Design Duo, best friends, and business partners, Cara Fazio and Maggie Ross redecorate and design, discovering a trail of bodies along the way. Danger lurks in the nooks and foundations of homes new and old. Ripping into walls often means ripping apart secrets, and spilled secrets sometimes means murder. When a killer threatens their client and their reputation, Maggie and Cara are forced to switch from designers to detectives. But can they sort through the faux clues to find real ones and solve two murders in time to prevent a third?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Faux Fatality by Karen E. Rigley, Cara Fazio and Maggie Ross are interior decorators who get side tracked easily when trying to keep their wealthy client alive. Someone is out to get her, and the decorating duo are determined to protect their client, who has also become a friend. Not exactly experienced detectives, the two amateurs jump to the wrong conclusions, run afoul of the law, and struggle to figure out the clues, until they think they know who the guilty party is. Along the way, we are treated to some hilarious, as well as suspenseful, moments, and some handy design techniques.

The story is cute, fun, entertaining, and it will keep you on your toes, trying to figure out who the killer is. All in all, it makes for a great read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Faux Fatality by Karen Rigley is the story of a serial predator, a tale that is much too common in reality these days. This killer wants something and is determined to get it, systematically killing people, or attempting to kill them, with little regard for who gets hurt. Enter our two intrepid heroines, Cara Fazio and Maggie Ross, interior decorators and amateur detectives. When someone tries to kill their new client, a wealthy Texas heiress, Cara and Maggie go to work to both figure out who the killer is and prevent him or her from harming their client. While decorating a sun room and designing a backyard pool and grotto, they sift through clues and lay traps to catch a killer, staying just this side of the wrong side of the law and frustrating law men in two counties.

Filled with handy decorating tips that I can’t wait to try in my own home, Faux Fatality is also a fun who-done-it with charming characters and an intriguing plot that will keep you turning pages from beginning to end.

Chapter 1

Three months ago, Mercerville, Texas:

John Lawson heard a rattle then rustling sounds from the outer office. He didn’t glance up from his notepad. “Aimee, that you? Forget something?”

The blast of a nine-millimeter gun pierced his forehead, his last words erased as quickly as his life.


Present day, Houston, Texas:

“Wow.” Cara Fazio parked their Mobile Design Duo van under the slate portico of the huge, contemporary house.

“Be sweet if this job generates us more business in this area,” Maggie Ross said, staring upward at the row of large windows fronting the street.


This was their first design job in River Oaks, an old, ultra-wealthy section of town. Lush Houston vegetation landscaped in a spectrum of greens from feathery ferns to a two-wing silver bell snowdrop tree to tall spreading oaks.

Maggie craned her head to see beyond the tall iron gates.

“I hope this Dexter woman isn’t a snob.”

“She sounded nice on the phone.” Cara reached for her portfolio, sharing Maggie’s concern herself, but not about to admit it. An Air Force brat growing up, Cara had constantly been the new kid at school, always moving, leaving friends behind–until she turned twelve and they relocated here to Houston.

She’d learned early in life to ignore snobs, along with bullies, without allowing the flicker of a lash to let her hurt show. Now she needed to edge her friend and business partner back on track. Cara slid out of driver’s seat. “Best behavior, Maggs.”

Maggie tossed back wavy copper-colored hair, the Irish in her green eyes flashing. “Naturally.”

Pushing the doorbell, Cara reached to straighten her jacket. Even though her clothes were lightweight cotton, Houston’s legendary heat was unrelenting.

“Hello! Welcome.” A lively woman in her mid-forties opened the elaborate door. “I’m Susan Dexter.” Smiling widely, her hazel eyes sparkled. “You must be the designers.”

“We are,” Maggie responded warmly, her concern vanished like a magician’s rabbit. Cara refrained from rolling her eyes. Maggie could switch emotional directions faster than a puppy chasing a ball.

“Y’all come in. How ‘bout some iced tea or lemonade?”

“No thanks,” they replied in unison.

“Just had something to drink,” Cara explained.

“Okay then. I guess you want to get started.” Susan’s hands hadn’t stopped moving since she’d opened the door. A hand talker, Cara realized. Much like herself.

Maggie bobbed her head. “We do.”

Their client’s voice dropped. “Between us–the manor doesn’t feel like home yet, but that’s where you come in, isn’t it?”

