Find a Christian store

<< Go Back

Bite the Dust

By Jackie Layton

Order Now!

Chapter One
“WHAT’D YOU DO?” A deep tenor questioned me.
I stood over a dead body. Peter Roth’s body, to be exact. “I didn’t
do anything.” The stranger glared at me. His expression implied I was
to blame for Peter’s death. Of all the nerve. I was Peter’s friend.
Peter’s golden retriever puppy, Chubb, howled where he stood on
the imported Persian rug between the dead body and me. Peter had
been so excited the day the rug arrived and he often walked around it
instead of on it to preserve the beauty. Now he lay dead on the carpet
he treasured in the grand living room of his plantation home.
The stranger’s eyes widened. “Well?” Then he crossed his arms
over his sweaty sky-blue T-shirt, obscuring the words I like my boat and
maybe three people.
My throat tightened, but I had to defend myself against his
accusation. “I just got here. To walk the dog. I’m the dog walker.” I
pointed at Chubb, as if he could testify to my innocence.
“Why are you holding a paperweight? From here it looks like you
might have knocked Peter out with that thing.”
“No.” I backed away from the body, shaking my head. “I didn’t
hit him.”
The man pulled a cell phone out of the pocket of his athletic
shorts. Not the super tiny shorts a lot of runners wore. Long enough
to be decent. Short enough for me to notice his long, tanned, muscular
legs.
He thumbed the phone’s buttons. “Did you call the police?”
Despite the harshness of the man’s voice, his pale face proved he
struggled with Peter’s death.
“Not yet. I heard your footsteps and grabbed the paperweight off
the coffee table to protect myself. Why are you here? How do I know
you’re not the killer?” I backed up a few more paces. In that attire, the
guy had to be a runner. I probably couldn’t outrun him. Maybe I could
outwit him.
“We’ll let the police sort it out. Maybe you’ll get a softie who’ll
Jackie Layton
2
believe you.”
“How can you accuse me? Peter is my friend.” My eyes drifted
down to the still body, and I held in a sob. Through the years I’d
gotten used to stuffing down my emotions. Finding Peter’s body
challenged my ability to hold it together. I perspired, my legs shook,
and my stomach churned. “Was my friend.”
“You want me to believe you showed up to walk Chubb and
found Peter lying on the floor?”
“Yes. It’s the truth. I’d never hurt Peter.” In one hand, I held an
ace of hearts playing card I’d found on the kitchen floor moments
before I’d entered the living room. The heavy glass paperweight
weighed down the other hand. A colorful Baccarat to be specific. Peter
had always been specific when I admired an antique he had displayed
in his South Carolina plantation home. He admired beautiful things,
and he was a collector. Paperweights were just one of the things he
enjoyed. “I know this looks bad. Let me explain.”
The man’s eyes narrowed, his finger poised inches from his cell
phone screen. “You’ve got sixty seconds before I call the police. What
you say will affect what I tell them.”
I slipped the slick playing card into the back pocket of my shorts.
Telling the truth wouldn’t take long. “Peter called me last night to say
he had an early meeting in Atlanta this morning. Thursdays he usually
works from home but something came up. He asked me to come
check on Chubb a couple times today. When I got here, Chubb was
barking nonstop. I entered the front door and walked through the
foyer and breakfast room straight back to the kitchen. I never entered
this room. Chubb’s a puppy, and I thought maybe he needed to go out
in a hurry. I opened the door to his crate, and he ran in here. All I’ve
done is feel Peter’s body for a pulse. His wrist and his neck. There’s
not one. His body is cold and clammy.” The way I rattled on probably
made me look guilty. I shivered. Talking too much when nervous was
one of my bad habits. “Why are you here?”
His expression tight, he propped his hands on his hips. “I heard a
scream while on my morning run along the river. When I got here, the
front door was wide open. I came inside and found you standing over
Peter with a weapon.”
“I don’t remember leaving the door open, and I’m not holding a
weapon.” I looked down at the paperweight in my hand. If this man
thought I killed Peter, the sheriff might jump to the same conclusion.
