Downton Tabby

Downton Tabby

Sparkle Abbey

June 2015 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-624-6

The Pampered Pets Mysteries, Book 7

Anyone for tea and crumpets . . . and murder?

 

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

Caro Lamont, amateur sleuth and well-respected animal therapist to Laguna Beach’s pampered pets, works with office mate and tech wizard, Graham Cash, whose beloved Scottish Fold tabby cat, Toria, is purported to have anger management issues. But when Caro drops by the charming Brit’s Tudor-inspired mansion to return Toria, she finds his business partner dead and Cash missing.

Caro is left with the cuddly cat and a lot of unanswered questions. Is Cash the killer, or has he been kidnapped? What’s up with the angry next door neighbor? And what about Cash’s girlfriend, Heidi, who isn’t sharing everything she knows with homicide detective Judd Malone?

Suddenly there are more secrets and intrigues than there are titles in England. Add in a stranger in a dark SUV stalking Caro, feisty senior sidekick, Betty, hiding in restaurant shrubbery, and wannabe investigative reporter Callum MacAvoy who seems to be constantly underfoot, and you’ve got a cat and mouse mystery of the first order.

Caro’s got to solve this murder before the killer lets the cat out of the bag.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of two mystery authors (Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter). They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series. The pen name was created by combining the names of their rescue pets—Sparkle (Mary Lee’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). They reside in central Iowa, but if they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and, depending on the time of day, with either an iced tea or a margarita. Visit them at sparkleabbey.com.


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Excerpt

Chapter One


THE IRISH SETTER and I had a lot in common, and I don’t just mean hair color

Cork was a former show dog. I was a former Texas beauty queen. We were both named after places, and we both had families with issues.

My family drama would have to wait, but I thought I could assist with hers.

"So, Carolina, what do you think? Is my girl depressed?” Spencer Hogsworth, Cork’s owner, bounded into the room. He ran a hand down the dog’s feathery chestnut fur and gave her a pat on the head before continuing around us to fling open the drapes.

"I want your expert opinion,” he continued. "You came highly rec­ommended, by none other than Hollywood’s darling, Diana Knight, as Laguna Beach’s top pet therapist.”

He said "top” with such emphasis you’d think I performed life- saving heart surgery, instead of sanity-saving dog and cat therapy.

I’d had to start the day without coffee, which isn’t a good thing for me, or for the people who are unfortunate enough to have to interact with me sans caffeine, but I was trying very hard to be patient. And Spencer Hogsworth, bless his heart, was certainly trying my patience.

He’d bounced in and out of the room like a terrier with a tennis ball while I was trying to evaluate his dog, creating a distraction that made it difficult to assess her current state.

Cork was five, and the previous season had been her last year on the show circuit. I suspected she was more than ready to retire. I’d rebelled at a much younger age (in people years anyway), walking out on the Miss Texas pageant at eighteen, much to my mother’s chagrin.

"I don’t believe Cork is depressed.” I slid down on the floor next to the beautiful dog and ran my fingers along her back. She flipped her head, ears flopping, and nudged my hand so I’d be sure to reach a spot on the back of her neck.

"What then?” Spencer folded his tall, lanky frame into a puffy, lime-green chair. "What are we to do? Just look at the havoc Cork is causing.” He gestured toward the lavish post-modern living room.

"Havoc” was a bit strong, but Cork did have a problem with sitting still, and lately, according to Spencer, she’d been getting into everything she could. Recently, her inquisitiveness had turned destructive and she’d apparently chewed up Spencer’s brand-new six-hundred-dollar Armani wallet. And all of his credit cards.

"A simple solution we can try . . . ,” I paused, waiting for Spencer to give me his full attention. He stared off into space, lost in a reverie, perhaps thinking about all the competitions represented by the shiny trophies lined up like soldiers on the floor-to-ceiling glass shelves cover­ing the far wall. Each one must surely represent a memory.

I was tempted to snap my fingers, like I often did with the dogs, but I resisted. "Spencer?”

"Yes?” He shifted in the chair to look at me.

"A very easy thing to start with is exercise.” I gave Cork one more belly rub and then brushed the dog hair from my jeans and stood. She scrambled to her feet. "Irish Setters need at least an hour of exercise a day. I know that’s not news to you.” I held up my hand to stop him from interrupting. "And I’m sure you exercise Cork, but my guess is you both have a less active lifestyle now that you’re not constantly training for dog shows.”

