Savannah and her husband have settled back in San Carmelita, California, and life is slowly returning to normal—if “normal” means babysitting newlyweds Tammy and Waycross’s incredibly fussy infant daughter. But soothing a squalling baby is kid’s stuff compared to the Midnight Magnolia Detective Agency’s latest case. Handsome up-and-coming actor Ethan Malloy has enlisted the help of Savannah and Co. in a desperate attempt to track down his missing wife and toddler, not long before the beloved family nanny gets murdered.
With the police involved and paparazzi swarming at every turn, the discreet search becomes a sensationalized homicide investigation, leaving Savannah rushing to apprehend the killer and save the missing child. Famous heartthrobs can attract the wrong kind of attention, and some snooping into the complicated private lives of Ethan and his wife tells Savannah that she’s in for a deadly chase. As Savannah dismantles bombshell after bombshell while balancing delicate family matters of her own, she soon finds herself closing in on a terrifying culprit—one who’s willing to do anything for a moment in the spotlight . . .
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"Oh, for heaven's sake. Of course, I can babysit for a couple of hours. I'm the oldest of nine children. Hightail it over here with that little redheaded punkin. Auntie Savannah's been aching to get her hands on her."
Words uttered so blithely with such conviction, such confidence, with only the best of intentions.
They were words that came back to haunt a person. Not unlike: "For better or for worse." Or in Savannah Reid's former life as a police officer, "Hey, only five more minutes to the end of my shift; what could happen now?"
As Savannah stood in the bathtub, letting the hot shower water stream over her exhausted body, washing baby urp out of her hair and rinsing even more from between her breasts, she pulled the shower curtain aside a few inches and peered down at her unhappy charge.
The less-than-angelic pixie lay, squalling, in her makeshift cradle on the bathroom floor, snugly tucked into what had been, only moments before, a towel drawer from the linen closet.
If the drawer had been lined with prickly pear cactus instead of Savannah's softest Egyptian cotton guest towels, Miss Vanna Rose's yowling couldn't have been louder or more piteous.
The sound reverberated around the room, bouncing off the tiles and straight into Savannah's heart. "I'm so sorry, kiddo," she told her tiny niece as she applied a second application of shampoo. "But I'm sure you'd pitch an even bigger hissy fit if I was to bring you in here with me."
The child responded with another plaintive wail that threatened to peel the rose-spangled paper off the walls.
"Lordy mercy, that kid can holler!" Savannah marveled at the sheer volume, not to mention the vibrato that would do a mezzo-soprano proud.
Suddenly, the bathroom door flew open, startling Savannah. She jumped and dropped the shampoo. It hit her big toe. Yelping, she danced around, while grabbing for the closest weapon of opportunity — a bar of her husband's favorite soap on a rope.
Not that she was likely to fight off an intruder with a half-gone bar of soap, but the pain from her mashed toe had shot all the way up her body and into her brain, so she wasn't thinking clearly.
It was simply shocking how heavy a bottle like that could be when nearly full. Whoever had invaded her sanctuary, burglar or babynapper, they were about to become the first person to be slaughtered with a chunk of Old Spice.
Fortunately, it was her husband who rushed inside.
Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter stood there, taking in the scene. His wife. Her head covered in lather that was streaming down into her eyes. Eyes filled with shampoo, pain, and fury. Her hand upraised, brandishing his soap. The cherub in the drawer on the floor, mouth wide open, screaming, her cheeks red with rage.
Dirk wore his own look of alarm, along with an unsettling amount of blood on his face, his shirt, arms, and hands.
While a typical day in the Reid-Coulter household could hardly be called "mundane" or "ho-hum," Savannah had to admit, this was a bit unusual even for them.
Her anger quickly turned to concern as she watched him peel off his bloodstained shirt.
Tossing it into the hamper, he said, "And here I thought I'd had the worst day."
"Oh, sugar," she said, fighting down the fear every police officer's spouse suffers daily. "Are you wounded?"