Before they could answer, Susan led them through the marbled entry hall to the spacious living room, still chatting. “My husband bought this house for me, but it’s so sleek and elegant. Not exactly my thing.” Laughing brightly, she sounded younger than a woman did in her late forties. “I need you to help make a little corner of it my own.”

“Our pleasure.” Cara glanced around the stark contemporary manor. “It’s a beautiful place.”

“Oh, it is.” Susan brushed a wayward lock of highlighted, chestnut brown hair off her forehead. She couldn’t seem to stop gushing. Appearing self-conscious, she tugged at her Asian silk tunic. Probably not the treatment its high-end designer intended for the garment. Though her clothes were obviously expensive, the contagious laugh seemed to suit the woman better. “I just need a comfy spot where it feels homey.”

Maggie nodded. “Homey and cozy. We can do that, Mrs. Dexter.”

“Call me Susan. I know my request for you two to stay here during the renovation is unusual, but I’d appreciate it.”

“Workdays it’ll be fine,” Maggie said.

“Most of the time,” Cara qualified, not so thrilled with that aspect of redo.

“Thanks. Saves you hours of commuting in all this awful traffic and it’ll be great to have company. I hate it when the house is empty.”

“What about your husband?” Maggie asked.

“We’re both glad you’ll be here. Ed’s dedicated to his career. Works hard and he is gone a lot.” Susan’s expression clouded briefly, then she laughed. “But we’re still practically newlyweds and he fusses over me like crazy when he is home. We’re about to celebrate our first anniversary soon.”

“A year can be more than enough,” Cara grumbled under her breath before Maggie poked her in the side.

“Oh, don’t give up on love.” Susan tapped her chest lightly, indicating her heart. “You just had the wrong man. So did I the first time. I swore off men for years, then Ed happened. He’s the right guy.”

No such thing. Cara kept the thought to herself. “Your decor is um, lovely, but everything is so–white.” The place right out of a sterile, futuristic movie made her wish for sunglasses to block the glare. “Do you want us to add color to the redo area?”

“Yes, please!” Susan exclaimed. “Let me show you the sunroom where you can work your magic.”

“Do you have a style in mind?” Cara swung her short dark hair back as she moved to Susan’s side. The high-gloss bamboo floors reflected her full figure like a distracting mirror. No escaping her Italian heritage and a few too many pieces of chocolate.

“I’d adore something old world for the sunroom.” Susan’s forehead creased, her eyes suddenly sad. “Houston’s great, but I miss my small town. Mercerville wasn’t for Ed, though. He’s big city all the way through. To me, it’s strange and overwhelming here but nice.”

Cara nodded. She remembered how frightening Houston felt at first with all the people, and the maze of freeways stacked up high. It had been far different from every other place her family had lived. Yes, she understood how intimidating the huge city could be for newcomers of any age.

Susan turned, leading them down a second hallway. “My family home is mid-nineteenth century, with lots of European immigrants settled the Hill Country in the 1800s. And you can tell it by the buildings, especially my house. Ed prefers modern. I like antiques and things with history, but–” Susan looked up, her eyes bright again. “We’re starting a whole new life, a new future, and we don’t need to weigh it down with history.”

A controlling husband? Cara snorted beneath her breath. Maggie shot her a warning glance. Cara read her don’t-get-on-how-you-can’t-trust-a-man-podium glance. And this time Maggs was right. They didn’t want to lose the job before they even started.

Reaching a pair of twelve-foot-tall pocket doors, Susan slid them partway open. “I must confess I do miss color, though.”

Maggie gasped. “Such possibilities!”

“Yes.” Cara felt a familiar sense of excitement building. She loved the beginning of a new design. Her design mode whirred into action. “Maybe a splash of Tuscany or French country, yet keeping a modern edge?”

“You read my mind.” Susan pushed a flyaway strand of hair out of her eyes. “Or even something exotic? Like out of the Arabian Nights?”

All three women laughed.

Cara smiled to herself, envisioning their client in such a space. “Very exotic!”

As the laughter faded, Maggie’s gamine face eased into a familiar expression. Uh-oh. Maggie had a sixth sense. Well, actually, a near-psychic talent. One Cara hoped she’d tune out so they could concentrate on design.

