Private investigator Jonah Wolfe knows trouble when he sees it. So when April Vale storms into his office at Maximum Security, all his warning signs flash red. April’s been accused of murder, except she has no memory of how she woke up in her coworker’s bed—drenched in his blood, as he was shot with her gun. As the campaign manager for the mayor, April’s job and life are on the line if she doesn’t figure out who’s trying to frame her. But the clock is ticking, and the pair must find the murderer…before April winds up dead.
“Kat Martin is a fast gun when it comes to storytelling, and I love her books.”
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Linda Lael Miller
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The sound of voices cut through the pounding in her head, dragging her from a deep, dark void into the light of day.
As the door swung open and uniformed policemen streamed into the bedroom, April Vale looked down at her naked body and saw a sea of blood soaking the mattress beside her. A naked man lay next to her, a bullet hole in the center of his chest.
A scream tore from her throat as she recognized David Dean, Mayor Rydell's campaign manager. Then strong arms hauled her upright and a wave of dizziness hit her, making her stomach roll. One of the officers draped a blanket around her bare shoulders, covering her nudity, and then hustled her over to a chair by the window.
Fighting a fresh wave of nausea, April sat down on the chair, gripping the blanket, her body shaking head to foot.
"What ... what's happening?" She didn't realize her hands were being cuffed together in front of her until she heard metal clanking and cold bands of steel wrapped around her wrists.
"What's your name?" The room swarmed with policemen. The one in front of her was stocky and balding, in his early forties. A pair of EMTs rushed into the room and began working over the bloody man on the bed, but his eyes were open and staring at nothing and she knew he was already dead.
April swallowed the bile rising in her throat and fought to clear her head, but when she tried to remember where she was or how she got there, all she came up with was a splitting headache.
"I don't understand what's happening," she said, trying to keep the blanket around her.
"This will all go smoother if you cooperate," the stocky policeman said. "Tell us your name."
"I'm ... I'm April. April Vale." She glanced over at David. The hole in his chest seemed even bigger and bloodier than before.
"Can you tell us the name of the victim?"
Victim. A thick lump rose in her throat, threatening to choke her. "That ... that's David Dean. We work for Mayor Rydell."
A young officer with black hair slicked straight back from his forehead walked up. "Looks like we've got the murder weapon, Sarge. It was right there on the floor next to the lady's purse."
April frowned, her mind foggy again. "Wait ... wait a minute. What's going on? I don't understand." Her fingers tightened on the blanket. "I don't know how I got here. I don't remember what happened."
A gray-haired man in a navy-blue suit brought the gun over in a plastic bag. She recognized the little .380 handgun she carried for protection.
"I'm Detective Sullivan. Does this belong to you, Ms. Vale?" She took a deep breath. "I think it's mine. I have one like that. I have a legal permit to carry."
The EMTs began checking her over, her blood pressure, her vision, whether or not she had a concussion.
"We need to get her to the hospital," one of them said, "have her checked out, get a blood sample."
"Hospital? I don't want to go to the hospital."
A female police officer walked up just then. "We've cuffed your hands in front of you so you can hold onto the blanket. If you cooperate, we'll leave them that way. If not, we'll have to cuff them behind your back."
She closed her eyes. This couldn't be happening. "You think I shot him? I don't even know how I got here."
The woman's expression never changed. "You need to go to the hospital. We need to make sure you're okay. If you were drugged, it'll show up in your tox screen."
Tox screen. Drugs. Her pistol and a dead man.
That's when it began to sink in how much trouble she was in. That's when April's brain finally started working and she began to figure out what she needed to do — before things got a whole lot worse.CHAPTER 2
AT THE SOUND of the glass front door swinging open, Jonah Wolfe looked up to see a tall, leggy redhead walk into the office.
"I hope she's looking for me." Jason Maddox, one of the country's top bail enforcement agents and one of Jonah's best friends, had an eye for beautiful women. This one definitely met Jase's exacting standards.
But being a former undercover police officer, Jonah noticed more than her stunning face and figure. Her hands were shaking as she approached the receptionist desk and her face was pale. He wondered what kind of trouble the lady was in.
"May I help you?" The receptionist, Mindy Stewart, removed the half reading glasses perched on the end of a pert nose and smiled. She was petite and cute, and smart enough not to date any of the confirmed bachelors who worked at Maximum Security.
"My name is April Vale. I'm looking for Jonah Wolfe."
When Maddox groaned his disappointment, Jonah's focus sharpened on the redhead.
"Do you have an appointment, Ms. Vale?" Mindy asked politely.
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't, but it's extremely urgent. If Mr. Wolfe is in, please ... I really need to speak to him."
The redhead glanced his way as Jonah rose from behind his desk and started walking toward the front of the office.
A waiting area with a dark red tufted leather sofa and matching chairs, oak coffee and end tables, gave the place a Western feel that perfectly suited the misfit Texans who worked there.
