Authors: Katie Graykowski
ALSO BY KATIE GRAYKOWSKI
The Lone Stars
The Debra Dilemma
PTO Murder Club Mystery
Rest in Pieces
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Katie Graykowski
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa
For Uncle Virgil—southern gentleman, cattleman, lover of children . . . I miss you.
CanDee McCain leaned over to get a better look at the framed marriage license hanging on the wall. Carlton Rose had married Prudence Althea Lehman in 1867.
That was a freaking long time ago.
Maybe if she stopped living and writing in the past, she could murder some modern-day people. Her mailman, for starters, and then there was the lady at the DMV. She definitely had it coming.
Or Phillip. If anyone deserved to be murdered in some horrible fashion, it was her ex. Not only had he stolen the first draft of her mystery novel, he’d published it under his own name and now it was a
New York Times
best seller. He deserved beheading by spork . . . a dull one. Or possibly hanging or submersion in acid. She nodded to herself. Acid it was.
She pulled a yellow legal pad out of her battered leather tote, intending to make a note of the marriage date. She dug around for a pencil. Where was it? She shuffled through sticky notes, breath mints, tampons, more sticky notes, receipts, one pearl earring, lip gloss, a travel-sized deodorant, a letter opener. A letter opener? What the hell?
Damn, she could never find her pencil or her car keys. There had to be some mystical vortex that sucked up her pencils and keys. That was the only explanation. She gave up. She’d just come back later and take notes. Hell, she was scheduled to be here for the next six weeks, and it wasn’t like this picture was going anywhere.
The Rose family was paying her a nice chunk of change to research and write their family history. Six weeks away from her latest mystery manuscript wasn’t a lifetime . . . and she’d have money to pay her bills. Really, six weeks was nothing. Only, her heart wasn’t in genealogy—it was in psychological thrillers with lots of twists and turns.
What were the chances that the Rose family’s history would have twists and turns? She rolled her eyes. This was her fifth nonfiction book and second large-family-ranch genealogy. Genealogy wasn’t mystery, but a girl had to eat. She wanted to murder people in gruesome ways, but alas, she was stuck on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere, writing a family history that no one outside the family would ever care to read.
She flipped her pad back to the front page. According to her notes, the Texas Rose Ranch was a multibillion-dollar operation. At eight hundred thousand acres, it was the second largest ranch in Texas—a mere twenty-five thousand acres smaller than the King Ranch, but a hundred times more profitable. Her definitive work on the King Ranch was currently ranked at 1,800,092 on Amazon Best Sellers. It held the spot right under
1040-ME: Memoirs of an IRS Part-time/Seasonal Employee
and right above
Colorectal Bleeding: It Anus Your Fault.
It was good to know that she’d edged out colorectal bleeding . . . that was something. She moved on to the photo to the left of the marriage certificate. It was a tintype of two men. She glanced down at the typed plaque underneath.
Col. Lacy Kendall Lehman and his wife Brunhilda Arndorfer Lehman (née Hitzler)
“Which one of them is Brunhilda?” She leaned in closer and flipped her cream-colored rhinestone cat-eye glasses to the top of her head. Surely the one with the bushy mustache wasn’t female.
“She’s on the right.”
CanDee just about jumped a foot in the air as her heart hammered against her rib cage. She’d been sure that she was alone in this sixteen-by-five building the family called the “museum,” which housed a freakin’ lot of photos. “You scared me.”
She turned around and came face to chest with the tallest man she’d ever met. In her stockinged feet, she was six feet. In the heels she was wearing now, she was six feet five. She tilted her head up. He had to be close to seven feet tall. He made her feel small . . . that was a first.
“Sorry to scare you, ma’am. I bet you’re here to see me.” His voice held just enough Texas to be charming, and his aqua-blue eyes crinkled at the corners in merriment. His skin was tanned from years baking out in the sun, and his chambray shirt and faded Wranglers were dusty. His thick black hair was dented all the way around from the battered white Stetson he was now holding. He was a ranch hand. She’d met more than her fair share on the King Ranch.
