The Michaela Bancroft Mysteries 1-3

BOOK: The Michaela Bancroft Mysteries 1-3
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The Michaela Bancroft Mysteries 1-3
Michele Scott
(2011)

For a limited time fans of the Michaela Bancroft Mysteries can receive the first three books together for one great low price on your Kindle!

In SADDLED WITH TROUBLE Horse trainer Michaela Bancroft has worked hard to make it in the man's world of training and showing quarter horses. After her husband leaves her for a twenty-two-year-old rodeo queen, she's left with a broken heart and mounting debts. Then death strikes and Michaela is suddenly...Saddled With Trouble. Michaela is trying to rein in her life when she finds her Uncle Lou murdered in his prize stallion's stall. As she fends off debt collectors--and her ex-husband's renewed interest in her--Michaela begins to suspect that the killer may be someone close to her. When she's nearly run off the road the night after her uncle's funeral, Michaela is convinced she's on the fast track to becoming the next victim.

Michaela’s adventures continue in DEATH REINS IN as Michaela is headed out for a day at the Quarter Horse Races with her dear friend Audrey Pratt. However, a fun day under the Southern California blue skies turns dark and gloomy rather fast, when Audrey reveals that her brother (racetrack veterinarian) Bob Pratt has been missing for a few days. Michaela suspects that Bob may be out on a binder and hopes that isn't so, as Audrey has recently put her brother through rehab. But when Audrey winds up murdered at the races, out on the back forty lot next to the parked horse trailers, Michaela suspects that Bob's disappearance and Audrey's murder are related. She is determined to find out who did this horrible thing to her friend and locate Audrey's missing brother.

In the third segment in this mystery series TACKED TO DEATH A new tack shop and a gala polo match are reasons to celebrate for Michaela-until equestrian Sterling Tabor is found clubbed to death with a polo mallet. Worse yet, suspicion falls on Michaela... The weapon belongs to Michaela, her prints are all over it, and rumors of her alleged affair with the victim aren't helping. With her boyfriend Detective Jude Davis out of town, Michaela doesn't stand a chance of proving her innocence and clearing her name unless she delves into Tabor's mysterious life-and death-on her own. But in unearthing a real suspect and a motive, she discovers a deadly past. One that sends the killer after Michaela herself.

The Michaela Bancroft Mysteries 1-3

Saddled with Death

Death Reins In

Tacked to Death

A.K. Alexander

Table of Contents

Saddled with Trouble

Death Reins In

Tacked to Death

Saddled with Trouble

A.K. Alexander

Saddled with Trouble

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

SADDLED WITH TROUBLE

Copyright © 2011 by Michele Scott.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

To Mom and Dad,
who nurtured my love of horses

Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

EPILOGUE

AUTHOR'S NOTE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to thank my cousin and lifelong horse enthusiast Jessica Hanson for helping me with the research on this book; my friend and horse expert Nikki Shea for being a first reader; Bob Avila and Dana for allowing me to come up to their amazing facility and meet some gorgeous animals (Rocky included); Brian Davis of the Santa Rosa Police Department; Mike Sirota for his continued dedication to me and my writing; my agent, Jessica Faust; and my editor, Samantha Mandor.

ONE

MICHAELA BANCROFT DIDN'T HEAR HER SWORN enemy walking up behind her until it was too late.

"Working overtime?" Kirsten Redmond said.

Michaela whipped around in her desk chair, where she'd been sitting for thirty minutes going over finances. She immediately stood up. "What do you want, Kirsten?"

"I know you received some very important papers early this afternoon from our attorney, and I'd like them signed, sealed, and delivered as soon as possible, so that Brad and I can get on with our lives."

Michaela brushed a patch of dirt off her Wrangler Jeans. She'd been working with the horses and out in the barn all day and knew that her appearance wasn't remotely close to Miss Glamour Puss's here. The thought caused a flutter of discomfort. "You amaze me. What, do you have your little hair-sprayed, fake-bake, plastic Barbie doll-looking friends spying on me? Because it truly is a wonder how you know every little detail of my life. Or maybe you're screwing the mailman, too. Does his wife know? What, did he give you a call as soon as he delivered the papers?" She hated sounding so bitchy. God, why couldn't she just turn her back and ignore Kirsten?

"You're such a bitch."

That was why. Not that she
was
a bitch, but Kirsten and Brad had sort of pushed her into that category and she was living up to it, at least at that moment. "Yeah, well, it takes one to know one. Now, be a good girl and run along and play dress up or paint-your-nails with your girlfriends. Okay?"

"At least I
have
friends."

"Oh, that hurt. And, you probably have some real quality conversations with them. You know, about important subjects like what color hat and boots you'll wear to this year's Miss Rodeo Pageant. C'mon, Kirsten, give up the dream. You're a bit too old for the crown and from what I know of rodeo queens, they have a lot more class, know how to ride a horse, and have a brain. Oh yeah, and they're what, usually about five years younger than you are?"

Kirsten frowned. "I was Miss Rodeo of Indio, you know."

"Yeah, five years ago. I think I do remember. Wasn't there some article about the Coachilla Valley being desperate for entrants?" Michaela smiled sweetly, knowing she was getting the best of Kirsten.

Kirsten stomped her foot. "At least I've got Brad and you don't, and as soon as you get those papers taken care of we can start planning our future and I can start thinking about what color to paint our nursery. We want
lots
of children."

