Authors: Jada Ryker
The Second Marisa Adair Mystery
This book is a work of fiction and a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real people, places, or things is a coincidence.
MAYHEM TAKES A DARE
Copyright © 2013 by Jada Ryker
All Rights Reserved. This includes the right to reproduce any portion of this book in any form.
Thank you to Jada’s Betas, superhero readers. Through their efforts,
Mayhem Takes a Dare
is a better quality and more polished book. Jada’s Betas are Paul “Eagle Eye” Carwile, Grace “Captain” Kirkland, and Joyce “Joy of Syntax” Beauchamp.
Thank you to my wonderful children, Heather and Julia, for their ongoing support. They are beautiful, confident, and intelligent young women. When I look at them, I also see kids laughing on waterslides, playing basketball, and baking cookies.
Professional editing and proofreading services were provided by Bryan Miller. He may be reached through his website at www.williambryanmiller.com.
Any errors are the sole responsibility of the author.
A Special Message to the Reader
The characters in the Takes a Dare series have rattled around in my head for years. Taking them from my thoughts to words on the page has been a labor of love. I hope you will enjoy meeting them.
ve read the first book in the series, then yo
ve met Althea Flaxton. Like me, she is a writer. In this book, she offers her “story within the story”.
Cross to Bear
is a horror/romance short story. The short story is in a different font, Courier New, since Althea doesn’t want to trade in her old typewriter for a computer. Althea and I hope you like the story.
As an author, I rely on feedback from readers. If you enjoy
Mayhem Takes a Dare
, please take a moment to leave your comments on Amazon. I want the book to be perfect. If you have suggestions or found any typos, please email me at [email protected] To learn more about me and my work, please check out my webpage at www.JadaRyker.com.
If you would like to try a different type of book,
Dog Days of Karma
is a mystery adventure with romance and a soupçon of the paranormal. It’s the first book in the Karma series, chronicling the adventures of Celeste Carr and Ericka Maah, partners in the Carr – Maah Consulting Agency.
My published titles are listed at the end of the book, and are available on Amazon in electronic and paperback formats.
Table of Contents
“There you are, you pipsqueak bitch!”
The outraged bellow echoed throughout the high-ceilinged, sparsely populated dark bar. Startled, Marisa Adair jumped on her barstool, the furious howl sending her teetering toward her friend Tara Ross on her adjacent stool.
“Brianna.” Without turning around, Tara deftly shoved Marisa upright on her barstool.
Marisa wearily rubbed her temples. The enraged female was spewing vindictive anger. Marisa’s friend Tara was admittedly on the short side and evidently recognized the angry woman’s voice. Marisa had agreed to go to a face-to-face gathering of her friend’s online social club. She didn’t sign up to referee a cat fight. Could she just lay her head down on the antique, solid oak bar and pretend she didn’t hear anything?
“I am going to whip your sneaky, cheating little ass—”
Nope, pretending not to notice anything is impossible.
Marisa reluctantly swiveled on her barstool.
“Damn you, Tara, and your cursed website.” Her thick body curiously hunched over and her round face twisted into pale lines of rage, Brianna charged across the bar. She stopped so close to Marisa that her dark hair and her lush cleavage brushed Marisa’s bare arm. The enraged interloper ignored Marisa’s involuntary shift away from her. “I was so happy when I met Caleb online. He was handsome and sexy and muscular. We started seeing each other, and I thought he was The One.”
From the dimness, a woman materialized next to Tara and slid onto the empty barstool next to her. Thin as a reed swaying in the breeze, the stranger’s dark red hair was teased out a good foot from her skull, and her curved bangs were ruthlessly sprayed in place. She grabbed the top edge of her garishly striped top, the dark horizontal circles matching the lavishly applied red lipstick, and firmly hauled it up her board-flat chest toward her neck.
The angry Brianna turned from Tara to the newcomer. “Go away, Carla, this is none of your business.”
“Brianna, cut the crap.” The teased red hair swayed as Carla leaned across the surprised Tara and the trapped Marisa until she was nearly nose-to-nose with Brianna. “Caleb was a womanizing bastard. He didn’t care about anyone but himself. He didn’t love you. He ignored you, unless he was having sex with you. Tara’s social networking site didn’t make him a roaming, amoral tomcat.”
Brianna’s body seemed to puff up with her furious anger. Her round face was hard and unyielding, and her eyes were dark and empty of humanity.
A wave of sick panic boiled in Marisa’s stomach. It rose in her chest, choking her. The panic filled the shadowy corners of her mind, waking up the slumbering ghosts of terror from her childhood. Brianna seemed to take on the size and strength and hatred of Marisa’s father in one of his frequent, drunken rages. Marisa closed her eyes and concentrated on pushing the old terror to the corners of her mind.