Then another thought occurred to me. “Wait, who are you?”
Bite the Dust
3
“A neighbor. My land borders Peter’s property line to the north.
We’ve got to report this.” He dialed.
I knelt beside Chubb and rubbed his back. Poor thing.
“This is Marc Williams.”
I jerked at the sound of his voice, but mystery man’s name was no
longer a secret. Marc Williams stood a few inches over six feet, judging
by the way I tipped my head to see him. I was five foot eight and
didn’t strain to look up at many people.
Marc paced around the room, never getting too close to the body.
“I need to report a death. Possible murder. At Peter Roth’s home on
River Road.”
My legs refused to hold me any longer. I shuffled away and
collapsed onto the jacquard wingback chair. Louis XVI in a “muted
celadon,” according to Peter. Pain pounded through my head. Never
again would Peter share his love of antiques with me. I used to stifle
yawns at his lengthy descriptions, but now . . . . I’d give anything to
have those conversations back. I’d lost too many loved ones in my life.
I’d spent twelve years raising my siblings. When I was eighteen,
my parents were killed by a hit-and-run driver in a white sports car.
Mom and I had been making plans for my dorm room the week of the
accident. Afterward, it was only the three of us kids. No grandparents.
Nobody to jump in and offer assistance. The first time I heard the
words Social Services, I’d known what I had to do. There really wasn’t
another choice. I shelved my plans to attend the University of Georgia
and remained in Heyward Beach, South Carolina. Then I met Peter.
He’d been new to the area at the time. For some inexplicable reason,
he’d looked out for me, acted as my mentor and life coach. He never
flat-out gave me money, but he’d advised me on finances and
encouraged me. Peter had shown extraordinary kindness to a lost
young woman when there’d been no reason for him to reach out.
Marc paced from the doorway to the window overlooking the vast
front yard. “I’d say we need an ambulance. No, the coroner. And the
sheriff.” The man spoke to the emergency dispatcher with authority as
if used to giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed.
I released the paperweight, and it dropped onto the soft chair. I
leaned forward and held out a dog treat to the puppy. A good dog
walker always carried some kind of treats, and I was good. “Come
here, Chubb.”
The puppy raised his head and looked at me. The pain in his
brown eyes about broke my heart.
Jackie Layton
4
“It’s okay, boy. You’re safe.”
Chubb’s ears flopped back before he stood and plodded toward
me. His nails clicked on the old pine floor until he stopped and sniffed
my hand before biting into the dog bone.
“Good, boy.” I rubbed his dark golden sides as he munched on
the treat appropriate for forty-pound puppies. “I know how you feel.
It’s hard to believe somebody would hurt Peter.” The puppy whined,
and I slid down to the floor so I could wrap my arms around him.
Marc walked our way. “Maybe we should move to the kitchen.
Less chance of contaminating the crime scene in there.”
I gasped. This was Peter’s living room. Not a crime scene.
However, my friend’s dead body made Marc Williams’s words true.
This was a crime scene. Peter was the murder victim, and it looked like
I might be the number one suspect.
My legs barely held me as I stumbled through the foyer and
breakfast room on my way to the kitchen. I sat on the first barstool I
came to. Chubb plodded to his crate and collapsed onto the soft
blankets with a heavy sigh.
Marc opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a can of Coke.
He dampened a paper towel and wiped off the top before placing the
can in front of me. “You look pale. Have you eaten today?”
“Yeah. I ate a nut bar when I first woke up.” I popped the top
and drank deeply. The bubbles tickled my throat, and my nose burned
at the familiar taste. Cokes and coffee were my two big weaknesses.
“It’s probably too late to worry, but do you think the cops will mind
I’m drinking one of Peter’s drinks?”
“I’m sure they’d prefer it over you passing out. You looked like
you were about to faint.” Marc took another paper towel and ran it
over his face.
I finished the drink and checked on Chubb’s water and food
supply. Both bowls were empty, so I went about the simple task of
filling them.
The golden retriever lay in the crate, stretched out with his head
resting on his big paws.
