When a wealthy socialite is found dead on her luxury yacht, her daughter Lainey hires Kate Weller to investigate. Agnes Westin created plenty of enemies during her climb to the top of society, many with a taste for revenge – but did any of them feel strongly enough to kill her?
But Kate has another reason altogether for returning to Pensacola, Florida, the only town she has ever called home. Her brother Liam has spent the past sixteen years in jail for his part in a robbery homicide – and unless Kate uncovers the truth of what really happened that day, she will never be safe. Now someone wants to make sure her repressed memories stay buried. Can Kate clear her brother’s name before the real killer silences them both forever?
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Kate Weller leaned back against the headrest and tried not to think about a very tall, dark, and handsome man who cooked the best Italian food she'd ever tasted. An ambitious man, who almost single-handedly built the family's trattoria into one of Charleston's most sought-after restaurants. A man who respected the elderly, was kind to animals, and knew how to make a woman feel like a queen. She was leaving behind a trophy fish, pulled from the sea of eligible bachelors. As Kate forced away painful memories of Eric Manfredi, she tried to imagine what she would find when she visited her brother for the first time in years.
What had sixteen years in prison done to Liam? Would he be coarse and foulmouthed, muscle-bound and covered in tats to indicate his prison-yard allegiances? Or would her brother still be the same shaggy-haired dreamer who'd wanted to make a better life for them after their parents died? Shame and guilt over never visiting after his arrest washed over Kate. So she forced thoughts of Liam into the same corner of her mind that Eric inhabited.
'Yoo-hoo, Kate. Did you see that sign?' Beth Kirby took her hand off the wheel long enough to deliver a jab with her elbow. 'Welcome to Florida. Getting homesick yet?'
Kate straightened. 'The Florida–Georgia line is still a long way from Pensacola. It'll be another four hours before things start looking familiar.' She slouched back down in the seat.
'Will you look for a place to live near your brother's prison?'
'No, that would be too depressing. I want to find a cheap hotel near the beach in Pensacola. I really enjoyed being close to water in Charleston.'
Her best friend rolled her eyes. 'First of all, there is no such thing as a cheap hotel near the beach unless it's slated for demolition. Secondly, you need something more long-term than a hotel. Let's look for an apartment that leases by the month.'
'I'm not staying that long.' Kate rubbed a knot in her left shoulder. 'I plan to find out why Liam wants to see me, and why after all these years someone is stirring up the past.'
Beth's face scrunched into a frown. 'Are you crazy? Someone has been threatening you. And that someone blew up your boyfriend's car. It was only by the grace of God that Eric wasn't inside at the time. That's a far cry from posting embarrassing photos from your high school days.'
'I realize that, but it doesn't change the fact I need to work. Last time I looked at my bank account, I wasn't independently wealthy. And since I'm the roving PI, I have to go wherever the boss finds the next case. In the meantime, I just hope Nate doesn't fire me. Oh, and for the record, Eric is no longer my boyfriend. I broke it off.'
'Nate isn't going to fire you. He's really nice guy. Why do you think he insisted I come with you to Pensacola?'
Kate's mouth dropped open. 'You're staying only until I find a place to live. Then you're going back to your fiancé in Savannah. Don't you have a wedding to plan?'
'Everything is already organized. Mom has the situation well under control. I just need to show up. Oh, and fit into my dress.' Beth tossed the rest of her donut out the window.
'Stop littering.' Kate sipped her cold coffee. 'I know you mean well, but I don't need a bodyguard. I have my permit to carry a firearm and plenty of ammunition. Can't you have some faith in your protégée?'
Beth glanced into the rearview mirror before changing lanes. 'I've got lots of faith, but two Annie Oakleys are better than one.' She patted the Beretta concealed beneath her cardigan. Beth Kirby was the only woman who packed heat while wearing a girly dress, high heels, and a big hat.
Kate's own handgun was tucked in her purse at her feet. Hopefully, she'd have time to dig it out if they ran into trouble. 'Three days and that's it,' she said. 'Even if your wedding is set, I'm sure Michael needs help on the case you two are working.'
'Nope, he's just finishing the paperwork on our last one before he joins us.'
Kate pivoted on the seat. 'He's picking you up and taking you home, right?'
