Imitation of Death (Nikki Harper Series #2)

Imitation of Death (Nikki Harper Series #2)

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by Cheryl Crane

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"An addictive read. Perfect for movie star fans." -Library Journal

Cheryl Crane, daughter of movie icon Lana Turner, brings her Hollywood insider expertise to a star-studded mystery series featuring celebrity realtor-turned-sleuth Nikki Harper and her screen goddess mother, Victoria Bordeaux. . .

When the body of a spoiled, violent, party-boy turns up in

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"An addictive read. Perfect for movie star fans." -Library Journal

Cheryl Crane, daughter of movie icon Lana Turner, brings her Hollywood insider expertise to a star-studded mystery series featuring celebrity realtor-turned-sleuth Nikki Harper and her screen goddess mother, Victoria Bordeaux. . .

When the body of a spoiled, violent, party-boy turns up in a dumpster behind her mother's mansion, Nikki feels duty-bound to get involved. Eddie Bernard may have been the son of one of the biggest TV producers of all time, but the list of people glad to see him gone could stretch from one of end of Bel Air to the other. And the one person Nikki's sure is innocent is also the prime suspect: Jorge Delgado, her childhood friend and the son of Victoria's housekeeper.

While Victoria relishes the Tinseltown scandal, Nikki is soon submerged in a secret world of celebrity drug-dealing, dangerous cults, conniving stars, and, of all things, the Food Network. But as Nikki starts to close in on the truth, can she keep Jorge from facing the final curtain. . .while keeping herself out of a killer's spotlight?

"Crane clearly has fun playing with established mystery tropes and upsetting expectations. Fans of entertaining light fiction are in for a treat." —Publishers Weekly

"Who knows the back doors of Hollywood better than Crane? Not only does Crane know what the rich and famous want hidden, she's got a pretty good handle on the lengths they'd go to hide it." —RT Book Reviews

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Library Journal
No one is particularly shocked when rich slacker Eddie Bernard ends up stabbed to death with pruning shears. But his neighbor Nikki Harper, a high-end realtor and the daughter of movie star Victoria Bordeaux, refuses to believe that the gardener did it. To prove Jorge's innocence, Nikki and Victoria call on numerous friends and acquaintances. A blabby personal assistant for the Bernard family leaks the fact that plenty of people within the household had motives. Add a drug problem and a suspicious New Age church, and you have one wicked read. VERDICT Nothing like the zip code 90210 to increase the sensationalist appeal of Crane's latest (after The Bad Always Die Twice). But don't sell Crane short just because she's Lana Turner's daughter—and the one who killed Johnny Stompanato, her mom's abusive boyfriend. Short chapters, abundantly peppered with real celebrity names and pop culture references, make for an addictive read. Plus, Crane does a great job of incorporating a multicultural/GLBT cast. Perfect for movie star fans.

Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Nikki Harper Series, #2
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.60(d)

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Imitation of Death



Copyright © 2012 Cheryl Crane
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7582-5889-2



Nikki walked into her mother's kitchen, flip-flops slapping on the Italian tile floor, and opened the huge, commercial, stainless-steel refrigerator.

"If the bomb detonates, we don't have a chance," came a deep, sexy male voice from the terrace.

The sun was just beginning to set over the stone and wrought-iron privacy fence that framed the property and the sweet smell of bougainvillea drifted into the kitchen through the French doors. Her Cavalier King Charles spaniels spotted the open doors and shot through them, out into the backyard.

Nikki frowned, glancing in the direction of the escapees, then peered into the fridge: foie gras, hummus, star fruit, duck eggs. No plain old peanut butter and jelly here. She sighed. She wasn't really hungry, just bored. Friday night, all dressed up in sweatpants and a ratty tee, and nowhere to go.

"A hundred thousand American lives?" cried the voice of Victoria Bordeaux, silver screen goddess of the fifties and sixties.

"Gone." There was a snap of a thumb and an index finger. "In a fiery explosion that'll be felt for a thousand miles in every direction."

"Please tell me you're not getting on that train, Dirk. You'll die!"

Cocking her head to hear better, Nikki let the refrigerator door close. I should write a book, she thought. Because no one could make this crap up.

"Probably, but I have to try. Otherwise, I couldn't live with myself," came the dramatic male voice.

"Let me go, too!" cried Victoria. "Maybe I could disarm the bomb myself!"

"And risk our unborn child's life? Out of the question."

Nikki stepped out onto the stone terrace and heard the sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd wafting in the air ... which made for an interesting musical score for the scene unfolding in her mother's Beverly Hills backyard. "Marshall?"

