Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Valentine's Day Story

A Heart Full of Chocolates
A short story

     The only thing more depressing than Valentine’s Day itself was having it fall on a Saturday night. It didn’t matter that Jorie spent most Saturday evenings at home in front of her computer. What got stuck in her craw was the principal of the thing—Valentine’s Day honored three kinds of women: mothers, grandmothers, and the very slender. Thirty-three-year-old women with size eighteen bodies did not receive  roses or red satin heart-boxes filled with chocolates.

      “Hey Jorie,” she heard when she opened her phone after hearing the opening notes of Adam Lambert’s Mad World.  “What are you doing tonight?”

     Crap. It was Heather, her least-favorite friend. “I’m just hanging out here—no big deal.”

     “On Valentine’s Day? Don’t you have a date?” The little bitch knew Jorie didn’t have a date. If Jorie didn’t get rid of her fast, she’d have to listen to Heather brag about her latest Mr. Wonderful.

     “Heather, my front door buzzer just went off. Gotta go.” Jorie closed the phone and hit the off button. Then turned the phone back on. You never knew who might call.

     Chocolate hearts. Roses. Gushy cards. Jorie hated them all. The sleazy satin hearts filled with chocolates were the worst of the phony love stuff and were advertised everywhere you looked, even on the side of busses splattered with street slime.

     In need of a distraction, she went to her computer and opened her favorite site for writers. The site allowed fiction writers to display their work, get feedback from other writers and even publish poetry or topic rants. Jorie was ready to fight back. No hearts and flowers or melodramatic poems from this writer; she’d write a Valentine’s Day rant!

     The thousand-word rant turned out sarcastic, sharply witty, and brilliantly hilarious. Hah! She placed her razor-sharp words on a pink background and added a  picture of a lovely woman—a size-two woman—holding a bouquet of roses and a box of candy. Perfect. Jorie hit the button, posting her rant for all to see. Well, anyone who was sitting in front of his or her computer on Valentine’s Day. Pandora, was Jorie’s username on the site. No one would know who was the pathetic writer, home alone on Valentine’s Day writing rants.

     The phone again. Now what? Her mother? She should have left the thing off.

     “Hey, Jorie, it’s me.” Damn. It was Joe, a loser boyfriend from her recent past. The creep had only dated her because he was always broke, their dates usually paid for by guess-who. Until guess-who got sick of supporting their dates and dumped him.

     “What brings you out from under your rock?’ She was in no mood for games.

     “Is that any way to talk? I thought maybe we could get together tonight, you know, do something for Valentine's Day.”

      What a total ass. Do something—sure—something she would be willing to pay for.
“I don’t think so, Joe. I have to stay in and wash my hair. See ya!” Jorie closed the phone and hit the off button. She’d heard from enough annoying people tonight.

     Maybe it was time to toss the pepperoni pizza she'd bought into the oven as a consolation gift to herself. But just as she was about to get up from in front of her computer, she noticed a review for her rant had already popped up on the writer’s site. She wondered which other dateless loser was home alone tonight. A five-star review. Could have been worse. At least someone understood. Jorie opened the review. Nothing but praise for her writing. She noticed she’d also gotten a message from the reviewer.

From Edukator;

A Valentine’s Day rant! Original, Pandora. What can I say? Well-written rant? Sorry you are so unhappy tonight. It was amusing to read, though, and well written; your writing is always entertaining.

     So, username, Edukator. He’d given his real name. Or, maybe he had. He and Jorie never failed to review each other’s work on the website. One of the good ones, Jorie always took his words to heart. Grateful for his message, she typed in a response and added her name.

Thanks for the nice review, Rick. And for the kind words. This night will pass.

     Jorie put the pizza in the oven and opened a can of soda. Funny, but the message from Edukator had tweaked her attitude a little. Maybe she hadn’t said enough in her answer. She returned to her computer to expand her response and, back on the website, she found another personal message waiting for her.

I was thinking about you and noticed on your profile that you also live in the Chicago area. Not sure where you are, but maybe we should meet tonight. No pressure, of course, we would simply meet as kindred writers no longer alone on Valentine’s Day.

     Wow! She didn’t think people from the site ever got together. Not that there was anything wrong with it. She hated blind dates about as much as she hated satin hearts, but he said this wouldn’t be a date.

Your note surprised me. As long as we’d be meeting just as friends, maybe I’ll consider it. FYI, I’m thirty-three and I’m full-figured. But you’re right; we could meet as fellow writers. I’m in Waukegan, IL, just south of Chicago.

