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Picking The Perfect Partner
The dead always have a story to tell. All he has to do is wait for the truth to be revealed to him. The living trust him with their grief—and their dirty little secrets. Only then can he set about playing matchmaker, uniting the dead with their true soul mates…for all eternity…
Exhuming a body is the last thing former FBI profiler Greer Lomax wants to do. Just the thought of it brings on the panic attacks she’s fought for two years. Now, as deputy sheriff, Greer Lomax is going to have to face her darkest fears. Because the body she’s exhumed isn’t alone. He’s joined by a young woman whose name is on a missing person’s list.
The one person Greer can call for help is FBI agent Ash Keller. Ash hasn’t forgotten the hot blonde with the too-sexy smile and he hasn’t forgiven her for leaving him behind when she quit the Bureau. Working the case sparks the attraction they’ve tried to deny for too long and unleashes a passion they can’t control—one that could blind them to the most dangerous mistakes of the past…
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THE DEAD ALWAYS had a story to tell. Luckily for the departed, Parker Hennessy knew how to listen, and he welcomed with great pride the responsibility of his extraordinary gift.
He sat quietly in the tapestried Queen Anne armchair, with an expensive black leather portfolio—a Christmas gift from his beloved Susan—open on his lap. He took extreme care in the appearance he conveyed for the benefit of his living clients. The somber, compassionate professional epitomized. The dark patterned tie, respectfully subdued, matched his severe yet elegant navy suit. His shirt, crisp and white. His shoes, rich mahogany wingtips, polished to a high sheen. Hair, expertly groomed, with a subtle sprinkling of gray applied to his temples. Nails, neatly trimmed. Parker Hennessy—the consummate professional. Always.
Counselor. Confessor. Caring and trusted confidant. All portrayed with nothing less than absolute perfection. He made certain of that, too, and he never faltered, regardless of the role he assumed.
He waited until the bereaved widow dabbed her eyes with a tissue from one of the many boxes he kept within easy reach, then quickly dipped his gaze to reacquaint himself with her name. Madelyn. Her name was Madelyn Strom.
Sometimes the names became a jumble in his mind, like white plastic balls bouncing frantically inside a Plexiglas container pumped with air, waiting for the chance to escape and be noticed. B-9. I-25.
So many names. So, so many. Some he’d forgotten. Others remained forever etched in his memory. A few burned there, too and, if he allowed himself, he could still breathe in the acrid smoke scented with the stench of their burning flesh.
“Given the circumstances of your husband’s passing, you’ll want a closed casket,” Parker suggested. He kept his voice soft, his tone evenly modulated to convey the appropriate level of respect. The living demanded consolation in their time of bereavement, and he never failed to deliver.
Dead was dead in his business—at least insofar as his living clients believed. What mattered to him was that Walter Strom had died an unhappy man. Why else would a fifty- three-year-old man have been compelled to chug down an entire bottle of prescription tranquilizers with a fifth of vodka?
The widow looked at Parker and nodded, her pale hazel eyes rimmed in red and banked in misery. He tried to imagine her sorrow—and couldn’t.
He tried to imagine her husband’s misery—and seethed.
Madelyn Strom lowered her gaze suddenly. Not, he knew, because he revealed an inappropriate emotion. He never did. He had a rare, exquisite gift. He was too good now to make a novice’s mistake.
Had guilt caused her to look away? Perhaps, he mused, surreptitiously sliding the box of tissues over the gleaming surface of the low oval table closer toward the distraught woman. Perhaps she’d been the one responsible for her husband taking his own life. A highly likely scenario, in his experience. Experience that extended Parker Hennessy’s boundaries, but gained from the lives of many.
So, so many. G-56.
Madelyn drew in an unsteady breath. Parker waited for the payoff for his supreme patience, and wasn’t disappointed.
“Walter was unfaithful,” she said on a strained whisper. “And I never knew.”
Madelyn’s confession hardly surprised him. The dead always had a story to tell. All he had to do was wait for the truth to be revealed to him. His living clients trusted him. Counselor. Confessor. Caring friend. They trusted him with their grief—and their dirty little secrets.
An hour later, he finally showed the widow to the door. Her hand trembled as she shook his.
“Are you sure there’s no one I can call to drive you home?” he asked her.
“No, thank you, Mr. Hennessy. I . . .” she hesitated. Her grip tightened and her eyes teared up again. “I . . . I’ll be fine.”
He doubted it, but he didn’t care, either. In the time he’d spent with her, he’d learned all he needed to know about Walter Strom.
