The author of the heartpounding thriller,
When the Dancing Stops,
returns with another spellbinding novel of
love, murder and revenge.

Having convinced the police and rival gang members that she is dead, former underworld figure Brett Higgins has moved to California and is living with her lover, Allie Sullivan, under the assumed name of “Samantha Peterson.” The move out west gave her what she needed most—a chance to escape her brutal past and start over again.

Safe in Allie’s arms, Sam almost believed that she could change her life as much as she had changed her name. But somewhere deep inside, Sam knew there had to be a price to pay for the trail of bodies they had left behind them. She had no idea how high that price would be. Until she found the gleaming butcher’s knife... and the blood-soaked clothes...


© 1998
ISBN-10: 193151352X
ISBN-13: 978-1931513524
ISBN-10: 1562801988
ISBN-13: 978-1562801984

Originally published
by Naiad Press, Inc.


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November 13, 1967

The cold, harsh winds of a Michigan November beat furiously against the two-story, white-sided house as Liza and Jen pressed into each other, naked and sweating. Heedless of the chill air seeping in through the windows, Liza threw the last of the blankets off as she fast approached orgasm. Sweat broke out all over her naked body while she writhed across her bed, being pushed further and further toward the edge of no return by her lover’s caresses and touches.

A car door banged shut in the driveway, followed by the opening and closing of the front door. Jen looked up from between Liza’s legs and Liza pulled herself off of Jen’s fingers as the intruder pounded snowy boots on the front entry carpet.

“Shit!” Liza urgently whispered. “Someone’s home!”

The two hurriedly dressed. Liza hoped it was only Elise, deciding to play hooky from school with her afterall, because her mother’s afternoon card group, across town, usually lasted until early evening, and her dad didn’t arrive home from work until 5:30, sharp.

“You’d better get out of here,” Liza told Jen, directing her to the window so she could climb down the trellis. Jen paused, reached over and kissed Liza on the lips.

“I love you,” she said, before disappearing out the window to climb carefully down the icy trellis. She would run down the street to the store where she had left her car.

Liza went downstairs, figuring it was Elise, her twin sister. Of course, it might just be a neighbor come to borrow a cup of sugar, except all the neighbor women were playing cards across town with her mother. Regardless, Liza wasn’t afraid. Crime didn’t really exist in 1967 in Alma, Michigan. Even if an occasional hippie vagabond came to town looking for a hand-out as he journeyed across America, he was certain to leave once he realized nothing ever happened in Alma.

“Elise?” Liza called out.

• • • • •

A few hours south in Detroit, a doctor was finishing a surprisingly short and uncomplicated birth. He slapped the pink-faced baby across the butt and looked at the mother.

“Congratulations, Mrs. Higgins,” he said, handing the baby to Alice. “It’s a girl!”

Although the girl was Alice Higgins’ first daughter after six boys, she wasn’t happy. She never wanted a baby girl. Girls only grew up to carry their mother’s burdens all over again.


Chapter One

Brett’s phone rang. There was a woman who wanted to audition as a dancer. She went down the long dark staircase and out to the small lobby.

The woman was gorgeous, with thick, wavy long dark hair, deep, intense eyes and olive-colored skin. Brett slowly looked her up and down before meeting her gaze. She guessed her to be sixteen, even though her body, which Brett could just barely see outlined through her loose-fitting, dirty clothes, looked more mature. Jailbait, illegal, child molestation/exploitation...

But the dark eyes drew her in.

“Take your clothes off,” Brett said.

The woman looked stunned. “Here?” she asked. “But it’s so...”

“Open? Public?” Brett teased, circling her like a jungle cat assessing its prey. “But that’s what stripping is all about, hon,” she said, running a hand down the woman’s arm. Every moment was as if it happened yesterday, but also somehow surreal, imagined, bigger-than-life.

The woman turned to her and slowly began to unbutton her shirt, their gazes still locked. The shirt, the faded army jacket that already lay on the impossibly dirty floor, as well as the girl’s worn jeans and shoes, spoke of someone in need. As if she still wore the clothes she had run away from home in.

The shirt dropped to the floor. She wore no bra. Her breasts were quite full for a girl her age—Brett could imagine cupping them in her hands, nibbling at the already extended nipples that strained in the chill air. With her arms at her side the girl looked directly into Brett’s eyes.

Brett didn’t let her gaze drop. “I said to take your clothes off. All of them.

Those lusciously long-fingered hands dropped to the fly of her jeans. Each button came undone, one by one. The jeans were dropped and kicked to one side, as was her underwear, so that she stood buck-naked in front of Brett.

Brett walked around her, slowly assessing every inch of her, from her well-defined collarbone to her breasts and smooth stomach to the dark patch of hair tucked between her long, long legs—legs Brett could imagine wrapped around her neck. She was gorgeous and would bring the men in by herds—but she was underage.

