When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a car crash, Marla takes over as her baby’s guardian. No sooner does Marla say, “Baby want a bottle?” than she’s embroiled in another murder investigation. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident after all. But then, who would want Tally—or Ken in the car with her—out of the way?
Ken’s insurance agency was involved in a fraud investigation. Did someone mean to silence him? Or could something in Tally’s life have put her in jeopardy? She’d recently joined a tea ladies circle. Had she discovered secrets among the women that almost got her killed? Or could she be the target of a disgruntled employee from her dress shop? As Marla delves further into her friends’ backgrounds, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. Even so, Tally and Ken have trusted her with their child’s care. Can she protect the baby and find the culprit before someone else becomes roadkill?
Once again, salon owner Marla Vail must summon her sleuthing skills to track a murderer amid clues that hit close to home. Despite being busy with baby care, work at the salon, and her own family, she’s determined to find the person responsible for putting her friend in the hospital. She doesn’t anticipate the life-altering changes that may result from her actions.
“The story is engaging, sad, frightening and hopeful as Marla Vail’s friends, Ken and Tally, are in a car accident and Marla attains temporary custody of their young son Luke. As Dalton and Marla try to find out what happened, things seem to be way more involved than first thought. The author had me reading as fast as I could so I could find out how everything would evolve. I was kept mesmerized as I kept turning the pages. It totally left me hoping the author was writing the next book as fast as I was reading this one.” Sandy B., Goodreads Reviewer
“The story moved at a nice pace and had enough clues and suspects to keep the reader guessing until the final surprise reveal. I enjoyed the relationship between Marla and Dalton, as well as her interaction with her staff, and of course, Luke. I look forward to reading the next book in this series.” Linda K., Goodreads Reviewer
“I started this book and got so involved in the story that I could not put it down till I finished. It left me looking forward to the next one. Hopefully out soon!” Linda M., Goodreads Reviewer
“Overall, the book is good and characters believable. Kept me reading very late into the night. Double murder, cuddly baby to shake up a household and jobs. Insurance fraud. Loving couple chasing killers!” Shirley S., Goodreads Reviewer
“Wow! This was a really great read! Marla and Dalton make a wonderful team. Most stories do not have a cop being helped by a loved one. Even though this is Marla wanting to investigate Tally’s accident Dalton is right there investigating. I like how it shows some realistic dimensions to both of their professional lives; concerns about doing a good job professionally, doing what’s right and having a life of their own. This book is believable, well-written and well-developed. The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end.” Kathleen K., Goodreads Reviewer
“What’s keeping Dalton so long?” Marla said, casting an anxious glance at the doorway. She stood by the kitchen sink with a dishtowel in hand, wondering about the phone call that had torn her husband away from their guests on New Year’s Day. He should have returned the call later instead of disappearing into another room, especially with company over.
“Maybe your friends Tally and Ken are coming after all,” Marla’s mother, Anita, suggested. Her warm brown eyes regarded Marla from under a crown of short, white hair.
“If that’s the case, why would Tally notify Dalton instead of me?” Marla had invited the couple to their party, but Tally had declined. Her best friend hadn’t mentioned plans for their traditional New Year’s Eve date, either. If she didn’t feel like going out with a new baby at home, wouldn’t Tally have said so?
“Maybe it’s a work call.” Anita stacked a trio of dirty serving platters in the sink to free up more counter space.
“Dalton’s partner is supposed to be covering for him today.” As a homicide detective on the Palm Haven police force, Dalton was often on call. Marla had hoped that wouldn’t be the case during their party today. But when he reappeared in the kitchen doorway with a somber expression, her heart lurched. His news couldn’t be good.
“Can we talk in private?” he said, his voice gruff.
“Sure.” Marla tossed her dishtowel onto the kitchen counter and followed him toward the study. Laughter and chatter from their guests reached her ears as they passed the living room of their single-story house.
She faced Dalton inside their home office, where his tall frame and broad shoulders dominated the space. A lock of peppery hair fell across his brow, creased with concern.
“Tally and Ken are missing,” he began without preamble.
“What do you mean?”
