Chicago is the Windy City, and these days the winds of change are whipping Izzy McNeil’s life all over the map. A high-profile job on Trial TV lands her in the hot seat. After a shocking end to her engagement, she finds herself juggling not only her ex-fiancé, but a guy she never expected. And a moonlighting undercover gig has her digging deep into worlds she barely knew existed.But all of this takes a backseat when Izzy’s friend winds up brutally murdered. Suddenly, Izzy must balance the demands of a voracious media and the knowledge that she didn’t know her friends as well as she thought.
When red-blooded lust leads to cold-blooded murder, corpus delicti takes on a whole new meaning
The hands that grabbed her were greedy. They shoved her, pushed her, not caring when she cried out. And although she wanted more—more now, more later—she felt the need, even in this faraway moment, to say the truth. “We shouldn’t be doing this again. At least I shouldn’t. This is the last time, just so you know.”
“Shut up,” came the reply.
“I’m not kidding. I want you to know that this is it. It’s over after today.”
Those hands moved lower, clawing and probing like they’d been waiting for this, laying in wait until s he was vulnerable, when they could strip her bare and plunge her into oblivion.
She threw her head back and clutched at the bed sheets, holding herself down until the moment when she would step into the void she craved.
A breeze trickled in the window, enticing after the biting winds that had battered Chicago for months. Yet nothing could touch the heat that boiled inside, carried her in small but growing crests, reaching her in places she always forgot until moments like this.
The hands stopped suddenly, startling her.
“Why?” she said, desperate.
A mouth crushed against hers, bit her. “I said shut up.”
And she did.
Later, when she was alone, she slipped into her clothes for the evening—white, ironically. Tonight, she would smile, and she would be engaging. After all these years, she knew how to do that—how to shine her eyes at someone, how to direct her energy so they felt seen and heard and touched. No one at that event would know what she’d just done. She would carry the last two hours in her head, like little packages whose pretty wrappings hid the shame, and the pleasure. Those thoughts would please her when she mentally unwrapped them; they would send pangs of delight throughout her body. But they would remove her from everyone, too. Secrets were always like that. They put a film between you and the rest of the world, so that you could see everyone else, but no one could see the whole of you.
Searching for her bag, she walked through her place and found it by the door. She remembered now that she’d dropped it there in the heat of that first moment, when she had let herself be devoured by her wants.
She sighed and picked up the bag. She took it into her bedroom, where she moved a few essential items into a smaller bag more appropriate for the evening. She brushed her hair.
For a second, she studied herself in the mirror. She didn’t look any different than she had that afternoon. There wasn’t a blush to her cheeks or a shine to her eyes. She’d gotten so good at hiding the evidence.
Her gaze dropped. It was hard to look at herself these days. She walked to the front door, trying to let her mind clear of the last few hours, of everything.
She stretched out her arm for the doorknob, but suddenly it turned on its own, surprising her, making her gasp.
The door opened.
“You scared the hell out of me,” she said, when she saw who was there.
She stopped short, looking into those eyes—eyes that saw her, knew what she was really like. She opened her mouth to say something sexy, but when she looked again, she saw those eyes shift into an expression of cold anger. She away for a moment while she collected words in her head and shaped them so that they would be earnest, pacifying.
But before she could form the sentences, she felt something strike her on the back of the head. She heard herself cry out—a cry so different from those she made earlier, a cry of shock and of pain. Instinctively, she began to raise her hands to her head, but then she felt another blow. Her mind splintered into shards of light, the pain searing into pink streaks. She felt her knees buckle, her body hit the ground.
She felt a tightening around her neck, something squeezing her larynx with more and more force, stealing the breath from her. The light in her brain exploded then, filling it with tiny spots. Strangely, it seemed as if each of those spots encased the different moments of her life. She could see all of them at once, feel all of them. It was a beautiful trick of the mind, a state of enlightenment the likes of which she hadn’t known possible. She felt more alive than she ever had before.