That was when she noticed a few marks along the woman’s back: almost healed scars. Scars left by a terrible beating, probably from a while ago. She ran a fingertip down one of them and the woman shuddered. Brett knew the shudder wasn’t because her finger was cold, or because her touch tickled. She knew it was what the scars meant to the girl, how she got them.

She faced the woman and looked deep into her eyes. She was too young to be here, too young to be out on the streets, alone. Brett knew all too well what she’d have to do if she didn’t give her a job. She wanted to pull this girl into her arms, touch her, but not in a sexual sense. She wanted to comfort her, because she knew where the girl had been, what had been done to her. She knew this because she had been through the same thing.

“Do you have a costume?” Brett asked. Trembling, the woman shook her head. Again she looked into the woman’s eyes. They were a maelstrom of emotions. There was fear and behind it was shyness and then ambition and hatred and... love and hope. “What’s your name?” she finally asked.

“Pamela... Just Pamela.”

“I won’t turn you in. I already know you’re underage. What’s your name?”

“Pamela.” She paused, as if assessing Brett. “Nelson.”

“Is it safe to assume you don’t have any music?” The woman nodded her head. “Get dressed and go out to the auditorium. I’ll put some music on—you need to audition.” They had just enough time to do this before the theater opened for the day.

Everything seemed to be more intense than it should have been and had a curious feeling of déjà vu. It didn’t seem quite real and the room seemed to be changing, slowly melting into something else.

The next thing she knew she was sitting in the theater on an old, cracked vinyl seat. Music was pouring in through the speakers. It was dark except for a single spotlight on Pamela, who was on-stage, standing and looking at the floor, breathing deeply. Slowly, her body began to move, swaying to the music.

She looked out at the theater, but Brett knew her eyes were seeing nothing. Pamela wasn’t really there as her hips went from side to side, as she dropped the army jacket, as she began to unbutton her shirt, leaving only one button done as she untucked it and took off her shoes. The sliver of flesh bordered on either side by those tantalizing breasts was mesmerizing. Brett wanted to see more.

Pamela started to take control of the song. The girl could dance. She turned around and looked out over her shoulder with those dark eyes. She turned back around and took off her jeans, teasing Brett by slowly pushing them down, all the while still dancing, moving to the beat that pulsed through the almost dark auditorium.

Brett noticed, uneasily, that she was shifting in her seat. Watching women dance never affected her like this, never got her this turned on.

The song ended and Pamela made as if to put her clothing back on, but Brett cleared her throat and stripped a hundred-dollar bill off a wad in her pocket. She waved this in Pamela’s direction.

Brett usually didn’t audition the new dancers with lap dances, which is where they would make all of their money, but she needed to be closer to this girl. Girl, she reminded herself. She couldn’t believe someone this young was having this effect on her.

Pamela looked at her. Brett could tell that she had begun to drop her wall, the wall she needed to do this sort of work, but it was just the briefest flicker that crossed her face. Suddenly, she was again the dancer, the woman Brett had just seen on-stage.

Brett was now the prey and she was the hunter, slowly advancing on her. Still naked, Pamela straddled Brett’s lap, and moved her shoulders, hips and groin to the music that played on. She pushed her breasts up to Brett’s face, but Brett somehow managed to keep her hands on the armrests.

Brett wanted to touch her, to feel those breasts. She wanted to slide her fingers through the wetness between Pamela’s legs, to feel the woman, to be inside this woman.

Instead, she reached up and ran her hand through Pamela’s hair. Although it was dirty, it still felt silky. She leaned forward, about to kiss her, but the girl hesitated. Brett could almost see the wall shatter when she looked into her eyes.

Brett wasn’t used to a woman hesitating when she was about to kiss her. She leaned back in her chair. “How old are you really?”

The girl paused, trying to pull her legs together and cover her breasts. “Sixteen,” she finally said.

Brett rested her hands on the outside of the girl’s thighs. “From now on your name’s Storm and you’re eighteen. I’ll get appropriate ID for you.” The girl looked at her. “My name’s Brett, Brett Higgins. Now get dressed. I’m gonna get you a shower, a good meal and a costume, and you’ll start work tonight.”

Storm started to get up but then sat back on Brett’s muscular thighs. Her eyes said she was scared, but she leaned forward, toward Brett, and brushed her parted lips against Brett’s. Her lips were incredibly soft and there was something almost shy about the kiss, which Brett gently returned.

Without opening her eyes Storm leaned against Brett’s shoulder and Brett held her shaking body, slowly stroking her back and hair until the trembling subsided.

Still holding her, Brett whispered in her ear. “It’s okay, I’ll take care of you. If you ever have a problem, just come to me.” She couldn’t believe she was saying this.

Storm nodded against her shoulder and said, her voice like a little girl’s, “Okay.”

“And know that the only strings attached are no tricks and no drugs. I don’t want you out on the streets.”

Storm lifted herself from Brett’s shoulder. She looked into Brett’s eyes and Brett knew, inexplicably, that her wall was down further at that moment than it had been in years.

