Ashley Lambert jumped eighteen stories to her death. It's a clear-cut suicide. And Ashley's parents want to know why their flawless daughter would take her life. They've hired the PI team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan to find the answers. When the investigation leads to performance enhancing drugs and blackmail, Ashley's coaches, peers and even her parents come into question. The disturbing truth is testimony to the lines that are crossed, and risks taken...in the name of love.Meanwhile, when Britt sees the bruising on her neighbor's arm she can't let it go, and is working overtime to bring to light the violent behavior next door. The neighbor, Rhea McKenzie, has a secret. Bruises aren't the only thing she's hiding. When an off-hand comment discloses a connection to Ashley Lambert the two cases become entwined, setting off an unstoppable chain of events. Britt is sucked into an alliance with Rhea and forced to make decisions that challenge her ethics, threaten her relationship and in the end, may cost her everything.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On the west side of North Yarmouth, Maine most of the homes are hidden. Nestled in wooded alcoves they're self-sufficient, isolated types, much like their owners. And though Griff and I are not reclusive, after working in the city all day, the quiet of country living had become more than just inviting. We'd decided it was a necessity. We Mainers like our privacy. Except of course when we need help, fast. But that was months down the road. Who could have predicted?
Turning into a long, narrow drive we followed our real estate agent, Peggy Lawson toward what was to be the first house Griff and I would own together. Massive elms lined both sides of the gravel path, their branches entwined overhead, creating a cathedral like entry. When we cleared the trees, the house came into view. I knew without going any further this was the one.
We approached the modest two-story farmhouse with its yellow clapboards and white trim in silence. The burgundy colored metal roof was the first detail I could check off my wish list. I'd seen enough people shoveling snow from roofs mid-February to know that wasn't a job I'd do. The metal roof assured me I'd never have to. But it was the broad farmer's porch that confirmed this place as home. It stretched end to end with three Adirondack rockers fluttering in June's almost-summer breeze. This house didn't have the split rail fence draped with red roses like the one we'd looked at in Freeport. It didn't have an attached garage, which Griff had deemed a necessity. But it had character. Intimate, enduring and unpretentious, this house was love at first sight.
We stepped out of Griff's antique Land Rover.
Peggy came up beside me. "It's a great house, Britt," she said nudging my shoulder with hers as though we had some woman-to-woman conspiracy. She should have been cozying up to Griff. The down payment was coming from his bank account, not mine.
"The owners have been meticulous about maintaining the old style but have incorporated upgrades that no one should live without. You know, the essentials, hot tub, sauna, home gym." She laughed as she led us up the front steps and onto the porch.
A shrill cry came from beyond the tree line to our right. I couldn't pin it down; pain or fear, animal or human. "What was that?" I looked at Peggy assuming as the realtor she'd have the answer.
"No idea," she said fumbling with the lock box that hung from the doorknob.
"But Siamese cats sound like that. I ought to know, I have three. Maybe your neighbors are cat people. Generally speaking though, it's dead quiet out here."
I glanced at Griff. He was shifting foot to foot unfazed by the wail, eager for Peggy to unlock the front door.
"Neighbors on both sides?" I asked.
"No, just on that side." She nodded in the direction of where the sound had come from. "The McKenzies are through the trees. Not too close, but close enough. You're not completely secluded. She must be out back in the pool. Maybe taking a swim."
"Or taking her cat for a dip," Griff said.
I rolled my eyes at him and turned back to Peggy. "How old are they?"
"I've only met them once. At a guess, I'd say she's late thirties, he's mid-forties."
I looked at Griff. "Your age. A little old for me."
"Wise ass." He tapped his foot as he watched Peggy spin the combination lock. "McKenzie sounds familiar. It's not the family that was in the news a few years ago? Kid went missing?"
Peggy wrinkled her nose. "I vaguely remember something like that, but I couldn't tell you if it's the same people, probably lots of McKenzies around. There we go." She pushed the door wide and ushered us through.
From the tiled entryway we stepped into a living room right out of Pottery Barn. Hardwood floor, adorned with a couple of Asian throw rugs, teak tables abutted a black leather couch, lamps with mica shades to emit a soothing warmth and a Buddha bust strategically placed in front of one window was aglow with late afternoon sun.
"Wow," was all that came out of my mouth. "Are they leaving the furniture?"
"Everything's negotiable," Peggy said. "You two wander around. Take your time."
"Why does McKenzie ring a bell?" I asked Griff. "Have we had a case under that name?"
Griff shook his head. "No. But if it's the same folks who were in the news there's a lot more to the story than our Realtor wants to share. Might put a damper on the sale of the house."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you later."
"Will it change how I feel?"
"I don't think so."
The kitchen was a traditional farmhouse style with a built-in brick hearth and a huge farmers table that according to Peggy was staying. The countertops and the island had been upgraded to granite and the appliances carried the Viking seal.
"He's a chef," Peggy explained when she caught up with us and saw me standing in the center of the room with my mouth hanging open.
