UPDATE: The winners are…Colleen, Elysian, and Buttons!
The Night Fall series was one of my first. I still love it, and I try to add to the series every now and then, because I can’t let that world go. I wrote the first story in 2003 or 2004, and I added Big Bad Wolf last year. I’ve had fun writing them. The stories are filled with danger, plenty of sexy encounters, and humor. One of the funniest, I think, is Frannie and The Private Dick. The title came first, and the adventure spun out from there…
For a chance to win your choice from among the Night Fall stories,
answer me this…
Is there a paranormal show on TV that you adore, past or present?
Frannie and The Private Dick
Bent on catching her cheating fiancé in the act, Frannie Valentine got sidetracked by a little thing like dying. When she awakens, Frannie learns her pampered life will never be the same, so she turns to the man responsible for her undeadness and demands he take on the responsibility of giving her a little job training—in the PI biz.
Niall Keegan never intended to make himself a mate, but Frannie’s string of minor disasters, which ended with her dying in his arms, took the decision right out of his hands. While the mating part isn’t bad, making the disaster-prone Frannie a PI may just be the death of him.
Excerpt from Frannie and The Private Dick…
Francesca Valentine had died and gone to hell. No other explanation made sense. She swam back to awareness through a molasses-thick void to find herself suddenly spat out from a dark womb into a cold, hollow space. Blind, and so still she knew she didn’t breathe, her mind turned over like a sluggish engine before revving into high gear.
Quickly, she assessed what she knew. She lay on a hard surface, covered with a scratchy square of thin fabric, unable to move a muscle. A low whine, like that of an air-conditioner, came from the opposite side of the space. Harsh light shone from above, warming her face, but hurting her closed eyes. So, she probably wasn’t blind after all. But she was definitely dead. Stone-cold. Her chest wasn’t moving in and out, but she didn’t feel starved for air.
She knew who she was and what had killed her, but hadn’t a clue what new fix she’d landed herself in. From nearby came the scrape of footsteps and a tentative humming, then…
“Bee-ooot-ee-foll Dreeeeamer, wake unto me…”
She was in hell all right. A demented spirit hovered over her, emitting an off-key warbling that set Frannie’s teeth on edge. By the rusty sound of the grating voice, her tormentor must be an ancient female, and the she-devil was trying to remove the skin from her face in slow, abrasive circles with…apricot-scented facial scrub? Frannie’d had a chemical peel the week before. The last thing she needed was a dime store product applied to her professionally maintained skin.
God must be punishing her for the sin of vanity—for all the hours she’d spent being teased, plucked, painted, and waxed. Each moment endured to make her the perfect trophy for Vinnie to parade around his “business associates” for them to kiss, pinch, and swat.
Now she wished she’d gone to Mass more often, or hadn’t lusted after the young Irish priest, or hadn’t snuck out her bedroom window to canoodle with Vinnie. Especially that.
Her mother had predicted just such a fate when Frannie got engaged to Vinnie Ricchione, and had even sworn to wear black to the wedding.
But Mama had described the fire-and-brimstone version of the ultimate southerly location in vivid detail. Obviously God hadn’t designed hell as a one-size-fits-all-sins destination.
“Star-liiiight and dooo-drops are waiting for thee…”
She could almost see her mama now, shaking her finger at Zia Grazia. “What did I tell that girl? Vinnie’s no good.”
Zia Grazia would nod her gray head and masticate on her slipping dentures, too deaf to care about Donatella Valentine’s latest tirade.
But that wouldn’t stop Mama. She’d scoot closer to shout into her aunt’s ear. “Do you think a daughter listens to her mother? Now look at me. No daughter. No grandbabies. I told her Vinnie’d come to a bad end—and her along with him!”
Well, Mama had only been half-right.
Paralyzed, forced to submit to a facial flaying and the demon’s ear-shattering trills, Frannie’s penance had a certain poetic justice.
She was dead because of Vinnie.
While her death hadn’t been precisely his fault, she’d never have followed him if he’d been the faithful sort of fiancé.
He’d said he was meeting the boys. “Don’t wait up, hon. We got shipments comin’ in.” But Frannie had known better. One time too many, he’d come home smelling of cheap whiskey and even cheaper perfume. This time, Frannie would catch the cheating bastard in the act.
That night, she’d teetered on three-inch boot heels on a wooden crate behind his shipping company office, peering into a darkened room. She’d almost decided Vinnie had slipped the noose when she heard a commotion coming from beneath the window where Vinnie’s desk sat. At first, she hadn’t understood what she heard, then the sounds had grown louder—punctuated by groans, bumps, and slurps too large and energetic to be two mice doing the bunny-hump.
