Running “errands” for her mob-boss employer, Joey “The Knife” Manetto, often ends with Shelby in trouble, making her cautious about continuing her association with him. Instead, she focuses on a new client who hires Shelby to find her missing mother. What seems like a routine case turns into something more sinister and deadly than she ever imagined. In the meantime, Uncle Joey has summoned Shelby to his office, where she runs into her former nemesis. Shelby inadvertently hears something that makes her fear for the lives of Uncle Joey and his hit-man, Ramos. This time, Uncle Joey is not sure he wants to involve Shelby in something he knows could get her killed. Keeping Shelby’s involvement to a minimum has disastrous results, sending Shelby on a dangerous path. As her investigation unfolds, Shelby finds death at every turn, and soon realizes she is in over her head. Can she escape from danger in time? Or will she find herself deep in death?
A twinge of pain burned through my arm, and I gently rubbed the spot where I’d been shot nearly three weeks ago. Getting a shot in the arm may sound like a simple thing for most people, but when it’s done by a bullet, it’s a whole different story. At least it was healing nicely, and the scar wasn’t too big, but every once in a while my arm ached like it had happened yesterday, probably because I was overdoing it again. After a few seconds the pain subsided, and I finished pulling on my shirt and got dressed.
Today was my first day back at work since the shooting, and I was ready to take on a new project. This time the job was a client from my consulting agency, which suited me just fine. My last job for Uncle Joey, the local mob-boss, had gotten me both arrested for murder and shot by a bullet in the arm, so I was a little nervous about doing anything for him again.
A few months ago I had to tell Uncle Joey my secret that I could read minds so he wouldn’t kill me. We’d worked out a compromise, and over the course of our association, we’d even become close. Crazy as it sounded, I’d started to think of him as my real uncle, even though he wasn’t. Since most of his errands seemed to get me into trouble, he’d also saved my life a few times. Well, to be honest, it was his hit-man, Ramos, doing most of the saving. But it was Uncle Joey who’d told him to watch out for me.
I sighed every time I thought of Ramos. He had a troubled past which only I knew about, and I’d helped him come to terms with it. Besides saving my life several times, there was also a physical attraction that I only dared admit out loud to my best friend, Holly. Of course after seeing him, she had a crush on him too, and since we were both happily married, I had to think it was all right. But with all of that going on, I had to wonder about myself. I mean, Uncle Joey was a big, bad mob-boss who had threatened to do me bodily harm, and Ramos was his hit-man. They were the bad guys and I had a soft spot in my heart for them. Was something wrong with me?
My husband, Chris, had no qualms about severing all ties with Uncle Joey, and it put me in a hard spot trying to please them both. But since the last job, things had changed. After I got shot, Chris had a long talk with Uncle Joey, and I hadn’t heard from him in three weeks. In some ways it was a relief, but in others, I kind of missed him…and Ramos…well…mostly Ramos. Still, I wasn’t about to call and offer my services. Not considering what had happened last time. Nope. I wasn’t ready to get shot again. In fact, I would be pretty happy if I never saw another gun in my life.
I took a deep cleansing breath and checked the time. I had an appointment with my client at ten this morning, and it was time to go. Her name was Tiffany and this was her senior year of college. Since I didn’t have a real office, I’d told her we could meet at the campus library in-between her classes, and with her busy schedule, meeting on campus worked out great for both of us.
I drove through town with my windows down and breathed in the crisp fall air. It was the first part of October and the sky was the perfect color of blue. The trees were just beginning to change into brilliant autumn colors, and framed against the blue sky, the pure beauty and serenity lifted my spirits. With everything I’d gone through lately, I knew I was lucky to be alive.
I parked at the visitor parking meters near the library and headed toward the front of the building. It had been several years since I’d been there last, and a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I’d only been to one year of college before I’d talked Chris into marrying me. It was love at first sight for me, but it had taken some gentle persuading on my part to help Chris see how perfect we were together. Right after our marriage, we’d gone off to law school in another state. Josh had been born exactly nine months later followed by Savannah two years after that. There were times when I regretted not finishing college back then, but I wouldn’t trade the life I had now for anything.
I loved my family and, as it turned out, I had a pretty good career without a degree, and I was proud of what I’d accomplished. Of course, if I hadn’t gotten shot in the head during a bank robbery, which left me with the ability to read minds, it might be a different story.
It was still hard for me to believe how my life had turned upside down simply because I’d stopped at the grocery store for some carrots. Who would have thought? Now I had my own consulting agency where I could get paid for helping people, and most of the time, all I had to do was read their minds. Not that it was always that easy, but after getting shot, I’d take some simple cases for a while.
A young woman sat on a bench near the fountain where we’d planned to meet. Her gaze caught mine and her eyes widened slightly before she recognized me. As I approached, she smiled and gave me a quick wave. She had long blond hair and a sweet face, but her somber eyes seemed out of place for someone her age, like she’d gone through some hard times.
Since she was a college student, I was a little nervous that she couldn’t afford my one-hundred-and-fifty-dollar-an-hour fee. But we’d talked about that before I agreed to meet her, and she’d seemed fine with it then. She stood to greet me.