"Hope the appliances can tolerate going back to basics," I said.
In the basement, the gym included a stationary bike, stepper, elliptical, complete set of bar and dumbbells, a teakwood bar stocked with energy drinks (That would change. A margarita never hurt anyone.) and a flat screen TV.
I was beginning to feel like I was in an infomercial or one of those HGTV home makeover shows.
Tired of working out? Step through the sliding glass doors onto the patio and toss a steak onto the built-in, gas grill. While it's cooking, jump into the hot tub or relax on patio furniture (that put my newly purchased living room set to shame). After dinner put your feet up and roast s'mores over the ceramic fire pit.
We left Peggy looking longingly at the elliptical and headed upstairs.
The second floor held three bedrooms. The first one we looked at no doubt belonged to a little girl. Pink walls, white trim, ruffled bedspread and enough stuffed animals and dolls for the kid to open her own toy store.
"This'll do for Allie," Griff said.
"With a little work. Allie's fifteen, not five. But she'll love it after a few upgrades."
Allie was the reason Griff had begun house hunting. She and her mom, Griff's ex, had been pulled into one of our cases a few years ago as a serial killer's last hurrah. Finding them was still one of Griff's finer moments, but the scars had yet to heal and the ordeal left Allie with frequent nightmares and a plethora of fears. Griff believed a house would provide a more stable environment than his bachelor style apartment. So here we were.
The next bedroom would serve as a guestroom. With its view of the drive and the archway of trees, it promised our guests would be in no hurry to leave. When we stepped into the master bedroom, I knew Peggy had saved the best for last. Hardwood flooring with plush rugs framed the king size, four-poster bed that centered the room. Six, paned windows along the west wall permitted a smattering of leaf shadows across the floor while the sun's rays streamed unbroken through the string of skylights in the cathedral ceiling. The effect melted away the walls, leaving us with a sensation of standing in the trees.
I looked at Griff.
He smiled and raised his eyebrows.
The shower in the master bath was enclosed on two sides by walls of Mexican tile. The third wall was floor to ceiling glass and looked onto the private backyard. I wasn't sure how I'd feel showering with that window offering full disclosure to anyone who might be out back or in the trees. But who the hell would be standing in the woods in the middle of nowhere? I'm in good shape, but probably not worth the trip. The sauna was located in one corner of the bathroom, small but adequate, made of cedar with a horseshoe shaped bench running the perimeter of the wall and a rock hearth in the center.
As we turned to leave the bathroom the quiet was pierced by a single wail. The same sound we'd heard before. I looked at Griff. "What the hell is that?"
He shrugged. "Peggy's right. It sounds like a cat."
"How would you know? You've never owned a cat."
"Doesn't mean I've never heard one."
I pointed to the trees that shielded our house (or what we both knew would soon be our house) from the McKenzie's. "It's coming from over there."
"Lighten up Callahan. We're not on the job."
"I just want to know what it is." I followed him down the stairs and we stood in the living room again admiring the décor. I gazed out the floor to ceiling window into the woods beyond. "Bet it gets really dark out here at night," I said.
Peggy appeared in the front hallway and laughed. "If it's of any comfort, it does take a while to make the shift from city to country living. Darkness is all encompassing out here. You don't get that in Portland, not even in the middle of the night."
We followed her outside and I let my concern slip away. She was right. I was a city girl and had been knee deep in noise all my life. This would take some getting used to.
We walked the full circumference around the house ending up once again on the back deck. I started thinking maybe this was a joke. We were lookie-loos just wanting to see how the other half lived. I glanced at Griff and raised my eyebrows. He gave me his best poker face.
"Can I talk to you for a sec?" Peggy took the hint and stepped away, peering through the sliding doors at the elliptical.
"Are you nuts? This place is right out of Architectural Digest. It has to be way out of our range unless there's something you haven't told me."
Griff laughed. "You know everything about me there is to know and yet you stay anyway."
"No, really," I said. "Why are we looking at this place?"
"The owners aren't selling to make money," Peggy said, overhearing or eavesdropping. (Realtors' ears are right on par with a bloodhound's nose.) "They want out and they want out as fast as possible. They're willing to take whatever they can get to make it happen."
"He's been offered a job in Paris and has to go now if he wants it."
"So why doesn't he go, and his wife stay behind and sell the house?" "They want the whole thing to happen in one transaction. Sell. Move. Done with it. I get the feeling there's more going on, but I don't have the details. Maybe the marriage is on the rocks and they're trying to salvage it. I don't know. But they've listed it for less than half it's worth, so I know money's not an issue."
"Obviously," I said. "What if there's something wrong with the house?"
Peggy smiled. "Is this your first home purchase?"
I nodded. "My first, not his."
"That's what the home inspection is for. If there's anything wrong with the house it'll be uncovered." She turned to Griff. "Are you interested in putting together an offer, Mr. Cole?"
"When would you like to do that?"
"We can go back to my office and do it now if you have time."
