“This is a truly unique and enjoyable series of reinvention and, oddly enough, acceptance.” – Kings River Life Magazine
Allison Campbell accepted a dream assignment: a visit to the Italian Dolomites to help Hollywood socialite Elle Rose reinvent herself. A guest cottage on the grounds of Elle’s historic castle promises to be a much-needed respite from Allison’s harried life on the Philadelphia Main Line, and the picturesque region, with its sharp peaks, rolling pastures, and medieval churches, is the perfect spot from which to plan her upcoming wedding.
Only this idyllic retreat is anything but peaceful. There are the other visitors—an entourage of back-biting expats and Hollywood VIPs. There’s Elle’s famous rock star father, now a shadowy recluse hovering behind the castle’s closed doors. And then there’s Elle’s erratic behavior. Nothing is as it seems. After a guest plummets to her death from a cliff on the castle grounds, Allison’s trip of a lifetime turns nightmarish—but before she can journey home, Allison must catch a killer.
“Nancy Drew gets a fierce makeover in Wendy Tyson’s daringly dark, yet ever fashion-conscious mystery series….Tyson imbues her characters with emotional depth amidst wit, ever maintaining the pulse rate.” – Deborah Cloyed, Author of What Tears Us Apart
“The Allison Campbell mystery series is not to be missed!” – Laura Morrigan, Author of the Call of the Wilde Mysteries
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), murder mystery series, amateur sleuth books, mysteries and thrillers, suspense.
Books in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series:
KILLER IMAGE (#1)
DEADLY ASSETS (#2)
DYING BRAND (#3)
FATAL FACADE (#4)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all…
Author Bio: Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again on a micro-farm with her husband, three sons and three dogs. Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.
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 forest beckoned. Most nights, Damien avoided the mountainous trails that bordered Elle's property, tackling them only in daylight when the views were magnificent and the shadows less menacing. But this wasn't most nights. He glanced back at the monstrosity they called home, the restored ruins of the Castle San Pietro, which lorded over the small South Tirolean village of Bidero, and watched the lights flicker. Too many people, too much noise. He waved the flashlight beam across the wall of trees, looking for tiny bright red orbs that would announce predators. Though there were no longer wolves or grizzlies here, he wasn't taking any chances.
From inside a castle courtyard, a high-pitched laugh, surely Elle's, caused his hand to tighten on the leash. He hurried farther from the buildings and glanced up at the canopy of stars. So beautiful — Douglas was right about the magnificence of outer space, even if he was wrong about so many other things — but the stars made him feel, as always, insignificant.
He stumbled, one hand wrapped around the end of the dog's leash, the other still in his pocket, forcing him down on his knees. He righted himself, the tendon in his left knee screaming. Upright again, he reassured Elle's little lion of a dog with an "it's okay, Bits," and then searched in his pocket for another Valium. Unsuccessful, he settled for whatever pill Elle had placed in his palm earlier, a pill he'd discarded in his suit pants in favor of a martini and a Valium. He dry swallowed three times to get it down.
The tiny terrier growled, then took off toward the stone wall that marked the entrance of the woods. Damien pulled her back. The Dolomite Mountains were stunning, but at night their splendor was matched only by the depth of their darkness. Night so complete it felt like a tomb, silence so pervasive you could hear the blood pulsating in your carotid. The dog tugged again. "Fine." Like a man with a death wish, he plunged forward.
They walked quickly, both navigating by memory. Deeper into the forest, Bits snarled, her little body tense. Damien stood, listening. He heard a rustle coming from the direction of the trail, past the stone wall and across from the small ruined chapel. He waved the weak beam from his flashlight in that direction. Nothing — just more trees and undergrowth. Must have been a rodent, he thought with a nervous laugh. The rustling stopped.
"Let's go," he mumbled to the dog. The pills were taking hold and a comfortable sense of ennui blanked his mind. The dog wanted to take the trail? Fine. It would distance him from their so-called friends. For a while, at least.
