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Auf'd (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book Two)

Auf'd (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book Two)

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Auf'd (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book Two)

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3/5 (1 Bewertung)
Länge:
341 Seiten
4 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jun 21, 2013
ISBN:
9781301821815
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Lending a hand to a charity fashion show sounded like such fun. Now if only Belinda's idea of a good time included a smothered designer and trouble with Bennett.

While Belinda balances opening a business and a house reno, haute couture Portside-style lands her in one hot mess of runway intrigue and man drama.

It seems not everyone at this show is what they claim to be - or even who.

Also in this series:
Cliffhanger (Book One)
Drive-Bye (Book Three)
Overkill (Book Four)
Misfortune (Book Five)
Two to Tango (A Mini Mystery)
Unexpected (A Short Story)
Personal Shopper (A Short Story)

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jun 21, 2013
ISBN:
9781301821815
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Amy Saunders is a sci-fi/mystery addict with a soft spot for humor and romance. She lives in Massachusetts, and loves to bake and watch movies. Learn more about Amy and her books at http://amysaundersauthor.com.

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Auf'd (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book Two) - Amy Saunders

Auf'd

(The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book Two)

Amy Saunders

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2013 Amy Saunders

Other Titles by Amy Saunders

Cliffhanger (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book One)

Drive-Bye (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book Three)

Biohazard

The Jester's Apprentice

Dead Locked

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Chapter 1

Belinda Kittridge hurried toward the waving hand (hurried being a relative term wearing heels on grass) with her red-headed friend coming in and out of view as people passed in front of her. Even in three-inch wedges, Victoria was still far below Belinda's eye level.

It was May in Portside, Rhode Island, and Belinda inhaled the chilly air off the water, a reminder that the ocean hadn't quite caught up with the air yet. Excitement and anxiety filled her bones. It was Belinda's first time helping to organize a fundraiser event—a runway show specifically—and it was getting close to time for the attendees to start showing up.

Our plan worked! Victoria hopped up and down then stopped and grabbed her stomach in panic. Is that bad, you think?

Maybe you should just stand there and I'll hop up and down. Afraid to actually go airborne in her heels, Belinda bobbed up and down on her knees so her friend, only weeks pregnant, could avoid anything potentially hazardous. Our plan did work. That was much smoother and less irritating than last time.

Victoria laughed. Yeah, when we were both cursing the other's existence because we didn't have a planned meeting spot.

That's not entirely true. Belinda drummed her fingers along her jaw, staring up at the clear sky. The planned meeting location was 'whoever gets here first gets a seat and the other one finds her,' which almost ended our friendship.

Thank goodness for Dan.

Thank goodness, indeed. If he hadn't come and found me, I would have left the show and never spoken to you again. Victoria's husband saved the day, and then told them they were on their own next time.

Runway show equals death of lifelong friendship.

Tragic. Belinda kept glancing up and around whenever anyone passed her. She could blame it on her tendency to be distracted, but she knew that wasn't quite what was wrong with her at that moment.

Victoria grinned. Have you seen Bennett yet?

When they first got here to set up this morning, but we've both been too busy to talk. And we haven't really dealt with each other the past week because of the show. She'd recommended Bennett's event security firm, thinking it would mean they could see each other more while the show ate up her life. At best, it just meant Bennett had no more free time than she did.

Well, I daresay you should get back there then before anyone misses you. Victoria winked. I'll be in these seats with my mom. She handed Belinda a piece of paper with the row and seat numbers scribbled down. Meet us there afterward and we'll go out to eat.

Your new favorite thing to do.

My baby gots to eat. She placed both hands on her stomach and laughed.

Across the lawn, a raspy bellow interrupted their joy about their future and coconut cake. Belinda looked over apprehensively, knowing what she was going to see. A man who reminded Belinda of a meatball with legs flailed his arms, his face visibly red from where she stood.

Uh-oh. Victoria glanced at her sideways. Belinda's face drooped as she nodded. You want me to find Mrs. Sykes?

I–I can handle this. I don't want things to explode. She smiled tentatively. Victoria squeezed her arm for encouragement and strolled over to the seats flanking the runway, glancing behind her every few seconds.

Belinda wove her way across the lawn away from the stage, which was set up on the mouth of Portside Harbor so the audience faced the water. It offered a refreshing breeze (maybe too refreshing sometimes) and a view of the bay and bridge. A triple threat location.

