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Racing the Devil
Racing the Devil
Racing the Devil
Ebook313 pages7 hours

Racing the Devil

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars



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Nashville private investigator Jared McKean has a son with Down's Syndrome, a best friend with AIDS, an ex-wife he can't seem to fall out of love with, and a weakness for women in jeopardy - until one frames him for muder.

His DNA and fingerprints are found at the murder scene. His voice is on the victim's answering machine, and the victim was killed with a bullet from his gun. To make matters worse, his teen-aged nephew comes out of the closet and runs away to join a dangerous fringe of the Goth subculture.

Now Jared must find a way to clear his name, hold his family together, and solve a case that could cost him his life.

Release dateJan 9, 2012
Racing the Devil
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Jaden Terrell

Jaden Terrell's first Jared McKean novel, Racing the Devil (2012) was a finalist for the prestigious Shamus Award. Her second in this series, A Cup Full of Midnight was published later that year. She is also the Executive Director for Killer Nashville, one of the major mystery groups, who hold national conferences every August.

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Rating: 3.611111111111111 out of 5 stars

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  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    When an ex-cop turned PI is framed for murder, there are two paths for a book - either the author pulls it off or the book goes down in flames and repeats every single cliche that had ever been written on the topic. Terrell pulls it off. Not that the book does not have its problems (the guy really annoys me with his acceptance of anything that happens to him as if he actually does not deserve anything good). Which is expected in a debut novel. What the book adds to these problems though are horses, complicated lives (the author explores homosexuality, health issues of all kinds, one directional love and professional issues and this is just the tip of the iceberg), beautiful women (but of course) and good friends. Part of the issues of the book were exactly in the too many things thrown together - it sounds as if the author decided to go for all or nothing and simply tackled any issue that he could think of. Which made the whole story less believable -- not that these things do not happen in real life in these amounts (maybe, occasionally) but in a novel, they just scream "too much".Despite this the book is actually good and I will be interested to see where the series goes next. But I really hope that the next book won't bring more people with big problems that just need to have Jared accept and deal with. Or if it happens, that he will finally snap and do/say something.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    My only complaint about this book is that I took so long to get around to reading it. It sucked me in from the first page. It's a fast-paced, first-rate mystery. If you're a crime fiction fan, I think you will highly enjoy, if not love, this book.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Racing the Devil offers everything desirable in a who-done-it mystery.Jared McKean is an ex-cop-turned-PI who picks up a girl in a bar and wakes up accused of murdering a woman he's never met. As you can see, it doesn't take long for this book to grab you. Jared's prints, hair, and semen have been found in the murder victim's hotel room, along with a message on her cell phone. There are numerous entries in her calendar referring to Jared, making it seem like they've been having a relationship for several months.After getting thrown in jail and beaten up, Jared finally is released on bail and can begin to clear his name. It's difficult when even your ex-partner doesn't believe in your innocence.Terrell takes us through some interesting twists and turns, and I never suspected who the killer was until he/she was revealed. Along the way, we become attached to Jared and meet some other unique characters. Jared gets help from the victim's neighbor, and 80-year-old woman with intelligence and spunk. Jared lives with a gay friend who has aids, has an son with Down syndrome, a re-married ex-wife who is still very much in his life, and a teen nephew who appears to be into drugs and maybe more.All of these characters come together to bring about a resolution for Jared. He's also a horse-lover, so that is an element of the story too.There's a lot to the story in a few pages. It's a quick read that was hard for me to put down. The second Jared McKean Mystery, A Cup Full of Midnight, is due out in August, and I'l be anxious to get my hands on it. Jared is an interesting character involved in an exciting mystery. I won't hesitate to recommend this one.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Jaden Terrell has done a great job with her first novel. McKean is a protagonist that you can really empathize with. Although dealing with numerous difficult situations around him, he always manages to stay positive, which is really refreshing. Other than a few parts of the plot line that felt somewhat forced, it was still overall a very solid book, and I am anxiously awaiting the sequel!
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Racing the devil is a fast paced book that keeps your attention and wondering if Jared McKean will figure out who set him up for murder. Jared is an ex cop turned private detective who wakes up after a night with a women who is in need of a good honest man. While he is fighting the charge of murder his ex wife is pregnant with her new husband's child, his nephew is gay and runs away. As Jared tries to solve his own case he worries about his family and friends.This is the first book in the Jared mmMcKean mystery series. I know I will be looking forward to reading the next book in this series.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    When private investigator Jared McKean wakes up from a one-night stand he's got one more problem than he went to bed with. Besides having a best friend with AIDS, being fired from the Nashville PD Homicide department and still being in love with his ex-wife he's now being framed for murder. Once he makes bail he has to track down the real murderer while the body count keeps rising and deal with his own family drama.Racing the Devil is book one in the new Jared McKean series and it's a fairly good series start. The characters are real and I was pulled in from the opening scene. I was fully engaged in the story and loved the ending but some of the story line was a little bit forced as if Terrell meant to go in a different direction and changed his mind but not the details. Overall I recommend this one for anyone who loves a good suspense thriller and look forward to book two which will be out August 2012.