Authors: Diane Bator
Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction
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Copyright © 2015 by Diane Bator
Cover design by Estrella Designs
Gemma Halliday Publishing
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
To Sensei Angelo,
sensei, boss, and great friend.
And Sensei Ric,
Thank you both for always pushing me to find new limits.
Both in class and out!
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When Sensei Mick Williams dreamed, he dreamed big—much to the chagrin of his receptionist Gilda Wright. After spending a late night designing fiery logos for the new Phoenix Martial Arts school and printing off scorecards for Mick Williams' MMA Extravaganza, Gilda had fallen asleep on top of her covers with nightmares of martial arts clip art coming to life and chasing her through the new training hall.
Mick had finally texted at two in the morning to apologize for being tied up. By then Gilda was no longer concerned with where he was and why he hadn't bothered to show up. She needed sleep more than snuggling up to her handsome boyfriend. Well, that was only partially true. While she would have loved to fall asleep with his strong arms around her, rebuilding the school had taken him away from her several evenings lately.
So had dozens of mysterious phone calls that he'd taken behind his closed office door. Practically everyone in town had warned her against falling for her boss and sensei, but she'd convinced herself they didn't know him like she did. After working alongside him for over two years, she was sure his womanizing and secrecy were things of the past.
Tired and grumpy, Gilda got up early and shuffled into the kitchen to stare at the screen of the laptop she'd borrowed from work. No fresh ideas. No motivation. Just a stiff neck and deep frustration. She needed fresh air and something to get her blood circulating.
Since the old Yoshida school had shut its doors over the summer, Mick and his good friend Razi Mauli were determined to build an even bigger and better martial arts school to attract more students. Working on the new school side by side with Mick was fun at times. When they weren't painting walls and building changing stalls, however, Gilda was glued to the computers, redesigning all the invoices and other stationary they'd soon need.
She ate a banana then called her best friend. "You want to go for a run?"
"Are you crazy?" Marion Yearly snorted. "I want coffee and a couple Danish."
Gilda sighed. "Come on. You keep saying how much you want to get in shape. This would be a great morning to get started. Meet me at my place. We'll go for a run on the beach."
"In view of handsome hunks in Speedos? Don't you have somewhere no one would see me flopping and jiggling? A big-boned girl like me might scare people."
"You'll be fine." Gilda smiled as she poured a glass of water. "Come on. We'll go slow and easy."
Fifteen minutes later, Marion arrived on the front porch. Baby-faced and built like a fifty-pound overweight linebacker, she grimaced. "You know you have a warped sense of fun, right?"
"I know, but you keep showing up for karate classes so I guessed you were somewhat serious about getting in shape." Gilda led Marion out the back door, cutting through her garden toward the shores of Lake Erie. "You ready?"
Marion scowled then nodded. "Let the fun and torture begin."
The beach was so close to Gilda's house the ground had barely changed from rock to light sand before Marion puffed, wiping a hand across her pasty forehead. "Can you slow down a little? I'm getting a side cramp."
"Seriously?" Gilda rolled her eyes. She and Marion had left her house only three minutes earlier, including the time it took her to lock the door. "You know you should drink more water."
Marion wheezed. "Don't need it. I think I'm dying."
"You'll be fine, just slow down a bit."
"Nope." Marion gasped. "Not going to make it. Go on without me. Tell Razi…" She wheezed and clutched her chest. "Tell Razi I tried my best."
Gilda sighed. If she forced Marion to run any farther, their friendship might be short-lived. "We've only run a hundred yards. You can't be cramping up already. Besides, you were the one who wanted to get in shape to wow Razi so he'd ask you out."
Marion doubled over in the middle of the path still wheezing. "I know, I know, but that was before I thought things through."
"What do you mean?" Gilda hopped up and down on the spot to warm up. Her usual five-mile run might have to be postponed due to her best friend's change of attitude.
"Well, if I run, I'll lose weight." She paused to cough. "If I lose weight, all my clothes will be too big." Another pause to suck in a deep breath. "Then I'll have to go shopping…"
Not averse to the occasional shopping trip, Gilda shrugged. "What's so bad about that?"
Marion didn't answer. She seemed to look past Gilda toward the beach. Her jaw dropped, and her unblinking eyes widened. It was the same look she got when faced with a buffet dinner.
"Are you okay?" Gilda knitted her eyebrows together and waved a hand in front of her friend's ruddy face. "Marion?"
She released a long, slow sigh. "Oh, Gilda. I think I'm in love."
"Yeah, with Razi. I know. We've had many wine-fuelled, in-depth discussions about how you imagine your future together."
"No." Slack-jawed, Marion shook her head and pointed. "Him."
Gilda spun around so fast she tripped over both feet then lay sprawled in the sand with her eyes wide. A brilliant flash of light briefly blinded her. As the spots faded from her eyes, she made out the figure of a half-naked man, with loose, long blond hair, swinging a sword on the beach ahead. Her arms twitched, and she fought the urge to make sure her head was still attached to her shoulders. The bare-chested man wielded his weapon well over a hundred feet away.
"Are you okay?" a man off to her left asked.
Gilda tore her gaze away from the muscular man with the weapon for a brief moment to where Detective John Fabio gazed at her over the rims of his dark sunglasses. He and Detective Jason Thayer, two of Sandstone Cove's finest, sat on a bench with coffees and breakfast sandwiches from Café Beanz. Despite the rising heat, both wore suits with white button-up shirts and shiny black dress shoes.
