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Authors: Lorena McCourtney

Tags: #Mystery, #Contemporary, #FIC042060, #FIC022040, #Women private investigators—Fiction

Dolled Up to Die

BOOK: Dolled Up to Die
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© 2013 by Lorena McCourtney

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www.revellbooks.com

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-4261-7

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

“Belmont Investigations doesn’t investigate murder. But don’t tell that to spunky PI Cate Kinkaid. As she sets out to find a murderer who destroys dolls, she also finds herself in danger. But along with adorable almost-boyfriend Mitch Berenski, Cate sets out to prove that someone in Eugene, Oregon, is on a rampage. Lorena McCourtney’s
Dolled Up to Die
is a delight to read! Loaded with eccentric characters, a wig-happy cat, and details from dining to danger on every page, this book takes you right to the scene of the crime. And you won’t want to leave until you’ve helped Cate figure out whodunit! I highly recommend
Dolled Up to Die
.”


Lenora Worth
,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Love Inspired

Praise for
Dying to Read

“Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum will enjoy getting to know amateur sleuth Cate Kinkaid. A good start to a promising new series.”


RT Book Reviews
, 3 star review

“Fans of McCourtney’s Ivy Malone Mystery series will quickly get the clue that the Cate Kinkaid Files will be just as quirky, charming, and fun. Myriad suspects, plot twists, good dialogue, romance: mystery fans will find it all in good form.”


Publishers Weekly

“With each new mystery series, Lorena McCourtney skillfully creates a unique sleuth—and Cate Kinkaid is no exception in
Dying to Read
. I loved all the witty prose and the laugh-out-loud moments I’ve come to expect when reading McCourtney’s mysteries. Seasoned with romance and a fascinating collection of peculiar characters, this clever tale will keep you guessing about more than murder. Never a dull moment,
Dying to Read
is a winner!”


Elizabeth Goddard
, author of Carol Award–winning
The Camera Never Lies

“Lorena McCourtney has fashioned a fun and engaging mystery that begs to be solved. And just when I thought I had figured it out, I realized she had added another layer. Mystery lovers, kick off your sho
es, curl up somewhere comfortable, and prepare to be entertained!
Dying to Read
will keep you fully engrossed and guessing.”


Kathy Herman
, author of the Baxter series, Seaport Suspense series, and Secrets of Roux River Bayou series

“Cate Kinkaid is trying to get her life together. Until that happens, she takes on a part-time job as an assistant private investigator for her uncle and instantly finds herself caught up in a messy murder mystery. Crisp, witty writing spins this amateur sleuth tale into a late-night page-turner.”


Suzanne Woods Fisher
, bestselling author of the Lancaster County Secrets series

With thanks to Rosemary Rhodes for her helpful information about the life-size dolls she creates, and to Sherrie Vig for introducing me to the dolls.

 1 

Case closed!

Until she’d become an assistant private investigator, Cate Kinkaid had never realized how satisfying those words were. Gleefully, she threw her hands up and clapped. She added the time and date to the report and hit the print button.

Okay, the case didn’t rank up there with capture of a most-wanted serial killer or an episode of
CSI
on TV, but she had successfully cleared Ridley Jackson of his wife’s suspicion that he was cheating on her. Ridley had decided to learn to play the saxophone, knew his wife would disapprove, and had been practicing with friends in a barn out in the country. Having heard the sounds emanating from Ridley’s sax, Cate suspected a barn might be the appropriate setting for his musical talent. But her job was just to uncover the facts, not to critique them.

She changed to jeans worn thin at the knees and a faded sweatshirt for an evening with Mitch on a cleanup job for the Helping Hands project sponsored by the church. She and Mitch Berenski had been dating more or less regularly since they met on her very first case. She was headed for the door when the office phone rang. She jumped back to answer it. Mitch? No, an unfamiliar name and number on the caller ID.

“Belmont Investigations. Assistant Investigator Cate Kinkaid speak—”

“Lucinda, Marianne, and Toby have been shot!” a breathless voice interrupted. “All of them! Shot! And—”

“Wait, wait! If there’s been a shooting, call 911 immediately! They’ll send the police and an ambulance.”

“I did call the police. I guess they’re coming, but they don’t seem in any big hurry to get here.”

Three shootings, and officers weren’t responding with screaming sirens and screeching tires? That didn’t sound like the capable and effective Eugene, Oregon, police force Cate had dealt with. She glanced at the caller ID screen again. J. Kieferson. Something about the name seemed familiar, but she couldn’t place it. “Mrs. Kieferson, are you all right?”