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Racing the Devil by Jaden Terrell is an excellent mystery by a new writer. It is a really nicely crafted mystery, but I really enjoyed the characters, and hope to read more about them in future books. This book is a well-written murder mystery, with likeable (for the most part) characters placed in a dangerous, complex situation. I'll definitely be looking for more books by Terrell.Thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewers for a chance to read this bound galley.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    This was a great read. If you enjoy crime thrillers then you'll like this book. I like Jared McKean, a former cop accused of killing a woman has to prove his innocence and keep from being the killers next victim. A great first novel.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    An engaging story with a typically flawed private detective principal character drawn into a temporary liaison where evidence is collected to frame him for murder. The characters are well developed and largely sympathetic where the reader is drawn into their individual lives and forms and emotional connection. Occasionally, I had to ask "could her really be this dumb" after he stepped into yet another frame-up but, the P.I. did have a lovable naive nature and was basically honorable and honest and in his heart, a Dudley DoRight. The story was action packed and developed entertaining plot twists concluding in a satisfying fashion. This book was brought to me by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and was a GREAT first book by a new author. Enough to say, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I really enjoyed this mystery and look forward to the next installment in the series. The primary character Jared McKean is a former police officer turned private eye. His relationship with the police is strained, he is divorced but is still in love with his ex-wife who has remarried, he is thoroughly devoted to his 8 year old son who has Downs, and he lives with a good friend who is gay and has Aids (although Jared is heterosexual). Jared is set-up for a brutal murder and must prove his innocence against very difficult odds. Thank goodness he still has a friend on the police force. The characters are well developed, the plot twists are excellent, and while I was not totally surprised by the ending it did come with a twist I did not expect. This is another book I found very hard to put down. I encourage you to give this one a try.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Racing the Devil is the first in a new series of mystery books by Jaden Terrell (the second book A Cup Full of Midnight is already in the pipeline). Overall, I enjoyed the book. It has all the elements I look for in a mystery - the premise draws the reader in immediately, it is a fast, easy read that never loses momentum, there are enough red herrings and plot twists that I didn't guess the "real Killer" until the end, but there were just enough hints and foreshadowing that the reveal made perfect sense.That said I had a few minor quibbles with the characterization of the hero Jared McKean. He;s a little to Mary Sueish for my taste. His son has Down's Syndrome (but he is never frustrated), his nephew is gay (he's so understanding) his roommate is HIV positive (he helps set him up on dates and visits a gay bar to help cheer him up), his dog is arthritic, he loves horses. It's just a little too much. He is clearly the male alter-ego of the author (who I presume is female despite the mysterious asexual photo and lack of pronouns in the author blurb). The character never feels quite authentic. That said I enjoyed the story enough that I will give the second book in the series a try when it is published next year.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    OK, so it's not a Horror novel, kill me...no wait, I take that back. Sue me instead. At least that way if someone takes me literally, I have nothing to lose.I picked this up a few months back as a free read from LibraryThing.com. It's a Mystery novel, not that there's anything wrong with that. I just prefer Horror and well it does mention the Devil, in the title.At 246 pages, it was a pretty quick read and an excellent one, at that. Racing the Devil introduces the reader to Jared McKean, a Nashville PI and former homicide detective.At first I was getting a Raymond Chandler vibe from the words on the page, stuff like, "There were a thousand reasons why a woman might come into a bar with bruises on her cheeks and tears in her eyes. Not all of them involved some jerk with a sour temper and heavy fists." and later when Jared and the lady find a motel, "Nothing classy about it, but that was just as well. Class would have been wasted on us."But that film noir feel ended as soon as our hero discovered he's been framed for murder. By the way, that should be "Framed" with a capital 'F". He was Framed so hard, he might have believed himself guilty, if he didn't know better.Just a quick aside, having grown up in The Church of the Nazarene, I got a big kick out of Jared's comment, "Dancing is a sexually stimulating activity. At least that's what they told us Nazarenes." As a matter of fact, I think that's a direct quote from the church's manual when I was a teenager in the 60's.The author, Jaden Terrell, does a really nice job with his characters. They all are embued with a touch of authenticity. I was particularly fond Jared's relationship with his, soon to be, 8 year old son, Paulie, who has Downs Syndrome.Racing the Devil, is a murder mystery where we are pretty sure who didn't do it, even though the police are nearly certain he did and Jared McKean needs to solve the case to save his ass.I'd definitely recommend this one to anyone who enjoys the occasional murder mystery. Racing the Devl is available in a wide variety of formats from The Permanent Press and look for the next Jared McKean Mystery A Cup Full of Midnight coming in September.