Rags to Witches : A Westwick Corners Cozy Mystery - Colleen Cross - ebook
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Win, lose, or draw… A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery Cendrine West can’t catch a break. She’s close to landing a new job, and things are getting cozy with sexy sheriff Tyler Gates. All that changes when she is kidnapped by renegade witch Aunt Pearl, who is hell bent on avenging a friend’s untimely death. Its Las Vegas or bust…for all the wrong reasons. Rocco Racatelli is a hunky Vegas kingpin—and the next mob target. Lady Luck has dealt him a losing hand and he wants revenge. When Aunt Pearl is a little too eager to help, project Vegas Vendetta quickly escalates into an all-out mob turf war. As the witches are thrust into Sin City’s seamy underworld, bodies pile up and secrets are exposed. It’s not just the Las Vegas heat that’s scorching...Rocco is intent on winning Cen’s heart. But she only wants the man she left behind in Westwick Corners. All she has to do is solve a murder, out-magic her ornery aunt, and take down the Las Vegas mafia. What could possibly go wrong? When organized crime meets unorganized magic, anything can happen! As the body count climbs, it’s clear that Cen needs more than a miracle in the desert to set things right.

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Rags to Witches

A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

Colleen Cross

Slice Publishing

Rags to Witches: A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

Copyright © 2016 by Colleen Cross, Colleen Tompkins

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written consent of the copyright holder and publisher. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.

Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Categories: cozy mysteries, witches wizards, paranormal cozy humorous mystery, cosy mystery, funny mysteries, female lead sleuth women amateur sleuths private investigators, cozy mystery books, suspense thrillers and mysteries best sellers, female detectives

eBook ISBN: 978-1-988272-13-9

Published by Slice Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-988272-15-3

Created with Vellum

Contents

Also by Colleen Cross

Rags to Witches - A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Afterword

About the Author

Also by Colleen Cross

Also by Colleen Cross

Westwick Witches Cozy Mysteries

Witch You Well

Rags to Witches

Witch and Famous

Christmas Witch List

Westwick Witches Magical Mystery Box set (books 1-3)

Katerina Carter Color of Money Mysteries

Red Handed

Blue Moon

Katerina Carter Fraud Legal Thrillers

Exit Strategy

Game Theory

Blowout

Greenwash

Katerina Carter Fraud Thrillers (books 1-3)

Nonfiction

Anatomy of a Ponzi Scheme

Get the latest list at www.colleencross.com

Rags to Witches - A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

Win, lose, or draw…

Cendrine West can’t catch a break. She’s close to landing a new job, and things are getting cozy with sexy sheriff Tyler Gates. All that changes when she is kidnapped by renegade witch Aunt Pearl, who is hell bent on avenging a friend’s untimely death. Its Las Vegas or bust…for all the wrong reasons. 

Rocco Racatelli is a hunky Vegas kingpin—and the next mob target. Lady Luck has dealt him a losing hand and he wants revenge. When Aunt Pearl is a little too eager to help, project Vegas Vendetta quickly escalates into an all-out mob turf war. As the witches are thrust into Sin City’s seamy underworld, bodies pile up and secrets are exposed. 

It’s not just the Las Vegas heat that’s scorching...Rocco is intent on winning Cen’s heart. But she only wants the man she left behind in Westwick Corners. All she has to do is solve a murder, out-magic her ornery aunt, and take down the Las Vegas mafia. What could possibly go wrong? 

When organized crime meets unorganized magic, anything can happen! As the body count climbs, it’s clear that Cen needs more than a miracle in the desert to set things right.

1

I needed a job. I needed gas, and I needed a break.

The odds of getting any of those were stacked against me. My gas tank was empty and the Westwick Corners Gas N’ Go’s solitary gas pump was broken. The ancient pump had no intercom, and I abhorred the thought of walking all the way to the cashier in my three-inch heels.