     The delicious odor of baking pizza had lost some of it’s enticement. She told herself she was stupid to get excited about meeting a stranger. Many of the writers on the site were retired people; this guy could be in his seventies. Jorie pulled the pizza out of the oven and set it on a breadboard. Maybe she’d have a piece or two. The cheese was bubbly and the crust lightly browned. She could decide what to do while she munched. After adding a few pieces to a plate and grabbing a Diet Coke, she returned to the computer and found another message waiting for her.

Staying in the full-disclosure mode, I’m forty-eight and have never been attractive to younger women. So like I said, no pressure. Let’s meet.
I have to go out tonight anyway. I’m in Schaumburg. That big bookstore in Gurnee, which is close for you, is having a poetry reading for Valentine’s Day. I planned on stopping in to listen to some of the poets, and I also have some shopping to do while I’m there. If that interests you, I’ll be there by about eight. I’ll be wearing a dark blue jacket with khaki pants. I’m about six feet tall and wear wire-rimmed glasses. (I’m a teacher and I look like one.)
 As you know, I love mysteries, so you’ll probably find me browsing the mystery aisle.
Hope you to see you there,

An hour later, Jorie walked into the bookstore wearing her favorite outfit—black jeans with a fuzzy black cardigan sweater over a white turtleneck, topped by her favorite black wool jacket. The outfit was slenderizing and complemented her long, golden blonde hair, definitely her best feature, if you could call hair a feature.

     As promised, she spotted him in the mystery aisle, a youngish, forty-eight-year old, with thinning, light brown hair. Just as she was about to walk his way she saw a woman approach him. Older than Jorie by at least ten years, she was all glammed up like she was going somewhere fancy. Hair styled to perfection, an outfit that probably cost more than Jorie’s weekly salary, and fingernails, blood-red daggers. Rick—if the guy was Rick—looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

     Jorie, remembering he didn’t know what she looked like, moved close enough to eavesdrop. And close enough to smell the woman’s cloying, floral perfume.

     “Rick," the woman gushed. "I’m so glad we ran into each other! Maybe we could have coffee or something.” She batted eyelids heavy with mascara and smoky eyeshadow.

     “Yes, it’s nice to see you, Madeleine.” His body language revealed his discomfort as he backed up into the shelves, holding a book in front of him like a shield. His eyes were everywhere but on the woman in front of him. He looked around the aisle, and met Jorie’s gaze. “Uh, I’d really like to but I’m meeting someone here.”

     Madeleine’s brown eyes narrowed, clearly doubting the truthfulness of his excuse.

     Impulsively, Jorie walked up to him, and slid an arm through his. “Hi, sorry I’m late!”

     His eyebrows raised, startled, then he recovered and said, “No problem, I haven’t been here very long.”

     She held out her other hand to the stylish woman, hoping to avoid the dangerous nails. “Nice to meet you. I’m Jorie.”

     Rick cleared his throat. “Jorie, this is Madeleine. I’ve probably mentioned her, she’s our assistant principal.” He returned his book to the shelf, and casually placed an arm on Jorie’s shoulder. Madeleine sniffed, mumbling something unintelligible while she turned on an impossibly narrow heel, and flounced out of the aisle.

     “Aren’t you a surprise.” Rick said, his blue eyes twinkling. “You certainly undersell yourself, don’t you?”

     Jorie had been thinking the same thing about him. He didn’t look his age at all, and the shy smile below the blue eyes made her heart flutter.  She shrugged, flattered. “You said no pressure—you’re too old for me—I’m too…” Unsure how to end the sentence gracefully, she said, “young for you.”

     He chuckled. “Yes, no pressure. We’re here as fellow writers.”

     They spent the next two hours browsing, listening to the poets, and talking over a cup of coffee in the coffee bar. Jorie could have sworn she saw Madeleine circling in the distance like a bird of prey. Was the woman a stalker? Jorie was starting to wonder if she’d misread Rick's signals. Maybe he would have preferred the other woman’s company and had only been uneasy because he had promised to meet Jorie.

     “I think your friend Madeline is still here.”

     He sighed. “When you’re my age and get divorced, everyone tries to fix you up. Some well-meaning friends invited her over for dinner one night, trying to get us together. Well, you know how that is.”