“Of course I’m not all right,” the woman snapped. “I told you, Lucinda, Marianne, and Toby have been shot! Marianne’s head is gone.”

A head gone, shot away? “Are you alone? Could the shooter still be nearby?”

“I don’t know! I just got home a few minutes ago and found this
massacre
.”

“Mrs. Kieferson, you should—” Cate started to tell the woman to lock the doors and stay inside until the police arrived, but if the killer could still be in the house, that was hardly good advice. “Can you get to your car?”

“I guess. Maybe.”

“Then go to the car and drive away from there. Contact the police again and tell them where you are. I’d like to help, but violent crime situations are outside our area of investigation.”

Uncle Joe had emphasized that when he hired her. Belmont Investigations handled routine matters only. Background checks, serving subpoenas, insurance investigations. Although Cate’s very first case had unexpectedly rocketed right into murder.

“You need the police,” Cate repeated.

“You won’t come, then?”

The woman wasn’t sounding too rational, but her reproachful tone jabbed Cate’s conscience button. Which immediately shouted,
You can’t just ignore this woman and three people shot!
Although barging into a triple homicide scene was a situation Mitch would probably classify as right up there with skydiving with an umbrella. He’d accepted her becoming a full-time private investigator, but he wasn’t exactly a cheerleader. He always seemed to think she needed a protector or rescuer, maybe a full-time bodyguard.

“How did you happen to call me?” Cate asked.

“You were highly recommended.” Before Cate could ask “Recommended by whom?” Mrs. Kieferson rushed on. “Please, come! I’m at 17453 Randolph Road.”

That was some distance outside Eugene. County sheriff’s department territory rather than the city police. Cate hadn’t dealt with them before.

“I’ve got to go now,” the woman said. “I hear—”

“Wait—”

The phone clicked and went silent. Cate immediately tried to call the number on the caller ID back, but, after five rings, an answering machine clicked on. Leaving a message seemed pointless, and she punched in Mitch’s cell phone number. Tonight he could do his protective, knight-in-shining-armor thing. Except that what she got was voice mail.

All the blessings of technology.

She tapped her fingers on the desk. She could wait for Mitch to call back so he could accompany her. But who knew when that might be? She could call Uncle Joe on his cell phone and ask for instructions. He was leaving much of the day-to-day business at Belmont Investigations up to her now, but this was definitely out-of-the-ordinary business. But she hated to
interrupt his and Rebecca’s anniversary celebration at some classy restaurant.

Octavia jumped up on the desk, her white tail twitching. She tilted her head at Cate, then batted the knob on the top drawer of the desk.

“You want me to look in there?” Cate asked. “Oh no. You may be the richest cat in Oregon. You may soon be queen of your very own Kitty Kastle, and you may accidentally have been helpful before.
Accidentally helpful
,” Cate emphasized. “But I don’t think now is the time to take advice from you.”

Octavia was an indiscriminate batter anyway. Pens, keys, stray coins, bare toes. Although Cate did have to open the drawer . . .

“Only because the county map is in there,” she informed the cat as she yanked the knob. “But you really should get up to date, you know. Everyone uses GPS now.”

Except her. She hadn’t been able to afford it for her car yet, and Uncle Joe stubbornly believed GPS might send you on a wild ride to nowhere.

She grabbed the map, then spotted something else in the drawer and hesitated.

Uncle Joe’s gun and holster, long unused but freshly cleaned and oiled. In a triple homicide situation, having a gun for backup might be a good idea. Was the gun, not a map, what Octavia had in mind?

She slammed the drawer shut. Sometimes it seemed as if her deaf cat knew unlikely things, but Cate was not about to rank them above coincidence.

She couldn’t take the gun anyway. Uncle Joe had done the paperwork to make her assistant PI status official, but the state’s instructions about guns had been specific.

“Remember, oh brilliant furry one? I can’t carry a gun until I’m a fully licensed private investigator.” And that wouldn’t
be for some months yet. Surely deputies from the sheriff’s department, well supplied with guns, would arrive before she got to the house on Randolph Road anyway.

“So you’re not so clever after all,” Cate told the cat.

Octavia departed the office with tail held high, probably headed for Cate’s bedroom. Or maybe Uncle Joe and Rebecca’s room, since Octavia seemed of the opinion her presence was desirable everywhere in the house. A definite don’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you message stiffened her upright tail.

Cate took a moment to locate Randolph Road on the map, grabbed a jacket, and headed out to her old Honda. She’d call Mitch again from along the way.

Clouds blotted the stars and warned that fall rains were coming soon. Leaves littered the yard and street, and a gusty wind swirled piles at the curb. She took the freeway to avoid slow city traffic, then headed west through wooded hills. By the time she made several turns and reached graveled Randolph Road, the first drops of rain splattered the windshield.