I paused beside him. “Poor boy. Do you know who hurt Peter?”
The dog’s eyes rolled up, and I scratched him behind the ears.
Marc Williams cleared his throat. “Peter isn’t hurt. He’s dead.”
How could the man be so blunt? I settled on the floor and
reached for Chubb. The energetic puppy had lost his spunk. A stranger
might not realize Chubb was five months old because he was so large.
Bite the Dust
5
I managed to wrap him in my arms and rocked sideways in hopes it’d
soothe the golden retriever. I also needed soothing, but I’d worry
about myself later.
“In case you missed it, I’m Marc Williams. And you are?”
I willed back the tears threatening to erupt from my eyes. “I’m
Andi Grace Scott. I was Peter’s dog walker and pet sitter for the last
twelve years. He was my friend.”
“Twelve years?” Marc’s eyes narrowed. “That dog’s just a puppy.”
“I took care of Lincoln for years, but he died back in the winter.
Peter adopted Chubb in February, and they were a good fit for each
other.” Did the man think I was lying? If he didn’t believe me about
watching the dogs, he probably didn’t believe I was innocent of Peter’s
death. “How well did you know Peter?”
He huffed, strode to the refrigerator again, and opened it. Soon I
was holding another cold can of Coke. Marc twisted off the cap of a
water bottle and chugged it dry. “Peter and I were neighbors and
worked together when a land developer wanted to buy our land to
build a hotel and casino. Our properties connect, and we could’ve
made a nice profit, but we weren’t interested.”
The playing card singed me through the pocket of my denim
shorts and I rubbed my thigh. Why had I picked it up? It might be
important. Where were the other fifty-one cards? Fifty-three if you
counted the jokers. I shrugged off the chill across my neck and
refocused on Marc. His calm tone made me want to trust him. “Are
you a cop?”
“No.”
“Military?”
“No.”
In spite of his denials, something about the man screamed
authority. “Are you associated with the law in some way? An attorney?
A judge?”
He yanked off his hat and ran a hand through his wavy blond hair.
It was a couple of shades darker than mine but probably thicker.
“Used to be an attorney.”
“Aha. So is anything I tell you protected?”
“That only goes for clients. What do you want to tell me?” He
tugged his hat back on.
I studied Marc’s eyes. Gray, if anything. My gaze switched to coast
over his strong chest. He’d quit perspiring, but there was still a damp
ring on his T-shirt. The brim of his ball cap had a perfect curve. I
Jackie Layton
6
should know after all the times I’d watched my brother, Nate, work a
curve into the bill of his hats. “I want to hire you.”
“Why?”
“What if the sheriff thinks I killed Peter? You thought I did.
Maybe I need a lawyer.” I blinked, trying to clear my vision from the
threatening darkness. Last thing I needed to do was faint.
“I don’t officially practice law anymore.”
“Kinda young to retire, aren’t you?” The rudeness of my tone
shocked me but didn’t seem to faze Marc. “That was uncalled for. I’m
sorry.”
He shrugged. “Consider it a career change. I build boats.”
“I remember Peter mentioning a boat builder. Any chance you’re
still licensed to practice law?”
“Yes, but I don’t.” His jaw tightened.
“I’m hiring you.” I’d go with my woman’s intuition and trust him.
“I found a card.” I shouldn’t have picked it up, but I did, and now it
burned a hole in my pocket. “Specifically, an ace of hearts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“On the living room floor.” I pulled the card from my pocket, and
a tube of lip balm slid out with it and dropped to the floor. “I found
this card close to Peter’s body. Do you think there’s a connection to
the casino man? Or could it be the killer’s calling card? Maybe we’ve
stumbled across a serial killer.”
“Hold it. Serial killers are rare. Why’d you pick it up?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Peter always liked things neat. I
just didn’t think.”
“Where exactly did you find it?” His fists landed on his hips.
“It wasn’t touching the body. I’d say it was close to the end table
by the couch. On the dining room side. Not the foyer side of the
couch.”
“We’ll show it to the sheriff.”
