Petal to the Metal
Forty-two-year-old Mia Thorne is not living her best life. After a disastrous career-and-relationship-ending event, she escapes New York City and moves to a sleepy river town in Pennsylvania, courtesy of a dead aunt she never knew. Aunt Hazel was the reclusive family nut, a self-proclaimed psychic. Of course, Mia’s dad always told her that she, too, had the gift, but after his death, her mother made sure to squelch the notion. No square pegs allowed!
Aunt Hazel’s old cottage is only slightly better than the decrepit gardens surrounding it. Mia doesn’t know the first thing about gardening and expects this will be one more failure on her seemingly endless list. Even Aunt Hazel’s ancient cat seems to have pegged her as a loser.
When Mia stumbles over a body in the overgrown garden, the newcomer catches the eye of the police chief and his hotshot detective, Derek Fairfax, and she becomes the number one suspect in the case. Much to her shock and awe, she also catches the eye of Derek’s brother, Dane, a lawyer with a head for what’s legal and a bod for what isn’t—but getting arrested for murder would certainly put a damper on her dating life.
Will Mia tap into her long-buried psychic skills in order to save herself or will she end up digging her own grave?
Petal to the Metal is the first book in The Bloomin’ Psychic series.
Release date: January 28, 2021
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Print pages: 213
Reader says this book is...: female sleuth (1) great world-building (1) quirky supporting cast (1) realistic characters (1)
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Petal to the Metal
Pellets of rain smacked me in the face as I made my way to the office on 53rd and Broadway. Spring in New York City wasn’t all outdoor seating and strolls through Central Park, not when the damp air chilled me to the bone. I wish I’d worn my false lashes today. They’d behave like sexy soldiers, protecting my eyeballs from the invading droplets.
I was relieved when my client cancelled our appointment first thing this morning. I’d tossed and turned last night, unable to sleep for some unidentifiable reason. A late night search on the internet narrowed the options down to perimenopause or pregnancy. It felt strange to be at an age where it could be either one. The morning brought clarity and I’d realized it was likely anxiety, knowing what was on my agenda later today.
I’d been tempted to stay in the apartment and watch Bravo reruns for an hour after the client’s cancellation, but I thought it best to get to the office sooner rather than later. I did, however, linger in Starbucks for an extra twenty minutes while I sipped a latte and read Page Six on my phone. I fidgeted in my chair as I reviewed the latest scandals, eagerly anticipating the rest of the day. I’d decided to take advantage of the absence of my no-nonsense boss. Associate Publisher Lynette Regal was in Austin this week for an annual film festival. She ruled over our department with an iron fist, the kind of woman who made grown men weep into the sleeves of their Gucci dress shirts and babies long to crawl back into the womb. I swore up and down to my boyfriend Andrew that I once saw a Christmas cactus wilt in her presence, but he didn’t believe me.
At the thought of Andrew, a smile formed on my lips. Today would be one for the memory books. I’d arranged for him to meet me in the lobby at two o’clock under the guise of going for coffee. Little did he know…
The cubicles were mostly empty when I arrived on the eleventh floor. It seemed the other salespeople were either meeting with clients or sheltering from the rain in their apartments. I couldn’t see past the partition to the editorial department, although I could hear the voice of the New York bureau chief. Steve Bamberger always spoke about five decibels louder than everybody else. I suspected he had an undiagnosed hearing issue. Steve was in his late fifties and I got the impression that no one told him what to do, whether it was in his best interest or not.
I rounded the corner and was disappointed to see Carole Salisbury at her desk. The older woman was my immediate neighbor in the office, so naturally she’d be the one who decided to make an appearance this morning. I was hoping to have a little downtime and plan for the afternoon’s event, but Carole harbored an unhealthy fear of our boss and was therefore eager to throw anyone under the bus if it kept Carole out of the doghouse for the day. It didn’t matter that Lynette was away. The brickhouse of a woman could pester and bully her staff from any distance thanks to modern technology.
“Hey,” I said, brushing past Carole’s desk to reach mine. I dumped my bag on the floor and dropped into the chair. I wasn’t a fan of morning chitchat and it was hard to stop Carole’s mouth from moving once it started.