“No worries.” She turned back to the picture. “Are you sure Brunhilda’s the one without the mustache?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve been told she was even more dour in person.” He pointed one callused finger at the picture. “Supposedly she made the best peach preserves around.”
She settled her glasses back on her nose. “I’m still not convinced.”
She glanced over her shoulder.
He grinned and dimples popped out on both cheeks. “Now that I really look at her, I’m inclined to agree. She is definitely the more masculine of the two, but Lacy Kendall Lehman is sitting on the left.”
“Lacy? That must have been a tough name for a man. I bet he got beat up a lot.” And Kendall wasn’t much better. It was funny, now the Kindle was a device that had taken the place of paper books. The spelling was different, but the pronunciation was the same as the name. “Thanks for your help. I’m CanDee McCain.”
She held out her hand.
A slow smile crept across his face.
“Cinco.” He transferred the Stetson to the crook of his left arm. He couldn’t have been more than thirty-five. He held more than shook her hand and his gaze stayed on hers. He was handsome in a rugged cowboy way, and she’d been known to mix a little business with pleasure, but she wasn’t looking to make this assignment any more complicated. Too bad—he looked like he’d be good at pleasure. She fought the urge to run her gaze down his lanky body.
“Nice to meet you, Cinco.” She’d met all sorts of oddly named ranch hands. At the King Ranch alone there’d been a Snake, Dumbo, Puddin’, Two Fingers, and Bunchy . . . even a Snatch. She’d learned not to ask how they’d gotten their nicknames.
“Likewise, ma’am.” He finally dropped her hand, but his gaze stayed on her. He wasn’t massaging her with his gaze so much as drinking her in. “Want to get started?”
She looked down at her notes. She was supposed to meet with Dr. Lucy Rose—the matriarch of the family. According to her research, Dr. Rose was a busy surgeon at the local hospital. Maybe something had come up and she’d sent Cinco instead? He seemed to know a lot about the family.
“Okay, sure. Let me find my pencil.” She dug around in her leather bag some more. “I know it’s here somewhere.”
“Allow me.” There was a slight tug on her hair, which then fell in one long wave down her back. Duh, she’d shoved her pencil in her French twist to hold it up.
“You have beautiful hair. It’s the color of a shiny penny.” He handed
her the pencil and his gaze moved to the V of her cardigan sweater.
This morning, she hadn’t been able to find the shell that went under it, so she’d buttoned it all the way up. Well, except for the top three buttons that were missing. It showed a respectable amount of cleavage—she glanced down and cringed—if she were working the pole on amateur night. Her sweater gaped open. If she pulled it together, that would draw even more attention to her chest. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, so she just stood there with her boobs practically falling out.
She took the pencil and moved the notepad so that it blocked his view. Problem solved.
“I like this whole naughty-librarian thing you’ve got going.” His gaze finally made it up to hers. “Are the glasses real? They look real.”
“I beg your pardon?” This was the strangest family interview she’d ever been on.
“I expected the shoes, but the boring black shirt and pink sweater aren’t what I’d pictured.” He walked over to the door, plucked up a wooden straight-backed chair, set it down in front of her, and sat. His grin was downright sexy.
She’d expected him to offer the chair to her. Apparently his manners only went so far. She checked her watch. It was three in the afternoon. Maybe he’d been on his feet all day and was tired.
So he didn’t like her outfit. Who cared?
“Okay, um . . .” She unlooped her bag from her shoulder and set it on the floor next to the wall. She leaned against the wall and flipped to a clean page on her notepad. “How long have you worked for the Roses?”
He scratched his jaw and then pointed to her pad. “You’re really into this. I like that.”
She wasn’t sure what that meant. Clearly he’d been out in the sun for way too long. “I take my job very seriously.”
He laced his fingers behind his head and stretched his legs out in front of him, crossing his left ankle over his right. “I’m counting on it.”
She tried again. “How long have you worked for the Roses?”
“All my life, sweetheart.” He nodded absently. “Wouldn’t you like to get started? These questions really add to the whole mood, but I’d rather cut to the chase.”