“Maggs?” Cara queried, tipping her head in their new client’s direction.

“Sorry. Just thinking this project’s going to be an adventure. I feel it.”

“Feel it?” Cara echoed, hoping her friend was psychic enough to get the message and knock off the telepathy. In this economy, their budding business had taken a hit. They couldn’t afford to lose a job.

Maggie shook her head. “It’ll be great.” Taking a breath, she winked. “An absolute vision.”

Relieved, Cara watched as the pocket doors opened farther, sunshine spilling through the wall of windows in blinding brightness. This was the good kind of light. “It’s fantastic!”

“Such an incredible blank canvas,” Maggie agreed, mirroring Cara’s enthusiasm.

“Now all it needs is you.” Susan beamed at them.

They heard the door open, rushed footsteps, and then a man’s voice. “Darling? Are the designers here? Susan, where are you?”

“In the sunroom, Ed.”

A pleasant man about Susan’s age entered, sweeping her into a huge one-armed hug. His wide smile included Cara and Maggie in his hearty hello.

Susan smiled, a blush tinting her cheeks. “This is my husband, Ed.” Her blush deepened when he pulled her closer against his side.

“We guessed as much.” Maggie replied, obviously comfortable around Susan.

Cara smiled and extended a hand, immediately swallowed within his strong grip.

“I want you to give my sweetheart the room of her dreams.” His left arm continued to encircle his wife. “She deserves the best.”

“Then, we’ll do our best.” Cara echoed, wondering how much he’d be underfoot.

He smiled broadly. “Good. I’ll leave you ladies alone to plan.” Ed gave his wife a smacking kiss and strode out as quickly as he’d appeared.

“He can be a bit of a tornado.” Susan explained, still flushed.

“You make a cute couple,” Maggie replied dreamily.

Her friend was a hopeless romantic. Cara immediately returned the conversation to her own first love, design was a lot more trustworthy than romance. “Do these doors give you access to the entire backyard?”

They all crossed over to the sliding glass patio doors.

“Yes. I was hoping you’d include the patio and backyard as part of the design?”

“Definitely.” More work–more money. Sweet. Cara stepped out onto an empty patio, buffeted by a balmy breeze. “This has great bones. We can create an outdoor area, all flowing together.”

“We should replace the sliding door with French doors.” Maggie spun back to Susan, for once harnessing her tendency to swoop ahead too fast. “If you approve?”

Susan clapped her hands. “I love French doors.”

Grateful her partner seemed to have forgotten her psychic episode, Cara waved a hand in the direction of the manicured lawn. “Maybe a gazebo over there? Past the pool?”

Maggie’s unstoppable enthusiasm kicked up another notch. “We can add the furniture pieces and tropical plants to make it a relaxing lanai.”

“I love anything tropical,” Susan agreed. “We don’t have many palm trees in Mercerville.”

“You’re easy to please, Susan.” Cara slid a tiny digital camera from her bag and began snapping pictures of the interior and exterior areas. “We’ll come back on Monday to show you our ideas and get your input.”

Laser tape measure in hand, Maggie began recording the dimensions. “We’ll bring three different plans for you to consider. Provided you like one, we can talk specific materials.”

“I’m sure I’ll love them all.”

Maggie glanced up from the red laser spot on the wall. “We hope so, but we’re always willing to reinvent a design, or ditch it and start over.”

Delighted with their new client and the design opportunity, Cara snapped one last frame and tucked the camera away in her bag.

“I’m so thrilled to see what you’ll do.” Susan started walking them back through the sterile manor. “And to be able to transform the sunroom and patio together. It’ll seem like a whole different house.”

Glancing at the uninviting interior, Cara certainly hoped so. “We should be set to begin the project mid-week.”

“And stay here as we planned?” Susan asked on a hopeful note.

“Yes.” Maggie grinned. “Quite convenient.”

“Are you sure you want to put up with us?” Cara asked uneasily.

Even though Susan had initially agreed to the arrangement, Cara hesitated. These clients were almost newlyweds.

“We want you here.” Susan gave them each an impromptu hug. “It’ll be so fun. I can’t wait!”


The weekend zipped by as Cara and Maggie brainstormed, drew sketches, then gathered color and material samples. The phone rang as Maggie straightened the desk and Cara added a final touch to the third design board.

