"An edgy page-turner that pulls the reader into a world where image is everything and murder is all about image. Great start to a new series!" - Erika Chase, Author of The Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries
Philadelphia image consultant Allison Campbell is not your typical detective. She's more familiar with the rules of etiquette than the rules of evidence, prefers three-inch Manolos to comfy flats and relates to Dear Abby, not Judge Judy.
When Allison's latest Main Line client, the fifteen-year-old Goth daughter of a White House hopeful, is accused of the ritualistic murder of a local divorce attorney, Allison fights to prove her client's innocence when no one else will. But in a place where image is everything, the ability to distinguish the truth from the facade may be the only thing that keeps Allison alive.
Praise for KILLER IMAGE:
"Wit, charm, and deliciously clever plot twists abound in Wendy Tyson's Killer Image, first in her new series of mysteries featuring intrepid image consultant Allison Campbell. The author has a knack for creating characters with heart, while keeping us guessing as to their secrets until the end. Readers will eagerly await her next book in the series." - Mary Hart Perry, Author of Seducing the Princess
"This cleverly revealing psychological thriller will keep you guessing...as the smart and savvy Allison Campbell (love her!) delves into the deadly motives, twisted emotions and secret intrigues of Philadelphia's Main Line." - Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award-Winning Author of The Wrong Girl
"Nancy Drew gets a fierce makeover in Wendy Tyson's daringly dark, yet ever fashion-conscious mystery series, beginning with Killer Image. Tyson imbues her characters with emotional depth amidst wit, ever maintaining the pulse rate." - Deborah Cloyed, Author of What Tears Us Apart and The Summer We Came to Life
"An intriguing psychological thriller. The book reminded me of Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series...I loved the book, it's dark and hopeful at the same time. Five stars out of five." Lynn Farris, Mystery Books Examiner for Examiner.com
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
Arnie Feldman needed a drink, a bath, and a screw, in that order. But no one was home, except Sasha's dog. Stupid beast. Arnie picked up the Chihuahua, tossed him in the study and slammed the door. Then he took off his shoes, careful not to scuff the newly polished leather, and placed them next to the foyer closet. Sasha could put them away later. Where was she, anyway? And where was Ethan? He glanced at his watch: 7:18. Too late for shopping. Who was he kidding? For his wife, it was never too late to shop.
Arnie walked through the hall and into the kitchen. Like a showroom kitchen, he thought. Damn. Might as well be a showroom kitchen for all the use it gets. Something seemed out of place, but what?
He headed for the bar. Scotch. Straight up. He was too tired for ice. It was the Bremburg case. That little girl with her sad eyes and lopsided pigtails. That mother with her pleas and allegations of Jack Bremburg's sexual perversions. But Jack was his client. Arnie was paid to advocate, and advocate he would. The allegations were false. He was sure of it.
They had to be.
Arnie poured three fingers of scotch. Four. What the hell? Why was he plagued with a conscience? A good divorce attorney should never be swayed by crap the other side made up. Never. And he was a good divorce attorney. The best. He smiled, tipped the glass into his mouth, and swallowed, savoring the slow burn that would lead to oblivion. He poured another glass. Where was Sasha?
He heard a noise coming from upstairs. Ethan. Sasha must have left him home while she went to the mall. Shopping. Was that all she did these days, shop? And have her hair done. And exercise with that idiotic personal trainer. Damn, he worked hard so his wife could spend money at Neiman Marcus and his kid could act like a spoiled prick. Teenagers. Should have let Brenda keep the kid. He lived for the day he and Sasha would have an empty nest. No mess, more privacy. They could do it whenever and wherever he damn well pleased.
He threw back the second glass.
He wanted Sasha now. Wanted her to wear that little black number he'd bought online, wanted her face down on the bed...
What was that boy doing? "Ethan?" Arnie slammed down his glass. His head was starting to throb.
Arnie made his way up the stairs. The scotch was working its magic, and his feet felt lighter. Jack Bremburg no longer felt like a noose was around his neck. Jack was innocent. Of course he was innocent. How could a man so rich, so successful, let a little character flaw get in his way? He wouldn't be so stupid. Arnie tried not to think of other people, equally rich and powerful, who were that stupid.
