9 Bodies Rolling – Stephanie Bond

“AND THIS PHONE has a dual aperture camera,” the sales guy said. Carlotta Wren squinted, thinking the smart phone he held looked pretty much like the other six sitting on the counter. In hindsight, she should’ve brought along her tech-nerd brother Wesley to help her choose. “Um… what’s a dual aperture?” Priscilla Wren lifted on her tip toes to peer over the top of the counter. “It means you’ll look better in selfies, even if the lighting is bad.” The little girl smirked. “You should definitely get that one.” Carlotta pursed her mouth. For a nine-year-old, the girl had a cutting tongue. The sales guy smothered a smile. “Your daughter seems to know her stuff.” “I’m not her daughter,” Priscilla supplied. “I’m her sister.” “Ah, well that explains the resemblance.” “I’m much prettier,” Priscilla said matter-of-factly.

“Prissy,” Carlotta chided. The guy laughed. “Yes, you’re very pretty.” Then he glanced back to Carlotta with open admiration. “And so is your big sister.” “We didn’t know about each other until a few weeks ago,” Prissy prattled on. “I was in hiding with my parents.” The guy suddenly looked concerned. “In hiding?” Carlotta gave Prissy a warning glance, then coughed up a laugh. “My little sister has an active imagination.

” He seemed appeased, then pointed to the phone Prissy had recommended. “It’s also on sale, a really good deal if you sign a service contract.” Ah, now he was speaking her language. “Okay, I’ll take it.” “Can I have one, too?” Prissy asked. “Please?” “We talked about this. Maybe when you’re a little older.” Her sister pouted, but didn’t argue—for once. Carlotta turned back to the sales guy, holding up her old phone. “Can you transfer my contacts?” “No problem,” he said, taking her phone.

“Plus photos, music, whatever. Do you want to stay with your same service provider?” “Sure,” she said, then glanced at her watch. “Will this take long?” Hannah Kizer was meeting them for lunch after some shopping of her own. “Not at all.” He moved toward a computer terminal and typed in her name as she spelled it. “Yes, here’s your account.” His flirtatious smile faded. “You’re on the friends and family plan of a Peter Ashford?” “Um… yes,” Carlotta murmured. “That needs to be changed.” The guy grinned.

“You broke up, huh?” “He’s in jail,” Prissy supplied helpfully. “For stealing money from a bunch of rich people.” “Peter didn’t steal money,” Carlotta corrected her sharply. “He only… helped.” In the sense he knew about the money counterfeiting scheme at Mashburn & Tully, but he didn’t report it. “Everyone blamed it on our dad,” Prissy told the sales guy. “That’s why we were in hiding my whole life.” The guy looked thoroughly confused, then grinned at Carlotta. “So… you don’t have a boyfriend?” “No, she doesn’t,” Prissy said. “And she’s getting kind of old.

Do you want to be her boyfriend?” “That’s quite enough,” Carlotta said through gritted teeth. “I have a boyfriend,” Prissy said to the salesman. “His name is Jack and he’s a policeman. We’re getting married.” “Wow, he sounds… older.” Prissy nodded. “But he said he’d wait for me.” “Don’t hold your breath,” Carlotta muttered for her ears only. Add her little sister to the long line of women who’d fallen for Detective Jack Terry’s charms, and were destined to be disappointed. “Hello, Wren twins,” came a voice behind them.

Prissy turned and grinned. “Hannah!” Hannah Kizer sported black leather shorts, red tube top, and combat boots. She set down her shopping bag and opened her arms wide for a hug from Prissy, who ran to her. Carlotta squashed the stab of envy over how quickly her little sister had taken to her tatted up, stripe-haired, foul-mouthed friend. In fact, it seemed Prissy had bonded with everyone new in her life—Hannah, Wesley, Chance, Jack, and Coop—more than she’d bonded with her big sister who’d found where her parents and Prissy had been living in Las Vegas under assumed names. Still, Carlotta’s chest welled with love and pride as she studied the little girl interacting happily with Hannah. Priscilla was a precocious, bright child, with a winning personality. And although she resembled Carlotta almost exactly at the same age, she was more mature than Carlotta had been. And small wonder, considering how, outside of school, Priscilla had been mostly sequestered in the house with adults, including their mother Valerie, who was, sadly, suffering from some sort of early onset dementia. Prissy had grown up quickly.