"Shht!" Victoria warned, bringing a manicured finger to her pale peach lips. She was dressed in a white Michael Kors jogging suit, her platinum hair tied up in a cute silk scarf, and her trademark pearls on her slender throat. This was her Friday night staying-n attire, versus Nikki's. Victoria Bordeaux was one classy lady.

Victoria sat on a chaise longue, her legs stretched out, with pink foam spacers between her bare toes. She held a script in her hand, reading glasses perched on her nose. "A kiss! One more kiss before you go. Oh, Dirk, I can't believe you're going to get on that train."

"What the heck are you two doing?" Nikki asked, glancing at Marshall, her dearest, nearest friend.

Marshall Thunder, recently voted Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine, and box office boy wonder, drew a brush over Victoria's delicate toenail. The nail polish was pink. "Just one kiss." He pursed his lips. At six foot two, the forty-two-year-old Native American had one of those hard bodies that could have launched a thousand ships. A thousand ships of screaming, fainting, female fans. And his face ... a chiseled masterpiece with dark eyes and high cheekbones.

Victoria, probably thirty years Marshall's senior—Nikki didn't know exactly how old her mother was, and Victoria wasn't telling; her birth records were allegedly lost in a hospital fire in Idaho—pursed her lips and kissed the air.

"Tell our son I loved him." Marshall spoke the words poi g nantly as he grabbed an orange stick from the basket at his feet and touched up the polish on one of Victoria's toenails. "Good-bye, my love."

Victoria drew her hand over her forehead, fluttered her eyelids, and lay back in the chair in what would have been a swoon in her early days in cinema. "No, noooo."

"Mother! Marshall!" Nikki looked at one and then the other. "What are you doing?" She glanced around as the seventies Southern rock song got louder. "And where is that music coming from?"

Victoria opened her eyes and sat up, pulling off her reading glasses. "What does it look like we're doing, Nicolette? My pedicurist cancelled my appointment and one can't very well go the entire weekend with chipped polish. Marshall kindly offered to do my pedicure and manicure for me." She smiled her perfect smile, flashing the Bordeaux blue eyes she was still famous for, even after years in retirement. Then she scowled. "The music is coming from next door. The Bernards'. Where else?"

"She's going over my script with me," Marshall explained. He glanced at Nikki's bare toes in her worn flip-flops. "I could do yours, too, sweetie." He lifted a dark eyebrow. "Your feet look awful. When was the last time you had a pedicure?"

Nikki dropped into one of the chairs and tried to nonchalantly hide the foot from which she'd scraped the polish off her toenail with a fingernail while on the phone. "I've been busy."

Her mother lifted her eyebrows.

Victoria was never seen in public without her hair done and makeup on her face. She didn't own a single ratty T-shirt or, God forbid, a pair of baggy sweatpants. It just wasn't in her genetic composition.

"Don't tell me you're doing this movie, Marshall." Nikki motioned to the script, trying to shift their attention to anything or anyone but her toes. She loved her mother, sometimes even adored her, but Nikki didn't find it easy to be Victoria Bordeaux's daughter. While gracious to her fans, Victoria could be critical of those closest to her, particularly Nikki. And Nikki, admittedly, could get defensive. The friction between them seemed worse since she'd been forced to move back in with her mother after a major water main break in her own home, followed by a painting disaster. Marshall had come for the evening, at Nikki's request, to serve as a buffer. He and Victoria always got along; he never took offense at anything she said. "That script's awful," Nikki observed.

"It's not so bad. I'm going to do it if Zoe what's-her-name does. It's going to be the hit of next summer, with or without me." Marshall screwed the cap back on the pink nail polish. "Let's let that dry a few minutes, and then we'll add a clear coat." He sat back and relaxed, returning his attention to Nikki. He was wearing a pair of corduroy shorts, a tight surfer tee, and Gucci sunglasses, making him look even hunkier than usual. (Of course, it was sunset. Only stars wore sunglasses in the dark.) "It might as well be me."

"I thought you were going to take a break." She found herself mouthing the words to "Freebird" as the song continued to blast from next door. "You said you and Rob talked it over and agreed you were working too hard. That when you finished the film you're shooting, you were taking a year off."

"Year off, shmear off." He waved his hand dismissively. "But don't tell Rob I said that," he warned, pointing his finger at her. "It's a delicate subject. I feel like I need to work while I can. You know how fickle fans can be. A year from now the only offers I might be getting could be made-for-TV movies and OxiClean commercials."

