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Authors: Jennifer Apodaca

Thrilled To Death

BOOK: Thrilled To Death
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A Samantha Shaw Mystery
Thrilled to Death
Jennifer Apodaca
KENSINGTON BOOKS
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To magicians everywhere—
thank you for bringing a little magic to all our lives!
Acknowledgments
Laura Wright—thank you for sharing your insights into the world of magic, for pushing me when I slack off and for reminding me (often!) to believe in myself. But most of all, thank you for being a friend.
 
Marianne Donley—thank you for putting up with a year of my whining about this book while we did the Co-President gig together, for your keen-eyed critique, and most of all, thank you for all the coffee and laughter!
 
Susan Packler—thank you for your unwavering support from the beginning. You were there when Samantha Shaw was born, read through all my drafts and listened to my dilemmas with endless patience. I know this isn't “The Witch Book” but at least there are magicians in this book. I'm getting closer!
 
The Tale Spinners—thank you for giving me my start. You were my first “critique group” and stayed my friends. A very special thank you to Pat Bavardo who read my very first manuscript, then took me to lunch and gently told me that my heroine sat through the book and did nothing. Thanks, Pat! I think I learned the lesson!
 
My incredible editor, Kate Duffy—your reputation as a smart, savvy and wickedly funny woman is well deserved! Thank you for taking a chance on me and sharing your brilliance.
 
Thanks to Karen Solem, my agent and my rock in the wildly changing world of publishing.
 
And always, thank you to my husband, Dan, and our sons, Matt, Gary, and Paul. You four are the “magic” in my life.
1
G
randpa was on a rampage. His fury had been brewing for months, but now it bubbled to the surface. “Shane Masters is a spoiler! A . . . a . . . .”
I poured my first cup of morning coffee and struggled to get my bleary eyes to focus. The sun streamed cheerfully through the sliding glass door to the kitchen table where Grandpa was reading the newspaper article about Shane Masters's upcoming show. After taking a careful sip of the coffee, I said, “I know. He's a traitor to all magicians.” And I agreed with Grandpa. Shane put on a show that revealed the secrets of magic. I abhorred the man and his ilk—making money by revealing all the long-held secrets of magic so that the shows of honest, hard-working magicians lost their appeal. I walked to the table. “But Grandpa, you shouldn't get this upset.” Anger darkened his balding head nearly to the shade of an eggplant. As Grandpa was in his seventies now, I worried that he'd have a heart attack or stroke.
I did not want to find out what the world would be like without my grandfather in it. He was the rock of my entire life. Though my two sons and I had originally moved in with him because we had been destitute, we now stayed to keep him company. I didn't want Grandpa to live alone.
Or die.
“Sammy.” He glanced up at me, his milky blue eyes snapping flashes of blue flame. “I should be this upset! I went to the city council meeting when they first proposed having this charlatan in our town. But all they cared about was the money and prestige.”
I picked up my coffee mug and muttered, “That and the national television coverage of his act. ‘It'll make Lake Elsinore and our Storm Stadium, where Shane Masters will perform, landmarks,'” I mimicked. They just didn't get how
wrong
it all was. Okay, I was getting pissed off too. I drained half my coffee mug and sat down by Grandpa.
He flashed a grin. “I've arranged a boycott.”
I blinked. “You did?” I didn't want to sound discouraging, but asking his senior citizen friends not to go to the show wasn't going to make much of an impact. Shane Masters drew more of the MTV crowd. This was why MTV was going to cover his show at Storm Stadium on Saturday night.
“Yes.” He nodded, his crafty face relaxing. “I'm doing everything I can to destroy Shane Masters and his spoiler show.”
Worry skittered up my back. Though retired, Grandpa belonged to a group called the Multinational Magic Makers, or Triple M for short. They all kept in touch on the Internet, and they had long-reaching tentacles. They could access information and secrets that reached deep into some rather scary places. What had Grandpa done? “But that's all, right? I mean all you've done is arranged a boycott?” I knew my voice thinned with worry.
His gaze didn't change. “Mostly.”
My future flashed before my eyes:
Samantha Shaw, proprietor of Heart Mates Dating Service, aspiring private investigator, and frequent visitor of Grandpa in prison.
Just what I wanted on my business card. I fought down a groan. “What does
mostly
mean?” Grandpa was slick. But he was so angry that I was afraid he'd do something stupid. And get caught. Another worry popped into my head. I narrowed my eyes on him. “Where were you last night?” He'd been out unusually late.
His face closed up, and he looked down at his watch. “Hey, it's almost seven o'clock and you're not even dressed yet.” He jumped up and shouted out for the boys. “TJ! Joel! Get a move on!” He glanced at me. “Gotta get my keys. Don't want the boys to be late for school.” He disappeared down the hallway.
What the hell was Grandpa up to?
 
