Exclusive First Chapter: Dog Collar Chaos by Adrienne Giordano
Today we get to share with you an EXCLUSIVE FIRST CHAPTER from Adrienne Giordano's fourth book in her Lucie Rizzo Mystery series!
Dog Collar Chaos
Lucie Rizzo--Mafia princess-turned-dog accessory entrepreneur—is riding high after scoring a partnership with Buzzy Sneider, America's leading craft and interior decorating mogul. A collaboration that is sure to move Lucie's fledgling business into the next tax bracket.
When Buzzy turns up dead and Lucie's BFF and business partner, Roseanne, is accused of the murder, Lucie will stop at nothing to prove Ro's innocence. Even if it means keeping secrets from her new squeeze, sexy detective Tim O'Brien, who's determined to keep Lucie from running one of her screwball investigations.
With Ro behind bars and Tim hot under the collar over Lucie's meddling, Lucie is forced to accept her father's help to clear Ro’s name and save their business. But will doing so put a killer hot on her heels?
EXCLUSIVE FIRST CHAPTER
Some animals were just not built for bathing suit modeling.
Lucie watched her favorite client, an Olde English bulldog named Otis, lumber down the runway toward her. His big body moved with the speed of a snail, while the attractive blonde holding his leash did a slow-mo version of the strut only experienced models could pull off.
Otis stopped to lick his parts, the ones squeezed into a too-tight swimsuit, and the blonde looked over at Lucie, her pretty face twisting into a mass of panic and confusion.
“What should I do? He just stopped. What happens if he does that in the actual show? This dog could ruin my career.”
“Luce,” Ro said, “I know you love Otis, but those fitted swim trunks aren’t working for him. He’s too fat. And, hello, she’s right. Is he going to stop and lick his privates in the middle of the show?”
Lucie sighed. Already two hours into this ordeal, she sat on a director’s chair in the middle of a hotel ballroom for the latest round of doggie auditions. They’d been at it since eight a.m., and Lucie’s mid-morning sugar craving kicked in. Or maybe she simply needed chocolate to get her through this nightmare.
Beside her, Roseanne, Lucie’s BFF and Coco Barknell’s vice president of sales, furiously jotted notes about each of the prospective models. Stubby legs. Long neck. Big head—all of it on paper for future deliberations. Deliberations that would surely force Lucie to poke her eyes out.
With a screwdriver.
Who knew finding canine models for a charity fashion show could be so difficult?
“He’s not fat,” she said. “He needs a bigger size.”
Ro pointed one well-manicured finger. “That’s the XXL.”
“Your designs run small.”
Ro laughed. Of course she did. They both knew Ro’s designs didn’t run small. Otis was simply a big boy.
Day four of auditions wasn’t going so hot. The biggest issue was fitting the dogs for Ro’s unforgiving designs. An extra pound here or there would throw the whole ensemble off.
Fifteen doggie outfits needed models. They’d already gotten lucky and managed to fit two dogs with multiple outfits—thank God for V-necks and belts. But they were still short six dogs.
A yip, followed by an “ouch” came from behind a rolling screen that doubled as a curtain. A round of barking and growls followed, and Lucie clawed her fingers into her scalp.
“Is everything all right?” she called.
“Ow.” A hand appeared from the side of the screen. “Fine. We’re fine. Ow! This little one is an ankle biter. Shit. Ooh, sorry.”
The screen fell over and five dogs leaped on top of it, two of them tugging free from the models holding their leashes.
“Here we go,” Ro said. “Ladies, you need to hold those leashes.”
The two dogs shot by Lucie and Ro, and Lucie swiveled around to track them. A few volunteers stood behind them waiting for assignments. One of them sidestepped, blocking the dogs’ path. Both animals skidded to a stop. Just like that, bam. A spurt of jealousy rose inside Lucie. One day, she’d have that obvious command over these animals. Now? Not so much. When they saw Lucie, they saw fun and playtime and love.
Not a pack leader.
“Wow,” Lucie said. “She’s good.”
“Sure is. We should hire her.”
The volunteer walked the dogs back to the once-again-erect screen, and handed the leashes off.
Buzzy Sneider, Lucie and Ro’s much more famous partner in this charity gig, and her assistant slipped into the ballroom via a side entrance. The pet product mogul had more damned assistants than the president, but Reece seemed to be the most senior of the bunch.
Please don’t let Ro see them.
“Ooh,” Ro said, “there’s Buzzy. We need to talk to her.”
Thanks, universe, for the help. “Uh, no we don’t. You promised to let me handle it.”
