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Authors: Rhonda Pollero

Knock 'em Dead

BOOK: Knock 'em Dead
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Knock ’Em Dead
 
Books by Rhonda Pollero
 

KNOCK OFF

 

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

 
Knock ’Em Dead
 
Rhonda Pollero
 

KENSINGTON BOOKS
www.kensingtonbooks.com

 

To affirming friends…Karen Harrison, Cherry Adair,
Traci Hall, Patricia Gagne, Dani Sinclair, Renae Dryer,
Leanne Banks, Twist Phalen, and Cindy Gerard.

Acknowledgments
 

Thanks to the wonderful staff and management of Barton’s Jewelers for sharing their knowledge and letting me try on so many stunning pieces.

 

With much thanks to Donald O. Harrison, Raymond James Investments, for his crash course on all things high finance.

 

Special thanks to Kathleen Pickering for sharing her ring with me. I still think the research would have been more detailed if you’d just put me out of my misery and give it to me.

 
 
 

As it turns out, there is something a guy can’t live without.

 
 
One
 

I
was having an erotic dream about a seriously hot guy with blue eyes, and black hair—
not
Liam McGarrity, a so-wrong-for-me man who can turn me into a quivering pile of hormones with a single glance—and definitely not my perfect-in-every-way boyfriend, Patrick, when the knocking started. It was loud and insistent.

Some impatient someone wanted my attention at this ungodly hour of—I slitted bleary eyes at the bedside clock—five-twenty A freaking M. On a Sunday, no less. This better be good.

I groaned heavily, missing my thousand-thread-count sheets even before I’d tossed them aside. Patrick was just back in town, so I was dressed in a cotton tee and matching boxers. No sense wasting the good stuff when I’d spent the previous evening watching the
What Not to Wear
marathon I’d been storing up on my new DVR. A gadget I’d only been able to afford after Visa upped my credit limit.

Bam. Bam. Bam.

“I’m coming, damn it!” Three-quarters asleep, I pulled on my robe and started out of the bedroom, stubbing my toe against the bed frame in the process while whoever the idiot was at my door kept right on knocking. Like I hadn’t heard the first ninety-nine knocks. Me and all my neighbors.

I winced, hopped, and cursed, not necessarily in that order. The banging on my front door became more urgent. In the few seconds it took me to hobble through my darkened apartment, flipping light switches along the way, I mentally ran through some possibilities.

Could be Sam, my upstairs neighbor and friend. Soon to be former friend if he was the one on the other side of the door.

Patrick was a more remote possibility. He flew cargo for FedEx and often arrived and/or departed at off hours. But we were two years into our relationship and he knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t appreciate an early morning drop-in. Not when I’m at my most visually vulnerable, pre-shower, -hair, and -makeup.

Definitely not my mother. Even if she needed me urgently, she’d send a messenger before she’d break protocol. She doesn’t even use the telephone other than during the socially acceptable hours of 10:00
AM
to 10:00
PM
.

I got up on tiptoes to peer through the peephole. Though the figure was silhouetted by backlighting from the parking area, I recognized my friend Jane Spencer instantly.

Fumbling with the safety chain and flipping the dead bolt’s lever, I yanked open the door so fast that Jane’s balled fist caught me square in the center of the forehead.

I stumbled backward, my head now throbbing along with my toe. “Jesus, Jane! What the f—”


Ohgodohgodohgod
,” she babbled, closing the door and gripping me by the shoulders as I teetered.

I’d met Jane at the gym almost six years ago. Though we were total strangers, we’d agreed to pretend to be friends in order to take advantage of the gym’s two-for-one special. I don’t like to think of it as a scam so much as the broadest interpretation of the term
friend.

My friendship with Jane quickly became a reality and we get together whenever possible. My attendance at the gym is spotty at best. Jane, on the other hand, works out religiously, hence the reason her accidental blow had me seeing stars.

“I’m okay,” I lied, shrugging off her hold. Moderately pissed, but okay. Then my vision cleared and I looked at her. Really looked at her.

Her dark brown eyes were red, puffy, and filled with a kind of abject terror I’d never seen in my calm, reasonable, rational friend. Though she looked a lot like one of the Pussycat Dolls, Jane was an accountant and investment broker. A geek in sex kitten clothing.

She was covered in deep crimson blood.

Wet
deep crimson blood.

It was matted in her hair and soaked through the right side of her thigh-skimming, aqua La Perla negligee. The streaks of partially dried blood continued down the side of one leg to her bare foot.

