Weddings always make Marla Shore shed a tear of joy, especially when she attends her friend Jill’s affair as a member of the bridal party. Marla’s own nuptials are weeks away, and she’s been busy juggling bickering relatives, building a new house with her fiancé, and expanding her hair salon.
The South Florida stylist is following her To Do list just fine until an unexpected event unravels her carefully laid plans. At Jill’s wedding reception, Marla discovers the matron of honor—Jill’s sister Torrie—dead under the cake table, a knife embedded in her chest.
Unfortunately, Jill has a strong motive for murder. She and Torrie co-owned a piece of commercial property, and they’d disagreed on whether to sell or lease the land. Now with Torrie out of the way, Jill’s decision can rule. Or can it? Her relatives may have some say on who gets control, meaning Jill can’t trust any of them.
Torrie knew secrets about her colleagues, too, things they wouldn’t want revealed. But when Marla learns one of those secrets involves Jill’s past, she wonders if her friend is truly innocent. She’d better untangle the snarl of suspects and iron out the clues before the killer highlights her as the next victim.
Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore Bestseller
“Smart, edgy dialogue and an intriguing cast of characters lift Cohen’s 10th Bad Hair Day mystery featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Shore. Once again, Marla shows she’s as adept at investigating murder as she is managing her hair salon.” — Publishers Weekly
“Who knows more about the wedding party than your hairdresser? Welcome back south Florida’s Marla Shore, who trips over the dead matron of honor in her tenth cozy.” — Library Journal
“The action is fast-paced, the situations and characterizations provide plenty of this author’s trademark humor. Her knowledge of the look, feel and social texture of South Florida living is another great attraction for her readers.” — Naples Florida Weekly
“Interesting characters and South Florida scenery make “Shear Murder” a cut above other amateur sleuth mysteries.” — Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“This is a fabulous choice to curl up by the fireplace or lounge by the pool and immerse yourself in murder, mayhem and a healthy helping of humor.” — Night Owl Reviews
“Mix together a sassy hairdresser with a penchant for sleuthing, a sexy detective and some eccentric friends and neighbors; stir in an unconventional murder or two, bake in the South Florida sun, and you have the makings of Nancy J. Cohen’s delicious ‘Bad Hair Day’ mystery series.” — The Island Reporter
“This is an ideal cozy mystery full of murder, mayhem, humor and romance. It is so fast paced you will read it in one sitting.” — Escape with Dollycas
If these two women don’t stop arguing, one of them is bound to kill the other before the day is done. Marla Shore tucked her shears into a drawer before the leggy bride sitting in her salon chair grabbed them to stab her sister.
“Your nail polish looks like blood,” Jillian Barlow said to her sibling and matron of honor. “Why did you wear such a horrid red? It’ll clash with your dress.”
“Who cares? It’s not as if you gave us a choice with your color scheme,” Torrie Miller replied, staring into the mirror from the station on their right.
“I thought lavender gowns would go perfectly with the flowers at Orchid Isle.”
“So they will, for your bridesmaids. You made me wear plum. I don’t look good in dark colors.”
“It’s not your wedding, is it? Oh gosh, I’m going to be sick.” Bending forward, Jill clutched her stomach. Damp strands of blond hair clung to her face.
Marla picked up her blow dryer and twirled the chair around to face her client. “You’ll be fine, Jill,” she said in a patient tone. “You’re having prewedding jitters.”
Owner of Cut ‘N Dye Salon, Marla had done any number of bridal parties. She’d seen attacks of nerves ranging from throwing up to throwing a fit. This was no different, except the bride and groom were friends of hers. Marla’s bridesmaid gown waited in her Camry. She’d be heading to Orchid Isle along with the other wedding attendants right after their hair appointments.
“Am I making a mistake?” Jill’s blue eyes misted. “I mean, there’s a seven year age difference between Arnie and me. While I adore his kids, I hope he doesn’t plan to expand the family. I have no wish to get pregnant at thirty-four and ruin my figure.”
Not after what you paid for cosmetic enhancements. Marla didn’t want kids either, but for different reasons. She, too, had jumped into the maternal arena by sharing the responsibility for her fiancé’s teenage daughter. Marla wouldn’t trade her relationship with Brianna for anything, and she suspected Jill felt the same toward Arnie’s family. Naturally Jill would feel nervous getting married for the first─and hopefully the last-time.
