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Our book club had the opportunity and privilege to meet and have a lively discussion of "Desert Heat" with Dannie Marsden...a great story with strong...
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I know Dannie and was excited to hear she had written a book. When I first started to read Desert Heat, I did so with a critical eye because it was...
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Wow! Such a good story.I enjoyed it so much.I think what got me the most was that I don`t think most people would give a second thought to what kind...
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I am waiting for the next book to come out! The story was a page turner and I also enjoyed the portrayal of a variety of lesbians and how we interact...
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Juliet opened her eyes and felt the cold steel lightly pressed against her forehead. She didn’t want to complain about the hard, uncomfortable wood chair Tanner had secured her to—that was the least of her problems. Fortunately Tanner had used zip ties instead of duct tape. The sticky residue sometimes took an extra layer of skin and definitely most of a person’s body hair when ripped off. She didn’t know how she knew that—too much crime-story television, she supposed.
Her stomach grumbled, and she wasn’t sure when she’d last eaten. That was probably a good thing at this particular juncture because she thought she might just vomit on top of the scuffed-up wood floor. Now she pondered the last moments of her pathetic life.
Juliet’s eyes tracked to Tanner, who was smiling at her. Or was it a smirk? She wasn’t sure. In all the time Tanner had been in their little town, she couldn’t remember seeing her smile much. Juliet thought she’d caught her one day, but when she did a double take, that same stoic expression returned to her face. It was a damn shame in her opinion, because in that brief moment the smile transformed Tanner’s face.
“I was wondering when you would waken from dreamland,” Tanner said. “I had to assist you a little. Sorry about that. You present a major problem for me. Normally I’d just kill you and be done with it, but you don’t meet the code.” Her gun remained pushed against Juliet’s head.
She wisely decided to keep her mouth shut. It wasn’t her best attribute since she spoke her mind and snooped too much. Isn’t that what led me to this crossroad in my life?
“Not that you have any voice in the decision, but I’d be interested to know what you think I should do with you. What would you do if you were in my shoes?” Tanner asked.
This might be her only chance to save her life. “I promise I’ll just forget everything I saw. I’m sure you have a perfectly good explanation. I mean, you are the law.”
Tanner shoulder-holstered her gun and looked curiously at her. Maybe Juliet would come out of this pickle alive after all, but then what would she do? Can I really just walk away and let Tanner get away with cold-blooded murder?
Tanner quirked her head. “You just won a twenty-four-hour reprieve while I consider my options. Since your stomach has been growling for the last twenty minutes, I suppose I ought to feed you. I’ll run to the deli and get us both a sandwich. What kind would you like?”
A benevolent captor. That was a novel notion. Something in the way Tanner asked that question allowed her to relax. She didn’t really believe Tanner wanted to kill her, and she was depending on her instincts to get her out of this life-threatening situation.
“Turkey, if it’s not too much trouble. I don’t suppose you would be willing to cut the zip ties from my hands. This position isn’t the most comfortable.”
“Don’t push your luck, Juliet. One thing I am not is stupid.”
Tanner spun on her heel and exited the deserted cabin.
Juliet looked around and tried to find something, anything, that would help cut through her bindings. Nothing, nada, zip. Well, she thought, she might as well start contemplating how to con her way out of this mess. She didn’t think the fact she knew all the town’s secrets, due to her incessant snooping, would help her get out of her current predicament. She wondered if knowing that Tanner was a lesbian, like herself, might buy her additional time, being family and all. It wasn’t much to work with, but it was all she had.
Juliet continued to take in her surroundings while Tanner was out getting lunch. At least she thought it was lunch. Time was a bit elusive at this point. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been in la-la land. The last thing she remembered was a tiny prick on her neck.
The moment she’d witnessed the crime, she made a beeline for her grandmother’s remote cabin in the mountains. Granny was off on one of her backwoods camping adventures with her best friend, Sally, so Juliet thought she could hide out there for a few days to consider her options.
She wasn’t thinking clearly because she hadn’t held much hope that anyone would believe her. Being the town snoop didn’t endear you to the right people. Perhaps if she’d been more rational at the time, she might have tried to contact the FBI or some other law enforcement agency. There had to be evidence of the crime that would back up her story, but Tanner had somehow tracked her down and she never got the chance to tell anyone.
She looked around the room and thought she might be in an old, abandoned hunting cabin. She stretched her neck to the side and tried to look out the dirt-encrusted windows. Juliet shuddered as she focused on all that dirt. It made her skin crawl. Trees, trees, and more trees were all she saw as she peered through the glass. She suspected she was still somewhere in the mountains, maybe not far from her grandmother’s place, and her heart sank. With so many secluded cabins located around the Cascade Mountains, hiding someone was a piece of cake. It was a hermit’s paradise. Most of them didn’t show up on any map or census document, which was how the local folks wanted it. Mind your own f-ing business was the motto around here. She’d heard her grandmother say it often enough for her to recognize the ingrained philosophy of the mountainfolk.
