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Class Reunions Are Murder Libby Klein

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. http://www.kensingtonbooks.com


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To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book. KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018 Copyright © 2018 by Lisa Schwartz All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.” All Kensington Titles, Imprints, and Distributed Lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums, fund-raising, and educational or institutional use. Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington special sales manager: Kensington Publishing Corp., 119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018, attn: Special Sales Department, Phone: 1-800-221-2647. Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat & TM Off. ISBN-13: 978-1-4967-1303-2 ISBN-10: 1-4967-1303-6 First Kensington Mass Market Edition: February 2018 eISBN-13: 978-1-4967-1304-9 eISBN-10: 1-4967-1304-4 First Kensington Electronic Edition: February 2018 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America


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Chapter 1

I was being bullied by stationery. The note had arrived the day before by courier service—and it had to be a trap. I glared at it on the coffee table wondering if I dare open it. I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged them to calm my shaky nerves. The sender wasn’t a mystery to me. We had hated each other for years. She was flaunting her wealth as usual. Expensive linen stationery, ebony embossed script addressed to Ms. Poppy McAllister (I hadn’t been called that in ages) and a monogrammed B in silver filigree in the upper left corner. I read the return address again: Barbie Pomeroy Clark Pemberton Estates Cherry Hill, New Jersey I didn’t know whether to rip it into tiny pieces or set it on fire. Maybe both. I was older and wiser now and I wouldn’t fall for her schemes anymore. After all these years, why Barbie would think I’d care about anything she


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had to say was beyond me. She has a lot of nerve, I’ll give her that. I fought back the horrible memory of high school that had piggybacked in with Barbie’s engraved audacity. “I don’t know what lie she’s selling, Fig, but I’m not buying.” Figaro blinked at me with his Oh, great. Here comes some drama look. “Well, of course I believe people can change. Just not her.” Figaro jumped down and turned his back to me. “Really, Fig, cats can be so judgmental sometimes.” All night the envelope had lain there, like the presence of a chainsaw-wielding serial killer in my house. I was tired of obsessing about it. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months what with all I’d been through. Of course, my addiction to infomercials might be partly to blame. If it could chop, roast, juice, store stuff, or be ShamWowed, I had it. At least the infomercials swallowed up the silence. I’d never thought I could miss the sound of John’s incessant snoring, like a 747 coming in for a landing, but during those endless nights while I lay on the sofa listening to shouting pitchmen, I knew I’d give anything to hear that sound again. I missed him. I missed the way his glasses sat crooked on the end of his nose and how he smelled like coffee and aftershave. I even missed tripping over his books all over the house. Every room had a narrative history or stuffy memoir lying somewhere. All those arguments over something so trivial and fleeting. I dug into the couch cushion for the Pepperidge Farm bag I’d lost around three a.m. Oatmeal cookies for breakfast. That sounds reasonable, I thought, and crammed one in. You know what these need? Chocolate fudge frosting. But I didn’t think I could handle


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a grief-and-frosting hangover and Barbie. Beautiful, rich, successful, married-to-money Barbie. So I suffered through plain cookies, flipped the envelope over so I wouldn’t have to look at her name again, and changed the channel. “Today we are making . . . FISHHHH!” I giggled. Julia Child had to have been half lit during the taping of most of her shows. Still, she’d been one of my childhood idols along with that other influential kitchen icon—the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show. I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching Julia cook and dreaming of the day I would be a fancy French chef. The bar was set pretty low growing up in South Jersey in the ’80s. Most of my role models worked as waitresses or chambermaids. The main goal was to lie on the beach all summer until your skin was leathery and crocodilelike, and to save up enough tip money to scrape by and survive through the off-season. You weren’t popular if you weren’t beautiful, and you weren’t beautiful without a tan and bikini body. So much for aspirations and goals. My “old lady dress” with the cellulite-covering skirtof-shame that wasn’t fooling anyone was the railroad spike in the social coffin. Of course, my red hair and freckles gave me my superpower (which is the ability to burn under a table lamp) so the threat of looking like rock lobster kept me off the beach and in the free air-conditioning of the public library every summer throughout high school. I drew the fat straw. So while the cool kids worked summer jobs lifeguarding and selling Italian water ice, I roamed the library shelves of Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. These were my people. They understood me and they didn’t judge. There had to be more to life than parties and popularity. At least that’s what I told myself. So my