Marion remained wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and motionless behind her.
"What are you two doing here?" Gilda asked.
"Our jobs." Thayer, Gilda's former boyfriend, had cheated on her more often than the tide came and went. Even after they'd been forced to work together to solve a series of murders, he still couldn't seem to give her a straight answer without a couple snide ones first. "We were hired to serve and protect, weren't we?"
She snorted. "Well, it doesn't look like you're doing much serving or protecting. Did you see that guy?"
Fabio, who resembled a hunched stone gargoyle, nudged Thayer. "We got a call about some lunatic waving a sword on the beach. I thought it would be Mick. Clearly, I lost the bet and have to buy lunch."
"Nope, that's definitely not Mick," Marion sputtered. "That guy's gorgeous. Not that Mick isn't. I mean…he's hot, but…this guy…wow."
The long blond hair and mahogany surfer tan, enhanced by his white board shorts, set the stranger on the beach far apart in appearance from Mick Williams. Even the thought of Mick, with his dark hair and lightly bronzed skin, was enough to make Gilda's face warm. Or maybe the sudden heat came from watching the rippling muscles of the Adonis, who seemed so focused on his training he didn't appear to notice any of them.
Gilda averted her gaze, blew out a breath, and rubbed sand off her arms and legs. "Yup, clearly not Mick."
"Water?" Fabio handed her a plastic bottle. "You both look like you might need some. You'll have to share."
"Honestly, Gilda," Thayer snorted. "What is it with you and athletic types, anyway?"
Gilda made a face but returned her gaze to Mr. Tall, Blond, and Well-Armed. Even after being a big part of the local martial arts community for the past two years, she'd never seen him before. "Do either of you guys know who he is?"
"He does look familiar." Fabio crumpled his sandwich wrapper and stuffed it into a bag. "My guess is he's a friend of Mick's or Razi's. Are you sure he's not here to help with the new martial arts school?"
"He could be. If he is, he's one of the instructors I haven't met yet." Gilda folded her arms.
mentioned he was bringing in new instructors, but she hadn't actually met many of them yet. Of course, she hadn't seen Mick a lot lately either. The day Yoshida Martial Arts closed, he and Razi had scrambled to create a new school out of the remains of the old one and planned the one-day MMA tournament to celebrate. They'd even borrowed an octagon from a school in Buffalo just to give the tournament a more authentic feel.
Phoenix Martial Arts was set to officially open in two days, six blocks up the street from the former Yoshida Martial Arts school. She was glad Mick and Razi had pooled their resources to buy a new building. No amount of fresh paint, new mats, or shiny mirrors could mask the chills she got whenever she walked into the old building to move out files and her office equipment.
Thayer ran a hand through his sand-colored hair and grinned, apparently taking her silence for anger. "I told you not to trust Mick Williams, but you wouldn't listen."
"Shut up, Thayer," Marion said. "You don't exactly have a great track record when it comes to Gilda, or any woman, for that matter."
"Oh, that's why you brought Marion." Thayer flared his nostrils. "So she could do the talking for you. Seriously, Gilda, you could have worked anywhere in town instead of holding out for the new karate school," he reminded her. Again. For about the sixth time that week.
Before Yoshida Martial Arts closed, Gilda was receptionist, accountant, and cleaning staff all rolled into one five-foot-six-inch bundle. Its closure had pushed her into the arms of Mick Williams, her boss and one of Sandstone Cove's most eligible bachelors. The fact that she hadn't been able to spend much alone time with him lately, combined with Thayer's negativity, only fueled the tiny doubts that sprouted in the back of her mind.
Marion wiped her forehead. "The girls at work will never believe this. I should snap a few pictures of that hunk of beef. Look at the way the sun gleams off those biceps and lights up his hair like a halo. Wow." She sighed. "He looks like a Greek god."
Gilda looked. With the man's image burned into her brain, she blew out a slow breath and turned to Thayer. "So, are you going to ask the guy with the big pointy sword who he is and what he's doing here on our beach?"
"Nope." Thayer clutched his paper coffee cup. "He's got a sword. He could be crazy
"Could be?" Gilda raised one eyebrow and eyed the blond man as he swung the blade and gave a loud yell, a
that made her flinch and sent a shudder through her. "Good guess."
"You have a gun and a badge, and we already know you're dangerous." Fabio tapped his partner's arm. "I think you'll be fine."
Thayer's eyes bulged. "What? Are you kidding me? I can't shoot him. What if I miss?"
know for certain you shouldn't be a cop." Fabio grunted and picked a long stick up off the sand and limped toward the sword swinger. Always prepared. He'd probably brought the stick from elsewhere along the beach when he heard about the sword. After being knifed in the back while on duty in Detroit, he always seemed to be prepared.
"Maybe I should go too." Thayer hesitated. "As backup."
"You think so? He is your partner, after all." Gilda clambered to her feet, not wanting to miss anything when the detectives confronted the swordsman.
Thayer paused then met her gaze. "Wish me luck?"
Gilda snorted. While she wished him a lot of things, luck wasn't among them. With a quick glance back at Marion, she followed Fabio and Thayer toward the armed man, who paused and narrowed his eyes as he lowered his sword.