This time when Storm kissed her, she wasn’t shaking.

• • • • •

When she awoke, Brett was covered in sweat and trembling from head to toe. She glanced over at Allie, who lay sleeping peacefully beside her.

Storm was dead, had been dead for over five years, but Brett felt as if the beautiful woman had just been in her arms, had just been there with her. Her heart ached as she kept telling herself that Storm was indeed dead, but every time she closed her eyes she saw the long, thick black hair, the deep eyes, the sensuous lips...

Brett rolled onto her back, away from Allie, and stared at the ceiling. She was trying not to think of herself as Brett Higgins because that was a bit of her past that was best left dead. There were far too many people far too happy to see Brett Higgins dead and buried, too many people with too many grudges against her.

She missed the excitement of her old life, missed going out and recruiting dancers, ordering and negotiating items for the bookstores to sell, always having to be on the alert in case their competitors or the fuzz were watching her, and she missed walking through the theater and having the naked dancers walk up to her and flirt with her.

She hadn’t had any of that for over a year now. It had been over a year since Allie had walked back into her life after a five-year hiatus—an event that set a strange series of events into motion, events that left almost everyone thinking that Brett Higgins was dead. She and Allie decided then that this was for the best, so Brett had changed her name to Samantha Peterson and the two went on the lam and left Detroit.

She quietly got out of bed, trying not to wake Allie as she slipped on her robe. She padded gently out of the bedroom and turned on the living room light. Pouring herself a Glenfiddich single-malt scotch on the rocks, Brett turned a chair so she could look out the window, although there was nothing to look at. The skyline in Lansing was virtually nonexistent. It was the capital of Michigan, yet it wasn’t even one of the state’s biggest cities. She sighed when she thought about how small this town was and that the town to which they were heading was just a speck compared to it.

She reached over to the pack of cigarettes, then changed her mind and got up to get her pipe. The long, slender curves of the handcrafted, deeply tanned , long-throated wooden pipe felt right in her hands, the way her fingers just fit around the bowl. Frankie had gotten her the Savinelli pipe in Italy after one of his semi-annual trips there.

Brett gently packed some Dunhill Elizabethan tobacco into the bowl, tamped it down with her middle finger and carefully added a bit more, rotating the flame from her Zippo over it while drawing in deep gentle puffs. She let the flame burn on after the pipe was lit, enjoying the way it danced in the breath of heat coming from the vent.

She sat back in her chair, pulling on the pipe while staring out the window and thought about the dream...

She had taken Storm out to her car—she smiled as she remembered that black Probe—and quickly drove up to a little lingerie shop in Clawson, where she picked out some items for Storm to use as a costume: fishnet stockings, a couple of g-strings, red spike-heeled shoes and a seductive tight red dress. As an afterthought she tossed in a few pieces of lingerie.

After she had done that, she suddenly knew what Storm was thinking—that Brett bought those for her own pleasure. Especially when they pulled up in front of Brett’s neat two-story house in Warren, Storm was probably figuring Brett wanted her as her own, personal sex slave.

But Brett had led her right to the bathroom. “There’s the shower. Towels are in the cupboard.” She quickly assessed Storm’s raggedy attire. “Throw your clothes in the trash. I’ll find you something else to wear.”

Even though Brett’s clothes were too big for Storm—Brett was about six inches taller—she looked much more at ease in the clothes Brett had found for her: jeans and a white T-shirt with a comfortable flannel shirt. She ate the hamburgers and macaroni and cheese Brett prepared as if she hadn’t eaten in a long time.

That night, at the theater, she was a success. After the show Brett again brought her home, although she had never before brought a dancer to her home, let alone had one spend the night. Storm insisted she couldn’t take Brett’s bed, so Storm went to sleep on the couch.

In the middle of the night Brett felt someone else in the room with her. She sat up and Storm came over to sit on the edge of the bed. Even in the dim light that filtered in through the blinds she was beautiful.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Storm said. “I just needed to be near somebody. Hear you breathing.” She was all but swimming in Brett’s sweatpants and T-shirt.

“I’m a light sleeper. Gotta be that way in this profession.”

“Why are you being so nice to me?” It was abrupt. Brett knew that was what was keeping her awake.

Brett thought about telling her that she knew Storm would more than make up for any expenses because of how many men she’d pull into the theater, but instead she told the truth. “Because I like you.” Storm looked at her, then reached down to pull off her T-shirt. Brett stopped her. “I said I liked you, not that I wanted to sleep with you.”

“Don’t you find me attractive?”

“I think you’re incredibly beautiful. But our deal is no drugs and no johns, not that you have to fuck me.”

Storm pulled her legs up onto the bed and rested her chin and arms on them. It took Brett a few moments to realize she was crying. She pulled her into her arms, holding her and gently stroking her hair and back. She had known the girl less then twenty-four hours and already she felt protective of her, she wanted to help her. She didn’t want anyone to ever hurt her again.

