Authors: Liliana Hart
Tags: #Private Investigators, #Mystery, #Literature & Fiction, #Murder, #Humor, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Crime Fiction
Other works by Liliana Hart
A MacKenzie Christmas
The Madam Duchess
Goldilocks and the Three Behrs
Who’s Riding Red?
Shadows and Silk
Secrets and Satin
Sins and Scarlet Lace
Breath of Fire
Catch Me If You Can
Dirty Little Secrets
A Dirty Shame
Whiskey For Breakfast
All About Eve
Copyright 2012 Liliana Hart
att Savage was two hundred pounds of solid muscle. I knew because he had me pressed against the wall of a teeny tiny closet in a suite at the Marriott. His muscles had muscles, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t his gun pressing into my belly.
Soft light seeped around the edges of the closet door, and his eyes gleamed like black fire against the darkness of his skin. He was fifty percent Native American and a hundred percent raw sex. His face had been chiseled by Michelangelo—prominent cheekbones and a sharp blade of a nose—his lips were full, and the white scar at his chin kept him from being too perfect.
Did I mention I was only wearing two small scraps of lace to cover my lady bits?
If there hadn’t been a dead body less than ten feet away with
more holes in it than Swiss cheese, then I’d be in a hell of a moral predicament.
My name is Addison Holmes, and I was no stranger to moral predicaments. I was also no stranger to dead bodies, which was why I was gasping for oxygen instead of gasping in pleasure. If it weren’t for the fact that I had one too many men in my life at the moment, I’m almost positive my morals would have known what the hell to do in this situation.
I was in danger of hyperventilating, and I couldn’t quite decide if I wanted Savage to kiss me so I could forget that I’d just witnessed a man being blown to smithereens, or let him give me CPR.
“Relax,” he whispered against my ear. “And be ready to move on my say so. Someone else is in the room.”
He pushed me harder into the wall, his body shielding mine, as he brought the gun in his hand up and pointed it at the closet door. I bit my lip hard enough to taste blood, and I took comfort in the way he put his free arm around me. I fit against him easily—too easily—and it was something I’d have to consider later. Preferably when I had clothes on.
I heard the crunch of glass as someone
made their way across the room. Then there was nothing but silence, and I knew whoever was out there stood just on the other side of the closet door. Savage and I both held our breaths as the knob jiggled once before it turned.
Light flooded the closet and I squenched my eyes closed against the glare, not having any desire to actually see my death up close and personal. I waited for the sound of gunfire and for hot metal to rip through my skin, but there was nothing but tense silence.
I cracked my eyes open one at a time and immediately wished I’d left them closed. Nick Dempsey stood in the doorway, his weapon pointed steadily at Savage as his glacier blue eyes met mine. I should have ignored the slow flush of guilt that worked its way up my body. But considering I was all but naked in a closet with a man Nick had once threatened to cut the balls off of, and my leg was somehow wrapped around that same man’s waist, I could see how Nick might get the wrong impression.
“It’s not what it looks like,” I croaked out. “I swear.”
“Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar.” His voice was harsh, and the lines of his mouth were pinched—a mouth that had the ability to turn me into a puddle of jelly when it touched my skin. “Just remember that payback’s a bitch, sweetheart.”
If looks could have killed, I’d already be six feet under. Nick and I had a tumultuous past, and from the looks of it, we were going to have a few road bumps in our future.
Nick sure as hell knew how to hold a grudge. It’s not like I meant to shoot him. My finger just slipped on the trigger. I swear.
One Week Ago
riminals are mostly dumb. At least in my experience. And Walter Winthrop III, Noogey to his friends, was no exception to the rule.
I squatted behind a group
of dumpsters at the Lone Ranger Trailer Park, ignoring the flies that swarmed around day old Hamburger Helper and dirty diapers. I was hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two and reminded myself to get my birth control prescription filled as soon as possible. Not that I was having a lot of sex or anything lately, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I wasn’t ready to be responsible for a child. I was barely responsible for myself.
Summer in Savannah wasn’t forgiving, and it sure as hell wasn’t for the faint of heart.
It was barely eight o’clock in the morning and heat roiled in invisible waves off the pavement beneath me, baking the soles of my flip-flops and frizzing my hair, as the temperature pushed triple digits.
he air was thick with syrupy humidity. The breeze non-existent, the moss covered trees completely still. I hadn’t heard a bird chirp in more than twenty minutes. I was pretty sure they were all dead—either from the heat or the stench—I couldn’t be sure.
The Lone Ranger Trailer Park was located on the northwest side of Savannah, away from any tourists who might accidentally discover that not every part of
the historic city was picturesque. The trailers were parked on a cleared off gravel lot, and if there was grass anywhere I’d yet to see it. Just miles of dirt and cement. The trailers sat haphazardly, a patchwork quilt of tin and rust, and bags of trash and old car parts littered the area.