I was already running late for my job interview at The Shady Creek Tattler. It was humiliating to admit that my own newspaper, The Westwick Corners Weekly, was just days from bankruptcy. The last thing I wanted was to work for the competition, but I needed money. I was conflicted. I didn’t want to turn my back on Westwick Corners, the almost-ghost town we were trying to revitalize. But I needed to earn a living.

All of the decent jobs were an hour away in Shady Creek. I had realized too late that Westwick Corners was too small to support much of anything, including the newspaper I had bought from the retiring owner last year. The Westwick Corners Weekly had been an impulse purchase. My plan to buy myself a dream job had become a never-ending money pit.

My last hope of remaining solvent was the part-time reporter job in Shady Creek. At least I could eke out a living while I got my newspaper back on track. But even that was in jeopardy if I couldn’t fill my gas tank. I waved my hands frantically towards the reflective glass windows, hoping the cashier inside would see me and get the gas pump going again.

Nothing.

I swore under my breath as I scanned the asphalt. My spirits lifted when I spotted a skinny freckle-faced man-boy standing beside a gigantic RV. The gas station attendant looked about fifteen going on twenty, and wore a too-big Gas N’ Go shirt and baggy shorts. I hadn’t seen him around town before, so I guessed he was a recent arrival. Which was weird in itself, since we rarely had visitors, let alone new residents. Gossip usually preceded any new residents by at least a few days.

I waved the attendant over, but he ignored me as he checked the air on the RV tires. That wasn’t a surprise. Anyone moving to Westwick Corners was usually running away from someone or someplace. Almost-ghost towns weren’t exactly high on the list of top places to live, but they made perfect hiding places. Nobody ever came looking.

My hopes soared when the RV door opened and Aunt Pearl stepped out. She waved frantically and practically flew towards me. Few seventy-year-old women moved as fast, but Mom’s oldest sister had a secret advantage. Like the rest of us West women, she was a witch.

“I won, I won!” My ninety-pound aunt screeched to a stop on the concrete island and teetered before losing her balance and falling against me.

“Watch out!” The gas nozzle flew from my hand as I jumped back to avoid her. The nozzle bounced off the side of my rusty and dented Honda. And, suddenly, it worked.

Gas spewed on the cracked asphalt like a Texas gusher. I had one of those automatic gadgets that attached to the nozzle and had locked it in the “on” position. Just my luck that the nozzle had unjammed at the exact moment it fell from my hand.

More money down the drain.

I scrambled to grab the gas nozzle as it spiraled out of control from the pressure of the spraying gas. All I succeeded in capturing was fuel. It sprayed all over my brand new dress and blazer that I had bought especially for my job interview.

I winced as the spray stung my freshly shaven legs. Gas accumulated in puddles at my feet. I stood in shock, soaking wet, furious, and at a loss for words.

That got the attendant’s attention, and he hurried towards us. “Hey, you gotta pay for that!”

The nozzle bucked from the fuel pressure and gyrated wildly. I finally grabbed the nozzle, but before I could turn it away from me it drenched me again from head to toe. The only saving grace was that I still wore my sunglasses.

Gas sprayed up my nostrils and covered my sunglasses. I dropped the nozzle as my hands flew to my face to block the spray. I wiped my finger across the sunglass lenses, but everything, including Aunt Pearl, was blurred.

“Don’t hurt me!” Aunt Pearl screamed as she stepped backwards and waved her arms in the air.

“Grab the nozzle, quick. Help me, I can’t see!” My arms flailed as I groped blindly for the nozzle. My right hand finally closed around the nozzle, but when I tried to pry my gas gadget from the pump handle, my fingernail bent backwards.

“Ouch!” I dropped the nozzle and it sprayed my ankles as it fell to the pavement. I groped for the handle, but couldn’t get a grip strong enough to hold on. My fingers grew numb at my fruitless attempts.

I flailed my arms, trying to grab the handle with my limited vision. That set me off balance and I tripped and fell off the concrete island.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pump suddenly stopped. I ripped off my sunglasses and wiped fuel from my forehead with the back of my hand.

