Last Resort of Murder (A Lacy Steele Mystery Book 9)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21

2015 Vanessa Gray Bartal


This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Chapter 1

“I’ve decided to go on a diet.”

a trap.
That was Jason’s first thought as Lacy sat across from him and made
the declaration. Why else would she tell him she had something serious to
discuss, invite him to her office, and say the words with such a grave tone?
Her hands were folded on her desk as if he were a candidate being interviewed
for a job. Suddenly he felt as nervous as a new hire.

“Okay,” he said, but it came out
sounding like a question. “Why?”

“Why? Are you kidding me?”

She paused as if waiting for an
Don’t answer,
his instinct
warned him. But he was legitimately curious. “No?” he said at last.

“Jason, I’ve gained four pounds
since my mother’s been in town.”

“So?” he said. He still felt
tentative. He glanced surreptitiously around the room in case he was being
pranked. This felt like a setup. Why was his girlfriend talking about a diet
like it was a death sentence? And why was she concerned about a measly four

“I will not be fat again,” she

“You were never fat,” he said.

She gave him a look and he stopped

“Maybe you were a little chubby,”
he tried, but it didn’t help.

“A little chubby.
A little chubby
. Jason, my freshman year
of college, a fraternity made beeping noises one day when I walked backwards,”
she said.

Suddenly he realized this was what
he had been anticipating, the freakout that had been waiting in the wings since
her parents decided to separate. He thought buying the scooter might have been
part of some mental breakdown, but he was wrong. That had been more than a whim
and something she had been thinking about for a while, unbeknownst to him.
Other than the scooter, which worried him more than he would tell her, she had
taken the breakup well, too well. If he knew anything about Lacy, it was that
she felt things deeply, deeper than anyone he had ever known. Her heart was
huge, but sometimes the emotions got bottlenecked inside her, especially the
negative ones. Her feelings didn’t always express themselves in normal ways.
Sometimes she did desperate, dire things. Things like go on a diet when food
was the thing that brought her the most joy in life.

“Lacy, you don’t have to diet,” he

She put her hand over her eyes and
whispered. “I couldn’t zip my pants this morning.”

He knew her so well, but there were
still things about her he couldn’t understand. Why was her tone filled with so
much failure and shame? It broke his heart. He left his position in the guest
chair and went around the desk to reach for her. At first she didn’t respond,
but when she did, she leaned into him wholeheartedly. That was all he had ever
wanted from her—for her to let him in completely, to let him get to the
heart of her. She had built so many walls around herself, most of them she
didn’t realize were there. It was taking time to peel the layers away, but he
was a patient man.

“Lacy,” he soothed as he ran his
hand over her hair. “Stop.”

“I’m so hungry, and I’ve only been
dieting for ninety minutes,” she said.

“Don’t do this to yourself. Weight
fluctuates. It’s no big deal,” he said.

She opened her eyes and eased away
from him. “You have no idea what it’s like to struggle with weight. You have
the metabolism of a raging rhino. You can sneeze and lose enough to make your
pants fall off.”

“Don’t turn this around on me,” he
said. “I’m on your side.”

Her shoulders sagged in defeat. He
hated that. “You’re right. I’m sorry. The diet is already making me cranky.”

“So don’t do it,” he said.

“I have to. I don’t like feeling
out of control like this.”

“Do you think it’s possible your desire
for control is more about your family situation and less about food?” he said.

She squinted at him. “No. It’s the
food.” She still wouldn’t talk about her parents’ separation, but that was her
way. She didn’t like to talk about difficult, hurtful things. “I need to do

It was obvious he wasn’t going to
talk her out of it, at least not today. “What can I do to help?”

“Be patient with me. Diets make
me…unpleasant,” she said.

“Lacy,” he said, this time in
exasperation. When would she learn to trust him? How many times did he have to
tell her that she wasn’t too much?
don’t tell,
he thought as he kissed her.

“Your brother is here.” Her weird
secretary opened the door and stuck her head in without knocking.

“My brother?” Lacy said, pulling away
from Jason to survey Suze.

“The religious one,” Suze said.

“Brother-in-law,” Lacy corrected.

“Whatever. He’s here. I told him
you might not want to be disturbed because you were probably in here making out
or something.”

“Tosh can come in,” Lacy said. Suze
eased back out and closed the door.

“You should give her a raise,”
Jason said. He no longer advocated for firing the crazy woman. It wasn’t worth
arguing over anymore, especially because it was apparent that Lacy had a soft
spot for her. Unsurprising since she collected outcasts the way some people
collected stamps.

“She’s good at filing,” Lacy said,
as if that made up for all her other deficiencies. In Lacy’s mind, it probably
did. She liked to see the good in people.

Tosh opened the door and came
inside, smiling. He was always smiling since the birth of his daughter, Lucy.
It was a tired smile, though, and there were bags under his eyes. He sat
without waiting to be invited. “Hey,” he said.

Lacy sat in her chair. Jason
perched on the edge of her desk. “Hey,” she said. “What’s up?”

“I have a problem,” Tosh said.

“Is it my mom?” Lacy guessed.

At the mention of her mother, his
features tightened. “Yes, but I’ve come to accept that as a problem with no
solution. What I’ve come to talk to you about has a simple answer, one you can
both be a part of.”

“The way you’re suddenly talking
like a politician makes me uneasy,” Jason said.

“Nothing to be uneasy about. I’m
here to offer you a weekend away,” Tosh said.

“Are you selling timeshares now?”
Lacy asked. “Because any minute I feel like you’re going to start calling us,
‘Friend’ overmuch.”

“Nothing like that, Friend. It’s a
family outing at a luxury resort,” Tosh said.