“It’s got my fingerprints on it now.” I was too young to go to jail,
although truthfully, thirty approached with the speed of a 310-
horsepower jet ski. I’d find a way to prove my innocence, because as
much as I respected the police, they didn’t always catch the bad guy.
“It might also have the killer’s fingerprints. Lay it on the counter.”
He pointed to the golden granite countertop on the white cabinet base.
The slick playing card was cool in my hand. “What if the cops
arrest me? Don’t forget I’ve hired you.”
“You’re not listening. I’m a boat builder now.” His spine
Bite the Dust
7
straightened, making him much taller than me. “Did you kill Peter?”
The faint wail of sirens drifted through the air. We were out in the
county, so it’d probably be the sheriff or a deputy. I took a deep breath
and released it. “I already told you. I didn’t kill Peter.”
“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about.” His gaze drifted to the
counter where I’d placed the ace of hearts.
“Easy for you to say. You were second on the scene.” I reached
for my tube of lip balm and rubbed it across my sunburned lips.
“Have you ever been arrested? Do you have a record?”
“No.” My answer came out shrill. I was a good girl who followed
the rules. I even drove down the appropriate aisles in a parking lot.
How had I gotten myself into this fix?
The sirens grew louder, and Chubb howled.
“It’s okay, boy. The good guys are coming.” I dug through Peter’s
box of dog supplies and retrieved Chubb’s ThunderShirt.
Marc’s eyebrows rose and wrinkles waved across his forehead.
“What are you doing?”
“Even though there’s not a storm, maybe this will calm Chubb
down. He’s still an excitable puppy, and the sirens and activity may put
him on edge.” I secured the jacket around his belly and under his neck.
“There you go. It’s going to be okay.”
Although if you considered the puppy was now an orphan, people
would soon be stomping in and out of the house, and the coroner
would take Chubb’s deceased master away, nothing would be okay
again.
Marc left us alone in the kitchen and returned moments later.
“They’re here. I’ll meet them at the front door and explain you’re back
here with Peter’s dog.”
I nodded. “No, wait. Can I trust you? Or do you plan to rat me
out?”
“You’re something else, Andi Grace. First you try to hire me, and
now you don’t trust me.” He ran a hand over his face.
“You refused to represent me, but you make a good point.” I met
his gray-eyed gaze, and something unexplainable flowed through me.
“I trust you.”
He sighed and left Chubb and I alone in the kitchen until Sheriff
Wade Stone appeared. “Andi Grace, I hear you’re the one who found
Peter’s body. I need you to tell me what happened.”
Chubb whined before I could reply.
Marc appeared. “Excuse me, how about I take the dog for a walk?
Jackie Layton
8
Give y’all some privacy.”
I attached Chubb’s leash and passed it to Marc. “Thanks.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He disappeared out the back door just off the
laundry room.
I faced Wade. “I showed up this morning to walk Chubb and
found Peter’s body in the living room.”
“Did you touch anything?”
“I’m afraid so.” The room tilted on me. “Uh, Wade, can we sit
down?”
“Sure. Take a seat at the island.” He pulled a tall chair out for me,
and I sank into it. “Andi Grace, any chance you know why there’s only
one playing card here?”
I propped my arms on the cool granite countertop. “It’s going to
have my fingerprints on it. Please don’t get mad at me, but I picked it
up earlier.”
He stiffened. “That wasn’t a very smart move. Tell me
everything.”
I shared my story with him and answered his questions. It took
almost an hour, and I was beyond exhausted.
Wade studied me. “Did you kill Peter?”
“No, he was always kind to me. I had no reason to hurt him.” A
tear rolled down my cheek, and I swiped it away. Nobody cried pretty,
but with my blond hair, blue eyes, and freckles I was a legit ugly crier.
“Do you believe me?”
“At this point, I’m gathering facts. Walk me through your story
from the moment you entered the house.”
I followed him to the foyer and retraced my steps for him.
Outside the living room window, the sun shone bright. Marc played
with Chubb in the shade. I smiled before my thoughts returned to the
murder scene.
