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Everyone raised their glasses, but the toast was interrupted when a hand clamped down on Lucas's shoulder. He winced as it torqued his frame, putting pressure on his still-cracked ribs, and he spilled some of his root beer. "What the fu—?"

Neville abandoned the toast and turned to the newcomer. "How is my favorite plastic surgeon?"

Dove Knox nodded a hello to the group but singled Lucas out for the first hug. "Hey, man! How's my grouchy buddy?" Knox had visited Lucas in the hospital a few weeks back, and he looked only mildly surprised by how banged up he still was.

"Swell." After the hug ended, Lucas put his root beer down on one of the tall bar tables and wiped his hand with a paper napkin as his ribs stopped tingling—a vestigial wound that he was starting to suspect might never heal.

Knox doled out two more hugs and greetings.

Lucas begrudgingly liked Knox. He and Erin had been friends since medical school—they had even dated for a while. But their romantic relationship never really worked and they had managed the not-always-simple transition from lovers to friends. He was now married to an internist named Carla and they were one of the few couples both Lucas and Erin liked to spend time with. Knox was smart and considerate, but he could be a little complicated. And he tended to drink too much.

"Have I missed anything?" Knox asked as he waved their red-eyed waitress back. 

"We were just talking about Jennifer Delmonico."

Knox shook his head. "Don't know her."

Neville, who hated giving up the spotlight, said, "She was an orthopod at Weill Cornell." 

Knox tilted his head at Erin. "Your haunt?"

"The sister ship in Lower Manhattan. So, yes, sort of."

Knox made the effort to raise one of his very nicely balanced eyebrows. "What happened to her?"

"She committed suicide last night."

Dove ordered a scotch-rocks from the server without acknowledging her, then directed his attention toward Erin. "Was she a friend of yours?" Knox was ridiculously handsome, a self aware condition that he pushed over the top with a very good eye for clothes and a few small corrective surgeries—like the eyebrows. But he suffered from situational OCD that came out at the strangest times in the oddest little rituals. It did not control his life, but it controlled enough of his small habits that it could get annoying. Lucas had tried going to Rizzoli with him two Christmases back and it had been an exercise in line-up-the-books-just-so masochism. Knox tended to overcomplicate things—Erin said it was one of his core practices and had been one of the largest contributors to their demise, after his drinking. Even his tie knot was some obscure intricate affair.

"I didn't know her well, but she was a fixture at the hospital." 

"What happened?"

Neville, in his role of resident expert since Lorne had been her administrator, answered. "Jumped in front of a truck after her shift last night."

Erin took a sip of wine that left a crescent of lipstick on the rim and Lucas could see she wasn't enjoying the conversation.

Neville shook his head and crunched more ice. "Lorne was really upset."

An electronic chime echoed through the space, and Neville nodded toward the main hall. "Shall we?" he asked, sticking his elbow out for Erin. "Lorne will join us."

Erin held up her phone. "First I want to take a picture of all of you—my favorite men all dressed up."

Neville pulled Lucas and Dove in, and Lucas was painfully aware that he looked like a reconstituted pallbearer against Neville's floral silk jacket and Dove's sartorial overreach.

Erin said, "Say cheese!" and Lucas was the only one who didn't try to smile.

The phone made a simulated click, and she slipped it back into her pocketbook as they headed for the main hall, Knox dropping behind to talk with Lucas.

"Where's Carla?" Lucas asked.

"We got into a fight and she stayed out at the beach house." Knox put his hand back on Lucas's shoulder. "Which means I get to drink tonight."

Lucas rolled his single eye behind the dark lens. "Swell."


This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict. 
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