Irate, she’d screeched and toppled off the crate. But falling into the trash bin wasn’t what killed her.
“Sounds of the ruuude world heard in the daaaaay…”
She’d crawled backward out of the dumpster, glad the only things clinging to her hair were bits of packing peanuts, when she heard a door slam and footsteps entering the alley. She brushed herself off, picked up her purse from beside the overturned crate, and stalked toward the street.
“Hon, what the hell are you doin’?” Vinnie shuffled toward her, tucking his shirt into his pants. “Now, baby, I can explain—”
She raised her chin, held out her hand, and stomped right past him, proud she kept her chin from wobbling. The bastard’s not gonna make me cry.
She quickened her pace and turned the corner onto the sidewalk. As luck would have it, a taxi was driving straight toward her. She started to run, waving frantically at the car, but it didn’t slow.
She stepped into the street, but her foot tilted on the edge of a gutter, and her ankle turned. The heel of her boot snapped, and Frannie threw out her arms as she stumbled into the path of the taxi.
But the taxi hadn’t killed her either.
The cab screeched to a halt, and the driver flung open his door. “Lady, you okay?” He was a big, burly guy—Irish, she’d have guessed, by the look of his dark brows and square, rugged jaw if his faintly accented speech hadn’t already given him away.
“Please!” She held out her hand in his direction.
“Francesca! Honey, don’t move,” Vinnie shouted.
She didn’t have to force a tear into her eye. Her ankle throbbed. She stared at the driver and gave him what Vinnie called her “diamonds-or-flowers” look—the one guaranteed to make a man do her bidding.
The Irishman straightened his shoulders and pushed back his shirtsleeves, revealing thick wrists and muscled forearms. “Is this man botherin’ you, ma’am?”
She nodded and let her chin wobble.
The driver bent down and swept her easily to her feet. Frannie let herself lean against his broad chest just long enough to test the depth of his indrawn breath. She could tell a lot about a man’s attraction from a telltale gasp, and she needed this man’s attraction to flare long enough for Vinnie to notice.
The driver’s chest expanded, and the arms that held her tightened fractionally.
“I’m not a man—I’m her husband,” Vinnie shouted. “Get your hands off her!”
“You’re not a husband until we share joint checking and a last name!” she shouted back. The driver hesitated, and she clutched his sleeve. “Please, help me! I swear he’s not my husband.”
“Near enough!” Vinnie said.
Looking up at her rescuer from beneath her lashes, she added softly, “I have to get away.”
His gaze locked with hers for a moment before swinging to pin Vinnie to the spot. “Looks like your lady doesn’t want anything to do with you at the moment.” The driver gently pushed her behind him. “Ma’am, you go ahead and get inside.”
As she limped toward the cab, Frannie looked over her shoulder.
Vinnie’s face was a mottled red. “Now, look here—”
“I think you’d better back off.” The burly Irishman clenched his fists.
Vinnie peered around the mountain-sized man at Frannie as she ducked into the back seat of the taxi. “Frannie, you come back here. We gotta talk. What you seen wasn’t nothin’, I swear! It wasn’t even me!”
Frannie pulled the door shut and waited for the driver to back his way to the taxi.
Vinnie stood in the middle of the street, his shoulders drooping. She almost felt sorry for him, until the door to the company office swung open. Raeline Curtis, Vinnie’s secretary, hurried down the street, tugging at the seat of her tight skirt.
Frizzy, over-bleached blonde hair, broad hips, and cheap shoes—Vinnie’d cheated on her with Raeline? Confused, Frannie peered through the back window as the taxi drove away, Vinnie’s swarthy, slender face and slumped shoulders growing smaller in the distance. He’d wait at home—and be truly, miserably sorry for the pain he’d caused her. And she’d probably forgive him—after her pride had been soothed with lots of groveling and gifts.
But tonight, she needed to make the snake sweat.
“Where can I take you, ma’am?”
“To another life?” she muttered. Louder, she said, “Drop me at Lizards ’n’ Suds.”
“You sure about that? That joint’s kinda rough for a lady like you.”
“A lady like me?” I live in sin with a man whose “business associates” send Christmas cards from the federal penitentiary. Frannie sniffed. “Thanks for your help back there, but I’ll be just fine.”
He shrugged his massive shoulders. “Whatever you want. It’s your dime.”
What she’d wanted was something she’d never have now.
“Lull’d by the mooonlight have all passed awaaaay…”
That’s me all right—all passed away. A tear trickled down the side of her cheek.