Authors: Sparkle Abbey
“Colorful characters and a cheerfully compelling tone, all combined to make a mystery worth barking about.”
—Linda O. Johnson, author of THE MORE THE TERRIER, Berkley Prime Crime
Yes, Melinda has been feuding with Mona, the queen of Laguna Beach’s dog-loving divas. But Mel never expected Mona to end up murdered.
Mona loved Fluffy. No, Mona worshipped Fluffy. She’d never abandon her dog.
Something was wrong. Why would Mona leave her front door unlocked, the alarm off and her cell phone behind?
Fluffy shoved me out of the way and trotted down the hallway to the next room.
I’d barely turned the knob when Fluffy barged past me, head-butting the door against the wall with a loud bang.
I stumbled through the doorway. It wasn’t a room. It was a mini-palace fit for a movie star. Fluffy’s palace. A white sheepskin rug in front of her personal fireplace, a king sized sleigh bed and a dressing screen (why a dog needed a dressing screen was beyond me). Fresh filtered water dripped into her Wedgewood doggie bowl.
It was also a disaster.
Fluffy’s wardrobe was strewn throughout the room, draped precariously on the bed, and hanging out of open drawers. While Mona had an obscene amount of photos, Fluffy had her own slew of trophies and ribbons. All of them haphazardly tossed about.
The room looked like it had been ransacked.
Fluffy disappeared behind the disheveled bed. Her tail stopped wagging, and she whined softly.
That’s when I saw her.
At first, I wasn’t certain what I was looking at. Then it became clear. Mona was sprawled on the floor as if posing for a men’s magazine. It was almost picture perfect, except for the blood matting her five-hundred-dollar haircut and the gold statue stuck in her head.
I hesitantly moved closer. Fluffy nuzzled Mona’s cheek. When she didn’t move, Fluffy pawed her shoulder, still whining.
“I don’t think she’s getting up, girl,” I said softly.
Mona was deader than a stuffed Poodle.
Bell Bridge Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead,) events or locations is entirely coincidental.
Bell Bridge Books
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Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-115-9
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-121-0
Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 by Carter Woods, LLC
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
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Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
Woman/Dog illustration - © Fanny71 | Dreamstime.com
Collar © Roughcollie | Dreamstime.com
Paw Print -
© Booka1 | Dreamstime.com
Magnifying glass - © Yudesign | Dreamstime.com
This book is dedicated to Team Sparkle Abbey. An amazing group of friends and family, who enthusiastically attend book signings, handout bookmarks, master our website and ask perfect strangers what they’re reading. Thank-you will never be enough.
I am nothing like my cousin, Caro, the “pet shrink.”
She’s a redhead, I’m a brunette. She’s kept her Texas twang, I busted my butt to lose mine. (Except when I’m honked off, then my southern drawl can strike like a Gulf coast hurricane.) She’s calm and direct. I’m equally direct. As for calm, I have to admit, sometimes my emotions tend to overrule my better judgment.
So who would have thought I’d end up in the middle of a Laguna Beach murder investigation, just like Caro?
From my very first breath, Mama had groomed me to be Miss America, just like her and her sister, Katherine. Or a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, which in Texas was the more prestigious of the two. By my twenty-first birthday, I’d gathered ten first-place pageant crowns like Fourth of July parade candy. That’s when my beauty queen career had been dethroned in public scandal.
Everyone believed she “encouraged” a male judge to cast his vote for me. As for what I thought, well, no daughter wants to believe her mama is a hustler. To this day, Mama still won’t talk about
above a whisper.
With the battle for the top crown over, I’d traded in my tiaras, sashes and hair spray for Swarovski crystal collars, cashmere dog sweaters and botanical flea dip. I left Texas and moved to Laguna Beach, California, a community known for its art, wealth and love of dogs. I opened Bow Wow Boutique and catered to the canine who had everything.
I loved Laguna. Loved running my own business. I even loved the quirky folks whose lives revolved around their pooches. But sometimes I longed for Texas—wide open spaces, cowboy boots and big-big hair. Who wouldn’t?
It was mid-October. The tourists had packed up and headed home. The locals ventured out of their gated communities to enjoy all the beachside town had to offer. Most importantly, there was available parking downtown. At least until next May.
The annual Fur Ball had finally arrived—a community event to raise money for the Laguna Beach Animal Rescue League. The balmy weather was perfect for an outdoor fundraiser.
As always at these shindigs, the humans coughed up large chunks of dough for a worthy cause. Breezy air kisses and alcohol flowed freely, while we all pretended to be best friends. Trust me, we were one society catfight away from a hell of an entertaining evening.
I looked down at Missy, my English Bulldog, who waited patiently at my feet. Her crystal-studded tiara sat lopsided on the top of her head, and a small puddle of drool had collected between her paws.