Cara waved toward the desk. “Can you get it, Maggs?”

“Sure.” Grabbing the phone, Maggie pushed a button to silence the ringing. “Mobile Design Duo.”

“This is Susan Dexter.” Their new client sounded distressed.

“How can we help you, Susan?” Maggie threw a desperate glance at her business partner, but Cara’s back was to her, raven hair smooth as a cap as she bent her head down in concentration.

“I need to postpone our Monday appointment.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” Maggie hoped their client wasn’t cancelling the job after all their work. They hadn’t even gotten a down payment yet.

“I have to go home for a funeral–back to Mercerville.”

Maggie immediately felt guilty about her thought. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not family,” Susan explained in a rush. “It’s my late lawyer’s secretary.”

“Good.” Maggie felt flustered. “I mean that it’s not family.”

“I know what you meant. Can we postpone until Wednesday? I’ll be back by then.”

“Sure. No problem.”

“It’s weird,” Susan confided in a near whisper. “Three months ago my lawyer, John Lawson, was killed when a burglar broke into his office. Now someone killed his secretary, Aimee Travis, in a hit and run. This just doesn’t happen in my hometown. Ever.”

“Wow.” Maggie hardly knew what to say.

“In my entire life there’s never been a murder in Mercerville. Not even a hit and run accident. Well, except when Tommy Barns got drunk and hit the barbershop pole. But he confessed to it, the next day, when Sheriff Watt saw the red and white paint on Tommy’s pickup truck bumper.” Susan took a breath. “Now two people killed there.”

“The world’s a tougher place…” Maggie tried to wrap her mind around the coincidence. “But a lawyer and then his secretary. That is weird.” Her sixth sense escalated. It wasn’t anything she could put a finger on, but her inner radar was on alert.

“Ed says it proves small towns are no safer than the city.” Susan sighed. “Anyway, if you can switch to Wednesday, I’d appreciate it. I can’t wait to see your designs.”

“We’ll be there. At one, right?”

“Yes. Thanks.”

“Okay, we’ll see you then.”

Susan lingered on the phone. “I wish Ed would go with me, but he’s tied up with business.”

“Too bad.” Maggie tended to champion underdogs and right now Susan sounded like one.

“This will only be the second funeral I’ve attended since Daddy passed away.” Susan’s voice cracked. “It’s so hard.”

“I bet.” Hearing the pain and remembering how hard losing a father had hit Cara, then to attend another funeral not long after. Hard didn’t cover it. Maggie nibbled her bottom lip, wondering if she should volunteer to go. “Susan, is there someone else who could go with you?”

“Maybe Uncle Leland, though he’s pretty much an invalid now. I doubt my cousins, Roger or Rachel, will go. Not their thing.” Susan fell silent as if lost in thought.

Maggie debated going to some hole-in-the-wall town to pay respects for a person she’d never met. But to please a client–especially one who sounded so sad?

Suddenly Susan spoke again. “Forgive my rambles. I’ll see you on Wednesday.”

Maggie heard a click then the buzz of a dial tone as she stood holding the phone.

“Hey.” Cara’s dark gaze filled with concern. “What’s up? Did we lose the Dexter job?”

“No, just postponed until midweek. Poor Susan.” Still feeling a bit dazed by Susan’s call, Maggie explained the situation.

Cara’s near perfect features creased into disbelief. “That’s horrid. Two murders in her hometown?”

“A lawyer, then his secretary. What are the chances?”

“Very strange.”

“More than strange.” Maggie felt storm clouds billowing above the horizon as she crossed over to Cara and helped gather up their samples. “Let’s hope murder doesn’t follow our client back here.”

“Now you’re getting weird, Maggs, but it is quite a mystery.” Cara caught a green marker before it rolled off the table. “I bet their local sheriff’s in a real tizzy.”

“Scary stuff.” Maggie hesitated. “Maybe we should volunteer to go with Susan.”

Cara frowned, her large, dark eyes adamant. “No way. We have a design to work on, remember? We don’t even know our client yet, much less one of her acquaintances. It’s not as though there’s a serial killer loose in the little Hill Country town. A burglary and a hit and run aren’t the same.”