"Ethan! Knock it the hell off!"
Three more steps to the top of the stairs.
It was coming from his bedroom — noises like dressers being thrown to the floor. What was Ethan doing in his bedroom? If he had that little hussy up there using the Jacuzzi, his ass would be toast tonight. That little witch he'd forbidden Ethan to see? Grounded. For a week. No, a month.
The bedroom door was closed.
Arnie braced himself for a confrontation with his son, then flung open the door and stepped inside. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Shadows on the walls, paint on the hardwood. That smell. What was that smell?
An object hissed through air. Arnie felt a blow to the side of his skull and then, for a moment, everything went black. When he came to, a deep throbbing filled his head. Something covered his mouth and bound his hands. He couldn't scream, couldn't move.
Suddenly, unseen hands tore open his shirt. Arnie flinched as nails bit into tender skin. He heard the snap of the match before he smelled the sharp scent of sulfur. With horror, he caught a glimpse of a shadowy face. Eyes like the devil. He thought of the Bremburg girl's pigtails, brown and glossy and uncentered. Only one red bow.
Then came the pain.
And it didn't stop.CHAPTER 2
Allison Campbell may have spent the last eight hours teaching people how to project confidence, class, and charisma, but by three o'clock Wednesday afternoon, she was feeling uncharacteristically drained.
It was nearly the end of March, the time of year early-rising daffodils should begin stretching their way from a long sleep, but winter held on with the tenacity of a stubborn two-year-old. Clouds shifted and sulked in the sky, their brooding manner warning of even more snow and sleet. Allison tried to keep her focus on work, but her mind drifted to the weather, her sore feet, what she would have for dinner ... anything but the paper in front of her.
She looked again at the pink slip crumpled next to her, at Vaughn's tight, slanted handwriting. Call your sister. Important. With Faye, it was always important. Allison didn't have the stomach for it. Not now. Still, she felt that familiar knot in her belly at just the thought of Faye. She'd call her back later.
Allison took off blue-framed eyeglasses and rubbed her temples before focusing her attention back on the woman across the desk. Neck swathed in a maroon-print scarf, short, wavy black hair perfectly coiffed, Midge Majors was picking at the edges of her scarf with elegantly manicured fingers. Allison had spent the last eleven months convincing Midge that she could reinvent herself, that the world had need of women like her, even after the family life she had carefully cultivated had fallen apart. And Midge had risen to the challenge.
This Midge looked almost the same as the Midge she had met a year ago: pillbox hats and coordinating scarves in colors that matched her array of shirt dresses, sensible one-inch pumps in neutral colors, little circles of red rouge on her heavy cheeks. But the changes were deeper. She no longer apologized after every other sentence. She maintained eye contact for long periods of time. And now, most important of all, she could laugh about her divorce.
When seventy-one-year-old Midge caught her husband cheating with the neighbor's adult son, in a burst of rage, she tried to kill him with an antique Remington-Ingersoll Life Line gun. Luckily she was even less skilled with the gun than she'd been at expressing her feelings. The ex-husband was fine, but Midge suffered a breakdown. Over the last year, all that had changed.
"I can't do it," Midge had said.
"You can, Midge — and you will."
"I'm too darn old."
Allison smiled. "It's never too late for a new adventure."
"Who's going to take me seriously? I haven't worked in forty years. My son says why bother."
"Your son doesn't always know what's best for you, Midge." Allison placed her hands down on the desk between them for emphasis. Midge's deference to the family that abandoned her when she most needed them had been maddening at first. But as sessions with Allison wore on, Midge seemed to like the person she saw in the mirror and her dependence on her sons' opinions had lessened. Today's self-doubt, Allison knew, was simply a case of the nerves. And who could blame her?
"Your sons are not part of this equation. This is about you and the school's musical director. And you," Allison said with a smile, "are going to be fantastic."