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summers were spent in conversation with dead authors. (“Oh Jane, really? Heathcliff said what?” “Leo, does every character have to have three names? I can’t tell who’s speaking.”) I had one goal in life. Get out of South Jersey and get as far away as possible. I vowed I would never go back. That’s pretty much the only successful thing I’d ever done. And now this high school reunion fiasco had arrived to jeopardize all that. I looked at the envelope again. It tried to suck me in. A furry nudge on my leg made me look down. Figaro had come back to apologize for his harsh dismissal of my cowardice—or maybe just to curl up next to me on the plush white sofa that had been my bed in recent months. I offered him a lick of my cookie. He sniffed it and politely refused. John would have taken a bite. . . . “This big house is too empty for just the two of us, Fig, but there is no way I’m giving Georgina the satisfaction of moving out.” The way Figaro’s ears pinned against his head at the mention of the Wicked Witch, I could tell he agreed. Georgina was my mother-in-law. Or as Figaro and I called her, domineering overlord. She’d made my life miserable from day one. But then I wasn’t exactly what she had been hoping for either. John was her baby and I ruined him. He was the first genuine friend I made at William & Mary when I ran into him on the quad. Literally barreled into him with all the grace of a water buffalo. It was my freshman year and I was still following the map handed out at orientation. I was so engrossed in trying to find Psych 101 that I didn’t see him sitting on the lawn. He was so engrossed in his paperback of Lord of the Rings, he never saw me coming. He wasn’t what you would call tall, dark, or handsome.


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He was more short and squatty. Your average geek before being a geek was fashionable. Stocky and muscular in a way that reminds you of a bulldog. With blue eyes and dark brown hair that curled at his neck. His dark-rimmed glasses coupled with his plaid shirt and faded blue jeans made him look more suited to the chess club than the football field. I tripped over him and face-planted right in his lap. I was so mortified I started chattering nonsense like I do when I get nervous. Stuff about how I’m directionally challenged, and I really wanted to be a pastry chef not a psychologist, and I loved the relationship between Frodo and Samwise. When I ran out of steam, John was looking at me with wide eyes, his glasses askew on his nose from the impact of Hurricane Poppy. I realized my hand was still resting on his inner thigh and I promptly removed it. “I’m so sorry.” He straightened his glasses and said, “If you’re looking for the psych wing you aren’t even close. It’s probably because your map is upside down. Come on, I’ll take you there. My name’s John, by the way.” From that moment on we were fast friends. He was like the big brother I never had. We talked about everything. Books, movies, school, family. He came from a very wealthy family with political ties on Capitol Hill. He was a grad student in his first year of law school and there was a lot of pressure on him to excel. I learned later that his family had been grooming him to run for the Senate one day. They never forgave me for destroying their plans. John said I was the funniest girl he’d ever met, and before me he didn’t know how to relax. We hung out as often as we could. John tutored me in calculus and I made chocolate crepes for him on my dorm hot plate. After a few weeks, I finally convinced him to let me go to a frat


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party. He didn’t want me to be around “the debauchery” but I was insistent that I was a big girl and it was all part of the college experience. I don’t think he attended many parties in his own fraternity because the other guys kept slapping him on the back and calling him “The Professor.” He wanted to impress his “brothers” and I just didn’t have any self-control, plain and simple. So we drank ourselves half blind and the next morning woke up in bed together under a blanket of shame. Things were awkward between us for a couple of weeks, but we finally came to the place where we admitted that we valued our friendship too much to let it be ruined by one mistake. I was never going to tell my fiancé, Tim. John was never going to tell anyone. After all, we weren’t even sure anything had happened. Not really. And then the morning sickness started. Peeing on that stick was the scariest thing I had ever done. I couldn’t look at it so John was the first person to know we were having a baby together. His mother was furious. She demanded that I get an abortion. She said I was trying to trap him and had ruined his career in politics. A career John never actually wanted, by the way. Many years later he told me that I had saved him from a life of misery, but first we had to go through hell from the fallout of our “blessed union.” Georgina was pushing me to deny any connection to John and protect her family from scrutiny in the public eye. She also said it was the only way I was ever going to get any support from them. If I publicly claimed the baby was John’s, I would be on my own, a poor white trash single mom on government assistance, and their family would deny any connection to the baby. Nice. John didn’t take this treatment of me well. He told Georgina that if she ever threatened me or said one unkind


