By: Lynn Crandall
Released Dec 16th, 2013
The presence of a ghost in her life doesn't alarm Lacy Aegar, in fact it makes her happy. Two and a half years ago when her dead husband Nicholas reappeared in her life as a full-bodied spirit, she questioned her sanity. But with Nicholas' explanation that there are things about life that are not as she's always believed, she settled into a pleasant routine of working with her sister at their private investigation business and enjoying home life with her now 10-year-old son – with Nicholas never very far away.
Lacey's complacency and sense of stability is sent topsy-turvy when she runs into Jackson Carter, the son of powerful and influential business tycoon, William Carter. Typical of the Carter reputation, Jackson's slick new private investigating business is siphoning off clients from the Aegar sisters' business, creating financial difficulty. It's a recurring nightmare for Lacey, who has already seen damage done by the Carter family, and when she encounters Jackson, she wants nothing to do with him.
But things are not what they seem when it comes to Jackson Carter, either. Unbeknownst to Lacey and her sister, Jackson is fighting a battle to preserve his business, too, and his integrity. For him, it's a fight for his soul, and he enlists Lacey's help because of her unique investigative skills and open heart. When she uncovers a mole in his business, she also discovers that one of his clients' drug trials has been given the green light to go to the next phase based on falsified data. As they work together to save both their businesses, Jackson and Lacey not only face death, they must come to grips with their feelings about love and life.
Walking into the master bath, Lacey stopped short. “Geez! Now, that’s a bathtub,” she exclaimed. Her voice echoed slightly against the marble tile walls and gray slate floor. Jason waited patiently at the doorway while her gaze moved from one opulent element to another. A large white and gold marble whirlpool tub, deep enough to disappear in, was framed on three sides by frosted glass windows and a small garden of palms and feathery ferns. On another wall stood a shower stall sporting a gold rain-head showerhead and etched glass doors.
“Hi, Uncle Jake.”
Jason’s greeting jolted Lacey out of her skin. Retreat was impossible. She turned to face the square shoulders, tall frame, and solid jaw of a dark-haired man. “Uncle Jake, I presume?” She wasn’t doing anything wrong, so why did she feel her as though Brad Pitt had just caught her picking her nose?
“I know who I am. Who are you and what are you doing in my bathroom?” The man’s voice was clipped velvet. His arm circled Jason protectively.
She stuck out her hand. “I’m Lacey Aegar. And as for what I’m doing here…”
“I hired her, Uncle Jake. She’s going to find Snickers.”
She looked from Jason’s cherubic face and up into the glistening brown eyes of his uncle and felt her composure melt into the cold slate beneath her feet. “Umm…I’m a private investigator. And your nephew has asked me to…”
“I think you’ve seen enough, Ms. Private Investigator or gossip columnist or whoever you are.” The man grabbed Lacey’s elbow and began to usher her briskly out of the room.
“But Uncle Jake—”
“If you’ll just hold on a minute I can explain.” Lacey’s face burned at the man’s insinuation. With Jason at his heels, the man swept Lacey down the stairs and was heading toward the front door, where she spread out her hands and planted them against the hard wood. "Stop,” she demanded, whirling around to face him head-on. “I’m not leaving until I finish what I came here for, and that’s to help Jason find his dog.”
Noting that the receptionist’s desk was empty, Lacey glanced at the wall clock and casually wondered why Michelle wasn’t at her desk by 10:30 a.m. But the thought was quickly forgotten when sounds of anguish spilled out from behind the door of the private office she shared with Sterling.
“I can’t believe it!” Sterling fumed.
“Can’t believe what?” Lacey walked to her desk and tossed her purse in a nearby chair, slightly alarmed by her sister’s dismay.
“Oh, when it rains it pours, I guess.” Sterling’s sleek, chestnut hair fell over her face as she leaned her head on her hands.
“If it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all?”
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Sterling came back with from under her hair.
“Well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It was a common game for the sisters, something to test their edge and sometimes to relieve stress. But Lacey knew this time something was serious. “Wanna tell me what’s up?”
Sterling lifted her head but didn’t meet Lacey’s eyes. “I just got off the phone with my husband. Ben said the word from the higher-ups is keep the overtime down.”
“I see. Well, that will give you more time together. He’s been working an awful lot of hours lately. Homicide work can be very taxing. It’ll be good for him to have more time with you and the family.”
Sterling sighed, shifting back into her seat, before turning a sad face to her. “Always looking on the bright side, aren’t you, sis. Well, there’s more. The city is negotiating with the police union, but so far it looks like the cost of health insurance is going to go way up.”
“Oh, more out-of-pocket expenses.” Lacey knew that Sterling and Ben wouldn’t scrimp on health care for one-year-old Joshua—the namesake of Sterling and Lacey’s father—but with the agency’s dwindling income, the couple had already tightened their belt. “A few more macaroni-and-cheese dinners?” she offered halfheartedly.
Then Sterling delivered the final blow. “Lacey, this building’s being sold and the new owners are announcing a raise in the rent.” She grabbed the rental agreement papers from her desk and shook them in the air. “It’s the curse, all over again.”
Lacey knew exactly what her sister was talking about. It was something they jokingly attributed life’s challenges to—the Aegar Curse. It had been haunting them since their father’s death when they were young girls. In moments of lightheartedness or when no other explanations made sense of things, they joked that the curse was handed down from their mother’s side. A great-great-great-grandfather spit on somebody’s grave and— voila! The Aegar curse was born and now signified the sisters’ only inheritance from their maternal side.
She knew that neither one seriously believed in a family curse. Their father had been a cop and it was a criminal who took his life. When their mother had become clinically depressed, it was the loss of her husband that was to blame, not a curse. And when Lacey’s husband was killed by the same crime family that stole their father’s life, it was a perverted mind that pulled the trigger. Still, in the deepest parts of her heart, sad questions remained, stabbing her like hot steel and wondering, why?
“I don’t know what to do, sis.” Sterling shook her head and slumped into the couch that stood against the far wall of the office. “I love what we do. I love this office. I love this couch, the file cabinet. But we’ve lost too many clients to Carter, Inc. He’s like a vacuum sweeper, sucking up all the work. He’s the shiny new thing in town so he’s attractive, but it’s not fair. We’ve worked hard for what we’ve built and we are good at what we do.”
“Hello?” Lacey’s heart leapt into her throat as speak-of-the-devil Jackson Carter poked his head through their office door.
“Can I help you?” Sterling stood and walked toward the man.
“I didn’t see anyone at the front desk and I heard someone was looking for a vacuum sweeper.” Jackson’s eyes sparkled mischievously.
Lacey blinked hard. Words stuck in her mouth. This ubiquitous devil was starting to make a habit of taking her off guard. Deliberately, she turned to her sister. “Sterling, this is Jackson Carter. Mr. Carter, this is my sister and partner, Sterling.”
“Aka, vacuum sweeper.” Jackson stepped forward, his eyes a little too merry, and offered his hand.
As Sterling, looking more than a little awkward, stuck out her hand to the wise guy and acknowledged the introduction, Lacey heard the outer door open and close. Why didn’t I hear that a minute ago? A little warning would have been nice? Where are those keen PI skills when I need them?
Lynn Crandall lives in the Midwest and writes in the company of her two cats. She has been a reader and a writer all her life. Her background is in journalism, but whether writing a magazine or newspaper story or creating a romance, she loves the power stories hold to transport, inspire, and uplift. In her romances, she focuses on vulnerable, embraceable characters who don't back down. She hopes that readers discover, over and over, stories of ordinary people who face ordinary life challenges and are transformed by extraordinary love.
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