Sample text for Death, deceit & some smooth jazz / Claudia Mair Burney.

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Chapter One

I had to give up Jazz. Not the music; the man.

Now I had Amos, and we were going to "bond." I stood in the middle of my living room holding him. I'd put on my favorite pajamas -- the midnight blue pair Carly had gotten for me from Victoria's Secret. They were modest, even if they did have the vs logo on the breast pocket. Cut in the style of men's pajamas and a size too big, they had the effect of looking charmingly baggy on me. I didn't even need a robe with them. Perfect for bonding with the one you love. I could tell Amos liked them.

Amos is my new sugar glider.

I know, nobody knows what a sugar glider is. When the woman at the pet store first mentioned one, I thought she was talking about a kitchen accessory. I hadn't wanted to let her in on my woeful ignorance of household utensils, so I told her a sugar glider sounded intriguing. And intriguing he was.

When she led me over to his cage, I first noticed his peepers. He had big, black, round eyes that reminded me of my pastor and ex-boyfriend Rocky's "I can make you do anything with these" puppy eyes. Don't judge me. Not for that. Having a pastor who is your ex-boyfriend sounds a lot worse than it is. Besides, I've got plenty of real issues for you to choose from.

Amos was roughly the size of a Beanie Baby and looked like a cross between a tiny gray squirrel, a skunk, and a kangaroo -- with the face of a bat. Kinda.

I never would have gotten a pet if my mentor and spiritual father, Dr. Mason May, hadn't recommended it. I'd gone to see him earlier that day, whining endlessly about being manless, being childless, having endometriosis, and about my grief over my eggs, which were aging faster than my mother said I was. I got frustrated while venting to Dr. May and threatened to have an intrauterine insemination procedure done with some stranger-donor's little soldiers. But Dr. May -- Pop, as I called him -- stopped me right there and told me I should pray about the matter some more and buy a pet. That's how I ended up at the exotic pet store near my house, feeling guilty about my baby lust and purchasing something that looked like one of the Crocodile Hunter's furry friends. And we had to bond.

How pathetic am I?

Amos didn't seem very prickly. A little standoffish, yes, but nothing that should have stood in the way of us getting cozy with each other. My initial mistake: I should have put together his cage first. But no, being a psychologist, I wanted to get straight to the attachment process. That's important. I reached into his little Exotic Petz cardboard box -- the kind with the round peepholes -- and picked him up. I could feel him freeze, and I do know body language. I figured it was just nerves bothering him, so I pressed on with the bonding process. Amos didn't complain.

We crossed to my couch. Jazz once described my apartment as "shabby chic meets Africa." Fair enough, I suppose. The ambience I'd created with my eccentric flea-market finds gave my home a comfy, livable feel. I'd often paint my treasures in hues with whimsical-sounding names like old lace, seafoam, and dusty rose. The walls were a sunny buttercup -- I'd called it ocher just months ago, but that was when I'd felt more earthy and African-inspired. Something had happened in my soul, and I'd begun to feel more romantic and feminine. I think it was falling in love with Jazz. Since then I'd given away most of the masks that used to dot the walls and most of my Nigerian baskets. I was trying to make room for Addie Lee Brown paintings and sculptures. But I'd kept a few wood pieces I loved, and I still had all of my textiles -- bright, colorful Kente cloth and a few mud-cloth pieces -- to add warmth and texture. Candles cast a soft glow in the rooms and sweetened the air with rose, vanilla, and jasmine.

I took a seat on the couch and propped my feet on the coffee table, with Amos perched somewhat stiffly on my lap. I thought I'd better tell him a little bit about myself.

"I'm your new mom, Amanda Bell Brown. I'm named after my paternal great-grandmother and favorite diva in the whole wide world. Most people call me Amanda, and some even call me Dr. Brown, but you can call me Bell. That's reserved for the people who love me best."