The attendant stood by the gas pump, nozzle in one hand and my nozzle lock gadget in the other. “Don’t touch anything. I’ll pump it for you.”

I mumbled thanks as I rose to my feet, soaking wet. I shivered, despite the late summer heat.

“That’s a lotta gas. Five gallons gone to waste.” Aunt Pearl snapped her fingers. “Just like that.”

Aunt Pearl was somewhat of a pyromaniac, so wasted gas bordered on travesty.

“You could have helped me.” I slowly shook my head as I looked down at my ruined dress. Words couldn’t describe the despair I felt right now. Everything I did seemed to take me one step closer to financial ruin.

“You need to help yourself, Cen. You’ve got what it takes, if only you applied yourself. One way or another, you’ll come to terms with your supernatural talents.” Aunt Pearl patted my back. “You have a choice.”

“I am not cheating.” I turned to the attendant, but he had retreated to the RV, out of earshot. “I don’t want any unfair advantages, that’s all.”

“Witchcraft isn’t cheating if you’re a witch. Stop pretending you’re someone you’re not.”

I was already in a bad mood. The last thing I needed was an argument with my ornery aunt. “I just want to be like everyone else.”

“Well, you aren’t, so you better get used to it.” Aunt Pearl snorted. “Why are you wasting time with a day job? Anyone else with your talents would be making good use of them. Instead, you just let them go to waste.”

“I want to earn an honest living.” The words came out before I could stop them.

“Being a witch is somehow dishonest?” Aunt Pearl’s anger cut through her words.

It irked her that I hadn’t kept up my magic lessons at Pearl’s Charm School. I always meant to, but other things seemed to get in the way. And it didn’t feel right, using special talents that regular people lacked. I hadn’t done anything to earn them. I just had the good fortune to be born into the West family of witches.

“I’m late for my interview. Can’t you just reverse everything and put some gas in my car?” Aunt Pearl was an extremely talented witch. It would be effortless for her.

“I could. But why should I?”

“Aunt Pearl, please. I’ll make it up to you.” I needed this job.

She shook her head. “You kids today have such a sense of entitlement. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, Cen.”

“But it’s so easy,” I protested. “For you.”

“It could be for you too. Practice makes perfect, Cendrine. All you have to do is apply yourself. Why is that so hard?”

The gas station attendant finished pumping my gas and held his hand out for payment. I glanced at the meter and reached inside my passenger window and grabbed my wallet out of my purse on the front passenger seat. I fished my last twenty-dollar bill out and tossed my wallet back into the car. I handed him the money, annoyed that most of the fuel I had just paid for was in a puddle on the payment. Hardly any fuel had actually made it into my gas tank.

“Uh, Cen, this is Wilt Chamberlain.”

I nodded at the skinny man-boy, who was freckled, white, and looked nothing like the famous basketball player from years ago. He was older than I had originally guessed: probably in his early twenties. His skin was so pale it was almost bluish, save for a diamond-shaped birthmark on his forehead. It was the color of rust and sat dead center on his forehead, like a target.

“Next time, ask for help.” Wilt replaced the gas nozzle in the holder. “Now I got to close down the pump and clean this mess up.”

“There’s no time for cleaning,” Aunt Pearl waved at the RV. “We’ve got to get on the road.”

“Huh?” I frowned, wondering what my aunt was up to now.

Aunt Pearl waved her hand. “Forget the interview, Cen. I have a job for you.”

I shook my head. “I am not working at Pearl’s Charm School.”

She smiled brightly. “That’s not what I had in mind. I have a mission for you. It’s undercover.”

I shook my head. “Not interested.”

We watched Wilt walk back inside the station. He pulled out a giant key ring and locked up the station door.

“Hey! You haven’t given me my change yet!” I glanced at the gas pump. According to the pump, my total gas bill was less than ten dollars, and that included all the gas I had spilled. Whatever had ended up in my tank wasn’t enough to even leave town, let alone make it to Shady Creek.

“Wilt!”