I’d had no choice but to hide behind the dumpsters. The
park was almost completely open unless I wanted to venture into the trees and marshland and set up camp—which I didn’t, because twelve year old me knew from experience it wasn’t fun to have a snake slither down your blouse.
Sweat gathered in places best left unmentioned, and I’d reached the point that the smell of my body no longer made my eyes water. Even raising the Long Range Nikon in my hands exerted more energy than I had
left to give. Noogey Winthrop was going to have a lot to answer for if I ever got hold of him.
Six months ago, Noogey had been living the high life. He’d owned a mansion in Miami,
a two hundred year old plantation house in Savannah, and three other homes across the world. He’d driven expensive cars and bought outrageous jewelry for his mistress. He had stocks and bonds and a thriving company, and he’d just gotten permission from NASA to have his ashes shot into space. But somewhere along the way, Noogey’s luck changed.
When Noogey’s wife caught wind of the mistress, she filed for divorce and decided to take half of everything
he owned and then some, since there had been no prenuptial agreement. They had three kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen, and Mrs. Winthrop was going to make Noogey pay. More power to her. In my opinion, Noogey was lucky she hadn’t run him down with a car or gone Lorena Bobbitt on his ass.
Unfortunately, getting taken to the cleaners wasn’t sitting too
well with Noogey. All of a sudden, his company wasn’t turning a profit, his cars were being repossessed, and his debt almost doubled his net worth.
The theory going around was that all
Noogey’s money was really being siphoned into offshore accounts, and his wife had hired us to prove his guilt. My job should have been simple: Find evidence that Walter Noogey Winthrop was spending above his means. But I’d learned over the past months that hardly anything about my job was ever simple. At least when I did it.
Noogey was a
tough nut to crack, and he and his mistress had moved into the Lone Ranger Trailer Park so their story would be more convincing. I had to admit I was pretty convinced. The smell alone would have made me confess to any crime after ten minutes.
I had a perfect view of Noogey’s trailer from my crouched spot, and I’d gotten a couple of good shots of the
primer gray rectangle. The knob on the front door hung precariously and a hole had been kicked in the bottom of the door. Their patch of concrete was empty except for a late model hatchback with a missing bumper and an oversized weathervane that looked as if it had fallen off the roof at some point.
I knew Noogey wasn’t home. Kate McClean, my boss at the McClean Detective Agency and my bes
t friend, had told me Noogey had left on an early flight to the Caymans on business. And he hadn’t taken along Marika Dubois, his current ladylove.
I pulled out my phone and dialed Kate, hoping above all else that she
needed me to come into the office and start work on another job besides this one. One that was more sanitary. And maybe one with sexy naked men.
“This job sucks, Kate,” I
said by way of greeting. “I’m going to have to bathe in bleach to get the smell off.”
“I hear it’s good for the skin. Kind of like arsenic.
What’s happening with Noogey?”
If I’d wanted a sympathetic ear, Kate was the last person I should’ve called. We balanced each other pretty well
for the most part. I was prone to high drama and she kept me grounded (mostly). Sometimes keeping me grounded was like pissing in the wind, or so my mother liked to say. I liked to think I brought a little adventure to Kate’s life. And I kept her in homemade baked goods when I felt like the scales were becoming unbalanced.
“Noogey’s gone and there’s been no sign of the girlfriend.”
“She’s still in there,” Kate said. “Though rumor has it she’s making Noogey pay for the inconvenience. I need you to get close to the trailer. See if you can get some shots of the inside through the windows. I bet the inside of that trailer looks like a palace.”
“Sure thing, boss,” I said
, rolling my eyes. “I’ll just mosey on up and see if my x-ray camera lens can somehow see through the dirt coating the windows. No one will notice me skulking around in broad daylight.”
“That’s the spirit. I’m sure you’ll think of something to get her out of there.”
I sputtered in disbelief as Kate disconnected, and when I stood up to shove my phone back in my pocket I felt the squish beneath my feet.
I sighed and
probably would have cried if I hadn’t been so dehydrated. “At least it was the Hamburger Helper instead of the diaper,” I said. Sally Sunshine, always looking on the positive side of things. That’s me.
I pulled Noogey’s file from my backpack and thumbed through it, hoping an idea of how to get Marika
Dubois out of the trailer would magically appear in my mind.
Marika was a former model who was used to creature comforts. I knew without a doubt that the only thing keeping her around was Noogey’s promise of the millions he’d somehow stashed away. A woman like Marika wouldn’t live like this unless the payout was worth it.
A list of Marika’s acquaintances were listed in alphabetical order on the back page of her profile. Kate was nothing if not efficient. An idea popped into my head and I picked a name at random. Sometimes my cleverness astounded me.
I grabbed my phone and dialed Marika’s cell number, moving further behind the dumpsters
just in case there were any nosy neighbors or Marika got suspicious.
“What?” Marika barked out, h
er French accent heavy with irritation.
“Marika, darling! It’s been too long,” I gushed, trying not to gag as I inhaled something especially foul
“Who is zis?” I wa
s still trying to figure out what
was while she kept talking. “Zis is ze private number.”
