Authors: Wendy Tyson
Tags: #Mystery, #mystery books, #british mysteries, #mystery and thriller, #whodunnit, #amateur sleuth, #english mysteries, #murder mysteries, #women sleuths, #whodunit, #female sleuth, #mystery series, #thriller
Praise for the Allison Campbell Mystery Series
“An edgy page-turner that pulls the reader into a world where image is everything and murder is all about image. Great start to a new series!”
– Erika Chase,
Author of The Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries
“Wit, charm, and deliciously clever plot twists abound…the author has a knack for creating characters with heart, while keeping us guessing as to their secrets until the end.”
– Mary Hart Perry,
Seducing the Princess
“This cleverly revealing psychological thriller will keep you guessing...as the smart and savvy Allison Campbell (love her!) delves into the deadly motives, twisted emotions and secret intrigues of Philadelphia’s Main Line.”
– Hank Phillippi Ryan,
Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award-Winning Author of
The Wrong Girl
“Nancy Drew gets a fierce makeover in Wendy Tyson’s daringly dark, yet ever fashion-conscious mystery series, beginning with
. Tyson imbues her characters with emotional depth amidst wit, ever maintaining the pulse rate.”
– Deborah Cloyed,
What Tears Us Apart
The Summer We Came to Life
“An intriguing psychological thriller. The book reminded me of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series…I loved the book, it’s dark and hopeful at the same time. Five stars out of five.”
– Lynn Farris,
Mystery Books Examiner for Examiner.com
Books in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series
by Wendy Tyson
KILLER IMAGE (#1)
MURDEROUS LOOKS (#2)
coming May 2014
An Allison Campbell Mystery
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection
Kindle edition | October 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Tyson
Cover art by Robyn Neild
Author photograph by Ian Pickarski
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
This book is dedicated to my parents, Gary and Angela Tyson. Together they taught me the importance of hard work,
the value of faith, and the incredible beauty and power of love.
They say it takes a village to raise a child; I’d say it also takes a village to inspire a novel and bring it to completion. So many people have played a role in supporting or inspiring my writing life. I am so very grateful.
First, I’d like to thank my family, especially my husband, Ben, who has shown endless patience. Compromised vacations, writers’ groups, writing classes, conferences, night time ramblings about plot and character and, of course, the self-pity party that comes with rejection, are but a few of the things you’ve lovingly endured over the years. So thank you, Ben! And thanks to my boys, Ian, Matthew and Jonathan, whose love and endless encouragement are incredible gifts.
I’d like to thank my talented agents, Frances Black and Jennifer Mishler of Literary Counsel. Fran, you’ve entertained my five a.m. emails–and written right back! You and Jenn have been a constant source of support, wisdom and encouragement and I love working with you.
Thank you to Henery Press, especially my fabulous editor, Kendel Flaum. Kendel, I appreciate your keen eye and sharp pencil. You have a gift for writing and editing, and I have learned so much simply from watching you work.
A great big thanks to Rowena Copeland. You have helped me navigate the very new waters of publishing with patience, creativity and vision. I love your passion for books.
I am forever grateful to my early readers, especially Mark Anderson, Virginia Lofft, Toni Lopopolo, Greg Smith, Jennifer Brown, Marnie Mai, Suzanne Norbury, Carolyn Sweeney, Ann Jordan, Michelle Rosenstein Sofield, Stephanie Wollman and Carol Lizell. Your thoughtful feedback made this a better book. And Toni Lopopolo–a special thanks for seeing potential in an impatient writer. You are an incredible teacher, editor and mentor.
Love and gratitude to my uncle, Greg Marincola. All those philosophical discussions growing up sparked my love of reading and learning and probably had the biggest direct impact on my desire to write. Thanks U.G.!
A huge thank you to my parents, Gary and Angela Tyson, who always encouraged my reading habit. Dad, I know you would be so proud (but practical) if you were still with us today. And Mom, you have been the best cheerleader ever. A big thanks to my brother, Gary Tyson, and my extended family, too. What a blessing to grow up in the midst of so much love.
And, of course, I’m grateful to mystery readers, who share my passion for the genre. Thank you for making this possible.
