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Authors: Marni; Bates

Dial Em for Murder

Dial Em for Murder
Marni Bates

Copyright © 2016 by Marni Bates.

All rights reserved.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.

Published by

Merit Press

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.

ISBN 10: 1-4405-9585-2

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9585-1

eISBN 10: 1-4405-9586-0

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-9586-8

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book and F+W Media, Inc. was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been printed with initial capital letters.

Cover design by Sylvia McArdle.

Cover images © Zelei, MartinaVaculikova.

Praise for Dial Em for Murder

“Bates weaves a fast-paced, heart-in-throat thriller with characters who first skewer you with wit and then punch you in the feels. Start this one early, because you won't want to stop!” —Mary Elizabeth Summer, author of
Trust Me, I'm Lying
Trust Me, I'm Trouble

“Marni Bates knows how to bring the suspense!
Dial Em for Murder
kept me up—with all the lights on—long past my bedtime.” —Tracy Deebs, author of
and The Tempest series, and coauthor of The Hero Agenda series

“Marni Bates's
Dial Em for Murder
has it all: quirky humor, pulse-quickening action, and a sassy heroine you'll love so much you won't know which of the two hot guys to root for. It's the perfect beach read!” —Emily McKay, author of The Farm series

Dial Em for Murder
combines a feisty heroine with enough action, mystery, humor, and romance to keep readers flipping pages well into the night. The main characters are all endearing in their own ways, but I was never sure who I could trust. Each time I thought I had everything figured out, the story spun me for another loop. A funny and engaging read that will keep you guessing.” —Paula Stokes, author of
Liars, Inc.

This book is dedicated to every coffee-shop daydreamer.

Sometimes those fantasies really do come true.

(You're reading this right now! That's proof.)

I hope you never stop fighting for your dreams.

Chapter 1

She sighed as he moved his lips more firmly across hers. “Oh Josh!” Christine moaned. “Take me with you! I'm not afraid of facing down a drug cartel if it means that we can stay together!”

Tapping one nail-bitten finger against the Starbucks table, I grimaced as I reread the words that I had just typed on the screen.

They sucked.

The characters were flat, the dialogue stilted, and the motivations felt awfully flimsy to me. I mean, any girl willing to
for some random guy—even if they did just share a night of blistering passion—was an airhead in my book.

Which was exactly why the whole thing belonged in the little trash icon at the bottom of the screen. So much for seeing my name, Emmy Danvers, gracing the cover of a book. At this rate, I'd be stuck with forty manuscripts hidden under my bed that would never see the light of day.

“Grande mocha Frappuccino for Emmy.”

I shot one last frustrated look at the laptop screen before grabbing my bag and moving toward the counter. The only benefit to checking out the same ancient high school laptop every week, besides the obvious fact that I couldn't afford to buy one of my own, was that
would be even slightly tempted to steal it while my back was turned. I mentally began to flip through ways to describe my characters' intense attraction—a passion that wouldn't be diminished even by the evil drug lord determined to pull them asunder.

Her heart raced.

His pulse began to pound.

I reached for my drink, contemplating the subtle differences between gasping and panting, only to have a wrinkled, age-spotted hand snatch it away from me.

The old man was painfully thin with a sweater bagging loosely around his slight frame, white grizzled hair, and slightly rheumy ice blue eyes. I pointedly cleared my throat, but instead of catching his mistake and apologizing like a normal
person, he
at me as he sauntered toward his table as if this was all some big joke. As if he had every right to steal
drink without so much as a mumbled apology. As if he hadn't just taken my

Still, I tried to keep it civil. “Um, sir? That's my drink.”

“Sit down. We have much to discuss.” His tone was cultured, the words precise and clipped.

“We don't have anything to discuss. If you'll just hand over my drink, I'll leave you alone. See, it says ‘Em' right here and—”

A strange look crossed his face as if every muscle in his body tightened. It was like I'd tripped over a panic button and put a nuclear missile on standby alert. He grabbed my wrist with his one free hand in a painfully tight hold while I stared at him, too stunned to do anything more than instinctively lurch backwards.