"True.” Spencer popped out of the chair and began straightening the pillows on the massive ultra-modern couch. "That seems too easy.”

"Let’s try it.” I was sure both Spencer and Cork were going to need a new interest to focus on now that their show days were over. But getting Cork more exercise would be a beginning. "I’ll check back in a week and we’ll re-evaluate how y’all are doing. Does that sound okay?”

"Yes, yes, we can try it.” Spencer crossed to pull open the room’s French doors and let Cork outside.

I smiled as the rollicking redhead raced across the length of the back­yard and back, and then pounced on a leaf. "I’d like to see her get at least thirty minutes of exercise, twice a day. The dog park would be great, weather permitting, because there she would really have room to let loose and run.”

Spencer agreed to the increased exercise and trips to the dog park. I left my phone number with him and encouraged him to call if he had any questions or if anything new came up with Cork.

Once outside, I stood on the front steps a moment and inhaled the crisp sea air. I’d like some room to run myself but I had a busy day ahead, so I didn’t think time for letting loose was in the cards for me. When I’d arrived, I’d left the top down on my silver vintage Mercedes roadster, and the morning sun had warmed the leather. I tossed my bag in the back, slid behind the wheel, and reviewed the day so far.

It had been a bumpy morning.

Let me catch y’all up.

IT HAD STARTED with my need for morning caffeine. I’d filled the pot with water, scooped in my favorite organic grind, pushed the button, and waited for the aroma of fresh brewed coffee.

I waited. And waited.

Nada. Nothing.

My coffeepot had up and died. I know, minor stuff, right? Fair enough. I’d just stop at the Koffee Klatch on my way to the office and then pick up a new coffeepot after work. They make great coffee, the place is not out of my way, and I’d planned the morning to catch up on paperwork, so no biggie.

About that paperwork. I despise it. Now that might sound kind of strong, but I really do. Here’s the deal, I’m a pet therapist. I work with problem pets, and so I think it goes without saying that paperwork isn’t my favorite part of the gig. The pets are. What could be better than a day spent with people and their fur babies?

Laguna Beach is a great place to be in the pet business because there are more registered pets in the community than there are children. Need­less to say, folks here are crazy about their furry family members. I can relate; I’m crazy about mine, too.

Back in Texas, I was trained as a people therapist, but, thanks to my lying, cheating, ex-husband and a major scandal courtesy of the aforemen­tioned ex, I’d lost my license to practice and had decided to leave my beloved Lone Star State and start over. Which leads me to the next pothole in this morning that had already been headed downhill faster than a runaway wagon.

I had showered and dressed (jeans and a new Akris white cotton crepe tunic I’d paid way too much for) and taken my pooch, Dogbert, for a quick walk around the block.

Back at home, Thelma and Louise, the two felines in charge of the household, checked to make sure I’d left them sufficient provisions for their day and then went back to soaking up the sun.

I reached down to pet the two and glanced outside. My patio doors framed a view I never took for granted. Blue sky touched bluer water that danced along the coast and reached out toward tomorrow.

Prodding myself to stop daydreaming and get moving, I turned from the picture-postcard view. My home, unlike the House Beautiful home I’d grown up in, was best described as "lived-in chic.” Or at least that’s how I saw it. Bookshelves jammed with books, not for display, but actually read and loved. Comfortable people and pet-friendly furniture, sturdy furnishings accessorized with eclectic bric-a-brac, the remnants of a dog-treat recipe experiment from the night before. My home.

I grabbed a few of the new dog biscuits and threw them into my Coach tote, snagged my phone from the dining-room table, and had been fixin’ to head out to meet with Spencer and Cork.

Just as I’d been about to toss my phone in my bag, it rang.

"Hello,” I’d answered as I picked up my car keys.

"Don’t hang up.” Well, shoot. It was Geoffrey, my ex.

Don’t hang up? Hells bells, I hadn’t heard from him in over a year, and I wouldn’t have even answered if I’d known it was him.

"What do you want?” I snapped.

