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Nashville’s perkiest private eye—coffeehouse manager Juliet Langley—goes undercover in the party-planning industry to solve a suspicious death in this thrilling cozy mystery from USA Today bestselling author Caroline Fardig. Inspired by her past sleuthing successes, Juliet Langley has officially joined the ranks of Nashville’s licensed private investigators. Her best friend, Pete Bennett, doesn’t worry that her detective work might interfere with her full-time job running his coffeehouse, Java Jive. He just wishes she would spend her free time rejoining the local music scene instead of tailing cheating spouses. But when one of Java Jive’s baristas, Shane, asks Juliet to look into the suspicious death of his fiancée, Pete encourages her to plow full steam ahead.
Since his fiancée died on the job, Shane suspects that her party-planning colleagues are up to something criminal—and will do anything to keep it quiet. After Juliet recruits Pete to go undercover with her at a wedding showcase, she discovers that white lace and black satin have a way of hiding big, fat secrets.
If that weren’t enough to fill her plate, her latest P.I. job has her crossing paths with her ex, Detective Ryder Hamilton. They’re barely on speaking terms, but to solve the case, they might have to cooperate. No matter where Juliet goes, she’s brewing up trouble.
Don’t miss any of Caroline Fardig’s thrilling Java Jive mysteries: DEATH BEFORE DECAF | MUG SHOT | A WHOLE LATTE MURDER | BREW OR DIE “I was hooked from the first page. I loved it!”—Dorothy Cannell, award-winning author of the Ellie Haskell mysteries, on Death Before Decaf “This author comes up with some very interesting ways to kill someone, and her injection of humor at just the right time is perfect. On its own, Mug Shot is a really good read, but if you follow the series, it will be even better.”—Linda Thompson, host of The Authors Show
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Brew or Die
“I got it!” I cried, bursting into the small office at the back of the Java Jive Coffeehouse.
My best friend and boss, Pete Bennett, looked up from the payroll spreadsheet on his computer monitor. “Got wh—”
Too excited to even let him finish his question, I exclaimed, “My private investigator license!” I waved the piece of paper I was holding triumphantly in the air.
He groaned. “Jules, I still don’t get why you want to pursue being a PI. For one thing, it’s dangerous. And in the past you’ve come to the conclusion more than once that this sleuthing business isn’t for you. Plus—”
“Plus you don’t want me to do it. I know. You’ve only told me a thousand times,” I grumbled, bummed that he didn’t share my enthusiasm.
“And you’ve only ignored me a thousand times.”
I made a face at him. “Oh, surely I’ve ignored you more than a thousand times.”
Pete shook his head. “I’m being serious. Just because you have that piece of paper doesn’t give you the green light to dive headlong into mayhem and . . . and the underbelly of society.”
Fighting the urge to snicker, I replied, “The underbelly of society, huh? You know, being a licensed PI is actually going to put stricter rules on what I can and can’t do. It’s going to seriously hinder my usual ‘sleuth first and think about the ramifications later’ approach, which you have to admit isn’t a bad thing.”
Pete wasn’t convinced, even though we’d had a similar version of this conversation at least once a week for nearly three months. “Still, you’ll be tracking more bad guys more often.”
“But don’t forget I’ll be under Maya’s watchful eye.”
After my last investigative adventure, my friend Maya Huxley convinced me to come work for her part-time at her private investigation agency. Her business had boomed lately, and she’d been having to turn clients away left and right. She’d never wanted to take on a partner before because she liked to do things her own way. But after teaming up to get to the bottom of a bogus murder charge for a friend of mine, she saw something in me that she thought she could work with. So she made me her apprentice, trained me, made sure I got my education requirements, and helped me study for the licensure test.
“She’s not always going to be with you now that you’re a full-fledged PI,” he pointed out. “And need I remind you that you already have a job?”
I smiled. Pete owned Java Jive, and I was the manager. Evenings, Saturdays, and lunch hours (when he wasn’t doing his real job of being an audio engineer at a big recording studio on Nashville’s Music Row), we worked and hung out together here. Normally, if the place was open, I was here, which meant I basically spent almost every waking moment in the coffeehouse. My new job took time away from that, but it wasn’t a bad thing for me to get some fresh air and sunlight every once in a while.
“Yes, a wonderful job, which I love. But aren’t you the one who’s always saying I need to do something else besides work here day in and day out?”
He frowned at me. “You know I meant I wanted you to do more performing. You’re going to waste your time on this PI garbage and have none for your music.” His eyes widened. “Or maybe that’s been your plan all along—to find an excuse so you won’t have to perform.”
I let out a breath. Sure, being a musician was what I originally wanted to do with my life, but after an unfortunate incident onstage, I was struck with such debilitating stage fright that I gave up performing. I’ve been slowly working to conquer it, and I’ve been able to perform a few times for the small crowd at Java Jive’s weekly open mic night. I was still not ready to try to make it a career again. Singing in front of people frightened me a million times more than going up against “the underbelly of society.” My sanity was much safer doing PI work.
