Recovering from a stab wound to the gut, and dealing with the news that his sister's killer might beat the system, Lieutenant Jake Carrington needs some downtime. But that's cut short by a very sensitive case: the murder of the police commisioner's wife. The crime scene-a dive hotel, complete with provocative, incriminating photos-suggests the victim was having an affair. But Jake finds that hard to believe-as hard to believe as the #1 suspect . . .
Jake hasn't seen his highschool sweetheart, Melinda Mastrianni, since the day his sister, Eva, died. He'd turned down Eva's request for a ride so he could go see Melinda, and the guilt has never left him. Now Melinda's a local photographer, mostly shooting weddings and graduations. Definitely not the kind of pics that led him to her doorstep. But when Melinda disappears, and more prominent women turn up dead, Jake will have to navigate through a twisted blackmailing scheme to find out if the girl he once knew is long gone-or if she's a killer's next target . . .
"Tense and authentic-a suspenseful page-turner!"
--Leo J. Maloney on All the Pretty Brides
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Sergeant Louie Romanelli donned a second pair of gloves before he dared touch anything in the rent-by-the-hour room. Squeaky beds and low moans from the adjoining rooms bled through the walls, even on a Sunday morning. Someone was getting it, but not him. He'd been called from home on his day off as a special favor for Commissioner Todd Blake. Sophia hadn't been a happy camper when he told her he had to report in. His wife had planned a family outing for the day and now he had ruined the whole thing — yet again. The job is the job, he thought.
No, instead he'd get to spend his day in a diseased, bug-infested room, standing over the half-nude body of the commissioner's lovely wife splayed on the bed. He had seen her only the night before, at a local charity ball she had organized. Her brilliant blue eyes had been alive then, vibrant, but had now started to fade as Callie Blake stared up at the ceiling with a vacant death gaze. Not for the first time, he wondered why this classy lady had been in this fleabag motel dressed like a hooker.
Louie turned, then strolled toward the door when a car screeched to a stop at the curb. The low murmur of the crowd that had gathered outside the scene grew louder. A mixture of pimps, hookers, and local residents with their cell phones at the ready waited to learn what had happened in room 142. Not that it was uncommon for a death to occur here. Most residents at the motel were druggies and many had overdosed inside their rooms.
He handed the evidence bag to the uniform next to him. He'd recognized the captain's car. Louie waited for his passenger to step from the car. He swore under his breath when Commissioner Todd Blake climbed out. Why the hell did the captain bring him to the crime scene? Blake was a suspect, for God's sake. The media vultures hovered outside the police lines, shouting questions at the captain and Blake. For pity's sake, it's going to be all over the news tonight that the police commissioner received special treatment.
Blake ignored the screaming media as if they weren't there. Gwenn Langley, the reporter from Channel 5, stood off to the side, away from the herd. Gwenn placed her hand on Blake's elbow and leaned close to whisper into his ear. From his place in the doorway of the crime scene, Louie rushed toward the pair to shelter Blake from her.
"Step back or I'll have you removed from the scene. Gwenn, show a little respect. This isn't the time or the place to approach the commissioner," Louie warned.
"Louie, she's fine, leave her alone," Blake said.
Louie stared Langley down before shifting his gaze to Captain Shamus McGuire, who shrugged at the unasked question.
Louie cleared his throat before he spoke in a soft voice for Blake's ears only. "Commissioner, I can't let you on the crime scene."
"That's my wife in there, Sergeant. I'm going in come hell or high water. Now get the hell out of my way if you want to keep your job," Todd shot back. The veins in his temples looked as if they were about to burst from his skin.
Louie was afraid the commissioner would have a stroke and become his next causality. As if a pack of lions, the media moved in closer, hoping for a sound bite for tonight's news.
"Captain ..." Louie turned to Shamus, a plea in his eyes.
Commissioner Blake was his boss, but he couldn't allow him to muddy up the evidence. If it came to trial, Blake's lawyers would have a field day. They'd almost be guaranteed a dismissal based on compromised evidence.
Shamus grasped Blake's arm, and whispered something to him. Louie leaned in, trying to hear, but Blake pinned Louie with a glare.
"Callie needs me, Shamus. I have to go in," Blake said.
"I'll walk you in ..." Louie said, conceding to his captain's judgment, but was cut off before he could finish his warning to Blake. He understood Blake's need. He'd want to see the body and crime scene if his wife, Sophia, lay dead in there instead of Callie Blake. The thought frightened Louie, and he blessed himself to banish it.
Shamus said, "Louie, step aside. Todd's going in for a minute, but you have to promise, Todd, afterward you'll wait for me in the car."
"Todd, I can't compromise the scene. If you don't agree to not touch anything, I'll have to have an officer escort you from the scene."
Blake's eyes narrowed as he stared down Shamus. Louie watched McGuire count down the seconds before Blake agreed.
Shamus led Todd Blake from the curb, up the path lined with the shouting media, to room 142. When Louie, his captain, and the commissioner stepped into the crime scene, Louie's team stopped what they were doing and came to attention. Blake approached his dead wife. Louie caught a few exchanging looks and behind Blake's back, he waved off the team. At least they have the grace to drop their eyes, Louie thought. God, this is a mess. It was painful to watch when Blake dropped to his knees by Callie's corpse. Sobs racked his body.
