Hot Enough to Kill by Paula Boyd

Oh, yes, I did, and it was basically nothing, unless you counted what all she brought on herself. “It seems to me, Mother, if anybody was mistreated, it was Jerry. He said you smacked him in the head with your fifty-two-pound purse.”

“It was an accident,” she muttered. “And my purse doesn’t weigh nearly that much. Besides, he had it coming.”

Mother wholeheartedly believes in folks getting what’s coming to them, unless of course it’s coming to her.

“You’re not allowed to hit the sheriff, Mother.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t marry that brute,” she said, ignoring my comment.

I winced before I realized how much the offhand marriage comment had stung. I also recalled that Lucille was the one who threw seven kinds of fits when I told her that I wasn’t marrying Jerry, and furthermore, I wasn’t hanging around Redwater Falls for college, but was heading to Austin, pronto. I wasn’t sure which upset her most, but she always—and I mean always—thought Jerry Don Parker hung the moon, to use her words. I agreed with her on that. And maybe that had been part of the problem—not that I wanted to analyze decisions I’d made as a headstrong, seventeen-year-old kid.

“Of course,” Lucille said, “he’d have certainly turned out better if you had married him. Couldn’t be much worse.”

Shoving aside the big ball of regrets that seemed to knot up my stomach whenever I thought about my choices concerning Jerry Don Parker, I tried to focus on the grown-up Jerry of today. Regardless of my mother’s melodrama, she knew very well that Jerry had turned out to be a hell of a man.

He’d been the best-looking guy in high school, and he looked even better now. Not a dead ringer for the new James Bond, but close enough to send your basic female heart to fluttering. Texas accent rather than British, of course.

Jerry had also earned a degree in criminal justice and worked in federal law enforcement for several years before returning to his hometown to raise his kids. I’d debate the merits of that last decision, but he hadn’t asked my opinion in the matter. He’d had a perfect, little, blonde wife to handle that task. I felt my upper lip curl, but forced it down. I needed to save my childish behavior for my mother.

“You know, Mother, if Jerry and I hadn’t stayed friends through the years, he might have booked you on a whole list of offenses instead of just putting you away where you couldn’t get into any more trouble.”

Lucille’s chin lifted another notch. “I’m not in trouble, missy. I haven’t done a thing wrong, and he had no business nosing into my personal life. That’s private and confidential, and I don’t have to tell him one damn thing about what went on between me and BigJohn.”

“I’m afraid you do, Mother. Somebody killed your boyfriend—on purpose. He was murdered. That’s a real bad thing. Understand?”

“Don’t get smart with me, young lady. I know what happened. I’m not senile.”

No, she surely wasn’t, but I was definitely exhibiting some of the telltale symptoms. The all-night drive had done a fine job of convincing me that I was about twice as old as my forty-three years, and trying to keep up with Lucille had sent the age meter into triple digits. And it certainly didn’t help anything that the one who should be traumatized by the ordeal looked positively perky. She was also just as peeved as I was, so I opted to diffuse both our moods with a foray back to the underlying cause of the whole mess. “So, who do you think killed him?”

Lucille shrugged. “Probably that loony wife of his. She didn’t want anything to do with him until he started going with me, then here she comes running back to town. She was just pea-green jealous of me, I tell you.” She twisted a manicured acrylic nail into a curl of Frivolous Fawn. “I suppose anybody could understand why.”

I supposed they could. I’d never seen BigJohn’s wife, but there’s no question that my mother is a very attractive woman. She’s kind of a cross between Rue McClanahan, Joan Collins and Dolly Parton—for the make-up, hair and country twang, not the boobs or business acumen. All that was beside the point, of course, because Mrs. Mayor won by legality. “Do you really think she could have done it?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Lucille said. “She probably had as good or better reasons than the rest of them.”

“The rest of them?”

“Well, there were a whole bunch of people hot over BigJohn’s recent doings. His pig-headed ways had a lot of people spouting off about wanting to kill him. Couldn’t blame them either.”

I fluffed my shoulder-length hair off my neck to try to cool off then tucked an auburn-tinted curl behind my ear. “Like who, and why?”

Mother frowned. “Jolene, I do not know why you insist on poking your hair behind your ears. You’ve always been such a pretty girl, but you really should think about a little backcombing and some hair spray. Get some lift up there on the top.”

I gritted my teeth and did not say that the beehive went out several decades ago, and furthermore, I thought I looked pretty decent, thank you very much. I happen to have enough natural curl in my hair that, with the right cut, it kind of does its own thing and usually turns out reasonably okay. The last thing I need is more lift. In this climate, the humidity puffs it up and out in every direction.

“And what about that big, old tray of cosmetics I bought you for Christmas? I bet you’ve never used a single thing from it. Why, if you’d just wear a little lipstick and blush…”

“I wear mascara,” I said, realizing as I did that I’d let her drag me into a conversation I didn’t want to have—ever. “Okay, Mother, you’re right. I’d look much better if I permed and sprayed and painted, but I don’t, so let’s get back to the point. Who was upset over the mayor’s activities and why?”

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Genre – Mystery & Thriller / Women Sleuth

Rating – PG13

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