In the new installment from veteran Hollywood screenwriter Lee Hollis, friends, moms, and P.I. partners Maya and Sandra have left their hometown of Portland, Maine, on a school trip to Washington, D.C.—where a killer has just added murder to the itinerary . . .
Drafted as chaperones, Maya Kendrick and PTA president Sandra Wallage are accompanying the SoPo High seniors to the nation's capital—much to the embarrassment of Maya's daughter Vanessa and Sandra's son Ryan. Now both moms are about to find out which is harder—shepherding unruly high schoolers or solving a murder. The last sight they expected to see on this trip is a female intern who works for Sandra's soon-to-be-ex-husband, Senator Stephen Wallage, in a fatally compromising position.
Desperate to avoid scandal, Stephen begs Maya and Sandra to solve the case. But their FBI counterparts—tough-as-nails agents Markey and Rhodes—are far less enthusiastic about the meddling of two "amateurs." With suspects ranging from senators to students to stalkers, Maya and Sandra must follow a twisty trail of clues so they can catch a killer and survive to make the return trip . . .
Release date: November 29, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 288
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Murder on the Class Trip
As his wife, Maya, watched him emerge, his eyes squinting from the harsh midday sun, she noticed how much he had aged in those few short years. And yet, she still recognized the impossibly handsome patrolman she had fallen in love with almost twenty years ago, that day when she had first started as a rookie at the South Portland Police Department and he had been assigned as her training officer. When they were both young and filled with wide-eyed optimism and hopelessly in love, before it all went so spectacularly wrong.
Their daughter, seventeen-year-old Vanessa, who physically took after her mother’s dark Latin features but had inherited her Scottish father’s sharp sense of humor and boundless charm, broke into a run toward her dad the moment she spotted him ambling past the gates and into the parking lot where they had prearranged to meet.
Max, still blinded by the sun, stopped in his tracks, somewhat startled by the sense of someone suddenly charging toward him, but he quickly realized who it was, and threw his arms wide open to embrace her. Father and daughter hugged for the longest time, and Maya could see the tears welling up in Max’s eyes as he held on tightly to Vanessa, the best thing to come out of their long-fractured marriage.
Welcoming her father home was all Vanessa could talk about these last few months. She had just assumed he would move back home and live with them again, but Maya knew in her gut that that was hardly a sure thing.
Not by a long shot.
Maya had struggled in the beginning, both financially and emotionally, following Max’s arrest and trial. There were divorce papers, decisions to make, but in the end, she couldn’t deny the fact that she still loved the man, and she finally told him that she would be there for him when he got paroled.
But she was understandably reticent. There was so much to still work out. So much had changed. The big rambling colonial house the family had lived in when Vanessa was growing up had long been sold to pay down Max’s exorbitant legal costs. Maya and Vanessa were forced to downsize after Max went to prison, settling on a far more modest two-bedroom one-bath home they were renting as Maya tried to get her fledgling private investigation firm up and running.
Since his incarceration, Maya had established a whole new life without Max. Vanessa, on the other hand, was ready to pick right up right where they had left off. She wanted nothing more than to just be a normal family again, but Maya knew all the challenges that lay ahead.
Max’s sudden presence was going to upend everything.
There would be a lot of trial and error.
She wasn’t even sure if she was ready for any of this.
But she did know one thing.
She was happy he was finally out from behind bars.
His debt to society had been paid and he was now free to make a fresh start. And she would do whatever she could to make this transition easier for him. She just didn’t know if she could be a good wife again. Or if he was ready to be a husband. They were both way out of practice.
Max raised his eyes to meet Maya, and she mustered a warm smile.
Max, with a muscled arm around Vanessa’s shoulders, led his daughter back over to her mother. There was a slight hesitancy on Max’s part when they reached her. He was clearly debating whether he should go in for a passionate kiss, or just a hug, or, most awkwardly, a forced handshake. Max chose a quick, friendly peck on the cheek, nothing too loaded.
“Nice to see you, babe,” he said. “Thanks for . . . showing up.”
Maya nodded, taking him in. “Of course.”
She studied his apprehensive face.
