A high-risk pregnancy. A dangerous secret. When her case turns deadly, can this investigator avoid racking up a fatal debt?

Despite her injuries, PI Kelly Pruett is eager to get back to work. So when a mommy-to-be hires her to locate her estranged dad, Kelly is thankful for the straightforward missing-persons case. But as she rummages through his trash in search of clues, she uncovers gambling debts to gangsters… and a blood-soaked severed finger.

With her investigation no longer cut-and-dried, Kelly’s hunt takes a deadly turn when her quarry is found driven off a cliff to his doom. And she’ll need more than her cop boyfriend’s help to expose the truth when the mob sends her a cease-and-desist notice with an explosive ending.

Can the determined detective take on the mafia and make it out alive?
Denied is the second book in the gripping Kelly Pruett Mystery series. If you like strong heroines, off-the-charts tension, and breathtaking twists, then you’ll love Mary Keliikoa’s action-packed story.

5 stars

Following up on a multi-award nominated debut mystery is no easy task, but Mary Keliikoa succeeds and then some in DENIED. In Kelly Pruett, Keliikoa has created a three dimensional private eye whose humanity and determination make you both want to root for her and ride along next to her on an investigative thrill ride. Bravo!

Matt Coyle, Shamus, Anthony and Lefty Award-winning author

"A solid sequel with a relatable detective and an enjoyably knotty plot."

Kirkus Reviews

"swift, exciting... hits its marks in mystery and action, but the heroine is what will stick with the readers after the last page."

BookLife by Publisher's Weekly

"complex... unexpected and engrossing"

"Denied is a satisfying mystery novel whose detective, in pursuing a sympathetic case, learns more about herself and the father in whose footsteps she follows."

FOREWORD REVIEW

CHAPTER 1

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She'd cocked her head to the side. "You should. Damn girl, you look as pretty as ever."

Sweat trickled down my back, and my thick shoulder-length hair pulled into a ponytail had frizzed under my own humidity. I managed a thank you, but I didn't recognize her and I hated guess who games. Floyd sniffed her shoes and gazed up at me. He was also at a loss. "Sorry. I give up."

"It's me. Stephanie Burnotas. Well, Jacoby now."

The only Stephanie Burnotas I had known was a large mousey girl from homeroom at Parkrose High. Even though this girl was pregnant, if this was that Stephanie, she'd shrunk in half since then. Unlike me who'd added an extra layer after having Mitz.

"Stephanie as in 'PBJ every day,' Stephanie?" The reference wasn't to her weight. She really did eat PBJ's every day.

She chuckled. "Like you should talk." I laughed too.

Our peanut butter obsession had been something we had in common. I'd missed out on my ten-year reunion using my daughter Mitz had the flu as an excuse and hadn't run into any of my old high school classmates in a long time. Fifteen was next summer. I wouldn't be at that one either. "My gosh, Stephanie. You look great. You live here in the neighborhood?"

"Not exactly. I'm glad to find you home. I heard you inherited your dad's business. I was sad to hear you lost him."

I bounced in place; my leg muscles tight. The business. My childhood home. My dad had left me everything. Including a few of his messes.

"I've been taking up where he left off."

She wrapped her arms around herself. "Does that include missing persons?"

"I handle it all." A half-truth. Willing to handle and being hired to handle were different. My PI license with the state of Oregon was current. But after my arm had healed, I'd gone back to my roll before my dad died: serving legal papers and a few stakeouts that only sent me running from pissed off cheaters on rare occasions. Her timing was good though. I'd been itching for something different. "Who's missing?"

"My dad."

A breath caught in my throat. Mr. Burnotas, or Vince as he insisted we call him even as kids, had often picked Stephanie up in front of the school and attended events. I had even hung out at her house a few times after classes. Her dad was a quiet man, with a warm askew smile and an easy laugh. She had to be panicked. I invited her upstairs for coffee.

Once we were settled, she launched right in. "At first, I thought he might be busy, but I started getting worried a few weeks ago when he didn't returnmy calls. I spoke with a Detective Kuni at the Sheriff's office. He took my statement and did a welfare check. My dad's place is locked down and the neighbors said they never saw him around much, even when he was home. Since no one else reported him missing, they aren't willing to do much else."


"Do they think he's just ignoring you?"


"I'm sure." She pulled a picture from her purse and handed it to me. "This was taken a couple of years ago."


Vince held a red pullover sweater up to his chest he'd removed from a Christmas box on his lap. He had gray combed-back hair, with black sideburns--the only signs of his youthful color. His crooked smile and thin lips framed a good-size gap in his front teeth. The deep-set lines around his eyes reflected a rougher life than most. "Have you checked with his work?"