“This nice man wants to be Carlotta’s boyfriend,” she told Hannah. “Does he?” Hannah asked. “And what did she say?” They all looked at her expectantly, including the sales guy. He was good looking, if a little young, but she wanted to laugh out loud at the absurdity of adding anything—or anybody—to her overflowing plate. “Thank you,” she said, “but I’m not available.” His mouth turned down, then he shrugged. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.” Hannah narrowed her eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re pining for Peter Ponzi-Scheme Ashford?” Carlotta sighed. “No.

And for the record, Peter didn’t know about the fraud until after the fact.” “Then I hope you’re not letting Jack Terry come around again? I thought he’d be too busy dealing with his crazy baby-mama jailbird Liz to try to worm his way back into your bed.” Carlotta frowned and nodded toward Prissy. “Language.” “Oh, please,” Hannah said. “This girl is going on forty.” “Jack doesn’t want Carlotta,” Prissy said, hands on hips. “He’s going to marry me.” Carlotta smiled at Hannah. “See? Besides, Jack and I are just friends.

We made our peace before we left Vegas.” The sales guy cleared his throat, then pointed at the two phones. “I’m just going to step over there to finish this.” “Who then?” Hannah’s eyes flew wide. “Coop?” Carlotta shook her head. “Not Coop, not anyone. I’m taking a break from… men.” “Are you a lesbian?” Priscilla asked. “That would explain a lot.” Carlotta’s jaw dropped.

“No.” Hannah howled with laughter. “I’m taking a break from dating altogether,” Carlotta said evenly. “I’ve been kind of busy.” “How are things at the house?” Hannah asked lightly. Carlotta noticed she didn’t say “home”… her friend had warned her moving back into the Buckhead house where she and Wesley had grown up would feel weird, but Dillon Carver’s thugs had trashed the townhome looking for the rest of the three hundred million in counterfeit bills Randolph had stolen, rendering it almost uninhabitable. She’d convinced her friend and herself she could handle being back in her childhood home. But she wasn’t handling it. Not well, anyway. She gave a slow nod, careful not to betray her true feelings in front of her little sister.

In truth, the Wren family reunion wasn’t exactly what she’d dreamed it would be. The initial exhilaration of having her parents back—with the surprise addition of Prissy—had given way to the reality that the Wrens had spent the last ten years apart. What they were, it seemed, were a group of strangers with the same last name. “Great,” she said. “Everything is just… great.” “Is Wes still walking on air to have his parents back?” She winked at Prissy. “And a new little sister?” That, at least, made Carlotta smile. “Yeah… Wes is like a kid again, happy and eager to please.” Seeing her brother so animated gave her strength when she felt overwhelmed. She’d hidden her mounting anxiety from him—Wesley deserved to revel in his family being reunited.

“He’s staying at the townhome, handling repairs. And looking after his snake, of course.” That python of his was one thing about living at the townhome she did not miss. “But he visits almost every day and helps Birch with the cooking,” Prissy added. “He’s a really neat brother.” The little girl smiled up at Carlotta as if to underline the omission that she was a neat sister. The two of them had settled into a push-pull sistership. The one thing that convinced Carlotta her prickly little sister really did care for her was the fact that Prissy had never removed the pink plastic bead bracelet Carlotta had given her in Vegas. She even slept in it, and that said more to Carlotta than Prissy could express. “How’s all the legal stuff?” Hannah asked.

“The D.A. is still working on smoothing over Wes’s charges in Vegas. But thankfully, the charges against Randolph have been dropped.” “That’s the least the D.A. can do after the way he pursued your father.” Then Hannah grimaced. “We were all wrong to think the worst of him.” Hannah’s family had been on the list of investment clients allegedly swindled by Randolph Wren when in reality, he had been set up by his own firm.