Allison watched a theater of emotions flicker across Midge's face: disbelief, fear, anger, and, finally, determination. It was the determination Allison wanted, for Midge and all of her clients. The determination to fight against a world that wanted to dismiss her as frivolous or unworthy. The determination to create something better for herself.
Midge nodded, the helplessness in her expression replaced by a slow-burning fire in her eyes. "One more time? Just to be sure I have everything covered?"
And so Allison went through it all again: the protocol, the interview outfit they'd agreed on — charcoal gray dress, soft cream scarf, silver beads, black pumps, rose-colored lipstick — and the reminders to have good posture, make eye contact, and project her voice. "Quiet confidence," Allison said, "is your number-one asset."
"I was a darn good pianist once upon a time."
"You're a damn good musician now."
Midge rose to leave, her grin sincere. Allison felt hopeful that Midge would get this job and, with it, a new start on life. Hopeful, but ... well, sometimes life could pull a fast one.
When Midge was gone, Allison sat back down at her desk and pulled out another file. Inside were the details of another woman whose story was similar — years of family devotion followed by divorce and a frustrating reentry into a very changed world. Allison started to feel a well of anger and sadness at the injustice of it all.
She thought: Don't go there, Al.
Adding her own emotions to the mix wasn't going to help anyone. Besides, often having an advocate, someone who believed in them even when it felt like no one else did, was the magic that made the difference for her clients. It was her job to be that person, and she could think of no better way to spend her days. Even when the circumstances weighed heavily on her heart and mind. Like now.
"You have a visitor, Allison."
Allison looked up to see her business manager, Vaughn, standing in the doorway. He had a mug of coffee in his hand, which he placed on her desk. Two creamers, one sugar, just the way she liked it. Allison smiled her gratitude.
"Don't be so quick with a grin. You haven't seen who your visitor is yet."
Oy. She thought of the note from Faye. It wasn't exactly shaping up to be a great day, so luck was probably not on her side. Maybe Faye could wait until tomorrow. Doubtful. Allison tugged a stray blond hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. She looked up at Vaughn and noticed, not for the first time, the signs that something bigger than this business, First Impressions, was happening in his life. Vaughn's hair was beginning to gray around the edges, his eyes held a tired glaze, and his near-black skin looked ashy and dry. Clearly he wasn't sleeping. Concerned, she wanted to ask what was going on, but something in Vaughn's manner held her back.
Instead, she said, "Who is it?"
"Hank McBride. And his wife."
"Congressman Hank McBride?"
"One and the same."
Allison's mind spun. What was Hank McBride doing here? "Do they have an appointment?"
"No." Vaughn frowned. "I told them you couldn't be disturbed, but the congressman was quite insistent."
Allison could tell by the look of distaste on Vaughn's face that insistent meant rude. She glanced again at the pink slip on her desk. She didn't know Hank McBride, didn't know much about him, either, other than a rumor that he had his eye on the White House. But at least his presence would distract her from other things. Things she couldn't control.
"I'll see them in the conference room."
Vaughn's eyebrows shot up in a questioning arc.
"I know, I know. I have other appointments." Allison sighed. "Tell them they have fifteen minutes, tops."
Vaughn nodded, but the look on his face said he thought she was making a mistake.
The first thing that struck Allison about Hank McBride was his smile. There was something about the twist of his lips that set off Allison's lie detector, the way the edges pulled up too high on his face. It didn't match the insolence in his eyes. Before she even shook his hand, Allison knew this was a man who wasn't faithful to the truth.
"Ms. Campbell." That smile again. "This is my wife, Sunny." Sunny was the last name she would have picked for the dark goddess standing before her. At five foot seven, Allison had to wrestle Nautilus machines for a penciled-in hour every other day to keep her curves in the right places. But this woman had curves everywhere. She was at least Allison's height, if not taller. Long, wavy black hair that cascaded down her back and flowed alongside sculptured cheekbones. If Hank looked like an Irish longshoreman in his Sunday best, with his reddened nose and bulky build and scrubbed Anglo skin, Sunny resembled a Gypsy Madonna.
"Sunny, lovely to meet you. Please. Sit." Allison motioned toward the loveseat and waited until the couple settled before sitting opposite them in a chair. Hank sat rigid, limbs and hands to himself. Sunny pressed against her husband's side as though siphoning strength.
