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Spies and Prejudice
 

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Spies and Prejudice


  EGMONT

  We bring stories to life

  First published by Egmont USA, 2013

  443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806

  New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © Talia Vance, 2013

  All rights reserved

  www.egmontusa.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Vance, Talia.

  Spies and prejudice / Talia Vance.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Berry Fields’s life working for her dad’s investigation firm and searching for clues to her mother’s death unravels when gorgeous Tanner arrives in town and changes everything.

  eISBN: 978-1-60684-304-8

  [1. Private investigators—Fiction. 2. High schools—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction.

  4. Mothers—Fiction. 5. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.

  PZ7.V39853Spi 2013

  [Fic]—dc23

  2012024478

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

  v3.1

  FOR DAD, THE WORLD’S GREATEST PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR, AND A DAMN FINE FATHER: THE TRUTH NEVER LIES.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1

  The only thing worse than a guy who cheats on his girlfriend? A guy who cheats on his girlfriend and doesn’t flaunt it enough for me to capture any proof on film. Mary Chris and I have been sitting in Sconehenge for two hours, waiting for this guy to do something skeezy. So far all I’ve got is a picture of his date looking insanely bored while he drones on about the horrific levels of pesticides in fruit.

  Mary Chris glances over her shoulder to where the mark stuffs another fry in his mouth. “Is that his second basket of garlic fries? There’s no way she’s going to kiss him now.”

  Mary Chris has never had the patience for stakeouts. She’s only here to field test the spy-cam she built for extra credit in her mechanical science class. The camera is embedded in the lens of a pair of fake eyeglasses that are so big, I’m sure I look like I’m channeling a fifties movie star. Still, the giant tortoiseshell frames camouflage the controls perfectly. I’ve got to hand it to Mare, this works infinitely better than anything on spystuff.com.

  I turn toward the booth where the mark runs a greasy hand through his hair. I tap my finger on the frame of the glasses to zoom in. I get a perfect shot of him talking with his mouth open, complete with a chunk of parsley on his front teeth. His girlfriend should dump him even if he’s not cheating.

  “You don’t have to stay. The camera works great.”

  “Nice try, Berry.” Mary Chris blesses me with an angelic smile. She’s pretty without trying, and while she never uses it purposefully, I can’t help smiling back. “But there’s no way I’m leaving now. Things just got interesting.”

  “He is kind of a train wreck.”

  Mare isn’t watching the mark. I follow her gaze to where two guys trail the hostess to a table in the back below one of the fake rock sculptures. The restaurant theme is supposed to evoke Stonehenge, but the rocks look more like a Disneyfied Mayan ruin.

  I glance back down at the history book in front of me and attempt to read the same sentence I’ve already read at least sixty-seven times.

  Mary Chris taps my arm. “Don’t you think the blond one is kind of cute?”

  I look over my shoulder to where the two boys sit, accidentally making eye contact with the dark-haired guy’s ice-blue stare. He’s too good-looking to be called cute. Everything about him is sharp, from his strong jaw to his prominent cheekbones. His face is cut like he was sculpted that way, in hard, jagged lines. Even his hair is razored, hanging in points around his face.

  I know the type. In twenty years, I’ll be snapping pictures of him so his first wife can maximize her divorce settlement before he moves on to his trophy wife. For now, he probably dates a cheerleader while trolling the halls of his high school for underclassmen willing to make out and keep their mouths shut about it.

  It’s not that every guy messes around, but I’ve been working for my dad’s private investigation company long enough to notice a few things. When a guy looks like that, his ego won’t let him say no to the throngs of girls throwing themselves at him forever.

  “He looks sweet.” Mary Chris smiles into her diet soda.

  “Sweet is not the word that comes to mind.” Lock up your daughters comes to mind.

  “The blond one?”

  “We’re here to catch a cheater, not check out guys.” I glance at the mark. His mouth is moving, but I can’t make out a word he’s saying. I pull my receiver out of my messenger bag. The receiver looks like an iPod, but works like a pocket amplifier, picking up sounds and magnifying them through the earpiece. In theory. About half the time all I get is muffled garbage or an annoying clamor of several conversations at once. It’s what I get for buying spy gadgets on the Internet.

  Mary Chris grins at me while I put the earbuds in. “Your mark has no shot. Look at the way he’s shoveling in those garlic fries. We might as well have some fun.”

  “I don’t get paid to have fun. I get paid for proof.” I keep my eyes deliberately focused on the mark as I tuck the receiver in my pocket. I flip on the volume control, but the voice I pick up is not the mark’s.

  “The girl in the beige jacket? With the blonde ponytail and glasses?” The low voice reverberates through the earbuds, traveling down my spine and settling in the pit of my stomach with a soft hum. “Pretending to read a history book?”

  I freeze, my hand still buried in the pocket of my beige hoodie. I keep my eyes pinned to the history book in front of me, forcing myself not to turn around and look at the boys behind me.

