Read Sky High (A Nicki Valentine Mystery Book 2) Online

Authors: Susan O'Brien

Tags: #women's fiction, #female protagonist, #mystery books, #humorous mysteries, #female sleuths, #detective novels, #murder mystery books, #contemporary women, #women sleuths, #murder mystery series, #traditional mystery, #murder mysteries, #amateur sleuth, #humorous murder mysteries, #british cozy mystery, #private investigator series, #cozy mystery, #english mysteries, #cozy mystery series

Sky High (A Nicki Valentine Mystery Book 2)

BOOK: Sky High (A Nicki Valentine Mystery Book 2)
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Praise for the Nicki Valentine Mystery Series

  

SKY HIGH (#2)

 

“This breezy second outing (after the Agatha Award–nominated
Finding Sky
) features an enchanting amateur sleuth with dear friends and family who have her back at all times. If only she can make this PI business work and keep her relationship with Dean on an even keel, her life will be perfect.”

– Library Journal

 

“O’Brien combines humor, wit, wisdom, and suspense in a captivating story involving a rookie PI struggling to balance the demands of crime solving and single motherhood. No cookie-cutter mystery here.
Sky High
is a captivating tale of murder, abuse, betrayal, and refreshing redemption. Five stars plus!”

– Tracy Weber,

Author of the Award-Winning Downward Dog Mystery Series

 

“I love this series. Even though this is just the second book, I feel like I am hooked for the long haul. It is so well-written and the characters are so much fun that I just can’t get enough.”

– Bookschellves

 

“Breezy and fun with a charming heroine and a dashing hero.”

– Victoria Kemp,

Flower Mound Public Library

  

FINDING SKY (#1)

 

“O’Brien deftly combines motherhood and mayhem in this lively tale of a single mom tracking down a missing teen. Lots of fun!”

– Laura Levine, 

Author of the Jaine Austen Mystery Series

 

“O’Brien has written one of the most warm-hearted yet realistic cozies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.”


Mystery Scene Magazine

 

“The heroine of O’Brien’s engaging cozy debut has her hands full as a widowed mother of two…When her best friend, Kenna, phones to tell her that Beth, the 18-year-old mother-to-be of the baby Kenna plans to adopt, has disappeared, Nicki seizes the chance to put what she’s learned in her PI training course to work…Nicki proves a resourceful sleuth as she gets on the trail of the missing teen. The conclusion will leave readers eager for the next installment.”


Publishers Weekly

 

“Has a heart and soul and the minute I started reading it, I knew it was something special. Nicki Valentine, the sleuth at the center of the mystery of a missing pregnant teen, felt like an old friend to me and the lengths to which she will go to help a friend is just one example of her integrity and loyalty. I can’t wait to read more about Nicki and her journey as a single mom and modern-day Nancy Drew.”

– Maggie Barbieri,

Author of the Murder 101 Mystery Series

 

“This debut mystery offers menace without violence, intrigue, and the realistic depiction of a single mother struggling to find an identity outside of motherhood. The hint of romance and element of humor further ensures that this novel will attract a following of cozy-reading fans for the upcoming sequel,
Sky High
.”


Kings River Life Magazine

Books in the Nicki Valentine Mystery Series

by Susan O’Brien

  

FINDING SKY (#1)

SKY HIGH (#2)

Sign up for Club Hen House | Henery Press updates

and we’ll deliver the latest on new books, sale books, and pre-order books, plus all the #chickenchatter from the Authors of Henery Press.

  

  

CLICK TO SIGN UP

  

(Note: we won’t share your email address and you can unsubscribe any time.)

Copyright

  

SKY HIGH

A Nicki Valentine Mystery

Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection

 

First Edition

Kindle edition | September 2015

 

Henery Press

www.henerypress.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Susan O’Brien

Cover Art by Stephanie Chontos

 

This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), humorous murder mysteries, book club recommendations, private investigator mystery series, amateur sleuth books.

