Dropping the Dime
Gemma Halliday Publishing
70,000-word romantic mystery
Miranda Vaughn was once falsely accused of stealing millions, and now she’s helping others who are facing criminal charges. While being an assistant to her former defense attorney isn’t Miranda’s dream job, she’s eager to prove herself, and her first task is a simple one—protect Kathryn, a shy CFO turned informant, and help her prove that a popular real estate developer is embezzling millions from his company. But what should be a straightforward assignment is deliciously complicated when Miranda is thrown together with FBI Agent Jake Barnes, the man who saved her life, broke her heart, and then disappeared.
Beneath the neatly plotted rows of new homes lurk dark secrets, bitter feuds and a whole lot of greed. Nothing is what it appears, even Miranda’s timid client, who is hiding secrets of her own. Despite her growing distrust of her client, Miranda must protect Kathryn from becoming the target of the FBI’s investigation and protect herself from the real thief—all while protecting her heart from the sexy FBI agent she can’t seem to resist.
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One of the best parts of writing Dropping the Dime and the other Miranda Vaughn Mysteries is playing with the relationships between characters. Miranda and Jake, Miranda and her Aunt Marie, Sarah and Burton. But even as much fun as developing Miranda and Jake’s growing relationship, her friendship with Sarah is probably my favorite part to write.
Sarah Mei Girard is Miranda’s best friend and co-worker. She’s beautiful, smart, and has a great sense of adventure. Sarah is a paralegal by title, but she’s so much more than that. She’s the law firm’s fixer, able to serve a subpoena or track down a reluctant witness. She’s the person you call when you need to charter a private plane to get you out of a Central American county.
In Dropping the Dime, Miranda gets to hang out with her friend more than she did in Chasing the Dollar. Here’s one of my favorite scenes with the two friends.
The entire first floor of the house was open to guests, and dozens of people mingled in the rooms and spilled over into the patio and backyard, where a string quartet played. White lights twinkled in the trees and a gentle warm light spilled out of a white canopy, under which tables were set with sparkling crystal and silver settings.
“Everyone looks so…beautiful,” I whispered to Sarah as we walked through a living area that looked like it was out of a glossy architectural magazine.
“It’s the lighting,” she said.
I looked around. Sarah was right. Even the lighting was designed to be perfect. It worked. Everyone’s complexion looked smooth, as if shot with a diffuser filter over the camera lens.
“Do you know anyone here?” Sarah asked.
I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.”
And that was the plan. Get in. Get upstairs. Get the evidence. And then get out, before anyone could remember seeing us at the party.
“Can we pretend to be celebrities?”
“No one will buy that.”
“Miranda Vaughn!” A woman’s voice behind me made me wince with dread. Oh God, who was it?
“Well, now they won’t,” Sarah huffed.
I turned and saw a woman with short dark hair heading toward me.
“Miranda, dear, it is you,” she said, and I recognized Jane Sinclair, the wife of one of the Patterson executives. She had thrown a holiday party for the office staff every year, hosting it in her spacious home.
“Hello, Mrs. Sinclair,” I said, unsure how I’d be received. She was always nice to me when I had seen her socially, but that was before my arrest and Patterson-Tinker’s collapse. I’d heard that her husband had “retired” when the firm closed its doors after news broke that the investment bank was a front for an international money-laundering ring.
“It is lovely to see you here,” she said, seeming sincere.
I blew out a breath and smiled with relief. “Thank you. It’s nice to see you, too. Is Mr. Sinclair here?”
She laughed and waved a hand, the diamonds in her cocktail ring catching the light with a flare. “He’s in Scotland, golfing with his university buddies. Every year a group of his old buddies from Harvard get together for a golfing holiday.”
Sarah and I tittered along with her. Of course, Harvard.
I introduced Mrs. Sinclair to Sarah and watched her size up my friend. She was probably trying to figure out Sarah’s ethnicity, but was struggling with it. Sarah’s long black hair was parted on the side and hung in a long shiny straight sheet to the middle of her back. Her green eyes were lined in black, enhancing their natural almond shape. She wore a simple plum-colored strapless dress and heels I could hardly believe she could walk in.
The dress was mine, but the shoes were Sarah’s, and I wondered when she would have worn them. I had opted for a simple silk sheath dress, black, and modest three-inch heels. To dress up the number, I found a pair of stockings with a seam up the back, which required garters and all that paraphernalia. I cleaned up okay, but standing next to Sarah would make anyone fade into the background.
Mrs. Sinclair’s study of Sarah lingered and was bordering on rude. So much for getting out unnoticed. Mrs. Sinclair would be able to draw Sarah’s face from memory now.
“I recognize you from somewhere,” Mrs. Sinclair said, her eyes narrowing. “The opera?”