Three days earlier
The patio of NoMi, on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt hotel had its doors propped wide, as if boasting about the suddenly dazzling April weather.
We stepped onto the patio—an urban garden illuminated by the surrounding city lights.
“Spring is officially here,” I said. “And God, am I ready for it.”
The thing about spring in Chicago is that it’s fast and fickle. A balmy, sixty-eight degree Friday like tonight could easily turn into a brittle, thirty-five-degree Saturday. Which is why Chicagoans always clutch at those spring nights. Which is why a night like that can make you do crazy things.
The maitre d’, a European type with a slim black suit, spotted the woman I was with, Jane Augustine, and came hustling. “Ms. Augustine,” he said, “welcome.” He looked at me. “And Miss…”
“Miss Izzy McNeil,” Jane said, beaming her perfect newscaster smile. “The best entertainment lawyer in the city.”
The maitre d’ laughed, gave me a quick once over. A little smile played with the corner of his mouth. “A lawyer. So you’re smart, too?”
“If so, I’m a smart person who’s out of a job.” I’d been looking for six months.
“Maybe not for long,” Jane said.
Jane shrugged coquettishly as the maitre d’ led us over the slate floor to a table at the edge of the patio.
“Our best spot,” the maitre d said, “for the best.” He put two leather-bound menus on the table and left.
We sat. “Do you always get this kind of treatment?” I asked.
Jane swung her shiny, black hair over her shoulder and looked at me with her famous mauve-blue eyes. “The treatment was all about Izzy McNeil. He’s hot for you.”
I turned and glanced. The maitre d’ was watching us. Okay, I admit, he did seem to be watching me. “I think I’m giving off some scent now that I’m single again.”
Jane scoffed. “I can’t stop giving that scent, and I’m married.”
I studied Jane as the waiter took our drink orders. With her long, perfect body tucked into her perfect red suit, she looked every inch the tough journalist she was, but the more I got to know her, the more I listened to her, the more she intrigued me by the many facets of Jane. When I was lead counsel for Picket Enterprises, the Midwest media conglomerate that owned the station where Jane worked, I’d negotiated her contract. And while she was definitely the wisecracking, tough-talking, shoot-straight journalist I’d heard about, I had also seen some surprising cracks in the veneer of her confidence. And on top of that was the sexiness. The more I knew her, the more I noticed she simply steeped in it.
“Seriously,” Jane said. “I know you’re bummed that you and Sam had that little problem—”
“Yeah, that little problem,” I interrupted her. “We’re seeing each other occasionally, but it’s just not the same.”
Six months ago, my fiancé, Sam, disappeared with thirty million dollars worth of property owned by the my client, Forester Pickett, the CEO of Pickett Enterprises, and it happened on precisely the same night Forester suddenly died. After nearly two agonizing weeks that seemed like two years—weeks in which my world had not only been turned upside down, but also shaken and twisted and battered and bruised; weeks during which I learned so many secrets about the people in my life I thought I’d been dropped into someone else’s life—the matter had been resolved and Sam was back in town. But I’d lost all my legal work in the process and essentially been ushered out the back door of my law firm. As for Sam and me, the wedding was off, and we weren’t exactly back together.
“Whatever,” Jane said. “You should enjoy being single. You’re dating other people, right?”
“A little.” I rubbed the spot on my left hand where my engagement ring used to rest. It felt as if the skin were slightly dented, holding a spot in case I decided to put it on again “There’s a guy named Grady, who I’m friends with from my old firm and we go out occasionally, but he wants to get serious, and I really don’t. So mostly, I’ve been licking my wounds.”
“Enough of that! Let someone do the licking for you. With that red hair and that ass, you could get any one you want.”
I laughed. “A guy at the coffee shop asked me out the other day.”
“How old was he?”
“That’ll work. As long as he’s eighteen, he’s doable.”
