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Marriage Can Be Murder

Marriage Can Be Murder by Mackey Maureen
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Before she marries her one-time professor, Francie must solve a mysterious death. Or will she die, too?
Awe-Struck Publishing; February 2004
132 pages; ISBN 9781587494116
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Title: Marriage Can Be Murder
Author: Mackey Maureen
"Marriage, if one will face the truth, is an evil, but a necessary evil."

Menander, c. 342-292 BC

I'm no stranger to terror. I've been stalked, had my life threatened, and my daughter's life threatened, too. I've even stumbled upon a corpse, which is a horrible sensation, and it often comes back to me in my worst nightmares.

I've gotten used to meeting new people, too. Last fall I worked on the student newspaper, and covered many a campus event, conducting several interviews.

But even with those experiences, I found nothing could prepare me for the sheer, nerve-wracking fright of attending an English department faculty reception. It wasn't being in a new situation that concerned me. It was the certainty I would be judged by Sam's colleagues.

The reception room was large, and thickly carpeted. Conversation was muted. Dress was casual chic. Food and drink were cleverly arrayed on separate tables.

My pulse was pounding, and I looked longingly at the doorway.

"Relax," whispered Sam in my ear. "They won't bite."

Ha, I thought. The people I saw looked like sharks, eyeing me with their drinks in hand, circling nearer, not yet ready to attack, but definitely interested.

"I feel like we're on display," I whispered back. "Like they're saying, 'Ah-ha, so that's who he's been seeing. My, she's young. A student of his, wasn't she? Tsk, tsk.'"

To my embarrassment, the Pope laughed out loud.

Professor Samuel Pope could afford to be amused, I thought. He belonged here, at a faculty reception.

After all, he was a tenured professor, a young lion at 32, a brilliant scholar if perhaps a formidable teacher. Too many undergraduates had learned the hard way not to try and skimp on their scholarship around him. He even looked leonine, with his strong, compact build and reddish-blond hair.

I, on the other hand, am a 25 year-old unmarried mother, trying to finish my undergraduate degree while raising a five year-old. I'm sure to everyone in this room I looked like the academic equivalent of a gold-digger, latching on to a professor as a way to get through school.

It's not my fault I fell in love with him. In fact, when I first met him I couldn't stand him. I called him "the Pope" like everyone else. Sometimes I still do, but only when he deserves it.

Fate made him my faculty advisor. Murder brought us together. If he hadn't gotten involved with my problems, on that Halloween night over a year and a half ago, my daughter and I might well be dead.

Could I help it if his concern and my gratitude developed into something more along the way?

"Relax, Francie." Sam broke into my thoughts. "Nobody tsks-tsks anymore. So what if our relationship raises a few eyebrows? Things have been pretty dull around here anyway."

He gave my arm a gentle squeeze. "I'm proud to have you here with me."

I felt a glow start to warm me inside.

"Sam, you old dog," came a hearty voice from behind us. Close as I was to Sam, I felt the jolt from the slap on his back.

My glow vanished quickly.

"Glad you could make it," the back-slapper continued.

"So am I," said the Pope. "Francie, I'd like you to meet Jake Bartholomew. Jake, this is Francie Steele."

Jake was a youngish man, about Sam's age, and very handsome in a movie- star type of way. His shining sable hair looked slightly windswept, and his dark eyes were deep and melting. He must have the more impressionable women in his class swooning at every lecture. But I detected more than a hint of self-satisfaction in his face, which marred his good looks for me.

"Pleased to meet you." Jake shook my hand, and scanned me avidly. "Sam has mentioned you often. You're the one with the little girl, right?"

I smiled. It was automatic whenever I thought of my daughter. "That's right. Her name is Savannah."

"And you go to school, too, right? Boy, it must be tough to study and take care of a baby."

"Oh, she's young, but she's no baby. She turned five last fall."

"Five?" Jake looked incredulous, and then strove to hide it. His reaction didn't surprise me. I was used to it. I knew I looked young for my age, and I didn't particularly appreciate it. Like most people, Jake was probably speculating on how young I must have been when I had Savannah.

"Savannah is really five going on twenty." Sam covered the awkwardness smoothly. "A most delightful child."

"So you know her?" said Jake. "Somehow, I can't imagine you relating to a child, Sam."

I bristled, and started to speak, but Sam forestalled me.

"Oh, I assure you, it's no problem. She's honest, direct, has an original viewpoint and is a stimulating conversationalist. In short, quite a change from what I usually have to deal with."

"I see," said Jake. "And I'll bet not too many of your other "charges" has such a beautiful mother. That's a nice benefit."

He smiled at me with a knowing look.

I wanted to smack him.

"Tell me, Jake," said the Pope, ignoring his last comment. "Where's Helen, your wife? Did she come?"

Wife? I had a hard time picturing this guy married.

"No, I try not to drag her to these affairs. They're hard on the spouses, you know. All the gossip and departmental chit-chat."

"Yes," Sam agreed. "It can be so wearing."

Sam turned to me. "I don't believe you've had anything to drink yet, Francie. Let me get you something. Excuse us, Jake."

"Oh, please, let me get those drinks for you." Jake smiled ingratiatingly.

"That's quite all right, thank you," replied Sam. "We can use the exercise."

Sam led me away towards the refreshment table, with Jake looking wistfully after us.

"Don't mind him," said Sam, when we were out of Jake's earshot. "He's lascivious by reflex. He thought he was being complimentary."

"I could tell. And to think he's married! His poor wife."

I could only imagine what it must be like being married to such a dedicated flirt. Guys like Jake were proof that there were worse things than being single. But Jake hadn't limited his attentions to me in our exchange.

"He sure seemed anxious to get our drinks, Sam. Is he always this attentive to you?"

"Lately, yes. He's up for tenure this fall, you see. And he's not the only one. There's a woman, Lillie Addison, who's also being considered. Unfortunately, there's only one position."