"I'll drink to that." Victoria raised a margarita glass and sipped from it.

Victoria liked her evening cocktails and Marshall liked making them for her. They were best buddies, these two. An interesting combination: the retired screen goddess and the still-in-the-closet blockbuster action star.

"What's going on next door?" Nikki asked, glancing around to see what mischief her boys were getting into. Stanley, a black, white, and tan tri, was on the trail of some bug or rodent, his nose to the ground. Oliver, a Blenheim, had parked himself under a hydrangea bush and was busying himself grooming his tail. "Has it been going on for long? I didn't hear the music from inside."

"We already worked our way through the Nuthin' Fancy album. We've moved on to their (pronounced 'L h-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) album. It was their first."

Nikki looked to Marshall, duly impressed. "Hey, you know your Skynyrd."

He grinned. "Rob has all their albums, on vinyl."

Victoria cocked her ear in the direction of the Bernard mansion next door, then shook her head in irritation. "I told Abe that he'd better get control of his worthless son. I warned him, next time Eddie threw one of his parties and disturbed my peace and quiet, I was calling the cops. It's only a matter of time before his guests start climbing over the wall and crushing my begonias."

Their neighbor, Abe Bernard, was probably the best television writer and producer in Hollywood, certainly the most successful. His company, Bernard Television, reported higher earnings the previous year than the late Aaron Spelling's company. His current law drama had hit number one in the Nielsen ratings, two years running. While Abe was one of the most respected, most revered names in Hollywood, his thirty-five-year-old son was a loser. Eddie Bernard had tried his hand at being a model, an actor, and a businessman, all unsuccessfully. Eddie drank too much, had a drug problem, and was constantly in trouble with the law: drunk driving, possession of illegal substances, assault. So far, his father's money had been able to keep him out of a lengthy jail sentence, but the guy was bad news. He had none of the integrity or work ethic of his father.

"You're not going to call the cops, Mother," Nikki said dryly. "You always threaten, but you'd never do it."

"True. I don't have much use for the police." She waved a delicate hand. "No offense meant toward Rob," she told Marshall.

"No offense taken." He smiled sweetly.

Nikki noticed her mother was wearing the Howard Hughes sapphire ring: platinum, 3 carats, art deco, studded with very high-clarity diamonds. Hughes had given her several nice pieces of jewelry back in the day when he'd been trying to woo her to RKO Studios. Nikki had the feeling there had been more than business wooing going on there, but for decades, Victoria had remained calmly but firmly silent on the matter.

"I've never forgiven them," Victoria continued, "for the way you were treated that time you were picked up for—"

"Mother," Nikki interrupted. "Could we not talk about that?"

Victoria crossed her legs at the ankles and took another drink of her margarita. "You're certainly touchy this evening. Where's Jeremy? You should be out dining and dancing with your beau, not sitting around the pool with an old lady and her favorite bear."

Nikki and Marshall made eye contact. Nikki lifted an eyebrow.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Victoria said, which was as close to swearing as she ever came. "I know what a bear is: a big, burly, man." She waved in Marshall's direction, frowning. "Although, I suppose they're supposed to be hairy, too."

"Weren't Eddie and Lindsay Lohan in rehab together?" Marshall artfully started a new topic of conversation and ran with it. "I thought I read that somewhere."

"In one of your tabloids?" Nikki asked. "You, of all people, know you can't believe a word they print."

"I read regular newspapers, too," he defended. "Just not about this," he added in a very small voice. "But this was his third or fourth stint in rehab in the last five years."

"Conniving, worthless little punk," Victoria muttered. "He's like the nephew in Fifteen Green Street. Remember that film I did with Willi Wyler?"

"The one set in New Orleans?" Marshall clutched his hands over his heart. "I adored you in that film. You were so beautiful. So strong-willed, right to the end. Do you remember that green gown you wore in the dinner scene, you know, when you discovered that your nephew had had your sister committed so he could take over the family business?"

Victoria smiled at the memory. "It was Persian silk. And that emerald necklace I wore—"

"Exquisite," Marshall finished for her, both of them lost in the moment.

"Were you nominated for an Oscar that year, Mother?"

Victoria's smile tightened. "No. And Julie Andrews ended up winning for Mary Poppins, of all things. But Audrey Hepburn wasn't nominated for My Fair Lady, either. I don't know what the Academy was thinking."

Nikki smiled. "You always said—"

The sound of an explosion next door cut Nikki off. She shot out of her chair, looking at Marshall. "Was that—"

"A gunshot!"


