CAROL MCPHEE'S LOVE, LAUGHTER AND ADVENTURE NOVELS

Strong, smart, sensuous heroines; heroes to die for.

A STRUCTURED AFFAIR

A psychologist's attraction to the prime suspect in a high-profile murder case threatens more than her professional detachment.

Excerpt from chapter one


HEIRESS FALLS TO HER DEATH.

The Tiverton Tribune's red banner headlines highlighted the article that all but arrested, convicted, and sentenced the man Detective Sloane Jamieson most wanted to see again. In charge of the investigation, Sloane glanced at the newspaper's account: Stephen Morgan, internationally known artist, will be questioned further today regarding last night's untimely death of his wife. Found on the shoreline rocks below his studio balcony, Emily Morgan, 40, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Last night Sloane interviewed the Japanese gardener who telephonedheadquarters at 8:30 p.m. after finding the body. Takeo, shaking in his rubber boots at the scene, stated he had gone to the area to retrieve tools he had used earlier to fix the wooden staircase leadingdown to the shore. Stephen Morgan, stoic and barely communicative, answered only basic questions concerning an alibi for the time period involved. Sloane intended to interview him further, but he hadn't mentioned it to the press. The Tribune's reporter simply surmised itand the paper printed it as fact.

The Tribune ran sketchy details about the victim's husband: 43 years old, raised on horse farms in various New England states, Morgan was a high school dropout more interested in painting scenery than wandering
the halls of academe.

Sloane read the next part aloud: "Morgan's paintings sell in the tens of thousands of dollars. Reliable sources informed this paper that thepolice have not substantiated his claim to have been reading in his
home library all evening."

The detective shook his head in dismay. Most people wouldn't have witnesses if they were home alone. Why is the reporter stressing this?And why is he going beyond the bounds of good taste? The article's byline spouts Graham Dunne as the reporter. Ah, yes, the newspaper's new shock jock.

The report continued: Emily Morgan, heiress to the Thompson chain of software companies, was an only child and had inherited her father's vast wealth several years ago.

The column further reported the victim's husband and the couple's daughter, Stephanie, stood in line for the family fortune. The reporter had interviewed the household staff and a number of the couple's neighbors. One neighbor, speaking under conditions of anonymity, explained, "About eight years ago, pregnant at the time, Emily married the artist against her father's wishes. But with the birth of their daughter, all was forgiven."

The news item related that both Stephen and Emily were active in the community and frequently graced The Tribune's social pages. Sloane read slowly: The family's seemingly idyllic life was shattered two years ago on a visit to India, when, as reported in this paper, Stephanie, five years old at the time, contracted an illness that left her in fragile health.

The story ended with a brief description of the Morgan home—the old Fraser mansion—and of Morgan's private art studio–a converted carriage house perched on the bluff, overlooking the bay.

Sloane folded the newspaper, throwing it in the wastebasket just as his phone rang. "Hello?"

"Call off your dogs, Jamieson; I'm coming in."

"You do that, Morgan. I'll be waiting." His temper rising, Sloane, out of habit, reached in his inside pocket for a cigarette before remembering he quit some weeks ago. The newspaper hadn't reported how Sloane and his men raced to the scene, arriving to see the victim's husband holding her hand. Morgan suggested offhand she may have slipped on the wet floor of the studio's second floor balcony and toppled over. Upon looking up, Sloane wondered how anyone could slide over the high ornate wrought iron railing. The flesh at the back of Sloane's neck crawled with unease. Suspicion was his middle name when it came to a death that could be orchestrated. Involvement of the filthy rich added to his discomfort.

~ * ~

Dr. Catherine Malloy, enjoying a day off from her new, less than satisfying job at the police department, had every intention of sleeping until noon. Alas! With the phone's ring at 7:30 a.m. she jerked alert, roused from a dreamless sleep. No way am I going to spoil my day at this hour. "Stop ringing!"

The voice of her superior blared from the answering machine. "Cath, I know you're there. Pick up this call. You said you wanted excitement, now prove it."

Catherine fumbled with the phone and, untangling the curled cord, pulled the receiver to her ear. "Yes, Sloane?"

The husky, authoritative voice droned the latest newsworthy event. When it sank into her head that she had a chance to get involved in something other than profiling petty criminals, she sat up, dangled her feet over the edge of the mattress and crossed her fingers. "I want in on it."

"Thought so. You can observe my interview with Stephen Morgan and give me your impression of him."

"Sure, Sloane. I thought you didn't believe in analysis."

"It's about time we put that psychology degree of yours to real work. See if it's worth the money the town council is paying you."

"Degrees, Sloane. Got my Masters, too, you know."

"Yeah, yeah, I remember reading that somewhere. Some of us had to learn our profession through the school of hard knocks and numerous night courses. I foresee the day you could be my boss based on those
pieces of paper. Hope I get to retire first."

"Aww, you'll never quit a job you love so much." Catherine smiled and fingered a fold on her soft thermal blanket.

"Okay, just so we understand the situation from my point of view—if you ever should become in charge, I get to retire for the sake of my health."

"You know, Sloane, psychological expertise speaking here, your bark is a masquerade of your weak bite."

"On whose say-so?"

"My free professional opinion. I'll be down at the station in a half hour."

"You'll be down here in twenty minutes, max."

"Yes, sir. Whatever you say. Just tell the guys not to pick me up for speeding."

"That clunker of yours probably won't do more than the speed limit."

"Guess you got me there. See you shortly. And Sloane?"

"What?"

"Thanks."

***

Catherine's eyes widened at the number of photographers gathered round the station's main entrance. Making a mad dash, she managed to enter a side door and avoid their attention. A sergeant stationed there to prevent intrusion pointed her to the observation room. "Sloane's waiting for you."

"Thank you." The room's one-way mirror would enable her to watch the interview without being seen—an excellent chance to study the personality and characteristics of an alleged perpetrator. Her hand on the doorknob, she glanced back up the hall and saw a man dressed in paint-splattered jeans and a baggy grey sweatshirt. He glanced her way. Their eyes locked for only an instant but, in those few seconds, she noted his defiance mixed with a touch of reluctance. Under police escort, he waited for an officer to open the neighboring door. She looked away, clawing at her memory. Stephen Morgan! She'd seen his picture in the paper advertising his current art show in town. When she looked back, he had entered the interview room. She walked into the observation room.

"'Bout time you got here, Cath. Stop for coffee?"

Grrr. "Listen Sloane, shouldn't you be sitting on a log, fishing, letting younger officers handle investigations?"

His brown doe eyes narrowed. "Let's not forget who is offering you a chance to demonstrate what you can do."

Catherine laughed a little too forcefully, aware she didn't know him well enough to always catch when he was serious and when he was toying with her. "Comment taken with a grain of salt. You want to see what I
can do. Let's get started."

A Structured Affair is available in trade paperback at
www.champagne.vstore.ca and in ebook formats from www.omnilit.com or www.fictionwise.com


Carol McPhee
Strong, smart, sensuous heroines; heroes to die for.




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