A hush fell over the office staff of the Monroe as their boss stared out at them from the front of their staff room. Her eyes blazed with the promise of murder and no one dared say anything. While the day had started off without incident, it had quickly become apparent that something was wrong.
The Monroe Hotel sat like a glittering gem on the Fort Monterey coast. It was a pillar of the community, attracting both local and international visitors. Its success was because of its manager, Valerie Monroe, who was a ruthless businesswoman and a natural hotelier.
Now, Valerie was seething, and she could tell from their faces that more than a few members of her staff were worried about ending up in the unemployment line before lunchtime. A few of them exchanged anxious glances, while others looked down at their feet in shame.
“Well?” she prompted, tapping her pen against her tablet in frustration. “What do you have to say for yourselves?”
The door burst open and everyone turned to see Valerie’s second-in-command, Skyler “Sky” Antonoff, run into the room with a harried expression. This was usually when the staff began to relax. If anyone could get Valerie off the warpath, it was Sky. She had saved more than a few jobs by calmly reasoning with Valerie. Unfortunately, no one would be able to convince Valerie to spare anyone today. Once Valerie was annoyed, it took a lot to get her calm again. And if she lost her temper, everyone knew nothing could be done except to hide and hope for the best until she burned herself out.
“Both parties have arrived to start getting ready,” Sky said, her face full of fear. “We need a decision. Now.”
“Yes,” Valerie hissed, glaring out at her staff. “Once again, I need to clean up your mess. We’re one of the premier hotels on the coast, and somehow you geniuses booked two weddings on the same day. How does something like that happen? We have one day to fix this mistake. Any suggestions on how you’re going to do that?”
“The systems were down a few months ago,” Sky said quickly, and Valerie knows it was an attempt to divert her attention. “It’s only natural that some mistakes were made.”
“The system was down for one day.” Valerie held up a finger to illustrate her point. “One day, six months ago. How has no one picked up on this discrepancy in all that time? Or even in the past week, when you would’ve had to call the parties to confirm that they’d still be attending? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you all right now. I see better organizational skills in my waiters. Hold on, that’s it. I’ll bring all the waiters up here and send you downstairs. Let’s see how you handle carrying dishes back and forth. Surely, you won’t be able to mess that up.”
“Val,” Sky warned with a grimace. “We can assign blame later, right now we need to deal with this.”
“Let’s see if the people who caused this mess can sort it out,” Valerie suggested, putting her hand on her hip. Once again, no one met her gaze.
A beat passed, and then a timid hand went up. The woman was shaking, and it looked like she was about to burst into tears. She quickly looked at Sky, who nodded reassuringly. Valerie pointed to the woman, almost daring her to say something stupid.
“We could have the Harris wedding outside since we’re setting up for a gala there tomorrow. And the Carringtons can get married in the wedding hall.”
“What about the receptions?” Valerie asked, tilting her head slightly. This question left the woman in awe, staring at her boss with her mouth agape — she was probably shocked that Valerie hadn’t shouted at her, Valerie realized. “Come on, we don’t have all day.”
“The Carringtons can have the ballroom and the Harris party can use the gardens since they’re not such a large group.”
There was a moment of silence and suspense as Valerie processed this suggestion. If she didn’t like something, she would immediately reject the idea and the person would be severely reprimanded, so she knew it was clear to her staff that the proposal had potential.
“And which rooms should they use?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Soon, a plan was formed and Valerie’s anger gradually subsided. A breath of relief traveled through the room and more than a few people allowed themselves to visibly relax. Sky walked up to where Valerie was standing and gave everyone a brief smile.
“You could’ve been a little nicer,” she muttered under her breath.
“And you should know better than to expect that from me,” Valerie said with a shrug. “Okay,” she said, raising her voice above the talking, “let’s get out there and do our jobs. And… if anything like this ever happens again, heads will roll.”
Watching and waiting for everyone to eventually leave the room, Valerie let her shoulders droop and rubbed her eyes tiredly. It was a lot of work keeping such a massive enterprise going, and sometimes there were days when it looked like everything she worked for was going to fail. The thought filled her with dread. If she let the Monroe fail on her watch, she’d never be able to look any of her family members in the eye.
