Did you miss Chapter One?
From Cereal Killer
In the tow truck, Fred turned the key in the ignition. “Why
don’t I drop you folks off at Luz’s place, and then I’ll take
the car into the mechanic for you. I’ll call when I have an update.”
“That’d be great,” replied Vicente, fiddling with the AC vent.
“Really appreciate you coming out so quickly.”
“Benefit of being a tow truck driver in a fairly small town—I
usually get three or four calls a day from people in the surrounding
area, but not so many that I get backed up with multiple urgent calls
very often. Which is especially good on a hot day like this. Glad you
folks were all right.”
I didn’t say anything. I was wedged between Fred and Vicente in
the cab of the truck, grateful for our ride to the vineyard but still
steaming over the cover story Vicente had invented.
Hello, 911? I’d like to report a murder. The victim? My dignity.
I shot Vicente a death glare that burned hotter than the California
sun, but he ignored me.
If he expects me to giggle and hold his hand and act like we’re in love, he’s
got another think coming.
The tow truck eased out onto the road. “So,” Fred said. “When’s the
Vicente said, “In a few—”
“We’re still discussing that,” I interjected coolly. “There’s been a
little trouble in paradise, I’m afraid.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a look of amusement on
Two can play this game. If he was going to dress me up as his
fiancée, I was going to set the terms of the “relationship.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Fred apologetically. There was an
awkward pause. “What brings you out to Golden?”
“Visiting Luz and my abuela,” said Vicente. “Kate hasn’t met them
Fred nodded and tapped on the steering wheel. “Where do you
“San Francisco,” we said in unison.
Fred chuckled. “Oh, that really is paradise. Especially in the
summer. Hope there’s not too much trouble there.”
A photograph on the dashboard caught my eye—a little girl,
perhaps five or six, with sandy-colored hair that exactly matched
“Is that your daughter?” I asked, glad for an excuse to change the
A huge smile crossed Fred’s face. “That’s Julie. Picture’s from a
couple years ago. She’s eight now.”
“Is she your only child?”
“Yup!” he said. “It’s just the two of us. She’s my whole world.”
Just the two of us? That sweet child didn’t have a mother?
As if he could read my thoughts, he added, “My ex-wife ran out on
us when Julie was eleven months old. We get a postcard every few
months and a phone call once a year or so, but that’s about it. She’s
surfing in Kuta last I heard.”
Laurie was eleven months old. My heart broke. I couldn’t imagine
abandoning Jim and my baby like that. The very thought made me
want to run home and scoop Laurie up and hold her close. But I
stuffed the thought away—it didn’t go with Vicente’s stupid cover
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m pregnant with twins, and I love the
babies so much already.”
“Hey, that’s great!” Fred exclaimed. “Congrats, you two!”
Irritation flashed through me. Of course he’d conclude Vicente
was the father. The very thought made my face warm.
Couldn’t Vicente have used any other story?
If we ever went undercover together again, we’d plan this part
ahead. Or, even better—I would blurt out the embarrassing cover
story before he had a chance to. Maybe I’d say I was his court-appointed
psychiatrist doing an in-the-field assessment of his sanity.
Or his attorney, making sure he didn’t incriminate himself in a
pending felony case.
Or his personal doctor, ensuring his continual access to his . . .
ahem, performance meds for his difficulties with intimacy.
The thought brought a genuine smile to my face.
After a few minutes of awkward chitchat in which I very deter‐
minedly gave Vicente the cold shoulder, the truck turned onto a long
“The vineyard and winery.” Vicente gestured out the window.
Fields of grapevines extended in either direction, and ahead, I could
see a couple buildings on a hill. It seemed like there might be a few
other outbuildings, but they were hidden among pine trees.
A couple minutes later, we pulled up to a lovely Mediterranean-style house.
“Here you are!” said Fred. “Vicente, let me get your cell phone
number so I can let you know what the mechanic says.”
They exchanged numbers, and then Vicente scooted out of the
truck. As I moved to follow him, he reached out to help me out of the
cab. I scowled and grabbed a handle instead, carefully jumping to the
ground. Pain jolted through my knees on impact, but I trained a
defiant expression on Vicente. He shot me a sheepish grin in return.
As Fred’s truck pulled away down the driveway, I snapped, “What
the heck were you thinking, ambushing me like that?”
“Sorry, querida,” he replied with a shrug. “Seemed like an explana‐
tion that wouldn’t raise too many questions. My compliments on your
recovery from the surprise. I knew I could count on your theater
background. Well, shall we go in and meet Luz?”
“Only if you’re not going to make me pretend to be your
“Not for Luz,” he said slowly. “She knows you’re a PI. But if we
could keep up the pretense around my abuela? Luz doesn’t want to
worry her. Abuela had a heart attack a year ago, and the doctor says
she needs to avoid stress, so Luz hasn’t told her about the sabotage, or
any of the vineyard’s troubles.”
“You want me to lie to your grandmother about being your
fiancée?” I snapped.
“Don’t worry. She won’t take it too seriously. I’ve been engaged
three times but never made it to the wedding.”
“Of course you have,” I muttered. “So now I just have to play yet
another poor girl caught in the web of Vicente Domingo’s so-called
He looked almost wounded, but his eyes twinkled. “When you
phrase it that way, you make me sound monstrous.”
I shifted my purse to the other shoulder. “Let’s just get this case
solved so I can go back to being Mrs. Kate Connolly. How on earth am
I supposed to explain this to my husband?”
He shrugged. “He doesn’t seem like the jealous type.”
Vicente was right, of course. But that didn’t mean I had to like it.
“I am not sharing a room with you,” I warned.
He raised his hands in surrender. “Of course not. I wouldn’t dream
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