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James and Mirabelle

The Game Warden's Match

A high-heat contemporary mystery romance (romantic suspense). Contains coarse language and explicit sex. 


The mystery (scroll down for the romance) 

Investigator James Acker stood over the corpses of one cow moose and her two calves. The animals’ tongues, an unnatural shade of blue, hung from the corners of their mouths. A thin glaze, like curdled milk, covered their eyes, and foam blocked their nostrils. Tension coiling in him, James walked the crime scene, searching the shadows. 

He scanned between the branches, alert to irregular patterns in the ground, camouflage and ghillie suits with fake leaves and grass hanging from vests. His mouth dried. “See anything?” 

"No barrel glints or light-catching off telescopes. You?” Maya Gladstone asked. The visor of her peaked cap cast a shadow across her face, sharpening the line of her long nose. With blond hair pinned back in a flawless regulation bun and mirrored sunglasses resting on the bridge of her nose, Gladstone’s look could stop a pack of wolves in their tracks. 

“No. Scene secured.” He walked back to the moose. “That’s not a rifle wound. Someone cut through their skulls. Took part of their brains.” 

“Cut into their skulls? Who eats moose brain?” 

 Hell, if he knew. “Experiment, maybe?” 

“Yeah, maybe if the suspect’s Dr. Hyde or some cheap-ass butcher mixing it into beef.” 

“See the nostrils?” James asked. 

“The foam? That’s from poison.” 

“That’s right. They were poisoned. That doesn’t make sense.” James walked parallel to the trample marks in the grass. “They dragged the moose on a tarp to here.” He motioned southwards. “We interrupted them?” 

Gladstone crouched and placed her hand against the cow’s neck. “It’s possible. She’s still warm.” She retrieved vials, baggies, and swabs from her belt, collected samples of fur, blood, and the white substance from their nose, and placed them in her kit belt. “It doesn’t look like she was hit by a car. Besides, if a car hit her, the car would still be here. The driver on the way to the hospital or dying behind the wheel. And, the car would have hit one moose, not three.”

James rolled one of the fifty-pound calves over. “No bullet holes.”

Grunting, Gladstone rolled the second calf over. “None here, either.” 

“No meat’s been taken.” He straightened and arched backwards, working out the kink in his lower back. “There’s no reason to kill the calves if they wanted to bag the cow. What does that leave us with?”    

***
The romance

Cheeks hurting from smiling, he chuckled. “Yes, something like that.”

“Well, I did that once at a fair. The ice cream stand was next to a hamburger place, and they shared the same table for sauces. Mint ice cream with hot sauce doesn’t go well.

“I’d have to say one of the funniest mistakes I made was getting the dates confused for a friend’s wedding. I panicked that my dress wouldn’t be altered on time and spent hours scouring the city for a seamstress who could do the alterations that very morning for the afternoon wedding. I called my friend crying, saying that I might not be able to wear the bridesmaid dress, and she laughed. When I asked what was funny, she said there were still three weeks to the wedding.”   

He couldn’t recall the last time a woman made him laugh—Gladstone didn’t count. “That’s quite a mistake.”

“It took years off my life. The first time I was asked to be a bridesmaid, and I had almost completely screwed it up.”

Colour, somewhere between a sunset and a contented after-sex glow, settled on her cheekbones.

He ran his tongue along his lower lip, wishing he could taste hers. “I have four children, and there were all born within six years. There’s a certain point when you’re on autopilot. You get into a routine and let the routine organise your day. Well, I had just finished working on a major case, and I had worked a lot of overtime. I had to drive the kids to school, and I ended up getting things confused.”

“How so?”

“I dropped the three-year-old off at the elementary school, the nine-year-old at daycare, and the other two at the museum where I thought they had a field trip.”

Mirabelle laughed. “And none of them told you it wasn’t right?”

“No.” He shook his head. “Luke didn’t mind not going to school. Mitch and Benton were thrilled to go to the museum, and Paige liked being with the older kids because it made her a big girl. It didn’t take long for the school, museum and daycare to call. Spent the rest of the morning explaining the whole mess.”   


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