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Authors: Diane Bator

Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction

Hardheaded Brunette (10 page)

BOOK: Hardheaded Brunette
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The sight of her belongings strewn around carelessly sent a shudder through her. "I suppose you have to call in forensics to dust for prints. They'll make an even bigger mess."

"It will help us figure out who searched your house." Fabio held her back from entering. "Gut feeling says it's related to Charlie's murder or you finding his body."

"Maybe," Gilda whispered.

"Did you touch anything when you found him?" Fabio asked.

"Eww, no!"

Thayer returned from his search of the house. "I hate to say this, but you might be better off staying with Mick or Marion until we figure out who did this."

Gilda shook her head. "Chances are whoever was here already found what they're looking for and won't be back to bother me anymore."

Thayer met her gaze. "What if they didn't?"

"I'm not going to start thinking that way." She sank onto the porch swing. "What could someone possibly be looking for? Do you think Charlie hid something here before his grandma died? Or even before he died?"

"That's possible." Fabio hesitated. "I'll call in the forensics guys. They can do a sweep."

Gilda shook her head. "No, don't. I'll just clean the mess and see if anything else weird happens. Maybe it was just someone who thought Charlie still lived here and wanted a souvenir."

Thayer scowled. "That doesn't make me feel any better about leaving you here alone. At the very least, let us take a good look around. I have a fingerprint kit. I'll see if I can find anything, then pass it on to forensics. Is that acceptable?"

"I'm a blue belt in karate." She folded her arms. "I'll be fine."

Both men looked skeptical.

"Look for prints and stuff anyway. I'll keep her busy while you look around." Fabio took Gilda outside to the porch swing while Thayer pulled out his phone. "You still have my number, right?"

"Yes." She pulled his name and number up as proof. "You and a dozen MMA fighters and black belts." As if that had ever stopped anyone before.

He sighed. "Good. If anything happens out of the ordinary, and I do mean
anything
, please call me. Day or night. Until we know who and what we're dealing with, I need you to be hyper vigilant."

"I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding and they've figured out there's nothing here." She feigned bravery but was shaking inside.

Fabio's jaw tightened. "And if they haven't?"

Gilda shrugged. "Then I guess they'll come back and I'll make sure to let your forensics guys get fingerprint powder and luminol all over my stuff."

"I should hope not." He rubbed his face as he got to his feet. "They only use luminol to check for blood."

Her stomach sank.

Once they'd gone, Thayer armed with photos and samples for forensics, Gilda went inside. In the commotion, she'd forgotten about giving the necklace to Fabio. She ran to the cupboard to make sure the necklace and the key were in the cutlery drawer where she'd left them. As she took pictures of the mess, she wasn't sure their presence was a good thing.

With her hands shaking, she cleared a spot for her yoga mat. She needed to calm down and relax after the week's events. Then she'd take the necklace to Fabio. While she tried not to be rattled about Charlie's death, and now having her house ransacked, it was as obvious to her as it seemed to be to Fabio and Thayer there was a connection. Rather than have the police rifle through her things, she preferred to search to see if anything was missing.

First, she needed to slow her racing heart and catch her breath.

She changed into a pair of bicycle shorts and a tank top then placed a lavender candle on the coffee table and lit the wick, breathing in the sweet scent before she sat cross-legged on the mat. With her back to the television, facing the couch, she closed her eyes and breathed. In through her nose, out through her mouth until she'd managed to calm her racing heart and relax her shoulders.

"Om." The anxious chant vibrated through her chest and into her belly.

Peace filled her stomach and stress left her shoulders. "Om."

Until someone knocked on her front door.

She ignored the knocking and breathed again. "Om."

More peace. Less stress. More knocking.

"Om." She tried to focus and block out the noise.

"Hey, you in there, love?" Kane called out.

Gilda dropped her head forward and let her shoulders collapse around her chest. When she opened the door, she nearly walked straight into him since he'd leaned his forearm on the doorframe and filled the entrance. At least this time he wore more clothing. Tight blue jeans, a wicker cowboy hat, light brown cowboy boots, and a faded T-shirt that looked a size too small and showed every rippling muscle. The overall effect made her jaw drop and her entire body tingle. So much for catching her breath.