I straightened her crown and whispered, “We’re up, girl. Let’s show them what we’ve got.”
With our heads held high, Missy and I strutted our stuff down the red carpet. The pup-a-razzi cameras flashed, and the crowd cheered. One reporter asked who’d made my strapless leather gown (Michael Kors) and another wanted to know how Missy had won her tiara (she’d placed first in Laguna Beach’s Ugliest Bulldog contest last year).
Once we reached the end of the walkway, I leaned down to dab the drool from Missy’s chin. “You did great.” I kissed the top of her head. “Let’s go find our friends.”
Missy gave my hand a slobbery kiss, and then we made our way into the main event. Under an extravagant white tent and glittering lights, two hundred wealthy dog lovers and their four-legged friends paraded around in designer rags, both human and canine dripped with diamonds.
I quickly spotted Kimber Shores and her pug Noodles making their way in our direction. Kimber oozed understated glamour in her mauve jumpsuit. She’d definitely make Laguna’s Best-Dressed List.
“Mel, I’m so glad I found you,” she declared.
As we air kissed, the low-cut back of her outfit offered a glimpse of her many tattoos.
“Noodles looks amazing,” she continued in her melodious voice. “I’m so glad you talked me out of the velvet jacket.”
Kimber and her pug had stopped by the shop earlier. Noodles had been in desperate need of a wardrobe update. I’d managed to wrangle him out of his Hugh Hefner smoking jacket and into a modest white tux and tails. Noodles sat in front of Missy, his marble eyes watching the slobber slide down the corners of her mouth.
I smiled affectionately. “He really isn’t a velvet kinda guy. I love the top hat. Nice choice.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Grey Donovan, my fiancé of two years, heading in our direction. Kimber must have noticed, too; she immediately looked uncomfortable.
To the outside world, Grey’s and my relationship was seen as a tad unorthodox. We were the on-again, off-again type. Presently, we were “on.”
“Ah, I see you’re not alone. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed.
“You’re welcome. Stop by Bow Wow when you get a chance. I have the perfect sweater-vest for Noodles.”
Kimber and her pug disappeared into the crowd just as Grey arrived.
“Caro and Diana organized a great event.” He handed me a glass of pinot noir. He looked amazing in his black tux. But then, he always looked good.
Missy sniffed his pant leg, double-checking he hadn’t stepped out on her. He bent down and gave her some love. She snorted happily, lapping up Grey’s affection. I knew exactly how she felt.
I took a sip of wine, appreciating the black-pepper finish. I snagged us each a tomato and goat cheese tart from a passing waiter (he was out of pigs-in-a-blanket, Missy’s favorite).
“I hate to break it to you, but it’s the Dallas upbringing. Every society girl knows how to throw a successful charity fundraiser by her eighteenth birthday.” I took a bite of the tart and sighed. Delicious. “But you’re right. It’s a fabulous evening.”
Grey, an undercover FBI agent, worked white-collar crime—mostly art theft. He could be gone for two days or two months without a whisper of his well-being. I never knew if he was sipping espresso in Paris or being held hostage in a deserted warehouse in East LA.
His decision to keep me completely in the dark of his activities—his way of protecting me—had finally pushed me to the breaking point. I’d realized if I had trouble
Grey, our marriage could end up a disaster. So I’d called off the wedding (two months before the big day), causing a swirl of rumors and speculation.
I swear, I’d tried to return the six-carat sapphire engagement ring that had belonged to his great-grandmother, but Grey had refused to accept it. He believed we could work it out. I really wanted him to be right.
“To Caro and Diana. May the evening continue to be a howling success.” Grey lifted his glass, and I followed suit.
We mingled with the other guests and made our way to the table of auction items. I spotted my cousin next to the open bar, schmoozing with a celebrity dog trainer who currently judged a TV reality pet show. I didn’t have to hear her southern drawl to know she’d used it to her advantage.
She fooled a lot of people at first glance. She looked as soft as a hothouse wildflower, but inside she was all iron and grit.
At the moment, Caro and I weren’t exactly speaking. Since our childhood, Caro had always saved something or someone. A few years ago that had included her ex-husband who deserved to rot behind prison walls instead.
To this day, she continued to analyze how her marriage had fallen apart. I’d expressed my opinion (truth be told, it was unsolicited at the time, but that hadn’t stopped me), and Caro got her feelings hurt. We had
I know I’m the one who should apologize first but, knowing me, my smartass mouth would probably make matters worse. Sometimes I’m better with dogs than people.
Recently, I’d broken my vow of silence. Caro’s best friend, Diana Knight, a former movie star and one of Laguna’s resident celebrities, had been arrested for murder. In my experience, who better to deliver bad news than family?
