Marked for Murder: A Paranormal Women's Fiction Novel
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Trouble follows Shelby Nichols
Why wouldn't it?
She works for a mob boss.
And the police.
A desperate call from a friend in need turns Shelby's life upside down. Someone is out to prove that Shelby is a fake, marking her for murder. How far will they go?
As the clock ticks down, she realizes no one is safe, and it's up to her to stop them. Will she succeed? Let's hope so, because time is running out...
USA TODAY and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author Colleen Helme offers a clever mix of mystery, laugh-out-loud humor, and page-turning adventure in the highly acclaimed Shelby Nichols Adventure Series.
Book 12 in the Shelby Nichols Adventure Series
PRAISE FOR THE SHELBY NICHOLS SERIES
"The author has such a quirky sense of humor partnered with such creative talent it that really shines on every page!" ~ Amazon Reviewer
"Every Shelby Nichols Adventure is better than the last! The characters are dynamic and the stories are full of twists and turns. Can't wait for the next one!" ~Amazon Reviewer
Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Hunter, Jana DeLeon, Shannon Mayer, Eve Langlais, and Darynda Jones.
Release date: May 23, 2019
Publisher: Manetto Books
Print pages: 345
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
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Marked for Murder: A Paranormal Women's Fiction Novel
My phone began playing, “Here Comes the Bride,” right in the middle of an important meeting. My eyes widened, and I frantically dug the offending electronic device out of my pocket.
I quickly declined the call and glanced up. Four men sat around the conference table at Thrasher Development, each staring at me with undisguised amusement. Uncle Joey, the local mob boss for whom I worked, raised a brow, unhappy with the interruption.
“Uh… sorry about that,” I said, giving them my best smile.
A split second later, it started up again. This time, I jumped out of my chair. “Please excuse me. I’d better take this.” I grabbed my notes and rushed into the hall for privacy. I hoped Uncle Joey wouldn’t be too mad at me for ditching him. But since the phone call was from Billie Jo Payne, who was getting married on Saturday, I figured it had to be important.
She and Detective Drew Harris, aka Dimples, were both friends of mine. In fact, Dimples was my partner on the police force. Since I’d had a hand in getting them together, I had a vested interest in their upcoming nuptials.
“Hey Billie,” I answered, walking down the hall toward my office. “What’s up?”
“Shelby! I need your help. Something terrible has happened.”
“Can you come to my office at the newspaper? I’ll explain everything then.”
“Uh… I’m kind of in a meeting right now. Can it wait?”
“No,” she replied, her voice filled with alarm. “Please. I need you.”
“Okay. I’ll be right over.”
She disconnected without even saying thanks, and my heart filled with dread. I’d never heard her sound so frantic before. Did that mean the wedding was off? She didn’t usually panic, or beg for my help on such short notice, so I knew it was serious.
I let out a sigh, knowing I had to go, but what about Uncle Joey? It didn’t seem like a good idea to poke my head back in the conference room and tell him that I had to leave. But I could let Jackie, his secretary, tell him for me. Since she was married to him, she wouldn’t get in trouble for it.
I rushed inside my new office. Moving behind my desk, I set my notes on top and pulled open the drawer holding my purse. As I slipped my purse over my shoulder, I paused to glance at the painting Uncle Joey had picked out for me. He’d told me the abstract art reminded him of me and how I’d changed his life for the better. I hoped he remembered that when he came in to get my notes.
I hurried out the door and paused at Jackie’s desk to let her know I was leaving.
“Is something wrong?” she asked, noticing my heightened color. “Is the meeting over?”
“Uh… no, but I have an emergency. Tell Uncle Joey that my notes about the meeting are on my desk, and that I’ll be back as soon as I can. Thanks!” I ran out before Jackie could ask me any more questions and pushed the call button on the elevator.
The doors opened, and relief filled me to find the elevator empty. Now all I had to do was make it to my car without running into anyone, and I’d be home free.