Arnie Feldman needed a drink, a bath, and a screw, in that order. But no one was home, except Sasha’s dog. Stupid beast. Arnie picked up the Chihuahua, tossed him in the study and slammed the door. Then he took off his shoes, careful not to scuff the newly polished leather, and placed them next to the foyer closet. Sasha could put them away later. Where was she, anyway? And where was Ethan? He glanced at his watch: 7:18. Too late for shopping. Who was he kidding? For his wife, it was never too late to shop.
Arnie walked through the hall and into the kitchen. Like a showroom kitchen, he thought.
Damn. Might as well be a showroom kitchen for all the use it gets.
Something seemed out of place, but what?
He headed for the bar. Scotch. Straight up. He was too tired for ice. It was the Bremburg case. That little girl with her sad eyes and lopsided pigtails. That mother with her pleas and allegations of Jack Bremburg’s sexual perversions. But
was his client. Arnie was paid to advocate, and advocate he would. The allegations were false. He was sure of it.
They had to be.
Arnie poured three fingers of scotch. Four. What the hell? Why was he plagued with a conscience? A good divorce attorney should never be swayed by crap the other side made up. Never. And he
a good divorce attorney. The best. He smiled, tipped the glass into his mouth, and swallowed, savoring the slow burn that would lead to oblivion. He poured another glass. Where was Sasha?
He heard a noise coming from upstairs. Ethan. Sasha must have left him home while she went to the mall. Shopping. Was that all she did these days, shop? And have her hair done. And exercise with that idiotic personal trainer. Damn, he worked hard so his wife could spend money at Neiman Marcus and his kid could act like a spoiled prick. Teenagers. Should have let Brenda keep the kid. He lived for the day he and Sasha would have an empty nest. No mess, more privacy. They could do it whenever and wherever he damn well pleased.
He threw back the second glass.
He wanted Sasha now. Wanted her to wear that little black number he’d bought online, wanted her face down on the bed...
What was that boy doing? “Ethan?” Arnie slammed down his glass. His head was starting to throb.
Arnie made his way up the stairs. The scotch was working its magic, and his feet felt lighter. Jack Bremburg no longer felt like a noose was around his neck. Jack was innocent. Of course he was innocent. How could a man so rich, so successful, let a little character flaw get in his way? He wouldn’t be so stupid. Arnie tried not to think of other people, equally rich and powerful, who
“Ethan! Knock it the hell off!”
Three more steps to the top of the stairs.
It was coming from his bedroom—noises like dressers being thrown to the floor. What was Ethan doing in his bedroom? If he had that little hussy up there using the Jacuzzi, his ass would be toast tonight. That little witch he’d forbidden Ethan to see? Grounded. For a week. No, a month.
The bedroom door was closed.
Arnie braced himself for a confrontation with his son, then flung open the door and stepped inside. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Shadows on the walls, paint on the hardwood. That smell. What was that smell?
An object hissed through air. Arnie felt a blow to the side of his skull and then, for a moment, everything went black. When he came to, a deep throbbing filled his head. Something covered his mouth and bound his hands. He couldn’t scream, couldn’t move.
Suddenly, unseen hands tore open his shirt. Arnie flinched as nails bit into tender skin. He heard the snap of the match before he smelled the sharp scent of sulfur. With horror, he caught a glimpse of a shadowy face. Eyes like the devil. He thought of the Bremburg girl’s pigtails, brown and glossy and uncentered. Only one red bow.
Then came the pain.
And it didn’t stop.
Allison Campbell may have spent the last eight hours teaching people how to project confidence, class, and charisma, but by three o’clock Wednesday afternoon, she was feeling uncharacteristically drained.
It was nearly the end of March, the time of year early-rising daffodils should begin stretching their way from a long sleep, but winter held on with the tenacity of a stubborn two-year-old. Clouds shifted and sulked in the sky, their brooding manner warning of even more snow and sleet. Allison tried to keep her focus on work, but her mind drifted to the weather, her sore feet, what she would have for dinner...anything but the paper in front of her.
She looked again at the pink slip crumpled next to her, at Vaughn’s tight, slanted handwriting.
Call your sister. Important
. With Faye, it was always important. Allison didn’t have the stomach for it. Not now. Still, she felt that familiar knot in her belly at just the thought of Faye. She’d call her back later.