     A single woman her age wasn’t very marketable. Things like that never happened to her. “Sure. Happens all the time,” Jorie lied.

     “I went to a school function with her after that dinner and now she thinks we’re dating.” He smiled, but only the corners of his mouth moved. “Thanks for helping me out. I think she got the message.”

     “Maybe.” Jorie wondered why it even mattered to her since she wasn’t interested in him as a man, just as a friend to share Valentine’s Day with. He was kind of cute, but not her type. She preferred the tall, dark and jerky type, unfortunately. Maybe it was time for a change. But even forty-eight-year-old men didn’t like overweight women.

     Jorie took the last sip of her coffee. “I’d like to find out who wins the poetry contest. Do you want to go back?”

      “You know, I have an errand next door. If you don’t mind, I’ll run over there and meet you back here. I’ll only be a minute.”

“Sure.” For a moment, Jorie wondered if Rick would come back. But he didn't seem like that kind of person—not like the men she dated.

      He met her a short twenty minutes later at the area where the poets were now doing book signings. “Mom gets a dreaded heart of chocolates,” he laughed, and held up a shopping bag bearing the logo of a local candy store.

     When they left the bookstore, they walked into a winter wonderland. Large, heavy flakes were drifting onto the pavement, covering it just enough to make it slippery. “Let me carry your packages,” he offered, taking her bags. As usual, Jorie hadn’t been able to leave the store without buying a stack of books.

     At her car, he asked for her snow brush, and cleaned the car off for her as she warmed it up. Damn. She liked him. But their meeting was strictly no-strings, probably a pity thing on his part. Although this had been one of her better Valentine’s Days, thanks to him. They’d still be friends on the website, anyway, that wouldn’t change.

     When he finished clearing the snow from her car, she opened the window to thank him. Before she could say the words, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Pandora,” he said, grinning.

     Jorie smiled back at him and drove slowly out of the parking lot, glancing in the rearview mirror as he walked to his car.

     When she got home, Jorie changed into her pajama’s and robe, her mind and imagination still on Rick. A kiss on the cheek meant nothing, she told herself. Friends did that all the time. And he hadn’t said a work about seeing her again. Well, she had her new books. Reading always made her happy. She’d go through the books, pick one to start on, and be asleep in no time. She plopped the bag of books on her bed.

     When she looked inside the large bag she found a smaller package that wasn’t one of her own purchases. Rick must have mistakenly added one of his packages to hers when he was carrying their purchases. She looked inside and saw a bright, red satin heart box. And a card. Could he have left the gift for his mother in her bag by mistake? But on the front of the envelope—in heavy, masculine handwriting, was written—Pandora. Her heart raced as she opened the card.

Your rant was not accurate. Valentine hearts filled with chocolates are for all lovely ladies.
Will you have dinner with me one night this week? But, no pressure!

     Jorie picked up the heart box, running her fingers over its smooth satin exterior. A velvety, red rose, its petals tipped in white, was centered on a red bow on the heart's surface, the red-satin box rimmed with a red-ribbon-and-white-lace ruffle. She grinned. As she lifted the lid, the rich, mouth-watering scent of chocolate wafted up to her nose. Inhaling the heady scent, her eyes scanned the assortment. All milk chocolates. How had he known?

     Picking up what looked like a chocolate-covered cherry, Jorie popped the smooth globe of chocolate into her mouth. When she bit into it, the sweet syrup that cuddled the cherry oozed over her tongue. She chewed, savoring the luscious blend of flavors.

     After she’d enjoyed every bit of the rich piece of candy, a laugh broke out from deep in the center of her being, the kind of laugh she hadn’t experienced in a long time. Jorie laughed until her eyes watered, then hugged herself as she pictured Rick’s smiling blue eyes and relived the kiss he’d planted on her cheek.

     This was the best Valentine’s Day ever!

Dear Readers,
I've stepped out of my suspense-writer mode to entertain you with this brief, feel-good Valentine's Day Story. Hope you enjoyed it. Have a happy, loving day, and don't forget to do something nice for the person most important in your life . . . yourself!


Saturday, January 16, 2016


Are your New Year's Resolutions already forgotten?
Are you wishing you hadn't made a list of everything in 
your life you'd like to change?

A resolution is defined as a firm determination. Like “self-control,” a resolution sounds like something we’d only do with a whip held over our heads. That is why they fall aside so quickly.
     Goals? Not so much. A goal represents something positive a person wants to achieve. Positive is good. Resolution bad.
      A goal can be as simple as a mental picture of something you want to accomplish or can be a formal outline for how you plan to accomplish the goal. The most important thing about setting goals is to choose goals you are excited about achieving, excited enough that you will stay motivated to complete them.