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Rating: 3.5* of fiveThe Book Report: What Jared McKean needs is a break. Not in a case, though that would certainly make a nice change; no, he needs Life to cut him a break. The, well let's be polite and call her a lady, who came on to him like gangbusters in the bar? A set-up. For...we don't know, neither does he, but it all feels hinky even as he's disporting himself.And then we do. The former cop and now PI Jared is framed pretty damned thoroughly for murder, fingerprints, DNA, gun, every damn thing perfect. Except he didn't do it, wouldn't do it, and even his suspicious buddies in the Nashville, Tennessee, police detective squad are having a hard time seeing Jared as a murderer. But they have to go where the evidence leads them, and that's directly to Jared. Who needs to know who framed him, why they framed him, and what's at stake that makes it all make sense.He has to go to some pretty seedy places in his past, as well as some really surprisingly fancy ones in the present, to get his answers, and the picture that emerges of Nashville isn't all that nice, but it is all that interesting and involving and well-crafted. There aren't any dull moments in Jared's life. And that's exactly the way the reader wants it to be.My Review: I like mysteries, which I suppose comes under the “no shit, Sherlock” heading in Revelationspeak. I like the way the author of this first-of-a-series layers in the details the reader can use to feel the character's three-dimensionality. It wasn't a surprise to me that I enjoyed this book but it was a surprise to me how involved I became in Jared's world. I was deep in it with Maria, the ex-wife and mother of his son Paul, and her believable love for the man she simply can't live with, and part of that is a sense of her own frailty for having given birth to a son with Down's syndrome.Jared's queer best friend Jay comes off the page as a total flamer and a mouthy queen. It's a pity he's got AIDS. Except he manages to stay healthier than Jared does, poor bastard, as he's mangled in a few different and terrible ways. Frank, his cop-lifetime boss and bud, has more wrinkles than a cheap suit. It's all very engrossing, and that's precisely how it ought to be. If a noir-tinged Nashville doesn't intrigue you, it's unlikely you're a mystery reader. If it does, hasten to your favorite bookery and get you one of these here. A solid, winning debut for the series.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I was *this* close to giving Racing The Devil four stars! I want to whole-heartedly commend Jaden Terrell for her rich writing full of imagery and voice. You really just never know what you're going to get when cracking open a "first novel" put out by a writer that is new on the scene. I definitely wasn't disappointed; Jaden's writing never fell flat. That's an accomplishment all on its own. I debated for an entire week after finishing the book before I decided on a 3.5 star review, because I was so torn by how I felt in the beginning of the book compared to how I felt about it in the end. In the beginning, I had a hard time warming up to the main character and becoming invested in the murder mystery that had just taken place. By the end, I adored more characters than one and was staying up late at night to find out what was going to transpire next. I think it's rare for an author to be able to end a book on such a strong note. Sometimes stories start out great but taper off as the plot and story-line ensues. This definitely wasn't the case with Racing The Devil. In the beginning, I would have given the book 3 stars, but by the end I had become so attached to the characters and absorbed by the suspense of the story that I decided on a solid 4. Thus, I give you an average of 3.5 stars and two thumbs up for new author Jaden Terrell and fictional former police officer Jared McKean.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    Why have I not heard of Jaden Terrell before now? I’ll admit the fact that is a Nashville resident and a published mystery writer is what drew me to this book and I’m so glad I got the opportunity.This story moves along at a good pace, or to borrow an equestrian term, it moves at a smooth and steady gait. Terrell laid a great foundation for a series in this. Not too heavy handed and not too stingy. leaving you to imagine more on your own. Wackadoo story, without a doubt, but if you actually separated some of the threads, believable for the most part. Dark undercurrents, bad things probably will happen, but I think that’s what the reader would want to see in the future for these characters. How will they deal with it and move on from here?
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Jaden Terrell’s excellent debut mystery novel RACING THE DEVIL provides freshness to the niche genre that is the noir male private eye, while still giving the readers of niche everything they look for. Characters with troubled pasts, women with ulterior motives, sudden violence, but unlike much of noir, the protagonist, Jared McKean is far from a loner and has rich and interesting relationships with is family, child, roommate, friends and even horses.Racing the Devil starts with the novel’s protagonist, Jared McKean, having an amorous encounter with a woman in a bar only to wake up two days later and discover he’s been framed for the murder of a woman he doesn’t know and it’s a doozy, witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, etc..If that wasn’t bad enough, his personal life is maze of difficult relationships: his brother, who abandoned a promising dream career to raise Jared, is having issues with his Goth son; Jared’s roommate has AIDs; a duplicitous local hotshot reporter who had once been Jared’s girlfriend is all over the murder case; and the woman Jared loves is married to another man and she has custody of his beloved son Paul who has Down Syndrome. He also owns and loves horses, which plays nicely into the storyline. While Jared rushes to prove his innocence, his personal life is imploding.The only weakness would be is that some of the action, though realistic and character revealing, was not tied tightly into the storyline. The strongest part of the novel is the way Terrell weaves in Jared’s murder case with his personal problems and tells the story in forward motion using only short, pertinent, and compelling back-flashes sparsely, and saving backstory for when you need to know it. Terrell also rarely relies on clichés and that makes her prose is richer and more engrossing.Highly recommended for those who like mysteries and/or characters that have strong emotional connections to others.(This review is based on an Advanced Review Copy provided by the publisher)

