Butch bad girl Brett Higgins fears the killer is set to strike again . . .

Finding a body dumped at the Paradise Theatre is not the way club owner Brett Higgins wants to start her day—a parking lot full of cops always hurts business. But when the dead woman turns out to be one of Brett’s own dancers, the business problem becomes personal. Very personal.

Disdainful of Detroit’s men-in-blue, Brett pokes around and is rattled when she finds that being back in town is not the same as being back in touch. Her dancer was the third to die in a week. All with slashed throats. All without clothes. All with a special rosary placed in their hands. A serial killer was on the loose and Brett didn’t have a clue about it.

Then a mysterious dead-ringer for Brett’s lost love, Storm, shows up looking for work, her detested rival, Detective Randi MdMartin, offers to help, and her beloved girlfriend Allie volunteers to go undercover as a dancer to lure the killer into a trap. As Brett’s world reels, she knows the killer is poised to strike again and this time Allie could be the target . . .


© 2003
ISBN-10: 1931513112
ISBN-13: 978-193151311


Sample Chapters What the Critics Say Behind the Book

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Sample Chapters

Chapter One

The black Jimmy veered off Woodward, crossed Six Mile and slid right into a parking lot. The dirt and gravel lot was littered with used condoms, food wrappers, empty beer bottles and chip wrappers. At night, after closing, with bums, dealers, and addicts skulking about, and no light present to illuminate the corners, it was a frightening place.

But Brett Higgins couldn’t help but park in one of the seediest parts of town. She worked there.

She stepped out of her vehicle, dropped her cigarette, and ground it out fiercely with her black leather boot. She tipped her sunglasses down, looking toward the lot’s back corner. A large Dumpster sat against the back of the Paradise Theatre.

“Damnit,” she said under her breath and looked around. The only person near was the security guard. “What the hell is that?” she asked, pointing toward the pile of trash next to the Dumpster.


Brett made a mental note to fire the lazy jerk’s butt as soon as she found a replacement. She was sure a trained chimp could do his job better. But a trained chimp would probably cost more per hour than she paid her loser employees—after all, they didn’t exactly need a physics degree to work at the sleaziest adult club in town.

Brett walked back toward the Dumpster, figuring someone had dumped their trash sometime in the night. Either that or she needed to can her closing clerk as well. It was a bad morning, and this was just adding to it. She kicked the pile.

Everything went quiet. All she could hear was the blood pounding in her ears. She felt cold.

“Oh, Nicola, baby . . . what’d you go and do now?”

Brett had seen Nicola in all her glory more times than she could count, but this was . . . wrong. She wanted to reach down and pull the young woman into her arms. Sweet and innocent Nicola was stark naked, buried only in her own blood.

Brett knelt down and felt for a pulse she knew wasn’t there. “What did this one offer you couldn’t say no to? Huh? I always told you to watch out for them, they never meant you any good.”

She reached over and closed Nicola’s eyes.

An overwhelming feeling of sadness consumed her. Nicola was a good girl. She didn’t like to see the girls she liked hurt. She went back to her Jimmy, grabbed a blanket out of the back, and tossed it over the corpse. “The parking lot’s closed this morning, keep everyone out,” she told the guard.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. Frankie and I’ll take care of it.” She pulled her wallet from the breast pocket of her blazer, selected a twenty and gave it to him. “Nothing to worry about, just keep everyone out.”

“Gotcha boss,” he said, pocketing the money.

She started to leave, then went back to him. “When was the last time you saw Nicola?”

He shrugged and put down the Hustler he’d been looking at. “Last night when she left.” A thick stack of porno magazines sat on the small desk in his guard shack. The trash was over-flowing with coffee cups and fast food wrappers.

Brett grimaced at the foul smell. “Clean this joint up.”

Frankie’s car, a 2003 black Toyota 4Runner, was in the lot. She entered the building and asked Tim, the daytime clerk, “Where’s Frankie?”

“Upstairs,” he mumbled through a mouthful of Egg McMuffin.

“Frankie, we got a problem,” Brett said, going directly into Frankie’s office. “Nicola’s out back, dead.” She said it in her most detached voice, but couldn’t help the chill that ran up and down her spine.

Frankie looked up at her. “That is a problem,” he said slowly. “Whatcha wanna do about it?”

She sighed and sat down in a chair across from Frankie. “I guess we oughta report it to the police.”


Neither moved.

“This sure is a different way of doing business, isn’t it,” Brett finally said. She and Frankie weren’t accustomed to calling the police for any reason. Back in the old days, they would’ve just taken care of the body themselves. If the police were involved, Brett knew who the only two suspects would be.