Amos didn't say anything. I figured sugar gliders weren't very talkative. No problem. I'd fill the silence between us.

"I got you because I need someone to love. I hate to sound like one of those thirty-five-year-old career women who realize too late that they forgot to get pregnant. It wasn't really like that. I had a lot of hurts, but I don't want to talk about that. The point is" -- I stroked his short fur, which made him recoil -- "it seems the only prospect I have for marriage is my pastor, Rocky. That would be too weird; you'll see what I mean if you ever meet him. And then there's Jazz..."

Just saying his name gave me chills. How fine was he? Too fine. Fine like God didn't make him out of the dust of the earth that the rest of us mere mortals were made of. Jazz was made of something sparkly and inspiring. He intoxicated me. No, he made me feel, as Aretha Franklin sang, like a natural woman. But it could never work. He had issues. He kept using the word "unavailable." Not that he had a woman, mind you. Just an ex and a belief that he couldn't remarry. And God bless him, he had too much integrity to lead a woman on. Unfortunately for me, I didn't want anyone but him. And he'd never want me. Not really.

Even Amos didn't seem to be into me. I thought for a moment that, instead of Amos, I should have gotten a rocking chair and a pair of Birkenstocks and resigned myself to a depressed, childless spinsterhood. I told Amos, "I stopped seeing Jazz one month, two days, and three hours ago. I miss him. Now Christmas is coming."

I looked around my place, void of any yuletide cheer. Well, Bell, that was smart, thinking of Christmas. All I needed was to get some poisoned eggnog and put myself out of my misery. I rubbed the top of Amos's head. "I guess it'sjust you and me."

Either that head rub didn't please Amos, or he didn't like Christmas. He made a hissing sound like he was exhaling smoke from Hades.

The saleswoman hadn't said anything about evil hissing, and I hadn't read the manual.

Then he added to the hissing a raised paw -- a gesture that did not look loving at all. I didn't have to be an astute observer of body language to see that I had myself a little problem.

I was on the couch, so I didn't have the luxury of backing away slowly. I hoped if I cooed and touched him affectionately, he'd relax and see that I was a "good touch" person. But when I gave his silken gray fur, with an adorable black stripe right down his back, just a tiny stroke, the rotten little stinker jumped on my sleeve and tried to kill me.

Our bonding session turned straightaway into When Sugar Gliders Attack.

The saleslady hadn't mentioned anything about aggression.

Amos scratched, bit, and clawed my pajamas like a veritable Tasmanian devil. I screamed. My pathetic manless life flashed before my eyes. I could just see my mother at my funeral, talking smack about me because I'd purchased, of all things, a sugar glider. "I always knew that child didn't have good sense," she'd lament.

Someone pounded on the door.

I leaped from the couch, still screeching, Amos still clinging and assaulting. While the vicious creature shredded my jammies and skin, I managed to unbolt my locks -- a dead bolt and a spare, thanks to Jazz -- and snatched my door open. I didn't bother to ask, "Who is it?"

There stood none other than the man my heart beat for, Lieutenant Jazz Brown, homicide detective. He had his pistol drawn, ready to protect my honor. I noticed, after swiftly taking in his general gorgeousness, four fresh, angry slashes on his face.

In an instant he took in my situational challenge, grabbed the arm that was being attacked, and started pumping it like he was trying to milk me.

I screamed louder.

"Stop all that noise!"

"What? Are you going to arrest me for disturbing the peace?" I yanked my arm away from him as hard as I could, which had the effect of hurling poor Amos across the living room. He landed with a thud on the couch, right in the middle of the cushions.

I hurried over to the couch with Jazz on my heels. My arm ached and throbbed from the battery it had taken.

Amos was as still as a stone.

"Oh, no," I wailed. "I think I killed him."

"Good." Jazz put his gun back in his shoulder holster. He walked to my door and locked it. "You shouldn't open the door like that, Bell," he barked. "I could have been anybody."

