Fans of Harper Connelly and TV’s Medium will love the psychic detective in this New York Times bestselling series….
Abby Cooper can’t believe her eyes after the police show her surveillance video of her best friend and business partner, Candice Fusco, shooting a man in cold blood. And when the cops tell her they think the victim has ties to the Mob—and perhaps Candice does too—Abby can’t believe her ears. Surely there is a logical explanation. But Candice is nowhere to be found.
Trusting her intuition, Abby decides to search for the truth in Vegas—which may be the biggest gamble of her life. Once in town she begins to uncover a rigged game of dirty double-dealing where the stakes are no less than life and death. And if she’s not careful, Abby can forget about ever leaving Las Vegas...alive.
Release date: July 1, 2014
Print pages: 304
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My eyes popped open just after three a.m. I’m not sure what woke me except that I had a bad feeling the second I sat up in bed and looked around. My hubby, Dutch, was sleeping peacefully next to me, the sound of his light snoring filling the room.
Instinctively I reached for my cell phone, which was facedown on the nightstand and turned to silent. I always mute my phone before I go to bed because anyone calling after eleven p.m. usually has only bad news to share, and in recent months I’ve had all I can handle in the bad-news department.
Focusing on the phone’s display, I saw that my best friend and business partner, Candice Fusco, had just called—and she’d left a message. I pressed play and held the phone to my ear.
“Abby!” the voice mail began, and the urgency in her voice made my back stiffen. “You have to trust me. It’s not how it looks.”
It’s been my experience that nothing good ever starts with those words.
Immediately I paused the message and called Candice. It went straight to voice mail. “Shit!” I whispered (swearing doesn’t count when you whisper), and tried calling her again, only to get the same result. I looked at the time stamp of Candice’s call. Three oh four a.m. It was now three oh six.
I tried a third time to reach her and again the phone went straight to voice mail. Either Candice’s phone was turned off or it had lost its charge, because otherwise it would’ve rung before clicking over.
“Where are you?” I muttered, tapping the phone to go back to that paused voice mail. “You have to trust me,” I heard the message repeat. “It’s not how it looks. But it’s gonna look bad, Sundance. Real bad. Listen carefully and whatever you do, don’t share this voice mail with anybody. This is for your ears only. I need you to go to the office the second you get this and do something for me. In the back of my closet is a wall safe. The combination is Sammy’s birthday—you remember it, don’t you?”
Sammy was Samantha Dubois. She was Candice’s older sister, who, tragically, had lost her life in a fatal car crash just outside Las Vegas when Candice was in her teens. Candice had been in the passenger seat at the time of the accident and had nearly died too. She’d pulled through after spending several months in the hospital. I couldn’t imagine how difficult that time must’ve been for her, but I knew it still affected her deeply, because my best friend almost never talked about the accident. Still, I’d see the deep emotional wound appear in Candice’s eyes twice a year on two specific dates: August 5—Sam’s birthday—and June 17, the date of Sam’s death.
I also knew that in years past Candice had kept a Nevada driver’s license with her photo but her sister’s information on it. As Candice was a private investigator by trade, she’d confessed to me that the fake ID came in handy on occasion, and it actually had come in very handy on one particular occasion that I could remember.
“Inside the safe you’ll find a file,” Candice went on, and it was then that I noticed her breathing had ticked up—as if she’d started running. “Take the file and hide it. Don’t show it or share it with anyone, Abby. No. One. Not even Dutch or Brice. I’ll be in touch when I can.”
The cryptic message ended there. I replayed it and held the phone tightly, as if I could squeeze more information out of Candice’s voice mail. And then I got out of bed and looked around the room trying to figure out what to do.
After a few seconds I did what comes naturally to me. I flipped on my intuitive switch and tried to home in on Candice’s energy.
