Illegally blonde, p.1

Illegally Blonde, page 1


Illegally Blonde

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Illegally Blonde

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  Copyright © 2016 by Anna Snow

  Cover design by Estrella Designs

  Gemma Halliday Publishing

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  I'd like to thank everyone who has believed in me from the very beginning, especially my amazing husband, John.

  I'd also like to give a special shout-out to my editors, Sally Smith and Wendi Baker, and also to the amazing Gemma Halliday who took a chance on me, Barb, and the girls when no one else would, helping me become a USA Today bestselling author.

  Thank you from the bottom of my nerdy little heart.

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  "Kelly's been acting weird lately."

  I glanced up from my breakfast of a ham and cheese croissant from my favorite donut shop and cocked a questioning brow in Mandy's direction. Had those five words come from someone else, I wouldn't have even blinked an eye, but since they were coming from Mandy, who was the epitome of sweet and never had a sour word to say to or about anyone, I was instantly on high alert.

  "Why do you say that?" I asked and took a sip of my coffee.

  "I don't know, Barb." She sighed. "She's just not been herself these last few days." She shrugged and scrunched up her pert little nose.

  "What do you mean?" I asked, suddenly aware of the fact that over the last week while working my latest case, I'd neglected my friends quite a bit. Apparently, while I'd busted a wife who was cheating with the manny (he was a hunky male nanny if I do say so myself), I'd ignored my personal life in the process.

  Note to self: Cut back on the stakeouts. Schedule a girls' night out.

  "Well, for starters," she ran her fingers through her dark wavy hair and blew out a breath as she answered my question, "we had dinner last night after work while you were out with Tyler. She barely said a dozen words the entire time. You know Kelly. She never shuts up."

  That was a colossal understatement, especially when her on-again, off-again main squeeze was in town.

  Kelly was loud, sarcastic, brilliant, and always late. She had a sharp tongue, a quick wit, and a short temper. I'd never actually seen her be quiet. I wasn't even sure she possessed the ability to do so. It was all part of her charm.

  I set my breakfast sandwich down on the wax paper wrapper and leaned back in my cushy desk chair.

  "I'm sure you asked her what was bothering her," I said.

  Mandy nodded. Her hair slid over her bare shoulder. "Of course I did. I tried to get her to tell me whatever it was that was bugging her, but she insisted that nothing was the matter. She put on a fake smile, hurried through dinner, said she was supposed to meet Mark later in the night, and left." She sighed and pushed the remnants of her breakfast burrito away. "I just have this feeling something is really wrong," she said with agitation. "I want to help her through whatever it is she's going through, but she won't tell me what's going on, and it's driving me crazy."

  Being the mother hen that Mandy was, I understood why she was so agitated. She liked to help. That was simply who she was, and if she couldn't help, then she felt like a failure.

  I took in Mandy's troubled expression and felt myself frown. If Mandy felt something was upside-down with Kelly, then I had no doubt that it was, and I needed to get to the bottom of whatever was going on and fast. These ladies weren't just my employees—they were my family.

  Kelly and Mandy had been by my side since the day I'd opened Jackson Investigations three years ago. I'd just been getting over a horrible breakup and was fresh from the required private investigator training. They had been by me through thick and thin. The girls often kept me on track because, quite frankly, as a raving workaholic I could be a total hot mess, and that was on a good day.

  There were still instances when I hadn't combed my hair in three days and was unsure of whose shirt I was wearing after I'd spilled coffee on myself and just grabbed one that someone had left under a seat in the back of the new van we used for stakeouts. The girls were always there to drag me away from my little van/nest, get some real food into me, and remind me that there was more to life than work.

  I still wasn't completely sure that last part was true, but I was starting to come around. Sort of. I glanced up at the clock and frowned. It was ten minutes after nine o'clock, and Kelly still hadn't made an appearance. The office opened at eight on Saturday mornings. Mandy was always about an hour early, and it wasn't odd for Kelly to be ten or twenty minutes late. A small trickle of worry went through me.

  I knew Kelly's boyfriend, Mark, was in town this week, so not hearing from her as much as we normally would while he was out of town hadn't struck me as odd, but now, after Mandy's revelation, an anxious feeling bubbled in my gut that I couldn't shake off. Mandy was right. Something was amiss.

  "And she's never this late." Mandy caught me looking at the clock and spoke my thoughts. "Never without a phone call to explain why she's late so we don't worry."

  "You know how bad she is at making sure her car is in proper order. Maybe she had a flat tire or something. But to be honest, I'm a little worried about her myself now that you mention it." I wiped my mouth on a pink napkin then tossed it in the trash can. "When she comes in, I'll see if I can get to the bottom of what's bothering her. I'm thinking Mark has something to do with whatever has her twisted up. He always does."

  "Tell me about it," Mandy said and shook her head.

