Excerpt from Run the Risk
After the death of her estranged father, a beleaguered attorney named Sierra Kipling returns to her hometown of Shamrock Cove, Rhode Island, having inherited his bar, The Risk. A much-younger town doctor, Kelsi Belmar, doesn’t know quite what to think of this 50-year-old prodigal daughter, but she intends to find out.
The door had been left open to let in an Atlantic breeze. Welcomed, in the bar that had no air conditioning.
The low-riding sunlight dimmed, and I turned. The light had been cut by the shadow in the doorway.
As she stepped in, the first thing I noticed was she had a cat on her shoulder. Not a tattoo of a cat. A real cat. It seemed to be holding on easily with its feet, balanced by its tail wrapped around her head, the tip of it stroking her eyebrow.
Then I focused on her. I usually notice the woman first, and not whatever she’s carrying. But hell. There was a Siamese cat on her shoulder.
Even with the stern, slightly pissed-off expression on her face, she was beautiful. I’m not usually attracted to older women. And didn’t usually go for redheads. I was not a fan of freckles. But this one. She was like a fine wine. Just like the burgundy color of the tresses falling about her shoulders.
The black pinstriped pantsuit didn’t wear her, as it did with other women. She wore it. Shiny black boots clicked along the wooden floor as she advanced, her eyes making a thorough perusal of the place. I tried not to stare at her chest. Cleavage for days; graced by a teasing silver amulet dangling between her breasts.
The brown leather satchel she carried completed the picture of a no-nonsense woman who knew what she was about.
Then I realized. She must be the lawyer who was handling the final arrangements. Somehow I had expected some sweaty bald man with a beer gut and a gold watch. Not a gorgeous older woman with a cat perched on her shoulder.
She fixed vivid blue eyes on me, gave me the once-over, and then stopped a few feet in front of me, barely outside the usual personal space people adhere to. Just enough to be intimidating. To some people.
“Are you the manager?”
I chuckled. “No. Just a customer.”
She looked around at the only other person in the bar. The bartender, Quinn. A twenty-something young man with long red hair and a goatee, wiping the bar that looked already clean.
“The only customer?” she said smartly.
“It’s not happy hour yet.”
“Oh, and then that second person will fill the coffers, I suppose.”
I gave her my best eyebrow lift. Chick had a sharp tongue. I liked that.
“Sierra Kipling,” she said, by way of introduction.
“Sierra Kipling?” I parroted, knowing the name well, but never having a current face to put with it.
“Thorn is—was—my father.”
I’d seen pictures of her. The wall behind the bar was lined with them, but they were all of Sierra as a child. Except for a few. That child was all grown up, now. “So you’re not the attorney?”
“I am an attorney, yes. But I suppose not the attorney.”
Interesting. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
The sentiment seemed to make her uncomfortable. She countered with, “And you are?”
“Kelsi Belmar.” I extended my hand, and she looked down at, took it almost begrudgingly. A quick shake, but firm; not limp like a fish, the way most women shake hands. Businesslike. The Siamese reached down and tried to bat my hand away.
“Is that cat surgically attached?”
“Somewhat.” She placed her satchel on the table and a poof of dust danced through the lightbeams. The cat jumped down on the worn leather and laid down. I’d never seen a cat just hang around a human. It acted more like a dog.
“What’s his name?”
I felt myself smile. “How do you keep Me-Too from running off?”
“I don’t. He just stays with me. He always has.”
“What sorcery is this?”
A grin. I’d cracked the stern barrier already. I checked out her necklace again, pretending not to be looking at those copious mounds of flesh mashed together and positioned perfectly in the purple V-neck blouse. When I looked up she was regarding me with unabashed haughtiness.
“Finished ogling the girls?”
I looked away on a grin. “Can’t expect me not to look at the display case.”
“So, that’s how you are.”
“Batting for the other team? Yes. Proudly. What about you?”
“None of your business.” She stood and moved toward the bar.
That would be a yes, I decided.