“And I have.”
Ha. Good one.
Buzzy’s claim to fame came from designing custom dog houses for celebrities and the filthy rich. In the animal world, she carried a lot of weight. If she endorsed a product, it immediately broke sales records.
The problem was, Buzzy had decided to expand her empire to dog accessories and clothing, acting as if she'd created the industry Lucie and Ro had been operating in for nearly a year.
In short, Ro wasn't happy about Buzzy’s expansion. Neither was Lucie, but, as the levelheaded half of the dynamic duo, she’d taken the high road and approached Buzzy to partner with Coco Barknell for the fashion show.
Buzzy's mass appeal could only help spread the word about an exceptional non-profit that provided service dogs to people in need. And, oh, right, Coco Barknell.
Ro maneuvered out of her chair and straightened her blouse. “I don’t care what that bitch says, she stole my design. Staff error, my butt. I worked on that leather bomber for months. I knew it would be a hit, which is the only reason I even wanted it in the fashion show.”
“Stole is such a nasty word.”
“But a fitting one.”
Lucie peered beyond Ro, where Buzzy stood reviewing a clipboard while her assistant waited for the queen to rule. Poor Reece. In every meeting, the girl had been given a list of tasks that would take a team of twelve to complete. Buzzy, in her infinite wisdom, obviously had no issues nearly killing her staff with work. Still, Reece handled it all with grace and a steadfast attitude that Lucie admired.
Dark hair whirled and the click of spiked heels sounded as Ro headed for Buzzy.
“Ro!” Lucie hopped off the director’s chair, narrowly avoiding a faceplant.
Sometimes it sucked being the petite one. At least she’d opted for jeans and sneakers—as opposed to Ro’s tight black skirt and stilettos—and easily caught up. Using enough force to get the keep-your-trap-shut point across, Lucie latched onto Ro’s elbow. “Let me handle this.”
One thing they didn’t need, no matter how righteous, was Ro beating the crap out of a television queen.
Drama, drama, drama. All because, two days after Lucie and Buzzy signed the fashion show contract, one of Ro’s designs turned up for sale on Buzzy’s website.
A mistake, Buzzy claimed. A simple oversight by her staff.
“Hellooo,” Ro called to Buzzy. “Good morning!”
Disregarding Reece, Buzzy offered a smile that packed a whole lot of prowling lioness behind it. Still, her pixie cut blonde hair and sparkly blue eyes gave her a look of innocence that Lucie found off-putting for a mogul.
“Ladies,” Buzzy said, “good morning. How are auditions going?”
Lucie elbowed around Ro, bumping her and knocking her sideways. That’ll teach her for wearing stilettos. “I’ve got this,” she muttered. “Auditions are great.”
Another round of yips and barks and ouches sounded, and the screen—once again—
fell over, landing with a smack that echoed and strained Lucie’s last millimeter of patience. She angled back to where two of the shelter dogs rolled over each other, offering up play bows on top of the screen.
If they weren’t so darned cute…
“This dog is a jerk,” one of the models shrieked. “I’m out of here.”
Lucie winced. “Couple of hiccups with the dogs. Nothing we can’t handle.”
“I’m sure,” Buzzy said.
Ro recovered from her teetering and lifted her chin. “Buzzy, where are we on that design issue? I see it’s already on backorder, which means—”
“People love it.” Lucie blurted.
“Um.” Reece slid the clipboard from Buzzy’s grasp. “I’ll go check on the dogs. See if I can settle them down.”
Buzzy waved her off. “Of course they love it. It’s fabulous.”
“And not yours,” Ro said.
Yikes-a-roo. So much for Lucie handling it.
Lucie cleared her throat. “Any word on how this horrible mistake happened? More importantly, how we fix it?”
Human error, Lucie understood. But in a company the size of Foo-Foo Entertainment, each product went through several reviews and approvals before being put on sale. And Lucie, as forgiving as she liked to consider herself, wasn’t buying human error at every interval.
Still, in an effort to salvage some sort of working relationship—and get through the fashion show—Lucie had given Buzzy a week to get it sorted out.
Buzzy slid her gaze from Lucie to Ro and back. “I’m sorry it’s taking so long, Lucie. But you did say a week. We still have one day to investigate.”
Now Ro stepped forward, a determined fire sparking in her coffee-brown eyes. Between her long legs, curves, blazing sense of style and a face fit for the cover of Vogue, Ro tended to command space.
Sometimes, it was scary as hell.
“The fact that you’re making a bazillion dollars on the sales wouldn’t be slowing down your investigation, would it?”
