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Gone Green: A Sci-Fi Mystery (Janey McCallister Mystery) by Beth Barany (Book Showcase)

L’Étoile’s lead investigator Janey McCallister faces her hardest case yet.

On the eve of the hotel space station’s twentieth anniversary celebration, criminals rob the casino’s vault and kill one security guard.

Janey teams up with Orlando Valdez, a sexy undercover cop for the Sol Unified Planets, to hunt down those responsible.

Since the casino has only a day’s worth of cash on hand, she must solve the complex plot behind the robbery before the theft creates a mass panic and puts L’Étoile out of business—and before the killer strikes again.

***

Gone Green is perfect for fans of J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas books, The Expanse, and Killjoys and CSI. It contains a slow-burn romance, enhanced humans, cool high-tech gadgets, a futuristic vision of the Earth, and a tough kick ass heroine with secrets.

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“What are you doing here?” The question just popped out of Janey’s mouth.

Orlando Valdez leaned against the wall of her boss’s office, obstructing the live feed of the space station’s massive docking bay. He watched her with a piercing gaze, cool and mysterious, giving nothing away.

Anger flared, ballooning hot and itchy all over, even though she’d known he might show up on L’Étoile unannounced.

Venus Hells.

Lead Investigator Janey McCallister faced her boss, Security Chief Daniel Milano, who was seated behind his desk, his rotund middle stretching his red Turkish coat. “What’s he doing here? Is this what you called me in for? I thought we had an urgent briefing.”

Thirty-five minutes ago, Milano had called an earlier-than-usual security briefing without an explanation, other than to hurry her ass to his office, stat, cutting short her morning plans. She’d been scheduled to talk to a medical researcher about her mom’s condition. If Janey could get her mom on a new experimental drug before the current medical trial ended in ten weeks… Those calls regarding her mom could wait but not for long.

Orlando Valdez, Sol Unified Planets special investigator, straightened from the wall and opened his mouth to speak, but the chief waved him off.

“Yes, that’s why I called you. And we do have a briefing,” the chief said to her. “But firstly, you should know that Special Investigator Orlando is here on a top-secret Sol case and has a job to do.”

“I can appreciate that, but so do I,” Janey said, prickles buzzing under her skin like a million hopped-up electrodes, urging her to storm out of the small office. She kept herself in place. “We’ll be at capacity soon, and we still have final prep for the gala.”

Milano knew all this. And so did Orlando. He heard all her news in their regular evening vid calls.

“I’m sorry, Janey,” Orlando said to her, a serious look on his face. Looked like he meant it. Micro tension tightened the corners of his lips.

“There’s another matter,” Chief Milano said, weary.

“What’s your case?” Janey asked Orlando, ignoring her boss.

Orlando shook his head, his dark wavy locks falling over one eye.

Stars, he looked great in that fashionable, shimmery blue suit, with a pale pink pocket square, his creamy white silk shirt open at the throat. Yet he held himself with uncharacteristic rigidity in his shoulders, unlike the last time she’d seen him, been with him—a whole week together over three long months ago.

Now he was all business, secretive and tense. His missions for the Sol that took him all over the star system were more than top-secret and politically sensitive. He wouldn’t read her in unless he absolutely had to.

Would he this time?

“McCallister,” Chief Milano said and cleared his throat, breaking her focus on Orlando. “Per inter-Sol regulations, Agent Orlando is to report to you for all security matters. It’s up to your discretion on whether or not you need to clear any of his actions with me. Got that, Investigator?” Her boss gave her a hard stare over his faux antique eyeglasses no one used anymore.

As if he needed to remind her of the rules that governed the private corporate city-state of Bijoux de L’Étoile, this hotel-casino in space.

A jurisdictional dance, every time.

A former investigator himself for various companies and state governments, Milano was a stickler for the rules and spent more time behind his desk filing reports for the hotel owner than another else—other than gambling. Yet he treated her and everyone else fairly.

“Yes, Chief.” Even though she felt Orlando peering at her, willing her to look at him, she kept her gaze on her boss.

Orlando would officially be her direct report, and she’d be his boss. So, she had to keep things professional between them if she was to follow regs. Could she? She had to. This job was her mother’s only financial lifeline. All those expensive medical treatments for her mother’s hard-to-treat disease.

But Orlando didn’t often follow regs during his undercover work.

“I’m sure you two will work well together, as you have in the past. Yes?” Milano lifted an eyebrow at her. Orlando had helped her on two murder cases on L’Étoile.

“We will, sir.” Janey snapped to attention, chin up, shoulders back. Her Space Wing training second nature.

“Chief Milano, it would be my utmost pleasure to work under the investigator,” Orlando said in a silky warm tone.

Cheeky bugger. What happened in the bedroom between them was private.

Milano nodded at Orlando in acknowledgment and fussed with his dancing figurines that lined the edge of his desk, tiny models he created in his off-hours.

“Sir, a word,” Janey said. Had he received the ping about the unidentified vibration she’d felt on her way to his office?

“Just a moment. One more thing.” Milano lifted a finger to cut Janey off, then said in his comm, “Kim, send them in.” Kimani Iona was the station security operations manager, handling the department’s communications for Janey and her team. She was a tech and systems whiz and had become one of Janey’s closest friends at L’Étoile.

A moment later two women entered Milano’s office. Chief Milano stood.

“To start this special briefing, Investigator McCallister and Agent Orlando, I’d like you to meet Veronica Ladipo, a journalist with The Tell Papers, and her business partner, Monica Farmingham. They are here to cover next week’s gala.”

