"A mystery worth barking about.” – Linda O. Johnson, author of THE
MORE THE TERRIER, Berkley Prime Crime
Disgraced Texas beauty queen, Melinda (Mel)
Langston, owns Laguna Beach’s Bow Wow
Boutique. Mona Michaels, Mel’s most despised client, owns a star dog,
Fluffy, who's worth millions. When Mona is found whacked in the head with
Fluffy’s Daytime Emmy, everyone wants Fluffy. And someone won't stop at murder to get the pooch.
Secrets. Blackmail. Mel tackles the case like
a dog with a bone. But can she dig up the truth before the killer buries her?
I stumbled through the doorway into a mini-palace fit for
a movie star. Fluffy’s palace. A white sheepskin rug in front of her personal
fireplace, a king-sized sleigh bed and a dressing screen (why a dog needed a
dressing screen was beyond me). Fresh, filtered water dripped into her
Wedgewood doggie bowl.
The room looked
like it had been ransacked.
sprawled on the floor as if posing for a men’s magazine. It was almost picture-perfect,
except for the blood matting her five-hundred-dollar haircut and the gold
statue stuck in her head.
I hesitantly moved closer. Fluffy nuzzled Mona’s cheek. When she didn’t move, Fluffy
pawed her shoulder, still whining.
don’t think she’s getting up, girl,” I said softly.
Mona was deader
than a stuffed poodle.
Sparkle Abbey is the writing team of Anita Carter and Mary
Lee Woods. Visit the authors at http://sparkleabbey.com.
"…the pair behind Sparkle Abbey continue to enchant with the wacky world of wealthy Laguna Beach… this book delivers humor and mystery with a sophisticated air. The animals play as important a part as the people, with canine foibles that are as funny as the human ones. The series is sassy and bright, with well detailed plots and oh-so-human characters. Enjoy this book while you’re on the beach or at the pool. Just be sure that you’re somewhere that people won’t look at you oddly when you start chuckling out loud!" -- Mary Beth, It’s a Humdinger!
"...delightful...Mel is a spitfire with a tongue to match. Her call-it-as-I-see-it attitude had me snickering more times than I could count. If you enjoy pet-themed cozy mysteries, you can't go wrong with Sparkle Abbey." -- Tracy Farnsworth, Round Table Reviews
"If murder can be a romp, this one is…a fun list of eccentric characters… if this were a movie I'd say there's always something to look at…will keep [you] turning the pages to find out what mayhem happens next." -- Carol Crigger, NetGalley
"…a fun and enjoyable read and I look forward to the next installment" -- Alison H, Cozy Crimes Blog
I am nothing like my cousin, Caro, the "pet
She’s a redhead, I’m a
brunette. She’s kept her Texas twang, I busted my butt to lose mine. (Except
when I’m honked off, then my southern drawl can strike like a Gulf coast
hurricane.) She’s calm and direct. I’m equally direct. As for calm, I have to
admit, sometimes my emotions tend to overrule my better judgment.
So who would have thought I’d
end up in the middle of a Laguna Beach murder investigation, just like Caro?
From my very first breath,
Mama had groomed me to be Miss America, just like her and her sister,
Katherine. Or a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, which in Texas was the more
prestigious of the two. By my twenty-first birthday, I’d gathered ten
first-place pageant crowns like Fourth of July parade candy. That’s when my
beauty queen career had been dethroned in public scandal.
Everyone believed she "encouraged” a male judge
to cast his vote for me. As for what I thought, well, no daughter wants to
believe her mama is a hustler. To this day, Mama still won’t talk about The
Incident above a whisper.
With the battle for the top crown over, I’d
traded in my tiaras, sashes and hair spray for Swarovski crystal collars,
cashmere dog sweaters and botanical flea dip. I left Texas and moved to Laguna
Beach, California, a community known for its art, wealth and love of dogs. I
opened Bow Wow Boutique and
catered to the canine who had everything.
I loved Laguna. Loved running my own business. I
even loved the quirky folks whose lives revolved around their pooches. But
sometimes I longed for Texas—wide open spaces, cowboy boots and big-big hair.