Her mind went back to when she’d first taken over control of the hotel from her uncle, who was now somewhere in Europe, slowly drinking away all his money. In the past, he had run the hotel, but when it was time for him to retire, her father had realized it was the perfect opportunity for Valerie. Everyone else had expected her to fail in her first month, and when she’d disappointed them by succeeding despite the odds, they’d simply shrugged and said it was a matter of time. It felt as though she were on a tightrope, balancing everything in the air while sharks circled below her, eyeing her hungrily as she inched across the expanse. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy the thrill.
There was one more reason why she refused to fail. While everyone else had gossiped about her and laughed behind her back, her father had looked at her with pride. In his eyes, there was no possibility that she would do anything but make a massive success of the responsibility he’d entrusted to her.
“Are you trying to give these people heart attacks?” Sky asked, bumping Valerie’s shoulder with her own.
“All I want is efficiency, is that too much to ask for?” Valerie scowled. She put her tablet under her arm and made her way to her office with Sky following at a safe distance. “I mean, I’ve been swamped trying to run this place, and the next thing I know, they book two weddings for the same day. It would’ve been fine if it had been anyone but the Carringtons, but you know how they are.”
“I’m sure the Carringtons wouldn’t breathe a word of complaint,” Sky assured her, “they’re all afraid of your father. After all, Arthur Carrington is terrified of losing your father as a client. The only reason he’s letting his daughter get married here is because he wants to get in your father’s good graces.”
“That’s not the only reason,” Valerie sighed, letting herself into her office. “His whole family wants to check up on me and take gossip back home. Honestly, you’d think I was all the way across the country instead of just a couple of miles down the coast.”
“Technically, you’re the only Monroe kid who managed to move away from the east side of town. No wonder they’re all curious about you. Your brothers stayed close to your parents so they could keep buttering your father up. If he leaves everything to them, it’s your own fault for moving away.”
Valerie rolled her eyes, but she knew her friend was telling the truth. Sitting down behind her massive oak desk, she caught sight of herself behind one of the glass frames. The photograph had been taken back when she was on the child pageant circuit — she had come second (as usual), and her father had come backstage to congratulate her. Just eleven years old, she was dwarfed by the bouquet of roses he had given her. He was smiling widely at the camera, his white teeth stark against his tanned skin. She had inherited his bright blue eyes but her mother’s blond hair and pixie-like features.
In her later years, she had chopped her hair short in some sort of rebellion against her mother. Valerie’s mother had acted as though her daughter had gone on drugs and defaced the family mausoleum. Her father, however, had approved and so her hair stayed short.
“Yes, that’s what my mother keeps telling me,” Valerie said with a sigh, settling into her chair and sorting through the pile of documents on her desk.
When she came to a delicate silver envelope with curling letters on the front, she grimaced and threw it into the trash without opening it. Sky frowned curiously and made her way to the wastepaper basket to take a closer look.
“Why aren’t you going to your family’s annual gala?” she asked, turning the invitation over in her hands. “Don’t you like charity?”
Sky and Valerie had been friends for about three years, ever since Valerie had taken over the Monroe and appointed Sky as her assistant. At that time, Valerie had been discreet about a few things, and she had completely refused to talk about her family. Though she never offered any information, she knew Sky was smart enough to have gleaned some along the way. It was clear there was a feud, but no one would talk openly about it. And then there were the rumors.
“I don’t like small talk,” Valerie said shortly, staring up at her computer.
Valerie had lived in Fort Monterey all her life. Her family was the most influential in the community, possibly the richest family in town. She had grown up privileged but under a very critical microscope. For the most part, she handled the pressure well, but she hadn’t been able to hold it together completely. A few years ago, something terrible had happened. She realized that Sky must have heard rumors about it, but her friend had never asked her about it. Valerie hardly ever talked about it, determined to pretend as though her past didn’t exist.
“Do they really host it on the beach?” Sky asked, sounding impressed despite herself. “I mean, how do they get the whole strip to themselves?”
“My father owns that part of the beach,” Valerie said, frowning at the screen as she typed.
“Of course,” Sky sighed. “Sometimes, I forget how rich you are.”
“My father’s rich,” Valerie corrected automatically.
She looked at the time at the mention of her father. They had agreed to meet for lunch that day, and Valerie couldn’t tamp down her anxiety. There had been something urgent in his tone when they’d last spoken, and she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. However, she knew him better than anyone. Most times she could tell what he meant by an inflection in his tone or an expression on his face.
