She expected the fashion industry to be ruthless. She wasn't prepared for it to turn deadly.
Ready to redesign her life, style expert Samantha Kidd accepts a job in her Pennsylvania hometown as a trend specialist. But her first day goes completely A-line when she stumbles across her legendary boss dead in the elevator. And after the body disappears, she can't help but pull on the mystery's thread and unravel an entire wardrobe of suspects.
Supervising her deceased employer's vogue competition, Samantha tries to hem in a sexy shoe designer and countless ego-driven creatives to stitch together the clues. But when her own name appears on the police's suspect list, the sleuthing fashionista's days on the catwalk could be numbered.
Can Samantha put a killer in the spotlight before she's sewn up for a crime she didn't commit?
Designer Dirty Laundry is the first book in the feel-good Samantha Kidd mystery series. If you like witty protagonists, clever dialogue, and fashion-forward drama, then you'll love Diane Vallere's chic story.
Buy Designer Dirty Laundry for this season's murder couture today!
1: It All Started To Go Wrong
When you wear fishnet stockings to the grocery store, people tend to stare. Women look at you like you’re affiliated with the sex trade. Men pretend they’re not staring, doing so all the while. It’s probably because they’re thinking the same thing.
The last time I wore fishnets to the grocery store was weeks ago. It was then I met the man who changed the course of my life.
Because of him, I’d traded in the title of senior buyer of ladies designer shoes at Bentley’s New York to become the trend specialist at Tradava, the family-owned retailer in Ribbon, Pennsylvania. I’d given up an apartment in Manhattan to buy the house where I grew up. And now, because of him, I sat in a police station explaining my actions to a homicide detective.
I still couldn’t pinpoint exactly when it all started to go wrong.
A week earlier . . .
I changed clothes six times, then ultimately settled on the fashion uniform of black: satin motorcycle jacket cinched at the waist over a lace camisole, pegged pencil skirt, fishnets, and stilettos. Elsa Klensch meets Catwoman. Patrick, the fashion director and my new boss, was bound to approve. I topped off my look with a finishing blast of Aqua Net, powered up with coffee and a donut from a newspaper kiosk by my house, and headed to work earlier than I remember ever going to work before.
I arrived at Tradava and followed a trickle of other early employees into the building. A petite Latina woman in an oversized pink sweater and black leggings struggled to carry a box through the door marked “Loss Prevention.”
“Let me help you,” I called out. I raced forward with my arms out. The woman pivoted and I grabbed ahold of the other side of the box just as she was about to lose control. She inched her way backward and together, we got it through the door.
“Set it on the floor,” she said. We both bent down, her in the manner the How to Lift Properly posters advised and me in a way that would surely make my back stiff in an hour. The box thumped onto the exposed concrete floor. The woman straightened up and smiled. “Thanks,” she said. “That box just about killed me.” She studied my face. “Are you a vendor? Let me get the sign-in log.”
“I’m Samantha Kidd,” I said. “Patrick’s new trend specialist. Do you know if he’s here yet?”
“He’s here, but he didn’t say anything about you.” Her brow furrowed, and she picked up the phone and dialed an extension. When no one answered, she hung up.
“He’s not in the office. You’ll have to sign in like a visitor.”
“But I’m not a visitor. I’m staff. Today’s my first day.”
The friendly vibe we’d had after I helped her with the box that almost killed her had waned, but she did seem conflicted. “Do you have ID?” she asked hopefully.
I reached into my handbag and pulled out a quilted leather wallet, then held it open to show my driver’s license through the plastic window.
“I meant a store ID.”
“No. Not yet, anyway.”
“That’s a New York license,” she commented.
“You’re right, I just moved. But it’s me, see?” I held the wallet up to my face and smiled at her in the way only a half crazy person brimming with caffeine and adrenaline over starting a new job might.
The woman reached her hands up and gathered her long, wavy, brownish-orange hair on top of her head then wound it around several times until it resembled a doorknob. She pushed the sign-in log toward me and held out a red ballpoint pen. “I’m sure you’ll get it all straightened out today.”
“Right,” I said. Look at me, already making friends! I signed my name with a flourish then added Trend office, 7:37. I put my wallet back in my handbag, hopped out of the way of a flatbed filled with merchandise and headed into the store. Aside from security and shipping, the store was quiet.
