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The publications and research of Catherine Holder Spude.
Reason to Kill: by Cate Duncan


 Marni Thompson, a Ph. D. archaeologist with two bright teenagers and a tall, dark, handsome husband seems to have everything she could want in life. Except her freedom and joy in life. She gets by one day at a time by meeting her friends at the coffee shop each morning and pretending nothing’s wrong. Until one morning, the guys find out that her husband has been beating her.

 

Colonel Jack Kilgore, Army reserves, retired narcotics officer, once a CIA agent, and now wanting to run for county sheriff, can’t stand to see his pal suffering. Like all heroes, he’s got to come to the rescue before he goes to Iraq in three weeks and find a way that the other coffee buddies and keep an eye on the Girl while he’s gone. He just didn’t count on getting more involved than he intended.

 

And then there’s that crazy scheme Adrian Gates cooked up to get two hundred acres of free land in the gorgeous Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe. The drinking buddies think he’s crazy. Someone’s going to kill him for the scheme if he’s not careful. Then, one day, Adrian’s gone and his living room has a huge pool of blood in the middle of the floor. Next thing the group knows, Jack calls Marni asking her to get his lawyer to bail him out of jail, where he’s being held for suspicion of the murder of Adrian Gates.

 

Can Marni ever successfully get away from her crazed husband? Will Jack admit his feelings for the woman of his dreams? And who killed Adrian Gates, when dozens of people had a reason to kill?


If you are a publisher or an agent interested in

REASON TO KILL

please contact Catherine at

montdawn@msn.com

CHAPTER ONE

       Marni knew that the big, black Dodge Ram at the end of the road belonged to Jack. No one else in Eldorado owned a three-quarter ton pick-up with an extended cab and longhorns attached to the front grill. Just like she always did, she grinned to see it, whenever and wherever it popped up. Nobody in this bedroom community of Santa Fe, with its one and two acre lots, no horses, but lots of dogs, needed a truck that size. Except Jack.

        She stood at the big window admiring the view. Not the one of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, turning a burnished red under apricot-tinged clouds. The Blood of Christ, that’s what the Spanish named that range. On an evening like this one, she could see why. But she’d watched that amazing sunset dozens of times now, and, even though she never really got tired of it, this time, the truck commanded her attention.

        He’d brought it out there every night this week and gone off for a walk on the Rancho Blanco, that big cattle ranch just north of the subdivision. The manager for the ranch – what was his name? – didn’t like people to be on the corporation’s property. Sure, they didn’t run many cattle, only enough to pretend they were using it for agricultural purposes. It was one of those well-known secrets that the investors in the property just waited for the prices to get right before they mowed down the few piñons that had escaped the beetles and all of those healthy-looking junipers and built their high density housing.

    But then, Jack knew the manager. Maybe they had made some kind of deal, where Jack could go off for a walk on the ranch and get away from everyone. He’d been complaining about how boring the old network of wilderness trails had become.

    The dogs started barking at a neighbor walking down the gravel road towards Jack’s truck. Marni stepped back into the shadows of her living room before the woman could see her. Not that she minded acknowledging the friendly gal with a wave. It’s just that Marni didn’t feel up to seeing anyone right now. For some unaccountable reason, she wanted to remain incognito, hidden, forgotten by the world.

    Penny’s on her walk. It’s later than I thought. When the woman had rounded the corner and disappeared around the curve in the road, Marni scooted over to the big Mission style wall unit in her living room, opened a cabinet door, pushed three buttons on the sound system, and moved back into the middle of the large room. As Garth Brooks opened with an electric guitar solo, she began to jive to the beat, making up her own steps to the music, working up a sweat as she did every evening before Prescott came home.  Garth and his lonely cowboys, men in love, people with principles, she adored them all. He gave her something to dance about, and a little more spark of joy in her life, a life she had to work at pretty hard these days to find those flashes of happiness. She couldn’t count the number of story ideas he’d given her, even if it was just a feeling, an emotion, some sorrow or gladness that enlivened a character when writing a story.

    Near the end of the ninth song, Marni glanced out the window again, and stumbled to a halt. Jack stood at the front of his pickup, leaning against the fender, one of his cowboy boots tucked back against the tire, the other stuck ramrod straight in front of him. There could be no mistaking him, even with his face hidden under that straw cowboy hat. She knew those broad shoulders and chest, the flat belly, hips not like a young man’s but not with any spare fat, sturdy thighs that advertised his daily workouts. That fine form combined with the cowboy gear always made Marni’s heart pump double time.

    He made no pretense of what he was doing at the end of the road. He stared into her window. No doubt about it. He’d been watching her dance.