Book preview

Racing the Devil - Jaden Terrell


EVEN IN THE DIM light of the bar, I could see the bruises.

Beginning just below one eye, they spread down the side of her face and neck, tinged the blue rose tattoo above the swell of her left breast, and seeped beneath the plunging neckline of her scarlet halter.

She paused inside the door, hugging herself. Her gaze swept the room, lit briefly on one face, then another. Looking for something, or someone. Or maybe for someone’s absence.

I looked away before she could catch me staring, and when I glanced up again, she had squeezed onto a slick red stool between two beefy bikers whose low-slung jeans revealed the top third of their buttocks.

One of the bikers tilted his head toward her. Murmured something I couldn’t hear.

She flinched and drew in a ragged breath. Said something that made him scowl and turn back to his drink. Then Dani, the bartender, brought her an amber liquid over ice, and she hunched over the laminated bar, stirring her drink with one finger. The fingertips of her other hand rubbed gingerly at her cheek. She flicked her tongue across a split in her lower lip and blinked hard.

Not my problem, I told myself, even as my hand tightened around my glass. There were a thousand reasons why a woman might come to a bar with bruises on her cheeks and tears in her eyes. Not all of them involved some jerk with a sour temper and heavy fists.

I tore my gaze away and told myself again: Not my problem.

It was a sweltering June night, and I was sweating my cojones off at a corner table of the First Edition Bar and Grill and trying to forget that Maria, my wife of thirteen years, was spending her first anniversary with a man who wasn’t me. We’d married young, two weeks after my twenty-first birthday, and while my mind understood what had gone wrong, the rest of me still felt like someone had thrown a bag over my head and scraped me raw with a cheese grater.

She’d waited a decent year before remarrying, but it wasn’t long enough to keep my heart from aching like a broken tooth whenever I imagined D.W.’s hands on her, his mouth against hers . . .