"Naw. It's all Loco Roco's. We tussled, I clocked him a good one on the nose, and the dude sprung a leak."
"Roco's out of jail?"
"Not anymore. Apparently, in the state of California knocking over a liquor store is a violation of a guy's parole. So's assaulting a police officer. Go figure."
He knelt beside the angel in the drawer and, leaning down with his face close to hers, he said, "I'm sorry, Curly-locks, but I can't even touch you, let alone hold you till I get every drop of ol' Roco's bodily fluid yuck off-a me."
He stared at Savannah, the shampoo bottle in one hand, the soap still in the other. "You're taking a shower now," he asked semi-indignantly, "with my birthday present soap? Funny time to treat yourself to a luxurious bath routine, when you're supposed to be babysitting my favorite girl here."
Savannah scowled. "I thought I was your favorite girl."
"No. Kitty Cleo's my favorite," he said with a grin. "At least, she was, until this little beauty came along. But don't worry. You've always been a solid second. Actually, now you're third, but at least you're still on the podium."
He gave his wife a wink. She stuck out her tongue, responded with a loud, rude raspberry, then ducked back into the shower. "Just for that, I'm not going to jump out of here, like I was fixin' to when I saw you all bloodied up. Figured you'd be anxious to get in. But now I'm gonna take my time and 'luxuriate,' as I've been accused of doing. Might even condition my hair, exfoliate, and shave my legs, too, while I'm at it."
"Fine," he replied. "I'll go downstairs." He looked around and shuddered. "This bathroom always gives me the heebie-jeebies anyway. Flowery walls, lacy towels, perfumey candles. Girl crap everywhere."
Ducking his head closer to the baby's, he spoke to her in the softest tone imaginable — the one he used for cats, dogs, and children. Occasionally for Savannah as well, but only if they hadn't been arguing about such things as overly feminine bathrooms and him leaving the toilet seat up. "Don't you cry, little darlin'," he told the child. "Uncle Dirk will make it up to you as soon as I get out of the shower, and that'll be before Auntie Savannah. While she's still shaving that first leg, you and me'll be all comfy in her big chair downstairs, reading a book."
The baby stopped crying and stared up at him, big blue eyes bright with interest, as though she understood every word and was intrigued by the prospects.
"It won't be no pansy, princess book neither," he added as he stood and walked to the door. "It'll be a good one with some bears or a big, bad, pig-eatin' wolf or two in it."
Savannah watched him, enjoying the blissful silence from the drawer on the floor, while experiencing just a tiny jab of jealousy that he could comfort her niece far better than she.
"Hey, since you have such a quieting effect on her," Savannah said, "why don't you take her downstairs with you and let me finish my shower in peace?"
Dirk looked positively scandalized. "And let her see a grown man shower? Naked? No way! That's just ... just ... wrong. She'd be scarred for life."
Savannah rolled her eyes and sighed. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Dirk. She's two months old. I assure you, she'd never even register it, let alone remember it."
He grinned and waggled a blood-streaked eyebrow at her. "But you'll never forget the moment you first laid eyes on the Big Monty."
He ducked as a net bath scrubbie sailed past his left ear, then chuckled as he left the room and closed the door behind him.
Savannah could hear him whistling the theme to The Godfather, loudly and badly, as he walked down the hallway, heading for the staircase and the more gender-neutral, less female-foo-foo bathroom downstairs.
Actually, she couldn't remember her first sighting of the much ballyhooed "Monty." Undoubtedly, it was years ago when she had still been a cop and they had been partners. It was probably during a stakeout when she had inadvertently caught a glimpse of him "draining the dragon" onto a roadside sage bush. But she knew better than tell him she had no distinct recollection of the momentous event.
Personal experience had taught her that men didn't take such news well.
For the sake of domestic tranquility, she decided to revise their love story, creating a version more in line with his. She decided that her initial glimpse of such manly glory and her subsequent swooning at the sight occurred on their honeymoon night.
