Status of Series

I get a lot of emails and Facebook comments relating to the status of the various series. I’ve decided to take a moment and catch you up. Keep in mind this list represents a status as of May 2020 and could change at any time since I tend to write based on what I feel like writing rather than writing based on a preset schedule. What this means is that anything I say really should be taken with a grain of salt until it actually hits presale and then it’s a done deal.

Series in Alphabetical order:
A Cat in the Attic Mystery –  This series was intended as a 5 book series from the beginning – Book 5 will be a story set at Halloween and will publish in September or October. The title will be The Magic of Halloween Night. It will be up for presale in a couple of months.

A Tess and Tilly Cozy Mystery – This is an ongoing series although the frequency of new books will slow after The Wedding Plan which publishes in July. I don’t think I’m quite ready to end it but a lot of things will be wrapped up in this book and I will be waiting for new inspiration before jumping back into the series. At this point I plan to do at least one new book in this series in 2021 but beyond that it will depend on whether or not I feel inspired to explore character aspects not yet explored in the series. 

A Hathaway Sister Mystery – This series was designed as a 5 book series. So far I only have 2 books published. I would like to do the other 3 but the series didn’t sell as well as I would have liked so it has been shelved until 2021 at least. This series is a spinoff of a standalone mystery Road to Christmas Past. If you haven’t read this one you should. I think it’s one of my best. 

Haunting by the Sea – This series came about due to reader demand for additional books in the Seacliff High Series. I decided to pick the story up ten years later in the hope of attracting new readers but it still didn’t really catch on. The series currently has 6 books published which is more than I planned to write so I think it is done. 

Rescue Alaska Paranormal Series – The continuation of this series has been being pushed back over and over again but I do still plan to write Finding Shelter this summer. It will publish in the fall. I will decide whether or not to continue beyond that once I see how Finding Shelter does in terms of sales. This series has always been one I’ve considered to be on the bubble. It did well enough to garner my consideration for additional books, but not really well enough to be an automatic renewal.

Sand and Sea Hawaiian Mystery – This series is one I planned to end after 7 books but then ended up getting talked into a book 8. I think that was a mistake. I consider this series ended at this point.

Seacliff High Mystery – This series had 7 books and is complete. The Haunting by the Sea series is a spinoff of Seacliff High with the same characters. 

Summerhouse Reunion – This is a 3 part story and is only intended to have 3 books. It was a bit of an experiment on my part but I have to say I loved writing this mini-series and I plan to do another one. Lakehouse Reunion will be a similar format with a different location and different characters. Look for it this coming winter. Probably in January or February. The one thing I did learn with Summerhouse Reunion was to publish the books closer together so I plan to publish Lakehouse Reunion with all three books publishing just a week apart.  

The Inn at Holiday Bay – This is my bestselling series at this time so you can expect a book every few months for the foreseeable future. Up next is Gossip in the Garden in June. There will be 2 more in 2020 and probably 4 or 5 in 2021. 

Tj Jensen Paradise Lake – This is a 10 book series that was traditionally published and wrapped up for now. I may look at self publishing additional books in the series but there is a lot to consider given that the first 10 are not mine to do with as I please so I really haven’t decided what I will do with this series in the long term. There will definietly not be any new books in this series in 2020.

Whales and Tails – This is an ongoing series although it is winding down. A Mew Beginning publishes next week and there will be one or two in 2021 but I’m uncertain beyond that. 

Writers Retreat – This series has 9 books and I’d like to do a tenth but at this point I don’t think we’ll see a tenth book until 2021. There are just too many seasonal books I want to fit into the second half of this year and this series isn’t one with a holiday theme to it so in my mind it can wait.  

Zoe Donovan – I once told a reader that I would continue to write Zoe until we were both 90 and that is still the plan. I have 33 books published in the series to date. Deja Diva publishes in August or September. After that look for 1 or 2 a year. 

 

New Series – 

I’m working on a new series tentatively titled The Cottage at Mystic Harbor – it is sort of a sister series to Holiday Bay and there may even be some crossover storylines – it will be set on the west coast and of course will have different characters than Holiday Bay but the basic feel of the characters will be similar in that they will be older with real world problems to overcome as they build a new life on the sea. Like Holiday Bay the series will be set in a small town with an amazing small town support cast. 

Lakehouse Reunion – As I mentioned above – I also am working on a new mini series or three part story involving three sisters (triplets) separated at birth then reunited when their biological grandmother dies leaving them a lake house. It will be very similar in tone to Summerhouse Reunion. 

 

I hope this answers your questions for now. I know it is hard to see a series you love come to an end but the only way I can continue to explore new characters and new settings is if I begin to end some series that may have already run their course. 

 

 

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Summerhouse Reunion

I’ve written the first of what I hope will be a series of three book mini series. The mini series is actually one story told over the course of three books which will publish in April, May, and June. The stories include a mystery, which runs through all three books, as well as two romances, featuring four friends each with their own life changes to deal with. I’ve included chapter one of book one here in this blog for anyone who’d like a sneak peek at what to expect.

Summerhouse Reunion – https://amzn.to/3btaroM 

Topsail Sundays – https://amzn.to/2ULHU79 

Campfire Secrets – https://amzn.to/39Tm07O 

 

Chapter 1 – Summerhouse Reunion

Sometimes life is about letting go. Letting go of the way things were supposed to have been. Letting go of unmet dreams and incomplete plans. Letting go of the anger that consumes you as you struggle to make sense of an unfinished life. I’d spent the last year denying the inevitable, negotiating for a different ending, screaming to the heavens that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, and finally struggling to accept an ending that should never have been.


Letting go, I realized somewhere along the way, was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.


“It’s a beautiful day.” A woman with white hair walked up beside me as the spray from the rough sea misted my face.


“Yes.” I turned and smiled. The woman looked to be a few years older than my sixty-eight-year-old mother; unlike my mother, however, who simply could not or would not understand the grief that haunted my every waking moment, this woman looked at me with compassion and understanding. “It’s a little rougher than I like my ferry rides, but beautiful all the same. My name is Kelly. Kelly Green. I’m afraid I can’t immediately place you, but I feel like we’ve met.”


“We have met, although it has been a long time since we’ve seen each other. About twenty years, to be more specific.”


My brows shot upward. “Dottie Pemberton?”


The woman smiled and offered her hand.


“Wow.” I reached out and hugged the woman. “I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you. It’s just that…”


“It’s just that the fifty-two-year-old woman you remember looked a bit differently from the seventy-two-year-old woman standing before you today.”


“Yes.” I stepped back. “I mean, no. I mean, sure, your hair is different, and I guess we all have a few more laugh lines, but still…” I realized I was rambling, so I stopped and hugged the woman again. “How are you?”


“I’m as well as can be expected. I was sorry to hear about Kayla.”


My smile faded just a bit. The death of my twin sister and best friend still hurt almost more than I could bear. I’d tried to do as others seemed to want and hide my pain, but no matter how hard I tried, the simplest thing—a song, a scent, a memory—would remind me just how much I’d lost, and the grief would return in a wave that would envelop me and then cast me into a sea of darkness once again.


“I guess it must have been extra hard with her in a coma for so long and not knowing how things would work out in the end,” Dottie added after a moment.


She had no idea. In reality, Kayla had died a year ago, when a distracted driver had slammed into the car she was driving, but while everyone assured me that her mind was gone, her body had lived on, and as long as she clung to life, I’d clung to hope. Then, two months ago, her distraught husband decided to pull the plug and let her go peacefully, and I knew that my life would never be the same.


“How’ve you been holding up?” Dottie asked. She looked concerned, which I supposed was understandable because I hadn’t said a word since the moment she’d brought up Kayla’s name. “I do understand how difficult something like this can be. I suppose it is even possible to lose ourselves in our grief.”


I cringed as I remembered the random acts of craziness that had been brought on by my overwhelming grief. “It has been hard,” I finally said. “But I’m hanging in there. Some days are harder than others. Some days it doesn’t seem real. But I guess you might understand that. I heard your Harold passed away as well.”


“Yes. Three years ago. He was the love of my life, and I miss him every day.”


I squeezed her hand. “I’m so very sorry. Sometimes I think Kayla’s death would have been easier to deal with if she’d lived a good, long life before passing. Forty-two is much too young. She had so many things yet to do. She had a husband and two daughters who needed her, and she had me, who probably needed her most of all. But then I stop and ask myself if her passing would have been easier if she’d been seventy or eighty or a hundred, and I can’t help but be faced with the truth—when you lose half of your heart, it is going to hurt no matter how long you’ve had together on this earth.”


“It is true that losing someone you love is never easy. How are her husband and daughters holding up?”


I thought about the husband and daughters left behind. “It’s been hard, but the girls are in college now and live busy lives. The accident did occur a year ago, so I guess you could say they’ve had time to adjust. Mark was a mess in the beginning, but he seems to have moved on. He’s even dating.” I exhaled slowly. “Truth be told, I’m really the only one who hasn’t been able to let go. Everyone says I should. Everyone says the time for grieving has passed. But losing Kayla feels like losing half my soul.”


Dottie smiled in understanding but didn’t respond. She turned to watch a pair of dolphins who’d decided to race the ferry, or at least it seemed as if that was what they were doing. I took a moment to rein in my emotions. They still felt so raw, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that a huge cosmic mix-up had occurred, and Kayla wasn’t meant to die. Not only was she much too young, as I’d pointed out to whatever celestial body might be listening, but in dying, she’d broken a promise, and Kayla was the sort to take any promise she made quite seriously.


A small black bird landed on the railing, not far from where I was still standing next to Dottie. I closed my eyes as I let my mind transport me back in time. I felt the tension fade just a bit as the years fell away, and I conjured up a happier time. I thought about the two little girls who’d looked just the same. Two little girls who were not only sisters but best friends and soulmates as well. I remembered the promise made by those little girls, and I grieved for the hope that had been shattered when that promise was ultimately broken.


When Kayla and I were kids, I guess around six or seven, a friend of ours lost both her parents in an airplane accident. The tragedy was too great for either of us to understand, and I remember that we’d both had nightmares for weeks. The content of our dreams was somewhat different, but the subtext was much the same. We both dreamed of a dramatic event that would rip us from the life we loved, only to be thrust into an empty space, where we’d find ourselves lost and alone.


One night, long after we were supposed to be asleep, Kayla came into my room and climbed into my bed. She was shaking and crying, so I held her close while she shared the depths of the terror she’d been feeling since our friend had been orphaned. I’d been feeling it as well, but I wanted to comfort my sister, so I reminded her that no matter what happened, even if our parents died and we were left alone in the world, we’d always have each other. That reminder seemed to help both of us, so we’d made a pact that we’d always be there for each other, no matter what. We’d even promised to die on the same day, so neither of us would ever have to be alone. As absurd as that might sound, I think there might be a tiny part of me that was angry with Kayla for not upholding her part of the promise.


“So, what brings you to Shipwreck Island after all these years?” Dottie asked after a while.


I tucked a lock of long blond hair that had blown across my face behind my ear before answering. “Carrie Davidson invited me. I guess she had the idea of getting the whole gang together for a long-overdue reunion.”


“So Quinn and Nora are coming as well?”


I nodded. “They are. Carrie rented the summerhouse my family used to own for five weeks.”


“Five weeks. That’s quite the vacation.”


“I’m not sure I’ll stay for the entire period, but I did promise to show up and see how it went. Honestly, I may not have made the effort at all, but this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the summer Peggy went missing, and Carrie wanted to do something to commemorate the role she played in our lives.” I turned slightly as a seagull landed on the railing beside me, chasing away the small black bird that had occupied the space. “It’s not that I don’t want to remember her; it’s more that I’m afraid my already raw emotions aren’t going to be able to endure yet another reminder of what has been lost.”


“I remember you were close.”


“The closest. She was like a sister to us, and we never really had the chance to say goodbye. Given the fact that she simply disappeared and no one ever knew what had happened, her family never did hold a funeral. I guess they never gave up hope that she’d find her way back to them.”


Dottie didn’t respond, but I could tell that I had her full attention.


“Carrie thought it would be nice to have a small ceremony,” I continued. “Nothing formal. I think it will be just the four of us.”


“I guess it’s been quite a while since the four of you have been on the island at the same time.”


I nodded. “I was here for Carrie and Carl’s fifteenth anniversary party almost five years ago, but Kayla was on a cruise with her husband, so she didn’t make it, and Quinn was overseas doing a story, so she didn’t make it either. Kayla and I came for our birthday when we turned thirty, but Nora was in Europe, and Quinn was in Africa, so I think the last time we were all on the island together was for Carl and Carrie’s wedding. Wow, I had no idea it had been almost twenty years since we’d all been together.” Where had the time gone? “Of course, now that Kayla is gone, I guess we can never all be together again.”


