When people call her a control freak, Peri Milano takes it as a compliment. As the preferred go-to special assistant to Philadelphia’s rich and almost famous, having everything under control is part of her job description.
With the organizational skills of a data processing program, the discretion of the CIA, and the creativity of an Ikea research and design engineer, Peri fulfills whatever whim her customers fancy and finds methods for their madness.
Never has she received a request she couldn’t complete nor a problem she couldn’t solve.
So when she finds the dead body of one of her clients and lands smack in the middle of a murder investigation, Peri simply adds a few more items on her to-do list. It’s nothing she can’t handle.
But when another client receives a blackmail letter, her son’s type-1 diabetes nearly kills him and her mother ends up in jail (again), Peri starts to doubt whether anything is truly ever under control. She can’t help but wonder just who will be the next to Show Up Dead.
Proceeds of the book go to funding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.
Targeted Age Group:: 16-65
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The spark for the book came from overhearing a chance remark in a supermarket. I was standing in line waiting to check out. The person in front of me was a man dressed in women’s clothing. He bought only a cellophane-wrapped bouquet of flowers he’d picked up in the produce department. He mentioned to the cashier that he wished he could find roses in the perfect shade of red.
I started wondering what that shade of red would look like. Why was it so important to him? Is his house decorated with it? Did he own a cocktail dress in that color? From those questions, the character Mr. Wooley approached me in my fuzzy head and I began thinking about how people fit or not fit into society — which wound up not being a big theme of the book.
The theme was inspired by the protagonist, Peri. I wanted to write a book that dealt with living with type 1 diabetes but I had promised my daughter (who is a type 1) that it wouldn’t be the main topic. For some reason, as Peri came to me, she turned into a mom of a diabetic teen son. Diabetes is disease about control. There’s a motivational saying diabetics often say: I control my diabetes, my diabetes doesn’t control me. So it seemed on “right” that I would create a protagonist who has an over-controlling personality because she wants to keep everyone she loves safe. But when you over-control, you lose control, and that’s what Peri ultimately battles with as she tries to solve the murder mystery and is the theme of the book.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters just come to me. I know that isn’t a very satisfying answer, but it’s true. I just mentioned in the previous section about how Mr. Wooley came to me. Once I meet one character, scenes, settings and other characters just come.
The key for me is that I cannot force it to happen. I have to be very relaxed and partially focused on something else to allow the characters and the book to flow to me. It’s as if my mind gets a little bored and wants to entertain itself so it creates these characters. If I pay too much attention to them or focus too hard on them, they disappear.
What I do to make them lifelike is once I start the writing process, I will make myself answer questions about the characters. Everything from “what color are his eyes?” to “what is always in her refrigerator?” to get to know them as best I can. I try to make them as real and lifelike as possible so that I can properly introduce them to my readers and have my readers get to know them well, too.
Chapter 1: Best Interest
I’m pretty sure my eyes had been open for several minutes before I realized I could see. I remember darkness. Then light. Then blurred masses of color. Eventually the colors became distinguishable and detailed enough that I knew I was staring at a highly polished, mahogany ball-and-claw foot of a table leg. The points of the claws were painted with red lacquer. The table leg was standing on a Persian rug. The same Persian rug my face appeared to be resting on.
It was Mr. Wooley’s Persian rug, which made sense since I was pretty sure I had gone into Mr. Wooley’s house that morning.
The good news was that it didn’t seem as if I was alone. A woman’s stilted voice pierced the air, someone was tapping my cheek, and I sensed movement around me.
I rolled onto my back and found a man hovering over me, his blond head only about a foot above mine. Even though his face was upside down from my perspective, it was still quite pleasing to look at. His sapphire blue eyes peered at me with such intensity, I wondered if I were asleep and dreaming. Traditionally, I’d never been the kind of girl with charming knights at the ready for her rescue. Though I’d never thought it a detriment to be one.
“Are you okay?” he asked. The unimaginative question disappointed me.
“I don’t know.” I leaned up on one elbow. “What happened?”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” my handsome hero replied. He glanced up as another man, a dark-haired one who wasn’t all that delicious to look at, knelt opposite him. He took my free hand.
Looking around me, I confirmed I was in Mr. Wooley’s townhouse, as were several of Philadelphia’s finest men in blue. They were keeping company with a few other sundry people whose presence, I learned later, was useful whenever a dead body was found.
“Are you in any pain?” asked the man holding my hand. It turns out he was in an EMT uniform and was actually taking my pulse.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I—”
“Peri!” shrieked Mr. Wooley’s daughter. She ran across the room and dropped to the floor, bursting into my personal space before I was ready to deal with her. I fell back against my blue-eyed guardian angel. He righted me.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“My father!” Jacqueline’s breath shot in and out. She shoved the EMT away and then gripped my arms as if she were preparing to throw me over a balcony. “He’s dead!”
“What?” I pulled my face back. She leaned in closer. My blond defender put his hand on her shoulder as if to shove her away.
She released her hold on me and flung her long wavy brown hair over her shoulder. “My father.” She placed the back of her hand on her forehead. “He has passed.”
“Is this . . . are you rehearsing?” I asked. I still wasn’t sure whether I were awake or not. If I was, the only thing that could rationally explain the situation was if Jacqueline–pronounced with a soft Zha at the beginning and a long eeeeen at the end–was holding an acting workshop in her father’s home. She did that periodically. She called them impromptu performances. Anyone who happened to be in the vicinity would either be forced into a nonspeaking role or expected to provide thunderous applause, complete with encore! calls, at the end.