It seemed like hours before the sheriff finished interrogating me. I
plodded out the door, and Marc entered the house. He wasn’t allowed
to speak to me, and a deputy watched as Marc handed me the leash.
I didn’t speak a word until climbing into my Suburban. I’d parked
under an old oak tree in front of Peter’s home, and it wasn’t steaming
hot. I sat in the driver’s seat, and Chubb lay in the passenger seat.
A breeze drifted up from the river. Combined with the shade, the
heat was bearable. I took notes in my journal on everything that came
to mind about the crime scene. When I wrote all I could remember, I
tapped my pen against the paper. Would the sheriff question Marc as
Bite the Dust
9
thoroughly as he had me?
I wasn’t sure what to think about the handsome, tall, and
somewhat brooding attorney. Of course, finding a man dead wasn’t the
occasion to crack jokes and be the life of the party. I fanned myself
with the journal.
Chubb propped his head on the console next to me. His heavy
breathing filled the air. Crickets chirped in the surrounding woods. A
peaceful day, if not for the fact my friend had been murdered.
What had Peter been wearing? I remembered what Marc wore. If
the situation were different, I might be attracted to him. Too bad I’d
always think of him as the man who thought I was capable of murder.
I wouldn’t hurt a mosquito. Okay, that might take it a bit far, but no
way would I hurt another person.
“What are you doing?” Marc appeared beside my SUV and
propped an elbow on the ledge of my rolled-down window.
I gasped and reached for my heart. “Whoa. You gave me a fright.”
“Sorry. Thought you saw me coming.”
“How’d your interview go?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Fine.”
“Did they mention me?”
“Yes.”
“You’re a man of few words, aren’t you?”
“No need to say a lot when one word will do.” He gave me a halfsmile.
I’d never get information if he played coy. “Are you sure you’re an
attorney? I thought y’all had lots to say.”
“Might be the reason I quit practicing law.”
Arg. He was about to get on my last nerve. “Let’s get more
precise. Sheriff Stone drilled me on my relationship with Peter and why
I was at the house this morning. He asked about my normal dog
walking procedures. I’m worried he thinks either I killed Peter or
maybe the killer got my key. It’s impossible the killer got my key,
because I still have it.” I held up the key on a ring with a code tag.
“Everybody I work for has a key with their own code. Even if
somebody had broken into my house to get Peter’s key, they’d have to
know my coding system of matching keys to homes.”
“Sounds like you’ve thought of everything.” He clamped his lips
together.
I expelled a long breath and shook my head. “Not even close. I
never considered stumbling upon a dead client.”
Jackie Layton
10
“I’m sure most people don’t plan on that.”
Un, deux, trois, quatre. “You aren’t helping. What’d you tell the
sheriff?”
“The truth.”
It was going to take more than counting in French to calm me
down. I needed to remain cool so Marc didn’t think I was a deranged
killer. “Did you tell him you accused me of murdering Peter?”
“I confessed that my first thought was you’d hurt Peter.”
“You what?” I straightened in my seat. “How could you?”
“Hold on a second. I cleared up the misunderstanding then stuck
to the facts.”
Relief swooshed through me. “How did Sheriff Stone react?”
“He’s got a good poker face.”
So did Marc, and I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with him. I
gave up. For the moment. “Can we leave now?”
“The deputy has our information and said we’re free to go.”
I tapped the pen against my purple journal. “Do you remember
what Peter was wearing?”
“Braves T-shirt and jeans. Black Converse.”
“You’re right.” I jotted the information down. Why hadn’t I
remembered?
“Why are you taking notes?”
I avoided meeting his gaze. How could I explain my desire to
solve Peter’s murder? The police had never found the hit-and-run
driver who killed my parents twelve years ago. They called it a cold
case. Nobody was perfect, and I’d never blame them for the lack of
clues. Still, I realized the sheriff might see me as the most likely suspect
and quit looking for the real killer. If I helped find the person
responsible for Peter’s death, I’d be able to clear my name and get
justice for Peter.
Marc rested both arms on the top of my SUV. “Well?”
