Read an Excerpt
The time is now, the place, the City of Brotherly Love. And the crime is murder.
Murders, actually. Murders old, murders new.
Retired Philadelphia homicide detective Teddy Sunshine had been working four cold cases whenever business was slow at the Sunshine Detective Agency. He'd been conducting a routine semiannual updating of his files on those cases when he was found dead in his home office, an apparent suicide.
But Teddy hadn't eaten his old service revolver, the police said, until after he had strangled the woman he'd been stalking for three weeksMelodie Brainard, the wife of the leading mayoral candidate.
His three daughters aren't buying that story. They can't. They loved Teddy Sunshine.
One by one, Jolie, Jessica and the oldest, Jade, who had been partnered with Teddy in the Sunshine Detective Agency, took on the cold cases and worked them the way their father had worked them, sure one of the cases was connected with their father's death. One by one, the old cases were solved, leaving only two: the surely un-solvable tragedy of a high-school scholar athlete gunned down in a drive-by shooting, and the sad haunting case dubbed the Baby in the Dumpster.
But every answer the Sunshine sisters found seemed to raise new questions, and while the girls have felt cheered by their progress with the cold cases, they still can't prove Teddy's innocence.
Jade, even more than her sisters, feels a responsibility to clear Teddy's name. But will her obsession with the old cases, old hurts, past mistakes, risk her future with the man she had always loved, the man she'd thought gone from her life after their short, troubled time together as Mr. and Mrs. Court Becket?
The clock is ticking
SUNDAY, 11:06 P.M.
There was a summer thunderstorm making it a noisy night outside the suburban Philadelphia mansion belonging to antiques importer Samuel Becket. Sam wasn't there, however, having traveled to California with his on-again-off-again and now on-again fiancée, movie star Jolie Sunshine.
He'd invited the three Sunshine sistersJolie, Jessica and Jadeto stay at the mansion as long as they liked, since their family home had been damaged by a suspicious fire shortly after the death of their father. Sam's sprawling, securely fenced-in estate, complete with a gatehouse manned by intrepid former professional wrestler Carroll "Bear Man" Yablonski, was now Operations Central for the Sunshine Detective Agency, or what was left of it.
And what was left, now that Jolie had been forced to return to California, were TV cable-news journalist Jessica and Philadelphia homicide detective Matt Denby, Jade, and Sam's cousin from Virginia, Courtland Becket. Court, owner of an almost embarrassing empire of five-star hotels, among his other assets, had flown immediately to Philadelphia when he'd heard about the alleged suicide of Teddy Sunshine. He wasn't going anywhere as long as Jade needed him. Even if she said she didn't.
Jade closed her cell phone with a snap and looked blankly at her ex-husband as he entered the living room. "I don't believe it."
Court, casually elegant in belted, pleated tan slacks and a form-fitting navy pullover too expensive to sport a label, tipped his head to one side inquiringly, and then headed for the bar in the far corner of the large room. "For the sake of harmony, neither do I. Ginger ale for you, right? Considering the tone of your voice, however, I think I'll have a beer. Oh, and what don't I believe?"
"Jessica, of course," Jade said, thinking about her baby sister, who had left the house not four hours ago on what she had called a mission. "Poor Matt."
"Poor Matt? That doesn't sound good." Court returned to the conversation area with their drinks and sat himself down on the facing couch. "When we discussed this earlier, I thought the idea was that your sister was going to give him some space. What was it she was going on about? If you love someone, let him go, et cetera, et cetera? In which case, might I point out, you obviously adore me."
"Not now, Court, please," Jade said, getting to her feet and smoothing down the wrinkled skirt of her simple shirtwaist cotton dress. She was bone-weary and definitely rumpled. Only Court could still look fresh, and heart-crushingly handsome, this late in the day. Or maybe it was a gift bestowed only upon those who were born to generations of money.
Not that she wanted to think about that right now, either. She needed to pace, to work off some of the tense energy that had driven her these past weeks. Not even two weeks, in fact, since she'd come home to find Teddy's body in his office, the back of his head blown off and his service revolver on the floor beside his desk. And yet sometimes it felt like an eternity. "The bottom line is, Jessica and Matt are together again, how I don't know."
"You're talking Jessica when you say you don't know, right? As to that, Sam and I have a theory that might apply here," Court said, speaking of his absent cousin. "We've decided that your baby sister is a witch. The good, G-rated, pretty, blond, nose-twitching kind. But still a witch."
