Bad Girl

A Hush Money Mystery

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There’s no place like home for a homicide. Midwest restaurateur Sydney Richardson finds herself chasing a prodigal daughter’s secrets in this twisty thriller.

She seemed to be the perfect woman—rich, sexy, and willing to do whatever it took to get what she wanted. Unfortunately, someone else wanted her dead. . . .

Sydney Richardson already has her hands full running two successful Madison, Wisconsin, eateries and enjoying the company of handsome blues bar owner Clay Hawthorne. She doesn’t have the time or patience for his ex’s homecoming. Two decades ago, Miranda Greer abandoned Clay with their infant child. Now she claims she wants to make amends, reconnect with her son, and settle down. None of which is to Sydney’s liking, because behind Miranda’s chic, saccharine façade, Sydney senses something very bad.

Bad quickly turns to worse when Miranda is found brutally murdered, with hard evidence pointing to Clay as the killer. Determined to clear him, Sydney launches her own investigation. But as Sydney digs into Miranda’s past, she soon runs afoul of an enigmatic corporation that’s part church, part business, and all-powerful when it comes to keeping its secrets buried—and its enemies silent.

Don’t miss any of the gripping Hush Money mysteries from T. E. Woods:
And look for the Justice series:


Praise for the first Sydney Richardson novel, Hush Money
“A sleek, delicious new mystery novel . . . With a smorgasbord of suspects and friends, a main course of action and suspense, and a side order of hot romance, T. E. Woods has delivered the perfect menu for the most discerning mystery lovers. I can’t wait for a second helping. Bon appétit!”—Tom Savage, USA Today bestselling author of the Nora Baron series
“Told with skill and gritty sympathy for its imperiled characters . . . Hush Money is a compelling look into a strong-willed woman looking out for her own in the face of evil. Woods is the real deal.”—Tom Shawver, author of the Rare Book Mystery series
“Veteran crime writer and clinical psychologist T. E. Woods serves up a rich cast of characters, myriad motives, and a complex plot, making Hush Money deeply satisfying.”—Eve Karlin, author of City of Liars and Thieves


Chapter 1
January First

What the hell am I doing here?

Miranda Greer double-checked the locator app on her smartphone. Sure enough, she was at the address she’d agreed to for the meet-up.

I should have asked for an earlier time.

It was just past four o’clock. The sun sat low on the horizon, casting deep purple shadows across the snow-covered fields.

It’ll be dark soon. And here I am in the middle of a Wisconsin nowhere.

She looked back at her parked car. The rented Volvo sat isolated at the end of a long, icy lane. It dawned on her she didn’t know what kind of car he drove.

Doesn’t matter. No one will be coming down this deserted stretch of cow pasture unless they have a reason.
She didn’t like waiting. Never had. She especially didn’t like waiting for men and had sworn to herself more than twenty years ago that she’d cooled her heels killing time until Clay Hawthorne threw her some attention for the very last time.

Yet here I am. That guy says jump and I’m still willing to leap as high as pleases him.

The temperature dropped as the sky darkened. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms.

I should have worn that damned parka.

She glanced down at the high-heeled, over-the-knee, suede Manolo Blahnik boots and realized her choice of footwear was as ill-suited for the surroundings as her brocade bolero jacket.

How was I supposed to know he wanted to play in the snow? I figured cocktails. Maybe an early dinner. We’re both a little old for this.

Two large silos loomed twenty yards in front of her. Rusted walls and half-decayed roofs suggested it had been decades since they’d stored anything more valuable than bird droppings and coyote shit.

Still, the snow makes them pretty.

Memories of the Montana prairie floated to her. Mile after endless mile of wheat rippling in the summer breeze. She and Clay in that old red pickup his daddy let him drive. Off running errands. Buying tack or hay. Scouting fence lines for breaks. She didn’t care what, just as long as she was with him. Windows rolled down. Miranda with her bare feet on the dashboard. Clay with one arm bent out into the sun. Singing at the top of their lungs whatever bit of George Strait or Garth Brooks came across the radio. In the winter it was the same, except that truck flowed through an eternal sea of snow with the windows sealed tight.

And I kept my damned shoes on.