“That’s some serious rain, huh?” Carole asked. She immediately spun around in her chair to engage me in conversation. Great.
“I narrowly avoided a puddle on the corner,” I said. The well-dressed guy standing next to me got splashed by a passing cab—RIP Dolce & Gabbana loafers.
“I’m excited for this afternoon,” Carole said. “I’ve been practicing in my apartment before bed. The cats don’t like it, though. They hide when they hear the music.”
“Andrew thinks I’ve joined a dance class,” I said. “He has no idea what I’ve been planning.” He left for work before I was awake this morning, so I was able to squeeze in another practice run on my own.
“I think it’s a fun idea. I’m so glad you got so many of us involved.” She snorted awkwardly. “I don’t think I’ll want to watch myself on the video though.”
“You’re on the far end,” I reminded her. “If you want to avoid seeing yourself, it should be easy enough.”
“I still can’t believe you roped Steve and Monica into it,” Carole said.
I smiled. “I can be charming when I want to be.” It was how I’d managed to survive in sales for as long as I had. The only reason Carole was still here was because she knew where all the bodies were buried. Lynette relied on her more than she would ever admit, but Carole was one of those women who didn’t recognize her worth and Lynette was more than happy to exploit that weakness. Poor Carole had a habit of diving beneath her desk and huddling into a ball whenever Lynette arrived in the office. For an arthritic woman in her sixties, her lightning-quick movements never failed to impress me. As far as I knew, she’d never once pulled a muscle.
I went through the motions of the day, calling clients and scheduling appointments, but my mind was on the afternoon. I hoped the rain didn’t keep people out of the office or it would ruin the plan. I wasn’t the most organized person in the world, except when it came to planning something fun. If you needed to organize a bachelorette party, I was your woman. At forty-two, I’d planned enough of them to consider myself a professional. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, not that I’d been bothered by it. I’d always known my time would come eventually. My mother was on her third marriage and it seemed to me that practice did not, in fact, make perfect.
I scarfed down a bowl of minestrone soup for lunch and tried not to splatter it on my clothes. I didn’t want my penchant for sloppiness to be memorialized onscreen. As more people trickled into the office, I started to relax. Everything was going to work out, no matter what the persistent voice in my head told me.
At two o’clock, I made my way down to the lobby where everyone had arranged to meet. Tricia, one of the administrative assistants, had agreed to handle the recording because she’d broken her leg skiing in January and wasn’t able to participate. I knew we’d want a memento of the occasion.
By the time we were all assembled in the lobby, I counted twenty-five people. I waved to Rhonda from accounting, who was decked out in a hot pink tracksuit, ready for her closeup. Half of the participants I only knew by name because we rarely socialized. Salespeople weren’t allowed to fraternize with the editorial staff, so a single dance routine would be the closest thing to a bonding experience we’d ever have. The security guards were kind enough to section off an area for us so that no one walked through at an inopportune moment. No one except Andrew, of course.
The seconds ticked by and there was no sign of him. I checked my phone for messages. Seeing none, I called and threw in another text for good measure. The rain would make it more difficult for him to arrive in midtown at this time of day. I just had to be patient.
Monica checked her watch. “I’m going to need to go in a few minutes. I have an interview scheduled.”
As I was about to throw in the towel, I spotted Andrew’s head bobbing between two others on its way toward the revolving door.
“Hit it!” I called over my shoulder.
I hurriedly took my place front and center and signaled for everyone to begin. The song I’d chosen was I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters. Andrew and I didn’t have a song per se, but I figured if I was going to propose, then choosing a song that expressed excitement about marrying him was the right call.
The revolving door spit Andrew into the lobby, where he stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of us. Everyone within earshot gathered around to watch the flash mob in action. It was exhilarating and I enjoyed every second of it, even when I tweaked my lower back on one of the turns. The ibuprofen and heating pad later would be worth it.
The final moment had me sliding on my knees to land in front of Andrew while the four dancers behind me each held up a sign with a single word that amounted to Will You Marry Me?