  Mark was Kelly's boyfriend who was currently home from a worldwide tour. His rock band, The Rebels, had just signed a huge deal with a major record label. Mark liked to party hard, cheat hard, and lie harder. Now that he was making bank, the lying, cheating, and partying had amped up.

  I would never understand why Kelly put up with all of his nonsense. Especially the cheating. That, for me, was a deal breaker. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

  "Thanks, Barb. You're probably right. I wish she'd just dump his sorry butt already." Mandy wrapped up the remnants of her breakfast, picked up her coffee, and stood. "I left her a couple of voicemails this morning, but she hasn't called back, which again isn't like her," she said as she made her way to my office door, a worried look in her eyes.

  I hated to see my friends upset about anything. If I had the power to make them happy, I'd do whatever it took.

  "If we haven't heard from her in about an hour, I'll make a trip to her apartment."

  Mandy nodded, her expression still troubled, and closed my office door behind her.

  I sat in the silence of my office for a few minutes with only the hum of my computer buzzing softly in my ears. Nothing about this situation was
anything like the Kelly I knew.

  I twisted my Starbucks coffee cup in my hands and looked at the open file on my desk. The warmth against my palms somewhat soothed my fraying nerves, but only a tiny fraction. I gave up reading the file and flipped it shut then shoved it away. In the past, the only time Kelly had seemed off was when Mark had been fooling around with another woman. Which, sad to say, happened more often than not. The more I thought about it, the more I was certain her odd behavior was because of Mark. He'd been putting her through the ringer for as long as I'd known her. He'd lied to her and had been cheating on her long before he and his band had ever even hit the big time. His ego was already huge. The recent boost in fame had probably made it enormous.

  For the life of me, I would never understand what she saw in that loser. I grabbed a piece of watermelon Bubblicious from my top desk drawer, tossed the paper wrapper in the trash, popped the little pink square into my mouth, and slid the drawer closed with a little more force than necessary.

  Mandy's concerns were growing within me, especially since I hadn't heard from Kelly all weekend. I grabbed my phone off the desk, leaned back in my chair, and dialed Kelly's number. The call went straight to voicemail.

  "Kelly, it's Barb. Mandy and I are getting worried about you. Give one of us a call." I hit the end call button, tossed the phone back down on my desk, and then took another look at the clock.

  The longer I sat in my chair, the more my worry grew. If I had learned anything throughout my thirty years of life, it was to trust my gut. Only five minutes had passed since I'd agreed to give Kelly another hour to show up, but a nagging worry had wrapped itself so tightly around me that it was becoming difficult to sit still. I couldn't wait any longer. My friend could be in trouble, and here I was just sitting around.

  I powered off my computer monitor, grabbed my purse, tossed my phone inside, and flipped the strap over my shoulder. I needed to find out where Kelly was and whether or not she was all right so Mandy and I could put our minds at ease. Maybe this was all just a big misunderstanding and we were worried over nothing. Perhaps with Mark being home from his tour, Kelly had simply lost track of time. She hadn't seen much of him lately. That theory was a long shot, and I dismissed the idea as soon as it slid into my mind. Kelly loved her job and was quite responsible. She'd never taken a day off in the three years that she'd worked for me. I couldn't see why she would start now.

  I hurried out my office door and into the tiny waiting room/reception area where Mandy was seated at her desk, juggling the phone in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. She was in her element. Mandy was an expert multitasker, whereas I was lucky if I could keep focused on one thing for more than five minutes on most days.

  "Everything okay, boss?" She glanced up and asked with concern.

  "I tried calling Kelly, but she didn't answer," I began. "You said yourself that she's never this late, so I'm just going to take a quick trip over to her apartment and make sure she's all right," I said as I crossed the room to the main entrance and grasped the doorknob. "I'm sure she's fine, and this all has something to do with that jerk, Mark, being in town for a few days." I tried to reassure her and myself. "But I just want to make sure. Better safe than sorry, right?"

  Mandy nodded. "I completely understand. I'm more than a little worried about her myself. When you find her, you tell her how worried we've been." She tried to look stern.

  I always found it funny when Mandy tried to look stern. Seeing as how she didn't have a stern bone in her body, the expression always came off more like a terrible case of constipation rather than the serious look she was going for.

  "I certainly will," I assured her. "I don't have any appointments this morning unless something has changed in the last twenty minutes, so hold down the fort until I get back."

  "Will do. Go find out what's going on with our girl."

  I nodded once and pushed through the door. Once out on the sidewalk I retrieved my car keys from my purse and hit the unlock button on my key fob as I crossed the street and then slid into the driver seat. Once inside the car, I rolled down my window and adjusted the shoulder of my white T-shirt.