Goal guidelines:

1.   Write the goal down. Give goals the added formality of typing them and printing them out. If you’re a writer, or an entrepreneur, you might want to have a separate list for your those goals for the week, month, and year. Anthony Robbins even advocates having a five-year plan! Think about what you’d like your life to look like in five years—it’s an eye opener!

2.  Display your goals for the week somewhere you will see them every day.

3.  Be sure each goal is something you are excited about accomplishing.

4.  Don’t try to do too many at once. Pick two or three, or only one if it is something important to you.

5.  Make a list of action steps you will do in order to achieve your goal. Divide the steps into long and short-term solutions.

6.  The action steps must be specific.  Add dates for their accomplishment too if you find that helpful

Procrastination can feel overwhelming, thus emphasizing the need to have increments toward the achievement of your goal. Begin with a tiny, baby step—but begin! Many years ago, I was stuck in a job I found unfulfilling and my goal for the year was to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement plan it offered and go back to school for my Master’s degree. It felt like an impossible task that involved a lot of work just to get started. I took very simple first step and contacted a local university for information about the programs. I began classes that spring and graduated three years later.
Make that first step a small one and make it today—it is the most important one. You’ll be surprised how it will inspire you to keep going.

Dear Readers,
       I wish all of you a healthy and amazing 2016! If you have any great tips for goal achievement, please share it with us in the comment section. I find my weekly goals most helpful and tape them (on an index card) to the bottom of my computer so I have to face them every day. What works for you?
Till next time,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A review of The Murder House, by James Patterson and David Ellis

A review of The Murder House, 

by James Patterson and David Ellis

The Murder House has an oceanfront view, a private beach—and a deadly secret that won't stay buried. When Landon James, the police chief of the small town of Bridgehampton, hires his niece, former NYPD undercover detective, Jenna Rose Murphy, her first assignment is to investigate the brutal murder of a Hollywood mogul and his girlfriend whose butchered bodies were discovered in the mansion. Six more barbaric murders soon follow. Jenna arrests Noah Walker, a self-employed handyman, for the murders when the police unearth proof that the couple is undeniably linked to Noah's past. To prove his innocence, Noah must uncover the house's dark secrets—and reveal his own.

 The Murder House has been given more accolades by Patterson’s followers than anything he’s written in some time. What’s different about this story?

1.     There is a lot more character history and development.
2.     Although there are hints that Jenna and Noah will eventually get together, their relationship builds slowly and tumultuously, keeping the reader eager for when it will happen.
3.     The story ties to the history of the house and goes back into the past of the house and its connection to the main characters.
4.     The ending is satisfying, and the reader is kept guessing how it will end until the last minute.

The Patterson/Ellis collaboration worked its magic in this one.  

 Dear Readers,

For me, the evolving relationship of Jenna and Noah was what I found most engaging. They are definitely characters that readers will want to meet again.

Have a wonderful Christmas,


Monday, November 9, 2015

New #suspense release, Girl Undone

Here is a sneak peak at my latest suspense release, GIRL UNDONE. This book is the third in the TJ Peacock and Lisa Rayburn suspense series. If you enjoy these first two chapters, please go to for your own, personal copy. 