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word to me again, he would personally call the tabloids and ruin the family name. He intended to marry me and if she ever wanted to see her grandchild, she would treat me with respect. A part of me may have fallen in love with John that very day, but I didn’t know it until much later. “Merrrow.” “Oh yeah. I forgot about you for a minute.” I was so lost in my thoughts. I resumed petting his majesty. Sir Figaro Newton is my best friend in the world, now that John is . . . gone. I couldn’t bring myself to think the real word. Passed was the fill-in term. “Mrrrp?” Figaro is a black smoke Persian with a cotton candy coat; his fur is white with black tips, giving him a shaded, smoky-gray color. Little children are terrified of him because of his bright orange eyes. They think he looks like a Halloween cat but I think he’s beautiful. We probably could have won ribbons in cat shows if he wasn’t so ornery and uncooperative. He had a sixth sense and knew when I was sagging into a foul mood. Like now. He flopped across me, as if he were a pillowcase and someone had just ripped the stuffing out. He either wanted to cheer me up or keep me alive until he grew thumbs and could work the can opener by himself. Figaro was, in technical terms, “a little loopy-doopy.” It could be disconcerting to have a sidekick who’d go completely limp and flop over like he’d just passed out. Sometimes with a stretch and a roll, sometimes with a thud as he hit the floor. It was his feline idea of performance art. He thinks it sends the message that he’s not a threat and wants to be friends. Mostly it sends the message that he’s crazy and could begin foaming at the mouth any minute. Many a child has run away from his famous death scene screaming, and left him lying there confused.


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Just now he was staring at the envelope I was ignoring— then staring back at me. Envelope. Me. Envelope . . . “Stop that. I know I’m a chicken. Bwaaak! There. Happy? We need a distraction, Fig. Sitting here covered in cookie dust and wallowing in self-pity is starting to lose its appeal. You know what goes good with oatmeal cookies? Chocolate milk.” Figaro gave me a droll look. “Fine, I’ll get it myself.” I shouldn’t be talking to cats anyway. People will think I’ve lost my mind. “Are you listening to me, Figaro?” Figaro buried his face under one smoky-gray paw. I brushed the crumbs off my Eeyore pajama pants, crumpled up the cookie bag, and headed to the fridge. Leaving the envelope shouting “Coward!” at my back, I slippered my way into the kitchen and looked around the marble morgue. I hated this kitchen. Georgina had designed every inch of the steel and granite monstrosity to impress. Impress whom, I had no idea. Image was very important to John’s mother, and he had promised it was easier to let her have her way. Then she’d leave us alone. Silly man. A kitchen is supposed to be the heart of the home. Well, this one matched that of its designer, cold as a dead fish. Memories flooded back again. Good ones. John and I did have some fun in here. . . . I loved to cook (“Clearly!” chuckled my reflection in the stainless-steel refrigerator door), and John loved to eat. He invited company over every weekend just to weasel some boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin out of the deal. He was always willing to help out with the prep work as my sous-chef. Mostly he just got in the way, but I enjoyed having him next to me. Since he’d been gone these six months, I’d lived on Pop-Tarts and cookie dough. What was the point in