The men and women, all independent contractors, were an assortment of private investigators, bail enforcement agents and personal security specialists. Only the best of the best were good enough to work for Chase Garrett at the Max.
"I'm Wolfe," he said when he reached her. "What can I do for you?" His gaze ran over her, taking in her spectacular curves. He couldn't help hoping she needed him for something far more intriguing than his skills as a private detective.
He might have smiled, would have if TROUBLE wasn't stamped in the middle of the pretty lady's forehead.
"My name is April Vale. Thank you for seeing me."
"No need to thank me, Ms. Vale. I haven't done anything yet."
"I'm hoping you will." She had the face of an angel and legs that went on forever. But she was a redhead and all that fiery hair just ramped up the warning signs flashing in her big blue eyes.
She glanced around the office. Nine oak desks set in lines of three filled the open area they called the Bull Pen. Antique farming tools hung on the walls, along with framed photos taken at the ranch Chase owned with his two brothers, Reese and Brandon, out in the Texas Hill Country.
"Is there somewhere we can speak in private?" April asked.
"Conference room. Follow me." As he led her down the hall, she caught an appreciative glance from Jax Ryker and Dante Romero, the only other guys currently in the office, but she didn't seem to notice.
"This way." Jonah held open the door into a glass-enclosed chamber with a long oak table seating twenty, and April walked inside.
He closed the door, pulled out a brown leather chair near the end of the table, waited for her to take a seat, then sat down at the end of the table next to her, giving himself a little more leg room.
April smoothed the navy-blue pencil skirt she was wearing with a pair of sky-high heels and a short-sleeve peach blouse dotted with tiny blue sailboats. She looked good. Classy but not completely untouchable.
"As I said, I appreciate your seeing me."
Jonah leaned back in his chair. "How did you get my name?"
"A friend recommended you. Madeleine Townsend. She said the two of you went out a couple of times but just didn't click. She said you introduced her to her husband, Ross."
"Ross is a friend." He was also a private investigator. "I'm glad they got together. Now, April, tell me why you're here."
She took a deep breath, drawing his attention to the full breasts he'd been doing his best to ignore. Since he never mixed business with pleasure, he shoved the buzz of attraction he was feeling to the back corner of his brain.
"I work for Mayor Rydell," April said. "As you probably know, he's up for reelection. I'm his marketing manager. Or I was. Currently I'm ... I was just released from police custody a short time ago, Mr. Wolfe. That's why I'm here."
Jonah straightened in his chair. "You were under arrest?"
"Officially, I haven't been charged yet. But the charge could be murder."
Jesus. He hadn't seen that one coming. Now she really had his attention. "Who have you been accused of killing, Ms. Vale?"
For a moment, her eyes glistened with tears. One spilled onto her cheek but she quickly wiped it away.
"The police say I killed a man named David Dean. He was Mayor Rydell's campaign manager. If I did, I don't remember. I was found unconscious in the master bedroom of David's condo. David was in the bed next to me. He was ... he was dead."
Silence fell as he digested the information. "How did he die?"
"He was shot in the chest."
"Have they found the murder weapon?"
She nodded, softly curling dark red hair sliding around her shoulders. "The gun belongs to me. I carry a Smith and Wesson .380 handgun in my purse for self-defense. There have been a couple of muggings in the neighborhood around the office, so I've been taking it with me to work. I have a legal carry permit."
This was Texas. Half the women in the state were licensed to carry.
"So you had the gun with you last night."
"Yes. The police found it in the bedroom. My purse was open, lying on the floor next to the bed. The gun was lying beside it."
Jonah released a slow breath. "I presume you have a good attorney."
Her bottom lip trembled. It was plump and perfectly curved. Desire slipped through him and his blood heated, pooled low in his groin. He liked women in general, but this one appealed to him more than most. He wished he'd met her under different circumstances.
"Ross recommended a lawyer named Nathan Temple," she said. "He was at the station while the police questioned me."
"Temple's good. One of the best."
She swallowed and her spine went a little straighter. "I don't think I killed David, Mr. Wolfe. We weren't dating. I'm not the type of woman who enjoys one-night stands. I need to know what happened last night. How I ended up in David's bedroom, in his bed. I need to know who killed David Dean. And I pray to God it wasn't me."
* * *
Wolfe excused himself to get them some coffee, and April used the time to collect herself. The man was not what she had expected. Not at all.
Her best friend, a woman with discerning tastes, had gone out with him a couple of times so she figured he'd be attractive. She hadn't imagined he would be at least six feet two inches of handsome-as-sin, black-haired, lean-muscled male. With his perfectly symmetrical features, slashing black eyebrows and brooding dark eyes, Jonah Wolfe was beyond good-looking.
Though in a way she was surprised she'd noticed.
With the election bearing down on them, she had no interest in men, hadn't dated in nearly a year. More importantly, her thoughts were consumed by the murder of a man she worked with and the terror of what might happen to her.
