The Spy Who Kissed Me
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by Pauline Baird Jones
Description: Isabel "Stan" Stanley's mother has been hoping a man would fall in Stan's lap. But when a handsome spy dives through the sunroof of her car in a hail of bullets, Stan's sure this wasn't what momma had in mind. Bad guys beware. Stan's packing a glue gun and she knows how to use it. Sort of.
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
12 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [328 KB]
Reading time: 206-289 min.
"The Spy Who Kissed Me" was formerly titled "Pig in a Park": - "Pauline Baird Jones' debut contemporary, Pig in a Park is a delightful madcap romp that will leave readers eagerly anticipating future works by this amazing new talent." --Patricia Rouse, Romantic Times Columnist - "Pauline Baird Jones' humor is exquisite comic genius! Her characters are phenomenal and colorful as a rainbow. Move over James Bond!" --Suzanne Coleburn, The Bells and Beaux of Romance - "?a remarkable new talent . . Pauline Baird Jones and her hilarious novel PIG IN A PARK make their debut. Written in first person, this adventurous romp is a 14 karat gem, and I for one would love to see more from this vastly amusing author." --Four & 1/2 Stars from Romantic Times - "A romantic suspense, action-packed mystery, or a sizzling romance, the choice is yours because PIG IN THE PARK is all three, and more? The characters are many, varied, and unusual. The plot has as many twists as a kitten-snarled ball of yarn, but Ms. Jones manages to smooth out every kink, unsnarl the impossible, and deliver a book that is absolutely engrossing, engaging, and balm for your funny bone." --Under The Covers Reviews
I'd never have gotten mixed up in the first murder if Mrs. Macpherson hadn't caught the flu, but I can't blame her for capricious fate rolling the "who's shall I smite today?" dice and my name--Isabel Stanley--coming up.
Isabel. Picture someone petite, fragile and blonde, done in soft pastels, lusciously formed--and you'll know how I don't look. Most people find it less stressful to call me Stan when faced with a reality that is tall, lots of leg, and colored with crayons in brown and pasty white.
Don't get me wrong. Being darn near invisible isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. Ask my twin sister Rosemary about her ex. Just be sure to do it from a safe distance. Calling her spitting mad isn't an exercise in the theoretical.
I used to be a safe distance from her and my mother until six months ago when my instinct for survival got swamped by guilt. Since my livelihood is done with computer and sketch pad, I was able to make the move from New Orleans, Louisiana to Arlington, Virginia almost painlessly.
Painless isn't possible with my mother in the mix. She's a fundamentalist Baptist who wanted me to give her more grandchildren, not give the world children's books featuring a cartoon roach named Cochran. That it pays very well only adds insult to her imagined injury.
My mother's unhappiness with my roach didn't matter when significant part of the country separated us, but my dad died and Rosemary's husband, Dag had a mid-life crisis, with lots of gold chains, a Mercedes-Benz, and a twenty year old secretary. Dag moved out. Mother wanted to move in, eager to help. Rosemary was in shock or she would have considered the consequences of introducing into her nineties household a woman who still lived in the fifties. I tried to warn Rose, I tried to reason with our Mother, but they didn't listen to me. They never do. Nor did they admit I'd been right when they called me. They just indicated in their differing ways that a move back to Arlington would be for my best good.
My mother believed that I'd never have stooped to writing about a roach if I'd stayed in Virginia. She was right. I'd have been too busy dodging blind dates. Didn't matter that there were good reasons these guys were still single--scary reasons. I wouldn't have caved, but Rosemary made me an offer I should have refused: rent-free possession of the apartment over the garage that "Dag, that rotten scumbag, finished before he lost his mind over that slut." I capitulated with calculated reluctance. I wanted Rosemary in my debt without giving away the fact that I had my own reasons for moving to the rescue.
Perky, disgusting little Cochran the Cockroach had reached a level of popularity that had my publicist talking book tour. Not the talk show circuit or high-style launch parties. No, she wanted me to make an endless round of library story hours and school assemblies filled with packs of children asking questions like, "Why are there bubbles in spit?" and "Do you curl the hair in your nose?" I gave up teaching elementary school to get away from questions like that.
I explained my family problem and the role I was to play in the tragic-comedy.