The trail — no more than a three-foot path cut between the trees — led up toward the peaks or down toward the village. Damien headed along the cliff, toward the village. The path was steep, but Damien had traversed it many times. He waved the light in front of him, watching Bits to be sure she didn't lunge over the side. As the castle fell away in the distance, Damien's anxiety lessened, and with it his inhibitions. He paused to urinate on the side of a spruce, grateful for the release, then walked faster down the trail toward the ruins that marked the second stone wall.
It was there, by the ruins of the second wall, that he heard it — the sound of a person struggling for breath. It lasted only a few seconds and then ended, silence once again shrouding him. Beside him, Bits growled. Damien's own breath quickened, as did his pulse. He tried to listen through the fog in his brain.
He walked another ten feet, then turned back toward the castle, the hairs on his arms bristling. He fought the urge to run. An overwhelming sense of foreboding rushed over him and he waved his flashlight madly from side to side. It didn't help. He pulled Bits along, then deciding it would be quicker to carry her, he bent down. His flashlight beam hit something on the edge of the trail. He closed his eyes, blinked, and looked again.
The shadowy outline of a person. Someone was standing there, watching him.
It's the pills, he thought. Whatever Elle gave me must have been hallucinogenic.
Again he closed his eyes, then wiped at them with the back of his trembling fingers.
When he opened his eyes, he still saw the outline of a person, standing there in the dark, cloaked in black. Mute. Looming. A thing of nightmares.
"What do you want?" A scream caught in his throat.
Bits growled. The shadow moved forward, knocking the flashlight from his hand. He lurched in the direction the light had fallen, terror stealing his breath, and let go of the leash. Behind him, around him it seemed, he heard footsteps on damp humus. Darkness enveloped him. He fought to get his bearings. The edge of the cliff was near — but how near? Fear paralyzed his legs. Run in the dark? There was another presence with him — he could hear it, almost smell it — but darting off a ledge could be worse than confronting his attacker.
He stood on unsteady feet, forcing a deep breath. "Elle?" he said weakly.
The push seemed to come from both nowhere and everywhere. He lost his balance again, quickly righted himself. His mind spun for answers ... who, what, why? No insights came — only the stars overhead and the bitter taste of bile in his mouth. Run, he thought. The hell with the cliffs. Just go.
His body, numb with fear and drugs, wouldn't obey. Adrenaline surged — only too late. A hand wrapped around his ankle, pulling him forward. He gasped, then took a step backwards, tumbling into the abyss below.CHAPTER 2
Steel rails of rain pummeled the hearse. Allison watched from the back of the limo as the vehicle carrying her mother stormed through puddles, grinding its way toward the cemetery that would be Mary Chupalowski's final resting place.
"The cemetery's at the top of the hill," Faye said. "Her plot is off by itself, but near Aunt Pauline. There's room for Daddy too." "That's nice," Allison managed. Words, her best professional tool, seemed to be failing her today.
Jason squeezed Allison's hand. She looked over, an appreciative half-smile dying on her face when she saw the hollow look in her fiancé's eyes. Not now, she thought. I can't deal with that now. Across from her, Faye's forehead was pressed against the limo's window, her breath leaving cloud patterns on tinted glass as she watched the scenery speed by.
They were the last two still standing by the grave. Overhead, clouds clustered around a late afternoon sun. The yellow iris in Allison's hand — her mother had always loved irises — burned like a lighted cigarette. Allison dropped it on the casket, listening for a sound of closure that never came.
"In the end, she couldn't even speak," Faye said. "This was for the best."
Faye was holding two purple irises, one for her and one for their father, whose dementia prevented him from attending — or even realizing his wife was gone. The few mourners who attended the short service, mostly Allison's close friends and a few professional acquaintances, had receded to their cars, honoring the sisters' request for a few minutes alone. Allison glanced back. She saw Jason standing with her friend and business manager, Christopher Vaughn. Jason's shadowed eyes were focused on the hills beyond town. Vaughn's twin, Jamie, was strapped into a motorized wheelchair with a breathing tube connected to the portable respirator attached to the back. He locked onto Allison's gaze. Allison couldn't see his eyes from this distance, but she watched as his nurse Angela reached down and wiped the tears from Jamie's face, then followed the gesture with a kiss to the top of his shaved head. Angela and Jamie were in love. It was evident in every tender gesture.