Luckily for Diana, she was one of Caro’s success stories. Caro had helped clear Diana of a bogus murder wrap and in the process had almost gotten herself killed. Thankfully, the police—and her quick thinking—had saved her.
A slow smile tugged the corners of my mouth as I waited for my cousin to turn in my direction.
Competition runs deep in the Montgomery blood, our mothers’ side of the family tree. Over the years, Caro had managed to intermittently suppress her competitiveness. I, on the other hand, let mine run free. Electrified with the sudden possibility of getting the best of my cousin, I grabbed Grey’s arm. “Let’s go say hi to Caro.”
“No.” He didn’t even take his eye off the list of silent auction items.
“Come on. You just said she did a great job.”
“I’m not going to be a vehicle for you to flaunt that thing.” He flicked his auction list toward the gaudy, but sentimental, brooch pinned strategically to my gown.
The pin was a family heirloom, a twenty-two karat gold basket filled with fruit made of precious gems. Rubies, diamonds, emeralds and topaz. You’d never know by looking at the garish thing that it was insured for more money than all four years of my Stanford college tuition.
I adjusted the brooch. “It gives my little black dress something extra.”
Grey’s green eyes softened. His gaze traveled from the bottom of my floor length, strapless, leather gown and ended at the gaudy heirloom.
I felt the heat flood my checks and pretended his blatant appraisal didn’t make my knees weak.
is one description. Leave your cousin alone,” he said on a sigh.
Poor Grey. He was my fiancé, but he was also Caro’s friend.
“Grandma Tillie left the pin to me. I only retrieved what was rightfully mine.” Grandma was very specific in her will. The brooch was to go to her “
granddaughter.” That was me. Then again, Caro was just as convinced it was her.
“You broke into Caro’s house and stole it,” he said.
“Only after she’d marched into Bow Wow Boutique, in the middle of the day, and stole it from my purse in front of God and my customers.”
He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “So that makes breaking into her private safe okay?”
I grimaced. There was a tingle of regret about my actions that day. It had taken a few tries to figure out the combination, but I had.
Caro hadn’t used an easy-to-hack combination. No. She’d used something much more personal that only I could truly understand the significance of.
When I thought about that, I felt like a traitor who deserved to be shot at twenty paces. So, I tried not to think about it.
I was sure I’d pay for my transgression at some point.
“Mel, do you want the brooch, or to make Carolina squirm?” Grey asked.
“Is there a right or wrong answer?”
I took another sip of wine, letting the warmth from the alcohol seep through me. I know it’s selfish, but I wanted both. Hey, at least I’m honest.
Caro finally turned and caught my eye. I held back the urge to jump up and down. Instead, I lifted my wine glass in salute, making sure she could see I had on the brooch.
She hesitated for a second, aware we were gossip prey. Like the southern lady she was, she returned the salute with an amused smile. We both knew she was plotting revenge.
Game on, cousin.
I’d have to find a better hiding place than my cookie jar.
Grey shook his head in defeat and directed my attention to the banquet tables of donated items for the silent auction. There was one item that had me seriously contemplating going home for my credit card. An African safari. I sighed, knowing I was about to spend too much money, and I wasn’t even buzzed.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Grey said.
“I’ve always wanted to go on an African safari.”
“I was talking about Caro.”
“I do have some self-control.” I set my glass on the table and adjusted his bow tie. Not because it needed it. But because it was our first public appearance since the almost-wedding.
“I just wanted her to see I had it,” I explained.
“I don’t always understand you two. Or why your friends encourage your harebrained competition.”
I retrieved my glass with a shrug. “Because it’s harmless fun.”
I scribbled an obscene dollar amount alongside my bidding number on the safari listing, knowing I’d bumped the mayor out of the playing field.
Grey whistled softly. “Playing to win?”
“Why else would I play?”
“If I could have your attention,” Amelia Hudges, the ARL director, spoke into the microphone.
Everyone turned expectantly in Amelia’s direction. I almost choked on my wine. Amelia looked like an over-the-top Bette Midler with her frizzed-out orange hair and heavily beaded gown.
. Had someone died and covered the mirrors in her house?
“We’ve made some quick calculations after a few passes around the room.” She paced the stage in excitement. “Due to your generosity, the silent auction has already grossed an estimated two hundred fifty thousand dollars.” Amelia’s high-pitched twitter competed with resounding applause and excited barking.
“Now it’s time to get serious.” She raised a freckled hand for silence. “We’re more than halfway to our goal of three hundred fifty thousand dollars. Listen to your heart, not your accountant. Open your wallets, and let’s start the live auction! Find your seats, everyone.”