"Who could do this to her?"
Blake went to wipe her hair from her eyes. Louie started toward the commissioner, but Shamus pushed him away and grabbed Blake by his arm before Blake could touch Callie's body, which was dressed in black fishnet stockings and a black see-through bustier that fit a bit loose for Callie Blake's slender figure. There was a rip in the fabric, torn by the bullet that had entered her heart. To Louie, the crime scene seemed staged.
"I need you to go to the car, Todd," Shamus whispered to Blake.
It pained Louie to see the commissioner this way. Blake pushed off his knees, his fists curled by his sides. He hesitated, twisting back to look one more time at his wife. Blake then squared his shoulders and left the room. Louie pointed to a uniform to escort the commissioner to Shamus's vehicle and instructed him to keep the press out of his face. It didn't stop the media from shouting questions at the commissioner. Louie stayed in the doorway until Blake climbed into the car.
"Do you think he'll stay in the car?" Louie asked.
"Yes. What have you got?"
"A single bullet wound directly into the heart, but it looks like she fought before she was shot. Her knuckles are scraped up a bit. One shot, and I'd bet she died instantly, but we'll wait for Dr. Lang to verify the cause before we give that to Blake and the press. Shamus ... "
"Just tell me, Louie."
"There are pictures by the body, of Mrs. Blake in stages of undress, posing with a man. His back's to the camera, so it will be hard to identify him. It appears she had been carrying on with him. From what I know of Mrs. Blake, she wasn't that type of woman, was she?" Louie asked. "Oh, and here's the clincher. There are also a couple of nude photos of her alone."
"No, she wasn't that type of woman. I was afraid something like this would happen. I need to be up front with you, Louie. When we were at the gala last night, Todd told me Callie had received a blackmail letter with some pictures. The letter demanded twenty-five thousand dollars, and said they'd contact her soon."
"Why the hell ... I'm sorry, Cap, why didn't you tell me and Jake this last night? We could've jumped right on it."
"Todd wanted to wait until today. He didn't want to ruin the gala for Callie." Shamus pinched his nose as he evaluated the crime scene.
"Have you considered he needed time to plan this out?"
"Louie, I've known the man for over twenty-five years. He didn't kill his wife. He adored her."
"Even if she had an affair?" Playing the devil's advocate is never a popular role, Louie thought.
"She didn't, I know it ... but I'll keep as open a mind as I can. Don't you worry about it."
Christ, if I nail the commissioner for this, there goes my career.
* * *
Lieutenant Jake Carrington had been looking forward to his trip to Vermont with his girlfriend, Mia, while out on medical leave. He'd promised her that nothing and nobody would interrupt them. In the townhouse he'd rented on the mountain, a stone fireplace dominated the great room, which blended into the kitchen, and the stairs to the right wound in a wide spiral. Jake climbed them, Mia followed behind. Together they checked out the king-size bed. He lowered his body to the bed, ignoring the shooting pain in his gut, and flashed her his biggest grin. How fast could they mess it up?
"It's all I need, how about you?" He patted the place beside him.
"I love a fireplace in the bedroom," Mia said. "I'll light the fire and take the chill out of the air while you get the bags and we unpack."
Jake took the cue and went down to the car. Five minutes later he returned with their bags, to the pleasing smell of wood burning in the fireplace.
"You're pretty good with fire." He locked eyes with her as she turned from the fireplace. "I'll have to watch myself," Jake said.
Mia pushed up from her place in front of the hearth. Jake dropped her bags on the luggage rack and placed his single bag on the desk. Sunlight played off the floral wallpaper, putting half the room in shadows. It illuminated the bed, inviting them in. She had started to unzip her suitcase and put clothes in the dresser drawers. Jake admired the back view but wanted to hold her. He came up from behind and wrapped his arms around her waist, and then nibbled on her neck.
She tilted her head to the left as she sank into him.
"I've thought of this all week," he whispered into her ear, finding the sweet spot where her pulse throbbed in her neck. "I was so afraid something or someone would sabotage this — your deadline or my job. I'm glad it didn't."
He turned her around to face him. Jake gently bit her lower lip and snuggled her closer to him. "I want you."
Jake danced her to the bed as he unbuttoned her blouse and kissed his way down her neck. "My Mia," he whispered as he fell onto the bed with her and started working off her jeans.
His breath caught in his throat when he shucked his shirt and his cell phone tumbled from the pocket. He ignored the jabbing pain from the knife wound he'd received on his last case and bent to retrieve his phone before slamming it on the nightstand, and continued to undress Mia, never taking his eyes off her.
Mia's eyes darkened to midnight blue. He loved the change — no matter if it was with passion or anger — the color always drew him in. He started to slide her jeans from her hips when his cell phone started vibrating on the nightstand. He ignored it.
"Aren't you going to check to see who's calling?" Mia pushed up on her elbows.