The waiter stepped up to our table with two glasses of wine.
“Would you go out with her?” Jane asked him.
“Uh…” he said, clearly embarrassed.
“Jane, stop.” But the truth was I was thrilled with the randomly warm night, with the hint that the world was somehow turning faster than usual.
“No, honestly.” Jane looked him up and down like a breeder sizing up a horse for stud. “Are you single?”
The waiter was a Hispanic guy with big, black eyes. “Yeah.”
“And would you go out with her?” Jane pointed at me.
He grinned. “Hell, yeah.”
“Perfect!” Jane patted him on the hip. “She’ll get your number before we leave.”
I dropped my head in my hands as the waiter walked away, chuckling.
“What?” she said. “Now you’ve got three dates when you want them—the waiter, the coffee shop dude and that Grady guy. We’re working on the maitre‘d next. I want you to have a whole stable of men.”
A few women walked by. One of them gasped. “Jane Augustine!” She rushed over. “I’m so sorry to bother you, but I have to tell you that I love you. We watch you every night. You were great on the six o’clock tonight.”
“Thank you!” Jane extended her hand. “What’s your name?”
The woman introduced her friends, and then the compliments poured from her mouth in an unending stream. “Wow, Jane, you’re attractive on T.V. but you’re even more gorgeous in person… You’re beautiful… You’re so smart…. You’re amazing.”
“Oh, gosh, thank you,” Jane said to each compliment, giving an earnest bob of the head. “You’ve made my day.” She asked what the woman did for a living. She graciously accepted more compliments when the woman turned the conversation back to Jane.
“How do you do that?” I asked when they left.
“Act like you’re so flattered? I know you’ve heard that stuff before.”
Jane studied me. “How old are you, Izzy?”
“Thirty this summer.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe I’m going to be thirty.”
“Well, I’m two years away from forty, and let me tell you something—when someone tells you you’re beautiful, you act like it’s the first time you’ve heard that.” She looked at me pointedly. “Because you never know when it’ll be the last.”
I sipped my wine. It was French, kind of floral and lemony. “How’s your new agent?”
“Fantastic. He got me a great contract with Trial TV.”
“I’ve seen the billboards.” .
Trial TV was a new legal network based in Chicago that was tapping into the old Court TV audience. The billboards, with Jane’s smiling face, had been plastered up and down the Kennedy for months now.
“It’s amazing to be on the ground floor of this,” Jane said. “They’ve got a reality show on prosecutors that’s wild. It’s gotten great advance reviews. And we’re juicing up trial coverage and making it more exciting. You know, more background on the lawyers and judges, more aggressive opinion commentary on their moves.”
“And you’ll be anchoring the flagship broadcast each morning.” I raised my glass. “It’s perfect for you.”
Jane always had a penchant for the legal stories. When she was a reporter, she was known for courting judges and attorneys, so that she was the one they came to whenever there was news. She got her spot as an anchor after she broke a big story about a U.S. Senator from Illinois who was funneling millions of dollars of work to one particular law firm in Chicago. It was Jane who figured out that the head partner at the firm was the senator’s mistress.
Jane clinked my glass. “Thanks, Iz.” She looked heavenward for a second, her eyes big and excited. “It’s like a dream come true, because if I was going to keep climbing the nightly news ladder, I’d have to try and go to New York and land the national news. But Zac and I want to stay here. I love this city so much.”
Jane looked around, as if taking in the whole town with her gaze. This particular part of Chicago—the Gold Coast and the Mag Mile—had grown like a weed lately as a plethora of luxury hotel/condo buildings sprang into the skyline.
“Plus, aside from getting up early, it’s great hours,” Jane continued. “I don’t have to work nights anymore, and trials stop for the weekends. They even stop for holidays.”
“Is C.J. going with you?” Jane’s current producer was a talented, no-nonsense woman who had worked closely with Jane for years.