On the parking level, I stepped out of the elevator and started toward my car. Hearing the roar of a motorcycle, I glanced up to see Ramos, Uncle Joey’s right-hand man, driving toward his spot behind the pillar next to the elevators. Not sure if he’d seen me, I ducked my head and hurried on.
Usually, I liked running into Ramos, especially when he was on his motorcycle, since that meant I might get to go for a ride. He was one sexy, hunk of a man and gave most women shivers just to look at him. But since I’d run out on Uncle Joey, I didn’t want Ramos to know. He wouldn’t approve, especially if he knew the reason.
As I reached my car, I heard the motorcycle change direction to head my way, and I knew I’d been caught. Ramos pulled up beside me. His eyes narrowed with suspicion that I’d tried to leave without speaking to him. Why was I in such a hurry?
Since he was one of the few people who knew I could read minds, I answered his thoughts. “Oh, hey Ramos. You’re right. I’m in a hurry, but it’s nothing life-threatening, so you don’t need to worry.” I gave him my brightest smile and pulled open my car door.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Uh… just a minor emergency, but I’ll be back.”
“Oh… no. Not about him. It’s something else.”
“Like what? Maybe you’d better explain.” He leaned forward on the bike and waited, not about to let me go without an explanation.
I let out a sigh. “Oh, all right. I got a phone call from Billie Jo Payne. She’s getting married to Dimples on Saturday, and she sounded frantic. I told her I’d come right over.”
His eyes widened. Was I putting the police detective and his fiancée ahead of Manetto? “Did you just ditch the big boss?”
How did he know? “Well… sort of. But I picked up enough from the meeting to know what those guys are thinking about the deal, and I left the notes on my desk for him. So in a way, I’m not ditching him at all, see?”
As a mind reader, my job for Uncle Joey was pretty straight-forward. He invited me to sit in on his meetings, and I reported all the pertinent details that his associates forgot to mention.
Ramos frowned, not about to let me off so easy. He couldn’t fault me for being a good friend to Billie, but Manetto wouldn’t be happy that I’d left like that. Then he thought it was a good thing Manetto had a soft spot for me. No one else would ever get away with my antics. Still, he hoped I didn’t make a habit of running off.
“I won’t. Like I said, it’s an emergency. And I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.”
He nodded, thinking that trouble had a way of finding me, and he hoped this wasn’t one of those times I got involved in something that was way over my head. Had I remembered to get the tracker in my watch replaced? With my record, I’d need it.
“Good grief! I’m sure this is not going to be dangerous. I’ll be fine.”
“And the tracker?”
I rolled my eyes. “I took my watch to Geoff.” I raised my wrist to show him. “It’s all good.”
His lips quirked up in a lop-sided grin, and my heart did a little flip-flop. He had that effect on me, especially taking in his dark good looks, black leather motorcycle jacket, and the total hotness of a Harley Davidson. Add to that the glint of danger in his eyes, and it was enough to make any warm-blooded woman drool.
He was thinking about the time I’d accidentally called him Romeo, mostly because I had that same goofy look on my face, and his smile widened. “Go on. I’ll catch you later.”
As he drove away, I shook off the trance he’d caused and climbed into my car. Ugh! Romeo! How embarrassing. He didn’t even have to say it out loud to tease me about it, and I knew I’d never hear the end of it.
I slipped on my seatbelt and backed out of my parking space, but couldn’t remember where I was going. Oh yeah… Billie. She needed my help. Focusing on her dispelled the Ramos-caused fog in my brain, and a shiver of disquiet caught my breath.
I fervently hoped her problem was nothing to worry about. But if this was about the wedding, I had to do my best to make sure everything worked out for Billie and Dimples. That should be easy for a mind reader like me, but I’d been wrong before.
Ever since that fateful day when I’d gone shopping for carrots at the grocery store, I’d had to adjust to my new life as a mind reader. I’d gained this crazy ability when I’d been shot in the head by a bullet from a crazy bank robber. Some days it was great, and I felt like a super hero.