"It's not good if I killed him. I'm supposed to love, nurture, and protect him." I touched one of many tender spots on my arm. My motherly instincts hadn't kicked in all the way. I glared at Amos. "The little beast."

"Are you okay?" Jazz took my arm in his hands. He shot a look at Amos and shook his head. "I can't believe you chose this thing for a pet." He gently pulled back the wreckage that was my sleeve.

I ignored his comment and took in his perfect beauty, his sculpted and slender body. He was wearing one of his trademark suits -- the brown one -- and the effect of the color, contrasted with his creamy skin tone, made him look as good as a Hershey's Hug. He wore no overcoat, which was odd for a cold December night, but so was the fact that he was wearing his suit so late into the night. I didn't ponder it too much. Except for the ugly scratches and pinched expression, his white-chocolate face was as fine as ever. Yum. Lord, have mercy on my Jazz-starved soul.

I felt awful for poor Amos. What kind of mother was I, ogling Jazz while my baby could be lying there dead? I wondered if Jazz would arrest me for cruelty to animals. Looking at his relieved expression, I figured not. Still...I glanced at my fallen furry friend. "Jazz! He's so still."

"I'd be still, too, if you threw me across the room," Jazz said. "We need to take care of your arm, Bell."

But my parental guilt was growing like mold on a loaf of bread in summer. I started wringing my hands, like my mother did whenever I cut my hair. "Amos is hurt the worst. What kind of mom would I be if I tended to my wounds without making sure Amos is taken care of ?"

"Bell, you're not his mom, and he's probably dead. Now, let's get some antibiotic ointment on you before you get an infection."

I had images of Amos on life support. Beep, beep, beep. "Maybe it'snot too late. Do something, Jazzy. He could be getting brain damage."

Jazz looked at me like he didn't actually get paid to protect and serve. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Do CPR on him or something." Honestly, I was becoming more histrionic by the moment.

He laughed right in my face. "Now you're trippin'."

My maternal hysterics compelled me to yank on the sleeve of his suit jacket. "He's unconscious. You have to help him."

"I'm a homicide detective, not a vet. I can, however, shoot him in the head."

"Please, please, puh-leeeze, Jazz."

"You're crazy."

When begging failed, I progressed to physical assault. I started hitting him with limp-wristed girl slaps all over his chest while shouting in a staccato rhythm with the blows, "How. Can. You. Be. So. Cruel?"

Jazz tried to stop my flurry of blows to his torso. "Bell, stop it."

I didn't stop.

"Woman, I said..."

I kept it up.

"Okay," he bellowed, with a few added expletives. "What is up with all the violent women tonight?"

So it was a woman who'd scratched him? Interesting.

Jazz shot a very dirty look in my direction and dropped to his knees. He reached out his hand and gingerly shook Amos.

"You're supposed to ask him if he's okay first."

He gave me another look that said, Shut up. He turned Amos over, and when Amos didn't move -- or hiss -- Jazz steeled himself for the task at hand. "I hate you, Bell. And if you ever tell anybody..."

"Brain damage, Jazz!"

He groaned and put his mouth to Amos's, then puffed as if Amos were a big inhaler. It looked so utterly ridiculous that I started laughing. I couldn't help it. Besides, I reasoned that laughter was good for calming my frayed nerves.

Jazz looked up at me and hissed himself, something like "You think this is funny?"

"I'm sorry."

"You ain't right, Bell."

Before Jazz could get in another puff, or even a fur-covered chest compression, Amos sprang up. Jazz grabbed him with both hands, arms extended, holding Amos as far away from himself as humanly possible. "Where am I supposed to put this thing?"

I grabbed Amos's cardboard box off the coffee table and held it out. Jazz deposited him inside it, frowning, as if Amos were a piece of that aforementioned moldy bread and needed to be done away with. I delicately placed my precious cargo back on the table. "Amos and I thank you, Officer."

