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Murder in the River City

By:Allison Brennan

Chapter One

Sunday night

Callie Wood regretted every major decision she’d ever made.

Running off with her boyfriend when she was eighteen wasn’t the first of her bad choices, but it had set her on her present course. Six months later, he left her a thousand miles from home with forty bucks in her pocket, a change of clothes, and an ounce of weed. That, and the decent blowjobs she gave, got her halfway back home. Now she was stuck in Sacramento doing a little of this and a little of that until she landed a real job.

The problem? She really didn’t like working that hard.

That was all changing now. For the first time, she felt like she was making the right choices, that she’d found a kindred spirit.

Right guy, right plan, right time.

She waited in the idling car outside the bar while Joey and his friend Pete went inside to talk to Mack, the bartender. She didn’t like Pete—he was too slick, too good-looking. Too much like her ex-boyfriend who’d dumped her in Portland. But she didn’t have to like the guy; after this week, she and Joey would never have to see him again. They’d be flush, living wherever they wanted, never having to worry about paying the rent or eating. They could just have fun.

The back door opened and Joey walked out first. She didn’t like the look on his face. Fear? Maybe. Pete came out next, all attitude. Cocky jerk. She put the car in drive and rolled, lights off, toward them. They jumped in and Joey said, “Go, go, go. Now.” When he tossed a bag into the back, she glanced over. His hands were shaking. Sweat had dampened his collar.

“What happened?” she asked. “Did Mack get what we need?”

“Shut up,” Joey said.

She frowned. He’d never talked to her like that when they first started going out. It was his asshole friend, Pete. Ever since Joey got the call three days ago that his ‘boss’ was in town, Joey had been jumpy.

Pete got on the phone. “Plan B.” Callie heard a man on the other end talking really fast.

She whispered to Joey, “I thought you said Mack had—”

“I said shut up.”

She turned under the freeway and drove up J Street. She’d had no problem robbing Pat Dooligan; he’d fired her. But something didn’t feel right. Joey was too … scared. He was never scared.

Pete said to whoever was on the other end of the cell phone, “He got cold feet. … No, he didn’t know you were back. Just said he wanted out. … Yes, we took care of it.”

Callie didn’t like Pete’s end of the conversation. Her instincts, which had never served her well, began to itch, like maybe she had gotten with the wrong program. Maybe Joey wasn’t the nice guy she’d thought. Just because the sex was hot and he had a nice apartment and plenty of spending money, maybe things weren’t so good. Maybe they were kind of bad, in fact.

Pete said, “We’re heading there now.” He hung up. “Get on the freeway. North.”

Callie had to go down to 7th Street before she could turn right, then right again on L Street to get back to I-5. She’d made a big damn circle, irritated they hadn’t clued her in earlier to their plans. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“Shit, Gleason, does she ever shut up?” Pete said.

Joey hit her with the back of his hand. “Last warning.”

Tears burned behind her eyes, but she didn’t say anything. Joey had never hit her before. Never. She drove until Pete told her to get off the freeway, in South Natomas, about five miles away. The area looked familiar, but she didn’t recognize where they were until she saw Mack’s apartment building. She’d been here a couple times when she still worked for Mack, but that was before he found out she was skimming from the drawer. She didn’t understand what his problem was—Mack was no saint, yet he had a problem stealing from Pat Dooligan? A big fucking double standard, she’d always thought.

“Wasn’t Mack at the bar?” she asked. “Why are we at his apartment?”

They ignored her questions and Joey said, “Wait here.” He and Pete got out of the car and disappeared on the second floor.

She considered driving off and leaving them. But where would she go? She had Joey’s car, but no money—Joey had all the cash. She glanced at the gas tank. Not even half full. No way she could make it back home to San Diego. Her parents didn’t want her back—not only had it been four years, but she’d also taken their ATM cards. Before they had cancelled their accounts, she’d snatched nearly five thousand dollars.

Not that the money gotten her far. When it ran out, her boyfriend had dumped her.

Best to wait here, keep her mouth shut, and when the money came in at the end of the week, she’d be the one to dump Joey. He’d hit her in front of Pete, like he was trying to act all macho-man. She had too much self-respect to be a punching bag.