    Marni, without stopping to think it through, marched into the kitchen, snatched open the refrigerator door, grabbed two bottles of beer, and headed for the back door. When she emerged from under the portico, she saw he hadn’t moved. There he stood, still leaning against that truck, a ghostly blur in the dusk against the dark smudge of his giant conveyance. Wishing she wore her jeans and boots instead of the bike shorts and low-cut trainers, Marni struck out across the back yard. It wouldn’t have been so bad had she been able to walk through the uncut gramma grass. For the fifth year in a row, the drought had kept the vegetation thin and dry. But she had to cross the leach field, which, between the extra moisture and the ground disturbance a dozen years ago when it was created, continued to encourage scratchy, biting weeds. Marni ignored them. She had eyes only for Jack.

    “Have a good walk?” she asked as she strolled up to the truck and handed him a beer.

    “Yep.” He took the offered bottle with a grin, and twisted off the cap. “How’d you know I’d drink one of these?”

    “All cowboys drink beer.”

    “I haven’t been a cowboy for twenty-five years.”

    “Once a cowboy, always a cowboy. Shows on your truck,” and she nodded towards the longhorns, “and your boots, and even the way you walk.”

    He chuckled. “Guilty. You’re right. I’d die before I’d let anyone take either the cow or the boy outa’ me.”

    He took a healthy swallow of the beer. Raising his sandy eyebrows, he peered at the label in the near dark. “British, huh? Trying to push a European ale off on a Westerner?”

    “You like it, don’t you?”

    He grinned. Marni caught the gleam of his white teeth, even if she couldn’t see much else. “Ya’ got me there.”

    “Come here often, Cowboy?”

    “Every night this week.”

    “You like the walk that much?”

    “I like the view that much.”

    He got her with that one. She was just about to ask him what he meant by that when she turned to look back at the house. Yeah, she could see right into her living room, all the way to the front door, with everything in between. He could watch every move she made. As she started to turn back towards him to quiz him on his voyeurism, she saw a silver BMW turn into her driveway.

    “Oops, looks like Prescott’s home. Gotta’ run,” she said. “See you tomorrow, Jack.”

    “Yeah, Marni, tomorrow.”

    She caught one quick glimpse of the white teeth again before she swung around and trotted off through the tumbleweeds. She’d spend a little time cutting a path for herself tomorrow afternoon, maybe start wearing longer leggings. She didn’t see any reason she couldn’t talk to Jack twice a day, instead of once.

* * *

    “Hi, Guys!” Marni sang out as she pulled a chair from a neighboring table and squeezed herself between Mike and Adrian. The usual scooting of chairs and sliding of coffee cups made room for one more person at the table.

This was the best time of day, Marni believed, at least now that the kids were off at that wilderness camp for the entire month. With only Prescott to talk to – and God knows how unsatisfactory that could be – she lived for the hour she allowed herself each morning after he’d left for work. All of her coffee drinking buddies – they were mostly guys, although Dusty came as regularly as she did, and Mike’s wife Susie showed up whenever she was in town – had retired and needed the social life as much as Marni. She wondered why more women didn’t join them. Too busy with kids and grandkids? Jobs? Sitting at home and watching t.v.? Nope, not Marni. This was the life, talking to the guys every day, even if the conversation turned to cars, sports and fishing a little too often. She’d learned a lot about all three subjects in the process, and a writer couldn’t afford to reject any kind of education.

    Sometimes the talk turned pretty ribald. Marni laughed right along with the guys, happy that they didn’t hold back just because she sat at the table. It made her feel welcome, and she never thought they put her down with their jokes about sex. As she wrote romance novels, in fact, she learned to hold her own with the men.

    “When’s Susie coming back, Mike?” she asked. She hadn’t seen him in a while.

    “Not for another month,” he grumped. “She’s still in D. C., and the Congressman’s keeping her busy twenty hours a day. I hardly get to talk to her. I think I’m going to fly out there in a couple of days, just so I can get some pussy.”

    They all laughed uproariously. They knew he’d never do it. Mike was stronger than that. He threatened the same thing every three days, twice on weekends, like clockwork. Come October, he’d join her in Maine, when the Congressman she worked for went home to campaign. When Susie was in Washington, Mike wouldn’t get to see her much anyway, so he was better off at home, where his friends could watch after him.

    Marni cuddled up close to him, put an arm around his shoulders and squeezed. “Oh, come on, Mikey. You can make it. Dusty and I will give you lots of hugs for another month.”

    “Kisses, too. Then I’ll stay.”

    Again, the general laughter.

    “Only if I get some, too.” Adrian scooted in close to Marni, put his arm around her waist and brought his lips alarmingly close to hers. Without warning, she cried out, stood and pushed the chair back out of her way, sending it crashing to the floor. The noise drew the attention of everyone in the coffee shop, stopping all conversation. Marni put her hands up to her flaming face, embarrassed to have caused a scene.