 

ISBN-13: 978-1-941962-99-2

 

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

  

To my mom

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  

Heartfelt thanks to my family and friends (on Earth and in heaven), the Hen House, Malice Domestic, S. Pierre Paret, and the incredible readers and reviewers of
Finding Sky
and
Sky High
. Your support makes all the difference! And special thanks to my daughter, a creative wonder who helps with countless writing (and other) dilemmas, and my son, whose kindness and compassion are continually inspiring. I also offer sincere appreciation and prayers for all who fight and prevent infectious diseases.

One

  

It had been a year since I’d seen my blazing hot PI instructor, Dean, but that didn’t stop us from planning a wedding date. Neither did the fact that I was intimidated by his sun-kissed looks, investigative experience, and relatively commitment-free lifestyle. We’d narrowly avoided mixing business with pleasure (
intense
pleasure, I can only imagine), because he’d moved overseas to consult on a high-risk, high-paying security project.

Dean had helped with my first case, and we’d shared a celebratory kiss when it was solved. But before much could develop, he was lured away, and I was back to being a stressed, widowed mom of two. We kept in touch by flirtatious email, and when I joked about needing a date to a wedding, Dean said he’d be back just in time. I’d almost fainted. Or swooned.

Now we were in a church pew, wondering why the nuptials were running late. The service was packed with whispering guests who glanced back and forth between the empty narthex and the candlelit altar, where The Reverend Liz Minter, my beloved aunt, would soon unite her goddaughter Mia and the groom, Bruce, in holy matrimony.

Anticipation was becoming impatience, and Aunt Liz’s deep breathing and nervous tapping on her prayer book were proof.

That worried me more than anything else. Liz rarely lost her cool.

“I’ll be right back,” I told Dean. “I just need to make sure everything’s okay.”

He flashed pearly whites and wished me luck. Mentally shooing a butterfly swarm in my stomach, I stood and tightened a black wrap around my shoulders and strapless red dress.

I approached the side chapel door, where Liz stood alone. She wore simple white vestments and sensible black flats. Understated and perfect for a sixty-five-year-old Floridian who only needed her silver bob and sparkling green eyes as accessories.

“Where’s Bruce?” I asked quietly.

She shook her head. “That’s what I’d like to know.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “He’s late. The groomsmen, the police, and some relatives are out looking for him. Mia insisted on staying in case he arrives.”

“What?” I mouthed. The wedding was scheduled for six o’clock, and the last time I’d looked at my phone, it was six thirty. A dinner reception was planned at a nearby hotel. “What are you going to do?” I asked.
Serve communion to tide everyone over?

“Believe it or not, I’ve never been in this situation before,” Liz said. She had a collection of strange wedding stories, and tonight threatened to be an unwanted addition. “Can you check on Mia while I address the congregation?”

“Of course,” I said without moving. I hardly knew Mia, since we’d only seen each other a few times over the years. My invitation had been a courtesy because I was so close to Aunt Liz.

“Don’t worry. You’ll do fine,” she said. “She’s downstairs with her bridesmaids. Just go through the narthex and turn right. You’ll see the steps. And remember, it’s Bruce’s mom on the laptop.”

Bruce’s mom was attending by Skype. She was gravely ill and needed some sort of transplant. Bruce hoped to be the donor, and the family was keeping the details private. Surely Liz would know about any medical emergency, so I doubted that explained his disappearance.

I squeezed Liz’s hand and headed back down the aisle, whispering “Be right back” to Dean as I passed.

“I apologize for the delay,” Liz announced behind me. “Mia and Bruce have waited a lifetime for this, so a few more minutes won’t hurt. Let’s join in a hymn while we wait.”

She cued everyone to stand, and the organist launched into a familiar, enthusiastic tune. I felt the hopes of the congregation rise, and I hummed along briefly, wishing I could ignore the sinking feeling in my gut.

