Authors: Laina Turner
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Beauty Pageant - Texas
|Laina Turner - Presley Thurman 06 - Tiaras & Texans|
|Presley Thurman |
|Five Seas Ink (2012)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Beauty Pageant - Texas|
Tiaras & Texans
A Presley Thurman Mystery
By Laina Turner
Published by Five Seas Ink, LLC
Formatting by Anessa Books
his is not what I had in mind and you know it!” I said hotly to Cooper. We were standing in my kitchen having what I would call a lively discussion and what he would call an argument. This wasn’t the only thing we had differences of opinion on, but sometimes I thought that was what made us work. You know, the whole opposites attract thing. Things between us never got boring, that’s for sure.
I was already cranky because we hadn’t had dinner yet and I was starving. I was never in a good mood when I was hungry. Cooper had been working late and had promised to bring home sushi as a penance. However, the sushi was still sitting on the counter in its “to go” bag because of the bombshell he had just dropped on me. He was in for a lot more penance than what sushi would make up for. He was smiling at me like my anger was amusing to him, as it often was. He was so laid back that it took a lot to bother him. Of course that just made me that much more furious, and no doubt that was why he was doing it. He could be such a frustrating man sometimes. He was lucky I found him so damn irresistible.
“Listen, Pres. A bet is a bet,” he said, smiling and loosening his tie. He took a seat at the table, acting like he had not a care in the world.
I crossed my arms over my chest in an act of defiance. He was right. A bet was a bet, but babysitting a bunch of what were sure to be stuck-up models was not what I had in mind when I made the bet with him. I realized it was narrow-minded to assume the girls who participated in a beauty pageant were all stuck-up, but I had been hoping for more excitement out of this than hanging with a bunch of beauty queens on my first assignment with Sand’s Security, Cooper’s company.
My name is Presley Thurman, and I used to have a boring job, which I thought was my calling, in human resources. After being fired for telling my sexually harassing jackass of a boss off, I tried my hand at being a journalist. Writing had been a true passion of mine since a young age. Luckily, a good friend who was an editor of an online magazine took pity on me and gave me a chance at a job writing. Although it didn’t last and I was once again out of a job, I had a chance to play detective by solving the murder of the senator I had been sent to interview for my first assignment. This short-lived stint had also put me back in touch with an old high school fling—Cooper Sands, my current boyfriend and potentially new business partner, at least for this short time. Cooper was a security specialist and problem solver for delicate situations such as stolen million-dollar diamonds, rich people being blackmailed, or people who just needed protection, like the senator who ended up dead. Not a shining moment for Sands Security but not a common occurrence for Cooper’s clients either, thankfully. I somehow kept getting myself involved in the middle of Cooper’s investigations, much to his dismay. Personally, I thought I was quite helpful in most cases. It’s not like I purposefully went looking to get involved, it just happened.
One night a few weeks ago, we made a bet that if I won the game of Trivial Pursuit we were playing, he would willingly include me as part of his team working for his next client. Okay, I admit there was a little alcohol involved or I’m sure Cooper would never have agreed to it. Plus, in his defense, he had four categories filled to my one, and except for the entertainment category his trivia knowledge was much better than mine. (Though I would never tell him that.) I forgot all I ever knew about Art and History as soon as I graduated from college, and sports were never on my radar. Much to my surprise—and Cooper’s—I got on a lucky streak and won.
I had been hounding him ever since to make good on his bet, and today was the day he finally did it. It just wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. While I loved fashion, makeup, and glamour, babysitting beauty queens was not my idea of being an investigator.
“I guess you need to explain it to me then. What is it exactly that they want your company to do for them?” I asked.
“The pageant promoters are worried about the girls’ safety. Apparently, at the last pageant someone gained access to the dressing rooms and was taking unauthorized and very scandalous pictures of the contestants. Then leaking them online. Many of the girls are not yet eighteen, and you can imagine the problems that can cause. There have been other issues as well, more pranks than harmful, but the management is concerned. They’ve hired us to look into the issues, find out who is behind them, and put a stop to it. I’m sending a team down and then you and I will follow.”
“I don’t see how I would be much help. Isn’t there another job you have that I could work on?”
“I think this is perfect,” he said, grinning. “Who better to interact with the women in the pageant than another beautiful woman? Jasmine is my only female employee, and she’s on her honeymoon. I need someone who can get access to the dressing rooms and other areas where a man’s presence wouldn’t be acceptable. You, on the other hand, will blend in. The guys and I just simply can’t do that. I need you, Pres,” he said, coming over and putting his arm around my shoulders and giving me a squeeze. “This will be fun.”
I leaned into him and gave him a kiss. “If you say so. You just better make it worth my while.”
“Wow, this looks amazing,” I said to Cooper as the cab pulled up to the hotel where the pageant was being held, and where we would be staying for the next week. Though the word “hotel” didn’t even begin to describe what this place was. It was actually called the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and had at one point been a private residence. It was hard to imagine a regular family living here. To afford a place like this they couldn’t have been too normal; they had to be filthy rich. It was just breathtaking from the outside. An expansive front with a wide porch and beautifully landscaped gardens were just a few of the things I quickly noticed that were absolutely gorgeous.
“It’s one of the nicest in Dallas, if not
nicest. While we will be working most of this trip, I’m sure we can find some downtime to have dinner and explore. There is an amazing restaurant on the premises that I know you’ll love.”
“Have you been here before?”
“Once, a couple years ago for another job, but its spectacular beauty never fails to take my breath away. When we get inside you’ll be just as amazed at how pretty the floors and woodworking are.”
