Maya and Sandra are friends, fellow moms, and private-detective partners in the picturesque waterfront city of Portland—where sometimes their cases can get as rocky as the Maine coast . . .
While private investigator Maya Kendrick is still mentoring her new partner, PTA president Sandra Wallage, in the detective game, the two women don't need incredible powers of deduction to know their marriages are on the rocks. With Maya's ex-cop husband in prison and Sandra's senator spouse separated from her, both find themselves investigating the dating scene. Until Diego Sanchez turns up dead. The flirtatious high school Spanish teacher who had eyes for Maya was poisoned by cookies from a bake sale fundraiser for a Portland High school class trip to Spain.
Hired by the students to find out who killed their popular and beloved teacher—including their own children—Maya and Sandra get a real education in parenting, relationships, and murder as their search for whodunit leads them deep into the unpleasant realities found in the small town politics and gossip of their Maine community . . .
Release date: November 30, 2021
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 288
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Murder at the Bake Sale
“I was thinking maybe a classy stenciled design. Jack is great with graphics, I’m sure he’d do a wonderful job—”
Maya sighed. “Sandra, we’ve been over this. Now is not the time—”
“But I’ve been a full-fledged partner for almost a year now,” Sandra protested.
“Okay, first, you’re not a full-fledged partner, only in your mind, and second, it has nothing to do with how long you’ve been helping me out at the agency. We can’t afford it.”
“But I’d be happy to take care of any additional expense—”
Maya quickly cut her off. “No. I told you, it’s not because I don’t think you’re ready. I just don’t want you writing personal checks for any of our expenses. That’s not how I want to do business.”
“I understand that. But this is something I want to do for the agency.”
“First it’s new signage for the door, then we have to get new business cards, and pretty soon you’ll be shelling out money for an advertising budget so we can attract more clients . . .”
Sandra shot up in her seat. “That’s actually not a bad idea!”
“No, Sandra, the last thing I want is for you to bankroll the whole business just because you can afford it.”
Sandra slumped back down, defeated. She knew Maya was going to be intractable on this one. “Well, at least just think about it.”
Maya popped a curly fry into her mouth. “I already have, so can we please table this discussion for now?”
Sandra stared out the window. “The new sign for the office door would practically be free of charge because Jack could design the logo as a school project for extra credit, and all I would have to buy are the art supplies—”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. We can talk about it later.”
Maya’s phone buzzed and she checked the screen.
“Who is it?” Sandra asked.
“Our client. Just texting for an update.”
Maya typed a quick reply and then put the phone back down in the cup holder.
Sandra glanced down at the phone curiously. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him we’re very close to having some results.”
Sandra stared back out the car window toward the bar entrance. “She’s been in there since before noon.”
Their client, Mark Langford, was the owner of a local car dealership in Portland, Maine, who, at the moment, was embroiled in a heated child custody battle with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Deena. He had hired Maya and Sandra’s private detective agency to gather evidence proving Deena was an unfit mother. Sandra initially was hesitant about taking on the case because she feared Mark was just using them to unjustly smear his wife. Maya, on the other hand, didn’t spend too much time wallowing in the moral implications of accepting the case. She was just happy Mark Langford was willing to pay their fee with the promise of a generous bonus if they uncovered dirt that led to him winning full custody of their two preteen children.
Despite Sandra’s early misgivings about the nature of the case, once they had begun digging into Deena Langford’s personal life, it quickly became apparent that their client was right about his estranged wife’s wildly erratic behavior. Quite frankly, the woman was an unapologetic mess.
And now, on a weekday afternoon, she was inside a bar getting drunk on her cocktail of choice, a gin and tonic, while her kids were at school. Around two thirty, after waiting outside the bar for almost three hours, Maya and Sandra finally spotted Deena Langford stumbling out of the bar, bleary-eyed and swaying from side to side as she fished through her pocketbook for her car keys.
“Her kids should be getting out of school soon! She may be planning to go pick them up! We can’t let her do that in her condition!” Sandra cried.
Maya flung open the driver’s side door and hopped out, racing across the parking lot toward Deena, who was standing in front of her BMW, fumbling with the remote, trying to unlock her vehicle.
Sandra followed quickly behind Maya, catching up to her just in time to hear Maya say gently, “Mrs. Langford, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to get behind the wheel of a car right now.”
Deena looked up and glared at Maya with her bloodshot, watery eyes and spat out, “Says who?”
“Let’s just say I’m a concerned citizen,” Maya calmly explained.
“Well, let’s just say I don’t care who you are! You’re not the boss of me!” Deena slurred belligerently as she finally managed to press the right button on her remote and a chirp indicated her car had just unlocked.