Frankie pushed the phone across the desk to Brett.

Brett put her hand on top of it, then looked at Frankie. “We can’t call ‘em. They’ll think we did it.”

“That don’t make no sense—why’d you wanna go cappin’ one

of your own girls?”

“So you think I should call?”

Frankie shook his head sadly. “Ain’t got no choice.” He looked at her for a moment, “but you should see if Allie’s got any friends can help us out.”

• • • • •

An hour later, Brett was standing behind the theatre, talking with Detective Chris Vargas. “Look, I’ve already told you everything I know,” she said. “I got here this morning, saw this trash lying here, outside of the Dumpster, so I came over to see what it was and found Nicola.”

“And then you did what?”

Brett sighed. How many times was she going to have to tell the same story? “I checked for a pulse and then I ordered the guard to keep everyone out of the lot.”

“So what about this blanket?” he said, pointing toward the corpse.

“I couldn’t just leave her lying here, naked!”

“Keep moving, there’s nothing to see here,” Brett heard a cop saying at the foot of the lot.

“It’s all right, I’m one of you,” Randi replied, flashing her badge as she ducked under the yellow police tape and walked to Brett. “Chris,” she said with a nod to Detective Vargas.

“What do you need, McMartin?” he asked.

“Ms. Higgins is a friend of mine, and so I thought it might be best if I stopped by so you didn’t start thinking that maybe she’s behind this.”

“Just ‘cause she’s a friend don’t mean she’s innocent.”

“Chris, isn’t this the third dancer to get hit recently? Now what reason would Brett have for knocking off all these dancers?” Detective Vargas stood and looked at her with his arms crossed over his chest. “Besides, I already know she’s got an alibi.” Randi laid her trump card. “It’s provided by an ex-cop.”

“Huh.” He glanced sideways at Brett.

“I can also say, without knowing the time of death, when I called Brett’s house at eleven last night, Brett answered the phone. That might not be relevant, depending on what time it happened.”

“But then why was she messing with the crime scene? She admits to closing the corpse’s eyes, and covering it with a blanket! Why else would she be disturbing the body except to cover something up?”

“What would you do if Nicola was one of your friends?” Brett asked.

“I wouldn’t disturb a crime scene,” Chris replied, “no matter what.”

“So if you found your mother, your grandmother, stark naked, with her throat slashed, you would just let the cops and the photographers and everyone else see her? You wouldn’t do a damned thing to show her your respect, to acknowledge all she’d done for you?”

“Listen, this is a damned hooker—don’t . . .”

“C’mon Vargas, give it a rest,” Randi interrupted.

He glared at Brett, jotted in his notebook, and said, “I’m sure I’ll have more questions for you later.”

Brett nodded respectfully and said, “Yes sir, I’ll be available.” She remained in place while Vargas turned and walked over to talk with the crime-scene technicians. Just how many goddamn photos did they needed to take?

Randi, too, watched as Chris joined his partner, before she turned to Brett.

“Thanks,” Brett mumbled. “I was getting really tired of that. You helped me out. A lot. So thanks.” It was awkward for her. She and Randi had never gotten along well, she wasn’t used to thanking people, and she didn’t care much for any cop. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a gold-colored Zippo, which had been a gift from a woman. She couldn’t remember which one.

“Yeah, well, Allie called me. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised you decided to report it to the proper authorities.”

Looking down at the ground, Brett toed the dirt. “I called Allie ‘cause I’d promised her to clean up my act. The only way I could not call the cops was if she gave her okay.”

“Which she’d never do.” Randi pulled a stick of gum out of her pocket, popped it into her mouth, carefully folded its wrapper and pocketed it. “I’m assuming you didn’t have a piece on you by the time the police showed up?”

“Of course not. I knew I’d be in enough trouble without having something like that on me—just because some little piece of shit decided to do this to poor Nicola here.”

“So you knew the girl?”

“Yeah, she was one of my dancers, her real name was Karin Frost. Did you say that two other girls got hit recently?”

“Yes . . .” Randi glanced over and saw the other two detectives watching them. She began walking Brett toward the entrance to the theatre. “I’ve got to get going . . .”

“Do you want to come upstairs to my office?”

“No . . . no, I don’t think so. Can I stop by your place later for a drink maybe?”

Brett stopped. She figured Randi didn’t want to be caught talking with her too long. And she assumed Randi wanted to come by later so she could see Allie.