She shook her head. “She’s staying at the Chicagoland TV. That station has been so good to me I didn’t want to steal all their top people. Plus, I wanted to step out on my own, start writing more of my own stuff.” She gave a chagrinned shake of her head. “You know how I got all this?”
“Your new agent?”
“Nope. He only negotiated the contract. It was Forester.”
Just like that, my heart sagged. I missed him. Forester had not only been a client, he’d been a mentor, the person who’d given me my start in entertainment law, the person who’d trusted me to represent his beloved company. Eventually, Forester became like a father to me, and his death was still on my mind.
“I miss him, too.” Jane said, seeing the look on my face. “Remember how generous he was? He actually took me to dinner with Ari Silver.”
“Wow, and so Ari brought you in.” Ari Silver was a media mogul, like Forester, but instead of owning TV and radio stations, newspapers and publishing companies all over the Midwest, as Forester did, Ari Silver was global. His company was the one behind Trial TV.
“Forester knew I loved the law,” she said, “so he brought me to dinner with the two of them when Ari was in town.”
“Even though he knew it meant he might lose you.”
“Exactly.” Jane put her glass down and leaned forward on her elbows. “And now I’m bringing you to dinner because I want you.”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“The launch is Monday. We’ve been in practices for the last few weeks.” She paused, leaned forward some more. “And I want you to start on Monday, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want you to be a legal analyst.”
“Like a reporter?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve never worked in the news business. Just on the periphery.” And yet as logical as my words sounded, I got a spark of excitement for something new, something totally different.
Months ago, after Sam disappeared with Forester’s property, I’d been guilty by association and lost all my business. After everything was settled, Baltimore & Brown, the huge, glitzy law firm where I had worked, made it clear that it would be better for everyone if we parted ways. The fact was, if I had stayed, I would have started at the bottom again, and I couldn’t face the thought of sliding backwards down the corporate ladder I’d scaled so fast.
“We had someone quit today,” Jane said. “A female reporter who used to be a lawyer.”
“Well, let me backtrack. Trial TV has tried to put together a staff that has legal backgrounds in some ways, even many of the reporters and producers. We have reporters in each major city to keep their eye on the local trial scenes. You know, interview the lawyers and witnesses, prepare short stories to run on the broadcasts. But one of our Chicago reporters hit the road today.”
Jane waved her perfectly manicured hand. “Oh, she’s a prima donna who wants everything PC. She couldn’t handle our dinosaur deputy news director.” Her eyes zeroed in on mine. “But you could. After working with Forester and his crew, you know how to hang with the old boys network.”
“Are you talking an on-air position?”
“Not right away. We’ll give you a contributor’s contract, and you’ll do a little of everything. You’ll assist in writing the stories and help with questions when we have guests. But eventually, yeah, I see you on-air.”
“Jane, I don’t have any media experience.”
“You used to give statements on behalf of Pickett Enterprises, and you were good. Either way, the trend in the news is real people with real experience in the areas they’re reporting on. Think Nancy Grace—she was a prosecutor before she started at CNN. Or Greta Van Susteren. She practiced law, too.”
The spark of excitement I’d felt earlier now flamed into something bigger, brighter. If you’d asked me six months ago what the spring held for me, I would have told you I’d be finishing my thank you notes after my holiday wedding, and I’d be settling into contented down-time with my husband, Sam. But now Sam wasn’t my husband, and things with him—hell, things with my future—were decidedly unclear.
“What would it pay?”
She told me.
“A month?” I’d blurted
She’d laughed. “No, sweetheart, that’s a year. TV pays crap. You should know that. You’ve negotiated the contracts.”
“But I’m a lawyer,” I said.
“You’d be an analyst and a reporter now.”
