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ranch dressing

RANCH DRESSING

DETAILS

 

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Release date: 2/27/24

Series: Samantha Kidd

Level of Fashion: Western

PB ISBN: 9781954579965

E ISBN: 9781954579934

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Get ready for a laugh-out-loud adventure with Samantha Kidd, the most stylish sleuth in Ribbon, Pennsylvania! In this cozy mystery, Samantha finds herself trading high heels for cowboy boots as she heads to a dude ranch, hoping for a little rest and relaxation. Little does she know a murder mystery is about to lasso her in…

When fashionista Samantha Kidd’s father-in-law arranges a week on the dude ranch he’s aiming to buy, Samantha preps for blue skies and clean living. But all too soon she learns life on the ranch is anything but calm. When the owner is found dead inside one of the stables, all signs point to murder.

As Samantha wrangles clue after clue, she smells something rotten—and it’s not manure. In her quest for the truth, she encounters quirky cowhands, brazen barrel racers, and suspicious horseplay—not to mention a social paradigm straight from the eighteen hundreds. Can Samantha bring justice to the wild west of eastern New Jersey, or will a renegade ranch dweller get away with murder?


Ranch Dressing is a hilarious western adventure that will have you laughing 'til the cows come home. Yeehaw!

Chapter 1: Asking to Borrow Clothes

“I need to borrow some clothes,” I said. “Jeans,” I added then tacked on “Wranglers,” for further clarification. I finished with “please” to properly convey my desperation.

As a former fashion buyer with a history of overindulging in wardrobe choices to fit any social setting, I had to be desperate to be standing on the porch of the very unfashionable Detective Loncar, asking to borrow clothes.

Loncar, to his credit, didn’t respond right away. We had a complicated relationship, built over years of battling ne’er-do-wells like a modern-day Batman and Robin—my words, not his— in our hometown of Ribbon, Pennsylvania, but at the end of the day, clothes were my wheelhouse, and crime was his. I had stepped over the line too many times to pretend today’s request was anything but inevitable.

Loncar was a man of few words, so I wasn’t entirely surprised when, instead of replying, he turned around and headed back into his house. I interpreted it as an invitation to join him, so I entered, too, and closed the door behind me. He glanced over his shoulder once, grunted something, and went into his kitchen. By the time I caught up (distracted as I was by the collection of Hummel figurines that I never would have expected to find on display in his living room), he held two mugs of hot, steaming coffee. I almost forgot about the Butterscotch Krimpets that I’d brought with me to soften him up. I raised my hand to indicate the box. (I needed to borrow a week’s worth of jeans, so I knew better than to show up with just one package.) He jutted his chin toward his kitchen table, and moments later we were settled in for breakfast.

As long as I had a Butterscotch Krimpet in front of me, I didn’t care so much that he had yet to grant my request. I tore open the plastic wrapper and bit into the sweet butterscotch cake. After a few bites, I swallowed. I took a sip of my coffee and almost spit it back out. I set down my mug.

“Decaf,” Loncar said.

“Why?”

“Heart.”

“Oh. Okay.” I picked up my mug and took another sip, this time bracing myself for the tinny taste.

Loncar stood and snatched my mug out of my hand. He carried both of our mugs to the sink and dumped the contents.

“Hey! I was drinking that!”

“No, you weren’t.” He opened his fridge and pulled out two bottles of water. Water and Krimpets aren’t that solid a combination, but with Loncar’s health hanging in the balance, I was willing to make the sacrifice.

“So… do you want to talk about it?” I pointed to his chest, where I presumed his heart would be, though at the moment, he looked a little like a man who had been born without one.

“Ms. Kidd, why are you here?”

The first time I’d met the detective, he had called me Ms. Kidd, not only because it was my name but because I was a suspect in his murder investigation and that was what Emily Post deemed appropriate in such social settings. I’d told him to call me Samantha, but it didn’t stick. He’d told me to stop calling him Detective after he retired from the police force, but I didn’t listen either. I would always think of him as a homicide detective, which explained my choice of what to call him. His choice to continue treating me like a murder suspect was unsettling, to say the least.

“Like I said, I need to borrow some jeans. Back when we solved that case involving the secret society, I noticed we wear the same size.”

Loncar raised both of his eyebrows, which could have been a response to my reference that we’d worked in tandem on an investigation—probably not how he’d describe it even if it was the truth—or that our wildly different body types somehow put us both into 36x30 jeans.

“I thought clothes were your métier?”

“My met… Yes. Right. They were. They are. Yes.”

“And I thought you wrote a column for the Ribbon Times about how to dress for any occasion?”

“Yes. I do. I did. I’m on a break.”

Loncar raised his eyebrows and swallowed a few gulps of water. His Krimpet went untouched.

“Nick’s dad is thinking about buying a dude ranch in New Jersey. We’re headed there tomorrow, and I don’t have anything to wear.” The words came out in a rush. “I was going to go to Boot Barn, but then I remembered you, and I thought maybe…” Despite all of the initial gusto I’d used to explain myself, my voice trailed off. “I drove by your office the other day, and there’s a For Rent sign in the window. I called, but the number has been discontinued. I tried to reach your daughter, but the calls go directly to voicemail, and when I called Patti, she said you two haven’t, um, hooked up for a while.”

