I recently held my first book talk/book signing event in Columbia, Missouri. I was incredibly nervous, but since I was surrounded by wonderful people, I quickly relaxed and had fun. I hope to meet more people at these events. Since some of you live very far away from me and can’t attend, I wanted to at least introduce you to my new novel, In the Shadows: An Outsiders Mystery, so I’m posting an excerpt (all of Chapter One) here for you to read. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks!
ABOUT THE BOOK: There is a stranger amongst the residents of the cave-riddled village of Reynier, France. Suspicious, they believe there’s only one reason Maurelle Dupre would be lurking in their small village—she’s a gypsy, a thief. But a former Chicago detective turned mystery author, Dave Martin, who happens to be visiting his French grandmother, isn’t so sure about the beautiful stranger when happenstance causes them to meet. He wonders why she seems so frightened and distrustful. He knows he shouldn’t get involved. The last time he trusted a woman in distress, the consequences resulted in the loss of his detective’s shield and his wife. But, as always, the detective in him can’t seem to leave well enough alone.
However, what Dave couldn’t know is how persuading Maurelle to reveal herself will ultimately unveil something far worse than mere theft.
In the Shadows is a story of trust, belonging, and murder.
MAURA BARRINGTON PULLED back the curtain and stared out the second story window of her shabby hotel room in Paris’ 18th arrondissment. A young couple strolled by, pushing a pram. They stopped and the woman bent forward to check on the baby. When she straightened, the man with her reached over and tucked a loose lock of her hair behind her ear.
Maura let the curtain fall back in place. She turned to look at the bed where her new clothes lay strewn about, waiting to be packed away in her duffel bag. Two days ago, her first day in Paris, she’d spent all her time observing people and figuring out what she needed to wear to blend in. Yesterday, she’d gone shopping.
She picked up one outfit, a blue-and-green flowered blouse and coordinating skirt, and took it into the bathroom. After she got dressed, she copied the woman’s hair style—a classic French twist. Lastly, she stuck her feet into the stiff high heels, put away the rest of the clothes, and zipped up the bag. On impulse, she reopened her duffel bag, lifted the false bottom, and verified everything was still there. She hid the bag under the bed and left the room, locking the door carefully. Following the worn red carpet down the creaking staircase, she stopped at the next to last landing, where the musty darkness mixed with a smell she couldn’t quite identify. The hotel felt abandoned. Continuing, she reached the ground floor and was about to step into the dingy hallway when a door directly across from the stairs swung open, startling her. In the doorway a big-bellied man with greasy hair stared at her. His deep-set eyes swept over her, and he grinned widely. Maura hurried past him along the corridor, her footsteps echoing on the cracked tiles, but not loudly enough to cover up the sound of his laughter. A brown mouse darted in front of her and ran under the sofa in the lobby.
Outside, she rushed down the worn steps, but had to stop at the street curb to wait for a string of cars to go by. A ragged-looking dog wandered up to her and sat down beside her as she waited. When the light changed, Maura lifted a foot to step off the curb, but the dog barked loudly, causing her to hesitate. In the next instant, a bus zoomed through the red light and past her, sending a gray plume of exhaust spiraling into the air. Maura swore under her breath. She whirled around toward the dog, but it was already gone.
She crossed the street and walked two blocks, rounded the corner onto bustling Boulevard de Barbès, and continued on to Chateau Rouge train station. It was one of the poorer areas, populated by African and Arab immigrants, yet it was vibrant and alive. As Maura walked through the train station, the frequent train announcements, clatter of metal, and odor of dust and rubber brought to mind London’s underground system, a place she practically knew by heart. She stopped and closed her eyes, savoring the vision of what she would never again see for real, until someone bumped against her. Her eyes popped open. Instinctively, she wrapped protective hands around her handbag, and scanned the area.
Maura proceeded to the platform and found her train already waiting. In the process of rushing aboard the train, something snagged one of her heels causing her to stumble. She almost fell into a man’s lap. “Pardon,” she muttered as she pulled herself together, trying to hide her embarrassment. Once seated near the rear of the train, she glanced cautiously at the people around her. Everyone was busy reading papers or typing text messages on their mobile phones. She removed her shoes and checked the heels to make sure they weren’t damaged. Thankfully the shoes were intact. High heels might be fashionable, but she despised wearing them.
When the train eased to a stop at the Montparnasse station, she exited and climbed the stairs, emerging into the pleasant air of early evening. Ten minutes later, she stood in front of Le Bistro du Nord, an attractive restaurant occupying the ground floor of a tall brick building. On the outside patio, customers sat at silver tables shaded by the building’s dark-green awning, enjoying their dinners and drinks. Her French, though not good enough to pass as a native-speaker, was good enough for a bar job. But she was far from confident in her ability to wait tables well enough for Paris. She took a deep breath, steeled herself, slid past the tables, and entered the bistro. At the hostess station, she greeted the attendant.
“Table for one, or are you meeting someone?”
“Oh, I’m not a customer. I saw the advertisement for a waitress position. I’d like to apply if it’s still available.”