A quavering voice interrupted my darkening fantasies. Hey, Cowboy. Buy a girl a beer?

I looked up to see the woman in the scarlet halter top, and the first thing I thought was, Cowboy . . . Maria called me that.

The second thing I thought was, Why the hell not?

Sure. I gestured to the empty seat across from me, and she squeezed past a lanky man in leather and slid into the chair. What’s your brand?

Bud Light. She gave me a watery smile and patted her stomach, which was as flat as a whippet’s. Got to watch the weight.

I edged through the crowd to the L-shaped bar and ordered the Bud and another Jack and Coke from Dani. She pushed a stray curl behind one ear and slid two glasses toward me with a nod toward the table I’d just left. Looking to get lucky?

I don’t know. She seems a little . . . fragile.

Afraid she’ll glom on?

Plenty to be afraid of before it gets to that.

The boyfriend’s out of the picture, if that matters. Or so she says.

So she says.

Seemed to me like she could use a little comfort.

Maybe. But why me?

You gotta be kidding. A smile flitted across her face as she reached across the bar and smoothed the front of my shirt with her palm. Believe me, honey, you’re the pick of the litter.

I gave her a goofy grin, stammered a thanks, and stuffed a couple of dollars into the beer mug she’d set out for tips. Then I wended my way through the sweat-sour crush of bodies and the cigarette haze back to my table, where a burly guy who looked like someone had superglued a tumbleweed to his face was putting the moves on my new acquaintance.

He was about five-ten to my six feet, built like a barrel and reeking of cigar smoke. When he saw me, he rocked back on his heels and glared at me through slitted eyes, maybe gauging if he could take me. I was pretty sure he couldn’t.

The muscles in my shoulders tensed, and we stared each other down for a long moment. Then he dropped his gaze, adjusted his crotch with one massive hand, and mumbled to my tablemate, Aw, he ain’t man enough for you. He ambled toward the pool table, throwing a gap-toothed, tobacco-tinged grin back over his shoulder. You want a real man, give me a holler.

I set the lady’s beer in front of her and slid into the seat across the table from her. She scooted her chair closer so I could hear her over the din. Cockroaches. If there’s one in the room, he’ll find me. You come here often?

I smiled at the cliché. I stop by for a beer and a burger most Friday nights.

No beer tonight. She nodded toward my glass.

Nope. I thought of Maria, and a bitter taste came into my mouth. Tonight called for something stronger.

She glanced at my left hand. You’re not married.



One. I tugged my wallet out of my hip pocket, flipped to my son’s school picture. I handed it over, watching her face as she studied it.

The corners of her mouth twitched up. No pity. No revulsion. He’s cute, she said.

He has Down syndrome.

I have a cousin with Down’s, she said. Sweet kid.

Something in my gut relaxed. She handed back the wallet and said, I’ve never been here before. Seems pretty rough.

I glanced around the room. The First Edition was originally conceived as a retreat for journalists and reporters—cozy and intimate, with a clientele who wore tweed jackets with suede patches on the elbows. It had changed hands several times since then and had finally evolved into a cramped sports bar catering primarily to good ol’ boys and bikers, but the decor retained vestiges of its past. Ancient printing presses and yellowing early editions of The Tennessean and The Nashville Banner shared shelf space with NASCAR photos and neon Bud Light signs. A Jeff Gordon ball cap hung from the half-empty potato chip rack, a rubber arm jutting from beneath it.

Beside the bar, a bulletin board labeled Wall of Shame was covered with candid photographs—a grinning man in a neon pink construction helmet, a shot of someone mooning the photographer, a bearded man at the pool table shooting the cue ball into the V of a young woman’s spread legs.

No pictures of yours truly.

The lettering on the front window read, First Edition Bar and Grill. Bikers Welcome.

It’s not as rough as it looks, I said, pointing to a sign beside the Wall of Shame. It said, No vulgar language. They don’t even allow cussing in here.

It’s noisy, though. She slid her hands beneath her hair to rub the muscles of her neck, then leaned forward and placed her forearms on the table, giving me a good view of her cleavage. Can I ask you something?


Her cell phone rang, a tinny blast of Born to Be Wild. She startled, rummaged through her purse, and fished out a shiny silver phone that looked like a miniature spaceship. She squinted at the name on the screen, and a shudder ran through her body.