She pulled over and tried Mitch’s number again. Again that frustrating voice mail. She left another message and pulled back onto the road. There were no prominent house signs posted out here, just numbers on the rural mailboxes.

And there it was in her headlights: 17453. She braked. A bullet hole punctuated the 4. Dread at what she was about to encounter kept Cate’s foot on the brake. Blood. Death. A killer still lurking? Mrs. Kieferson might even be dead by now.

A dilapidated house stood on the right, the weedy driveway banked with overgrown blackberry bushes. It was obviously unoccupied, so Mrs. Kieferson’s place must be the rambling farmhouse behind a chain-link fence on the other side of the road. Two trees canopied the yard, their bare branches reaching skeletal fingers toward the sky. Shrubbery lined the fence.
Concealing
shrubbery, she noted with a certain uneasiness. A dark outline of some other building rose beyond the house.

No ring of police cars. No flashing lights. No ambulance. Strange.

A vehicle was coming up behind her on the road, and she reluctantly turned into the down-sloped driveway to get out of the way. The pickup swept on by, leaving a flash of red taillights and a feeling of emptiness in its wake. Not another house light visible in any direction.

Apprehension tightened her throat again. Yes, the woman had sounded desperate, and Cate wanted to help her. But this was no Ridley-and-saxophone kind of case. There were three dead bodies in there. Or more by now.

She’d just decided she’d call 911 herself when the phone in her hand jingled. She looked at the screen. Mitch!

“Hey, what’s going on?” he asked. “Where are you?”

“I had a phone call from a woman. I’m at her place now.”

“A phone call about what?” Mitch sounded instantly wary. “Where is ‘her place’?”

Cate told him. Lucinda, Marianne, and Toby, shot. Randolph Road.

He groaned. “Cate, get out of there. Now. Let the sheriff’s department handle it.”

“But the woman said she’d called them, and they aren’t here! I can’t just drive away. Maybe something’s happened to her, and she needs help.”

“Do you see anyone?”

“No. There’s only one car parked up by the house. It’s an older white van.” Cate let her car roll farther down the driveway and peered closer. Oregon license plate, with a bumper sticker that read Vote 2008. Did killers drive old vans with out-of-date bumper stickers? “I think it probably belongs to the woman who called me.”

“Just stay in your car, and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“It took me at least twenty minutes to get here. I think I should go to the house. I’m worried about Mrs. Kieferson.”

Silence, as if he were deciding if it would do any good to argue with her. Finally he said, “Stay on the phone, then. Keep talking to me.”

Cate kept the phone to her ear, grabbed her purse, and slid out of the car. The gun she wasn’t allowed to carry would feel pretty good about now. She knew a little about guns. Her dad had taught her to shoot one back home. She kept a wary eye on the shrubbery as she picked her way around the white van, raindrops sprinkling lightly around her.

“The path to the gate in the front yard fence doesn’t look as if it’s used much, so I’m going to the back door.”

“Keep talking. And be careful.”

“I’m heading up to the door now. I still don’t see—”

An unearthly sound blasted the night. Cate jumped, then stopped short, her legs too paralyzed even to run back to the car. It came again. A discordant bellow, a guttural roar, a monster in the night. And close, so close—

“Cate, what was that?” Mitch yelled in her ear.

A light came on over the back door. A shadowy face appeared in the window beside it. The door opened a few inches, and the face peered around it.

“Who are you?” the woman called.

“Cate Kinkaid. Belmont Investigations. You called me?”

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here!” The door opened wider. The monster noise blasted again, and a matronly shaped silhouette stepped outside and yelled, “Maude, will you shut up!”

The light illuminated movement behind a rail fence, and now Cate saw the source of the noise. Not a fiend or monster.

A donkey. A white donkey. With floppy white ears. She’d been frozen to the spot by the braying of a donkey.

The woman motioned Cate to the door. “Don’t mind Maude. She’s just like a watchdog, lets me know the minute anyone comes around.” She peered at Cate. “Haven’t you ever heard a donkey before?”

Yes, growing up in rural southern Oregon, Cate had heard a donkey or two. But they’d never sounded as if they came with monster DNA. “It’s been a long time.”

“She’s really very sweet. She loves apples,” the woman said. “Thanks for coming.”

“You are Mrs. Kieferson?” Cate asked. She could see the woman better now. Middle-aged, short gray hair with a permed curl, stout figure in dark slacks, sturdy shoes.

BOOK: Dolled Up to Die
8.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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