"Tyson creates a tense, engrossing tale by weaving vivid descriptions with thrilling threads of family secrets, greed and the shadow of an unknown threat. The Allison Campbell mystery series is not to be missed!" - Laura Morrigan, Author of the Call of the Wilde Mysteries
An eccentric Italian heiress from the Finger Lakes. An eighteen-year-old pop star from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Allison Campbell's latest clients seem worlds apart in every respect, except one: Both women disappear on the same day. And Allison's colleague Vaughn is the last to have seen each.
Allison's search for a connection uncovers an intricate web of family secrets, corporate transgressions and an age-old rivalry that crosses continents. The closer Allison gets to the truth, the deadlier her quest becomes. All paths lead back to a sinister Finger Lakes estate and the suicide of a woman thirty years earlier. Allison soon realizes the lives of her clients and the safety of those closest to her aren't the only things at stake.
Praise for DEADLY ASSETS:
"The mystery is firm and well-explained, and great fun to follow, but it's the rich relationships Tyson has created that this reader will carry away from the book...I will be following Allison Campbell and her cohorts with a great deal of interest in all the books to come. There had better be a lot more." - Stephanie Jaye Evans, Author of the Sugar Land Mystery Series
"A mystery is only as good as its characters, and Deadly Assets is filled with vivid people who will keep readers turning the pages to find out what happens to them...Allison herself is savvy and likable, with an unusual job that promises many satisfying installments in this well-written series. Highly recommended!" - Sandra Parshall, Agatha Award-Winning Author of the Rachel Goddard Mysteries
"No sophomore slump for Wendy Tyson. Two totally different clients, two mysterious disappearances, two sets of suspects, and lots of possibilities all make for a tightly woven mystery with lots of twists and turns." - Fiction Addiction Books
"Dark and edgy with multiple layers of intrigue, the Allison Campbell series keep me up late trying to piece together Tyson's intricate puzzles. I love the complexity of this mystery." - Larissa Reinhart, Author of the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series
"Tyson crafts characters who are real and we can believe in which makes us willing to follow them anywhere. Excellent page turner. Can't wait for the next installment." - Shannyn Schroeder, Author of the O'Leary Series Contemporary Romances
Books in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series:
KILLER IMAGE (#1)
DEADLY ASSETS (#2)
DYING BRAND (#3) May 2015
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...
About the Author
Tanya Eby has been a voice-over artist for over a decade. She is an Audie-nominated and AudioFile Earphones Award-winning narrator. Besides narrating, Tanya spends her time teaching creative writing classes at the collegiate level, blogging, and working on her own novels.
Read an Excerpt
The hawk fell from the sky like a bomb, its body graceless in death. It plummeted through a canopy of oaks, their foliage laced with the vestiges of afternoon sun, and landed just feet from Allison's bumper in a limp, twisted heap. Heart racing, Allison slammed on the brakes. She bolted out of the car in time to see a young woman emerge from the forest. The woman wore a rifle slung over one shoulder, a rucksack across the other. A wild mane of black hair flew behind her like a cape.
"That one's mine," the woman shouted. "Don't touch it!"
Allison glanced down at the dead hawk with equal parts sympathy and disgust. She certainly had no intention of touching it.
"Bastard's murdered a dozen chickens in two weeks. Damn thing had it coming." The woman leaned down, grabbed the bird by the throat and shoved it into the canvas satchel. Finished, she looked up at Allison as though registering for the first time the presence of a stranger on her property. "Who are you?"
"Allison Campbell. The image consultant." Allison started to hold out her hand, but with a second look at the rifle, opted instead for a friendly nod.
The woman harrumphed a hello, wiped her hands on her jeans, and gestured toward the house behind them. "I suppose you're here for Francesca."
"Is she ready for me?"
The woman shrugged.
She was in her late twenties, lean and muscular, and now that she was closer, Allison could see the face beneath the hair. Beautiful features — dark almond-shaped eyes, a regal nose, full lips, and high, defined cheekbones — clashed with an almost savage indifference.