"You could be on the radio!" she countered
"Well, I don't need some guy asking me why I write about a roach and haven't ever married. I have my mother to do that."
"All right," she conceded with a sigh, "but I think you're nuts. The tour isn't forever. Moving in with your mother could be."
Before I realized I'd been insulted, she rang off and I went back to abandoning all hope and packing. It wasn't without a pang or a million that I gave up my apartment, bid farewell to the pastries and jazz of the Big Easy, and moved in over Rosemary's garage to be part-time house-aunt and resident thorn in my mother's side, freeing Rosemary to pursue her quest to strip Dag of the trappings of his mid-life crisis, from his gold chains to the Mercedes-Benz. She didn't want the twenty-year old.
In the interests of her long term mental health, it was a good thing she was successful. Though Rosemary and I possess the same physical attributes, they seem to work better for her. She made a favorable impression on the judge, aided by Dag who dragged his child-lover to the proceedings and forgot to request visitation rights to his children. Rosemary didn't get the gold chains, but she got most everything else--including the Mercedes.
No surprise our fractured little family was rubbing along about as smooth as chalk on a blackboard when Reverend Hilliard called and asked me to sub for Mrs. Macpherson at the organ during youth choir practice. I like playing the organ and I had no reason to think it might be dangerous. And they have hot chocolate afterwards. They have to. It's January in our tiny suburb of DC and our church is old and cold.
Since I have an aversion to freezing to death and my blood was thinned by my time down South, I dressed for the impending arctic conditions. Starting with thermals, I worked my way out to jeans and a woolly mammoth sweater, finishing with snow socks and boots. I pulled my hair back in its customary braid and brushed artificial roses onto my unremarkable cheekbones. When I could do no more, I collected coat, hat and gloves, and opened the door that separated my over-the-garage apartment-by-Goodwill from my sister's House Beautiful.
Down in the kitchen I found my mother watching the Gulf War on television. It felt weird, but everyone was doing it. It was our first televised war. My favorite part was the scud studs--and the soldiers. Men in uniform. What wasn't to like about that? The only thing that could distract my mother from smart bombs--she'd never admit she watched the scud studs, too--was me. It's a gift.
Her meticulously plucked brows arched into her gray fringe as she examined my jeans. She thinks jeans are too comfortable and should be banned. Comfort isn't the road to true happiness. Discomfort is--if you rejoice in it. Or something like that.
"Slacks, Isabel?" My mother has the perfect voice for registering disapproval. It is light, smooth and cool, but with bite, like plain yogurt.
"I'm allergic to frostbite." I bent to root through the refrigerator for the pickles. Rejoiced when I found them, used my fingers to dig out a big one.
"You'll reek of pickle juice. You know Reverend Hilliard dislikes pickles."
I knew that. It was why I was pickle diving. I looked up in time to catch the match-making gleam in her eye. I wanted to believe she wasn't that desperate to remove the stain of singleness from my name, but I knew she was. The only thing she wanted more than my marriage to a testosterone carrier was Rosemary's ex-husband castrated and forced to live the rest of his life as an impotent handyman for a women's sorority.
She's still got some work to do on the forgiveness thing.
"How could anyone dislike pickles?" Holding her avid gaze with my limpid one, I submerged my hand in the jar again and then wiped the pungent residue down the side of my jeans. If I had to, I'd hang dill around my neck to keep the reverend away. No way I was getting intimate with a guy under close scrutiny from God.
"Maybe her tight jeans will distract him from the smell," Rosemary said from the doorway, her smile shadowed. Suffering agreed with her. Our mutual assets still looked better hanging from her bones than they ever had from mine.
"They are very tight." She looked and sounded conflicted. Tight was bad, but men were men and if that's what it took to get one she would consider looking the other way--even as she planned my guilt trip.
A good thing the telephone rang and dislocated the conversation. Before any of us could answer it, Rosemary's eldest daughter, Candice, swirled into the room and scooped up the receiver. Telephone answering is the only known benefit of having a thirteen-year-old in the house.
"Jeez, it's for you, Stan." She thrust the telephone at me like I'd committed a crime, then vanished, leaving a shimmering trail of hormones quivering in the air to mark her passage.