Buzzy met Ro’s stare and clucked her tongue. The sudden urge to pee assailed Lucie. Damned flop peeing.
“Okay,” Reece said from behind her. “Let’s get this chubby dog out of here and separate those two. They’re troublemakers. Did he just whiz on you? We need a mop! Stat. The urine will burn right through this wood.”
Knowing Reece would handle the dogs, Lucie focused on the issue unfolding in front of her. She slid in front of Ro and held up her hands. “Ladies, we’re all business people here. Let’s stay calm.”
“Oh, I’m calm,” Ro said. “Do the right thing, Buzzy, and compensate us for the design you stole.”
“What’s going on?”
Lucie swung around. Buzzy’s older sister, Lorraine, stood a foot away, listening to the exchange. Lorraine tucked her shoulder-length hair behind her ears, exposing a heart-shaped face so similar to Buzzy's they could have been twins. Though she’d attended each of the fashion show meetings, Lucie hadn’t quite determined Lorraine’s role at Foo-Foo Entertainment. “Nothing,” Buzzy said. “We’re discussing the design that someone mistakenly put up on our website.”
Ro snorted and Lucie glared at her. The mean face.
“Oh.” Lorraine said. “That.”
She locked eyes with Ro and the tension level shot up with enough force to blow a hole in the ceiling.
Lorraine may have been the bigger of the two sisters, but challenging Ro wasn’t the brightest of ideas. Clearly, Lorraine hadn’t seen what Ro did to Tiffy Nelson in the third grade. That had been the last day Lucie was teased by bullies.
All thanks to Ro.
This time? She couldn’t let Ro do the dirty work. This was business.
“Yes,” Lucie said. “That. It’s a nasty little loose end we should tie up. One I feel confident Buzzy will make right by tomorrow.”
Lorraine exchanged a look with Buzzy. One of those older sibling, you-did-it-this-time looks Lucie knew well. Only, in Lucie’s case, it worked in reverse since she tended to be the one pinning her idiot older brother with it.
“I’m sure that won’t be a problem.” Lorraine angled her head at Buzzy. “Right?”
“Of course. I said a week and it’ll be a week.”
Ro smacked her hands together. “Excellent. I’d really hate for this to get ugly. And, trust me, it’ll get ugly.”
Two hours after the failed auditions, Lucie sat at her desk checking the formulas in Coco Barknell's latest P&L while Roseanne fumed from across the room.
Drama with Ro was nothing new. Just another day in the life of a high-strung diva, but Lucie needed to get this spreadsheet over to the accountant. Ro on a tear would eat up precious time.
"Which bitch are we referring to?"
Ro looked over the rim of her snazzy reading glasses. "Hardy-har. You won't be cracking wise when I show you this."
Oh, the drama.
"Okay, I'll bite. What is it?"
Lord. Not again.
"She stole another one of my designs!"
Here we go again. "I doubt that."
"I can prove it."
Ro hopped up from her desk, made her way across the aisle separating their workspaces, and shoved her cell phone in Lucie's face.
"Exhibit one. The chinchilla vest."
Sighing, Lucie snagged the phone and studied the photo. The vest did appear similar to one Ro had presented to Buzzy as an option for the fashion show.
Concerning? Yes. Particularly after the most recent mix-up with a Coco Barknell design. But an online ad wasn't exactly solid proof. "There are plenty of chinchilla vests out there."
"Dream on. See the buttons? They're rhinestone. Just like mine. At first, I thought the faux fur mixed with rhinestones was over the top, but then I saw it on those crazy Ninja Bitches and figured, eh, kinda cute. And now! Now this bitch stole my design. Again! I should wrap my hands around that scrawny neck of hers."
Huhn. Lucie zoomed in on the rhinestone buttons. Darn it. "Where did you find this photo?"
"It's the bitch's website. Again! Right there on the homepage." She smacked her hands against Lucie's desk. "I'm so mad right now."
"I see that."
"That damned Buzzy."
Ro spun away and paced in front of Lucie's desk, her skirt straining against the swing of her continually expanding rear. Another thing Lucie heard the railings about day in and day out. Somehow it was Lucie's mother's fault that Ro had gained weight. According to Ro, too many dinners at the Rizzo house equaled a giant ass.
"You weighed yourself again, didn't you? I keep telling you to stop. Once a week is plenty. Every two hours? Not so much."
"I can't help it. Do you know how much weight I've gained since I started dating your brother?"
"Twelve point five pounds."
"Twelve point five pounds!"
Lucie gave her a winning smile and Ro waved her fists. "Argh! You don't understand."
