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Authors: G.A. McKevett

Poisoned Tarts

BOOK: Poisoned Tarts
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Dedicated to

Joleen and Arden

With such joyful beginnings,
How very blessed,
And how deeply loved you are.

THE BODY IN THE COFFIN

Savannah looked at the “wound,” the deep hole in the chest through which the wooden stake had been thrust. Reaching out, she touched the darkened area next to the wood, then looked at her fingertip. It was dried paint. “This is a dummy,” she said.

“No! Not that one!” Bunny cried. “It's him!” She pointed to the male in the adjacent coffin.

But Savannah was already looking at the male figure, her heart in her throat. Even in this dim light, she could see the difference in this body and the female's. The features were far finer, more realistic. The hair was real, not a phony wig. The hands, the fingers, and the nails were all too beautifully detailed to be fake.

As before, she dabbed her finger into the dark area around the stake, and this time, she felt the telltale wetness.

Blood.

The real thing…

Books by G.A. McKevett

Just Desserts

Bitter Sweets

Killer Calories

Cooked Goose

Sugar and Spite

Sour Grapes

Peaches and Screams

Death by Chocolate

Cereal Killer

Murder à la Mode

Corpse Suzette

Fat Free and Fatal

Poisoned Tarts

A Body to Die For

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

G.A. M
C
K
EVETT
Poisoned Tarts

A SAVANNAH REID MYSTERY

KENSINGTON BOOKS

www.kensingtonbooks.com

I want to thank all the fans who write to me, sharing their thoughts and offering endless encouragement. I enjoy your letters more than you know. I can be reached at:

sonjamassie.com

Chapter 1

“P
alm trees and jack-o'-lanterns. Yuck,” Savannah Reid said as she entered the supermarket and skirted around a display of chrysanthemums, colorful gourds, and pumpkins—some of which had snaggletoothed smiles scrawled on them with black permanent marker. “I hate autumn and winter in Southern California. I mean, I love California in the spring and summer, but holidays just bite if you don't have the right weather to go with them.”

Her companion Dirk Coulter answered with a disgruntled grunt, communicating his disgust at being dragged along on this little shopping foray. Dirk hated grocery shopping nearly as much as he hated watching soap operas and chick flicks or listening to “female prattle.” And in his opinion, any discussion that didn't revolve around sports or things police-related, constituted “female prattle.”

“How's a body supposed to get into the Halloween spirit when it's eighty degrees out?” Savannah said as she yanked a shopping cart out of the queue. “No frost on the pumpkin. Nary a fodder in the shock in sight. How depressing.”

“Fodder in the shock? What the hell's fodder?” he asked as he took the cart from her and began to push it himself. Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter might not be up on his Victorian poets, but he was a gentleman when it came to opening doors and pushing shopping carts.

“Oh, shoot, I don't know,” Savannah said, her Georgia drawl even more pronounced than usual—as it tended to be when she was aggravated—“but I need some of it around to get in the mood. How am I going to give a good Halloween party without the smell of burning leaves in the air, that crisp morning cold that gets your blood flowing and—?”

“Oh, enough of your griping, woman. You'll give your Halloween party the same way you do Thanksgiving and Christmas. You'll decorate your house with way too much junk and cook way too much food and invite all of us over and make us dress up in stupid stuff and…”

“I told you last Christmas that you don't have to dress up anymore. I just plumb gave up on that after seeing you as a maid a-milkin'. Lord help us, I still have nightmares about that.”


You
have nightmares! My skin still crawls when I think of how I allowed myself to be talked into wearing a dress and putting a mop on my head.”

“Free food.”

“What?”

“I told you that if you wanted to sink your chompers into that fine holiday feast of mine, you had to play along.” She giggled, recalling the sight—Dirk with milk bucket in hand, yellow yarn mop on head, inflated boobs straining against the front of a pink floral jersey dress. He had balked at the ruby red lipstick and chandelier earrings. Dirk had a
few
standards, free food or no.

“Don't worry, buddy,” she said. “I won't ever ask you to do that again. I have to draw a line somewhere at how much humiliation I heap on a body. Even you.”

