Colton K-9 Bodyguard

By: Lara Lacombe

CHAPTER 1

“Are you sure you really want to do this?”

Beatrix Colton’s heart sank as Jennifer Sheridan nodded.

“I have to,” the young woman said sadly. She gave the poufy white dress one last, longing look before pushing it across the counter. Bea grabbed the hanger and hung the dress on the hook next to the register, smoothing out the full skirt with the palm of her hand.

Now came the awkward part. “I’m afraid I can’t offer you a refund, since you’ve already had your final fitting,” she said delicately.

“I know.” Jennifer blinked back tears and shook her head. “I hate this,” she said, sniffing. “But Mark and I have talked about it, and I just can’t risk his safety.”

“I understand,” Bea assured her. And, truthfully, she did. “The Groom Killer has us all scared. I don’t blame you for wanting to be careful, especially right now.”

“Mark said I’m overreacting,” Jennifer confessed. She looked down, then met Bea’s eyes. “But I think he’s secretly relieved we’re canceling the wedding. One less thing to worry about, you know?”

Bea nodded sympathetically.

“We’re being very public about the cancellation. That’s why I’m here—everyone has to see me return this dress.”

“Of course,” Bea murmured.

“I had hoped the police would have captured the killer by now,” Jennifer continued. She eyed Bea speculatively, and Bea realized the woman was waiting for her to chime in with a juicy detail about the investigation. Everybody in town thought Bea’s cousin, Demi Colton, was the Groom Killer who’d murdered two men the night before their weddings—one in January, and one last month in February. Bea herself wasn’t so sure; she didn’t know Demi all that well, but she hated to jump to conclusions about something so serious.

“I’m sure they’ll find whoever is doing this soon,” Bea replied, trying to sound noncommittal. She wasn’t in the mood to discuss her cousin or any other topic related to the Groom Killer. She’d already lost a lot of business, thanks to panicked couples canceling their nuptials in the hopes of staying off the killer’s radar. If the police didn’t find the culprit soon, Bea’s Bridal Salon would have to close.

It was a possibility that made her sick to her stomach.

Forcing a smile, Bea changed the subject. After a moment, Jennifer realized Bea wasn’t going to reveal any family secrets, and she gathered up her purse to leave.

“I really am sorry about this,” she said, pausing at the door.

Just go, Bea thought, practically willing the woman to leave.

“I understand,” Bea repeated. “I hope you’ll come back once your wedding is back on.”

“Oh, I will,” Jennifer promised.

Bea nodded, but the woman’s reassurance didn’t make her feel any better. The possibility of future business was nice, but it wouldn’t help her pay the bills now.

And that was the problem.

Since Bea’s Bridal Salon didn’t exactly offer a diverse array of services, there wasn’t much she could do to draw in clients while the shadow of the Groom Killer lingered over them all.

Her father, Fenwick Colton, had offered to float her some funds until things returned to normal. But Bea refused to use his money. This was her shop, and she wasn’t going to take charity from anyone.

Especially not dear old Dad.

Bea had inherited the bridal shop after her grandmother’s death five years ago. She’d seen it as both a gift and an opportunity; Bea had spent countless hours in the shop as a child, falling under the spell of the beautiful dresses and the happy brides. She’d spent many an afternoon walking among the gowns, daydreaming about her own wedding. There was something magical about a wedding dress, and she loved seeing the look on a woman’s face when she found her perfect one. It was an experience that never got old, and it was the reason Bea loved her job.

But her father and siblings hadn’t seen it that way. Fenwick had viewed the shop as a burden, something to be sold quickly so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. When Bea had embraced the chance to own the boutique, her father had been shocked and disappointed. He’d argued long and hard against it, telling her it was beneath her dignity as a Colton to do such work. He thought Bea should marry a rich man and spend her time lunching and volunteering, as all well-bred women did. When Bea refused to fall in line, Fenwick threatened to use his position as Red Ridge’s mayor to make sure the shop failed. But Bea had held firm, and eventually her father had accepted the fact that he wasn’t going to be able to change her mind.

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