Did you miss Chapter One?
Did you miss Chapter Two?
I’d seen nicer places in third-world countries. The hotel’s party room looked like it was designed by an unhinged decorator who thought despair was a solid color scheme for a room that hosted happy events like wedding receptions.
The biggest difference between this place and the Chechen dive I frequented back in my spy days was that the furniture was largely intact, and it wasn’t being run by goats. Although I must say that I did know one or two competent goats back in the day, including Baaaaart, who could make a pretty mean mai tai—as long as you didn’t mind that instead of the usual umbrella with a cherry, you got a spent bullet casing on a twig.
I was still wandering around the dim, smelly room, repeatedly adjusting a fake fireplace that sagged against a wall and consulting my clipboard with the guest list without the faintest idea what I was supposed to be doing.
Why was I handling the guest list? I should’ve been the last person to pick. Even I wouldn’t have picked me. I could organize a camping checklist and, back in the day, a spreadsheet of hidden nukes in Moldova. But a list of women I’d never met for a bachelorette party where I had a passing friendship with the bride-to-be?
Okay, I did know her a bit better than that. Babette and I had worked together. My name is Merry Wrath, and I’m an ex-CIA agent-turned-volunteer Girl Scout leader in my hometown of Who’s There, Iowa. The reason I’m ex-CIA is because the Vice President of the United States “accidentally” outed me to get back at my senator dad. And while I didn’t like leaving my chosen career, the scout gig in Iowa was growing on me, and with my precocious troop, was almost as dangerous. Anyway, for one of my very first field assignments, my cover was a pharmaceutical saleswoman. I’d found Babette through LinkedIn and asked if I could shadow her for a bit to learn the ropes.
Happily, she agreed. I spent a month following her around, learning the tricky lingo (you try learning to pronounce Montelukast or Xylometazoline). She wasn’t like my usual friends. Babette was blonde, bubbly, and beautiful. I was decidedly more low maintenance, with a penchant for clothes I could wear to comfortably outrun a Yakuza assassin or a two-time Olympian sprinter from Bosnia who didn’t take kindly to my Putin jokes.
Surprisingly, Babette and I became friends rather quickly. Babette saw what I did as acting and told me she’d always been interested in theater. We worked during the day…well, she worked and I watched her work. And we spent the evenings hanging out in bars or at her place. Turns out, she was a lot of fun.
After the month was over, I was shipped off to Syria and didn’t really see her face-to-face again. Oh, we’d texted and emailed over the years, but that was it. Imagine my surprise when someone named Chelsea not only invited me to Babette’s bachelorette party, but also put me in charge of invitations. By the way, never accept an invite to a Chechen bachelorette party unless you really, really like cabbage and bullets in your mai tai.
My cell went off and I looked. It was a text from Betty, the most dangerous eleven-year-old girl in Iowa and a member of my troop.
Remember how you said we could have a sleepover at your old house?
No, I texted back, I didn’t. And certainly not without adult supervision.
It’s okay, we have Hilly. We’re going to make frozen pizzas and learn about “wet work,” whatever that is.
Fantastic. The girls had Hilly Vinton with them. She was an assassin for the CIA, who wasn’t an assassin, because the CIA doesn’t have assassins because it’s illegal (I’m required to say this due to a non-disclosure clause). Hilly loved the girls, but she thought it was okay to teach them how to hog-tie a target so he’d strangle himself if he struggled.
After texting Hilly to remind her not to turn on the oven without taking my hidden gun out first, and not to teach them anything too lethal, I consulted my clipboard for the fifth time. Why was I still holding it? I didn’t know any of these people on the list. I’d already sent out the invites, so my job was done. I walked over and put it on the fake mantel of the fake fireplace, which resulted in the whole thing crashing face down on the floor. After setting it back up and handing the clipboard to the bartender, I realized I should maybe do something.
A few people had been in and out of the room, and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to introduce myself or just stand in a corner until Babette showed up. My best friend, Kelly, would know, and I’d ask her, but she laughed for two straight hours when I told her I was handling the invitations to a bachelorette party, so there was no way I’d give her the chance to laugh at me again by asking about proper protocol.
I did text her to say she might want to join the sleepover at my house, already in progress, and I reminded her of the gun in the oven, too. Safety first!
The people in the room must be on the guest list that I’d just handed the bartender. I’d noticed a very pregnant woman who’d set up the food table and then left. There was a gorgeous woman in sparkly shoes who seemed more like the type Babette would hang out with, and a couple of other people scattered around.
Despite the god-awful setting, someone had decorated with Dora the Explorer balloons. Yay! I was a huge Dora fan, always imagining her as a spy, with that monkey Boots as her handler. In fact, until Kelly made me buy real drapes, I was using Dora bed sheets for curtains in my living room. I decided this was a good omen, and I relaxed.
It seemed to me I should mingle. I looked down at my clothes. Maybe after I changed. A quick hop up to my room and I was back downstairs in black kitten heels and a simple, little black dress. My hair was still an unruly mess, but I’d run my hands through it and put on a little makeup so I didn’t look too dowdy. It would have to do.
Upon reentering the reception room, I checked out my second-favorite thing after the bar—the food table.
I laughed out loud when I saw the Happy Birthday Harry cake. Obviously, the person who handled the cake and the balloons was destined to be a new friend.
“Excuse me.” A woman who looked like she should’ve been the one to handle the invitations appeared at my elbow. She was handsomely attractive in an I’ll-eat-you-for-lunch corporate way. It was obvious that she was a force to be reckoned with, and I wondered if she were related to the dominatrices who ran human resources at the CIA.
I pasted on the smile I thought went more appropriately with the moment and asked, “Can I help you?”
Like I could help anyone, unless they needed help field-stripping an AR-14 or instructions for driving through Ulaanbaatar. Helpful tip: Mongolians don’t think of traffic lights as more than a three-color decoration that gives them license to race around, dodging other vehicles just before crashing. It would probably be best to hire a driver…and wear a blindfold.
The woman smiled as she looked me up and down. “Which one are you?”
She continued before I could respond. “You’re obviously not the very pregnant one. And you’re certainly not the New Orleans private eye. And judging by your hair, you’re not the pretty stylist.” The woman smiled warmly, but her eyes seemed critical. “Which makes you the one from Iowa I sent the list to.”
Aha! Now I knew someone in the room by name. “You must be Chelsea. You gave me the list for the invites.”
“Of course I did. You were in the CIA. That made you the best candidate for the job.”
After some mental gymnastics where I totally failed to put those two things together, she continued.
“I’m the groom’s sister and a friend of Babette’s. I introduced them. It’s so nice of you to handle the invites for me. I’m sure you found it strange since you didn’t know anybody.”
“Then why didn’t you take care of that?” I asked bluntly. Iowan. We don’t know how to be subtle.
Chelsea gave me a pitying grin as she patted me on the arm. “I got you the names from Babette’s address book. The invitations you designed had an…interesting simplicity to them.”
Did that mean she didn’t like them? This woman seemed friendly and all, but there was an icy undertone to her words.
“You probably would’ve done a better job.” I decided to go for flattery.
She waved her left hand dismissively. “I’m too busy for that. I’m a pharmacist, you know. From what Babette told me, you don’t have a job.” There was that warm smile again. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just figured you had the time.”
“Are you the one who picked this location?” I asked.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”I couldn’t stop reading!”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”Fast-paced and fun. I love these mysteires!”
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”Diana Orgain is my new favorite author!”
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