Y’all are probably thinking that was a bit rude of me, and it’s true. My mama had raised me better and would have been absolutely appalled at my bad manners. But you see, I’ve come a long way in the not-pre­tending department. And though I’m usually very polite, I’m frankly not sure of the proper greeting for a yellow-bellied, lying cheat whom you once loved. A man who slept with a client, broke your heart, and destroyed your life. At least my life had sure seemed destroyed at the time.

"Carolina, it’s so nice to hear your voice. Did I catch you at a bad time?” The louse must want something. I would bet good money Geoff wasn’t simply calling me to shoot the breeze.

"I was about to walk out the door,” I told him.

"Where to?” His voice was as smooth as Kentucky bourbon, just like I remembered. The slightest flavor of the south in those cultured tones, but where it had once thrilled me, it now grated on my nerves.

"Work.” I continued collecting my things.

"That’s right, you counsel canines and kitties.” He laughed.

I did not.

"Get to the point, Geoffrey.” I’d been patient, but I was done talk­ing, and my short fuse had nothing to do with my red hair and everything to do with my Texas baloney detector. And if I’m honest, maybe just a little, my lack of caffeine.

"Sorry to hold you up.” I pictured his face in my mind and had a mo­mentary flash of wondering if he’d changed physically. I hadn’t seen him since the last court date. "Here’s the thing, Carolina. I’m going to be in LA on business, and I’d like to see you.”

"Why?” The question shot right out of me.

"Why not?” His response had been just as quick. "I think we both need some closure.”

"No thanks, Geoffrey.” I got in my car. "I’ve got closure.”

And with that I pushed the disconnect button.

SO, AFTER THAT rocky start, I have to say I believe I’d done a pretty dang good job of focusing on Spencer and Cork and maintaining my cool.

But now I was ready for some coffee. Beyond ready. I started the car and put it in gear.

Koffee Klatch, here I come.

The Koffee Klatch was a local coffeehouse right on Pacific Coast Highway and on my way to the office. There was no good reason for it this time of day, but the line was endless. Verdi, our part-time reception­ist at the office, also worked at the local coffeehouse. She was behind the wide wooden counter this morning, but even her speed and efficiency couldn’t move people through fast enough. Granted, my caffeine defi­ciency may have impacted my view of the line.

My impatience must have shown on my face because the lovely, multi-pierced, burgundy-haired Verdi didn’t attempt to chat. She just handed me my usual hazelnut latte and took my money. I’d always known she was one sharp chick, and her silent competence confirmed it. I thanked her and left. Caffeine in hand. Finally.

The aroma soothed me as I took a satisfying sip. She’d given me a large. Like I said, the girl was sharp.

When I arrived at the office, the building was locked up tight. As you’ve probably already figured out, if Verdi was on duty at the Koffee Klatch, she was not on duty at the office. I share office space with a realtor, a psychic, and an investment advisor. None of us have a ton of administrative needs, so it works out.

A delivery van was pulled up out front, and the driver had parked him­self at our door. His I’ve-got-other-places-to-be posture said he wasn’t happy with not being able to drop his delivery and run.

"Here ya go.” He thrust a package at me. "Sign here.”

I shifted my bag and my latte and took it. It was a big envelope and a bit awkward to hold. And undoubtedly not for me. Suzanne, the psy­chic, got documents occasionally. Or it could be some official papers for Kay, the realtor. I glanced at the envelope which was addressed to 2Gyz with a return address of SIS Tech and an address in the UK. Oh, right. I’d momentarily forgotten about our new officemates, a couple of twenty-something techies who’d leased the vacant space. My brain clearly needed more caffeine.


I signed where the man in shorts indicated. He was already poised for the sprint back to his truck. I unlocked the door and flipped on the office lights then dropped the package on the reception desk.


I turned away and slammed into a bulky wall of a man who some­how had managed to come through the front door without my hearing him. Maybe we needed one of those bells that dings when someone comes in.


"Who are you?” I took a step back ready to defend myself if neces­sary. My best friend, Diana, and I had taken a self-defense class, a Valentine’s Day gift from Sam Gallanos, the man in my life. I felt like his choice of a gift was a pointed comment on the life I lead. Anyway, we’d learned a lot in class, and, even as big as this guy was, I knew I could take him.


"I’m so sorry, ma’am.” He also backed up. "I did not mean to scare you.”


"What do you want?” I was on a roll. Again, yes, I know it wasn’t a polite response and my mama would be appalled and all that, but in my defense I was a bit startled. And my mental tank was still low on caffeine.


