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Death by Naked Ladies - E-book

Death by Naked Ladies - E-book

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Book 1 in the Saint-Maurice Mysteries series

A quiet Beaujolais village. A gruesome murder. What they need is… a pin-up photographer?

Don’t you hate it when a sexy young man shows up on your doorstep and wants to be your assistant? My criminal ex-husband’s nephew seems to think I need him. But even in this rural French village, my photography business is doing very well, thank you.

The moment he arrives, the village is overrun with poison pen letters, and the old postmistress turns up dead. I convince myself it’s a coincidence, until one of those nasty letters finds its way into my letterbox. Is my unwanted assistant as innocent as he seems, or has my past finally caught up with me?

If I turn a blind eye, who will prevent another murder?


Death by Naked Ladies is a clean cozy mystery with an amateur woman sleuth and a hint of romance. If you like your cozies with a good puzzle plot, start reading Death by Naked Ladies now!

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  • Chapter 1: Can I stay here?

    The Harley stopped on my driveway just as I stepped outside to get my breakfast baguette. The loose leather jacket and closed helmet told me nothing about my daybreak visitor, drawing my eyes to the faded jeans stretched over his muscles. That was some pair of legs getting off that machine. He turned towards the house and lifted the helmet, freeing floppy gold locks that shimmered in the early morning sunlight.

    My breath caught in my throat when I recognised him.

    ‘Thibault?’

    He flashed me a smile that could dazzle the neighbours across the valley.

    Oh. My. Lady. The nerdy seventeen-year-old had grown up since I last saw him. ‘You look good.’

    ‘Thanks. I wish I could say the same.’

    Oh, it was him all right. My ex’s nephew, the spotted one in a family of black sheep. At least parts of him were decent. Though his name was Thibault, everyone called him Beau. It used to be sort of a teasing nickname, but apparently he’d grown into it.

    ‘What happened?’ I asked, gesturing up and down his body.

    He grinned. ‘I figured out that life gets easier if you look like you can handle it.’

    Did he now? ‘So what brings you here?’

    He raked a hand through his hair and unzipped his jacket, trying to hide a flash of embarrassment. Then the dimples were back in place. ‘I escaped.’

    Uh-oh. How old was he now? About ten years my junior, if I remembered correctly… Twenty-one. Hm. ‘So?’

    ‘So can I stay here?’

    Like I didn’t see that one coming. He was a nice guy, but I wasn’t keen on renewing contact with my ex-in-laws. My hesitation broke his cool.

    ‘Look, Julie, I wouldn’t have come here if I had anywhere else to go. You’re the most normal person I know, even though you take pictures of people’s butts. Please?’

    ‘My photographs are vintage-style pin-ups. I call them art.’ The glint of sunlight on chrome caught my eye as I chewed the inside of my lip. ‘Is that a ’59 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide?’

    His face went suspicious. ‘Yyyeeeeees?’

    ‘If you let me use it in a shoot, you can stay the night.’

    ‘Two.’

    I scrunched my eyes at him.

    He held his palms up. ‘Come on, that’s my baby! And you’ve got to give me a fighting chance. Maybe I can help you out with something?’

    I eyed him again, still not sure what to make of this. ‘Are those working muscles or gym muscles?’

    With a mischievous smirk he grabbed me by the waist and lifted me above his head.

    ‘All right! All right, you can stay. Put me down!’ When I was back on my feet, I straightened my pencil skirt. ‘Idiot,’ I muttered. Still, he was a charming idiot. I wondered if he’d let me photograph him.

    He shrugged and turned to pick up his backpack. On the back of his leather jacket was an embroidered emblem of the Beaujolais Bikers with his name, spelled T-Bo, across the top. A biker in my house. This was such a bad idea. Oblivious to my thoughts, Beau turned the lion’s head doorknob in the middle of the white wooden door and ambled into my personal – private – space. ‘Where do I sleep?’

    I hurried after him and blocked his path before he could get past the kitchen. I did not want him getting comfortable here. ‘There’s a spare bedroom above my studio. I use it as a changing room if I have a group shoot. You’ – I waved my index finger at him, imitating the way I’d seen his mother do it – ‘are to vacate the room, if not the premises, when there are naked women around!’

    He uttered a dramatic sigh, but then nodded. ‘Okay. Where is it?’

    I marched him back outside and led the way along the high wall connecting the house with the large barn that now functioned as my studio. In the middle of that wall, a couple of huge wooden doors led to the courtyard created by the house’s L-shape. We could have gone through the kitchen and crossed the courtyard to my studio from there, but I wanted it to be quite clear that he was not to invade my life any more than absolutely necessary.