My heart tightened as I thought of the six little girls who lived different lives but reunited each and every year when our families returned to their summer homes. Carrie’s family lived on the island year round, but Quinn, Nora, Peggy, and Kayla and I lived elsewhere during the school year. I remembered how much I’d looked forward to summering on the island. Those summers were some of the best times of my life. 


“I ran into Carrie at the market a few months ago. She’s lost a lot of weight,” Dottie informed me, changing the subject, which was very much appreciated given my fragile emotional state. “I’d wondered if she might be ill, but her mother told me that Carl had filed for divorce, and Carrie wasn’t dealing with things all that well. I guess I don’t blame her. I can’t imagine having the man you loved and planned to spend your life with decide that he preferred to spend his life with someone else.”


“It has been difficult for her,” I agreed. “I’ve chatted with her on the phone on a regular basis since Carl left, and she just seems so lost. I suppose it’s even worse when Jessica is away at college, and poor Carrie is living in that big, old house all alone. I suggested to her that she should sell the house and buy something smaller, but I think there has been a part of her that’s held on to the hope that Carl would come to his senses and return one day. Of course, now that the divorce is finalized, I guess she doesn’t even have that to hang on to.”


“I don’t know Carl well, but based on what I do know, I think Carrie might be better off without him. I’d noticed him noticing other women for years.”


I hated to admit it, but I’d noticed the same thing almost since the day the two married. “I couldn’t agree more,” I voiced. “Carrie really is better off without Carl, although I would never say that to her. I think she is still at the point where she is totally focused on what she’s lost and is not of the mind to consider what she may have gained with Carl’s departure.”


Dottie shielded her eyes from the sun as the ferry turned toward the island. “I ran into Ryder just last week, and he said pretty much the same thing. Based on what I’ve heard from others on the island, he’s been her rock through this whole ordeal.”


I smiled at the memory of Carrie’s little brother. “Ryder always did have his sister’s back, even though he was younger. Carrie told me he’s the mayor now.”


“Yes, and a darn good one he is. Much better than Mayor Hadley, may he rest in peace.”


I crossed my arms on the railing and looked out to sea. “I’m having a hard time picturing Ryder as mayor. When we were kids, he was such a pest and always in trouble. In fact, I think he was voted most likely to end up in prison by his senior class.”


Dottie chuckled. “He does have a colorful past, and he still tools around town on that Harley of his, but in my opinion, he has done more to bring growth and prosperity to the island than any of his predecessors. The boy might wear his hair a bit too long, and I’m not overly fond of the leather jacket he seems so attached to, but Ryder has vision, and he’s a hard worker. He has a promising future ahead of him.”


“Has he kept his veterinary practice open?”


“He has. Being mayor in a small town like Hidden Harbor is more of an honorary title than a source of income, so all our mayors have had day jobs. Ryder is still very committed to the animals he cares for, but now he is committed to the people of the island as well.”


I shook my head as I tried to picture Ryder West all grown up. I hadn’t run into him during my last two visits to the island, but I had seen him briefly at Carl and Carrie’s wedding almost twenty years before. Even then, he’d showed up in a leather vest and leather pants rather than the tux Carrie had picked out for him. Of course, he’d only been seventeen at the time, which meant he must be thirty-seven by now. I had to admit that most people matured quite a bit in the years between seventeen and thirty-seven.


“I guess you heard that Sheriff Renshaw retired after serving the community for forty years,” Dottie continued.


“No, I hadn’t heard,” I said, raising a brow. “I guess I should have expected as much. He must be well into his sixties now.”


“Sixty-nine. He first started working in law enforcement when he was just twenty-five, and he retired two years ago. He was a good man and a good cop who has been missed, although Sam Stone has done an excellent job as well since he took over the role.”


“Sam Stone is the sheriff?” I had to admit I was even more surprised to hear that than I had been to hear that Ryder West was now the mayor. I seemed to remember that Sam was two years older than I was, so I supposed he must be around forty-four by now. As a teen and young adult, he was very much a wild child, but as I’d already told myself once in the past five minutes, people did tend to change. “I think the last time I saw him was at Carl and Carrie’s wedding as well. I remember that he’d been traveling with a rock and roll band and was getting ready to head out on tour.”


“He did leave the island for almost a decade, but then he came back about ten years ago and joined the force as a deputy. He is a hard worker who is well-liked and highly regarded on the island, so when Renshaw decided to retire, he recommended Sam as his replacement. In my opinion, the lad has done an excellent job filling the very big shoes Renshaw left when he decided to move to Oklahoma.”


“Sheriff Renshaw moved to Oklahoma?”


She nodded. “I guess he has kin there.”


I looped my arm through Dottie’s. “You know, when I boarded this ferry, I had very mixed emotions about returning to Shipwreck Island and Hidden Harbor, but after chatting with you about the people I left behind, I find that I am very much looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the men and women who were such a huge part of my life as a child.” I paused to remember the fun Kayla and I’d had every summer when we were children. The friends we’d made, the trips we’d taken, and the little skip we’d used to learn to sail. “Does Old Man Brewster still run the marina?”


Dottie chuckled. “The old geezer is still policing the fishing boats, the same as he always has.”

“To be honest, I’m surprised he is even still alive. I seem to remember him being about a hundred when I was a kid.”


“Brew has lived his life in the sun, so he looked weathered and aged even when he wasn’t all that old. I think he is about eighty-five now. But he is a young eighty-five. Not only does he have the energy of a man half his age, but he is just as ornery as he ever was.”


I grabbed onto the railing as the ferry made a sharp turn. I could see the island in the distance and suspected we’d be docking within the next twenty minutes. “One of the things I really love about Shipwreck Island is the fact that, while many leave within a few years of moving there, those who stay tend to stay for the duration.”


“That’s true. We do have our share of old-timers. Of course, with the bump in tourism that we’ve seen in the last decade, the number of young families moving to the island has grown significantly as well. I guess you must have noticed all the new housing when you were here five summers ago.”


“Actually, my trip five years ago was a quick one. I came over on the ferry on Friday afternoon, attended the anniversary party Saturday, and then went home on Sunday. I didn’t have the time or opportunity to really look around.”


“Well, you’ll need to take the time during this visit. I think you will be surprised at the changes to both sides of the island in the last ten years.”


A voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that the ferry was preparing to dock.


“It’s been really good catching up with you, but it sounds like we should head down to the car deck. Let’s do lunch while I’m on the island,” I suggested.


“I’d like that very much.”


“Do you have a cell? I can text you my number.”


Dottie nodded. “I do have a cell, but I left it in the glove box of my car. If you text me your number, I’ll text you back, and we can arrange something.”


She recited her number, and I added her to my contacts and texted my number to her right then and there. I knew from prior experience that if I didn’t do it now, I’d most likely forget all about it. We both decided to head down to the car deck, so we chatted as we climbed down the steep stairway to the lower level.


Once the ferry docked, I got in line and followed the cars onto Shipwreck Island. The island was surrounded by deep water that allowed even the largest ships to pull right up to the docks that had been built in key locations over the years. Prior to the island being inhabited, the area had seen more than its share of shipwrecks. Based on what I remembered of local history, there had been more than one cargo ship heading up the coast that had failed to see the landmass in the fog and plowed right into it. Of course, now every ship had sonar, GPS, and various other warning systems. Additionally, the island currently boasted six lighthouses, so it had been at least a century since the island had claimed any new victims.


There were two main towns on the island, which was conveniently located off the coast of Central California. Sea Haven was on the east side of the island and closest to the ferry terminal, while Hidden Harbor was on the west side and accessible only by sea or a narrow road that climbed up over the mountain at its center. Due to the small size of the island, the mountain acted as a natural barrier that tended to keep the two communities separate.


The drive up and over the mountain was gorgeous. The meadows were green and dotted with wildflowers, and the rivers ran full after the steady spring rain. When Kayla and I were children, our family lived in San Francisco, where our father worked as a business banker, and our mother ran a charitable foundation. Both our parents worked a lot of hours, but every June, as soon as school let out, our parents would close up the house in Pacific Heights, and we’d all pile into the van to make the trip to Shipwreck Island for the summer. Mom had a busy social life on the island, and Dad continued to work remotely, but the time we spent in the summerhouse as a family was priceless in my mind.


As I arrived at the summit of Sunset Mountain, I could see the town of Hidden Harbor tucked into the harbor for which it was named. Hidden Harbor was settled by rich families from the city, so although the area was remote, the town and the homes surrounding it reflected the opulent lifestyle of its upper-class residents. As I wound my way down the narrow mountain road, I found my anxiety level increasing with each passing mile.


I really was excited about seeing my friends, but the idea of staying in the same house where I’d spent summers with Kayla left me feeling agitated in a way I couldn’t quite explain. When Carrie had first invited me to the island, I assumed she was inviting me to stay with her in her large home, but after I accepted the invite, she’d sprung it on me that she needed to get away from the walls she felt were closing in on her and had rented the same beachside home my family used to own. While she admitted to feeling better about the choice of location for our reunion, the thought of spending time in the home where I’d once been so happy almost caused me to hyperventilate.


I would admit, however, that the summer home my father designed was pretty awesome. Set on one of the nicest beaches on the island, the views were amazing from every window. When I’d lived there as a child, the home featured four bedrooms and five baths, but the investor who’d purchased the house from my mother after my father’s death had converted the huge suite on the third floor into two, still large but smaller suites.


The second floor of the home featured three bedrooms, all with private balconies overlooking the sea, while the first floor housed a huge kitchen, formal dining and living areas, family and game rooms, two bathrooms, an office, and laundry facilities.


The town of Hidden Harbor, often referred to as the village, was elegant but compact. The village was located behind the harbor, which I supposed made sense because rich men and women who docked their yachts in the harbor for a few days could simply walk into the small commercial area that featured upscale shopping, elegant restaurants, and eclectic bars.


I slowed as I approached the outskirts of the town. I knew I’d need to watch for a fork in the road. The village was to the left, while the summerhouse of my youth was to the right. I wasn’t entirely certain when Carrie planned to arrive, but it was a beautiful, sunny day, so I supposed that if I got to the house first, I’d take a walk along the beach while I waited for her.


“It looks just the same,” I whispered to Kayla as I turned onto the coast road and headed north. “The white sand beach, the sapphire blue sea, the rolling waves, and the endless sky. All of it exactly as we remembered.”


My mother hated it when I talked to Kayla, insisting that I really did need to find a way to let her go, but I knew in my soul that I would never let go of this relationship with the sister who shared my heart.


“I’m excited to see the gang, but I’m also terrified that I won’t be able to handle the memories created by staying in the same house where we lived as children. God, I wish you were here. I wish you could see what I see and feel what I feel. I wish we could sit and chat late into the night the way we used to.”


I wiped a tear from my cheek and forcefully steered my thoughts toward something a bit less emotional. As I drove farther toward the north shore of the island, the empty space between the homes increased, giving the area a desolate feel. Many residents moving to the island wanted to be closer to town, which meant the farther from town you traveled, the more sparsely populated the beachfront property became. The house my family used to own was the last one on the coast road. I didn’t know if anyone had built on either side of it since I’d last visited, but when I was a child, the house stood alone along the northernmost point of the white sand beach.


After arriving at my destination, I stopped to consider the house. It had been a pale yellow when we’d lived there. Now it was sky blue. I liked it. The shutters had been painted a dark gray that contrasted nicely with the white trim, and there was a white screened-in porch. It looked as if someone had installed a new roof as well. The silver Mercedes in the drive informed me that Carrie had arrived. I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad about that, but it was what it was, so I opened the door of my Porsche and stepped out into the drive.


“Kelly!” Carrie yelled as she ran out of the house and onto the drive. “I can’t believe you’re actually here.”


“I can’t believe it either.” I hugged her back.


She pulled away just a bit. “Let me look at you. It’s been so long, but you look just the same.”


I smiled. “I don’t know about that, but I will admit that I haven’t updated my look in ages.” I dug my fingernails into my hand to stop the tears pooling in the corners of my eyes. “You look fabulous and so different. I guess you went the opposite route and changed everything.”