A few minutes later Storm stopped crying. Brett lay down with Storm curled into her, she could feel the girl’s breath warm against her neck.

“Brett?” Storm said. “Thank you for the flowers.” Brett had given her a dozen red roses after the show.

Brett raised herself up on her elbows so she could look at Storm, knowing the girl wanted to say something else.

Storm’s dark hair was spread out over the pillow like a halo. Her face was still slightly red from the crying, and her lips and eyes were a bit puffy. Brett gently touched her own lips to Storm’s.

The kiss was gentle and this time Storm wrapped her arms around Brett and pulled her to her. After the kiss, they lay inches apart and looked into each other’s eyes.

Brett felt a feeling that was both familiar and unfamiliar. In her life she had fucked dozens of women, but she had never before felt like this. She wanted to make love to Storm. She knew Storm had probably been fucked hundreds of times herself, but had never been made love to.

And now she lay in Brett’s arms, her body soft against Brett’s, her eyelashes tickling Brett’s neck, with her arms around Brett. Brett could feel her own heart quicken, her own body tense.

“Brett?” Storm said softly. “Look at me.”

Never before had anyone looked at Brett like Storm did that night. It was as if Storm didn’t merely look at her, but into her, as if she suddenly knew all of Brett’s past and her well-buried secrets. A large part of Brett wanted to jump up, run from her, get out of the house, but instead she kissed Storm.

Brett had never before loved someone as gently as she did that night, and every night that week, until they found Storm a place of her own. But Brett would always remember Storm as her first true love and as the first person to love Brett back.

She loved Allie and never wanted to lose her again. In some ways it seemed that she was doomed to be a free spirit, both personally and professionally, so that she’d never be happy with a staid, stable, predictable life. Neither personally nor professionally.

Since she and Allie had gone on the lam she had tried to grow accustomed to the name Sam Peterson, which was on all her credit cards, her driver’s license and all her U.S. bank accounts. Although she had substantial assets sitting across the ocean in a Swiss bank under her real name, she had fully built the identity of Sam Peterson, complete with a credit rating.

At the time she created the illusion of Brett Higgins’ death, she’d had a will that left all her possessions and regular bank accounts to Allie and her old business partner, Frankie Lorenzini. Frankie actually paid her for her half of the business and took care of selling both her house and Allie’s. That chunk of cash was subsequently divided between their American accounts—half in her name, half in Allie’s.

Frankie was a real friend. When she and Allie decided, after a year of wandering California looking for a new place to live, to return to their real home, Michigan, he helped them get through Detroit in the quickest and most efficient way possible so they had little risk of being noticed by anyone who thought Brett was dead.

So here she was, sitting in a hotel in Lansing, Michigan—the “Middle of the Mitten.” She and Allie had decided to spend the night on their way up to Alma, a little town two hours north of Detroit, because they had already spent the day traveling from California to Detroit and driving this far. They had randomly decided on Alma as their new home town.

She wished she could be back in Detroit, where her real home was. She had always said she didn’t like Michigan’s icy, snowy, biting winters. Said she wanted a place where you didn’t go through all four seasons in a single day. But now she knew she wanted something she could be sure of, because her life was so uncertain as it was. At least Alma was closer to home than California had been.

But Sam still had a problem about her name. Her real name was Brett Higgins, a name she had had to wait close to five years for. Brett Higgins, no middle name, no middle initial. Her folks couldn’t be bothered. When she was born, Dave Higgins had told his wife Alice to come up with a name for the kid, so she remained “the kid” until the fact that she would soon begin kindergarten slowly seeped into the battered and beaten brain cells of Alice’s mind and she decided the little girl she never wanted would be called Brett.

And now at twenty-eight Brett Higgins could no longer use her own long-awaited name. She looked across the room and into the mirror, studying the image that greeted her: short black hair streaked with gray from a life fraught with danger and adventure, a stern jaw and green eyes that had not only seen her kill, but had also witnessed the deaths of a lover and a friend. Even after a year of easy living her 5’10” frame was still muscular, with broad shoulders that made buying men’s clothes an absolute necessity, although she would’ve bought them anyway.

“Sam Peterson,” she addressed the mirror. It didn’t fit. “Higgins, Brett Higgins,” she said, and then she greeted herself with a quick, self-assured grin. She felt as if she should order a martini, “shaken, not stirred.”

She was a master at playing the game, so she could do this. But sometime, she didn’t know when or how, she’d be herself again.


Chapter Two

“Um, Allie?” Brett asked as she glanced around at the vivid display Mother Nature was putting on. “Are we lost yet?” Even the freeways were lined with trees producing the most incredible display of colors she had seen in quite a while—red and orange and yellow, with every combination in between. All of this was highlighted with pines and spruces that refused to shed their coats during the heat of summer or the dead of winter. Even the billboards that speckled the landscape like so many little exclamation marks didn’t discount her excitement at the beauty of it all. It felt good to be home.