Yes, he had aged.
There were some crinkles around the eyes that she hadn’t seen before, not even at their monthly visits at the prison.
She wanted to keep a comfortable distance.
But she now found it incredibly hard.
Not with him standing so close to her, looking so nervous and vulnerable.
Waiting for her to make the first move.
Maya couldn’t take it anymore. She finally reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling both him and Vanessa toward her and into a tight family group hug.
That’s when the waterworks started.
Maya found herself crying.
Overcome with relief and, yes, happiness.
“I love you,” Max whispered softly in her ear.
She nodded, tensing up a bit.
He could feel it. She could almost hear him berating himself in his mind for going too far too soon.
But the more he held her, the more she relaxed in his warm embrace, until she was finally able to say it back to him. “I love you too.”
She had made a promise to him to try to be a family again. And she was going to work hard at keeping that promise, praying it would all work out the way it was supposed to in the end.
Vanessa squeezed Max one more time before breaking the hug. “Come on, Dad, let’s go home.”
A pleasant, polite assistant who had introduced himself as Chad ushered Maya and her partner, Sandra Wallage, into the spacious office of South Portland High School principal Caroline Williams, who sat behind a large oak desk adorned with family photos and stacks of papers.
“Can I get you ladies coffee?” Chad asked sweetly.
“Yes, please, black, thank you,” Maya, the caffeine junkie, quickly answered.
Sandra shook her head. “I’m fine, thank you, Chad.”
He nodded slightly and scooted out as Principal Williams stood up and extended her hand. “I appreciate you coming in on such short notice, ladies.”
“No problem at all,” Maya said, shaking the principal’s hand before taking a seat.
Sandra followed suit.
They were both excited.
They hadn’t had a paying client in weeks.
Bills were due.
They needed work.
Of course, Sandra was fine financially. She never had to worry about bills. This was more Maya’s constant concern.
The ominous message from Principal Williams on the office voice mail that morning suggested she needed their expertise in solving a serious problem. They were reasonably certain that there was no issue with their own kids, who were both students at the school, since the principal had not contacted them at home, choosing to phone the office instead.
“How can we help you?” Maya asked, striking a professional tone.
Principal Williams sat back down in her chair and sighed. “Well, I’m in a bit of a bind. One of my teachers, Dory Baumgarten, is having hip surgery next week, and Stan Lennox, he’s the father of Kevin Lennox, a senior, had to go out of town unexpectedly for work, leaving me high and dry.”
Maya and Sandra exchanged confused looks.
Realizing the two women had no clue what she was talking about, Principal Williams plowed ahead. “They had both agreed to chaperone the senior class trip to Washington, DC, next week, and now they have both pulled out at the last minute,” Williams calmly explained.
“Wait, what?” Maya asked, pivoting back to the principal.
“I was hoping you two might be open to taking their places.”
“As chaperones?” Sandra gasped.
“Yes. It’s a four-day excursion, led by our history teacher Fern Wiggins. You know Fern, she’s such a lovely lady, and she’s been planning this trip for months. She had a devil of a time raising the necessary funds, but in the end, against all odds, she managed to do it, God bless her.” Williams noticed the blank looks on Sandra’s and Maya’s faces. “You both look somewhat perplexed.”
“We thought you wanted to hire us,” Sandra said.
“As detectives?” Williams chuckled. “Goodness no. What would I need detectives for? I can assure you my husband Amir is aggressively faithful. He would never stray, not in a million years.”
“People hire detectives for a whole host of reasons,” Maya said quietly. “It’s not always to tail cheating spouses.”
“Well, I’m sorry for the confusion, but I need you as parents, not private detectives,” Williams said. “I thought since both Vanessa and Ryan are going on the trip, you might be willing to fill in, since it is such an essential part of their educational experience.”
Maya could sense Sandra wavering, and knew she needed to nip this in the bud immediately. “I’m sorry, but we’re very busy; we’re presently working on a number of cases.”
It was a bald-faced lie.
And by the look on Principal Williams’s face, she instinctively knew it.
