Title: PUBLISH OR PERISH
Author: Kerry Blaisdell
Genre: Romantic Mystery/Suspense
IN THE CUTTHROAT WORLD OF BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH...
When computer whiz Emma O’Manny’s scientist husband dumps her on Valentine’s Day, vandalizing his office seems like a justifiable—if petty—response. But then Dan’s small plane crashes under mysterious circumstances, and Emma’s suddenly the prime suspect in a double homicide. Worse, Dan may have faked important vaccine safety research, to further his career—and the digital trail leads to Emma. Can she determine which data is correct, to prove her innocence? Or will Dan keep controlling her life, even from the grave?
...THE FIRST TO PUBLISH WINS...
Detective Vin Bronislovas came to Portland to rebuild his reputation, after nearly blowing a years-long investigation by believing the lies of a mobster’s daughter. A single misstep—like falling for another suspect—would destroy his career and ruin his life. But when the killer strikes again, and Emma and her children are threatened, Vin must choose between the Job and love. Can he trust his gut? Or will repeating his past mistakes allow a murderer to go free, and potentially put millions of children at risk from an unsafe vaccine?
...AND ANYONE CAN MAKE A KILLING. ANYONE.
“Who’s your friend?”
Emma’s startled gaze swung over Vin’s shoulder, and he turned to see the oddest couple strolling up, looking totally out of place in the park. The woman, tall and thin, wore pink from her pearl earrings and lipstick down to her high-heeled sandals. With her platinum bob and dark-lashed violet eyes, she could have stepped out of a magazine. Vin put her in her sixties, maybe older, though he couldn’t see a wrinkle on her. He would have guessed younger, but she was a little too perfect, too coiffed. Beautiful, aging well, but working too hard at it.
He watched Emma brush self-consciously at the mud and grass, and considered telling her how hot she was. In her hip-hugging jeans, shirt plastered to her soft, round breasts, her hair coming loose in an I’ve-just-been-laid kind of way, she had nothing to worry about. Then again, telling her that might make her feel worse, and would probably be a dumb move in any case.
No damsels in distress…
The couple reached them, and Vin watched a look of utter horror cross the man’s face. “Emma, darling! What happened to you?”
He wore yellow linen that had wrinkled, but not in the carefree way linen was supposed to—it had wrinkled all over. And while the woman’s suit seemed to repel grass stains and plant matter, the man’s attracted both. His skin was sun-damaged, his hair dyed, and he’d had a facelift. Or two. Even so, there were laugh lines around his eyes, and his concern for Emma seemed genuine.
“A puddle,” she answered. “And Zorro.”
“Ah. ‘Next time I want some idiot to guard a prisoner, I shall do it myself!’”
“Oh, Charley!” Blondie touched his arm, drawing his attention back. “Stop!”
Vin said to Emma, “Did I miss something?”
“You don’t want to know. Bethanne von Heinrich, Charley Addison. This is Detective Bronislovas. I met him at Dan’s lab—he’s Zorro’s nephew.”
Blondie gave him a surprised look, followed by quick assessment. She held out a hand which he took. It was fine-boned and dry. “Mrs. von Heinrich.”
She laughed, low and sultry. “Oh, please. Call me Bethanne, Detective.”
“Vin,” he said, then nodded at Charley, who regarded him curiously.
“Grandma?” Justin said to Bethanne, and Vin regrouped.
“You’re Emma’s mother?”
“How sweet. People say we look like sisters, but I’m sure they’re just flattering me.”
“Grandma,” Justin said again, saving Vin from having to come up with a blatant lie.
“Can you show me and Zorro and Juney how you walked across the tightrope in stilettoes and saved the baby from the fire?”
Vin looked at Emma again. “Now I’m sure I missed something.”
“Bethanne was an actress.”
“Oh, stop,” Bethanne said, not meaning it.
Charley said, “Not just any actress. The Anne Clarice. Did you ever see Mafia Queen?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Sorry,” Vin said cautiously. “Azi and I watch mainly musicals.”
Charley made a face, but Emma said, “Don’t worry. They’re from the seventies. They might be out on DVD, but I don’t think they made it to streaming.”
“Seventies?” Vin did the math. How old was Bethanne, anyway?
Bethanne herself broke in. “Oh, but I was just a baby then.”
Justin said impatiently, “Grandma! Please?”
Vin thought for sure she’d tell him not to call her “Grandma,” but instead she turned to him affectionately. “Oh, very well, Justin. We can use the balance beam for the rope. Charley, come. You’re our production manager, in charge of special effects.”
“I live to serve,” Charley said, following as they headed for the playground.
Emma called after them, “I’m going home to change. Be back in time for dinner!”
“We will!” Juney yelled.
Emma sighed and looked at Vin, then noticed they were alone and cleared her throat. “Well. I’d better go. It was nice seeing you again.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“What?” Her gaze snapped to his, uncertainty replaced with another smile when she understood he was teasing. Even though it wasn’t full-watt, he still lost himself and had to refocus.
“I’m pretty sure the last time we met, it wasn’t a good experience for you.” Her face went small and vulnerable, and Vin could have kicked himself. “I’m sorry. That came out wrong. I didn’t mean to make you sad. I—Ah, screw it. I’m making it worse, aren’t I?”
“It’s okay. Really.”
“Hey.” He touched her arm, startling her. “Don’t be embarrassed. You had a lot dumped on you, and I happened to be nearby. People help each other out in crises.”
“Is that why you’re a cop?”
“Detective,” he corrected, and she actually laughed, a real laugh that also flashed in those strange gold-brown eyes. It sent warmth straight to his gut. She should definitely laugh more.
“Is that why you’re a detective, then?”
He still held her arm, becoming aware of it at the same moment she did. She stilled, and his blood pounded and he said softly, “I became a detective because I like a challenge. I like taking things apart, seeing how they tick. Finding out what’s under the surface.”
She swallowed. “Things?”
Christ. He couldn’t make himself let go. She was so close, so warm, smelled so good. Then she pulled gently away, and he let her go, the feel of her still warming his skin.
“Do you ever put them back together?”
His brain still lacked blood and he drew a blank. “What?”
“Things. Puzzles. People. After you tear them apart—do you put them back together?”
Interesting. What about that scared her? The thought of what someone might find, or that they might leave her in pieces?
“I said take, not tear.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Tear is violent.”
“So is take.”
“But tear implies lack of consent. Take works best with give.”
“Are you saying you ask permission first?”
“Always,” he said, watching as her breath caught and her eyes darkened. Jesus H. Christ. He had to get away, before he did something really asinine, like try to save her from herself. “Gotta go. See you around, Mike.”
He grabbed his tennis bag and turned, leaving her flushed and flustered and looking like six kinds of trouble he didn’t need. Didn’t want. Had to escape.
At the edge of the park, he risked a glance back, then couldn’t decide if he was relieved or disappointed that she’d gone.