Authors: Stephanie Bond
4 BODIES AND A FUNERAL
Carlotta Wren skidded onto the sales floor of the Neiman
Marcus at Lenox Square in Atlanta soaked in a flop sweat.
Late on her first day back—minus ten points.
Carlotta turned and manufactured a smile for Lindy
Russel , her boss, who was standing with arms crossed.
“Thank you. It’s good to be back.”
Lindy pursed her mouth. “Too bad you couldn’t make this
morning’s staff meeting.”
Carlotta’s smile wavered, but she massaged the flexible
cast on her arm. “Sorry. This morning was the first time I’d
driven in a while, and my car battery was dead.” She didn’t
think it would help to mention that the MARTA trains were
being single-tracked for construction. Stil , she decided not
to dwell on transportation chal enges since her recent
medical leave had come on the heels of a two-week
suspension to “get her personal issues worked out.”
Personal issues such as her brother’s gambling debts, her
ruined credit, the fact that her parents were long-lost
fugitives…and oh, she’d been entangled in a couple of
murders as a by-product of her part-time hobby as a body
mover for the morgue.
“Things happen,” Lindy conceded. “Is your arm healing
Carlotta flexed the fingers of the arm that had been
broken when a kil er had pushed her over the balcony of
the Fox Theatre, where she’d dangled with her skirt
around her waist for all the attendees of an Elton John
concert to see. “Almost as good as new.” Though, at the
moment it was throbbing like a toothache.
Sympathy crossed Lindy’s face. “I can’t tel you how sorry I
am about Michael.”
Michael Lane, aka the person who’d pushed her over the
balcony, had been Carlotta’s former coworker and friend.
He’d also turned out to have some very dark secrets.
“Me, too,” Carlotta murmured, wishing her heart could be
splinted like her arm had been.
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard from him?”
She shook her head. “I was told he’s in the psych ward at
Northside Hospital until he’s deemed competent to stand
“So terrible.” Lindy sighed, then checked the clipboard she
held. “Wel , life goes on, doesn’t it?”
Carlotta blinked. It was true, but stil …
“I’m glad you could come back in time for the Eva McCoy
appearance.” Lindy swept her arm toward the small dais
that had been erected on the sales floor with several rows
of cordoned-off chairs for seating.
Olympian Eva McCoy’s return to her hometown had been
hyped on all the media outlets for weeks. “That’s today?”
Lindy arched an eyebrow.
Carlotta backpedaled. “I mean…that’s today.”
“Since you missed the staff meeting, here’s the info.” Lindy
handed over a memo. “It’s going to be a mob scene so I’l
need all my best employees on the floor.”
Pleasure suffused Carlotta’s chest—her history of being a
consistent top salesperson stil meant something.
“And here’s one now,” Lindy said, looking past Carlotta’s
shoulder. Carlotta turned and swallowed a curse when she
saw Patricia Alexander, aka Stepford Salesclerk, complete
with rounded-col ar suit, helmet hair and strand of pearls,
walking toward them.
The blonde flashed a waxy smile. “I’d heard you were
coming back, Carlotta, but when I didn’t see you at this
morning’s staff meeting, I assumed that something else
had happened. You’re so…accident prone.”
Carlotta’s mouth tightened.
“I’ll let you two catch up for a couple of minutes before
the crowd arrives,” Lindy said, handing them each a rol of
tickets to be passed out to customers who wanted to meet
the guest of honor. Then she gave Carlotta a pointed look.
“I tend to agree with Patricia. There’s going to be a lot of
security on hand today, so try not to do anything that
might draw extra attention.” Lindy walked off, leaving
Carlotta properly chastised—in front of her nemesis.
“Ouch,” Patricia chirped.
Carlotta was able to hold her tongue because she knew
she deserved far worse from her boss than a reprimand
for all her…mishaps. Determined to get along with Lindy’s
new pet employee, she turned toward Patricia. “I suppose
you took Michael’s place in Shoes?”
“Yes. It’s such a shame, isn’t it, that he turned out to be
Carlotta bit her tongue.
“So, I’l bet you’re happy to be back to work,” Patricia
offered. “You were probably bored to tears doing nothing
“I didn’t exactly do nothing,” Carlotta muttered, although
she couldn’t exactly tel Patricia about the road trip she’d
taken with Coop for a VIP body pickup, the unexpected
appearance of her father, and the capture of a murderer
while she’d been “incapacitated,” on leave with a broken
arm. Instead she pasted on a smile. “But I am happy to be
back in my element.”
Patricia made rueful noises in her throat. “I hope you had
time to rest, you poor thing. The heartbreak you’ve been
through the past decade—you must be close to the brink
of insanity yourself.”