Williams sighed. “Well, I can’t say I’m not disappointed. I just hope we don’t have to cancel the whole trip.”
She said this almost as if issuing a warning.
Chad returned with Maya’s coffee and handed it to her. Maya gulped it down, frantically working up a response as Chad scurried back out of the office. Sandra watched her, amused. Finally, Maya carefully set the cup down on the edge of Principal Williams’s desk, took a deep breath, and exhaled.
“I’m sure you can find a couple of replacements for Dory and Stan,” Maya said offhandedly, eager to get out of there as fast as possible. She knew what a handful their own kids could be, let alone twenty-five of them on a long bus trip and four days of touring the nation’s capital. She shot up to her feet and spun around, heading for the door. “Good luck. Let’s go, Sandra.”
Principal Williams called after her, “Would you do me a favor, and just think about it?”
Maya was halfway out of the office when Sandra’s voice stopped her in her tracks.
“Yes, absolutely. We will think about it.”
That was Sandra.
And a major pushover.
Never wanting to disappoint anyone.
“I promise to keep looking, but if you could give me an answer by Friday, that would be terrific. If I haven’t found anyone by then, I’m afraid I’m just going to have to pull the plug on the whole thing.”
Maya knew how much Vanessa had been looking forward to this trip. Ryan, too, according to Sandra. But this was too much of an ask. There was no way she was going to put herself through something as stressful and chaotic as a class field trip out of state.
Outside the office in the hallway, far away from the prying eyes and ears of the principal and her staff, Maya huddled with Sandra.
“You’re not serious about going, are you?”
“No, of course not, but I didn’t want to just turn her down flat, without at least offering to think about it. It makes us look like bad parents.”
“We’re not bad parents to worry about our own emotional well-being, and believe me, chasing after a band of out-of-control teenagers in a strange city would not be good for our overall mental health.”
“I just said we’d consider it; I didn’t commit us in any concrete way,” Sandra assured her.
“Fine, so we just pretend to give it some thought, and then first thing Friday morning we call Williams and tell her we can’t do it, a big case needs all of our focus and attention, something like that.”
“Right. I’m sure she can find two other parents; I mean there’s over twenty kids going. Why ask us?”
“Because you’re a Senator’s wife and you were the PTA president at one point, you’re like the perfect guardian to look after kids; you ooze responsibility. Why she would ask me is the bigger mystery! I’m always late for the parent-teacher conferences and my husband just got out of prison.”
“You’re a good mother, Maya,” Sandra insisted.
“I would definitely agree with that,” someone said from behind Maya.
They both turned to see a handsome young man in his late twenties, wearing an aqua-colored Polo shirt that brought out the ocean blue in his intense eyes. He had shaggy blond hair and a friendly smile. From the whistle he wore around his neck, it was obvious he was some kind of sports coach.
“Lucas, it’s been forever,” Maya said, giving him a hug before turning back around to Sandra. “Sandra, this is Lucas; he’s the new athletic director.”
He brightened at the sight of Sandra.
As he took Sandra’s hand to shake it, you could almost see an electric charge shoot through him.
“Lucas Cavill,” he said in a deep, melodious voice.
“Sandra Wallage,” she said modestly, although it was debatably a false modesty since everyone in the state of Maine knew who Sandra was, given her husband served as one of its United States Senators.
“Lucas was one of Vinnie’s protégés,” Maya said.
Coach Vinnie Cooper had worked for decades at SoPo High. He was a legend and a close personal friend of Maya’s. He was now heading up a college program in Illinois.
“Vinnie taught me everything I know,” Lucas said. “He also put in a good word for me when his replacement didn’t work out last year. I owe him everything. Give him my best when you talk to him.”
“I will,” Maya promised.
“What brings you here? Is Vanessa in hot water?” Lucas cracked.
Maya chuckled. “No, she’s much better behaved than I ever was in high school. Principal Williams is trying to wrangle us into chaperoning the senior trip to DC.”
“That would be awesome. I’m already signed up. As the new guy, Williams basically told me, I was in no position to say no. Please tell me you’re going, so I’ll have some fun people to hang with. No offense to Fern Wiggins, but let’s face it, she’s a little too high-strung to be considered anywhere near fun.”