As Deena opened the door to get in, Maya physically attempted to stop her. Deena violently swung up her purse, clocking Maya in the head. She reeled backward, almost losing her balance.
“Get away from me!” Deena growled.
Before Maya had the chance to regain her senses and grab Deena, she was in the driver’s seat of her BMW, doors locked, revving the engine.
Sandra instinctively sprinted forward and threw herself in front of the hood of the car to prevent her from leaving, but all it took was one determined, enraged look from Deena Langford for Sandra to realize the woman didn’t care one bit about her blocking her escape, and was more than ready to run her over. As Deena cranked the gear of her BMW into the Drive position, Sandra dove out of the way just in time as the car roared away, tires squealing, kicking up so much dust and gravel in the parking lot that both Maya and Sandra were choking on it.
Before turning onto the highway, Deena sideswiped the back of Maya’s Chevy Bolt, but Maya was too concerned about Sandra, who was splayed flat on the ground after a nasty fall, to care much at that point.
Maya darted over to her. “Are you okay?”
Sandra managed to sit upright, gingerly attending to a scraped knee. “I’m fine. Maya, you have to stop her before she kills somebody!”
Maya ran back to her now-damaged car and reached in to grab her cell phone. Within seconds she was on the phone with the police department, talking to one of her pals and reciting Deena Langford’s license plate from memory.
As Sandra slowly climbed to her feet and hobbled over to Maya, who was still on the line with the cops, she sighed with relief when she heard Maya confirm, “They just pulled her over? Good, thank you so much.” Maya hung up and turned to Sandra. “They’re arresting her and charging her with operating under the influence.”
“I feel bad for her, to be honest; she’s going to lose her kids,” Sandra said solemnly. “I can’t imagine that.”
“Well, until she gets the help she obviously needs, it’s definitely for the best,” Maya remarked. “I should call our client and bring him up to speed.”
“It’s just very sad all around,” Sandra remarked.
“Except the part about our satisfied client, Mark Langford, sending us a nice, big, fat check for services rendered,” Maya practically sang with a bright smile. Off Sandra’s admonishing look, Maya quickly added, “But you’re right. It’s very sad.”
Maya noticed Sandra’s bloodied knee from her fall. “Come on, we need to clean that up. I think I have some antiseptic cream in the glove box.”
“It’s not so bad. And it doesn’t really hurt much,” Sandra said, limping back toward the car.
Maya shook her head. “Why on earth would you wear a white dress to a stakeout? I’ve told you dozens of times to always wear long pants so you’re protected if something like this happens.”
“I didn’t have much of a choice. Jack’s college interview is today and . . .” Sandra froze. “Oh God, what time is it?”
“Almost three,” Maya said, checking her phone.
“I totally lost track of time. The interview is at five o’clock all the way down in Boston. Jack’s probably at home going crazy I’m not there.... If we’re superlate, it’s going to look bad!”
“Well, come on, get in! I’ll take you home! If you get on the road by three thirty, you could still make it on time, but it’ll be close,” Maya shouted as they jumped into her Chevy Bolt with the brand-new, big dent in the back, and squealed out of the parking lot and onto the highway back toward downtown Portland.
Sandra’s black Mercedes shot down the 95 southbound freeway as she gripped the wheel and pressed down her foot, almost as far as it would go on the accelerator. The speedometer teetered around 77 mph even though they had just zipped past a sign reminding drivers the speed limit was 65.
Next to her in the passenger seat, her oldest son, Jack, in a suit and tie, usually the calm, laid-back one, unlike her much more dramatic, high-strung younger son, Ryan, shifted in his seat nervously. “We’re not going to make it, Mom.”
Sandra glanced at the dashboard clock.
It was already 4:47 pm.
They had less than fifteen minutes to reach the Boston Tech campus, park and find the admissions building in time for the interview. It was looking impossible at this point, but Sandra was not going to let any of that affect her single-minded determination to get her son there on time for his interview.
“We’ll make it,” she said confidently.
“But we’re sure to hit traffic once we reach Boston, which will just slow us down even more.” Jack sighed as Sandra flipped on the turn signal to pass a slow-moving pickup truck with a ratty old couch tied in the flatbed in front of them. “It won’t look good if we’re late.”
“Stay positive,” Sandra said, keeping her eyes fixed on the road. “Just concentrate on what you want to say in the interview.”
“I’m leaning toward just getting down on my knees and begging them to take me,” Jack groaned.
Sandra cranked the wheel, and the Mercedes zipped back into the right lane, now in front of the pickup truck. “It’s going to be fine. Your grades are stellar and you wrote a fantastic essay.”