She laughed. “Divorce will do that to you. After Carl left, I looked in the mirror and decided I wanted to change everything about myself. I lost thirty pounds, bleached my brown hair blond, cut it short, and even got blue contacts. Now, when I look in the mirror, I no longer see the frumpy, outdated woman Carl couldn’t wait to replace, but a new woman he most definitely would have looked twice at had we not already been married.”


I supposed I understood why Carrie might want an entirely new look after her husband of twenty years dumped her for a younger woman, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw not only my old, familiar image but Kayla as well. I knew that I would cling to that for as long as I could and wouldn’t change a single thing about my look, no matter how outdated my long hair and simple style became.


“Grab your stuff, and we can choose rooms,” Carrie said. “Personally, I think the two of us should settle into the two larger suites on the third floor. Initially, I felt greedy claiming one of the larger suites as my own, but then I remembered that I was the one who did all the planning for this event, so I deserved one of the larger suites.”


“I agree. You do deserve one of the larger suites.” I thought about my old bedroom on the second floor, and the Jack and Jill bathroom that connected my room to Kayla’s. Part of me wanted to stay in my old room, but another realized that taking a room on the newly remodeled third floor would be a lot easier on my emotions. “And I’ll take the second of the two third-floor suites, as you suggested. I always wished my bedroom, rather than my parents, was up there when I was a kid.”


After we stowed my luggage in the suite, we headed out onto the back deck that overlooked the sea. Carrie poured us each a glass of wine, which I welcomed after the emotional day I’d had to this point. It would be good to relax with old friends. Maybe by visiting the past, I could begin to heal in the present.


“I’ve been struggling with what to say or not say about Kayla,” Carrie said once we’d settled in with our wine. “I’m sure you must be hurting, and part of me feels like it might be easiest for you if everyone just avoids bringing up her name, but Kayla was a huge part of all our lives, and it feels unnatural not to bring her into the conversation.”


I reached over and grabbed Carrie’s hand. “It’s okay to talk about her. I can’t promise I won’t get teary when someone does, but she was part of the Summer Six in the past, and she will continue to be part of the Summer Six into the future.”


“Even if the Summer Six is now only four?” she asked about the six girls who had formed a club of sorts.


“Even if. We didn’t stop talking about Peggy even after she…” After she what? I asked myself. After she ran away, after she was kidnapped, after she died? The not knowing was the worst part.


“After she was no longer a part of our lives,” Carrie supplied. “And yes, you are correct, we didn’t stop talking about her. In fact, in the beginning, we talked about her more than we ever had before. It’s just that…”


“It’s just that you are being sensitive of my feelings,” I provided. “And I appreciate that. But Kayla is gone, and that’s something I need to learn to live with. Maybe if I talk about her enough, eventually, it won’t hurt quite so much to do so.” Even as I said that, I knew it wasn’t true, but one could hope. “When are Nora and Quinn getting here?”


“Quinn is flying in from Paris and wasn’t sure about all the connections, so she didn’t have an ETA, though she said she’d be getting into San Francisco tomorrow, or possibly even the following day. I guess she’ll make arrangements for the ferry over to the island once she arrives.”


“So she probably won’t be here until Monday at least.”


“That would be my guess. You know how busy she is. I’m just grateful she agreed to take any time off at all.”


Diana “Quinn” Quinby was a foreign correspondent for United Press International and traveled extensively. Although I hadn’t seen her in years, I did chat with her on the phone every couple of months, and it seemed she lived an interesting life.


“And Nora?”


“Nora had to postpone her arrival and won’t make it to the island until next week as well,” Carrie continued. “I’m guessing Thursday or even Friday.”


“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?” Nora was married, with four grown children. She’d married her one true love, Matt Hargrove, right out of high school. Of all the couples I knew, they, it seemed, were the most perfectly suited.


“Shelby has been having some sort of issue with her college admissions packet, and Nora decided to make the trip out to Massachusetts to get it worked out in person. You know Nora; when it comes to those children of hers, a phone call won’t do.”


“I heard Shelby had been accepted to Harvard. That is really something. Nora must be over the moon with pride and happiness.”


Carrie gently nibbled on her lower lip in what seemed to be a nervous habit. “You would think that Nora would be ecstatic that not only has Shelby actually achieved her dream of going to Harvard but, now that she will be going off to college, Matt and Nora would finally have the house to themselves. But when I spoke to her, she didn’t seem happy. She seemed frantic and nervous and sort of sad.”


“Sad?”


“I get the empty nest thing,” Carrie shared. “I began to have all sorts of stress-related issues the moment Jessica started applying to colleges, and then, when she actually left the house where we’d raised her for the last time, I broke down and wept, despite the fact that I knew she’d be back for Christmas break. But I sensed something more than empty nest syndrome from Nora. Shelby is her youngest, and she has said goodbye to three other children. Still, I suppose the last one to leave home is the hardest.”


“I guess we can talk to her to see what’s on her mind when she gets here,” I suggested.


“Yes, we can. I can’t wait until we are all together again.”


“I’m excited to see everyone, but sitting here relaxing with you is nice, too,” I said. “I’d forgotten how blue the sea is along this stretch of beach.”


“It is something special,” she agreed. “I always did think this was the prettiest stretch of coastline on the island. I’ve even thought of buying one of the little cottages down the road after I sell my house.”


“You’re selling your house? That’s great. When I spoke to you last, you sounded like you weren’t ready to make the break.”


She nodded. “I used to love that house, but part of my new life, new me plan includes a new living space. I still want to be on the water, but I want something small that I can maintain with minimal effort. I haven’t definitely decided to move to this end of the island because there are advantages to being close to the village, but I have definitely decided to sell the house. Carl is having a fit about that, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t care. I got the house in the divorce settlement, so it is mine to do with as I please.”


I held up my glass in a toast. “Good for you. I love your new life, new you mantra. I think it is exactly the attitude you need to move past this and get on with whatever the future holds.”

Carrie clicked her glass with mine. “I was a total wreck for a long time, but I really do feel better with each day that passes. I actually feel excited to see what comes next for me.” Her phone buzzed. She looked at the caller ID. “It’s a text from Jessica, letting me know that she made it to France.”


“Jessica is in France?”


Carrie nodded. “I’d hoped she’d spend the summer here on the island, but she insisted that she’d made plans with a friend to tour Europe. I know it’s been hard on her since Carl and I split up, so I didn’t really blame her for not wanting to hang out in the war zone, but I sure do miss her. Now that Carl is no longer in my life, I feel sort of empty.”


“I’m sure that will get better with time.”


“I’m sure it will.” She smiled. “In fact, it already has. Since it is just the two of us tonight, should we head into the village to see if we can break some hearts?”


I laughed. “I don’t know about the breaking hearts part, but I’d love to have dinner in the village. Is Danello’s still there?”


“It is, and they still have the best Italian food you are going to get anywhere.”


“It’s been forever since I allowed myself that many carbs, but I’m game if you are.”


“Oh, I’m game.” Carrie stood up. “Just let me change, and we’ll go.”

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The Mystery Before Christmas

 

 

 

Book 2 in my new A Cat in the Attic series publishes on November 12th. I am really loving this series and hope you will as well. I’ve included a description and sample chapter below.

 

Description:

After a serious accident leaves Calliope Rose Collins unable to continue with the career that has owned her soul for most of her life, she returns to Foxtail Lake, Hollister House, Great Aunt Gracie, and childhood friend, Officer Cass Wylander, where she begins to rebuild her life from the ashes of what she once had.

In book 2 of The Cat in the Attic series – In addition to the time she spends at the animal shelter, Callie has a new sideline writing human interest stories for the regional newspaper. It is a job she loves and hopes to grow until she is asked to reveal the man behind the mask when Secret Santa comes to town and begins committing random acts of kindness.

Meanwhile, Cass has a new murder to solve, Gracie has gone crazy with the decorations, and Naomi’s friend Hancock comes to town. https://amzn.to/2CplW1l

 

Chapter 1

“He moves softly through the night, unseen and unheard, leaving gifts for those in need, while the residents of snowy Foxtail Lake slumber beneath blankets piled high to ward off the chill of a Rocky Mountain winter.” I turned and looked at the cat I’d been reading aloud to. “What do you think? Too flowery?”

“Meow.”

“Yeah, maybe I should back off the descriptors a bit. It’s just that I want to grab my readers right from the beginning. Maybe I should just say something like: ‘Secret Santa strikes again,’ and then talk about the gifts.” I paused to consider this. “Honestly, most of the gifts have been delivered by means other than late-night drop-offs, but the imagery of Santa lurking around in the middle of the night is a lot more appealing than the imagery created by a wheelchair being delivered by UPS.” I glanced out the window at the falling snow. The little room at the top of the house felt cozy and warm, and it was this feeling I wanted to bring to my readers. I glanced down at my laptop and began to simultaneously type and speak once again. “Not only has the mysterious gift giver, known only as Secret Santa, been busy doling out random acts of kindness to the town’s residents, but he also seems to understand exactly what each gift recipient needs. Billy Prescott received a new wheelchair after his mother backed over his old one; Connie Denton was gifted a down payment on the diner where she’d worked for over twenty years and hoped to buy from her boss when he retired and moved off the mountain; Gilda Frederickson found a gift card for a winter’s worth of snow shoveling services in her purse after word got out that she’d broken her hip; and Donnie Dingman walked out onto his drive to find a used four-wheel-drive vehicle so he could get to his doctor’s appointments even when it snowed. Some are calling this anonymous gift giver an angel come to earth during this holiest of seasons, while others are certain the late-night Samaritan actually is Santa Clause himself.” I looked at the cat. “Better?”

The cat jumped down off the desk where he’d been sitting and watching me work, and headed toward the attic window, which was cheerily draped with white twinkle lights. Apparently, my honorary editor was done listening to my drivel for the day. I supposed I didn’t blame him. It did seem like I was trying too hard to find the perfect words to describe the phenomenon that had gripped my small town for the past several weeks.

I got up from the desk and joined the cat on the window seat. It felt magical to sit in the window overlooking the frozen lake as fresh snow covered the winter landscape. Great-aunt Gracie had strung colorful lights on one of the fir trees in the yard, bringing the feel of the season to the frozen landscape. Combined with the white lights draped over every shrub outdoors, and the white lights I’d strung around the window and along the ceiling of the attic, it felt like I was working in a magical fairyland.

“Maybe instead of a whimsical piece filled with artful words, I should do more of a hard-hitting expose,” I suggested to the cat. “Everyone knows about the mystery person who has been gifting the citizens of Foxtail Lake with the exact gifts they need the most, but no one knows who he is. Maybe I, Calliope Rose Collins, should work to unmask the Good Samaritan. I know the people he has helped with his good deeds would welcome the chance to thank him. He really is changing lives. He deserves recognition for that.”

“Meow.” The cat began to purr loudly as he crawled onto my lap. I gently stroked his head as I considered the past two months and the changes I’d seen in my own life.

Two months ago, I’d come back to Foxtail Lake after a terrible accident had shattered my world. At the time, I was a broken woman simply looking for somewhere to lick my wounds, but in the two months I’d been here, not only had I finally begun to accept my new situation, but I’d made quite a few strides in my effort to reinvent my life as well. While my years as a concert pianist would always hold a special place in my heart, I loved volunteering at the Foxtail Lake Animal Shelter, and I adored my new career as a columnist for the local newspaper, a role I’d earned after I’d helped my childhood friend, Cass Wylander, solve not only a present-day murder but the twenty-year-old murder of my best friend, Stella Steinmetz, as well. After the case was solved, I wrote about my experience, the local newspaper picked it up, and as they say, the rest is history. The article was so well received that I’d been offered a weekly column to fill with whatever subject matter I chose.

Unfolding myself from the window, I crossed the room and sat back down at the old desk that I’d shoved into the center of the attic to use as my temporary office. The article on Secret Santa would be the fourth article I’d written for the newspaper. The first article on Stella’s murder had been published in mid-November, followed by an article about the missing dogs from the animal shelter where I volunteered, and then an investigative piece relating to the controversy surrounding the misappropriation of the funds which should have been earmarked to pay for the annual tree lighting which was due to run this week. The stories I wrote weren’t the hard-hitting exposes a real investigative reporter might pen, but I had helped Cass find Stella’s killer, I had found the missing dogs and the man who took them, and I had found the cleverly disguised missing money after it was announced the annual tree lighting would be canceled due to a lack of funds.

Of course, Cass had helped with Stella’s murder and the missing dogs. He would probably have been happy to help with the missing funds as well, but that story broke right about the same time Buford Norris turned up dead. Buford was an ornery sort who tended to drink too much, so after his body was found buried beneath the snow, most people just assumed he’d passed out and froze to death. But Cass wasn’t quite as sure as some of the other town folk were that Buford had passed out on his own. Investigating the man’s death as possible foul play wasn’t sitting well with the sheriff or the mayor, but Cass was a conscientious sort who wasn’t going to close a case based on a maybe.