“It’s Honey Rhodes.
” I thickened my accent to magnolia blossom proportions since I knew from the file that Honey was a local. “Don’t tell me you don’t recognize my voice. I’ll just be crushed.”
“I zought zou were in rehab. I haven’t zeen zou in months.”
I rolled my eyes, trying to interpret her sentences and wishing I’d taken French instead of Spanish. But any teenage girl would have made the same decision. The Spanish teacher at my high school had looked like Ricky Martin and he’d worn tight t-shirts that had barely fit around his biceps. My fantasies of him pretty much got me through high school.
I thought quickly, trying to decide how I wanted to handle the rehab news. “I’ve been back a few days,” I said with a dramatic sigh. “I just needed to get away for a while. Life just gets crazy sometimes
with all the parties and the social whirl. I figured rehab was the one place no one would bother me.”
“Zen it’s not t
rue about ze story I read in ze paper? Zey said zou had cocaine and crashed ze Ferrari into ze pool.”
Son of a bitch
. I would have to impersonate the one friend on the list who’d had a high profile brush with the law.
“It was all a misunderstanding
,” I reassured her. “Now enough about me. I have rehab skin, and I think we need to treat ourselves to a day at the spa and a little shopping. We owe it to ourselves to stay beautiful for our men.”
I hoped to God I wasn’t overselling it, but the only examples of socialites I could think of were Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, and I’d assumed it wasn’t all that
hard to be shallow and vacant.
“I’m not zeposed to shop
,” Marika said. “Ve have to be poor for a little while. Ze government is paying attention to our spending.”
I made a sympathetic noise, trying not to gag. “Oh, sugar. It’ll be my treat.
I’m sure you need the break more than I do. I can’t imagine having to live like a poor person.”
“It is very difficult,” Marika
agreed. “Zey have nothing. No sexy cars or hot tubs. No body scrubs or shopping sprees. It is a dismal life. I’ll be glad ven ve can collect our money.”
I restrained the urge to march up to her front door and put my hands around her throat after her comments
about being poor, choosing the mature route by making notes in the margin of the file about she and Noogey being able to collect their money soon.
“That’s just terrible,” I
drawled. “How much longer are you going to have to live that way?”
“Not long, I zink. Walter promised me we’d be in Rio zipping zhampagne by the end of the month.”
“Ooh, then you definitely need a spa day, sugar. You can’t go to Rio with the smell of poor following you around.”
“Zes, zou are right. I vill meet you at ze Green Door in half an hour.”
Without so much as a goodbye, Marika disconnected and I shuffled my way back to the edge of the dumpster so I had a better view. I’d have to report the trip to Rio to the authorities. The judge hadn’t demanded Noogey’s passport because his lawyer had claimed Noogey needed to be able to deal with his foreign businesses in person, but this information would likely change that.
I smiled as the trailer door opened and
Marika came trotting out in tiny shorts that showed off miles of tanned legs. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her breasts held up a halter-top of shimmering violet. Her feet were in strappy heels and a Yorkie stuck his head out of an oversized purse. I could see the disgust on her pouty lips from where I sat as she made her way to the hatchback with the missing bumper.
I shook my head in disgust. It was the
most terrible attempt I’d ever seen at subterfuge. Marika made the worst poor person I’d ever seen. She kicked the tire once and let out an oath ripe enough to make a sailor blush. I zoomed in on the rock decorating her ring finger, taking several quick shots of the tacky diamond. It had to be at least ten carats, though she was wearing it on her right hand, so it wasn’t an engagement ring. If Noogey and Marika were truly in financial trouble, that ring would have been the first thing to go.
Marika threw the car in reverse, the gears grinding and tires squealing, before she sped out of the trailer park. I waited a good five minutes to make sure she was gone before I unfolded from behind the dumpsters. The sun was brutal, and I could feel the burn on the back of my neck and my nose. I needed ice cream, a bottle of water and a shower. In that order.
The surrounding trailers were quiet as I crept toward Noogey’s, most of them having left for work bright and early. The flimsy knob and hole in the front door were a nice diversion, considering it also had two sturdy deadbolts and the door was thick as a tree trunk. The windows were a heavy, double-paned glass, and I was willing to bet they were wired with a hell of a security system. They were coated with grime, dirt and a black film to keep anyone from being able to see in. Noogey was protecting something, that was for sure.
I walked the perimeter of the house and found a broken dog kennel by the back stairs
that looked like it had been ground in a garbage disposal. I pushed it up to the window carefully, avoiding the sharp pieces of metal, and I climbed on top. I held on to the windowsill for balance, distributing my weight on each corner of the kennel as it creaked and wobbled beneath me.
My heart pounded in my chest and adrenaline coursed through my veins as I lifted the camera above my head. All I needed was a weak spot in their security and this job would be done. Maybe the camera would be able to see something I couldn’t. I started clicking the shutter as the wobbling below me increased, and I found it harder and harder to keep my balance.