New York Times bestselling and award winning authors Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin team up for their second book featuring the unforgettable Southern California detective duo, Moreno & Hart.
Scarlet Moreno gets a panicked call from long-time friend Jason Jones, an LAPD street cop wanted for killing his girlfriend. Paranoid with no one to trust, he reaches out to Scarlet for help. Before they can figure out who set him up, a SWAT team descends, Jason runs, and Scarlet is left with questions she can't answer when the police show up. She’s determined to prove Jason innocent, but the cops want him behind bars and someone else wants him dead. As Scarlet digs deeper into the murky case, she realizes that whoever is framing Jason wants her dead, too--and it might connect to the ambush that nearly killed her and Krista three years ago.
Krista Hart doesn’t want to team up with rival private detective R.J. Flynn. And she definitely doesn’t want to help an unscrupulous trial lawyer get away with murder. But when R.J. pulls her into his latest high-profile case, Krista realizes that nothing about the murder of a beautiful Laguna Beach housewife is quite what it seems. Krista sets out to uncover the truth--no matter whose side it helps--and manages to provoke all the wrong people, including a vicious murderer who won’t hesitate to kill again and then make a run.
Krista was cozied up with a cheeseburger, contemplating another heart-pounding Friday night at her office when the phone rang. And rang. And rang again.
“Can you grab that?” She tore her gaze away from her screen and looked into the reception room, where her part-time assistant sat in front of a computer.
Another ring and Mac glanced up from his game of Settlers of Catan.
“I’m not here,” Krista said.
Big eye roll. But the In-N-Out burger she’d bought for him paid off because he reached for the phone.
“Moreno and Hart Investigations.”
Krista returned her attention to QuickBooks, which was almost as depressing as the fact that she was spending yet another Friday night burning up the spreadsheets.
“Mrs. Ruman on line one,” Mac said.
“I told you I’m not here.”
“She knows you’re here. Your car’s not in your driveway.”
“What does she need?”
“I didn’t ask.”
Ever since Mrs. Ruman discovered she lived across the street from a real live private investigator, she’d been sending Krista a steady stream of cases.
Krista picked up the phone. “Hello, Mrs. Ruman.”
“Thank God I caught you.” She blew her nose, and Krista could picture her standing by her front window in her hot pink tracksuit. “I need a locate.”
She’d been picking up the lingo, too.
Moreno & Hart took a fair number of missing persons cases, most involving runaway spouses or deadbeat dads, plus the occasional Alzheimer’s patient who’d wandered away from home. Typically, the cases could be cleared within forty-eight hours, but Mrs. Ruman’s cases weren’t typical. They took three times as long and paid zilch.
“Krista? You there? Leo’s been gone four hours now and I’m just beside myself.”
Krista’s cell phone chimed from the depths of her purse. “Hang on a second, okay?” She put Mrs. Ruman on hold and dug out her phone. She read the caller ID and her heart did an annoying little dance.
“You have plans tonight?” R.J. asked her.
“I need your boobs.”
She hung up and got back to Mrs. Ruman. “Did you try the park?” she asked her. “Or what about the deli over on Beechnut? That’s where he went last time.”
“I’ve been everywhere,” she said in a wobbly voice. “He’s not any of those places.”
“What about the playground in front of the school?”
“He’s not there. And he didn’t even have his pill tonight.”
Krista’s cell rang again, and her head started to throb. “Hang on a sec.” She pressed hold again and picked up her cell.
“Whatever your plans are, you need to cancel them.”
“Seriously, I need you.”
Krista paused. Most women would die to hear those words coming from the lips of R.J. Flynn. The man was tall, dark, and ridiculously handsome, but only if you liked rich bad-boy types, which Krista didn’t.
“I’m busy tonight.” She thought of the boobs comment. “And anyway, I don’t do decoy work.”
“This isn’t a domestic. It’s a big case.”
“Why are you sharing it with me?”
“It needs a woman’s touch.”
“Sounds like decoy work.”
“It’s not a domestic, but it is lucrative and I could use your help.”
