Dirty Deeds

By: Christy Barritt

CHAPTER 1

“I only have one request this week.” Riley Thomas snuck a glance at me from the driver’s seat of his beat up old Toyota Camry as we climbed the mountain road.

“You name it,” I told him.

“No snooping. No following your curiosity wherever it leads. No sticking your nose into other people’s business. No almost getting yourself killed. For once, I just want us to have fun.”

I glanced over at my fiancé and nodded, as if he’d just asked me to do something ordinary and mundane, like cooking his favorite meal. “Of course. No following, sticking, or getting killed on my part. I can totally handle that.”

This was going to be a long week. Just having fun? When did I ever do that? Fun was following leads and being nosy. The “almost being killed” part was debatable. I’d earned a bit of a reputation in the past for my work as a crime scene cleaner.

Riley’s hands were casually draped through the steering wheel, despite the fact that even an Indy car driver might be stressed out right now with all of these twists and turns through the Virginia mountains. Steep drop offs threatened us on one side and looming cliffs on the other.

Before we’d turned off the main highway, I’d seen a sign declaring “Treacherous Road. Remain cautious.” But our GPS led us onward and upward. And who were we to argue with the GPS?

Instead of stressing, I turned up the radio. I’d plugged in my smart phone, and an MP3 of My Fair Lady swooned through the car. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” to be exact. For a moment before embarking on this trip, I’d been tempted to practice my Cockney accent, then I decided against it.

This was the first time Riley and I had taken a trip together. Ever. And this was my first trip out of my hometown of Norfolk, Virginia in ages. We were meeting some of Riley’s friends from law school for some kind of attorney conference. During the day, he and his friends would go to their workshops. I, on the other hand, would relax and do things like swim in the pool, play tennis, take golf lessons, or get a massage.

I would not—I repeat would not—snoop, as per my recent promise to Riley.

As we rounded another sharp curve, sweat broke out across my forehead. I lifted my red hair from my neck to cool off. Normally I wore my hair curly and down to my shoulders. But we were going to this fancy resort with his fancy friends, so I’d decided to straighten it. I’d traded my normal jeans and T-shirt for some nicer jeans and a nicer T-shirt.

Sacrifices. That’s what relationships were about.

Riley, on the other hand, looked the part of a prep school boy in his neatly pressed khaki shorts, a royal blue, V-neck shirt that matched his eyes, and some loafers. His thick dark hair was just tousled enough to show that he wasn’t totally uptight, and he’d decided to forgo shaving for the week, so stubble lined his chin and the edges of his cheeks.

I grasped the armrest as another blind curve appeared in front of us on the snaky, desolate mountain byway. “This road is a death trap. Are you sure this is the right way to Wealthy Springs?”

“It’s Healthy Springs,” he corrected. “And this is a fun ride, isn’t it? It gets your adrenaline pumping.”

I looked out my window at the nearly endless drop into the valley below. My ears chose to pop, like they didn’t want me to forget the thinning altitude. “Fun wouldn’t exactly be my word of choice.”

But Wealthy Springs would be exactly what I meant to say.

I thought my word choice fit the whole resort persona better, at least from what I’d read about the place online. The resort, called Allendale Acres, had once been a playground for the country’s wealthiest, including more than twenty presidents, who all came here to enjoy the resort’s natural springs. My previous idea of a nice hotel meant staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Super 8.

Riley jerked the steering wheel to the left as he rounded a U-shaped bend. I could picture us flying off the road and remaining suspended in the air, much like Wile E. Coyote in one of those old cartoons, until the imaginary bottom disappeared, and we crashed to our deaths.

I swallowed and closed my eyes. I had to take my mind off this road before I lost it. “So, all of your college buddies are going to be here this weekend, huh?”

“That’s right.” Riley glanced over at me, a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Eyes on the road!” I instructed, pointing straight ahead. “There’ll be plenty of time for you to stare at me and tell me how beautiful I am later.”

“I can think of nothing else I’d rather do.”

My cheeks actually reddened for a moment. How did Riley still have that effect on me? I sucked in a deep breath, realizing that between the road, Riley’s pure and perfect chivalry, and this reunion  , I was jumpier than popcorn in a frying pan.

Still, I was excited to see a different side of Riley. Since we were getting married in six months, I thought this weekend trip could be really interesting. It could also be painful because the likelihood that I would fit in with his law school friends was slim to nothing. No, my chances were better for fitting in with the inmates at a local correctional facility, and I’d put quite a few of them behind the bars there, if that told you anything.

Riley’s friend Derek had called him a couple of months ago and suggested having a reunion  , going as far as to say they could combine business with pleasure, because there was going to be this professional development conference going on at Allendale. According to Riley, there would be six of his old friends from Georgetown School of Law there.

As if he could read my mind, Riley said, “I think you’ll really like them, Gabby.”

I nodded, absorbing his quick words and tight voice. Very unlike my confident, levelheaded fiancé. “You’re uncomfortable about something. What? Are you afraid your friends won’t like me?”

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know the answer to that question, but it was too late. My inquiry was already out there, hanging suspended, much like I imagined this car after just one wrong turn.

Riley’s face softened, and he threw a quick glance my way. “No, not at all. It’s not like that. I know they’ll love you.”

“So why are you tugging at your shirt collar like you suddenly can’t breathe?” I was an investigator—I’d been an official, respectable one for a whole month, at least—so I felt like the power of observation was on my side.

He finally sighed and raked a hand through his thick brown hair. “My friends are . . . my friends are different, Gabby. I know I don’t talk about this very much, but I’m not the same person as I was back then.”

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