I ignored the sharp pain in my left knee and beamed up at a slack-jawed Andrew.
“What is all this?” he asked.
Not the reaction I’d hoped for.
“What does it look like? It’s a flash mob proposal.” I remained on my knees, mainly because I couldn’t get up without help.
Andrew took a step backward, two bright spots forming on his cheeks. “I thought we were meeting for coffee. I had something to discuss with you.”
“I guess that something wasn’t marriage.” My stomach began to churn. It seemed that my incredible idea wasn’t so incredible after all. I heard someone tell Tricia to stop filming.
“I need to go,” Andrew said. “This was a mistake.” He turned and nearly got stuck in the revolving door in his haste to escape.
I felt a hand slide under my armpit and help me to my feet.
“Thank you, everyone,” I said weakly. I followed the herd back to the elevator bank and stuffed myself between two of the reporters. I held my breath to avoid the stench of body odor.
I returned to my desk in a haze of disappointment and humiliation.
“You caught him by surprise, that’s all,” Carole said. “He probably wanted to be the one to propose.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s it.” But I wasn’t sure at all. The look in Andrew’s eyes…
“I think we should do a flash mob with Santa hats and make it our holiday video next year.”
“It’s March. Plenty of time to plan that one.” The back of my neck began to bother me. It felt like a dozen tiny needles pricking my skin. Maybe I’d tweaked more than my lower back without realizing it.
“Are you okay?” Carole asked. “You look pale.”
I rubbed the back of my neck in an effort to ease the discomfort. “I’ll be fine.”
She handed me a bottled water from her desk drawer. “Here. Drink this.”
As I unscrewed the lid, I heard Steve’s voice from the other side of the partition.
“It was only harmless fun, Lynette,” he said, and my stomach plummeted.
Carole swiveled around to look at me, the color draining from her face. How could Lynette have gotten wind of it already?
Carole and I stared at the phone on my desk, waiting for it to ring.
“It wasn’t anything official,” I heard Steve say. Protecting his sources was second nature to him and I was grateful for the instinct. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m the bureau chief and I have no problem with it, so I don’t get why you should care.”
I closed my eyes and swore under my breath. I thought we’d dodge the Lynette bullet but apparently not. The woman had eyes and ears everywhere.
Steve slammed down the phone and called Lynette a few choice names.
“Thanks, Steve,” I yelled.
“You’re not out of the woods yet,” he called back. “You know Lynette. She’s like a dog with a bone.”
He wasn’t wrong. Her nickname in certain circles was ‘the pit bull,’ which I considered an insult to pit bulls.
Carole’s phone rang—not the landline but her cell phone. Her hands began to shake.
“Don’t answer it,” I said.
Carole’s hand hovered over the phone. “I can’t ignore her.”
“You can,” I said. “Pretend you’re in the bathroom. No one answers the phone in the bathroom.”
“I do when it’s Lynette,” Carole admitted.
Of course she did.
The ringing stopped and we breathed a collective sigh of relief—until my phone lit up.
I’d just had a marriage proposal rejected by my boyfriend. Did I really need to deal with one of Lynette’s tantrums too?
“Here we go.” I clicked the screen. “Hey, Lynette. How are you?”
“How do you think I am after what I just saw?”
“I feel like I should be the one saying that.”
“Karaoke at the holiday party wasn’t enough for you, was it? This company doesn’t exist to be your personal playground, you know.” She didn’t give me a chance to respond. Her tirade included more swear words than a Jersey shore party. There were also accusations of destroying the integrity of the paper and making a mockery of her.
“I don’t see why you’re so angry about this,” I managed to interrupt.
“We’re the most respected entertainment publication in the business and you’ve reduced us to a laughingstock on social media,” she screamed.
I rubbed my forehead, confused. “Social media? I didn’t post this anywhere. It was meant to be private.” Private humiliation, as it turned out.
“Carole shared it on Twitter and tagged me,” Lynette said.
I glared at Carole. “Carole uploaded it and tagged you?” I repeated slowly.
