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Burned

A Regan Reilly Mystery
By Carol Higgins Clark

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

"This is going to be the snowstorm of the century," the action reporter, Brad Dayton, cried with a certain hysterical glee. Clad in bright yellow foul weather gear, he was standing on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Cars were inching by, sliding and spinning, as a gusty wind blew wet snow in every direction. The flakes seemed to target the reporter's face and the lens of the television camera. The sky was thick with gray clouds, and the whole Northeast was hunkering down for an unexpected blizzard.

"Don't go anywhere," he cried as he blinked to avoid the pelting precipitation. "Stay home. And forget the airports. They're closed, and it looks like they won't reopen for several days."

Regan Reilly stared at the television in her cozy Los Angeles office in an ancient building on Hollywood Boulevard. "I can't believe it," she said aloud. "I should have flown out yesterday."

"Be careful out there, Brad," urged the cable news anchor in the climate-controlled studio. "Try to stay dry."

"I will," Brad shouted over the shrill wind. He started to say something else, but the sound was knocked out. The news director cut quickly to a weatherman standing in front of a map with lots of ominous arrows pointing in all directions.

"What have you got for us, Larry?" the smiling blond anchorwoman asked.

"Snow coming from all directions," Larry explained urgently as his hands made circles around the map. "Snow, snow, and more snow. I hope you all have lots of canned goods at home because this storm is going to stay with us for the next several days, and it is packing a wallop!"

Regan looked out the window. It was a typically sunny day in Los Angeles. Her suitcase was packed for New York. Recently engaged, Regan was a thirty-one-year-old private investigator based in Los Angeles. Her honey, Jack "no relation" Reilly, was the head of the major case squad in New York City. They were to wed in May, and she had been planning to fly out for the weekend to see Jack and her parents, Luke and Nora, who lived in Summit, New Jersey.

Regan and her mother were supposed to meet with a wedding coordinator on Saturday to review all the plans for the big day -- menu, flowers, limos, photographer, the list went on and on. On Saturday night she and her parents and Jack had arranged to hear a band they were considering for the reception. Regan had been looking forward to a fun night out. The snowstorm would have precluded those plans, but if Regan had gotten to New York yesterday, she could have had a cozy weekend with Jack. It was the second week in January, and she hadn't seen him for ten days. And what's more romantic than being together during a snowstorm?

She felt lonely and frustrated, and the sight of the shining sun she found irritating. I don't want to be here, she thought. I want to be in New York.

The phone rang.

"Regan Reilly," she answered without much enthusiasm.

"Aloha, Regan. It's your maid of honor calling from Hawaii."

Kit Callan was Regan's best friend. They'd met in college on a junior year abroad program in England. Kit lived in Hartford and sold insurance. Her other job was the hunt for Mr. Right. So far she was having better luck peddling her policies.

"Aloha, Kit." Regan smiled and immediately felt better just hearing her best friend's voice. She knew that Kit had gone to Hawaii for an insurance convention. "How's your trip going?"

"I'm stuck here."

"Not many people would complain that they were stuck in Hawaii."

"The convention ended Tuesday. I took an extra day to relax, and now I can't get home. My travel agent says you can't get anywhere near the East Coast."

"Tell me about it. I was supposed to go to New York today to see Jack. And my mother and I were going to meet with the wedding planner."

"Promise me you'll go easy on me with the bridesmaids' dresses."

"I was actually thinking of plaid pantsuits," Regan quipped.

"I've got an idea. Come out here, and we'll pick up some grass skirts."

Regan laughed. "Now there's an idea. People always want their weddings to be different."

"So you're coming then?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Get out here, Regan! How many chances will we have to be together like this again? Once you get hitched, that'll be it. You'll never want to leave him, and I don't blame you."

"I'm keeping my office in Los Angeles," Regan protested. "At least for a while."

"That's different. You know what I mean. This is a perfect opportunity for us to have a fun girls' weekend before your wedding. What else are you going to do for the next few days? Watch the weather reports? Come out here to Waikiki. I'll have a tropical drink waiting for you. I have a room on the second floor with two big beds and a balcony overlooking the ocean. You can almost dip your toes into the sand from here. As a matter of fact, I'm sitting on the balcony right now waiting for room service to deliver my breakfast."

"Be careful. With the sound of the waves crashing, you might not hear them knock," Regan muttered as she looked around the office that had been her home away from home for several years. The antique desk she'd found at a flea market, the black-and-white-tiled floor, the coffeepot in its place of honor atop a filing cabinet were all so familiar. But now they didn't feel welcoming. She had cleared the decks for a weekend away and felt the need to get out and go somewhere. It was true that she hadn't seen Kit much in the year since she'd met Jack.

"Where are you staying?" Regan asked.

"The Waikiki Waters Playground and Resort."

"That's a mouthful."

"You should see this place. It was just renovated, so everything is brand-new and beautiful. There are restaurants, shops, two spas, five pools, and several towers of rooms. We're in the best tower right on the water. And there's a gala charity ball this Saturday night. They're auctioning off a shell lei that belonged to a princess from the royal family. They're calling it the 'Be a Princess' Ball. So come on out. We'll both be princesses." Kit paused. "What's going on down there?" she said softly, more to herself than Regan.

"What are you talking about?" Regan asked.

Kit didn't seem to hear her. "I don't believe it," she said with alarm.

Regan's grip tightened on the phone. "Kit, what's going on?"

"People are suddenly running down to the water's edge. I think a body just washed ashore!"

"Are you kidding?"

"A woman just tore out of the water screaming her head off. It looks like she came across the body when she was out for a swim."

"Oh, my God."

"Regan, you're not going to let me stay by myself here this weekend, are you?" Kit inquired meekly. "This place could be dangerous."

"I'll call the airlines."

Copyright © 2005 by Carol Higgins Clark

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