But on other days, like when I was coerced into working for a mob boss, it didn’t go so well. Of course, in the long run, that hadn’t turned out so bad either, although recently, Uncle Joey had claimed my family as part of the Manetto clan. Since I couldn’t stop it from happening, I tried to ignore the pangs of unease that twisted my stomach into little knots, and concentrated on all the perks.
My husband, Chris, was now a partner in his law firm, mostly because Uncle Joey was his biggest client. That wasn’t all bad, right? Among other things, Uncle Joey had used his influence in getting my fifteen-year-old son, Josh, a job at the ritzy country club as a lifeguard this summer. It was a dream job for a kid his age, so how could I complain?
I’d also been sent to New York in his private jet to help him out. Staying in a swanky hotel in New York was awesome. To find out he owned the place, and then to meet his extended family, had nearly given me a heart attack. But I’d managed to fit in as Uncle Joey’s newly discovered niece, even though it was all a lie.
But how could I stop working for a mob boss when both he, and more directly, Ramos, had saved my life more times than I could count? I couldn’t turn my back on them now. They’d even helped me out when they didn’t need to, and I owed them more than I could ever repay.
Still, as deeply as I was involved with Uncle Joey, I tried to balance things out by helping Dimples and the police department. I’d even been to D.C. to help the CIA stop a terrorist attack, so that had to count for something.
Of course, the CIA didn’t know the truth that I could read minds like Uncle Joey, Ramos, and my husband, Chris. Dimples had figured it out because we worked so closely together, but I’d told everyone else, including my kids, that I simply had premonitions.
Sure, helping all those people had brought me close to death a few times, but somehow I’d always managed to survive. So how bad could it be to help Billie today? I guess I’d find out soon enough.
I pulled into the parking lot across the street from the newspaper offices and hoped Billie would spring for a parking pass so I wouldn’t have to pay. I’d never been to the newspaper’s offices before, so this was a new experience.
I crossed the street, glancing at the towering glass walls before entering through the sliding doors. A long desk stood between the glass walls and the elevator bank. I stopped to tell the receptionist I was there to see Billie.
She checked a list and nodded, then motioned me toward security. I had to walk through a metal detector and send my purse on an x-ray conveyor belt. The security guard made me wait while he pulled out my stun flashlight. He examined it, thinking that, since it wasn’t a gun or a knife, I could keep it.
Billie’s office was on the third floor, so I took the elevator up and wandered around until I found her cubicle. Unfortunately, it was empty. As I stood there wondering what to do, Billie spotted me from a nearby office and hurried out.
“Shelby! You made it. Let me tell you what’s going on.” She pulled me into a conference room for privacy and began to explain. “I’ve been doing a series of special interest pieces on single mothers, and I’ve run into a big problem. One of the women I’ve reported on has been trying to get paternity support from the child’s father, but it’s all gone wrong.”
“So this isn’t about your wedding?” I asked, interrupting her.
Her brows creased together. “No. Why would you think that?”
“Well, I don’t know, maybe because you’re getting married this weekend?”
She smiled, brimming with excitement, and then her shoulders dropped. “I guess it is, in a way, because I’m on a deadline, and this last article is supposed to be done by the end of the day today. Now I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
“Okay. So there’s something wrong with the paternity test? The guy isn’t the father?”
“Actually it’s not with the father… but with the mother. I can hardly believe it myself, but the DNA test clearly shows she is not the mother of her baby.”
“Are you kidding me? How does that even happen?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” she responded. “I mean, surrogacy is about the only way it could happen, but the mother, Claire, is devastated. She’s insisting that she’s the baby’s mother.
“I’d like to believe her, but how does a DNA test lie? And this is the second one they’ve done. They’re from different labs, but they’re both showing the same result. It’s conclusive that she’s not the baby’s mother. So, not only can they take the baby away, but, because she’s been getting assistance from the state, they can arrest her for welfare fraud.”
“Dang,” I said. “That’s not good.”