The server on the receiving end of the bellowing saw Belinda and glanced at her pleadingly. Belinda straightened her back as much as possible as her heels sunk into the turf. She should've worn flats, but she faced more important issues than her balance right then. Is everything all right? she cut in, trying to raise her voice without screeching.

The meatball with legs, aka Mr. Sykes, shifted his beady eyes to her, his toucan nose bright red. Anger or sunburn? No, Ms. Kittridge, everything is not alright. I want to know who authorized an outrageous payment to these imbecile caterers. He glared at the server, waving an invoice in the man's face.

Belinda looked apologetically at the server. He didn't mean that. Mr. Sykes opened his mouth to protest, but Belinda cut him off. Please return to whatever you were doing. Excuse us. With nothing but sheer willpower, Belinda forced Mr. Sykes away and the server offered a short bow of thanks to her and ran for cover.

What are you doing? Mr. Sykes said. This is none of your concern.

It is in every way my concern, sir, she said firmly but with as much respect as she could muster. You know I'm half of this fundraiser, and my family name is on this, too.

Did you know then that most of this event is coming out of my pocket!

Belinda took a deep breath. She'd always been a tad afraid of Mr. Sykes. She'd never spent that much time with them, though one of their sons was in her grade at school. All she knew was he was a far cry from her own easygoing papa and she never cared for him. But Belinda had a show to put on, and this was no time for this conversation.

No, I didn't, Belinda said calmly. And I'm happy to discuss reimbursing you, but–

Albert!

Belinda's eyes fluttered. She'd hoped to calm Mr. Sykes down and usher him away before his wife—soon-to-be ex-wife—found him on the premises. But Belinda had just failed and felt her entire gut drop to her feet.

Stop acting like a horse's rear end, Mrs. Sykes said in a harsh whisper. She organized the annual runway show/fundraiser, which benefited a different charitable organization each time. This year's winner was autism awareness.

Mrs. Sykes had the fashion connections, and she brought Belinda on as her lieutenant this time to do basically everything else (including hiring the catering company, who would probably blacklist her now) as she came to realize too late. If only she'd talked to her mother before she accepted the position! Not to mention, the Sykes' divorce had been more intrusive than she anticipated.

This is little Bels Kittridge. Mrs. Sykes placed a proverbial mama bear arm around Belinda. No one had called her little Bels Kittridge since she was like five. She went to school with Aidan, for heaven's sake.

Mr. Sykes sighed and gave Belinda a shrug. She supposed that was his idea of an apology.

Mrs. Sykes, on the other hand, offered a verbal one, looking mortified. Please go, Belinda. I'll handle this. She emphasized this like it was a mess to clean up and not her husband.

Belinda backed away, worried that the runway show might be preempted by the divorce apocalypse. But she couldn't very well say that aloud, so she listened to them argue about when they should argue about the money until they were out of earshot.

~ * ~

Bennett's tablet alerted him to a new VIP entering backstage. He sat away from the chaos with his computer monitors in a special tent set up just for Tate Security, his event specialty firm. With everything running smoothly, he could relax back there while his second-in-command, Finnegan, did some undercover patrolling just to be on the safe side, though Bennett did not expect any major upheaval at an upscale charity runway show.

Of course, he'd thought the same thing at the last event he worked.

Bennett touched the screen of his tablet to see who the new arrival was. He hadn't paid that much attention earlier, but he was also busier and he trusted his workers. But now that everyone was in place and the crank turned, he could take a second to double check.

Belinda's face popped up on the screen with her clearance information. Bennett's heart skipped. He'd been so involved in the organizing and setup process of this particular job that he'd hardly seen her lately, and earlier they'd only been able to say hello. Bennett chewed his lip, taken over by an insane urge to get out of his seat. She had just gotten backstage. Bennett called Finnegan. I need you to switch places with me for a minute.

I think you're probably good to use the bathroom, Bennett, Finnegan said. There's nothing bad happening here.

Bennett growled. Just get back here. Now. He hung up, pushing up from his seat to try and shake his jitters.

What's up? Finnegan strolled in.

Just watch the monitors for a few minutes.

Finnegan glanced at the tablet, Belinda's information still expanded on screen. He gave Bennett a lopsided grin. I see how it is, he said, tapping the screen. Your lovely lady friend is here.