“Yeah, maybe, but my SAT scores were nowhere near where they should have been. I’m surprised they’re even letting me come in for an interview.”
“Your SAT scores were just fine,” Sandra argued. “Above average.”
“Exactly. They should’ve been great. I’m so screwed. It’s not like I can coast with a football scholarship, especially after the season we had last year.”
Sandra pressed her foot down a little harder on the accelerator and kept her eyes fixed on the road. “You know what, Jack? If you don’t get in, then it’s their loss. But don’t give up before you’ve had a chance to make your case.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, the lush fall terrain of New Hampshire zipping past them.
Sandra wanted to give her son the opportunity to collect his thoughts and figure out the best approach for the interview. She wasn’t about to coach him, or offer suggestions. This was all about him, and she knew in her heart he would nail it.
If she managed to actually get him there in time.
Jack stared out the window for a few minutes and then turned his head back toward his mother, his eyes dropping down to her leg. “Your knee is still bleeding.”
Sandra glanced quickly down to see a trail of blood trickling down from the gauze she had quickly taped over her wound after she had gotten home from her stakeout with Maya. “Do me a favor. Look in the glove compartment to see if there is a box of Band-Aids.”
“Why won’t you tell me what happened?” Jack asked.
“I told you, I fell.”
She didn’t think it would be helpful to explain to her son that she had basically thrown herself in front of a drunk driver and had to dive out of the way in order to avoid winding up on top of the hood.
Jack fished around the glove compartment and found some Band-Aids. He opened one up and handed it to his mother. She ripped off the gauze with one hand as she held on to the steering wheel with the other. Then she slapped it over the wound, keeping her eyes squarely on the road the whole time.
“Did you know your dress is ripped?”
“Yes, I know, just a little, but I didn’t have time to change. We were so late leaving already. I’m sure the admissions person won’t notice.”
“And there’s a dirt stain.”
She wanted to look but knew she had to keep focused on her driving.
“How big is it?”
“Pretty big. The admissions officer is definitely going to notice.”
“Well, luckily this meeting is not about me. It’s about you. And you look very dashing and handsome and once you start talking, they’ll see how smart you are too . . .”
“Mom . . .”
“Oh, come on, can’t a mother compliment her son?”
“No . . . it’s not that . . . look in your rearview mirror.”
Sandra glanced up to see blue flashing lights behind them. Her heart sank. “Oh no . . .”
“We’re never going to make it now,” Jack repeated, resigned.
Sandra pulled over the car into the emergency lane of the freeway and slowly rolled to a stop. She dropped her head and closed her eyes, trying to come up with what to say. Finally, she opened her eyes and glanced up at the mirror to see a young state trooper get out of his cruiser and walk toward the Mercedes, moving up alongside the driver’s window.
Sandra quickly turned to Jack. “I’m about to do something I swore I never would; it’s wrong, and I never want you to ever try anything remotely like this, but we are in a code red situation, so I have no choice. Promise me you will never follow this bad example I’m about to set.”
Jack stared at his mother, dumbfounded, but nodded. “Uh, okay.”
Sandra pressed the button to roll down the window just as the state trooper appeared, a grim look on his face. She smiled brightly. “Good afternoon, Officer.”
“Afternoon,” he said glumly.
“I wasn’t watching the speedometer, but I assume I was driving a little over the speed limit?”
“Not a little, ma’am. Twenty-two miles over the limit.”
“Oh my, I had no idea. I’m driving my son to a college interview in Boston and we’re running late, and so I guess I just panicked a bit and lost all sense of how fast I was going.”
“License and registration, please,” he said, not cracking a smile.
“Jack, could you—?” Sandra asked.
Jack was already rummaging through the glove compartment for the registration as Sandra turned and reached for her purse in the back seat for her license. Jack retrieved the registration card first and reached over and handed it to the trooper. Sandra quickly followed with her license.
“It’s an awful picture so I apologize in advance,” Sandra joked.
The state trooper didn’t find it funny. He just studied the name on the license, stone-faced.
Sandra hesitated, knowing she was about to do something completely inappropriate, but as it was 4:58 she steeled herself and just went for it. “It’s pronounced Wallage.”
The state trooper looked up at her.
“In case you didn’t know how to pronounce it.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll be right back.”
Before he had a chance to head back to the cruiser, Sandra quickly said, “As in Stephen Wallage. Senator Stephen Wallage.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
“That’s my husband.”
The state trooper paused, studied the license again, then looked back up at Sandra, who smiled at him expectantly.
“I didn’t vote for him.”
And then the unimpressed trooper marched away.
Sandra dropped her head again, humiliated.
Jack chuckled. “I promise I’ll never try anything like that, Mom.”