  

I hurried down the stairwell, glad I’d worn flats. No matter how my best friend Kenna tried to talk me into heels, I wasn’t budging. I’d never learned to walk in them, and I was certain they’d cause a trip—straight to the ER.
Fine. Save the heels for the bedroom
, Kenna had advised. Right. As if my comforter and body pillow would be impressed.

I wanted to reach Mia as soon as possible in case she heard everyone singing. If she was already bewildered, music wouldn’t help.

The parish steps opened into a wide, empty corridor echoing with high-pitched wails. Hesitantly, I peered into Sunday school classrooms until, through a cracked door, I saw Mia and three pink-adorned bridesmaids surrounding a flower girl.

“I wanna throw flower petals!” the preschooler howled. It was wrong to celebrate a child’s tears, but I was relieved they weren’t Mia’s.

I pushed open the door and smiled at the group.

“Nicki?” Mia said.

I was glad she recognized me. We hadn’t seen each other in years, and I rarely dressed up. I knew her by the blond hair, princess dress, and veil.

“Mia. You look beautiful! I’m so sorry to interrupt, but Liz sent me to check on you.”

She lifted her train and took careful steps toward me.

“Everyone, this is my cousin, Nicki.”

She gestured to the bridesmaids, the flower girl, and an older woman on a cell phone in the corner. That had to be Mia’s mom.

Cousin
was generous. We weren’t related except by our love for Liz. After Kenna, Liz was my closest confidant.

Hellos were murmured, including a wave from Bruce’s mom on a nearby laptop. No one looked happy.

“How are you doing?” I asked, not sure what to say. I glanced at the flower girl, who had upgraded to whimpering. A bridesmaid was patting her back.

“Terrible. I have no idea where Bruce is.” Her hands trembled as she clasped them in front of her lacy bodice.

“I’m so sorry. Could he be stuck in traffic?”

“I don’t know, but his car isn’t at the hotel where we stayed. His friends and family are looking everywhere—the hotel, his condo, my condo. And the police are checking nearby roads and accidents. No one can find him.”

That wasn’t good. Car trouble was better than any alternative I could think of.

“When was the last time anyone talked to him?” I asked.

“Let’s step outside,” she whispered. I got the sense she didn’t want Bruce’s mom to hear our conversation. I also thought she was trying desperately not to cry.

I ushered her ahead of me and made sure her train didn’t catch on anything. As I lifted it, I noticed her white satin slippers. Perfect for dancing—if she ever got to celebrate.

When we were out the door, I closed it softly.

“I don’t know what to do,” Mia said, blue eyes watering. She dabbed them in time to prevent a mascara and eyeliner waterfall. Then she fanned her face. “I’m terrified something awful happened to Bruce, but I don’t want to freak out his mom. He would never leave us like this. You know she’s really sick, right?”

“Yes, but I don’t know the details.”

“It’s too complicated to explain. But the last time anyone talked to Bruce was at his bachelor party last night. He and I thought it was bad luck to talk before the ceremony, and he was supposed to meet his friends here at four thirty. They didn’t want me to worry, so no one told me he was late until I finished taking photos with my bridesmaids and it was the guys’ turn.”

I wanted to ask a million more questions, but Liz was waiting for an update.

“I hate to ask this, but what do you think Liz should tell the congregation?”

Mia pressed fingertips to her temple and blew out a long breath. “I don’t know.”

I pictured the tense sing-a-long occurring upstairs.

“How about sending everyone to the reception and meeting them after we find Bruce?” I said with false optimism. “Liz can marry you there, so it’s really just a change in venue.”

She gazed down the hall, perhaps imagining Bruce rushing in at the last minute. I got my hopes up and looked too. No Bruce.

“I don’t think I have another choice,” she said with a sniffle. “The church is only reserved until seven, and I don’t want to send everyone home. A lot of guests are staying at the hotel anyway.” She patted her eyes again.

“If anyone can make this work, it’s Liz,” I encouraged.

We smiled at each other. Although we were virtual strangers, Liz was a powerful bond.