But Randi was helping her out. And Brett did want to pick her brain, probably as much as Randi wanted to pick hers. “Yeah, why don’t you come by around seven? You know where we live.”

“That’ll work.” She glanced at her watch. “I gotta get back to it.” She began to walk away, then turned back to face Brett again. “By the way, Brett, thanks.”

“For what?”

This time Randi was the nervous one apologizing. “I know how you feel about the police, so thanks for being the way you were with Chris.”

Brett shook her head slowly. “Randi, you came out here to save my butt. I wasn’t going to dis’ you by being disrespectful to him after you said what you did.”

Randi shrugged, embarrassed. “It was all true.”

“Except about us being friends.”

“You saved my life once, so I still owe you.” She looked at Brett. “But you have to know that it won’t count for anything if I ever catch you not toeing the line.”

“I know,” Brett said with a slight grin, going back inside.

She could keep an eye on the cops from her window while she used the phone and surfed the Net. She hadn’t seen anything in the papers or on the TV news about the other murdered girls, but hadn’t been looking for it. And the death of a hooker usually didn’t warrant the front page. But if some loony was out there killing dancers, Brett had to make sure her girls were safe. Losing Nicola was bad enough—she didn’t want to lose any more.

But as soon as Brett entered the lobby of the theatre and saw the woman, all thoughts of cops and dead dancers left her head.

Thick black hair cascaded down her back like a luxuriant waterfall, throwing off blue glints in the dim light. It stopped just above nicely rounded hips and long slender legs. Faded blue jeans, worn through in a few strategic places, clung to her body like a soft, pale, cotton skin. Without even thinking, Brett ran her hand down her silk tie, straightening and smoothing it. She adjusted the silk handkerchief in her pocket and buttoned her jacket.

Just as she donned her most charming smile and opened her mouth to speak, the woman turned and Brett’s flirtatious speech was lost. She didn’t believe in ghosts. But one was now standing directly in front of her.

Brett’s heart fell to the floor.

She blinked her eyes, imagining a trick of the light. But when she re-opened them, everything was still the same.

A dead woman stood directly in front of her. Close enough to touch. Brett roughly grasped the turnstile that stood between them, using it to stay upright.

Storm was dead. She’d seen Storm’s body. This could not be Storm. But the olive skin, dark hair and eyes, and curvaceous body were the same.

“You’re Brett,” the woman said, with Storm’s voice.

“I’m Brett,” Brett replied, finding her voice. “Can I help you with something?”

The woman smiled. It was a lovely thing. “When the clerk said I’d have to audition for Brett, I thought he was talking about a guy.” She reached over the turnstile and straightened Brett’s lapels. “I find it exciting that you’re a woman.”

Storm was sweet and shy. This woman was bold and brazen. Brett looked deep in her dark eyes. This was not the woman she’d loved so many years ago. “You knew I was a woman?” she said. Most people assumed Brett was a man.

The Storm clone tidied Brett’s tie and handkerchief. “How could I not know?” She ran her hand over Brett’s hair, pulling a lock rakishly down over her forehead.

Someone was playing a cruel joke on Brett. That was what this was, a cruel joke. Storm used to play with her hair, her tie, her jacket, just like this woman did. She had the same full lips, sensual movements, and teasing grin.

The woman was already toying with her. People didn’t toy with Brett unless she wanted them to.

“Do you just want me to audition here, or is there somewhere . . . more private . . . where we can do it?” Her breath was warm on Brett’s cheek when she whispered into her ear. Storm was sweet and naïve. This woman wasn’t.

This woman was nothing like her Storm. “What’s your name?” Brett said, pulling herself together and pushing through the turnstile as the clerk released it.

“Victoria, baby.”

“Victoria what?”

“Just Victoria.”

The dressing room door banged open. “Hey baby,” Chantel said, putting an arm around Brett’s waist as if it belonged there. Her full breasts pushed against Brett’s side. Brett just kept looking at Victoria, reading every reaction on her face.

Chantel glanced at Victoria and ran a hand proprietarily down Brett’s leg. “What’s say we make some noise later, huh baby?”

“Chantel, did Nicola have a date or anything after work last night?”

“Nah, you know her. I ‘spect she went right home after work.”

Brett had overheard the guard telling the cops that Nicola had a date the night before. “So did you two walk out together?”

“What is it with you and that girl? Is she the reason you don’t pay no attention to me anymore?” She had her hand possessively on Brett’s ass. “I left soon’s I got done, and I was up first.”