My mother stared at the place where Candice had been, then turned to look down her nose at me. "I wish you wouldn't encourage the children to call you Stan. Isabel is a lovely name."
No one needed encouragement to call me Stan, but I didn't waste breath pointing this out. I didn't have time for one of our automatic arguments. I applied the phone to an ear. "Hello?"
Okay, so no one except Muir Kenyon called me Isabel. Muir would be at the top of my mother's potential husband list, because of his lukewarm interest in me, if he weren't also the brother of Rosemary's ex-husband. It was awkward but Muir is so clueless he hasn't figured that out yet.
"Hello, Muir." I sounded resigned because I felt resigned. It was all Muir could inspire in a woman, I'm afraid.
"I was wondering if you would care to join me for a cup of hot chocolate this evening? I wrote a new computer program I'd like to show you."
Somehow Muir has realized I love hot chocolate like hobbits love mushrooms, while totally missing the fact that his computer talk puts me in a coma.
"Gee, I'm sorry. Reverend Hilliard asked me to play the organ for youth choir tonight. Mrs. Macpherson has the flu."
"Can we meet afterwards? I designed this program myself."
Wow, tempting, but... "No."
"I'll call you tomorrow."
He would, but I didn't have time to get depressed about it. I had to leave before I compounded my sins by being late. I hung up the telephone and shrugged on my jacket, while examining Rosemary from under my lashes. She seemed to be in as good of a mood as she could be post divorce.
"Could I borrow your Mercedes, Rose? My car was raised in New Orleans and doesn't know how to produce heat unless it's already hot out."
She frowned. Rosemary is a trifle possessive with her things. When we were kids in nursery school she used to spend the whole playtime with her toys stacked in the corner guarding them from forays by other kids. And she knows I sometimes daydream while I drive, leading me to occasionally end up somewhere other than where I intended--which doesn't mean I've put a scratch on anything of hers.
I watched her struggle between her protective passion for the car she'd wrested from her ex and the knowledge she needed me to drive carpool in the morning because she had a class in glue gun technique. Indebtedness can be a terrible burden if you have a great car.
"The keys are in my purse. Just be careful," she muttered.
"I'll treat it like it was my own."
Her brows shot up. "Not good enough."
"None of those accidents were my fault," I protested. "New Orleans is an automotive Bermuda Triangle!"
"Cross my heart and hope to die if I don't take care of your precious car." How fate must has chortled with glee as I unknowingly threw down a gauntlet in front of it. I didn't hear it. I was too busy pulling on my wool fedora and, tugging it down over my ears. My mother tsk-tsked and adjusted the hat to a more suitable angle on my head. When she was satisfied, she gave my cheek a pat that was part fond, part annoyed, and let me escape out the door for my rendezvous with destiny.
As soon as I was out of her sight, I jerked my hat down again. It was cold and I was a grownup who could do what she liked when her mother wasn't looking.
When the youthful hallelujahs faded into the frigid halls, I followed the hormonal herd to the kitchen for my earthly reward: the promised hot chocolate fix. At first the brew was too hot to drink, so I wrapped my hands around my cup and let the warmth seep into my chilled fingers. I sniffed, inhaling the fragrant steam of nature's perfect food. After a time, I blew on the surface, took a tentative sip, then closed my eyes and savored the rich bouquet, the hint of hazel nut--
"Stanley!" Jerome Jeffries, oblivious to the finer nuances of hot chocolate consumption on account of his extreme youth, pulled me to one side. "We got us a job!"
I guess this is where I admit I play keyboard and sing in a band. Beneath my insignificant chest lurks a powerful pair of lungs, the better to fuel a fair voice. Another one of God's little jokes, I've always thought, putting all the power where it couldn't be seen.
Jerome, cuter than Val Kilmer, a mere twenty years old, and the guiding light of the band, recruited me not long after I moved home. It wasn't hard. I let myself be dazzled by visions of jiving to "Wild Thing" or "I Love Rock'n Roll." I'd save Woolly Bully for the encore...
I know better now.
Jerome wanted to be a crooner like Harry Connick, Jr. or Frank Sinatra, so we played bubble music. I thought we should call ourselves "Sad," but Jerome liked "Star Dust" better. So did my mother, who pointed out that I was too old for such nonsense. I told her that actually I was too young.