“Let’s go to the gala,” Sky said, sounding excited. “We could eat lots of food and make fun of all the rich old ladies in their fancy clothes. Come on, it could be fun.”
“They’d make fun of you to your face,” Valerie said, turning to her friend. “And the food is never good. They serve teeny-tiny portions and pretend that if they feed you enough of it, you won’t want to get a burger afterwards. Why don’t we just go to the beach this weekend? I’ll buy the ice cream.”
“I want to dress up and look pretty,” Sky said, pouting exaggeratedly and giving Valerie her puppy-dog eyes. “Besides, you would probably surprise a lot of people by showing up. I’m sure your father would be happy to see you.”
“He’d be the only one,” Valerie said with a grimace. “I’ll bet my mother doesn’t even know I received an invitation. Why don’t I give it to you, and you can take Oliver?”
“Oliver hates fancy parties,” Sky grumbled. “I probably won’t even be able to convince him to wear a suit to our wedding.”
“I don’t know if you’d like this gala,” Valerie said, leaning back in her chair. “There’s this old, abandoned mansion on the property. Some people say it’s haunted.”
“What?” Sky gasped and widened her eyes. “What happened? Why does your father host the party there if it’s haunted?”
“It’s the prettiest strip of beach in town,” Valerie said with a shrug. “Most people just ignore the house and continue partying.”
“Why do people think it’s haunted?” Sky asked.
“They say that no one can stay in the house for a full night without being chased out,” Valerie said in a hushed tone. “Every year, a stupid teenager tries, and they all tell the same story. They say they hear creepy voices talking in the middle of the night, and this terrible scraping sound. Once, some kids were even attacked. They didn’t leave when the sounds started, and the next morning they woke up in the hospital with bruises and no memory of the previous night.”
“No way,” Sky said, sounding skeptical, but she hugged herself as if she was getting cold.
“It all started back when the house was built,” Valerie said, lowering her voice as if she was telling a secret. “A doctor built the place for himself and his wife. They say it was an unhappy marriage from the start, but the wife wasn’t able to get out of it. She cried on the day he first brought her home.”
“Poor girl,” Sky murmured, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Things only got worse from there,” Valerie continued, making herself comfortable in her chair. “The couple fought constantly, and everyone knew the doctor made frequent trips to the local brothel. The wife stayed in the house and worked in the garden as a way to forget about her loveless marriage. Things changed when she got pregnant.”
“I don’t know why couples think a baby will help them work through their problems,” Sky said, shaking her head sadly. “Most of the time, it only makes things worse.”
“The people in town saw an immediate difference in the couple,” Valerie went on, ignoring Sky’s interruption. “The doctor became a loving husband and the wife blossomed into a beautiful, happy young woman. But it didn’t last. One night, while the doctor was away on business, a massive storm rolled into town. She was all on her own.”
It was obvious that Sky was getting scared as she crossed her legs nervously. She was notorious for scaring easily but still loved these types of stories. Valerie knew Sky couldn’t resist being drawn into the tale.
“The rain and waves rose steadily until the bottom floor of the house was flooded. The wife was terrified and tried to get help, but no one could reach her. Unfortunately, she slipped on the stairs and fell on her stomach. By the time morning came, she had lost the baby.”
A heavy silence fell over the women as Valerie paused for dramatic effect. Sky looked down sadly and played with her fingernails.
“The doctor blamed her, and she blamed the doctor. From that moment, they could hardly look at each other. Every day, she would go down to the beach and spend hours looking out at the sea. The doctor couldn’t do anything to help her, and it didn’t look like he cared at all. Everyone knew he only wanted a son. It was the only reason he got married. A year passed and the doctor went away on business again. Except, this time, it was different. He went to town the day before he left and bought some rope. He also bought bullets for his gun.”
“Oh no,” Sky gasped, shaking her head.
“That night, there was a massive storm. And the next morning, the house was quiet. Some people went to go check up on the wife, but she wasn’t home. When the doctor returned, he never talked about her again. Within a month, he put the house up for sale and left town. Some say he got remarried and lived a happy life. His first wife was never seen again.”
“What happened to her?” Sky asked with a frown. “If he murdered her, he couldn’t have gotten away with it. What if she ran away and he was too embarrassed to talk about it? And what about the house? Surely people must’ve moved in there, eventually.”