I’m a professional psychic by trade. I have my own steady business of personal clients, and Candice and I work private investigation cases together. We work so well together that we’ve nicknamed each other after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I’m Sundance, and, as there’s nothing butch about Candice, she’s just Cassidy. When I’m not working a case with Candice, or busy with my own clients, I also sideline as a psychic for the FBI—although my official title at the bureau is “FBI civilian profiler.”
Kinda makes it sound like I have a fancy degree in psychology, doesn’t it? For the record, I majored in poli-sci, and there wasn’t much fancy about it. As long as nobody asks too many questions when they read my official ID, the Feds are happy.
My husband works for the bureau too. So does Candice’s.
Brice Harrison, Candice’s husband, is my boss at the bureau. Brice and Candice were married last month, when they eloped to Las Vegas and stayed there for a week and a half on their honeymoon. I wasn’t invited to the wedding, but then, nobody else was either. I guess it’s only fair, as Candice wasn’t exactly present for my wedding to Dutch. And it was probably a little bit my fault that she hadn’t gotten married locally. My sister, who’d attempted to orchestrate my wedding extravaganza, was still looking to exercise her wedding planner muscles on someone. The rest of us were just looking to exorcise my sister. She’d been like a woman possessed ever since Dutch and I had gotten engaged, and our wedding had hardly turned out like she’d planned (and planned, and planned!).
Still, it would’ve been nice to watch Candice and Brice exchange their vows. I’m pretty sure she thought the same about Dutch and me, which is why I pretended to be thrilled when she called me from Sin City to let me know they’d eloped. I think Candice knew I was a little hurt, but the weird thing is that ever since she got back from Vegas, she’s been different.
Candice has always been a pretty cool cucumber—it’s rare to see her lose her composure—but when she came back from her honeymoon, it’s like someone turned the temperature of that cool demeanor down another few notches. She’s become a little more withdrawn, and a little more—I don’t know—secretive?
It’s not anything I can put my finger on, but lately she hasn’t been as open with me about what’s going on in that highly intelligent mind of hers. I’ve been chalking it up to the fact that she and Brice have been busy house hunting and easing into their married lives. But deep down, no matter how I’ve been trying to rationalize it, I’ve been worried about her. And my radar has certainly pinged with a sense of urgency every time Candice and I hang out. I kept thinking a big case must be coming our way that just hadn’t appeared yet, but now, in light of the voice mail I’d just listened to, I knew I’d completely misinterpreted the signal.
“Abs?” I heard Dutch whisper as I fished around on the floor for my slippers.
“Go back to sleep,” I told him. The last thing I needed was for Dutch to get involved in whatever this was before I had a chance to figure it out.
The light on his side of the bed clicked on. “What’s wrong?”
I hid my phone behind my back and adopted what I hoped was an innocent smile. “Nothing, sweetie. I couldn’t sleep, so I’m just gonna go downstairs and watch some TV.”
Dutch rubbed his face and yawned. “Is there any cheesecake left?”
“No,” I lied, willing him to roll over and go back to sleep.
Dutch blinked. “You ate six pieces between yesterday and today?”
My smile got bigger and more forced. “Yes. It was too tempting to resist.”
Dutch focused on me, his eyes narrowing. Instantly I could tell he knew that (a) I was a liar, liar, pants on fire, and (b) I was hiding something.
“Abs,” he said, his gaze traveling to the hand holding my phone behind my back. “What’s up?”
He sighed heavily. “So it’s bad, whatever it is.”
I opened my mouth to insist that there was nothing wrong when Dutch’s phone rang. He glanced at it, then looked back at me as if to say, “I knew you were hiding something.”
Heat tinged my cheeks, but I held my ground and motioned with my free hand for him to answer his phone.
“Brice,” he said as he picked up the call, and a shiver went down my spine. I knew Brice was calling about Candice, and if Brice was calling Dutch at three a.m. about Candice, whatever was going on was as bad as bad gets.
If I needed any confirmation, the expression on Dutch’s face said it all. As he listened, he visibly paled and then his jaw clenched before he said, “When?” followed by, “Where?”