'Wrong. You're going to have two bodyguards. Nate doesn't want his newest agent to end up like your boyfriend's SUV.'
'I can't believe this is happening.' Kate remembered Eric's Expedition exploding in a cloud of smoke and twisted metal with a sour taste in her mouth.
'Believe it, girlfriend. I'm treating this trip like my final vacation as a single woman. I can bunk with you, while Michael sleeps on the couch.'
'Beth, I don't have a couch. I own a few boxes of books and photo albums, a plastic crate of work stuff, one suitcase of clothes, and my laptop. Did you hear the word couch anywhere in that list?'
'We'll find you a furnished place just like you had in Charleston. Every furnished apartment has at least one couch.'
Without warning, Kate's eyes filled with tears. 'But it won't be just like Charleston, will it?' Despite her best intentions, tears streamed down her face as the image of Eric Manfredi in his white chef's coat danced through her mind – all six foot three inches of him.
'No, adorable landlords like Eric are hard to find. But now that he's your boyfriend, the landlord can look like Quasimodo.'
'You're not listening. Right before I left town, we broke up.'
'Oh, I heard you just fine. But I also know he still loves you.' Beth switched the air conditioning to high.
Kate squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to stop crying. 'Someone connected to my jailbird brother sent me a very clear message, all because I failed to listen at the last two places I lived. Now the nicest man in the world almost died in the crossfire. I can't, I won't let that happen again.'
'Eric Manfredi is built like a prizefighter. Don't you think he can take care of himself?'
'But he's not a prizefighter! He's a chef who takes his grandmother to church on Sundays and cooks exquisite pappardelle Bolognese. So no, I don't think Eric can deal with sociopaths who plant car bombs in the parking lot of Office Max.'
When Beth opened her mouth to argue, Kate held up her hand. 'Please, let's not talk about him. Nothing can be done about the situation so the less said the better.'
'Okay, I won't bring up Eric, but just remember that Michael and I go wherever the boss sends us. Nate wants Michael to use his techy superpowers to find out who's sending those warnings and I'm supposed to dog you like a bloodhound. Anybody who gets too close will be shot.' Beth patted her weapon lovingly.
'If you get arrested I won't testify at the trial that you were temporarily insane. Because we both know in your case it's permanent. Wake me when we get close to Pensacola.'
Kate leaned her seat back and closed her eyes. She knew she wouldn't sleep, but she needed time to strategize. Everything had happened so fast. Just as her last case was wrapping up in Charleston, someone with an axe to grind had found her, despite her every effort to cover her tracks. And she only had a vague idea who they were.
After her brother went to jail, his old cronies would occasionally follow her around Pensacola. Sometimes they parked outside her apartment, always in a different car with mud obscuring the license plate. Since Liam had been the only member of their pack of thieves to go to jail, she knew their intimidation was meant to keep her quiet, which is exactly what she had done.
Not that she had much choice. Whatever Kate had witnessed the night Liam graduated to big-league crime, she had buried so deep in her child's mind that she couldn't make trouble if she wanted to. Her sole intentions were to finish college and forget she even had a big brother. Then, after several years of no drive-bys, someone started leaving vile obscenities and thinly veiled threats on her answering machine. Kate considered going to the police, but feared retaliation against her brother in prison. Inmates killed fellow inmates all the time – crimes not considered newsworthy enough to make the newspaper. Even though she wanted no contact with Liam, she didn't want him to end up dead because of some foul-mouthed punks.
So instead she had packed her bags, changed her name, and left town in the dead of night. William Faulkner would have been proud, except that she hadn't bought a bus ticket. Her rusty old car made it to Tallahassee where she lived on savings until she found a job.
For a few years Kate maintained a low profile, telling only one person the truth about her identity: her boss and mentor at the Florida Bureau of Worker's Compensation. Life had been good. Then the threats started up again, this time not so thinly veiled. Her boss transferred her to a different division, in Georgia, where she was sent to work as a fraud investigator. Meeting Beth and Michael in Savannah had been a dream come true, since they wanted to hire a PI willing to travel. During her training, Kate and Beth had clicked immediately. When she was sent to Charleston – the first case she worked solo – Kate had met the love of her life. But a woman on the run can't afford to fall in love. Getting involved with her had almost cost Eric his life.