Bennett's face burned like hot coals. I'll be back in a few minutes. He could hear Finnegan chuckling as he left him in the security tent to the side of the stage to hunt for Belinda, a mix of nerves and excitement swelling inside of him. He nodded to one of his men who guarded the back and jogged up the stairs.

His phone buzzed while he dodged idle models and leaped over open boxes strewn along the pathway. Finnegan texted him that Bruno had spotted Belinda and was holding her in place until Bennett got there, which Bennett could only read a word at a time for fear he'd be smooshed by a clothing rack on the move.

Bruno. His ex-military, ex-football player, whom he always placed in potential trouble zones. The guy was no less than an ox though he made you forget it when you talked to him.

He located Bruno who was in a good position to see anything bad going down backstage or onstage. Other than stepping in to prevent people from having their eyes gouged out with hangers or whatever those pencil things were that the makeup people used, he didn't think Bruno's brawn would be needed. But it was still a good visual, nonetheless.

Chatting with his associate was a light-haired woman whom he could now see had shapely calves and a sleek back. Belinda turned and smiled, her brown eyes sparkling, temporarily blocking out all the chaos around them. Unsure how to proceed in this more professional environment, Bennett put his hand out to shake hers. Belinda took his hand with confusion and amusement blending in her eyes, and squeezed his palm.

Bruno suppressed an amused smirk while his collected boss came apart at the seams trying to carry on small talk with his charming friend. To his benefit, the charming friend was probably more infatuated with him as a result.

Bennett cleared his throat, safely, he thought, passing through the obligatory opening dialogue. Would you like to see the control center? Bennett said, jamming his thumb in the direction of the security tent.

Belinda's eyes lit up. Would you mind? I'm curious what goes on back there.

Bennett could feel his whole body relax and impulsively offered his arm. She accepted and Bennett just hoped they could make it back through the fashion pit without getting separated. He glanced back at Bruno who nodded approval and gave him two thumbs-up.

Finnegan returned his cell phone to his pocket and swung his feet off the table as Bennett and Belinda entered the tent. Fawn Eyes! he said as soon as he saw Belinda. Bennett's face froze.

Confused, Belinda introduced herself, wondering if she'd caused some sort of upset because Bennett's whole demeanor iced over. His associate, on the other hand, seemed perfectly delighted and excused himself to return to his outdoor post, throwing her a sideways grin on his way out.

Once Finnegan was out of the way, Bennett relaxed again. Belinda seemed perfectly unconcerned with Finnegan calling her Fawn Eyes and took more interest in the monitors.

Bennett followed her around the table, explaining in detail how they set up the cameras before the event and more importantly, how they decided where to place them. They were useless unless you chose strategic locations.

Belinda hmm'd and ah'd and nodded her head at the right moments, more mesmerized by how animated Bennett became than in anything he actually said. He gestured, his eyebrows wagged up and down, and he demonstrated how to zoom in and out on each camera. And he explained that all the information they needed about the location, the attendees, and the VIPs existed on a single network that anyone with proper security clearance could access. Now that was actually curious.

Not that any of the information we get is that confidential, he said. In a situation like this, attendee information is mostly to ensure that people who belong backstage get backstage.

Belinda frowned. I think that's way too many people at this event.

Bennett rolled his eyes. Tell me about it. The chaos back there is mind boggling. All of that for a rack of bedazzled shirts.

Bedazzled? she said incredulously, focusing on the more important issue at hand. Designers do not 'bedazzle' their clothing, okay.

Whatever you prefer to call it, most runway clothes you will only find on a runway or on a celebrity caught shopping at her local grocery store.

Belinda laughed. For someone so against fashion, you sure do dress well. Belinda admired his sweater/shirt/tie combination and imagined his newsboy cap would work well with that ensemble.

I'm not against fashion. I'm against useless pieces of clothing that no one can or wants to wear.

Well, you may have a point there. Belinda moved closer, tracing the edge of his collar with her fingertips. But I still like seeing those useless items floating down the runway and dreaming of scenarios where I could actually wear them.

Bennett watched her hand. It's been too long since we saw each other.

I agree. She settled her arms around his neck. Fortunately, this job is almost done and we can return to our regularly scheduled program.

Bennett's mouth curled up. We could return to it right now. He leaned in for the kill when Finnegan cleared his throat.

Belinda pulled away quickly, straightening her dress.

