Death, Taxes, and a Shotgun Wedding by Diane Kelly is the 12th book in the Tara Holloway series (available October 31, 2017).
For IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway, this case is personal…
Wedding bells are ringing as Tara and her soon-to-be-husband Nick prepare for their big day. But along with all the RSVP cards are a series of death threats from an unknown source. The culprit must be someone from an earlier investigation—a white-collar criminal with a red-hot grudge—but Tara has run across too many lawbreakers to narrow down the search. And time, like her biological clock, is ticking.
Now, while dodging attempts on her life, Tara also finds herself embroiled in a rental scam in which a heartless crook is ripping people off left and right. Will she be able to track down the con artist and make it down the aisle in one piece? Or will “til death do us part” come before Tara can even say “I do”?
Bride to Be … Killed?
Early on a Sunday morning in mid-August, I sat at my fiancé’s kitchen table and placed a stamp on the last of our one hundred and thirty-eight wedding invitations. Done! Yay!
In a few short weeks, Nick and I would be tying the knot. Woot-woot! But until then, we’d be busy with our jobs as special agents for the Internal Revenue Service, fighting tax evasion and white-collar crime. Criminals don’t take a day off, and neither would we—at least not until after the wedding when we planned to spend a romantic week in Cancún, Mexico. Margaritas. Cabana boys with sexy Spanish accents. Beautiful Mexican beaches. Life doesn’t get any better than that.
Even though the invitations wouldn’t be picked up until tomorrow, I figured I might as well get them in the mail. There was a blue collection box only a quarter mile away, at the entrance to the neighborhood. Besides, Nick’s Australian shepherd mix, Daffodil, had been dropping not-so-subtle hints that she wanted to go for a walk. She’d pawed the inside of his front door, nudged my leg, and when that failed, she’d retrieved her leash and brought it to me in her mouth, dropping it at my feet as if to say Hey, dummy. Am I making myself clear now?
I reached out and ruffled her head. “Okay, girl. I give in. We’ll go for a walk.”
After clipping the leash to her collar, I stashed the invitations in my tote bag and slung the straps over my shoulder. Nick was still asleep in his bed upstairs. He’d had a tough week, learning the ropes as he prepared to move up the ladder at the IRS, taking on his new position as codirector of the IRS Criminal Investigations Division in Dallas. I let him continue snoozing. He’d earned it. Besides, he’d need to be well rested for later. We planned to spend the day packing for our upcoming move, and he’d be the one doing the heavy lifting.
Daffodil dragged me to the door, prancing happily on the floor, her nails clicking on the tile and her fluffy tail whipping back and forth. We eased past the stack of empty boxes in the foyer, headed out onto the porch, and made our way down to the sidewalk. When she stopped to sniff the tree out front, she took advantage of the opportunity to multitask and simultaneously crouched to relieve herself.
We continued down the sidewalk, pausing on occasion so she could smell a bush here, a curb there. It wasn’t unusual for cars to be parked on the street in our neighborhood of town houses, so I paid little attention to the white pickup sitting halfway between Nick’s town house and mine down the block. It looked just the same as thousands of other trucks in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex.
We continued on, passing my place across the street. In the yard was a recently erected FOR SALE sign with the phone number of my Realtor, whose tax returns I’d prepared while working my former job at the CPA firm of Martin & McGee. Nick and I were in the process of buying the house next door to his mother in another part of town, so I hoped my place would sell quickly. Couldn’t hurt to get my equity out of my current home and put more down on the new place, lower our monthly payments.
We also planned to hold a garage sale at my place next Saturday to get rid of the things we’d no longer need once we were married. Given that we’d both lived on our own for several years, we had duplicates of some items. Two living room sets. Two sets of pots and pans. Two gun cabinets. We’d begun sorting through our things and separating them into piles of stuff to keep and stuff to put out at the garage sale.
While we hadn’t yet agreed whose living room furniture or pans we’d be selling off, there was no doubt we’d be keeping my gun cabinet. Nick had bought mine for me for Valentine’s Day. It was painted a glossy red and held my extensive collection of handguns and rifles, even a sawed-off shotgun. But there would be room for Nick’s guns in it, too. He had fewer than I did. He’d grown up in the country where he might need a rifle to shoot into the air to scare off a wandering coyote before it went for the chicken coop. I, on the other hand, grew up in a family of gun nuts who liked to hunt. While I’d inherited their affinity for the sport of shooting, I had no killer instinct and couldn’t imagine taking aim at an innocent deer or bird. I preferred target practice only, putting a bullet through a paper target or a root beer can. That’s not to say I’d never shot anyone. I’d put bullets in the legs of suspects after they’d first shot at me, and I’d even put a bullet through the brain of a member of a dangerous drug cartel. My one and only kill. I hoped it would stay that way. I derived no pleasure from having to use my weapon against people. I hoped I would never have to do it again.
“This way, girl,” I told the dog as I rounded the corner. Daffodil turned up the street too, trotting a few feet ahead of me as we made our way onto the main road.
We reached the mailbox and I circled around to the front of it, grabbing stacks of invitations out of my bag and slipping them through the slot, where they plunked to the metal floor inside. Finished, we began to head back down the sidewalk.
We’d taken only a few steps when my ears picked up the sound of a big automobile engine coming up the street in front of us. Daffodil heard it, too. I looked up to see the white truck heading our way. Still, I would have paid it no mind had the dog not pricked up her ears and stopped dead in her tracks, staring at it, as if she sensed something was amiss.
“Everything okay, Daffy?”
VROOOOOM! The driver floored the engine and swerved right at us.
