* * * * Chapter 1
* * * *
Drybar blow-out: check.
MAC make-up session: check.
Heirloom pearl strand: check.
Designer wedding gown: check.
It was January 14, 2017, and Roxy Drake was all set to marry Connor J.
Barrington in just one short hour. But then the phone rang. Mom was on the
other end, breathing fire.
“Sweetheart, whatever you’re doing, stop, and get your buns down here, pronto!
There’s something urgent we need to discuss with you.”
Oh God, what now, Roxy thought, rolling her eyes at her best friend and maid of
honor, Amy Powell, lounging on a sky-blue love seat across the room.
“Mom, you’re scaring me. What is it? Please, just tell me.”
“No, darling, not over the phone. Come to our suite—now–and bring Amy.”
Roxy quickly slipped on ivory-satin pumps that matched the voluminous wedding
gown that now engulfed her. Then she and Amy, who was decked out in mauve
silk-taffeta, head-to-toe, dashed out the door. Down a plushly-carpeted
Caesar’s Palace hallway they scurried to an ornate, marble elevator that
ferried them to the sixth floor.
One more crimson-carpeted hallway later, they were standing in front of the
Drakes’ elegant suite. Feeling strangely nervous, Roxy knocked on the door. In
seconds, her father opened it. Tall, silver-haired Tom Drake was always a
commanding presence, but this morning he appeared disheveled and out of sorts.
Roxy was alarmed at how stressed out he seemed. A control freak honed by years
of pressure as general manager of an upscale Chicago hotel, he shared his
wife’s unbending will and overbearing ways. But now the bloodshot eyes and
creases in his ruddy cheeks shook Roxy to the core.
“Mom, Dad, what’s going on?” she asked, tossing her hands up, looking back and
forth nervously between the two. “This better be good. Amy was just about to
touch up my pedicure.”
“Honey, this is far more important than your toenails,” petite, auburn-haired
Margo Drake, clad in a chic mother-of-the-bride suit, shot back.
Roxy’s stomach lurched. Dear God, she thought, what is this? Then her mom
started to speak.
“You see, sweetie, your dad and I felt we didn’t know enough about Connor. It
bothered us more and more as the wedding got closer. So a few days ago we bit
the bullet and rang up Roy Hopkins, you know, our old detective friend in
Peoria. We asked him to take a peek at Connor’s background, even though we were
confident there would be nothing. But we wanted to be sure. This is a big step
you’re taking. You may be 25, but you’re still our baby girl. We’d hate to see
you make a terrible mistake.”
Roxy’s heart dropped. In an instant, she’d been blindsided and now was mad as
hell. Folding her arms against her chest, she stepped back and returned their
“You did what?” she bristled. “Called a private detective to investigate the
man I’m marrying in one hour? Oh my God, this is insane! You’re both totally
out of line. I’m the one getting married here, not you. Don’t you think I’m
capable of making my own decisions?”
“Yes, honey, of course,” Roxy’s mom assured her. “But Connor will be a member
of our family, too, and sometimes love is blind.”
Roxy rolled her eyes.
“Okay, so what did you find out?” she demanded, hands on hips, defiant and
breathing fire. “That he stole a lollipop at the candy store when he was six
“Don’t be flippant with us!” Roxy’s dad cut in. “This is serious stuff. That
piece of scum you’re about to marry was a murder suspect. He was under
investigation for killing two women back in Colorado, one in 2003, the other in
2007. And both times the victim just happened to be his wife.
“Yes, Roxy, Connor had two wives before he met you, and both of them died early
in the marriage under strange circumstances. One of them on a honeymoon
ski-trip, the other in her own home. Hear us out, sweetheart: he was a
person of interest in both
The old man halted to let the bombshell sink in. Stunned by the revelations,
Roxy teetered on the brink of collapse. Biting her lip, she clutched Amy’s arm
Now it was her mom’s turn to pile on, and she was every bit as outraged as her
“When Roy called this morning and broke the news, we were stunned,” she said in
a rush of words. “Honey, we can’t let you marry this man today, or any other
day. We would both be very poor excuses for parents if we did. You need to talk
to Connor and get the truth, if he’s even capable of that, and then weigh it
all carefully before moving forward.”
Roxy was flabbergasted. In a matter of minutes, her world had been blown apart.
Was her beloved Connor a committed husband-and-family-man-to-be, as she had
always believed, or a wily, scheming wife-murderer? The two ideas were so
completely at odds, she couldn’t figure out which one to believe. Her first
instinct was to attack the messengers.
“All my life, you tried to stage-manage everything I did,” she lashed out at
her parents. “Then I met Connor and things changed. I finally got to run my own
life and make my own decisions. That drove both of you crazy, and now you’re
trying to wreck my wedding.”
“Nice try,” Roxy sneered, “but I don’t believe you for an instant. None of this
could possibly be true. Connor would never murder anyone–he wouldn’t hurt a
flea. He’d never be involved in something dark and evil like this, and, if he
were, he surely would have told me. This is a horrible mistake, some hideous
mix-up. There must be another Connor J. Barrington out there. Your private eye
investigated the wrong guy.”
Now it was time for big brother, Wes, to join the fray. Bounding from a nearby
sofa, he barked, “Why don’t we call lover-dude and get his ass down here right
now to settle this?”
As a shoeless, tieless Wes grabbed the phone and called Connor, teary-eyed Roxy
turned to Amy for comfort, the pair clutching each other like two lost souls in
a Jane Austen novel.