Murder was a dangerous business. She needed help, and Jonah Wolfe appeared to be exactly the kind of help she needed. Wolfe's wide shoulders stretched the seams of the button-down shirt he was wearing. The short sleeves revealed impressive biceps and corded forearms. His shrewd brown eyes assessed her every move and seemed to miss nothing.
The private investigators who worked for Chase Garrett were reputed to be the best in Dallas. Wolfe wouldn't be there if he weren't extremely good.
He returned to the conference room with a yellow pad tucked under one arm and two foam cups filled to the brim with freshly brewed coffee. He set a cup down on the table in front of her, black, as she had requested, and returned to his seat, stretching his long legs out in front of him.
"Ross told me the amount of your fee," she said, toying with the rim of the cup. "I know you don't work cheap, Mr. Wolfe, but I can afford to pay you."
"Good to know. If we're going to be working together, let's stick with first names, all right, April?"
"Start at the beginning. Give me a quick run-through of your day, into the evening as far as you can remember."
She took a fortifying drink of coffee, then set the cup down on the oak conference table. "It started off as usual. I got up, got dressed and went into the mayor's campaign office. I had a meeting scheduled with members of my staff to work on poster designs. Mark is up for reelection in November so we have plenty of work to do."
"I'll need a list of everyone in the office. Separate the ones on your personal staff."
"What happened after the meeting?"
"I took the designs down to the printer to get things started."
"I went back to the office. We had a working lunch and kept going. We didn't finish till about six p.m."
"So you left around six?"
"Some people left, some of us stayed. It's not unusual for me to work till seven or eight."
"What about Dean? Was he there?"
She nodded. It made her chest feel tight to think those were David's last hours. "We both stayed. There were five others besides David and me."
He pulled a pen out of the pocket of his jeans. "I need the names."
She rattled off the two volunteers: Timothy Mahoney and Susan Buchanan, and three staff members: Collin Rutherford, Brad Schweitzer and Peggy Watt. Wolfe clicked the pen and wrote down the names without asking her to repeat them. She had a feeling he could recount everything she had told him from memory.
"We all walked out at the same time. Since it was Friday night, we decided to stop at the Derby and have a beer. It's just a few doors down from the office. It's got kind of a British atmosphere. Dark wood and racehorse pictures on the walls. If we're going somewhere after work, that's usually the place we go."
"You and Dean went there together?"
"And Susan and Timothy, Collin, Brad and Peggy. Collin sprang for pizza."
"What happened after that?"
"David drank too much. He's been known to overindulge on occasion. He needed a ride home and I was the only one with a vehicle parked close by. The others all left. David stopped by the restroom on his way out. My car was in the lot behind the office so he and I went out the back door and walked directly there."
"So you and Dean left the bar together. The police will be looking at camera surveillance in the area. They've probably already found that out."
"I told them that. It wasn't a secret." She took a sip of coffee, her hand trembling when she picked up the cup. She took a moment to compose herself. Wolfe didn't rush her, for which she was grateful.
"Okay, so the two of you were out in the parking lot."
"That's right. I remember feeling a little dizzy as I reached my car. I was thinking maybe I shouldn't be driving either. I considered sharing a cab, but David's condo was only a few blocks away. I knew I hadn't had that much beer, and I'd eaten plenty of pizza, so there was no way I could be drunk."
She touched her forehead, straining to recall more of what had happened. She'd had a headache all morning. The harder she tried to remember, the more her head throbbed.
"I got in my car and David got into the passenger seat. He was really drunk — or at least that's the way he seemed. I remember reaching for my seat belt, but I was beginning to feel sluggish and I had trouble clicking the belt into place."
She looked up at Wolfe. "I don't remember starting the car. In fact, trying to fasten my seat belt is the last thing I recall before the police burst into David's bedroom this morning."CHAPTER 3
Jonah took a drink of his coffee, lukewarm now. He studied his newest client over the rim of the cup. "Who called the police?"
"David's housekeeper found us and called nine-one-one. We were both ... umm ... naked."
He was careful not to let his mind wander where that image led. He'd always been a sucker for redheads. Those big blue eyes combined with that pretty face really did a job on him. Just his luck she could be a killer.
"The police hauled me out of bed," she said. "The sheets were ... were covered with blood." She swallowed and took a shaky breath. "I remember screaming when I saw David. There was a bullet hole in the middle of his chest. I thought I must be dreaming. I couldn't make myself believe it was real."
"What happened then?"
"One of the officers brought a blanket in from the hall closet and wrapped it around me. They asked me some questions and took me to the hospital to be checked out. From there they took me to the police station. I probably should have asked for an attorney back at the house, but my mind was still fuzzy. I told them what I just told you, but that was all I knew."
"All right, that'll do for now. We'll need to talk again soon, but I've got some preliminary work I need to do first. Anything else you want to tell me?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wait Until Dark"
Copyright © 2014 Kat Martin.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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