Oh, God, she said.

I felt my eyes narrow. Is that him?

She nodded.

Tell him to get lost.

Her voice was a whisper. I can’t.

Her hands trembled as she fumbled with the phone.

I laid my hand over hers. Ignore it then.

I can’t. She flipped open the front cover and held the phone to her ear. Hello? Baby?

I couldn’t make out the words, but I could hear him shouting from where I sat. She blinked back tears and listened, her whole body trembling. No, sweetheart, I didn’t mean . . . I didn’t . . .

I gave her three minutes. Then I took the phone away. Back off, buddy, I said into the speaker. The lady wants to be left alone. Then I hung up.

Oh, God, she said again. He’s going to kill me.

You’re not thinking of going back to him?

No, no, you don’t understand. He’ll find me. She flicked her tongue across her injured lip again and crossed her arms across her breasts. What am I going to do?

The first thing you do is get a restraining order.

With a sharp, bitter laugh, she gestured to her battered face. I had a restraining order when he did this. For all the good it did.

I have friends on the force. I’ll check on it tomorrow. You’ll file charges.

It wasn’t a question.

She gave a hitching sob. I can’t . . . I don’t know . . . I mean, okay. Only . . . Will you stay with me? Tonight? You don’t know how he is.

She was looking for a protector, not a lover, which was fine with me. Still, there were probably a million reasons to say no. I considered telling her I had a previous engagement and getting the hell out.

But there was no previous engagement.

Why not? I threw back the rest of my drink and pushed away from the table as the alcohol burned its way down my throat. You want to take one car or two?

Let’s take yours. She wiped at her eyes and forced another smile, revealing a smudge of cherry lipstick on one tooth. He’ll be looking for mine.

Since the parking lot was packed, I’d left my truck a little farther up the street. We walked past the antique boutique and the Tae Kwan Do school where I took lessons and occasionally taught. From there, it was less than a three-minute stroll to the strip mall where my black and silver Chevy Silverado sat glistening like a water bug beneath the streetlight.

Nice wheels. She ran a loving hand over the front fender. The diffused light of the parking lot softened the hard angles of her face and made her almost beautiful. You okay to drive?

I’m okay. I opened the passenger side door and she slid across the seat as I closed the door behind her. When I climbed behind the wheel, she wriggled into the hollow under my arm. Poked the bobblehead Batman on the dashboard and giggled. Her hair still smelled of cigarette smoke, but underneath that was a musky perfume that, combined with the whiskey I’d been drinking, made it hard to think clearly. I said, I don’t even know your name.

It’s Heather. Her fingers squeezed my knee, trailed up my thigh.

I closed my hand over hers. You don’t have to do that.

Sssh. She lifted her other hand and pressed the index finger to my lips. I want to.

Maybe she wanted more than a protector, after all. I had a feeling I was headed for a night of raw and meaningless sex that I should probably feel guilty about but didn’t.

I’m Jared. I tried to keep my voice steady as her hand continued its northerly migration. Jared McKean.

I know. I asked the bartender. Jared McKean, Private Eye. This time, her smile was wicked. Or should I say, Private Dick?

WE STOPPED TO PICK UP a bottle of sangria and a couple of wineglasses. Then she directed me to a seedy motel off Lebanon Road. Twenty-four hour porn, rentals by the night or by the hour.

Nothing classy about it, but that was just as well. Class would have been wasted on us.

By the time she slipped the electronic key into the slot and pushed the door open, I was lightheaded with alcohol and muzzy with lust. I like to think of myself as a fairly centered, thoughtful kind of guy, but by then my center had drifted considerably south.

I thought briefly of Maria and felt a pang of guilt. But hey, I wasn’t married anymore. I wasn’t even dating anyone. And it wasn’t like Maria wasn’t giving it up to old D.W., probably at that very moment. So what difference did it make if I had sex with someone I’d just met?

We squeezed inside the room, and Heather pushed me back against the door and pressed herself against me. Her tongue explored my mouth, flicked across my lips, and fluttered down my neck. Her breath was ragged with excitement, warm, and scented with beer. Her hands were everywhere.

I pulled away long enough to gasp, You don’t have to do this. I’ll stay anyway.