“Whatever.” Maggie tried to tamp down her unrest, but it niggled at her, the same way it had the summer Cara had tripped on a hiking trail and broke her leg. Maggie didn’t want to go on that venture. She felt no more positive about a murder spree in their client’s hometown. At least it was far from Houston and their job.

“At any rate, I doubt anyone’s going to run down Susan at a funeral. Now, can we get back to work?”

One reason for the success of their business partnership was her own impulsive enthusiasm balanced Cara’s pragmatic attitude. Maggie knew she possessed dragonfly tendencies–flitting, hovering, and then darting away. Cara was more like a woodpecker methodically tapping at trees and only taking flight to aim toward the next leaf-filled branch. Maggie just wished her inner radar wasn’t saying it might be flitting time.


On Wednesday, they hauled their stuff into the Dexter manor. Seeming back to herself, Susan fluttered around them. “Can you spread everything out on the coffee table? Or even the floor? Anywhere. Just put those down and show me. I can’t wait to see.”

They settled on the white leather sectional. “Here’s the first design.” Cara laid the sketch on the glass coffee table as Maggie pulled out accompanying samples to arrange beside it.

“Oh my! It’s right out of a Tuscan painting.” Susan devoured each detail of the colorful sketch. “Makes me feel like I’m in Tuscany.”

They showed Susan the other design boards. “This second style is French Country and the third is our take on an exotic tropical retreat.”

Susan touched every sample fabric then stroked the metal finishes as they explained each design sketch and handed her their samples. “How can I choose between all these beautiful plans? They’re heavenly.”

“Which design can you imagine yourself in?” Cara asked, leaning forward, wondering which style would win. She and Maggie had made an unofficial wager on Susan’s choice. “Think about a quiet afternoon, reading, enjoying your yard.”

“The French country is gorgeous, but maybe too old world for Ed.” Susan tapped the tropical sketch of vivid color against neutral sand tones. “And this one feels like an island escape, but in a way, the Tuscan’s sort of a blend. It has the best of both.”

“Then Tuscan it is,” Maggie exclaimed shooting a smug grin at her partner.

Cara should have known. Past experience told her that Maggie’s sixth sense was, most often, right. “It’ll transform this space into your own private haven,” Cara added, ignoring Maggie’s gloating as she cleared away everything except the Tuscan presentation. “Now we can let your preferences guide the renovation.”

Maggie handed several small wooden squares to Susan. “These are different treatments for the focal wall.”

“This warm honey color, it’s textured?”

“Right.” Cara held up a larger example of the effect. “We want the effect of old, painted plaster, aged by years of Tuscan sun.”

Susan skimmed her thumb over the texture. “Cool.”

Cara and Maggie exchanged a smile. Then Cara placed the selected square on the design board as Maggie passed along fabric swatches in russet, poppy, vibrant reds, earth tones, goldenrod, olive, and various blues. “Here are fabric samples.”

“Beautiful. How many do I pick?”

“One for the draperies, two for the upholstery–one print and one solid, and a third for the toss pillows and accents.”

Deciding in mere seconds. Susan handed her selections to Maggie. “Now what?

“Here’s an option for your focal wall,” Cara said. “See? That’s the long wall with centered bookshelves designed on the diagonal. Notice their wine rack look?”

“Yes, that one.” It didn’t take long for Susan to choose a bronze metal finish and window treatments, then they all agreed on classic travertine tile for the floor.

“Perfect for Houston’s heat and humidity,” Cara agreed, congratulating Susan on her choice.

“It’ll feel cool on your feet. And we can install an under-tile radiant heat system for cold spells in the winter, not that they’re too many of them.” Maggie grinned. “Houston’s weather is nothing if unpredictable. But then this room can be your all-year retreat.”

“Now for the color of the tile.” Cara guided their client through the selections, explaining the concept of muted earth tones as a background to the deep rich Tuscany colors.

Susan tapped long nails on one. “Neutral like this? It makes me think of a sandy beach.”

Cara nodded. “Perfect backdrop for the warm yellows and reds you want, not to mention that gorgeous Mediterranean blue you added.”

Maggie picked up a brochure, unfolding it for Susan. “You’ll need some type of roof or covering for rainy days on the lanai. To go with this design what do you think of these diagonal slats that you can open or close whenever you want?”

