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Friday, October 5, 2012

Giveaway/Chapter One Excerpt: Death of a Neighborhood Witch by Laura Levine

On the 5th day of Halloween, Kensington has a giveaway just for you! Today you have a chance at winning a copy of Death of a Neighborhood Witch by Laura Levine. To enter just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!

Blurb and Chapter One via Kensington
Halloween is just around the corner, and between cauldrons of candy and a deliciously cute new neighbor, Jaine Austen is struggling to resist her sweet tooth. But this year, her once humdrum neighborhood seems to be handing out more tricks than treats...

When her faithful feline Prozac unwittingly scares to death a parakeet belonging to the neighborhood’s resident curmudgeon, Jaine finds herself knee-deep in toil and trouble. The cantankerous Hollywood has-been once played the part of Cryptessa Muldoon, television’s fourth most famous monster mom. Now a bitter, paranoid old dame, Cryptessa spends her days making enemies with everyone on the street, and accidental bird killer Jaine is no exception. So when the ornery D-lister is murdered with her own Do Not Trespass sign on Halloween night, the neighborhood fills with relief—and possible culprits.

With a killer on the loose, Jaine hardly has time to fall under the spell of her yummy new neighbor Peter. As the prime suspect, she summons her sleuthing skills to clear her name and soon discovers that everyone has a few skeletons in their closets—and the motives for murder are endless. Could it have been Cryptessa’s next door neighbors, the barracuda husband and wife realtors whose landscaping Cryptessa had bulldozed? Or the seemingly sweet old lady whose beloved dog was the object of Cryptessa’s wrath? Or perhaps the crotchety actress was done in by her own nephew in a desperate attempt to get his hands on her money?

As the masks come off, Jaine’s search for sweet justice turns up more questions than answers. And just when she thought nothing could be scarier than her run-in with a tortuous Tummy Tamer, she closes in on the killer and learns the true meaning of grave danger…

Chapter One

I dashed into the market for a carton of orange juice. I swear, that’s all. An innocent carton of orange juice. But then I saw it. The giant display of Halloween candies, luring me with their shiny wrappers, a siren song of chocolate in a sea of nuts and caramel.

I tried to pretend they weren’t there, but it was no use. I could practically hear the Mini Snickers calling my name:

Jaine, sweetheart! We’re only seventy-two luscious calories. Surely just one can’t hurt, can it?

Like the chocolate junkie I am, I fell for their come-on. Before I knew it, I was loading my cart with those sneaky Snickers, along with some Kit Kats and Reese’s Pieces.

It’s the same old story, I’m afraid. Every year I vow not to buy any Halloween candy. And every year, like the sniveling weakling I am, I break that vow.

The truth is, I have absolutely no need for Halloween candy. Here in the slums of Beverly Hills where I live, south of Wilshire Boulevard (so south it’s practically in Mexico), there are very few children. People on my block are either singletons or retirees. The only trick-or-treaters who’ve ever shown up on my doorstep were a pair of surly teens with squinty eyes and multiple body piercings. And I’m guessing all they wound up with at the end of the night was a bagful of restraining orders.

By now I was at the checkout counter, my orange juice long forgotten.

“Just stocking up for the trick-or-treaters,” I lied to the checker, a hardened blonde with thin lips and a concrete beehive. “Can’t disappoint the kiddies.”

The checker snapped her gum, oozing skepticism. She knew darn well the only one who’d be chomping down on those candies was me.

At the last minute, I threw in a miniature pumpkin, painted with a happy face, hoping to convince her of my Halloween spirit, but she still wasn’t buying my “for the kiddies” act.

I heard her whisper to the bag boy as I walked away, “Ten to one she’ll be breaking into those Snickers at the first stoplight.”

How utterly ridiculous.

I didn’t break into them until the third stoplight.

Back home, I found my cat, Prozac, doing battle with a pair of my brand-new panty hose. How she manages to raid my underwear drawer I’ll never know. But there she was, tearing into my Control Top Donna Karans with all the gusto of a Jersey Housewife on estrogen.

“Prozac! What are you doing?!”

She shot me an impatient stare.

Vanquishing the enemy, of course!

Then back to my Donna Karans.

Die, spandex infidel! Die!

After wrestling what was left of my panty hose from her claws, I started unloading my groceries. When I took out the miniature painted pumpkin and put it on the counter, Prozac’s eyes widened in alarm.

Omigod! An evil vegetable from the Planet Carotene!

One look at the goofy painted face with the crossed eyes and missing front teeth, and she forgot all about her war with my panty hose. Before I could stop her, she leaped onto the counter, digging her claws into Pumpkin Face.