I shoved on my slippers and eased out of the room. Rounding the hallway into our beautiful new kitchen, I didn’t even bother to click on the lights. I just navigated the darkness the best I could, muttering the occasional “Dammit!” (swearing doesn’t count when you bump into furniture in the dark), and making my way toward the counter with the little copper dish that held my car keys.
“Abby?” I heard Dutch call from the bedroom.
I ignored him and hustled to the door leading to the garage, so thankful that I didn’t require the use of a cane anymore. I’d had a nasty accident eighteen months before that’d nearly permanently crippled me, but with a whole lot of physical therapy (and maybe some tough love from Candice when I didn’t push myself to get off the cane), I’d finally gotten the full use of my legs back.
“Abs?” I heard Dutch call again as I slipped out the door, closing it as quietly as I could behind me. I tapped the button for the garage door opener, then hurried to the car, tucking inside my shiny new SUV with my pulse racing. If Dutch discovered that I was slipping away, he’d grill me for details, and I felt intuitively that I had to get to the office and retrieve that file for Candice because time wasn’t on my side.
I backed out of the garage and closed the door, hoping that Dutch wouldn’t see me leaving before the door closed. My hubby had coated the garage door with enough silicone to make a Slip ’N Slide look sticky. Dutch liked that it barely made a sound as it moved up and down, and at the moment I was really glad he’d used two spray cans of the stuff on the gears. It’d give me a few extra seconds before he gave chase, and I knew he’d give chase because that’s just how Dutch rolled when it came to me.
Crouched over the steering wheel, I navigated the dark neighborhood streets, for once ignoring the beauty and quiet of our lovely suburban Austin community, and drove to the office I shared with Candice. My phone rang through the SUV’s Bluetooth a couple of times, but I ignored the calls from my husband, focusing instead on getting to the office as quickly as I could.
Once I was within sight of the building, I circled the block, hoping to spot Candice’s yellow Porsche nearby, but there was no sign of it. I parked in the alley between two buildings a couple of blocks down from the office, guided by my intuition, which was sending me lots of “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” signals, and, after looking around the all but deserted streets, I got out and trotted toward our building.
Along the way, I paused once or twice to listen and look, every nerve tingling with trepidation, and at last made it to the front door. I peered through the glass, looking around, but the place was so dark that I couldn’t see anything inside.
It took me a minute to fish around my key ring for the right key—no way was I going to risk using a light to find the key—and when I finally had it, the sweat from my palms made fitting it into the lock tricky.
At last I gained entrance and practically ran to the elevator, pressing the button a dozen times until the elevator doors opened. After selecting the fourth floor, I pressed the DOOR CLOSE button another dozen times, then tapped my foot anxiously as the elevator climbed its way up. “Should’ve taken the stairs,” I muttered.
The second the doors opened, I squeezed through and rushed down the hallway to our suite. The corridor was dimly lit—the main lights wouldn’t come on for another two hours or so. Still, it was enough light to see by and I had no trouble getting in the door this time. The first thing I did was call out Candice’s name on the slim hope that she was there, hiding. I felt my phone vibrate in my back pocket and I took it out to look at the display.
It was Dutch. Again. Trying to reach me for the sixth time.
I clicked the call over to voice mail and called out again. “Candice? Honey, it’s me. Are you here?”
There was no reply and the office was eerily silent. The hair on the back of my neck stood up on end and goose pimples lined my arms. I realized I was alone and vulnerable.
Turning back toward the door, I checked to make sure it was locked, then squared my shoulders and got on with it.
Candice and I have shared the suite of three private offices and one central lobby for nearly two years. We had a similar setup even before that when we both lived in Michigan. The arrangement of sharing space together worked really well for us.
Like me, Candice had her own set of private clients—the easy adultery cases or background-check stuff—and she and I tackled the more difficult missing persons and such cases together. It was a wonderful partnership, as we each brought something different to the investigation process. Candice had a wealth of PI experience, smarts, and a handy assortment of deadly weapons. I had my intuition, my sunny disposition, and a cache of colorful expletives I’d been saving just in case of emergency.
