USA Today Bestselling Author
Detective Abigail Cartwright has earned a reputation for solving weird homicide cases, but, when she’s called to a lecture hall at the local university, she faces the oddest one yet. During a What If … lecture, run by soon-to-be-retired Professor Gertrude Milligan, two students died. Without any signs of how or why.
Confused, Abby digs in to solve the mystery, only to find several old cases connect—or do they? Were the two students murdered, or was something else going on?
Professor Leon Wellington is worried about his aunt Gertie. Their personal history was bad enough, but to have two of her favorite students die right in front of her has left her shocked and grieving. How can she not be a prime suspect in this case? Then she goes missing …
When the past collides with the present, the stakes are higher than ever, as a killer realizes how close he is to losing everything …
Once again, we go on a journey into the strange and unknown.
Detective Abigail ‘Abby’ Cartwright is assigned to this case since she has the reputation of solving the weird ones. This one however is stranger than she’s ever come across. She’s also known Stefan for a long time, and he’s helped her with some of the stranger ones she’s come across.
This time it’s the deaths of two college students in a lecture hall, that happens simultaneously at some point near the end of the lecture. Professor Gertrude ‘Gertie’ Milligan is shocked and definitely shaken by this occurrence. When Abby begins her interview there’s someone else with Gertie. Her nephew Leon Wellington who is also a professor here. The one thing that is standing out is the lecture topic of What if and one scenario of if there was a back door to your mind someone could enter and influence you.
The University has had some bad press with a cheating scandal and was hoping for a few years without any further incidents. These deaths will certainly bring unwanted press back again.
I have to say I found Abby’s partner Harvey a bit needy, as he stops by the next day apparently expecting breakfast. he lets her know about the video of the students coming and going.
Things become even more complicated when the go to speak with Gertie to see if she could confirm all of them on the video are her students and maybe identify them. Only to find her unreachable. Abby calls her nephew Leon, and he comes with keys. She also learns more about Leon as they try to figure out where she might have gone.
This is a favorite scene.
Noting all of that, Abby walked down to the garage and looked in through the window. “Looks like an older Mercedes.”
“That’s hers. It’s a maroon color.”
She nodded, as she turned to walk back. She looked over at Harvey. “I guess we’ll return to the university then.” Turning to Leon, she asked, “Does your aunt have any special haunts?”
“No, but she does have friends on campus, so it wouldn’t be out of line to consider that she’s spending a moment, having coffee with someone. It would have been a tough night for her.”
Back in Abby’s car, she and Harvey made the fast trip to the university. As she got out, she headed in the direction of the professor’s office.
“Do you think she’s dead?” Harvey asked.
“God, I hope not,” she murmured quietly, as they walked through the halls, filled with students mingling and rushing from one end to the other.
“But, if we don’t find her, we’ll have to consider the alternative.”
“That maybe she couldn’t show up for her day at the office.”
He looked at her sharply, but she shrugged. “Hey, this is a long way from being an open-and-shut case. Anything and everything is still on the table.”
As they got to the professor’s office, she knocked. When there was no answer, she tested the door, but it was locked. As she turned, she saw Leon coming toward them. He frowned, as she nodded at the door. “It’s locked.”
“I have a key.”
“Wow.” She stared at him intently. “Is that normal?”
“For me and my aunt, yes,” he replied. “Lots of times she’s forgotten things, and I’d still been at work, and she’s asked me to pick it up here and drop it off on my way home.”
On the surface that made a lot of sense, but, at the same time, she just wasn’t so sure. He quickly unlocked the door and let her in. She walked around and felt some relief, knowing that nobody was here. She looked up at Leon. “Can you tell if she was here anytime recently?”
He wandered the small space. “Everything is always like this.” He raised both hands in disgust. “She’s the only person I know whose desk is always absolutely pristine. Her files are always very orderly, everything exactly as you’d always want it to be. I’ve tried myself, really tried, yet somehow I can never achieve the same thing.”
“It does show a very strict and disciplined mind-set.”
“True,” he murmured. “But don’t get me wrong, Detective. She’s also a very warm and caring person.”
“The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” she noted, “but the need to have her desk like this? It usually shows a need to have control in her life.”
He studied her carefully. “That’s an interesting assessment.”
She shrugged. “So where is she likely to be right now?”
“That’s what I was hoping to find out when I got here,” he replied. “Normally she would be right here. But she isn’t, so I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Fine. We’ll do our best to track her down. Does she have any favorite places, like a summer getaway cabin or something? Does she have any place that she would go to get away from all this?”
“This is it… the university,” he said, with his arms spread out. “This is her passion. She lives and breathes it.”