“Is Paisley coming for a piano lesson today?” Great-aunt Gracie called up the stairs.

“She is,” I called back down the stairs of the large lakefront home I’d grown up in. “Anna has dance after school, so her mother can’t give Paisley a ride home. I was planning to pick her up.”

“I’m going to run to the market. I can pick her up if you’d like.”

“That’d be great.”

Paisley Holloway was our ten-year-old neighbor who was living with her grandmother after her mother passed just before Thanksgiving. Gracie and I were doing what we could to help out since the grandmother had her own health issues to deal with. Most days, Paisley got a ride to and from school with her friend, Anna, but on the days Anna’s mother was unable to provide a ride, Gracie or I picked her up from school. On the days we picked her up, we usually brought her here to the house, helped her with her homework, and generally did what we could to make things easier for everyone involved. It really was a terrible situation. One that no ten-year-old should have to live through. I’d lost my parents when I was young as well, so I knew better than most how important it was to have a safe harbor in the storm.

“Is Alastair up there with you?” Aunt Gracie called after a few minutes had passed.

I looked at the longhaired black cat who’d jumped back onto the desk next to me. “He is.”

“Okay, make sure he doesn’t get out. There is a big storm blowing in, and I wouldn’t want him to get trapped out in it.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” I called. I supposed I should have gotten up and headed downstairs when Gracie first called up since it would have cut down on all the yelling back and forth. “Just send Paisley up when you get back. Alastair and I are working on next week’s column.”

“Okay. If you see Tom, let him know that dinner will be at six tonight.”

Tom Walden was Gracie’s groundskeeper, although, in reality, he was so much more. He’d lived on the property with Gracie for more than forty years. Tom and Gracie were friends, good friends who shared their lives. Sometimes I wondered if they weren’t something more.

Once Gracie left, I returned my attention to the blank page in front of me. I had to admit the idea of Secret Santa intrigued me. Not only because this particular Santa had already spent tens of thousands of dollars gifting deserving citizens with items they needed but would be unable to buy on their own, but also because he’d been doing it for almost four weeks and so far no one had figured out who he was. There were theories, of course. A lot of them. Based on the monetary value of the gifts, it seemed pretty obvious the Secret Santa was someone of means. Though our town was small, and those who’d lived here for a lifetime tended not to be the sort to acquire a large amount of wealth, the town did tend to attract more than its share of retirees, many of whom were quite wealthy when they arrived. Since I was suddenly determined to identify Secret Santa in my column, I started a list of possible “suspects” after considering the monetary outlay.

The first name to come to mind was Carolyn Worthington. Carolyn was an heiress who’d lived in Boston until two years ago when her only child, a son in his forties, had died in an accident. Shattered to her core, she realized she needed a complete change, so she bought an estate on the east shore of the lake and then quickly made friends by volunteering in the community. Carolyn was quick to share her wealth and had given a lot of money away in the past, which made her both a good and a poor candidate for Secret Santa. If Carolyn was doing the good deeds, then why the sudden secrecy? Still, given her wealth and her altruistic nature, she was on the top of most of the suspect lists in town.

Then there was Haviland Hargrove, a lifelong Foxtail Lake resident whose grandfather had struck it rich during the gold rush of the nineteenth century. Haviland wasn’t as naturally altruistic as Carolyn, but he certainly had the means to buy everything that had been purchased and then some. He was a man in his early eighties, so perhaps he’d decided to spread his wealth around a bit before he passed on.

Dean and Martin Simpson were brothers who’d made a fortune in the software industry. The men lived together in a mansion set in the center of a gated estate. Neither had ever married nor had children and while they didn’t go out and socialize a lot, they were pleasant enough and had several good friends in the community, including my friend, Cass, who played poker with them twice a month. Cass didn’t think that Dean and Martin were our Secret Santas, but I wasn’t so sure about that.

There were a handful of other locals with the means to do what was being done. I supposed that once I developed my list, I’d just start interviewing folks. Someone must know something that would point me in the right direction. I supposed there would be those who would think I should leave well enough alone, and perhaps they would be right, but after stumbling across a really juicy mystery like this one, anyone who knew me knew I was prone to follow the clues to the end.

“Anyone home?” Tom called.

I got up and walked to the top of the stairs. “I’m here. Aunt Gracie went to the market. She said to tell you that dinner will be at six.”

“That should work. Did she happen to say what she wanted me to do with the tree ornaments she had me pick up while I was in Lakewood?”

I decided to head down the stairs rather than continuing this conversation as a yelling match. “She didn’t say. I’m surprised she wanted additional ornaments. We have boxes of them in the attic.”

“I guess these are special. Custom made. I’ll just leave them on the dining table for now.”

I glanced out the open door at the darkening sky, mindful of Gracie’s warning about not letting Alastair out. “I’m sure that is fine. Let me lock the cat in the den, and I’ll help you carry everything in.”

“I’d appreciate that. It seems your aunt has gone decorating crazy this year.”

I looked around the house, which was already decked out with garland, candles, wreaths, and bright red bows. She really had outdone herself. When I’d asked her about it, she’d mumbled something about wanting the place to be cheerful for Paisley, but truth be told, I think she was just happy to have others in the house to celebrate with this year.

“As far as you know, are we still getting the tree this week?” I asked Tom after we headed out into the frigid afternoon.

“As far as I know. If this storm dumps as much snow as it is calling for, then I’m afraid her plan to go into the forest to cut a tree might have to be altered. Walter has some nice ones in his lot. I took a look while I was there to pick up the branches Gracie wanted for the mantle.”

“I would think a tree from Walter’s lot would be just fine. If we can cut one, we will, but if not, we’ll work together to sell Gracie on the tree lot idea.” I picked up the first of five boxes in the back of Tom’s truck. “I’m really happy she is enjoying the holiday so much this year, but I’m afraid she is going to overdo. Not only has she gone crazy decorating, but she signed up to be the co-chair for the Christmas in the Mountains event as well.”

“Your aunt has a lot of energy. I’m sure she’ll be fine. We just need to be sure to help out as much as we can.”

“I guess.”

“Gracie wants you to have the perfect Christmas. Like the ones the two of you shared when you were younger. This is important to her.”

I glanced up at the sky filled with snow flurries as I started toward the house. “It’s important to me as well, and I do plan to help out as much as I can. Of course, researching Secret Santa is going to keep me busy. I think I’ve pretty much decided to focus on figuring out who Secret Santa is rather than the gifts he has delivered. You haven’t heard anything have you?”

Tom set his box on the table next to mine, and we both turned around to go for the next load.

“Everyone seems to have an opinion, but I haven’t heard that anyone has come up with any proof as to the identity of Secret Santa if that is what you are asking. The guys down at the lodge think it might be Fisher.”

I raised a brow. “Ford Fisher? Why do the guys think it’s him? As far as I know, the man isn’t rich.” Ford Fisher used to own one of the pubs in town before it sold, so I imagined he’d done okay in terms of saving for retirement, but I doubted he had tens of thousands of dollars to give away.

“I think Ford might have more stashed away than one might think. There is a lot of money in alcohol, and Ford has lived simply for much of his life. In my mind, he doesn’t have the right temperament to be Secret Santa, but he has been acting oddly lately, which is why I think the guys at the lodge suspect him.”

We headed back to the house with the second load of boxes. “Acting oddly, how?” I wondered.

“Secretive. Evasive. He hasn’t shown up at the lodge in weeks, and when some of the guys went by his place to see if he was okay, he told them he was fine but didn’t even invite them in. I’ve called him several times, even left messages, but he hasn’t called me back.”

“Sounds like he might be depressed. Do you know if he suffers from depression?” I set my box next to the others on the table.

“Not that I know of. Ford’s always been a real social sort. Other than those few times when he was too hungover to make it to the lodge, he’s pretty much been there every Wednesday and Friday since I’ve been going. Not that I go every week. Sometimes Gracie and I do something, but Ford is a real regular.”

“It sounds like you and your friends might be right to be worried about him. I’d continue to check on him if he doesn’t start coming around. Having said that, in my mind, his overall mood doesn’t seem to have a Secret Santa feel.”

Tom headed back out for the final box. I tagged along after him in spite of the fact there was just one box left to fetch.

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “The idea of him being Secret Santa doesn’t sit quite right with me either. I hope he isn’t ill. He didn’t say he was feeling poorly, but that could explain his absences.”

“Wasn’t Ford friends with Buford?” I asked. “Maybe he is just missing the guy.”

“Maybe,” Tom agreed. “Ford and Buford went at it like two old junkyard dogs most of the time, but in the end, I guess you could say they were friends. Best friends even. I don’t suppose Cass has proven one way or another what happened to Buford.”

I shook my head. “On the one hand, Buford had been drinking on the night he died and could very well have wandered out into the blizzard, passed out, and froze to death. On the other hand, Buford had a bump on his head that looked as if it had been inflicted by someone hitting him with a heavy object.”

“Could he have hit his head when he passed out?” Tom asked.

“He could have, but the position his body was found in and the location of the bump doesn’t tend to support that theory. Of course, Buford could have bumped his head earlier in the day, and the fact that he had a knot the size of a jawbreaker doesn’t necessarily mean that injury was enough to cause him to fall to the ground in a state of unconsciousness. At this point, Cass is following the idea that Buford was hit on the head, blacked out, and then froze to death. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see where his investigation ends up. I’m sure if Buford simply passed out on account of all the alcohol he drank, that scenario will float to the surface at some point.” I looked up as the sound of a car approaching permeated the still air. “That must be Gracie. Paisley will be with her. Maybe we can talk about this some more over dinner.”

“That’d be fine. The truth as to what happened to Buford has been weighing on my mind. It’d be nice to know one way or the other.”

“Yes,” I agreed. It would be nice to know for certain what had caused a man who’d lived here for most of his life to simply perish in an early but not all that spectacular storm. I knew the mayor was pushing the idea that Buford’s death was nothing more than a terrible accident. I supposed I didn’t blame him. The town was just beginning to recover from the murder of twelve-year-old Tracy Porter. If it was determined that Buford had been murdered as well, it would most definitely bring back the fear and paranoia that had permeated the town after Tracy’s death. Cass wasn’t the sort to simply grasp onto the easy answer; he was the sort to want nothing short of the truth. Sometimes I wondered if his dogged commitment to following his instincts rather than the dictate of his boss was going to get him fired. I supposed that it was more important to Cass to be true to his convictions than it was to keep the job he seemed to do better than anyone else did. I supposed I really admired him for that. In fact, the more I got to know Deputy Cass Wylander, the more convinced I was that my childhood friend had grown into a man I could not only respect but grow to love if I was interested in that sort of thing, which I wasn’t.

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A Cat in the Attic Mystery

I’m superexcited about my new series that launches on September 3rd. The Cat in the Attic is a series about starting again when everything you’d spent a lifetime working for is suddenly ripped from your grasp. I’ve included the first chapter of book 1 – The Curse of Hollister House. I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I am enjoying writing it.

 

 

Preorder today: https://amzn.to/2TU72I1 

How is one to start again after losing the one thing that speaks to your heart and fuels your passion?

After a serious accident leaves Calliope Rose Collins unable to continue with the career that has owned her soul for most of her life, she returns to Foxtail Lake, Hollister House, and Great Aunt Gracie, only to find, childhood friend, Officer Cass Wylander, knee deep in a murder mystery involving a twelve year old girl who died in the exact same manner as Callie’s best friend Stacy had died twenty years prior. Callie is certain the two deaths must be linked, but Cass has a suspect in custody and the Chief of Police wants the case closed in order to get the mayor off his back, so in spite of the fact that Callie is certain that they have the wrong man, it looks like the case will be closed. Callie knows that she owes it to both victims to find the truth, so she decides to look into things on her own, giving her not only a way to fill her days, but a means of renewing her passion.

Join Cass and Callie, along with Alastair the cat, as they seek out the hidden truths that will allow them to see what no one else seems to be willing too.

 

 

Chapter 1 

When I was a little girl, I would sit with my cat high up in the attic window overlooking the lake, dreaming the dreams only little girls can imagine. I’d plot adventures and weave enchanted tales as the seasons turned and the years unwound. It was a magical time, filled with possibilities that existed only in my mind. I’d imagined fairies in the forest, mermaids in the lake, and gnomes in the garden. As a child sitting in that window, nothing had seemed impossible, but as a broken adult sitting in the same window a quarter century later, I had to admit, if only to myself, that somewhere along the way, the magic I’d once believed in, had died along with my dreams.

