Stiff Penalty (A Mattie Winston Mystery)

BOOK: Stiff Penalty (A Mattie Winston Mystery)
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Praise for Annelise Ryan and the Mattie Winston Mysteries
BOARD STIFF
 
“Great dialogue and characters enhance this cozy mystery. Starting with the first scene, the book is laugh-out-loud funny, and the strong humor continues throughout.”
—RT Book Reviews, Top Pick
 
LUCKY STIFF
 
“Annelise Ryan has done it again! Her heroine, Mattie Winston, has a way with a crime scene that will keep you reading, laughing and wondering just what can possibly happen next in this entertaining romp. Wisconsin’s engaging assistant coroner brings readers another winning mystery!”
—Leann Sweeney, author of the Cats in Trouble Mysteries
 

Lucky Stiff
is a roller-coaster ride of stomach-clenching action, sizzling attraction, belly laughs, and a puzzler of a mystery. Annelise Ryan has created a smart and saucy heroine in Mattie Winston, who you just can’t help but like, especially as she endures what is possibly the worst road trip ever. What a thrill ride!”
—Jenn McKinlay, author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries
and the Library Lover’s Mysteries
 
FROZEN STIFF
 
“Ryan mixes science and great storytelling in this cozy series.... The forensic details ring true and add substance to this fast-paced and funny mystery. Good plotting and relationship drama keep the mystery rolling, while Mattie’s humorous take on life provides many comedic moments.”
—RT Book Reviews
 
“[Mattie’s] competence as a former ER nurse, plus a quirky supporting cast, makes the series intriguing. Ryan has a good eye for forensic and medical detail, and Mattie gets to be the woman of the hour in her third outing.”
—Library Journal
 
“Absorbing. . . . Ryan smoothly blends humor, distinctive characters, and authentic forensic detail.”
—Publishers Weekly
 
SCARED STIFF
 
“An appealing series on multiple fronts: the forensic details will interest Patricia Cornwell readers, though the tone here is lighter, while the often slapstick humor and the blossoming romance between Mattie and Hurley will draw Evanovich fans who don’t object to the cozier mood.”
—Booklist
 
“Ryan’s sharp second mystery . . . shows growing skill at mixing humor with CSI–style crime.”
—Publishers Weekly
 
WORKING STIFF
 
“Sassy, sexy, and suspenseful, Annelise Ryan knocks ’em dead in her wry and original
Working Stiff
.”
—Carolyn Hart, author of
Dare to Die
 
“Move over, Stephanie Plum. Make way for Mattie Winston, the funniest deputy coroner to cut up a corpse since, well, ever. I loved every minute I spent with her in this sharp and sassy debut mystery.”
—Laura Levine, author of
Killer Cruise
 
“Mattie Winston, RN, wasn’t looking for excitement when she became a morgue assistant—quite the contrary—but she got plenty, and so will readers, who won’t be able to put this book down.”
—Leslie Meier, author of
Mother’s Day Murder
 

Working Stiff
has it all: suspense, laughter, a spicy dash of romance—and a heroine who’s guaranteed to walk off with your heart. Mattie Winston is an unforgettable character who has me begging for a sequel. Annelise Ryan, are you listening?”
—Tess Gerritsen,
New York Times
best-selling author of
The
Keepsake
 
“Mattie is klutzy and endearing, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments . . . her foibles are still fun and entertaining.”
—RT Book Reviews
 
“Ryan, the pseudonym of a Wisconsin emergency nurse, brings her professional expertise to her crisp debut. . . . Mattie wisecracks her way through an increasingly complex plot.”
—Publishers Weekly
Books by Annelise Ryan
WORKING STIFF
 
