A playground for the rich and famous, a murdered Jane Doe, and a beloved celebrity. Journalist Bexley Squires might be out of her league when she’s asked to solve one of the nation’s most infamous unsolved mysteries.
But she’s broke and desperate for the means to find her sister after her disappearance, and the world’s sexiest actor will pay generously to save his reputation. Only she didn’t expect the detective in charge of the case to be her old crush, Grayson Rivers. He’s hotter than the California sun, and their chemistry is the best thing since tacos, but she’s not going to let anything get in the way of uncovering a level of depravity unlike anything she’s ever known.
As tampering witnesses and stolen evidence come to light, Bexley’s network of old and new friends gets sucked into the undertow. If she can’t uncover the secret behind the victim’s footwear, the next wave will kill them all.
An extremely slender, beautiful young woman in a perfectly-tailored cocktail dress escorted Bexley to the back of the posh nightclub. The sharp clicks of the woman’s 4” heels against the polished floor were the only sounds to be heard, echoing around the empty space. Something about the unnatural quiet made Bexley uneasy.
Since first declaring journalism as a major her sophomore year at NYU, she’d learned to trust her instincts. The way her stomach rose and goosebumps broke out along her arms made her wonder if she’d made a mistake.
Although she was unsure what would take place at the meeting, Bexley certainly wasn’t expecting to find Dean Halliwell, Hollywood’s brightest and unquestionably most handsome star, waiting to meet her. For a dreadful second, she feared she’d stumble over her feet when he slid out from the large booth to shake her hand. Crowned “the sexiest man alive” by respected magazines and gossip sites alike, the golden hue of his completion was typical of a SoCal surfer, as well as his touchable sandy hair. As America’s highest paid film star, he even looked insanely wealthy. The platinum watch on his wrist was easily worth more than a year of rent, and Bexley suspected the jeans and button-down he wore were one-of-a-kind. Yet there was a small-town charm that came with his signature smile. Even though he was nearing thirty, a slightly crooked front tooth and deep dimples gave him a deceptively youthful appearance—almost that of a high schooler. The five o’clock shadow that ran along his rugged jaw accentuated his signature bright green eyes surrounded by dark blond lashes.
Despite having grown up in one of the country’s wealthiest communities, it was the first time Bexley had met someone famous. She wasn’t prepared for the charisma Dean exuded in his every movement, and had to admit she felt intimidated. His involvement in anything was guaranteed to create a box-office hit, and he had received various awards for ground-breaking roles in recent years. They could stick him in a movie about a man locked in a bathroom stall, and it would become a worldwide box office sensation. She swore the air around them changed with his presence, giving off a degree of confidence that didn’t fit with someone accused of murder.
“Dean Halliwell,” he said, holding on to her hand. Her fingers disappeared in his warm grip as his eyes remained steady on hers. “Thank you for coming all this way to meet with me.”
Bexley raised a brow. “Now I understand the need for discretion.”
Dean’s smile slipped, and his expression became hesitant. “This needs to be said up front—if you believe everything they’re saying about me, this is a waste of your time and mine.”
Removing her hand from his, Bexley couldn’t help notice the irony in his comment. “I’m well aware of the manipulative nature of the media, Mr. Halliwell. I won’t be persuaded by anyone’s agenda.”
“That’s exactly why I’ve asked you to meet with me.” Dean motioned to the booth. “Have a seat. And please, call me Dean. Can I get you anything?”
Bexley shook her head as she sat on the plush cushion, briefly wondering what her sister would say if she could see her now. Cineste was infatuated with the rich and famous when she was younger, and was always on the lookout for celebrities wandering around town. She would’ve fallen over herself for a chance to be alone with Dean Halliwell. Bexley, on the other hand, was unimpressed by anyone who lived a charmed life simply by engaging in the adult version of make-believe.
“The article you wrote on Richard Warren caught my attention,” Dean began, holding Bexley’s curious gaze. There was a steadying calm about him that made her heart race. “Hell—it caught everyone’s attention. And it made a big impression on me. You aren’t afraid to go after the truth, no matter the cost. You brought down one of the most powerful men in the world.”