“You love Arnie,” she reassured her friend. “You’ve even converted to Judaism for his sake. You’ll be a great wife and mother. Now let me finish your hair, or we’ll never get out of here.” Without waiting for a reply, she switched on the blow dryer, using a round brush to lift and roll one section of hair at a time.
In the background, she heard the whirr of other dryers, the chatter of excited voices, and jazz music on the speaker system. Reflecting on her own choices, Marla hoped she’d made the right decision regarding her salon expansion. Rather than relocating to the new town center, she’d decided to remain in the same shopping strip to avoid inconveniencing her customers. Instead, she’d moved to a larger space that had become available while also renting the adjacent empty store for her new day spa.
Getting a new property manager─Marla didn’t get along with the old one─had clinched the deal. She’d signed a long-term lease with favorable terms and began renovations. Despite the chaos, she’d kept good her word to do Jill’s wedding party.
Finished with the dryer, Marla exchanged it for a curling iron. All of her other operators were busy doing Jill’s friends.
“That’s too severe,” Torrie said to her stylist, before the girl spritzed her with shine. “The upsweep works, but can’t you give me some curly things around my face to soften the look?”
“You, look softer?” Jill scoffed. “That’s not your norm.”
Torrie, a slim brunette, shot her a searing glance. “Don’t talk to me about my behavior. Look in the mirror. All that you see isn’t what you get.”
Jill stiffened. “You promised never to say a word-”
“I know. If you play nice, I will, too. Anyway, we need to talk about our property before we see Uncle Eddy later.”
Marla began working on Jill’s elaborate hairdo, trying to concentrate on her task and ignore the bantering between siblings. She hoped their fancy coiffeurs didn’t frizz in the humidity. Outdoor weddings in South Florida were always risky. At least November was a better bet than summer in terms of rain. Clipping back a section of Jill’s hair, she used her curling iron to twist the remaining strands before assembling the massive waves with jeweled pins. Exhilaration swept through her. She loved using her artistic talents for bridal parties.
Her turn came next. In just four weeks, she’d become a bride for the second time. Her nuptials were set for December eighth. She swallowed hard. How will I ever be ready?
“Listen,” Jill said to Torrie. “Kevin said we might want to consider doing a land swap.”
“What’s that?” Torrie squeezed her eyes shut while the stylist sprayed her hair.
“A trade-off of sorts. I’m not clear on the details, but it involves selling our property and exchanging it for another.”
“No way, darling. Our lot has a great location on a busy corner. We shouldn’t have any problem finding another tenant.”
“Marla, give us your advice.” Jill lifted her gaze to meet Marla’s in the mirror. “You once owned that joint property with Stanley Kaufman. This concerns a parcel of land that Torrie and I inherited from our father.”
Marla paused, comb in hand. She didn’t care to be reminded of past dealings with her ex-spouse. “What are you talking about?” If it were me, I’d be more worried about the catering arrangements at my ceremony and my groom arriving on time.
“Torrie and I need to reach a mutual understanding before our cousin Kevin tries to smooth-talk us at the wedding. He’s a real estate agent.”
“Oh. Haven’t you two discussed this subject before now?”
“Torrie lives in Miami. We haven’t had the chance to get together. You know, what with the wedding plans and all.” Jill’s aloof expression told Marla that she hadn’t sought the opportunity either.
“We’ve been talking on the telephone,” Torrie added, as though that would explain their lack of agreement.
Plucking a can of holding spray from the counter, Marla shook her head. “You don’t want to involve me. Every time I get sucked into a situation, someone ends up dead.”
Before either sister could reply, Nicole signaled to Marla from the chair on her left. “Babs says her scalp is burning. I used the twenty volume peroxide like you said.”
Marla glanced at the blond woman occupying an empty manicure station while her hair processed. Babs had never reacted that way before.
“Will you excuse me?” she said to Jill, putting down her spray can. Rummaging in one of her roundabout drawers, she fetched a pink packet of artificial sweetener.
Striding toward the business executive, Marla smiled. “Hi, Babs, thanks again for letting me put you in Nicole’s book for today. What’s this about your scalp hurting?”