“That’s all over now,” Carlotta murmured. After all, she’d thought the worst of Hannah when they were in Vegas, but the villain had turned out to be Liz Fischer. Who was now cooling her heels in jail awaiting trial, pregnant with Jack’s baby. The notion still sent little shards of disbelief through her system. She had come so close to giving her heart to Jack… now she felt as if she’d survived a very close call, like stopping just short of a cliff. She was still swaying. “How is your mother?” Hannah asked carefully. Carlotta’s heart squeezed. “The same. Good days and bad.

She seems happy to be back in a familiar house… unfortunately, it’s as if she’s gone back in time to when we were all living there. But Birch is a huge help.” As opposed to her father, who seemed eager to pick up his life where it had left off, sans Valerie. “And Coop is researching the best doctors and facilities for a full battery of tests.” “I guess Coop is too busy working at the morgue to do much body moving,” Hannah said with a sigh. “I kind of miss it, don’t you?” Surprisingly, Carlotta was missing a lot about her former life, including the intrigue of helping Coop move bodies from crime scenes. But just thinking it filled her with guilt— she certainly couldn’t say it out loud. “Is Dr. Coop a dancer?” Prissy asked. “Hm?” Carlotta asked, confused.

“You said he was too busy working to move his body—is he a dancer?” “A body mover—” Hannah began. “Yes,” Carlotta cut in, giving Hannah a lethal look. “Coop dances in his spare time.” Hannah snickered, but let it go. “When are you returning to Neiman’s?” “Next week, when Prissy starts school. My boss has been patient, but it’s time. Then I’ll probably start spending some nights at the townhouse.” She needed an occasional break from the tense atmosphere in the Buckhead house. Carlotta angled her head. “How’s married life?” “Terrific,” Hannah said.

“Every married couple should have his and hers apartments.” Especially, Carlotta noted wryly, when Hannah was keeping so many secrets from her stoner husband, such as the fact that she was heir to a hotel dynasty and her family was at the top of the society food chain. “You don’t live with your husband?” Prissy asked. “Nope,” Hannah said. “I have my place and Chance has his.” She made a face. “That way we don’t have to share a bathroom.” Prissy giggled. “Or a closet.” “Good point,” Hannah said, then gestured to Prissy’s orange sundress and white sandals.

“Is that a new outfit?” She nodded, posing. “Carlotta and I like to shop.” “Yes,” Hannah said wryly. “I’ve met your sister. You two are definitely blood related.” “What did you buy?” Prissy asked, gesturing to the shopping bag Hannah had set on the floor. Hannah grinned and reached inside. “I’m so excited… this is something I’ve always wanted.” “A Chloe bag?” Prissy asked. “Givenchy boots?” Carlotta asked.

Hannah frowned. “I said something I have always wanted.” She pulled out a box the size of a small suitcase, then lifted the lid. Prissy’s eyes went from intrigued to puzzled. Carlotta experienced a similar reaction. “What are they?” Prissy asked. “What do you mean?” Hannah said, lifting one of the pair out of the box and displaying it lovingly. “They’re roller skates!” “They look old,” Prissy said. “They’re retro,” Hannah insisted, in defense of the cream and black color scheme with stars. “They’re very cool,” Carlotta soothed.

“Is this a new hobby?” “It’s more than a hobby,” Hannah said, puffing up. “I just finished boot camp training and I was asked to substitute on a team.” Carlotta squinted. “What kind of team?” Hannah grinned. “I’m a roller derby girl!” Their silence exasperated Hannah. “A roller derby girl!” she repeated. “What’s that?” Prissy asked, looking dubious. Hannah sighed, clearly disgusted at their ignorance. “It’s where two teams of girls skate against each other to try to earn points. We have bad-ass costumes and bad-ass names and we try to knock each other down.