"Sorry.” The man took another step back. "I had some car trouble out front, and I wondered if I could borrow your phone to call my auto club. Cell phone’s dead.”


Well, nothing nefarious about that. And to be perfectly honest, now that I’d gotten a good look at the guy, he sure as heck didn’t look like a mugger. Wrinkled khakis and a dark-blue shirt. Sandy-haired, broad-faced, and with a bit of a paunch. Maybe I’d overreacted. Just a little.


"The phone is right here.” I reached over the wide reception desk and placed the phone on the counter. "Go ahead and make your call.”


"Thank you so much, ma’am.” He held out a beefy hand. "I sure ap­preciate it.”


I shook his bear-sized paw.


"Are you the accountant, the psychic, or with the computer guys?” He noted the sign at the front door which detailed the businesses located in the building.


"I’m actually the pet therapist.” I pointed at the PAWS info.


"A pet therapist? I used to have a dog. Charlie. I loved that dog.” He smiled the wistful smile of all of us who’ve lost a pet.


Now I felt even worse that I’d been so rude.


I left him at the reception desk to make his phone call and unlocked the door to my office. I couldn’t hear his conversation, but he must have been successful in contacting his auto club because he poked his head around the corner and thanked me again.


"You’re welcome.” I smiled at him, feeling a little bad I’d immedi­ately thought the worst.


"I’ll just wait out by my car. They said they’d been here in ten minutes.”


"Okay, I hope the rest of your day goes better.”


See, I guess my morning wasn’t so bad in comparison. I hadn’t had car trouble. Only coffee trouble. It’s all about perspective isn’t it?


Ah, yes, perspective.


I settled in and got down to work transferring my notes to the client files on my computer. To be honest, my concentration wasn’t worth two cents. The phone call from my ex nagged at me. I didn’t want Geoffrey in California. I didn’t want Geoffrey in my head, but there he was. Enough so that I kept having to reread the same sentence as I worked to update the files I needed to take care of before my afternoon appoint­ments.


"Hello? Is anyone about?”


"In here.” I glanced up from my paperwork.


It was Cash, one of the partners in the tech company I mentioned ear­lier. His name was actually Graham Cash, but everyone calls him "Cash.” He was constantly rumpled, baby-faced handsome, and charm­ingly British.


The other partner was Jake, a blond surfer type and California na­tive. I wasn’t sure how they’d met but the two had made millions, possi­bly billions, with a series of mobile apps. You know, those little programs that work on your phone. They’d been in the right place at the right time and had been riding that wave ever since. Or as my Grandma Tillie would’ve said, they’d been "ridin’ a gravy train with biscuit wheels.” In the part of Texas I’m from we’re more versed in gravy than surf.


Today Cash sported his typical billionaire-geek office attire: jeans, an expensive but wrinkled dress shirt, and a weathered, brown leather bomber jacket. Toria, his adorable Scottish Fold cat, was tucked under his arm.


"Morning, Caro. Toria’s going to help me out today. Aren’t you, luv?” He scratched the cat under the chin, and she rubbed her face against his.


Toria often accompanied the tech tycoon. A sturdy feline, as was common in the breed, the grey silky tabby was a little, um, more sturdy than most. I suspected a bit of spoiling.


Cash strolled in and plopped down in the chair by my desk. I reached over to give Toria a proper greeting. "Good morning, girlfriend, and how are you today?” She leaned into my hand in answer.


"You checked her over, right?” He scratched the cat’s soft, wide head. "No signs of problems.”


"Nothing.” A week ago, Cash had asked me to examine Toria for any signs of behavioral problems. Apparently, someone had reported she’d been aggressive, which not only did I find hard to believe but would also be highly unusual in the breed. "I’d recommend you have Dr. Darling give her a once-over to make sure she’s not having any health issues, but behavior-wise I didn’t find a thing.”


"See? No problem, m’lady.” He lifted her to eye level and looked into her green saucer-like eyes. "Falsely accused. I knew you were too well-mannered to misbehave like that.”


"Maybe she’s simply bored.” I smiled at the flicker of shock in his in­telligent blue eyes. "Sometimes a normally passive cat will become a little forceful in their play if they have a lot of pent-up energy.”


