In Vegas, the stakes are high and everyone’s an illusionist.
Sent off to Las Vegas in search of her biological father – a washed-up magician called The Mesmerizer – Jessica arrives in town penniless and with nowhere to turn. She ends up crashing on an old school friend’s couch and getting a job as a hotel maid.
Her first night on the job, she finds a naked guy in the bathtub with a note to call 911, and Jessica suspects her old friend McKenzie might be involved.
The guy in the tub is Leo Spencer and he’s on his own mission – to solve one of Vegas’s coldest cases, the murder of his parents.
JACKAL features award-winning author Kelly Oliver's trademark humor and quirky characters. Join Jessica and her posse for a fast-paced thrill ride in this AMAZON BESTSELLER.
Is The Mesmerizer really Jessica’s dad?
Will Leo find out who killed his parents?
And what exactly is McKenzie mixed up in?
This is a trip to Vegas you will never forget.
Crackles with energy... Jessica remains an instantly likable protagonist...fast-paced and engaging.
Nobody tops Kelly Oliver for delivering fast-paced narrative, quirky characters, and a plot as twisty as a bucking bronco--all of this leavened with Oliver's trademark wry humor. --Caroline Taylor, author of Loose Ends and The Typist Oliver knows how to keep ratcheting up the stakes until the reader feels like they have their own mortgage riding on the roulette wheel.
--Cate Holahan, USA Today best selling author of The Widower's Wife. Great cast of characters. A smart and sexy high stakes trip to Las Vegas. ---Tracee de Hahn, author of Swiss Vendetta
What Amazon readers are saying: ★★★★★"Fun, action packed mystery. Suspenseful and action-packed mystery with all kinds of twists along the way."
★★★★★"Jessica James is an engaging character and she's got some pretty cool friends, too. The storyline flows beautifully and hooks you until the end."
★★★★★"This book was a ton of fun to read. Filled with murder and Mayhem and a bit of hilarity, this book is a keeper. It kept me turning the pages from beginning to end. This is not one you will want to miss."
★★★★★"Such an engaging story. This cozy mystery was a great read, full of twists and turns, secrets and revelations."
★★★★★"This book is a great combination of humor, quirky characters, mystery, and adventure."
★★★★★"Amazingly suspenseful read. I really enjoyed every aspect of this book. The added humor really makes the book a hit novel for me."
★★★★★"Fun, hilarious read. Tons of characters, action, the mob is involved and Jessica James and her friend Lolita are hilarious!!! Definitely enjoyed this read."
What readers are saying on Goodreads:
I love the characters in these books... I loved the mystery involved in this story and recommend it to the YA crowd.
High level of mystery and suspense that was gripping. The added humor really makes the book a hit novel for me.
This book was a ton of fun to read. Filled with murder and Mayhem and a bit of hilarity, this book is a keeper. It kept me turning the pages from beginning to end.
Jessica James and her friend Lolita are hilarious!!! Definitely enjoyed this read.
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Read an Excerpt
The door jerked open jolting passengers into consciousness, but no one got on or off the crowded greyhound bus. Another worthless stop. Another suffocating belch of exhaust. And not enough time to get off the bus to use a real bathroom. No wonder the trip from Whitefish to Vegas took thirty-four painful hours. Jessica James squirmed in her seat, scrutinizing the other poor slobs schlepping beat-up duffels, bulging Wal-Mart bags, and greasy paper sacks for their low-budget journey. Just before the door closed, a paunchy middle-aged man sporting a comb-over climbed aboard. For all she knew, that was him, Zane Powers, the Mesmerizer. Her mom insisted she would find him in Vegas. But really he could be anywhere.
Jessica sighed. The chances of finding the Mesmerizer were as slim as her making it to the next rest stop. She'd been holding it since Sage Junction. Nothing was worse than the smell of that blue toilet chemical. Curse her mother for sending her on this fool's errand. Jessica was determined to find the washed up magician just to prove her mother wrong.
She blew at her bangs. There were two types of people in the world: those who wanted to know and those who wanted to believe. Her mother was a believer, but Jessica wanted to know. Her mom always said "God has his reasons," and "everything happens for the best." Jessica wondered how gut-ripping tragedy was best for anyone. Her mom had faith, but Jessica wanted proof. Proof that Zane Powers was not her biological father.