Allison took off blue-framed eyeglasses and rubbed her temples before focusing her attention back on the woman across the desk. Neck swathed in a maroon-print scarf, short, wavy black hair perfectly coiffed, Midge Majors was picking at the edges of her scarf with elegantly manicured fingers. Allison had spent the last eleven months convincing Midge that she could reinvent herself, that the world had need of women like her, even after the family life she had carefully cultivated had fallen apart. And Midge had risen to the challenge.
This Midge looked almost the same as the Midge she had met a year ago: pillbox hats and coordinating scarves in colors that matched her array of shirt dresses, sensible one-inch pumps in neutral colors, little circles of red rouge on her heavy cheeks. But the changes were deeper. She no longer apologized after every other sentence. She maintained eye contact for long periods of time. And now, most important of all, she could laugh about her divorce.
When seventy-one-year-old Midge caught her husband cheating with the neighbor’s adult son, in a burst of rage, she tried to kill him with an antique Remington-Ingersoll Life Line gun. Luckily she was even less skilled with the gun than she’d been at expressing her feelings. The ex-husband was fine, but Midge suffered a breakdown. Over the last year, all that had changed.
“I can’t do it,” Midge had said.
“You can, Midge—and you will.”
“I’m too darn old.”
Allison smiled. “It’s never too late for a new adventure.”
“Who’s going to take me seriously? I haven’t worked in forty years. My son says why bother.”
“Your son doesn’t always know what’s best for you, Midge.” Allison placed her hands down on the desk between them for emphasis. Midge’s deference to the family that abandoned her when she most needed them had been maddening at first. But as sessions with Allison wore on, Midge seemed to like the person she saw in the mirror and her dependence on her sons’ opinions had lessened. Today’s self-doubt, Allison knew, was simply a case of the nerves. And who could blame her?
“Your sons are not part of this equation. This is about you and the school’s musical director. And
,” Allison said with a smile, “are going to be fantastic.”
Allison watched a theater of emotions flicker across Midge’s face: disbelief, fear, anger, and, finally, determination. It was the determination Allison wanted, for Midge and all of her clients. The determination to fight against a world that wanted to dismiss her as frivolous or unworthy. The determination to create something better for herself.
Midge nodded, the helplessness in her expression replaced by a slow-burning fire in her eyes. “One more time? Just to be sure I have everything covered?”
And so Allison went through it all again: the protocol, the interview outfit they’d agreed on—charcoal gray dress, soft cream scarf, silver beads, black pumps, rose-colored lipstick—and the reminders to have good posture, make eye contact, and project her voice. “Quiet confidence,” Allison said, “is your number-one asset.”
“I was a darn good pianist once upon a time.”
“You’re a damn good musician
Midge rose to leave, her grin sincere. Allison felt hopeful that Midge would get this job and, with it, a new start on life. Hopeful, but...well, sometimes life could pull a fast one.
When Midge was gone, Allison sat back down at her desk and pulled out another file. Inside were the details of another woman whose story was similar—years of family devotion followed by divorce and a frustrating reentry into a very changed world. Allison started to feel a well of anger and sadness at the injustice of it all.
She thought: Don’t go there, Al.
Adding her own emotions to the mix wasn’t going to help anyone. Besides, often having an advocate, someone who believed in them even when it felt like no one else did, was the magic that made the difference for her clients. It was her job to be that person, and she could think of no better way to spend her days. Even when the circumstances weighed heavily on her heart and mind. Like now.
“You have a visitor, Allison.”
Allison looked up to see her business manager, Vaughn, standing in the doorway. He had a mug of coffee in his hand, which he placed on her desk. Two creamers, one sugar, just the way she liked it. Allison smiled her gratitude.
“Don’t be so quick with a grin. You haven’t seen who your visitor is yet.”
. She thought of the note from Faye. It wasn’t exactly shaping up to be a great day, so luck was probably not on her side. Maybe Faye could wait until tomorrow. Doubtful. Allison tugged a stray blond hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. She looked up at Vaughn and noticed, not for the first time, the signs that something bigger than this business, First Impressions, was happening in his life. Vaughn’s hair was beginning to gray around the edges, his eyes held a tired glaze, and his near-black skin looked ashy and dry. Clearly he wasn’t sleeping. Concerned, she wanted to ask what was going on, but something in Vaughn’s manner held her back.
Instead, she said, “Who is it?”
“Hank McBride. And his wife.”
“One and the same.”