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Lady Wynwood #7 early release Kickstarter

I worked on my first Kickstarter and it got approved! It’s for the Special Edition Hardcover of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 1: Archer and the release of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 7: Spinster. I contacted my graphic designer about the Special Edition Hardcover of vol. 1: Archer—it’s going to be SO beautiful! The Kickstarter focuses on the Special Edition Hardcover, but it’ll also include vol. 7: Spinster so that it’ll sort of be like a launch day for vol. 7, too. A third special thing that’ll be in the Kickstarter is Special Edition Paperbacks of all the books in the series. They won’t be available in stores, just in the Kickstarter (and later, from my website, and also in my Patreon book box tiers if I decide to do them). The Kickstarter is not live yet, but you can follow it to be alerted when it has launched. (You may need to create a free Kickstarter account.) Follow Camy’s Kickstarter

Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 22

I’m posting a Humorous Christian Romantic Suspense serial novel here on my blog! Year of the Dog is a (second) prequel to my Warubozu Spa Chronicles series.

Year of the Dog serial novel

by Camy Tang

Mari Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year.

While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier.

Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Auntie Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Christian home. What’s more, his brother Dusty also needs a place to stay after being kicked out of his apartment—with a dog in tow. And guess who the dog’s owner is?

But then Ashwin gets a request from an old friend, Edytha Guerrero, a private investigator who also runs a day spa on O’ahu’s north shore. A strange bit of “vandalism” at Mari's facility had led her to find a purse belonging to Edytha’s sister—who had disappeared three years ago. Worried that Mari might be in danger, and finding out that security expert Ashwin already knows her, Edytha asks him to covertly keep an eye on the busy young woman.

Ashwin is reluctantly attracted to the lively, easy-going dog trainer. She reminds him too much of his happy-go-lucky mother, whose betrayal had caused him to keep people at a distance. Mari sees past Ashwin’s cold exterior to a man who is loyal to his family, unlike her own mother and sister, who only criticize her career choice.

In the midst of Mari’s disjointed family and Ashwin’s disruptive home, danger begins to circle around them from people who want the past to remain there. Can they shed light on the secrets moving in the shadows?

All the posted parts are listed here.

***

Chapter Twenty-Two - Chocolate Cream Buns

Edytha Guerra couldn't stop pacing in the front waiting area of the Warubozu Day Spa. Her receptionist, Sakura, eyed her as if she had suddenly stripped naked and started shimmying and wiggling to the hokey pokey.

But Edytha couldn't wait in her office in the north wing of the building. For the first time in three years, God had given her a clue about Fianna. She knew it had to be God who had done this, because despite all her efforts, and all her nagging of the lazy detective who had been in charge of the case, they had found nothing.

And suddenly, this woman Mari had called her out of the blue and said she'd found Fianna's purse.

It was only a few months ago that Edytha herself had finally figured out which purse Fianna had taken with her that night. Even though she had looked over Fianna's last social media pictures dozens of times, she had suddenly noticed the jade-green tote bag in the background of one of the pictures. Edytha didn't remember seeing it when she looked through Fianna's things, and a quick check showed that it was missing. 

Edytha hadn't known which purse Fianna had taken that night because her younger sister changed purses often, cycling through a handful of bags that she had most recently completed. The jade green tote hadn't even been her most recent project—Fianna's newest purse had been a cute red hobo bag, which was still hanging in her closet.

She stopped pacing and stood still in the middle of the room, which earned her another strange look from Sakura. Edytha's jumbled thoughts were circling around purses because of Mari's phone call. The woman was going to think Edytha was stark raving mad.

Except that Edytha felt a little crazy at the moment because she was so anxious.

She heard the sound of a car pulling up in front of the building, and she pounced on the front door, flinging herself outside. She hurled herself down the short flight of stairs from the house porch to the gravel driveway, and then belatedly straightened, walking with what she hoped was a quick but elegant gait toward the teal SUV which was just shutting off its engine.

