Title: An Embarrassment of Itches
Author: M.K. Dean
Genre: Cozy Mystery
As a house-call vet, Ginny Reese has seen her share of the weird and wacky. But nothing in her previous experience could have prepared her to find one of her clients floating in her own swimming pool.
Local artist Amanda Kelly was extremely wealthy with her share of secrets. By naming Ginny as her heir, not only did she make Ginny the number one suspect, but she painted a big bull’s eye on her friend’s back as well.
With her trusty German Shepherd at her side, it’s up to Ginny to find the real killer and prove her innocence to the sheriff. The new sheriff. Who happens to be her ex.
Piece of cake, right?
The door opened, and a man I’d never seen before blew into the room like he owned it. If Brad was the epitome of the California Surfer Dude forced to work in an office, then this guy was Brooklyn Bad Boy personified. Dark hair shone with some sort of styling gel, and he appeared to be sporting at least two day’s growth of ferocious stubble. He wore a battered bomber jacket that had probably set him back at least five hundred bucks, paired with distressed jeans and black motorcycle boots.
The glance he flicked in my direction dismissed me instantly as not being worth his time. He cast a similar look at Laney, and all but sneered before taking a seat at the head of the table between us. “Ladies. Are they going to get this show on the road or what?”
I suppose had the new arrival not bruised my ego with his dismissal of my charms, I might have seen his appeal. In many ways, he was a grittier, edgier version of Joe, and Lord knows, I have a type. But Joe had ten times the animal magnetism of this guy, more so because I suspected this guy often felt the need to beat his chest.
The door opened once more, this time as the assistant ushered in Brad Taylor. He scowled at us all on entering and made a beeline for the coffee.
“Hey,” Brooklyn called out as the assistant was shutting the door. “How much longer is this going to take?”
The assistant fixed him with a steely-eyed glare. “Mr. Carter will be with you shortly.”
Brooklyn made a sound of disgust, took out his phone, and began scrolling. Brad, having poured himself a cup of coffee, seemed undecided as to where to sit, and finally took a seat between Brooklyn and Laney.
Pausing only to shoot me an unfriendly glare, Brad gave Laney a brief smile, as though they’d met before. Then he turned to Brooklyn and spoke in his stuffiest voice. “And you are?”
Brooklyn looked up from his phone with a wolfish smile. “I’m Derek Ellis. Samantha was my wife.”
And that, as they say, put the cat among the pigeons.
“She was what?” Brad sputtered, even as Laney’s eyes popped wide open and she gasped, “No way!”
“You heard me.” Ignoring Laney, Derek responded to Brad instead. “I’m Samantha’s legal husband. Which means all her stuff comes to me, not you.”
Brad half rose out of his seat. “Impossible. My sister never would have married the likes of you, and she wouldn’t have kept it a secret, either.”
“Don’t be so sure about that, pal. Who do you think gave her the idea to cut you guys out of her life? Go to New York and make a new life for herself? Me, that’s who.” Derek shot Brad a withering look that made him sink back into his chair.
“But that was at least five years ago.” Brad had the poleaxed expression of a man who’d just received word of a terminal disease. “She would have said something before now.”
Laney piped up. “She left New York a long time ago. Where have you been all this time? I’ve been Amanda’s agent for the last four years, and she’s never breathed a word about your existence.”
“Yeah? Well, she never mentioned you, either.” Derek lifted his lip in a perfect sneer.
Brad’s brows pulled together in a sudden scowl. “I’m not buying it. Sure, Sam abandoned her family—left me to run the company while still benefiting from the dividends—but we’d mended our fences. And she never said a word about being married. Prove it.”
“Prove what?” Derek leaned back in his seat and rested his elbow on the back of the chair. “That I’m her husband? Yeah, I thought you might want to see the certificate.” He pulled a folded document out of an inner pocket of the bomber jacket.
Brad made to snatch it away, but Derek whipped it out of reach and held it open. “Look but don’t touch.”
He positively gloated as both Brad and Laney craned forward to examine the unfolded certificate.
Brad made a noise of disgust and slammed back into his own seat. “That means nothing. So, you got married. There’s nothing to say you’re still married. You could have gotten divorced.”
“She didn’t divorce me.” The statement was delivered in a cold, flat tone that raised the hair on the back of my neck.
“Yeah, well we’ll see about that.” Brad pushed his hand through his hair angrily in a gesture that screamed his uncertainty.
Derek’s smug smile returned; there wouldn’t be any record for a divorce filing.
“Suit yourself.” Derek shrugged with a curve of his upper lip. “No matter what you think, I’m the legal heir.” He shot a malevolent glance at Laney. “Which means you can both stop panting over her crappy drawings. They’re mine, not yours.”
“If her work is so crappy, why do you care what happens to it?” I broke off a piece of cookie and popped it into my mouth.
Derek’s eyes went hard and still, like chips of flint. A wave of hostility emanated from him. If Brad had made me uncomfortable earlier in the evening, Derek triggered all my alarm bells.
“I’d lay off the cookies if I were you, sister.” Derek’s smile was toothy as he patted his stomach. He let that sink in a moment before adding, “Who the hell are you anyway?”
“I’m the vet.” Somehow my mouth kept running even after I should have shut up. “You know, the one skilled in castration and euthanasia.”
Brad’s coffee cup hit the table with a clatter, splashing coffee on his sleeve, which he mopped up with a napkin, cursing under his breath. Laney’s eyes went wide with suppressed glee, and she sat with the lively expression of a cat watching two mouseholes at once.
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