” Carlotta bit her lip. “Are you sure it’s safe?” Hannah drew herself up. Standing nearly six feet and clad with lean, inked muscle, she looked formidable. “I can handle it.” “I was talking about the other girls,” Carlotta said wryly. “Our first match is this Saturday. Will you come and watch my debut?” “Can we?” Prissy asked Carlotta, jumping up and down. “Please?” At the sight of her sister’s shining face, Carlotta felt her mood lift. “Sure. It sounds like fun.

” “Wes, too,” Hannah said. “Chance will be there.” “I’ll let him know,” Carlotta said, already looking forward to an excuse to be out of the house—and away from her newly-returned parents. Minus ten points. Chapter 2 WESLEY WREN paused before knocking on the door of his probation officer. This could be tricky depending on how much E. Jones knew about the circumstances surrounding her fiancé Leonard’s untimely death while Wes was in Vegas. He pinched the bridge of his nose against a tension headache that had seemed omnipresent since returning from Vegas. Which didn’t make sense considering everything in his life had suddenly and amazingly turned around. His parents were back, he had a new sister, and Meg Vincent had unblocked him from her phone.

So why had the Oxycontin cravings returned? He took a deep breath, then rapped on the door. “Come in,” came E.’s voice. He pushed open the door and stuck his head inside to take the temperature in the room. “Hi.” E. glanced up at him from her desk. “Have a seat, Wesley.” Brrrr. Wes closed the door behind him, then settled into the chair across from her.

“How’s it going?” he asked breezily. “Fine,” she said evenly, although her appearance told a different story. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a severe bun. Her green eyes were rimmed with shadows, and her cherry mouth was pinched around the corners. “I only have a few minutes,” Wes said. “I need to report to my city job.” She opened a thick file. “I called your boss to let him know you won’t be in today. You and I have a lot to talk about.” Wes swallowed hard.

“Okay.” Dammit, he’d been looking forward to seeing Meg. They had texted several times since she’d heard about his father’s return in the news, but she was still being standoffish. Meg was happy for him, but he was going to have to win her over again. “I understand from the DA’s office that you’ve had an eventful couple of weeks.” “Yeah.” He smiled wide. “My parents are back.” Her eyes softened. “I’m so pleased for you.

But we need to straighten out your legal situation so you can enjoy being with your family.” He nodded solemnly. “Let’s start with the charges you managed to rack up while you were in Vegas.” She read from a report. “Underage drinking, underage gambling, possession of a fake driver’s license, and passing counterfeit bills.” E. lifted her head. “Wow… impressive.” And yet he could tell she wasn’t impressed. Wes lifted his hands.

“In my defense, I didn’t know it was counterfeit money.” “Where did you find it?” He squirmed. “In the wall of our townhome, wrapped in plastic.” “And you didn’t find that odd?” “I assumed my dad left it for me and Carlotta, so I decided to spend some of it.” “You mean gamble some of it.” He conceded with a nod, then he grinned. “Before the arrest, I was slaying the poker tables.” “In a casino for which you were underage.” He wiped his hand over his mouth, erasing the grin. “And apparently, you consumed alcohol while you were there.

” He shifted in his seat. “A few beers, what’s the big deal?” She leveled a glare on him. “The big deal is how you were able to get into a casino and buy alcohol in the first place.” He shifted to the other side of the chair. “That’s why I needed the fake license.” “You clearly don’t realize how much trouble you’re in.” Wes scoffed. “My using the counterfeit money led to the Mashburn & Tully scheme being blown wide open. Those crooks were arrested and the firm was shut down, and the drug dealer who was laundering their money is off the streets.” He spread his hands.

“That has to count for something.” She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “It does. Which is why the D.A. is trying to pull strings. But don’t be thinking you’re some kind of hero, Wes. You and I both know the connection to the Mashburn & Tully scheme was dumb luck.” He lifted a finger in the air. “Ah, but was it?” She sat, unblinking.

