Cover: Maid for Murder by Barbara Colley

























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Title: Barbara Colley's Charlotte LaRue Mystery Excerpts

Maid for Murder
by Barbara Colley


Chapter One

"Nadia, it's okay. Just calm down, hon." Charlotte LaRue spoke softly into the telephone receiver as she interrupted the young woman's tearful tirade. "Believe me, I understand. I really do," she stressed. "Little Davy has to come first and you can't help it if he's ill. But Nadia, dear, just this once, couldn't Ricco take him to the doctor? I know you need the money, and this will make two days this week you've had to miss work."

Charlotte drummed her fingers on the desktop while she listened to Nadia's string of excuses why her unemployed live-in boyfriend didn't have the time to take his own son to the doctor or stay with him that day.

With a sigh of frustration, Charlotte glanced at the clock on the wall. In spite of the clock being a silly cuckoo that she'd picked up on a whim at a flea market, it kept excellent time. And according to the time showing, she was going to be late if she didn't leave soon.

"Hm, I see," Charlotte finally told Nadia, though she really didn't understand at all. "Don't cry, now. I'm sure things will work out. Just take care of that sweet little boy and let me know when you're free to work again."

Charlotte hung up the receiver and made a silent vow to have a real heart to heart talk with Nadia about her freeloading boyfriend. Charlotte had met Ricco Martinez on several occasions, and nothing about the man had impressed her. In Charlotte's opinion, the only reason Ricco Martinez stayed around was for the free room and board.

She'd often wondered why Nadia continued to put up with him, but the only conclusion she'd come to was that Nadia had convinced herself she was doing it for Davy's sake. What the younger woman didn't realize, though, and what Charlotte knew from her own personal experience was if a boy was given enough love and attention, he could grow up just fine without a father, especially a no-account father like Ricco.

Yes, she decided. She definitely needed to have that heart to heart talk with the younger woman.

Charlotte flipped through the Rolodex near the phone and finally located the phone number of Janet Davis, one of the three women Charlotte employed on a temporary basis.

Janet answered on the third ring. "This is Charlotte, Janet. I'm so glad I caught you at home. I apologize for such short notice, but I hope you're free to work today."

Janet said she was free, and Charlotte quickly gave her the address of the client's home. "And Janet, Mrs. Dufore likes the ceiling fans dusted each time we clean her house. There's a small ladder in the downstairs storage closet you can use. She's also very particular about the shower in the master bath. Make sure you get rid of all the soap scum, especially around the drain."

Charlotte ended the conversation, grabbed her purse, and fished out the keys to her van. "Thank God it's Friday," she muttered.

Satisfied that yet another crisis had been averted and with one last glance at the phone as if daring it to ring again, she headed for the front door. "Bye-bye, Sweety Boy," she called over her shoulder. "Be a good little bird today and I'll see you later."

From his cage near the front window, the little parakeet's answer was to burst into a series of chirps and whistles that made Charlotte smile as she pulled the front door firmly shut behind her, then locked it.

The small Victorian shotgun double that Charlotte lived in was located on Milan Street, just blocks away from the exclusive, historic New Orleans Garden District. The hundred-year-old double had been inherited by Charlotte and her younger sister, Madeline, after their parents' untimely deaths, and each half included a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bath.

Unlike her sister, though, who had long ago sold her half of the double to Charlotte right after her first marriage, Charlotte had never felt the urge or the need to live anywhere else.

To Charlotte, the old Victorian double was more than just the home in which she'd grown up and raised her son. The location was perfect for her thriving, sometimes hectic cleaning service, since all of her clients lived in the Garden District.

Over the years, she'd thought about branching out, expanding her business to other parts of the city, but when it came right down to it, she couldn't imagine working anywhere else.

The Old World ambience of the Garden District, with its many huge, imposing mansions, several well over a century old, was like taking a step back in time. She loved everything about the unique neighborhood--its narrow streets and hundred-year-old moss-draped oaks that shaded them, the brick sidewalks, the formal gardens, lush with ferns, azaleas, palms, and other subtropical vegetation.

Compared to the rest of New Orleans, living near and working in the Garden District was like taking a breath of country air.

Traffic wasn't too bad until Charlotte reached the intersection of Milan and Magazine streets. Turning left onto Magazine was always tricky under the best of circumstances at that time of morning, for there was no traffic light and most of the traffic on the right side was flowing toward downtown. To make matters worse, a large delivery van was parked on the corner, effectively blocking sight of the oncoming vehicles.