    Mike, Adrian and Jack rose to their feet, Mike rescuing the chair, Jack rushing around from his place on the other side of the table, and Adrian looking totally bewildered. “What’d I do?” he asked into the general silence, keeping his voice low.

    “Nothing,” Marni gasped, clutching her side. “I – I fell down last evening and bruised a rib. You just touched it. That’s all. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause such a commotion.”

    His mouth set in a grim line, Jack helped her back into the chair. She brushed off everyone’s concerns, but his expression didn’t change, even when the conversation changed to some grand scheme Adrian had been cooking up to get some free land in the Galisteo Basin, a beautiful, southeast trending bowl to the south of Eldorado. Adrian lived in a single roomed adobe house with his big, black mutt, Don. He had a comfortable trust fund, but he wanted this land, to help him feel more self-sufficient, he said.

    Uncharacteristically, instead of joining in the conversation, Marni stared into her coffee cup.

    “Ah, come on, Marni. You agree, don’t you?” Fred piped up. “Tell Adrian he’s crazy.”

    “What?” She came out of the blue funk she’d let herself sink into, realizing she hadn’t been following the conversation.

    Mike chuckled. “Where you been, Sweetheart? Adrian here’s found a way to steal all of his neighbors’ land down in Galisteo. He thinks if he files a claim on a part of the old land grant, places a notice in the newspaper and waits thirty days, the land will become his.”

    “It will,” Adrian asserted. “I researched it. The original deeds don’t even exist. Some foul-up involving Thomas Catron and the Santa Fe Ring back in the 1880’s. You know how crooked all their dealings were. No one in the two-hundred and fifty acre set-aside that makes up Galisteo Village has clear title on the undeveloped land. Any one of the people living out there could have done the same thing over the last hundred and sixty five years, but no one else thought of it. So I’ll get maybe as much as two hundred acres and anyone who wants clear title will have to come to me to get it.” He looked pretty pleased with himself.

    “You trying to get yourself killed, Adrian?” Marni asked, aghast. “There’s at least half a dozen certifiable lunatics down there where you live. You’re wanta’ become one of them? We all know one of you guys are going to wake up with a knife in your back some day. You angling to be first?”

    “See?” Fred snorted, a smug look on his face. “It’s not just me. The sanest person at this table says you’re crazy, Adrian. Give it up.”

    “Ah, come on Fred,” Mike jumped in. “He could be the smartest , who knows?”

    Adrian ignored him. “No way. Beatrice’s money’s going to run out some day, and I have to have a back-up plan. My no-good brother’ll never come through for me. This will see me through to my senior citizen’s days.” He suddenly stood, took his empty coffee cup over to the sink at the end of the counter, and stalked out of the shop.

    "Oops,” Marni gulped.

    “Oh, don’t worry about him,” Jack said. “It’s just another one of his never-ending schemes. Most of us have no way of knowing which of his stories are true and which aren’t. You know that.”

    Marni nodded. Most of them only half believed that Adrian had been the famous artist Beatrice Chatruese’s traveling companion or that his brother was one of Donald Trump’s business partners. He couldn’t possibly lay claim to two hundred-acres and get away with it. Why, if such a thing could work, hundreds of corporations would have tried it already, and it would be a well-known loop-hole that would have been securely plugged long ago.

    The conversation drifted off to a baseball game Marni hadn’t been following, and she suddenly realized she wasn’t up for any more bantering. She didn’t go back for a refill like she usually did, nor did she wait for Dusty to show up. After only half an hour, she stood, waved breezily, and said she had to get to work, the book couldn’t write itself.

    When she got to her car, she felt a hand on her arm. Turning, she looked up into Jack’s warm, green eyes.

    “What’d you fall on?” he asked, pointedly.

    “Uh,” she stuttered, trying to think. “I, um, I tripped on the brick step onto the portico as I went into the house.”

    He took hold of her right wrist and pulled up her sleeve to her elbow. She tried to pull away from him, but he held on tightly and stared at the bluish-green bruises on her forearm. He repeated the perusal of her left arm. Same results.

    “A fall on bricks would result in scrapes, not bruises,” he observed, his nostrils flaring.

    Marni wouldn’t look at him. “Please, Jack. Let me go. This is none of your business.”

    He did as she asked, but he held the car door open when she tried to close it after seating herself behind the wheel.

    “I’ve been in law enforcement, Marni. I know the signs. He’s abusing you. I’m your friend. I can’t let him keep doing that to you.”

    She sat staring at her hands on the steering wheel. “There’s nothing you can do, Jack. If you get involved, he’ll only get more upset. He hurt me last night because he saw me talking to you. If he sees you again, it’ll just get worse. He might come after you, or worse yet, the kids. Please, just let me go.”

    With that, she tried to pull the car door closed. This time, Jack let her have her way. He stepped back to the curb and watched her pull out of the parking space. She didn’t look at him again. She simply drove away.

 

 

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