Deadly Interest

Book Cover: Deadly Interest
Part of the Sweetheart Mystery Series series:
  • Deadly Interest

Welcome to Sweetheart, Florida ~ Where Selling Real Estate is Murder

After life in the Big City kicks her behind, Samantha Adams returns to Sweetheart, a quaint small town in the center of Florida, where all the streets are named after candy and the welcome sign reads “Home of the Sweetest People You’ll Ever Meet.”

She pins her hopes on a new career selling real estate, only to have her first showing turn into a disaster when she discovers a dead body in the artfully staged home. In the blink of an eye, her sweet hometown is harboring sinister secrets and a killer with a taste for revenge.

Things really heat up when a second body is found. Samantha has her hands full dodging her old flame, police officer Hunter Arms, while trying to solve two murders with the help of her friends, Lydia Heavens and Jenn Maggiano. Can Samantha uncover the truth before the killer strikes again or will murder ruin Sweetheart’s delicious reputation forever?

Published: February 28, 2017
Genres:
Excerpt:

Of all days, today I was running late. Me—Samantha Adams, a stickler for punctuality—late to the most important career meeting I’d had in over a decade. I tossed my red tote bag on the passenger seat, slipped behind the wheel of my ’93 Lexus and started the engine. Leather interiors and Florida didn’t mix well even in February. I hit the air conditioner “on” switch before my makeup began to melt in my four-wheeled sauna. Eighty-four with the humidity at ninety-nine percent just made everything feel sticky. My car was a classic, but the relief of the cool air came out in seconds.

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I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Half past noon. I’d better call Vicki Shark to tell her I was running late. If I stopped at her office now, I was going to be delayed even longer for my appointment afterward. My mother’s warning voice rang in my ears. Always be on time. Since she arranged this client, I wouldn't want it to get back to her. I reached for my cellphone and hit Vicki’s number. She picked up on the first ring. “Berkman Shark Investments, this is Vicki.”

“Hi, Vicki, it’s Samantha. I’m running late for a showing out at Amore. Can I come by afterwards and pick up the file?”

Mortgage broker Vicki Shark was a tall, broad-shouldered woman with white teased hair swirled high into a bubble resting on the top of her head. Tough as nails, she had a masculine voice that sent a chill down my spine.

“Anything for an Adams. I’ll be here all afternoon until I have to leave for the reception,” she cooed, which was a bit unusual for her. If I hadn’t known better, I’d swear she was drinking. At least she was in a good mood. The woman could be quite intimidating. She made me, even at twenty-eight, feel like a teenager late for class.

“Thank you. See you then.” I hung up, relieved to have that phone call behind me, and refocused my attention on my meeting as I pulled out of the circular driveway and away from the house I now called home. It felt good to be back in a house instead of my apartment back in the city. It was comfortable for my temporary situation and would do. In a way, it was nice to be back. After all, this town had been my family’s home for over a century.

If I’d lived here at the time, I might have protested. After all, I was an Adams, a descendant of one of the founding families of the quaint town of Sweetheart, once known as Sweetwater. A little over five years ago, the town voted unanimously to change the name to Sweetheart. I was slowly getting used to it. I had to admit that, up until this point, I’d never heard of a town changing its name, but according to Google, ours wasn't the first, and I suspect it wouldn't be the last. I didn’t understand the allure of tourist revenue to our historic downtown shops. In my opinion, growth came with consequences. Sweetheart had a lot to lose. Some of its charm lined the streets with the finishing touches added by my ancestors.

Grandpa Earl Adams staked out his homestead along with longtime friend Nate Heavens. They mapped out the center of the town after they traveled by foot to Florida from North Carolina.

After four months, I still hadn’t been able to get used to it, even after I moved back home. The street names magically changed into candy and love terms. Kinda cute in a weird sorta way. It wasn't too difficult, since the town was small, but now with the new subdivisions popping up on the edge of town, a lot of streets went on forever, and who couldn't love a little town tucked into a country setting, with the big heart full of big dreams? Right?

Home of the Sweetest people you’ll ever meet!

A catchy slogan and bound to drive some of the local tourist business through our community. People loved to visit Florida. They fell in love and got married here, brought their families to the major theme parks.

