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Authors: Linda Turner

The Virgin Mistress

BOOK: The Virgin Mistress
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JOE COLTON'S JOURNAL

Well my birthday celebration sure was explosive! It's not every day that the guest of honor is the target for murder! Now I've hired the best there is—P.I. Austin McGrath—to investigate this atrocity. But I never imagined that Austin's involvement would result in a budding romance with my fragile foster daughter, Rebecca. She's had a real traumatic past and is afraid to let anyone get close. Especially a ladies' man like Austin. But he's not as cavalier as he appears. I see the pain in his eyes. He's brooding over something—but what? Maybe between the two of them, these lost souls will find solace in each other's arms. And though it won't be easy, stranger things have happened. Speaking of strange, Meredith sure is acting more bizarre with each Pacific sunset. I'm beginning to worry that there's something wrong with my wife—and that the future of the entire Colton dynasty could be in jeopardy….

About the Author

LINDA TURNER

was thrilled when she was asked to write the second book in THE COLTONS series. “I love these kinds of stories—the more complicated the better. And THE COLTONS series was of special interest because of Patsy and Meredith. I, too, have an identical twin sister, and in the not-too-distant past, we traded places, both at work and at school, and no one knew the difference until we identified ourselves. Of course, we never went so far as to trick boyfriends or husbands, and there wasn't a good twin and a bad one, but we still had fun.” She says that Patsy was especially interesting to write because she's so close to the edge—sort of like Cruella DeVille, only worse. Linda loved the scenes with both her and Meredith.

As for her hero and heroine, Austin and Rebecca, what's not to love? They both had such tragic pasts. She really enjoyed helping them find happiness. She hopes you enjoy it, too.

The Virgin Mistress
Linda Turner

Meet the Coltons—a California dynasty with a legacy of privilege and power.

Austin McGrath:
The passionate detective.
Beneath his footloose facade, this bachelor would put his life on the line any day to see justice served. But did he have the courage to turn his fantasy of a wife and family into a reality?

Rebecca Powell:
The oldest living virgin.
Though the Coltons had provided a safe haven for the then-fourteen-year-old runaway, this schoolteacher is still haunted by her nightmarish childhood. Do the patient P.I.'s caresses offer more than just comfort…? Perhaps the promise of a future together?

Meredith “Pasty” Colton:
The scheming impostor.
Her nerves worn to a frazzle by the police investigation into Joe's attempted murder, the deranged sibling knows that after ten years it's time to find the real “Meredith”….

One

S
omeone had tried to kill him.

A week after the fact, Joe Colton still couldn't believe it. He'd been surrounded by friends and family, his champagne glass lifted in a toast in honor of his sixtieth birthday, when a bullet had ripped through the party, shattered his glass and grazed his cheek. Even now he could still feel the heat of it, the shock.

For days, he'd been trying to convince himself and the police that this was all just some terrible accident. He couldn't imagine why anyone would bring a gun to his birthday party, but it must have discharged by accident and he'd just happened to be in the line of fire. It was the only logical explanation. No one had actually meant him any harm.

Thaddeus Law and the two other detectives handling the case, however, weren't quite so sure of that. A friend didn't bring a gun to a party—it wasn't good etiquette.
And when that same gun went off and just missed the guest of honor by a hairsbreadth, there could be no misunderstanding. This was no joke. Someone wanted him dead badly enough to try to kill him in front of three hundred witnesses.

The question was…who? Who hated him that much?

Joe wasn't stupid enough to think he had no enemies. Like every successful man, he had, no doubt, stepped on a few toes over the years, but he'd never deliberately hurt anyone to get ahead. He wasn't that kind of man. He was fair and hardworking and he'd never taken anything from anyone that didn't belong to him. So who had taken that shot at him?

The police thought it was someone in his family.

Oh, they hadn't come straight out and said as much, but their suspicions were pretty obvious. And he knew the statistics. People weren't usually killed by strangers—it was someone they knew, and often loved and trusted, who did them in.

Maybe that was true in a large percentage of cases, but not in his, dammit! His family was important to him—everyone knew that! He'd left the Senate to devote more time to his children and the foster children he and Meredith had welcomed into their home. He worked closely with his brother and foster brother, not to mention the friends he'd made over the years and brought into Colton Enterprises, and he refused to believe any of them wanted him dead.

Which meant that it had to be a stranger, maybe a crazy, disgruntled constituent who read about the party in the gossip columns and decided to sneak in with the party-goers to kill him. Or a psychopath who felt like Joe deserved to die just because the price of gas was going up
and he owned oil wells. There were a lot of nuts walking around free.

