Millionaire's Last Stand

By: Elle Kennedy


We’ve got a body.

The call had come in on his cell phone, jolting him from restless slumber, and as he’d left his barren farmhouse and driven over, he hadn’t been able to fight the dread climbing up his chest. Now it was jammed in the back of his throat and refused to dislodge. An omen that his peaceful little town was about to become…well, not so peaceful anymore.

Patrick “Finn” Finnegan killed the engine of his Jeep and stared out the windshield at the commanding mansion up ahead. Situated on the edge of a rocky cliff, the house resembled a smaller version of a medieval castle. Rumor had it Cole Donovan had wanted to use wood to make the structure akin to the rustic homes that were trademark to the area, but his wife had demanded the house be made of stone.

Finn wasn’t surprised. Teresa Donovan always acted like a queen, so why not live as one?

A rap on the driver’s window jarred him from his thoughts. Finn looked up to see Anna Holt, his most dedicated deputy. Uneasiness swam in Anna’s astute brown eyes, the stiffness of her slim body hinting at what Finn expected to find inside the extravagant home.

“How bad is it?” he said in lieu of a greeting as he slid out of the driver’s seat.

Anna hesitated. “Bad,” she finally said.

The two of them walked up the limestone path leading to the pillared entrance of the mansion. They moved through the ornate double doors, which were filigreed with bronze and more suited to the entry of a cathedral than a home in North Carolina. Inside the spacious front hallway, a white marble floor stretched beneath Finn’s black boots, another incongruity considering the home’s granite exterior. Teresa Donovan had evidently opted for a show of wealth rather than consistency.

“She’s in here,” Anna said, gesturing to the arched doorway on their left.

As they crossed the threshold, Finn rubbed the stubble on his chin and cast a weary look across the lavishly furnished living room where his second deputy, Max Patton, stood by the enormous black slate fireplace, dusting the mantle and the framed photographs atop it for fingerprints. Finn’s gaze zeroed in on one particular photo, which showed a beaming Teresa in a wedding gown, flanked by a tall man with olive-colored skin and dark eyes.

Cole Donovan, real estate tycoon, ex-husband and possible murder suspect.

Finn suppressed a groan. Damn it. This was the last thing his town needed. In the five years he’d served as the sheriff of Serenade, there hadn’t been a single murder. People simply didn’t get killed here.

With a sigh, Finn finally forced himself to focus on the main event, the lifeless body of Teresa Donovan.

Even in death she was a beautiful woman, with her black hair fanned out on the parquet floor like strands of fine silk. The wide-set eyes beneath her closed lids had once been stormy silver but he knew they were now a lifeless gray, and her skin, once milky-white, had a bluish tinge to it. She wore a wine-colored peignoir, short enough to reveal her firm lower thighs and shapely calves. She wasn’t a tall woman, but her flawless beauty had always made her seem larger than life.

So had her volatile personality.

“Got something under the fingernails” came the medical examiner’s nasal voice.

Finn frowned. “She scratched the guy?”

Len Kirsch shrugged, his wire-rimmed glasses sliding down the bridge of his long, thin nose. “Possibly. But you could wind up with skin cells under the fingernails from just caressing someone’s arm. I’ll examine the body more thoroughly at the lab to check for concrete defensive wounds.”

Another sigh lodged in Finn’s chest. Christ. Why did it have to be this woman? It would be hard finding even one person in town who’d liked Teresa. Hated her? Well, the numbers in that camp would make most of the town a suspect.

He stared at the neat little hole in Teresa’s nightie. Right in the heart. Someone hadn’t been screwing around here. The shot had been meant to kill.

He rose to his feet, while the lone forensics tech employed by the Serenade Police Department snapped photos of the scene. The rest of the living room was pristine. No overturned furniture, no hints of a struggle. The only sign of foul play was the body lying on the floor next to the brown leather couch, and the ominous pool of blood congealing on the hardwood.

Damn Cole Donovan. He’d caused nothing but trouble since moving to Finn’s town two years ago. Shut down the paper mill and built a hotel in its place. Married Serenade’s ultimate bad girl. Divorced her.

And quite conceivably killed her.

This was a quiet town. Serenade’s five thousand or so citizens were pleasant, hardworking people. They quietly lived their lives, they raised their families and attended the annual craft festival every August, they ran the quaint shops on Main Street and catered to the tourists that wandered into their picturesque town.

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