Quinn Murphy was laying out a lemon, slicing it for the drinks he hoped to be making, soon. That was going to be a crap-shoot right now. Since Thorn Kipling kicked the bucket, business had fallen away. I wondered where everyone was going to get their drink on, now. The liquor store and back home? The liquor store and to dangle their legs off some pier? I also wondered what was going to happen to The Risk, now that old Thorny was gone. I didn’t see Ms. Sierra Kipling running the place. She looked like she’d sooner perform an appendectomy on herself with a spoon. She’d probably take her leave as soon as the funeral was over.
But she was here in this bar for a reason. Maybe just curious to see what her old man had built while she was off in the Big Apple. Maybe she was going to sell the place. Probably Thorny had left it to her. I took a sip of my Yacht Club birch beer, my thumb rubbing the iconic anchor on the label. It was a local brand, and less sweet than most commercial sodas. If you’re going to drink sweet sodas, it was always healthier to just go for regular sugar, rather than high fructose corn syrup.
In a moment, Sierra returned, took a seat beside her satchel. Me-Too had stayed right there on the table, waiting on her, his eyes following her to the bar and back. She removed the umbrella from her Amaretto sour and took a sip, sighed, and leaned back in the chair.
She nodded, pressing her fingertips on the small napkin, to soak up the condensation from her rocks glass.
“So, what do you do that allows you to hang around in an empty bar in the middle of the day?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m on call almost twenty-four-seven.”
Now her eyebrow quirked. “For what?”
She looked me up and down. “Locksmith?”
She tried again. “Cable tech?”
“I give. What?”
“You’re a doctor?”
“I’ll try not to be offended by your shock and awe.”
She shrugged. “You look too young to be a doctor, that’s all.”
“I’m thirty-five, thank you very much.” And how old was she? Forty-something? Maybe older, if I considered the slight crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes. She looked good for that age-group.
She had another sip of her drink. Pulled the cherry from the plastic sword floating in the brown liquid, popped it in her mouth, chewing. A drop of red juice glistened on her lower lip. I had to quell an urge to lick it off.
“Where do you do this doctoring?”
“The clinic, here in town.”
She was eyeing the band-aid on my finger. Probably wondering if that was the extent of my healing skills.
“I thought Doctor McGinnis ran that?”
“He retired five years ago. He’s like a hundred years old. I came here to do a residency, and decided to stay.”
Both eyebrows jumped up, then. “Why in the world would you do that?”
“Because it’s a pretty fucking awesome little town, that’s why.” It came out a little more caustic than I intended.
“No need to get your knickers in a twist.”
“It’s obvious you didn’t want to come back here.”
Her face softened. “I’m sorry…I just…never mind. It just isn’t my cup of tea.”
“You prefer the big city?”
She seemed to consider her answer for a beat longer than was natural for someone who loved the city.
“It’s where I went to Law school,” she answered.
“You with a firm up there?”
Cryptic. And just a little bitter. I’d have to break out my shovel. “Where are you practicing now?”
“A fancy law degree, and you’re not even using it?”
“Apparently not. I’m between jobs.”
“Maybe you could hang a shingle here for a while.” The Risk: Pub & Legal Services. Had a nice ring to it. Sort of like that Kathy Bates show, Harry’s Law. Except law and drinks, rather than law and shoes.
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
My chair creaked as I leaned back, stretched out, my fingers laced over my head. “Why not? Even small town people need legal services. Just like they need a doctor.”
She said nothing. Probably her way of ending a conversation she did not want to have. Did they teach that in law school?
“Is there a hotel you can recommend?”
“More than you’d think. We get lots of tourists. But Thorny lived in the apartment upstairs. No reason why you couldn’t stay up there.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“Don’t you have to deal with his stuff, anyway?”
She hadn’t thought of that. I could tell. Her eyes went to the ceiling. Like she’d heard chains rattling.
“I have an extra key,” I prodded.
“Why do you have an extra key?”
“Because he trusted me.” I stood. “Bring your drink, I’ll take you up.”
A deep breath later, she was on her feet, the Amaretto sour in one hand, the satchel in another, and Me-Too on her shoulder.
I led her along the bar to the door leading upstairs.