"I tried. He'd been working at a bowling alley at one point, but when I called, they said he wasn't there anymore."

"When was his last day?"

She frowned. "I didn't think to ask."

I drummed my fingers on the dining table. "Is it possible he went  away on vacation or has another home?"


She shook her head. "He doesn't have that kind of money. And if he
took a vacation, he'd be back by now."


"His money situation could've changed."


"I guess. The last time we spoke was Thanksgiving."


A lot could happen in six months. Like me, for instance. For once, I
had a little money tucked away in my account. Even if it had taken me being stalked, beat up, nearly run down and shot to get it. "What happened in November that you're only now trying to reach him?"


"Nothing." Stephanie shifted to get comfortable. "I mean, family stuff. He drank too much that night and I was annoyed with him." She shifted again. "It's not like we talked every day. Time got away. Now we haven't spoken since right after that night." Her eyes misted.


I recognized the guilt of not having done enough. Of thinking she should have reached out sooner. "I'm happy to check out what's going on with him."


She patted her stomach and sniffed. "Thank you. I'm due in a couple of months with a baby girl. I want to make things right between us. He doesn't even know I'm pregnant and I don't want to deny my daughter knowing her grandfather."


My chest tightened. Mitz talked about my dad, her Papa, often. Regardless of my feelings about my father, or the fact that he was gone, the grandparent and child relationship was an important one. I'd give anything to bring my dad back so Mitz wouldn't have to miss out.

Leaning back in my chair, I explained my hourly rate plus expenses and had her sign a contract. "I'll need five hundred to get started." It felt weird to ask an old friend to pay for services, but I was running a business.

She frowned, small lines creasing her forehead. "I have a few hundred right now, but I can get more."

Her expression was hard to read. "I'm sorry I have to ask at all, but I have Mitz and..."

She raised a hand to her chest. "I didn't expect you'd be free. It's just that..." She hesitated. "Brandon doesn't know I'm here."
"Brandon's your husband?"

Her chin dipped. "Yeah. My pregnancy has him worried about money. I don't want to stress him anymore than he already is." She dug into her purse and brought out three one hundred dollar bills, setting them on the table. "Will this be enough to get you started?"

"It will." I didn't hesitate and tucked the money in the side pocket of my purse on the counter and returned with a notepad and pen.

She gave me the information for the detective who'd done the welfare check, along with Vince's address and birth date. She handed me the keys. "Unless he's changed the locks, these should work to get you in his house."

I pulled the notepad back. Riverview, Washington was thirty miles north on the Interstate. "Getting into your dad's house will be where I start. Why haven't you done that yet?"

Her gaze fell onto the wall behind me. "I have a weird feeling about this, Kelly. I have high blood pressure and the doctor says I'm at risk of preeclampsia. If I don't minimize stress, I'll end up in the hospital to avoid premature labor. The police aren't taking me seriously, but I don't know if I'm well enough to find him myself right now."

When we'd finished, I added her into my phone contacts and walked her to the front door, giving her a hug. "Don't worry. I'll bet he came into some money and he's sipping a margarita in Mexico, oblivious that you're worried about him."

Many missing cases were that simple. I wanted to ease her mind, even if I didn't entirely buy my own words. Families often didn't stay in touch and six months wasn't that long. Except Stephanie was an only child. A father not returning his only daughter's call didn't feel right--even if they were annoyed with each other. Having grown up an only child, I didn't want to believe it.

Her brown eyes were moist with tears. "Hope you're right. I hated him sometimes, but loved him. Know what I mean?"


During my last case, I'd learned some things about my dad that had shaken me to the core. Everything I thought he represented--honor, loyalty, steadfastness--had disintegrated in an instant.

“I do,” I said.

Before heading north, I flipped through the pictures I’d taken earlier during my surveillance of the roaming eye husband in the act of saying goodbye to his lover. His wife of twenty years suspected he was doing some version of Downward-facing Dog with her yoga instructor. She was partially right. Except it was with the yoga teacher’s boyfriend. I’d forwarded the heartbreaking pictures confirming her worst fears.

Much of my work involved information and paperwork that destroyed families. Finding Vince might put a family back together. It would be a welcome change.

However, finding people wasn’t always easy. I turned off my car’s engine and ruffled Floyd on the head. For whatever reason, Vince Burnotas had gone off someplace. What if he didn’t want to be found? I got out and approached his house. Time to find out.

“Mary Keliikoa’s debut novel is an important addition to the PI genre - strong with voice, a compelling protagonist in Kelly Pruett, and unforgettable family secrets. DERAILED was hard to put down - and I can’t wait to read the next book in this crackling new series.”