Allie briefly consulted her map before snuggling over next to Brett, who was driving. “No, hon, not yet.”

Brett wrapped an arm around Allie’s shoulder while still paying close attention to both the road and the scenery. “Y’know, some people might consider sticking a state map on a wall and throwing a dart at it a really silly way of deciding where to move to.” She paused. “Hi, I’m from Alma,” Brett said, testing it out. “I’m an Almanian, an Almond, a regular nut.”

“Home...” Allie said, a slight smile crossing her face.

On US-27 they noticed a billboard for Alma, declaring it the home of Alma College and the Michigan Masonic Home, as well as Little Scotland, USA.

“There’s gotta be a mistake,” Brett said upon seeing the sign. “We can’t be going to someplace called ‘Lil’ Scotland’... What do they do there—wear kilts twenty-four/seven?”

“It can’t be that bad...”

“Why am I suddenly getting really scared?”

“Just keep driving...”

“I wonder if they walk around with hayseeds stuck in their teeth and call their kids Bobby-Joe and Betty-Sue?”

“It’s a small town, Brett, not the deep South.”

The fields grew more frequent, the billboards slowly disappeared. Instead small, home-made signs read, “Pick your own Apples,” “Fresh Produce,” “Fresh Strawberries,” and so on—you could find fresh almost anything out here, even pick-your-own. Brett wondered if there was a “Pick your own Snowballs” sign once winter set in.

When they pulled off the freeway at the Alma exit, into the booming metro with its total population amounting to less than the number of freshmen at Brett’s alma mater, Michigan State University, she saw the cornfields, dirt parking lots and a sign pointing to south 27.

“Are we sure we want to do this?” she asked hesitantly, overwhelmed by the lack of buildings, although there was at least one stoplight right ahead of them. Allie smirked at her, so she slowly continued forward. “What is that smell?” Brett asked as she quickly turned the vent off.

Allie sniffed. “Okay, so maybe you were right, maybe we don’t want to do this.”

They entered the town proper, and Brett discovered the reason for the awful smell of 10,000 pissed-off skunks: A refinery, with its small buildings and huge stacks spiraling toward the sky, spewing forth noxious fumes. Thankfully, however, once they were past the plant the smell eased off.

A sign welcomed them to Alma, Little Scotland, USA and proudly announced that they hosted the Kiwanis, Elks, Lions, and two dozen other clubs. Then they hit the old downtown area of the city, with its quaint little shops, seeming for all the world like a small downtown Royal Oak or Birmingham, which were suburbs of Detroit. Although the street they were now on was called Superior, Brett felt it should’ve just been named Main Street.

Because the area was so small, they had no problems finding the realty office Frankie had told them about. They set up an appointment to go house-hunting with Ted, one of the realtors, in two hours, and got directions to the Best Western on the edge of town. En route to the hotel they went through the new downtown area, a single strip lined with McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Arby’s, a couple of banks, a strip mall with a J.C. Penney, video rental place, Rite Aid and an Ashcraft’s Market, which appeared to be where most of Alma did their grocery shopping. All in all, it looked as if Alma had everything needed for basic living in the mid-1990s.

But there wasn’t a single adult bookstore or theater, or anything queer for that mattter, anywhere in sight. Brett sighed.

• • • • •

“So, girls, what price range are we looking at today?” Ted asked later that morning. To his credit, however, he didn’t seem too surprised that they were looking to buy a place together.

“Whatever,” Brett replied, letting the “girls” remark slide, even as she wondered if they were the only queers in town.

“We’ve got places all the way up to a half-mil.”

“Look, Teddy boy, we’ve been traveling for over a year now—I just want to find a place to call home.” Brett knew they had a lot of money readily accessible.

He looked at them in disbelief, but began their tour with the best Alma had to offer: the half-million dollar homes on the city’s outskirts. Some of these had tennis courts and built-in swimming pools, but none felt quite right. Through the rest of that day and the next, they slowly worked their way down the scale, all the way down to a $10,000 one-bedroom home that back in Warren or Sterling Heights would’ve cost at least $70,000.

During their search Ted also gave them a tour of Alma, apparently wanting to sell them on the town as well as a particular house. She had to admire this attention to detail, although to her dismay she realized some of her old persona was slipping in through the cracks—like, when he showed her the Girl Scout Cabin, which was only used during the summer, she thought that if you dumped a body there in the late fall, it wouldn’t be discovered for at least six months. Of course, maybe the fairgrounds would be the better bet, because it looked as if those were only used for a bit during the summer for the annual fair…

Brett and Allie decided they both preferred the homes in the $50-$70,000 range, which were located in nice enough neighborhoods with lots of trees, because they were slightly older and had more character. But still, none seemed quite right, until...

“I’m sorry, but that’s just about everything,” Ted said as he drove them back up through a neighborhood on the second day. Brett knew the town was small, but couldn’t believe they had looked at everything in less than two days.