The cops must not have questioned her yet. Some of these girls wouldn’t notice anything unless you forced them to. “Did you happen to notice what the guard was doing when you left?” She was wondering if he had fallen asleep.

Chantel laughed. It was a deep, throaty sound. “I ain’t got a clue—he was long gone by the time I left.”

Tim’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker system in the auditorium, “And now gentlemen, she’s out to rock your world—Chantel!”

“Gotta run now,” Chantel said, kissing Brett briefly on the lips, then, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” quickly to Victoria, before hurrying into the theatre without waiting for an answer.

“Brett, what’re we gonna do about Nicola?” Tim, the clerk, said, sticking his head out the door of the box office. “She was supposed to go on next.”

Nicola was dead. Christ. Brett took a deep breath. “The show must go on,” she said to herself. She couldn’t bear to think of Nicola’s lifeless body lying out back. Instead, she could focus on what she could do something about—business.

She thought about the hundred-plus girls on her call sheets who would love to do an extra shift at the Paradise. She looked at Victoria, making the decision, even as the words came out of her mouth. “You want to work here? Then you go on in half an hour.”

Victoria’s eyebrows shot up. “You don’t even know if I can dance.”

“Yes, I do. I know everything about you.” This woman could dance and turn boys on. In fact, she knew everything this gorgeous woman was capable of. “The rules here are simple: dancers pay us two-hundred bucks for each schedule, whether it’s a three-day weekend set, or a full week. You pay fifty bucks extra for each tardy, and a hundred for each absence. If you owe a fine, you pay it before you dance again. But you can charge whatever you’d like for lap dances.”

Victoria looked nervous. Brett wondered why. If she was a dancer, or wanted to be one, she should be excited Brett was giving her a chance without having her audition. This was what she wanted, wasn’t it? “Well, do you want the job or not?” Brett asked.

“Yes, but—I just got to town . . . came up from Indiana.”

Storm was from Indiana.

“Okay, I’ll postpone the start-up fee just this once. This is the only break you’re getting, got it?”

Victoria fluttered her long eyelashes. “Maybe I can find a way to make it up to you?”

“You can by paying me the two hundred in three days.”

“I don’t have a costume.”

“Do you want the job or not? I ain’t got time for this shit. You don’t wanna dance, I’ll find someone else.”

Victoria’s chin went up. “I’ll wear what I have on. Problem with that?”

Brett looked her up and down. “The boys’ll love seeing you strip out of what you’re wearing.” She turned to the clerk and spoke to him through the thick bullet-proof glass that separated him from the lobby, “Tim, find her some music to dance to.”

Tim leered at Victoria. “How ‘bout some Prince?”

Brett shook her head. “Do you have any Enigma?” Enigma was more sensuous and imaginative than Prince’s bold and blatantly sexual music and lyrics.

Storm had always stripped to Enigma.

“Enigma?” Victoria asked.

“You gotta problem with that?”

Victoria stared at Brett. “How did you know?”

“Got it right here,” Tim said to Brett, holding up a CD.

“That’s what she’ll dance to. And she’ll just use her regular clothes. Seeing her take off so much clothing ought to really get the boys worked up. They’ll love it for today. Just get a real costume for tomorrow.” Most girls didn’t have a costume. They were more likely to use cheap lingerie.

“Should I just call her Victoria?” Tim asked.

“No. Call her . . . Tempest.” Brett liked hot dancers because they brought the men in. After all, dancer’s fees were only a part of how she made her money. She made more charging men ten bucks a pop to get into the theatre to see them.

“Now, do you want the job or not,” Brett asked, “or are you getting cold feet?”

Another dancer
Another dancer from the theatre. I never could see what some guys saw in some of the dancers. At least this one, whose name I can't remember for the life of me, was kinda hot.

What the Critics Say

Talking Sex and Justice

By Joy Parks

It’s no secret that I have little regard for the flood of lukewarm romances and overwritten who-done-its that pass for lesbian writing these days. I think we deserve better. But having said that (over and over again), admittedly there is one "thriller" writer who has managed to capture both my interest and admiration. Therese Szymanski has the guts to butch-strut from the usual pale fluff of lesbian mysteries and When Good Girls Go Bad, her fifth Motor City Thriller, is a perfect example of what happens when humor, eroticism and just good old fashioned storytelling come together. In a past column, I wrote that no one does butch-with-a-bad-attitude better than this author and warned readers that’s it’s tough to not be swayed heroine Brett Higgins’ tall, dark brooding good looks and the sense of sexual conquest and confidence that she wears like a good suit. Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Szymanski about her books and her characters — here’s the highlights from that interview.