“That’s not what I’m doing.” Not entirely. “As I’ve told you time and time again, Maya mainly works with attorneys who need someone to gather evidence for court cases and with rich ladies who want to know if their husbands are cheating. She doesn’t chase felons and psychopaths around, and neither will I.”
There was a knock at the office door, and I went over to open it. Detective John Stafford was standing there, smiling at me.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite person who does chase felons and psychopaths around,” I said.
Stafford gave me a puzzled look and a quick kiss on the cheek as he entered the room. “I feel like I heard the punch line but not the joke. Hey, Pete.”
“Hey, man,” Pete replied. “We were discussing—”
In my excitement to show Stafford my new license, I cut Pete off again and held the piece of paper in front of Stafford’s face. “Guess what I got today!”
He whistled. “Nice. Congratulations, Ms. Private Eye.” He swept me into a hug and whirled me around.
After he set me down, I couldn’t resist saying to Pete, “See? He gets it.”
Pete grumbled something under his breath and stood up. “I gotta get back to work. Later, guys.” He left the office without another word.
Stafford frowned. “I think the only time I ever see Pete in a foul mood is when someone brings up you becoming a PI.”
“He’s definitely not a fan of my decision.”
He turned to me, a serious expression on his face. “I understand where he’s coming from.” Gesturing at my license, he continued, “You know this doesn’t give you the license to run amok around town—”
I held up a hand. “Yes, I know. Pete gave me the exact same speech not five minutes before you walked in here.”
Encircling his arms around my waist, he said, “Great minds think alike. Just promise me you’ll be careful out there. What you’ll be doing is rarely going to be dangerous, but when it is, I want you to keep your head on straight and not take any chances.” He leaned down and kissed me. “I like having you around.”
I smiled as his cheeks flushed adorably just above his neatly trimmed beard. You’d never know it from looking at his big, strapping frame, but he was a total softie on the inside, and he blushed anytime he tried to say anything remotely romantic to me. It was quite refreshing, considering so many men in Nashville were either players or phonies. Stafford was the real deal.
“I promise I’ll be careful.”
“Good. Do you have time to go to lunch with me to celebrate?”
After a quiet lunch with Stafford away from Java Jive, I had calmed down enough to concentrate on my work. Or very nearly. I texted Maya a picture of my new license, and she sped right over to see it in person.
Once she had expressed her congratulations, she handed me a file folder out of her messenger bag. “Well, here you go. Your first solo surveillance assignment. A reward for your hard work,” she said in her lilting British accent. “It’s the Kixmiller infidelity case. I’m officially passing the torch to you.”
I opened the folder, trying not to seem as crazy excited as I felt. My first case!
Maya and I had been investigating this Kixmiller guy for over a week now. His wife had suspected him of cheating for a while, but needed photographic proof of him and his mistress in flagrante delicto in order to nullify their pre-nuptial agreement and take him to the cleaners in divorce court. My surveillance mission tonight was to keep watch on Kixmiller’s mistress’s house and get photos of the couple together. The only problem was that Maya and I had done this same stakeout several times already, and we’d struck out every time. Each night, Kixmiller came and went from his girlfriend’s house alone, and she didn’t set foot outside while he was there. The lovers were discreet, never being seen together in public.
Maya added, “I hope you have more luck than we’ve had so far.”
I smiled confidently. “We’ll get him. I’m sure of it.”
Studying me for a moment, she said, “You know who else would be excited to hear your news?”
“Hamilton. You should call him.”
I frowned and let out a mirthless laugh. “Maybe when hell freezes over.”
“He keeps asking me about you.”
“You’ve mentioned that.”
A few months ago, my ex-boyfriend, Detective Ryder Hamilton, had left me injured and alone to run off in pursuit of his long-dead wife’s killer, who the FBI ultimately caught weeks later on the run in Florida. At the time, we were newly broken up but trying to figure out whether we wanted to give our relationship another chance. His poor judgment and total disregard for my safety sealed my decision. I hadn’t seen or heard from him since that day, so I had come to the conclusion he wasn’t interested, either. However, for the past month, Maya had been telling me about Ryder’s sudden fascination with how I was and what I was doing.
“If you won’t tell him your news, I will,” she said.
I sighed, knowing I couldn’t stop my hardheaded friend. “Knock yourself out, but don’t you dare tell him I said hello.”
At eight o’clock, after having worked at the coffeehouse since six a.m., I took my apron off and headed to the office to grab my purse. Pete was in there, knee-deep in accounting and payroll again.
“Hey, I’m heading out,” I said, purposely vague so as to not start another “discussion” about my new job.
“Where are you going so early?” he asked.
“I have a thing . . .”
Pete rolled his eyes. “Obviously I’m not going to be able to talk some sense into you anytime soon. Please be careful.”
I retrieved my purse from the closet and headed for the door. “I will. This is cake. All I’m doing is hiding in my car, trying to get a photo of a cheating husband and his skanky mistress. I won’t be within fifty feet of them, and they shouldn’t even know I’m there. No danger whatsoever.”
“Will Maya be with you?”
Knowing he wouldn’t like my answer, I sailed through the door, calling, “See you tomorrow!”