“Gee, thanks.” He followed her past the jack-o'-lantern display and into the produce aisle. “So, what do I have to do to earn all the good food you're going to feed us at this party you're giving?”

“Just help me shop,” she said. When he grinned brightly, she decided to push her luck. “…and help me carve a couple of pumpkins.” His face fell until she added, “…you know, scoop out the guts—the gross stuff that us girls don't like to do.” He perked up again.

She chuckled, reminding herself that manly men like Coulter needed special handling. “Why don't you take the cart to the other side of the store and load up on some beer? And on the way back, hit the chip aisle and get whatever you think we need.”

“Really? Wow. Okay. Cool.”

In seconds, she was watching him retreat with far more vigor in his step as he headed across the front of the store to the refrigerated beer coolers on the opposite side. And not for the first time in the many years she had known him, it occurred to Savannah that watching Dirk walk away wasn't totally without its rewards. He might be over forty and not the hard body he'd been when they had met nearly twenty years ago, but he still filled out his Levi's quite nicely.

And among his other nice assets was the fact that after all these years, she could still feel him watch
her
walk away with the same rapt attention. And since she had gained two decades and thirty pounds since they'd met, she couldn't help being grateful.

You just really had to love a guy who sincerely liked his women well-rounded.

Once he disappeared around the corner, she focused on the task at hand. It wasn't easy putting on a successful Halloween party. The devil was, indeed, in the details…or the vampire, or zombie, or whatever ghoulish creature one chose to be. No fairies, butterflies, or ballerina princesses in pink tutus at
her
extravaganza! Nope, a Reid Halloween party was not for the squeamish. She had been present at enough crime scenes to know what real gore looked like…unfortunately.

And now, there were decisions to make. In a dimly lit room, which would feel the most like real eyeballs, olives or peeled grapes? Grapes were best, and she could probably pawn the tedious task of peeling them off on her best friend and codetective, Tammy Hart. So—

“Sit down, you stupid little shit, before I knock you in the head!”

Savannah jumped, nearly dropping the bag of grapes in her hand, and whirled around to face the angry male standing about ten feet behind her. He wasn't a particularly large man, but he towered over the tiny toddler sitting in the shopping cart. The child, a little boy no more than two, stared up at the enraged adult with terror on his innocent, baby face.

Not for the first time when witnessing something like this, Savannah longed for the old days when she could walk up to a bully like this, flash a badge, and have a serious talk with him. When she and Dirk had been on patrol, they had done it at least five times a night.

She knew better than most that domestic abuse, in all its hideous forms, kept law enforcement employed.

Beside the man's cart stood a woman with a bag of potatoes in her hand, a guarded, pained look on her face. In spite of the fact that she was well-dressed and wearing expensive jewelry, she had an air of defeat about her. The hang of her head, the slump of her shoulders betrayed a wounded, heavy spirit.

She started to put the potatoes into the cart, but the man snatched them out of her hand. “Baking potatoes?” he snapped. “I told you to get red potatoes. What's the matter with you? Can't you do anything right?”

“I'm sorry,” she whispered as she took the bag of potatoes from him and replaced them in a bin. “I forgot.”

She picked up a bag of red potatoes, and as she put them into the cart, the child strained in his seat, reaching for his mother. The father raised his hand as though to strike the boy, and the child cringed in a move that was obviously well-practiced.

“You try to get out of that cart one more time,” the man said, “and I swear I'm gonna bash you.”

“Honey, please, don't…” the mother whispered, casting a quick look around. She saw Savannah watching, and a look of pain and embarrassment swept over her face.

“Yeah, well,” he said, “you don't discipline the little brat. Somebody's got to, so shut up already.”

The man looked in Savannah's direction and realized that she was not only watching but also disapproving of his words and actions. But instead of sharing his wife's embarrassment, he actually smiled. The self-satisfied, cocky smirk that appeared on his face was one she had seen many times before. Far too many times.

Savannah could feel her pulse rate soaring, her face growing hotter by the second.

Yeah, yeah, you're the big man
, she thought.
Gotta show everybody how in control you are. You keep your woman and your kid in their place—under you where they belong. Way under you.