They’d had their own silo back then. She’d heard the stories since she was a child about how Old Man Franzlettler had waged his own war against the government. Refused to pay taxes or let inspectors take a look at his crops. The feds had finally stopped him from farming, but the Franzlettler kids coughed up the money for back taxes and let the land go wild. When she and Clay first stumbled into his ramshackle silo it was covered in pumpkin vines and prairie dust. But to a couple of teenagers exploring the magic of fresh-blooming love, it was heaven.

Franzlettler’s abandoned silos had become their secret place.

Is that what these Wisconsin silos are now? Are you trying to remind me of what we had all those years ago?
A smile crossed her face and for a moment she forgot the sub-zero temperature. She looked again at the silos. The snow was disturbed in front of the one to her left. Miranda took another survey of the area. A copse of thick-trunked trees stood a hundred yards north.

Are you waiting for me, Clay?

She trudged through four inches of snow to the silo with the trampled mush.

I loved you once. So very, very much. You loved me, too.

She thought about the men who had passed through her life in the years since she’d left Montana. They’d served their purpose, but none of them had ever captured the piece of her heart that had always belonged to Clay. She wasn’t foolish enough to believe he’d been celibate all these years. A man like Clay attracted women as easily as breathing in.

Is it the same for you, Clay? Is there a part of you that was always waiting for us? For our time to come again?
Her suede boots were soaked by the time she was close enough to the silo to see the fresh footsteps in the snow. Her hand recoiled from the frozen door latch. She pulled the sleeve of her jacket low enough to cover her fingers and tried again. The door rasped across frigid concrete.

“Clay?” she called out as she stepped into the dark interior. “Are you in here?”

She heard a click, magnified in the cavernous space. One heart-flutter later the familiar tempo of Chicago blues filled the air. A harmonica wailed and a guitar pounded the beat.

“If you’ve got power for a boom box, you’ve got power for a lamp.” She stepped toward the music. “Or candles. Better yet, how about a space heater?”

She felt fingers trace a line on the back of her neck and spun around to see nothing but blackness.

“It’s like that, is it? Hide and seek? That the game?”

She heard a scraping across the floor. This time behind her. To her right.

“No fair, Clay. You’ve got the lay of the land. You know where I am. Give a girl a helping hand, will you?”

The song played on. Miranda hadn’t heard it before, but it was good. Just the kind of music she’d come to realize was now Clay’s favorite. A minute later there was another chafing against the concrete. The sound came toward her. Something bumped against her left leg. Her hands reached out, feeling its shape.

“Is this for me? You want me to sit in this chair?”

There was no response. She sat anyway.

The tune ended, followed by one of her favorites. Juice Newton singing a sweet love song from Miranda’s teenage years. She let the memories of first love warm her in the dark.

“You remember,” she said.

Again, no response. Miranda listened to the tender lyrics, oblivious now to the cold.

“A light, please,” she requested when the song was finished. “I want to see you. I want to look into those gray eyes.”

A dull thud sounded overhead. She looked up. The rusted roof let in enough light from the starless sky to permit a murky vision of shadow on shadow. Something was suspended above her. It appeared to sway before it stopped. Another shadow moved, this time behind her, reaching . . . connecting to the shadow above her.

Another song pierced the air. Jarring. Loud. Ominous, head-banging roars.

A gloved hand gripped her right shoulder. Squeezed. Pinched.

“Stop!” Miranda twisted to her left, but the hand held her to her chair. Something was pulled over her head. It rested around her neck. Scratchy. Heavy. Another memory from her childhood leaped to the surface. She knew that smell.


She pushed with her legs and scrambled free of the chair. She ran forward three steps, only to be stopped by the pull against her throat. She wrapped her fingers around the rope, desperate to wedge them between it and her skin. The heavy knot dug into the back of her neck, denying her fingers any room. She spun around, kicking and punching. Grabbing at nothing but black space. She felt herself being lifted. Her legs joined her arms now, flailing at the same emptiness. Higher and higher she floated. Tighter and tighter the rope. Weaker and weaker her struggle.

Long agonizing seconds later, her body relaxed and accepted the inevitable. Her arms and legs hung limp at her sides. Her eyes closed. Her mind gave up one last thought before falling into the eternal abyss.

When did Clay start liking heavy metal?

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