Person of Interest (A Celeste Eagan Mystery)

BOOK: Person of Interest (A Celeste Eagan Mystery)
5.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Person of Interest
By Emery Harper

Just last week, I was a regular single mom and drama teacher at Peytonville Prep with a semi-normal life. The only
drama I had to deal with involved my football-coach ex and his hussy girlfriend. And maybe deciding if I should take that full-time principal/actress job at the local playhouse.

Everything changed when I discovered my boss hanging in his office. The suicide turned out to be a murder and my ex went suspiciously MIA. I tried to find some answers, but all that got me was labeled a person of interest by the attractively uptight Detective Shaw Muldoon. Not exactly the way I was hoping to interest him, if you know what I mean.

Now my life is plenty exciting, if you count a stint in jail, several attempted break-ins, more dead bodies and the odd exploding car. Did I mention I also have my own personal stalker? It’s becoming pretty clear that if I don’t unmask the killer soon, my life won’t ever be boring again…it will be

This book is approximately 84,000 words

Dear Reader,

I like August because it’s my birthday month. And I’m a firm believer in celebrating more than once. Since my birthday falls at the end of the month, I start early with lunches with friends, happy hour with my husband, and by gifting myself a few things I love but know that no one will gift me. Books definitely fall into that category of things I gift myself. But the truth is, I give myself books year round and I’m betting a lot of you are my reading soul mates. Books should be the one thing we never deny ourselves. So in honor of my birthday—or just because you love a good book, go ahead and gift yourself one of these new releases. And then maybe gift one to someone in your life!

Bestselling indie author Scott Hildreth joins Carina Press with his sexy, sexy Mafia Made trilogy featuring the dangerous and mysterious Michael Tripp. In book one,
The Gun Runner
, she’s a mafia princess concealing her true identity while trying to win his love. He’s a former US Marine turned gunrunner at war with her father. When the truth is revealed, they’ll both have the fight of their lives on their hands.

Fan favorite author K.A. Mitchell is back with the second part of Ethan and Wyatt’s story. They’ve accepted their love for each other but now comes the hard part—the rest of their lives. Don’t miss
Boyfriend Material
and be sure to pick up book one,
Getting Him Back

Also joining us this month is another author coming to us from the world of indie publishing. Kerry Adrienne brought us this previously self-published book, and we said, “Let’s expand the heck out of this, re-edit it and turn it into an awesome series full of shifters, clan politics and sexy times.” We’re happy to say Kerry was definitely on board and the Shifter Wars series was born. In book one,
Waking the Bear
, sexy bear shifter Griff Martin is protector of his clan’s territory—but now a crazy lion is on the prowl and his stubborn Goldilocks, Amy Francis, shows up and won’t listen to his warnings to stay out of the forest and he can’t decide whether to bed her or send her packing. (Of course, we all know what he chooses, don’t we?)

Ex-military pilot Seth Erickson is fighting his own demons, but when he finds Summer Silva, a beautiful, warmth-loving Miami woman stranded in the frozen wilderness, he’ll do everything in his power to keep Summer safe from murder, treason and the ruthless Alaskan winter in Anna del Mar’s newest sexy romantic suspense,
The Stranger

Do you love the contemporary romance of Jill Shalvis and Shannon Stacey? Make sure you check out the debut romance from Jen Doyle,
Calling It
, as well as her newest contemporary romance,
Called Up
. There’s one thing Max “Deke” Deacon can always count on besides his old high school teammates: Angelica “Fitz” Hawkins. But no matter how much Deke might secretly fantasize otherwise, a relationship with his best friend’s sister is off-limits. Until one unexpectedly smoldering encounter has Deke and Fitz giving in to the feelings they’ve both been fighting for far too long.

And last, this month in mystery we welcome Emery Harper to Carina Press! In
Person of Interest
, Celeste Eagan, a prep school theater teacher, gets caught up in mystery and mayhem while trying to clear first her ex’s name then her own in not one but two murders.

For those on my side of the globe, if you’re looking for something to read next to the pool or on the beach in this last month of summer, make sure to check out
Didn’t I Warn You
Didn’t You Promise
by Amber Bardan. Dark, smoldering, mysterious and totally in love with his woman, Haithem will rock your world!