He'd told the police that, but no one seemed to be listening. After the shooting, the detectives had gone over the estate with a fine-tooth comb, taking statements from everyone present, but it was obvious from the beginning who the authorities suspected—his family. And it infuriated him. Idiots! They were pressuring people he loved—even Meredith, for God's sake!—and he wasn't going to stand around with his hands in his pockets while the real culprit got away with attempted murder. If the police couldn't track the bastard down, then he knew someone who could.

The decision made, he reached for the phone on his desk, punched in a number, and sighed in relief when the son of his foster brother, Peter, came on the line. “Austin McGrath, private investigator,” his nephew said brusquely. “May I help you?”

“I certainly hope so,” Joe growled. “Someone tried to kill me Saturday night.”

Leaning back in the old leather chair he'd bought at a secondhand store when he'd first opened his own office, Austin sat up straighter with a frown. “I know,” he said, recognizing his foster uncle's voice immediately. “Dad told me about it. I've been meaning to call you, but I got tied up in a case and had to make a quick trip to Vancouver. How's the investigation going? Dad said half of California was there, so there must have been plenty of witnesses. Have the police made an arrest yet?”

Joe snorted at that. “They're a bunch of bumbling idiots. It's been a week since the shooting and they still don't have a clue what they're doing. Which is why I'm calling. I need you to come down and find out who tried to kill me.”

Austin wasn't crazy about going to California. It wasn't that he didn't like Joe or sympathize with his situation—he'd just never had much to do with the Colton side of the family. With their money and political clout, they were almost like the Kennedys of the West Coast. They even lived on an estate like the Hyannis Port compound, for God's sake!

Austin grimaced just at the thought of it. He had little interest in living that kind of high-profile existence and much preferred his quiet lifestyle in Portland. Unfortunately, he couldn't, in good conscience, refuse to come to Joe's aid because he didn't care for all the flash and glitter that went hand in hand with the Coltons. Joe and his father were brothers, though they shared no blood, and they'd always been there for each other. For his father's sake—and the fact that he couldn't stand by and let some bastard get away with trying to murder anyone, let alone his uncle—he, too, had to be there for him.

“I need to wrap up a few things here and arrange for a friend to take over the office for me for a couple of weeks,” he replied. “If everything goes all right, I should be able to fly down late tomorrow. How does that sound?”

Relieved, Joe sighed, and it was that, more than anything, that told Austin just how rattled his uncle was. “Great,” Joe said. “You don't know how much I appreciate this. You'll stay at the house, of course. I'll have Meredith prepare the guest room for you—”

“I'd rather you didn't,” Austin said honestly.

He was more than willing to do whatever he could for Joe, but he drew the line at staying at the estate. From what his father had told him, there was no such thing as a quiet evening at home with the Coltons and he didn't know how Joe stood it. There were always several guests
for dinner, not to mention business dinners several times a week and the socializing that never seemed to end. And while he knew he would have to endure some of that in order to conduct his investigation, Austin had no intention of suffering through any more of it than he had to. At the end of a long, hard day, he preferred the peace and quiet of his own company, not polite chitchat with a house full of strangers.

That wasn't, however, something he could tell Joe without being rude, so he said tactfully, “The investigation needs to be unbiased. It'll be easier to remain objective if I stay at a hotel.”

Far from being offended, Joe saw right through his excuse and only chuckled. “I should have known you'd want to get a place of your own. You always did like to go your own way.”

Grinning, Austin didn't deny it. He'd always been something of a rebel, and he made no apologies for it. Unlike the rest of the family, who all seemed to work for Joe in one capacity or another, he'd never had any desire to work for Colton Enterprises. Instead, after a stint in the Navy, he'd joined the Portland police department and worked his way up to detective. A shoot-out with drug dealers eventually ended that, but he still hadn't turned to Joe for a job. He liked police work and opened his own detective agency, instead. Like Joe, he liked being his own boss.

“Guilty as charged,” he retorted. “I'm just more comfortable that way, especially when I'm working. I like to be able to move around without answering to anyone.”

“Hey, you don't have to explain yourself to me or apologize,” Joe said quickly. “Your dad says you're damn good at this P.I. stuff, so do whatever you have to do. You won't hear any complaints from me.”

“Fair enough,” Austin said. “I'll call you when I get into town.”

Hanging up, he sat back in his chair and frowned down at the quick notes he'd made as Joe told him about the shooting. The details were sketchy—he'd get the rest of the facts when he got to town—but one thing was clear: Someone Joe knew and loved wanted him dead. But who?

 

The Colton estate near Prosperino, California, was called the Hacienda del Alegria—the House of Joy—and it gave every appearance of being just that. Situated in a beautiful valley, the large sand-colored adobe house faced the mountains in the distance and backed up to the ocean, offering spectacular views from every direction.