Don’t, she whispered. I need . . . Her voice trailed off.

I thought of Maria again and nodded.

I needed, too.

Let’s just say it took us a while to get to the sangria.

I remembered the condom, barely.

There is a kind of sex where two people have learned each other’s preferences and rhythms, where one person’s curves fit into the other person’s spaces like the pieces of a puzzle. It’s a slow, comfortable sex with a rightness and intensity, and it takes years of time and love to get there.

But there is another kind of sex, all animal ferocity and passion, sweat and thrust and howl and moan. Heartbeats pounding like primeval drums. Your body rises and she’s there to meet it, and you think she might devour you, and you wish she would. Heat. Shuddering. Her legs around you, and you feel each tremor of that drenched and pulsing place between her thighs.

Three guesses which we had.

Afterward, we lay entangled with each other and the sheets. The sweat cooled on our bodies, and the room smelled heavily of musk.

Mmmm. That was nice. She leaned over and planted a wet kiss firmly on my lips. Wait here, and I’ll go get us a drink. She peeled the condom from between my thighs, kissed the place where it had been, and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. I’ll get rid of this on the way to the fridge.

I watched as she padded to the wastebasket, then to the refrigerator. She was thinner than my ex-wife, with sharp, jutting hipbones and a small, flat behind. Her breasts were soft and pear-shaped, with long pink nipples that stood up like the ends of a big man’s thumbs. I could count her ribs and the vertebrae that ran like a knotted chain down the center of her back.

She had two tattoos in addition to the rose on her left breast. One was a circle of barbed wire and blue roses around her right ankle, the other a small yellow butterfly on her left shoulder. Her lipstick was smeared, and there were dark smudges in the hollows beneath her eyes where her mascara had run. Her hair was tousled, and since I was the one who had tousled it, I found it both erotic and endearing.

Service with a smile, she said, and held out a brimming wineglass. She slipped beneath the sheet and sipped her drink, holding it delicately, between two fingers and a thumb. I know it’s not expensive, but I love sweet wine. Don’t you?

I tipped my head noncommittally.

She brushed her fingers across my upper arm, where a thin white scar stood out against the skin. The pale hairs on my arms prickled.

What happened here? she asked.

Vice squad. Undercover. Crackhead with a switchblade.

And this one? Her index finger traced a short jagged scar a few inches to the right of my navel. At her touch, the muscles of my stomach jumped.

Broken bottle.

Her hand swept upward, palm flat against the hard contours of my abs. Her fingers tugged gently at the blond hairs on my chest, slid across my pectoral muscles, and came to rest beside the small round scar halfway between my armpit and my heart.

The one that had ended my marriage.

And this? she said. Just before her finger touched the puckered skin, I closed my hand around hers and said, That one, I don’t talk about.

Ah. After a moment, she cleared her throat, slipped her hand from beneath mine, and said, So. What’s it like being a detective? It sounds exciting.

Sometimes. I brushed my lips across the butterfly on her shoulder. Mostly, it’s a lot of waiting.


Waiting for a cheating spouse to come out of a motel room. Waiting for a guy defrauding his insurance company to sneak out of his wheelchair and go dancing. Waiting for interviews. We talk to a lot of people. That’s about it.

You think about it being car chases and murder mysteries.

P.I.’s don’t do murder, I said. Once in a blue moon, if we’re hired by an attorney. But mostly, it’s missing persons, insurance fraud, personal injury claims, spousal misconduct . . . that’s the kind of stuff we do. We leave the homicides for the cops.

She made a wry face. Too bad. I think a murder would be interesting.

I worked homicide for seven years, I said. And believe me, murder isn’t interesting. It’s nothing but a waste.

We moved on to other topics then. She told me about Ronnie, the soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.

He seemed so sweet. She wrapped one arm around her knees and held her sangria glass with the other hand. Guess you never know, huh?

Guess not, I said, though there had probably been signs.

Here, hold this. She handed me her glass and headed off to the bathroom.

When she came back, we had another glass of wine, made love again, and sometime after that I drifted into sleep, her body curled against mine like a Siamese cat’s. I woke up once, with my head spinning and my stomach roiling, realized it was still dark out, and sank back into a sleep too deep even for dreams.