“Exactly. That’s why I need you. I’m hoping you’ll be able to pick up if she’s lying so I’ll know how to help her.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can do.” I was surprised that Billie even considered an alternative. That meant the mother, Claire, must be pretty convincing to pull one over on Billie. I mean, how can a DNA test lie?
Billie and I have a shared history. Even though she doesn’t know the truth that I can read minds, she’s seen enough to believe in my psychic ability.
She let out a relieved breath. “Thanks Shelby. She’s in my boss’s office. I’ll take you there.”
As I followed Billie, I caught her concern that time was running out. In fact, Claire had run from a social worker and a police officer who’d come to her house earlier. They’d come for the baby and, most likely, to arrest Claire. She’d managed to dodge them and had come to Billie for help.
Sheesh. That didn’t sound good. What had Billie gotten me into here?
We came to a corner office that had all the blinds pulled. Billie opened the door and ushered me inside, discreetly checking to see if anyone had noticed.
A petite, young woman, with long, sandy hair, sat in the chair in front of the desk. As we entered, she clenched the baby to her chest in fear, but calmed to see it was Billie and me.
“Hi Claire, this is Shelby, the person I told you about,” Billie began. “She just needs to ask you a few questions.”
I smiled and focused on the baby. “She’s so cute,” I said, hoping to get Claire to relax. “What’s her name?”
“Riley. She’s almost seven months old.” Claire glanced at me with fear in her eyes. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I am her mother. Somehow the test got messed up, and it’s all a horrible mistake. Please. You can’t let them take her from me.”
Claire’s eyes glistened with tears, and regret filled her heart. “I never should have tried to get the support money from Ray. He doesn’t even want her. Now it looks like they can take her away from me. How did this happen? If they take her because of the test results, I might never get her back. She’s mine. You have to believe me!”
I swallowed back my emotions. As a mother myself, I knew just how Claire felt, and it was killing me. “Tell me about you and Ray. Was getting pregnant a mistake?”
“I guess you could say that.” She told me the story of how they’d met and fallen in love, and how she’d thought they were perfect together. Then she got pregnant. “The idea of having a baby scared him off. Ray left me the next day.”
She was telling me the truth. She was definitely the baby’s mother. So why was the test wrong?
“I believe you, Claire. I don’t know what’s going on with the test, but I believe you’re telling the truth. It might take some time to figure this all out, but we’ll do it, okay?”
Tears of relief sprang into Claire’s eyes. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Billie sent me a grateful nod, knowing it had to be true if I believed her.
“What do we do now?” Claire asked.
“I hate to say this,” I responded. “But if it comes down to it, you might have to let social services take Riley for a few days until we can figure it out, but we will.”
“No, I can’t do that. There’s got to be another way.”
Billie had an idea that sent alarm spiking through my chest. I glanced at her and shook my head. “Billie, don’t.”
Her brows rose, but she pursed her lips with determination and turned to Claire. “I’ll hold them off until we can prove it.”
“I’ll put you up for a few days. If they can’t find you, they can’t take Riley.”
“Billie,” I said. “You could get arrested for that.”
“Not if they don’t find out. Don’t worry. She won’t be staying at my place.” Billie turned to Claire. “There’s a motel not far from here. You can stay there until we get this sorted out. I’ll pay for your stay.”
A knock sounded at the door, and we all jumped. The handle turned, and a man poked his head inside. I picked up from Billie that he was her co-worker, Ben, and he wasn’t happy. He took in the scene, and his brows drew together. “Billie, there’s a social worker and a police officer downstairs looking for Claire Hadley.” His gaze traveled to Claire. “Is that you?”
Before she could answer, Billie spoke. “Stall them for me.” She turned to Claire. “Come on. Let’s go out the back. The motel’s just a block away.”
“Billie. No,” Ben said. “I can’t do that, not even for you.”
Billie wasn’t about to let that stop her. As she brushed by him with Claire and the baby in tow, he called out, “They know she’s here.”
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