"Are you alone?" he asked.

Her stomach churned. Rather than let him enter her house, she pushed him back onto the front porch and met him outside in full view of passersby. At least he didn't have a sword in his hands this time.

"What do you want?" She flared her nostrils. "How did you find out where I live?"

Kane flashed a pearly white smile that sent a shiver through her. "Everyone in town knows who you are and where you live, love. You're like a local celebrity or something. The guy at Happy Harvey's never stops talking about you."

"That would be Happy." She stifled a laugh. "He's not thrilled I'm dating Mick and was probably trying to set you up with me."

He raised his eyebrows and looked her up and down. "I'd say he was a pretty nice guy then. I could do a lot worse."

Gilda snorted, folding her arms in front of her, with the eerie impression he'd just stripped her in his imagination. "What do you want, Kane?"

"Keys, love." He leaned against one of the white posts that flanked her porch steps. "Mick said you could hook me up with a key for the new building so I can train when I have nothing better to do."

"Like kill people?" she asked.

"Funny." He scowled. "No. Like sit in jail."

Considering Kane loved to practice using swords and other assorted weapons, Gilda guessed Mick was more concerned about keeping him off the beach. Since the police already had their eyes on Kane for Charlie's murder, he didn't need them to add a long list of weapons offenses to his rap sheet.

Kane stuck his hands in the front of pockets of his jeans until only his thumbs stuck out. "You think they're right, don't you?"

"Who?"

"The police."

She shifted her weight, moving away from him. Just out of his reach. "What gives you that idea?"

"Aside from that, you said so. Besides, you look like a scared jackrabbit, love."

Gilda sighed. "I really don't know you well enough to judge you."

"Mick does and he'd like you to give me a key to the school." He paused. "It's not like we're getting engaged or anything. Well, not unless you—"

"No!" Not about to trust Kane, she took her cell phone from her pocket. "Let me double check with Mick to make sure it's okay."

"Bad enough the cops don't trust me, now all my friends are turning against me too. We are friends, aren't we, love?"

After a brief moment of guilt, Gilda called Mick. Only after he'd okayed her giving Kane a key did she spin around and open her front door. "I have a spare key in my purse. You can take that one and I'll get more cut later this week. Wait here."

Gilda went inside and reached for her purse, pulling out her key ring that held two silver keys. One school key belonged to her. She snaked the second key off the ring and turned toward the door.

"Holy shit. Your maid's gone rogue, love." Kane sauntered through her living room, cowboy boots and all. He leaned over the burning candle and took a whiff. "Nice place you've got here, but you really need a new housekeeper. This one's slacking off."

Her cheeks burned as she bit back the urge to tell him her house had been ransacked by an intruder. She shuddered. "I don't recall inviting you inside."

Another wide smile, this one accompanied by a wink. Kane had brilliant turquoise eyes, not green, as she'd first thought, and a grin that made her knees wobble. "It was implied."

Gilda put her hands on her hips. "I told you to wait outside."

"Your mouth did," he said. "But your eyes begged me to follow."

"You're a lunatic." She flared her nostrils. "If you don't get out of here right this second, I'll call Mick, and he'll throw you out."

Kane chuckled. "I'll leave, don't worry. Thanks for the key, love. I'll see you later."

As he strolled out of her house and down the front steps, Gilda had half a mind to slam the front door and turn the lock. Try as she might, however, she couldn't take her eyes off his tight blue jeans until her gate closed behind him. When he turned right toward the Phoenix school and downtown Sandstone Cove, he caught her eye and tipped his hat.

Gilda slammed the door and blew out a breath. The guy hadn't even touched her and yet her entire body vibrated. Forget yoga and meditation, what she needed was either a power walk or a long, cold shower. She blew out the candle and chose the walk. Later, she could take the cold shower and tidy up.

Unfortunately, Kane was right about one thing—everyone in town knew where she lived. Including him and everyone else on her suspect list. Even though Thayer had dusted for fingerprints, she might never know who'd broken into her house.

Not unless they struck again.

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Gilda wandered into the Phoenix school around ten Monday morning and groaned. No one had cleaned, moved out the benches, or even taken down the octagon. Their first class started at noon and a lot of work that should have been taken care of right after the grand opening matches still needed to be done. She had hoped they wouldn't leave the whole mess for her to take care of, but everyone must have still been reeling.