“Okay, it was,” he admitted, his shoulders falling. “But all’s well that ends well, right? My parents are back home and my dad’s been vindicated. Meanwhile, the real bad guys are in jail. The D.A. owes me one, don’t you think?” She arched an eyebrow. “D.A. Lucas did you a big favor already by convincing a judge to let you come home with an ankle bracelet until the charges are sorted out rather than wait it out in a Nevada jail.” He bit his tongue, then reached down and yanked the hem of his jeans to cover the device.

E. sighed. “But under the circumstances, I’m sure the D.A. will do everything he can to mitigate the charges. I understand the Mashburn & Tully operation was quite a complicated conspiracy, and your attorney Liz Fischer was caught up in it.” “Yeah… I didn’t see that coming. She kind of went off the deep end.” A shadow crossed her face. “And apparently Leonard was involved.

” He stabbed at his glasses. “I’m sorry Leonard got run over by a bus.” He wasn’t, actually. Leonard was a bully and all-around bad guy who worked for Dillon Carver, the drug-running son of the loan shark Hollis Carver, aka The Carver, whom Wes alternately worked for and against, depending on the day of the week. And he was pretty sure Leonard had gone to Vegas to kill him, so he wouldn’t be shedding any tears he was gone, but E. hadn’t known her fiancé was evil. “He was messed up with some bad people.” Her eyes watered. “Something I suspect you knew all along,” she said lightly. “Since you were too?” “I… probably shouldn’t say.

” “Wrong,” she said. “I want to know everything, Wes.” He averted his gaze, then looked back and heaved a sigh. “Okay. Leonard was an errand boy for Dillon Carver, and sometimes Dillon’s father. Mostly he couriered drugs, but I know he robbed a poker game once because I was there. He, um, threatened me not to tell you anything.” E.’s throat convulsed. Wes let that sink in for a few seconds before getting to the worst of it.

“Liz Fischer hired Leonard to follow Carlotta to Vegas—she was suspicious that Carlotta knew where our mother was, and she wanted to… get rid of my mom in case she could help exonerate my dad.” “That’s where I’m confused,” E. said. “Wasn’t she your father’s attorney?” Wes nodded. “But that was a farce. She helped Mashburn & Tully to frame him because all her money was tied up with the firm.” “So if they went down, she went down?” “Right. She’s pregnant, and it must have made her desperate.” “The police said Leonard ki—” She stopped and cleared her throat. “Killed a federal agent.

” Wes squirmed. “An agent was following Carlotta, too, and he had information on how she might be tracking our mother. Apparently, he and Leonard had an altercation in Carlotta’s hotel room and—” He stopped. A tear slipped out and ran down her cheek. “It could’ve been self-defense,” Wes offered, although it was a moot point. Besides, Karma had caught up with Leonard—according to Chance, the thug’s body had to be scraped off the street before being shoveled into a body bag. E. wiped away the tear. “How did your attorney and Leonard know each other?” Her voice sounded slightly accusatory. Wes pulled back.

“Not through me, if that’s what you’re thinking. Dillon Carver was laundering money for Mashburn & Tully, so maybe Liz met Leonard through them.” She nodded, her expression dazed. Wes’s leg began to jump on its own volition. “There’s, uh… more.” “What?” He wet his lips. “A few months ago, a headless body was found.” He hadn’t killed the man, but he’d been forced to de-tooth the head to prove his allegiance to The Carver—an incident that still fueled his nightmares. She nodded. “I remember—the man was finally identified, wasn’t he?” Thanks to him and Coop.

“Yeah… but the murder was unsolved.” “Was?” she asked. “I wasn’t a witness to it, but I was told by someone who would know that… Leonard killed the man for Dillon Carver.” She inhaled sharply. “And that’s what I told the police.” Jack Terry had been happy to close that case file, and Wes had been equally happy his buddy Mouse was off the hook. E. looked stricken. She pushed to her feet and turned her back to stare out her office window. Wes was quiet for long minutes, unsure what to do.