“Stay out of this, Carla! My soulmate, the only man I ever loved, is dead, murdered, and it’s Tara’s fault!” Her messy ponytail bobbled as Brianna pointed her trembling finger at Tara.
Marisa jerked upright. “Murder?” She thought Brianna was ranting about a break up, not a killing. She zeroed in on Tara’s harassed face.
Tara cleared her throat. “I was going to tell you, Marisa. I wanted to wait until later, after you’d had a chance to interact with the group members. Since we’ve dealt with crazed, homicidal maniacs before, I thought we could figure out who did it.”
“Let me get this straight. A man has been murdered. You think there’s a killer targeting your social networking site. You blithely sashay in here, with me in tow, so we can play a happy little game of ‘Who’s the Murderer’. Tara, you’ve dragged us both right onto the killer’s radar screen. Did it occur to you he may decide to call your bet and then raise you with a frisky little game of ‘Knock off the Amateur Detectives’?”
Wincing at the rising shrillness in her friend’s voice, Tara pretended to nervously peer into the shadowy dark corners, lit only by the blue screens in the scattered, nearly empty computer stations. On two opposite walls, gigantic television screens were dark and silent. “It’s too dark for him to have anyone on his radar.”
“Shut up!” Brianna stamped her foot.
Tara’s chest swelled in outrage against her snug t-shirt.
As if pulled by a string fastened to Tara’s burgeoning bust, the bartender slid over to her. “You want another 7-Up?”
The magic of Tara’s bust,
groaned Marisa to herself. Even in an innocent t-shirt, her friend’s perky bosom exerted its magic on the male beast as surely as gravity’s pull on all objects on earth. Half laughing at herself, half rolling her eyes, Marisa deliberately inhaled and expanded her chest under its short-sleeved, flowered blouse as far as it would go.
Like a prospector who’d just spied the glint of gold, Carla leaned forward with interest.
Marisa certainly had not foreseen that particular reaction. She hastily expelled her breath.
Tara followed Carla’s fascinated gaze, and hid a smile.
Brianna’s angry eyes swung to the bartender. “Her glass is full, you idiot. What about the rest of us?”
Carla tore her gaze from Marisa’s blouse, and turned to the bartender. “Yeah. She has a full drink. None of us have drinks.” She fixed him with the baleful glare of an irritated gargoyle clenched her fists.
Seeming to sense he was in danger of becoming the common enemy of a pack of angry females, the bartender suddenly decided he was needed on the other side of the bar.
Crossing her arms across her flat chest, Carla turned back to Brianna. “What about Caleb’s public service work?”
Feeling crowded by Brianna’s trembling body, Marisa pushed against the other woman in a futile attempt to make room. It was like shoving against the side of a cow. Marisa frowned, trying to keep up with the conversational hopscotch. “What, the murdered man worked for a non-profit agency?”
“Tara, tell your friend to stop being so naïve.” Carla leaned over Tara and Marisa to lock eyes with the upset woman. “Brianna, you need to stop whining and crying over a man who didn’t deserve your angst. I told him to quit playing with you, because you were taking him too seriously. He said he told you he wanted a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement, with no commitment on either side. My God, Brianna, I was here the night before he was killed when he called you Betty! You burst into tears and ran out of here! Don’t insult us by pretending you had the perfect relationship with Caleb, shattered by a cold-blooded murderer!”
Brianna’s dark eyes narrowed, her wobbly chin firmed in anger, and her free hand swung back. Before she could unleash her rage by slapping Carla, her arm was caught and held. In surprise, Brianna stumbled against Marisa and pivoted to face the intruder.
Marisa hopped off the barstool, and scooted out of reach of the raging bull of a woman.
The man who held her wrist below the clenched fist was shorter and thinner than Brianna, but whatever she saw in his face deflated her anger. She twisted away from him and ran to the ladies’ room.
“Whew, I’m not sure whether to feel sorry for Brianna or to slap some sense into that silly head.” Carla slid off her barstool and started to follow the younger woman.
“Wait!” Not sure of her motive, Marisa stopped the other woman. “What did you mean by public service?” She was dimly aware of the strange man as he slid his slight form onto the barstool Carla had vacated. Although he turned away from them, Marisa sensed his attention in his slouched figure.
Carla shrugged. “Caleb boasted he was performing a key public service. According to him, there are ugly girls who would never get laid unless he took on the job out of the goodness of his altruistic heart. The last time I saw him, I warned him. ‘One of these days, Caleb, your charity girls are going to figure out what you’re doing. Then they’re going to band together and string you up by your balls!’ And now, he’s dead.”
Marisa mused, “The prediction came true.
Tara shrugged as Carla stalked away toward the restrooms. “I have to give Caleb credit. He was completely up front in his ‘friends with benefits’ approach to all women.”
