Title: Literally Dead, Book 2 in the Empty Nest Mysteries
Author: Lois Winston
Genre: Cozy Mystery
After her last disastrous episode as an amateur sleuth, Gracie Elliott is back. The budding romance writer has spent the past year crafting her first novel. Her hard work and determination pay off when her manuscript wins the Cream of the Crop award, a contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the Society of American Romance Authors. First place entitles her to attend the organization’s annual conference, normally open only to published authors.
With husband Blake in tow, a starry-eyed Gracie experiences the ultimate fan-girl moment upon entering the hotel. Her favorite authors are everywhere. However, within minutes she learns Lovinia Darling, the Queen of Romance, is hardly the embodiment of the sweet heroines she creates. Gracie realizes she’s stepped into a romance vipers’ den of backstabbing, deceit, and plagiarism, but she finds a friend and mentor in bestselling author Paisley Prentiss.
Hours later, when Gracie discovers Lovinia’s body in the hotel stairwell, a victim of an apparent fall, Gracie is not convinced her death was an accident. Too many other authors had reason to want Lovinia dead. Ignoring Blake’s advice to “let the police handle it,” Gracie, aided by Paisley, begins her own investigation into the death. Romance has never been so deadly.
As I hauled myself up the first set of steps, that old adage about the road to hell being paved with good intentions popped into my head. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, especially given all the alcohol I’d consumed over the course of the evening.
By the time I reached the first landing, my heart pounded and my pulse raced. Jeez! Was I ever out of shape! I leaned up against the wall to catch my breath and wondered how many calories I’d burned climbing one flight of stairs. Probably nowhere near the number of calories in a frozen margarita. While I waited for my heart to slow down to normal, I pulled out my iPhone to ask Siri, only to discover I had no cell service in the stairwell.
I slipped my phone back inside my clutch bag. At least five minutes passed before I’d regained enough energy to continue. Grabbing hold of the railing, I inhaled a deep breath of fortitude and started my ascent up the next flight. No matter the number of calories, I was burning more than if I copped out and took the elevator the remainder of the way.
Halfway up the third set of stairs I heard what sounded like the fire door slamming open against the concrete-block wall of the stairwell. A split second later a bloodcurdling scream echoed above me. I looked up to find a billowing mass of tie-dyed rainbow chiffon plummeting toward me. As I flattened myself against the wall, Lovinia Darling’s body landed with a bone-shattering thud at my feet.
I didn’t need a degree in forensics to know Lovinia Darling was dead. The top half of her body sprawled upside-down on the steps in front of me, her lower half splayed across the landing above. Dull, lifeless eyes stared up at me. Blood flowed from a large gash in her skull where her head had hit the metal edge of the concrete step and dripped toward me. I quickly descended two steps to avoid the spatter.
My entire body shook as realization hit me. If I’d rested a second less on the landing earlier, Lovinia would have fallen directly on top of me, most likely killing us both.
I’d already come too close to death once this year, thanks to Sidney Mandelbaum. Once was more than one time too many, but did the universe take my needs into consideration? I stared at Lovinia. Apparently not.
I fought to keep my legs from collapsing under me. I knew I had to move. My phone didn’t work in the stairwell. Holding onto the railing for dear life, I inched my way back down the stairs to the floor below.
Once in the corridor, I crumbled into a heap on the floor. This particular corridor was in mid-remodel, the carpet already pulled up but new flooring not yet laid. I was too freaked out and tired to care about the plaster dust and assorted yuck covering the bare concrete and the damage it might do to my favorite little black dress. I fumbled for my phone, and with unsteady hands, managed to call 911.
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
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