Marla Madison


Black Friday
9:00 am

A pale figure sat slumped in a tufted, red velvet and carved-gold throne while a handful of gaping shoppers gathered behind the roped off area in front of a work-in-progress Santa’s Village.
On the floor above, private investigator TJ Peacock walked past the Boston Store, her eye on a possible shoplifter. She’d been making rounds in the mall since six in the morning when the doors of the mall’s department stores opened. TJ hated mall duty, especially the stiff, uncomfortable uniform she had to wear, but she had contracted with the mall to provide additional holiday-season security, figuring her employee would be the one handling the job. That one employee was recently hired to cover the security part of TJ’s PI business, the part TJ found boring. But so far, security work was the part that paid the bills.
By nine, when the other stores opened, TJ was already experiencing sensory overload. She never had understood women’s shopping mania. There were very few men in sight that morning, and in her opinion, they were the ones who knew how to shop. When men needed something, they went to the nearest store that sold the item and they bought it—end of story.
Spending hours in a mall, deciding which was just the right dress or gift to buy, was nothing but a huge time waste—time that could be better spent doing something productive—unless the bargain-hunter was a shoplifter. That person’s time in the mall could be super productive, provided she either needed the item she lifted or knew how to profit from selling it—like the woman TJ noticed walking out of the Boston Store. She was carrying a shopping bag with the store’s logo, but TJ quickly observed that the bag didn’t have the Christmas design like those carried by the other shoppers exiting the store. Just as TJ moved toward the woman, intending to question her about the bag’s contents, something on the lower floor caught her eye.
The store had already set up an extravagant North Pole Village in order to lure in parents next week for its grand opening. The activity TJ had spotted near Santa’s Village—people hurrying toward it—didn’t make sense since the village was still under construction and not many of the stores on that level were open yet. Deciding that the unseen attraction on the lower level might be more threatening to store security than a shoplifter, TJ ignored the woman with the out-of-sync bag and ran for the stairs.
When she approached the shoppers in front of the village, they pointed at Santa’s throne. A mother with two young boys abruptly turned them away from the scene and hurried her sons into the nearest store.
On a large throne in the center of the display sat a dark-haired young woman wearing nothing but a pale-blue hospital gown, its ties loose on her arms. She was slumped to one side, her dark eyes open in a fixed stare. Immediately suspecting the girl was on something, TJ ran to her while dialing 911 for paramedics. She secured the ties on the woman’s gown and explained to the operator where she was and what was needed. After ending the call, she took off her jacket and covered the young woman who didn’t respond when TJ asked her name.
The girl’s face looked familiar, but TJ couldn’t place where she’d seen it before.
She radioed for more of the mall security team, who arrived quickly and in minutes had set up a protective barrier of tall dividers. Only moments later, a pair of paramedics arrived. One of them asked, “What have you got?”
TJ, still sitting next to the woman, said, “I don’t know. She just showed up here. She’s conscious but not talkin’. Couldn’t even give me her name. Looks like she ran out of a hospital. Drugged, maybe.”
“We aren’t far from the Mental Health Center,” he said, taking out a blood pressure cuff. When he finished checking her, he announced, “Her vitals are decent. We can move her.”
“Where you takin’ her?” TJ asked. If the girl was who TJ thought she was, she had to act quickly—and discreetly.    
“Closest place, Froedtert ER. They’ll figure it out.” He motioned to the other paramedic to bring the gurney for transporting the girl to their ambulance. TJ watched as they covered her with a blanket and strapped her to the gurney. She dispersed the onlookers and took out her phone, not expecting to get through to the person she needed to talk to but determined to try.
A voice answered, “Rina’s phone.”
“My name is TJ Peacock. I’m a private detective and I have some information for Rina Petretti.”
“About what?”
“Put me through to her. She needs to hear this herself.”
“I can’t do that unless you state the nature of your business.”
“It’s about her niece.”
Several seconds passed. “One minute, please.”
TJ suspected the girl she had found was Petretti’s niece, Kelsey Blasko. Rina Petretti was a business owner in Milwaukee who was rumored to have ties to the city’s crime underworld. Though Petretti usually shrank from media attention, she had apparently agreed to an article about her and her niece’s equestrian accomplishments, which TJ had seen in an area newspaper. TJ, like Petretti, lived in Wauwatosa. The photos that accompanied the story featured Petretti’s saddlebred horses that had been entered in a local horse show. Petretti and her niece Kelsey were shown with their mounts, the women looking more like mother and daughter than aunt and niece. They had taken first or second place ribbons in every event they entered. What little TJ knew about Petretti told her the woman would not want the media glomming on to an unfavorable story about her niece.
Petretti’s assistant must have been taking time to look TJ up and check her out.
A new voice answered, a pleasant contralto with a subtle Mediterranean accent. “This is Rina Petretti.”
“My name is TJ Peacock. I’m a private investigator. I had to work the Mayfair Mall today because one of my employees called in sick. A young woman showed up here wearing nothing but a hospital gown. She looks a lot like your niece. The girl is awake but unresponsive, and the EMTs took her to Froedtert. In case she is your niece, I thought you should know.”
Seconds of silence passed.
“How long ago did they take her there?”
“Just now. They probably haven’t left the parking lot yet.”
“Good. I need you to intercept them before she’s checked into the hospital. I’ll have my own physician look at her.”
The woman was used to giving orders. TJ wasn’t used to taking them, but a contact like Petretti wasn’t to be taken lightly by a PI trying to get her business off the ground.
“On my way,” she answered. TJ had no idea whether the EMTs would agree to wait for Petretti. She sprinted to her car while making a hurried call to mall security to explain why she’d left. She left a message and figured the worst thing that could happen is they wouldn’t use her service again.
Taking a back route to Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, TJ pushed her Mini Cooper as much as she dared in the post-holiday traffic and pulled into Froedtert’s ER entrance right behind the ambulance.
She rushed over and tapped on the window. “Hey, change of plans. This girl’s family is coming to pick her up, and they don’t want her admitted.”
The driver stepped out, a big guy with a military buzz cut. He appeared to be the one in charge. “Who do you think you’re giving orders to? I already radioed ahead. She’s going in.”
TJ knew it wouldn’t make a difference, but she pulled out her PI creds, hoping to at least buy some time. He glanced at the card.
“So you’re a PI. Big fucking deal. We’re taking her into the hospital.”
“Give her aunt a minute to get here, okay? Another few minutes won’t hurt her, right?”
The big guy’s name badge read Kurt Kipfer. He stood a foot taller than TJ and had at least a hundred pounds on her. Her authoritative attitude wasn’t cutting it. She could tell he was about to shove her aside when a black Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows pulled up next to the ambulance. The woman who stepped out exuded an air of authority that caused even Kurt the bruiser to step back. She wore sleek brown riding breeches and a pair of black leather boots that reached to her knees. Her dark hair sat on her neck in a shiny, braided twist.
“Where is my niece?” she demanded.
“Uh, hold on a minute. Who are you?” Kurt said.
“I have received information that you are carrying my niece in this ambulance. I demand that you turn her over to me.”
A gray-haired man in his seventies stepped out of the limo. “I’m Doctor Emil Worthington. I’m on staff at this hospital.” He produced an ID that he waved in front of the driver. “Miss Petretti is under my care, so you may release her to her aunt now.”
Kurt inhaled, expanding his broad chest. “How do I know this girl is even your niece?”
His menacing frown disappeared along with his inflated posturing the minute Petretti slipped him a wad of hundred-dollar bills. Quick as a magician, he stuffed the bills into his pants pocket. “You better make sure this is your niece and show me some ID for her.”
His partner, out of the vehicle now, opened the rear doors. The girl lay strapped to the gurney, unmoving.
Petretti gasped when she looked inside the vehicle.
“Get her out of there,” she said to Dr. Worthington. Then to Kurt, “Find a way to expunge this incident from your records and leave our names out of it.” She passed him more bills. “If I find out the press got hold of this, I’ll know where it came from.”
The doctor, aided by the paramedics, transferred Kelsey to the back of the Town Car. Petretti turned to TJ. “Thank you for calling me.”
TJ raised a hand to protest an offer of money and then slipped the woman one of her business cards. “If I can ever be of service.” Petretti grabbed the card without a word and hurried into the car.