Juliet started to squirm as she realized she needed to go to the bathroom and glumly noted that once that thought was in her head, she wouldn’t be able to erase it, unable to think of anything but her need to urinate.
She tilted her head, looked up at the ceiling, and in an effort to sidetrack her brain, started singing an old song from one of her all-time favorite musicals. The light, airy sound of her alto voice floated in the room.
A loud guffaw filled the small cabin as Juliet heard a creaking sound. She turned her head to the door and found Tanner’s laughing eyes.
“You’re singing ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’ from the King and I? How cliché.” Tanner continued to laugh. “Nice voice, by the way.”
“Thanks. I think. Um…do you think I could use the washroom? I really have to pee.”
Tanner blushed. “Oh…uh…yeah…um…shoot, I didn’t think about that. Look, if I cut off your zip ties and let you use the washroom, will you be compliant and come back? I would sincerely hate having to hunt you down like a wild animal. I’m still considering my options, and if you take away my other alternatives, I will have no choice but to kill you. I’d really rather not make that decision.”
Juliet nodded so vigorously that she felt like she might be mistaken for one of those bobble heads. A part of her decided to adhere to Tanner’s request because she was petrified that Tanner would track her down, and without remorse follow through with her threat. Yet a bigger part of her was curious why Tanner had killed that man in cold blood. She had to find out, even if it meant risking her life.
Tanner dumped the bag and two large drinks from the sandwich shop on the scratched and dented oak table off to the right and pulled out a lethal-looking knife. In a couple of swift movements, she’d sliced open the zip ties holding Juliet’s wrists together.
When Tanner bent to undo the ties that secured each ankle to the chair, Juliet had a notion to try to kick her in the head, take her gun, and run for her life. What the hell? I’m not some kind of badass Rambo; stop thinking like that. She shook her head and knew she didn’t want to try to escape. Something told her this entire mess might have a reasonable explanation, and she didn’t want to hurt Tanner.
Tanner looked up into Juliet’s face and narrowed her eyes. “Good choice, Juliet. I have a really hard head, and I doubt you’d have been able to disable me long enough to escape. Just so you know, I’m an expert in several different types of martial arts. I’d have anticipated your move well before you had a chance to execute it.”
Juliet felt the bindings loosen. “Shit, Tanner, did you just cut those zip ties without looking? You could have sliced my ankle.” She smacked her hand across her mouth. Smart move, Einstein. Do not irritate your jailor.
Tanner shrugged. “I knew where your ankles were. You only risked getting sliced if you tried some asinine move to escape. You’re smarter than I suspected, or you’re too much of a chickenshit to try. Either way, I’m glad you picked the right option.”
“I am not a chickenshit. But I will admit to wanting to understand why,” Juliet argued.
Juliet couldn’t help her look of incredulity.
“Oh, that little incident earlier. I have my reasons. I suppose it depends on your perspective whether they’re legitimate or not.”
Juliet stood and danced around a little, resisting the urge to cross her legs or grab her crotch like a two-year-old. “Um, bathroom. I really can’t hold it much longer.”
Tanner waved the knife in the air and pointed down the hall with the lethal instrument. “First door on the left.”
Juliet spun around and hurried to the door twenty feet away.
The washroom wasn’t much, but she was grateful the cabin had running water and a toilet instead of an outhouse. She noted the tiny shower with a plastic, blue curtain rimmed with black mold. She crinkled her nose and wondered who would let their bathroom get this dirty. She lifted the toilet lid with the tips of her fingers and stared into the filthy, white bowl. Clearly it hadn’t been scrubbed for quite some time.
After quickly pulling down her pants, Juliet hovered above the bowl, careful not to let her butt touch the seat. She’d rather not catch whatever might be crawling on it. She didn’t see anything moving, but that didn’t mean a plethora of germs wasn’t hiding there.
“Aahhhh.” She released a stream of urine she thought would never end. Good thing I religiously do my squats three times a week.
While pulling up her pants, she searched for something to wash her hands with. She found a tiny nub of soap on the sink’s edge. I wonder how long that thing has been there and whose hands have touched it. Not finding anything else, she turned on the faucet and lathered as best as she could under the cold water. She hoped the suds would remove the top layer of grime. A nurse once told her that it didn’t do a lot of good to wash your hands if you only went through the motions without taking the time to do it right. She quietly sang “Happy Birthday” as she scrubbed, knowing the duration of time needed to get her hands clean. Juliet didn’t trust the hand towel hanging up on a hook because it looked more like a dirty rag. She grabbed the bottom of her shirt to shut off the water and dry her hands. She knew where her shirt had been; the towel, not so much.