Lucrative. Krista stared at her computer and contemplated the dismal state of her financial affairs. Even with a recent payday, Moreno & Hart was still limping into the third quarter. Their last case helping LAPD uncover a corrupt cop gave them points for future case, but hadn’t added a dime to their coffers. And then there was the slight problem of Krista’s car, which had been totaled recently, and the insurance company was giving her grief about replacing it… But R.J. was a problem, too. He was arrogant and unscrupulous, not to mention a competitor in the world of SoCal PIs. About the last thing Krista wanted to do was spend her Friday night helping him out of whatever jam he’d gotten himself into.
“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars.”
That got her attention.
“For one night’s work,” he added.
She stared at the blinking light on her phone. Who was she kidding? If she didn’t say yes to R.J., she was going to spend the night combing her neighborhood for a temperamental poodle.
“What if I say no?” she asked.
“I’ll call Scarlet. Bet she’d be happy to score a thousand bucks for maybe an hour’s work.”
She felt a warm rush of irritation.
“I’ll be at your house in thirty,” he said because he knew he had her.
“An hour. I’m still at the office.”
“Forty-five. And wear something good. Like that dress from the other night.”
“This sounds like a domestic.”
“It’s not, I promise.”
~ ~ ~
By “good” he meant sexy, which was why Krista reached right past the slinky black mini-dress hanging in her closet. She’d shimmied into it the other night in a bout of temporary insanity, which luckily had passed when Scarlet showed up needing help on a case. Now Krista threw on a different black dress that had slightly more fabric. It still looked good, though, especially with a push-up bra, which she decided to wear tonight because her cleavage needed all the help it could get.
Krista checked her watch and added a few quick swipes of mascara. She ran a brush through her honey-blond hair and was sliding her feet into sandals when she heard the throaty growl of R.J.’s car pulling up to her house.
She went to the window and peered outside. The shiny black 911 turbo sat in the glow of the streetlamp. R.J. was behind the wheel texting on his phone.
Work, she reminded herself firmly. Not a date. She grabbed one of her smaller purses and tossed a lipstick inside, along with her sleek little Ruger LC9. Then she was out the door.
R.J. was still texting when she slid into the Porsche.
“Wow.” He tucked his phone away and looked her over. “What happened to the other one?”
“It’s at the cleaners.”
He eyed her purse. “You packing?”
He shoved the car in gear and roared away from the curb, evidently in a hurry. Krista scanned driveways and front porches for a ratty-looking poodle.
R.J. cut over to Sixth and headed toward the beach.
“So, where are we going?” she asked.
“The Billiard Room.”
She narrowed her gaze at him. The Billiard Room was an expensive bar at the Kettridge Hotel. “I told you—”
“It’s not a domestic.” He shot her a glare. “You’re obsessed with that.”
Easy for him to say. Female PIs often got pigeonholed into decoy work. Krista had done her share of dirty jobs—trash digs, Dumpster dives, stakeouts at flea-bag motels. But you had to draw the line somewhere, and Krista and Scarlet had always drawn it at decoy work. For one thing, it felt like entrapment. And for another, taking money to get busy with a client’s husband was just a little too icky.
She looked out the window now as the bars and surf shops of Huntington Beach whisked by. The sidewalks were loaded with weekend foot traffic.
“All right, what’s my assignment?” Krista asked.
“The mark’s there now, probably playing pool. Your job is to get him to take his phone out and then distract him for a few minutes so I can get my hands on it.”
“Define ‘a few.’”
“Ten minutes, tops.”
She looked R.J. over. He had on jeans and boots, along with the scarred leather jacket he wore year round because it concealed his gun. A lot of men in Southern California tried for the badass look, but never quite pulled it off. To R.J. it came naturally.
He glanced at her. “What?”
The hotel came into view. R.J. whipped into a metered space near the beach. Krista managed to lever herself out of the low-slung car without flashing too many people.
They set off toward the hotel and R.J. quickly tugged her off the sidewalk and onto the sand.
“The bar’s around back,” he said.
“How do you know he’ll be there?”
“I’ve got eyes inside the bar.”