  “Dude, she’s pretty,” another more normal voice says.

  “She’s alright,” the bass thrums again. “But nothing amazing.”

  Years of training fly out the window. I crane my neck to look at them. The guy with dark hair raises his brow smugly when he catches me looking, and I spin back to face Mary Chris.

  “What?” Mare mouths. She knows not to talk when I have this amplifier on.

  I shake my head. So what if some idiot thinks I’m pretty or not. There are more important things to worry about
at the moment. Like finally catching this cheater in the act. I turn to the mark’s table in time to see him brush the girl’s arm as he reaches for the ketchup. I snap the picture too late, missing the shot.

  I never miss the shot.

  Mary Chris doesn’t even try to hide the fact that she’s looking over my shoulder to the guys’ table. She lifts her arm and waves her fingers.

  “Did you just wave at them?”

  Mary Chris just violated the number one rule of investigations: never, ever draw attention to yourself.

  Mary Chris shrugs. “He waved first.”

  The smooth voice comes through the receiver to my ears. “What are you doing?” Thrum, thrum, thrum. I curse my gut for reacting to the tone of his voice.

  “Dude,” the other guy stretches the one-syllable word in nearly a whisper. “She waved back. I think she likes me.”

  “Fine,” the smooth voice responds. “You take the hot one. I’ll take the friend. She might be tolerable if she loses those ridiculous glasses.”

  I rip the earbuds out of my ears before I have to listen to another word. I have half a mind to walk over and dump what’s left of my Diet Coke in Mr. Nothing Amazing’s lap. Lucky for him, I’m on a stakeout.

  Mary Chris watches me slam the receiver back into my messenger bag. “Is everything okay?”

  I take a breath. “I’ve been tailing this mark for two weeks, and I still haven’t gotten a picture I can use. Dad’s going to pull me off the case if I don’t get something soon.” It’s a lie. Dad knows I have a better chance of catching this guy than he does. I’m his secret weapon when it comes to covert surveillance. Teenagers are practically invisible to adults.

  I shift my focus back on the mark. The girl’s hand rests lightly on his arm. He leans forward and says something into her neck. Now we’re talking. I click the frame of my glasses and get the shot. Finally, a step in the right direction.

  Until Mr. Nothing Amazing steps right in front of me. “Hello.” His hands rest in his pockets, his head cocked slightly to the side. A Doberman masquerading as a retriever.

  “Sorry?”

  He completely blocks my view of the mark. Apparently, it’s not enough for him to insult me. He’s got to ruin my surveillance too.

  “Do you go to McHenry?” He gestures to the history book that’s still open in front of me.

  “I might.” I concentrate hard on my book, hoping he’ll take the hint and leave.

  He doesn’t.

  “Cool,” he says, forcing me to look back up at him. “I’m Tanner.” He points to the table where the blond guy still sits. “That’s my brother, Ryan.”

  Ryan nods and flashes us a goofy smile. Mary Chris waves at him again.

  Okay. These guys look nothing alike. Ryan is softer all around. Wavy blond hair brushes his shoulders and round eyeglasses rest low on the bridge of his nose. He looks like a cross between a surfer and an accountant.

  Amateurs. Ryan should’ve been the one to make the first move.

  “Brothers?” I finally meet Tanner’s eyes, calling him out on the obvious lie.

  “Stepbrothers.”

  Ryan walks up with a friendly smile. “Hey.”

  “Hi.” Mary Chris motions for Ryan to take the seat next to her.

  Seriously? I lift my chin toward the mark’s table, hoping Mary Chris will get the hint. I am trying to work here. I have to crane my neck to the side to even get a glimpse of the mark over Tanner’s shoulder.

  Tanner takes the seat across from Ryan. Next to me.

  “Presumptuous much?”

  “Are we keeping you from something?” Tanner glances at the textbook that’s been open to the same page for the last forty-five minutes. Not that he could possibly know that. He probably just expects me to drop everything the minute he opens his mouth. When I don’t answer his question, he forges ahead. “We thought it’d be cool if we knew someone our first day at McHenry.”

  These guys are going to our high school? Good luck to them. They’d be better off knowing a posse of bodyguards to keep all the swooning girls away.

  Mare jumps in. “I’m Mary Chris Moss.” She’s not kidding. She was born on Christmas Eve and her parents have a wicked sense of humor. Our crazy names are what brought us together the first day of kindergarten. Mare has embraced it, wearing her name as proudly as the cupcake-decorating badge she won in junior scouts when we were seven.

  “Cool name.” Ryan grins back at her and they launch into a private conversation like they’ve known each other forever.

  Tanner assumes my silence is an invitation to keep talking. “We just moved down from Orange County.” He says it like that’s a good thing. “Irvine.”