Mari got out of the car. She was short but compact with muscle that was obvious even through her T-shirt, and her thighs under her shorts were lean and well-defined, like runner’s legs.

She had a tentative smile on her face, but Edytha's impatience was pretty obvious, and Mari's expression mirrored Sakura's. Edytha was tempted to start shimmying and wiggling just to see what that would make her do.

Well, it wasn't as if Edytha could pretend she was anything but calm by now. She held out her hand to shake Mari's. "I'm Edytha. You’re Mari? Do you have Fianna's bag?"

Mari nodded somewhere in the flurry of Edytha's words. She ducked back into her car and emerged with the jade green tote bag, which was splotched with black mold stains.

"It's in pretty disgusting condition," Mari said. "I don't know if you want to rinse it —*"

"No," Edytha said even as she pulled open the bag and saw the hole at the bottom. "I'll need it to be in the same condition you found it in when I give it to the police."

Mari's eyes grew round. "Police?!" Her voice rose in surprise.

Edytha looked up at her. "Did you not know?" Of course she didn't. She was just returning a tote bag. Edytha took a deep breath, trying to get herself under control. "Why don't you come inside? I'd be happy to give you a voucher for a free massage as thanks for returning this."

Mari smiled, and it was as if the sun shone just a little bit brighter. "That would be great! I love massages. Oh, I almost forgot …" She rummaged in her car again and came out with a plastic grocery bag, which she held out to Edytha. "When I looked through the bag and found your younger sister's business card, I also found these things."

Edytha took the plastic bag and led the way up the stairs and back into the building. As they entered, Sakura gave Mari a welcoming smile, but it was perhaps a bit warmer than when she greeted a spa guest. Sakura was Edytha's cousin and understood the significance of finding Fianna's bag. "Welcome to the Warubozu Day Spa," Sakura said. "Edytha, would you like me to bring tea to your office?"

"Thanks, Sakura, that would be great."

When they reached Edytha's office, she sat Mari down at the small round table in the corner where she usually spoke to clients.

Mari stared at the computer equipment on Edytha's second desk. "You need all those computers to run the spa?" she asked.

"I only run the day spa part-time," Edytha said. "My normal job is a private investigator."

Mari looked utterly confused.

"The spa belongs to Fianna," Edytha said. Her throat tightened, but she continued, "And she disappeared three years ago."

Mari was shocked into silence for a moment, then she said, "I'm so sorry."

"This bag is the first clue I've found since she disappeared," Edytha said as she put on some exam gloves. She should have done so when she first took the bag from Mari in the parking lot, but she had been too excited to think about that.

Mari recovered from her surprise quickly. She nodded at the bag. "You'll want to look through it, but it's mostly just dirty and moldy."

She was right. Aside from a little bit of tackiness because of the mold, the bag was dry, and a bit dusty.

When Sakura entered with a tray of tea and snacks, she gave Edytha a chiding look. She hurried to clean the table with some disinfectant wipes so Sakura could set down the tray. She noticed Sakura had given them peach green tea, likely thinking Edytha was too wired to handle the spa's signature lilikoi black tea. But she'd also included the chef's chocolate cream buns.

"Have some," Edytha invited Mari, pouring her a cup and handing her a plate. Mari didn't hesitate and took a cream bun.

Edytha didn't want to eat before looking through Fianna's things, so she opened the plastic bag. She saw a business card that was almost illegible, with "Warubozu" only faintly visible. "How did you know this bag belonged to Fianna?" Edytha asked.

Mari pointed to the plastic bag. "I found her Hawaiian bracelet in the inside pocket."

Edytha's breath stuck in her throat. She rooted through the bag and found the bangle, but it had been bent so badly that Fianna would have had a difficult time removing it, if she had been wearing it. The tote bag had been in water at some point, so there might not be any more DNA evidence, but Edytha quickly put the bangle in a plastic zip top bag.