Charlie Hunt's murder had thrown off the school's schedule.

She set her purse and the laptop behind her desk and grabbed a large garbage bag. Empty water bottles lay strewn on the floor next to discarded coffee cups and an assortment of forgotten clothing and gear. She sorted forgotten gear from trash and had filled one entire bag before the front doors burst open.

Henry Lott, their helper at the meet and greet at Razi's house, ran into the school dressed in his white shirt and tie ready for his job at The Cove. His blond, sweat-soaked hair was plastered to his forehead. His breath came in deep, jagged wheezes. "Gilda. Where's Mick?"

"He's not here yet. Are you okay?" When his face paled, Gilda ran to get him a cold water bottle from the staff fridge in back.

"I…saw…" He doubled over, loosened his tie, and took several deep breaths. "Sanchez."

She shrugged. "Probably. Thayer and Fabio told him and Gomes not to leave town just yet. I think he has more questions for them about Kane."

Henry shook his head so violently she was sure he'd snap a muscle in his neck. "Not today. The other night. The MMA guy." He gasped and took a sip of water. "Dead guy. Sanchez is short. He and…" He bent over again and took a couple more deep breaths.

"Catch your breath first." Gilda frowned. "Then you can tell me what's going on."

Henry sat on a bench and dropped his head between his knees. After a couple minutes, he sat up again. "I didn't think it…important, but…" His face grew even paler.

"Are you sure you're okay? I could take you over to see Doc and—"

"No." He held up a hand. "I'm good. One sec. Asthma. Forgot… Inhaler."

She sat next to him. "What about Sanchez?"

Henry drew in a deep breath then blurted, "I saw him and that fighter guy that night."

"You saw Sanchez and Charlie?"

Henry shook his head, his brown eyes wide.
"No. Crazy sword dude."
 

"Kane?"
Gilda forgot about the mess. "You saw Kane and Sanchez together? When?"

"After Razi's party. Out on the beach near the boardwalk," he said. "They were arguing. About money and a bad deal."

She stared. "Sanchez is Gomes' trainer. What sort of deal would he have had with Kane?"

Henry shrugged as his breathing settled into a more relaxed rhythm. "Maybe he paid Kane to take a dive in his fight with Gomes."

"But it was just an exhibition match." Gilda frowned. "Aren't they kind of meaningless in the big picture? The whole event was just to draw people in to Sandstone Cove and see our new school."

"Huh." Henry sat up straighter. "But Charlie died and the fight never happened. Their deal was broken."

Her eyes widened. "But at the time you saw Sanchez and Kane, Charlie wasn't dead yet. According to everyone at the party, he left with Mena right after he argued with Kane and Razi. What time did you see them?"

Henry closed his eyes and screwed up his face. "Dinner rush ended around eleven. I snuck out for a smoke about quarter after. I remember because I checked the clock in the kitchen. It's a few minutes off the time on my watch, and I could only take ten minutes."

"You have asthma and you smoke?" She winced. "Do you think that helps?"

"Yeah, I know that's bad, but it's really hard to quit, you know?"

Gilda didn't know, yet she nodded sympathetically then filled him in on all the disagreements she'd witnessed at Razi's as she tried to recall where she'd been that night at eleven fifteen. She should have stayed to clean up the backyard with Razi then helped Marion home. Instead, Mick had sent her and Marion, who'd snuck a few margaritas, home before things got too rough. If there had been people shouting on the beach that night, she wouldn't have heard them over Marion's ranting about being kicked out.

"You found the body, right? So what were you doing out on Ponderer's Point that night?" he asked.

"I wasn't." She refocused her attention on Henry. "I went out to get some fresh air during the fights. You were here. The place reeked."

"Oh." He wiped a hand across his forehead. "Do you think I should talk to the police or let Kane know what I saw?"

"You mean you didn't tell the police already?" Gilda raised her eyebrows. Kane, the guy with dull swords and sharp wit? For Henry to tell Kane what he'd seen wouldn't make anything better, especially his health. "No, stay away from Kane. Go talk to Fabio."

BOOK: Hardheaded Brunette
7.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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