“We’ll come and get you after everyone leaves,” I said, realizing “we” included Dean. Our date was about to become more awkward than I’d ever feared. Or maybe not. So far, working together was what we did best.

  

I returned upstairs but stopped myself short of walking down the aisle. It wasn’t my place, at least not today.

Instead, I went through a side entrance and padded past pews, smiling at anyone who looked my way. I admired the friendly expressions most mustered while singing their umpteenth hymn. Dean, I noticed, was a trouper, joining right in—or at least mouthing the words.

When I got to the front row, I locked eyes with Liz, scrunched my nose, and shook my head.
No Bruce yet.
I hoped she understood.

She nodded to the song’s rhythm and smiled as it ended.

“Please be seated,” she told everyone. “While I check on things, please take a moment to pray for Mia and Bruce’s happy future.”

The organist played background music while Liz took my hand and led me into the sacristy. The only other time I’d been “backstage” was at her church in Siesta Key, Florida. The areas were similar—each stocked with every imaginable supply: goblets, pitchers, linens, flower arrangements, and more. Countless drawers and cabinets, some of them locked, held unknown necessities. There was a sink and drying rack for washing communion supplies.

“What’s happening?” Liz whispered, resting one arm on a counter.

“Is your mic off?”

She fiddled with a switch on her lapel and confirmed it was.

I filled her in and watched her reaction carefully: wrinkled forehead, raised eyebrow, thoughtful frown. The “head to the reception and hope for the best” plan was growing on her.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“It’s our only option.”

“That’s what Mia said, too.”

“This is unbelievable,” Liz muttered before closing her eyes. Out of respect, I closed mine too. “Please, God,” she pleaded. “Let Bruce be okay.”

She reached out and squeezed my hands.

“Let’s do this,” she urged, as if we were headed into a championship game. I wasn’t sure about my role, but if she was coaching, I was playing.

I followed her out, and we parted after reverencing the altar. As she began announcing the plan, I scooted in next to Dean, who gave me a questioning look. I read it as,
WTF?
But knowing him, it probably meant,
What’s wrong, and how can I help?
He had a history of going above and beyond.

The woman next to me tapped my shoulder.

“Is everything okay?” she asked quietly.

“I hope so. I’m the priest’s niece.” I pointed at Liz, who was giving directions to the hotel.

“I’m Raina, Mia’s college roommate from Maryland State. This is my husband Evan. Do you know what’s going on?”

“No,” I answered honestly.

“I know Bruce’s mom is sick. Is she okay?”

“I think so,” I said.

By now, Liz was done, and I was disappointed I’d missed what she said. Whatever it was hadn’t panicked the crowd.

“I’m Nicki, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you.” Raina stood and smoothed her dress. “I guess we’ll see you at the reception.”

Dean and I stood too.

“This is my friend, Dean.”

“I’m Raina,” she said demurely as she stuck out her hand, which she hadn’t for me. Her husband smirked and introduced himself to both of us. Dean’s heat wasn’t lost on anyone. Even Liz was a little bug-eyed when they met.

Dean said a friendly hello and rested a hand on my back, radiating tingles that rose like champagne bubbles to my head.

“See you at the reception,” I said, turning toward the aisle with Dean. We needed to talk privately. Would he go ahead of me to the hotel? Or wait while I helped Mia and Liz? Or just go home? “I’ll explain everything downstairs,” I told him.

He kept his hand in place as we inched toward the narthex with the crowd. We were both quiet, and I assumed we were doing the same thing: listening to hushed comments float through the air. Everyone was stunned by the turn of events. I heard, “Poor Mia,” “I hope he’s okay,” “Do you think he got cold feet?” and a blunt, “What an ass.”

It was like an accident scene, complete with worry, questions, anger, and heightened energy. Thankfully, there was no visible wreckage.