When several minutes passed and traffic hadn't budged, Charlotte knew she was in trouble. She glanced around, looking for an alternative route, then groaned. Ordinarily, she could have taken one of the many side streets and avoided the congested area, but the closest one was blocked off by a crew from the Sewerage and Water Board, patching yet another part of the century-old underground drainage system.

In the thirty-plus years since she'd founded Maid-for-a-Day, she'd always prided herself on being thorough and punctual, something that she absolutely insisted on from the two full-time and three part-time women she employed. The one thing customers hated most besides a sloppy cleaning job was having to wait for the maid to show up. Thanks to Nadia, today looked as if it were going to be one of the rare exceptions to her rule.

Charlotte reached for her cell phone and punched out the number of her client, Jeanne Dubuisson. A bit embarrassed, she explained that she was stuck in traffic and would probably be a few minutes late.

By the time Charlotte parked her van on the street that ran alongside the nineteenth-century Greek Revival mansion belonging to the Dubuissons, she noted that even with the last-minute crisis with Nadia and the snarl of work traffic, she was only a few minutes later than normal. Not that Jeanne had any particular place to go. Certainly not to an outside job.

Jeanne St. Martin Dubuisson was wealthy in her own right, having come from an old, established New Orleans family, but Jackson, Jeanne's husband, was also one of the city's most prestigious attorneys. Jeanne could well afford to simply do nothing. If not for her invalid mother, she might have been tempted to join her socially prominent contemporaries who spent their days running from one luncheon to another or heading up notable charitable committees.

Charlotte preferred to use her own cleaning supplies when servicing a customer. From the back of the van, she selected the various cleaners and waxes she would need and placed them in the special carrier she used. She would have to make another trip later for the vacuum cleaner.

After locking the van, she approached the fence that fronted the Dubuissons' house. Made of cast iron and designed in the traditional cornstalk pattern, as opposed to the simpler wrought-iron designs, the fence was typical and almost exclusive to the Garden District. Beside the latch on the double-wide gate was a buzzer that Charlotte pushed. After several minutes, the lock clicked, and she opened the gate.

There were eight steps leading up to the lower gallery that bordered three sides of the old mansion. Charlotte paused on the seventh step.

"Now that's odd," she murmured as she turned her head slowly from one side to the other, her eagle eyes following the trail of debris that had been tracked across the normally fastidiously clean porch. Dried leaves, grass, and dirt left a trail clear across the porch, the same type of debris that she'd swept away on Wednesday, when she'd cleaned.

Oh, well, she thought. Nothing to do but sweep it all up again. Still puzzling about the scattered debris, Charlotte jumped when the front door suddenly swung open.

"Why, Miss Anna," she exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing home?"

Twenty-year-old Anna-Maria Dubuisson was willowy thin, with shoulder-length blond hair and startling green eyes, startling and exotic because of their deep emerald color, fringed by thick, sooty lashes. She was also tall, several inches taller than Charlotte's petite height of five feet three. In the six years that Charlotte had worked for the Dubuissons, she'd watched the gangly teenager grow into one of the most beautiful young women she'd ever met.

Charlotte narrowed her eyes. "I thought there was still another week before spring break."

Anna-Maria flashed her a mischievous smile. "Don't tell Mother," she said softly, "but I skipped out. She thinks I got special permission to leave early." She shrugged in a dismissive gesture. "I just had to come home, though. James's father is giving a small, intimate party tomorrow night for just family and a few select friends. James thinks that's it's a celebration for his sister." She lowered her voice. "It's all hush hush, but he's pretty sure that Laura has been chosen as one of the maids for Rex next year, maybe even queen." Her eyes widened. "Can you imagine being Queen of Carnival?"

James Doucet was Anna-Maria's fiance', and it came as no surprise to Charlotte that James's sister might be chosen as a maid or even queen. Since James's father, Vincent Doucet, had reigned as Rex several years back and was prominent in the Krewe of Rex, it was logical that his daughter would be in line for such an honor.

"Since I don't have a thing to wear," Anna-Maria continued, "I came home early to shop." She glanced at her watch. "Oh, shoot, I'm already late. Got to run." She laughed, and with a small flutter of her fingers, she waved as she hurried past Charlotte. "I'm meeting Laura for breakfast; then it's shop till we drop. Oh, and by the way," she called out, "I love your new hairstyle."