He purposely ignored me.

I grabbed the gas nozzle and waved it in the air like a weapon.

He didn’t bite. “Sorry, we’re closed.”

I placed the nozzle in my gas tank. I switched the pump on, this time without the accessory. It was no use. Either Wilt had shut off the pump or it really was out of gas.

I swore under my breath as I turned to a smirking Aunt Pearl. “Why won’t you help me?” My eyes locked on the red gas can she held in one hand.

“Forget about the gas. I won the lottery, Cen. I’m rich. I can afford just about anything. Including unlimited gas.” She swung her gas can back and forth in an arc.

I nodded towards the RV. “You’ll need it with that tank. Where did you get it?”

Aunt Pearl seemed almost giddy, which I supposed would be what any lottery winner would feel like. Except I doubted her story. My aunt liked to get attention, and I just assumed the lottery story was a giant lie, supplemented with white magic props like the shiny RV and even the gas.

The gas.

Aunt Pearl’s five-gallon gas can made a sloshing noise, which meant it contained gas. Five gallons would get me to Shady Creek and my job interview. Problem solved.

“Aunt Pearl! Is that a full can of gas? I need a favor.”

“You’re a witch, Cendrine. Make your own gas.”

“Not now, Aunt Pearl.” It was Aunt Pearl’s version of tough love. It bothered her to no end that I neglected my witchcraft lessons.

“Oh, I forgot. You don’t know how.” Aunt Pearl stuck out her lower lip in a fake pout.

I wanted nothing more than to prove her wrong. But I wasn’t even good at that. All I had to show for myself was a failed business, loose change, and bad luck. Everything I did seemed to backfire. My life truly sucked, and I had no idea how to make it better.

2

I glared at Aunt Pearl. Just because the West family’s supernatural talents were a poorly kept secret around Westwick Corners didn’t mean we had to flaunt them. For generations, we had operated under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Given Wilt was new in town, he probably had no idea about our witchcraft. Until Aunt Pearl, of course.

“Stop worrying about trivial things and hop aboard. I’ll drive you to your job interview.” Aunt Pearl gave me a sickly sweet smile that I knew was fake.

Wilt frowned, obviously disappointed at the idea of me coming along for the ride.

I was afraid to ask. I did anyway. “Why do you need an RV?” I also wanted to ask my aunt why she needed Wilt to accompany her, but it seemed rude for me to ask with him standing right there.

Aunt Pearl rolled her eyes. “I don’t need it, Cen. I want it. It’s my very own hotel on wheels. Pearl’s Palace, I call it.”

She had obviously conjured it up, but I couldn’t confront her in front of the gas station attendant. The fact that the West family were witches wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret in Westwick Corners.

Since Aunt Pearl was forever showing off her magic, I wondered how much this guy had seen. The brand new thirty-foot RV didn’t exactly blend in, and it probably cost more than I made in a couple of years. If it was real, which of course it wasn’t. Just like Cinderella’s coach, it would vanish in a poof after a certain amount of time. Which, if you were a passenger, made it a ticking time bomb of sorts.

“I’ll drive you,” she said. “Shady Creek is on the way to Vegas. It’s no trouble.”

Against my better judgment, I agreed.

Aunt Pearl opened the RV door and motioned me inside. “Hop in. I’ve got another passenger to pick up, and then we’ll head to Shady Creek and drop you off.”

I couldn’t imagine anyone who wanted to go on a Las Vegas vacation with Aunt Pearl. None of her handful of friends lived nearby. It was none of my concern, I told myself. Some things I was better off not knowing.

I settled in at the kitchen nook and spread out my wet dress to help it dry faster. I found it odd that my aunt hadn’t pushed her usual agenda of using my own magic to get to the interview. She had criticized my lack of practice but was still quick to offer me a ride.

Aunt Pearl climbed up into the passenger seat and turned around in her seat. She motioned to the driver’s seat, occupied by the skinny gas station attendant. “I hired Wilt as my driver.”