  Tanner sits at an angle so his broad shoulders totally block my view of the mark. I twist a little to look around him. The mark still munches on fries, but the girl’s hand rests on his free arm.

  I should be getting some pictures.

  Tanner leans toward me, searching my face until I look at him again. When I do, his eyes brighten and his lips curve into a smile.

  My breath catches in my throat.

  Okay, no. My stomach did not just flip itself inside out and sideways. I’ve seen countless men look at a girl in just the way that Tanner looks at me now. Right before they run off with their secretary, the grocery store clerk, or some random girl they meet on a bus. It’s nothing to get worked up over. Almost automatically, I finger the frame of my tortoiseshell glasses and snap a picture.

  I struggle to regain my focus, looking resolutely over Tanner’s shoulder to where the mark and the girl giggle. The mark probably told her his one joke about a horse going into a bar. Then again, maybe not. She actually laughs.

  Tanner tries again. “Is everything okay? You seem distracted.”

  I look straight into Tanner’s eyes. “I was fine before you came over here, and I’ll be fine after you leave.” A little harsh maybe, but it’s an absolute and unequivocal truth.

  Tanner inhales. I can practically see the gears turning in his head. A girl is supposed to bow in his presence. Especially one who is nothing amazing.

  “Let’s try this again,” he says. “I’m Tanner Halston.” He holds out his hand.

  I stare at it. A handshake? Really?

  He starts to pull back, convinced I’m going to leave him hanging. He’s right to think that. I totally mean to. But before I realize what I’m doing, I reach out and take his hand. His grip is solid and confident. I bet parents love him. If the little flutter in my chest is any indication, not just parents.

  “I’m Berry,” I say, deliberately withholding my full name.

  He flashes that smile again. “I’m Berry pleased to meet you.”

  Drop dead good-looking?

  Check.

  Squee-inducing grin?

  Check.

  Razor-sharp wit?

  Not even close.

  I finally smile.

  Mary Chris laughs from across the table. “Can you believe Ryan knows binary?”

  Mare’s ability to make instant friends is legendary. She’s never turned away a person in need, starting with me. Looks like Mare’s foster friendship program just picked up a new project. I can only hope the stepbrother isn’t part of the package.

  Over Tanner’s shoulder, the mark stands up and lays a twenty on the table.

  I’ve got to get out to the parking lot to see how this date ends. “I need to go.”

  Mary Chris notices the mark leaving with the girl. “Oh right. You had that thing.”

  I stand up in a hurry, sending my history book careening to the floor.

  Tanner stands up to retrieve the book, but he doesn’t move out of my way. “I was hoping we could hang out.”

  I glare at him, willing him to move. “Yeah, not happening.” Out of the corner of my eye I see the mark heading outside.

  Tanner holds the book out to me, his eyes clouded with something that looks like disappointment. I’m sure I imagine it. I take the book and shove it
in my messenger bag. I brush past him, ignoring the tingling heat where my shoulder hits his chest on the way by.

  Ryan’s voice carries across the restaurant as I push through the front door. “Dude! You totally struck out!”

  The statement is nowhere near as true as it should be.

  Chapter 2

  Within a few minutes, my stakeout is back on track. The mark walks the girl to a green VW Bug and holds the door open for her. The girl twirls a strand of her hair but makes no move to get inside.

  Here we go. I savor the surge of adrenaline that comes whenever I’m close to getting the evidence I need.

  The mark trails a finger along her elbow to her hand.

  Bingo.

  I know the exact moment when he moves in for a kiss. He leans forward in excruciatingly slow increments, testing the waters. She stretches up to him, garlic breath and all. I snap away, capturing their kiss in pictures that more than make up for the two weeks I’ve spent trailing this guy. After a few more shots, I’ve got everything I need. I push the heavy eyeglass frames against my nose and lean against the planter.

  I could go back into Sconehenge for Mary Chris, but that would mean more time with Tanner Halston. Not a chance that’s happening. May as well get home and upload the photos.

  A man nearly trips over my feet as he rushes past the planter. I glare up at him, ready to tell him to watch where he’s going, but stop myself when I see who it is: Mary Chris’s dad. It’s not like he’s a bad guy or anything, but I instinctively keep my mouth shut. There are some laws of nature you just know. You don’t go poking lions with sticks.

  Michael Moss looks past me, searching the parking lot for something in the distance. He doesn’t seem to notice me. I don’t know whether it’s these glasses or the fact that Mr. Moss seems to have a singular focus, like he’s looking for someone in particular. He waves and picks up his pace, leaving me staring at the streak of white in the back of his black hair.

  I don’t make a conscious decision to follow. I just do. It’s more habit than anything else. Mary Chris’s dad being here is all wrong. Mr. Moss spends most Sunday afternoons at Valle Vista Country Club. He is not the kind of person to eat at tacky theme restaurants, and I’m pretty sure he’s never shopped at the mall.

 
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