Just out of principle, I considered saying no. I was a lawyer; I was worth more than that. But the fact was, unless I could find entertainment law work, I was worth almost nothing. I knew nothing else, understood no other legal specialties. I’d been job hunting for months, and trying to make the best of the down time—visiting the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Science and Industry and just about every other museum or landmark Chicago had to offer. But depressingly, there was no entertainment work up for grabs in the city. Though most Chicago actors and artists started with local lawyers, when they hit it big, they often took their legal work to the coasts. The lawyers who’d had it for years wisely hoarded the business that remained. And Forester’s company had decided to use attorneys from another firm, saying they needed a fresh start and a chance to work with someone new. I couldn’t blame them, but it had left me in the cold. My bank statement had an ever-decreasing balance, teetering toward nothing. I hadn’t minded the lack of funds so badly when I couldn’t buy spring clothes, but soon I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage, and that would be something else altogether.
For the first time in my adult life I was flying without a net. Fear nibbled at my insides, crept its way into my brain. I was buzzing with apprehension. But the job offer from Jane was a bolt of calm, clean sunshine breaking through the murky depths of my nerves.
I knew, as the negotiator I used to be, that I should ask Jane a lot of other questions—What would the hours be? What was the insurance like? But in addition to needing the money, I needed—desperately needed—something new in my life.
So I leaned forward, meeting Jane’s gaze and those mauve-blue eyes, and said, “I’ll do it.”
The second book in Caldwell’s series is great. A solid plot, vivid characters and a brain-teasing mystery keep you guessing throughout. Izzy’s often humorous first-person narrative is a bonus.
- Romantic Times (4 1/2 stars)
“Red Blooded Murder aims for the sweet spot between tough and tender, between thrills and thought – and hits the bullseye. A terrific novel.”
- #1 New York Times bestselling author, Lee Child
“The “Red” trilogy has action, suspense, sex, all the stuff that readers look for in a romantic thriller, but Izzy McNeil is the primary draw. Her fiery personality — an appropriate trait in such a proud redhead — and winning ways are what make these books so charming. Izzy is the whole package: feminine and sexy, but also smart, tough and resourceful. She’s no damsel-in-distress from a tawdry bodice ripper; she’s more than a fitting match for any bad guys foolish enough to take her on.
Another aspect in which the series shines is Caldwell’s use of setting. As a long-time Chicago resident, Caldwell knows her city well and uses it to good effect as a backdrop for Izzy’s exploits. But she’s equally at home taking her character to Rome, the location of much of Red, White & Dead, or Panama, which features into a part of Red Hot Lies. Wherever Izzy finds herself, Caldwell is sure to make the location come alive. ”
- Chicago Sun-Times
“Take Izzy McNeil to bed tonight. You won’t get much sleep, but you’ll spend tomorrow smiling. At once a novel of sexual politics and an intricate thriller, Red Blooded Murder is smoking hot and impossible to put down.”
- Marcus Sakey, author of Good People and The Blade Itself
“This is a Red Blooded thriller that keeps you turning the pages. But there’s more — the wonderful surprise is that these characters will matter to you. You feel for them and fear for them and that’s a serious achievement. Caldwell’s writing is at the top of her game and just about everyone else’s in this compelling novel that I dare you to put down!
- International Bestseller, M.J. Rose, author of The Memoirist
Laura Caldwell’s Red Blooded Murder is a smart, stylish, and sexy thriller. Picking up in Chicago where Sex and the City left off in New York, the series features a fearless but appealing protagonist who will earn your respect as well as your heart. Caldwell’s smooth prose sparkles with wit and sophistication.
- Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of Easy Innocence and the Ellie Foreman series
“The return of Izzy [McNeil] as a prime suspect again will elate Laura Caldwell fans as the lawyer who learned the hard way not to trust cops sets out to prove her innocence by uncovering the identity of the killer. The amateur sleuth investigation into the whodunit is well written. However, what makes the tale enjoyable is Izzy’s first person dialogue that turns Red Blooded Murder into an amusing anti-noir.”
- Genre Go Round Reviews.com