The hostess, a slender blonde woman with tanned skin and shimmering lip gloss, looked her over critically. “Of course.” She bent down, and pulled out an application from a drawer at the station. “Please have a seat in the bar area and fill this out. Be sure to return it to me when you’ve finished.”
“Merci.” With the form in hand, Maura turned, and stepped right into the path of a waiter. His quick reflexes avoided a crash, but Maura felt heat rise up her neck, instantly embarrassed. Fortunately, other than the grumbling waiter, no one else seemed to notice.
She stood for a few moments and surveyed the dining room. Judging from the customers, it was classy enough to lure in couples wanting a romantic dinner and business men and women wanting a neutral place to meet with clients, and yet relaxed enough to bring in families with young children. A waitress breezed past her, expertly balancing a tray of several attractive plates of food. The aromas made Maura’s stomach growl, and reminded her of her meager lunch that had consisted of a stale roll, a chunk of cheese, and tea.
Overall, the bistro was rather dark, lit only by its lovely ornate stained glass lamps hanging over each table and by the light bouncing off its mirrored walls. Shouts and raucous laughter drew her attention. Against the farthest wall, illuminated by dozens of candles, was a gorgeous sculpted wooden bar, so highly polished that it shimmered in the candlelight. Glasses of all shapes and sizes lining the wall behind the bar sparkled like stars in the flickering light. A group of at least a dozen men and women were gathered around the far end of the bar, the apparent source of the shouting and laughter.
Moving to the bar area as she was instructed, she selected one of the few empty tables and sat down with her back to a large television screen. After spreading out the three-page application form, she withdrew a pen from her handbag and began filling in the form. For her name she wrote Anouk Allard, and gave the hotel’s address.
Meanwhile, more people arrived nearby, after which several explosive bursts of laughter firing in machine gun fashion, distracted her. Maybe she should move to the dining room, she thought. But when she glanced toward the hostess who had specifically sent her to this area, she squashed the idea.
Halfway through filling out her application, she took a break and glanced around her. Her attention fell onto the back of an English newspaper that the man sitting next to her was reading. She scanned the page and stopped abruptly, recognizing a photograph of herself. A gasp escaped her. The man turned and glanced at her. With her heart pounding, she folded up the application and tucked it inside her handbag, scooted back her chair, stood up, and as quickly as she could manage without drawing attention, walked tall and confidently toward the door.
Near the exit, the hostess stopped her. “Are you finished already?” she asked, extending her hand to take the application.
Maura shook her head. “I—I’ll have to fill it out at home and bring it in later.”
Frowning, the hostess said, “Is there a problem?”
“No, no,” she said. “I just need to look up my references. I bought a new handbag yesterday and forgot to put my address book inside. You know how it is.”
“Yes,” she answered. “I do that sort of thing all the time.”
Once outside, Maura paused and looked around. Her heart fluttered, making her lightheaded. She pictured the newspaper, and her stomach twisted in a knot. She started walking and making plans. She would leave the city from the Montparnasse station on the first departing train. Moments later, she faltered. Her duffel bag with all her belongings was in her hotel room. If she lost those, especially her cash, she might as well give up. At best, she might have enough cash to buy the train ticket, but then what would she do? She would have to make a quick stop at her hotel.
She didn’t bother changing clothes, but covered her blouse with a loose-knit green woolly, grabbed her duffel bag, and left the hotel without checking out. Outside, she decided to take one last precaution by donning her dark glasses and a scarf over her hair.
By nightfall she was back at Gare Montparnasse. She rushed inside the glass building and purchased a ticket to Angers in the Loire Valley. Her mother had vacationed there for two weeks many years ago, while Maura was away at school, and it was the first familiar name she saw. When the boarding announcement came over the intercom, Maura climbed aboard the TGV and carefully made her way to the back of the carriage. She had barely sat down in an aisle seat and made herself comfortable when she noticed three police officers enter the carriage at the front. Craning her neck, she tried to make out what was happening. She turned her head and looked behind her, thinking she might need to sneak out that way, but a train conductor stood in the aisle, his arms folded in an intimidating stance.
“May I be of assistance, Mademoiselle?” someone asked.
She noticed a gray-haired gentleman dressed in a business suit sitting across the aisle from her. He was leaning toward her with a friendly smile.
“Oh,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant, “I was wondering why those officers are here. Is that normal?”
“I see them on the train occasionally. I make this trip at least twice a week, you see.” He smiled, showing tobacco-stained teeth, which surprised her. “It may be a random check, or perhaps they are looking for someone. Either way, they will ask each passenger to show their identity card.”
“What if we don’t have one with us?”
“By law, anyone without ID is subject to arrest in France. That law is rarely enforced, I’ve been told. But—”
She felt a knot in her stomach. “I forgot my identity card. Is there a way off the train?”
An uncertainty crept into his expression and her hope sank.
In the seconds that followed, he winked. “I’ll create a diversion. Hopefully, that will distract the conductor. If you’re quick, you might manage to dash out through the back exit.”
The man stood up and looked toward the officers. “I need help. Can somebody help me please? I think I’m having a heart attack.” He clutched his chest. In that instance, the officers rushed forward, and Maura slipped past them. She ran out onto the platform, began walking quickly back to the main concourse, and then onto the next platform with a train waiting.