Retired And On The Rocks [Denim Blues Mysteries Book 1]
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by Karen Wiesner
Description: A missing engagement ring leads to murder. It's been a month since Denim McHart hung up his private investigating career after he ended up with a bullet in his leg. The injury has forced Den to re-evaluate future goals in his career, his love-life and his spiritual life. To keep himself busy in early retirement, he's been attempting to restore an antique table and he's officially bored. He can't seem to keep his mind off his investigative partner, the lovely and complicated Sylvia Price whom he's had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with in the past. When Sylvia calls him out of the blue, he doesn't waste time getting down to their office. In this past month, Sylvia has been dealing with her own feelings for Den, her overwhelming guilt for the pivotal event that happened years ago and caused her mother to be mentally unstable, coinciding with her inability to forgive herself the way she knows the Lord has forgiven her. Before the sparks can fly between Den and Sylvia in the direction he has his heart set, she says they've got company. Jilted bride Naomi Deva tells him that her groom--Mayor Thomas Julian--dumped her at the altar. Reluctantly, she admits he'd caught her in a compromising position with the best man only minutes before the ceremony. Naomi also reveals the reason why she's sought them--the local police department hasn't been able to turn up the six point one carat diamond engagement ring Thomas gave her...and the groom wants it back. Immediately.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [290 KB]
Reading time: 179-251 min.
"This is a terrific inspirational mystery that grips the audience with the early introduction of the partners. The storyline is character-driven, especially by Sylvia who carries a ton of baggage on her heart and soul. She knows God forgave her long ago but has not forgiven herself so believes Den deserves much better than her. The case is sold, but it is the relationship between the lead protagonists who provides a terrific opening Denim Blues Mysteries." ~Harriet Klausner for Follow the Clue
5 Stars! "This is an excellent start to a newest series by author Karen Wiesner. With a mixture of Nick and Nora Charles, throw in a little bit of Perry Mason and you have a page turner that will keep the reader involved in the plot right to the very end."
~Miss Lynn's Books-N-More
4 Stars! "In the first Denim Blues mystery, Wiesner pens both an excellent love story and mystery while bringing the Lord's words and forgiveness into the story to help Sylvia with her healing process." ~Cindy Himler for RT Book Reviews
4 Stars! "This is the first mystery in a new series. The case involving an expensive ring begins and ends here. It is a stand-alone tale. The private lives of the main characters get equal time. The author does not force religion down the throat of the reader, but the characters' beliefs certainly help each one to deal with personal troubles. I find this jewel to be a fulfilling story of trust and faith. Memorable!" ~Detra Fitch for Huntress Reviews
4 Stars! "This was a great tale. It had all the things I like in a story. Great dialogue, a mystery that I couldn't figure out, and a great leading couple. As I was reading the story, what came to mind was the TV show Hart to Hart. This story sorta had that feel to it except the lead couple are not married. I really liked how the author held the mystery a mystery until the end and then it's all laid out. I thoroughly enjoyed Denim and Sylvia (although I was a little frustrated with Sylvia at times for not trusting Denim). Orlando was a great guy, too. One thing I appreciated was the way that Denim and Orlando reacted to each other. Though they both had feelings for Sylvia, they behaved like grown men. This is a story that kept me turning pages and was difficult to put down. If you enjoy a clean romantic read with a great mystery, then I recommend RETIRED AND ON THE ROCKS. Looking forward to LOVE IS BLIND?AND IT DON'T PAY THE BILLS EITHER." ~Sherry for Love 2 Read Novels Blog
"Tell me again why we're doing this, Den," Sylvia said into the deep silence pervading the deserted high school parking lot.
Den grinned at her shortened use of his name. His real name was Shamus McHart, but all his life he'd been called Denim by everyone except his father because of the intense color of his eyes. Only Sylvia said "Den" like it was a pronouncement of love.
Darkness had begun to fall. Won't be long now, Den thought, anticipation making him antsy. "I know you're bored, sugar, but did you forget? Football coach ... selling drugs to the kids?" he prompted.
Their hometown, Briar's Point, had a population of just under a thousand and served as something of a bedroom town to the next city over, Riverbend, with almost a half-million citizens. Briar's Point, like its fairy tale name, was a town made up of whimsically-named businesses and charming, old-fashioned neighborhoods. Sometimes, those friendly people had a tendency to be a bit ... well ... nosy. Just as in most small towns, Briar's Point citizens were constantly in everyone else's business. The only difference was that here, nobody made any bones about their right to know all.