My brain dealt with the blood first. Why she was outside, in the middle of the night, in her nightie, could wait for later. “What happened? Did you have an accident?”

Jane’s fingers trembled as they snagged in the crusting blood in her hair.

I followed her as she walked stiffly into my living room, leaving single-footed, reddish brown marks on my tile and carpet as she moved, her hands hugging her bare, blood-streaked arms.

“He’s dead. There was so much blood…”

My initial hope that maybe she’d picked up some run-over animal or something evaporated. “He who?”

“Paolo. He’s dead. Oh God, worse than dead.”

Paolo?
The name didn’t register. Nor did the concept of worse than dead. It’s one of those absolutes, like being pregnant. You definitively are or you aren’t.

“Back up,” I insisted, gently lowering her to the sofa. I grabbed the pashmina throw draped over the back of the couch and wrapped it around her shoulders. Taking her hands in mine, I knelt in front of her. “Take a deep breath and start from the beginning.”

She swallowed audibly and nodded. “Paolo was my date. You know, from that meet a rich guy introduction service Liv represents?”

Sure I remembered it. Olivia Garrett, one of our mutual friends who owns an event planning company, had been hired by a very exclusive, very expensive dating service to create “fairy-tale fantasy dates” for available men and women of means. Liv had persuaded the owners to waive the whopping five grand membership fee for Becky and Jane.

Becky Jameson and I work together at a law firm in West Palm Beach. She’s an attorney in the contracts department, while I’m a few rungs down on the professional ladder. I’m an estates and trusts paralegal.

Because of Patrick, I was blissfully exempt from the freebie. Jane was willing to give it a try. Becky was not. If I remember correctly, her exact words were, “I’d become a celibate lesbian before I’d go out on a buy-a-guy date.”

Back to dead Paolo. “So he was your date and…?”

“Heart Association Fund-Raiser at the Breakers. Cocktails after. Then he drove me home. He had chilled champagne waiting in the limo and by the time we got to my place I was feeling pretty good. So I invited him up for some coffee and we, um, you know. At least I think we
you knowed
.”

“You don’t remember?” God, sex with Patrick was methodical, but at least it was memorable.

“We must have,” Jane decided with a small shake of her head. “Why else would I be wearing my get lucky lingerie?”

Good point.
“And then?”

“I woke up and there was bloo—”

“You fell asleep?”

“Apparently,” Jane snapped. “I know, total breach of first sex etiquette, but I must have had more to drink than I realized and the guy was gorgeous. Anyway, he was on one side with his back to me. I thought he’d breached too, and was fast asleep, so I shook his shoulder.”

I felt her shiver before she yanked her hands free of mine.

“He was ice cold, and then I went to move closer to him when I felt the wet sheets.”

“Gorgeous and incontinent. Interesting combination.”

Jane glared at me. “I tossed back the covers and there was blood everywhere. It was exactly like that producer guy in
The Godfather
who wakes up with the horse head in his bed.

“I think I crawled over him or maybe it was around him and I see this big knife in his chest. I pulled it out, rolled him over, and was about to feel for a pulse when I just happened to glance down and see…”

Jane looked like she wanted to vomit. Her skin bleached white and her eyes squeezed shut for a second.

“And saw what?”

“It was gone.”

“What was gone?”


It
,” Jane repeated succinctly.


It
it?” I felt disgust churn in my stomach along with serious confusion. “So what? The police showed up, took your statement, and then just let you leave? Dressed like that?”

“I didn’t call them.”

I practically leapt to my feet. “
What?”

“Everything was so bloody and I’d just touched a dead guy. I was terrified and not exactly thinking straight. It isn’t like I’ve ever awakened and found a man with his privates cut off in my bed before. Plus, I didn’t know if the killer was still in my apartment so I just grabbed my keys and jumped out the window.”

I blinked. “You live on the second floor.”

“The jump wasn’t bad. The landing was a bit of a bitch. So what do I do?”

“We call the police and then we call Becky.” I reached for the phone, changing the order of the calls in my mind.

Becky answered in a groggy, guttural voice. “Hello.”

I don’t think I stopped to breathe as I quickly told her the tale of Jane’s date culminating in the discovery of Dickless Paolo.

She mumbled a few curses, then said, “Call the police and stay put. I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

“Okay.”

“Finley?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t want either one of you to say a word to the cops until I get there. Understand?”