For those on the other side of the globe, if you’re looking for a book to heat up your cold, drizzly days, make sure to pick up the
Vengeful Love
trilogy by Laura Carter. From the very first page to the heart-stopping conclusion, from London to Rome to Dubai, these sinfully addictive novels will have you ignoring your dishes and calling in sick to life in order to read just one…more…page.

Coming next month: We’re doing it up different. One author, one story, two books, in back-to-back weeks. No excruciating wait to find out what happens next. And like any good trainwreck, you won’t be able to look away from this
Hollywood Hot Mess

As always, until next month, my fellow book lovers, here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press


To my men: Alan, Collin, Aaron, Reed and Zac. Love y’all.

Chapter One

Go ahead and start the paperwork for my sainthood now. My ex-husband was still breathing while sitting in front of me and asking whether I would help his girlfriend. Out of a bind she got herself into. The restraint alone for not throttling him should qualify as one of the two miracles on the road to canonization. Help her? As if.

Colin Eagan was a lot of things—blond Adonis, football coach and father of our daughter, yes—but dude with a clue...nope. “C’mon, Celeste. All you have to do is sweet-talk Chad into backing off. He likes you and would do anything if you just asked him.”

I gripped the back of the sofa, mostly to keep from smacking him upside the head. “Nope, sorry. Not gonna do it.” I frowned at the man I’d spent ten years married to—eight years too many. Colin, his girlfriend Naomi Michaels, and I all worked at Peytonville Preparatory Academy, a private school in Peytonville, a suburb of Fort Worth. Chad Jones was the principal, and our boss.

Peytonville Prep was Colin’s alma mater; he was working there when we met. Just after we started dating he’d gotten me an interview for a job as the theater teacher. That was fourteen years ago. All in all it was a good job and the perks—summers off and getting to be close to our daughter all day—were great. But it meant no wall of separation from my ex.

After we divorced, I thought nothing of it when Colin and Naomi started making goo-goo eyes at each other. When he got her a job at our school, I knew I should have moved back to Topeka. It would have been so easy to go home.

Been there, done that. Left my blue-checked dress in the closet and never looked back. But oh how tempting it suddenly was.

“All I’m asking for is a little help here. Chad won’t listen me. We had an argument this morning about it.” He stood and paced between me and the front door. “Do it as a favor. For me.”

Naomi and Chad had been at odds over her class curriculum. One of the parents didn’t like the assigned book
Animal Farm
, said it was political propaganda. The woman had also objected when the cafeteria started serving pizza for lunch as her overweight child had no self-control and we were to blame for his extra ten pounds—plain and simple, she liked to blame and complain.

Still...not my battle. I had no reason to take this matter on. Why couldn’t Colin understand?

I watched him as he paced, and paced. As the JV football coach, the man was in as much shape at thirty-eight as he’d been the day we met. Colin had been jogging and I’d run him over with my car—by accident, of course. Fog and too many tears after being dumped led to bad depth perception, his bruised hip and years of Colin Eagan talking me into things I didn’t want to do.

To be fair, our daughter was the best decision we’d made together. About the only one.

But no matter how hot he made a pair of double-knit football shorts look—spring, summer or two weeks before Thanksgiving, he wore those darn shorts—it wasn’t near enough to jump back into the world of
“C’mon, Celeste...”

“You’re being petty.”

Petty? Was he kidding? “No. I appreciate Naomi’s stand on the issue, but why do I need to be the one to point it out to Chad?”

“He likes you.”

“A little too much.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Do you know how long it took me to get Chad to see I wasn’t interested in him?”

Colin’s shoulders stiffened. “I knew you’d turn this around to you.”

My eyes all but bugged out of my head and my mouth fell open, but only for a moment. “Paige!” I waited a heartbeat and hollered for our daughter again.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Sweet pea, tell your father bye. He has to go.”

My sweet, precocious child righted her glasses on her nose. “Bye, Colin. See you at school tomorrow.”

When she’d gone to calling us Celeste and Colin rather than Mom and Dad, I couldn’t remember.

“Bye, pumpkin.” Colin glared at me and stomped out the front door.

“He’s never going to get anywhere if he lets these women lead him around by his—”

“Paige,” I warned.

She blinked rapid-fire at me. “I was going to say

“Sure you were.” I ruffled her bangs.

“When’s Uncle Levi coming over?” Levi Weiss, my very best friend, became Paige’s honorary uncle the moment she was born. The two were almost as inseparable as we were.