The hair on the back of her neck stood up. “I’m sorry?”
“No need to be sorry, sweetheart, but I’d like to get this show on the road. I’ve been in the saddle since six this morning, I need a shower, and then my brothers are throwing me a surprise birthday party after the official party my parents are hosting. I half expected you to be at the after-party. That’s usually how it works.”
“What?” She took a step back. “A party? I don’t know—”
“Don’t you have some music? If not, that’s okay. I’m flexible.” He pointed to the front of her sweater. “Why don’t you start with your sweater? Undo the buttons slowly and take it off.”
She glanced down at her sweater. “What the hell?”
“I don’t mean to tell you your craft, but all this talking is starting to get on my nerves. I know they ordered a sexy librarian, but it’s time to get down to business. Maybe this will help.” He pulled a roll of money out of his back pocket and swiped off five bills. They sailed to her feet.
She couldn’t help but notice they were hundreds.
She sucked on her bottom lip. That would pay off her American Express card. She was halfway tempted to pick them up. “I think there’s been some sort of mistake. I’m here to—”
“Sweetheart, I know you’re my birthday present. Last year my brothers got me a midget—excuse me, little-person—stripper. She also did acrobatics.” He shook his head. “This year I can see they went more . . . you know . . . average.”
“Wait a minute—”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re easy on the eyes . . . that’s all that counts.” He sat up. “I bet you’re a gymnast or a fire-breather. There’s bound to be more to you than just those sexy glasses.”
She took another step back and banged into the wall. A framed photo came crashing down and bounced off the floor, and the glass shattered.
“Don’t worry about that . . . keep going.” He nodded his head to the rhythm of some imaginary music. “Don’t worry about the music, I’ve got some going in my head.”
“I’m not a stripper. I was hired to—”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. Exotic dancer.” His gaze fastened on her chest as his head continued to nod to some song that only he could hear.
With a name like CanDee McCain, this wasn’t the first time she’d been mistaken for a stripper—at least on paper. Once they saw her, there was no doubt that stripping wasn’t her profession. She wasn’t particularly well endowed, and apart from her long legs, no man had ever really commented on the rest of her body.
“I can see that the music is an issue for you.” He pulled an iPhone out of his back pocket. He swiped his finger across the screen and Katy Perry’s “Roar” roared out.
“I would have never taken you for a Katy Perry fan.” Somehow this seemed more ridiculous than his taking her for a stripper.
“I’m a very complex man,” he said over the music as he stood. “I can see that you’re new at this. I’ll start.”
He gyrated his hips—it was part hula-hoop and part seizure. Whatever rhythm he was dancing to wasn’t coming out of his iPhone. He added some arm movements that looked like he was flapping his wings to take flight. He moved into a hop-shuffle thing that reminded her of Tripod, the blind, arthritic, three-legged dog she’d had as a child. She couldn’t help but stare. It was like driving by a car wreck. She tried to look away but ended up rubbernecking.
“What in the hell is going on?” A female voice called from the front door. A petite woman marched more than walked up to them. She grabbed the phone out of Cinco’s hand and turned off the music. She had penetrating aqua eyes and a razor-sharp blond bob.
“Trust me, you’re not going to want to stay for this.” Cinco pointed to CanDee. “CanDee McCain here is my birthday present. You’re not going to like it.”
The woman’s eyes turned as big as teacups and she turned to CanDee. “I’m Lucy Rose.” She stuck out her hand.
CanDee shook it once and then dropped it.
“Miss McCain, I am so sorry. I can’t apologize enough for my eldest son. Usually, he’s more respectful of women.” She went up on her tippy-toes and tried to smack him on the back of the head, but only made it to the middle of his back.
CanDee picked up her leather bag, debated a split second about the hundreds on the floor, chose to ignore them, and shoved her notepad into the bag. “I think it’s time for me to leave.”
“Please stay. I don’t know what this imbecile has done, but I can assure you it won’t happen again.” The woman shot Cinco a mom death-glare.