“A few did, but they never stayed long,” Valerie explained. “They always said the house was too big and drafty, but everyone knew the truth. The wife never left the house, and she was waiting for her husband to come home and protect her from the storm.”
Before Sky could say anything else, Valerie’s phone rang loudly. She picked it up and took a sharp breath when she saw her father’s contact information flash up at her.
“Hi, Dad,” she said, smiling tensely at Sky.
“Hi, darling,” her father said. He sounded tired, and Valerie’s brow knitted together in worry. “Listen, I have some bad news.”
“What is it?” Valerie asked, her heart beating faster. Was something wrong at home? Was his health failing? Her mind raced with anxiety as she waited for him to answer her.
“I won’t be able to make it to lunch today,” he said, annoyance creeping into his tone. “I can’t explain everything right now, but I’ll see you at the gala. There’s a lot going on here, and I need to take care of a few things before we talk.”
“Okay,” Valerie said, trying not to sound too disappointed. “I understand, thanks for letting me know.”
“Don’t worry, darling,” he said in a soothing tone, “I’ll see you soon.”
He hung up promptly, leaving her to listen to the dial tone with a frown.
“Is everything okay?” Sky asked, sounding concerned.
Valerie didn’t know how to answer. Her father had never canceled on her before, and it wasn’t a good sign that he hadn’t even given a reason for doing so. Dread settled in the pit of her stomach. Something was wrong.
Before Valerie could dwell on her father’s call, her phone started ringing again. Sky held up her own phone, which was also ringing, and mouthed an apology as she ducked out of the room. The office felt empty without Sky’s warm personality, and Valerie sighed to herself before answering her phone.
“Tom, it’s been a while,” Valerie said, trying to sound happy about her best friend’s call.
Valerie and Tom had grown up in the same circles. They hadn’t been friends when they were kids, as Tom’s older sister, Pippa, had been Valerie’s best friend. The girls had never wanted Tom around because he was four years younger and was still playing with toys when they were going to the mall and attending parties.
However, in later years, when Pippa and Valerie’s friendship exploded, Tom became a surprising source of comfort. They had a lot in common, and when everyone took Pippa’s side, he stuck to Valerie and helped cheer her up during the worst moments of her life. They could talk about anything and instinctively understood each other better than anyone else could.
When he’d graduated college, she had arranged a job for him with her father, and he’d proved himself to be an excellent employee that quickly climbed the corporate ladder. Now, he worked directly under Benedict Monroe, a position Valerie’s father wasn’t even willing to entrust to his sons. Her brothers blamed her and said she’d turned their father against them, but the truth was that Tom was very good at what he did.
“I heard your father canceled your lunch,” Tom said. His tone was tense, and she could tell that he was probably pacing or biting his thumbnail. He was a creature of habit and had a few specific responses to anxiety.
“Is the news already making the rounds?” Valerie groaned. “I’ll bet Richard and Blake are feeling smug right about now. If you see them, could you spit in their coffee or something?”
“Yeah, you know I do that anyway,” Tom replied, causing her to smile in amusement. “How are you feeling about it? Him canceling the lunch, I mean.”
“Terrible,” Valerie admitted, turning her swivel chair so that she was looking out her window. She had a view of the beach that most guests would’ve paid top dollar for. “He never cancels on me. You know, Sky was talking about how it’s so much easier for Richard and Blake to butter him up because they live so close. And we both know they’re not my biggest fans.”
“I see him more than they do, and I can assure you that you’re still his favorite child,” Tom promised.
She heard the sounds of shouting from the other end of the phone, followed by the click of a door closing and then the crashing of waves in the distance. She stood and walked closer to the window, looking down at the beach as though trying to spot him.
“That’s a lie, I’m not the favorite. I mean, you’re Benedict’s favorite kid. And there’s nothing I can do about Sarah; we all know Richard’s her favorite,” Valerie said with a short laugh, rolling her eyes automatically. Her mother made no secret about her prejudice. “But that’s enough about my messed-up family. What’s going on with you? You sound stressed, is everything okay?”
“I can’t get anything past you, Val,” Tom said, sounding as though he were smiling.
She could almost imagine his smile, and the thought made her feel warm. It was important to her that he was doing well. Valerie didn’t have many allies left in town, and it helped that Tom was on her side. He was a force to be reckoned with, which was probably why they got along so well.
