Can’t Keep a Brunette Down
Gilda Wright thinks she’s landed a dream job managing a karate school. Sure, her boss, Sensei Mick Williams, is almost as demanding as he is sexy, but Gilda is inspired by the strength of people around her and hopes to absorb some of that into her own life. But when Gilda finds the body of one of the instructors, laying in the dojo with a sword through his chest, suddenly Gilda must find her own inner strength and fast! The police see everyone as a suspect, including her boss, and it’s up to Gilda to find out what really happened. She follows the clues of the missing scroll of the Four Possessions of the Samurai down a deadly path, filled with lies, deceit, and poisoned ninja stars! If she doesn’t watch her step, she just may become the killer’s next sparring partner.
Gilda’s cell phone vibrated next to her plate, making the ice in her half-full water glass dance. She groaned, her stomach churning, as it had all week. “Not again.”
Across the table, Marion Yearly, her best friend and crying towel, scowled and flicked a toast crumb off the blue table cloth. “Just turn the stupid thing off already. If your boss needs you that badly, he’ll find you. Otherwise, he’ll wait. He knows we’re at The Cove Restaurant. We’re here every Friday morning. Actually, you should invite him to join us sometime.”
“Right.” Gilda laughed. Of course she’d answer Mick’s text. She always did and usually regretted speaking to her boss on her own time. “Like he’d want to hang out with his receptionist all day when he sees me half the night.” Her face burned. “That didn’t come out right. I meant during class times.”
Their weekly brunch certainly hadn’t been a peaceful one. Gilda’s phone had buzzed at least ten times since they were seated—three times alone since her Belgian waffle and crispy bacon arrived two minutes earlier.
Marion grimaced when the phone buzzed again. “Okay, I’ll bite. What does his majesty want this time?”
She sighed. “He can’t find the file for our lease or the latest inventory list.”
“Tell him to wait until you get there.” Marion sopped up runny egg yolk with a triangle of buttered toast. “It’s only another hour or so anyway.”
Gilda tossed a wistful glance at her food, her appetite waning, then reached for her phone. If she didn’t text him back right away, he’d send ten more messages by the time she took her next mouthful. “I would, but he’s going away for the long weekend and won’t be there by the time I show up. If I answer him now, he might leave me alone for while.”
“Even better, you’ll have all weekend to find them and he’ll have to be patient for a change. You have a life. You can’t keep dropping everything just because he wants something.” Marion, dark-haired and raven-eyed, was taller than Gilda by a full foot and twice as wide, built more like an NFL quarterback than a 9-1-1 operator. Of course, Gilda doubted there was a stereotype for 9-1-1 operators anyway.
“I already know where they are. Sorry. Give me a second.” In the file drawer. She typed. Lease under Yoshida Lease. Inventory under Inventory.
Once she set the phone aside, she had just enough time to cut off a bite of waffle and bring it halfway to her mouth before her phone buzzed again. Her stomach sank. Cripes, at this rate, she’d never get to eat before her doctor’s appointment. At least her stomach didn’t hurt as much as it had lately. More than likely from stress caused by Sensei Mick Williams.
Marion grabbed the phone first and sat on it. “That’s it. The only time you and I have been able to get together is Friday mornings because Mick always needs something. Honey, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you two were married.”
Gilda flushed, bowed her head and picked at her waffle, not wanting to make a scene. Far from being married, they were only boss and secretary, which lately he seemed to take as the same thing as husband and wife. Somewhere over the past two years, the line had become a bit blurry and most of the black belts teased her about being his third arm.
When she started working at Yoshida Martial Arts two years earlier, she would mostly see Sensei Mick in passing. She once overheard him tell one of the instructors she was bright and competent and she could figure things out on her own. So she had. Lately, however, she couldn’t seem to breathe without him hovering over her and wanting to instruct her on how to take each breath.
Yoshida Martial Arts ran as smooth as a straight ribbon of highway and boasted a profit every month. Both of which had made the school’s namesake, Shihan Yoshida, sit up and take notice. Maybe Mick was nervous because Yoshida had become prone to showing up at odd times and nosing around to undermine Mick’s position as manager and sensei, teacher. Male posturing was one thing she’d never understand, no matter how long she worked at the school.
“Hello?” Marion leaned forward and waved a piece of toast in front of Gilda’s face. “For the record, you got two more texts while you were daydreaming. My butt’s shimmying so much I feel like a belly dancer.”
Gilda snorted then laughed. “I can put my phone in my purse if it’s annoying you.”
“No, I want you to relax and eat your breakfast.” A small grin lit Marion’s face. “Besides, I might keep it. I’m kind of enjoying this.”
“I think you need a real boyfriend.” Gilda wasn’t so sure she wanted the phone back anyway. “Actually, I think we both do.”
With Marion sitting between Gilda and her phone, they enjoyed the rest of brunch. Occasionally, Marion flinched. “Ooh, another text from your Sensei.”