Lacy and Jason stared at him. He
stared back, showing all his teeth as he smiled.

“That’s creepy,” Jason said. “You
look like a werewolf.”

“I agree with Jason. No human
should show their canines like that when they smile. You’re making my jugular
feel vulnerable. What’s going on?” Lacy said.

“You know that Riley and my sisters
have a bit of trouble getting along,” Tosh said.

“Palestinians and Israelis have a
bit of trouble getting along. They have nothing on Riley and your sisters,”
Lacy said.

“What does this have to do with
us?” Jason asked.

“My sisters planned an outing at a
resort and invited us along,” Tosh said.

“Knowing that Riley can’t go
because she just had a baby,” Lacy guessed.

“Exactly, only Riley is insisting
that she will go, as long as she can bring along her personal entourage,
meaning you guys.”

“All right,” Lacy drawled. “What’s
the catch?”

“It’s a ski resort. I know how you
feel about skiing, but you don’t have to. Riley won’t be able to. There’s
plenty at the lodge to keep you busy. You can get a massage, my treat,” Tosh

“Sure, I’d love to go,” Lacy
agreed. “It’s time I learned to ski. It’s a great calorie burn.”

Tosh looked at Jason. Jason shook
his head and mouthed, “Don’t ask.”

“There’s more,” Tosh said. He took
a deep breath. “It’s a little more than a ski resort. It’s also a health spa.
They don’t allow sugar, but I’m willing to help you smuggle the necessary

“Not necessary. Jason and I were
just talking about how I need to lose weight.”

“That’s not…What do you hear when I
talk?” Jason said.

“The point is that this couldn’t
have come at a better time. Forced diets are the best kind.”

“Great,” Tosh said. “That’s settled

“Wait, I’m still suspicious,” Jason
said. “What else aren’t you telling us? What’s the other catch?”

“There’s no catch,” Tosh said.

“It’s going to be the four of us
away for a ski weekend?” Jason said.

“And Lucy, of course,” Tosh said,
but he was smiling the weird smile again.

“Tosh,” Lacy pressed.

“And your parents. Riley was
adamant they come along.”

Lacy groaned. “She doesn’t think
she’s going to fix their marriage, does she? This isn’t
The Parent Trap,
and she’s no Hayley Mills,” Lacy said.

“Very little of that sentence made
sense to me,” Jason said, but Tosh had no trouble getting it. He shrugged.

“I’ve tried to talk her out of it,
but you know how it is with the Steele women once they have their minds set on
something,” he said.

Jason nodded his agreement until he
felt Lacy’s eyes on him. Then he shook his head. “That’s it then? The six of us
plus the baby?” he asked.

“Plus Kimber and Michael. Riley has
her matchmaking hat on there, too. It’s the hormones.”

“Michael’s in Ireland,” Lacy
reminded him.

“Then I spoke to his doppelganger
downstairs,” Tosh said.

Lacy stood abruptly. “Michael’s
home? Why didn’t he tell me?”

“Just guessing here, but I think it
might have something to do with your secretary,” Tosh said.

Suze had a raging crush on Michael
and no desire to hide it.

“Still,” Lacy said. She sounded
hurt. Not for the first time Jason had to tamp down his jealousy where Michael
was concerned. They said there was nothing between them, and he believed them.
But that didn’t mean it was easy for him to see his girlfriend disappointed
that another man hadn’t said hello to her after his long vacation.

“I’m going to go say hello to
Michael,” Lacy said.

“We’re on for the weekend though,
right? Riley wanted me to talk you into it before I go home,” Tosh said.

“It sounds like a blast,” Lacy said
distractedly before letting herself out of the office.

“How’s she doing with the separation?”
Tosh asked Jason after she left.

“She’s on a diet,” Jason said.

“That’s worse than I thought,” Tosh
said. “Riley breaks down and weeps at various intervals, but I can’t tell if
it’s the separation, the hormones, the complete lack of sleep, or the fact that
her mother is still staying in our house. I know that’s why I weep.”

“Better you than me,” Jason said.
He was staring at the door.

“Jealous much?” Tosh asked.

“She says there’s nothing between
them but friendship,” Jason said.

“Strange. That’s what she used to
tell me about you,” Tosh said.

Jason gave him a sour expression.
Tosh grinned. “You enjoy my pain a lot for a pastor,” Jason said.

“I live with my mother-in-law. At
this point I enjoy anyone’s pain but my own,” Tosh said. “Don’t tell Lacy, but
I’m all in favor of Riley getting her parents back together. Frannie is driving
me crazy. The sooner she goes back to Florida, the better.”

“Do you think it’s going to work?”
Jason asked.

“Something has to. Besides, I hate
seeing how upset Riley is, and Lacy, too. And Frannie. And Clint. And Riley’s
grandparents. The whole situation is catastrophic.”

“Can’t you do something clerical
about it?” Jason asked.

“Divine intervention? Believe me,
I’ve been praying for that since Frannie’s plane touched down,” Tosh said. “Why
don’t you do something about it?”

“Me? Why me?”

“You’re a cop. You’ve had tons of
experience mediating civil disputes and domestic situations.”

“Not civil disputes and domestic
situations I’m involved in,” Jason said.

“All I’m saying is that if you want
life to return to normal, AKA your girlfriend not on a diet, then you’d better
get involved,” Tosh said.

“Maybe it won’t be as bad as we’re
predicting. I mean, it’s a diet. Women go on them everyday and nothing
catastrophic happens, right?” Jason said.

“If you have to ask the question,
you wouldn’t understand the answer,” Tosh said.

Jason glanced at the door again.
Should he get involved in Lacy’s parents’ marital woes? He would have to give
it some serious consideration.

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