MORNING. A SLIVER of sunlight sliced through a gap in the curtains and seared through my eyelids, setting off a small nuclear explosion in my head. I scrabbled for the digital clock beside the bed and squinted at the readout: 10:45.

Great. I had to pick up my son, Paulie, at noon. I lay with my palms over my eyelids long enough to realize that my bladder was also on the brink of implosion. What a dilemma. If I got up, my skull might blow apart. If I stayed put, my bladder might burst. God. I clenched my teeth, pressed the palms of my hands to my temples, and stumbled into the bathroom to take a leak and inspect my tongue, which was coated with a white scum that looked and felt like dryer lint.

Heather was gone. She’d taken the wineglasses and the bottle of sangria. And on the table, she had left a note.

I’m sorry, it said.

Shit. How could I have been so stupid?

I picked up my jeans. My belt hung from the loops, my cell phone still clipped to it. I checked my wallet. Everything was there. I felt for my keys. Still in the pocket.

So, sorry for what? For not saying goodbye? She hadn’t left a number, so I guessed we’d had a one-night stand.

Too bad. I wondered vaguely if she’d ever get away from Ronnie, and if she did, if I would ever know about it.

Then I told myself there was nothing worse than a maudlin, thirty-something single guy with a hangover. I’d gotten laid, and if the worst that could be said was that the lady liked her sex with no strings attached, who was I to try and complicate things?

Still feeling muzzy-headed, I showered, dressed, and went down to the lobby, where a pot of stale coffee and a pile of day-old bread and pastries masqueraded as a continental breakfast. I passed on the pastry and choked down a cup of coffee and a piece of dry toast. They calmed my churning stomach. While I ate, I skimmed a couple of sections of The Tennessean, which someone had left on the corner of the table.

There was an article on the legislation to remove the waiting period from handgun permits, a questionnaire for football fans, a story on the Society for Creative Anachronism, and a column on the RC and Moon Pie Festival in Bell Buckle, which was where I’d planned to take Paulie this afternoon.

According to the article, the festival had been a great success. I shook my head and read the article again.

Had been. As in, having already occurred. As in, something was terribly amiss.

I glanced at the header at the top of the page, and a hollow feeling settled in the pit of my stomach.

The header said Sunday. But I’d left the First Edition with Heather on Friday night. How the hell could it be Sunday?

Numb and disoriented, I scooped up the paper, and a headline on the front page of the local section caught my eye: WOMAN SLAIN IN HOTEL ROOM. EX-POLICE OFFICER SOUGHT FOR QUESTIONING.

Ex-police officer. I’d lost touch with most of the guys I used to work with, but I still felt connected to the force. Once a cop, always a cop, as Maria used to say. I’d skimmed most of the other stories, but I read this one word for word.

The victim was Amanda Jean Hartwell, known to friends and family as Amy. The grainy photograph showed a smiling, bespectacled young woman. Her hair, a tumble of shoulder-length curls pulled back by two barrettes, was either light brown or dark blond. It was hard to tell from the black-and-white photo.

Her body, which had been shot and mutilated (no details), had been found at the Cedar Valley Motel in Hermitage. Survived by a husband (Calvin J. Hartwell), two daughters (Katrina E. and Tara D. Hartwell), and a sister (Valerie C. Shepherd).

Her lover was wanted for questioning—a euphemism for we know you did it, son, we just can’t prove it yet—and a description of the lover and his license number followed. NRL-549.

A trickle of ice water seeped though my bloodstream and settled in my bones.

NRL-549. That was the number on my license plate.

And the name at the bottom of the article . . . Wanted for questioning: Jared McKean . . . that was mine too.

I TUCKED THE NEWSPAPER under my arm and sauntered out to the parking lot, trying not to look like a man who was wanted for murder. Sun and humidity basted the asphalt and turned the outdoors into a sauna. Through ripples of heat, I could see my truck a few spaces to the right of where I’d left it. I’d been distracted at the time, but I was sure I’d parked closer to the streetlight. I peered inside and saw a key jutting from the ignition.

On the floorboard, the handgrip of a Glock .40 caliber protruded from beneath the driver’s seat. Not mine, I told myself, as if wishing it might make it so. Mine was in the glove compartment, and I’d locked it with a combination

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