I wasn’t a morning person. It was day one of a new job and a new life. Full of potential. My early arrival had less to do with my natural inclinations and more to do with my need to make a good impression. I was determined to be the best trend specialist Patrick had ever hired.
I wandered through the shoe department on my way to the elevators, pausing by a round marble fixture that displayed a purple suede platform pump. My index finger traced over the black and white designer label that decorated the sock lining.
“Of all the shoes, in all the stores, she had to walk up to mine,” said a husky voice behind me. I turned and faced the man whose name was stitched onto that label. The man I’d once fantasized about during a layover in Paris. The man I’d almost kissed after a business dinner that involved a good deal of Sauvignon Blanc and a serving of lemon meringue pie. My judgment is not to be trusted around lemon meringue.
Nick Taylor was a shoe designer. His showroom was charged with electricity, hot looks, and devastating style. His shoe collection wasn’t bad, either. He was one of the few people I thought I’d miss after leaving Bentley’s, that is, until I caught him flirting with the buyer from Bloomingdales and realized the only special thing we had was a gross margin agreement.
“You’re a long way from New York,” I said. “What are you doing at Tradava?”
“Same thing as you, probably.”
“I doubt that. I’m here to start a new job.” I cocked my head to the side and crossed my arms, the plum-colored laptop bag that hung from my shoulder now banging against my hip.
“First day? Let’s get you into practice.” He stood directly in front of me and held out his hand. “I’m Nick Taylor. Shoe designer and all around good guy.”
I pursed my lips and took in his dark curly hair and his brown eyes, the exact shade of the three root beer barrels I ate in the car after finishing the donut. I met his outstretched hand with my own.
“Samantha Kidd. Former shoe buyer. Former angry New Yorker.” I pumped his hand twice to emphasize the word ‘former.’ “Current trend specialist for Tradava on the cusp of a new life.”
He pulled me in, converting our handshake to an embrace. I lost my balance and fell against him. “I thought I might never see you again,” he whispered in my ear. “So, Tradava?” He looked to his left and right as if making sure no one was listening. “From the big city to the small town. I knew you’d land on your feet, but I didn’t expect you to land here.”
“You make it sound like I vanished into the night,” I replied, blowing at a strand of hair that had gotten stuck in my lipstick. My cell phone buzzed from the depths of my handbag, and I pretended not to hear it.
“You did vanish in the night. Out of my life, out of my dreams . . . ” He reached out an index finger and freed the lock of hair. A trace of red lipstick transferred to his fingertip. “And now I find you haven’t even missed me. That hurts.”
“So you took it upon yourself to stalk me. Good to know.”
“C’mon, everybody needs at least one stalker in their life. It’s good for the ego,” he said.
Nick Taylor had captured the eye of more than one female at Bentley’s, and rumors of his love life often permeated the otherwise work-heavy market weeks. More than once I’d wondered what would have happened if I’d given in to my post-pie impulse to kiss him after that innocent business dinner last May.
“You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing at Tradava this early?”
“I have some outstanding business with the shoe buyer,” he said. “The only time he had available was this morning.”
“Did security make you sign in?” I asked, nodding toward the back hallway.
“Sure. They make everybody sign in before the store is open.”
The elevator bell sounded. The doors attempted to open, then jerked shut. Nick stabbed the button with his index finger, and the doors repeated their spastic motion. I had the other option to take the stairs but with a breakfast of highly concentrated sugar, fat, and root beer barrels coursing through my veins, that wasn’t going to happen.
The doors jerked open again, and I jammed the laptop between them. They beat an irregular rhythm against the plum nylon case but left a resulting opening large enough for my fingers. By now I had exerted more energy than I would have on the stairs, but I was determined to get on the thing.
I quickly changed my mind.
In the elevator was a well-dressed man. His jet-black hair was held perfectly in place with pomade, and his mustache was neatly trimmed. He wore a taupe suit with a violet windowpane pattern, a brown and purple paisley ascot knotted around his neck, and a crisp white shirt that no doubt had been laundered and starched by a team of professionals. Even though his body lay crumpled on the floor, the shirt was barely wrinkled.
My new boss.
I yanked the laptop out from between the doors. When I stood back up, the room spun. I put a hand out to steady myself and lost my grip on the computer bag. It fell from my shoulder and landed on its side.
My knees buckled, and I followed the laptop to the floor.