SCARED STIFF
 
FROZEN STIFF
 
LUCKY STIFF
 
BOARD STIFF
 
STIFF PENALTY
 
 
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.
Stiff Penalty
Annelise Ryan
KENSINGTON BOOKS
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
I
find it ironic that I’m sitting across from a psychiatrist discussing the dichotomy of life and death, not only because I hate shrinks and once swore I’d never go to one, but because I came here voluntarily, at least this time. My name is Mattie Winston, and I deal with life and death on a regular basis these days: death because it’s a part of my daily job, life because there is a new one growing inside me.
I’m pregnant . . . very, very pregnant at the moment. And while being in this condition is something I had planned for at some point in my life, getting here the way I have has been as well planned as a train wreck. I’ve been imagining my future since I was twelve years old, sitting in my bedroom acting out scenes of domestic bliss with Barbie and Ken, and cutting pictures out of bridal magazines with my sister, Desi, who was ten at the time. My future was crystal clear in my mind: a loving husband, two adorable children, and a life full of comfort and fun in my Barbie Dreamhouse, with occasional family vacations in our Barbie camper.
Things appeared to be progressing according to the Big Plan when I snagged a husband who seemed to fit nicely into the Ken/Prince Charming mold I’d carved out for him. His name was David Winston, and he was a surgeon I met at the hospital where I worked. At the time I was an ER nurse, but I quickly transferred and became an OR nurse so I could be closer to him. I missed the ER like crazy, but I figured a little job unhappiness was a worthy sacrifice to be near the man I loved. After a whirlwind courtship, David and I managed a few years of marital bliss. But that starry-eyed, fairy-tale future I’d imagined as a child crashed and burned when I found David performing exploratory surgery on one of our coworkers late one night in an otherwise deserted operating room. Unfortunately, the only surgical instrument he was using at the time was his penis.
Crushed, humiliated, and hurt beyond belief, I fled my job and my marriage. My neighbor and good friend, Izzy Rybarceski, who is the medical examiner for our county, gave me a place to hide by allowing me to move into the mother-in-law cottage behind his house. It was nice to have a place to run to, but the location of the cottage meant I was only a stone’s throw away from the home I had shared with David. I know this because I’ve thrown stones at it a time or two.
Izzy let me sit and stew for a couple of months while I came to terms with the end of my marriage and the tattered remains of my childhood dream. My money ran out about the same time Izzy’s patience did, and when I emerged from my cave of self-pity, he offered me a position as his assistant. The job description entailed dissecting dead bodies and investigating any crimes involving deaths, so I felt reasonably qualified for the work, given my OR experience at the hospital, my insatiable curiosity, and my general nosiness.
It turned out to be a good fit, and it’s a job I love more than any other I’ve ever had. But it came with a curveball named Steve Hurley, a tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed homicide detective who had arrived in town a few months before I started working for Izzy.
Hurley and I hit it off in a big way, and I began to consider David a mere misstep in my planned future, a fork in the road that I had to take in order to meet up with Hurley. It turned out there were many other forks in that road—like the fact that Hurley and I met over the dead body of the woman David had had his affair with, like the fact that both David and I were prime suspects in her murder, and like the fact that Hurley had a wife and child he didn’t know he had. I suspect there are many more forks to come. In fact, given that my relationship with Hurley thus far has had more ups and downs and more ins and outs than a porno movie, I expect to get thoroughly forked over in the months and years to come.
The psychiatrist sitting across from me—Maggie Baldwin, or Dr. Naggy as I like to call her—is someone I was forced to see months ago when Hurley and I experienced the latest speed bump on our road to happiness. Because of a non-fraternization rule that came up when the ME’s office and the police were tasked with oversight duties for one another, Hurley and I couldn’t be a couple and work together. After much agonizing, I decided to quit my job with Izzy and go back to work in the hospital ER. I wasn’t happy about the decision—I loved my job with Izzy— but I loved Hurley more. Plus, returning to the scene of David’s crime wasn’t something I looked forward to. Small towns like Sorenson thrive on gossip, and I’d been the primary topic more times than I liked of late. I knew everyone at the hospital would be whispering and gossiping behind my back, watching like vultures for any chance encounters David and I might have, eager to pick at the bloody remains left behind.
As it turned out, my worries were for naught. Because our town is a small one, the hospital has trouble attracting physicians at times. Many of them prefer larger city hospitals, where there are more resources, more amenities, more cohorts to share on-call hours with, and more earning potential. So when David basically blackmailed the hospital administrators by threatening to leave if I came back to work there, they decided at the last minute that I was no longer welcome. Nurses were a dime a dozen, but David was the only surgeon on staff at the time, and the hospital couldn’t afford to lose him.
My job with Izzy had already been given to someone else, but my settlement in the divorce left me with a nice cushion of money to tide me over for a while. I was fine with the career setbacks because at least I had Hurley, or so I thought. Unfortunately, there were two other women who popped into Hurley’s life at exactly the same time, and their hold on him was much stronger than mine. One was Kate, the wife Hurley thought he’d divorced years ago—a wife I never knew he’d had. The other was a teenage girl named Emily—Hurley’s daughter—a daughter that until then, Hurley never knew he had.
The forks kept coming. A bit of bad luck for my newly hired replacement turned out to be good luck for me. I was able to return to my job with Izzy and found myself once again working side-by-side with Hurley, determined to put him and his newfound family behind me. But Hurley and I are drawn to one another the way a metal oxygen tank is drawn to an MRI, explosive results included. Before long we were sneaking rolls in the hay whenever and wherever we could.
Then Hurley found out the true reason why his not-really-an-ex-wife had suddenly come back into his life, and that discovery led to him and his newfound daughter leaving town and staying gone for two months. The road truly forked me that time because shortly after Hurley left I discovered I was pregnant.
It is now mid-September, almost a year since I first met Hurley, and the road has recently forked me again. I am days away from my projected delivery date, and my huge, hormone-addled body has my brain so muddled that I can’t think straight. I am about to embark on the biggest journey ever in my life, but every time I try to focus on it and the future, my thoughts go flying off in a million different directions like a burst of fireworks. In an effort to douse this incendiary state of mind, I made the decision to come back to Dr. Naggy after a six-month break. I was hoping she’d give me a quick fix, some brilliant bit of insight that would make everything feel right. Instead, she is insisting on knowing everything that has happened to me during the six months since I last saw her, a portion of my life she has labeled “the inciting events,” as if they somehow led to a riot.
“So tell me what happened when Hurley came back to town,” she says to me.
I ponder the question for a moment, wondering how to summarize six months of chaos during an hour-long appointment.
“Well, it all began around the start of May,” I tell her. “That’s when Hurley returned to Sorenson and his job. And once again our meeting took place over a murdered body. That seems to be a recurring theme in our lives.”
“That’s not too surprising, given your line of work,” Dr. Naggy says.
“Yeah, but this time it was different because I wasn’t there to investigate the death. This time I was there because I was the killer.”
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