I had forgotten that Aunt Pearl didn’t drive. “What about your friend?”

She dismissed me with a wave. “It’s a long drive in something this big. Besides, I’m rich. I can afford a chauffeur.”

Still, it seemed bizarre that Wilt was along for the ride. It was better not to make a big deal out of things with Aunt Pearl because she was easily riled.

I turned my thoughts back to my interview. I needed to somehow get back from Shady Creek, but I’d worry about that later.

There’s nothing worse than a witch down on her luck. Except maybe a witch who got a little too lucky. Put the two of them together and anything could happen.

3

“Buckle up.” Aunt Pearl fastened her seat belt and hollered. “Vegas baby, or bust!”

We lurched forward and peeled out of the gas station parking lot. “Whoa. I never said—”

My aunt turned around in her seat. “Relax, Cen. We’ll get you to your job interview.”

I gripped the kitchenette table as Wilt made a sharp turn onto Main Street. Maybe I had a death wish or something. I couldn’t think of any other reason for riding with a maniac driver and an ornery witch sidekick.

“We’re headed in the wrong direction!” Wilt and Aunt Pearl either ignored me or didn’t hear. Aside from the fact we weren’t headed to Shady Creek, Wilt’s driving was making me fear for my life.

Yet here I was, seemingly powerless to help myself. Wilt reached the edge of town and headed up the winding road to The Westwick Corners Inn.

“Why are we going home?” My family’s mansion had been converted to a boutique bed and breakfast that we operated mostly on the weekends. We also lived on the property, so now I was back where I started. Except without a car this time.

Reaching my interview on time seemed less likely by the minute. I reached beside me for my purse, only to realize that I had left it on the passenger seat of my car.

Mom waved as our RV pulled into the circular driveway. She climbed into the RV and dragged a large suitcase to the RV’s rear bed. She returned seconds later, gasping for breath. Then she collapsed in a heap on the opposite side of the kitchenette nook. “That was heavy.”

“Mom? What’s going on? You can’t leave the Inn. We’ve got guests coming.” The Inn couldn’t function without Mom. She was chef, manager, and front desk clerk, all rolled into one. Aunt Pearl was officially the chief housekeeper, but she was completely unreliable. I usually played backup to Aunt Pearl, since she set her own unpredictable hours and pretty much answered to no one. She was a witch first, with her job at the Inn a distant second.

I, on the other hand, seemed to be juggling a couple of jobs with little money to show for it. Working for myself or my family just wasn’t keeping me afloat financially or otherwise. If I wanted a future, I had to reconsider my options. TheShady Creek Tattler wasn’t exactly corporate America, but it was at least a step up from anything in tiny Westwick Corners.

Aunt Pearl interrupted. “We’ve got urgent family business to take care of, Cen. We haven’t got all day, so stop all the questions and let Ruby catch her breath.”

“What are you talking about? The Inn is our family business.”

“I’ll explain later.” Aunt Pearl waved her arms impatiently. “We’ve got to get moving before it’s too late.”

“Explain now.” I crossed my arms.

“Sorry, but our mission is top secret. Everything’s on a need to know basis, and right now you don’t need to know anything. I’ll tell you when the time is right.” Aunt Pearl glanced at her watch, then turned towards the driver’s seat. “We’re behind schedule. Floor it, Wilt.”

The G-force slammed me back in my seat as the RV accelerated.

“Everything’s fine, Cen.” Mom glanced uncertainly at Aunt Pearl. “We don’t have any guests until Friday and I’m bored. I could use a road trip.”

I frowned. Mom was a horrible liar. Aunt Pearl had obviously put her up to this. Whatever it was had to be pretty serious for Mom to abandon the Inn and leave town.

“Huh?” Mom’s big suitcase made me all the more suspicious about the supposedly impromptu road trip. She had found time to pack, so the trip must have been preplanned.

Mom ignored me. Instead she braced herself against the Arborite table as the RV hurtled down the steep hill that led off our property to the main road out of town.