I, for one, was uncomfortable with the “L” word. Love was a painfully sad subject I tried to avoid altogether. I was probably the only person in town who moved back home as a temporary situation to regroup financially. Most of the locals had been born and raised here. The few who left never returned. There were new citizens who moved to Sweetheart trying to escape their hectic life or the cold weather up North. They thought living in Florida was wonderful, but I missed my life in New York City. I’d left with a heavy heart and good deal of reluctance. I’d lost my job and my apartment after Owen, my fiancé, disappeared—I had no idea what happened to him, but I was determined to find out one day. It was a mystery I tried to solve, along with the police. Over two years had passed, and not one tip from the missing-persons hotline had led to anything substantial.

A lot of tears and family support helped me believe it would all make sense. One minute we were making wedding plans, and the next he was gone, vanished without a trace, leaving behind his apartment, clothes, cellphone, laptop—everything, including his orange cat, Giorgio, who now lived with me and my dog, Peppermint a tiny white ball of fluff.

My little Peppermint rescued me when my heart was shattered by Owen’s disappearance. The natural assumption was he met with foul play, but without any trace of evidence, the police let the case grow cold, and so did my heart at the thought of falling in love. I mean, how did you move forward without closure, right?

As I continued down Caramel Way, my heart tingled with excitement. This was a new beginning for me. I had my first real client, courtesy of my mother, Athena Adams, and I had to admit I was more than a little nervous. My Florida Realtor license was issued two weeks ago, added to my résumé as an interior designer. Even with dual licenses, interior design and real estate, my new career was moving slowly and unsteadily. Unlike that of my mother, who had the Midas touch when it came to business.

I’d landed an awesome position as the exclusive Realtor for the explosive new urban development taking place on the west side of Sweetheart. The homes were filled with the latest technology and not for the average home buyer. They were a little more upscale, futuristic with advanced technology—oh, and they were all GREEN, if you know what I mean.

I was a little uneasy I hadn’t heard from my client Gunner Remington. He was new to the area, mid-thirties and single. He met my mother at one of her community development meetings. She was the community development director for the city of Orlando, a job she loved. Anyway, she said he was in charge of some large corporation looking to relocate its main office to Central Florida. He was looking for an executive home, I understood, and would need an interior designer.

I turned on Only You Lane and mentally went over the features of the model home I would be showing him. My phone rang, and I hit the speaker button so I could talk while driving. My car was too old for Bluetooth.

Using my professional voice in case it was a client, I said, “This is Samantha Adams, how can I help you?”

“Sam, it’s me.”

“Hey, Hunter, what’s up?” Hunter Arms and I grew up together and sat next to each other all the way from preschool to high school. You know, Adams, Arms. We dabbled in dating before I left for college. There were feelings there on both sides, but it was a bit complicated. He worked for the local police department now.

“Are you going to the City Hall reception this afternoon?”

Today was the dedication ceremony for the new wing added to the town hall called the Sweetheart Towers.

“Of course I am. My mother wouldn’t allow me to miss it.” That was the other thing about my mother. When she attended these local business events, she practically insisted I be there. I didn't mind—plus, I owed her big-time for all of the help over this past year, but sometimes I liked to keep a low profile. Maybe I was self-conscious about being the newcomer in town.

“Do you want me swing by and pick you up before you go? Your mother called me and asked me to make sure you’d be on time.” Of course she did, worried I’d be late. On time to her meant arriving thirty minutes early.

“I’m meeting a client out at the model home in Amore, then I’m going to Vicki Shark’s office, but after that I can. I’ll call you when I’m on my way to see Vicki.”

“Okay, great, and good luck today.”

“Thanks.” I disconnected and gazed out at the horizon. Gray, puffy storm clouds moved quickly in the direction of the model center. Florida weather could change in an instant from sun to rain, then back to sun again. With a little luck, I could make it inside before the inevitable downpour. Too bad my umbrella sat inside my front door back at the house.

I focused on my mind-set. I needed to sell this house to prove to myself I was not a highly educated financial failure. Years of education were about to pay off. I had my fingers crossed my associate’s degree in communications and my bachelor’s in interior design would help me to shine as a Realtor.

Splat.

The first oversized raindrop hit my windshield. Splat. And then, like someone turned on a fire hose, it teemed so hard, my wiper blades did nothing against the amount of water hitting my windshield. My pretty red pumps, which had been overpriced on sale, were about to be ruined, and I’d taken less than one hundred steps in them. With any luck, it’d stop before I got there.