Charlotte reached up self-consciously and smoothed back a strand of hair as she watched Anna-Maria skip down the front steps and disappear around the side of the house toward the driveway. Charlotte usually preferred a shorter, no-nonsense style, but it had been a while since she'd had time to get a haircut, and her hair had grown out longer than she normally wore it. Still, if Anna-Maria liked it a bit longer . . . maybe . . . "Don't be ridiculous," she muttered. She wasn't some silly schoolgirl who had all the time in the world to fool with fixing her hair. Shorter hair was much more practical. Besides, she should just be thankful that she didn't have to bother with getting it colored as well as cut. She considered herself fortunate indeed that what little gray she had still blended with the honey brown color.

Within moments, Charlotte heard the roar of a car engine come to life. When she turned back toward the door, Jeanne Dubuisson, dressed in a long silk robe and matching slippers, was standing in the doorway.

Unlike Anna-Maria, Jeanne's eyes were blue. Otherwise, in looks, she was simply an older version of her daughter. But in temperament, whereas Anna-Maria was still outgoing and passionate about life, Jeanne possessed a quiet, ageless sophistication that could only be acquired with maturity and time.

"Good morning," she said to Charlotte, sparing her a brief glance and polite smile. At that moment, her daughter's bright red Bimmer Roadster shot out of the driveway and into the street. Jeanne focused a hungry gaze on the retreating sports car. "She thinks I don't know that she's playing hooky, and I guess I should be upset with her. It's just that I miss her so when she's away," she said, her soft voice tinged with sadness. "I worry about her."

Charlotte nodded, fully understanding the emotions Jeanne was experiencing. "It's hard to let go," Charlotte told her gently. "It's been a while, but I remember well those first two years Hank went off to college. It's almost like a part of you is missing."

The sports car disappeared around the corner, and with a deep sigh, Jeanne turned her attention back to Charlotte. "And how is that son of yours these days? Is he still after you to retire?"

Charlotte grimaced. "Isn't that the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard of? My goodness, I'm only fifty-nine. The way he carries on sometimes, you'd think I was a ninety-year-old invalid."

Jeanne patted Charlotte's arm. "You hang in there, and don't you dare let him talk you into something you're not ready for. Just because he's a doctor doesn't mean he knows everything. Besides, what on earth would I do without you?" Jeanne stood aside and motioned for Charlotte to enter the foyer.

The grand foyer of the old home was a room unto itself, and unlike the mere sixteen-foot ceilings of the other rooms in the house, the foyer soared upward the full two stories. Placed along the walls were several gilded lyre-back chairs and an Empire chaise longue upholstered in red brocade with gold trim. An antique rug, worn thin from decades of wear and all the more valuable because of its condition, covered the wooden floor.

"Today why don't you start upstairs in Mother's room while I serve her breakfast," Jeanne told Charlotte as she pulled the door shut. "She's been so grumpy lately that I thought I would serve it out on the upper gallery so she could get some fresh air and a little sunshine."

Charlotte truly admired Jeanne as well as sympathized with her situation. Jeanne's mother, Clarice St. Martin, had suffered a debilitating stroke just before Charlotte had begun working for the Dubuissons. Clarice could have well afforded the best nurses and round-the-clock care that money could buy, and her condition had somewhat improved over time, but Jeanne had insisted that her mother move in with her so that she could personally care for her.

Charlotte could understand why Jeanne, or any daughter, for that matter, would want to ensure that her mother had the best of care. Even so, the whole situation still seemed a bit strange, especially given their financial means, and she couldn't help wondering if Jeanne had some kind of martyr complex.

"I already have Mother's tray ready in the kitchen," Jeanne said. "I won't be but a moment." She walked past Charlotte toward the entrance to the formal dining room that led back to the kitchen.

"Do you need some help with the tray?" Charlotte called after her.

"My goodness, no," Jeanne answered. "Besides, you've already got enough to carry."

Within moments, Jeanne reappeared with a large wicker tray. On the tray were several covered dishes, but it was the pink rose in a cut-crystal vase that caught Charlotte's eye.

"I see you've already been out to the garden this morning," she said as she followed Jeanne up the sweeping stairway. Though Charlotte knew that Jeanne hired out most of the yard work, one of the few self-indulgent activities she allowed herself was her rose garden.

"Don't I wish I could get out in the mornings," Jeanne answered, her tone wistful. "I really love gardening, and truly the best time is early mornings, before the dew evaporates and before it gets too hot. But lately Mother has taken to waking up so early, and what with Jackson working later, I've had to switch working in the garden to the evenings instead."