Jake stretched his six-foot frame beside her and curled a strand of her silky black hair around his finger while leaning on an elbow. Though both had Irish ancestry, their coloring differed. Mia's pale white skin against her black hair and blue eyes engaged him every time he looked at her.
"No. You're all that matters in this moment."
"Jake, everyone knows not to bother you unless it's important. At least see who it is."
Whoever it is, is a dead man.
He sat up, threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Only then did he pick up his phone and check the caller ID.
Damn it! Louie.
Before he'd left Wilkesbury, Connecticut, he'd stressed that no one should bother him unless someone was dying or dead.
"This had better be damn good, like you need a kidney or something in the next couple of hours," Jake snapped.
"I'm sorry to do this to you, but the commissioner wants to speak with you personally. I'll conference him in."
The fact that Louie didn't joke or jabber told Jake whatever had happened was big. Louie had been too formal. Half dressed, Mia sat up and leaned into Jake's back, her head close to the phone to eavesdrop. He didn't bother to untangle himself — she had a right to know what was going on. This would affect her vacation as well.
"Jake, it's Blake." The Wilkesbury police commissioner cleared his throat. In all the time he'd known the guy, Blake had never allowed an emotion to filter through. "My wife, Callie ..."
"Commissioner, will it be easier for you if Louie fills me in?" Something was definitely wrong.
"No, no. Callie's been murdered." The commissioner coughed into the phone. "I need a personal favor from you and Louie. You're the only two I trust to handle this. I want the both of you working Callie's case."
"I'm so sorry for your loss, Commissioner," Jake said, squeezing his eyes shut. I just saw her last night at the gala. What happened? Did the commissioner kill her? No, it couldn't be. "Commissioner, I haven't been cleared for duty." Jake's hand automatically rested over the healing knife wound.
"I'll override it. I need you and Louie on this," Blake said.
Jake went immediately into cop mode. There was no question about what had to be done. He mimed writing on a piece of paper to Mia, hoping she understood. She jumped off the bed and shuffled through the desk drawer until she found paper and a pencil. She handed them to him. Jake took notes while Mia knelt close to his phone to listen in.
"I'm in Vermont. It will take me two hours or more to get home and another hour to drop off Mia. In the meantime, there's no one better than Louie to process the scene."
"I know that. But I want the both of you working it. It's delicate. There were photos found with her body ..." The commissioner's voice faded.
"Jake, I'll fill you in when I'm through with the commissioner," Louie said.
Jake hung up and sat there for a second before turning to Mia. "I'm sorry. You know I need to handle this one."
"My God, Jake, I met her last night. I liked her. What happened?"
"Louie couldn't say with the commissioner there, but Blake said she was murdered."
"We better get going. We'll do this some other time," Mia said, pushing off the bed. She'd started to adjust her clothes, then emptied the drawers, putting her clothes back in the suitcase.
"Let me make a call to the rental agency."
Jake canceled the weekend and got stuck with the two-night minimum charge. They started the long drive home. He'd have to wait for Louie's return call to learn the facts of the case.
Jake pushed the speed limit when he hit I-91 south. Twenty-five minutes after getting on the highway in Vermont he approached exit 26 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He put on his signal and veered off the highway. They'd have lunch here. When he'd have time for another meal, he didn't know. Jake threw the shifter into park as his phone started vibrating in his pocket.
"About damn time. What took you so long?"
"I questioned Blake, but we need to do a more in-depth one-on-one when you arrive. Shamus interviewed him with me. Lord, he tiptoed around the questions. It took twice as long as it should've."
"The manager of the dive on Foundry Lane found her a little after two when he did his daily check of the rent-by-the-hour guests."
"Not Wilson's Motel?"
"Yep, the one and only. She was shot through the heart and one of her stockings was tied around her neck in a bow. The knuckles on her right hand were scraped. It tells me she fought back, trying to defend herself. Beside the body we found a picture of her in the arms of a man. His back was to the camera, but it was obvious it wasn't the commissioner. Not a pretty sight. In another photo, she was alone wearing one of those sexy bustiers with a garter belt and nothing else ... as in no underwear. And there are some nude photos of her alone."
"Was she the one who rented the room?"
Jake couldn't find a valid reason Callie Blake would go to a motel, not to mention the Wilson. He'd known the Blakes for a good many years, and Callie cheating didn't add up. He'd have bet his house on her fidelity. What about her children? Did they know their mother had been murdered?
"Yes, she paid cash for it. The manager said it wasn't her first time there either."
"You sure he's not lying? And did the clerk see who went in with her?"
"Jake, I know how to do my job."
"Sorry, it's hard not being there. Do you know why she was there?" He'd run his own background check on the clerk when he got home. He had to be lying.
"Your guess is as good as mine. I'd say she'd been cheating on the commissioner, but he denies it. He insists she wouldn't do that."
"Ah." He understood what Louie wasn't saying. "Does he understand that we'll find the truth? No matter what he tries to hide, it will come out during the investigation."
How many times in his career had he been surprised by a friend caught in a bad situation — Too many to count, he thought. But with Callie Blake it really did seem unlikely.
"He's counting on it. And of course, the press is already here."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All the Dirty Secrets"
Copyright © 2019 Marian Lanouette.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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