It was mid-October. The tourists had packed up
and headed home. The locals ventured out of their gated communities to enjoy
all the beachside town had to offer. Most importantly, there was available
parking downtown. At least until next May.
The annual Fur Ball had finally arrived—a
community event to raise money for the Laguna Beach Animal Rescue League. The
balmy weather was perfect for an outdoor fundraiser.
As always at these shindigs, the humans coughed
up large chunks of dough for a worthy cause. Breezy air kisses and alcohol
flowed freely, while we all pretended to be best friends. Trust me, we were one
society catfight away from a hell of an entertaining evening.
I looked down at Missy, my English Bulldog, who
waited patiently at my feet. Her crystal-studded tiara sat lopsided on the top
of her head, and a small puddle of drool had collected between her paws.
I straightened her crown and whispered, "We’re
up, girl. Let’s show them what we’ve got.”
With our heads held high, Missy and I strutted
our stuff down the red carpet. The pup-a-razzi cameras flashed, and the crowd
cheered. One reporter asked who’d made my strapless leather gown (Michael Kors)
and another wanted to know how Missy had won her tiara (she’d placed first in
Laguna Beach’s Ugliest Bulldog contest last year).
Once we reached the end of the walkway, I leaned
down to dab the drool from Missy’s chin. "You did great.” I kissed the top of
her head. "Let’s go find our friends.”
Missy gave my hand a slobbery kiss, and then we
made our way into the main event. Under an extravagant white tent and
glittering lights, two hundred wealthy dog lovers and their four-legged friends
paraded around in designer rags, both human and canine dripped with diamonds.
I quickly spotted Kimber Shores and her pug
Noodles making their way in our direction. Kimber oozed understated glamour in
her mauve jumpsuit. She’d definitely make Laguna’s Best-Dressed List.
"Mel, I’m so glad I found you,” she declared.
As we air kissed, the low-cut back of her outfit
offered a glimpse of her many tattoos.
"Noodles looks amazing,” she continued in her
melodious voice. "I’m so glad you talked me out of the velvet jacket.”
Kimber and her pug had stopped by the shop
earlier. Noodles had been in desperate need of a wardrobe update. I’d managed
to wrangle him out of his Hugh Hefner smoking jacket and into a modest white
tux and tails. Noodles sat in front of Missy, his marble eyes watching the
slobber slide down the corners of her mouth.
I smiled affectionately. "He really isn’t a
velvet kinda guy. I love the top hat. Nice choice.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Grey
Donovan, my fiancé of two years, heading in our direction. Kimber must have
noticed, too; she immediately looked uncomfortable.
To the outside world, Grey’s and my relationship
was seen as a tad unorthodox. We were the on-again, off-again type. Presently,
we were "on.”
"Ah, I see you’re not alone. Anyway, I just
wanted to say thanks.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed.
"You’re welcome. Stop by Bow Wow when you get a
chance. I have the perfect sweater-vest for Noodles.”
Kimber and her pug disappeared into the crowd
just as Grey arrived.
"Caro and Diana organized a great event.” He
handed me a glass of pinot noir. He looked amazing in his black tux. But then,
he always looked good.
Missy sniffed his pant leg, double-checking he
hadn’t stepped out on her. He bent down and gave her some love. She snorted
happily, lapping up Grey’s affection. I knew exactly how she felt.
I took a sip of wine, appreciating the
black-pepper finish. I snagged us each a tomato and goat cheese tart from a
passing waiter (he was out of pigs-in-a-blanket, Missy’s favorite).
"I hate to break it to you, but it’s the Dallas
upbringing. Every society girl knows how to throw a successful charity
fundraiser by her eighteenth birthday.” I took a bite of the tart and sighed.
Delicious. "But you’re right. It’s a fabulous evening.”
Grey, an undercover FBI agent, worked
white-collar crime—mostly art theft. He could be gone for two days or two
months without a whisper of his well-being. I never knew if he was sipping
espresso in Paris or being held hostage in a deserted warehouse in East LA.
His decision to keep me completely in the dark
of his activities—his way of protecting me—had finally pushed me to the
breaking point. I’d realized if I had trouble dating Grey, our marriage
could end up a disaster. So I’d called off the wedding (two months before the big
day), causing a swirl of rumors and speculation.