“They went out last night and haven’t come home.”
“Who told you this?”
“Mrs. Phelps, their babysitter, phoned me. We’re on her emergency call list.”
“Luke is safe at home, then?” Marla couldn’t conceive of Tally leaving her four-month-old for any length of time.
“Yes, he’s okay. According to the sitter, Tally said they might be out late and would get a hotel room if that were the case. Mrs. Phelps fell asleep waiting for them. When they failed to show up this morning, she figured they were sleeping in. But as the day wore on, she got worried. She tried to call, but their phones went straight to voice mail.”
“Tally would never leave Luke for so long without contacting the sitter.” Marla didn’t voice her fear that something serious must have happened. Tally, in her mid-thirties, had tried to get pregnant for years. Their child meant everything to her. It was unimaginable for Tally to be apart from Luke for an entire day without notifying anyone.
“I called Kat and asked her to look into car accidents and hospital admissions,” Dalton added, compressing his mouth into a thin line.
Marla hoped his partner’s research wouldn’t bring bad news. She gaped at Dalton as the repercussions hit. “We have to get Luke. I’m listed as his guardian in the event—”
“I know. The sitter is packing the essentials for us.”
Tally and Ken had appointed Marla as the child’s guardian in their estate documents. Tally had no close relatives and didn’t trust her brother-in-law in that role. Phil, a confirmed bachelor, lived out west and preferred his single lifestyle.
“Let me try to call Tally,” Marla said, her throat dry. “Maybe she’ll answer if she sees me on the caller ID.”
“Don’t bother. I’ve already tried. This isn’t good, Marla.”
“I agree.” Icy fingers of dread made her stomach clench and her pulse race. “What will we tell people?”
“Tally has a family emergency and needs us to take her child for a few days.”
“Our mothers will want to know more.” Dalton’s parents were at the party along with Marla’s widowed mom and her latest boyfriend.
“We don’t have enough information at this point. We’ll have to break up the party, and then we’re outta here.”
So much for a peaceful start to the new year, Marla thought. Today should have been a time for celebration. She prayed it wouldn’t be a holiday that marked a tragedy hereafter.
Forty minutes later, they entered the development where Tally and Ken lived. The upscale community in the western suburbs of Fort Lauderdale boasted high-ceilinged homes with barrel-tile roofs and manicured lawns.
A sixtyish woman with bleached-blond hair answered the door at Tally’s house. After they identified themselves, Mrs. Phelps gestured for them to come inside.
“Thank God you’re here. I’ve been worried sick. Have you heard anything from Mrs. Riggs? She adores her son and would never neglect him like this.”
“Tally hasn’t called us either.” Marla entered the foyer. The smell of furniture polish mingled with the faint scent of vinegar used to clean tile floors.
“My partner, Lieutenant Katherine Minnetti, is investigating.” Dalton peered around the place as though searching for clues. “If you give me your contact information, ma’am, I’ll be in touch when we learn more.”
“Oh, please. I couldn’t bear it if something terrible has happened to them.” The sitter’s round face paled, reminding Marla of pastry dough, especially with the woman’s rotund figure.
The living room stretched to a set of French glass doors that opened onto a screened patio. The aqua water in the fenced pool looked pristine, as though the pool service guy had just been there. Every surface indoors, too, appeared freshly wiped down. Marla wondered if Tally had been upset recently. She tended to clean when stressed.
A baby’s gurgle turned her toward the sound. Luke sat in his stroller in the formal dining room that opened into the kitchen. She padded over to greet him while Dalton questioned the sitter regarding Tally’s whereabouts. The baby wiggled his arms and legs in constant motion, cooing when he spotted Marla. She smiled in response, stooping to take hold of his tiny hand. Poor little thing. Her chest tightened. Tally would never abandon her child.
The sitter wrung her hands as she related her story. “Mrs. Riggs … Tally … said they hadn’t meant to go out on New Year’s Eve. She was sorry for calling me last-minute, but her husband had an urgent work-related appointment. Tally decided to accompany him, saying they’d go out for dinner afterwards. They were lucky I was free. I’d been booked for the night, but the wife got sick and the couple cancelled.”