I had no idea what was going on, but his grip

The pressure increased and the small part of my brain that was observing all of this with a detached sense of disbelief pointed out that his strength was pretty damn impressive for an old man who had probably been cashing in his senior citizen discount for over a decade. I tried to flag down a barista by flailing my free arm. But the four Starbucks employees were too focused on the long line of waiting customers to spare a glance for the good-natured old man they probably assumed was holding hands with his beloved great niece.

Nobody around me seemed to realize that something was seriously off.

“Em,” he repeated my name roughly. “You need to listen to me. Pay attention, dammit! You're not safe.”

No freaking kidding.

“You're hurting me, sir.” I began mentally negotiating with whatever higher power that might be interested in getting me out of this situation.
If he lets go of my wrist, I'll make more of an effort in P.E. I'll stop doing those half-assed pushups with my knees on the ground. Hell, I'll even try to do a chin-up instead of just dangling from the iron bar.

“Your father's in danger.” The old man shook me like I was a piggy bank with a reluctant penny rattling around inside. “You're both in danger and I can't fix it.
Not anymore.

No drink was worth this kind of hassle.

“You've got the wrong girl,” I said cautiously. “You need to let me go.”

His eyes glassed over and his whole body trembled with the effort it took to remain latched onto my wrist.

“Morgan will know what to do, always was better with the details. And they're coming, girl. I'd stake my life on it. They're coming to kill me.”

Well, okay.

That explained everything. He was certifiably insane—just like all the other New York City crazies who barged into Starbucks yelling about the Secret Service, Queen Elizabeth, Beyoncé, Jesus, and, on one very memorable occasion, Charlie Chaplin.

If he hadn't maintained his grip on my wrist, I would've grabbed my laptop and left without looking back. Okay, there would've been
backward glance, but only because the level of detail in my romance manuscripts needed work. I tended to skim over the small things; the way his breath smelled slightly of peppermint, the soft nubby texture of his sweater rubbing against my wrist, the surge of strength in his leathery fingers.

“Uh, I'm sure you're right, sir. Morgan will know how to help you.”

Okay, so I was lying to a man who was a single outburst away from joining the cast of
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
. For starters, my dad's name wasn't Morgan. And if my dad had any interest in helping me, he would've been there for me back in third grade when I broke my arm on the playground. Considering that my trip to the hospital and nearly three months in a cast hadn't been enough to snag his attention, I doubted a delusional old man would have any better luck.

“So you'll warn him?” he croaked. “Do you really mean it?”

I nodded, my face solemn. “Sure. Any other messages you want me to give my dad? That 9/11 was an inside job, maybe? The details behind JFK's assassination?”

His grin was far more unsettling than his earlier glare. There was something wild and feral lingering at the edges of it. A crocodile smile.

“Oswald completely botched that job. There's a reason things went down the way they did, but we don't have time to discuss it.” He shook his head slowly, but his lips tilted upward into a gentler smile. “Why don't you go play outside now, Gracie? Your uncle and I have business to discuss.”

Gracie. Okay, so maybe he was suffering from Alzheimer's instead of straight-up insanity. Maybe my deception was only making his delusions worse. Guilt jabbed at me.

“Uh, it's Em, sir,” I said gently. “Emmy Danvers.”

I probably should have kept that information to myself. His face did that tightening thing again, but he finally released my wrist and I yanked it back to my chest. My skin felt raw and bruised, but it was the old man who looked pained.

“Right. Emmy Danvers,” he repeated. “You can't trust anyone. Do you understand what I am telling you?
Trust nobody and stay alert.
You won't survive long in the business if you don't go for the jugular, girl. That's how I always did it.”

I blinked and fought the urge to ask him to explain that

“I really just wanted my drink.” I grabbed my drink and stumbled toward my laptop, pausing only when I stood well beyond grabbing range. I don't know what compelled me to swivel around and meet his gaze again. He probably wouldn't remember meeting me within the next handful of minutes. Those ice-blue eyes of his were already becoming shuttered once more.

“I hope you get the help you need.”

I wasn't kidding.

Even knowing that the people trying to kill him were all in his head, well, that didn't make it feel any less real to
. So maybe the guy was a whack job—I still understood feeling powerless. I'd experienced the acidic taste that it leaves behind in your mouth, a mixture of fear and copper pennies, every time my mom brought home another one of her sketchy boyfriends. Every time she tried to convince us both that she was one audition away from stardom.

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