Allison tore her gaze from the woman with the gun and looked around at her surroundings, too startled by the bird to have taken in the Benini estate — the home of her potential client, Francesca Benini — before now. The house lay sprawled across a hilltop, fronted by woodland that sloped down to the angry edge of Cayuga Lake. A winding driveway meandered its way up the hill, ending in a semicircle in front of the house. The town of Ithaca was visible in the distance, an urban island in a sea of forest and farmland.
The house itself stood as testament to Benini Enterprises' dwindling finances. A dilapidated three-winged monstrosity with a triple gabled front, a look-out tower and multiple entries, its wood trim was in desperate need of paint. Small patches of stucco had disappeared off the fascia, leaving scars like pockmarks across the broad façade. The building's height blocked out the sun and shadows slashed across a yard that was unkempt around the edges.
It was a warm August day. Storm clouds bruised the distant skies, and a sticky breeze offered no relief from the heat. Allison wiped the sweat beading along her brow. Her attention now back on the young woman, she asked, "And you are?"
But before the woman could respond, the front door flung open and a tall, athletic-looking man in his early forties came down the steps toward them. He was slim, with broad shoulders and narrow hips, and his movements were quick and elegant, especially for a man of his height. A day or two's worth of stubble gave a rakish air to a strong nose, sharp cheekbones and smooth olive skin. And, most noticeable of all, were his cerulean-colored eyes, which pierced Allison's own with a knife-like gaze.
He flashed Allison an apologetic smile. "Please ignore my sister, Maria. I'm Alessandro Benini. Most people call me Alex." He held out his hand. "You must be here for my aunt. Let's get you inside where it's cool." To Maria, he said, "Don't just stand there gawking. Do something with that bird."
By now, blood had soaked through the canvas bag and a small circle of crimson was pooling near Maria's sneakered feet.
Undeterred, she hoisted the bird over her free shoulder and threw Allison one last glacial glance before disappearing back in the direction of the hill and the barn beyond.
Allison said, "I hope I'm not disrupting things. Your sister seemed a bit surprised to see me."
"Not at all." Alex started toward the house. "It's me who should apologize. Maria can be insufferable. Don't take it personally. She hates everyone. Horses constitute her social circle. And people," he smiled, "including her family, are just an annoying fact of life."
Allison followed him through the double entry and into a large reception area. The inside of the home was as well-seasoned as the outside. Although the rooms were grand, the ceilings high, and the floors marble, the gold-toned wallpaper had faded to dull yellow and the Oriental rugs scattered in each room were muted and matted with use. Heavy brocade drapes covered the windows, blocking out any remnants of afternoon sun, and lending a dark and musty gloom to the already bleak interior.
They walked through a hallway, past a dining room and a formal parlor and into a screen-enclosed sun porch that ran the entire length of the back of the house. Two white wicker chairs, a wicker rocker, and a small white-painted table constituted the only furniture. Six large potted ferns stood sentinel along the back wall.
Alex said, "Sit, please."
Allison chose a wicker chair and sank into a floral seat cushion that had probably once been a bright and cheerful scarlet but had since weathered to the color of dried blood. The view from her seat made up for any lack in the decor.
Below the porch, laid out in a sweeping vista, were the family's vineyards. Row upon row of grapes, their vines trained and twisted over wire trellises, lined the side of the mountain like troops on the march. To the right and left of the vineyards, two swaths of dense forest stretched their way down a steep hill toward the town of Ithaca. A battered barn was next to the woods. Four horses grazed in a pasture corralled by a split rail fence.
Allison watched a young colt prance along the barrier, surprised it chose not to jump over something it could have so easily cleared. Sitting back in her seat, she said, "The view is beautiful. Do you ride?"
Alex had been standing by the window. At the sound of Allison's voice, he turned and took the seat across from her, folding his lanky body into the chair with exceptional grace for a man.
"We all ride, except Aunt Francesca. She's not terribly adventurous. In fact, she hasn't left this house for as long as I can remember." He smiled warmly, as though to minimize the seriousness of his remarks about his aunt. "She'll be down in a few moments. Until then, I'm afraid you're stuck with me."
Allison nodded. There was something about this arresting stranger that she found unsettling.
His eyes shone with an amused intelligence, at once world-weary and good-natured, as though he had seen it all, but life still entertained him. Only, she couldn't tell if they were sharing a joke — or if the laugh was on her.
"You're Paolo's son, then? Francesca's nephew."