"I feel sorry for those kids." Michaela's stomach tightened and she clenched her fists.

"Just sign the papers."

"Just go away. Bye, bye." She waved at her. "Some of us have important things to do."

Kirsten stood her ground, planting her light pink Justin boots into the dirt. Her long blonde hair hung loose down her back, and her overly made-up face caused her to look aged and brittle for someone who couldn't be over twenty-five. She shoved her hands into her plastered-on jeans, belted in by a bright silver belt buckle— her Miss Rodeo Indio silver belt buckle.

"Listen. I've asked you to leave nicely. I don't have time for your games. Trust me, I don't want Brad within fifty feet of me. Why you feel the need to annoy me like this is very confusing.
I've
moved on."

"Great, so you'll sign the papers?"

Michaela sighed and forced a smile. "The papers. Yeah, well see, those divorce papers aren't your concern. It's really between Brad and me."

"Not really. We want to get married. Brad just got a new truck. A Ford F-350. It has a backseat. We got the backseat for when we start having babies. And, trust me, it won't be long."

Anger rose from Michaela's gut and rushed straight to her brain. "As I told you, I don't want Brad back at all. Here's the problem, though: Brad owes me a lot of money from debts incurred by him, and I want that money. When I get it, I will sign the papers. Maybe he should think about returning the truck."

"
I
bought the truck. And, Brad would be able to pay you off on
your
debt if your uncle hadn't fired him."

"That debt is
our
debt, not just mine. And, as for my uncle Lou firing Brad, that was cut and dry: Brad wasn't showing up for work even before Lou discovered what was going on between you two, but once he did and showed me the proof, Brad never even phoned Lou. I don't think my uncle had much of a choice, other than to let him go."

"Whatever. You are so gonna be s.o.l. if you don't make a move quick and sign the paperwork." Kirsten did the hair flick thing, a sign of her disdain for Michaela.

All it did was make Michaela want to laugh. "Let me give it to you in simple speak. Brad is an adulterer, so I will sue him to my heart's content until he pays me back every dime, and something tells me that the judge is going to be on my side. Or, how about this? I just won't sign the papers
ever
and all those babies you're talking about having will automatically have a stepmommy."

"You can't do that!" Kirsten whined.

"Watch me." Michaela was aware that she really couldn't. After all, it was California, and she knew she only had thirty days to sign the papers or contest the decree before she defaulted. She was banking on Little Miss Hot Pants not being exactly well-versed in California state divorce law. But, surely Brad's lawyer was, and no matter how Michaela tried to play it, she'd likely be
forced
to sign those papers. She also knew that she would probably have to sue Brad for what he owed her in medical bills, and rumor had it he was going to file bankruptcy, which meant that she wouldn't ever see a penny from him. The lawyer fees alone in taking Brad to court would put her out of business. She knew Brad was living off Kirsten, so why not sign the papers and be free of him, her, and the whole mess? Because
they'd
stuck it to her and she wasn't about to let them get the best of her. Not yet, anyway.

Kirsten turned on her heel in a huff and marched out. Michaela walked out of her office and peered outside the breezeway, watching Kirsten roar away in her red convertible Mustang GT, kicking up dust all the way along Michaela's drive. Talk about trouble. Michaela shook her head and let out a long sigh. What she'd ever seen in Brad Warren was beyond her, because anyone who could fall for a tramp like Kirsten was not a man she would ever want to be involved with. But she had been, and as Mom always liked to spout the age-old adage, "You made your bed," now she'd have to lie in it.

She turned and headed back to the barn to say her good-nights to all the horses down the row. She stopped at the end— at Leo's stall. Her ten-month-old colt glanced out, then returned to his dinner. Michaela had big plans for the little guy. She'd nurtured him from the night he'd been born last March and for a time it had been touch and go. She hadn't known if he'd make it…

THE EARLY SPRING NIGHT STILL HAD A CHILL IN the air. Michaela held a thermos of coffee in her hand as she curled up on a cot inside her office, checking on her mare every hour or so and listening intently for any sounds that might echo down the breezeway, alerting her that the time had come. Cocoa, her brown Lab, lay at her feet, snoring. Michaela had put a blanket over the aging dog. Usually by this time of night the two of them would be sound asleep in the house.

Her mother, after calling earlier, stopped by and brought her some homemade chicken noodle soup and coffee, aware that Michaela would be keeping vigil into the wee hours. It didn't matter how many foals Michaela had seen born in her thirty-two years. It never ceased to amaze her.

Around 1 A.M., as she drifted off to sleep, a thud woke her. She hurried into the stall. The mare eyed her from her straw bed.

Michaela went inside and knelt down beside her, stroking her face. "I know, girl. It's okay. You're all right. You're all right."

Little Bit let out a groan and lifted her head, groaned again, and laid it back down.

"Easy, easy. You're doing good. Good girl."

The mare's water broke and wet her underside. This was it. Michaela went around to Little Bit's backside. The front hooves came first, and then the long spindly legs, revealing black legs like Little Bit's. Next, a tiny face with a small star on it poked through, and with one final push the foal slid out, slippery and covered in the birthing sac, which with Michaela's assistance came right off. She took a hand towel from her jacket pocket and wiped the foal's nostrils and eyes. The foal struggled, laid back down and struggled again. Michaela wiped the tears from her face. The miracle of life.

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