Candice’s office was just to the right of the front door, and my two smaller offices were to the left. Anxious to follow my best friend’s instructions and get the hello Dolly outta there before anyone was the wiser, I headed to the right of the tiny lobby and found Candice’s door closed. I tried the handle, but it was locked. “Son of a bitch!” (Swearing doesn’t count when your best friend doesn’t tell you she’s locked her office door and you need to get a secret file from the back of her closet before the poop hits the fan.)
Standing back from the door, I thought for a second, then remembered that I had a spare key to her office hidden somewhere in my desk drawer. We’d exchanged keys just in case of an emergency right after we’d signed the lease, but I hadn’t seen the key since I’d moved in.
Grumbling to myself, I moved back through the lobby to my office and over to the desk. Once there, I risked turning on the little lamp at the edge of my blotter and began rummaging around in the drawers when I felt that same prickly tension creep up my spine again.
I stopped rummaging and turned off the desk lamp, listening for any sound that might suggest I wasn’t alone. The seconds ticked by without incident, but instead of feeling less anxious, I began to feel even more nervous.
Turning around, I moved to the window and peered outside, and that’s when I saw a patrol car ease its way down the street. “Shit!” I hissed. (Swearing doesn’t count when you’re creeping around in the middle of the night and you think the cops may be about to rain on your parade.)
As my heart rate ticked up, I swiveled back to the desk and used my phone to shed some light on the drawer, frantically pushing at all the odds and ends I’d shoved into my desk over the past two years. And then, miracle of miracles, I found the key. “Eureka!”
Clutching it to my chest, I hurried out of my office and back over to Candice’s door. The key slid easily into the lock and I let myself in, then tapped at my phone to listen to her message again. “. . . In the back of my closet is a wall safe. . . .” I paused the message and moved to the small closet to the right of the desk, pulling open the door. Candice had a large filing cabinet in the closet, which took up almost the entire space and would neatly conceal anything behind it. Still, seeing it there was enough to make me groan. “Really, Candice?” With a sigh I pulled at the back edge of the filing cabinet, but it was extremely heavy, and trying to twist it out of the way was much harder than it looked.
It took me a minute or two of pulling, twisting, and shoving to get the cabinet to turn sideways so that I could wedge myself inside the closet and have a look behind it. I saw the wall safe midway down, just like Candice had said. What struck me, though, was that when we’d first looked at the space two years earlier, I was certain there’d been no safe inside this closet. Candice must’ve had it put in without telling me.
Why she’d done that I couldn’t guess, but it bothered me because I was Candice’s BFF and we weren’t supposed to keep secrets from each other.
Still, my radar was telling me I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on such things, so I hunkered down and stared at the dial. Putting the phone back to my ear, I listened to the next part of the message again. “The combination is Sammy’s birthday—you remember it, don’t you?”
“August fifth,” I muttered, but then my breath caught. I didn’t know the year. “Crap, Candice! What year was your sister born?”
In desperation I tried calling Candice’s cell again, but now, instead of going straight to voice mail, a recorded voice told me that the voice mailbox was full. I had a feeling Brice might be responsible for filling it up, because if Candice wasn’t taking my calls, I doubted she was taking Brice’s calls either. That could only mean she was in serious trouble.
Frustrated, I stared at the dial for a few seconds when I realized I could probably come up with the answer on my own. I started to spin the wheel toward the digits I did know—eight, five—then talked the problem of the remaining digits out loud. “Sam was four years older than Candice and Candice was fifteen at the time of the accident, so that would have been in nineteen ninety-five, I think. . . . Ninety-five minus nineteen equals seventy-six. So, right again to nineteen, then left to seventy-six.”