Kate was done with romance. But she was also done with running and hiding. She went back to her real name and was on her way home to Pensacola. If someone was out to get her, they might as well get it over with. That is, once Beth and Michael were safely back in Savannah.
'Wake up, sleepy head.' Beth nudged her shoulder. 'We're almost to Pensacola. What do you want me to do?'
Unfortunately, Kate had fallen asleep without formulating a strategy. 'Exit I10 at I-110. Stay on that until it dead-ends at the Gulf of Mexico. I'll watch for signs to Main Street. Pensacola's historic district isn't quite as grand as Savannah's or Charleston's, but it's close to the water. That's where I hope to find a place to live.'
'I guess I woke you in the nick of time.' Beth cut across three lanes of traffic to reach the exit lane. 'As soon as you see water, keep your eyes peeled for signs that say, "Condemned" or "Sheriff's Auction."' A corner of Beth's mouth twitched as she fought back a grin.
'Very funny. I'll Google places on Main Street in the downtown area. There's got to be something I can afford within walking distance of the bay, even if I have to jog half a mile.' Kate pulled out her phone.
'What, you don't want to rent a villa on the beach?'
'Those would be over on Santa Rosa Island and out of my price range. Besides, I want to stay on this side of Pensacola Bay so I won't have to fight the traffic every day.'
'Like this?' Beth braked hard as cars slowed to a crawl.
She glanced up from her Google search. 'Exactly.'
While Beth fumed over the traffic, Kate checked out the long-term rental hotels, those reasonably priced and part of a national chain. But Pensacola was no Daytona or Miami Beach. She quickly narrowed the limited possibilities down to one.
'When you see a sign for Scenic Highway 90, take it to the east,' she said impulsively. 'I want to show you one of my favorite places from my youth.'
'Was this the local Lovers' Lane? Somewhere little Katie kissed a boy for the first time?'
She snorted. 'Nope, I had lots of friends in high school but no boyfriends. Even in college, the guy I hung with was more of a pal than anything else. The month we graduated, Larry got engaged to my best friend.'
'Did you want to kill him?' Beth lowered her voice to a whisper.
'Nope. I was overjoyed for them.'
'And yet ... you're so willing to give up on Eric Manfredi – your first real boyfriend?'
Sweat ran down Kate's neck. 'What part of "knowing me could be dangerous to his health" don't you understand?' She enunciated each word carefully.
'I understand just fine, but I never pegged you for a quitter or a scaredy-cat.'
'Well, now you know the truth. And what happened to our agreement of not talking about him?'
Beth ducked her head. 'Sorry. Michael will attest to me having the memory of a mayfly.'
'Write it on the back of your hand in ink. Don't make me hurt you.'
'Here's the exit for Highway 90. What are we looking for?' Beth slowed as she headed down the ramp.
'Bay Bluffs Park. My mother brought Liam and me here for picnics. This is where Liam taught me to swim. My mentor at the Florida Bureau heard they had fixed up the area. Supposedly they have a nice boardwalk down to the beach through a protected habitat.'
While watching for the park, Beth switched off the AC and rolled down the windows of Kate's car. 'There's the sign,' Beth hooted.
'Turn down the next road and park anywhere. I can't wait to get out of this car and stretch my legs.' The moment the Toyota stopped, Kate jumped out and started to run.
It didn't take Beth long to catch up to her. 'What's the big hurry? Is there an ice-cream stand at the end of the boardwalk?'
'I'm just happy to be here after all these years.' She didn't slow down until totally breathless.
'Which mother brought you here – the lady who adopted you and Liam or one of the foster moms?' Beth leaned back against the rail, not breathing anywhere near as hard as Kate.
'Both. My adoptive mom was first to show us this place. Then I talked a few nice foster mothers into coming here whenever I'd earned some kind of reward.'
Beth peered up with narrowed eyes. 'You say nice as though some of them weren't.'
'I don't mean abusive, or anything close. None of my foster parents were mean to me, but some had bitten off more than they could chew with the number of kids they took in. They didn't have the time or energy to give more than the minimum.' Kate didn't like where the conversation had veered. 'But I got along just fine. Plenty of natural parents wouldn't win any parenting awards either.'
