is due in April, with more planned for later dates. If you like accountants or are an accountant, check out Counting the Days: a 21-day devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk. You can follow Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com. All books are available at Amazon.com in digital and print, and at Smashwords.com in digital.
Links to Leeann’s website, blog, books, etc.
**SPECIAL GIVEAWAY**: Leeann is giving away a print (US Only) or eBook (anywhere) copy of FIVE AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS to one reader who comments on this Author Peek or Karen’s Killer Book Bench blogs. Thank you, Leeann, for sharing your story with us. Don’t miss the chance to read these books!