Babs winced. “I can feel the dye sizzling. It’s really uncomfortable, and I’m afraid it’ll damage my hair. Did Nicole use the proper solution?”
“Yes, I told her what to mix. Sometimes this will happen if you develop a sensitivity. You haven’t changed any of your medications lately, have you? Chemicals can affect your body as well as your hair.”
Babs’s face brightened. “Actually, I did. My doctor put me on something new for my blood pressure.”
“Well, let me sprinkle on some sweetener. This reaction happens a lot when clients change medicines and forget to tell us. We aren’t sure what the secret ingredient in the sweetener is, but it works.” Marla ripped open the package in her hand, applied the granules to the woman’s scalp, then kneaded it in after donning a glove.
“That feels better, thanks.” Babs’s posture relaxed.
“You have another twenty minutes on your timer. Can I get you a magazine or a cup of coffee?”
“No, I’m fine. Go back to your bride. She looks upset.”
Jill was still arguing with her sister when Marla returned. She was so agitated that she’d begun picking at her just manicured nails.
“I told you to get a durable power of attorney drawn up,” Jill told Torrie. “What happens if you’re incapacitated and we have to make important decisions?”
“Scott can make them for me.” Torrie watched in the mirror while her stylist patted a stray hair into place.
“Are you kidding? This is between us, not our husbands.”
“Don’t worry so much. We need to resolve one thing at a time. Then I’ll think about the next step.”
“At your pace, we’ll never solve anything.” Jill twisted in her seat. “Marla, is it better for us to form a limited liability company? I’m not sure a partnership agreement is the right way to go.”
Oh, like I’m a legal expert? If I were, I’d have avoided marrying Stan the big shot lawyer during a bad time in my life.
Unsnapping Jill’s cape after a final spritz of holding spray, Marla shrugged. “From what I understand, the most important reason for putting your business assets into an LLC is to protect you from being personally liable.”
Torrie hunched forward. “Setting up an LLC would cost us more money in attorney fees. I can’t afford to keep paying these high bills.”
Jill arched an eyebrow. “Oh, like the salary you make isn’t enough, plus the money Scott brings in from his job?”
“Hah, that sheep is stuck in his pen. I can’t rely on him for much longer.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jill stared at her sister.
Torrie collected her purse. “A gal has to look out for herself, that’s all.”
Jill turned to Marla. “Did Torrie mention she’s a fashion reporter for Boca Style Magazine? Maybe you can submit makeover photos of before and after hairstyles to her. I know you’ve been wanting to get some free publicity for your new spa.”
“Good idea.” Marla nodded. “I’ve been hoping to do more photo shoots but haven’t had the time.”
“Marla worked with Luxor Products at the Supreme Show in January,” Jill explained to Torrie. “They brought models to her salon and took photos to advertise their new sunscreen line.”
“We did another session in the Keys. I’ve been meaning to follow up with the photographer,” Marla said. “I’ve been too busy between expanding the salon, getting ready to move into our new house, and planning my own wedding. I can’t believe the date is nearly here. We haven’t even─”
“I’d be happy to look at any photos you send,” Torrie cut in. “Think about tying them in with a holiday issue.” She glanced at her watch. “Are the other girls ready yet?”
Marla surveyed the bridesmaids. “They’re not quite done. I could take them in my car if you and Jill want to go ahead.”
“Karen is driving the others down.” Jill brushed some stray hairs off her jeans. She’d dressed casually for her appointment, her bridal ensemble delivered ahead to the gardens where the wedding would take place.
It had been a brilliant stroke to book Orchid Isle for her wedding the same weekend as its grand opening. Since the press would be in attendance at this new attraction, the fledgling nature park would get plenty of free publicity, a boon for its developer, Falcon Oakwood.
“Is Dalton picking you up after we finish here?” Jill asked Marla.
“He’s meeting me inside the park.” Marla’s fiancé, a homicide detective, often kept irregular hours.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Jill suggested. “It’s silly for you to drive by yourself.”
“Who’s taking Josh and Lisa? Their nanny?” Arnie had hired the woman after his wife died seven years ago. Marla assumed the children were under her supervision today.
“Graciella is coming, but Arnie is driving them all.”
“I’ll go with you then, if Nicole doesn’t mind closing up shop.”
Nicole waved her hair brush. “You go, girlfriend. I’m cool here.”