“Callie, are you up there in the attic?” Great-Aunt Gracie called up the stairs.

“Yes, Aunt Gracie,” I called back.

“Is Alastair up there as well?”

I glanced at the black cat sitting in the window next to me. “He is.”

“I’m going to run to the market to pick up something for dinner. Is there something you’d prefer?”

I’d lost my appetite about the same time I’d lost my reason for living, but I supposed I did have to eat. “Anything is fine.”

“Okay, dear. I won’t be long.”

I pulled the cat into my lap as Gracie drove away. I ran my fingers through his long black fur as I turned slightly and looked around the room, filled with boxes and discarded furniture from generations of Hollisters. As the last Hollister daughter, I knew the house, lakefront property, private dock, and groundskeeper’s cabin would one day be mine, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted it.

Setting the cat on the floor, I unfolded myself from the window. I wrote my name—Calliope Rose Collins—in the dust covering one of the tables that had been stored by some previous resident. I remembered doing the same thing as a child living in this house after my parents died, and somehow, in that moment, I felt connected to that child and the dreams she’d once held in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. I’d done my best to go after those dreams. To bring my fantasies into reality. But along the way, I’d learned that what we plan for and what we are destined to have don’t always line up.

Alastair darted under a sheet that was draped across an old sofa. I supposed if you were a cat, the attic was filled with all sorts of magical places to explore. I could hear him swatting at something beneath the covering as I wandered around the large space, opening boxes and sifting through the contents inside. When I was a child, the boxes and their contents had seemed like treasures. The old clothes left by ancestors long gone had provided hours of entertainment as I tried on each piece and let my imagination take me where it might. The old top hat had become a magician’s hat, the costume jewelry a queen’s dowry, and the yellowed wedding dress a ball gown. The books stored in the boxes had provided hours of escape, the old art supplies a creative outlet, and the old piano, which some ancestor had schlepped all the way up to the attic before I was even born, a window to my soul.

I’d found a safe haven in this attic. Not only had I found solace during a time when little could comfort me but I’d found meaning and passion for the one thing that had pierced my grief and mattered. Pausing, I turned and looked around the room, searching for the piano. I remembered the first time I’d stumbled across the fascinating device that would deliver wonderful music with the touch of a finger. I’d been enchanted from the first keystroke and had begged Gracie to teach me to play. And she had. She’d taught me the notes and how to read music, but it was the hours spent alone with the melodies that existed only in my imagination that cemented a love affair that I was sure would last a lifetime. I looked down at my hands. Using my right forefinger, I traced the long scar that ran down my left arm from elbow to wrist. I tried to move fingers that, at times, refused to cooperate. Everyone said I’d been lucky. Everyone said that it could have been so much worse. Everyone said that having a life without music was better than having no life at all.

They were wrong.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to move on. While the attic was dusty, crowded, and unorganized, I did appreciate that everyone that had lived in the house had left something of themselves behind. Even I’d left boxes of old toys and outgrown clothing when I’d moved away. I wondered why Aunt Gracie hadn’t just taken all this junk to the secondhand store, but I supposed if she did, some future resident of the house would be robbed of the opportunity to play dress up and spin tales of salty pirates and kidnapped princesses the way I had.

Longing pierced my heart as I opened a box of photos. I picked up an old Polaroid of my parents on their wedding day. They looked so happy, so optimistic about the future. My mother and I looked a lot alike. Dark hair, dark eyes, a petite frame barely reaching five feet in height. My father, in contrast, had been tall and blond. His blue eyes sparkled with happiness as he stared back at the photographer. I knew I’d joined the couple and created a family just ten months after the photo had been taken, and four years after that, the people I most depended on would be forever ripped from my life.

Setting the box of photos aside, I lifted the sheet in search of the cat. “Alastair,” I called.

“Meow,” he responded from across the room.

I turned and tried to home in on his exact location. There were a lot of objects for something as small as a cat to hide behind, so I started across the attic in the general direction of the meow. I supposed if I didn’t find him by the time Gracie returned, I’d just leave the door ajar and he’d find his own way out. I maneuvered carefully through sheet-covered furniture and dust-covered boxes, jumping involuntarily as I bumped into the dressmaker’s mannequin. I remember how terrified I’d been of the lifelike shape when I’d first seen it. As a four-year-old, I’d been sure the form came to life when no one was looking. Gracie had been patient with me, taking her time to convince me that the stuffed dressmaker’s tool wasn’t real. It had taken several months, but eventually, I stopped screaming every time I saw the dang thing.

Aunt Gracie’d always had a lot of patience. After my parents died I felt so alone in the world, but Gracie had taken her time with me. She’d tried very hard to make me feel at home in my new surroundings, but I never really had until she’d introduced me to the attic and the magic that could be found in the little room beneath the rafters. Old houses, with their history, their lifelines, and their curses, fascinated me. Despite the tragedy that seemed to be connected to my own family home, I loved the idea of longevity, and places where multiple generations shared a single space.
Pulling a sheet away from the portrait of my great-great-grandmother, Edwina Birmingham, I thought about my parents’ death and considered the family curse. Apparently, Edwina had seduced Jordan Hollister away from her best friend, Hester Stinson and, in retaliation, Hester, a purported witch, had laid a curse on the happy couple that had stipulated that any Hollister daughter born to Jordan and Edwina, or any daughter born to their descendants, would suffer the tragic and early loss of their beloved. Neither Jordan nor Edwina were concerned about the curse, because the couple had only one child, a son they named Samuel. Samuel married a woman named Anastasia, who he brought to live at Hollister House. Anastasia gave birth to twin daughters, Gwendolyn and Gracie.

Gracie, the younger of the twins, continued to live in the house but never married or had children. Gwendolyn moved to Denver, where she married a man named Richard Hastings. Richard fell to his death on the couple’s one-year anniversary, so Gwendolyn, who was pregnant with twins at the time of her husband’s death, moved home, where she delivered Phoebe and Penelope. On the twins’ second birthday, Gwendolyn died of a broken heart, leaving Gracie to raise her nieces.

Penelope never married or had children. She loved to travel and never seemed to stay put until an unfortunate encounter with a French artist, a hot Ferrari, and an ill-advised joy ride, ended in her death on a narrow country road just outside Paris.

My mother, Phoebe, unlike her twin, was the sort to settle in and plant roots. She married a man named Roderick Collins. Ten months after marrying, they had a daughter, me, and four years after that, Roderick and Phoebe were killed in an automobile accident. I supposed there were those who would argue that the tragic yet unrelated deaths of three Hollister women over five generations didn’t constitute the results of a curse, and perhaps they’d be right. But I also knew that things like curses weren’t to be trifled with. I was now the only Hollister offspring alive and of childbearing age to carry on the curse, if one existed. Whether or not the curse was real didn’t really matter; even if it was, I knew it would end with me.

Picking up the cat, I headed for the door. The dust in the attic was beginning to irritate my sinuses, so perhaps a walk out by the lake would help. I set Alastair on the floor after closing the door behind me and headed down the stairs. Stepping out of the house onto the lawn that grew from the edge of the front porch down to the waterline, I stood and watched the sun as it dipped toward the horizon. I placed a foot onto the garden path that led down to the dock. Gracie loved her garden. She’d always said her prizewinning flowers filled the space in her soul left by the children she’d never had. The winters were harsh here in the Colorado Rockies, but every spring Gracie coaxed her garden back to life, and every winter she tucked it in beneath a scattering of hay to protect the delicate plants.

After walking down the path lined with flowers in warm fall colors, I stood at the water’s edge. I closed my eyes and listened as the frogs, with their long-drawn-out calls, competed with the buzz created by insects hovering over the crystal-clear water. I thought of the lush gardens and magical fairyland I’d played in as a child. I thought of the wraparound deck where I’d rocked in the swing with Gracie’s cat, Archie, as I’d shared with him my hopes and dreams. When I’d left, I hadn’t planned to return to Foxtail Lake. I’d believed the answers to my dreams lay elsewhere. I couldn’t wait to leave the sleepy small town behind, but I had to admit I’d been happy here once. Perhaps with enough time I’d find the peace and solace I longed for within the walls of the Hollister family home, the way I’d found peace and solace within those same walls after my parents’ death.

Taking a deep breath, I lifted my face to the setting sun and allowed the warm evening air to wrap me in a warm hug. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life now that the career I’d poured my entire being into had come abruptly to an end. I’d worked so hard to get where I’d been, only to have it stripped from my hands by a drunk driver who never should have been on the road in the first place. While Gracie’d taught me to understand the keys and play simple songs, it was the years of relentless focus and practice that had helped me to perfect my gift until I’d managed to get it just right. By the time I’d graduated high school, I’d wanted nothing more than to focus on my music. Sharing the music in my soul with auditoriums filled with people who loved my melodies almost as much as I might seem like a lofty goal, but it was a dream I’d worked hard for, and had realized by my twenty-fourth birthday. It hadn’t been an easy life, and the hours of practice were long, but oh how I’d loved traveling to interesting places and meeting new people. I’d had a good life, a meaningful and complete life. Until…

I tried once again to flex the fingers on my left hand. I could move them, but the movements were slow and the range of motion limited. My doctor said that with a lot of hard work, maybe I’d regain the full use of the hand, but I knew in my soul that I’d never again have a chance to play at Carnegie Hall.

I blew out a breath, closed my eyes, and tried to refocus my mind. I knew that obsessing over what had happened would get me nowhere. Life, I’d decided, was cruel and unfair, but what was done was done, and nothing I could do would bring the music back to me. I opened my eyes and looked around at the peaceful setting. Glancing toward the caretaker’s cabin, I thought about Mr. Walden. He’d lived on the property since before I’d come to live here as a child. Gracie hadn’t mentioned him since I’d come slumping home with my tail between my legs two days ago, which made me wonder if he still lived on the property, or even if he was still alive. This was the first time I’d ventured from the house, so I supposed he might be around and I just hadn’t noticed.

I was about to head back inside when I heard sirens in the distance. That sound always transported me back to the accident in which my parents had died but I’d escaped with only minor injuries. I’d been told that being strapped in a car seat in the back seat had made all the difference, but there had been many occasions in those first painful years when I wasn’t certain that surviving had been a good thing.

“Quite the ruckus going on across the lake.”

I turned and smiled. “Mr. Walden.” I hugged the grizzly old man whose skin was a sort of leathery brown after a lifetime in the sun.

“I guess now that you’re all grown up, you can call me Tom.”

“Okay. Tom. How are you? I was wondering if you still lived on the property.”

“I’m fine. Been a while.”

I nodded. “It has. I know I should have come back for a visit sooner, but you know how it is.” I turned back toward the lake. The flash of lights from emergency vehicles could be seen against the darkening sky. “I wonder what’s going on.”

“I heard on the scanner that a body was found near the campground.”

I narrowed my gaze. “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know what happened?”

“There was talk of a bear. I guess we’ll see. The last time there was a bear attack it didn’t turn out to be a bear at all.”

“Like with Stella.”

“Exactly like with Stella,” Tom agreed.

Stella Steinmetz had been my best friend when I was in junior high. She’d disappeared while walking home from school one day. There were no clues to what had happened to her until her body was found weeks later in an unmarked grave. It appeared that she’d been attacked by a vicious animal, most likely a bear, but we all know that bears don’t bury their prey.

At the time of Stella’s disappearance I’d been devastated. Not only had she been my best friend, but the only reason she’d been walking alone, and probably the only reason she was attacked, was because we’d argued and I’d left school without waiting for her as I usually did. Yes, I was only twelve at the time, and I realize now, after years of counseling, that twelve-year-old friends tend to have spats, and I’d almost let the therapist convince me that her death wasn’t my fault, but there hadn’t been a day since Stella’s body was found that I hadn’t wished I’d done things differently.

They never did figure out who’d attacked her or why her face had been shredded the way it had been. They never figured out who had robbed a young girl on the cusp of womanhood of the life she’d been meant to have.

I turned when I heard a car in the drive. It was Gracie. I waved to her but didn’t make an effort to close the distance between us. I didn’t suppose I’d be able to learn any more than I already knew by standing there watching the lights in the distance, but somehow, I found myself unable to walk away.

“Looks like another girl has died,” Tom said to Gracie when she walked up and joined us.

“I heard. They think it is Tracy Porter.”