She looked once more in the plastic bag, and the sight of the Pleiades Resort logo made her heart suddenly pound.

Almost since the very day the resort opened four years ago, they had been pestering Edytha and other members of her family to sell them their land, which lay adjacent to the resort grounds. Edytha's family had all refused, but the Pleiades resort continued to pester them every few months about selling the land.

Fianna had last been seen driving in the area around the resort, but there had been no proof that she had gone there. And the bullying by the resort to sell the land wasn't proof that they had anything to do with her younger sister's disappearance. But Edytha had wondered.

She had become even more suspicious when a few months ago a large number of the spa’s staff had suddenly quit, and nearly all of them had gotten jobs at the Pleiades Resort. And then about a month ago, the staff who had remained at the spa had told her that they were being aggressively headhunted by the resort, despite the fact they kept turning down the employment offers.

In fact, one of her massage therapists, Lila, had been fearful she was being stalked by a man from Pleiades. The man had only stopped threatening her when Lila's boyfriend, Fred, had stepped in.

One piece of paper looked like a receipt, perhaps for coffee, and while the logo at the top was faded, it looked very much like the Pleiades resort. It was even more apparent on two of the napkins which hadn't been as damaged as the others. The water and mold damage on the tote bag and the napkins looked like it could have been done three years ago, right when Fianna disappeared.

There was a sudden blast of music, and the dark brass horns of Darth Vader's theme, "The Imperial March," from Star Wars began to play. Mari started, pulling her phone from her pocket. She glanced at the screen, grimaced, then set her phone on the table. "Sorry about that," she said.

"Do you need to call someone?"

"No, it's just a text from my older sister. It can wait."

The way she said it—and the fact she associated her older sister with Darth Vader—made Edytha wonder if perhaps she had a tense relationship with her older sister, but she didn't probe any further.

Edytha was about to put the bag away when Mari said, "There's also an earring."

"Earring?" Edytha searched through the bag and eventually found it. She rolled the diamond solitaire around on her palm. "This didn't belong to my younger sister."

"It didn't?" Mari asked.

Edytha looked up at her, realizing she shouldn't have said that aloud. "You found this in the tote bag?"

"It was snagged in the lining. It was a bit difficult to take out, which explains why it hadn't fallen out the hole at the bottom."

What was this earring doing in Fianna's bag? Edytha couldn't think of a reason why it would be there. Fianna had never liked wearing diamonds, preferring pearls instead. Even her engagement ring had been a pearl.

"Can you tell me exactly how you found this?" Edytha asked.

Mari explained about the drug dealer who had likely been using the school to store his stash.

"So he could have found the bag and been using it to store his drugs?" Edytha said, thinking out loud. "But I find it hard to believe he would use a bag with a hole at the bottom."

"I found the bag a little farther away from the hole in the classroom floor," Mari said. "It's possible that he wasn't using the bag at all, and that he wasn't even aware it was in the crawlspace." She hesitated, then added, "The mold damage makes it obvious that the purse was soaking wet at some point, but the crawlspace is very dry. There's also no evidence that there had been flooding at any point—when I had the property inspected before I bought it, my aunt—who's my realtor—said that the grading was very good, with the buildings at the highest point and the ground sloping away."

Mari was very sharp—Edytha had been about to ask about the crawlspace and the possibility of flooding in the past three years. "Would you allow me to search your facility?" Edytha asked.

"Sure. When would you like to do that?"

"Right now?"

Mari blinked in surprise, but then nodded. "I'm in the middle of renovating the school to turn it into my dog training facility, and I don't have any contractors coming today."

"Dog training?" Edytha stood. "Why don't you drive me to your facility and you can tell me about it?"

"You want me to drive you?" Mari asked.