He said, "We'll get right to the point, Ms. Campbell."
"Please, call me Allison."
"Allison, our daughter Maggie is in need of your — " Hank waved his hand as though searching for the right word, "expertise."
Allison noticed a twitch in his left eye. Every few seconds, he rubbed at the corner of that eye like he could smooth the twitch away.
"I don't want to waste your time or mine," Allison said. "So before we go any further, I don't work with children."
Hank said, "She's fifteen, not a child, really. And we're not looking for a therapist. She's had enough of those. We need someone to help her become more polished."
"I'm sure there are finishing schools, somewhere to send a young lady —"
Hank snorted. Allison caught the subtle movement of Sunny's arm sinking into Hank's side. She wondered about the balance of power in this relationship.
For the first time, Sunny spoke. Her voice was as sultry as her appearance, husky and melodic with the faintest undertones of a Southern accent. "Ms. Campbell ... Allison ... you have to understand. Maggie is special. She's very smart, but she's, well, eccentric. A bit awkward. She would never, ever go for a finishing school. She requires tender handling."
"And someone who is used to working with misfits," Hank said. "I'll be honest, Allison." He turned to look at Sunny before continuing and gave her a quick stare that said, This is the truth, file it away for future reference. Sunny lowered her head, her mouth set in a resigned frown. Hank continued, "Maggie is headstrong. She's had a few minor incidents along the way that keep her from a more prestigious school program. Kid stuff. Shoplifting, peer issues. I get away with a daughter like Maggie because I'm a congressional incumbent. But once the Senate race starts, there will be photo ops and interviews. I cannot have my daughter's appearance or behavior become the sticking point. Frankly, she needs a little refining before she's ready for her public debut."
Sunny touched his arm. He brushed her hand away, leaned in, and said, "I can't put Maggie in front of the camera, Ms. Campbell. I need you. And I'm willing to pay a large sum for your services. A very, very large sum."
Allison took her time responding. Hank's gaze never wavered; his body language — hands on his knees, torso tilted forward — suggested a man who felt tense but confident. And although his words offered incentive, the arrogant look on his face told Allison money was only one side of the coin.
"What makes you think Maggie will work with me?"
"She probably won't," Sunny said. And this time Allison heard the despair in her voice. Hank made a move to interrupt her, but Sunny waved him away. "Allison, please. Our Maggie's got issues. She's a typical teen trying to find herself. I care about Hank's career, I really do, but I care about Maggie more." Sunny looked down at her hands. Her long fingers dug into the tiny bit of flesh on her thighs. Once again, Allison wondered what they weren't telling her.
Sunny looked up. "I read your book, From the Outside In, and I thought, wow, that's what Maggie needs. Maybe if she changes the way she dresses and acts, her self-esteem will follow. She has none, esteem that is. Oh, she wears those clothes like she doesn't care what anyone thinks about her, but I know it's an act. Inside, she's a frightened little girl."
Sunny looked at her husband for confirmation. Met with only a stony stare, she said quickly, "I saw your ad in the back of Philadelphia magazine. Our older daughter, Catherine, is getting married next year. First Impressions was in the bridal section. It was a sign, Ms. Campbell, I just know it, seeing your ad like that when I wasn't even looking for it. In the bridal section of all places." She looked into Allison's eyes. "Please?"
Allison saw tears clinging to Sunny's lashes, and something told her that this was no act, that Sunny's words were the only honest ones spoken by the McBrides all morning. And that Hank McBride didn't really want to be there. He came solely to appease his wife.
Hank was staring at Allison with a look that said he'd been playing nice, but he could try the asshole route if he wanted to. She wasn't afraid of him. But Sunny ... the way she slumped in her seat reminded Allison of her own mother when she found out she had Alzheimer's.
"I'll meet her," Allison said softly.
The tension in the room evaporated. Sunny sat straight and clapped her hands together.
"Wonderful." Hank grinned. "I knew you'd come around."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Killer Image"
Copyright © 2013 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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