I glanced at Gracie. “Tracy Porter?”

“Young girl who went missing a month or so ago,” Tom answered. “She was walking home alone, same as Stella and, like Stella, she never made it to her destination.”

“It’s been twenty years since Stella died. Surely we can’t be looking at the same killer,” Gracie pointed out.

“Is Deputy Quinby still in charge of the local sheriff’s office?” I asked. To be honest, when I’d lived here, I found the man to be very nice but pretty useless when it came to tracking down individuals behind any serious crimes.

“He retired,” Gracie answered. “Cass Wylander is in charge of the local office now.”

I raised a brow. “Really? I hadn’t heard.” Cass and I had been kindred spirits when we were kids. We both had active imaginations and a willingness to seek out adventures. Next to Stella, Cass was probably the best friend I’d had when I’d lived here. He’d played the guitar and I’d played the piano and keyboard. We’d talked about forming a rock band, but that was before I realized it was a different type of music that was surging through my soul.

“I thought the two of you kept in touch,” Gracie said.

“We did,” I answered. “At first. But you know how it is. I left Foxtail Lake fourteen years ago. I guess as time went by, we drifted apart.”

“Cass is a good cop,” Tom said. “If anyone can figure out who killed Tracy, he can.”

“You should look him up when you have a chance,” Gracie suggested.

“I will.”

Gracie looked at Tom. “I’m making spaghetti. Do you want to come by for a bite?”

“I’d like that very much. I’ll need to clean up a bit first.”

“That’s fine. I’ll see you in an hour.”

I watched as Gracie made her way back to the house while Tom headed toward his own cabin. The two had lived on this property together for close to forty years. I knew they were friends, but at times I’d wondered if they might not be more. I knew that Gracie believed strongly in the Hollister curse and had vowed never to marry, but vowing not to marry didn’t mean she hadn’t ever fallen in love.

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Murder at Pope Investigations

 

 

I hadn’t done a new book in the Sand and Sea series in over a year and wasn’t sure that I would but my Sand and Sea fans seemed to have organized an email campaign to get me to reconsider so I carved out some time and wrote one. I actually enjoyed writing this one so much that I’ve planned another one for 2020.

 

Here is a preview of the book which publishes on July 23rd. https://amzn.to/2M34eXq

 

Tuesday, June 25

I should have been surprised to find the tall man with the dark skin and dark hair dead just inside the front door when I arrived at Pope Investigations, the detective agency where I work with my father, Keanu Pope, but he wasn’t the first gunshot victim I’d stumbled upon this month. He was, in fact, the third. The remains of the first gunshot victim had been found on the beach behind the oceanfront condo where I live with my cousin, Kekoa. My brother, Jason, a detective for the Honolulu Police Department, figured the murder was a random act that I’d just happened to have stumbled upon. When the second body was found propped up on the lifeguard tower at the Dolphin Bay Resort, where I’d been working just one day a week since taking a full-time position at the detective agency, my brother considered that I might be connected to both men in some way. Jason learned that the first victim was a retired Air Force Master Sergeant who was vacationing on Oahu, and the second was a nightclub owner living in Honolulu. As hard as he’d tried, he hadn’t been able to find a connection between the two men, or between the two men and me. After several days, he’d moved onto other theories. But now that a third victim had been found at the location where I spent the majority of my time, in my mind there was no denying that someone was leaving me bodies.

After checking for a pulse to confirm that the man was actually dead, I called Jason, who promised to come right over. I was about to walk around to the beach in order to get away from the gruesome sight when a dark four-door sedan pulled into the drive. I realized this was my first client of the day, so I took a deep breath and headed toward the car, intent on heading the woman off before she noticed the murder victim just inside the front door.

“Hokulani Palakiko?” I asked, greeting the dark-haired woman who was wearing a colorful dress in a Hawaiian print.

“Yes.” The woman leaned out through her open driver’s door window. “You can call me Hoku.”

“My name is Lani. Lani Pope. I’m afraid we have a bit of a situation this morning, and I’m going to need to reschedule.”

“Situation?” The woman looked toward the front of the building for the first time.

“We’ve had a breakin,” I decided not to mention the dead body. “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, but if you leave a number where you can be reached, I’ll call you with a new time to meet.”

The woman furrowed her brow. “You do understand that my husband is missing?”

I nodded. “Yes. My father filled me in.”

“I understand that a breakin is inconvenient, but I would think that a missing person would be a bit more of a priority.”

“Yes, I see your point. It is just that the HPD officer I spoke to told me to wait for him and not to touch anything. Perhaps we can meet later today. I’m not sure if it will work to meet here at the office, but I would be willing to meet you at your home.” I glanced at my watch. It was just ten o’clock now. “I should be done here by noon.”

The woman frowned. She huffed out a breath, drummed her fingers on the steering wheel in front of her, and, it seemed, generally did everything she could to convey her annoyance. “Okay.” She adjusted her sunglasses and turned to look directly at me. “I guess two hours won’t make all that much difference, but I expect you to be prompt.”

“I’ll do my best.”

The woman gave me her address, which luckily wasn’t far from the office. I hoped she’d be long gone before Jason arrived, so I entered her phone number and home address in my phone and promised to text her with a confirmation that I would be free by twelve once I spoke to the police. She hemmed and hawed a bit more, I was sure in an effort to make certain that I understood exactly how unhappy she was with the situation, but eventually, she pulled out of the drive and headed down the highway. Minutes after she pulled away, Jason pulled into the lot in front of Pope Investigations.

I ran over to the car to greet my second oldest of five brothers. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

Jason looked toward the house. “Is Dad here?”

“He is on the South Shore this morning. I left him a message, but haven’t heard back from him. I’m not exactly sure who he is meeting, but he mentioned something about a new client.”

“And the victim?”

“Tall, male. Young looking, maybe mid-twenties. I’m pretty sure I don’t know the man, but he does look a little familiar. I’ve tried to remember where I might have seen him, but I came up empty.”

Jason turned as another HPD cruiser showed up. “Okay. I think it is best that you wait out here. Colin and I will have a look.”

“I have to leave for another appointment at eleven-thirty. I can come back after I’m done if need be. I’m sure Dad will head over once he gets my message.”

Jason nodded. “Okay. I’ll come back out and talk to you once I have a chance to assess the situation. Maybe you can just wait on the lanai.

“Okay. I’ll be there. If you need me, holler.”

After Jason went inside, I sat down on a patio chair and checked my messages. There was one from my dentist reminding me that it was time for a checkup and cleaning; a text from my boss at the Dolphin Bay Resort where I still worked on Saturdays as a water safety officer, letting me know he had made up the schedule for the Fourth of July and that I was going to be needed for a ten hour shift; and a missed call from Dad. I opened my phone app and called him back. He picked up on the first ring.

“Hi, Dad. Did you get my message?”

“I did. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Jason and Colin are here. I’m waiting outside.”

Dad blew out a breath loud enough for me to hear, although, without corresponding facial cues, I was unable to tell if it was a breath of relief, anxiety, or irritation.

“Three murder victims in three weeks all placed so as to make it likely that they’d be found by you is not a coincidence. I’m not liking this one bit. I think we should talk to Jason about protective custody for you.”

“No, thanks,” I responded immediately. “I can take care of myself.”

Dad didn’t argue but I had a feeling this conversation was not over.

“Is Kekoa there with you?” He asked.

Kekoa worked full-time for the Dolphin Bay Resort and part-time for us answering phones and taking care of the filing and bookkeeping.

“No. She planned to be in this afternoon. I’ll call her and let her know not to bother to come in today.”

“I just finished up here and am on my way back. I should be there in an hour.”

“Just so you know,” I added, “the new client with the missing husband you told me about showed up after I arrived but before Jason pulled in. I met her at her car and told her we’d had a breakin. I didn’t mention the murder. She agreed to meet with me at her home later today since the office was unavailable. I am meeting her at noon.”

“I guess that will be okay. Generally speaking, I am not a fan of you meeting clients at their homes unless I am along, but Hokulani Palakiko seems harmless enough, and I know she is concerned about her husband. I should be back by the time you return from the interview so we can discuss a strategy later this afternoon.”

“Okay.”

“And Lani. Be careful. I know that you are a capable young woman, but it seems as if you have somehow garnered the attention of a very dangerous person who has already killed three people and most likely won’t hesitate to kill again.”

“I know. I’ll be careful.” After I hung up with Dad, I got up from the patio chair and walked out onto the beach. I let the warm water roll over my bare feet and then called Kekoa to fill her in. I explained about the breakin and the body inside the entry and suggested she hold off coming in to take care of the bookkeeping until tomorrow. Like everyone else, she was concerned that this serial killer seemed to be focused in on me, but I assured her I would be fine and we would talk later.

Jason walked out the back door and onto the beach just as I was finishing my conversation with Kekoa. “So?” I asked.

“The victim was shot at close range with what looks to have been a small caliber handgun. We’ll know more when we get the ballistics report back. It appears, based on lack of blood spatter, that the man was shot elsewhere and then dumped the same as the other two. With this third victim, I am more convinced than ever that you are somehow at the center of whatever is going on. We might want to consider protective custody. Did you get ahold of Dad?”

I nodded. “He is on his way from the South Shore, and there is no way I am going to sit around in a safe house when there is some wacko running around killing people and then leaving the remains for me like some sort of a sick gift. I need to meet with our new client, but I will come back when I’m done, and we can talk about this some more. I’m not sure what I can tell you that would help you to figure out who is doing this, but I am certain that we need to find the guy before he kills again.”

“I agree. And we’ll talk some more about protective custody when I am done here as well.”

I was never going to agree to protective custody. I knew it, and he knew it, so I didn’t bother to argue. I simply said my goodbyes and headed toward my car. Having a missing person to look for seemed like a distraction at this point, but Hoku was our client, and she was paying us good money to find her husband, who I was fairly sure she was more than just a little worried about.

I followed the directions provided by the Maps app on my phone to a large two-story house located in a nice neighborhood just a few blocks from the sea. Hoku’s car was in the drive, so I pulled up on the street. One of these days, I was going to trade in my old Jeep for something that wasn’t older than I was, but I never seemed to have enough income to deal with car payments, so a new car would need to wait.

I walked up the shrub-lined walkway toward the covered porch. I rang the bell and then waited.

“Oh good, you came,” the woman said, stepping aside. “Is your father with you?”

“He couldn’t make it, but he does plan to consult with me about a strategy once I get the basic information we will need to begin our search.”

The woman frowned. “I see. How old are you?”

“Old enough,” I assured her. Being a small woman, barely five feet in height, often led people to believe I was younger than I actually am. I pulled out a notepad and pen. “Is there somewhere you would like to sit while we chat?”

“How about out on the lanai? It is a beautiful day today. Not at all as hot as it has been.”

I had to agree with that. It was a beautiful day. “So I have your husband’s name, age, and occupation, but I’d like to go over everything again to make sure there are no errors.”

“Okay.”

I read my notes which told me that Kinsley Palakiko was a sixty-eight-year-old retired airline pilot who was last seen on Saturday around lunchtime when he left his home to do errands. He never came home. Hoku called and spoke to my father yesterday when her husband still had not called or shown up. He’d completed a basic questionnaire over the phone. He’d traced the man’s phone, tracked his credit cards, and conducted a GPS search for his car. It was determined that the phone had been turned off, the GPS on the car was disabled, and the credit cards had not been used. We did live on an island, and the man was a retired airline pilot, so Dad checked with the airlines that served the island, but none reported activity from Kinsley in over a month. Hoku verified that the two of them had gone to the mainland for a week just about a month ago and that neither of them had traveled from the island since.

“If your husband felt the need to get away and didn’t want to be found for whatever reason, where would he go?” I asked.

“You think my husband is off having some sort of a fling?”

“Not necessarily,” I answered. “However, statistically speaking, more missing persons turn out not to have been the victim of foul play than turn out to have been. It is smart to look at all options.”

“So you think Kinsley is just fine. You think he has put me through what is by far the worst few days of my life for nothing.”

“Again, I’m not necessarily saying that.” I paused and looked at the woman who seemed to be more angry than scared and I found myself wondering if she wasn’t being overly dramatic for my benefit. “When your husband didn’t come home after two days, why did you call Pope Investigations? Why didn’t you call the police?”

The woman lowered her gaze but didn’t respond right away.

“You don’t think he has met with foul play either. You think he simply took off and you want him found. You may even believe that he is missing because he is engaged in some sort of illegal activity and you didn’t want to get the authorities involved.”

“That’s a lot of speculation,” the woman accused.