"You don't mind, do you?" Edytha was being a bit aggressive in pushing her desires upon Mari, but she had a good reason to do so. As a private investigator, she was used to looking into all aspects of a person's life, and talking to Mari while sitting in her car might be useful. "You mentioned you were in Waialua. I can just have Sakura come pick me up later."

"Okay," Mari agreed.

While chatting with her, Edytha found that she liked the young woman a great deal. Mari was in her late twenties perhaps, and she had worked in engineering for several years, but she had the courage to take a chance at her passion, her dog training business.

"Wow, you’re gutsy," Edytha said as Mari's car pulled up in front of the school.

"Yeah," Mari said, but her tone was despondent as if agreeing with bad news.

"But I think you'll be fine," Edytha told her.

Mari looked up at her.

"You're aware of how difficult a job this is," Edytha continued, "but it sounds like you're willing to put in the work. You have a good business mindset. I don't know if your dog business will be successful, but I know you'll do your best. You won't have any regrets, and that's what's important."

Mari's face softened with a hint of vulnerability. Edytha wondered how many people had told her that it was a bad idea for her to go off on her own like this and follow her dream.

For a moment, Edytha saw her younger sister in Mari's place. She remembered when Fianna had told their parents that she wanted to open a day spa. She knew that being a small business owner wasn't easy, but she was willing to risk it because it was what she wanted to do.

It was why Edytha had been willing to take part ownership of the business. And if she hadn't, when Fianna disappeared, her adolescent son would have had to take over the business for his mother.

Mari got out of the car, but Edytha sat there and took a moment to collect herself, to fight down the surge of sadness and anger. Why had this happened to her lovely younger sister, who had suffered so much? She had asked God this question hundreds of times, and she still didn't understand. Trusting that God had control over the situation was getting harder and harder with each passing day that Fianna wasn't here. Finally, she took a deep breath and got out of the car.

Mari offered to help Edytha search the school grounds, which she was grateful for. However, three hours later, they had found nothing but a tiny, dirty joint which promptly went into the trash.

Edytha's face must have been screaming her disappointment because Mari patted her shoulder and said, "I'm sorry we didn't find anything else."

Edytha gave her a small smile. "Thank you for helping me."

Mari stuck her hand in her pocket, frowned, then started patting down her clothes. "I think I left my phone at the spa. Would you like me to drive you back?"

"If you don't mind. Would you also like a free massage?" Edytha asked.

Mari's face brightened. Really, the girl’s smile was like pure sunlight. "Were you serious about that? I'd love it! My back has been giving me problems since yesterday when I was hauling around some heavy garbage bags."

"In that case, I can set you up with our best massage therapist." When Edytha had looked at the schedule earlier this morning, she had seen that Lila had some openings in the late afternoon because a couple of her clients had had to reschedule.

Once back at the spa, they caught Lila just as she was seeing off her last appointment of the afternoon. She was more than happy to take Mari next.

Just as Edytha entered her office again, "Who Let the Dogs Out" by Baha Men blared from the table in the corner. Ah, that’s where Mari had left her cell phone. She could have guessed just from the ringtone.

Edytha went to grab the phone. She could take it back down to the receptionist's desk and leave it with Sakura, who would make sure that Mari got it before she left.

She didn't intend to pry, but she caught the name of the person who was trying to call Mari. Dusty Keitou.

She knew the Keitou family, who had lived in Haleiwa. She hadn't gone to school at the same time as Ashwin, Dusty, and Yuina, but a few years ago when she was working on a case, she had needed to hire some help from Mahina Security Consultants and had met Ashwin, discovering that he had grown up on the North Shore. They'd worked together a few times since then.

Instead of taking the cell phone down to reception, Edytha sat back down at the table and fingered the diamond solitaire earring and the gold bangle. Thinking about Ashwin and Mahina Security Consultants made Edytha suddenly wonder about Mari's safety. Edytha now had the tote bag and the jewelry, but Mari had mentioned being worried that someone had been at the school recently.