“Please come to the gala,” Tom said, surprising her.
“What?” she asked, frowning at her reflection in the window. “You know I don’t attend that gala and you know why.”
Tom didn’t say anything, and the silence stretched out between them. Early on in their friendship, they had promised that when it came to their families, they would always respect each other’s rules. Valerie hadn’t attended the charity gala in years, and Tom had never questioned her decision. The first year, when she was still hurting and found out that certain guests were welcomed despite the way they had betrayed Valerie, she’d announced that she wasn’t going. Everyone had treated her like a drama queen, but Tom had also missed the gala and had taken Valerie out dancing. She’d appreciated that more than she could ever express.
“I know.” Tom let out a heavy sigh. “Look, I know that what happened wasn’t fair and I’ll spend the rest of my life reminding my sister about that, but I need you to do this for me. Think of it as a favor, I’ll definitely owe you one.”
“We don’t owe each other anything,” Valerie said, her voice hardening.
This wasn’t true. She owed him everything. If he hadn’t cared enough to help her get back on her feet after her long-time fiancé left her for her best friend, she wouldn’t know where she would’ve been. Despite the age gap, he had been the mature influence she needed.
She immediately felt guilty for the way her words sounded.
“I’m sorry,” she said, rubbing her temple tiredly, “that’s not what I meant.”
When she had decided to leave home and work at the hotel, her mother had called her selfish. She’d said that Valerie owed her family everything and that she was throwing all their goodwill back in their faces. To this day, Valerie hated the thought of owing anyone anything.
“No, I shouldn’t have phrased it like that,” Tom said with a nervous laugh. “Okay, let’s start over. Valerie, I need a favor from you, please.”
“Tom, if I go to that gala, you know what’s going to happen,” Valerie said in annoyance. “My mom’s going to pretend like I’ve been neglecting her, and people are going to look at me weird. Besides, Pippa and Johnny will make a big show of avoiding me. I won’t have anyone to talk to.”
“Since when has the great Valerie Monroe been afraid of confrontation? If my memory serves me right, you love picking fights. You’ll be able to talk to me the whole time, and you could bring Sky. I know she’d love the gala.”
Tom had a way of always getting what he wanted. His voice had an earnest quality, and it was beginning to sway Valerie’s decision. For the longest time, she would only listen to what Tom had to say. It had been an angry period of her life, and he was the only one who made sense.
There had been a lot of rumors that Tom and Valerie would end up together. The rumors had gained such credence that they’d earned Valerie a stern lecture from her mother. She remembered the occasion with a scowl. Sarah Monroe, former beauty queen and reluctant mother to three, had swanned into Valerie’s apartment as if she’d owned the place and let Valerie know in no uncertain terms that Tom was off limits to her. Sarah always acted as though Valerie getting jilted was her own fault. She belonged to a generation that still believed keeping a man was discipline and the only goal in life. Despite her best efforts, her daughter had resisted that way of thinking.
Fortunately for Sarah, no romantic feelings had ever developed between the two. There had been no longing stares, no sudden realization of hidden passions, and no drunken evenings that led to romantic mistakes. Tom and Valerie simply weren’t attracted to each other. They loved each other as friends, and neither questioned the other’s feelings. Valerie sometimes wondered what could’ve happened if they did fall in love. It would be a comfortable life — they both knew how to take care of each other — but they weren’t at the point in their lives where they were willing to settle for anything less than a true romantic partner.
“I don’t know, Tom,” Valerie said with a sigh. “I don’t feel like that whole scene.”
“I thought you wanted to be Benedict’s heir,” Tom said his voice hardening.
This came out of nowhere and struck Valerie dumb for a second. She sat on the edge of her desk, trying to find the right response to Tom’s words. Her mind went back to her conversation with her father. Although he knew she never went to the annual gala, he’d mentioned seeing her there. The gears turned in Valerie’s head and she felt her pulse begin to race. This was everything.
“Say that again,” Valerie said, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. “This had better not be a joke. I swear, I’ll kill you if you’re messing with me.”
“You’re not the first person to say that to me,” Tom said in a poor attempt at humor.