"I'm so sorry about your father. Francesca told us what happened when she called. How is he?"
"Doing poorly, unfortunately. The stroke was severe. Maria and Francesca were the only ones here when it happened. They didn't find him until ... until it was too late to do much about it. He was awake for a few days. Now ... now, he's in a coma."
"Again, I'm so sorry."
"Thank you, Allison." Alex glanced at his watch and sighed. "I imagine Francesca is under the assumption that if she works with you, she'll be fit to run Benini Enterprises?"
Startled by the sudden shift in topic, Allison said, "She must believe it's possible, or she wouldn't have invited me here."
"The notion is ridiculous."
Allison sat up straighter, feeling protective of a woman she hadn't even met yet. "Tell me, why do you say it's ridiculous? That's a strong word."
"Because she's a sixty-three year old woman with no business background. Benini Enterprises, while considerably smaller than it once was, is a four hundred million dollar company with locations in Italy, the Balkans, and the United States. How can she go from house-bound to corporate leader practically overnight?"
"Are you sure that's what she has in mind?"
He frowned. "As you said yourself, why else would she have contacted you?"
"If not Francesca, then who will take over if your father has to step down?"
"My brother Dominic is the natural successor, I suppose. Although Maria will disagree. But then, that's nothing new." He sat back in the chair. Allison saw a man at ease with people, a man who was comfortable being the center of attention. A man with his own agenda?
"And you, Alex? Are you in the family business as well?"
This time, Alex's smile had a wistful quality to it. "Me? It depends whether you consider-"
But before he could finish, a woman entered the room. She was short — very short — with a thick-set body and deep-set brown eyes that shone with energy of purpose. Her gaze darted between Allison and Alex. "Thank you, Alessandro. You can leave us now."
"Allison, my aunt, Francesca Benini." Alex stood, and shifting his gaze to his aunt, said, "I was entertaining your guest in your absence."
"I can see that." Francesca's tone was flat. She walked to where Allison was now standing and offered her hand. The older woman's fingers were tiny, but her grip was startlingly firm.
Francesca surveyed the room, settled her eyes back on Alex. "Tell me, where is Simone?"
"Not feeling well."
"Again? She should be at the hospital. With Paolo."
Aunt and nephew stared at each other for a full minute, some unspoken communication going on between them. Silent tension blanketed the room. Eventually, Alex was the one to break it. "I'll leave you with my aunt," he said. "It was a pleasure talking with you, Allison. I trust we'll see each other again."
The last statement was said with a charmed smile and laughing eyes that made Allison wonder whether Alessandro Benini always got his own way. "Perhaps," she said, lifting her chin. She kept her tone neutral, aware of Francesca's judging stare. "It was nice to meet you, too."
After Alex left the room, Francesca sat on the seat he'd vacated. The older woman took a moment to appraise Allison, making no attempt to hide her approval of Allison's pale pink linen suit, her cream slingbacks and matching Gucci purse. She glanced at Allison's hands. "Do we make you nervous, Ms. Campbell?"
Allison looked down at her fingers and was relieved to see that they gripped the sides of her chair with steady strength. "Not at all. Alex was a pleasant companion."
Francesca smiled wryly. "Of that, I have no doubt." She turned her head to look out the window. Allison followed suit, and together they watched Maria down by the barn, leaning over an over-sized, silver pail. Maria appeared to be scrubbing something, her long, slender arms submerged in murky water. She looked up toward the house, as though she'd felt the weight of their stare, but after a moment she gave her attention to the thing in the pail again and resumed her chore.
Allison glanced back at Francesca, evaluating her with an image consultant's eye. Not only was Francesca small, but she had a stocky, muscular build that would be tricky to clothe. Right now she wore black polyester pants and a loose short-sleeve sage sweater. Allison pictured her in a tailored pantsuit, something that would lend credibility and an air of power. Francesca's head was covered in short, thick, wiry curls, peppered with gray — nothing a shapely cut couldn't handle. She had pug-like features and pale skin, with moles dotting her cheeks and neck. Like her niece and nephew, her best features were almond-shaped eyes fringed by long, lush lashes. Her irises were deep brown like Maria's, although they lacked both Alex's perpetual amusement and Maria's disdain. Instead, Francesca Benini projected the resolve of a woman on a mission.