Sarah smiled and looked down modestly, and Mrs. Sinclair gasped, grabbing Sarah’s extended hand.
“Oh, you’re Sarah van Etter. The soprano! I saw you in San Francisco two seasons ago. You were divine.”
Sarah beamed, and I nearly groaned out loud.
“Thank you, you’re so kind,” Sarah said.
“How do you two know each other?” Mrs. Sinclair asked, looking between Sarah and me.
“We went to university together,” Sarah said. “We’ve been great friends ever since.”
“Miranda, I had no idea you were friends with such a celebrity!”
Mrs. Sinclair took Sarah by the arm. “I have to introduce you to my friend Darla. She was with me at that performance, and she’ll be thrilled that you’re here.”
Sarah looked back and gave me a wide smile as she was led away.
So much for being my co-conspirator. Now how was I going to get to the second floor without being seen?
One of my favorite parts of writing the Miranda Vaughn Mysteries is exploring the chemistry between Miranda and Jake Barnes, the hot FBI agent who saved her life, then broke her heart. In Dropping the Dime, Miranda and Jake are thrown together on an investigation. Miranda’s trying to protect her client, Kathryn, a whistle-blower who is working with the FBI to expose her crooked real estate developer boss. But Kathryn’s keeping her own secrets and before long, Miranda is fighting to keep the FBI from turning its investigation to the timid accountant.
Here’s a peek of how Miranda and Jake navigate those conflicts in Dropping the Dime:
“So, you’re not investigating Kathryn?” I asked.
The question hung in the air between us in the quiet kitchen. Jake reached up and put the plates away in the open cupboards, then turned and leaned against the counter.
“No,” I said. “You shouldn’t. She’s a nice person who just tried to do the right thing.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You don’t even know her.”
“I know her better than you do. She’s not a criminal.”
“She’s lying. She’s lying to you. And she’s lying to the FBI, which is a federal crime,” he said, his expression hardened.
“Kathryn is not lying!” I had nothing to back that up. “She’s smarter than that.”
“She’s just going to get herself in trouble if she doesn’t come clean with us,” he said. “Look, Finn is happy to finally nail Simon Leonidis, but I’m not looking at this as a personal vendetta. If we’re going to prosecute him, we need evidence. Not just his CFO’s suspicions.”
I knew that, but for some reason, I had a feeling there was more to it than that.
“You just don’t believe her, do you?”
He crossed his arms and I was momentarily distracted by the way his biceps flexed. I looked away quickly.
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about work,” he said.
“That’s a good idea,” I said, then paused. What else would we talk about? All of my interaction with Jake had been work related, in one way or another, starting with our first encounter when he arrested me. Was my attraction purely lust? Based on nothing of substance?
“So, how was your day?” he asked, a slight smile on his lips.
I discovered that I’d been defending a liar and uncovered a Greek tragedy. “Uh, it was fine. How was yours?”
Oh God. Was this what happened when you fell for someone based solely on looks? And a lot of adrenaline. And chemistry.
He smiled and my heart did an extra little flutter. “Well, I got to take a romantic drive in the country with a beautiful woman, then take her to dinner.”
The heat rose up my face. “You certainly spun that in a positive light.”
Jake’s smile widened. “How would you have spun it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that I completed a successful undercover mission,” I said. “I guess I’m not as mushy as you.”
He laughed and raised an eyebrow. “Mushy?”
“Yeah, you know. Romantic. Soft.”
He was in front of me in an instant, his arms on either side, leaning in, a wall of chest covered in a snug black t-shirt backing me against the counter. I had to tilt my head back to look at him and when I did, my breath caught at the nearness. My gaze lingered on his lips, so close. So very close.
“Not soft,” he whispered and leaned in.
It had been more than half a year since I’d felt the touch of those lips, but the effect was the same. Dizzying. Electric. A tug of passion that reached from my soul. Nothing, no one, had ever made me feel like that.
“We shouldn’t do this,” I whispered.
“I know.” Jake’s voice was low and gravelly and thrilled me to the pit of my stomach.
“I told Rob there wasn’t anything between us,” I said as his lips grazed my neck, sending a shiver through me.
“The case will be over soon.”
It wasn’t his voice that caused the tremors this time, it was the words. It didn’t matter that we had nothing to talk about except for work, which we were not allowed to discuss. It didn’t matter that we were at odds. This connection wasn’t something to give up on, just because of our jobs. I’d work at the bakery for the rest of my life to keep this.
Ellie Ashe has always been drawn to jobs where she can tell stories—journalist, lawyer, and now writer. Writing quirky romantic mysteries is how she gets the “happily ever after” that so often is lacking in her day job.
When not writing, you can find her with her nose in a good book, watching far too much TV, or trying out new recipes on unsuspecting friends and family. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three cats, all of whom worry when she starts browsing the puppy listings on petfinder.com.
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