She gave him a sweeping, disgusted look up and down and added,
What you need is somebody to jerk you down a notch or two.

Another voice in her head whispered a word of warning.
It's not yours, Savannah. It's not your situation. Stay out of it. Mind your own business.

“I thought you said you were coming in here for a couple of things,” he told his wife. “I've got better things to do than hang around in a damned grocery store all day. Get your lazy ass in gear, and let's get out of here.”

Again, he shot Savannah that arrogant grin that set her teeth on edge. She thought of all the times she had heard the myth, “Abusers have low self-esteem. That's why they abuse.”

I know your nasty little secret,
she thought as their eyes locked in an unspoken challenge.
You don't have an insecure bone in your body. You truly think you're better, smarter, stronger, more valuable than your wife and kid. You think the world revolves around you.

Savannah had seen the end results of such an attitude: broken homes, broken women, broken children. She despised the attitude. And she tried very hard not to despise the men who harbored it. She tried desperately to give them a break, remembering that a rotten attitude was often handed down generation to generation, a sickening heritage, like some sort of decomposing corpse in the family cellar.

But she seldom succeeded. Too many years of too many visions of too many victims haunted her in the wee hours of the morning when she woke up from a nightmare and couldn't get back to sleep.

Some people were good enough, highly evolved enough, to forgive and feel compassion toward abusers.

Long ago, Savannah had come to terms with the fact that she wasn't one of them.

The wife walked away from her husband and baby and began to sort through some bananas. Savannah could see her hands shaking as she reached for a bunch and tried to shove them into a plastic bag as quickly as she could. But her fear made her clumsy, and her husband glared at her as she fumbled and nearly dropped the bag.

Shaking his head with disgust, he said, “I'm gonna go up front and get in line. You better be up there in two minutes. Two minutes, you hear me?” He looked at his watch, marking the time.

“Yes. I hear you,” his wife mumbled.

Savannah gave him her best You Rotten Creep, I Hate You look as he walked away, but he sent her a nasty little smirk in return. She knew the game all too well. He had just shown her that he ruled his family, that he could do anything he wanted to his wife and kid, and even though she obviously disapproved, there wasn't a thing she could do about it.

As far as he was concerned, it was a game. A game he enjoyed because he always won.

The moment he was out of sight, Savannah reached into her purse, pulled out a notepad and pen, and scribbled down a phone number: 1-800-799-7233. Glancing around to make sure he was gone, she hurried over to the woman, who was grabbing apples and dropping them into a bag. Savannah shoved the paper into the woman's hand.

“Here,” she said. “That's the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They can help you. Please call them.”

The woman's eyes widened, and her mouth opened and closed several times. “Domestic Violence? But…but…I don't need, I mean, he doesn't…”

“He doesn't?” Savannah gave her a sad, knowing look. “Call the number, sweetie,” she said, her voice soft and pleading. “They'll help. Really. You don't need to be alone.”

Tears filled the woman's eyes, and she blinked several times. Then she shoved the paper deep into her purse.

“What the hell's going on here?” Again, Savannah heard the angry male voice behind her. She spun around. He was practically on top of her, his face red with rage. “What are you doing talking to my wife? What did you give her?”

Savannah felt her fists tighten as the warrior inside her rose to fighting stance. Oh…she was in it
now
.

She fixed him with a cold, defiant stare. “I beg your pardon,” she said without the slightest hint of apology in her tone. “Are you speaking to me?”

“You're damned right I'm talking to you,” he replied, taking a step closer, leaning far into her personal space. “What the hell did you give her? What did you say to her?”

Savannah took a step toward him and seriously breached
his
boundaries. “I will speak to anyone I choose about anything I choose,” she said to him, “and it's none of your business what I say. So, back off! Now!”

He did take half a step backward, but his face was still contorted with rage when he said, “I know your type. You're one of those women's lib bull-dykes who hate men. You think men should go around henpecked, kissing women's asses and—”

“That's quite enough,” she said, her words even, clipped.

“You think just because I set my old lady straight and discipline my kid that I'm some kind of abuser. I watch the TV talk shows. I know what shit they say about guys who are just trying to keep their families in line. I know what they say about us being abusers and crap like that.”

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