"She went quietly," Faye continued. "A sigh, one last breath, and then peace."
Allison turned around, but Faye wasn't looking at her. Allison felt grateful. As usual, Allison hadn't been there when the stakes were highest, a judgment Faye would pass with a sharp look alone. Only Faye surprised her by reaching out and taking hold of Allison's hand. Her grip was cold, smooth.
"I feel like I'm saying goodbye to my childhood," Faye said.
"I know what you mean." Allison squeezed her sister's hand. "I feel the same way."
"She's been my life for so long."
Faye turned toward her, and Allison said gently, "What will you do now?"
"Take care of Daddy." Faye threw the flowers down onto the casket. She straightened slumped shoulders and turned toward the waiting limousine, a soldier marching on. "You, Allison?"
Allison shrugged. "I'm not really sure."
"Well, you have your business. It seems that's your life."
Ah, there's the old Faye, Allison thought. But she couldn't argue because her sister wasn't wrong. Instead she followed Faye back toward the others and the waiting limousine.
* * *
The luncheon was somber. Allison and Faye had kept it to family and a few close friends, all clustered in a private room at a local historic inn. Aside from Faye and Allison and their immediate circle, no one really knew their mother, so conversation was awkward. Their mother had been ill for most of Allison's life, and her last years were spent in an Alzheimer's fog. Allison found herself vacillating between feelings of sorrow, guilt, and overwhelming relief that her mother's suffering had ended.
A waitress came by with coffee. Allison placed her hand over her cup to signal she was finished. She rose from the table, leaving Jason to talk with Faye, and went to find the manager so she could pay the final bill. While she waited for him to return from the kitchen, she leaned against a cold stone wall, thinking about all the things she'd never be able to do again: kiss her mother, hold her hand, read to her, see that flash of recognition in her mother's eyes. Though death had struck too close to home several times over the past two years, this time it was all too real and personal ... so final.
She felt a hand on her back. "How are you holding up?"
Allison looked up into Vaughn's concerned face. Sunlight from the building's deep windows washed over Vaughn at an angle, highlighting the spray of wrinkles in his dark skin.
"As well as can be expected." She forced a smile. "You? It's nice to see Jamie out of the house."
Vaughn nodded. His paraplegic twin's relationship with Angela, Jamie's nurse, had been a sore point since the two started dating. In Allison's view, the coupling was a godsend for Jamie — he never looked better, and Angela seemed to truly love him. But Vaughn appeared drained, worried. She knew he felt responsible for Jamie's paralysis, and Allison feared he would never let go of the guilt, so pervasive it clouded his perception of everything that touched Jamie. The bullet that stole Jamie's mobility had been meant for Vaughn, and Vaughn would spend his life trying to repay that debt.
Allison caught the inn manager's eye and motioned for the check. He brought it to her and left just as quickly with her credit card.
"Tell me something happy," Allison said to Vaughn. "Something unrelated to all of this."
"How about something business-related?"
"A new engagement?"
Vaughn crossed muscular arms over a well-defined chest. "You could say that."
His tone said it was a lot more work. After a close call with a killer just months before, Allison had refocused on her image consulting firm, First Impressions. She was thrilled to see her client book grow, and she'd just gotten a lucrative advance for a third how-to book, A Brand New You. But finding time to write the book was another story.
Vaughn said, "You received an interesting request on Thursday. I put it off because you were dealing with your mom. We can talk about it another time if you'd prefer." He peered at her over his glasses. "It's an unusual one. Big."
She thought of the book. "I don't think I can take a big one now. My agent and editor will kill me."
Vaughn pressed his lips together in a sly smile. "What if this one allowed you to kill a couple of proverbial birds?"
"Elle Rose. Recognize the name?"
Allison did, and she said as much. "A socialite known for her tumultuous marriages and wild behavior. One of those National Inquirer people who is famous for no good reason at all."