Poor, poor Walter. A gentle, soft-spoken man with a weakness for pumpkin pie, foreign films—and young, pretty brunettes with large breasts who charged him by the hour for their services.
He settled his left hand over Madelyn’s in the gesture of comfort expected of him. After promising that Hennessy’s Mortuary would ensure that her husband’s final event would be one of dignity and respect, he waited for her to descend the steps leading from the veranda before silently closing the wide front door.
The barest hint of a smile touched his lips in anticipation of the task ahead. He left the public area of the funeral home and took the stairs down to the lower level where his small staff readied the body of Francine Meeks, an eighty- nine-year-old former high school chemistry teacher whose career highlight was marked by flunking a certain NASA big shot out of her eleventh-grade chem class during the seventies. Parker stopped to inspect the makeup artist’s work. Satisfied the mourners attending the service tomorrow afternoon would be pleased, he offered Opal Jones a brief nod of approval, then quietly walked into his office and closed the door.
The public memorial of Walter Strom’s short, tragic life would be dignified and respectful, as promised. None of the mourners would ever learn from him or his staff that the tears that will be shed by the Strom widow during the upcoming service, to take place in three days, will be because her husband had been infected with HIV, courtesy of a prostitute he frequented. Oh, yes, the Strom interment would be one of beauty and grace, but much less meaningful than the private celebration only he was qualified to perform—that was his duty to perform.
Walter Strom needed him. Required his guidance. His expertise. His skill in uniting him with his true mate, the perfect woman worthy enough to remain by his side for eternity.
Parker’s blood hummed with excitement, but he tamped down the anticipation. There was work to be done before he allowed himself to begin the search for Walter’s special lady. He must service the living first. Retrieving the body from the morgue, arranging delivery of the very expensive casket selected by the widow, undoubtedly in an attempt to assuage her guilt for driving her husband into the arms of prostitutes throughout their marriage. There were calls to the florist, the printer, and the writing of the obituary. Afterward, he would give his full attention to answering his calling, his unique gift. Only then could he provide his very special services to his rightful and deserving client.
Yes, he mused, the dead always did have a story to tell. As their keeper, he was duty bound to ensure they were given the happy ending they’d been deprived of yet deserved.
And Parker Hennessy never failed to deliver.
Greer Lomax closed the heavy volume of municipal codes and blew out a frustrated stream of breath. After wasting her lunch break pouring over the lexicon, she hadn’t come up with a violation for anything more than garden-variety vandalism. Not a single act of legislation could she find that specifically declared tombstone-tipping illegal, giving her zilch by way of criminal charges to take to the district attorney.
She rubbed at her temple with the tip of her index finger, which did nothing to alleviate the slow, steady throb, caused from lack of sleep. The ruckus created by the angry mob of blue-haired widows who’d stormed the Magnolia County Sheriff’s Department office this morning, loudly demanding swift and brutal justice for the disgrace to their husbands’ graves, had only increased the pounding in her head.
Two aspirin, and enough strong coffee to seriously threaten the lining of her stomach, hadn’t provided so much as a modicum of relief. Experience dictated she wouldn’t be rid of the pain unless she crawled into bed for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Being the only officer currently on duty, however, that was one luxury that would have to wait.
She had bigger problems than a headache to worry about, like a bunch of crazy old bats threatening to stake out the local cemeteries themselves and take matters into their own arthritic hands. Greer let out another sigh and stood to return the code book to the bookcase across the room. She should’ve done a better job humoring the old gals instead of taking the honest, direct approach by telling them the best she could do was to issue a few vandalism citations, provided the kids responsible were even caught.
“Just another day in paradise,” she muttered, then snagged her blue and white Magnolia Mavericks mug from the ancient, heavy metal desk and took off down the corridor toward the break room for more coffee. Chances were the vandalism was nothing more than another prank by some of the frat boys from Seaside College. All she had to do was lean a little heavy on the right pigeon and she just might save herself a bored-out-of-her-skull stakeout of Shady Knolls Cemetery.
She stopped suddenly and frowned. What the hell was the matter with her? She should be grateful that high stress was no longer a daily supplement on the job. Instead, here she was bemoaning a quiet night of tepid coffee and patrolling the bone yards within the county’s jurisdiction. If the only challenge she faced entailed tracking down rambunctious frat brats with too much time on their hands, or keeping a bloodthirsty group of geriatric vigilante- wannabes in line, she should be thankful. After close to six years of being up to her ass in body bags, she’d better conduct a reality check and welcome an innocuous investigation of a few tipped headstones and quit whining about the lack of excitement.