I drove to work and tried not to worry about Grandpa. He was smart and crafty, but he was not stupid. I pulled into the strip mall that housed Heart Mates and parked in the single lane of spaces across from the offices. I locked up my 1957 fully restored T-bird, took a quick look to make sure my short ruffled jean skirt and red top were in place, then I turned, ready to face the day.
I stopped and stared. The office suite next to mine had new stenciling across the windowpane:
PULIZZI SECURITY AND INVESTIGATIONS.
Beneath that in smaller letters read,
GABE PULIZZI, LICENSED PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.
It hit me that Gabe and I were really doing this. We were combining our businesses. Gabe had leased the suite next to mine. We were taking the wall down between the suites with the landlord's blessing. Then my assistant Blaine would move to the center and work for both of us, and soon we would hire any help he needed. In the meantime, I would continue to run my beloved Heart Mates, and Gabe would run his PI business.
So what was different? I was going to start training to get my PI license. I had to log a certain number of hours and pass a test to qualify for my license in the state of California.
More and more, Gabe's life and mine were becoming intertwined—something that scared me. I'd had a miserable marriage that ended when my husband died from eating peanut candy. Suddenly, I was a widow with two sons, and then I discovered we were broke and that thugs were after me, looking for money my dead husband had stolen.
I hadn't been paying enough attention in my marriage, and that left my sons and me vulnerable. I had vowed then to never again be passive and rely on a man.
I studied the stenciled name of Gabe's PI company and smiled. Gabe didn't try to make me dependent on him. Instead, Gabe supported my desire to grow stronger. Realizing that, I took a deep breath and went into my side of the building.
The threadbare, steel gray carpet was still there, but my cubicle was gone. I stood in a square area that faced a wall with a door. My office! No more cubicle for me. To the left was a second door that led to a long interview room.
The wall directly to my right was coming down beginning today. That would open up the reception area between the two suites. I had the paint and carpeting scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The furniture would be delivered on Saturday, and we'd be in business.
I didn't see Blaine anywhere, so I assumed he was over on Gabe's side. They were doing much of the construction to save me money.
There wasn't much else for me to do, as we had cleared our clients for the week. I went into my office where my oak desk fit perfectly facing the door. Once I sat down and stored my purse in the bottom drawer, I thought about working on paying some bills and figuring out where the money was going to come from to cover my half of the costs, but that seemed depressing.
I didn't want to sit there and worry about Grandpa either. So I did what any astute and savvy businesswoman would do: I pulled a romance novel out of my desk drawer and started reading.
Everyone needed an escape.
For a few minutes, I slipped away into a world where I knew how everything would turn out—HEA, or Happily Ever After. Although my own marriage turned out to be anything but HEA, I was perfectly willing to suspend disbelief and devour romance novels.
“Good book?”
“Ack!” I jerked, dropping the book on my desk and sending my chair back into the wall behind me. With my heart pounding, I looked up. A well-built, light-skinned black man stood in the doorway of my office. I'd been so engrossed in the book, I hadn't heard anyone come into the office. But as my romance-reading haze cleared, I recognized him. “Bo!” I jumped up and hurried around my desk, extending my arm to shake his hand.
He reached out, grasped my hand, and pulled me into his arms. Then he kissed my cheek and stepped back to study me. “You're looking good, Sam. Your new life must agree with you.”
Bo was too suave to mention my new and improved bustline, but I knew he was sincere. “Thanks, I am happy these days. And you look wonderful as always.” He had a slight resemblance to the movie star Will Smith, but Bo's best feature was his voice. It was rich, melodious, and tinted with a drawling accent. Bo used his voice to seduce audiences as a magician. Home for Bo was New Orleans. Grandpa had known his father, and he had often let Bo work in his shows when he toured New Orleans. “What brings you to California?”
“Good news, very good news. And I want to see you and Barney. I went by the house, but no one was home.”