Edytha knew that it was a huge stretch to think that Mari might be in danger just because she was now tenuously connected to Fianna's missing persons case, but the fact was that it was still unsolved. She chewed on her lip for a moment, thinking. Then Edytha grabbed her own cell phone and dialed Ashwin Keitou.

"Hi, Edytha," he answered. His voice sounded far away.

"I'm sorry, did I catch you in the middle of something?"

"Not really. I'm on the Big Island, but right at this moment, I'm just waiting for a client to finish with a meeting. Then we're going to test his security system. I've got Tosh helping me with that." Edytha could hear the smile in Ashwin's voice.

"Are you sure your client’s security system will pass muster?" Tosh was freakishly good at disguises and had fooled literally hundreds of security personnel during his time working for Mahina Security.

"If it doesn't, it means they didn't take my recommendations seriously enough," Ashwin said matter-of-factly.

"The reason I'm calling is to ask if you know Mari Mutou," Edytha said.

There was silence on the line, but Edytha could somehow tell that Ashwin was wincing. "Yes, she's Dusty's ex-girlfriend." Edytha was positive there was more to it than that, but she also recognized that Ashwin wasn't going to tell her.

"Ashwin, she found Fianna's tote bag."

This time, the silence was tense. "Where did she find it?"

Edytha explained what had happened.

"Did you give the bag to the police?" Ashwin asked.

It was Edytha's turn to wince. "I just don't trust Detective Dillon." She'd considered calling him when Mari was arriving to give her the bag, but she couldn't bring herself to overcome her distrust and force her finger to dial his number on her cell phone.

"How about Detective Oshiro?" Ashwin asked, mentioning Edytha's friend on the police force.

"I considered calling Gavin, but he might get in trouble if his superiors hear I bypassed the officer in charge of the case and gave him the evidence instead. I think Dillon outranks him."

"Edytha ..." Ashwin said chastisingly.

"I know, I know. I'll give it to the police." Later. She quickly changed the subject. "I don't think Mari is in any serious sort of danger, but there's still a part of me that's unsure. She's connected to Fianna's disappearance now. Since you already know her, would you be willing to keep an eye on her for a few weeks?"

Ashwin sighed. "Of course it had to be me," he muttered.

Edytha was surprised. "Do you not get along with her? She seems like such a nice girl."

"Yeah, if hurricanes are nice. She's a menace."

Hmm, now that was interesting. "Well, I thought it might be easier for you to keep an eye on her rather than sending a stranger to cozy up to her…" Edytha waited almost gleefully for Ashwin's response.

"I suppose I can do this for you," he said, although his reply was more hasty than reluctant.

Edytha was glad she wasn't talking to him face-to-face, so she didn't have to hide her grin. She couldn't resist saying, "If you don't want to do it, I could send someone else. I'm sure she wouldn't mind if some handsome guy suddenly started being interested in her."

She was too transparent, because he said balefully, "Now you're just baiting me."

Edytha giggled. "Ashwin, you shouldn't let your personal feelings decide who you protect and who you don't."

"What personal feelings? I don't have any personal feelings about her."

"Did I mention Mari's name? I didn't mention her name at all."

She had gotten him. He was silent, and she could almost hear his teeth gnashing over the phone. "I'll do it because you're asking nicely—barely—and because this has to do with Fianna. But I expect a whole book of massage coupons."

"You don't even like massages. You only come for the snacks you're served afterward."

"Well, if you would hurry up and expand your kitchen, then I could just make reservations at your restaurant."

"That is a headache for another day. Goodbye, Ashwin."

He laughed as she hung up.

Joking aside, she was relieved that Ashwin would keep an eye on Mari for a little while. Honestly, she didn't think the girl was in any danger, but it was better to be safe than sorry, wasn't it?

***

Comments

Hwang Umma said…
Very interesting plot development!
Camy Tang said…
I’m glad you think so! I hope you’re enjoying the story!
Camy

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