As a child, Austin had loved coming there. There was the ranch to explore, as well as the ocean, and then there was the house, itself. Built with two wings that jutted off the main section, it was a home, not just a house, thanks to Meredith. Back then, she'd had no interest in being a society queen, just a wife and mother, and she'd made sure the house was comfortably decorated and filled with children. She'd even done much of the gardening around the main house herself, and in the process, she'd created a lush tropical paradise that everyone had loved.

It had been years since Austin had been there, but the minute he drove down the lane to the house, he could see that it wasn't the same as he remembered from his childhood. Oh, the house was the same structurally, but the grounds were professionally landscaped now and looked just like any other rich man's estate.

And so did the house itself. The second the housekeeper, Inez, who had been with the family as long as Austin could remember, opened the door for him, he could see that this wasn't the home he'd always enjoyed
visiting when he was a child. It was too formal. In a single glance, Austin noted the expensive decor that had replaced the once comfortable furnishings that had made the house so welcoming in the past. The inviting home he remembered now appeared to be just a showcase for the Colton wealth. And that was a shame.

When he greeted Inez, however, none of his thoughts were reflected in his smile. “It's been a long time, Inez. I don't have to ask if Marco's been taking care of you. You look wonderful.”

At the mention of her husband, who was the head groundskeeper, her pretty black eyes twinkled merrily. “Marco's a smart man,” she replied. “He knows I'm the best thing that every happened to him.” Sobering, she confided, “Mr. Joe will be glad you're here. These last few days haven't been easy for him.”

“No, I don't imagine they have. I'll need to talk to you later about that, okay?”

“Any time, Mr. Austin. I was just about to start supper. You're family. You know the way, right?”

It had been years, but Austin could have found Joe's study blindfolded in the dark. “Sure. Thanks.”

Located down the hall from the living room, the study was decorated just as Austin remembered—with a huge oak desk and big, comfortable leather chairs, and books everywhere. Pleased that that much had stayed the same, at least, Austin grinned at the sight of his uncle scowling at his computer screen. It had been years since he'd seen him but he was still one good-looking son of a gun. At sixty, he was strong and athletic in spite of the gray that peppered his dark brown hair.

“Watch it, Unc,” he teased. “Frowning like that's going to cause wrinkles. And you've hit sixty now. You have to be careful about that kind of thing.”

“Austin! Thank God! Just the man I wanted to see.” Grinning broadly, he jumped up from his chair and strode around his desk to envelop him in a bear hug. “I made some notes of the shooting and was just going over them. I keep thinking if I read them enough, I'll figure out who the hell tried to kill me.”

That sounded good, but Austin knew better than to think it would be that easy. Someone had come damn close to pulling off a murder in full view of an entire party of birthday guests without anyone seeing him—or her. Which meant this wasn't a crime of passion. It had been plotted and planned down to the smallest detail by someone who didn't lack for cleverness or daring. Cracking it wasn't going to be easy.

Nodding at the computer screen and Joe's notes as he sank into one the chairs in front of his desk, he said, “I'd like to have a copy of that and the guest list. I'll need to talk to everyone who was here that night.”

“I've got it all right here,” his uncle said, handing him the information he'd already printed out for him. “The police needed the same thing, not that they did much with it,” he added in disgust. “They gave the family a hard look and didn't look any further.”

Not surprised, Austin said, “You can't really blame them, Joe. Think about it. Somebody tried to kill you at your own birthday party. There were no enemies here at the house that day—at least none that you were aware of when you sent out the invitations. Just friends and family—people who have the most to gain from your death. I bet everyone who's named in your will was here on Saturday night, weren't they?”

Not liking that one little bit, Joe growled, “Are you saying you agree with the police? I need to be suspicious of my own family?”

He gave him a look that had, no doubt, made lesser men quake in their shoes, but Austin didn't so much as blink. Joe had called him down to Prosperino to do a job, and he intended to do it—even when that meant telling him something he didn't want to hear.

“I won't know that until I examine the facts and talk to the witnesses,” he said honestly. “Only time will tell. For your sake, I hope the shooter's not someone in the family, but if that's who it turns out to be, you'll have to deal with it. You could end up dead if you don't.”

His expression grim, Joe had little choice but to agree with him. “Just find out who it is as quickly as possible. This not knowing is eating me alive.”

“I'll get on it first thing in the morning,” Austin promised. “After I read your accounting of the shooting and get a feel for what happened.”

Satisfied, Joe couldn't ask for anything more. “Good. Do what you have to do.” Pulling out the top drawer of his desk, he removed a key and slid it across the desk to him. “Here. I had you a key to the house made. I want you to feel free to come and go here as much as you like. If you need anything, all you have to do is ask. If I'm not around, Meredith should be, and I'll instruct Inez to cooperate with you in whatever way she can.”

BOOK: The Virgin Mistress
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