Veronica Ladipo reached out a hand to Janey. She was as tall as Janey was, with an open, friendly smile, striking green eyes, and dark brown hair, a halo around her head. “Investigator McCallister, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I appreciate you taking the time.”

Like Janey had a choice.

She shook the journalist’s hand, exchanging a firm grip. The business partner, Monica Farmingham, nodded in greeting to her and the two men. She was dressed in a grey suit jacket, a cream blouse buttoned at the throat, and a matching grey pencil skirt. In expensive strappy black spike heels out of place with the conservative suit, Monica wore no jewelry and carried a thin real-leather briefcase. Shorter than Janey by at least six inches, coming to Janey’s shoulder, the petite woman had sharp cheekbones, almond eyes outlined in kohl, reminiscent of an Egyptian princess, and had a quiet, powerful look about her. As if she could dominate any boardroom and get her way.

“I’ll stay out of your way as much as possible, though I would like an hour or so of your time soon to interview you and your team,” Veronica said, bringing Janey’s attention back to her.

“I don’t have time for media interviews, especially now,” Janey said. “And it’s abnormal to have a working journalist on board. L’Étoile’s owner, Frederick D. Schoeneman, is a well-known recluse and never grants interviews to the press.”

Veronica smiled, nodded, confidence oozing, and glanced at Monica. They shared a secret smile.

“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Ladipo. Ms. Farmingham.” Orlando smiled with sparkling charisma and shook the journalist’s hand, nodded at the business partner, his body tension gone, replaced with languid fluid ease. He turned his full attention on the journalist. “I’m one of your most ardent fans. I read your column regularly.”

Janey frowned. He hadn’t greeted her with a smile like that, and they were dating.

“Call me Veronica, please.” The journalist offered Orlando a bright smile of pure joy and unnecessarily straightened the jacket of her bespoke black suit, primping under his gaze. Monica watched, seemingly unaffected by Orlando’s charm.

An angry, territorial beast roared in Janey’s heart. She rammed it down, then spoke, keeping her tone neutral.

“I’m surprised to see someone from The Tell Papers covering—” Janey swirled her hand to encompass the luxurious surroundings beyond the small security office.

“Social engagements and parties at high-end resorts?” Veronica said. “I know. Not my usual beat of exposés on despots, corporate greed, and industrial cover-ups.” She gave a tinkling laugh. “Monica thought it would be a good change of pace. I agreed, and so did my editor.” She shrugged. “Plus, I was curious to check out the Starry Jewel in the Sky, cover the gala prep and then the gala itself, and congratulate Mr. Schoeneman for his ten years of success. Bijoux de L’Étoile is quite something. Ten years of constructing in high-Earth orbit… Now this…” The awe in her voice sounded genuine.

“It is an impressive feat of engineering,” Janey said. “Schoeneman knows you’re here, I presume.”

“They’ve signed all the right paperwork,” Chief Milano gestured at his screen, gave the requisite commands, and the customs checklist ballooned to fill the wall screen beside him. “Her team was approved by Zurich. Schoeneman informed me personally that she and her camera crew were coming for the gala.”

Schoeneman was due to arrive any day now—another security task on her long list.

“You have a crew with you?” Janey asked Veronica. Great, more people to keep tabs on.

“Yes, they’re waiting in your conference room to meet you.” Veronica offered a smile, open and inviting.

“I don’t know when I will have the time.” Janey glanced at Milano.

“Yes, we need to organize ourselves, our work arrangements,” Orlando said and scrutinized Janey, his gaze intense as if he was trying to communicate a serious message to her.

“I understand,” the journalist said. “We’re here for the entire week. I look forward to speaking with you when you have the time.”

“We don’t have the time,” Janey said.

“We will make sure you get your interviews, Ms. Ladipo,” Milano said, as smooth as any diplomat.

Veronica addressed Milano, determined and peppy, seemingly unfazed by Janey’s refusals. “I’d love a tour of the lower levels for our B reel and then the out of way—”

Whatever else Veronica said and was about to say was drowned out by a deafening high-pitched alarm blaring from Janey and Milano’s wrist comms. The journalist slapped her hands over her ears, wide-eyed shock on her face. The business partner backed up against the wall, her face pale.

The high-pitched alarm shrieked off and on, like a wounded animal screaming in fear, jamming clear thought for a split second. Adrenaline flooded her system.

Orlando rushed to Janey’s side, a question in his eyes. Janey had the same questions he probably did.

What tripped the alarm?

Where?

How?

The red flashing code on her comm was unfamiliar at first. Then her ocular implant decoded it. The alarm was from a normally quiet and out-of-the-way section of the station.

Hells.

Janey waved over her comm, inputting the command to open a channel to the entire security department, and shouted above the horrible din. “We have to go. Now! All hands on this one.” She bolted for the office door that opened on approach.

She rushed into the corridor and raced toward the staff elevator, side-stepping the cleaning bots.

“What is it?” Orlando sprinted into the elevator beside her. “Where are we going?”

Fear tightened her ribcage. The elevator door closed, and she shut off the alarm. “The casino vault. It’s a 10-18. Officer down. Needs immediate assistance.”

 

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Books in the Janey McCallister Mystery series

Into The Black (Book 1)

Lured By Light (Book 2)

Gone Green (Book 3)

Red Running Deep (Book 4) (Coming Fall 2021)

 

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