Lisa Rayburn listened intently as her last patient of the day complained about her husband’s unfaithfulness. Ordered to attend counseling after a domestic dispute incident had been filed, Emma Le Gesse had yet to exhibit any true signs of remorse. It wasn’t often Lisa came across a situation in which the woman was the physical abuser, mainly because most men were ashamed to report it.
True to form, Emma had been raised in a household where corporal punishment had been an everyday occurrence.
“I understand it must be painful, finding out your husband cheated on you,” Lisa said, “but, Emma, you need to find a way to deal with your anger without resorting to violence. Let’s go ahead and work together toward that end.”
Emma ran a manicured hand through her long, ash-blonde hair. “I should just divorce the son of a bitch.”
“That is an option, Emma. But you understand that wouldn’t resolve your problem, don’t you?”
Emma shrugged. “I suppose.”
Often, Lisa had deal with the fact that a therapist couldn’t do much to help a patient who didn’t want to face their problem. Emma had been taught early in life that if she did something perceived as wrong, punishment in the form of a slap or the end of a belt wasn’t long in coming. Children typically carried that lesson into their adult lives.
Lisa knew the only way to make women like Emma want to change, was to help them find other ways to deal with anger and frustration. The challenge was motivating the patient to desire that change, because he or she was usually resistant. “Before we break today,” she said, “I’d like you to keep a diary of your emotions for a week and note exactly how you respond to them. And most importantly, begin thinking about alternatives to striking out with violence.”
Frustratingly, advice advocating alternative responses tended to work only when the abuser realized that once they were in the judicial system, a second violation would mean jail time.
After Emma left, Lisa checked her messages and found one from her friend Shannon, marked urgent. She played it back. “Lisa, I want to give you a heads up on this. That crime blogger, Bart Kosik, is going to do a series of articles in December about murders that happened during that month. He’s starting out with the one we worked on. I think our best bet is to ignore it, don’t you? I’ll be in the office in about an hour. We can talk about it then.”
Lisa felt a heavy ache in the pit of her stomach. She turned on her computer, opened up Kosik’s blog, and skipped to the final paragraph of Bart’s Crime Beat.