“I’m going to assume you didn’t fly me across the country merely to stroke my ego. Why am I really here?”
Jaw clenched, he bobbed his head. “They didn’t actually arrest me for killing that woman.”
“Considering we’re not divided by a sheet of Plexiglas, I had already suspected that.”
He chuckled before releasing a slow breath and running his fingers through his coiffed hair. A small section broke away and dangled over his eye in an appealing manner. Had he done that on purpose, or did being endearing come naturally after all the years he had spent in front of a camera?
“I was only brought in for questioning. The police received a tip claiming they’d seen me outside my property in Papaya Springs with the victim the day before she was found. But my security and staff in Papaya Springs all signed affidavits stating that I was not at that property at any point during that weekend. My agent also signed one stating she was with me at my condo in Malibu, and there wasn’t a lapse in time where I could’ve made the trip, nor would I have any reason to do so. I willingly volunteered my DNA—without being asked. They released me without being charged, despite the media’s claims that I spent a night in jail. This entire incident was handled carelessly from the beginning.”
Beyond what she’d heard in the news, that a naked woman had washed ashore in Bexley’s home town, she had been unaware of the details surrounding Dean’s involvement. Although it sounded like a solid alibi, it wouldn’t surprise her to learn his staff had covered for him. “What exactly are you asking of me, Mr. Halliwell?”
“It’s Dean,” he corrected her in a stern tone. “I’ve become a pariah in the industry since my arrest. I’ve been blackballed from parties and award shows. Producers and other actors refuse to work with me, ad agencies have terminated my contracts. I was fired from my current film even though I’ve already spent two weeks on set. The Papaya Springs PD apparently isn’t competent enough to find the killer, so it’s clearly up to me to find someone to finish the job.” With another long, drawn-out pause, he leaned closer to Bexley with a haunted look. “I’m asking that you uncover the truth behind what happened to that poor woman…expose her killer. I’ll pay you fifty thousand plus your expenses to start digging into the truth. If you’re able to reveal the real killer to the public, I’ll add another five hundred thousand.”
Heartbeat thrumming in her ears, Bexley’s throat constricted. The room suddenly became half its size as his offer repeated in her head.
Five hundred and fifty thousand.
It was more than she could hope to make in a decade of freelancing. More than enough to save Cineste from whatever mess she’d gotten herself into. “Could I please…get a water?”
She was vaguely aware when the actor motioned to the hostess lurking nearby. The amount he was proposing was outlandish. She was a journalist, not a cop. She had been able to expose the truth behind Richard Warren’s sex-trafficking ring through determination and dumb luck. Asking her to catch a murderer when the police couldn’t was like asking lightning to strike twice in the same spot.
Once the hostess set a glass of ice cold water on the table in front of her, Bexley threw it back like a shot of whiskey. Only then was she able to find her voice. “You must have me confused with Olivia Benson. I’m not a cop.”
Thick arms crossed over his chest, he peered at her down the bridge of his sharply angled nose. “From what I’d heard about you, I thought you’d have more confidence.”
That ruffled her feathers. Bexley sat taller, throwing him a hard look. “Before agreeing to this, I would need to speak with the detectives on the case…hear all the facts first-hand.”
He smiled. “I could arrange for that to happen right away.”
She fought the urge to drop her head on the table. Papaya Springs was the last place on earth she wanted to visit. From what she’d heard, it had evolved into the place to be for spoiled rich kids looking for creative ways to blow their daddy’s money.
“Do you have any siblings?” he asked.
“Younger or older?”
“Younger.” Bexley tensed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“My little brother has always looked up to me. When we were little, he’d follow me around like a puppy. He’s always the first one to congratulate me when I’ve done something. Robby means everything to me. This thing…it’s put a strain on our relationship. My old man said Robby’s been skipping school and even got caught stealing. Neither one believes I’m innocent. No one does. Everyone who once had my back has turned away. I have no one in my corner.” The faint lines etched around his eyes deepened. “Help me make my brother believe in me again. You’re my only hope.”
Quinn Avery is a bestselling and award winning author from the Midwest with 27 novels published under various pen names. The Bexley Squires Mystery series is the first mystery/thriller novel under the Quinn Avery pseudonym.