“Wait a minute!” Brett yelled from the backseat as she jumped forward. Ted, shocked, slammed on the brakes, the car veering to the side. “That street we just passed—you didn’t show us that one.”

“I didn’t think you’d be interested,” Ted said doubtfully as he turned the car around.

The house was quaint, with white siding, an ivy covered trellis and a covered front porch. It seemed to Brett the only thing missing was a white picket fence. She grinned when she remembered once telling a friend once that she wanted it all, including a fucking white picket fence.

Allie got out of the car, looked around and smiled.

“The last people who lived here,” Ted said as he led them up the leaf-covered front walk and unlocked the door, “had to move suddenly—but not before they had all new plumbing and electrical installed. And the basic structure is as sound as the day it was built,” he added, thumping a wall for emphasis. He was falling back into his real estate persona.

As Ted eagerly began to show Allie the three bedrooms, two baths, spacious living room, basement and anything else he could think of, Brett examined the grounds and exterior.

Although there was something indescribable about the house, she wasn’t that impressed with what she saw. But when she entered the foyer, she felt a warm breeze embrace her. It was at that moment she realized this was her home.

“Most people round here don’t even bother locking their doors,” Ted said as he escorted them out an hour later.

“How much?” Brett asked frankly.

“How much?” Ted replied, amazed.

“Yeah, what’re they asking for it?” she repeated, wondering why this fellow was so amazed.


“Fifty?” Brett asked, trying her best to hide her amazement while looking at Allie, who smiled and nodded. This house would cost two to four times as much back down where they had lived before.

Brett looked up at the house and nodded too. She thought of the warm embrace and knew in her heart that they belonged there.

“I’ve been told they needed to leave in a hurry, and they just want to sell. It just got listed a week ago,” Ted hurriedly explained, trying to cover his surprise.

“Bullshit,” came a woman’s voice from behind them. Brett whipped around to find a slightly plump woman who barely reached Brett’s chin standing behind her. With a rake in one hand, she wore spectacles, sweatpants, thick socks with Birkenstocks, and a Red Wings’ jersey, which clashed with her wavy red hair, over a thick sweatshirt. Brett wondered if this was some strange tribal apparel.

Ted rolled his eyes heavenward.

“Madeline Jameson,” the woman said, shaking first Brett’s then Allie’s hands. “And don’t believe a word Theodore says. This house has been listed for over two years now.”

“Is there something wrong with it?” Allie asked.

“No, not at all,” Madeline replied. “Just be careful of Teddy here,” she continued, reaching up to ruffle his hair. “He’ll try to get more out of you than he should, on account of you’re so obviously out-of-towners.” The look she shot Brett wasn’t defiant, but rather the look of someone so sure of herself she need not make a point of it.

Brett turned to Teddy. “Offer them forty—”

“Now, I know they’ll never—”

“Cash. But we want to close tomorrow. I’m tired of living in hotels.”

“You wanna buy a house with cash?”

“Ted, close your mouth or have a Tic Tac,” Madeline said. “As for you two,” she added, looking at Brett and Allie. “Would you care for a home-cooked meal with your new neighbor?”

“That sounds wonderful,” Allie said before anyone else had a chance to say anything.

“We’re having Wheatball Stroganoff with pita bread and hummous. And we’ll eat all the sooner if you two will help me with the raking. It looks like the goddamned tree puked all over the lawn.” With that, she turned and walked back to her own house.

Brett had spent years dealing with killers, drug dealers, money launderers and prostitutes, but already she knew that Madeline Jameson had far more power in her tiny body than any of the former could ever dream of.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Ted managed to croak out.

Madeline turned and looked at him. “If I were you, I’d just start drawing up the papers, because they’ll accept that offer.”

• • • • •

Later that evening, her stomach full—surprisingly enough because she usually didn’t like vegetarian meals—and a cup of steaming espresso in her hand, Brett leaned against the doorway to stare at Allie, who, with Madeline, leaned over a map spread out on the table.

Allie had a way with clothes, she liked jeans just tight enough to show off her hips and legs, or dress slacks in particular fabrics that were cut in such a way as to have a nice drape as they flowed down her body. She preferred simple but tasteful blouses. In the heat of California she had worn shorts, but not jean shorts, and short-sleeved blouses of a variety of patterns. Now she wore a silk turtleneck under a thick hand-woven sweater and jeans, with low-cut boots.

Brett suspected some of how Allie dressed was based on what she knew Brett liked. Brett smiled when she thought of how many little things Allie did to please her—from the light make-up, to her perfume (Eternity), to the fact that she wore front clasp bras for “easy accessibility.”

Once again Brett wondered what she had ever done to be so lucky as to win Allie’s heart.

Allie flipped her long, wavy blonde hair back over her shoulder before glancing up to catch Brett staring. “Madeline’s showing me some of the highlights of Alma.”