I swear, I’d tried to return the six-carat
sapphire engagement ring that had belonged to his great-grandmother, but Grey
had refused to accept it. He believed we could work it out. I really wanted him
to be right.
"To Caro and Diana. May the evening continue to
be a howling success.” Grey lifted his glass, and I followed suit.
We mingled with the other guests and made our
way to the table of auction items. I spotted my cousin next to the open bar,
schmoozing with a celebrity dog trainer who currently judged a TV reality pet
show. I didn’t have to hear her southern drawl to know she’d used it to her
She fooled a lot of people at first glance. She
looked as soft as a hothouse wildflower, but inside she was all iron and grit.
At the moment, Caro and I weren’t exactly
speaking. Since our childhood, Caro had always saved something or someone. A
few years ago that had included her ex-husband who deserved to rot behind
prison walls instead.
To this day, she continued to analyze how her
marriage had fallen apart. I’d expressed my opinion (truth be told, it was
unsolicited at the time, but that hadn’t stopped me), and Caro got her feelings
hurt. We had words.
I know I’m the one who should apologize first but,
knowing me, my smartass mouth would probably make matters worse. Sometimes I’m
better with dogs than people.
Recently, I’d broken my vow of silence. Caro’s
best friend, Diana Knight, a former movie star and one of Laguna’s resident
celebrities, had been arrested for murder. In my experience, who better to
deliver bad news than family?
Luckily for Diana, she was one of Caro’s success
stories. Caro had helped clear Diana of a bogus murder wrap and in the process
had almost gotten herself killed. Thankfully, the police—and her quick
thinking—had saved her.
A slow smile tugged the corners of my mouth as I
waited for my cousin to turn in my direction.
Competition runs deep in the Montgomery blood,
our mothers’ side of the family tree. Over the years, Caro had managed to
intermittently suppress her competitiveness. I, on the other hand, let mine run
free. Electrified with the sudden possibility of getting the best of my cousin,
I grabbed Grey’s arm. "Let’s go say hi to Caro.”
"No.” He didn’t even take his eye off the list
of silent auction items.
"Come on. You just said she did a great job.”
"I’m not going to be a vehicle for you to flaunt
that thing.” He flicked his auction list toward the gaudy, but sentimental,
brooch pinned strategically to my gown.
The pin was a family heirloom, a twenty-two
karat gold basket filled with fruit made of precious gems. Rubies, diamonds,
emeralds and topaz. You’d never know by looking at the garish thing that it was
insured for more money than all four years of my Stanford college tuition.
I adjusted the brooch. "It gives my little black
dress something extra.”
Grey’s green eyes softened. His gaze traveled
from the bottom of my floor length, strapless, leather gown and ended at the
I felt the heat flood my checks and pretended
his blatant appraisal didn’t make my knees weak.
"Little is one description. Leave your
cousin alone,” he said on a sigh.
Poor Grey. He was my fiancé, but he was also
"Grandma Tillie left the pin to me. I only
retrieved what was rightfully mine.” Grandma was very specific in her will. The
brooch was to go to her "favorite granddaughter.” That was me. Then
again, Caro was just as convinced it was her.
"You broke into Caro’s house and stole it,” he
"Only after she’d marched into Bow Wow Boutique, in the middle of
the day, and stole it from my purse in front of God and my customers.”
He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. "So that
makes breaking into her private safe okay?”
I grimaced. There was a tingle of regret about
my actions that day. It had taken a few tries to figure out the combination,
but I had.
Caro hadn’t used an easy-to-hack combination.
No. She’d used something much more personal that only I could truly understand
the significance of.
When I thought about that, I felt like a traitor
who deserved to be shot at twenty paces. So, I tried not to think about it.
I was sure I’d pay for my transgression at some
"Mel, do you want the brooch, or to make
Carolina squirm?” Grey asked.
"Is there a right or wrong answer?”
I took another sip of wine, letting the warmth
from the alcohol seep through me. I know it’s selfish, but I wanted both. Hey,
at least I’m honest.
Caro finally turned and caught my eye. I held
back the urge to jump up and down. Instead, I lifted my wine glass in salute,
making sure she could see I had on the brooch.