“Any minute now. You need to go get changed into your uniform.” Levi had taken it upon himself to give Paige private karate lessons in my living room.

“It’s called a gi.”

I laughed. “Fine. Go put on your gi.”

Her little auburn head bobbed in a nod. “Will do.”

I stared after my daughter. Sometimes it was like talking to my mother—always being corrected. I shuddered and hurried to tidy up the living room. Levi has known me too long. He’d keel over dead away if my house was anything less than an F1 tornado aftermath. But at least I tried. Sort of.

I’d just sat down on the sofa when the front door whisked open.

“I have arrived.” Levi sashayed into the living room. Only a few inches taller than my five foot four, he seemed larger than life. He was bold where I was reserved and flashy where I was basic. We complemented each other perfectly.

Him and Colin, not so much. They shared a mutual tolerance. Were it not for me, the two men would never run in the same circles much less breathing space. Although he and Colin could be mistaken for brothers with their blond good looks, Levi swayed a little more to the diva side of the road with his meticulously kempt self. And liked to flaunt it in front of Colin.

I smiled at Levi. “He already left.”

“Oh.” His shoulders slumped and he left off with the sashaying. “Hello, sweets.” He leaned down and kissed my forehead. “You ran him off in record time.”

“Gee, thanks. Good to see you too, dearest.”

Levi smiled as Paige came bouncing back into the living room.

“Hi, Uncle Levi.” She straightened her gi. “I’m all warmed up.”

Levi unwrapped his leather trench coat and revealed a matching gi. He glanced over at me. “How ’bout you join us?” He winked at me.

I slapped my curvy size-twelve hips. “And lose all this? I’ll pass.”

I’d like to claim it was leftover baby weight, but seeing how Paige passed the double digits almost a year ago, Ben and Jerry were the only culprits I could point my empty spoon at. That and an extra-large all-fat, no soy, mocha, choca heavenly delight—or three—every morning.

“Try to refrain from breaking any lamps tonight, please. They’re starting to look at me funny at Pier 1 when I buy replacements.”

The two gave me a quick wave before they bowed to one another and went through their workout routine.

While Levi kept Paige occupied, I hurried to the computer in my office. Colin wanted me to appeal to Chad’s sense of fair play and for kids to read what they were assigned. I shouldn’t. Under most circumstances I wouldn’t, but Colin knew just how to worm his way into
sense of fair play—good, bad or somewhat amicable divorce.

I logged into my school account and popped into the email system. I could easily write up a quick note. But I’d managed to stay off of Chad’s radar for the better part of a year now and I was hesitant to give that up even for Naomi’s right to actually teach her students.

I leaned back in my chair and stared up at the ceiling as I tapped my pen against my lower lip.

Had Chad been dating? If he had, then my email wouldn’t be more than a small blip. I should have paid better attention.

I sighed and dropped my pen. “A quick note couldn’t hurt.”

* * *

We arrived at school a little early the next morning so I could see Colin before class. I wanted to let him know that I’d emailed Chad and asked him to back off Naomi’s curriculum. See, I could play nice despite what Colin thought.

I glanced to see if Colin’s truck was in his allotted spot. It wasn’t, although he usually beat everyone to work in the morning. He liked to get in an early workout; he called it his “me” time.

I hated delaying talking to him, mostly because I would forget and then it would become a thing... Since Colin wasn’t in yet, I decided to check in with Chad to make sure he got the email.

“Sweet pea, I need to stop by the principal’s office. You go on in.” I headed toward the admin part of the building instead of the other end where my office was.

Paige hurried along after me. “You still didn’t sign my permission slip.” She waggled her messenger bag in the air. “It’s due today.”

I groaned. I guess the whole beatification would have to wait after all. “Okay, give me a sec.” I opened the door to the front office. The administrative assistant’s desk was empty. Surprise, surprise, Kelsey Pierce wasn’t at her post. I skirted her desk to Chad’s door and knocked once before I let myself in. I stopped so quickly Paige rammed right into the back of me.

“Um, sweet pea, go stand by the front door.” My voice shook. When she started to protest, I barked out a quick, “Now!”

I waited until she got back across the room, then I took a tentative step into the office. Nausea rolled through my gut and it was all I could do to stay upright as I gripped the doorframe. Up above Chad Jones’s desk was none other than Chad Jones. Hanging.