“I gather you’ve worked for Tally before?” Dalton inquired.
“Oh, yes. I live in the neighborhood. I’m widowed, you see, and I like to help the young mothers who want an evening out. Plus, the extra cash comes in handy.” She collected her handbag from a nearby chair.
“What time did Tally say they’d be home?”
“She didn’t. As I told you on the phone, she said they might be late, in which case they’d get a hotel room. I expected to hear from her this morning, even if they’d slept in. I got worried when Tally didn’t contact me and I couldn’t reach either one of them. Look, I wrote down Luke’s feeding schedule. It’s in the kitchen, along with his diaper bag.”
“Thanks, I’ll get them,” Marla replied. At least Tally hadn’t been breast-feeding. That would have been awkward. Her friend wanted to regain her figure fast and go back to work at her dress boutique. Had the employees there heard from her? No, the shop was closed for the holiday. And why would Tally contact them and not the babysitter?
“How did Tally seem when she spoke to you?” Dalton persisted.
Marla recognized his hunched shoulders as a sign of tension. His anxiety increased her own concern. She gnawed at her lower lip, letting go of the baby’s fingers and straightening her spine. She’d better see what was packed in that bag before the sitter left.
“She appeared rattled, if you ask me,” Mrs. Phelps said with a shrug. “Her words came in a rush, and her face looked drawn. Her husband, Ken, was already in the car when I arrived.”
Had Tally suspected his call wasn’t work-related at all, but instead was an assignation with another woman? Marla had spied him coming out of a restaurant with a brunette one day while driving through Wilton Manors. So when Tally complained that he was acting distant, Marla wondered if he was having an affair. Castaway Café seemed an odd choice for him to meet somebody without being noticed. A heterosexual couple would stand out in that place where gays congregated. Then again, no one would think to look for Ken there.
Anyway, was this why Tally had joined him last night? To see if he was lying to her? Or did she already know the truth? Tally had been evasive in her conversations with Marla lately, so maybe she’d discovered what Ken had been hiding.
Marla wandered into the kitchen and spotted the bulging bag on the counter. A quick glance confirmed its contents. She found the feeding schedule and stuffed it inside. Then she scanned the countertops, searching for messages or any other indication of where Tally and Ken might have gone. Nada. The dish drainer was empty, the counters clean. No stray papers cluttered the granite. Things were almost obsessively neat.
With a sigh, Marla slung the bag’s strap over her shoulder. Holy highlights, that thing weighed a ton! How did mothers do it? Back in the living room, she shot a panicked glance at Dalton as he shut the door on the babysitter’s retreating back.
“Wait, how will I know what to do?”
Dalton rounded on her, his eyebrows arched and his gray eyes like polished pewter. “What’s there to know? You change the kid’s diapers, feed him, and put him to sleep.”
Oh, yeah. Easy for you to say. You’ve been through it once with your daughter.
“Put him to sleep in what? We don’t have a crib in our house.”
“That’s okay; we’ll rig something up that will work for tonight. This shouldn’t last too long. Tally and Ken will reappear at some point.”
“Yes, but what if they don’t? I mean, we’re not equipped to handle an infant. Our house isn’t child-proofed. We don’t have a crib or a changing table or any of the other stuff.”
“Including a car seat, now that you mention it. I’ll look in the garage. Maybe Tally’s BMW is still inside.” He loped off in that direction, hollering a few minutes later that Tally’s car was parked there, and he’d retrieve her equipment.
Meanwhile, Marla wondered what she would do if Tally failed to show up in a timely manner. She had clients scheduled at the salon, as well as other commitments.
Dear Lord. Her throat closed until she reminded herself this wasn’t about her. It was about caring for Luke.
Moisture tipped her lashes. Nothing terrible had better have happened to his parents. Whatever the reason for their absence, she’d give Luke her loving care. Ensuring his safety was all that mattered. And Brianna could help. Dalton’s fifteen-year-old daughter might get a kick out of having a baby in the family, if only temporarily. They’d figure out the rest as they went along.