Near midnight, when the bus finally pulled into the Pocatello bus station for a layover long enough to use the bathroom, she nearly wet her pants in anticipation. She dragged her duffel bag down from the overhead rack to save her seat, and then took off at a brisk pace. Halfway down the aisle, she remembered her wallet and turned back. Barely able to hold it, she unzipped the side pocket of her bag and snagged her wallet. Better safe than sorry, as her Aunt Mary always told her. Timid and alone, Aunt Mary was both safe and sorry.
The Pocatello bus-stop smelled of fryer grease and hopelessness. Most of the other passengers were lined up at MacDonald's waiting for their dose of grease. Bladder full to bursting, Jessica made a beeline for the bathroom. By the time she came out, the line for food snaked around the corner and spilled out into the lobby.
She had four dollars and change, just enough for a Happy Meal. She could use some happiness. As she waited at the back of the line, she slipped the tattered photograph out of her fringe jacket pocket and examined it under the florescent light. In old pictures, her mom was always laughing, head thrown back, a looker ready to take on the world. The man with her in the photo was tall, slender, and far too pretty.
No way this dude from the circus provided the sperm responsible for her existence. Her dad — the one she'd known for the first twelve years of her life — was short, sinewy, and had a grin that could light up a moonless night. As a child, she'd worshipped him, and wanted to be just like him ... well maybe not a mill worker living in a trailer park, but a rodeo-riding cowboy who took off on a horse with only a bedroll. She'd lived for those weekends when he'd take her with him, riding for miles through pine forests and sleeping under the stars. No way. This Zane Powers dude just couldn't be her biological father.
Jessica squinted at the photo trying to make out what the beautiful man was holding in his hand, besides her mother. She held the photo closer to the light. Her mom was radiant, and so young. She must have been a teenager. She was wearing the same kind of crop-top and cut-offs she still wore on scorching summer afternoons, whiling away the hours playing video poker and drinking Vodka Collins on the porch of her doublewide.
Jessica recognized the building in the background as one of the horse barns at the fairgrounds. In the foreground, a giant arched façade read "The Mesmerizer." Whoever he was, this Mesmerizer had made her mom happy, which was no easy feat. Jessica had been trying without success for most of her twenty-three years. A thumb-shaped shadow darkened the lower corner of the picture. Whose thumb? Her mom was tight-lipped about this Mesmerizer dude, but expected Jessica to drop everything and run after him anyway. And for some crazy reason she'd done it. Maybe it was because her mom had looked so pathetic.
She slipped the photo back in her pocket. Hard to believe, a week ago, she'd gotten off another long bus journey from Chicago, ready to cook spaghetti and install a handicapped rail in her mom's shower. After the accident, her mom turned out to be way beyond pasta and minor carpentry.
She inched forward in line and inhaled the distinctive smell of Mickey-D's French fries. She was starving. She swore not to think about her mom or the Mesmerizer again until she reached Vegas. As soon as she got back to the bus, she was going to concentrate on her own life and studying for her qualifying exam.
An announcement came over the loud speaker: "The bus for Las Vegas is departing in five minutes. All passengers should be on board at this time."
Jessica's stomach growled and she looked longingly at a pigtailed girl who was munching on an apple turnover. She smiled at the girl hoping for a handout and got a tongue out instead. Even fast food wasn't going to be fast enough. She'd miss her bus if she didn't hustle. Sigh. She'd have to settle for yet another granola bar. She hightailed it back to the bus.
Outside, a familiar stench socked her in the nose. She looked around and saw the culprit, a Goth teenager leaning against the brick building smoking a cigarette. The girl's black leather jacket — either that or her piercing stare — reminded Jessica of her best friend, Lolita, who was probably at this very moment fleecing wealthy men in the penthouse suite of Chicago's Palmer House. When she'd asked her to take the bus with her from Chicago to Whitefish, all Lolita had said was, "I don't do poverty."
Jessica had never thought about Alpine Vista trailer park as poverty. But it was true. She'd grown up poor. She'd had no choice but to "do" poverty. Scarceness was her constant companion and had shrouded her childhood home, where thirteen hours ago, bleary-eyed and disheveled, she'd sat beside her mom in the stuffy bedroom of the doublewide, fingering the pinholes she'd poked in the vinyl chair when she was five, and worrying about whether her mom was really on death's door or milking her injuries to get attention.
According to Aunt Mary, her mom had drunk too many Vodka Collins at the Bulldog Saloon and had fallen off the bar and hit her head on a barstool. She was paralyzed from the neck down, maybe temporarily, maybe permanently, the doctors couldn't say. Jessica remembered her mom's tiny feverish hand, as sweltering as the insufferable greyhound bus.