“He’s going to think I’m avoiding him.” Gilda swiped one last gob of whipped cream with her finger and brought it toward her mouth.
“You are, so stop being a pushover. At least until we’re done eating,” Marion said, waving her knife. “Look, you’ve stuck up for yourself before so stop sticking your head in the sand and lay down some boundaries with that man. Your time is your time. You don’t see me answering nine-one-one calls over breakfast, do you?”
“Good morning, ladies.” A tall, blond man stopped next to their table.
Gilda froze, her finger still covered in whipped cream. Detective Jason Thayer was the former boyfriend she’d stood up to when she dumped him in such a dramatic fashion the story made the newspapers for an entire week two years earlier. Apparently, Thayer had thrived on his sudden celebrity and had gotten a lot of dates because of the exposure. Gilda had cowered in her house for weeks before Marion was able to drag her out and helped her get a job in the karate school so she could get a backbone.
Marion batted her eyes. “Good morning, Detective Thayer. Are you here to arrest the kitchen staff for beating the eggs or just to harass Gilda some more?”
Thayer twisted his face into a grimace then turned his attention to Gilda, who sat motionless, the whipped cream blob beginning to slide down her finger toward her hand. “It looks like you were expecting me. I’d happily lick that off for you, but I have an image to uphold.”
“Yeah. We wouldn’t want to improve on that now, would we?” Gilda pushed away her plate and fought the urge to flick the goo at his suit jacket. She wiped her finger on her napkin. No point in giving him more ideas. “What do you want?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. I just stopped by to say hello.”
Marion rolled her eyes. “Oh, brother. You want to stick with that or tell her the truth?”
“Which truth is that?” Gilda asked. “The one where he says he loves me and would die for me or the one where he cheats on me with any woman who’ll have him?”
Thayer’s face turned pink. “I’m just trying to be sociable.”
“I overheard him tell a couple officers he’s this close to taking you back.” Marion held her index finger and thumb a quarter inch apart.
What kind of man refused to take no for an answer even after two years? Gilda shut her eyes and inhaled slowly. I am not going to make a scene.
Thayer frowned. “What I said was—”
His partner, Detective John Fabio, clapped a hand on his left shoulder. “Just ask her out already so she can deck you and get it over with. We have work to do today.”
Thayer growled, the color in his face deepening to crabapple red. “If you guys don’t mind, I’d like to do this alone.”
“I don’t mind at all. I was just leaving.” Gilda stood and grabbed her purse. She marched up to the cashier to pay for their food. This week it was her turn. A convenient excuse to escape.
Marion joined her, shoving the cell phone into Gilda’s back pocket. “You might want this before I get too attached.”
“Who does Thayer think he is?” Gilda reached for a mint then took three. She needed something to crunch.
“One of Sandstone Cove’s finest.” Marion sighed. “He certainly does look the part, even if he does need a complete attitude adjustment.”
When Gilda’s phone buzzed, she gritted her teeth and growled. “Not again.”
“Ah, and there’s another one who looks the part,” Marion said.
“Mick?” She left her change as a generous tip and pushed the front door open. “What do you mean he looks the part?”
Marion popped a mint into her mouth. “Handsome and authoritative, but from the stories I’ve heard—”
Gilda covered her ears. “I don’t want to hear any more stories. It’s bad enough I have parents at the school spreading rumors. I don’t really want to hear them from my best friend. Keep in mind, I do have to work with those guys.”
“Even if I know the stories are all true?” Marion asked.
“Oh, Gilda, Gilda, Gilda. You live in such a secluded little world.” Marion draped an arm across her shoulders as they walked toward the doctor’s office. “Someday you’ll be grateful for all of us looking out for you. I have to get to work. You be careful, okay? I’ll try to find you a guy who isn’t such a jerk.”
She was ten minutes early for her appointment, which left her enough time to catch up on all of Mick’s “urgent” texts while her stomach gurgled as it had for over a week. Her gaze darted to the clock on the wall for the fifth time in the past minute and sighed. Eleven thirty. Normally she never had to wait so long for Doctor Ryan Graham, who’d delivered Gilda as a baby, to appear in the doorway.
She tapped her foot against the leg of the chair. The karate school she worked for held classes every day at noon. If Doc Graham didn’t show up soon, she’d miss class for sure. Not that Mick would be concerned. He could handle anything that came up while she was away. Still…
After sitting on a board hard chair for half an hour, Gilda sent Mick a quick text to say she wouldn’t be in the lunch hour class. When he didn’t text her back within seconds, she remembered Walter Levy, the school’s most senior black belt, was supposed to teach class today. Mick planned to be halfway to Detroit to attend a family function.
She punched in the school’s phone number from memory, not surprised when the answering machine picked up. If she said she’d be there by one, she’d have time to grab a peppermint tea at Café Beanz on her way to work then clean up before classes started at four.