"It's almost six-thirty," Griff said glancing at his watch. "Too late?"
"A sale's a sale," Peggy said. "I don't run on anyone's clock. I'm game if you are."
Griff gestured toward the door. "After you."
We walked back through the house and out the front door. I tried to take in every detail, so I could start imagining myself actually living here. It seemed impossible that this could be ours. You know that saying ... if it seems too good to be true?
Outside, we waited for Peggy to lock up. Griff and I wandered around the front yard and then out to the back once again imagining our next barbeque.
"It's really quiet." I said.
He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me against him. "You'll get used to it and then I'll have to drag you into the city kicking and screaming."
I laughed. "You're probably right." I followed him along the side of the house and back toward the driveway. An unmistakable whine came from the trees. We both stopped.
"Jon, Jon ... baby Jon ..." The sing-song tune was barely audible.
"Did you hear a voice?" I asked Griff. "A voice? No. Wind in the trees, maybe. The silence making you jumpy, Callahan?" "I heard someone singing or calling for Jon."
Griff stopped and looked at me like I'd said there were cows flying overhead.
"What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
He shook his head. "Nothing. It's nothing. Let's go. Maybe the cat escaped."
"Can you be serious for a minute?"
"I am being serious. I want to get out of here and write up an offer on this place. It's not going to last long and according to Peggy we're the first ones to look at it."
"Ready?" Peggy poked her head around the corner of the porch.
"You bet," Griff said picking up his pace.
I glanced over my shoulder in the direction that the voice had come from. There was nothing, no sound. Cat, my ass. I turned and followed Griff toward the front of the house. "I'm a dog person," I said, in case anyone was listening.CHAPTER 2
Even after three months, our new Cole and Callahan P.I. Inc. sign still made me smile each time I passed beneath it. I'd begged Griff to change it from the original Cole& Co. to reflect both of us as equal partners and he'd made the upgrade after our last case. He said I'd earned it, and then some. I didn't argue.
"Where's your other half?"
I juggled my messenger bag onto my shoulder, then carefully switched my Starbucks tumbler to one hand, my brown bag lunch to the other and turned to see our office receptionist extraordinaire, Katie Nightingale, coming toward me up the sidewalk.
"Don't move a muscle," she said waving her set of office keys in the air. "I've got you covered."
"Thank God somebody does," I said with a laugh.
"He picked up Allie for breakfast this morning."
"And you're not joining them?"
"I think we found a house," I told her. "I wanted him to tell her the news without me in case she has any misgivings. She can vent if she needs to."
"Are you kidding? That girl loves you."
"I know, but I like to make sure she has time with her dad, without me. I don't ever want our relationship to feel competitive."
Katie pushed open the front door and I followed her up the stairway that led to our office. The messenger bag swung against my thigh half empty. We were between cases at the moment.
The light was blinking on the answering machine on Katie's desk and I stepped past her as she flopped into her swivel chair and reached for the phone to check messages. Griff and I each have our own office off the main reception area. We've found that clients are often gender specific. A woman whose husband is cheating feels less judged when she's sharing the details with another woman. Men, on the other hand want revenge and look for strength and that sways them toward Griff. We work together on every case, but the initial conversation often takes place behind the door of the client's choosing.
Katie appeared in my doorway as I took the last bite of my glazed, raspberry scone. I held up my finger asking her to wait a second. (Anything glazed takes priority.) I closed my eyes and swallowed, savoring the remnants of the most delicious and unhealthy breakfast I'd had in a long time. "Okay, what's up?" I asked once the last of the crumbs had cleared my throat.
"Message on the machine. Sounds like a new case. Parents want to discuss the death of their child that was, they believe, wrongly labeled a suicide."
"They leave a name?"
Katie nodded. "Lambert."
"As in Ashley Lambert?"
"That's what I said. To the machine, not the client."
"I remember reading about that. When was it?"
"A month ago? Maybe a little more."
I slipped a Backwoods Honey Berry from the pack in my bag and opened the window in the corner of my office. My addiction to the little cigars was Griff's pet peeve. I kept the window screen-less for just this purpose. Scooting through the frame I sat on the grated floor of the fire escape, my legs dangling inside the office and lit up.
"Google her," I said to Katie motioning to the laptop on my desk. "See what you can find."
"This is dated May 20th," Katie said. "Headline reads, Fensworth Student Jumps to Her Death. My God, look at her. She's beautiful. What a waste."
I leaned inside and looked at a face right off a Cover Girl advertisement. Flawless skin and sculptured cheekbones gave way to a broad smile and straight white teeth. A blond ponytail all but swayed from the back of her head and feathered bangs accented huge blue eyes. Lithe and athletic, Ashley stood beside a hurdle on a Tartan track, a two-foot trophy in her hand.
"Are you saying if she was a four instead of a ten it would be less tragic?"
"Sounded that way, didn't it?" Katie said. "I didn't know I was that shallow."
I nodded toward the computer. "Keep reading."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Scar Tissue"
Copyright © 2018 Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.