Vaughn nodded. "Daughter of former rock star Sam Norton and his actress girlfriend, Fawn Langley. Elle was the host of a music TV show — Banging the Stars, or something like that."
Allison smiled at his attempt at humor. She considered the name and what she remembered. A few bit movie parts, an attempt at modeling, and a short gig on a reality television show. "I haven't heard a thing about Elle Rose in years."
"And that's why she's calling."
The manager came back with the check and credit card. Allison wrote in a sizable tip, signed the form, and handed it back to him. When he left, she said, "So Elle Rose wants to reinvent herself?"
"She wants to be relevant again."
"If that's even possible. I don't know that she was ever relevant in the Hollywood sense."
"Here's to hoping."
Allison paused. "Why me?"
"Delvar recommended you."
Delvar, a now-famous clothing designer, had been Allison's mentee. Allison sat on the board of his charity, Designs for the Future, a nonprofit intended to give impoverished designer hopefuls — like Delvar had once been — a chance. Allison scanned the dining room, looking for Jason. She spotted him by the far window talking with Angela. He must have felt the heft of her stare because he turned back toward her and smiled. She returned the smile.
"Now isn't the best time for me to take on someone like Elle." Allison touched her abdomen lightly, feeling flesh through layers of black silk. Was she just being wishful? Perhaps, but added stress wouldn't help anything — one way or another.
Vaughn, now also watching Jason and Angela, nodded. "Here's the thing that could work for you. Elle lives in Bidero, a small village in northern Italy in the Dolomite Mountains." His head turned and he held Allison's gaze. "She wants you to come there."
Allison let out a low-pitch laugh. "And how is that workable?"
Vaughn shrugged. "Think about it. With only one client and all those natural surroundings, you could bang out your book in weeks."
"What about my other clients? Even more importantly, what about Grace? We're just getting closer as a family." Grace was Allison's five-year-old niece. Grace's mother, Allison's sister Amy, who'd been fighting a battle with drugs for nearly half her life, was on the lam. Allison had temporary custody of Grace, and she didn't want to leave her behind when the child was just starting to trust again.
Vaughn leaned down and touched the top of Allison's blonde head with his lips, ever so lightly. "Take her with you. The freedom and perspective could do you both good."
"I doubt her agency will let her go."
"You'll never know if you don't ask."
Allison studied her friend. "Something tells me you've already done some research on the topic."
Vaughn smiled. Allison loved his smile. "I may have."
"You're something. You know that?"
Vaughn waved away her affection. "Just think about it, Allison. Fresh air. History. Some time for you and Grace alone. An interesting client. This could be just what the doctor ordered."CHAPTER 3
The bathroom tiles were cold against her bare feet. Allison stood with her back to the closed door, staring at the small stick in her hand. She willed a second pink line to fill a tiny rectangle, but the white void remained. She could hear Jason changing through the door and squared her shoulders. It'd been a long day, but she'd just confirmed the thing she suspected — six days late didn't amount to pregnancy. Perimenopause, maybe — at thirty-four, it was possible — but clearly not a baby.
And what had the doctor told her? Her parts were in order. There was nothing medically wrong preventing conception. "Patience," she'd said. Ugh — patience.
A sharp knock on the door startled her.
"Hold on." Allison wrapped the stick in tissues and tossed it in the wastebasket. "Come in."
Jason stood in the doorway, his tall, lean form filling the space. He wore plaid pajama bottoms and no shirt. The hairs covering a firm, broad chest were sprinkled with gray — reminding Allison that neither of them was getting any younger. A wave of love hit Allison like a tsunami, due as much to Jason's vulnerability as his strength.
"What's up?" she asked.
He held his phone toward her. "Read." His voice was flat.
It only took Allison a moment to understand what she was looking at. It was the offer package from Linear, an Austrian-based company that had been trying to recruit her attorney fiancé for more than three months.
Allison looked at him questioningly.
"Almost ten percent more than the number I told them. And that was twenty percent higher than what I expected."
"That's awesome." Allison forced a smile. "Congratulations."
"I'm going to accept."
"Err ... okay."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fatal Facade"
Copyright © 2017 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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