She hesitated for a second, aware we were gossip
prey. Like the southern lady she was, she returned the salute with an amused
smile. We both knew she was plotting revenge. Game on, cousin. I’d have
to find a better hiding place than my cookie jar.
Grey shook his head in defeat and directed my
attention to the banquet tables of donated items for the silent auction. There
was one item that had me seriously contemplating going home for my credit card.
An African safari. I sighed, knowing I was about to spend too much money, and I
wasn’t even buzzed.
"You’re doing the right thing,” Grey said.
"I’ve always wanted to go on an African safari.”
"I was talking about Caro.”
"I do have some self-control.” I set my glass on
the table and adjusted his bow tie. Not because it needed it. But because it
was our first public appearance since the almost-wedding.
"I just wanted her to see I had it,” I
"I don’t always understand you two. Or why your
friends encourage your harebrained competition.”
I retrieved my glass with a shrug. "Because it’s
I scribbled an obscene dollar amount alongside
my bidding number on the safari listing, knowing I’d bumped the mayor out of
the playing field.
Grey whistled softly. "Playing to win?”
"Why else would I play?”
"If I could have your attention,” Amelia Hudges,
the ARL director, spoke into the microphone.
Everyone turned expectantly in Amelia’s
direction. I almost choked on my wine. Amelia looked like an over-the-top Bette
Midler with her frizzed-out orange hair and heavily beaded gown. Good God.
Had someone died and covered the mirrors in her house?
"We’ve made some quick calculations after a few
passes around the room.” She paced the stage in excitement. "Due to your
generosity, the silent auction has already grossed an estimated two hundred fifty
thousand dollars.” Amelia’s high-pitched twitter competed with resounding
applause and excited barking.
"Now it’s time to get serious.” She raised a
freckled hand for silence. "We’re more than halfway to our goal of three hundred
fifty thousand dollars. Listen to your heart, not your accountant. Open your
wallets, and let’s start the live auction! Find your seats, everyone.”
Grey, Missy and I ping-ponged through the noisy
crowd and were the last of our group to arrive. We were about to sit when Tova
Randall, a highly successful lingerie model who had just moved to town, called
out my name.
Everyone at our table watched as Tova bounced
closer. It wasn’t her perfect pale complexion or her luxurious auburn hair that
drew our attention. It was her blush-pink, silk-taffeta gown hugging her famous
curves. Those same curves had paid for her thirteen million dollar home in the
hills, down the street from Grey’s place.
"Melinda Langston, you owe me fifteen hundred
dollars,” she announced in a not-so-conversational tone.
"I beg your pardon?”
She was drunk. It was the only plausible
explanation. I looked at our tablemates and shook my head apologetically.
Unlike Tova, her Yorkiepoo loved me. And I loved
Kiki in return. Her pink, mini-taffeta dress rustled as her tiny five-pound
body wiggled in excitement. I reached down to pet the adorable dog. Kiki
immediately rewarded me with enthusiastic kisses.
Missy sniffed Tova’s pocket puppy in the
universal dog greeting. Unimpressed, Missy crawled under the table, looking for
a spot to nap.
Tova gripped the diamond encrusted leash
tighter, pulling Kiki closer to her. "You gave my baby fleas,” she huffed.
Hells bells. What was she talking about?
A loud murmur rippled over our table. All eyes
were on us, waiting for my reaction to Tova’s outrageous claim.
I set my half-empty glass of pinot noir next to
my plate. "I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tova lifted her chin higher. "Kiki and I got
kicked out of Mommy and Doggie Yoga because she had fleas.”
Seriously, how was that my fault? Besides, it
wasn’t the end of the world. It happens to the best of dogs (although Missy’s
never been afflicted with them). I’m sure even Rin Tin Tin had a case of fleas.
"That must have been embarrassing for you,” I
said to the crazy lady.
Tova sucked in her cheeks, producing a
well-practiced pout. "She obviously got them from Bow Wow.”
What the? I leaned forward, invading her
personal bubble. She stepped back and had the presence of mind to look worried.
"I don’t think so. Have you considered she caught them from a dog at yoga?” I
kept my tone sweet and non-confrontational.
A glance at Grey told me I wasn’t as successful
as I’d thought.
