Elizabeth Lowell July 20, 2015

Perfect Touch – Chapter Three


A hard, sharp heart of mean wrapped in cashmere and diamonds, Sara thought.

Below is the third chapter from my brand-new book, Perfect Touch.

Did you miss the first two chapters? Catch up here!

Over the next couple weeks, we’re going to release the rest of the first six chapters.

I hope you enjoy Chapter 3!


Perfect Touch – Chapter Three

The echo of Sara’s footsteps faded inside the courthouse as she stopped in surprise. A small crowd loitered in front of the door to hearing room 3, where she’d been told the final words on the Vermilion case would be spoken. Most of the people who were waiting seemed to know one another. They were chatting in knots of two and three.

And everyone kept glancing toward the hearing room, waiting.

Friends of either side? Reporters? Bill collectors?

Nothing happened to answer Sara’s silent questions.

Two men stood near the door to the hearing room. One was a bailiff in a sharply pressed khaki uniform with a thick brown jacket on top of that. His bronze badge gleamed in the hall’s fluorescent lights. Sara recognized the second man, who was tall, gaunt, and dressed in a blue seersucker suit that bunched at his joints. Though his back was turned to her, she knew he would be wearing his trademark fuchsia bow tie.

Guy Beck. How did that pompous con artist find out about the Custers?

“Sorry, sir,” the bailiff said clearly. “The defendant requested and received a closed hearing to avoid a media circus. You may wait with the others. Please clear the doorway.”

Beck hesitated for a second, then turned and sauntered toward the knots of conversation.

Didn’t see me, thank God, Sara thought. Hope it stays that way.

A uniformed man came down the hallway from the other side, had a quick, low-voiced conversation with the bailiff, then turned to the people waiting for the hearing room doors to open.

The new man was tall, tanned beneath his hat brim, thick through the body but not slack. His dark, keen eyes took in everyone with a quick sweep. There was some belly beneath his uniform, but he made no effort to hide it behind his open jacket.

Sara decided that he was a confident man, in or out of uniform.

“Excuse me,” he said clearly, “is Sara Anne Medina here?”

From the corner of her eye she saw Beck’s head snap in her direction. She ignored him and walked forward.

“I’m Sara Medina.”

“Sheriff Cooke, ma’am.” He nodded slightly.

“Look who’s in trouble with the authorities,” Beck said, and laughed. The sheriff flicked him a glance.

“God bless bystanders.” His tone said the opposite. Then he said to her, “This way, please. It shouldn’t take long.”

Grateful that Beck wouldn’t be able to overhear, Sara followed the sheriff about twenty feet farther down the hall, into the interior of the building.

“I understand that you’re here on Vermilion Ranch business?” he said.

That’s half true, she thought wryly. Wonder which half he’s most interested in.

“I submitted testimony on the ranch’s behalf,” she said, indicating the closed hearing room down the hall. “But this isn’t an official visit. I was hoping to see the case concluded.”

He nodded. “When I was informed about the break-in and your connection to Jay, I figured that I had a moment or two to spare for this incident.”

Someone sure has friends in high places, Sara thought. Must be nice.

“Mind telling me about your morning?” he asked.

Quickly, Sara ticked off the events of the morning, finishing with, “Can you tell me anything about the robbery? I was thinking that it might have been someone with a master key, since the door wasn’t marked up.”

The sheriff rolled his head just a little. “I doubt that there was much planning in this one. Feels more like a crime of opportunity. You probably didn’t pull the door shut all the way when you hurried out for coffee. Good luck for them and bad luck for you.”

“That’s not reassuring.”

The sheriff smiled slightly. “Crime didn’t give Jackson a pass just because we aren’t a big city. There are restaurants here that won’t leave the good hot sauce out on the tables because it’s too easy to pocket.”

“Really? Why would petty thieves bother with hot sauce?”

“I’ve learned that the only real petty thieves are kids looking for a thrill. The rest of them are just plain thieves.”

“Well, whoever trashed my room wasn’t much good. He, she, or they missed the jewelry case in my luggage.”

“Good news. Careless thieves can be caught. The careful ones rarely see the inside of jails.”

Sara managed not to roll her eyes. “I know my computer and coat are pretty small in the big scheme.”

“They are,” he agreed. “But we fill out forms anyway.” Without looking away from her, he pulled out his phone and swiped out the passcode with his thumb. “Any other details you can add?”

She gave him the model and year of the computer, described her black coat, and knew it was a waste of breath. Briskly she added, “I have my computer backed up to the cloud. The security on it will baffle an ordinary hacker, if it matters.”

For the first time, the sheriff looked interested. “Had trouble before?”

“No. I live in San Francisco, so I’m careful about security of all kinds. I’m really angry about having to replace and restore a tool I use daily—and nightly—in my business. And I won’t sleep in that room again. But that’s not the kind of detail that will help you.”

“Have you got another room?”

“Not yet.”

“It will be tough,” the sheriff said matter-of-factly. “The Norwegians are in town.”

“The who?”

“Norwegians. They’re late this year. Big group of them comes every year and takes over the town. Svarstad.”

“Svarstad?” Sara asked, feeling like she had stumbled into someone else’s play.

Nodding, he jotted out some notes on the phone while he talked. “Some generations back, a whole bunch of their kids ended up here. It’s a big, multifamily reunion. Like I said, late this year. Add to that the regular tourist traffic and you’ve got a lot of No Vacancy signs.” He looked at her with a smile in his eyes. “And don’t try to buy any cod or salmon at the local stores.”

“No cod, no salmon, no rooms. So I’m stuck at that motel?”

“You could try out of town, but there’s not a whole lot to choose from.”

Sara thought about having to rent a car and wondered if they were all snapped up, too. And she still had to order a new computer. And buy a coat. And find a place to sleep tonight. And break Guy Beck’s knee-caps so he couldn’t swoop in on the Custers. And meet Jay Vermilion in the flesh.

So much to do, so little time.

“If you think of anything else that might help, please call the sheriff’s office.” He flipped the cover on his phone and pocketed it once more. “When you see Jay, tell him I said hello.”

“He mentioned knowing you,” Sara remembered from a late-night conversation.

“I’ve known him for some time, worked for his dad. I might still be, but JD said that I was cut out for bigger things. Helped put me on this road.”

“The Vermilions seem to be everywhere out here,” she said. “He has some buildings downtown, right? I remember seeing that name on at least one from the taxi.”

Cooke nodded and pulled up the zipper on his uniform jacket. “They’re not the Kennedys, but they get by. Good to know that some-one’s taking a strong hand back at that ranch after JD’s illness. Place was getting way too run-down. Henry did what he could, but he’s no spring chicken.”

Sara nodded. Jay had talked about that, too. A lot. “Well, thanks for your time, Sheriff. Good luck catching those guys.”

He tipped his hat and nodded just as the hearing room door flew open and cracked sharply against the doorstop. A woman who looked like an aging showgirl stormed out.

A hard, sharp heart of mean wrapped in cashmere and diamonds, Sara thought.

Long platinum hair framed a face made rigid by anger. Rage boiled out of her as she brushed past the bailiff. Then she turned her head and growled.

“Barty, come along.” Her heels clicked down the hallway with an irritable sound.

A short, redheaded man in a cream suit with a black overcoat over one shoulder slouched along after her. He was four steps behind and obviously not in any hurry to catch up.

“Well,” the sheriff drawled as the woman vanished into the street, “looks like the Wicked Bitch of the West lost. Bless her.”


“Liza Neumann, once Vermilion.”



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