'That's for sure. I'd say you turned out pretty well.' Beth wrapped an arm around her shoulder and squeezed.
'Thanks,' Kate murmured, returning the hug. 'Check out that view.'
Beth turned to see crystal blue water and sand so white the reflected glare hurt their eyes. 'Wow. This is better than any old ice-cream stand.' For several minutes they watched speedboats and sailboats out on Escambia Bay, mesmerized. Then Beth asked, 'Do you remember the last time you came here with your brother?'
Kate shook her head. 'Liam didn't thrive well in the foster care system. Like I told you, we were never placed in the same home after our adoptive parents died. I was only seven, but Liam was already fifteen. He thought he didn't need any more supervision and wanted to be on his own.'
'He left his little sister behind?'
'No,' said Kate, much too defensively. 'Liam wanted to get a job so he could save money. Then he planned to petition the court for my custody as soon as he turned eighteen. But by then he'd fallen into a rough crowd and landed in trouble. Juvenile hall did nothing to improve his ethical sense of right and wrong. It became harder and harder for us to keep in touch.' She felt a drop of rain, the first harbinger of a storm on the horizon. 'Enough past history. Let's get out of here before we get soaked.'
Like teenagers, they raced back to the car, arriving almost at the same time. 'I beat you by a foot,' Kate crowed.
'Only because I let you win.' Beth unlocked the doors with a press of a button. 'And that's enough sightseeing. We'd better search for a place to stay.'
'I've already made up my mind. Set your GPS for the Vacation Inn and Suites on West Main Street. They have a free breakfast bar, free WiFi and free parking. No doubt there'll be a couch in the room. All the reviews say it's very clean, with an outdoor pool if you want to soak your head before heading home to Savannah.'
'Shouldn't we check out more than one place?'
'Why bother? This one I can afford if I don't stay too long. Plus Main Street turns into Bay Front Parkway, so I'll be within jogging distance of water.'
Beth headed back to the highway. 'Fine, but with your impulsive mindset you'll probably marry the next man you meet.'
Kate turned her face to the window as unbidden thoughts of Eric surfaced. Eric had been her first boyfriend – the first man she ever cared about. Now marriage to him was out of the question. 'I intend to grow old with dogs, cats, and maybe a pet lizard. Let's just get to the Vacation Inn so I can check in and unpack. Tomorrow is Saturday, visiting day at Santa Rosa Prison, and I still want to get in a swim tonight.'
As Beth stepped on the gas, Kate leaned back and tried to picture Liam as a hardened inmate. But no matter how hard she tried, an image of a lanky, sandy-haired boy with freckles simply refused to budge.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sweet Taste of Revenge"
Copyright © 2018 Mary Ellis.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have been looking forward to reading this book and it sure didn’t disappoint, with two separate murder investigations going on all at once, there is never a dull moment. Answers do come, but surprises abound and once you think you know, don’t be too sure. This is the second book in this series, but some of the characters I have come to care about from previous books, that being said, this is a read alone, but let it tempt you to pick up the previous. I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Severn House, and was not required to give a positive review.
Hooray! I've been waiting to reconnect with P.I. Kate Weller and her coworkers and was happily rewarded with Sweet Taste of Revenge, Mary Ellis' second installment in the Kate Weller Series. If you didn't read Hiding in Plain Sight (Book One), you will be able to follow the story just fine, but the book is so good you will definitely want to read it, too. In Sweet Taste of Revenge, Kate returns to Pensacola, Florida, her hometown, to investigate the death of wealthy Agnes Westin and to discover the truth about the day her brother was arrested for robbery and murder. If she can recover her repressed memories of that day, she might be able to clear her brother's name. But someone wants to make sure she never remembers. Will Kate be able to recall the events in time to save them both? This is a book you won't want to miss. Mary Ellis is a superb storyteller. She has a knack for hooking you on page one and keeping you on the line until the very end. I love her witty, totally realistic characters. The plot keeps you turning pages, so don't bother looking for a stopping place. Just be prepared to bun the midnight oil--and enjoy! Thanks, Mary. I can't wait for your next book!