“Not a word.” I glanced over at Jane, who was now curled into the fetal position at one end of my sofa. I had a feeling the cops would expect more than a “no comment” when they got their first glimpse at Jane. “Do we tell them our names?”

“Name, address, age, occupations, all fine.”

“Jane is covered in blood. I’ll get her cleaned up and she can—”

“No. No shower, no change of clothes. Nothing to compromise the forensics any more than they’ve already been compromised. Why didn’t she call the police?”

“She wanted out of her apartment.”

“Then she should have driven to the sheriff’s office.” I heard Becky’s frustrated sigh. “Why didn’t she think?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Cupping my hand over the mouthpiece, I whispered, “She’s totally freaked out. Stop lecturing me and get over here.”

I’m not sure if I said good-bye to Becky or not before calling the cops. Only that a few seconds later a calm, monotone voice came on the line. “Nine-one-nine. What is your emergency?”

I shot a quick glance over at Jane’s huddled form on my sofa. “I, um, well…I need to report a…a, um, bloody friend.”

“Do you need an ambulance, Ms. Tanner?”

“How’d you know my name?” I pushed a strand of my disheveled hair off my forehead. “Forget that. What I mean is, my friend was in some sort of…See, she had this date and it didn’t go well.”

“Ma’am, what
specifically
is your emergency?”

“Specifically? I think I need to report a murder.”

“Who has been murdered, ma’am?”

“Paolo.”

“Is that a first or last name?”

I rolled my eyes. What difference did it make? Was she going to send help or carve the freaking headstone? Jane was pretty useless, so I gave what limited information I had, including Jane’s address so someone could check on Paolo.

“I’ve alerted the sheriff’s office. Please stay on the line with me until help arrives.”

I did as she asked, though it felt weird holding the receiver to my ear when we weren’t talking to each other. Maybe 9-1-1 should invest in Muzak or something. Anyway, it seemed like days passed before I heard sirens and then the screech of tires. I hung up, opened my door, and counted no fewer than a dozen sheriff’s cars careening into the parking lot in front of my apartment. In a matter of seconds, several of the officers leapt from their cruisers and crouched behind their squad cars, guns trained in my direction. Then I was blinded when they turned their mounted spotlights on me.

Through a megaphone or radio or whatever, a disembodied male voice boomed through the predawn quiet. “Lace your fingers and place your hands behind your head. Get on your knees. Slowly.”

“But I’m—”

“Now!”

Squinting against the harsh light, I dutifully followed instructions. My pissed-off meter went into the red zone. The cement was rough, painfully digging into my bare knees. As if it wasn’t humiliating enough to be assuming a position I’d only seen on episodes of
Cops
, I heard my neighbors whispering as they began stepping out of their apartments to investigate.

Jane came up behind me.

“Hold your position, Ms. Tanner,” the male voice instructed. This time his tone was compassionate as he spoke to Jane. “Let us subdue the suspect before—”

I rolled my sightless eyes. “I’m not the suspect and she’s not Finley Tanner. I am. I’m the one that called you.”
Morons
.

Oh, and like I wasn’t already mired in Suckville, a photographer’s camera flash strobed where the cops had busily set up neon-yellow crime scene tape to cordon off my parking lot.

Getting the police to understand that I wasn’t an imminent threat to society was a lot like trying to bathe a cat. But eventually, I was allowed to put my arms down and get to my feet. Much to the disappointment of my neighbors. My complex is a pretty laid-back place, so the commotion was a really big, if personally mortifying, thing.

Finally, two plainclothes detectives stepped forward, escorting Jane and me, with two uniformed officers trailing us inside my apartment. The female detective directed a motion with her head to the deputies. Leaving me helpless and annoyed as the officers dispersed, one went into my kitchen, while another strode toward my bedroom. “Where are they going?” I asked.

Ignoring my question, the female detective instructed Jane and me to sit on the sofa. She was African-American, with skin the color of a caramel latte. She wore utilitarian navy blue slacks and a plain white cotton blouse. No jewelry, unless you counted the silver-toned grommets on her sensible shoes. Or the gold badge clipped at her waist. I didn’t.

The male detective came over to me and caught me by the elbow. There wasn’t anything the least bit chivalrous about the gesture. Using my right arm like a rudder, he quickly got me to my feet and escorted me into the bedroom, pushing the door just shy of completely closed.

BOOK: Knock 'em Dead
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