Carole froze, her face flushed with guilt. “Oops.”
“Life is not a cabaret, Amelia. Actions have consequences. I’ve been willing to overlook your shortcomings because you get results, but the time has come.”
I shot Carole an exasperated look as Steve rounded the corner to watch the showdown.
“It’s bad enough that you showed editorial and advertising in cahoots like that. There are long-established rules at this company,” she continued.
“We weren’t in cahoots. We also had accounting and administrative assistants involved,” I said.
“No one will care. It calls our integrity into question and I can’t abide that. You’re fired.”
My throat went dry. “Fired?” I croaked.
“I’m calling security to escort you out. You’ve embarrassed this company beyond belief. You’ll never work in this town again after this debacle, Amelia Thorne.”
“But it was only a flash mob…”
Lynette hung up.
Slowly, I lowered the phone to the desk, staring vacantly ahead.
“Mia, I’m so sorry,” Carole said. “I uploaded the fun part, not what happened afterward. I never get to do stuff like this and I wanted to show people…”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I wasn’t thinking. I always tag her on Twitter. It was an autopilot click.”
I couldn’t blame Carole. I was the organizer. The instigator. The troublemaker. The rabble rouser. I figured if Lynette found out at some point that she’d call me into her office and give me a firm dressing down, maybe take away a lucrative client to prove a point before congratulating me on my impending nuptials. I expected her to throw me an engagement party, not to fire me.
Steve dragged a hand through his thinning hair. “I’m so sorry, Mia. Lynette is being ridiculous, as always. Let me call Bob and talk to him on your behalf.”
Even the Publisher himself couldn’t save me now. Once you were in Lynette’s bad graces, the best thing to do was exit stage left before she made your life a living hell. I’d seen it enough times to know.
“It’s fine. I shouldn’t have used company resources for a personal matter.”
Kimberly from Human Resources approached us with an empty cardboard box. “I understand you need this, Amelia?” She set the box on my desk. “Let me know if you need any help. Security will escort you out when you’re finished.”
Kimberly had axed enough employees on Lynette’s behalf to show no emotion. She hadn’t been a part of the flash mob either, so she didn’t share the guilt that Steve and Carole probably felt.
The Walk of Shame seemed to take an eternity. I walked past the rows of cubicles to the elevator bank, which seemed to stop on every floor before it reached me, prolonging my agony. No one spoke to me. They were all too afraid of guilt by association. Lynette once fired someone in the elevator because she disliked the smell of his aftershave. I don’t know why I thought I was immune. Well, my hubris finally caught up with me.
I emerged from the lobby into the pouring rain and watched the water soak right through the cardboard box. On the bright side, the raindrops camouflaged the tears that streaked my face. I ducked under the nearest awning and set the box down to call Andrew.
“Call me when you get this, please. We obviously need to talk. Today was horrendous and all I want right now is a full glass of wine and a foot massage.”
I couldn’t hail a cab with my arms full which meant I had to take the subway. Also not easy when carrying a box. Even worse, the subway had the stench of dampness. I hated going underground when it rained, but there was no choice. Under the circumstances, I wasn’t about to walk thirty-six blocks.
When I finally arrived at the apartment building, I noticed the doorman flinch when he spotted me. Odd. I usually had a nice chat with James at the end of the day. Or Terrence. Maybe Marc. Whatever his name was, he seemed to like me well enough, so his reaction upon seeing me was strange.
“Everything good?” I asked.
“Cold one today, huh?” he said, pretending to shiver. “I’m looking forward to spring weather.”
“You and me both,” I said. I trudged past him and through the lobby to the elevator. It was a pre-war building with all the beauty and embellishments of the era’s architecture. Unfortunately, that also meant a pre-war elevator. It crawled to the fourth floor and I took the opportunity to dig through my purse for the key. I had a habit of misplacing things, including keys and security cards. I’d lost my security card no fewer than a dozen times during my tenure.
Well, that wouldn’t be an issue anymore.
I discovered the key at the bottom of my purse and felt victorious as I attempted to slide the serrated edge into the lock.
Except it didn’t fit.
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