Yes! I couldn’t even begin to describe the thrill of being on my first-ever surveillance mission as a real private investigator. My insides jangling with pent-up energy, I pulled my car to the curb in the mistress’s neighborhood, a few houses down from her residence. Located east of Java Jive, near Reservoir Park, the neighborhood wasn’t fancy like the one the husband lived in, but at least it was a safe place for me to sit for hours alone in my parked car.
As Maya had taught me, I took detailed notes using a combination of the notepad and small tape recorder I’d brought. I started my report with the time I arrived, the address, and a description of the area: nearly dark, several vehicles parked on the street, three people out walking, lights on in female subject’s home, and no sign yet of male subject’s vehicle. I snapped a few photos with Maya’s fancy telescoping camera and noted the picture number and location shown in the shot. And then I waited.
And waited. And waited . . .
As my buzz of excitement began to wane, my male subject pulled several cars ahead of me in his brand-new Mercedes. My heartbeat revved again at the sight of my mark, who showed up here at eight-thirty p.m. every night like clockwork. Walter Kixmiller was an overweight fifty-something man with a bad comb-over. What, then, did his pretty little mistress, Vanessa Berry, see in him? It rhymed with “money.” Kixmiller was the owner and CEO of a huge construction firm in Nashville that was currently building a massive hotel downtown. In short, the guy was loaded. Money couldn’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell could buy you a young, nubile girlfriend.
It could also buy the girlfriend a matching Mercedes, which she kept stored safely away in her garage. It was Maya’s opinion that Kixmiller bought the vehicle through his construction company, because his wife could find no record of the purchase in their personal accounts. That was a whole other can of worms, which we luckily didn’t have to delve into. We were only in charge of proving he had a little something on the side.
I was ready with the camera when Kixmiller exited his vehicle with a bouquet of red roses and approached Berry’s house. I snapped photos of him all the way up the cracked sidewalk and got a good close-up of him lumbering up the front steps. Unfortunately, this house’s front porch was screened-in, and without the porch light on, it was impossible to get a clean shot of Berry’s face as she opened the door and let him into the house. Damn. Just like every other time we’d been here.
Dejected, I slumped back into my seat. This was always the worst part. Whatever it was that they were doing in there took generally between thirty minutes and two hours. I didn’t know what the big time difference was, except maybe some days the girlfriend couldn’t choke back the vomit any longer than a half hour and had to call a halt to their lovemaking. I knew I couldn’t have pretended even for a moment to be attracted to that blob of a man, no matter what the paycheck.
Bored out of my mind, I shifted in my seat to catch a sliver of light from a nearby streetlight and listlessly flipped through a cooking magazine I’d brought with me. I couldn’t use my phone any more than absolutely necessary because even at the darkest setting, the screen illuminated the interior of my car way too much. If I was going to do a lot of surveillance, I would need to consider getting my windows tinted. However, that didn’t matter too much tonight, because it was sweltering outside and I had to keep the windows partially rolled down so I didn’t have heatstroke. Maybe the beginning of summer wasn’t the smartest time to start my PI career.
My eyes became tired of squinting, so I set the magazine aside, now completely out of entertainment. It occurred to me that I might need to grow some patience if I was going to be an effective investigator. Settling in for the long haul, I suppressed my negative thoughts and cleared my mind.
No sooner had I achieved a moment of Zen than the front door of Vanessa Berry’s house burst open and Walter Kixmiller came stumbling out, his young mistress hot on his heels. I scrambled for the camera and managed to capture a shot of the light from inside her home glinting off the chef’s knife she had pointed at his bulging belly. They were arguing, but not loudly enough for me to make out what they were saying. I began recording a video as well as snapping still shots, hoping to catch a snip of their conversation. As he hurried down the stairs, she followed him, and now that she was out in the middle of her front yard and had raised her voice, I could hear her clear as a bell.
“I never want to see you again, you son of a bitch! And you can try all you want to repo my Mercedes. You come back here again, and I’ll chop off more than the end of your tie!” she shouted, holding up the other half of his designer necktie.
Kixmiller, now ridiculously disheveled with his comb-over flipped the wrong direction and wearing a nub of a tie, bellowed, “I’d like to see you try, you psychotic little whore! I can bury you with one phone call.”
“Bring it on! At least I don’t have to pretend to like your nasty, sweaty man-boobs and droopy balls flopping all over me anymore! I had to fake it every time!”
I called that one. And I also caught her admitting to having sex with him on video. Score one for the new PI. Berry turned on her heel and began stalking back toward her house, but Kixmiller had to get the last word. “I knew it was time to break things off with you. My new girlfriend is younger, prettier, and much better in the sack.”
At his biting comment, she wheeled around to face him, her face bright red and eyes flashing.
He didn’t know when to shut up. “Perkier in every way, too. Plus, you were getting a little too well used.” He added smugly, “You were quite frankly beginning to bore me.”
She let out a screech and charged him, knife first.
Caroline Fardig is the USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen mysteries. Fardig’s Bad Medicine was named one of the best books of 2015 by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.