“Perhaps. But I’m not wrong, am I?”

“Kinsley likes to gamble. He isn’t very good at it and has lost most of our retirement savings over the past couple of years. He’d been out late on Friday, and we didn’t speak, but when he came to bed, I could smell the smoke and alcohol that accompany a backroom poker game, so I knew. He left around lunchtime on Saturday, simply saying that he had errands he needed to do. He didn’t elaborate or say when he’d be home, but I assumed he’d be home in a few hours. When he didn’t come home at all that day, I assumed his errands had led to a Saturday night poker game. I tried calling him about a million times, but the calls went straight to voicemail. I waited until Monday, hoping he would show up, but when he didn’t, I decided to call your father. Kinsley has gone off on gambling binges in the past, but this time feels different.

“Different how?”

“For one thing, he has been away longer than usual.”

I made a few notes and then looked up at the woman. “So if your husband is just off gambling somewhere, which it sounds like he very well may be, why did you think we would be able to find him when you couldn’t?”

“Finding people is your job. I figured you’d have a few tricks that I didn’t know to try.”

I supposed we did have a few tricks that the missing man’s wife didn’t know to try, but now that I suspected he had taken off on his own free will, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get in the middle of a marital spat. Still, there was a slim possibility that the man really had met with foul play. And I asked the woman several more questions, mostly relating to her husband’s friends, lodging preferences, and financial situation. I promised to do what I could and to call her with an update by the following morning. I also took down the information relating to his car. It wouldn’t hurt to ask my brothers and friends with HPD to keep an eye out for it. As I drove back to Pope Investigations, I made a mental list of people to talk to. If the man was a gambler, I was sure my friend, Emmy Jean Thornton, would know the guy. On the surface, Emmy Jean was a sassy southern sex kitten, but beneath the Dolly Parton exterior, was a shrewd woman who could out drink and out gamble most of the men on the island.

 

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Harlow

 

Book 2 in my new Hathaway Sisters Mystery Series will publish on May 7th. For a description and preview of chapter one see below.

https://amzn.to/2ZyCXAw

The Hathaway Sisters is a new mystery series by USA Today Bestselling Author Kathi Daley. In book 2 of the series, bookstore owner Harlow Hathaway buys forty boxes of books, some rare and some not, at the estate sale of a man who recently died. With the help of her best friend Cooper Callaway, she begins to inventory her purchase finds a complete set of signed novels penned by her favorite author of all time, Alistair Winslow.

Winslow is a reclusive writer who spins his tales from a secret hideaway. Most assume that Alistair Winslow is a pen name and not a given name, but while many have tried, none have been able to unmask the man and reveal his true identity.

At the bottom of one of the boxes is an envelope with what look to be pages from an unpublished manuscript. Harlow is sure the manuscript was penned by Winslow and that the novel, which is much different that his other work, holds a secret to his true identity. Harlow and Coop take to the road in search of answers relating to the reclusive author and his relationship with the reluctant heir who appears to have been his friend. Along the way Harlow and Coop find a mystery that runs a whole lot deeper than they ever imagined.

Chapter One

Harlow Hathaway paused after opening the front door to the farmhouse where she’d grown up. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and—she took in a deep breath—ginger. Dixie must have made her spice pancakes for breakfast. Based on the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen, it seemed she wasn’t the only Hathaway sister whose intuition had sent them home for breakfast this morning. Harlow smiled as she let the perfection of the moment warm her heart. Of all the Hathaway sisters, she was by far the most sentimental, and she figured she was the one who most cherished these impromptu family meals.

Dixie winked at Harlow as she entered the room. Harlow smiled in return. Beneath the throwback-to-the-sixties, hippie vibe Dixie presented to the world, she was as sentimental a soul as her second-youngest granddaughter. She opened her arms in greeting, her long, white braid dipping over the shoulder of her sunny yellow peasant top. “I was wondering if my pancakes would bring you by.”

Harlow stepped in for a hug that was even better than the pancakes. “Of course. You know that I can always sense when you make spice pancakes with warm fruit compote and freshly whipped cream.”

“You have to try the boysenberry,” Harper, the second oldest of the five Hathaway sisters, said from the chair that had always been hers at the huge farmhouse table. “I was only going to have a bite, but so far I’ve eaten four pancakes.”

Harlow paused to take a peek at Bella, the three-month-old Harper was in the process of adopting. She was asleep in her infant seat, but Harlow knew it wouldn’t be long before there were four generations of Hathaways eating pancakes at the family table.

“Personally, the apple is my favorite,” Haven, the youngest of the five and the only sister with blond hair rather than brown, countered. “Although these fresh strawberries from the hothouse are pretty darn good.”

Harlow sat down at the table in the chair that had always been hers, next to her middle sister, Haley. “I guess I’ll need to try one of each flavor, although peach and apricot are my favorites.”

“I hope we get apricots from the trees this year,” Haven commented. “I’ve been thinking about making jam.”

“As long as we don’t get a late frost, we should get some fruit,” Dixie answered. She looked at Harlow. “How is the garden at the bookstore coming along?”

“It’s too early to plant, but I have things cleaned up and ready to go once the threat of frost has passed completely. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping busy.” She turned to Harper. “Are you still coming by this afternoon to help me sort through the new inventory?”

Harper was currently unemployed, after having recently moved home to Moosehead, Minnesota, after more than a decade away. She was currently living at the family farmhouse and helping out at the bookstore in her spare time. Harlow loved hanging out with her older sister and her dog, Maggie, loved playing with Harper’s dog, Bosley.

“I am planning to come by for a few hours. Michael is going to spend some time with Bella, so I’m free the whole afternoon.” Michael Maddox was Harper’s significant other and soon to be, Harlow suspected, Bella’s daddy.

“You have new inventory?” Haley asked.

Harlow took a bite of the delicious pancake and nodded. “Coop and I went to an estate sale this past weekend,” she said, referring to her best friend, Cooper Callaway. “We managed to buy forty large boxes of books from the library of the man who died. Some of the books are trade paperbacks, which I’ll set out on the dollar table, but I came across a first edition of The Great Gatsby in one of the boxes, which made me realize I really needed to take my time to sort through everything rather than dumping the whole lot on the used-books table. Coop helped me get started last night, but I still have half of the boxes to sort through.”

“Wow, a first edition of The Great Gatsby is quite a find,” Dixie commented.

Harlow grinned. “I thought so. But The Great Gatsby isn’t even my best find to date.”

Haley raised a brow. “Okay. I’m hooked. What has been your best find to date?”

“Signed copies of every single book ever written by my favorite author of all time, Alistair Winslow.”

Harper whistled. “That is a find. Alistair Winslow is a total recluse and never does book signings. Most readers don’t even believe he is an actual person. How on earth did the man whose books you purchased manage to end up with a signed copy of every book written by a man most consider to be nothing more than a ghost?”

Harlow shrugged. “I have no idea, but from the personalized messages, I suspect Winslow and the man who owned the estate were friends. I guess I’ve never stopped to consider the idea that Alistair Winslow might have friends. As far as I know, there isn’t a single person on earth who knows who he really is. It’s rumored that even his agent only communicates with him via email.”

“Are you sure the signatures are authentic?” Haley asked.

Harlow frowned. “Actually, no. But I hope they are.”

“What sort of things did he write in the books?” Haven asked. “Did he just sign his name, or were there personal messages?”

“Personal messages,” Harlow answered. “And they are specific.”

“Specific?” Haley asked.

“There are mentions of ‘their time at the lake’ and ‘the gang on Baker Street.’ He mentions someone named Dora, and how one of the characters in the book is loosely based on her. One of the messages referred to Art’s place, and another said something about ‘Tessa’s cookies being used for bait.’ Things like that. I really think that Alistair Winslow and the man must have been lifelong friends.”

“So who was the man whose estate you purchased the books from?” Dixie asked.

“His name was Theo Emerson. He lived in a huge house, which I would probably refer to as a mansion, on a private lake northwest of here. I heard about the estate sale from a friend who owns an antique store in Bemidji. She was interested in furniture and dishware rather than books, so she called to let me know about the sale.”

“Do you know anything about him other than where he lived?” Haley asked. “His age, occupation, personal history?”

“No,” Harlow admitted. “But after finding the books signed by Alistair Winslow last night, I find that I am interested in learning what I can about the guy. I feel like I might have stumbled on to a real mystery. I can’t help but wonder if finding out more about Theo Emerson could lead to discovering the true identity of Alistair Winslow.”

“You’d best not tell Hayden about your find,” Haley cautioned. “She’ll show up and take over your investigation before you know what hit you.”

Hayden was the oldest of the five Hathaway sisters, and the most driven. She currently worked for a local television station operating out of Minneapolis but had plans to make it to the big time before she turned thirty-five. Unfortunately, she was presently thirty-four, and her inability to meet her goal was causing her to be almost manic about finding the one story that would turn out to be her big break. Harlow had no doubt that if Hayden knew she had a lead that might unmask the elusive Alistair Winslow, she’d be on the highway north immediately. Harlow loved Hayden and wanted to see her succeed, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to unmask Winslow, even if she could put together the clues left in the messages from one friend to another.

“While we are on the subject of Alistair Winslow, did any of you happen to notice the dedication page of his latest novel?” Haley asked.

Harlow frowned. “I did see it, and it was odd for a dedication. In fact, it really wasn’t a dedication at all.”

“What did it say?” Harper asked.

“‛An unfolding story becomes complete when, like a circle, beginning and end meet.’”

Harper raised a brow. “Seems mysterious.”

Harlow bit her lip. “Yeah, I thought so as well. I’m not sure if there is a hidden message there, but it sure does feel like it. I’d say it’s really very odd.”

“Alistair’s entire career has been really odd,” Haley pointed out. “Some guy no one has ever heard of publishes a novel that is an instant best seller. He immediately becomes a household name and everyone wants to claim a piece of him, yet his identity has been so well guarded that not even his own publisher knows what he looks like.”

“I heard he even turned down Oprah,” Haven added.

“What could be so bad that he’d be forced to lie about who he really is?” Harper asked.

“He hasn’t actually lied,” Harlow pointed out. “He just hasn’t said who he is. I’ve wondered many times what he might look like. Based on his strong but elegant writing style, I’ve always pictured him as a distinguished and sophisticated man. Someone who is both educated and well-traveled. Someone who is physically attractive in a cultured and refined sort of way.”

“Sounds like someone has a crush on the mystery man,” Haley teased.

“A crush, no,” Harlow defended herself. “But I am fascinated and intrigued by him. I suppose if the real Alistair Winslow is vastly different from the persona he’s created, that might be the reason for hiding his identity. It does seem to me that if he turned out to be a seventy-five-year-old grandmother, it might affect book sales.” Harlow looked at Dixie. “No offense.”

Dixie laughed. “None taken. I’ve always imagined Alistair Winslow to look a bit like Sean Connery. Rugged. Handsome. Distinguished.”

Haley wrinkled her nose. “I’ve always pictured him as being younger. He’s only been publishing for about ten years. He could totally be in his thirties. I agree that he is most likely hot. I’m thinking thick black hair, short and neat. And dark eyes, chiseled features, and maybe just a hint of an English accent. His name does make it seem as if he is British by birth. And I bet he is probably the sort to easily seduce women. His books are so emotionally raw. I bet he knows exactly how to worm his way into the heart of any woman he might desire.”

“I bet he has long hair,” Haven countered. “And blond. Blue eyes and a sexy grin. I agree about the Casanova vibe. His writing does seem to possess the perfect blend of strength and vulnerability.”

“Short hair with just a touch of gray around the temples,” Harper jumped in. “I figure he might be around fifty. Mature, but still adventurous and physically fit. And ditto on the art-of-seduction vibe.”

Harlow found the conversation interesting. The fact that everyone at the table pictured him differently said a lot for Winslow’s decision to maintain his anonymity. She supposed the fact that he could literally be almost anyone had done a lot to add to his overall mystique.

“If Winslow was childhood friends with this Theo Emerson, I suppose that at the very least that would provide his actual age,” Dixie pointed out. “It seems like a worthwhile investigation to pursue.”

Harlow realized that Dixie was right. “I’ll talk to Coop about it this afternoon when he comes by. He is a private investigator. I’m sure he can dig up whatever we might want to know about Theo Emerson.”

Haley took a last bite of her pancake. “As fascinating as I find this conversation, I need to get to work.”

“Are you still working on that bathroom remodel?” Dixie asked.

“I am. And the guy is so happy with my work on the bathroom that he has decided to have me do the kitchen as well.”