“Can I help you with your bags, sir?” the bellhop asked Cooper as we stepped out of the cab. The driver had already unloaded our suitcases from the trunk and Cooper handed him some bills.
“Yes, please,” Cooper nodded to the bellhop, who then grabbed our things and put them on his cart. We followed him into the hotel, and I was grateful when the blast of air conditioning hit me. It was still technically spring, but it sure was hot here. I could feel the sweat on the back of my neck and ran my fingers through my hair to see if it had started to frizz yet. My thick red hair and humidity were not friends. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like here in July.
The hotel was even nicer in the foyer than it was on the outside. There were several sitting areas adorned with what appeared to be antique Tiffany lighting. It was bigger than any hotel I had ever seen, and to think it at one time had been a private residence. What was the saying? Everything is bigger in Texas?
“Look, there’s a Starbucks over there.” Cooper nudged me to get my attention. “Why don’t you go get yourself a latte while I check us in.”
“You know me well,” I said, kissing him on the cheek. The Starbucks was just across the foyer. I walked over and got in line behind two beautiful, skinny blondes. I assumed they were part of the pageant, since the contestants were arriving today as well, but these girls looked well over the twenty-year-old age limit. Though looks could be deceiving these days and I was sure they were all of sixteen or something ridiculously young.
“And so I told him, like, if you want to stay with me you are not to be talking to her,” one of the blondes said to her friend. “And you better believe I’ve been checking his phone. He’ll be in trouble if I find out he’s been talking to her. It will be so over!”
“I don’t blame you. You turn your back for a minute and that bitch will be asking him to the prom,” her friend replied, tossing her hair back and forth and holding her hand out to examine her French manicure.
So I was right: looks were deceiving. These were obviously high school girls, and yet they looked my age. Just without the beginning of a few tiny wrinkles I had started to notice around the corners of my eyes. Which reminded me I needed to remember to ask my friend Anna the name of that eye cream she was using. They both ordered venti black coffees and almost sneered a resounding “no” when the barista asked them if they wanted room for cream. Oh, if only I had such willpower, I thought, as I ordered my usual venti skinny vanilla latte. Sure, it was nonfat milk and sugar-free syrup, but it still was one hundred sixty calories, and black coffee was a big fat zero. Why were those girls drinking coffee anyway? They were young and it wasn’t healthy. I hadn’t started my bad coffee habit until I was twenty-one. I needed the calcium, though, which was how I rationalized my couple-a-day latte habit, and you couldn’t get that through plain ole black coffee.
I saw Cooper walking over and headed in his direction.
“You get your latte?”
“I sure did! It’s just what I needed. We all checked in?”
“Yep. Room 2592. We need to take the second bank of elevators up. Let’s go check the room out, and then we have a one o’clock meeting with Harvey Taylor, the pageant organizer.”
I looked at my watch. Twelve fifteen. “Okay, sounds good.”
All of a sudden a piercing shriek rang through the foyer. Cooper and I both looked in the direction of the noise and saw a gathering of people over in the atrium.
“That’s Harvey, our client,” Cooper said. “We better see what’s going on.”
We quickly walked over to where the group was gathering.
The man Cooper called Harvey spotted us and he yelled for people to let us through. Cooper helped the cause by gently pushing his way in toward the center, where we soon saw a girl lying next to one of the benches. I thought maybe she could be sleeping, or at least hoped so. But unfortunately, she seemed a bit too still for sleeping, not to mention extremely pale, almost blue.
Cooper knelt down next to the girl, putting his ear toward her face, and then straightened back up a little to feel her neck for a pulse. He shook his head grimly. She was dead.
“What happened, Harvey?” Cooper asked quietly.
“I’m not sure. The girl is Hollie Landing. One of the other girls, Candy, found her like this a few minutes ago,” Harvey said, motioning to another beautiful blonde, who was crying and shaking next to him.
“Candy, I’m Cooper Sands. What can you tell me?”
“We had lunch and then were going back to our rooms to change and meet here to take a walk. When I got down here this is how I found her. Just lying next to the bench.” She started crying hard again.
“Did you see anyone down here? Anyone you didn’t recognize?”
“No,” she choked out.
“Did Hollie say if anyone had been bothering her?”
“Not to me. She was excited about her chances here. I don’t think anyone was harassing her if that’s what you mean. She would have told me. I’m her best friend.”
Cooper looked directly at her. “Candy, listen to me. We will find who did this. The police will be asking you the same questions. Make sure you tell them what you told me.”
“I…will,” she choked out.
Cooper turned to me. “I’m going to go talk to the police with Harvey. I need you to talk to the other girls and see what you can find out.”
“Will do, boss.”
Cooper just gave me a look. “Please try to stress the importance of them keeping this quiet. The less this gets around and embellished, the better.”
I nodded in agreement with what he was saying, but surely he knew keeping these girls from gossiping was akin to stopping me from drinking coffee, and well, let’s face it, that wasn’t too likely. People just liked to gossip, especially about macabre things such as this.
He walked away toward where the police, who had finally arrived, were talking to Harvey and some of the others gathered around.
When Cooper had finished talking with them and we finally headed up to our hotel room, I asked, “What did the police say?”
“They didn’t say much yet. They need time to complete their investigation, but they were more cooperative than many police are with firms like mine. A guy by the name of detective Miller who is heading up the investigation said they would share
information, within reason, and he’s going to call me tomorrow after the medical examiner takes a look at her. I said we would do what we could from our end in talking to the contestants and keeping our eyes open.”