Carlotta’s hands fisted. Patricia moved in the Buckhead
social circles, so she knew the sordid Wren family
history—that ten years ago Carlotta’s father had been
accused of stealing from his investment clients and had
skipped town rather than face a trial, with her mother in
tow, abandoning Carlotta and her younger brother to fend
At the thought of her brother, Wesley, Carlotta stole a
glance at her watch. He should be arriving at the Fulton
County D.A.’s office right about now, hopeful y working
out a plea agreement, testifying against one of his loan
sharks in return for reduced charges for his part in the
attempted theft of a body. His attorney, Liz, was hopeful
that Wesley would get off with having his community
service sentence from a prior computer hacking charge
extended. But Carlotta was worried that even Liz Fuck-Me
Fischer wouldn’t be able to parlay enough sexual favors to
make it happen. Carlotta had wanted to go with Wesley
today, but he’d refused, saying it was something he
needed to take care of himself. It might have been the
moment she’d been most proud of him.
Except for the fact that he could be sitting in a jail cel
before her shift ended.
What would she do for bail money? And what if Wesley
didn’t get out this time?
Patricia waved her hand in front of Carlotta’s face. “Did I
“No,” she said, squaring her shoulders. “And I’m coping
with everything just fine.”
Patricia leaned in. “If you need something to take the edge
off, I can spot you some antianxiety meds.”
“No, thank you,” Carlotta said through gritted teeth,
although beneath the cast her arm was hot with pain.
Knowing it would real y hurt, though, if she slugged the
woman, Carlotta changed the subject. “Looks like we’re
going to have a big crowd today for Eva McCoy.”
“Yeah, speaking of crazy…. The woman wins a marathon
after a bout of food poisoning, gives all the credit to a
lucky charm bracelet and suddenly charm bracelets are
sel ing like mad.” Patricia shook her head, apparently
bemused with the trend.
Carlotta smirked. Her coworker was only frustrated
because she wasn’t working in Jewelry, earning
commissions on the trinkets that Eva would be promoting.
Customers were already gathering in the area of the dais
where posters featured the smiling, fit Olympian with a
gold medal around her neck and a “Lucky Charm Bracelet”
on her slender wrist.
Carlotta and Patricia positioned themselves in front of the
GET YOUR TICKETS TO MEET EVA MCCOY HERE sign and
began handing out tickets, and directing early comers
where to sit or stand.
“So,” Patricia asked without making eye contact. “How are
you and Peter Ashford?”
Choosing her words careful y, Carlotta said, “Peter and I
are old friends.”
“So I’ve heard. Tracey Tul y Lowenstein belongs to my
club. She said that you and Peter used to be quite the item
before…your family issues.”
“That was a long time ago,” Carlotta murmured.
“Tracey intimated that you two have picked up where you
“Tracey talks too much,” Carlotta said pointedly.
“I think it’s nice that you and Peter have each other,”
Patricia said. “You can support each other. You know, with
his wife having been murdered, and then all that you’ve
gone through.” The blonde winced. “Wait a minute.
Weren’t you a suspect in her murder? Gee, that has to be
a little awkward.”
“Not at all,” Carlotta said pleasantly.
Patricia sniffed and turned her back.
Carlotta shot daggers into the woman’s bony shoulder
blades. In truth, Carlotta was stil wrestling with her recent
decision to cozy up to her former fiancé. When her father
had walked up to her, unannounced and in disguise, at a
rest area a few weeks ago in Florida, he’d told her to stay
close to Peter—that since Peter worked for Mashburn &
Tul y Investments where her father had once been a
partner, he was in the best position to help prove
Randolph Wren’s innocence. Until that moment, Carlotta
would have sworn that if her long-lost father had ever
approached her, she would slap him, kick his shins, spit in
his face and call the police. Instead she’d been gelatinous
and cooperative and…hopeful.
The fact that he made her want to believe that he’d been
framed for his white col ar crime made her feel used all
Her father was using her—and she was using Peter. Since
his wife’s untimely death, Peter had made no secret that
he wanted to get back with Carlotta. He’d even recovered
the Cartier engagement ring that she’d pawned, and he’d
had a diamond added on either side of the original
solitaire. He was holding it for her, hoping she’d agree to
pick up where they’d left off years ago. Just as if he hadn’t
ripped out her heart by turning his back on her when she
needed him most.
But he was trying to make amends, she conceded. He’d
helped Wesley out of a couple of scrapes and continued to
be attentive to her. A couple of weeks ago, though, after
she’d returned from Florida, his patience had worn thin.
He’d been offered a position in New York and had been
going to take it, unless she could make room for him in her
life. She couldn’t risk him leaving, on the chance that her
father might call or put in another appearance soon, in
need of Peter’s inside access. So she’d told Peter to stay
and had committed herself to making their relationship a
Normally, being on the receiving end of a handsome, rich
man’s attentions wouldn’t pose a problem, but there
were…extenuating circumstances. Namely, two other men
bouncing around in her head and in her heart.
“I wondered if I’d see you here.”
At the sound of a familiar rumbling voice, her pulse spiked.
She turned around to see one of those two men, Detective
Jack Terry, standing there with a sardonic smile on his