It was for this reason, I greeted Jerome's announcement of a new gig with some wariness.
"Please tell me it's not another anniversary?" Didn't people know the divorce rate was up?
"This is totally not an anniversary." His mouth curved into a grin that could have taught Tom Cruise a thing or two. My heart may have pit-a-patted a bit at the sight of it.
"It's a rally in support of the troops of Desert Storm at Grant Park. You won't believe this, but we've been asked to play back-up for the one and only Lee Greenwood."
I waited a moment, but he didn't grin again.
"Lee Greenwood. Wow." I paused. "Who's Lee Greenwood?"
Jerome laughed like I'd just been witty. Laughing kinked the area around his eyes, his mouth and my mid-section. I sipped my chocolate, the scientific equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire and then tugged at the collar of my sweater. Perhaps the thermals were a mistake.
Tommy, our bass guitarist and a dead ringer for Michael J. Fox, mistook this for a summons and joined us. Okay, so it wasn't just the dream of playing in a band that made me agree to play bubble music on my weekends. I'm a Baptist, not a saint.
After more exclamations of mutual delight, we agreed to get together before the rally to rehearse. I downed the last of my chocolate, because it's a Commandment, or should be, not to waste chocolate, and watched them leave. The combined heat of their cute and my hot chocolate surged through my body like the rising tide. I think my eyebrows were steaming. I was on my way to being my own weather system as the heat spread out, seeking those parts of my body encased in thermal and wool. I needed to remove some layers, but stripping in a church was the fast track to hell. I was all about the slow track.
I headed for the door, but got cut off at the pass by Reverend Hilliard. I was dripping in sweat and he looked like he couldn't sweat and never would. His blinding smile featured two rows of gleaming, reverential teeth. He looked like he'd been born with the clerical collar around his neck.
I fought back a sudden urge to confess something. It wasn't a lack of material, you understand, but fear of bursting into flames. Didn't seem like a good plan to incinerate a man of God.
"I can't thank you enough for helping us out, Miss Stanley. I pray it didn't inconvenience you too much?"
He probably had prayed. So glad he was keeping God updated on my movements.
"It wasn't a problem. I'm glad to help out the kids." I didn't think he was actually interested in me, because I'd seen me in the mirror, but it didn't hurt to be honest. Just in case God was listening in.
He smiled again, upping my guilt level by a factor of something times something else. I taught English, not math, before I quit to write roaches. I added, before he could pile on more guilt, "I really have to be going. I have Rosemary's car and she likes it home by ten."
He looked at me like I'd kicked a puppy but he forgave me because that's just the kind of preacher guy he was. I fled because that's the kind of girl I was.
Outside the cold air sizzled against my hot cheeks. Just prior to spontaneous combustion, I stripped off the jacket, hat and gloves, and tossed them into the back seat. I'd have taken off the thermals, too, but I didn't want to get arrested in the church parking lot. I slid behind the wheel and started the motor. The heater blew cold. Before it could change its mind, I switched it to cold vent and opened the sunroof, welcoming the combined rush of frigid air across my steaming face and neck. As I kicked it into gear, cold began a slow seep into the thermal covered areas.
Earlier, snow had mixed with rain. Clouds still obscured the stars, but the air was now dry and devoid of flakes. In the fitful light of the street lamps, the road gleamed slick and empty. I drove with caution--because it wasn't my car--enjoying the feel of fresh air, sweet solitude--a rare commodity in our over-stocked household--and a great car. Pleasantly tired and full of chocolate, I drove on auto-pilot, my thoughts drifting to my current romance novel with its impending love scene that I still didn't know how to write.
"Get a better imagination or a lover, Stan," my agent had advised, the one time I'd let her read a draft.
"Maybe I should get a new agent," I muttered. About then I saw the stop sign and hit the brakes. Across the intersection, an unfamiliar street retreated into murk, lit only by the faint glow of the street lamps.
"Great." I'd taken a wrong turn again. I crossed the intersection, straining to read the signs. The one I managed to pick out was sort of familiar, but I couldn't place myself relative to home--
To my right, several firecrackers went off, one right after the other.
Then a man burst through the bay window of a house.