“Are you okay?” She turned her head toward him, then her body. Her chest rose with a deep breath, then she nodded. “Yes… I mean, I will be. I apologize for the professional lapse.” “No need,” he said. She reclaimed her office chair, seeming to have crossed some mental hurdle. “So… your parents are back?” “Right,” he said, adding a smile. “And how’s that going?” He nodded. “My father is recovering from being stabbed while he was incarcerated.” Liz had been behind that incident, too.

“And you have another sister?” He grinned. “Yeah—Priscilla is nine. We call her Prissy, and man, is she ever. Mom was expecting her when she and Dad went into hiding.” “So now your entire family is reunited.” “Uh-huh. They’re living in the Buckhead house I grew up in. Carlotta is staying with them until they’re settled.” “You’re not?” He hesitated, then shook his head. How could he explain that after years of dreaming of a reunion, it wasn’t quite what he thought it would be? “I’m staying at the townhome and fixing it up for me and Carlotta.

” “You must be over the moon to have your parents back.” He nodded. “Absolutely.” E. squinted. “You don’t seem that happy.” “I am,” he assured her, still nodding. She was silent. “It’s just that…” “What?” she prompted. He shifted in his chair. “My mother… she’s having memory problems.” An understatement—his own mother didn’t recognize him, still thought he was a nine-yearold kid off playing somewhere. A lump of emotion rose to the back of his throat. E.’s brow furrowed. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure all of this unwanted attention has been quite a shock to her system.” He swallowed hard. “Yeah, reporters are hanging out in the bushes around their house. The police try to keep it clear, but they ring the doorbell at all hours.” “I’m sure your family will be the subject of public scrutiny for some time. It’s quite a story.” “Unless you lived it.” It was as if now that his parents were back, he was supposed to forget about the years they were gone. E. leaned forward, resting her elbows on her desk. “And how are things with you and your father?” “Fine,” he said, trying to sound convincing. But the truth was, they were struggling with how to catch up on each other’s lives when so many important moments over the last few years had gone unshared. “Just fine?” she asked mildly. “Great, actually,” he amended. “It’s going to be great.” Realizing that didn’t sound good either, he pulled back. “Why all the questions?” She angled her head. “Wes, it hasn’t been too long ago you were addicted to pain medication. I just want to make sure this upheaval in your life isn’t going to trigger a relapse.” Was she some kind of freaking mind reader? His internal defenses reared. “This is the opposite of upheaval. This is putting things back the way they’re supposed to be.” “Still, under these circumstances, I think most families would find it challenging to be suddenly thrust back together.” “Not us,” he said quickly. E. gave him a little smile. “Good.” He stabbed at his glasses. “I mean, yeah, Dad is being pulled in a lot of different directions, but as soon as things level out, we’ll get to spend more time together. He’s going to help me fix up the townhome.” “That sounds like a good father-son project,” she agreed. “Is your family working with a therapist?” He frowned. “You mean a shrink? No. Why should we?” She lifted her shoulders in a casual shrug. “It might help everyone figure out a new dynamic, smooth the transition. It’s just a suggestion. I’m only concerned about how this affects you and your ability to finish probation without any more hiccups.” Wes realized his heart was beating fast and his pits were moist. The urge to have a hit of Oxy slammed into him hard. He took a few calming breaths until the sensation passed, then sat back. “I’m good.” She studied him for a few seconds, then said, “Good. With your parents’ and sister’s return, you have three new reasons to stay out of trouble.” E. removed forms from the file, and pushed them toward him. “Meanwhile, the D.A.’s office sent over paperwork that could help your cause. Let’s go through it.” He half-listened as she talked, his mind spinning elsewhere. For the past ten years he’d thought of nothing more than his parents coming home and the Wrens being one big happy family again. He knew each one of them had suffered in different ways because of the separation, but especially Carlotta, who had sacrificed her twenties to raise him the best she could, with his bratty ass kicking and screaming the entire way. Carlotta deserved to be happy. So he would keep his apprehension and disappointment to himself, and hope relations within the Wren clan improved. Substantially.

.

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