Chapter 1

Susan Anderson yawned and mumbled an incoherent complaint. She tried to focus heavy-lidded eyes on the glowing chartreuse numbers of the digital clock. Six a.m. She rolled onto her side and picked up the ringing cell phone, wishing she’d shut it off the night before. This was her day off, the one day in seven she could stay ensconced in her luxurious bed, wrapped in Egyptian cotton like a mummy princess. The one day in seven she could snuggle with her hubby when he came home from working the night shift.
     
“I’m-sorry-to-wake-you-up-but-it’s-an-emergency-and-you’re-the-only-one-who-can-help-something-horrible-has-happened-to-Tina.”
     
“Slow down, Karen,” Susan whispered hoarsely. “I understand you haven’t been to sleep yet, but I’m still waking up, okay? Now, start from the top. Who’s Tina?”
     
Stretching like a limber feline, Susan propped her pillow against the headboard and slowly sat up, her eyebrows knitting together as she listened. Her eyes opened more fully as she listened to Karen’s amazing tale.
     
“… that’s the whole story. I’m afraid she’s going to do something drastic. Please, you have to help her. I know you don’t work Mondays, but you’re the only one I know who might be able to do something.”
     
Susan leaned her head back and yawned again as she considered.
     
“Susan? Susan, are you there?”
     
“Still here. Sorry. Okay. I need coffee and a bagel, but you can tell her to meet me at the salon at seven.”
     
“Seriously? Fantastic! You’re a lifesaver!”

Susan hung up the phone, rolled onto her stomach, and buried her face in her pillow. Part of her wanted to go back to sleep. But the rest of her loved a challenge—and this was truly a challenge. Although dull moments were few in her world, so were new ventures these days—at least ventures of the dramatic magnitude Karen had just described.
     
She pulled back the covers and eased up on the edge of the bed. Absentmindedly tucking a strand of ash-blond hair behind her ear, she considered her options for another minute or two before reaching for the phone.
     
“She works hard for the money, so hard.…”
     
“Stop singing, Loretta—please. It’s too early for Donna Summer, even for you. I hate caller ID.”
     
“Heretic—bite your tongue! It’s never too early for Donna. And you should love caller ID. It’s the only reason I always answer your calls.”
     
Susan laughed. More than a dependable employee, Loretta Wells was a good friend and a sister in faith. She was also the reason Susan could take Mondays off. Loretta was more than capable of handling things without the boss. In fact, she’d been Susan’s right hand for almost twenty years.
     
Every Monday morning before opening the salon at seven thirty, Loretta had coffee at the Starbucks just off Tropicana Boulevard. Susan knew she could depend on her to rise to this challenge, cut her Starbucks run short, and get things ready for Tina before she arrived.
     
Susan explained what little she knew about what she’d dubbed as Tina’s Tragic Trauma. “You don’t mind coming in early?” she asked.
     
“Are you kidding? Sounds utterly fascinating. Don’t worry about me—what about you? I don’t think I’ve seen you on a Monday in more than a decade. Think you can function?”
     
“Very funny. I’ll be just fine. See you in forty five.”
     
She flipped the phone shut, grabbed a notepad and pen from the bedside table, and scribbled a note to leave downstairs for Michael on her way out. Her husband wouldn’t get home until eight, about the time she was usually getting ready for work. He wouldn’t be happy with her for taking off like this on their one day together, but what could she do? This young woman needed her.
     
She recalled the most recent argument she’d had with Michael about this very subject.
     
“You’re a hairdresser for crying out loud—not George!” he had shouted into the phone last week when she called him from the salon at 2:30 a.m.
     
George was their neighbor, a psychologist who was on call for police emergencies twenty-four/seven.
     
“You wouldn’t say that, Michael, if you had seen her. The creep used a butcher knife to cut off her hair. I couldn’t say no. Michael, you should have seen …”
     
“What if he had showed up at the shop? What then? He might be outside waiting for you right now. Maybe I should come over and follow you home …”
     
“No, Michael, I’m fine. I’m sure he’s not waiting for me. He doesn’t have a beef with me.”
     
Susan didn’t tell him she had worried about the same thing when the girl showed up, referred by a friend who ran a shelter for battered women.
     
“I’m sorry I called,” she said with a sigh. What she had really wanted to share was her excitement at being able to pray with a young woman who was openly searching for an answer to the unexplainable emptiness in her heart.
     
“Me too,” Michael grumbled. “Now, get out of there and go home. I’ll stay on the phone while you lock up.”
     
That had been several days ago, and they had yet to talk about the situation again. She wasn’t exactly eager to bring it up—not with the way Michael had been acting lately. His sixtieth birthday loomed on the horizon, and Susan was quite certain he was having a delayed midlife crisis. She was hard-pressed to feel sympathetic. She was turning fifty in April, and she wasn’t snapping at everyone about every little thing.
     
Susan didn’t start thinking about Tina’s Tragic Trauma again until she was in the shower. What if she couldn’t help her? Lord, I’m almost embarrassed to bring this to you. I mean, I know it’s just hair. But what if Karen isn’t overdramatizing the situation? Surely someone wouldn’t commit suicide over a bad hair day, would she? Please help me help Tina. Amen.
     
Hurrying to get dressed, she pulled her thick hair back in a ponytail and wrapped a vintage Chanel scarf around her crown as a headband. She brushed her teeth, stroked on moisturizer, and applied her makeup in record time even though she’d been tempted to go without it, since her goal was to return home in a couple of hours and jump back into bed.
     
She quickly straightened up the bathroom for Michael, knowing he would take a shower as soon as he got home. When she finished, she sat down at her laptop and sent a quick e-mail to her online chat group. Then she checked herself one last time in the hall mirror and headed out the door. 
      
From:     Susan Anderson (boomerbabesusan@boomerbabesrock.com)
Sent:       Monday, January 9, 6:43 a.m.
To:          Patricia Davies; Mary Johnson; Lisa Taylor; Linda Jones; Sharon Wilson
Subject:  You will NEVER believe this … story to follow