A new month begins in four days. My December blogs will be about famous crimes that happened during the month of Christmas Carols, shopping, lights, and Nativity scenes.
To kick it off, the first one will be none other than the one that happened right here in our own fair city. To be accurate, this crime didn’t happen only in December but was spread out over a matter of years throughout Milwaukee County. Yes, I’m talking about the case of the missing women that made headlines here less than two years ago. We’ll be looking at the crime, the killer, and the people who brought the case to the attention of the MPD. Stay tuned!

Lisa closed the computer and took a few deep breaths—Kosik was going to examine the people who brought it to the attention of the police. Not again. A December blog wouldn’t be the blogger’s first article on the subject, but it would be the first in more than a year. She had been na├»ve to think that her and her friends’ involvement had been forgotten.
More than a year ago, Lisa and TJ, along with Shannon, Jeff Denison and Eric Schindler, had turned over enough evidence to the Milwaukee police to force an investigation into the reason why so many abused women were going missing. Jeff and Eric were husbands of two of the missing women. The men had not abused their wives, although both had misguided 911 calls in their backgrounds, which had brought them under suspicion. Bart’s Crime Beat had publicized the part all of them played in revealing the murders of the missing women—and not always in a positive way.     
Lisa considered calling TJ or Eric and then decided she might be overreacting; she’d talk to Shannon first since she was due in any time now. Shannon, who worked for the attorney Lisa shared space with, acted as Lisa’s receptionist when she was around and had become a close friend.
Lisa made herself a cup of tea and sat where she could gaze out at the lake. Under the dull November sky, the waters of Pewaukee Lake were lifeless, the color of wet cement.
The case of the missing women, abused women, had changed her life in many ways, some good, and some disturbing. Her friendship with TJ would never have come to pass without their common goal of bringing the police proof that foul play   had increased the usual number of missing women. And Eric—their relationship hadn’t gotten off to an amicable start but had ultimately become the most important one she’d ever had with a man, one she promised herself would be her last. Remembering the good things, Lisa resolved not to stress over anything Bart Kosik had to say about them.
Shannon rushed in, cheeks red from the brisk, late-November wind. Her black, waist-long hair was tied back into a loose tail with a bright orange scarf. She asked, “Are you all right?”
“I’ve been better,” Lisa replied. “I had hoped all of this was behind us.”     
Shannon dropped her backpack on the floor and hung up her coat. “Damn books get heavier every semester.”
In her second year of law school in Madison, Shannon commuted to her classes from her home in Waukesha and still worked afternoons at the real estate office next to Lisa’s office whenever she could. Earl Albright, the attorney who owned the business, was grooming Shannon to take over when he retired. Albright owned the building that housed his law business and Lisa’s office.
Shannon picked up a cup, filled it with tea and took a seat across from Lisa. “We can’t stop this blogger from writing about us. We can only sue if he publishes something that isn’t true. And even that gets tricky. The guy is a master of the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t spin.”
“Sue him? You’re kidding. He would probably love that. The man is always trolling for publicity. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of suing. You’re starting to sound like a lawyer already.”
“I was getting around to saying that the best course of action for now is to ignore it,” Shannon said. “You know how these things go, tomorrow he’ll have someone else to rake over the coals, and we’ll be back-page news.”

Dear Readers,

I am so excited to be releasing my third book in a series. This is the TJ Peacock and Lisa Rayburn series, which starts with the first suspense book I wrote, She’s Not There. When I wrote it I had not planned on it being a series, but many readers wanted more. I was so happy about that I wrote Trespass as a follow up, and now, this one, Girl Undone. If you're interested in receiving notices for book deals and new release specials, please sign up for my mailing list.
      Hope you enjoyed the preview chapters. Thanks for stopping by.