“Hey, you okay in there?” Tanner called from the other room.
Juliet pushed the door open to a grinning Tanner. She was careful not to touch the door handle and used her shirt again. “Did the housekeeper take a vacation or something? It’s disgusting in there.”
“For someone who was tied to a chair with a gun against her forehead, you sure have a smart mouth. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you don’t have to express every little thought that pops into your head?”
“Trust me. I’ve kept a whole slew of thoughts to myself. This is me being restrained,” Juliet quipped.
“Hmmm. Good to know. I recommend you working on your tact just a smidge more.” Tanner held out her thumb and forefinger to demonstrate.
“Fine, but if you expect to keep me alive, I need cleaning supplies to rid this cabin of whatever harmful germs have been allowed to flourish without intervention.”
“I didn’t exactly have time to make it presentable for company, and just for the record, I don’t normally live this way. This was a last-minute decision. Come on, let’s eat.”
Juliet looked at the old oak table and sighed. Although it didn’t have any obvious remnants of moldy food or other repulsive items, she was distrustful.
“Stop eyeing the table like it’s your enemy. The food is in a bag, wrapped tightly. Germs aren’t skilled enough to burrow inside two layers of protection. God, I’ve kidnapped a germaphobe.” Tanner shook her head and grimaced.
“I’ll just take the sandwich right from the bag. No need to get out any plates or put it on the table.” Juliet scrunched up her face.
Tanner rolled her eyes and pulled out the bulging sandwich wrapped in white paper. After handing it to Juliet, she dug into the sack and pulled out a bag of potato chips and a cookie. “I hope you like snickerdoodles. It was either that or chocolate chip. I took a guess.”
“I never met a cookie I didn’t want to devour. Thanks.” Juliet reached for it and her fingers brushed against Tanner’s. Tanner’s face turned bright red again.
She thought it oddly charming that Tanner, who seemed so confident and self-assured, blushed so easily. Immediately after having that thought, she figuratively slapped her head. What the hell am I thinking? Not more than an hour ago, she held a gun against my head. Nothing’s charming about that.
Juliet rewound the recent events in her mind and felt a rush of jubilation. Tanner had only been gone a short time—definitely not more than an hour, which meant this raggedy, old cabin couldn’t be too far from civilization. She might be able to break away and get help. All she needed to do was bide her time and convince Tanner to trust her.
Juliet’s whole life before her parents died had been about cleanliness. She could remember back when she was barely three years old and how unacceptable it had been to make a mess as she used a small spoon. Her mother had incessantly wiped her mouth each time she’d taken a bite. By the time Juliet was done with her dinner, her cheeks were raw from the rough washcloth her mother used.
At six, she had looked at her mother’s face and seen the absolute disgust there when Juliet had soiled her panties after vomiting in the toilet at the same time the diarrhea exploded from her body. The message was clear—she’d been bad. She knew her mother would be disappointed and she’d tried very hard to start cleaning herself, but her mother caught her washing out her underwear in the bathtub and she knew she’d committed a grave error.
Her tears fell down her cheeks as she apologized for the mess, “I’m sorry, Mama, I got sick.”
Her mother had pushed her roughly aside and poured bleach over the clothes before wrapping them up in a plastic bag to discard—the revulsion evident on her face.
Her mother had rubbed every inch of Juliet raw and followed that with a thorough bleach cleaning of not only the bathroom, but her small body. The angry, red rash lasted for several weeks, long after she’d recovered from the stomach flu.
It didn’t take much else for Juliet to discover what made her mother unhappy. Her father was fastidious as well, but not to the same degree. She was smart and a fast learner. If you wanted to gain favor with her parents, you had to remember, cleanliness was next to godliness.
By the time she spent any amount of quality time with her grandmother, Juliet’s habits were already deeply engrained. Her grandmother could do nothing to change the direction of her life. Her parents had ensured that Juliet’s personality was engraved in stone.
Intellectually she knew her parents had created a monster, but that didn’t make her obsessions any less difficult to overcome. She’d given up trying to change. The best she could hope for was making a few minor adjustments.
Unfortunately her obsession with cleanliness wasn’t her only character flaw. She also had to stick her nose where it didn’t belong. Juliet hadn’t at all followed her grandmother’s advice to mind her own business.
She thought back to how she’d gotten herself into this pickle. Two days ago she’d followed Tanner because she just had to know what Tanner was up to….