He cleared his throat. "Ladies, can’t this wait?”
Tova picked up Kiki and pressed her wiggly body
against her not-so-natural cleavage. "I was assured it didn’t happen there.”
I was assured it didn’t happen there, I mimicked silently. "Well, I just assured you it didn’t happen at Bow Wow.”
By now we had an audience. Not just our small
table of people. Oh no, half the room leaned in our direction, waiting for me
to knock Tova on her beautiful butt.
I walked a fine line. Fleas aren’t deadly, but
no one would knowingly expose their pet or themselves. I clenched and
unclenched my fists. What to do, what to do...
"Melinda, what’s going on?” Mona Michaels and
her Afghan Hound, Fluffy, paraded to our table.
Great. Trouble on six legs.
Mona ruled the rich and famous of Laguna Beach
with the wave of her aristocratic hand and her elite American Express Black
Card. She had her plastic surgeon on speed dial, injectable Botox in her purse
and her private chef on a short leash.
Her simple black Valentino gown was most likely
the envy of every woman at the ball. She was what the gated community
housewives dreamed of being when they grew up.
Unfortunately for me, Mona and my mother were
childhood friends. Mona thought that meant she could dictate, and I’d blindly
follow. Not likely. I wasn’t a Mona fan.
From behind, Fluffy looked exactly like her
human. A mistake I’d made more than once. Awkward.
Tonight, Fluffy seemed more haughty than normal.
Her jeweled collar with a diamond-crusted, heart-shaped pendant sparkled like a
mirror ball, and I’m guessing was equally as heavy. She looked like she couldn’t
be bothered mingling with us average humans.
Too bad Mona didn’t feel the same indifference.
She narrowed her assessing blue eyes at me and waited for an explanation.
Why she thought she’d get one was beyond me.
"Go back to your posse, Mona. Everything here’s
Mona motioned to the crowd; her shocking white
hair flowed softly around her razor-sharp cheekbones. "It is plain to everyone
you do not have this situation under control, otherwise Amelia wouldn’t
be cowering in the corner of the stage waiting for you to finish.”
As always, Mona’s condescending clipped voice
raised my hackles.
"You may want to consider keeping your voice
down,” Grey warned under his breath.
Too late. All eyes had followed Mona. Once she’d
insinuated herself into my business, I had my reputation to protect. I turned
my attention back to Tova.
"You still haven’t explained why I owe you money?”
"Well, I had to get Kiki groomed,” Tova
stammered. Mona’s presence loomed over us, and Tova was beginning to crack.
Amateur. If she wanted to make it here, she’d have to develop a thicker skin.
"And?” I could feel the weight of the room shift
towards us waiting to hear the answer. Who knew dogs could be so quiet?
"My lawyer says you have to reimburse me for it.”
"Oh, hell no.”
Murmurs rolled through the room like Main Beach
waves crashing against the rocks.
Tova stood her ground. "She got them while on
your property. You have to pay,” she insisted.
I hiked up my gown, which pooled around my
three-inch heels. I wished I was wearing my motorcycle boots. "You’re the only
one with fleas.” I took a breath and tried to control my rising voice and cover
the Texas accent that was threatening to make an appearance. "If this was a Bow Wow issue, someone else would
have said something.”
"They’re afraid of you,” Tova whined.
"You’re ridiculous,” Mona pronounced with the
wave of her hand.
"You’re out of control,” I said at the same
I don’t know if Mona was talking to me or Tova.
I was talking about both of them.
Tova shook her head. "You don’t know what kind
of nightmare I’ve been through. Kiki’s wardrobe had to be dry-cleaned, my
carpet steamed, her travel bag replaced, and she had to be groomed a second
time after her botanical dip.”
I’d had enough. "I do not have fleas!” I turned
to the room, hands on hips and asked, "Did I give any of you fleas?”
There was a lot of throat clearing and minimal
eye contact. No one said a word. It would have been comical if I hadn’t been so
I narrowed my eyes on Tova. "Looks like it’s
"Enough.” Mona pointed at Tova. "Take your dog
"This isn’t over.” Tova looked between Mona and
me like a confused puppy; her shoulders sagged, and her bottom lip quivered
slightly. "You’ll regret pushing me around.”