“Cut that out,” I said, whipping it away from her. “This is a perfectly harmless pumpkin, and I’ll thank you to keep your paws to yourself.”

With that, I trotted over to the door and put the pumpkin outside on my front step.

“You’ll be safe here,” I said, giving it a little pat.

Not really.

Like a furry missile, Prozac whizzed out from behind me and, snapping up the pumpkin’s stem in her jaws, took off like a shot. I chased her up the street and groaned to see her bounding up the path to a once elegant but now dilapidated old house.

Of all the houses on the block, why did she have to choose this one?

The crumbling Spanish hacienda belonged to the neighborhood witch, a grouch royale named Cryptessa Muldoon. That wasn’t her real name, of course. That was the name of the character she played, decades ago, on a third-rate sitcom—a sorry cross between Bewitched and The Munsters—called I Married a Zombie. Cryptessa was the zombie in question, delivering her lines in a long black wig and slinky dress cut so tight it was practically a tourniquet. After one laugh-free season, the show had been canceled, and Cryptessa, as everyone on the block still called her, never worked again. Which over time had turned her into a bitter, whackadoodle dame.

She’d been living on the block ever since I could remember, growling at me whenever I’d had the temerity to park my car in front of her house.

I’d tried my best to stay under her radar, and up until that moment, I’d pretty much succeeded.

But all that was about to change.

Now as I raced past her DO NOT TRESPASS sign, desperately trying to catch up with Prozac, Cryptessa came bursting out of her front door, eyeing me with wild-eyed paranoia. No longer the least bit slinky, she wore ketchup-stained sweats, her stringy hair dyed a most startling shade of shoe-polish black.

“Hi there!” I said, hoping to disarm her with a friendly wave.

Alas, it did not work.

“Get off my property,” she shrieked, “or I’ll call the police!”

“Absolutely,” I assured her, “just as soon as I get Prozac.”

“What do you think I am, a pharmacist? I don’t have any Prozac.”

“No, my cat, Prozac.”

I dashed around the side of the house, where I found Prozac staring transfixed into Cryptessa’s window, Pumpkin Face lying abandoned in the grass.

Following her gaze into the open window, I saw a dull green parakeet perched on wobbly legs in a cage, feathers mottled with age.

The poor thing had been minding his own business, no doubt dreaming fond dreams of juicy worms, when he looked down and saw Prozac staring up at him. I guess he must have seen the bloodlust in her eyes. Because without any further ado, he let out a strangled peep and proceeded to keel over.

“Omigod!” cried Cryptessa, who’d raced up to the window.

“You’ve killed Van Helsing! You’ve killed Van Helsing!”

And indeed, the poor little critter had kicked the bucket.

“I’m so very sorry,” I said. “But really, I didn’t do a thing.

I was just standing here.”

“You’ve killed Van Helsing!” Cryptessa wailed again, unable to let go of the thought.

“I know it’s small consolation for the loss of your beloved pet, but I hope you’ll accept this colorful Halloween pumpkin as a token of my apology.”

I held out Pumpkin Face.

“Get the hell out of here!” she shrieked.

Only too happy to oblige, I grabbed Prozac and scooted off to freedom, leaving the pumpkin behind, just in case Cryptessa changed her mind.

Back home, I read Prozac the riot act.

“Bad kitty! Very bad kitty! You ran away from home and scared a poor little parakeet to death! Whatever am I going to do with you?”

She looked up at me from where I’d plopped her on the sofa.

I’d suggest a nice long belly rub, with some bonus scratching behind my ears.

I’m ashamed to confess that, after a calming Mini Snickers or three, I was actually in the middle of giving her that belly rub when I heard a loud banging at my front door.

I opened it to find Cryptessa standing there, eyes blazing, her shoe-polish hair standing out in angry spikes.

“You killed him. Now you have to help me bury him.”

“Pardon me?”

“I need you to dig a hole for Van Helsing’s grave. I can’t do it. Not with my bad back.”

“Of course, of course. I’d be more than happy to.”

I wouldn’t have been so damn happy if I’d known what was in store for me.

I followed Cryptessa to her backyard, a landscaping nightmare with ancient patio furniture, spider-infested bushes, and a ragged patch of dying weeds posing as a lawn.

“Watch out for the oil slicks,” she warned, too late, as I stepped in a puddle of black goo. “Gardener’s damn lawn- mower keeps leaking.” I looked down in dismay at the new pair of Reeboks I’d just taken out of the box that morning. They’d never be white again.  

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Diana Leigh said...

What a cute cover! Sounds like my kind of cozy mystery.

June M. said...

Thanks so much! Love that cute :)