The stairway opened to a central hall on the second-story level, a hall similar to the foyer on the first level and wide enough for a claw-foot settee and a pair of pillar-and-scroll mahogany tables. Connected to the central hall were four large bedrooms suites, each suite containing its own private bath.

Clarice's bedroom was the closest to the stairs. The old lady was still in bed, her television tuned to QVC, a popular shopping channel. She was dressed in her nightgown, just one of the many soft flannel granny-type gowns that she preferred to sleep in and lounge around in.

"Mother, look who's here." Jeanne set the tray down on the foot of the bed.

Totally ignoring Charlotte, the old lady pointed to the television screen. "Quick, Jeanne, look at that."

Jeanne didn't bother looking, but Charlotte glanced at the screen. A sparkling ruby-and-diamond necklace was being displayed.

"Wouldn't that look stunning on Anna-Maria? And rubies are her birthstone."

With an impatient shake of her head, Jeanne walked around to the side of the bed and pulled back the covers. "I don't know why you insist on watching those shows. Now, come along. I have a special treat for you today."

Though Clarice allowed Jeanne to help her to the side of the bed, her expression grew hard and resentful. "How else is an old crippled woman supposed to shop?"

While Jeanne was busy assisting Clarice into a terry robe, Charlotte opened the French doors leading out onto the upper gallery.

"Besides," Clarice continued, "with July only a couple of months away, I don't have that long to find her a birthday present."

Outside on the gallery, Charlotte quickly wiped the dust off the top of a small glass-topped wicker table. But even from outside, Charlotte could hear Jeanne's exasperated sigh.

"Mother, I've told you that anytime you want to shop, all you have to do is agree to a wheelchair and I'll take you anywhere you want to go."

When Charlotte returned for the breakfast tray, Clarice's lower lip was protruding into a pout. "I refuse to be seen in one of those things," she said. "I'm not that crippled."

Charlotte picked up the wicker tray and took it out to the table.

"Come along, then," Charlotte heard Jeanne tell Clarice. "It's such a beautiful day, I thought we could have breakfast out on the gallery."

"I'll get cold out there," the old lady complained.

"No you won't," Jeanne argued. "Besides, if you don't come outside, you won't get breakfast."

Within moments, Charlotte heard the slide-thump of Clarice's walker, and she quickly slipped back inside before the old lady reached the doorway.

Charlotte retrieved clean sheets and pillow cases for Clarice's bed from the hallway linen closet. As she stripped the bed, she could hear the murmur of Jeanne and Clarice's voices coming from the gallery. Clarice was complaining again, only this time she was grumbling about having oatmeal for breakfast for the third day in a row.

"I want eggs--fried eggs over easy," she whined. "And bacon--lots of bacon fried nice and crisp. Why can't I ever have bacon?"

"Mother, you know fried foods are bad for your cholesterol."

Once Charlotte had dusted in the bedroom, she began wiping down the sink and countertop in the bathroom. From outside, the murmurs between the two women grew louder.

Charlotte did her best to ignore what was being said. Instead, she concentrated on replacing each item on top of the counter once she'd cleaned beneath it, especially Clarice's numerous prescription bottles. By the time she'd cleaned the toilet and started on the shower stall, the loud murmurs had turned into a shouting match that was hard to ignore.

"He's stealing you blind!"

"Now, Mother, how could you know that?"

"Leopards don't change their spots. That's how I know. You mark my words, missy. He's a no-good scoundrel, and what's worse, he's smart. And if you weren't such a namby-pamby, you'd see him for what he is."

"Mother, stop it!"

"I won't stop it. It's time--past time--you grew a backbone. If you'd had the guts to refuse to marry him in the first place, your father might still be alive today."

"That's not true, and you know it."

"Don't you walk away from me!

"I'm not listening to any more of this."

"Jeanne, you come back here!"

Charlotte had just finished scrubbing the scuff marks off the bathroom floor made by Clarice's walker and was mopping the bathroom floor when Jeanne stalked across the bedroom.

At the hallway door, Jeanne hesitated, then turned toward Charlotte. Tears filled her eyes, and her voice shook with emotion. "Would you please make sure that she gets back to bed okay?"

Before Charlotte had time to answer, Jeanne fled through the doorway. Seconds later, Charlotte heard a door farther down the hall slam shut.

"Charlotte!" Clarice called out. "Are you still in there?"

Charlotte set the mop aside and hurried out onto the gallery. There she found the old lady struggling to get out of her chair. "I'm cold," she told Charlotte. "I want to go back inside."