Nonetheless, it took Marla another half-hour to get ready. She made sure Babs’s color came out okay, went over details for the following week with her handsome Latino receptionist, and picked up her bag filled with tools of the trade.
Always be prepared for a hair emergency, especially in South Florida.
Outside, the humidity brought sweat to her brow as she walked to the parking lot. A cold front was supposed to arrive early next week, offering the break in the weather they needed. Today, scattered clouds hung overhead but it didn’t look like rain. For Jill’s sake, she hoped the blue skies held.
She transferred her gown and accessories to Torrie’s BMW trunk before climbing into the back seat. Then she spared a moment to call Dalton
and inform him she was driving with friends to the wedding venue.
“Good idea,” Dalton said. “I’ll see you there later.”
She warmed to the sound of his deep, sexyvoice. “What time do you think you’ll get off work?”
“Not before five. Don’t worry, I’ll make it.”
“Did you talk to Brie?”
“Your mother took her to the mall at Sawgrass. They’re having a great time. She’ll be fine without us for one night.”
What would I do without Ma to occupy the teen? I want to enjoy my time alone with Dalton. Is that selfish of me?
“Don’t forget to load our overnight bags,” she told him. “It’ll be late when we get to the hotel.”
“Not too late, I hope,” Dalton said in a husky tone.
Marla glanced out the window while Torrie fought the traffic heading east. “Have you checked on the dogs?”
“Your mom can handle them. I told her what time they usually go out.” He cleared his throat. “By the way, my mother wants to review the seating charts for our wedding. She thinks our cousins from Arizona might be coming. We’ll have to add three more seats but that leaves an odd person at one table.”
Great, another headache. They’d been bombarded with suggestions from her mother and Dalton’s parents, who were wintering in Florida while they searched for a condo to buy. “I gotta go. We’re turning onto I-95. Bye.”
Jill, sitting in the passenger seat, twisted around to address Marla. “Is everything okay with Dalton? He’s going to arrive on time, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he’ll be there.” Dalton may not have been selected to be one of Arnie’s ushers, but the bridal couple counted on his presence. Plus this was Dalton’s first Jewish wedding, and Marla wanted him to observe the traditions. Their own ceremony would be an interfaith marriage, but she hoped to retain some of the customs from her religion. They still had an overwhelming number of details to work out. She pressed a hand to her throbbing
The sisters resumed their bickering. “I don’t want to pay a lawyer to draw up a new lease when our current tenant hasn’t officially terminated,” Torrie said, gripping the steering wheel.
Jill gave her a reproving look. “Kevin says we need backup, otherwise we might end up without any tenant.”
“Yeah, but he won’t be paying the attorney fees.”
“He’s promised to find us a new lessee without charging a commission. Or is that lessor? I don’t understand the lingo.”
“Listen, Marla,” Jill said. “Torrie and I own property that’s been leased to an auto lube center. Our father passed it on to us, and we never had to do anything except collect the checks every month. Then one day, I got an e-mail from a stranger who informed me the building had been vacated.”
“Where is this property located?” Marla suppressed a yawn.
“In Miami, out west in the Kendall area. It used to be cow pastures and farms out there before the population exploded.”
“Weren’t you aware something was wrong when the rent checks stopped coming?”
“But they didn’t,” Jill replied. “Our lease is with the main company. We’re still getting paid, but for how long, who knows? We hope to get a new tenant lined up before the company terminates their lease.”
“They can do that?”
“There’s an early termination clause,” Torrie piped in. “And we want more money if we get a new tenant. We’re not getting enough according to what the property is worth now.”
“The land has escalated in value even with the volatility in real estate,” Jill said. “What bothers me is, how did this guy get my e-mail address? His name is Pete Schneider, and he’s a real estate agent. Or so he says.”
“I looked up his firm, and it’s legit,” Torrie countered.
Marla leaned her arm across the seat back. “So this guy tried to get your listing?”
“We hadn’t even been notified by the oil lube company that they were pulling out.” Torrie’s pitch rose a notch. “If it weren’t for Schneider, we’d never have known the lube center closed down. I drove by there the other day. The building is boarded up and signs are posted to warn away trespassers.”
“I’m confused. Didn’t you just say you had a lease through the main office?”