What the heck, she thought, mentally dismissing the whole subject. Where's the harm in a bit of revisionist history, as long as everybody lives happily ever after?
Anticipating a renewed series of protests from the juvenile on the floor, Savannah quickly rinsed away the last bit of shampoo, turned off the shower, and stepped out of the tub. After a quick "lick and a promise," as Granny Reid would say, with a towel, she slipped into her fluffy terrycloth bathrobe.
In the drawer at her feet, her tiny niece appeared to have been temporarily distracted from her fit-pitching and seemed moderately mollified by the brief, but pleasant, encounter with one of her favorite people, Uncle Dirk.
The baby gave her aunt an enchanting half smile and cooed adorably as she waved her tiny fists.
"Yeah, I know, you like him better than me," Savannah said, scooping her up and cradling her against her chest. "So does Cleo."
Savannah tweaked the tiny rosebud mouth with her fingertip. "That's perfectly okay. I understand."
Savannah pressed a kiss to the child's cheek. Little Vanna squinted as one of her aunt's wet, dark curls fell down onto her forehead.
The baby's tiny fingers tangled in the hair and tugged.
It hurt, but Savannah didn't even notice as she gazed into eyes as sapphire blue as her own. Squalling fits and upchucked milk were forgotten as the bond between the two Reid females tightened yet another notch. Two hearts, forever entwined with Love's soft, but ever-enduring chains.
"I plum adore you, Miss Savannah Rose. You'll never know how much," the former cop, present private detective, all-around tough gal whispered to her tiny namesake as they left the bathroom and headed down the stairs. "I have a lot to teach you. Especially about men. Most of it you won't need to know for a long time, but for right now, let's discuss deep voices. Us gals are suckers for a deep voice, like your Uncle Dirk's. Women are always just hurling themselves at his feet, and all because of that voice of his."
As they reached the bottom of the staircase, Vanna gazed up at her aunt with a slightly doubtful look.
"Okay," Savannah clarified, "not all women. To be honest, the vast majority of them don't really like him very much, deep voice or not. Mostly, it's just you, Cleo, me, and sometimes Diamante — if he's feeding her off his plate. It's a pretty small fan club, when you come right down to it."
Vanna cooed, expressing agreement and adding her own opinion on the subject.
"Yes," Savannah replied. "You're absolutely right. He is a good guy at heart. The barking and growling are mainly just when he's hungry."
They passed the bay window, where Diamante lay drowsing in the sun, a glossy black panther-ette soaking in some rays.
Normally, Di's sister, Cleo, would have been curled next to her, enjoying the day's last bit of sunshine. Life-giving, bone-warming, soul-uplifting, California sunshine.
But Dirk was in the shower, which meant that faithful, brave Cleo would be standing just inside the bathroom door, staring, terrified, as once again the daily horror unfolded before her eyes. Every muscle in her sleek, feline body would be taut, quivering with anticipation, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. If necessary, she would leap into that shower and at least attempt to rescue poor "Daddy," should he be overcome by all that vicious water raining down pitilessly on him.
Yes, Cleo adored Dirk and had since they'd met, back when she was a six-week-old kitten. It had been love at first sight for both of them.
She had decided that his lap was the most comfortable and his petting the most satisfying of any human anywhere, including Mom's. She would abandon Savannah and her caresses the moment Dirk walked into a room — much to Mommy's consternation.
Back then, he had even shown his devotion by changing his bank password from "BROKE1" to "MYCLEO."
Diamante, on the other hand, was far more practical. While she would have fought a rabid Rottweiler, fang and nail, to prevent it from harming her beloved mom, she was perfectly willing to let any human being, even dear Mommy, die a hideous death if they were foolish enough to step into a cubicle where water poured down on them. As far as Di was concerned, anyone who did such a dumb thing was just asking for it and deserved whatever they got.
Diamante scrambled down from her window and followed Savannah as aunt and niece passed into the kitchen. Savannah took a small glass bottle, filled with Tammy's breast milk, from the refrigerator.