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cooking for one? Now any cooking I did took place in the microwave. Take that, Georgina. Apparently, a pathetic, silent defiance was all I was capable of. As I put my hand on the refrigerator door I found myself stared in the face by Georgina’s event reminder, or as I called it, “The Summons.” Georgina expected me to attend a black-tie charity gala in two weeks in John’s honor. My mother-in-law firmly believed in hosting benefits for her cause of the month, as long as the press attended and she got lots of exposure in the news media. You know, “for the charity.” Since Georgina was under the impression that she owned me from the moment I said “I do,” I was required to be there in black taffeta and pearls, playing the “I’m-here-in-place-of-my-poor-dead-husband” card for extra media credit. Grief is good for donations. I was praying either for a house to fall on Georgina or the Rapture to take place. God’s choice. Really, I’m beyond pathetic. I could just say no. But I never did. Depressed and disgusted with myself, I got a glass of chocolate milk out of the fridge and added extra chocolate syrup to it. I still had enough dignity to not eat frosting for breakfast. But I did grab a bag of peanut butter cookies from the pantry (peanut butter is protein after all) and scuffed my way back to the living room. Ousting Figaro from my spot, I changed the channel to the BBC. Nigella was at the open refrigerator, wearing her bathrobe, eating an entire cake with her bare hands. How long before that’s me? Figaro fixed me with a penetrating gaze. That’s you since six months ago, Dumpling. “I’ve got to get out of here.”


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The phone rang. I ignored it, hoping they would go away. “Call from . . . Montgomery . . . Sawyer.” Audible caller ID is a wonderful invention. So is an answering machine set to screen out friends who have a guilt trip planned. Over the speaker I heard: “Ohmygosh! Did you get it? Poppy, I know you’re there. You never leave the house. Pick up! Pick up! Pick up!” I was not answering, even for her. I didn’t want to talk. I knew what she wanted and there was no way I was going back to New Jersey for a high school reunion. I’d rather have my eyes poked out with fondue forks. “Poppy!!” I grabbed the phone. “Yeah, I got it but I’m not opening it because I don’t believe for a minute that she means well. There’s probably snake venom on the card.” Sawyer Montgomery had been my other best friend— Figaro read my thoughts and cocked one eyebrow—since she and I met halfway through the fifth grade. After my father died, my mother shuffled me off to live with Aunt Ginny, and checked herself into a nervous breakdown. Some sadist decided that my first day of school would be Valentine’s Day. I’d gotten one Valentine addressed to “Extra” and a bucket of self-pity. And thanks to my mother’s version of a Dorothy Hamill bowl cut, I looked like Moe from the Three Stooges. Everyone thought I was a boy. Sawyer and I became fast friends once I explained that I was indeed a girl and wearing a dress and not a plaid polyester kilt. “It’s gonna be a ton of fun seeing everyone again after all these years.” Sawyer was lighthearted, fun, and perky. I was not. Especially when sleep-deprived. “Yeah. I’m gonna be the ton, and everyone else is


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gonna have fun with that. Do you know how much I’ve put on—” I was going to say, “in six months” but went with “since high school?” “Connie and Kim got notes from Barbie too, almost a month to the day from when the official reunion announcements came out. What do you think it means?” I heaved a sigh and snatched the envelope off the table and tore into it. My eyes flew across the stationery resting ever so briefly on every other word, afraid that if I took it all in at once I would be choked from overexposure to evil. “I think it means she wants to pour a bucket of blood on us. Then burn down the gym—and dance on our corpses.” “Maybe she wants to apologize for making our lives miserable for six years.” “Sure. And maybe I’ll get a flying unicorn that eats rainbows and farts cupcakes.” Figaro gave me a wide-eyed look that said, Don’t you dare! “I was just trying to make my point.” Sawyer sounded confused. “Who are you talking to?” “No one. Listen, Barbie and Amber made it their mission in high school to bully and embarrass us every chance they got,” I went on, defending my position. “We don’t hear from them for twenty-five years, and all of a sudden Barbie sends each one of us an exclusive invitation requesting a secret meeting during the reunion. How stupid do you think I am?” “She says she has something important to tell us, but we all need to be there in person. I think we should at least hear her out. Aren’t you at all curious?” “Of course. Just not enough to be in the same room with that b—” Sawyer cut me off. “Come on, please. I don’t want to