After a slow ten-minute rain-filled drive, I reached the stunning two-story Mediterranean home with barrel tile roof, Italian cypress and natural rock-encased hedges framing the exterior. There was caution tape blocking the front entryway, indicating the new stone was recently set, forcing me to use the side entrance. Really?

It didn’t matter. The rain had stopped, and the sun was shining again, though the ground was saturated. There was no way I could avoid traipsing through the mud. I looked around. My client was nowhere in sight, but at least the delay bought me a little time so I didn’t ruin my shoes. The contractor, Dalton Construction, hadn’t completed pouring the exterior concrete.

I sat in my car for a few minutes, contemplating my next move. I reached in the back seat, where I had two plastic grocery bags. I slipped off my shoes, placed my feet in each bag and tied them around my ankles. Grabbing my red leather tote, I tossed my shoes inside and climbed out of the car. Sinking into the cool wet mud with my feet encased in plastic was an odd sensation. Off in the distance, an SUV hurried down the winding road that entered the development. Yikes! I’d better move fast before he arrived. Taking oversized steps in a tight red dress slowed me down. I struggled to make it to the side entrance, but he had already parked and was getting out by the time I’d reached the side door. I tried to act natural. Well, as natural as I could with plastic muddy bags on my feet.

He was tall and muscular, with thick, black, wavy hair, a broad smile and eyes hidden behind dark glasses. I noticed he wore boots. Gold stars for him. Giving a weak smile, I waved. “Mr. Remington, hello.”

“Samantha Adams. Please call me Gunner.” He glanced at my feet. “I like your footwear.” Taking several steps toward me, he removed his glasses, and eyes the color of the morning Florida sky smiled at me. I sucked in a long breath. My cheeks burned, and it wasn't from the sun.

I placed my hand on the stone siding for balance. “Thank you.” I smiled back. “And call me Sam. It’s what I’m comfortable with.”

Samantha was used whenever I was scolded by my mother, or called on in class as a kid. I waggled a muddy, bagged foot. “If you’ll give me a minute to remove them, I’ll be happy to take you inside.”

“Sam Adams? Like the beer?” He wore a playful smirk. “Except he doesn’t have long auburn hair and blue eyes,” he paused. “I like it—even though I’m kind of a rum drinker myself.” He gave a fast wink. “Just kiddin’. I don't drink.”

“Never?”

“Rarely.”

Interesting.

He strode over, standing within inches of me. I absorbed the maleness of his muscular body. Gunner’s blue eyes pinned me with a hard stare. “Allow me.” Before I could stop him, he bent down and placed a hand on my ankle, rattling my senses. Somehow, the removal of a muddy supermarket bag had become sensual. He worked quickly, untying the sodden filthy plastic.

“Ugh, thank you.” I reached in my tote and pulled out my red pump. The corner of Gunner’s mouth tugged into a grin. He took it from my hand and, as if I was Cinderella, slipped it on my foot. By now, my face had to be crimson. I could feel the perspiration forming on my brow. “Thank you, but I’m fine.”

He looked up, lifting his eyebrows.

“Really, Mr. Remington, I can do it.” Too late, he removed the next one and fitted my shoe on in a flash.

He stood up, never breaking a sweat while my heart pounded. I felt wilted. He cleaned his boots on the mat by the door. Regaining my composure, I pulled the key out of my purse. My hands trembled as I turned the lock. “Under normal circumstances, I would have liked to enter through the front door. This house has a grand entrance hall.” I stepped inside, and Remington followed me. We entered through the laundry room that led into the kitchen. My body temperature dropped ten degrees once we entered the ice-cold room.

I placed my belongings on the kitchen counter. “Why don't we start at the front entrance? Would you like a bottled water?” I needed one. I made my way over to the Sub-Zero refrigerator. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him move around the kitchen. Gliding his hand along the granite counters, admiring the natural stone floors, opening a cabinet.

“No, thank you.”

Of course he didn’t. He was Mr. Cool in tight jeans. No sign of being rattled, like me. Taking a sip from the bottle, I hurried behind him as we made our way to the main entrance, rocking unsteadily in my heels, trying to keep up.

“Oh, isn’t this house breathtaking? I love the wrought-iron railing blended with the natural wood. The floors are solid marble imported from Italy.”

“I’ll take it.”

“The view—excuse me? We haven’t finished—” I must be hearing things. How could he possibly decide to buy an estate home in this price range without seeing the rest of it?

“Miss Adams, it is Miss?” He walked over to me, and my smile wavered.