"Does this mean you and Kiki won’t be by
tomorrow to pick up the barrettes you special-ordered?”
"Melinda,” Mona said, "If you know what’s good
for you, you’ll sit and stop causing a scene.”
"Don’t. As much as you like to worm your way
into my life, and everyone else’s for that matter, you’re not my mother.”
Mona turned toward me. A glint of fire danced in
her eyes. A chill of warning rolled down my back.
"True,” she said. "Fluffy earned her
crown. I didn’t need to act like a dog in heat for the judges to see her true talent.”
That was it. The woman insulted me and my Mama.
Bitter emotion churned until it turned into a
roar of fury. I yanked my wine glass from the table and tossed the deep ruby
contents on Mona’s dress. Immediately, I knew I’d crossed the line. The fat was
in the fire now.
Grey groaned in disappointment. Missy jumped out
from under the table and barked, her crown rolling under my chair.
Everyone else was deathly silent.
Mona stood frozen, her hands in the air.
Then suddenly she hissed. "You fool.”
Fluffy tossed her pale tresses from her eyes and
The room erupted into chaos. People jumped up
from their seats. They talked over each other, shocked, yet lapping up the
juicy gossip of my behavior.
The dogs barked, Missy included. Canines turned
on each other and their humans. Leashes wrapped around chairs, tables, and
human legs, dragging everything behind them in their excitement.
"Don’t touch me,” Mona ordered to a handful of
dimwits who thought they’d get into her good graces by mopping the wine from
I dropped to my knees to retrieve Missy’s crown.
"If you’d like to use the ladies room, I’d be
happy to keep an eye on Fluffy,” Grey offered, his calm voice sounding
out-of-place amidst the pandemonium.
I got to my feet, Missy’s leash in one hand her
crown in the other.
Mona yanked the white cloth napkin Grey held out
for her. She patted her dress as if taking a public wine bath was an everyday
occurrence. "If you don’t leave now, I’ll call the police and have you
arrested.” She quickly found her normal condescending voice.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. "Are you
kidding me? You deserved it. Everyone knows it.” I gestured toward the group of
"Melinda, you’ve done enough.” Grey’s tone was
tense and didn’t hold room for disagreement.
I whipped around. "You’re taking her side?” I
felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart.
"No, I’m trying to keep you from going to jail,”
I snagged my gold clutch from the table and
shoved Missy’s crown on my head. Tears burned my eyes. "I’m sorry I’ve
I meant it. I was sorry. Of course, that didn’t
change the fact that I’d just acted like an idiot. My snap judgment was in full
throttle. Once in gear, it was difficult to apply the brakes.
He grabbed my arm and stopped my dramatic exit. "This
isn’t about me.” He jerked his head toward the back of the room.
Caro looked like I’d just kicked her dog,
Dogbert. Her face had turned the same color as the vintage red satin gown she
wore. Her tightened lips formed a straight line and her snappy green eyes had
narrowed into angry slits. Sam Gallanos, her date, stood silently at her side,
his dark eyes studying me.
I’d forgotten all about Caro. I’d blindly
embraced my anger and had completely lost sight of the fundraising goal for the
Intense self-reproach latched onto my heart and
squeezed. I wish I could say it was an unfamiliar feeling. But I couldn’t.
I guided Missy through the mayhem with only one
purpose in mind—to confront the only thing standing between me and a hasty exit
so I could berate my lack of judgment in private.
"I didn’t plan on making a scene,” I said to my
cousin. It was as close to an apology as I could manage at the moment.
Caro eyed the crown. Then the brooch.
Anyone else would have looked away and ignored
me, casting me to social purgatory. Instead, her eyes locked onto mine, and she
said, "You never do, sugar.”
I couldn’t argue. I’d left her one hell of a
mess to clean up.
"You’ll need to call Nigel,” Caro’s soft
southern accent hung on the family lawyer’s name.
I covered the brooch protectively with my hand.
"Are you fixin’ to sue me, cousin?” I asked,
unable to keep the Texas out of my voice.
She shook her head and looked at me like I’d
hopped on the crazy train, which apparently I had.
"Geeze Louise, Mel. You just humiliated Mona in
public. You know she won’t let you get away with it.”