Engagements Can Be Deadly
My name is Brannon "Bran" Walker. I'm a private investigator, hired by Millicent Ashley's father to do a background check on her fiance, Tom Grant. Then Millie dies under suspicious circumstances during the engagement party for her and Tom--a party I attended. Murder? I think so, and I intend to prove it.
Duncan "Dunc" Raines, the lead detective in the case--and my ex-lover--tells me to keep my nose out of his investigation. No surprise, I ignore his order--and try to ignore him--as I begin digging into who might have decided a dead fiancee is preferable to a living bride. Suspects are numerous, and someone wants me to stop looking for the murderer, if they have to kill me to make that happen. As if. I intend to show Dunc that a PI can be just as good as a cop at uncovering a killer.
"You might want to keep an eye on your fiancee," Tom Grant's brother, Jack, said to him, leaning against the railing of the catamaran.
Tom, a handsome man in his mid-thirties, glanced toward Millicent Ashley and smiled indulgently. "She's just having a bit of fun."
"Fun? She's three sheets to the wind."
I looked at the woman in question, a lovely long-haired brunette wearing a sleeveless, blue floral dress that definitely accentuated her figure. There was no doubt in my mind she was enjoying her engagement party, which was being held on the catamaran at the reservoir at Cherry Creek State Park. But was she really drunk? I didn't think so. She was likely just elated that she had hooked a very eligible and handsome bachelor who loved her as much as she loved him--and sharing her joy with her friends.
The music was loud, the voices of the revelers even louder. I wouldn't have overheard Tom and his brother if I hadn't been standing close to them. Tom took another drink of his beer before wandering in Millicent's direction, only to be stopped by one of the female guests. I couldn't hear what she said, but whatever it was, it caused Tom to smile and take her hand, leading her to the top deck of the catamaran where several other people were dancing.
"Millie is not going to be happy about that," I heard Jack mutter.
"Possessive?" I asked, joining him.
"I take it you don't know her," Jack replied.
I spread my hands. "I've met her, of course."
Jack gave me a look that said he wondered why I was here. So I said, "I'm a friend of Janie's. She wanted an escort and..." I shrugged. Janie was one of the over two-dozen female guests--and single, as I'd found out from talking to her.
I hope Jack doesn't decide to check with her to find out if I'm telling the truth.
"You figured free food and drinks, so why not?" Jack nodded knowingly.
"Got it in one."
"As much as I can, considering my date is spending more time with her friends than with me."
"It happens. Have a couple more drinks"--he grinned--"and you won't give a damn."
"I think I will."
I'd just said that when a woman screamed, "Millie!" followed by another one shouting, "Someone help her!"
Jack and I raced toward the rear of the boat, where the panicked voices had come from. We arrived just in time to see two men dive into the water while several of the guests hung over the railing. We joined them, watching as the rescuers swam toward Millicent, who was floating, face-down, several yards behind the catamaran in the deep water at the center of the reservoir. The men reached her, one of them lifting her head out of the water, just as a crew member threw them a ring buoy. The men grabbed it, holding Millicent as they were pulled back to the steps at the rear of the catamaran.
Tom was at the top of the steps by then. He climbed down then wrapped Millicent in a tight hold to carry her onto the deck. Immediately laying her down, he began CPR with Jack's help, while the guests hovered around them. The catamaran's captain pushed his way through the crowd, leaned over Millicent for a moment as if assessing her condition then said something to Tom. Tom shook his head violently and I heard him say, "No! She can't be."
Jack put his hand on Tom's shoulder while the bystanders reacted to the captain's words with varying shades of dismay.
Allow me to backtrack and explain who I am, and why I was there when Millicent died.
My name is Brannon Walker, although most people call me Bran. I'm a private detective, thirty-four, six-foot even, brown-haired, and with what someone once called "wicked" green eyes.
Four days ago, which was Tuesday, Stuart Ashley--a partner in the architectural firm Ashley, Morgan, and Prince--had hired me to do a background check on his daughter Millicent's fiance, Tom Grant. It wasn't, he'd said, that he didn't trust Tom, but...
"Millie stands to inherit a large amount of money from her grandmother, who is extremely ill and not likely to live much longer," he'd told me sadly. "I'm wealthy enough in my own right, so my mother decided to leave everything to Millie, as she's her only grandchild."
"And you want to find out if Mr Grant asked your daughter to marry him in order to get his hands on her money?"
"That thought had occurred to me," he'd admitted. "Of course, as you'll find out, Tom is fairly well-off. But that doesn't negate the fact that he would undoubtedly like more cash to infuse into his business."
"He owns an advertising firm--one of the most prestigious in the city and the state."
The city is Denver, where I have my office on the ground floor of my home, a few blocks east of the capitol. I live on the second floor, in what basically would be an apartment setup--if the house were broken up that way--with a kitchen where one of the bedrooms had been, off what was now the living room. I use the entire first floor for my business. What had been the kitchen down there was now...a break room, I guess you'd call it.
"If he's doing well, why would he--" I'd started to say. "Nevermind. Anyone who owns their own business would like to be able to improve it."
"Exactly," Mr Ashley had replied. "I'm not saying that's the case with him, but I do want to be certain. I also want to find out if there will be problems with his ex-wife. He divorced her just after he met Millie."
"That couldn't have made her happy."
"It seemed to be by mutual consent. She didn't contest it. But--"
"I'll check into it."
We'd gone through the usual rigmarole involved with his hiring me then I'd set to work checking out Tom Grant.
Thus the reason I was on the catamaran for the engagement party early Friday evening. I wanted to get up close and personal with the members of Tom's and Millicent's families in a relatively casual setting, if you can call a wild party casual. I was surprised to discover Tom's ex-wife, Carrie, was one of the revelers, as well as a young woman from his company who--according to what I'd found out--had been rumored to have been his mistress while he'd still been married to Carrie.