“Those are interesting. How do they work?”

“A remote control just like auto blinds, except it’s an awning.”

“Sounds easy. That’s important.” Susan suddenly seemed to wilt. “I’m so glad ya’ll didn’t mind postponing till today.”

Maggie leaned forward in concern. “Would you like me to grab something to drink?”

“I don’t want to put you out.” Susan waved her hands limply. “We’re trying to get someone to help me around the house, but–”

“I’ll find the kitchen,” Maggie interrupted.

Susan’s voice had lost its lilt as she returned the sample tiles to Cara. “Did Maggie tell you about the funeral?”

“Uh huh. Have they found the hit and run driver yet?’

“Not yet. You’d think it’d be easy. I guess the sheriff examined every dark-colored SUV in the area. And came up with nothing. They think it was an outsider who came off the highway.”

“Crazy world, huh?”

Maggie easily located the kitchen. Rummaging in the refrigerator, she grabbed a bottle of vitamin-infused water. Unless her inner radar was off kilter, Susan Dexter was still very upset over the situation in Mercerville.

Maggie returned to the living room to hear the tail end of Cara and Susan’s conversation. “Did I miss anything?”

Cara filled in her in on the sheriff’s outsider theory.

“Did your uncle go to the funeral with you?” Maggie asked, as she handed Susan the water. She still felt guilty that she hadn’t offered to go.

“He wasn’t up to it. Joan Gaynor, an old classmate of mine, was there by herself so we sat together.”

“That’s good.”

“I guess.” Susan’s expression echoed the lack of conviction in her voice.

“Why? Didn’t you and your friend have some catching up to do?”

“Joan wasn’t exactly grieving about Aimee’s death.” Susan shifted awkwardly. “I think she was almost glad.”

“Why?” Maggie and Cara asked in unison.

“I guess now Joan gets her job back. This is somewhat complicated. Joan had been a secretary at the Mercerville bank for over twenty years. She wasn’t ready to retire, but she didn’t have a choice.” Susan turned to Maggie. “Remember, I told you that Aimee was my lawyer’s secretary?”


“After he was killed, Aimee needed a new job. There aren’t many of those in Mercerville, so Aimee set her sights on Joan’s job. She flirted with the town banker, Elliot Ohlmacher. He fired Joan so he could hire Aimee. Aimee has, uh, had a way with men.”

“A real soap opera, huh?” Maggie was surprised at all the drama in such a small town.

“We do have a colorful town.”

“But you’re here in Houston now and ready for a new sunroom.” Cara smiled a bit absently while fiddling with their design board.

Maggie knew Cara wanted to get back to business, but Susan obviously needed to talk. Maggie had a reputation for taking in strays and, right now, their client gave off those same vibes.

“There’s one more thing.” Susan hesitated. “Back home we have a beautiful fountain in the garden. I wonder if you could duplicate it for the yard here? It’d be perfect with the Tuscan theme.”

“Do you have photos?”

“No. I was hoping you two would make a fast trip to Mercerville with me and see it in person?”

Susan was so hopeful that Maggie didn’t have the heart to turn her down. “I think we can do that. Right, Cara?”

“Mercerville?” Cara choked, clearly not happy with the turn of conversation. “We have a tight schedule–”

“It would mean so much.” Susan sounded both vulnerable and sad. “Please?”

“Maybe we can squeeze it in,” Cara replied, reluctantly surrendering. “As long as there aren’t any more murders.”


The marble fountain at Susan’s family home was as unexpected as Mercerville itself. Cara had imagined a broken-down, sad little town.

Even here in the Texas Hill Country, many rural areas had deteriorated after the advent of superstores. But not Mercerville. One or two buildings in the commercial center were vacant, but all the others appeared to hold thriving businesses. People seemed friendly, neighborly. Certainly not a place you’d expect to find two murders in as many decades, much less a few months.

Set high on one hill, their client’s house appeared to be the largest in the town. Actually, more like a mansion than a house. Surrounded by luscious landscaping, the place wore its age proudly.

Susan grinned at the housekeeper when she opened the door. “Hi, Gladys.”

The woman’s wrinkled face broke into a huge smile. Her graceful aging made Cara wonder if Susan inherited the housekeeper right along with the house.