The Monroe fortune was extensive. Everyone in Fort Monterey knew the story. Benedict Monroe had come from humble origins; his family had been so poor that he’d gone to school barefoot in the winter. As a boy, he’d dreamed big, and as an adult, he’d made those dreams happen. He owned most of the town and several other hotels in major cities. He had his finger in every profitable pie along the coast. Benedict had a talent for making money, but the line of succession was blurred.
He’d always claimed that it would take his death to get him to stop working, but in recent years, it had become apparent that he needed to choose an heir. His solution was to make it clear that he would choose his most competent child to take over his entire fortune. One would win, and the others would have to live off their own earnings.
Valerie was ambitious, but her brothers were ruthless. There was no boundary they weren’t willing to cross to prove themselves, and no code of ethics that could hold them back, either. Valerie had also learned that they weren’t above sabotage, and often had to be careful that false information didn’t make its way to her father. For the past few years, Valerie had been competing in the most intense sibling rivalry in the country. Since they were such a high-profile family, their squabbles were well documented by the media.
“Tom,” Valerie growled, her hand tightening around her phone. “What did you mean?”
Tom was the key to everything. Benedict trusted him above anyone else and had given him the keys to the kingdom in the form of allowing Tom to be a part of every business deal he worked on. The children were constantly vying for his attention, but everyone knew he favored Valerie. Especially since she was the one who’d gotten Tom the job.
“Benedict’s been giving serious thought lately to choosing his heir,” Tom admitted with a tired sigh. “Look, I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but be on your guard. Your brothers won’t play nice once they figure out what he’s thinking. There’s just… Valerie… I need you to be there.”
All thoughts of her father’s fortune disappeared from her mind. Tom was one of the toughest people she knew. She’d never heard him plead with anyone before — something was wrong.
“Forget about the succession,” Valerie said firmly, “what’s going on with you? I’ve never heard you like this before; it’s freaking me out.”
“I made a mistake,” Tom admitted, drawing a ragged breath.
This wasn’t new. Tom was a playboy with little impulse control and had a mischievous streak a mile wide. He’d once showed up to one of his mother’s dinner parties stark naked and tipsy. The only explanation he’d offered was that he had seen a man with no shoes and felt sorry for him.
“Okay, how do we fix it?” Valerie said simply, already calculating how much liquid cash she had. If whatever he’d done had gotten out to the press, it would cost quite a bit to grease the right palms.
“No,” Tom said, and she could imagine him shaking his head as he spoke. “Not this time, Val. I need to fix things myself. I can’t get you involved in this mess I made. All I need is for you to come to the gala. I swear, I’ll explain it all to you. By then, I’ll have cleaned it up. Mostly.”
“You’re starting to scare me,” Valerie admitted frankly. “We’re always there for each other. I mean, that’s the whole point of our friendship. You were there when Johnny dumped me for your sister, I want to be there for you now.”
Valerie considered getting into her car and going to his house. She was certain that she could get him to talk if she saw him in person.
“Tom,” she warned, “I swear, I’ll beat it out of you if you don’t start talking right now.”
She was comfortable saying things like that, as he was well acquainted with her unique blend of violent threats and tough love.
“You know how we always talk about how Pippa’s pure evil for what she did to you?” Tom asked, sounding anxious. “And how her betrayal hurt the most because you never saw it coming?”
“We were both there,” Valerie said carefully.
Once she started talking about what happened to her, she found herself getting angry. It ruined her whole day and she would end up in a bad mood for the rest of the week. It was always best to avoid the subject. Although Tom was one of the only people she could talk to freely about what she was feeling, she wasn’t in the mood to get pulled down by her past.
“I did something… worse,” Tom said, sighing heavily.
“What are you talking about?” Valerie demanded. “Did you have a secret affair with my fiancé then marry him after he dumped me? Did you throw away a lifelong friendship to be with a man whose idea of a good time is watching documentaries?”
He chuckled under his breath but stopped abruptly, as if he’d just remembered the severity of the situation.
“No,” Tom said easily, “Johnny’s not exactly my type. Look, this is difficult to explain over the phone; we need to talk in person. I’ve done some stupid things, but I’m going to make it right. And when I tell you everything, before you try and rip my head off, I want you to remember that I’m doing this all for you.”
“Since when do you speak in riddles?” Valerie asked in annoyance. “You know how impatient I am. I can’t wait that long. How about I come over tonight and we talk about whatever’s going on?”
“No!” Tom said quickly, causing her to frown.