Mom seemed stressed, though she tried not to show it. “It’s nice to sit down. This RV is bigger than I thought.”

“Where did you get the RV, Aunt Pearl?” Everyone seemed to be in on her scheme but me.

No answer.

“Aunt Pearl?”

My aunt turned around and grimaced as she squeezed her nose with her thumb and index finger. “Geesh, Cendrine, you stink to high heaven.”

“Don’t change the subject. It’s the gas. You were going to help me clean up, remember?”

Aunt Pearl ignored me and opened the front passenger window.

Mom nodded in agreement. She sat across from me in the kitchen nook. “No one’s going to hire you smelling like gas. It’s just as well you have to reschedule your interview.”

“I am not rescheduling.” I opened the window, hoping the breeze would dissipate the gas fumes. Timing was tight, but I still had a chance of making the interview. All I had to do was remain silent and cooperative until I got dropped off in Shady Creek.

I glanced around the RV and noticed a half-full bottle of water lying in the sink. I rose to grab it and teetered on my heels as the RV barreled down the hill. The RV screeched to a halt at the stop sign at the bottom of our driveway.

Just as quickly Wilt stepped on the gas and tore around the corner. I recovered my balance and grabbed the water bottle. I had barely scrambled back to my seat when the RV skidded across to the wrong side of the road before swinging back on track. I unscrewed the cap and dabbed a small amount of water onto the front of my dress.

Mom raised her brows. “It’s a bit early for that, don’t you think?”

I frowned, puzzled by her comment until I recognized the odor. The bottle contained vodka, not water.

Now I reeked of alcohol. I would never make it past security, let alone to Human Resources. I’d violate the drug and alcohol policy before I even got past the screening interview.

I swore under my breath and turned to Mom. “I can’t go to the interview like this. Can you give me some special help?” That was our code word for magic. I braced myself for a lecture on neglecting my witchcraft lessons. Mom was usually more forgiving than Aunt Pearl, though both constantly criticized my lack of discipline. I had to admit I had different priorities. They were right about one thing, though. I couldn’t cast a spell if my life depended on it.

“I don’t understand why you feel the need to leave Westwick Corners.” Mom shook her head, disappointed. “You’ve got full-time work at the Inn if you want it. You don’t need a reporter job in another town. Journalism isn’t your calling, Cen, and I don’t understand why you’re so ashamed of your heritage. You could have pretty much anything if you just practiced your witchcraft.”

I remained silent. I couldn’t explain to two expert witches that I wanted the one thing witchcraft couldn’t give me—to fit in and just be a normal twenty-something woman, with a regular job and a normal family. I craved acceptance, something you simply couldn’t cast with a spell. I wanted to be like everyone else. “I just want to live my own life. Magic causes more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.”

“You’ve got so much natural talent, Cen.” Mom sighed. “You’re squandering your abilities. One day you’ll wake up and realize everything too late. I just don’t want you to regret it.”

My shoulders sagged. Even Mom was on Aunt Pearl’s side. I was stuck. “Aunt Pearl didn’t really win the lottery, did she?” I was sure it was one of my aunt’s white lies. “She conjured it up.”

Mom shook her head. “It’s real, Cen. Wilt even sold her the winning ticket at the gas station. That’s one reason she hired him as driver.”

As if on cue Aunt Pearl turned in her seat. “He’s my lucky charm.”

I jolted back in my seat as Wilt punched the gas pedal. “The lottery was last night. She hasn’t had time to cash the ticket, let alone shop for an RV.”

“You know Pearl. She works fast.”

Exactly what I was afraid of. Aunt Pearl could wreak havoc in a matter of minutes. I slid sideways on the bench seat and stomped my foot down to stop myself from falling into the aisle.

The RV shuddered as it gained speed and fought the wind. I was crazy-scared, since we hadn’t even left the highway on-ramp yet.

“Slow down!” My knuckles turned white as I gripped the Arborite table.

Wilt ignored my pleas and we careened onto the highway.