The crowd moved through the church’s massive oak archways and doors, but I turned down the interior steps, hoping only Dean would follow. A stooped, elderly gentleman fell in behind us, but I redirected him. I felt like putting up crime scene tape.

Before venturing back to Mia, I stopped at the stairwell’s base and smiled at Dean.

“I’m really sorry about this,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry. Tell me what you know.”

“Basically, the groom didn’t show up, and no one knows where he is, including the police. His bachelor party was last night, and apparently that’s the last time anyone saw him. His car is missing, too, and a search party is looking for him.” I told him about Bruce’s mom and Mia’s concern for her.

“What a nightmare.”

“Ever had a case like this?” I asked, only half-joking. Dean was a PI, but his specialty was technical surveillance countermeasures—also known as debugging.

“No. I’ve heard of runaway brides, but this is a new one for me.”

“You don’t have to stay,” I assured him. “This night could be a disaster.”

Or a miracle
, I thought
.
I imagined Bruce showing up sweaty and disheveled, saying his car had broken down and his cell phone was dead, so he’d jogged to his bride. Cheers would rise from the crowd, and the couple’s vows would burst with romance and meaning.

“I can leave and pick you up later to give your family some privacy. But I don’t mind staying and helping out.”

That sounded good to me. It also sounded like he wanted to be there, and that meant a lot.

“Thanks. I’d love that.” I took a deep breath and reached for his hand. “So, ready to see Mia?”

“Whenever you are,” he said.

I pretended I was and led the way.

  

In the short time since I’d seen her, Mia had changed—meaning she’d put on jeans and a fitted, pink T-shirt, while her wedding gown hung forlorn on the door, its train buttressed up the back. Her makeup was jarring without the dress, and her updo was half down. She looked like a distraught actress who’d just come offstage. One who wanted to go home—not to an after-party. Everyone else was still in costume, silent.

“You guys go to the reception,” she mumbled to no one in particular. “I can’t do it.” Tears streaked her cheeks with dark makeup, which she wiped carelessly while stuffing her bouquet into a white trash bag, hopefully to preserve it, but maybe not. I cringed. Maybe Dean’s “uncomfortable” was already here.

“Where will you go?” a bridesmaid asked quietly.

“To Bruce’s mom’s. The police will meet us there. I’ll text you if I need anything.”

Bruce’s mom nodded on the laptop and wiped her eyes with a tissue. “Yes, sweetheart, come here. Bring anyone you’d like.”

Light, quick footsteps in the hall were followed by Liz rushing in to give Mia a long, tight hug. “Honey, I’m so sorry.”

If Mia was anything like me, I knew what was next: a downpour. Liz’s caring nature—plus her commitment to confidentiality—helped people let go.
Really
let go.

I turned to sneak out, but Mia caught my eye.

“Stay,” she insisted. I paused mid-step. “I need to talk to you.”

I wished it was about something simple, like transporting her flower arrangements to the reception in my minivan. But I knew it wasn’t. She didn’t even know I had a minivan. She also didn’t know that the last time I’d found a missing person, I’d had beginner’s luck—plus help from a retired FBI agent with a soft spot for endangered kids. Since then, I’d focused on simple, safe pre-employment screenings from the comfort of my home. My new PI firm, Sky Investigations, had barely gotten off the ground.

“Please help me find Bruce,” Mia said. “I can’t live without him.” My heart went out to her, but I believed the police were her best resource. Then she added, “And neither can his mom.”

Aunt Liz gave me a pleading look.

Oh, dear. I wasn’t confident about giving Mia much more than the laundry sorter I’d picked from her wedding registry, but I’d do what I could. I just hoped no one would regret it.

BOOK: Sky High (A Nicki Valentine Mystery Book 2)
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Broken Horse by Bonnie Bryant
Dreaming for Freud by Sheila Kohler
Spartacus by Howard Fast
Octagon Magic by Andre Norton
Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer
High Stakes by Waltz, Vanessa
El símbolo perdido by Dan Brown
Fail Up by Tavis Smiley