“What have you done to him?” Jacqueline clasped her hands in prayer position. Her eyes pleaded with mine.
“To who?” I asked.
“I need to look at her.” The EMT bent in front of Jacqueline to shine a light in my face. “Your vitals check out okay. Do you think you can stand?”
“It wouldn’t hurt to get evaluated at the hospital,” he added.
“I don’t like hospitals,” I said.
The EMT smirked as he stood. “I’m done here,” he called out before walking away.
Jacqueline had disappeared, leaving me alone with my mystery man.
“I have a few questions for you if you’re ready,” he said as he helped me up.
We stood before the never-used wingback chair in Mr. Wooley’s dining room. In the chair sat Mr. Wooley. A team of people separated him from me. They appeared to be inspecting him at a very close range.
“Oh my God.” I pressed my fingertips against my temples almost able to remember why I was in Mr. Wooley’s townhouse.
“Do you need the EMT again?” the man asked.
“No. I’m, I think I’m okay.” My face scrunched as I looked at him. “Did I already ask what happened?”
“You did.” He nodded. “Where did you come from?”
I inhaled deeply while I thought about his question.
“The back door.” I pointed to the rear of the townhouse. Mr. Wooley’s home stretched a half block. The front door opened to the street, the back to a narrow alley. “Yes, that’s right,” I continued. “I parked behind the townhouse . . . I knocked.” I tucked my hair behind my ear. “Mr. Wooley didn’t answer. He was expecting me. So I waited. Then I just came in. He lets me do that. I just like to knock first. Anyway, I had flowers for him.”
“Are you the one who brought the funeral flowers?” His eyes took on a steely quality, somewhat akin to how my accountant’s look when he challenges my claims for deductible expenses.
“Yes.” My voice cracked. Stark memories from the morning emerged from the fog in my brain. “Is Mr. Wooley really dead?” I asked, although I knew the answer.
“The body of Shelby Wooley was found by his daughter this morning. She notified the police then waited for us at the front of his home. When she brought us to him, you were lying on the floor next to him. How did you get here and why are you here?”
“Like I said, I knocked—”
“I got that. How did you get in? Do you have a key?”
“I do, but I didn’t use it. The door was unlocked.”
“I see. So you came in. Then what happened?”
“I put the flowers on the counter and called out for Mr. Wooley. He didn’t answer. So I went to look for him. That’s when I saw the wax figure. I mean, I thought it was the wax figure. Then I, I . . . touched . . . his cheek and it . . .” My ears rang. “I think I need to . . .” was all I got out.
I awoke in the man’s arms as he dragged me to a sofa at the front of the house. Mr. Wooley was out of sight.
“Do you need water?” he asked.
He left me for a few minutes and returned with a glass of water. The EMT was on his heels.
“Thank you.” I accepted the glass. “I feel silly. I haven’t fainted in years.”
The EMT took my pulse again. “Do you think it’s possible someone hit you over the head earlier?” he asked.
I reached around to feel the back of my skull. “I’m not tender anywhere. I’m sure I fainted.”
“Do you have a history of fainting?”
“Yeah. I used to do it a lot as a kid.”
He looked into my eyes again. “I think you’re okay. It would still be a good idea to get looked at by someone at the hospital.”
“It’s not necessary,” I insisted. “Really. I’m allergic to hospitals.” I sipped the water. “Actually, I’m allergic to their bills. They give me hives. Make me hyperventilate.
“I hear that’s a common side effect,” he said as he left.
“Sure you feel better?” Mystery man asked.
“No, but I’m conscious so I guess I must be.”
“Good. I have to ask you a couple more questions. I am Detective Collin Beatty. This is,” he tilted his head toward a man who had just joined us, “my partner, Detective Micah Jameson.”
“Hello,” I said.
Detective Jameson nodded.
“And you are?” Beatty asked.
“I’m Peri Milano,” I said.
“Why are you here, Peri?” Jameson asked.
“I was bringing flowers for Mr. Wooley.”
“The ones in the kitchen with the ribbon that says In Sympathy,” Jameson said, or maybe asked.
“Yes,” I offered in case it was a question.
The men exchanged a glance.
“How did you know Shelby Wooley was dead?” Beatty asked.
“I didn’t.” I set the glass on a coffee table, suddenly aware of how bad the situation looked for me. “I’m organizing a funeral-themed party for him. He is very particular about the details. I brought the flowers to get his approval on the red tips of the callas. The florist has been having a tough time getting the right shade of red dye.”
“Who is the florist?” Beatty asked.
“Pearl Slack at Custom Floral Designs.” I gave them poor Pearl’s number. She’d found this event to be more of an artistic challenge than she was prepared for. I had a feeling her stress level would see a cliff-dive once she realized the pseudo-funeral was off.
“Why did you come through the back door?” Jameson asked.
“I always do when I’m bringing props. Mr. Wooley wants everything to be a surprise. No one is supposed to know all the details. Not even Jacqueline.” I glanced toward the back of the house, to where Jacqueline stood speaking with someone. Her head was tilted. She held a hand over her heart.
Together, the men grilled me over the events of the day, about my relationship with Mr. Wooley, and then took my full contact information. I answered their questions all the while straining my ears to hear what the others in the house were saying. It seemed they were under the impression Mr. Wooley was put in the chair after he had passed away.
Eventually they sent me on my not-so-merry way, advising me it would be in my best interest to stay in town.
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