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The next right thing is the only choice
Cammie Copello gets resultseven if it means stretching the rules. That's what makes her a great private investigator. It's also what caused the little breach between her and attorney Marc Hamilton. It's too bad, because they made a great team. And, honestly, her career hasn't been the same since.
So imagine her surprise when Marc shows up begging for her help with a personal case. When he turns on the charm well, she can't refuse. But she can keep her attraction to Marc a secretregardless of how tempting he is. Her intentions are put to the test, however, when he proves that the attraction is not one-sided!
About the Author
After graduating with honors from the University of California Santa Barbara, Colleen worked as a film production assistant, improv comic, technical writer/editor and private investigator. All these experiences play into her writing.
Read an Excerpt
Green-and-white spotlights swirled. Trumpets blared.
"Ladies and gentlemen," boomed a male voice over the speakers, "our superstar show is beginning on the Shamrock a-Go-Go Stage! On this lovely April twentieth in glittering, glamorous Las Vegas" the announcer's voice dropped to a tone reserved for funerals "we're bringing back a star who is gone to the world, but here at the Shamrock Palace, he lives forever." The recording of trumpets replayed. "With no further ado," he said, all peppy again, "the one and only King of Pop, Michael Jackson!"
Cammie looked up at as Jeffrey, one of her fellow dealers, stepped onto the Shamrock a-Go-Go Stage, a platform not much larger than her uncle Frankie's dining room table, and four or so feet higher than the circle of green-felt-covered gambling tables. Jeffrey hailed from a town in Oklahoma"So small, you'd miss it if you sneezed." After landing in Vegas two years ago with stardust in his eyes, and several failed stints as a backup singer, he'd eventually found employment as a dealer-performer at the Shamrock Palace.
A grind joint at the end of the strip, the casino advertised such luxuries as green beer, daily penny-slot tournaments and celebrity-impersonator shows every hour, on the hour. Jeffrey might have a Southern twang, stand six-four in his socks and be about as African-American as Blake Shelton but he could do a mean moonwalk and never flubbed a lip sync. Slather on lots of makeup, a curly black wig, tight pants and voila! A taller version of the King of Pop lived again.
While Jeffrey mimed and strutted his way through the song "Billie Jean," Cammie sipped her diet cola. Val, the Christina Aguilera celebrity-performer-dealer and Cammie's best pal at the job, sidled up to her. "Where y'at?"
Which Val had once explained was like saying "How you doin'?" in her hometown of N'awlins.
"Slow day at the Cave." Cammie nodded at her empty gambling table.
None of them ever called this part of the casino the Palace. Mostly because it was buried far back in the shadowy pits of the casino. To reach it, customers had to pass through several hundred slot machines, a belt of fast-food businesses employees called "Grease Gulch," and a Tiki Bar with a thatched roof and piped-in monkey sounds.
"Slow day, f'true," said Val. "I've made a whoppin' five bucks today in dealer tips."
Cammie glanced at Val's skimpy sailor outfit and sailor hat. "New song?"
"Lippin' 'Candyman' in an hour. Aguilera kicked some serious A in that video. I'm hoping to do the same, get some of these tightwads to open up their hearts 'n wallets and give me some tip love. Like Mama over there." Val gestured toward a fiftysomething woman in a low-cut leopard-print top stuffing bills into a silver bucket next to the stage. Jeffrey, as Michael, blew her a kiss with his white-gloved hand.
"Ya know," Val said, giving Cammie an appraising look, "with your long curly black hair and endless legs, you'd be an excellent Cher."
"Isn't she sixtysomething?"
"Girl, Cher could make eighty look hubba hubba. But I meant a younger, hotter Cher. You could lip 'If I Could Turn Back Time.'"
"Oh, yeah," Cammie murmured, "that'd be my song of choice."
Truth was, if Cammie could turn back time, she would probably do all her dumb mistakes again. She was a risk taker, had never believed in tiptoeing into a situation if rushing in headfirst meant finding the clue, nailing the case.
But the problem with being the type of person to go full throttle and take chances was that sometimes she stepped into questionable legal areas.
Like that GPS debacle last month.
Oh, she'd had excellent reasons for doing it, all of them licit or at least with compelling legal potential. First, her client, Rebel's wife, had been worried about the welfare of their kids because she fearedand it turned out to be trueRebel's paramour had a sideline business dealing drugs. Second, Rebel's wife was listed on the registration for the pickup, so technically Cammie had bugged it with the owner's permission.
The judge didn't buy either reason.
Regarding the girlfriend's side business, the judge claimed people distributing illegal substances fell under the jurisdiction of the police, not an overzealous licensed private investigator. And as to planting the GPS device, the judge ruled it wasn't enough that Cammie's client had her name on the registration because it was clear to the judge that the philandering husband had full-time possession and use of the truck.
He charged Cammie with wiretapping, which carried up to four years in the tank.