“What?” Oh, yeah. He’d asked about my notes. “I wanted to be a
journalist when I was growing up. Here’s a chance to put my
investigative skills to the test while trying to get justice for Peter. Any
chance you’d tell me the name of the casino developer?” A warm
breeze drifted into the truck which gave me a bit of relief from the late
afternoon heat.
Marc pushed back and stood straight. “George Reeves. He’s not a
local.”
That much I had figured out on my own. I’d lived in Heyward
Bite the Dust
11
Beach my entire life, and I knew the locals. To say so would sound
bad-mannered. Instead, I nodded and added the name to my list.
“Thanks.”
“Before you start investigating, do you have a husband or
boyfriend to protect you?”
My shoulders tightened. “Don’t you think you’re being a little
chauvinistic?”
“Not when it comes to murder.”
My face warmed. I didn’t want to answer, but he’d given me
George Reeves’s name. “My brother lives in town.” No need to
explain Nate stayed busy from dawn to dusk with his landscaping
business.
“Be careful.” He stepped away then turned on his heel and
returned. “I know I’m going to regret asking, but why does it matter
what Peter’s wearing?”
“It was around ten when he called me last night to take care of
Chubb. I think the killer came over after our call instead of this
morning.”
“Why?”
“Peter always wore suits to business meetings. If he’d been killed
early today, he would’ve been dressed up.”
“Gotcha. Why do you care so much?”
Anger bubbled up in me. I counted to ten in French before
answering. “Why don’t you care more?” I shot him the sweetest smile I
could summon.
“Touché.” He scratched the stubble on his jaw. “I feel terrible for
Peter, but we barely knew each other. I know how to research, but I’ve
never tried to track down a killer. Have you actually taken any
investigative reporting classes?”
Busted. “No.”
“And you don’t think the sheriff’s department can handle this
case?” He crossed his arms and stared at me.
I gripped the steering wheel and could picture the man
questioning a witness in a courtroom. “That’s my point. To the cops,
this is just another case. But it’s different for me. Peter was my friend.
When I wanted to start my dog walking business so I could have more
time with the kids, Peter believed in me. He even helped me create a
business plan.”
Marc’s eyes widened. “You’ve got kids?”
I opened the door to allow a better breeze into the vehicle. “No.
Jackie Layton
12
My parents died when I was eighteen, and I raised my brother and
sister.”
His stance relaxed, and he stepped closer to the Suburban. “I’m
sorry.” His voice was silky smooth and comforting.
“I miss them every day. I’d registered for college and had a dorm
assignment. I couldn’t wait to start, and then my parents died. The
driver was never caught. The sheriff says it’s a cold case. You have no
idea what it’s like to lose both parents at the same time.”
Marc looked down and scuffed the toe of his running shoe in the
sandy grass. “Amazingly, I do know. Seems like we’ve got that in
common.”
Me and my big mouth. “I’m sorry, Marc. What happened?” I slid
my purple journal onto the dash and stepped out of my SUV. I leaned
back, hoping to look casual, but I wanted to hear every word he
uttered.
He looked me in the eyes. “I was six at the time. It was also a car
wreck, but not a hit-and-run. My parents ran off the road and hit a
palm tree in the median. An off-duty fireman drove by at the time and
rescued me first. He cut me out of my child safety seat and carried me
to his truck.”
His voice was so quiet, I had to step closer to hear. “And?”
“The car caught fire. The fireman had blocked oncoming traffic
with his pickup truck. I guess the traffic on the other side stopped as
well. The flames were so intense nobody could reach my parents. They
died before anyone could get the fire extinguished.” He broke eye
contact with me and stared at the ground.
“Oh, no. I can’t imagine how terrible it was for you to lose them
at such a young age. Do you have any siblings?”
“Only child. I ended up in foster care. Thirteen different homes
before I graduated from high school.” Marc strode toward an oak tree
with Spanish moss draping off its branches. He looked skyward.
I didn’t want to intrude on his private moment, especially if he
was praying, so I waited.
At last he spun on his heel and walked back to me. “I’ll help you.”

Order Now!

<< Go Back


Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.