“Yes, and I’ve queried them, but theyhaven’t responded. Meanwhile, Jill called our cousin Kevin for advice. He’s a big wheel in commercial real estate. Kevin said he’d find us a new tenant without charging a commission, but Schneider claimed he could get us a higher rental income. I think we should see what he can offer.”
“We’d have to pay him a hefty commission.”Jill glared at Torrie. “Kevin is willing to help us for free.”
“What is this land swap thing he mentioned?” Torrie shot back. “Sounds like a way for him to get our piece of land.”
Turning in her seat, Jill tilted her head. “Kevin’s already done some checking on the site,” she told Marla, “and apparently it’s not zoned for drive-ins. He’d only mentioned swapping as a means to get an equally valued location with better variances.”
“I don’t like it.” Torrie rolled her shoulder. “Now that the property is worth so much more, everyone is out to get it.”
“You’re too paranoid. We have to trust someone, and my vote is for Kevin.” Jill wagged her fingers at Marla. “I asked Uncle Eddy to advise us on termination procedures with our current tenant. He’s drawing up a partnership agreement for us and suggested this might be a good time to sell.”
“I won’t sell. I need the income,” Torrie persisted.
“Then we need Kevin to find us another tenant so we won’t be left high and dry,” her sister said. “Give him a chance─”
“I still intend to communicate with Pete Schneider. He may come up with a better deal. It can’t hurt to sound him out.”
“We can’t talk to him if we’re giving Kevin the listing.” Jill spread her hands in exasperation.
“Look, you worry about the wedding. I’ll work on this.”
Sensing her friend was getting upset, Marla changed the subject. “Tell me about Orchid Isle. Our rehearsal last night went too quickly for me to scout around. It looks like a beautiful park.” She’d gotten a brief impression of lush tropical grounds, winding paths, and brightly colored flowers.
Torrie glanced at her in the rearview mirror. “I’m friends with Leanne Oakwood, Falcon’s wife. Falcon devised the idea of a local attraction for nature enthusiasts as well as orchid fans. He hopes to finance research into advanced horticultural techniques. It’s like a combo between the American Orchid Society place in Delray Beach, and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.”
“I can’t believe the grand opening is today,” Marla told Jill. “Your wedding should be one of the highlights, especially when-”
“That’s how I got my magazine to provide coverage,” Torrie interrupted, which appeared to be a habit of hers.
Marla didn’t care for people who had to be the center of attention, but she cut Torrie some slack because of the wedding.
“I don’t get it. Do you mean Boca Style is covering Jill and Arnie’s event, or the park’s opening ceremonies?” she asked the matron of honor.
“The angle is ‘Where to Get Wed and Go to Bed: Romantic Locales in South Florida for Marriages and Wedding Nights.’ Our magazine photographer, Griff Beasley, and society reporter, Hally Leeds, will be present.”
“So you’re responsible for Jill being able to book the place?”
“That’s right.” Torrie lifted her chin. “She doesn’t give me any credit, even when I try to do the right thing. You don’t know how much effort I’ve put into her wedding gift. It’s─”
Her cell phone rang, and she grimaced. “That’s probably Scott wanting to know where we are.”
“So answer it,” Jill snapped. “Hello? Yes, dear, I’m with Jill now. We’re at least a half-hour away.” A pause. “Why is Kevin telling you that? It’s not your problem. Tell him to take a hike.” She pushed the end button and stuffed the phone back into her purse.
“What did he say?” Jill pulled a compact from her handbag and checked her complexion.
“Kevin advises us to remain tenants-in-common on the deed.”
“Who knows? It irks me that Kevin would talk to Scott about a matter concerning you and me. My husband should stick to fixing clocks in that dusty old shop of his. He doesn’t have a good head for business. I’m the one who manages our finances.” Glancing in the side mirror, she changed lanes.
“You brag about that all the time,” Jill said, “but you haven’t done any estate planning. When are you going to fulfill your promise? You told me you’d─”
“Who are you to talk about promises, darling? You didn’t exactly hold true to yours in the past.”
“Maybe not, but knowing why I acted as I did, you shouldn’t blame me. And yet, that’s all you’ve done through the years.”
Torrie gave a heavy sigh. “I know, and that’ll change soon. Until then, let’s hope your vows mean more this time around.”