Briar's Point and Riverbend had more than their fair share of crime, though the smaller town rarely had anything gruesome happen. Den had, perhaps naively, vowed to personally clean up Briar's Point back when he was young enough to be in awe of an uncle who'd taught him to believe good overcame evil most of the time.
Sylvia didn't return his grin when she glanced over at him. "Are you sure about this? We don't have any evidence, beyond what the football team captain's ex-girlfriend says. Let's face it, Blue Eyes, she probably wanted to meet you."
What Sylvia claimed wasn't way out in left field. It'd happened before. He and Syl tended to attract a lot of attention because of the glamorous promotional posters they'd put up around town that helped them get a lot of business without needing to go searching for more. When the ex-girlfriend led them into this case, he'd gone after the scent of something not quite right and roped an uncomplaining Sylvia along in the process. Sure, even if they figured out what was going on, they wouldn't get paid, but they were on the right track. He knew it.
"You do realize we have a ton of other cases we're being paid for, don't you?" his partner in crime lectured, not for the first time. "If we don't go after something solid soon, we'll starve."
Her logic fell on deaf ears. There wasn't much Den liked better than mulling a mystery and connecting all the dots until the true picture emerged. Even as a kid, he'd immersed himself in solving neighborhood "crimes," emulating his Uncle Marty, who led a life as a P.I. that Den found fascinating. Unless there was something a kid his age shouldn't see, his uncle took him along for the ride whenever he could, giving Den the benefit of his years of experience and wisdom.
Den ran a seductive finger up the sleeve of Sylvia's silky top. "We'll get to them, sweetheart," he promised. "Let's just see what we see tonight, all right?"
Sylvia sighed. "Okay," she said, but he could tell instantly she wasn't agreeing to his plan with the word. "Let's say we do witness something here, Den. What do we do then? Do you have a plan? I mean, drug dealers have a tendency toward fear of getting caught, which makes them dangerous and violent. Maybe I should call Orlando."
Detective Orlando Bateman. She and Bateman had been patrol officers on the Riverbend Police Department. Though she'd quit the force, her former partner would have given her a kidney if she needed it, maybe even if she didn't. He wasn't the only one offering, either. There wasn't much Den wouldn't do for her himself.
He shrugged. "Like you said, darlin', we don't have any proof at the moment. When we have it, we'll call your friend." He laid emphasis on the word "friend" before sliding his hand over the edge of her knee. "Everything'll be fine. Trust me. We won't need anything but our communication skills."
Smoothly, she pushed his hand off, and Den grinned again. She knew he didn't approve of carrying weapons, though she still carried one of her own on their little adventures.
About to say something charming--and she'd shoot him down for it, no doubt--he shut up when they heard a vehicle approaching.
"Get down!" Sylvia ordered under her breath. She yanked on his shirt, and he obediently followed her in sliding down under the windows of her Jeep.
His wary gaze locked with Sylvia's across the seat, Den could hear the vehicle approaching, passing...
Moments later, multiple car doors slammed, and Sylvia peeked up an inch to look over him out the passenger's window.
"Who is it?" Den whispered, wishing he'd risen first to see. Not that he minded Sylvia sprawled so intimately across his chest.
"Coach Ross ... and ... someone else. A guy. I've never seen him."
The scent of her hair was intoxicating. He tried not to breathe it in so deeply he'd get dizzy. "What else?"
"They're both holding gym bags. I see money in the one the coach handed over..."
The validation Den felt at these words flared to life in his gut. He'd been right! The high school football coach was a drug dealer. And this shark must be the one providing his dope.
"The stranger's getting back in his car."
She slid back and grabbed the small notepad and pen she carried everywhere. He watched her write something, recognizing the sequence as a license plate number.
As soon as the car roared past them, out of the parking lot, Den grabbed the ice scraper on the floor below his seat. "Stay here," he ordered. "Be ready to call your cop."
With that, Den jumped out of the Jeep and ran as silently as possible in the direction of the coach's car. The trunk was open, and the coach had lifted his arm to close it.
"Don't bother," Den warned, coming up in back of him and shoving the scraper into the small of his back.
The big, burly guy went stock-still and raised his hands in surrender. Den couldn't help grinning at his own inventiveness. He reached into the trunk with his free hand and unzipped the nylon duffel. Plastic bags of white powder lined the inside.
Den whistled as he stared at the incriminating load. "I don't think the cops'll believe this is laundry detergent, Coach..."