Interesting. Unlike Moreno & Hart, Flynn Investigations was a one-man show. Or so she’d thought.
Krista pulled off her sandals and followed him past a row of volleyball nets. A stiff breeze whisked in off the ocean and a layer of clouds obscured the moon. Cobalt-blue lounge chairs lined the beach in front of the hotel. The matching umbrellas had been collapsed for the night and sat in a big pile, secured by a chain.
Krista trudged along beside R.J., getting sand between her toes. She surveyed her destination. The Kettridge was one of the oldest hotels in Orange County. With its white wooden siding and red roof, it resembled the Hotel Del Coronado down the coast, but on a smaller scale. It had a five-star restaurant, though, as well as a swanky open-air cocktail lounge with a row of pool tables that looked out over the beach. Jazz piano drifted from the bar as Krista halted in the sand.
R.J. took out his phone and read a text. “Okay, he’s there on the far end.” He glanced up, and Krista followed his gaze. “Black golf shirt, gray slacks.”
Krista spotted him. The man was tall and barrel-chested and had the look of an NFL lineman who’d let himself go. As someone leaned across the pool table to take a shot, the man stepped closer to the railing and Krista caught a glimpse of his face.
“That’s Rob Holland.”
R.J. looked at her. “You recognize him?”
“Uh yeah. He’s been all over the news for a year. Isn’t he on trial?”
“Not yet,” R.J. said. “Trial’s in three weeks.”
Krista folded her arms over her push-up cleavage. “Drake Walker’s representing him.”
Who else would be representing him? Holland’s personal reputation was right there up with Walker’s—which was to say down in the gutter. Holland was a nationally renowned litigator who’d made millions suing breast-implant companies. He was also rumored to be an alcoholic and a philanderer and, more recently, a murderer. All of which made him Drake Walker’s dream client.
“Since when is Walker spying on his own clients?” Krista asked.
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
“Bullshit. I get crosswise with Holland, he’ll sue me six ways to Sunday. I’ll be tied up in lawsuits for a decade.”
R.J. smiled. “Relax.”
“Ha.” She glanced up at the bar, and suddenly the money made sense. This was one of the biggest cases of the year. Walker stood to make a fortune, not just from legal fees but from free publicity. As Walker’s top investigator, R.J. stood to make out, too.
“So, are you ready?” R.J. checked his watch. “Time’s ticking.”
“Not so fast. I’m changing the terms.”
He eased closer, probably trying to look menacing. “We already had a deal, Hart.”
“We have a new one.”
“I’m paying you a grand, and you’ll probably be in and out of there in thirty minutes.”
Her pulse thudded as she gazed up at him. “I want in on the casework.”
“Fine. Find yourself a new decoy.” She started away, and he caught her arm.
“I can’t hire you on the case. That’s up to Walker.”
She nodded at the bar. “You hired carrot top in there.”
He frowned. “How would you know?”
“Because he’s been staring a hole through Holland for the past five minutes. And he hasn’t touched his drink.” She looked at the bar again. “You don’t have to run it by Walker to hire me. You do whatever you want.”
“Fine. Shit. You’re hired.” He didn’t look happy as he glanced at the bar.
“I charge a thousand a day, plus expenses.”
“That’s a third of what you make and we both know it. Do you want my help or not?”
“Yes. Now would you get your little ass up there and distract this guy before he takes off?”
She dropped her sandals onto the sand and slid into them. “And one more condition—no kissing, groping, etcetera.”
“Etcetera?” He smiled down at her.
“I mean it, R.J. This is why I don’t do decoy work.”
“Just lure him away from his phone for a minute and we’ll be done.”
She smoothed her hair and cast a glance at the bar, where one of L.A.’s most notorious slimeballs was laughing it up with his buddies on the eve of his wife’s murder trial.
She looked at R.J. “Text your friend in there and tell him to hit on me when I walk in.”
“Good idea. You ready?”
“You look hot.” R.J. gave her boobs a fluff and she swatted his hand. “Go get him.”
Copyright © 2014 Laura Griffin