Jade smiled in spite of herself. "You and Sam might have a point. In any case, they've gone off somewhere together. To celebrate before the rest of the world knows anything, which they will, soon, from coast to coast and in several large foreign cable marketsand that's as close to a direct quote as I think I can get. She won't say where they've gone, but she did say to hold the fort and that they'll be back tomorrow night sometime."
Court took a long pull on his beer, then smiled up at Jade. "Gone? Really? Let's do roll call, Jade, all right? Sam and Jolie? In California, getting ready to fly to Ireland to shoot your sister's next movie. Matt and Jessica? Whereabouts unknown, although the words hotel suite with a king-size bed and room service seem to be one fairly plausible conclusion. They should have called me and I could have arranged for the penthouse downtown."
Jade winced inwardly. She remembered that penthouse very well. She tried to cover her sudden discomfort by saying brightly, "Ah, but then we'd know where they are, and I don't think Jessica wants anyone to know."
"Good point. In any case they're gone, they're not here. Jessica took our new friend Ernesto home earlier, where he is even now packing to leave for college on Tuesday. Mrs. Archer has the weekend off, although she may have come back by now. Still, her apartment is pretty isolated. Bear Man is in his gatehouse at the end of the drive, most probably standing in front of a mirror as he strikes a few muscle-popping poses. Leaving this very large houseand you and me. For the first time since we got here, Jade, I think I like the odds."
It was tiring, always fighting Courtfighting herself actuallyso Jade gave in. "You forgot Rockne," she said, smiling as Teddy's beloved, aging Irish setter snored in front of the cold fireplace. "He's my chaperon-slash-bodyguard. Rockne! Sic him, boy!"
Rockne's left ear twitched a single time, but his eyes didn't open.
"I suppose you could go see if Mrs. Archer is available. She's probably deadly with a rolling pin at twenty paces," Court suggested. "What do you say, Jade? Can we put the cases to one side for one night? Just one?"
Jade returned to the couch and sat down, not to agree with Court, but to reach for the file folders that had been piled on the coffee table. "We're getting so close, Court. I mean, taking the process of elimination into account, I should be able to wrap this all up in a few days."
"You're going to wrap this all up in a few days? Just you? Who solved the case of the Vanishing Bride?"
"Jolie and Sam," Jade said, shifting the manila folders on the tabletop. "With a lot of help from Teddy, who nearly had the whole thing wrapped up before he
before he was murdered."
"Steady, Jade," Court said, leaning across the table to squeeze her fingers. "Let's move on. And the Fishtown Strangler case?"
"Jessica and Matt. Except that's not completely solved, not if Herman Longstreet is telling the truth about Tarin White not being one of his victims, remember?" She put a hand to her head. "Sometimes it's like we're going in circles, you know?"
"Look, I don't want to push this, but every day you look more
well, fragile. Your hands look a lot better since the night of the fire, but the burns still have to be tender. You don't eat enough, I don't know when you sleep, and when I think maybe you're taking it easy for a while, I find you in the workout room running on the treadmill. You've got to slow down, Jade. Stop beating yourself up."
Jade pulled her hand free of his. He was wrong. The burns she'd gotten trying to put out the fire were completely healed now. It was the rest of her that remained wounded. "That's just crazy, Court. I'm not beating myself up. Why would I beat myself up?"
"Oh, I don't know. Because you didn't come home earlier that night, find Teddy while he was still alive and draining that bottle of Irish whiskey, talk him out of what he was going to do?"
"Teddy did not kill himself!" Jade clasped her hands together in her lap because her hands were shaking and, otherwise, Court would see. He already saw too much.
"All right. Fine. He didn't kill himself." Court rubbed at his own forehead now, and Jade suppressed a guilty wince, knowing that he was as tired as she was. They were all tired.
"I'm sorry, Court. I know what it looked like. I was there, remember? The door to the office closed, Rockne shut outside that door, whining and agitated. The nearly empty bottle of whiskey for liquid courage. Teddy's body on the other side of that door, slumped back in his chair, the gun on the floor beside him after he'd
after he'd been shot. I know, Court. I know how it looked. I'll never forget how it looked."
"And the front door locked, the alarm on and no signs of forcible entry anywhere," Court added, his voice tight, as if he didn't want to say what he was saying, but likewise, knew that some things had to be said.
"I don't remember" Jade told him. "Honestly, Court, I don't. Is that it? Have you been thinking that I lied to you all about that? About the alarm being on or off, the door locked or unlocked? Do you think I only said I don't remember about the security code because otherwise the verdict of suicide is impossible to argue? How long have you thought I've been lying?"
"Not lying, Jade. Not intentionally. But sometimes we do forget what we don't want to remember."