A click brought Den's attention back up to his captive. Coach Ross held a gun, and it was trained on Sylvia standing at the driver's side of the man's car. Absolutely stunned, Den couldn't get his mind to accept what was happening. He'd had it all in hand. Why didn't she stay in the vehicle?
Sylvia was right again. He'd gone into this without a plan, no way to defend either of them because he'd never for one second imagined the coach would pull, let alone have, a gun.
"I'm gonna give the two of you one chance to walk away from here and keep your mouth shut," Coach Ross said, clearly believing himself to be the one in control.
"Too late," Sylvia answered in a low, deadly voice Den had never heard her use before. He got goose bumps from it. "I already called the cops, you scum. You'll never sell drugs to kids again."
Den swallowed his fear at being so defenseless. "Let's calm down," he managed. "Turn to me, Coach. I'm the one you want. Leave her out of this. We don't want anyone to get hurt, do we?"
"You're crazy if you think I'm gonna stand here when she already called the cops, pretty boy."
"She's bluffing," Den insisted, trying to sound soothing. "Neither of us even have a cell phone on us. But I have this."
With that, he shoved the scraper hard into the coach's back. "Run, Sylvia," he ordered. Coach Ross immediately whirled on him with the gun. Den had never felt more exposed--and foolish--in his life. Here he stood with a useless purple, plastic ice scraper in his hand and no way of knowing what to do now. He lifted the tool, realizing only too blatantly that it was no threat at all compared to a deadly handgun aimed level on his heart. At least it wasn't fixed on Sylvia anymore.
In all the time he'd been running after puzzles that needed solving--on his own and dragging Sylvia along these past five years--nothing bad or dangerous had ever happened to them. She'd worried for nothing.
Reality check: Sylvia could get hurt. He could lose her over this fiasco.
Stupidity, plain and simple. All the times he imagined adventure, danger, he never imagined himself terrified and armed with a harmless ice scraper. He'd had the gall to believe he'd charm the criminal out of violence. Denim McHart didn't need a weapon when he had a killer smile.
The coach's finger squeezed the trigger. Den's shock made him too slow to react, beyond throwing the scraper at the coach's head. Then Sylvia was moving. She brought her foot up and aimed a kick at elbow level. The gun went off. Den had a split second of seeing life happening in slow motion just before pain like he'd never imagined tore through his knee, brutal and shattering. He screamed, his good leg buckling with the injured one.
* * * *
Two days later
How did my life end up like this? At thirty-two, Den wondered how long he could continue spying on monogamy-deficient husbands and dodging the baseball bats of jealous boyfriends. That last one wasn't always for the job, but, hey, that was another story. He'd been part of a dream team, pursuing mysteries the way his P.I. uncle had. He hadn't regretted anything for a minute. Until Sylvia ended up under the gun.
Because of me. I almost got her killed.
"Let's say we do witness something here, Den. What do we do then? Do you have a plan? I mean, drug dealers have a tendency toward fear of getting caught, which makes them dangerous and violent. Maybe I should call Orlando."
Den cringed at the memory of the moment he could have turned back and let professionals handle the situation. Instead, he'd rushed into danger, inadvertently dragging Sylvia along with him.
And she'd saved them both by being prepared--something he'd never even considered in his sheer stupidity and recklessness: his refusal to carry a gun he could have used to protect Sylvia. Now he was lying in a hospital bed, a bullet having torn through his left calf, gone in and out the back, nicking bone and nerves in the process.
The doc hadn't been encouraging about his injury either. He'd limp when he could get out of bed, eventually without crutches. He might limp for the rest of his life. He'd be stuck using a cursed old man's cane. And he had no one to blame for it except himself.
The bullet had rearranged not only his leg, but also did a number on his head. He'd learned a lesson the hard way. Never again would he risk Sylvia's life.
What could one man do against the never-ending onslaught of too many bad apples? The dreams of grandeur he'd harbored as a kid with the coolest uncle in the world had shattered with his leg. What could one man do when the woman he felt decidedly protective toward went eye to eye with the barrel of a gun? Talk about perspective lining itself up in black and white clarity. Considering the life-long bachelorhood he'd taken to his grave, Uncle Marty had never faced the fear of losing the only woman for him.
It was very clear to Den what he had to do now. He swallowed the agony radiating constantly from his leg, a screaming ache resembling the pain he felt at the thought of one tiny little word. His penance. Only one solution that might rectify the damage he'd done and prevent it from ever happening again.
As soon as Sylvia came back--and she would; she'd all but been sleeping at his bedside--he'd set her free. One way or another, he'd tell her what he'd decided.
He was retiring.