"Here, let me help you." Clarice wasn't much bigger in size than Charlotte, but it was like lifting dead weight. As she struggled to get the old lady to a standing position, she wondered how on earth Jeanne managed day in and day out by herself.

"I swear, I don't know what gets into that daughter of mine," Clarice said as she aimed her walker toward the open French doors. Then, without so much as a please or thank-you, she began her arduous journey back inside.

Charlotte simply shook her head and wondered yet again about the strange relationship between the two women. Why did Jeanne continue to put up with her mother's rudeness, a rudeness that at times bordered on abuse?

By the time that Charlotte cleared off the outside table and set the tray on the floor in the hallway, Clarice was entering the bathroom. Except for vacuuming, Charlotte was finishing cleaning Clarice's suite. Even so, she waited a few minutes before leaving the room just in case Clarice needed more help.

"Be careful, Miss Clarice," she told her. "I just mopped that floor, and it might still be a bit damp."

Clarice stopped, turned her head, and glared at Charlotte. "I'm not going to mess up the floor, Charlotte. I just want to rinse my teeth."

Messing up the floor was the least of Charlotte's concerns, but she figured trying to explain that she only feared that Clarice might slip and fall wouldn't do a bit of good. The old lady only heard what she wanted to hear.

Once Clarice was safely back in her bed, Charlotte gathered her supplies and started on the bedroom next to Clarice's. Within the hour, she'd cleaned all of the bedrooms except the master suite. Since the door to that room was still firmly shut and she hadn't heard Jeanne come out, she decided she would wait and clean it later.

After dusting the small tables in the hallway, Charlotte moved to the staircase. The handrail and balusters were fashioned from antique mahogany, but the steps were of oak, sanded and finished to a high gloss.

It was rumored that when the original owners of the Dubuissons' house had built it, they had procured the handrail and balusters from a house that was reputed to have been the temporary headquarters for Andrew Jackson when he had defended New Orleans against the British. Just thinking about the historical significance of the staircase gave Charlotte a lot of pleasure, and she took a great deal of pride in the polishing and upkeep of the old wood.

From her supply carrier, she removed a bottle of lemon oil and a special cloth she used to apply the oil. She also removed a polishing cloth, which she tucked into the waistband of her slacks.

After sprinkling the first cloth with lemon oil, she rubbed it into the handrail, tediously working her way down the staircase. It was when she was working her way back up as she polished the handrail that she noticed the scuff marks on the steps, scuff marks almost identical to the kind made by Clarice's walker.

Impossible, she thought. Even as wide as the steps were, Clarice's walker was wider. Charlotte frowned in thought as she stared at the scuff marks. The only way they could have been made by Clarice's walker was if the walker had been folded and dragged down the stairs, which meant that Clarice would have had to hold on to the banister for support . . .

"Oh, for pity's sake," she muttered. What on earth was wrong with her, standing there, wasting time obsessing about such a silly thing? Something else or someone's shoes had to have caused the marks. The only time Clarice ventured down the stairs was when she had her monthly doctor's exam. Even then, Jeanne enlisted the help of Max, a part-time chauffeur she'd hired to assist her mother.

It was almost noon by the time that Charlotte had scrubbed away the scuff marks on the stairs and cleaned and vacuumed all but the main parlor and the kitchen downstairs. She was ready to begin dusting in the parlor when she heard the clink of dishes coming from the kitchen.

Jeanne, she decided, had finally come out of her room and was preparing lunch. Once again, she had to admire the younger woman. Jeanne might be hurt or angry with her mother, but she would still take care of her needs.

Charlotte quickly gathered the supplies she needed and climbed the stairs. Now she could finally clean the master suite, then she would take her own lunch break.

By midafternoon, Charlotte was almost finished with everything but one last chore in the kitchen. As she stacked the last of the plates from the dishwasher into the butler's pantry, Jeanne entered the kitchen.

"Charlotte, could we talk for a moment?"

"Of course." Charlotte nodded, then closed and locked the door to the dishwasher.

Jeanne motioned for Charlotte to take a seat at the small breakfast table. But instead of seating herself, Jeanne began to pace the distance between the table and the cabinet. After a moment and a deep, steadying sigh, she finally stopped behind a chair across from where Charlotte sat. Her hands gripped the back of the chair so hard that her knuckles were white.

"I'm--I'm truly sorry about what happened earlier," she told Charlotte in a halting voice. "I want to apologize."

"You don't owe me an apology," Charlotte said gently. "I really understand. Your mother has--er--she has problems."