Nikki sprinted in the direction of the sound of the gunshot. Marshall was right behind her.

"Nicolette!" Victoria warned. But she was already out of the chaise, too. For a woman in her seventies, in sandals, with a fresh pedicure, she was surprisingly agile.

Nikki ran across the side lawn toward the gate between Victoria's property and the Bernards'. Years ago, when Abe had demolished his quaint two-story colonial, bought the property on the other side of him, and built the French Regency mansion they lived in now, he had put up an eight-foot-high wrought-iron fence and had large hedges planted on his side. Because his longtime neighbor was the Victoria Bordeaux, he'd added a gate between the two properties that could be latched from either side. Nikki pushed through the gate. Lynyrd Skynyrd was even louder on the other side of the fence.

"Mother, stay here," Nikki huffed. "Stay with the dogs. Latch the gate, Marshall."

"I'm not staying with the dogs," Victoria intoned, barely out of breath. (Beyond amazing, considering her age and the fact that she'd been smoking for more than fifty years.)

Marshall closed the gate behind them as Nikki ran in the direction from which she'd heard the shot. The backyard was crowded; there were easily more than a hundred people in and gathered around the pool. More guests lounged on chairs in front of the guesthouse where Abe's ex-wife lived. There were glasses everywhere, a bar set up on the patio near the house. The smell of cannabis was thick in the evening air.

"Did you hear that?" a platinum and silicone blonde in a string bikini asked Nikki as she ran in the same direction. "Was it a bomb?"

"The driveway. It came from the driveway," her companion, who looked like she was wearing three cocktail napkins, insisted excitedly.

Nikki glanced over her shoulder. The minute they came through the gate, Victoria had slowed to a respectable trot. In her mind, once she passed through the gate, she was in public and became the iconic Victoria Bordeaux.

Someone pointed at her; someone else whipped out a cell phone to take a picture. Victoria would, no doubt, be on Facebook within seconds. Though most of the partiers appeared to be under forty (some looked like they were under fourteen) everyone seemed to recognize Victoria Bordeaux, even in a jogging suit. Must have been the Mikimoto Akoya pearls.

A female squealed and Nikki realized Marshall had been recognized. How could anyone miss a six-foot-two, Native American movie star, even in dark sunglasses and a ball cap?

As Nikki came around the front corner of the three-story French Regency mansion, she stopped short. She spotted Eddie Bernard, a young Hispanic woman, her mother's gardener, Jorge, and Jorge's brother-in-law, Hector, standing between a Mercedes and an Aston Martin in the middle of the motor court. Eddie and Jorge were slowly circling each other as if in a boxing ring. Eddie had some sort of automatic pistol in his hand. Not generally seen in a boxing ring. But Eddie was a known gun aficionado. In Eddie's circles, a party just wasn't a party if someone wasn't brandishing a gun.

"You going to shoot me in front of all these witnesses, Eddie?" Jorge taunted. "Are you?" Jorge was a nice-looking man with dark, lush hair, medium-toned skin, and a well-toned body. He was only Nikki's height, five ten, but muscular. He waved his fingertips toward his own chest and tilted his head back, the unmistakable gesture for bring it on.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" wailed in the background: Mama told me when I was young ...

"Jorge!" Nikki called as she pushed her way to the front of the crowd. Jorge wasn't just Victoria's gardener. He was her housekeeper Ina's son, and one of Nikki's best friends from childhood. She and Jorge had grown up together; they'd practiced kissing on each other, in preparation for the real thing.

"Hermano," Hector said quietly. He was a short man, no more than five foot five, but thick and brawny with a face badly scarred from acne he'd had as a teenager. "He ain't worth it, man." He cut his eyes at the young Hispanic woman. "Get out of here, Ree."

"Nikki, stay out of this," Jorge warned, barely glancing in her direction.

He'd been working in the front lawn clipping azalea bushes with a big pair of pruning shears when Nikki had glanced out her upstairs window half an hour ago. Hector, who worked for Jorge, had been raking.

"Eddie, sweetie, put away the gun." Eddie's mother, Melinda, Abe's ex-wife, stood opposite Nikki. At sixty, she was attractive for her age: slightly plump, with white-blond hair below her shoulders and only minimal plastic surgery. She was wearing denim capris and a cute age-appropriate blouse. "Please, Eddie. Your parole," she whispered under her breath, softly enough so that only those closest could hear.

Excerpted from Imitation of Death by CHERYL CRANE. Copyright © 2012 by Cheryl Crane. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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