Within minutes a police siren blared behind us. The flashing lights reflected in the rear view mirror as Wilt lurched to a stop on the side of the road. I jolted back in my seat, relieved that we had been pulled over. The traffic stop had probably saved us from carnage on the Interstate.

Mom’s face turned ghostly white. She cracked open the window and leaned out. She looked as though she might be sick.

I turned around to say something to Wilt, but he was too busy cursing and rolling down his window to pay me any attention.

I craned my neck to see the sheriff’s SUV parked behind the RV, angled out police-style.

Great.

Sheriff Tyler Gates was the last person I wanted to see right now. Not because I didn’t like him. In fact, I liked him a lot. Too much, in fact. I had broken off my wedding to another man because of him, only he didn’t know that. I wasn’t about to admit it, but it was the truth.

“He’s at it again. I’m being persecuted.” Aunt Pearl didn’t like the sheriff one bit. I had no doubt that my law-breaking aunt was about to embarrass us all.

Tyler and I had been secretly dating for the last few months, meeting in Shady Creek to avoid both gossip and interference from Aunt Pearl. She had successfully run every other sheriff out of town, and losing Tyler was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.

I slouched down in my seat, hoping Tyler wouldn’t notice me as he walked by the RV window.

He immediately spotted me and smiled. I smiled back, and Mom gave a quick wave.

Aunt Pearl muttered something from the front passenger seat.

“Hello, Pearl.” Tyler peered in through the driver’s side window. He seemed to hold his own against my ornery aunt.

Aunt Pearl grunted something under her breath. I suspected she had more up her sleeve than a conjured-up lottery win and a magical RV.

I held my breath, hoping she wouldn’t start an argument.

Tyler’s gaze shifted to Mom and me. He nodded and smiled. For a split second I considered asking Tyler for a ride to Shady Creek, but just as quickly dismissed it. Aside from angering Aunt Pearl, it might reveal our secret relationship.

“License and registration please.” Tyler Gates peered inside as he waited for the documents. “Going on vacation?”

“We’re heading to Vegas,” Pearl said. “That against the law?”

Tyler frowned as his eyes locked on mine.

I shook my head. Nobody was going to Vegas, least of all me. Even if I missed my interview, I’d still make our date. Tyler and I were having dinner at a fancy new French restaurant in Shady Creek, far from prying eyes of friends and family. Until then, I didn’t want him to get close enough to see or smell my ruined dress. I’d shop for another dress right after my interview.

A trace of a smile played on Tyler’s lips as he turned to Aunt Pearl. “No, but a broken taillight is. You’ll have to get that fixed.”

“We’re heading to the shop right now, Officer,” Wilt said. “The part we need is in Shady Creek.”

I relaxed at the mention of Shady Creek. Lately my timing always seemed a little off, just like it was for this interview. It was like fate had intervened or something. Maybe that was a good thing, since I’d rather not work at the Shady Creek Tattler. But I still needed to earn a living.

I slid closer to the window to air out my eau du gasoline smell. My clothes had dried quickly in the summer heat. Other than the faint odor, there were no visible stains from the gasoline fiasco. Maybe things would work out after all.

The sheriff let us off with a warning and Wilt promised to get the taillight fixed pronto.

I refocused on the highway as we passed the highway sign informing us that we had reached the Shady Creek city limits. I felt a glimmer of hope as I checked my watch. We hadn’t been stopped as long as I thought. There was a small chance I might make my interview after all, thanks to Wilt’s excessive speed. Which, from Mom’s panicked expression, was freaking her out.

It seemed odd that Mom was even on the trip since she hated any kind of traveling. She rarely even went to Shady Creek. Las Vegas might as well have been on another planet. Mom probably came along only because Aunt Pearl could find herself in a whole mess of trouble in Las Vegas.

Suddenly the RV rocked and careened across the center line. The forest along the highway became a blur of green, brown and asphalt.

I jerked my head around as we sped down the highway and passed the Shady Creek turnoff. “We just missed my exit.”