Fortunately, an attorneya pal of her uncle Frankie'sstepped in and pleaded down the felony wiretapping charge to a misdemeanor trespass with a fine. Despite living in Vegas for only seven years, Uncle Frankie was well connected. To know him was to love him. Lucky for her. Instead of going to jail, the state regulatory agency suspended her P.I. license with the stipulation that after she fulfilled seventy-five hours' community service, paid a thousand-dollar donation to an inner-city youth scholarship fund and paid the P.I. licensure board for its prosecution costs, she could apply to have her license reinstated. Yeah, real lucky.
Unfortunately, with an economy as robust as a taco shell, finding a new job was next to impossible. Hearing Cammie's dilemma, Frankie's fiancée, Delilah, who owned the gift shop at the Shamrock Palace and got along well with the owner, helped Cammie obtain a dealer's license and interview. Because the Elvis and Marilyn performer-dealers were threatening to walk if they didn't get more stage time, the owner was downright gleeful that Cammie had no desire to be a lip-sync diva.
Although, she still had to wear a costume at workcorset, fishnet stockings and high heels. At least, Cammie kept reminding herself, this corset gig was short-term. Five or six months, tops.
The double glass entrance doors to the casino blew open and warm desert winds rushed inside. A drink toppled off a table. Several women giddily shrieked, holding up their hands as though that could ward off the gusty breezes. Jeffrey raised his arms to his sides, letting the currents blow his unbuttoned white shirt off his chest, never missing a lip-syncing beat, the ends of his black wig lifting with the gale. A classic wind-machine Michael Jackson moment.
"Jeffrey's killin' it," said Val, holding on to her sailor cap.
Several beefy security guards managed to shove the doors closed. The Shamrock Palace returned to its mix of jangling slot machines, buzzing conversations and "Billie Jean."
"Wonder why he switched the glove," Cammie mused. Normally, Jeffrey wore a white glove with gold sequins. Today it was white with tiny golden stars.
Val squinted, then smiled in surprise. "Dang, Snooper, you have superhero vision. Which is no doubt why you're such a talented private eye. Speaking of which, that lawyer you used to sleuth for still callin'?"
"Seems to have stopped." Cammie's heart shrank a little. It hadn't been easy ignoring those calls. Of course, hadn't helped that she kept listening to his messages, which were friendly but devoid of any real content. "Hi, Cammie, how're you doing? Hey, give me a call."
"Hey, Cammie, Marc again. Would really appreciate you returning this call, thanks." She wasn't sure what hurt more: what had happened that caused her to leave, or the fact that her departure meant nothing to him. "Did I step in it?" asked Val.
Even through all that black eyeliner and mascara, Cammie caught the concern in her eyes. "I got that look on my face again?"
"I'm not the glum type."
"Check it out," Val said, retrieving a hand mirror from her pocket and handing it to Cammie, "and tell me what you call it."
Cammie looked at her reflection. Glum all right. It'd been a yeartechnically a year and a monthsince she'd left Denver, but damn if her heart still ached as though it were yesterday.
"Why does he still get to me?" she murmured.
"Some boys we never get over. I call 'em the Undo'syou know, after that Carrie Underwood song. But look on the bright side, Snooper. There's boys out there in that big bad world who've never gotten over us, too."
Cammie handed back the mirror, thinking of Joey Koz-marski, who'd nursed a roaring crush on her from sixth grade through high school. She only knew because he wrote her notes about it all the time, otherwise she would have been clueless.
It had been like that with Marc. Except she'd had the roaring crush, he'd been clueless. But at least she'd kept her mouth shut about her feelings. Had never breathed a word of it to anyone, except Val. And then only after she'd put hundreds of miles and many days between her and Denver.
Val put her arm around Cammie's shoulders, gave her a squeeze. "Girl, you and me, we're survivors. We might get slabbed and jabbed, but we still got our health, our spectacularly good looks, our fantabulous jobs at the Cave" She arched a shapely eyebrow while scrutinizing the flocked gold ceiling, circle of gambling tables and dealers who looked like Night of the Living Celebs. "Okay, kidding about the job part, but I'm jumbo serious when I tell you that we got the most important thing in life. Family.'''
At eighteen, Val had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Had gotten slabbed, a reference to the cement slab foundations left after people lost their homes and everything in them. Worse, she'd lost her beloved grandmotherNannywho'd raised her. After relocating to Houston, then to Phoenix, Val learned her second cousin's family had reunited and were living in Vegas, so she moved here.
Cammie's story wasn't as tough luck, fortunately, but she knew how it felt to lose the one person who made up your home. And, like Val, she'd relocated to Las Vegas to be with the only family she had left.
"Even poor Trazy don't have family," Val added.
Trazy was the stray cat that had been hanging around behind the casino this past week. They'd started giving it scraps of food on their breaks.
"Anyways, I had a brainstorm last night," Val continued. "When you open up your detective agency, how about me being your apprentice? We could be like those Charlie's Angels."
"I'd rather be Cher."
"C'mon, Snooper, those gals were tight."
"They were fluff and a guy ordered them around."
"Okay then, let's be the girl equivalent of Sherlock and Watson."
The small crowd around the stage a-Go-Go erupted into applause as the strains of "Billie Jean" faded. After one last Michael Jackson crotch-grab, which triggered a chorus of squeals, Jeffrey stepped off the stage, waving to his middle-aged groupies.