“We’re thinking about it,” Sandra said.
“No, we’re not,” Maya argued. “It’s a hard pass.”
“Well, I’m a cockeyed optimist, so I’ll keep thinking good thoughts,” Lucas said.
A couple of female students wandered past them, giggling and whispering amongst themselves, clearly covertly discussing the hunky new coach.
Lucas checked his watch. “I’m late for a phys ed class. Maya, good seeing you . . .” He stopped and stared at Sandra. “Sandra, a real pleasure.”
“Same here,” Sandra answered, slightly flustered.
Lucas bounded off, ignoring the gazes of those smitten female students huddled together next to a locker.
“He is so into you,” Maya remarked.
“Oh, please, he is not,” Sandra said dismissively. “He’s like a whole decade younger than me.”
“Barely a decade, and trust me, I know the guy, and I can tell he likes you . . . a lot.”
“This whole matchmaker thing. That’s the last thing I need right now. Especially after what happened last year.”
A whirlwind romance with a billionaire tech guy that ultimately crashed and burned. Perhaps it was too soon after her separation from her husband, Stephen, but it had certainly soured her on any relationships, at least in the short term.
“Fine, I will stay out of it,” Maya said.
Sandra gave her a skeptical look.
She didn’t believe her.
And for Maya’s part, she didn’t exactly believe herself either.
Sandra’s son Ryan slammed his fork down, his eyes fixed on his mother, who was seated at the head of the dining room table. “Please tell me you did not say yes!”
Sandra took a small bite of her Chicken Milanese and chewed thoughtfully before answering. “I said we’d think about it.”
“But you can’t; you just can’t,” Ryan protested, swiveling his head around to his girlfriend, Vanessa, who sat next to him. “Tell them they can’t.”
Vanessa glanced at her mother, Maya, who was sipping a glass of Chardonnay on the other end of the table, and casually said, “You can’t.”
Her father, Max, who was next to Maya, stabbed at a few of the roasted curried carrots left on his plate. He chuckled softly to himself, seemingly enjoying all of this.
Maya set her wineglass down. “Listen, I’m with you two. The last thing I want to do is go on a trip with a bunch of rowdy teenagers.”
“Then why are we even having this discussion?” Ryan huffed.
“Because your mother wouldn’t let me dismiss the idea out of hand. She’s forcing us to drag out our decision and pretend that there is a possibility we might agree to go.”
Ryan picked up his fork and a knife and began to nervously cut a piece of meat, brutally sawing it and then popping a hunk in his mouth. “But why? What’s the point? You’re not really going to go, right? I mean, the whole idea of this trip is for us to get away from our parents for a few days!”
Sandra leveled her eyes at Ryan. “No, the idea is for you to learn a little about history and politics in our nation’s capital. And please stop talking with your mouth full.”
Max gave an involuntary snort, then quickly snatched up his napkin and wiped his mouth. “Excuse me. This chicken is amazing, Sandra.”
“Thank you, Max.”
“I haven’t had a meal this good in . . . I don’t know when.”
Sandra smiled, not sure how to respond. She wasn’t sure if she should acknowledge his last few years spent in prison.
Maya cackled, sensing her discomfort. “He’s not referring to the prison slop he’s been eating for the last four years. I’m just a really lousy cook at home.”
Max gently put a hand over Maya’s and smiled. “You do your best, babe.”
“Dad’s actually the chef in the family, we used to watch all those Food Network shows together on Sundays when I was a little kid, and then we’d go experiment in the kitchen all afternoon, and then Mom would come home and she’d get so mad because it looked like a bomb went off in the kitchen,” Vanessa said, laughing at the memory.
“Can we get back to the more important topic?” Ryan whined. “If you two go, the whole trip will be ruined! It’ll be so humiliating having our mothers hovering around us the whole time!”
“I had no idea I was such a supreme embarrassment to you,” Sandra said, winking at Vanessa, who grinned.
“Vanessa, why aren’t you more upset about this? I thought you’d be more helpful lobbying against this.”
“. . .
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