JP: Where did the character of Brett Higgins come from? Any real life influences or is she purely the product of your imagination?

TS: Brett was based on the oddity my life was, and has a few of my experiences, but she is her own woman. We have a few things in common, but our childhoods are vastly different, and she’s far tougher, butcher, more self-assured, and confident than I am. She tangles with the bad guys, which I just can’t do so well. I love that about her! She does what I want to do—and gets away with it!

JP: What are the qualities of Brett than you would most want to have for yourself. What are the ones you’d least want to have?

TS: I like Brett’s confidence, self-assurance, and the fact that she does stuff and gets away with it! I love that! She blows the heads off rapists, shoots drug runners, and kills child molesters. Some people think the series is too violent, but I think those who come to a bad end deserve it. I do wish I had Brett’s talent with women. She’s just so... calm... and has such a way about her. Alas, the qualities that I wouldn’t want are mostly those that come from within me. I wish I didn’t share her inability to commit, or her lack of confidence in some basic social situations. Or that she relates the past to the present. Remembering the past at all times can be truly awful.

JP: There’s a strong erotic element in all your books. Is that main appeal or is it because of the story, the plot, the kind of world you place your characters in?

TS: I’m sure the sex makes some people read them. That’s copacetic with me. I love giving pleasure to women and getting them off. That my writings can reach beyond what I myself can do, well, that’s wonderful! And I have fought people who want me to relocate Brett for a book, because one of her appeals is that no one else writes about Detroit. So the setting has some import. As does the fact that it’s one of a few butch/femme series. All the details work together to make the series what it is. The bottom line is that if the books were just about Brett’s sexual exploits, they wouldn’t be that interesting.

JP: Your books are very direct in their depiction of butch and femme roles. Where do you think we are right now in the spectrum of acceptance of butch and femme?

TS: I write butch/femme because I’m butch. I’m a simple Polish Capricorn who sees the world in black and white. That’s who I am. I’m either for or against, things are either good or bad. It took until after the release of my first book for me to realize that I really am butch. Before that, I identified as soft or tailored butch.... but then folks made me accept myself for who I am, and I have been much happier since. For me, B/F is in and out, acceptable or not, in waves. I mean, right now we’re having a peak in lesbian child bearing. Like bell-bottoms and other fashions, things are either in or out. Even if B/F is now ebbing, it’ll come to another peak.

JP: One of the most compelling aspects of your books is the sense of justice having been done. Are you making a statement that the world needs women like Brett?

TS: I like justice. Real justice. Brett does what I think ought to be done. I hate abusers, rapists, etc. They get what they deserve. I would love to know if I ever gave any woman the ability to fight back. We can. We just have to stand up and do so. Brett is about empowerment and overcoming the odds. She is about power and might and the strength to do what needs to be done.

Behind the Book

This book, and Back to Basics, are two reasons I adore Linda Hill: She made them happen. Before she'd come in to save Bella, these two projects had been put off year after year. Several things in this book were changed a LOT, editing wise/content wise, so that led to some problems in it, problems that happen when little details are tweaked so much no one can keep track of them.

Regardless, with every year, I think I become a better writer, and although there are many things about Girls I like, there area few things I’m not happy about, and learning from errors is something that sets writers who work to get better apart from writers who don't.

Meanwhile, I think this book is a high point for Allie in a number of ways, which helps to make me even happier with this book. Plus, hey—Brett's back in Detroit and back to being a bad girl all the way around!

P.S. If you look at the spines of I think all of my first books, you might notice you can’t easily tell them apart. Girls starts a trend of changing that, and that was entirely Linda Hill, who realized she couldn't tell one Brett from another when looking at them on a shelf. That wasn't a good thing, and so she changed it. YAY! (Plus, she got rid of a bunch of really weird looking things on the front cover of this book. I put the old cover on the top of this page so you can compare it to the cover that actually got printed, so long as you have a printed copy in your hand.

Buy the Book

And you can buy the book from your local independent/feminist/LGBT or rockin' lesbian bookstore, or any really cool store that might sell books like mine.

Oh, and of course, you can buy it/find out about its availability and such from my terrific publisher, Bella Books.

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My books are also available on a veritable plethora of online booksellers, including

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And a whole lot of other places.

Make sure to check out all of the heartpounding
Brett Higgins Motor City Thrillers!
When the Dancing Stops When the Dead Speak When Some Body Disappears When Evil Changes Face
When Good Girls Go Bad When the Corpse Lies When First We Practice Front cover of When It's All Relative