“Personally, I think the ‘friends with benefits’ concept is the single worst thing that’s happened in the dating world.”
“You’re right, Marisa. Unfortunately, online groups are filled with people like Caleb. For men and women like him, it isn’t even really ‘friends’ because they don’t want to establish a friendship.”
Marisa sighed. “The ‘friends with benefits’ thing is not dating, because they don’t go out.” She swiveled toward movement in her peripheral vision.
Tara followed her gaze. The young man who had caught Brianna’s fist slid off his barstool and moved away from them. As he glanced back at them over his shoulder, the smoky tinted lenses caught the dim, white neon light bordering the bar.
“It’s just an endless series of booty calls. It’s empty, with no feelings.” Tara frowned, her eyes on the young man. Her focused attitude reminded Marisa of an alert bird dog who had just spotted a juicy quail in the bushes. “It’s too bad Brianna is such a sensitive soul.”
Marisa frowned. Beneath the rage, there had been hurt, and Brianna’s hot eyes had glittered with tears as well as anger.
“She obviously thought she could change him,” continued Tara, “and make him want more than just sex with her.” Tara jerked her head. “Does the guy who grabbed Brianna’s arm look familiar to you?”
As Marisa and Tara watched, he gracefully melted away into the shadows.
Tara peered after him. “His gait looked really familiar, but I couldn’t make out his face at all. This has got to be the darkest bar on the face of the planet.” Tara shrugged and turned to Marisa. Her pretty features were zombie pale in the neon light tracing the edge of the oak bar. “We’re a little early for the online forum’s face-to-face meeting.” With her petite body perched on the stool next to Marisa and her bouncy curls, Tara looked like a child playing dress up.
“If Brianna is a good example of it, I think I’ll head home and read a good book.”
“Wait, Marisa! I really, really want you to meet the group members. See all those computers along the walls?”
Marisa squinted. “Barely.” A couple at a booth at the far corner caught Marisa’s eyes. The woman’s trick of cocking her head to one side and touching her fingers to her lips struck her as familiar. The woman’s slim body movements were flirty, and she touched the hand of the man seated across from her. Her trim figure was stylish in a pastel, tailored linen suit. Her pale hair was firmly sprayed in a golden updo. Unable to place the familiar woman, Marisa shrugged and turned her attention back to Tara.
“Once the bar starts filling up, so do those computer stations. And since we’re a scheduled internet group, the profiles of the users will flash on the big screens—” Tara pointed at the two huge screens “—and people at the computers will be able to contact the profile owners. With a crowd, the room will actually be fairly illuminated.”
“Let me get this straight. Do you mean users email people sitting next to them? Why don’t they just talk to each other in person?”
With her cascading curls tumbling across her shoulders like a mermaid’s tresses in cloudy seawater, Tara shook her head. “Remember, the name of the bar is Love at First Site, Marisa, spelled s-i-t-e and not s-i-g-h-t. It’s the perfect place for the users of my social networking site, Came-A-Lot, to gather.”
The bartender was back, freshening Tara’s nearly full drink. “Do you mean Camelot? Like the Knights of the Round Table?”
Tara giggled. “Nope, Came-A-Lot. It’s a fairly to-the-point club. It used to be called Women Who Love Excitement, but we changed the name because we took on so many male members.”
The bartender laughed with Tara’s jiggling chest. “Pun intended?” He reluctantly turned away to obtain the order of an impatient customer.
Marisa refrained from rolling her eyes. “At least it’s quiet in here. I hate the ear-splitting music of most of the other clubs.”
“That will change as soon as it starts getting more crowded. You’d best brace yourself now for the loud techno music. It’ll start blaring soon.”
Marisa craned her neck. “What about that archway over there? Is there another bar in that area?”
Tara laughed. “That’s the Site for Sore Eyes room. When the ‘in the flesh’ version of the online profile does not meet the preconceived expectations, the user generally scoots over there. The room is a great place to avoid the awkward fallout of dashed dreams. At the same time, disillusioned users drown their disappointment in alcohol, other people’s shattered hopes, and loud blues music.”
As the two women watched, a shadowy figure slid into one of the computer stations. In the glow of the monitor, the hunched shoulders and bent head appeared curiously vulnerable.
Tara used her blonde head as a pointer. “That guy makes every single group gathering. Odd as it seems, even in the group setting, he and some others stubbornly stick with the computers.”
Marisa shook her head in disbelief. “Instead of simply interacting in person, single men and women sit inches from each other and chat online. It’s too bad someone didn’t just delete Caleb’s profile, instead of killing his real-life self. Do you know what happened?” Idly flipping her straw around the cold liquid in her glass, Marisa wondered how she kept from hooking her nails in her best friend’s sea green eyes and scratching them right out of her beautiful head.