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face them alone. If we all stick together we can show Barbie and Amber they can’t hurt us anymore. Now quit trying to squeak out of it.” Clearly, Sawyer had an agenda. “I’m not trying to squeak out of it.” Lie number one. “I just haven’t had time to sign up yet.” Lie number two. “I’m not sure I can break away right now for the trip up there.” Lie number three. I put down the chocolate-syrup-laden milk and picked up the remote to switch over to Alton Brown—Ooh, biscuits. Really, I was hoping Sawyer would forget about me and I could conveniently forget to show up. “Mm-hm.” Sawyer always had the irritating ability to see right through me. “Your schedule is that busy? Sitting on the couch watching Paula Deen in your pajamas while eating Ben & Jerry’s out of the carton has you completely booked?” See? Irritating. “First of all, I’m not eating ice cream. I’m eating cookies. Secondly, I’m not up for it. I’m exhausted. And I don’t think I’m ready to be around all those people right now.” Sawyer launched into a Condoleezza Rice–inspired monologue. “Now you listen to me, Poppy McAllister Browne. John would not want you glued to the couch and cooking shows. He wanted you to go out and live your life to the fullest and have adventures and meet people and have FUN! You know I can’t face those two by myself. After all they did to us, and especially not now since my divorce has been finalized. And Kurt will be there to parade some new sleaze around. We made a pinkie promise in the fifth grade that we’d always be there to back each other up, and I’ve kept my end of the bargain!”


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I was wishing I’d gotten the can of frosting after all. “How long did you practice that speech before calling me?” “’Bout half an hour. How’d I do?” “It was pretty good.” “Thank you. I like the part about the pinkie promise the best.” “That was a strong point.” “So . . . are you coming?” I sighed deeply. Sawyer had always been there for me. How could I abandon her now? Even if it was just a stupid high school reunion. “Fine. I’ll RSVP this afternoon.” “Oh, good! I signed you up an hour ago. We’re going to have so much fun!” I hung up the phone and looked at Figaro, who had fallen asleep and was doing a weird face-plant into the couch. I nudged him to make sure he was breathing, at which he croaked out a plaintive mew. Yes, everyone knew I was a sad pushover. Especially my best friends. Would I ever stop being this way? Figaro opened one eye. Only if you ever want a shred of self-worth back . . . How did I let this happen? I looked at the note on the coffee table again. I didn’t know what was worse: a weekend with Barbie and Amber, the Queens of Mean, or running interference between Sawyer and her lowlife ex-husband, Kurt. Kurt was a royal piece of work. Sawyer had married him a few years out of college. It was love at first sight— for Sawyer. It was probably love at first sight for Kurt, too. It usually was. As soon as he saw Sawyer across the room at the Ugly Mug where he tended bar, he dumped the bimbo he was with and trotted right over to introduce himself as God’s gift to pretty girls everywhere. She fell for him as soon as his cheesy line was cast. Unfortunately,


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Kurt fell for lots of other women while he was married to my best friend. But then, Sawyer was an easy target. She’d never come to grips with how beautiful she was. At five-foot-ten, with chestnut hair and green eyes in a pretty little heart-shaped face floating above all those curves, she could have been a model. Oh, how I wish I had a body like hers, I thought, and took a bite of another cookie to console myself. “I’m going to do something I don’t want to do, to stand up for a friend. There, Figaro. That makes me worth something.” Even though he was asleep I knew what he was thinking: When are you going to learn to stand up for you? Again, with the back talk. “I guess we’re having a road trip, Fig. Seeing as how Sawyer isn’t letting us out of it. And it’s a great reason to finally go visit Aunt Ginny. We’re long overdue.” Figaro opened both eyes wide. If looks could eviscerate . . . He despised the cat carrier. “Don’t make me use the kitty tranquilizers. You know they give you a hangover. We’re going to have to face her sometime. It’s been years.” She’s your aunt. Why do we need to face her? “I need you there for moral support.” Figaro responded by licking his paw, wiping it on his ear, and ignoring me. Yep. Best friends forever.

Profile for Kensington Publishing

CLASS REUNIONS ARE MURDER by Libby Klein  

Can she crack the case before a murderer votes her “Most Likely to Die”?

CLASS REUNIONS ARE MURDER by Libby Klein  

Can she crack the case before a murderer votes her “Most Likely to Die”?

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