“No partner ever? No children? Other siblings?”
He shook his head. “A fiancé who died but no children. And, my parents, both her sister and her brother-in-law died decades ago.”
She nodded quietly.
“What is it you’re thinking, Detective?”
“Actually I’m worried,” she said bluntly. “Two of her students were murdered, and I don’t know if any of it is connected to her. I would like to have her safe and sound here in front of me, so I don’t have to worry about where she’s gone or if somebody else has found her.”
At that, his gaze narrowed, as he studied her intently. “You’re thinking that her life might be in danger?”
“I’m thinking that anything is possible,” she snapped. “Including that.”
“I did talk to her last night, after I dropped her off. She sounded fine, told me that she was tired and that she would have an early night.”
“An early night could mean an early waking up”— she looked around—“ particularly for somebody of this mind frame.”
“Maybe she wanted to come in and get some work done, particularly if she would normally work in the evenings,” Harvey suggested. “Last night wasn’t conducive for it, so it would make sense that she would come in here to catch up.”
She frowned at that and turned toward Leon. “You have no idea where she is, correct?”
He shook his head. “I have no idea, and now I’m getting worried myself. I checked with the friends I mentioned and neither had heard from her.”
Abby said, “I think I’ll go over to the dean’s office.” When she saw Leon hesitate, she looked at him and asked, “Any reason not to?”
“No, but while you’re there, you should ask him about some not-so-nice letters she’d received.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “You didn’t mention this last night.”
“Last night we weren’t talking about my aunt,” he replied quietly. “We were talking about students from her lecture hall.”
Point to him for that one. “Well, if you can think of anything that’s connected to your aunt— anything unpleasant, criminal or otherwise related— I’d like to hear about it. So, tell me about these letters.”
“There’s just been a letter writer over the last few years who has given her grief,” he explained. “I don’t have all the details. She’s always tried to just toss it off as no big deal. They weren’t threatening in any way, more like angry at her teaching style.”
“And that might be true,” she said, “but, under the circumstances, it still bears consideration. Sometimes these letter-writing types are harmless, and sometimes they can be dangerous.”
He nodded. “I agree with you there. That was always my experience in the industry as well.”
At that, she stopped and looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“I was on the force for fifteen years. I now teach criminology here.”
“Partly because my aunt is aging, and it’s just the two of us,” he said quietly. “Partly because I enjoy being in a university atmosphere.”
“Are you still in law enforcement at all?”
His lips quirked. “Yes. I work as a consultant.”
“I knew I’d heard your name before.”
His eyebrows shot up at that. “Interesting. I normally consult with the FBI.”
“Right.” She nodded. “Are you the one who specializes in cults?”
“I wouldn’t say that I intentionally specialize in cults,” he answered quietly, “but I have been brought in on quite a few cult-related cases, yes.”
“Right, that’s probably why they all seem to think you’re a specialist. Just because you’ve helped them on a case or two.” She shook her head. “I’m in the same boat. People put me on these woo-woo cases, whatever the hell that means, and suddenly I’m a specialist too.”
At that, he stopped, stared. “Woo-woo?”
“Of course it’s a perfectly legal term,” she stated, with a straight face. But her eyes twinkled.
He smiled. “A sense of humor, I like that.”
“It’s what keeps us sane, isn’t it?” Just enough challenge was in her voice that she waited for his response.
Leon nodded quietly. “It is exactly that. It’s a tough-enough job at the best of times. It’s rather brutal, especially when there are a lot of strange cases. These deaths affect everybody.”
Dale Mayer. What If… (Kindle Locations 650-716). Valley Publishing.
As things get even weirder, Abby’s headaches start getting worse. Stefan has told her to open up more to her abilities and they would get better, but she’s still in denial.
Leon does his best to help without being a hinderance even as he and Abby get closer.
There are many twists and turns in this one and every time I thought I had a clue, I really didn’t.
I can’t wait to see what Dale comes up with for this series next.
5 Contented Purrs for Dale!
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Dale Mayer is a USA Today bestselling author best known for her Psychic Visions and Family Blood Ties series. Her contemporary romances are raw and full of passion and emotion (Second Chances, SKIN), her thrillers will keep you guessing (By Death series), and her romantic comedies will keep you giggling (It’s a Dog’s Life and Charmin Marvin Romantic Comedy series).
She honors the stories that come to her – and some of them are crazy and break all the rules and cross multiple genres!
To go with her fiction, she also writes nonfiction in many different fields with books available on resume writing, companion gardening and the US mortgage system. She has recently published her Career Essentials Series. All her books are available in print and ebook format.