Jazz wagged his finger at me. "You owe me."

I winked at him. "What do you have in mind, big boy?" I got one of his toothpaste-model-like smiles for that one.

"What's that your great-grandmother used to say?"

I sighed. "She'd say, 'Don't start no stuff, and it won't be none.'"

"Take her advice, for your own good."

"I can handle you. I can't handle Amos, but you...Hey, what are you doing here, anyway?"

"Saving you. Again."

I looked at his war wounds. "Jazz, what happened to your face? Did you get a sugar glider, too?"

"A what?"

"A sugar glider. You know, the furry little thing you just gave the kiss of life to."

"I don't need a wild animal in my life." He swiped at his pursed lips. "Give me a wipe or a washcloth or something."

"Don't get cranky with me. It's not my fault you don't like pets."

"I do like pets. Pets, Bell. Kittens. Puppies. Rabbits. You might even be able to sell me on a hamster or gerbil, but that thing...What the heck is it, anyway?"

I looked at him as if he were the most ignorant, uncouth man alive -- the same way the saleswoman at the pet store had looked at me. "He's an Australian marsupial."

"Bell! People don't buy marsupials for pets."

I was getting sick of his attitude. "They don't yell at me, either, and if you don't stop it, I'm going to hurt you."

"Like you did before with all that pimp slapping?"

"I was under duress. Plus, I had to get you to act."

We were at a standoff. We stood there, shooting lasers from our eyes at each other. Those scratches on his face looked recent. When he finally looked away, I knew I'd won this battle. Having attained victory, I went back to more important matters. "What happened to your face?"

Suddenly, he wouldn't meet my eyes. "Tough night."

I snickered. "Yeah, me too."

He moved closer and tenderly lifted my arm again. It felt like little jolts of love shocking me. He surveyed the damage. I tried not to let him see me swoon.

"Let's get you cleaned up," he said. "You got any antibiotic ointment? And industrial-strength mouthwash?"

"In the bathroom."

"Come on." Jazz led me to my tiny bathroom as if we were in his apartment. Men. Always marking their territory. I glanced around. His presence here always made me feel like redecorating.

"Still think my apartment is shabby chic meets Africa?" I asked.

"It's nice."


Not good. One of the things I loved most about being with Jazz was our verbal volleying. I couldn't believe he hadn't said anything clever or teasing while we'd walked to the bathroom. Of course, when we got in there and I handed him the Listerine, he got busy rinsing his mouth about three hundred times. Honestly, the man used up the entire bottle. He shrugged when he finished and gave me a sheepish grin. "I'll buy you another one, but c'mon. I had to do what I had to do." I wondered what else he felt like he had to do tonight.

I didn't have to wonder for long. He grabbed me by the waist, pulling me to him. I looked into his eyes. But what I saw there this time -- unadulterated hunger -- scared me. "Jazzy?"

He reached up and touched my hair. It had grown about an inch, and now my teeny-weeny Afro wasn't so teeny. I had braided it in microbraids, then unbraided it. It gave my hair a soft, crinkled look.

Jazz tangled both his hands in it and rubbed his cheek against it. Ouch, I thought for him. I had a vision of his blood mingling with my hair. Ew! Not a good image, but when he moved his face, the image went away. He started massaging my scalp. I get all soft and gooey when a fine man plays with my hair. "Your hair is growing," he said.

"My hair is growing?" I asked dreamily, as if I'd suffered from female pattern baldness and hair growth was a surprise.

"And you smell like peaches."

I snuggled a little closer. "I smell like peaches?" The peach-scented shampoo and body mist had also been a gift from Carly. The head massage felt wonderful. And then, God help me, I moaned: "Ummm."

"'Ummm' is right." By now he'd started rubbing circles on my back. "I missed you, Bell."

"You missed me?"

He laughed.

"You're repeating everything I say, except you make it a question."