“How did you know where to find me?” I hadn't seen Bo since I bought Heart Mates.
Bo laughed. “Barney brags about you all the time when we e-mail or talk on the phone. I looked up your dating service, and here I am. Barney also said that you are expanding into private investigating.”
A warm happiness blossomed inside me. Grandpa always supported my dreams. “I'm not actually a private investigator. I don't have my license. I just do a little work under my boyfriend's license.”
Bo flashed his easy grin. “Boyfriend, huh? I wondered how you ended up doing PI stuff.”
I smiled back and realized we were still standing in the doorway. “Come in and sit down. We're in the middle of remodeling. Would you like me to make some coffee?” If I could find the coffeemaker. I think it was in the interview room where Blaine took pictures and shot videos of our dating service clients. That was pretty much the only dust-free zone.
“I think I'll run over to the motel and see if I can get a room. But how about dinner tonight? I'll cook my famous jambalaya if you all don't mind me invading your kitchen.”
“Sounds good to me.” Like I'd turn down a dinner cooked by someone else? I thought of Kentucky Fried Chicken as my personal chef. “Come on over whenever you want. I'll tell Grandpa—he'll be thrilled. Now tell me the good news that brought you to California before you run off.”
Bo shook his head. “I'll tell you tonight.”
“That's not fair.” I tilted my head back to see the sparkle in his chocolate-colored eyes.
“Life's not fair, darlin'; you just gotta deal.” He stepped forward, leaned down, and deposited a swift kiss on my mouth. “See you tonight.”
“Really?” A new voice intruded.
Uh-oh. I recognized that voice. I stepped past Bo and saw Gabe looming in the reception area. He had on faded Levi's, a tight black muscle shirt, and a tool belt strapped around his hips. All two hundred pounds of his tightly packed, six foot plus frame looked tense. He stood with his feet spread and his hands hanging down at his sides. His straight, jet black hair was brushed back to reveal his dark eyes under winged brows. His mouth had thinned, but he kept his expression blank. Just like the ex-cop that he was.
Bo turned easily and walked toward him. “I'm Bo Kelly. I've known Samantha since we were kids.” He held out his hand.
Gabe took a moment to study Bo, then finally shook hands. “Gabe Pulizzi.”
“Sam's boyfriend. She told me about you.” Bo dropped Gabe's hand and glanced back at me. “Catch you later, Sam. I'll bring all the groceries I need.” Then he looked at Gabe. “Hope to see you at dinner. Bye.”
Gabe moved out of the way and Bo left.
But Gabe kept moving. We were in the boxy reception area, and I backed up a step. My back hit the doorjamb to my new office. Gabe came to a stop when the tip of his work boot was flush with the toe of my sandal. “Why do I keep finding you kissing other men?”
I had to tilt my head back to look up into his eyes. “You're jealous!” Gabe's Italian heritage showed in his olive-colored skin, the hard cut of the bones in his face, and his occasional temper.
“Damn right I'm jealous. Every time I turn around, some man is stalking you, in love with you, or kissing you.”
“Sometimes they try to kill me, too,” I added, just to keep the record clear.
The right side of Gabe's mouth quirked up. “That too. But let's talk about kissing. Why were you kissing him?”
“He kissed me. It was just a friendly peck, Pulizzi, not sexual. Bo's a longtime friend of Grandpa's.”
“Friendly, huh?”
I stiffened my back to rise to my five foot five height in heels. “You're not going to let this go, are you?”
“It's a lot to ask of a man, Sam. You are a magnet for sex and murder.” He stopped glaring at me long enough to draw his gaze all the way down my body and back up. “Fortunately for you, I happen to be man enough to handle it. And you.”
I cracked a grin. “You are a stud, Pulizzi.” I dropped my gaze to his hips. “And you wear a tool belt well.” Obviously, Gabe had already been working this morning. He looked hot, the kind of hot that made me think of him in the tool belt and nothing else. Nada. Just Gabe naked in a tool belt.
Gabe lifted a hand and cupped the back of my head. “Don't try to distract me. So what kind of kiss would you call this?” Holding my head where he wanted it, he leaned down and pressed his mouth to mine.
I inhaled his scent of Irish Spring soap and sweat from this morning's hard work. I put one of my hands on his arm and felt his roped muscles beneath warm skin. And when Gabe slid his tongue inside my mouth, I forgot about everything but the two of us.
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