Recipe for disaster: Celebrity chef Stanley Chipotle comes to Trenton to participate in a barbecue cook-off and loses his head – literally.
Throw in some spice: Bail bonds office worker Lula is witness to the crime, and the only one she'll talk to is Trenton cop, Joe Morelli.
Pump up the heat: Chipotle's sponsor is offering a million-dollar reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the capture of the killers.
Stir the pot: Lula recruits bounty hunter Stephanie Plum to help her find the killers and collect the moolah.
Add a secret ingredient: Stephanie's Grandma Mazur. Enough said.
Bring to a boil: Can Stephanie hunt down two killers, a traitor, five skips, keep her grandmother out of the sauce, solve Ranger's problems and not jump his bones?
Warning: Janet Evanovich's Finger Lickin' Fifteen is habanero hot. So good you'll want seconds.
About the Author
JANET EVANOVICH is the #1 bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum novels, a dozen romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author. She lives in New Hampshire and Florida.
LORELEI KING has recorded over 200 audiobooks, including several titles from Janet Evanovich's bestselling Stephanie Plum series and Darynda Jones's Charley Davidson series. AudioFile also deemed her one of the "Best Voices of 2008."
Hometown:Hanover, New Hampshire
Date of Birth:April 22, 1943
Place of Birth:South River, New Jersey
Education:B.A., Douglass College, 1965
Read an Excerpt
When I was a kid I was afraid of spiders and vegetables. As an adult I’ve eliminated vegetables from my fright-o-meter, but I’ve added a whole bunch of other stuff. Homicidal maniacs, serial rapists, cellulite, Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella, rabid bats and any form of organized exercise.
There were already two cruisers angled in to the curb in front of the Sunshine Hotel when Lula and I arrived. I parked, and Lula and I got out and stood next to Morelli and a couple uniforms. We all looked down at a red splotch that sprayed out over about a four foot diameter. A couple smaller splotches trailed off the big splotch, and I assumed that was where the head hit the pavement. I felt a wave of nausea slide through my stomach, and I started to sweat. “This here’s the spot,” Lula said. “You can see it’s just like I told you. There was a big gusher of blood when they whacked the head off. It was like Old Faithful going off, only it was blood. And then the head rolled down the sidewalk. It was like the head was a bowlin’ ball with eyes. And the eyes were like big googly eyes kinda popping out of the head and lookin’ at me. And I think I might have heard the head laughin’, or maybe it was the guys who did the whackin’ who were laughin’.” The uniforms all did a grimace, Morelli was impassive, and I threw up. Everyone jumped away from me, I gagged one last time and did some deep breathing. “Sorry,” I said. “No problem,” Morelli told me. “I feel like throwing up a lot on this job.” One of the uniforms brought me some paper towels and a bottle of water, and Lula stood a good distance away. “You got lots of room for lunch now that you’re empty,” she yelled at me. “I could get a early start with one of them extra crispy bird burgers they’re servin’ at Cluck-in-a-Bucket. Have you heard about them? They got some new secret sauce.” I wasn’t interested in secret sauce. I wanted to go home and go to bed and not get up until it was a new day. I was done with this one. “We got a couple footprints heading south,” a uniform said. “One of these guys had real big feet. Looks like a size fourteen. And there’s some skid marks where they dragged the body to the curb. Imagine they dumped it into a car and took off.” “You need to come downtown and give me some information,” Morelli said to Lula. “No way. Un ah. I got a allergic reaction to police stations. I get irritable bowel and hives and the hebejebes.” “You witnessed a murder.” “Yeah, but there’s extenuating circumstances here. I got a medical condition. I got a extreme sensitivity to cops.” Morelli looked like he wanted to pull his gun out of its holster and shoot himself. “I’ll get you some cheese burgers and a side of onion rings,” he said to Lula. Lula stood hands on hips. “You think I could be bought for some lame ass burgers? What kinda woman you think I am?” “I’ll throw in a bucket of chicken and an ice cream cake from Carvel,” Morelli said. “That’s my final offer.” “Deal,” Lula told him. “We goin’ in your car? On account of I’m not riding in a cop car, and I hate to say this but Stephanie don’t smell too good.” Twenty minutes later I parked in the lot to my apartment building. My building straddles the line between Trenton proper and Trenton improper. It’s a three-story utilitarian brick box filled with tenants who are struggling to make ends meet. Frequently I have a gap between my ends, resulting in a lot of dinners mooched from my parents who live ten minutes away in a blue-collar chunk of Trenton called The Burg. My apartment is on the second floor and my windows look out at the parking lot. My only roommate is a hamster named Rex. I manage to keep a good supply of hamster food in my fridge and in my cupboard. People food is spotty. I own a fry pan and a pot. Perfectly adequate since I mostly eat peanut butter sandwiches. Peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and potato chips, peanut butter and olives, and peanut butter and marshmallow goo. So sue me, I like peanut butter. The rest of the apartment consists of dining alcove, living room with television, one bedroom and bath. I hustled from my car to my apartment, stripped and jumped into the shower. I was approaching boiled lobster skin tone when I finally emerged and wrapped myself in a towel. I stepped out of the bathroom and spotted Ranger lounging in the club chair across from my bed. I gave a startled yelp and jumped back into the bathroom. “Babe,” Ranger said. I stuck my head out and looked at him. “What are you doing here?” “I need to talk to you.” “You could have called. Or how about ringing my doorbell?” Ranger looked like he was thinking about smiling. His attention focused on the top of my towel and slowly