"I'm repeating..." So what? He was right, but I didn't care. Hadn't I told him I didn't want to see him again? Why did I ever tell him that?

Wait. I knew why I'd said that. I could never have a real life with him. Shoot. I couldn't let him just dance into my apartment like he was Gregory Hines and start molesting my hair. "Hold on, Jazz," I said, trying to push him away.

He nestled his face into my neck. "I am holding on."

"We need to deal with our scratches."

He let me go, and I got over to my medicine cabinet like I was on fire. I kept my first aid supplies behind the bathroom mirror. I didn't have a whole lot, but I needed to step away from that man. Goodness me, his touch had activated some warm and fuzzy feelings in me. In fact, I felt so fuzzy I could hardly pay attention to what I saw in front of me. I started furiously rooting around for the Neosporin and missing it, though I knew it was there. I thought taking a tough, efficient stance -- like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest -- was in order for both our sakes. "Now," I said, practically snapping my heels together like a Nazi soldier, "let's have a look at those scratches."

He moved over to where I stood. Too close. He reached around me into the cabinet, grazing my arm with his. My body's nerve endings went Shazam! I hate it when that happens. He knew he'd affected me, too. He gave me a slow, sexy grin but quickly got back to the task at hand. "Let's take care of you first," he said. "You might have rabies."

Rabies? "Thanks for the insight." My sarcasm couldn't mask a bit of irrational fear that he may be right even though I got him at a pet shop. No wonder he rinsed so much.

He gestured to my towel rack, where bath and face towels hung. "Are these clean?"

I nodded, imagining myself foaming at the mouth and Jazz having to shoot me, as if we'd gotten plunged into Their Eyes Were Watching God. Not romantic.

He turned on the faucet, washed his hands with my antibacterial hand soap, then wet a face towel and gently washed my arm. I winced. His eyes, full of sadness, regarded me. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

"It's okay. I'm just a big baby sometimes."

"No, Bell. I'm not talking about when I touched your arm. I'm sorry I hurt you when I, you know, when I said I was unavailable and all that."


He took the ointment and administered more of his treatments to my battered arm. My pajamas were now officially ratty. Carly was going to stand on the roof and pound on her chest like King Kong when she saw them. I shook my head to clear the image and to clear Jazz's words from my heart: I'm sorry I hurt you.

When he was done, I washed my hands and went to work on his face. The mystery woman sure had gotten a hunk of his DNA. I applied the ointment. It was his turn to wince. He grabbed my wrist. It startled me.

"Sorry. Did that h -- " He pulled me to him, crushing me with his embrace. "I want you," he whispered in my ear.

Uh-oh. I wasn't ready for this.

In a pinch, intellectualizing is an effective diversion. "Uh," I said into his chest, "by 'want me,' do you mean you'd like to hire me as a consultant again? Or do you mean you'd like to be my man?" I tried to wriggle away, to no avail. "You could also mean you'd like to rip my bodice like we were the cover models on the romance novel on my night table. So...I really need clarification here."

But he grabbed my face and smothered any other questions I may have had with a definite pre-bodice-ripping kiss.

God, this ain't right. Amos chewed me up, and now Jazz is trying to take off my chastity belt -- and I don't want him to stop.

I tried to buck up. Okay. I'm Bell Brown. I'm tough. I am a strongblack woman. Surely I can endure one kiss without it becoming anR-rated movie.

But we were already at PG-13!

Okay, God; it's me again, I'm kissing him back like I'm going to rip his bodice. Apparently, I don't have any self-discipline. What's this going to cost me?

Jazz had hurt me. Maybe he hadn't meant to, but he had. We could do this, but in the end he was going to give me the sad story about him not believing in remarriage. I didn't believe in letting myself be used. I didn't care how battle-weary he was tonight.

I pushed him away again. "Stop it, Jazz. You're all over me like T. D. Jakes on sinners. What's gotten into you tonight? Every other time we've kissed, it's been me who came on to you. Now you're...Well, it's like you're not yourself. "I folded my arms. "Why are you even here?"