"But what is one to do?” He stroked the cat’s back. "I should think you can’t take a cat for a proper walk.”


"Perhaps you and Jake can develop an app to entertain Toria.”


He stared off into space, apparently lost in the possibilities.


I waved a hand in front of his face. "Cash, I was kidding.”


"You have a cat, don’t you?” He continued to absently stroke Toria’s fur. "So we’d have some built-in beta testers.”


"I have two cats, Thelma and Louise.” I laughed. "Common house cats, though, not pure-bred royalty like Toria.”


"Old girl thinks she’s an aristo-cat anyway.” A wide grin creased his cheeks. "And a royal name to boot. After Queen Victoria.”


Cash stood, ignoring the cat fur that now covered his dark blue jeans. "An early patron of animal rights. One of the few for her time. She’s the royal who authorized adding that important prefix to our Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”


"Interesting stuff.” I looked up at the two. "In fact, I can’t believe I didn’t know that.”


"See, I’m more than just another pretty face.” His bright-blue eyes twinkled. And then cradling Toria against him, he turned to go.


"Oh, Cash, by the way there’s a package for you on the front desk.”


"Thanks.” He disappeared into the reception area. "Come on, Toria. I’m positive at this point we’ve got hundreds of bloody emails to answer.”


An hour flew by as I updated files, organized notes, and made my list for the day. Yep, I’m one of those. Don’t judge. I love my daily list. I know it’s about control, but I don’t care. It’s a little coping thing, and it works for me.


I could hear Cash in the office next door. His music was some sort of Celtic instrumental. Usually he used headphones, but today he’d appar­ently opted for speakers. Didn’t bother me at all. It was lilting and relaxing. I’d made good progress on my paperwork.


"Caro, could Toria hang with you for a bit?”


I looked up from my computer. Cash was suddenly back at my door, and I realized the music had stopped.


"Jake just rang me and I’ve got to pop by the house for a few minutes. Twenty to thirty minutes tops.”


"Sure.” I took Toria from him. I had at least another thirty minutes of file updating work to do.


"Be back in a jiffy,” Cash called over his shoulder.


I’d put Toria on the chair beside me, but the alleged mean-girl tabby jumped up and parked herself on my desk. I gave her a cat toy to play with from the stash I kept in the office, but she was much more inter­ested in sitting on my paperwork and nudging my hand as I tried to work on the computer.


After a bit more work and a lot more cat dodging, I glanced at my watch. I wasn’t sure what time it had been when Cash left, but he’d certainly been gone much longer than the twenty to thirty minutes he’d indicated. I would need to get going soon.


I checked my contacts list for a phone number and located Cash’s cell.


The call went directly to voice mail.


I’d planned to stop at home to let Dogbert out for a break. Then I had a house call at eleven o’clock with Betty Foxx, who worked for my cousin, Melinda, at her high-end pet shop, the Bow WowBoutique. I’d been surprised to hear from Betty because my cousin and I were cur­rently on the outs. That’s Texan for we aren’t speaking to each other.


Like most family disputes it had started over something small—in our case a family brooch. It wasn’t that the heirloom piece of jewelry was so valuable, though it was a twenty-two-carat gold basket filled with precious stones. Precious stones shaped like different types of fruit. The brooch was, shall we say, a unique piece of jewelry. The main thing, though, was that our Grandma Tillie had left the brooch to her favorite granddaughter. I knew she meant it to go to me. Mel was just as con­vinced it was intended for her.


Like I said, you’d think we could work it out, but that ship had long since sailed. Words had been exchanged, not very nice ones, and here we were. The brooch was currently locked up tighter than tight in a safe at my house, but I was sure Mel was trying to figure out how to get it back.


Anyway, needless to say, I had been shocked when Betty phoned and said Melinda had recommended she call me about a problem she was having with her dog. I’d known Betty Foxx from the self-defense class Diana and I had taken, but she’d never mentioned having a dog.


I put the address Betty had given me into my cell phone so I had it for directions and then tried Cash’s cell number again. Nothing. Shoot. I needed to get a move on if I was going to make the appointment on time.


I decided I could swing by the house where Cash and Jake lived and drop off Toria. Though brilliant, the two of them were sometimes a little flaky. Just last week the cleaning crew had called because Jake had left his keys in the outer door.