Jeanne grimaced and sat down hard in the nearest chair. "Oh, Charlotte, what am I going to do about her? What Mother has is more than just problems. She's going senile and seems to be getting worse with each passing day."

Charlotte's heart went out to the younger woman. "Sometimes simply talking about a situation helps," she suggested. "At least talking seems to work for me."

Jeanne placed her arms on the tabletop and leaned forward. "You're right, I'm sure. With Anna-Maria off at school and Jackson gone most of the time, I don't have a chance to talk to anyone much."

Charlotte reached over and patted Jeanne's hand. How sad, she thought. She couldn't begin to imagine leading such an insular, lonely life. "Well, I'm here now," Charlotte told her, "and my middle name is discretion, so you just talk all you want to."

Jeanne seemed to hesitate, but only for a moment. "She's always making accusations about someone or something," she blurted out. "Take for instance that stuff she was saying this morning about Jackson. Why, Jackson isn't even home half the time, what with all of the late nights he's been keeping at the office lately. When he is home, he stays holed up in the library. And who could blame him?"

How convenient for him, thought Charlotte. And how totally selfish. Charlotte didn't really know Jackson Dubuisson that well, since most of the time he was at work when she cleaned. But from the different things that Jeanne had let slip over the years, Charlotte's opinion of the man was zero on a scale of one to ten. She had often wondered how such a warm, loving woman like Jeanne could have ever married someone like him.

But if, as Jeanne pointed out, Jackson was never around, why would Clarice choose to pick on him? she wondered. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. The old saying played through Charlotte's mind. Over the years, Charlotte had seen the truth in the cliche' more than once. "Why do you think your mother is so fixated on maligning your husband?"

Again Jeanne hesitated as a myriad of emotions played across her face. After a moment, she seemed to compose herself. "For one thing, when Jackson and I married, Father made him a full partner in the firm. Ever since, Mother has always claimed Jackson only married me to get control of the firm. She says all he cares about is money, specifically my money. But even worse, she still blames Jackson for Father's death. Never mind that it's been fifteen years since Father was murdered. Mother simply won't stop harping on it."

Murdered. Charlotte's stomach turned queasy. "Oh, goodness, I'd forgotten that your father had been murdered." Even now, Charlotte only vaguely recalled the incident. At the time, though, she hadn't paid much attention to the story or the gossip. She'd been too caught up in her own tragedy, that of trying to console her son after his wife had purposely aborted their child, her grandchild, a child Hank had wanted badly. "The murder of someone close leaves its mark on the whole family," she murmured, still thinking about the loss she and her son had suffered. "It's a terrible thing."

Jeanne nodded and lowered her gaze to the tabletop. "It was terrible," she whispered. "A burglar broke into the house, robbed the safe, then killed Father."

Charlotte reached out and squeezed Jeanne's arm. "Oh, you poor thing. I'm so sorry."

Jeanne suddenly laughed, but it was a bitter sound filled with irony. "Don't be too sorry. My father would never have won any Father of the Year Awards, and he had a cruel streak." She shrugged. "But my mother loved him just the same, something I never understood."

Charlotte immediately thought about Nadia's situation with Ricco. "I know exactly what you mean," she said, "but I've never understood how a woman could stay with a man who was cruel or abusive. I guess love takes on many forms, but I sometimes think women confuse love with other things, things like security, or they feel trapped or feel there's no other choice." She shrugged. "For whatever reason," she added.

"Yes . . . well, I figure that Mother felt she had no other choice since my father controlled the money. Even so, she just couldn't accept that he was gone, and she went a little crazy at the time. As if Father being murdered wasn't enough, she made terrible accusations about Jackson to the police. You see, Jackson and Father had argued the night before . . . something about some investments Father had made using the firm's money. But of course Jackson had an alibi the night of the murder. As usual, he was working late on an upcoming court case with his secretary. But not even that seemed to convince Mother he was innocent. Never mind that it completely satisfied the police."

"Was the murderer ever caught?"

Jeanne shook her head. "No-- No, he wasn't. And after a while, I think the police gave up."

Jeanne's next words chilled Charlotte to the bone.

"My father's murderer is still out there," she said. "Somewhere . . .


Excerpt from Maid for Murder
Copyright 2001 by Barbara Colley

Kensington Publishing
February 2002

Excerpt Index: Dusted to Death | Wash and Die | Scrub-a-Dub Dead | Rachel's War
Maid for Murder | Death Tidies Up | Polished Off | Wiped Out | Married to the Mop


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