“I’m just not sure if I’m a small town kinda gal,” Brett said with a half-smirk. While they were still in California, Allie had convinced her that perhaps they should take a step back from big-city boisterousness; she was still hesitant about whether or not she was ready to slow down this much yet. She knew she had said she wanted a quiet life, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready for it.

“I think it’s the only way I’m gonna keep you outta trouble,” Allie said.

“And just what type of trouble are you particularly worried about?” Madeline asked, trying for the umpteenth time that evening to discover more about her new neighbors than they were willing to share.

“Oh, nothing in particular,” Brett said quickly with a grin. “I’m just an all-round sort of troublemaker.” They had spent quite a bit of time while they were in California developing the story of their lives in order to keep Brett’s true identity a secret. Now they even kept most of Allie’s past a mystery as well, partly out of habit and partly to avoid further questions.

“If you spend your lives never telling anyone anything,” Madeline began, “your friends will not know how to help you when you need it.”

“Who says we’ll need help?”

“One of these days you’re going to pull that gun on someone who has a bigger one,” Allie said, not entirely convinced with Brett’s apparent bravado.

“That’s where the fun is,” Brett replied, trying to appear casual. “In determining just how well-equipped one’s opponent is.”

“Nonetheless,” Madeline interrupted. “I agree with Allie. Samantha, dear, you cannot go through life threatening anyone who annoys you.”


“It’s like trying to convince a man to stop peeing on the floor,” Allie said. “I’ve been trying to change her for years.”

“How long have you two been together?” Madeline asked. It had come out almost immediately that Brett and Allie were a couple, and Madeline, an English and Woman’s Studies professor at the college, hadn’t minded in the least—in fact, she was all in favor of more queers coming to her little burg.

“All told, about two years,” Brett replied.

“But we first met back in ‘ninety,” Allie added.

Madeline sat back and considered them. “One of these days, you will tell me everything.”

“But there’s nothing to tell,” Brett lied. Allie also avoided looking at Madeline.

“Dear hearts, it is quite obvious that there are more than a few skeletons in your closets.”

“But I burned the closet, Madeline!” Brett retorted. Throughout the evening her liking for Madeline had managed to increase dramatically, which was unusual for Brett, who was naturally suspicious of everyone and everything.

Madeline sat back and smirked. “You really are quite good at changing the subject when it suits you, Sam.”

“Speaking of changing the subject,” Allie said. “I’ve been dying to know, well, you don’t really seem like the sort to be a hockey fan, so what’s up with the jersey?” Madeline was still wearing the Red Wings’ jersey that clashed with her hair.

“Hockey really isn’t that bad, in fact, it’s much more exciting than most professional sports. But no, I’m not what you’d generally refer to as a fan—I just figured I’d get on the wagon at the top of the season.”


Madeline shrugged as if the answer were self-evident. “The Wings will bring home Stanley this June for the first time since—why, since before either of you were born.” Brett stared at her for a moment. Then, trying to maintain her straightest, most dignified face, she asked, “And... is there any particular significance to the fact you’re wearing number twenty-five?” People often picked one of the team’s most popular players, like Wayne Gretzky, to put on their bodies.

“Of course. Darren McCarty will be shooting the winning goal.” She sat back and stared at Brett, who was trying her best not to burst out laughing, before concluding with a smirk, “In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m the town kook.”

It took Brett and Allie nearly eight months later to discover that Madeline wasn’t quite as crazy as she first appeared.

Picture of Andrea

My ex-ex-ex-ex-ex (you get the idea) Andy. She wanted to be a cop when she grew up, and I was managing a bunch of adult joints. So she was a little bit of my inspiration for Allie.

Oh, and she graduated high school in something like 1992, so lay off the hair, 'kay? Oh, and yeah, our age differences mimicked that of Brett and Allie. I'm still surprised I got away with having Allie be 17 at the start of the series.

Andy wanted to be Brett when she grew up, but thinking back on things, her character arc—up to when I last saw her—perhaps mostly resembles Allie's, although her crewcut and jeans seemed to lean to the butch toward which she aspired.

What the Critics Say

“...This is about power and how the porno industry and its nderworldconfer power on the disempowered, whether the victim is a boss like Brett or a dancer like Storm. Even Allie, seemingly unabused but born female, attains power by becoming a police officer... the complexities of Brett Higgins's character are interesting, even if she is not the most likable protagonist to visit lesbian literature. Brett is the kind of butch you might fantasize about in a hot moment but would never actually date; the kind of butch fathers dread their daughters might bring home...”

—Pele Plante, The Lesbian Review of Books, Winter 1998-1999

• • • • •

“...This is definitely not a book to start unless you have plenty of time, as it is a book you will not easily be able to put down. Szymanski writes a taut, fast paced thriller with an exciting conclusion, and, as always, with some very hot sex scenes...”

—R. Lynne Watson, MegaScene, Palm Springs, October 16, 1998

• • • • •

“...Sprinkled through When the Dead Speak are sexual escapades most of us only dream of...”