Patti was the local coroner and was also thirty years Loncar’s junior. Neither one of us mentioned that this last fact could have easily been explained by her coming to her senses.

“Patti and I did not have an exclusive arrangement. I’m operating my PI business out of my house while I look for a better location for my office. My daughter went on vacation. She’s on a cruise, and she didn’t pay for Internet.”

“So you’re fine? Loncar Investigations is fine? Your heart is fine?”

“Ms. Kidd, your concern is touching.” He picked up a Krimpet and bit into the end. I know how tempting a Krimpet can be, and while it surprised me that he’d made it this long without taking a bite, the timing of him doing so seemed more like a display of “everything’s fine” than an actual appetite for the most perfect baked good to come out of Philadelphia. He set the rest of the Krimpet on his napkin and stood. “How long will you be gone?”

“A week. We leave tomorrow. Honestly, I’m probably just going to relax by the fire, catch up on my reading, and enjoy the open air. Senior knows as much about running a ranch as I do, and Nick is just indulging his dad.” I pushed my plate away from me. There was no way I was finishing mine if Loncar didn’t finish his.

No. Way. I had as much resistance as the next person, even if that next person was a sixty-something former homicide detective with a possible heart condition. “People make snap judgments based on other people’s clothes. I won’t look as out of place if I have jeans that are already broken in.”

“People or you?” Loncar asked. His question did not feel rhetorical.

My resistance wavered, and I took another bite of Krimpet. Loncar was right about fashion being my world, and not long ago, my bursting closet(s) had indicated as much. But I’d hit a wall in my personal growth and, in a fit of radical self-awareness, freed myself from the chains of my past by divesting myself of my past wardrobe choices. These days I lived by a code of simplicity which meant if I borrowed what I needed, my code would remain unbroken.

“It’s fine,” I said dismissively. “If you don’t want to loan them to me, I’ll go buy some.”

Loncar studied me for a few seconds before responding. This wasn’t particularly odd behavior from him. Even though this was an innocent social call, his professional training taught him to keep quiet and let other people fill conversational silence with confessions of guilt.

I didn’t like silence. It made me start asking questions. But I’m suspicious by nature, but the only professional training I’ve had is how to increase gross profit margin on a trending shoe collection.

“Come back later this afternoon. I’ll have something ready for you.” He stood. I stared up at him. He held his hand out in the direction of the door. I didn’t move. “Thanks for the Krimpets.”

It was as much a dismissal as a thank-you, but I’d gotten what I came for—or I would. I stood up and went to leave then doubled back, wrapped up the uneaten half of my Krimpet, and carried it out to my car. I’m not ashamed to say I finished it before reaching the traffic light at the end of Loncar’s street.

***

Later that afternoon, my father-in-law dropped by unexpectedly for an early dinner. Nick Sr.—Senior to me—was dressed in a shirt made from a blue bandana print, broken-in jeans, and cowboy boots. He carried a pizza from Brothers.

“Change of plans,” he said. “We’re leaving tonight after dinner.”

“I can’t leave tonight!” I exclaimed. “I’m not packed.”

 

“It’s a week on a ranch,” Nick said casually. Like his father, he wore a western-cut shirt, his in a faded print of sage green, ochre, and blue flowers. “Nobody’s going to care if you’re in a T-shirt and jeans. Didn’t you say you planned to sit by the fire and catch up on your reading?”

“Yes, but I made arrangements—”

“Charlie called me,” Senior said. “I swung by his place earlier. He gave me a bag. Said you’d know what it was.”

“You talked to Detective Loncar? How was he?”

Senior looked at me as if I was asking the wrong question. “He’s fine. He said you told him about the ranch.” Senior scowled. “Loose lips blow deals like this.”

“But Detective Loncar is your wingman,” I said. Nick’s expression warned that I was on the brink of encouraging something that needed no encouragement. “I didn’t think you’d mind me telling him. I’m surprised you didn’t invite him to join us.”

“Charlie’s got his own business problems. I don’t need to drag him into mine.”

I took the pizza and carried it to the kitchen. “What problems?”

“It’s an expression, Kidd. Get me a beer, and let’s eat before this goes cold.”

***

It’s uncommon for one to go on a road trip and not know what one has packed. Especially when that one is me. I used to work in the fashion industry, and travel was a regular part of my job. I knew how to pack a week’s worth of clothes in carry-on luggage. That included options for cocktails and exercise along with daily work attire.

I’ve always prided myself on dressing appropriately for any occasion, but the last place I ever expected to find myself was a dude ranch in New Jersey. And the last person I ever expected to pack for me was the same detective whose wardrobe I once critiqued while holed up in an interrogation room. My, how I’ve grown.

Besides, there had to be a clothing shop somewhere near the ranch. No way the ranch would be totally isolated from civilization, right?

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