Just as the dial landed on that number, I heard a noise from somewhere in the building. I froze and strained my ears to hear more. Faintly I could just make out the sounds of activity in the building and my pulse quickened yet again as my radar sent a little ping of warning. Crossing my fingers, I pulled at the handle to the safe and it popped open. “Thank God!” I gasped, and shone the light of my phone into the interior. There in the safe was a fat wad of cash, one of Candice’s spare handguns, and a manila file without a label to indicate what it might contain. I snatched the file and the cash. “Leave the gun, take the casholi,” I whispered, thinking that if Candice contacted me, she’d probably need the money. Then I closed the safe door and spun the dial to lock it.
Standing up again, I wedged myself back out of the closet and shoved the filing cabinet with my shoulder. Under the fuel of adrenaline, the cabinet moved back into place without nearly the trouble it’d caused me a few minutes earlier. I closed the closet door and hustled back out of Candice’s office.
Risking a few extra seconds to lock her door again, I made sure to keep the key close, tucking it into my pocket before darting to the small window in the lobby overlooking the street. There were two patrol cars parked at the curb.
I didn’t even pause to utter an expletive; instead I whirled around and ran for our front door. Putting my ear to it, I listened, but didn’t hear anyone out in the hallway, so I undid the lock and eased the door open a crack. Putting my eye to the crack, I peered out and that’s when I heard the faint ping of the elevator. “Time to go,” I whispered, ducking out into the hallway. I paused only long enough to reach back and lock the handle on the door before closing it softly, then dashed off in the opposite direction from the elevators. There was a maintenance elevator at the rear of the building and I didn’t slow down until I’d reached it. I thought of using the stairs, but the door triggered the fire alarm, and I rather liked the fact that no one knew I was here in the building . . . yet.
As I waited for the service elevator, I could hear voices back down the hallway, and I knew the cops had made it to our office. I wasn’t totally convinced yet that they were looking for Candice, but I had a bad feeling all the way around and the last thing I wanted was to get caught up in some hot mess before I even had a chance to figure out what kind of trouble I was about to be swept up into.
The elevator finally arrived and I ducked in, pressing B for basement. The good thing about using the service elevator was that it didn’t ping when it arrived like the central elevators. It simply did its work quickly and quietly. “Thank you, service elevator,” I said once I was safely on my way down.
Once the elevator had stopped, the doors opened and I peered out. I’d been down on the basement level only twice, but I thought it a good idea tonight to avoid the lobby. There was a stairwell that led up to street level and out into the alley, but I knew that door was likely locked. I could only hope that my key for the front door worked on the rear door lock; otherwise, I’d be stuck.
It took me a little bit to find the stairwell door—the basement was a maze of corridors—but at last I was in front of the exit and with a little prayer I inserted my key. The lock turned and I wanted to whoop. Tucking through the door, I paused on the landing as the cool air from outside enveloped me. I couldn’t hear any voices from up top, so I made my way to the street and ran to the alley two blocks down where my car was still parked, hidden behind a Dumpster. I smiled to myself when I spotted it, grateful I had such good radar. I knew that if my car had been parked in the street, the cops would’ve definitely run my plates. Here at least I was fairly certain they hadn’t noticed the SUV.
I wasted no time slipping back behind the wheel and starting the engine, but I wasn’t about to turn on the headlights until I was well away from the building. I could only hope the cops didn’t look out one of the windows and see me inching away.
As I drove west headed toward home, I tried to figure out the best hiding place for the file and the money. At first I considered hiding them at my place, but I didn’t yet know what Candice was up against. Whatever it was, it was bad enough for Candice not to want to tell Brice about it—that’d been made clear by her choice to call me to retrieve the file and not her husband.
I had to conclude that whatever was going on, it was illegal, and Candice didn’t want Brice involved, and if it was truly that bad, then I sure as hello Dolly didn’t want to get Dutch involved either. I was totally willing to go to the mat for my BFF, but I wasn’t willing to suck Dutch into something sticky if I didn’t have to. Therefore, I concluded, hiding the file in the house where Dutch could find it was out.