“Paige, I need you to run down to my office. Try calling your dad and then just wait for me. Stay there. Do you understand me?”

I glanced back over my shoulder. Paige’s little khaki eyes were wide, but she nodded and ran off in the direction of my office.

I grabbed the phone on Kelsey’s desk and dialed 911. When the line picked up, I said, “We need an ambulance or the police at the Peytonville Preparatory Academy on Frankford Boulevard. There’s a man, he’s, uh, hanging.”

I think the operator asked me a question, but to be honest, I had no idea. I was inching closer and closer to Chad. “I think he’s dead. He’s a weird shade, almost blue. You can’t hang and still be alive, right? Should I check for a pulse, though? To make sure?”

“Ma’am, who is this?”

“Celeste Eagan. I’m the theater teacher. Are you sending someone?” I got to the end of the phone cord tether. I stretched out to reach Chad. His wrist was inches from my fingertips. “I should just check for a pulse, right?”

I shivered. I so didn’t want to touch a dead body. But if he wasn’t dead, they needed to know. My fingers were just right there and...

“Celeste? What the hell are you...?”

Kelsey Pierce screamed. And screamed.

I jumped and dropped the phone.

* * *

“Which office, ma’am?”

I pointed to the door on the right that housed the fine arts department. “That one.”

“Okay, wait in there until the detective gets here, please.” The young officer held the door open for me. The police had arrived only moments after the ambulance and put the entire school on lockdown. They hustled me into a corner of the room and attended to Chad. And Kelsey, who’d passed out at my feet when she’d seen our boss. I had a bruise on the top of my foot where her head landed.

The first officers on the scene asked me several pointed questions—like did I touch anything in the room or see him before in the situation he was in. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to answer their questions, but apparently I gave them the info they needed as they finally let me go back to the office. With an escort. After I explained that I needed to get to my daughter. Very few students were at school this early, and the ones in the building were tucked away in the cafeteria where they usually waited before the first bell clanged to start the day.

“When can I—”

“The detective will be here shortly.”

I nodded and shut the door behind me. The small office that I shared with two other teachers was a godsend after the commotion in the administrative offices.

“Celeste, thank goodness you’re here.” Rachel, the speech teacher, pushed her hands through her curly brunette hair. “What happened? Paige came in here all freaked out. I couldn’t understand what she was saying.”

Rachel and the debate teacher, Holly, closed in on me as Paige ran across the room and hugged tight to my waist. I wrapped my arm around my daughter’s shoulders and squeezed her to me. “In a sec.” I held my hand up to stop questions. “You okay, sweet pea?”

Paige frowned up at me and nodded. “You scared me. What happened?”

“There was an accident.” An on-purpose accident, I added mentally. I couldn’t shake the image of my boss hanging above his desk. “Did you get a hold of your dad?” When she shook her head, I said, “Go call him again, okay?”

My daughter gave me one more quick squeeze and sat at my desk. When I was sure she was out of earshot I leaned closer to Rachel and Holly. “Chad is dead, I think.”

“Wha... How... You
?” Rachel stood straight and motionless. Holly paled but didn’t say anything.

“He was hanging.” I gulped. “Above his desk.”

Holly sat heavily back into her chair. Rachel’s chin dropped to her chest. It took a moment before she found her voice again. “Seriously?” She shook her head. “You’re joking right?”

“I wish I was.” I popped open my bag and grabbed out my sweater and shrugged it on, suddenly chilled. “The police are here. They’ll be questioning the staff soon, I think.” I glanced over at my daughter and hugged my arms across my chest.

“What are they going to do about classes?” Holly finally spoke.

I lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Canceled, I guess.” I leaned against the edge of her desk. Chad had killed himself—I was pretty sure that shade of blue didn’t denote health.

It just didn’t make any sense. The man oozed self-absorption. I could see him staring at himself in the mirror so long he starved to death, but hanging... I just didn’t get it.

“I can’t get Dad on the phone.”

. She didn’t know exactly what was going on, but it scared her enough to knock the kid back into her and call Colin “Dad.”

“Then can you try Uncle Levi? Ask him to come pick you up?”

“What about school?”

“Just call Uncle Levi. Please,” I added when her lip quivered ever so slightly. I hurried over and gave her a quick hug before she dialed again. “Everything will be fine, sweet pea.”

BOOK: Person of Interest (A Celeste Eagan Mystery)
5.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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