moved to the bottom hem that hung a half-inch below my doodah. His brown eyes dilated black, and I took a stronger grip on my towel. Ranger was the second biggest complication in my life, and now that Morelli is out of the picture, I suppose Ranger is elevated to numero uno. He’s close to six foot, one way or the other, is Latino with medium brown skin and dark brown hair cut short. His teeth are white and even, and he has a killer smile that is only seen on special occasions. He dresses in black, and today he was wearing black T-shirt and black cargo pants. His given name is Carlos Manoso. His street name, Ranger, is a holdover from time spent in Special Forces. These days he does the occasional high-risk bond enforcement job, and is the managing partner of a security firm located in a stealth building in center city. I’ve seen him naked, and you can take it to the bank when I tell you he’s all hard muscle and perfect in every possible way. And I mean every possible way. Ranger and I have three things in common. We’re the same age. We’re both single. And we both were previously married for about ten seconds. That’s where the common ground ends. I’m an open book with a lot of blank pages. His book is filled with life experience but written in disappearing ink. I have three locks on my front door plus a sliding bolt, and I’m sure they were all in place. Somehow this never stops Ranger. He’s a man of mysterious talents. Ranger crooked his finger at me. “Come here.” “No way.” “Afraid?” “Cautious.” “That’s no fun,” Ranger said. “I didn’t know you were interested in fun.” There was a very slight curve to the corners of his mouth. “I have my moments.” I had a big, cuddly pink robe in my closet, but I had to cross in front of Ranger to get to it. I wasn’t worried Ranger would jump me. My fear was that if I got too close, I’d get sucked into his force field, and I’d jump him. And jumping Ranger was a dangerous deal. He’d made it clear that his emotional involvement would always have limitations. Plus, there was Morelli. Morelli was currently out of the picture, but he’d been out before, and he’d always slid back in. Getting naked with Ranger would make a reconciliation with Morelli much more difficult. Of course that wasn’t currently an issue because I wasn’t in a mood to reconcile anything. “What did you want to talk to me about?” I asked him. “Three of my clients have been robbed in the last two months. All three had state of the art security systems. And in all three cases the systems were shut down for exactly fifteen minutes and then reactivated. My clients weren’t home at the time. There was no sign of physical tampering.” “I see them using gizmos in the movies that can figure out codes.” “This isn’t a movie. This is real life.” “Someone hacked into your system?” “No.” “That leaves an unpleasant possibility,” I said to Ranger. “In theory there are only a few people in my organization who have access to the codes, and I can’t imagine any of those men being involved in this. For that matter everyone I employ is rigorously screened. Plus, the entire building, with the exception of private living spaces, is monitored 24 hours.” “Have you changed the codes?” “I changed them after each break-in.” “Wow.” “Yeah,” Ranger said. “Someone on the inside is beating my system.” “Why are you telling this to me?” “I need you to come in and snoop around without raising suspicion. I can’t trust anyone already inside.” “Even Tank?” “Even Tank.” Tank is exactly what his name would imply. He’s big and solid inside and out. He’s second in command at Rangeman, and he’s the guy who watches Ranger’s back. “You’ve worked for me before doing computer searches, and that’s where I’d like to put you again. Ramon has been doing the searches, but he’d like to get out of the cubby and back on the street. You’d be working on the fifth floor in the control room, but you’d have total access within the building. Every man in my organization knows you and understands that you’re my personal property, so they’re not going to talk freely when you’re around, but they’re also not going to think I hired you to snoop. They’ll assume I gave you the job to have you close to me.” “Personal property?” “Babe, you’re the only one who would question it.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “I am not personal property. A car is personal property. A shirt is personal property. A human being is not personal property.” “In my building we share cars and shirts. We don’t share women. In my building you’re my personal property. Deal with it.” At a later time, when I was alone and gave it some thought I’d probably find the flaw in that reasoning, but oddly enough it made sense at the moment. “What about my cases at the bond office?” I asked him. “I’ll help you.” This was a really good deal because I was a crappy bounty hunter and Ranger was the best. Not to mention I’d be drawing salary from Rangeman. All I had to do was keep my hands off Ranger and everything would be peachy. “Okay,” I said. “When do you want me to start?” “Now. Do you have uniforms left from the last time you worked for me?” “I have a couple T-shirts, and I have some black jeans.” “Good enough. I’ll have Ella order some more.” Ella and her husband Louis serve as live-in property managers for Rangeman. They keep the building clean and running efficiently, and they keep the men fed and clothed. “I assume you still have your key fob?” Ranger asked. “Yep.” The key fob got me into the high security Rangeman building, and it also got me into Ranger’s private 7th floor apartment. In the past I’d used the apartment when I felt I was in danger. It wasn’t a move I made lightly because I had to weigh the danger at hand against the danger of living with Ranger. Ranger’s cell phone buzzed, and he looked at the screen. “I have to go,” he said. “Tank and Ramon are expecting you. Ramon will bring you up to speed and then you should be able to take over. You know the drill.” His eyes moved from my face to the towel and then back to my face. “Tempting,” he said. And he left. Finger Lickin' Fifteen Copyright © 2009 by Evanovich, Inc. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.