“That’s great.” Haven grinned. “That should keep you busy for a couple of months.”

“I’m hoping that it will work out so I can finish the kitchen in time to jump right into the lake house I have lined up for the summer.” She stood up, then pushed her chair in behind her. “Which is why I need to run.”

“Don’t forget that your mom wants us all to have supper on Sunday,” Dixie reminded her. “Two o’clock, so don’t be late.”

“I’ll be there,” Haley promised. “Where is Mom this morning?”

“She had an emergency,” Dixie answered. “A dog was hit by a car early this morning.”

Harlow placed her hand on her chest. “Oh no. I hope the dog is going to be okay.”

Dixie tossed her braid over her shoulder. “I hope so too, although your mom wasn’t sure when she left.”

Haven, who often worked as an assistant in the veterinary clinic, stood up as well. “I hadn’t heard about the dog. I should head to the clinic to help out.” She looked at her grandmother. “Thanks for breakfast. I’ll be sure to plan to be home for dinner on Sunday.”

Harper pushed her chair out after Haven left. “I want to give Bella a bath before I take her over to Michael’s.” She looked at Harlow. “I should be by around lunchtime. I’ll bring sandwiches.”

“That would be great. I’ll take a veggie on wheat.”

Harlow looked at Dixie after her sisters had cleared out. “I’ll help with the dishes.”

“I can get these,” Dixie said. “Seems to me you have a mystery to start digging in to.”

Harlow felt her heart begin to race as it always did when there was a good mystery to solve. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take a look in to things to see what I can find. It’s not like I have to do anything with the information I find. But it would be fun to take a peek behind the curtain that Alistair Winslow seems to be hiding behind.”

“Again, I wouldn’t mention this to Hayden,” Dixie cautioned. “She’d have it on the nightly news by the end of the day.”

“Don’t worry. Alistair’s secret will be safe with me.”

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Betrayal By The Sea

The gang from Cutter’s Cove are heading out to sea in this funny and heartwarming paranormal mystery. 

 

Book 4 in my new Haunting By The Sea Mystery series takes place on a cruise ship which was just so fun to write! If you like cruise cozies and a fast moving plot you will enjoy this cozy mystery.

Amanda and the gang are invited on a small private cruise with just twenty guests by Mac’s rich boyfriend Ty Matthews. They are having the time of their lives until Amanda runs into the ghost of one of the passengers who everyone said debarked at the last port. Realizing the woman had not left the ship as she’d been told, but had in fact been murdered, Amanda brings the gang into the investigation in an attempt to find the truth.

https://amzn.to/2Cq1NIJ

 

Preview:

The moon reflected off the calm sea as I stood alone on the deck of the small cruise ship I’d boarded several hours earlier, with my best friends, Mackenzie Reynolds and Trevor Johnson. The trip had been something of a whim after Mac’s new boyfriend, millionaire Tyson Matthews, had been given four tickets on the intimate ship, which held just twenty passengers. Ty had invited Mac, me, and Trevor, to come along for the voyage. It had taken a bit of finagling for the three of us to arrange to be away for an entire week, but it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, so we did what we needed to do to make it happen.

Mac had just started her own software company and so had flexibility with her schedule, and Trevor had arranged for his manager at Pirates Pizza, the Italian eatery he owned, to cover for the week. What it had really come down to was my ability to find someone to look after my cat, Shadow, and dogs, Sunny and Tucker. Thankfully, my mother, Sarah Parker, who was already planning to visit my oceanfront home in the seaside community of Cutter’s Cove, Oregon, for the holidays, agreed to arrive a week early. We’d lived together in Cutter’s Cove more than a decade before while in witness protection, so she had friends in the area, and as an artist by trade, she could never seem to get enough of the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that could be found from her studio on the bluff.

“Lovely evening,” said the ship’s captain as he walked up behind me.

I turned and smiled at the tall man, whose gray eyes sparkled with merriment as he took off his hat, revealing short dark hair peppered with gray around the temples. “It really is just about perfect weather this evening.” I held out a hand in greeting. “I’m Amanda Parker.”

“Captain Armand Desmond.” The man returned my offer of a handshake. “You are new to the cruise this year.”

I nodded as a lock of blond hair blew across my face. “I am here with Tyson Matthews, who is a guest of Harris Hamilton.”

“Ah,” the man nodded, replacing his hat on his head. “I should have realized. Mr. Hamilton is a frequent passenger and I should have anticipated that he was going to be with us on this voyage. It is, after all, almost Thanksgiving.”

“Mr. Hamilton always takes this same cruise?”

“Yes, so far he has. This is a good time of year for it. The ports are a lot less crowded than they are during the summer months.”

“I guess not having to deal with the summer crowds is a plus. Is the weather always this nice?”

“Not always. Last year it rained during the entire week of this cruise through the islands, but we are expecting exceptional weather now. I hope that you have a wonderful time.”

“Thank you. I’m sure I will. The ship is amazing, and I am looking forward to getting to know everyone.”

The captain looked up at the sky. From his serene smile, I imagined he was relaxed and content with his life on the sea. He took a deep breath of the salty air, then looked back in my direction. “We are approaching Port Townsend, where we will dock for the next twenty-four hours. My co-captain has the wheel, but I should get back to help with the docking. It was nice to meet you.”

“Thanks. It was nice meeting you as well.” I waved as the man walked away.

After he left, I returned my attention to the sea. I thought Trevor, Mac, and Ty were going to meet me up here and wondered what had kept them. Not that I wasn’t enjoying a moment of solitude. I liked the quiet and often sought it out, but tonight, under the stars, it seemed just a bit too perfect not to share. Sensing a movement behind me, I turned and watched as Trevor stepped onto the top deck from the stairwell and walked toward me. He’d dressed in black slacks and a dark gray jacket this evening, and with his dark eyes, long lashes, and thick dark hair, I thought he looked as if he could easily get a job as a GQ model.

“Wow. It is gorgeous up here.” Trevor stepped up to the railing, took a position next to me, and kissed my cheek.

“It really is.” I smiled in return. It was chilly, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable if you were bundled up.

“Have you been waiting long?”

“Not long.” I let out a long, relaxing breath and leaned into Trevor’s shoulder. “Have you seen Mac and Ty? I thought they might meet us out here.”

“From their total absorption in each other during dinner, I think they had other things on their mind.”

“Oh sure.” I blushed, although I had no idea why. I supposed it was because things with Trevor and I were somewhat undefined, and any topic of conversation having to do with sex made me feel awkward and unsure, especially because we’d decided to share a cabin so Mac could bunk with Ty. “I did notice they seemed more interested in each other than in their lobster.”

“It’s understandable. It is a beautiful night and we are cruising on a luxurious ship where every possible want or need has been seen to. The stars are twinkling in the sky, the breeze is both warm and gentle, and the soft music playing in the background on every deck and in every hallway seems to have been selected to set the scene for romance.”

“It really is just about as perfect an evening as we could hope for,” I agreed. “At first, I wasn’t sure the trip would be worth the effort of making last-minute arrangements, but I’ve always wanted to tour the San Juan Islands.”

“Have you visited them before?”

“Once,” I responded. “While I was in witness protection.”

Trevor’s smiled turned into a frown, and the tone of his voice changed from playful seduction to barely veiled annoyance. “Ah. I remember the two weeks of hell when you simply disappeared without a trace.”

I placed my hand on Trevor’s arm. “I’m sorry. You know I had to go.”

Trevor let out a slow breath and then kissed my forehead. “I know.” I could tell he was struggling to regain his previous mood. “And the past is in the past, so let’s not dwell on things that no longer have the power to hurt us.” Trevor’s gaze narrowed. “Unless they do.” He turned and looked me in the eye. “Any more texts?”

I shook my head. “Not a one.” I forced a smile, although the familiar knotting in my stomach that accompanied any memory of the text I’d received a couple of weeks before could not be denied. The text had been sent from an unknown source and included a photo of Mario and Clay Bonatello, the brothers who had forced me into witness protection when I was a teenager. It also included a message: She who spills the blood must pay the price. Before they’d been murdered by their own family, Mario and Clay had worked for them. After I witnessed them killing a man in cold blood, they had set out to eliminate the only witness to their crime. I had been placed in witness protection and had thought myself safe until they found out where I was living and sent someone to kill me. Their discovery of my hiding place had forced me to run once again, which is when I had spent two weeks on Madrona Island, at the very northern edge of the chain. Eventually, my mother and I got a message from my handler, a man I knew only as Donovan, that the boss of the Bonatello family had decided he was tired of cleaning up the brothers’ messes, so they’d been eliminated, and suddenly, after two years in hiding, Mom and I were free to return to our home in New York. I hadn’t been back to Cutter’s Cove until this past spring, when I returned to help solve the murder of a friend. According to Donovan, he had no idea who had sent the text or why, but he had promised to keep an ear to the ground and let me know if he heard anything. I’d decided to go about my life and not to worry about things I could not control.

When I noticed Trevor’s serious expression, I changed the subject to something a bit less intense. “When Ty said this ship was geared toward those looking for a luxury experience, I had no idea just how amazing it would be. It seems that no expense has been spared to ensure a first-class experience.”

“It is pretty nice.” Trevor’s smile seemed to have returned as he leaned his forearms on the railing, then bent over just a bit to look down into the dark sea. The ship was traveling at a good pace, creating a fairly large wake that glittered in the moonlight. “I wonder how much the tickets for this cruise would cost if we’d had to pay for them. Given the intimate setting and the attention to detail, you know they couldn’t have come cheaply.”

“I’m sure the tickets were a pretty penny,” I agreed. “The food, which has been excellent so far, would demand a hefty price tag if served in a five-star restaurant.”

Trevor wove his fingers through mine as we stood shoulder to shoulder. “Tonight’s meal was exceptional, and the staterooms are not at all what I expected from a cruise ship. I guess I was imagining something small and cramped, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that our room not only has its own Jacuzzi but the balcony overlooking the water is pretty roomy.”

I agreed the stateroom was pretty great. Personally, I was happiest about the fact that the sofa folded out into a bed. I wasn’t sure I would have been ready to deal with the mechanics of sharing a room with Trevor if it hadn’t worked out that we each had our own sleeping space. “It was really nice of Ty to invite us, but I have the feeling the other passengers all know one another. At dinner, it sort of felt like you and I and Mac were the odd ones out. I chatted with the captain briefly while I was waiting for you and he mentioned that Harris took this same cruise every year, but I wonder if the group as a whole has traveled together before.”

Trevor leaned into me slightly. “I spoke with Ty earlier, while you and Mac were unpacking. It seems that the cruise is an annual retreat for Hamilton Investments, so yes, I would assume that the passengers, other than the four of us, all know one another.”

While I knew that Harris Hamilton had given Ty the tickets, I hadn’t been aware the cruise was a business affair. “So all the other passengers work for Hamilton Investments?”

“As far as I know, they either work for the company or have come as guests of a Hamilton Investments’ employee.”

“I wonder why Ty was invited on the cruise if it is to serve as a retreat for the company. Inviting outsiders seems like an odd thing to do.”

Trevor put an arm around my shoulder. “Ty told me that he’d recently completed some computer updates for Hamilton and had stopped by his office to make sure everything was preforming properly. While he was in there, Hamilton’s assistant came in to inform him that she had four extra tickets for the cruise this week because two of his employees were fired earlier that same day. Hamilton offered the tickets to Ty on the spot, and he accepted.”

“Wow. I’m sorry to hear about the fired employees. I’m going to feel bad for using their tickets.”

“They wouldn’t have been able to use the tickets whether Ty accepted them or not,” Trevor pointed out. “If he hadn’t accepted them, they may even have gone to waste.”

“I guess that might be true. But what a drag to think you are going on a cruise and then end up being fired just a week before you are to depart. I’m sure their plus-ones were bummed as well.”

Trevor shrugged. “I’m sure it was a difficult situation, but we don’t know the details, so I think we should put it out of our minds. The two people who were fired might have been stealing from the company or sharing classified information or participating in some other activity that warranted their firing.”

I smiled at Trevor. “You’re right. I heard there is dancing in the lounge. I don’t suppose you want to try out some of your new skills?”

Trevor took his arm from around my shoulders and held out his elbow. “I’d love to take you dancing, but remember, my most consistent move seems to be foot stomping.” He looked down at my feet, which were sheathed in strappy sandals. “I’d hate to mess up your pretty pedicure.”

I laughed. “I think I’ll survive.” I’d been giving Trevor dance lessons since Halloween and he was progressing very nicely.

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