Luckily for us both, Daffodil’s canine instincts were quicker than my inferior human ones, and she darted behind a mature oak tree, yanking me after her. Not a second too soon, either. As I fell to the grass behind the tree, the truck came up the curb, ran over the sidewalk where we’d just been standing, and hit the mailbox with a resounding BAM!
The four legs of the box had been bolted to the concrete. But not anymore. The force of the impact ripped them from their moorings. The box flew up in the air and performed a back flip, its door opening and showering out wedding invitations in every direction before the box came down in the center of the main road. CLANG! The white pickup never even braked, careening back onto the street and roaring off before I could catch its license-plate number.
SCREEEEEEECH! An oncoming red Ford Fiesta braked hard but couldn’t stop before crashing into the mailbox. CRASH! An instant later there was a poom as the airbags inflated, followed by tinkle-tinkle-tinkle as the Fiesta became a metal piñata, raining parts onto the asphalt. Meanwhile, the mailbox spun like a top down the street, finally coming to rest against the curb.
As I levered myself up from the ground, the airbag deflated to reveal a teenaged girl at the wheel. Heck, the ink was probably still wet on her license. Her eyes bugged wide and her mouth hung open in shock.
I ran to the curb, holding Daffodil’s leash tight. “Are you okay?” I hollered to the girl.
She looked at me through the window and burst into tears but nonetheless managed to nod, her dark curls bobbing about her face.
I whipped my cell phone from my pocket and dialed 911.
“Dallas 911,” came a male voice. “What’s your emergency?”
“A driver in a white pickup nearly ran over me and my dog, and hit a mail collection box. The mailbox ended up in the road and a car crashed into it.” I gave him the names of the streets at the intersection. “Last I saw the truck it was heading east.”
“Did you get a license-plate number?”
“No. It all happened too fast. But there’s got to be front end damage to the truck.”
“No.” Thank goodness!
“I’ll get law enforcement en route.”
By this time, traffic had slowed to a crawl as cars backed up behind the stationary Ford and rubberneckers inched around it, gawking as they rolled over the invitations we’d paid a pretty penny for and spent untold hours addressing and stamping. But there was nothing I could do about that now. Holding Daffodil’s leash tight, I stepped up to the curb and motioned for the girl to unroll the passenger window. “The police are on their way.”
She held out her phone to me. “Can you call my parents?” she blubbered. “They’re going to be so mad!”
“Not at you,” I assured her. “I’ll let them know this wasn’t your fault.”
I took the phone, found “Mom” on her list of contacts, and dialed the number. “Hello,” I said. “My name is Tara Holloway. Your daughter is fine but she’s been in an accident.”
“WHAT?!?” shrieked her mother.
“She’s okay,” I repeated to calm the woman. “The accident wasn’t her fault. A truck hit a mailbox and it flew out into the street right in front of her car. She’s not hurt. She’s just scared.”
I gave the woman our location.
“I’ll be right there!” she cried.
I ended the call and handed the phone back to the girl. “Your mom’s on her way.”
Sobbing, she nodded and took her phone.
The girl taken care of, I phoned Nick. “Put on some pants,” I told him. “Daffy and I need you.” I gave him a quick rundown. Truck. Mailbox. Crash.
“Holy shit!” he hollered into the phone. “I’ll be right there!”
We ended the call and I slid the phone into my pocket. In mere seconds, Nick came running around the corner in sneakers, a rumpled pair of shorts and nothing else.
“Are you all right?” he shouted as he ran toward us.
“We’re fine.” Well, other than my shoulder having been pulled out of the socket. But I wasn’t about to complain.
Nick grabbed me in a bear hug and pulled me to him, holding me so tight I could barely breathe.
When he finally released me, I told him about his hero dog. “Daffodil yanked me to safety. No telling what would have happened if she hadn’t clued in and pulled me out of the way.” Actually, that was a lie. I knew exactly what would have happened. I would’ve been plowed down, that’s what. I owed her my life.
Nick crouched next to me and cradled Daffodil’s face in his hands, looking into her eyes. “You okay, baby girl?”
She trembled in fear, but nonetheless gave him a lick on the cheek. He returned the gesture by kissing her snout. “I can’t believe someone tried to run over an innocent dog.” He stood and turned to me. “Unfortunately, I have no trouble believing someone would want to run you over.”
I frowned and put my hands on my hips. “Thanks a lot!”
“You know what I mean.” Nick’s eyes darkened with concern. “You’ve made a lot of enemies.”
I certainly had. Trouble just seemed to find me. Since joining the IRS, I’d put dozens of people behind bars. Far as I knew, though, all of them were still behind those bars. “Maybe this was just a freak thing,” I said. “Maybe the driver wasn’t aiming for me. Maybe the driver just lost control of the truck.”
“I suppose that’s possible. But until we know for sure this was an accident we’d better keep our guard up.” Nick turned to the crumpled car and eyed the sobbing girl behind the wheel. “Let’s get her out of there.”
Putting up a hand to halt the traffic, he circled around the car and opened her door. “Why don’t you come wait with us?”
She swiped her tears away and nodded. She tried to climb out, realized her seat belt was still on, and reached down to release it. Nick held out a hand to help her out of the car.
After leading her over to the oak tree where I waited with Daffodil, Nick glanced back at the envelopes strewn all over the road. “Tell me those aren’t our wedding invitations all over the street.”
I sighed. “Wish I could.”
Copyright © 2017 Diane Kelly.
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Diane Kelly writes romance and romantic mysteries featuring feisty heroines, quirky sidekicks, and sexy leading men, with humor that leaves readers laughing out loud.