Skip to main content



February Fever: A Murder-by-Month Mystery

Chapter 1

The upright bass strings resonated, the notes deep and husky. In the background, the finger-snapping began. Peggy Lee’s voice threaded over the top of the rhythm. It was playful, hot, and full of delicious promise. She was doing her best to convince me that I couldn’t possibly know the depths of her love, could never understand how much she cared.

Johnny noted my delighted expression when I placed the lyrics, and he smiled. He was standing over me, backlit by a crackling fire, naked from the waist up. His Levis hung low on his lean hips, and the shadows from the fire played off the soft curl of his blonde hair, the marble cut of his biceps, and the strength in his hands hanging loosely at his sides.

The chorus of the song scorched out of the speakers.


Believe me, I felt the heat.

Johnny had removed my blindfold moments earlier. I’d been wearing it since he’d surprised me at the Battle Lake Public Library thirty minutes ago. Of course I’d protested—I’m not a woman whose boyfriend shows up at her work on a random February afternoon with a fresh bouquet of pink tulips, a blindfold, and a whispered promise that makes her blush in her most private parts. Heck, I’m not the gal who usually even has a boyfriend, and when I do, he’s more likely the type to see dental floss and socks as “fancy-shmancy” (yes, Bad Brad, I’m talking about you) than to surprise me with an every-minute-planned evening.

Johnny was different.

Johnny was love and rockets and romance and sweetness. We’d officially been a couple since December, not even two months, but we’d casually dated before that. That’s how I was gonna to write the story, anyhow. Another person might interpret my “casual dating” as more like “neurotic dating,” with me constantly worrying what a great guy like Johnny was doing with someone like me, and subsequently doing everything I could to sabotage our budding relationship.

You see, I’m a little messed up.

I’m an only child, the daughter of an alcoholic who died driving drunk the summer before my junior year of high school. He’d killed someone else in the accident, and I became a pariah in my hometown of Paynesville, Minnesota. Come the end of my senior year, I was only too happy to skedaddle that wide spot on a map.

Ink not even dry on my high school diploma, I took off for the Cities. I did all right for a while. Earned my English degree from the University of Minnesota, waited tables at a Vietnamese restaurant on the West Bank, hit the bars but only on weekends. Once I graduated, however, I quickly discovered that an English bachelor’s and $4 will buy you a medium latte and license to critique the punctuation on the Caribou Coffee specials board, and not much else. (I can see why the English department left that out of their advertising materials.)

After taking a couple years off from college to find myself (i.e., pay off some loans and check out what life is like when you’re not going to school), I enrolled in a Master’s program in English and began hitting the clubs in earnest. Eventually, I found myself attending more bars than classes, dating Bad Brad, and wondering if this was what my alcoholic dad’s life had looked like in his 20s. I didn’t like the direction—or lack thereof—in which I was headed.

A year ago last March, I received a shittily-wrapped gift when I caught Brad cheating on me, a few hours later, was flashed by a homeless man while crossing the Washington Avenue bridge. Nothing like stumbling across two unexpected penises in one day to crowbar you out of a rut, you know what I mean?

When my friend Sunny called soon after the doubleheader and asked me to take care of her dog and cute little prefab house on the most gorgeous 100 acres in all of Minnesota, I didn’t so much leap at the offer as trust-fall into it. The gig was only supposed to last March through August while Sunny explored Alaska with Dean, her unibrowed lover, but late last summer, the couple landed a year-round job on one of the fishing boats, and here I was, an unofficial Battle Lake resident for coming up on a year.

The Battle Lake Public Library head librarian had hired me as his assistant within a week of my moving to the tiny town in northwestern Minnesota, and by April, I’d scored a supplemental job as a freelance reporter for the Battle Lake Recall. The newspaper editor, Ron Sims, had been so impressed with my work (read: no one else would do it) that he’d given me a full-time recipe column which I’d named Battle Lake Bites.

Admittedly, the title had initially been intended passive aggressively. You see, it took me a bit to reacclimate to living in a small town, a community so tight-knit that if your car slid into the ditch, somebody’d be there to pull you out within five minutes. In another seven, the rest of the population would know you’d gone off the road, and it’d be twelve more minutes before they began speculating on whether or not you’d been drinking, how messy the interior of your car had been, and if you’d ever find love or were biologically doomed to a life of tea-drinking and spirited cat-collecting.

I imagine I’d have gotten into the small town rhythm sooner—I’d been born and raised in a little burg, after all—if it weren’t for the dead bodies popping up regularly. One corpse a month, every month since May, matter of fact.

A guy I had a crush on here, a statue thief there, and pretty soon, it added up to me stumbling over ten murders in as many months. I didn’t like to think about that record because when I did, I was inevitably brought to two conclusions: 1) I was jinxed with the mother of all cooties: dead-body finding, and 2) it had been twenty-three days since I’d skated over a frozen corpse on West Battle. I could almost hear the clock ticking down on February. When and where would the next murder be?

I’d decided to become proactive back in October and began pursuing my private eye license. (When life gives you corpses, make lemonade, is what I always say.) Still and all, I didn’t like the countdown to the next dead body. The waiting game was making me jittery.

On good days, I told myself my run of bad luck had to be over and I was crazy for jumping at shadows. On bad days, I’d returned to sleeping under my bed, empty cans stacked on this side of my bedroom door so I’d be awoken if anyone tried to sneak in. It made dating a healthy, open guy like Johnny…interesting. He’d borne it like a champ, but I found myself watching him closely, waiting for the day when he said, understandably, “Hey, I was thinking I might like to try dating a woman who doesn’t stumble across dead bodies like other people find pennies. Your thoughts?”

Many times, I’d caught myself trying to pull the trigger first. You know, dump him before he inevitably ran out on me. I’d fabricate a fight, or decide he hadn’t called in two days because he was cheating on me and then, when he did call the third day, I wouldn’t pick up. Sigh. I was a lot of work. Johnny had been constant through all of it, though, and my walls were crumbling, brick by precious brick. It was terrifying to be slowly revealed and made vulnerable like that. Terrifying, but also exhilarating.

These were the thoughts I juggled on an average day.

But today was no average day. Today, I’d been blindfolded and brought to Johnny’s den, where a fire crackled and I was alone with the cutest boy on earth. Besides, as Johnny stalked closer to me, Peggy Lee melting the speakers with her sexiness and my blindfold dangling from his jeans pocket, thinking was the last thing on my mind. There simply wasn’t enough blood in my northern hemisphere to maintain a facial expression, let alone a coherent thought.

When he stood only inches away, towering over me, the heat of his body pounded into my flesh like a lovely wave. I reached for his abdomen, longing to touch one of my favorite spots: the point where his hipbones carved a line into his sculpted ab muscles. He grabbed my hand just short of his tempting skin, and in the smoothest of moves, wrapped one end of the silk blindfold around my wrist.

I glanced up at him, caught off guard. I was still sitting and he standing, which was a delicious angle. My head was level with his belly button, and everything from that point up was sleek, strong, and staring intently at me. The blue of his eyes was so dark it looked like they were brewing a storm.

I knew that look, and it gave me the most exquisite shivers.

I offered him the other wrist, but he shook his head, his lips quirking at the corner. I began to ask him what the plan was, but he stopped my words by leaning over, taking my face in his free hand and kissing me, deep and long.

Peggy Lee was right: this was indeed a gorgeous way to burn.

February Fever: A Murder-by-Month Mystery
by by Jess Lourey

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: MIDNIGHT INK
  • ISBN-10: 0738742147
  • ISBN-13: 9780738742144