She tried not to feel hurt by his rejection. Something was going on, and she was dying to find out what.
“I’ll call my father and ask him what he thinks is going on,” she threatened.
“If you do that, I won’t ever talk to you again,” Tom said simply, causing her mouth to fall open in shock. “I don’t want you involved in any aspect of this. I’m going to get you everything you deserve, and if anyone finds out what I’m doing, I’ll be in massive trouble.”
“Please tell me you’re not doing something stupid to try and get me the inheritance,” Valerie asked, shaking her head even though he couldn’t see the action. “I don’t care about it that much.”
“We both know that’s a lie,” Tom said in amusement. “You’ve worked so hard for this. Besides, out of the three siblings, you deserve it the most.”
“You mean I’m the lesser of the evils,” Valerie said, trying not to smile. He wasn’t going to distract her with humor.
“Yes, but no,” Tom teased. “Val, do you trust me?”
“You know I do,” she said fondly. “You’re my best friend, you freak.”
“Maybe one day you’ll be able to say that without insulting me,” Tom said with a laugh, causing her to chuckle, too. “If you really trust me, you’ll come to the gala and hear me out.”
“If this was an elaborate ruse to get me to go to that stupid gala, I swear, I’ll feed you to the sharks.”
“You know, I really think you missed your calling as an enforcer. No one would mess with your gang if they knew you would come get them if they were disloyal. It’s not too late, how do you become a part of the mafia? I’ve got an idea — let’s quit our jobs and go work for a gang or something.”
Valerie laughed at that, and the two of them passed a moment in companionable silence. She realized that she wouldn’t know what to do without him in her life. For a moment, her heart froze with terror at the thought of losing him. She only hoped he wasn’t going to do something stupid.
“Hey, Tom,” she said quietly, “you’re not in trouble, are you? If you are, we can figure it out together. I won’t be mad at you, no matter what you did. Just tell me how I can help you.”
“Hey, Valerie.” He mimicked her tone with a hint of amusement. “Come to the gala, will you?”
She sighed and looked at the chair where Sky had left the invitation, as if guessing that something would come along to change Valerie’s mind. The sparkly letters glinted slightly, as if mocking her.
“Only if you buy me a burger afterwards,” she said, her decision made.
Tom needed her. That was all she knew, and she would brave all the housewives with their scathing gossip and her mother’s disapproving comments. It was a side of her that few people ever saw. Valerie would walk over hot coals to help her friends. Although, walking on fire would be preferable to attending her family’s annual charity gala.
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Valerie Monroe is a feisty hotelier, with a reputation for being ruthless, although that hasn’t always been the case. Ever since she was blindsided by a brutal betrayal, she dedicated herself to the family’s business, surprising everyone with her skills. Due to her ambitious nature, her only current desire is to become her father’s successor, ignoring the risk she puts herself into. When treacherous forces seem to be conspiring against her, she decides to attend her father’s annual charity gala, where she finds old and new enemies in attendance. Βy an odd coincidence, a dangerous storm blows in, trapping all the terrified guests inside the allegedly haunted mansion. As soon as they settle down, waiting for the storm to pass, a sudden gunshot turns everyone’s blood cold…
Within seconds, a shocking and gruesome discovery is made; Valerie’s friend is found lying lifeless in the ballroom. Some fingers immediately point to Valerie, leaving her with no other option but to prove her innocence on her own. Shady guests, suspicious looks and talks, and mouths shut tight, only make everything more complicated. Valerie finally realizes why she didn’t feel welcome at this gala from the very start, as it appears her presence is intruding on a mysterious plot and someone’s dark plans. This doesn’t discourage her powerful will to find justice for her friend though and her investigation proceeds to expose shocking secrets and bring to light old feuds that should’ve stayed buried…
As the wind’s blowing up a hurricane outside, Valerie will be forced to take control and face her family once and for all. Although she feels shattered, she has to act fast and find the killer before the storm abates, or else she might never find the truth and take her life back… At this point, there is no going back for her; her future and the case’s outcome will inevitably be defined by this horrible night. Will she be able to handle what is about to follow, once the murderer reveals their cruel face? What if Valerie becomes the next target, before she and the dark truth manage to escape this twisted night?
“A Mansion Full of Enemies” is an intriguing cozy mystery novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, just pure captivating mystery.