I called Cash’s number again and this time left a message letting him know I would drop off Toria at their home. I checked the guys’ office for a cat carrier. The computer was still on and I thought about shutting it down, but I hesitated because maybe Cash had intended to leave it on. There was a multi-colored freehand drawing on the back of the screen. It looked like an alien. Sort of a combination of ET’s older brother and Munch’s eerie painting, "The Scream.” Verdi had often complained that she felt creeped out by it when they left their office door open because it was drawn in such a way that it looked like the alien’s eyes followed you. The two guys had been amused by her comments.


Now where would they keep a cat carrier?


Found it. The carrier was tucked behind the door. I coaxed Toria into it and then stepped into the reception area, pulled their office door shut, and then closed my own.


Suzanne, the psychic who was one of our officemates, was just arriv­ing. Our Suzanne doesn’t look like what you might think of as the stereotypical mind reader. No crystal ball, no long gypsy skirt, no dangly earrings. The lady’s look was all business in her tailored dress-for-success black suit, white blouse, and sensible shoes.


She stopped just inside the door and looked at me. Her lips pursed for a moment before she spoke. "What are you doing with the boys’ cat?” she asked in her flat, no-nonsense tone.


"Cash left her with me.” I held up the carrier. "I’m dropping her off at their house.”


"Hmpf. I sense trouble.” She turned and walked away.


I didn’t know if she meant trouble for me, Jake, Cash, or the cat. Bot­tom line, I didn’t give a lot of credence to the practice of telling the future, but if the woman was going to spout off-the-wall predictions, she ought to be specific.


Seriously, Suzanne? You should have warned me.


Chapter Two


THE HUGE HOUSE where Cash and Jake lived looked more like it belonged on an English estate than on a hill in a California beach town. It certainly was not at all like the many sprawling SoCal-style structures that dominate Laguna’s landscape. Their abode was almost castle-like with turrets and towers, and a stone face more reminiscent of moors than beaches. I wasn’t sure how they’d gotten the design past the zoning board, but I guess it didn’t block any ocean views, which is often the main reason for refusal here in Orange County.


I rang the doorbell and could hear the clanging from inside, but there was no answer. Finally I rapped on the door, though if they hadn’t heard the bell, I don’t know why I thought they’d hear my knock.


Cash’s distinctive red Tesla sports car was parked out front so he had to be inside and must simply be someplace where he couldn’t hear the doorbell. I tried the knob and it turned in my hand. Slipping inside, I set the cat carrier on the smooth marble floor and called out.


Unhappy with being home and still caged, Toria meowed in protest.


"Hang on, kitty. Let me check for your people.” I walked through the entryway and into the living room.


"Hey, Cash?” I called out again and then walked through toward the kitchen, which I could see was at the back. I looked around, but the place was deserted. Great. Where was he?


The kitchen led to a breakfast area, which in turn opened onto a flag­stone patio and a swimming pool that stretched the length of the space. The patio door stood wide open. Ah, this held possibilities.


"Cash? Jake?” I stepped around the massive kitchen table, piled high with electronics, and out into the sunshine. Blinded for a moment by the brightness, I didn’t immediately notice the person in the pool.


When I did, I also registered that he was facedown.


Oh, no! Not good.


I kicked my shoes aside and went in. It was a zero-depth pool with a gradual slope leading into the deeper water. But he was clear down in the deep end.


I swam to him, latched onto his shirt. Towed him back to where I could stand. Pulled him to the edge.


His water-logged weight fought me.


Locking my arms under his shoulders, it took several tries, but I fi­nally dragged him up onto the patio. I took in big gulps of air, out of breath from the effort.


Breathe. Get a grip.


I rolled him over and prepared to give CPR. I was rusty, but I’d been trained. I could do this.


As I knelt beside the prone body I realized it wasn’t Cash but Jake.


He was fully clothed, jeans, expensive Italian loafers, loud Hawaiian- print shirt.


I also noted drowning was the least of his worries. The blond com­puter wonder-kid had a power cord wrapped tightly around his neck.


Oh, God. I sent up a swift prayer.


With shaky wet fingers, I loosened the cord, tossed it aside, and checked his neck for a pulse.


Nothing.


I ran back into the house, my wet feet sliding across the wood floor, to where I’d dropped my purse.


I dug out my cell phone and dialed 911.


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