“Thank you,” Sandra muttered.
“Because it didn’t work!”
After the short, bespectacled admissions officer, Mr. Hanes, who in Sandra’s opinion was rather doddering for a man in his forties, escorted Jack into his office for his interview, Sandra quickly retreated down the hall to the ladies’ room to dampen some paper towels so she could scrub off the obvious dirt and grime that soiled her ripped white dress. She hoped Mr. Hanes hadn’t noticed her disheveled appearance too much during their brief introduction.
What a day.
After managing to wipe most of the dirt from the fabric, she stood erect in front of the giant wall mirror above the sink to check herself out. Her hair was mussed, so she scooped a comb from her purse to try to bring it back down to earth a little bit. Then there was the small smudge on her left cheek, barely noticeable from her fall, that she hastily brushed away. Sandra sighed. This was about as good as it was going to get without doing a Yelp search for a hair salon and a nearby Macy’s where she could pick up a new outfit.
Sandra wandered back out to the hallway and was about to sit down on a bench to wait for Jack’s interview to wrap up when she spotted someone she knew at the far end of the hall, huddled in a corner with a young girl around seventeen or eighteen. The woman was Senator Elisabeth Dooley, her husband’s counterpart, the senior US senator from the great state of Maine. Elisabeth had first been elected in 2008, several years before Stephen, and had been reelected in 2014. With her second term now winding down, she had decided to try for a third, and was currently in the midst of a robust campaign squaring off against a conservative firebrand, who, surprisingly, was not that far behind her in the polls.
Sandra had met Elisabeth on numerous occasions and, to be honest, wasn’t a huge fan. In front of the microphone, Senator Dooley was a dynamo, full of passion and grit, but away from the cameras, she was far more reserved and, in Sandra’s opinion, could come off as somewhat cold and remote.
Maybe they just didn’t have much in common.
Stephen seemed to like her enough, but Sandra always wondered if his fondness for her was out of political necessity rather than a genuine attraction to her personality.
In any event, Sandra decided it would be rude not to say hello, so she marched down the hallway, heels clicking on the marble floor, toward Senator Dooley, whose back was now to her. When Sandra was close enough she stopped suddenly, as she was now within earshot of Senator Dooley’s conversation with, it turned out, her daughter, Kendra, if Sandra’s memory was correct.
“You slouched in your chair the whole time. It was embarrassing!” Senator Dooley spit out at the young woman.
“I said I was sorry,” Kendra whined.
“How do you expect to get anywhere if you can’t even be bothered to present good posture? You mumbled your way through, I could barely hear what you were saying, and you gave so many one-word answers to Mr. Hanes’s questions, the poor man finally gave up and ended the interview early.”
“It wasn’t that bad.” She sighed.
“Yes, Kendra, it was that bad,” Senator Dooley snipped.
“Parents aren’t even supposed to be in there for the interview. He just didn’t dare say no to you when you said you wanted to sit in,” Kendra muttered.
“If I hadn’t jumped in to help, he’d never even know about all your charity work or political involvement. You didn’t even try to impress him. It’s not like we have the luxury of leaning on your GPA or SAT scores.”
Sandra wanted to do a one-eighty and spin off in the opposite direction, but at this point she was just too close to them. Any slight movement she made would be noticed instantly.
Senator Dooley had leaned slightly to the left, so Sandra now had a clear view of her wagging an admonishing finger in front of her daughter’s reddened yet defiant face.
“I will be shocked if they let you in after that lackluster performance!” Senator Dooley hissed.
The girl shrugged. “What’s the big deal? You’re just going to strong-arm them into admitting me anyway because you’re like this hugely important senator.”
Senator Dooley reared back, raising a hand, almost as if she was about to slap her daughter across the cheek but thought better of it, slowly closed her hand and returned it to her side. “I do not appreciate you talking to me like that.”
Suddenly the girl’s eyes flicked toward Sandra, who stood awkwardly in the middle of the hall, just a few feet away.
Her mother noticed Kendra distracted by someone and swung around, almost gasping at the sight of Sandra, who was forcing a smile, pretending she hadn’t heard a word of the tense conversation between mother and daughter.
The anger in Senator Dooley’s face swiftly melted away, and she was now all smiles and sweetness. “Sandra!”
“Elisabeth!” Sandra chirped. “I thought that was you.”
Senator Dooley gripped her daughter’s arm tightly, pushing her forward. “Kendra, you remember Mrs. Wallage, Stephen’s wife.”
“Hi,” the girl said listlessly.
Senator Dooley released her grip and Kendra immediately shrunk back as her mother rushed forward to give Sandra the practiced warm and friendl. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...