—Teresa Decrescenzo, The Lesbian News, August 1998

• • • • •

Midwest Book Review
Reviewed by Cheri Rosenberg

For a person who doesn't believe in ghosts, I found Therese Szymanski's When the Dead Speak truly believable and chillingly real. The second Brett Higgins Mystery seamlessly picks up where When the Dancing Stops leaves off, like the next chapter of the continuing saga. Brett's old life is dead and buried, but can she accept the past, move on, and enjoy her new "quiet" life with her lover, Allie Sullivan?

After bumming around California for a year, Brett and Allie move to the sleepy town of Alma, Michigan. Brett misses the fast-paced city life but agrees to settle down. They buy a house next door to a feisty old broad, Madeline, who Brett thinks is " a few eggs short of an omelet" [p. 31]. "[Madeline's] ability to see through easy charades " [p. 31] among other things, makes Brett uneasy, as do the very strange happenings in the house that has Brett's hair standing on end. Even after she learns her new home had been the scene of a murder, Brett still doesn't believe in ghosts. In 1967, Liza Swanson was brutally murdered in the house for being gay. Eventually, Brett acknowledges that she feels a presence of some sort - perhaps the house is haunted. Brett undeniably feels connected to Liza after she discovers the tormented soul's journal, which reveals her harrowing life.

Szymanski skillfully weaves the past and present in this engaging mystery. As Brett is learning about Liza's life, she is remembering Pamela, aka Storm, her dead lover whom she cherished and protected until the day she was murdered. The similarities between Liza and Storm are staggering. When Liza's ghost haunts Brett and Allie's house, Brett cannot rest until she finds out who killed Liza Swanson so her ghost may rest in peace.

After giving up her life of crime, Brett goes under cover with the assumed name, Samantha Peterson; she is presumed dead by those who wish her no lesser fate. She has trouble leaving her past behind which in turn affects how she deals with uncovering the details of Liza's life. Mourning the loss of her ex-lover, and her old boss Rick DeSilva, who was also murdered in cold blood, Brett's feelings are intensified as the details of Liza's death come to light. Brett wonders whether avenging Liza's murder will help her put those other deaths behind her.

As in her first novel, When the Dancing Stops, Therese Szymanski's clever plot design keeps readers guessing. The delightful romance between Brett and Allie gets richer even as you wonder if Brett could ever be faithful to one woman. Madeline, a new character, is a wonderful addition, adding spice to the story.

Writing a series is not as easy as one might think, but Therese Szymanski pulls it off exceptionally well—it is evident that the author is growing as a writer. Her details are accurate, her characters evolve, and she makes the reader want more. When the Dead Speak is a hit. Don't miss it.

Behind the Book

(A dedication can say a thousand words)

This book has this dedication:

For Teri (1958–1995)


Gloria (1954–1978)


Although they are no longer with us, they speak to us everyday, for they touched our lives and will live on in our hearts, minds and souls, and through their children.

Gloria Gilbert, Teri’s sister, was a mother of two who had run away from her abusive husband, who was likely connected to the closest thing Detroit had for a mafia (let’s just say his name is Sal Bonifiglio—good Italian mafia–style name, if I do say so myself). She was in her parent’s driveway in Detroit, Michigan, when at about 6 a.m. someone drove up and shot her about a dozen times. Her little sister, Jacquie, who was just 16 then, saw it all. The neighbor, who was also an eyewitness, claimed she didn’t see anything when it went to court. Gloria’s son, who was the son of a circus performer (I swear to God, I'm not making any of this up, was adopted by Gloria's parents. Gloria's daughter’s father wouldn’t let her parents adopt her, but they became her legal caretakers when he went to jail for a while (he was out in about ten years).

I was writing this book when Teri Gilbert died, just after her second wedding. Much of her family was at a Bluegrass festival four hours away when she suddenly keeled over.

She had the flu, then she was dead.

She left behind a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 13-year-old. Her first husband, Mark, a member of the religious right, and I drove four hours together in a car because we didn’t want the police telling Teri's and Gloria's mother that another of her children was dead. Also, the 13-year-old’s father wanted to be the one to tell his daughter. We helped them come back—the family, most of which was at the bluegrass festival (I think it was called Wheatland)—and I found myself quoting this book I was writing—this book, as in When the Dead Speak—to the 13-year-old as I tried to explain that life isn’t fair, but people touch others and that she could keep her mom alive inside her.

Throughout the funeral, the most asked question was how I ended up in a car with Mark for four hours.

Jacquie was my girlfriend at the time. When Mark and I showed up at the music festival I figured it right and found Jacquie, the strong one, and told her, so she could tell the rest of the family.

Sometimes things happen for a reason. By the time this book was published, I’d been broken up from Jacquie for few years, but both she and her mother were touched that the dedication remained the same. But sometimes, works just belong to certain people, and this was one of them. (My first play, And Divided We Fall, was my Dad's. He'd only been dead a year or two when I wrote it, but it was his.)

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