Allison said, "How can I help you, Ms. Benini?"
"Let's do away with the formalities, shall we? Call me Francesca. "
Beneath the crisp words lurked the faint, melodic remnants of an Italian accent. Allison knew that Francesca was from a village in Calabria, in Italy. Her older brother, Paolo Benini, the CEO and President of the family business, Benini Enterprises, had a stroke less than two weeks prior. That's all Francesca shared with Vaughn when she'd called the week before, upset and demanding to be seen right away.
"Do you like wine, Allison?"
"Do you have a favorite?"
"I'm no connoisseur, but I suppose it would be Pinot Noir."
"A fine choice. We grow Riesling here in the States, both dry and sweet. But that's primarily for house use. These grapes can't compare to those grown in Europe. Other than California, the U.S. climate's just not right." She turned toward the window again and rubbed her palms up and down along the length of her thighs. "In Italy, we grow six different types of grapes. That's just on our property. We own half the land in our town, but we also own acreage in other parts of Italy and Europe, and we pay growers in Greece, Macedonia and other Balkan countries to raise grapes. In addition to wine, we're importers — specialty foods from Italy, olive oil from Greece, home goods. But it all began with a small vineyard, sixty-five years ago."
"Your father started the business?"
"Yes. With help from my grandmother. She was a shrew, but she had a keen sense of business and knew how to turn nothing into something."
"And now your brother runs the business?"
"He ran the business. Make no mistake, Allison. Paolo won't recover from this. Despite the fact that they" — she gestured back toward the main part of the house, and Allison could only assume she meant Simone and Paolo's kids — "don't seem the least bit concerned, he is not going to make it. Even if his body survives, he'll be a vegetable. This company is mine, too. It was my father's intent for me to run it if something happened to Paolo. I have to do my part."
"And that's where First Impressions comes in?"
Francesca nodded, but her eyes held a resigned, wary expression. Allison wondered about the sudden shift. What wasn't she sharing?
"So what's your main goal, Francesca? We should start there."
"I need to take command. Although we are a privately-held company, we still have shareholders, some of whom are very powerful in their own right. I have to instill confidence in these people, especially those in Italy. Our families go way back. Seeing a woman at the helm will be tough enough. But if it's me? I'm afraid it will take a miracle." She stared at Allison. "You must be that miracle."
Allison considered this. Alex had made it sound as though Francesca's world had been very small — limited to the walls of this massive, intimidating home.
Perhaps she was agoraphobic or suffered from social anxiety. Perhaps she simply disliked people. Whatever the reason, she'd have to leave this house if she wanted to change. And change could be painful and laborious.
"Can I ask you a candid question, Francesca?" "If we're to work together, I would expect nothing less."
Allison paused. She appreciated Francesca's pointedness — was it sincere? "How much time do you feel you have to ... well, to make these changes? A month? A year?"
Francesca's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, heavens, not that long. The business is failing and the vultures are already circling. A lot is at stake. Weeks, maybe."
"You'll need to come to Philadelphia."
Francesca's hands danced wildly in her lap.
Allison continued. "My office is outside the city. We'll arrange for a suite nearby. You'll be comfortable and well-attended. We can meet regularly over the course of several weeks, until you feel you're ready."
"And what, specifically, will we do?"
"That depends on you, Francesca. You'll decide, with guidance from me and my team."
"I oversee everything, of course. And I can help you with public speaking, dressing for success, navigating corporate culture, things of that ilk. But we also have a whole cadre of specialists who can help. We can even get you a business tutor, if that's what you decide you need, someone from a local MBA program."
Francesca frowned. "Oh."
"Not what you expected?"
"To the contrary. Simone, my sister-in-law, bought me your book for Christmas. From the Outside In. Simone's very thoughtful that way." Francesca's sour expression said that Simone was anything but thoughtful. "I know exactly what to expect."
"No 'but.' It's just a lot to take in, that's all."
Allison chose her next words carefully. "Are you afraid to leave this house? Because if so, that's okay. Sometimes people have anxiety issues that require treatment and even medication. We can help you, but it will take time. Treatment doesn't happen overnight."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deadly Assets"
Copyright © 2014 Wendy Tyson.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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