That left me with few options, though, because obviously the office was also out. I considered my car, but again I had to nix that idea because wouldn’t that be one of the first places my hubby or my best friend’s hubby, or some other law enforcement officer, might look?
And then an idea struck me and I tapped at the steering wheel nervously while I considered it.
Our next-door neighbors, the Witts, were out of town on a two-week getaway to the Greek isles. They’d asked Dutch and me to watch the house for them, and I had their garage code for garbage day. Because Dutch had to work late, I’d been the one to pull in the Witts’ cans two days earlier, tucking them neatly back into the garage, thinking of all the brownie points I was racking up. But now I was thinking that the Witts wouldn’t be home for another ten days and who would think to look in their garage?
After considering all the angles, I decided that my neighbors’ garage was clearly the best short-term option and as long as I could sneak in there without Dutch noticing, I’d be home free until I heard from Candice.
When I got to my subdivision, I took the long route around the north end so that I could approach the Witts’ from the west instead of the east, as most of the windows I knew Dutch would be peering out as he waited for me to get home were at the other end of the house.
It was still dark out and I cut the lights on the car again as I came around the bend, parking between two houses midway down the street. As I cut the engine, I looked around, listening and watching for any sounds of approaching cars.
The sub was blissfully quiet and after waiting a few more seconds just to be sure, I opened the door and hopped out. Jogging along the sidewalk, I lifted my gaze to the upstairs windows of the houses I passed, nervous and jittery about being seen. At last I made it down the Witts’ driveway and lifted the little panel of the garage door keypad before consulting my phone for the Witts’ garage code. “Six-two-seven-four,” I recited, punching in the code and hitting enter. The door lifted and I sighed in relief at the fact that they also had a wonderfully quiet garage door. (Maybe Dutch and Scott Witt had compared silicone notes?) I tapped my foot impatiently while the door rose, then ducked under it and hurried to the back to punch the button to close the door again before it fully opened. I didn’t want anybody to see me fishing around in here. Still, when my phone vibrated in my back pocket, I jumped. Deciding it might be best to pick up the line before Dutch put out a BOLO alert, I answered the call with a cheery, “Hey, sweetheart!”
There was a pause, then, “You okay?”
“Wanna tell me where you are?”
I poked around at some yard supplies on the Witts’ back shelves. “Not particularly.”
“Is Candice with you?”
I sighed. “No.”
“Are you lying to me right now?”
Pulling at a small bag of potting soil next to the shelves, I said, “Not this time. Pinkie swear.”
There was another pause, then, “You sound like you’re in a cave.”
I eyed the large three-car garage. I knew Dutch was trying to figure out where I might be. “I had something to take care of, but I’ll be home very soon.”
“How soon is soon?”
I smiled. “Sooner than you think.”
“Good. The police are on their way. I’d turn that soon into quick if I were you.”
My back stiffened. “Noted. See you in a few.”
I hung up with Dutch and tugged again at the potting soil. There was a big terra-cotta flowerpot behind it that was large enough to conceal the file and the money, so without further delay I shoved the goods into the pot, then put the bag of dirt on top for good measure and punched the button for the door again.
I made it back to my car thirty seconds later but had to resist the urge to start the car and head straight home. If I arrived too early, Dutch would know I’d been very close by when I picked up his call, and I wouldn’t put it past him to connect the dots—after all, he’d been with me when the Witts had asked us to look after their place.
I waited three full minutes before pulling into our driveway, and immediately noticed Brice’s black Volvo at the bottom of the drive. “All right, Candice,” I muttered as I got out of the car, “let’s see what you’ve gotten yourself into this time.”
Dutch greeted me with an arched eyebrow. “Is there coffee?” I asked, ignoring the eyebrow.
“In the kitchen,” he said. “Brice is in there.”
I walked ahead of Dutch to the kitchen and the second I saw Brice, I came up short. He looked stricken, like he’d just lost his best friend, and more out of instinct than anything else, I went straight to him and gave him a hug. He stiffened against me—Brice isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type—but then I felt his arms encirc
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