“Shelby Nichols? Hi. I’m Tiffany Shaw. Thanks for meeting me.”
“Hi Tiffany, nice to meet you in person,” I answered.
“I know this is kind of informal, but it’s such a beautiful day. Do you mind staying out here in the sunshine?”
“I think that’s a great idea.”
“Good.” She resumed her seat on the bench and I sat beside her. She was thinking that she wasn’t sure how to start. What she needed might not even be possible, but she’d read about me in the paper and figured if anyone could help her, it was me. She’d been saving up for years to hire a private investigator and wanted the best. After a little digging, she’d heard rumors that I had premonitions. It didn’t faze her in the least. In fact, after all this time, she thought it might be the only thing that would solve the case. She just had to make sure her dad didn’t find out, since he was the over-protective sort. He’d tell her she was throwing away her money, and probably accuse me of taking advantage of her.
That certainly put a lot of pressure on me, and my stomach tightened with dread that her father would disapprove. But since she was thinking about not telling him, maybe he’d never need to find out. Considering her age and circumstances, I had hoped she’d hired me for something easy, like finding out if her roommate was after her boyfriend. But no, she was thinking about her mother, and that she was probably dead, and I knew nothing was ever as easy as I wished.
“I’d like to hire you to find my mother.” Her lips tightened and pain flashed through her eyes. “You see…I’m getting married in a few weeks and I really want her to be there.” She didn’t add ‘if she’s still alive’ like she was thinking.
She’d always imagined her mother would be at her wedding, and now that it was actually happening, she couldn’t stop wondering where her mom was and what had happened to her. The day her mother had gone missing was the worst day of her life, and thinking about it brought all the horror back, but she knew she would never move on unless she had some answers.
“Tell me what happened,” I said gently.
She took a deep breath. “It’s been nearly six years, and I know that’s a long time, but just hear me out before you decide if you can take the job or not.”
“Okay.” I encouraged her with a smile. “Go on.”
“Like I said…it will be six years on the twenty-eighth of October since she went missing. That night, she drove to the office where she worked to drop something off and never came back. They found her car parked in the parking structure with the keys in the ignition. Her purse was on the passenger seat. Nothing was taken, and there was no sign of a struggle. It was like she just disappeared off the face of the earth.”
“What did the police tell you?”
“Well…they dusted for prints, checked her office, put out a missing person’s report, questioned her colleagues at work, and brought my father in for questioning.” She hated that they had suspected him. He was innocent. He had nothing to do with it. He loved her mom. It still made her angry. It was part of what had made the day so bad. She not only lost her mother, but her father was never the same after that.
“What happened to your father? Did they charge him with anything?”
Tiffany shook her head. “No. They had no evidence that he was involved, but the police always suspect the husband first. So it was bad enough that my mom disappeared, but the fact that they thought my dad had something to do with it made it ten times worse.”
She sighed, wondering for the thousandth time what kind of person she would be right now if she still had her mom. She’d probably be a lot happier, that was for sure. “My dad’s doing better now. He even got married a couple of months ago.”
“That’s good,” I said.
“Yeah.” She was glad he had finally moved on, and wished it was something she could do. But the ache just wouldn’t go away, especially with her upcoming wedding. This was the most important day of her life, and her mother should be there. So where was she? What had happened? Who had taken her? Why hadn’t she come home?
In her heart, she knew her mother never would have left unless she was forced into it. Speculation from the police and others of affairs, with her mom running off with another man, only deepened the wound, and she wouldn’t believe any of it. That’s why a small part of her had to believe her mom was dead, but what if she wasn’t? What if someone was holding her captive? It could happen, and she just couldn’t give up until she knew for sure.
“What did the police decide about the case?” I asked.
“Officially, she’s missing and presumed dead. At least that’s what they declared so my dad could re-marry. I don’t know what happened to the case files. But I’m hoping you can dig them up and maybe find something that got passed over. I know it’s a long shot, but I’ve never had the resources to hire a private investigator until now. Do you think you could look into it for me?”
I bit my bottom lip. The chances of finding out what happened at this point were pretty slim. My mind-reading ability wouldn’t be of much use, although I could still question her dad. Even though she didn’t think it was him, I’d learned that some people were really good at keeping secrets, and I wasn’t about to rule him out. I could probably get my hands on the police file and talk to the detectives who handled the case, but beyond that, I didn’t have much hope.
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As the author of the Shelby Nichols Adventure Series, Colleen is often asked if Shelby Nichols is her alter-ego. “Definitely,” she says. “Shelby is the epitome of everything I wish I dared to be.” Known for her laugh since she was a kid, Colleen has always tried to find the humor in every situation and continues to enjoy writing about Shelby’s adventures. “I love getting Shelby into trouble…I just don’t always know how to get her out of it!” Colleen lives in the Rocky Mountains with her family. Besides writing, she loves a good book, biking, hiking, and playing board and card games with family and friends. She loves to connect with readers and admits that fans of the series keep her writing.
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