"First things first," Cammie said in response to Val's proposal. "I need to get relicensed then we'll talk apprenticeship"
"Ladies, cut th'chat," growled a male voice, "an' get back t'yur tables." R.J., the chain-smoking, coffee-guzzling, fifty-something pit boss, made the word crusty look soft. His peculiar dialect of slamming words together increased whenever he was stressed or upset, which Cammie had learned was most of the time.
"Yes, sir," Val murmured, adjusting her sailor cap.
Angry voices from another table drew R.J.'s attention. Muttering a curse, he stubbed out his cigarette in one of the green glass ashtrays dotting the tables and left.
When he was out of earshot, Val murmured, "R.J. could do a kick-ass Keith Richards."
"With that bad black dye job, he'd be a shoo-in, but can he sync?"
Val laughed. "You're okay, girl. Sometimes I worry you're getting too serious, then you mix it up with some humor." Val started heading to her table. "Know how I'm always callin' you Snooper?"
"You, my friend," Val said over her shoulder, "can start cal-lin' me Watson."
"You're checking your cell again." Emily took a sip of her strawberry-fields shake, one of the pesticide-free, gluten-free, low-fat-content concoctions at Free Cream, an organic ice cream parlor in Denver. After swallowing, she continued, "You need to let it go. Be easy. Dependency makes people slaves."
Marc met his fifteen-year-old daughter's gaze. "More Tolstoy?"
"No. Fritz Perls said that."
"Was he a spiritual anarchist, too?"
She barely suppressed a sigh. "Famous therapist, hello?
Worked at Esalen, where a lot of really together people, like Joan Baez and Ray Bradbury, hung out."
"Wow, you know who they are?"
Emily gave him a look he'd grown familiar with since she'd arrived from Maryland two days ago. Part know-itall, part curious, a lot confused.
He related to all three.
It wasn't easy for either of them picking up the threads of a father-daughter relationship months later. Last time he'd seen her, she'd still been his little girl, hanging on his every word. In her place was this opinioned quasi woman who had made it clear from the get-go she wished she were spending her spring break with her cool pals rather than her bourgeois-attorney dad.
Nothing like being a part-time dad.
But he had to rise above it, try to be a good parent, even if it sometimes felt as though he were fighting a losing battle. "Sorry about that you-know-who-they-are crack."
She shrugged. "I was surprised you knew about Miz D and the Political Refugees."
"I checked out the playlist on your iPod."
"You checked out my iPod?"
"Like, you powered it on, searched the tunes?"
"Sure. I was curious what you listened to."
"What about my expectation of privacy?"
"You left it on the kitchen table, honey."
"Fourth Amendment protects electronic devices. From fathers."
"Not if they are left on the kitchen table, dear. You left it there for the world." When she started to speak, he made a let-me-finish gesture. "Although, come to think of it, technically I'm not just any third party because I bought that electronic device for your last birthday." When she turned fifteen going on thirty-four. "Therefore, I'm the registered owner."
"Oh." She blinked her blue eyes, probably the only feature they had in common. Her strawberry-blond hair and pixie face were definitely her mother's. "But considering possession is nine-tenths of the law "
He couldn't hold back a smile. "For a person who thinks lawyers epitomize decadent capitalism, you sure sound like one in the making."
They stared at each other for a long, drawn-out moment. In the background, a flute solo played airily over the speakers. The tropical-print wallpaper and hanging plants made this place seem more like a rain forest than an ice cream parlor, which he supposed was part of the intention.
But what did he know? He still bought food from the supermarket he'd shopped at for years, enjoyed an occasional cigar, still read books made from trees. He thought he was doing the proper green thing by recycling glass and paper, but Emily had started a compost pile in the backyard within hours of her arrival.
"I probably sound like a lawyer because I've been raised by two of 'em," Emily muttered. "Although Granddad was a pretty cool lawyer." She was thoughtful for a moment. "We used to eat licorice while he taught me to play chess. Well, he tried to teach meit wasn't really my thing. But we had some great talks while we played." She blinked a few times. "I miss him."
"I miss him, too, honey."
She straightened, cleared her throat. "Mommy says after she gets married, she won't have to work anymore."
"She's thinking of marrying again? Isn't three times enough?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Next Right Thing by Colleen Collins Vegas PI Stories Book One Cammie Copello loves her private investigation work. And so what if she goes into the gray areas now and then? She gets the job done. Unfortunately her black and white ex-boss didn’t care for her tactics. Or maybe it was because she found dirt on his fiance in that gray area. Marc Hamilton needs Cammie to find his ex-fiance. She is the best private investigator he knows and she holds the key to the future of his career. And his dad’s freedom. With his daughter in tow, he heads from Denver to Vegas to hire Cammie. She may look easy in those fishnet stockings and corset, but she puts up quite a fight. Sometimes the best thing is right under your nose and you miss it. Marc hadn’t noticed Cammie before. And even now that he has, his black and white ways just won’t allow him to mesh with her gray. Loved this story and the realistic aspects the author’s real-life PI work adds to it. The next two books are just as good: Sleepless in Las Vegas and Hearts in Vegas. **Sexual content