Swaying with the bus, Jessica shuffled down the aisle to her seat. As she passed, the paunchy comb-over flashed a yellow-toothed grin. Suddenly the world was full of middle-aged men. She cringed. Now she imagined every middle-aged dude she saw might be her bio-dad. Guys she'd never noticed before had become persons of interest. Usually, she wouldn't make eye contact with these sorts. And, for good reason. She was creeped out by the way every single one of them gave her an ominous smile, like the wolf before he devoured Little Red Riding Hood.
Her duffel was on the seat, right where she left it. Her faith in humanity restored, she slid in beside her bag and resigned herself to what seemed like an eternity in this wretched sardine can. Her stomach growled, and she realized she hadn't eaten since a slice of stale pizza two hundred miles ago. As the bus pulled out, she regretted not joining the rest of the dirty dog passengers, who were now enjoying their Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, and French fries from Mickey-Ds. Note to self: given the choice between grease and hopelessness, next time, go straight for the grease.
She rifled in her pack for a granola bar. Good thing Lolita had given her a Costco-sized box of Peanut Butter Chocolate granola bars as a going away present. She counted out nine left. She had to ration them, one bar for every hundred miles. Curse her mother and her deathbed performance!
Instead of trotting off to Vegas on some doomed errand for her mother, she should be in Chicago studying for her exam, but her mom's melancholy was Jessica's kryptonite, and she'd been helpless to resist her mom's pleas.
Her life in Chicago felt a universe away. It was another world, opposite from the one where she'd grown up. After two years in grad school, she was a misfit in both worlds. At posh Northwestern, they didn't "do poverty" either. There, her peers drank craft cocktails and designer beers instead of whiskey-n-Coke or Coors Light. They read thick tomes and watched foreign films instead of flipping through People Magazine and following soap operas. They ate Thai food and went to the Art Institute instead of Burger King and the Catholic sewing circle.
Even so, she'd learned that whether rich or poor, one thing was the same: Men.
Men could be jerks even if they had money, education, and drank Manhattans. ... especially if they had money, education, and drank Manhattans. At least the guys she'd grown up with were guileless and straightforward in their advances, pawing at her behind the bleachers or in the front seats of their pick-up trucks. The ivy-league men with their expensive tastes, weaseled and snuck around and made promises they never planned to keep. Some of them could even afford to live double lives. A certain billionaire art history professor came to mind.
Her stomach growled. Rationing be damned! Rummaging through her backpack for another granola bar, her fingers found comfort in the thickness of the overdue library book, Theodor Reik's The Compulsion to Confess. Hoping for distraction from the Greyhound's toxic cocktail of anxiety and boredom, Jessica cradled the hardback in both hands, reassured by its heft and the musty smell of dust. Forcing herself to concentrate, she cracked its spine and reread from the last paragraph: "a powerful unconscious feeling of guilt exists even before the actual deed. The repressed impulses of the Oedipal complex." She shook her head. Psycho-analysis. Everything always came down to daddy issues. Oedipus killed his father, slept with his mother, and then tore his own eyes out. We're all walking around blinded by our own desires.
She thought of her own dad — or at least, the man who'd raised her — ripped out of her life by a truck accident when she was twelve. The mundane patterns of his absence had shaped her girlhood. After the accident, Jessica's mom quit looking to Jesus Christ and starting looking to Vodka Collins for the meaning of life. From then on, Jessica had to take care of her mom and herself. Now she might lose her mother, too. It hit her like a dagger through the heart. At twenty-three, she would be an orphan.
She wadded up the sticky granola bar wrapper and stuffed it into the seat pocket in front of her. A little girl with cornrows and eyes like coal popped her head up over the seat. The girl put a tiny finger to her pouty little mouth and stared straight through Jessica. When Jessica smiled, the girl's lips trembled as if she might start to cry. Jessica pulled a kind bar from her bag and offered it to the girl. The girl scowled but snatched the bar and then glanced over at the dark haired women next to her. Jessica nodded encouragingly, wondering whether the little girl had also been spoon fed the constant refrain not to take candy from strangers. When it came down to it, though, who wasn't a stranger?
The vibrating in her jeans' pocket made her start. The caller ID read Aunt Mary. She felt a stabbing in her chest. Had her mom taken a turn for the worse? She tapped the green button and held the phone to her ear.
"So you snuck off to Vegas." Jessica was taken aback by her aunt's accusatory tone.