His voice had the same passion as his kiss. "I need to tell you something very important."


Again he wouldn't look at me. "Bell, I did something wrong tonight."

"Jazz, what's going on?"

He ran his hand roughly through his brown curls. "Can we make it work? You and me? What I mean is, do you feel like you're capable of doing something you never thought you'd do -- something that would compromise what you believe in -- if it meant we could be together?"

What was I supposed to say? I wanted to be with him, badly, but how could I ask him to compromise what he believed in? That's not what love does. Not the First Corinthians kind. "Jazz, if we could have made it work, I think we would have. We were at an impasse that wasn't fair to either of us."

"So are you telling me that there's no hope at all for us? Please don'ttell me that, Bell. That's the last thing I want to hear tonight."

I didn't know what to say, so I just stood there with my mouth agape, trying to figure out if Rod Serling was going to walk into my kitchen and begin his Twilight Zone monologue. I waited for Jazz to confess whatever it was that was deviling him. For a long time, neither of us moved. Finally, he broke the silence. "I was with Kate."

"Excuse me?"

His jaw tightened, and his eyes seemed to plead with me for understanding. "I've been with Kate tonight."

Without warning, my heart dropped to my bathroom floor. I backed against the toilet, which made my knees buckle. I ended up plopped down on the toilet seat. Thank goodness I kept the lid down. I'd have hated to fall into an open toilet bowl at a time like this.

So the bum had come to see me after he'd been with his ex-wife. And what did he mean by "been with" her? I couldn't believe his nerve. "You were with..." My strange repeat-after-Jazz speech impediment had begun to irritate me -- but so had he. I jumped up -- how threatening can you look on a toilet? -- and marched into the living room and to my front door with him trailing behind me. I unlocked all those stupid locks he insisted I have and pulled open my door. "Get out of my apartment."

He placed his hand over mine. "Wait."

"Are you touching me? We've got a no-touching policy, or have you forgotten? We've also got a no-seeing-each-other policy, if I recall. So leave. Now."

He didn't move his hand. "I was with her because of you."

I snatched my hand away and slammed the door shut. I didn't know what was up with him, but that was the last straw. "You've got about two seconds to explain, or I'm going to send you back to her with scratches I gave you."

"Can we just sit down? I can explain everything."

"I don't want your explanation. If you want to be with Kate, do that, but don'tcome over here kissing on me when you're done."

Jazz gave me such an earnest, almost desperate look that I felt a little scared for him. "Please, Bell. I'm sorry. I can't seem to get through this night without saying and doing all the wrong stuff. I need a little help here. Will you just talk to me for a minute?"

I stood there, staring at him. I loved him, and it was obvious that he was in trouble. If the tables were turned, he'd help me. "Do you want some coffee?"

His exhale was so dramatic that it looked like he'd been holding his breath. He smiled at me, chuckled a bit, and raised an eyebrow. "Got anything stronger?"

"I'll put a cinnamon stick in it," I quipped. "I can't have alcohol in the house. I'm a pet owner now."

He smiled at that. "You'd better check on him."

I headed over to the coffee table and peered down at Amos. He was peacefully scratching at the cardboard walls of his box. I let him be and went into the kitchen. Jazz didn't follow me.

In five minutes I had the coffee brewed. I hollered from the kitchen, "How do you want your coffee?"

"Black, strong, and kinda sweet -- like I want my woman."

Since he'd tried to lighten the mood, I followed suit. "I guess I'm not the woman you want, then, unless you want a little cream in this. You said I was the color of peanut butter."

"With aspirations to be an ebony queen."

"I am a queen -- the Skippy Queen."

He laughed. "Last time you were Jif."

I walked back into the living room carrying a bamboo tray bearing a fresh rose and my two favorite handmade coffee mugs full of steaming Starbucks Holiday Blend. Jazz would recognize the artist who'd crafted the mugs. "Speaking of choosy moms..." I said, offering the tray.