  Spring had finally sprung, and the weather was as close to perfect as it could possibly get. Not too hot. Not too cold. Jackson Investigations was located downtown in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. The weather was either scorching hot, a torrential downpour, or cold enough to freeze a polar bear's patootie off. So, on days like this, I took advantage of the amazing weather while I could. I rolled down the other three windows of my black Cadillac CTS, started the ignition, and pulled onto the street, steering in the direction of Kelly's apartment building.

  Jackson Investigations was located on Victory Avenue. The neighborhood was home to everything from law firms to real estate agencies. I liked to think that my little office fit right in with the eclectic mix of businesses in the area.

  Kelly lived in a condo about ten minutes away from the office, depending on traffic. She'd once said she'd chosen the apartment because of the short commute to work, the quiet neighborhood, and the fact that it had a small balcony to drink wine and people watch from as they strolled the sidewalks in the evenings, making their way to the House of Blues or one of the many other nightlife attractions Dallas had to offer.

  Traffic was light as it generally was in our area, and I'd just turned onto Kelly's street when my phone rang. I reached blindly into my purse, pulled the phone out, and answered the call without looking at the display.

  "Barb Jackson."

  "Barb, where are you?" The deep rumbling voice of my hunky boyfriend, Detective Tyler Black, sounded in my ear, and a shiver raced down my spine. Tyler and I met while I was working my first murder case a little more than three months ago and we'd been going strong ever since.

  "It's good to hear from you too, detective," I quipped. "I'm in the car on my way to Kelly's. She's insanely late this morning, and that just isn't like her, so I'm headed over to her place to make sure everything's okay."

  "Don't. Kelly isn't home," Tyler said.

  The uneasy feeling rolling around inside my gut expanded, and my skin began to tingle.

  "What's happened?"

  Tyler took a deep breath before he finally answered. "I'm at her boyfriend's apartment. There's been an…incident."

  While dating Tyler I'd learned a little bit of cop lingo, and I knew that incident translated into major crap storm.

  "Cut the bull, Tyler. You know I hate when people beat around the bush. Is Kelly okay?"

  "That depends on how you look at it…Mark's dead."

  "I'm on my way."

  I disconnected the call before Tyler could say anything else and whipped a U-turn in the middle of the street. My tires squealed and left black marks on the pavement. I dodged a small truck and was tossed the finger by a few guys in the bike lane as I stepped on the gas pedal and sped in the direction of Mark's condo.

  Mark's place was normally about a fifteen-minute drive from where I'd been when I got the call, but less than ten minutes and some Mario Andretti maneuvering later, I screeched to a stop at the curb outside Mark's apartment building.

  The scene was in the early stages of what I was sure would soon be full-blown chaos.

  I spotted four police cruisers, three television vans unloading at the street corner, and Tyler's black SUV parked against the curb. I put my car into park, jumped out, and headed toward the building's main entrance, not caring that I was parked illegally. My main concern was Kelly.

  I jogged up the sidewalk. Two uniformed officers stepped in front of me and blocked the double glass door entrance.

  "Sorry ma'am, but we can't let you enter." They held out their hands in front of them.

  I opened my mouth to tell them to get the heck out of my way before I kicked them so hard in their naughty bits that they'd talk like Justin Bieber for the next month, but before I could get a word out, Tyler stepped between us and grasped my upper arm.

  "I got it, guys. She's w
ith me."

  The officers nodded once at Tyler and relaxed back at their posts.

  Even though I knew the officers were just doing their jobs, as we walked away I glared at them anyway. Tyler led me by the arm to his SUV parked across the street from my car without saying a word.

  "What's going on? Where's Kelly? What exactly happened to Mark?" I fired off questions as he bustled me into the passenger seat and closed the door without answering. I couldn't read his expression. He had his cop face on, which told me things were bad. Really bad.

  He hurried around the front of the SUV to the driver side and got in, locked the door, and then shifted sideways in his seat to face me.

  "Mark's dead." He cut right to the chase.

  "Yeah, you said that. Where's Kelly? Is she all right?" I asked.

  "Yes and no."

  Yes, and no? What in the heck did that mean?

  I shook my head. "Please explain because I'm about to go crazy here. Where's my friend?"

  Tyler scrubbed his hand over the five o'clock shadow covering his jaw. "One of Mark's neighbors called in a noise complaint to the building manager around three o'clock this morning. Apparently there was loud music coming from Mark's apartment. The manager said he pounded on Mark's door for a while but couldn't get anyone to answer."

  "Mark is, was," I corrected myself, "a musician. Kelly told me before that the manager had to tell Mark to keep it down countless times since he moved in. That isn't anything new."

  "That's what the manager, Mr. Simon, told us," Tyler agreed then continued. "He had a key to the apartment, so when he asked Mark to open the door again, and he didn't answer as he usually does, the manager let himself in. That's when he found the body."

  "What about Kelly?"

  "That's the problem," Tyler said grimly. "She was detained. She's being held on suspicion of murder, but Barb, there's enough evidence that I think she could be charged."

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