"For heaven's sake, do not microwave it!" Her friend Tammy had instructed her with what Savannah considered an overly enthusiastic admonition that bordered on Maternal Mania. "There's no telling what nutrients those waves might destroy or alter in some horrible, unnatural way."
"O-o-o-kay," Savannah had replied with an ever-so-slight eye roll.
"No! Not o-o-kay!" was Tammy's passionate response. "I know what that means when you say that and roll your eyes. That means you think I'm being silly, and you're going to do it your own way. But you better not! I'm the mom around here, and when it comes to my baby, what I say goes!"
Savannah had been taken slightly aback, given that Tammy was usually such a gentle, acquiescent soul.
But when Waycross added, "Better do it, Sis. She's got all those postnatal hormones roarin' through her bloodstream, and she's liable to slap ya neckid and hide your clothes if you don't abide by what she says."
Savannah promised, Tammy was convinced, and the topic was discussed no more.
A promise is a promise, Savannah reminded herself when she passed the microwave on the way to the stove. Especially one made to a woman whose hormones have run amuck.
She looked down at Vanna Rose and said, "It'd be just my luck that, if I snuck it on the sly, the first words out of your little mouth wouldn't be 'Ma-ma' or 'Da-da.' They'd be, 'Hey, Mom. Guess what? When you weren't looking, Auntie Savannah microwaved my bottle.'"
Vanna watched with a slightly concerned frown crinkling her forehead as Savannah placed the bottle into a shallow pan of water to heat.
"Don't you worry your pretty little noggin," Savannah told her. "I'll get it right. I'm actually a very good cook, as you'll discover in a few years. Your mommy will probably raise you up on celery sticks and carrot puree, but what happens at Aunt Savannah's house stays at Aunt Savannah's house. Yessiree. Over here, you'll get introduced to the wonders of homemade ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. If you're lucky and I'm ambitious, maybe on the same day."
Once the milk was heated to precisely the right temperature, Savannah offered it to the child and sauntered back to the living room.
Savannah decided to forgo her own cup of coffee or steaming cocoa with whipped cream, peppermint crumbles, and chocolate shavings. Vanna had quick-action piston leg kicks to rival the Rockettes. There was no point in taking a chance with a hot beverage.
As they settled into the rose chintz-covered, comfy chair — a cushion at Savannah's back, her feet on the overstuffed ottoman — Savannah adjusted the bottle in the infant's mouth and continued her sage instruction. "As a baby, who'll be a girl and then a woman someday," she said, with a tone of great gravity, "you have to remember a very important thing about the males of our species. Here it is. Don't ever forget it: men ... if you keep 'em fed and comfortable, for the most part, they're darned near tolerable."
Vanna spit out the bottle nipple and cooed a question.
Savannah listened with utmost attention, then gave a solemn nod. "Women, you ask?" She sighed and drew a deep breath. "Well, that's a different situation all together. As it turns out, us females are a mite more complicated."
Half an hour later, Savannah emerged from the kitchen, a tray of predinner snacks in hand, to find her favorite chair occupied by her favorite husband, who was holding her all-time-favorite niece.
"I leave the room to round up some treats, and this is the thanks I get. I lose my seat," she muttered as she placed the tray of assorted cheeses, crackers, sliced apples, and pears on the coffee table. "If you can tear yourself away from what you're doing," she told Dirk, "dig into this here. I got some of that stinky cheese you like so much."
"Not now," he told her with a dismissive wave at the food. The first dismissive wave she had ever seen him perform in the presence of edibles. "My girl and me are right at the good part of the story."
As promised, Dirk was reading a small children's book to Vanna — the ageless tale of The Three Bears. The baby stared up at him with eyes wide, a look of deep concern on her sweet face, as he described the discovery of the golden-haired child by the bears.
Excerpted from "Hide and Sneak"
Copyright © 2018 G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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