Uh...sorry to interrupt, Finnegan said, suppressing a grin, but Brooke is asking for you. He nodded at Belinda. There seems to be some sort of mix-up backstage. He shrugged to indicate that's as specific as it was going to get.

Right, she said. Belinda turned to Bennett again, disappointment clouding her eyes. You should try your newsboy cap with this outfit. I think they would work well together. Bennett nodded and she gave him a shy wave good-bye, fluttering past Finnegan.

Bennett scowled at him once Belinda was gone.

Now I know why she really recommended you for this job, Finnegan said.

Shut up.

Yes, sir.

~ * ~

Belinda dragged herself away from Bennett and entered the melee backstage. It was a good thing most of their spectators and big donators hadn't arrived yet because they would most certainly hear this.

Belinda's new assistant, Brooke, lingered on the fringe of the mash of designers and assistants holding up and waving garment bags. They all talked at once, each person getting louder than the last.

Thank goodness Finn found you! Brooke shouted, balancing her phone and encyclopedia-size organizer. All the drama started once you left. The clothes got mixed up in transit!

Belinda surveyed the mob action, barely able to hear herself think. Hadn't she been backstage all of a minute ago? How'd it all fall to pieces so quickly! What happened?

I told you. The clothes got mixed up in transit!

No, I mean, how?

Brooke shook her head. Well, no matter. She had everything under control.

Belinda muscled her way through the people and onto a chair. Then she pulled out her secret weapon. An air horn. Kyle randomly suggested she bring one, and she did mostly to humor him. Now she realized the wisdom of his advice. These people had just ruined a perfectly lovely opportunity to smooch with her hunk. Get it together!

Belinda signaled to Brooke to plug up her ears and then squeezed with all her might. When she opened her eyes, everyone had their hands covering their ears. Well, that got their attention.

Listen up! Belinda said. The show starts in exactly one hour. We do not have time for this nonsense. There were murmured agreements. Brooke! Brooke hustled her way to her boss. Grab a few of the racks. Nobody else move.

And nobody dared. While they waited for the clothing racks, Belinda took a moment to survey the group. On top of everything else, she probably needed to do a roll call. She couldn't tell if everyone was present. Bennett appeared in back to see what the noise was about.

Brooke rolled a couple racks nearby and Belinda held her arms out to signal for everyone to listen, waving the air horn around menacingly. Everyone place your garment bags on the racks. I don't care if it says it's yours. We need to take inventory. One at a time, starting with those closest to the racks and moving outward. And no pushing or I'll sick Bruno on you. Bruno crossed his arms, delivering his best glower to the crowd. Belinda caught Bennett's glittering eyes and smirked. This was kind of fun.

The threat worked and everyone calmed down and cooperated. As soon as they placed their garment bags on the racks, Belinda dismissed them. Mrs. Sykes reappeared in time to keep things under control outside while Belinda and Brooke worked to straighten the mess out.

Do you have the list of designers? Belinda said to Brooke. Brooke nodded and fumbled over the organizer. Belinda wasn't quite prepared for its weight and sunk into her knees a little when she grabbed it.

Can I help? Bennett said. Belinda opened the organizer, flipping to try and find the chart of designers and their stations. Bennett watched curiously. Why don't you have this on a computer? He leaned over her, assessing the thick organizer. It would save time.

Belinda found the laminated piece of paper and they started sifting through the garment bags. You can help me with that later. For now, I need to focus on getting these garment bags sorted out. Belinda called off names and they got to work sorting the pieces and setting them up in each designer's station. Checking things twice, Brooke ran out to tell the designers they could come in and check their work. If everything was copasetic, they could call in their assistants and models and get to work.

Belinda checked the time on her phone as the designers paraded back in. Less than an hour. She took a deep breath.

A thin guy with square glasses trailed Brooke. Caleb's lost his designer. Is it okay if he takes a look at the garments?

Belinda glanced up from her to-do list, passing the organizer back to Brooke. Sure thing. She paused. But where's April?

Caleb shook his head, shifting back and forth on his feet. That's just it. I don't know and we're low on time.

Belinda smiled grimly, automatically waking up her phone again. They had a minute less than they did before. Yes, we are. Go check out everything and then maybe you can hunt up April. Caleb nodded emphatically and scurried off. Belinda took a deep breath and looked back at Bennett and Bruno. Thanks for the extra hands. That went a lot faster with your help. She smiled.

