Chapter 1 |CHAPTER 1|
On a bright Monday morning in late June, Ali Reynolds and her husband, B. Simpson, sat drinking coffee on the patio outside the master bedroom of their Sedona home.
“Okay,” he said. “The party’s over, so time’s up. Are you coming to London with me or not?”
The party in question had been a garden-party homecoming event for current and past recipients of Amelia Dougherty Askins scholarships, aimed specifically at students attending Verde Valley schools. When Ali had been a senior at Cottonwood High, she was among the first students to be awarded one of those, thus enabling her to attend college, something that would otherwise have been beyond her reach. She’d gotten a degree in journalism that had allowed her to pursue an award-winning career as a television newscaster. When that had fallen apart, she returned home to Sedona, Arizona, to regroup. Sometime later she found herself in charge of the scholarship program from which she herself had once benefited.
Yesterday’s afternoon tea had been in the works long before Alexandra Munsey, one of Ali’s good friends from her L.A. news-anchor days, had been brutally murdered in her home outside San Bernardino. In the aftermath of Alex’s death, Ali, along with several members of B.’s cybersecurity firm, High Noon Enterprises, had been sucked into the vortex of a homicide investigation.
Alex and Ali had both led complicated past lives. Maybe that’s part of what had created such a strong bond between them. Their lives had crashed and burned at about the same time, and they’d both reinvented themselves afterward. At the time of her death, Alex had been on the cusp of a blossoming literary career. The novel that had been published within days of her death was a huge success and had made the New York Times list several weeks in a row. Maybe that was one of the reasons Alex’s homicide had hit Ali so hard. Death had forever denied Alex the critical and literary accolades she so richly deserved.
As for Alex’s killers? Hannah Gilchrist, one of the people responsible, was dead of natural causes. The other conspirators were either already incarcerated on other charges or in jail awaiting trial, but Ali knew that it would take years of court proceedings before justice was finally served—if ever. Even so, there would be no eye for an eye here. No matter what the final outcome was in some California courtroom, nothing would ever bring Alex Munsey back. She would never live to see her precious grandson grow up, graduate from high school, go off to college, marry, or have a child of his own. She would never have the opportunity to write and publish another book. No, her untimely death had destroyed all those potential outcomes, and the unbearable finality of that was wearing Ali down.
Weeks earlier she had risen to the challenge, traveled to L.A., and stood up to speak at Alex’s funeral, but back home it had been all she could do to go through with the party. The food had been catered by one of the scholarship fund’s food-science graduates, and B. and Ali’s new majordomo, Alonzo Rivera, had sorted out most of the physical details. Still, it had taken real effort on Ali’s part to simply dress up, put on a happy face, and go forth to welcome her guests. Once the party had ended, late in the afternoon, she’d been on the verge of collapse.
B. was due to attend an international cybersecurity conference in London at the end of the week. Days earlier he’d invited Ali to come along, with the added incentive that they’d be able to see a play or two in the West End and maybe spend a couple of days hiking in the Cotswolds once the conference ended.
“Come on,” he’d said. “It’ll be good for what ails you. We’ve got a full team on board to look after things in your absence.”
If B. had expected an enthusiastic affirmative, it wasn’t forthcoming. “Maybe,” she’d told him back then. “Let me get through the garden party first.”
“I just checked with BA,” he added. “There are still a couple of first-class seats on my flight. Shall I book one for you?”
Ali had stalled him on the subject earlier, but now, with the party in the rearview mirror, it was time for her to give him a final answer.
“All right,” she agreed reluctantly. “I’ll come along, but I’m not sure I’ll be very good company. When do we leave?”
“Wednesday,” he replied. “Wednesday afternoon.”
“Sorry,” she said after a thoughtful pause. “I guess I’m acting like an ungrateful, spoiled brat.”
“You are,” B. agreed with a smile while reaching across the table to take her hand. “But at least you’re my spoiled brat, and you’ve been through one hell of an ordeal.”
“Thank you,” Ali replied. “Maybe a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered.”