    The main house retained its 1770s façade, but other than an enormous yellow stone fireplace and some cupboards built into the wall, nothing of the old farmhouse remained. Most of the houses in this part of the Beaujolais had enormous cellars with wine presses and tanks, but mine had been a farm all those centuries, not a winery. It did leave me with a big barn, though, and for my purposes, that was much more practical.

    A new glass front door was the first thing I’d put in after my great-aunt had signed the property over to me. I had used all my savings to turn the barn into the glorious modern studio we were now entering, but that door was the crowning glory. Every time I opened it, it was as though I was opening the door to my new life. My studio had been finished only three months ago, but because it was made to my specific design, it felt as though it had always been a part of me. It just needed that door so I could open it up.

    Most of the walls inside were white, to make the most of the light, but colourful forties and fifties memorabilia and props in strategic places added life to the space. The life of a Golden Age Hollywood movie star.

    I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing this. Plenty of women love to be photographed as a fifties pin-up. Not the feathers-and-corsets kind, mind you. The whoops-did-my-skirt-just-fly-up kind. It’s not the shape or the size of the woman, it’s the sass. Every woman has that sass, and I love to draw it out and capture it with my camera.

    As he entered my studio, Beau pointed out the collection of beautiful bottoms on the wall, both bountiful and more economically sized. ‘I like the variety.’

    I shrugged. ‘I don’t like to discriminate. Everyone has a right to look pretty.’

    ‘As long as they pay you for it, huh?’

    ‘Girl’s gotta live. Do you want to stay here or not?’

    He hurried along, passing my office on the left and the little kitchen area on the right, behind which an open spiral staircase led to the bedroom. Upstairs had the same white walls as my studio below, but in contrast to the polished concrete downstairs, the dark stained wooden floorboards lent this space a homey feel. Instead of buying more streamlined furniture, I’d decorated with some of the classic pieces my aunt had left behind. Most of my clients never saw this floor anyway. I only used it for larger groups so they could change together instead of having to cram into the small dressing area downstairs.

    Thibault gave the place a short, appraising look and threw his backpack into a corner.

    I folded my arms. ‘Will it do, your majesty?’

    ‘I’ll be gracious about it.’

    I huffed. ‘Right. Bathroom through here…’

    ‘Oh good, plenty of room for all my creams and tonics.’

    I glared at his tiny backpack but decided to let it pass. ‘Kitchen over here.’

    ‘That’s not a kitchen. The bathroom is bigger!’

    ‘You’ll only be here for two nights. Leave the gourmet meals until you find another kitchen to sleep in.’ I was beginning to wonder why I’d let him stay in the first place. Old time’s sake, I supposed.

    He only grumbled a little at that, probably realising his situation did not allow him to antagonise me. An odd mix of sweet and sour emotions rolled over his face. ‘Thank you, Juju.’

    I bit my lip, knowing full well why I’d let him in. He was a happy little puppy in a home full of mean old junkyard dogs. I could never have turned him away. But if his happy little puppy dog eyes got to me, he might not see the necessity of leaving my man-free sanctuary sooner rather than later.

    ‘Don’t mention it.’ I turned towards the stairs. ‘I was actually on my way to the boulangerie. Do you want something?’

    ‘I ate, thanks.’

    As I descended the spiral stairs, he threw himself outstretched onto the sofa opposite the bed, rubbing his face with his hands. Escaped, huh? I was dying to know what that meant, but now clearly wasn’t the right time to ask. I always thought he was quite happy living with his mother, but then, I hadn’t talked to him in five years. He’d tell me what had happened in due time. Maybe nothing, maybe everything, but it was probably best that he’d left. Even with Franck out of the picture, that family was nothing but a bad influence. And they didn’t deal too well with curiosity…

    Fancy coming here, though! He must really have had nowhere else to go. We hadn’t seen each other since before my divorce. I shuddered. Best to leave the past in the past for now. I’d have to revisit it soon enough if Beau would open up.

    My stomach rumbled as I closed the door to the studio behind me. I’m not usually an early riser, but after waking at six I hadn’t been able to fall back asleep. I’d decided to get an early start on my paperwork. Since the bakery didn’t open until seven, I’d had to postpone breakfast. Even more with the unexpected arrival of Blondie. But he was now safely tucked away, and I was determined to continue with my regular day.

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L
Linda Owens
Death by naked ladies

I think this is a great book that everyone would enjoy reading