Bennett surveyed her bulky organizer again and scratched his jaw. With your–

Belinda raised her eyebrows like she knew what he was about to say.

Mobile cupcake boutique, Bennett emphasized dramatically. Belinda nodded approval. You could use a better way to stay organized.

Belinda was certain he was about to make a suggestion, or, rather, just tell her what she needed to do.

We should go shopping for a tablet, he continued. You need something mobile but with power.

Are we still talking about tablets? Bennett arched his eyebrows and Belinda bit her lip. Sorry. You were saying...

I'm taking you shopping–

For something mobile with power. Gotcha. Belinda grinned and pecked him on the chin. I'm sorry for teasing, but my head's not on my cupcake boutique right now.

Then we'll talk about it over dinner.

Tomorrow night when we're both done with this. Belinda really wanted to kiss him, but they were starting to get an audience as things returned to full-speed, and the river of people threatened to separate them for good. Talk to you after?

Bennett gave her thumbs-up and disappeared behind a group of models herding backstage. Belinda sighed, counting down until tomorrow night. She'd looked forward to it all week as they hadn't gone out since the weekend before last. They'd both been too crazy and exhausted from preparations for the show. But it was just a mere hours away from done now, so she could get back to what really mattered: Bennett and her cupcake boutique.

Chapter 2

Once the crowd settled backstage as everyone hustled to finish before showtime, Belinda stood on her toes to try and locate an old schoolmate. The show featured up and coming designers, including an old friend Belinda recommended.

Once high school ended and Kori moved on to fashion design school in New York while Belinda's family picked up roots temporarily after the Mark Nichols tragedy, they simply lost touch. But Belinda had been privileged to know-her-when and was excited to see her.

After apologizing for the umpteenth time trying to not trip her way there, Belinda and Kori squealed and hugged and hopped up and down. They went back and forth exchanging compliments and admiring each other's clothes and how good they both still looked.

So here we are, Kori said, hands on hips, bracelets jangling as they slid down her arm. Right back where we started.

Belinda made an exaggerated appraisal of their surroundings. Really? We started out backstage at a big runway event? Where did they expect us to go from there?

Kori laughed while helping a model position an intricate top around her torso. I was so excited when I heard you'd be here. She smiled. I knew you'd end up doing something fun. You just can't resist a good time.

Belinda was mesmerized as Kori deftly made a last minute alteration to a sequined halter top. Is it always like this right before a show?

More or less, she said with her teeth clenched over the thread to break it. Kori looked up at Belinda from her bent over position. Everyone always claims they need a sabbatical by the time it's over. She harrumphed. But I don't. Doing a show always wires me up to create.

Caleb crashed into their zone, eyes frenzied and sweat beads forming on his forehead. Have either of you seen April? His mouth smacked together like he could use some water.

Kori didn't even visually acknowledge him, but kept on with her final alterations. The only thing that I've seen, hon, are boobs and butts.

She's still gone and it's almost time! Caleb's breathing came in shallow gasps.

Kori rolled her eyes.

I'll help you search, Belinda said quickly. Caleb adjusted his glasses, looking a little more relaxed. And I'll get reinforcements. She took his arm, leading him away. We'll take care of this. She patted his shoulder, hovering a little above his head in her heels.

She called Bennett to ask for help in the search for April Arteau and had Caleb go question other people while Belinda got on the phone with Brooke and had her scope the outside. Belinda took a detailed scenic tour of the backstage.

Consumed with finding April, Belinda was unaware of the stampede coming up behind her until the corner of a cardboard box cover stabbed her in the back of the arm. She yelped, glaring at her assailant, who breezed past her.

Sorry! the woman said, not even turning her head. Belinda rubbed the sore spot and scrunched up her nose. She was fleshy back there, but still.

Stupid assistants, a man said next to her, shaking his head. Belinda turned to meet the Caribbean blue eyes of Sawyer Gallen. Another designer she'd only met briefly. None of us pay enough attention this close to the start of the show. He smiled. You seem like you're looking for something...or someone. Can I help?

Only if you know where one April Arteau have got to.

Sawyer's sculpted brows arched even more than they did naturally and he leaned in conspiratorially. How intriguing.

Not really. I don't mean to be rude, but we are frighteningly close to showtime.

Sawyer saluted, flashing a smile, and she watched him saunter

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