Gladys ushered them inside, fussed over Susan, and then smoothed her apron, collecting herself. “Miss Susan, would you like cold drinks?”

Susan queried her guests who both declined. “No thanks, Gladys.”

“Sure is good to have you home.” The housekeeper smiled fondly again before disappearing through a doorway.

Walking over silk-knotted Persian rugs, Cara and Maggie eagerly trailed Susan. Glancing sideways into the rooms they passed, they both fell silent for a change, appreciating the antique treasures surrounding them. The place was incredible.

Once in her glass conservatory that opened into the huge yard, Susan pointed outside to the fountain. “See?”

They stared at an exquisite angel pouring water from her outstretched, cupped hands.

“Amazing,” Cara whispered, stirred by the sheer artistry.

“It’s…” Maggie began, her voice trailing off as she stared at the beautiful statue.

“Perfect,” Cara finished for her. “I think it’d be best if we take photos and draw some sketches if that’s okay with you. It’ll take longer, but I think we’ll get a better end result.”

Susan waved her hands. “It’s fine. Ed has business late tonight, anyway. I’ll call him and let him know we’re staying over.”

That wasn’t what Cara had meant, but it would be late if they returned to Houston that evening. She bit her bottom lip to stifle the protest she wanted to make.

Maggie tilted her head, studying the fountain as Susan left to phone her husband. “It’s going to be tough matching that patina.”

“Not to mention staying overnight without bringing even a toothbrush.”

“Stop grumbling. You know you have one in the van.”

“I don’t want to have a slumber party in Mercerville.”

“You’ll survive one night.” Maggie walked in a circle around the fountain. “Can you imagine giving up all this for that antiseptic house in Houston?”

Cara shrugged. “Not everyone has idealistic dreams of settling in a small town hundreds of miles from the nearest Starbucks.” She suddenly felt horrified. “I bet there’s not an espresso machine in the whole town. How am I going to wake up tomorrow?” Fueled by her caffeine fixes, she wouldn’t be worth waking up without one.

“So you’ll drink more cups of coffee.” Maggie knelt down to splash her hand in the water, and then touched the carpet of mossy, emerald-green that grew around but not upon the fountain itself.

“Great. That’ll make for a fun ride home, stopping at every restroom between here and Houston.”

“Sweet talk the housekeeper. Gladys, I think? Maybe she’ll fix you some double strength coffee. I don’t know how you can stand that sludge you call coffee anyway.”

“And I don’t know how you can put away nearly an entire cheesecake and not gain an ounce. Let’s call it even.” Cara had always attributed Maggie’s metabolism to her sprite-like behavior. Not to mention her apparently slim Celtic ancestors.

Maggie didn’t smile, which wasn’t like her.

And Cara knew Maggie well. Way before they’d gone into business together. Cara had been the new girl in junior high school, smart and a bit geeky, not-so-cool socially, feeling awkward that she developed too fast and too young. Just the opposite, Maggie was twig-thin with a trillion friends. From day one, they bonded as if kindred spirits.

That first year, when Cara lost her father she was devastated, but Maggie gave her love and comfort. When the next blow hit and Cara’s mom remarried, nearly abandoning motherhood, Maggie and her parents practically adopted Cara. Maggie became not only her best friend, but also her sister of the heart.

They truly grew up together. Both loved to swim and joined the high school swim team together, taking their team to state and earning swimming scholarships to the same college.

Thanks to Maggie’s mother and her encouragement, they also shared the love of design. Together they helped decorate many of their friends’ dorm rooms and the sorority house. Although Cara worked as a lifeguard through school, their decorating business had been the next natural step. “What’s wrong? The fountain’s gorgeous.”

“I keep thinking about those two murders. You’re right–Mercerville’s in the middle of nowhere, not exactly where you’d expect a sudden crime spree.”

“Yeah.” Cara pondered the implications, realizing more and more how crazy it sounded. “Logically, they probably aren’t connected. Sure, the lawyer was murdered–though it doesn’t sound premeditated. The robber might’ve thought no one would be there. That second death could’ve been just a terrible accident–like they said, someone from the highway who got away as soon as it happened. Makes more sense than a small town serial killer.”

Shivering as they gazed around at the lengthening evening shadows, Maggie whispered, “Small town serial killer?”

© 2016 by Karen E. Rigley