As soon as he saw the mugs, he smiled. "My mom made those."

"I never saw an Addie Lee piece I didn't love."

That is, except for the Marriage Wish necklace she'd made for Kate. Actually, I loved that piece, too, but in a nasty way that brought to mind commandment number ten, Thou shalt not covet. Not to mention number eight, Thou shalt not steal.

I handed him the red ocher mug with the yellow spirals and mud-cloth pattern at the bottom. I took the indigo one with the silver stars, my favorite. She'd crafted the indigo and luminous silver glaze in a way that made the colors otherworldly beautiful. It took my breath away almost as much as Jazz did. I was so preoccupied by him that when I handed him the mug, it slipped from my hand. The moment it touched the floor, it shattered. My hand flew to my heart. "Oh no! It was my favorite." I wanted to cry.

Jazz jumped from his seat. "I'm sorry, Bell. This is my fault. You must be a nervous wreck with me acting so crazy."

"That was a rare one, too." I stomped my foot. "Man."

He reached for my hand and clasped it in his, sending a wave of warmth through me. "I've got one of those," he said. "You can have mine."

"Are you touching me?"

He chuckled and withdrew his hand. "Don't want to break any more rules." He started picking up the big pieces of the mug. "I'll clean up this mess. Why don't you have a seat and chill for a minute?" He went into the kitchen for supplies to clean up my mess.

I plopped down, feeling dog-tired. Somehow the night had spiraled out of control almost as soon as I'd gotten home. "I've gotta get Amos's cage put together," I called to him.

He reappeared with a plastic grocery bag and a dish towel. He dropped the pieces into the bag and sopped up the coffee.

"Careful," I teased. "We don't need any more bloodshed tonight."

"Amen to that," he said. While he wiped up the last of the Starbucks, he threw this little gem out there: "I didn't sleep with her." He paused as if waiting for my reaction. But what was I supposed to say to that? It wasn't my business. Much.

"Will you go somewhere with me?" he said. "There's something I want to show you. And I still haven't told you what I came here to say."

Before I could answer, my cell phone rang in the bedroom. I sighed and thanked God for being saved by the bell, though I wished I could have been saved by Bell. I made it to my bedroom and picked up the phone off the night table. "This is Amanda," I said, using my standard phone greeting for friend or client.

"Bunny?" It was Carly. Her voice sounded like something was wrong.

It didn't take much to make me panic when it came to my mother or sister. "Carly, what is it? Is it Ma? Did something -- "

"Everybody is fine. Bell, is Jazz with you?"

Honestly. Did she have man radar when it came to me? "Nothing is going on." We were still PG-13, for goodness' sake.

Her voice got very strange. "Is he in the room with you? Can he hear me? Don'tsay my name again."

"I'm in my bedroom." I chose my words carefully, to appease her. "The answer is absolutely not, and won't be, so don't worry. Bye-ee!"

"Wait," she said. "Listen to me, Bell. You've got to get out of there."

Had everyone gone insane tonight? "What are you talking about?" I made sure I didn't say her name.

"Are you dressed?"

"Of course I am. I said nothing was going on." Well, I was dressed, albeit in shredded pajamas. They offered full coverage, even if they were from Victoria's Secret.

"Bunny, please, just get out of there. Don't let him follow you. And write down this address. I want you to meet me there."

"What is going on?"

"Just take this address down. And don't let him see it."

Great, I have to play cloak-and-dagger now. Can this get any weirder?

She rattled off the address.

"Okay. I've got it. What is this place?"

"It's Jazz's loft downtown," she said, her voice hushed. "I just got called to a crime scene there. His ex-wife, Kate...Bell, she's been murdered."© 2008 Claudia Mair Burney

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
African American women -- Fiction.
Forensic psychologists -- Fiction.