"I didn't sneak off. Mom sent me," she said apologetically. After all, she had left Aunt Mary alone to care for her grouchy mom.
"So after a week of Irene's hounding, you finally gave in."
She'd never heard Aunt Mary sound so stern. Maybe she should have stayed to help out. Sometimes a little spaghetti and minor carpentry made all the difference.
"I'm warning you, Jesse, don't go looking for trouble."
Wow. Mild-mannered Aunt Mary sounded downright angry. She must be losing it trapped in that claustrophobic trailer with the bedridden tyrant. Jessica knew how she felt.
"I had to get out of there." After a week with her mom alternating between whining and screeching, the trip to Vegas was partly an excuse to get out of that stifling doublewide and away from her mother's temper tantrums. The accident had forced her mother onto the wagon, and she was worse sober than drunk.
"Mom insisted. You know how she is." Jessica twisted a lock of hair around her index finger.
"I know how you are. You're just like her when you get the bit between your teeth." Jessica hated being compared to her mother. She didn't want to end up like her mom, stuck in Nowheresville with barely a pot to pee in. That's why she'd gone "back east" to grad school, to get as far away from her mom's melancholy manipulations as she could.
Aunt Mary broke the silence. "I'm warning you, if you find him, you'll wish you hadn't." Sweet Aunt Mary — who'd never once raised her voice — had been replaced by a harpy.
"What did Zane Powers do to Mom?" Neither her mom nor Aunt Mary would tell her the whole story. She'd have to get it out of the Mesmerizer when she found him.
"He almost killed her, that's what."
Jessica swallowed hard. She wondered if that scar on her mom's wrist had anything to do with this Mesmerizer dude. If it did, she was going to hunt him down like a dog. The silence on the other end was as pointed as an accusation. No way a dog like that could be her dad.
"Irene is screaming in the other room." She could hear her mother in the background. "I've got to go. But, I'm warning you, if you find him, you'll regret it for the rest of your life." The line went dead.
Her aunt was having a conniption over this Mesmerizer dude. Why? What had he done? The bewildering conversation and her aunt's warning had just strengthened her resolve to find the creep. She knew now if she didn't find him, she'd regret it for the rest of her life.CHAPTER 2
Early a thousand miles, twenty-plus hours, four states, and seven Kind bars later, Jessica awoke to a firecracker going off in her head. Inspired, she scrolled through her Facebook friends until she found Cayenne Scarlett, née Mackenzie "Kennie" Czarnowski, a former high school cheerleader and beauty pageant winner, who'd "made it big" in Vegas dancing with the Cirque de Soleil. Jessica gazed down at the beautiful face distorted by thick layers of makeup, lips puckering into a sexy pout, and fake fingernails draped over a tattoo on her ivory neck. Bedroom brown eyes stared back at her. Kennie had been the only popular girl who'd been nice to Jessica in high school ... probably because Kennie's dyslexia had made it necessary for her to cheat off Jessica to pass English Lit. Jessica tapped out an upbeat message and sent it off.
Since she had it out, she used her phone to do an Internet search for "The Mesmerizer" and turned up references to Mark Twain's autobiography and an episode of an old western, Dead Man's Gun, but no sign of the sidewinder with high cheekbones and mischievous smile from the photo.
Her stomach growled. She studied the empty seat across from her. The woman who'd disembarked at the last stop had left some uneaten French fries behind. Jessica glanced around, and then reached over, nabbed the cold fires, and stuffed a couple into her mouth. She was desperate. If she couldn't crash at Kennie's, she'd have to sleep at the bus station in Vegas.
She was broke, in need of a shower, and absolutely famished. The same lack of nourishment that had knocked her out earlier, now kept her alert and on guard like a starving animal sniffing out its next meal ... that and her aunt's warning, "You'll regret it for the rest of your life."
To distract herself, she opened her book again and tried to read. It was no use. She couldn't concentrate. She was hot, starving, and her whole body hurt. Why was she on this dirty dog bus?
At first, Jessica had thought the whole paralysis thing was a ploy to get her back home to Montana. Manipulation was her mother's superpower. To stop Jessica from going to the prom, her mom had thrown herself down the porch stairs. Familiar with her mother's tricks, Jessica had simply lifted the skirt of her prom dress and stepped over her mom's melodrama. Now, she wasn't sure. Maybe her mom really was paralyzed, or worse. Maybe finding the Mesmerizer was her dying wish.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jackal"
Copyright © 2018 Kelly Oliver.
Excerpted by permission of Kaos 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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