“Yes, it is. Mr. Remington, it’s obvious you've viewed the property online, but I strongly suggest you go over every inch of this home before you commit. A home, especially one of this size, is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase for most people.” He placed a gentle hand on my elbow and turned me to face the view out the front window. The view from all angles was breathtaking. Flat land with a tree-lined drive, a lake on both sides of the entrance road.

“If you could purchase this house, would you?”

I laughed a nervous laugh. Of course I would, but I had no money or a need for a home this big.

“Mr. Remington—”

“Call me Gunner.”

“Er, yes, well, Gunner. It doesn't matter whether I would purchase a home in Amore, it’s about your needs.” I regretted the latter part of that statement.

“I mean, what exactly are you looking for in a house?” I asked. “Do you have a family? A wife you need to consult? Do you want to know about the school system?” I began to ramble off all the reasons he needed to take a breather, but he stopped me by holding a hand up. I should shut up and quit while I was ahead. I was vying for my first sale, and now that I had it, I was arguing with my client. What was wrong with me?

“No to all of the above. I’m single and a very busy man. This house is exactly what I’ve been looking for.” He relaxed his hand and smiled a broad, heartwarming smile. “Your mother put me in touch with a Vicki Shark. I’ve spoken to her on the phone. Do you know her?”

“Everyone knows Vicki.”

He smirked. “Why don't you finish showing me around, and we can write the contract? Then I’ll meet with Vicki Shark to finalize the funds transfer.”

For the first time since I’d stepped in the mud outside, I relaxed. Smiling, I said, “Well, all right, Mr. Remington—Gunner. Let’s finish seeing your house.”

“Your mother is very thorough. She also informed me that you're an interior designer. I have a need for this home to be transformed into something I can retreat to after work.”

My stupid grin pained my cheeks. I was going to owe my mother again big-time. “I’d be delighted to help you with this project. Why don't we go upstairs and work our way back down from there?”

The staircase was large enough for us to walk up side by side. “So, Gunner, what do you do for a living?”

He chuckled. “You don’t know?” I shook my head and stopped on the first landing, waiting for him to explain.

“I’m CEO of a division of Remington Arms Company. We manufacture Remington Rifles, among other products.”

In took a few seconds for the meaning to sink in. In other words, he was heir to the Remington fortune. I felt like a complete idiot for trying to stop him from buying this home. He could purchase this one and a dozen more. “You’ll be very popular in the area. Around here, most people own at least one gun.”

“Do you?”

I raised an eyebrow and smiled in answer to his question, then continued up the stairs. “Ask any of the men around here if I can shoot.”

“I’ll do just that.”

I showed him the balcony off the master bedroom overlooking waterfront shoreline and the Mediterranean-style pool. The master spa bath, his and hers walk-in closets, six bedrooms, and all the entertainment features you’d expect in an executive estate home.

“While you continue to look around, I’ll prepare the necessary documents for you to sign.”

“Instead, why don’t you meet me tonight for dinner? You can show me around town, and I can sign them then.” It sounded more like a directive than a request.

“I’m going to Vicki’s office on my way home. I can meet you there if you like.” I tried to dissuade him to a simpler course of action. “I have plans this afternoon—and evening.”

He had a twinkle in his eye. “Boyfriend?” He took a few steps closer, the heavy thud of his boots echoing throughout the room, and a smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth said he was eager for a challenge

“No.” I flipped my hair to the side with my hand, in a nervous gesture.

I had to switch my shoes back to my plastic bags, and I didn’t want to relive the humiliation, so I urged Gunner to go on ahead.

“I’ll wait for you, and we can walk out together.”

“That’s not necessary.” Ugh. My inner voice said, Please leave.

“I insist.”

We went over to the side door, I set the alarm, and we went out the back. I smiled at the bags as I reached to remove my shoe. He stopped my hand.

“I’ll take it from here.”

In one fell swoop, he scooped me up in his arms and carried me to my car. Now this was a real gentleman. He helped me to settle behind the wheel, then leaned in and said, “I’ll meet you at Berkman Shark Investments,” with a wink. Then he tapped the edge of the door, turned and left.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Watchdog07, Amazon wrote:

I loved this book! This author writes some of the cutest, quirkiest stories that are so much fun to read. She mixes humor and mystery so well and I look forward to more!

Ramona K., Amazon wrote:

Funny, deadly and a must read.