True that. How could she? Lucie was one of those people cursed by her metabolism. While most struggled to take weight off, she struggled to keep it on. Her body simply worked in reverse. The more she ate, the more her system burned. Add her giant boobs to the package and nothing fit right. She had the lower half of a seven-year-old and the upper half of a Playboy model. Go figure.
"You're right," Lucie said, "I don't understand. I dream of being built like you. I'm built like a fire hydrant. All my weight at the top, if you know what I mean."
"It's the stress," Ro said, still pacing. "And your mother's cooking. The only positive about Joey and I fighting is that I haven't been to your mother's in three days. I should have lost six pounds by now—and don't even comment on the ice cream."
Lucie laughed. The day before, she’d found three pints of ice cream in the break room freezer. Ro told her not to touch them because she was planning a three-way with Ben & Jerry.
Again, Lucie held up her hands. "I'm not saying anything."
"Good. Because I don't need any more aggravation. How many designs does she have to swipe before you get upset?"
Oh, she was upset. Yes, sir. But being the daughter of Joe Rizzo, mafia boss, had conditioned Lucie to a life filled with disappointments. Her pain tolerance ran higher than most.
When Lucie went to war, she did it by using her brain. And the legal system.
"Screaming about it won't help. After Buzzy started selling the leather bomber, I called our lawyer to see what our options might be.”
“I did. I’m not going to let someone do that to you. Unfortunately, the lawyer doesn’t think we have sufficient evidence to prove Buzzy stole the design. Which is why I gave her the week to make it right.” She handed the phone back to Ro. “Are you scanning your sketches every day like I asked?”
“Yes.” She pointed over her shoulder at the rolling garment rack that held the latest samples of her designs. “And I’m taking pictures of everything. Just in case.”
“Good. If she’s stolen another one, we’ll have a dated digital file as proof.”
For insurance, Lucie had started backing all the office files up to an online system that, ironically, Buzzy had suggested. Regular backups were a mainstay, but backing up to an online system that Lucie could access from anywhere? Definitely handy.
Now with Buzzy releasing another suspicious design, pressure needed to be added. Yes, bitch, we are on to you.
"I'll call the lawyer again. Please tell me you scanned the sketch of that vest?"
Ro reached the edge of Lucie's desk, pivoted, and stomped back to the front of the shop. "Bet your tiny little ass, I did. I'm also keeping a daily log of any ideas I come up with."
"Thank you. If you're going to pace like that, you should wear a pedometer. Imagine the calories you're burning."
"You’re so funny. It's all a joke to little miss skinny."
Lucie snorted. "I'm just saying."
The pacing stopped when Ro reached the front window. She stared out for a minute, then sprinted back to her desk, boobs bouncing, sky-high heels wobbling, and all that movement pushing her skirt to its unholy limits.
At her desk, she slowed her pace, taking care to ease into her chair. She'd learned the hard way that sitting too fast might pop a seam. The drama that day had gone to epic heights.
Having safely landed, she perched her librarian-look readers on her nose. "Joey just double-parked outside. Pretend I'm not here."
Finally, Lucie's blood pressure waved the white flag. How much of this could she take? Since the morning of the big blowout with Joey—and who the hell knew what they even fought about—the two of them had been giving each other the silent treatment. Literally not even acknowledging the other's presence.
Which made the work environment a tad awkward.
"Sorry," Lucie said, "I've been pretending you're not here for three days. It's dumb."
"Of course, it's dumb. It's a game we play to test our stubbornness. Whoever holds out the longest wins."
"Um, Ro? Games are supposed to be fun."
The doggie bells on the door jangled and Ro swiveled her chair, giving Joey her back as she pounded away on her keyboard. More than likely, there wasn’t even a file open.
"Hi, Luce," her ape of a brother said as he lumbered through the door, bringing a blast of frigid air with him. December in Chicago was no joke.
Ignoring her—as well as Ro—Joey strode to the wall and snatched the next day's dog walking schedule from the folder hanging on the bulletin board.
These two dodos needed shock therapy.
"You know what?" Lucie said, "You two are the biggest dopes I know. You love each other and yet—" she paddled her hand, "—we have nonsense."
"What's this?" Joey said, waving the schedule. "No Otis? Is he okay?"
Her brother. The Otis-loving mush. "He's fine. Mrs. L will be home tomorrow. The upshot is, you'll get done an hour earlier and you and my friend over there can make up."
Her brother started for the door again. "Who?"
Another day in paradise.
MORE IN THE SERIES
Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction.