Homecoming By The Sea

Book 1 in my new Haunting By The Sea Paranormal Mystery Series will debut on Tuesday, April 10th. I am in love with this new series and hope you will be as well. The series is a continuation of the Seacliff High Series although you do not have to of read Seacliff High to enjoy this new series that takes place with the same characters, in the same small town, in the same haunted house, as the original series.

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Here is a preview:

Chapter 1
Monday, May21

I could hear the whispering long before I arrived. It started as a nagging in the back of my mind that grew to a symphony of voices calling me home. I’d felt the echo of what I’d left behind as I made the long trip from one coast to the other.

It had been ten years since I’d stood on this ground. Ten years since I’d heard the voices, felt the connection, seen the images of those who had come before. When I left Cutter’s Cove a decade ago, I knew I would return. What I didn’t know was how long my return would take.

I stood on the bluff overlooking the angry sea. The sky was dark, with heavy clouds that blocked what was left of the afternoon sun. The rumbling in the distance informed me that a storm was rolling toward shore, but it was the murmurs from the house that caused a chill to run down my spine.

I pulled my sweater tightly around my thin frame as the wind raged from the west. My blond hair blew across my face as I tried to emotionally confront the nightmare that had demanded my return. A good friend had died, brutally murdered in his own home. After six months, his killer still roamed free. This, I’d decided, was something I couldn’t bear.

“I’m here,” I whispered as the air became heavy with the approaching storm. Lightning flashed across the sky and still I waited. The house had once been my sanctuary, but now, after all this time, I was hesitant to find out who waited impatiently for my return.

I closed my eyes and listened as the waves crashed onto the rocky shore beneath me. I could feel a presence and wondered if my ability to see those who had passed on had been restored now that I’d returned to the house. It wasn’t as if I was born with the ability to see ghosts. I hadn’t, in fact, seen my first one until I’d moved from New York to Cutter’s Cove, Oregon, at the age of sixteen. At the time I believed the gift was the result of some sort of personal growth, but when I moved away from the house and away from the sea, the images faded.

My phone rang, and I turned back toward my Mercedes. I’d promised my mother I’d call when I arrived, so I hurried to the car. I opened the passenger side door and grabbed the phone, which had been resting on the charger.

“Are you there?” Mom asked from the other end of the phone line.

“I’m here.”

“How’s the house? Ten years is a long time to go without any type of maintenance.”

I looked toward the large home that Mom and I had bought and fixed up twelve years ago. We’d found the house—or perhaps the house had found us—during one of the most difficult times in our lives. Spending time together renovating the dilapidated old lady had not only been cathartic but life changing as well. “I haven’t been inside, but from the outside she looks just as I remember. She needs a coat of paint, but it seems she’s stood strong while she waited.”

“Are you sure about this?” Mom asked for the hundredth time.

“I’m sure.” I looked out toward the sea. “It’s been six months since Booker’s death. I spoke to Woody Baker,” I said, “and the police are no closer to solving the case than they were on the day his body was found.”

“I understand. I really do. But your life is in New York now. Doesn’t it feel strange to return to the place where everyone knew you as Alyson?”

I paused before I answered. An image of Alyson flashed through my mind. Although we’d shared the same body, in many ways she felt like a totally different person. When I’d lived in Cutter’s Cove a decade ago, I’d used the name Alyson Prescott, a persona I’d been assigned when my mom and I had been placed in the witness protection program. My real name is Amanda Parker, a name I resumed when the men who wanted me dead were murdered themselves. “Yes,” I admitted. “It does feel strange. But I have to do this.”

“You know I’ll support you, whatever you decide.”

I smiled. “I know. And I love you for it.” I felt a heavy weight settle in my chest. Deciding that serious conversations could wait for another day, I changed the subject. “How’s Tucker doing? Didn’t he have his checkup today?” Tucker was my German shepherd who stayed with Mom when I went away to college nine years ago. After college I’d secured a high-paying job in a very competitive industry and was rarely home, so Tucker had continued to live with my mother. He was twelve years old now and showing signs of slowing down.

“The vet said he’s doing really well for a dog his age. She gave me supplements as well as some mild pain meds to help with the arthritis.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Good. I was worried about him. Give him a kiss for me and tell him I love him.”

“Always.”

I glanced back toward the house. “I should get inside and try to get the electricity and heat on before the storm arrives. I’m not sure if I’ll have reception once it does, so don’t worry if you can’t get hold of me.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

I smiled as the reality of my mother’s unconditional love warmed my heart. “I will. I love you. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

I opened the glove box and grabbed the keys to the house. When Mom and I had first come to Cutter’s Cove and found the house perched on the edge of the sea, we’d known we were home. Sure, it had stood empty since the death of the previous owner, and admittedly, it had been about as dilapidated as a house could be and still be standing, but it had history and character, and as far as we were concerned, it was love at first sight. Hoping the key would work in the old lock, I slipped it into the door. Luckily, it turned without effort and I stepped inside.

Finally, I heard the house whisper.

I’m not sure how to explain what I felt in that moment. A sense of homecoming, for sure, but also a hollowness I couldn’t quite explain. The furniture Mom and I had taken such care to choose was covered with sheets and every other surface was covered with dust. I took a step forward, batting at the tapestry of cobwebs that hung from the ceiling.

I took several more steps into the interior. “Is anyone there?” I said out loud. I hadn’t seen anyone, but the sense that I wasn’t alone was overwhelming.

As I stood silently and listened, memories I thought long buried suddenly consumed me. When Mom and I had first come to Cutter’s Cove I’d been so lost. My best friend had just been murdered and Mom and I had been forced to flee the life we’d always known because the men who’d committed the murder had identified me, the only witness to a gangland shooting. I’d thought leaving Amanda Parker behind would be both painful and confusing, and it was, but I found Alyson’s easygoing approach to life surprisingly refreshing. During the two years I’d lived as Alyson, I rarely thought of Amanda, yet it hadn’t been all that difficult to reclaim my old life when I returned to the place where Amanda’s had been the only identity I’d ever known.

“Is anyone there?” I repeated as I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye.

I paused, but no one answered. I supposed it could just be a trick of the light.

The gas and electrical turnoffs were in the basement, so I headed in that direction. The house was huge and so very different from anything we’d known in New York, with nine fireplaces spread among three floors of living space. There was also a basement and a finished attic. Mom, an artist, had replaced the wall on the ocean side of the attic with windows and had turned the space into a studio. She never spoke of it now that she’d resumed her old life, but I often pictured her there, standing at the window, looking out to sea with a contemplative look on her face.

As I entered the main living area, I glanced at the painting on the wall. Mom had captured me and my two best friends, Mackenzie Reynolds and Trevor Johnson, in an unsuspecting moment and converted the photo to oil. When I’d left Cutter’s Cove ten years ago, I’d promised Mac and Trevor that I’d come back to visit all the time. I promised we’d text and Skype every day, and one day find our way back to one another. And we had texted and Skyped. At first. But as the weeks turned into months, and the months into years, we’d become busy with our own lives and drifted apart.

A rustling overhead caused me to pause and listen. It could be animals who’d found their way into the house, though the last time I’d heard strange noises overhead it hadn’t been animals at all.

“Hello,” I called, louder this time. “Is someone there?”

There was no answer and the rustling stopped, so I continued into the kitchen. I focused on the clickety-clack of my heels hitting the deep blue tile floor as I crossed the room. At the stairs leading down to the basement, I turned on the flashlight on my phone and made my way into the inky darkness of the damp room. When we’d first moved into the house, the space beneath the first floor had been cluttered with remnants from previous residents, as had the attic. Mom and I had cleared out both spaces, and now the basement was mostly empty. My first stop was the electrical box. I’d called the power company a few days before to have the power turned on and hoped all that would be required to bathe the house in light would be a flip of the switch.

“Voilà!” I said as the power came on.

Now all I had to do was turn on the gas and I might be looking at a hot bath that evening. I’d been driving for days, but the journey seemed little more than a blur in my consciousness. Once I’d started the drive west I’d felt the pull of the voices and had thought about little else. After confirming that the gas was working, I went back upstairs to the first floor. It would take me a couple of days of elbow grease before the place was habitable, but for now, I had plumbing and a place to stay. I’d brought an ice chest with a few necessities as well as coffee and wine, so it seemed I could survive the night.

I was about to head upstairs to check out my room when my phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket and looked at the caller ID. My first reaction was annoyance that my life in New York had found a way to intrude on my first minutes back in Cutter’s Cove, then realized how irrational that was and answered. “Ethan. I was just going to call you,” I said to my boyfriend of two years, Ethan Wentworth.

“Have you arrived?”

“I have.”

“And how did you find it?”

“I mostly remembered how to get here.”

Ethan didn’t speak for a moment. I knew he was confused by my response, but I couldn’t help but tease him after the way he’d framed his question. Ethan was a wonderful person and a kind and considerate boyfriend, but he was a product of old money and a rigid upbringing that resulted in a precise way of moving and speaking.

“I’m just kidding.” I laughed. “I found the house to be dusty but intact. How did your court case go?”

“Fine. Our case was impenetrable.”

“So you won?”

“Yes. I believe I just said that.”

I smiled. “You did, and I’m proud of you. I knew you would tear the place up with your research.”

Ethan was a junior partner for one of the top law firms in New York, while I worked as a graphic designer for one of the top advertising agencies.

“Have you had a chance to talk to your policeman friend?” Ethan asked.

“No. I’ll track Woody down tomorrow. Right now, I’m exhausted. I just want to settle in, take a hot bath, and maybe have a glass of wine.”

“I ran into Skip and Gina today,” Ethan said without a beat. He obviously hadn’t picked up on my subtle hint that maybe we should sign off now. “They’re planning a party next month to celebrate Skip’s promotion and their purchase of the new yacht. They asked if you’d be back by then. I told them I thought you would.”

I couldn’t help but notice his tone made it a question rather than a statement. “I took a six-week leave from the office, but if I get things wrapped up sooner, I’ll certainly come home sooner. Still, I don’t think I can commit to a party in just a few weeks. I’ll have to let you know.”

“Are you sure about this venture you’ve embarked on? You realize it’s not your responsibility to find this man’s killer.”

“Of course it isn’t. Still, I think I can help.”

“How? I understand he was your friend and his murder has gone unsolved and that makes you sad and angry. But really, Amanda, how can you help?”

I hesitated. Ethan didn’t know about my ability to see ghosts. He’d never understand, and I knew I could never tell him. That part of me belonged to Alyson. Ethan was part of Amanda’s world. “It’s hard to explain. Listen, I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Ethan let out a breath that sounded a lot like frustration. “All right. Be careful.”

“I will.” I hung up and held the phone to my chest. Ethan didn’t understand, and I supposed I didn’t blame him. I slipped the phone into my pocket and went toward the stairs. I’d just begun my ascent when a flash of something caught my eye. “Hello,” I called once again. “Is someone there?”

There was still no answer, but I was pretty sure what I was seeing and hearing wasn’t an animal. “Barkley?” I asked. Barkley Cutter had been the previous owner of the house and the first ghost I’d seen after moving to Cutter’s Cove. “Is that you? Are you here?”

There was no answer, but Barkley had never answered in the past. My ability to communicate with ghosts had been limited to seeing them. I’d never been able to speak to them. I was pretty sure Barkley had moved on once my friends and I had solved his murder and found his grandson, so the flash I kept seeing most likely wasn’t him.

I supposed any number of spirits could have moved into the house during the decade I’d been gone. In my experience, if they wanted to make contact they would, so I continued to walk on. When I reached the landing to the second floor, I glanced toward the room that had been my mother’s. It felt odd to be in the house without her, but she was busy with her new life, or maybe I should say the resumption of her old one. I took a moment to remember the way things had been when we’d first purchased the house, then went to my own room. When I opened the door, I expected to see sheets and cobwebs, as elsewhere, but what I found instead was someone lounging on my bed.

“Who are you?” I asked the apparition, who looked exactly like me. A younger version of me, but me nonetheless.

“I’m Alyson. Who are you?”

“Amanda. What are you?” The form really did look like me, although she was translucent, like a ghost. Somehow, I didn’t think she was a ghost. For one thing, I wasn’t dead. For another, I could speak to her and hear her response.

Alyson laid back against the pillow and lifted her legs into the air. She stared at her feet, which were in line with her hips, as if they were the most interesting thing she’d ever seen. “I’m not totally clear on this, but I think I’m the part of you that you left behind.”

I narrowed my gaze. “You’re part of me? Have you been here this whole time?”

Alyson shrugged. “I guess. What has it been, a couple of weeks?”

“Ten years.”

“Damn, girl. I had no idea.” Alyson sat up and crossed her legs. “No wonder I’m so bored. Things have been kinda dead around here since you left.”

I frowned.

“Get it? Dead around here?” Alyson giggled.

I tossed the Michael Kors bag that held my overnight things on the floor and then sat on the edge of the bed. A white sheet still covered the mattress. “You look like me, but you don’t sound like me. I left here when I was seventeen, and even though I was a teenager, I certainly didn’t talk or act the way you do.”

“What can I say? What you see is the new and improved version of Alyson. Alyson 2.0, if you like.”

I frowned. “How is that possible? Even if by some weird chance the part of me that’s somehow connected to this house remained behind when I left, why on earth would it have a completely different personality?”

Alyson shrugged. “I guess Amanda took all the stodgy, boring, elitist stuff with her and what was left behind were all the best parts. Did you bring food?”

“Do you eat?”

Alyson’s smile faded. “Unfortunately, no. But I can remember what it was like when I was you and you were me and we were one. It’s been a while.”

“If I eat, will you be able to enjoy it?”

“I have no idea, but I’d love to try.” Alyson tilted her head. Her long blond hair swept the mattress. I missed my long hair. At some point along the way I’d decided a woman of my age needed to present a more professional appearance, so I’d cut it. Not super short. Around shoulder length.

I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. I still wasn’t sure if Alyson was real. For all I knew, I was suffering the effects of driving three thousand miles in four days.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Alyson said. “And I can assure you, I’m real.”

I opened my eyes. “How did you know what I was thinking?”

“Duh.” Alyson rolled her eyes. “I’m you, remember? And no…” Alyson got up and began jumping up and down on the bed. “You aren’t going crazy. And yes, you’ll eventually come to love me.”

Now I was sure I was having a hallucination. I never jumped on beds as Amanda or Alyson. Not even when I was a young child. Jumping on beds was something people like me simply didn’t do. “I’m going out to the car to get the rest of my things. I assume you’ll be gone when I get back.”

Alyson got down off the bed. “Amanda, Amanda, Amanda. How do I make you understand? I’m not going anywhere. I live here. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I’ve been paying attention, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept what I’m seeing. If you were me, you would act like me. Because you don’t, my only conclusion is that you’re a figment of my imagination.”

Alyson walked over to me. We were exactly the same height, so her blue eyes looked directly into mine. “What happened to you? Don’t you remember being Alyson? Don’t you remember wearing jeans and going barefoot and having fun? Don’t you remember how happy you were once you were able to shed Amanda and her zillions of dollars, private schools, and designer shoes that felt like torture every minute you wore them?”

I glanced down at the pantsuit I was wearing with matching pumps. I really was dying to kick them off and pull on some baggy sweats. Of course, Amanda didn’t own baggy sweats. “I do remember,” I said. “But that wasn’t real. Alyson wasn’t real. It was as if I took a vacation from my life, but somewhere inside I knew Amanda was always there, waiting to come out when it was safe to do so.”

Alyson shrugged. “Suit yourself. If you’re going to empty that fancy car of yours that probably cost more than you paid for this house, you’d better hurry. It’s starting to rain.”

Ghost me was right. It was starting to rain. I paused for just a moment and then hurried down the stairs to get the things I’d left in my trunk. When I returned, she was gone. Perhaps she’d been an illusion after all.

 

Standard

Hippity Hoppity Homicide

It comes down to a few critical seconds as Zoe is forced to either outsmart a genius or watch her husband die.

With Easter only a week away, Zoe is pulled into a dangerous game after Zak is kidnapped, and the person who kidnapped him, challenges Zoe to The Sleuthing Game. Zoe is told that the only way to gain Zak’s freedom is to complete the challenges in the time allotted.

If she fails, Zak will die.

Zoe had promised she would retire from sleuthing now that she had an infant to care for, but the stakes are high, so she leaves the kids with Ellie, while she and Levi set out to beat a madman at their own game.

Buy the book or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited http://amzn.to/2II1kTS 

I am really excited about this book. It was SO much fun to write. I hope you all will give it a try. If you’d like a preview I’ve included chapter 1.

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Chapter 1
Sunday, March 25

The first thing I noticed upon entering the room was that the bedspread didn’t match the carpet, which was a totally different color from the drapes. Mismatched decor is an odd thing to have float past your consciousness when you’ve just been told that a man whose friendship you value is dead and your husband is missing. On an intellectual level I knew I was in shock and the emotions that any rational person should and would experience were waiting just below the surface, but in that moment I felt nothing.

“Zoe, are you okay?” Sheriff Salinger asked.

I looked away from the drapes and stared at him with what I was sure was a confused expression. I knew something was expected of me, but I had no idea what it was everyone was waiting for.

“This is too much for her,” my friend, Levi Denton, said. He put his hands on my shoulders, turned my body toward him, and stared into my eyes, a look of concern evident on his face. “She shouldn’t be here. There must be another way.”

“I don’t disagree that it would be best if Zoe didn’t need to be here,” Salinger said, “but the instructions left by the person or persons who have Zak were very specific.”

I averted my eyes from Levi’s concerned gaze and looked around the room. There was blood splatter everywhere. My mind began to feel fuzzy as the room seemed to fade in and out. I felt a wave of nausea as I struggled to accept what I’d witnessed with my own eyes. This couldn’t be real. It didn’t make sense. I put my hand to my face to try to wake myself from this horrible nightmare.

“Zoe?” Levi put a hand on my cheek and gently turned my head so I was looking at him again. He looked so scared. So vulnerable. In that moment I knew this was real and not a dream, as I had hoped. I glanced to the floor and then back to Levi.

“How did he die?” I asked as I tried very hard to look away from the outline of Will’s body, which had been covered with a sheet.

“Shot in the head,” Salinger answered.

I cringed.

“He would have gone quickly, so at least he didn’t suffer,” Salinger added.

“When?” I asked in a voice so soft I wondered if anyone had heard.

“The 911 call reporting the sound of a gunshot came through about thirty minutes ago,” Salinger answered.

I closed my eyes as a single tear slid down my cheek. Thirty minutes ago, I’d been at home feeding my three-month-old daughter, Catherine Donovan Zimmerman, while Scooter Sherwood and Alex Bremmerton, the two children who lived with Zak and me, chatted about the funny thing they’d seen in town that afternoon. Thirty minutes ago, I was making plans for the Easter celebration I planned to host next weekend. Thirty minutes ago I hadn’t known that Will was dead or that Zak had been kidnapped by the monster who had killed him.

Levi put his arms around me and pulled me tightly into his chest. I closed my eyes and took comfort in the sound of his strong, steady heartbeat. I knew that giving in to the despair that threatened to overwhelm me wasn’t an option. I’d lost a friend today and my heart wanted to weep at the injustice of it. But if the note Salinger held was authentic, Zak was still alive, and it was up to me to save him. I glanced at the sheet on the floor and knew I must set the rage in my soul aside.

“I can take you home if you need some time to process what’s happened,” Levi offered as I felt my tears soak into his sweater.

I dug down deep for the strength I needed, squeezed him tightly around the waist, and then took a step back. “I’m fine.” I turned and looked at Salinger. “What do I need to do?”

I knew he’d found our friend and employee, Will Danner, lying in a pool of blood after receiving an anonymous 911 call. Will, a teacher at Zimmerman Academy, the private school Zak and I owned, had been staying in a motel near the Academy while his house was being remodeled. Zak had agreed to meet him that evening regarding a project on which they were collaborating. When Salinger arrived, he’d found a note in Will’s left hand and a burner cell in his right. The note detailed a very specific set of instructions stating that Zoe Donovan Zimmerman, and only Zoe Donovan Zimmerman, was to call the number provided on the piece of paper with the phone that had been left in Will’s hand.

“We need to call the number and find out what they want,” Salinger said. “There isn’t anything we can do to help Will. What we need to focus on is finding Zak.”

I swallowed what felt like a boulder in my throat, “I agree.” I held out my hand for the phone. Salinger handed it to me and I looked at it and frowned. “There’s blood on it. That doesn’t seem right.”

“Yeah, there’s blood everywhere,” Levi said.

“No, Zoe’s right,” Salinger said, looking at both the phone and the note. Salinger pulled back the sheet, causing me to look away as he did. “There’s blood splatter on the phone and the note but not on Will’s hands beneath the phone and the note.”

“And that’s important because…?” Levi asked.

“It’s important because it suggests Will was already holding them before he was shot,” I explained.

Salinger carefully rolled Will’s body to one side and I forced myself to watch. “There isn’t any blood beneath his torso,” Salinger confirmed.

Levi paled. “Are you telling me some wacko made Will lay on his back holding the phone and note and then shot him in the head?”

“It could have occurred that way, but it’s more likely Will was already unconscious when he was shot,” Salinger explained.

“I guess that’s a good thing,” Levi mumbled.

I looked at the phone again. I knew once I started there was no going back. I had no idea where this first phone call would lead, but I had a feeling I was in for a bumpy ride. Nothing else made sense. The setup had been much too elaborate for an easy and painless conclusion to be on the horizon.

I looked at Levi again. He frowned, but I could see he was struggling to be strong for me. “I guess we should do this.”

He nodded.

I looked at Salinger. “Are you ready?”

Salinger nodded. “Hold the phone away from your ear so we can hear what’s being said as well.”

I nodded and pushed the Call button on the phone that had already been programmed. After only one ring a deep voice that sounded unreal came on the line. The message seemed to have been prerecorded using an automated voice system.

“Welcome to The Sleuthing Game. The purpose of the game is to solve the eight puzzles you will be provided before the allotted time for each runs out. If you are successful, your husband will be returned to you unharmed. If you are unsuccessful you will never see the father of your child alive again. The first set of instructions, as well as the first puzzle, has been taped to the bottom of one of the tables at the Classic Cue pool hall. You have until eight p.m. this evening to retrieve and follow the instructions. No cops or Zak dies.”

I glanced at Salinger. “What sort of sicko are we dealing with?”

Salinger frowned. “I don’t know.”

“It makes no sense that anyone would shoot one man and then kidnap a second one simply to make Zoe engage in a ridiculous game of some sort,” Levi stated.

“Do you really think whoever is behind this will kill Zak if I refuse to play?” I asked, fighting the dizziness that threatened to thrust me into a state of unconsciousness. I took a deep breath and fought the urge to slide into the darkness. Focusing on Salinger as he looked around the room, I felt the dizziness dissipate.

“I don’t know,” he repeated. “But given the fact that he or she has already killed once, I think we have to assume they will.”

“Who would do such a thing?” Levi asked a question that had been asked before and I knew would be asked a dozen times more before this was over.

“It’s obviously personal,” I said as I felt my strength begin to return. “Someone wants to make me jump through a bunch of hoops. I’m going to assume we’re dealing with someone I’ve harmed in the past. The fact that they’re referring to their sick ploy as The Sleuthing Game indicates to me that the person behind this is most likely someone I helped put in jail.” I looked at Levi. “I need to do this. I can’t risk Zak’s life by not cooperating. I need you and Ellie to stay with the kids until this is over.”

“You can’t do this alone.”

“I think I have to. I don’t want Ellie and the kids to be alone. I need you to be with them.”

I could see Levi wanted to argue, but then Salinger spoke. “I’m going to call the county office to see if I can get a couple of deputies to watch your house.”

“Thank you. I’ll feel better about things if I know the kids are safe and this psycho can’t grab one of them next, if that’s what they plan.” I glanced at my watch. “I need to get a move on if I’m going to find the next set of instructions before the deadline.”

“I’ll run home and change into plainclothes,” Salinger said. “I’ll borrow my neighbor’s car as well. I’ll follow you from a distance.”

“What if they see you?” I asked.

“They won’t.”

“The voice on the phone specifically said no cops,” Levi stated. “I know you said you were going to change out of your uniform, but the person who’s doing this probably knows what you look like. I think I should be the one to follow Zoe.”

I looked toward Levi and shook my head vigorously. “I don’t want to put you in any danger. This madman wants me and only me. I need to do this alone.”

I couldn’t help but notice the look of resolve that crossed Levi’s face. “I’m not letting you do this alone. That isn’t an option. Someone has to go with you and because the voice on the phone said no cops that someone can’t be Salinger.”

“But…”

Levi grabbed my shoulders. He forced me to face him. I could see he was as determined to help me as I was for him to be safely out of harm’s way. “I’m going with you. I know you don’t think you need me, but you do. I know you think you’ll be putting me in danger, but you won’t. You said yourself this seems to be some sick game between you and whoever is orchestrating it. I doubt they’ll have a bit of interest in me.”

My resolve hardened. “If it’s personal between me and this person why did they kill Will?”

“To get your attention,” Levi answered. “To demonstrate the lengths to which they’ll go if you don’t comply with their instructions. Please.” Levi looked me directly in the eye. “I’m going with you. Don’t fight me on this.”

I glanced at Salinger. “What do you think?”

Salinger shrugged. “I suppose Levi has a good point. You most likely will need help, and as much as I’d like to provide it, maybe he should be the one to go with you. The last thing we want to do is make whoever is behind this angry by ignoring the no-cops dictate. I’ll head over to your house and stay with Ellie and the kids until the guys from the county show up. Levi can call me after you retrieve the next set of instructions. I think right now we need to do what the kidnappers are asking to the best of our ability. Once we know what they’re really after we can work together to come up with a plan.”

“Okay.” I looked at Levi, having come to a decision. “Let’s go.”

The drive between the motel where the attack had occurred and the Classic Cue was accomplished in silence. It took every ounce of strength I could muster not to curl into a fetal position and sob until the sweet peace of unconsciousness overcame me. The thought that Zak was being held by a crazy person filled me with more terror than my mind was able to process and I knew it was only a matter of time before my determination slipped and a feeling of helplessness returned.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I needed to calm my mind so I could focus. I needed to stay strong for Zak. I let my mind wander until eventually it landed on a thought about Catherine and the prebedtime feeding the two of us enjoyed each evening. Catherine knew Ellie and I supposed she would be fine with favorite honorary auntie putting her to bed, but in the three months since she was born I’d never missed a single bedtime feeding.

Given what was going on, it was a good thing I’d been forced to stop breast feeding. I’d felt like a total failure when I learned my body wasn’t producing enough of the nutrients my baby needed, but now that I wouldn’t be able to be with Catherine for however long this sick, sick game took to complete, I was glad she was used to taking a bottle. It would have been a lot harder on both of us if we hadn’t already made the transition.

“We’re almost there,” Levi said, breaking into my daydream.

I sat up and opened my eyes. “When we get to the Classic Cue I’ll go in and find the next set of instructions while you call Ellie. I know Salinger said he was going to head over to the house, but she must be frantic.”

“Yeah, I’m sure she probably is.”

“Tell her that Alex knows where everything she’ll need to take care of Catherine is. And tell her to keep the kids home from school tomorrow. I don’t want them to go out at all until we’re able to track this guy down and put him safely behind bars.”

“Okay. I’ll tell her.” Levi turned onto the street where the pool hall was located. “Maybe we can figure out who he is and where he’s holding Zak. If we can find him we can end this. At some point he’s bound to make a mistake, give something away.”

I glanced out the passenger side window. Familiar buildings passed as we slowly made our way down the street. It was cool this evening, so the sidewalks were sparsely populated; still, it seemed odd that there were people going about their normal lives completely unaware of the fact that Will was dead and Zak was missing. “Yeah,” I whispered as Levi stopped at a crosswalk. “We should keep our ears open. The sooner this is over the better.”

We arrived at the pool hall and I went in alone. Levi and I weren’t certain how the killer would react to his presence, so we decided it was best for him to hang in the background. The pool hall was crowded and the tables were all occupied, which was going to make searching for a note taped beneath one of them difficult. I walked up to the first table, where two men who looked to be in their early twenties were engaged in a game of eight ball. “I’m sorry to interrupt your game, but I need to crawl under your table for just a minute.”

“Did you lose something, sweetheart?” one of the men asked after looking me up and down with a suggestive grin on his face.

“I dropped an earring the last time I was here,” I lied. “I’ll only be a minute.”

The men stepped back and I got down on my hands and knees. I tried to ignore the catcalls as I slipped under the table. Yes, I realized my jeans-covered backside was sticking up in the air in a most unfortunate position, but I had little choice in positioning my body as I tried to move around in the tight space. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the note, so I thanked the men, then went to the next table and repeated the humiliating process. There were sixteen tables in the room, which would mean a lot of time crawling around on the dirty floor with my butt in the air if the note happened to be taped to the last one I checked. Luckily, I found both a note and a cell phone taped to the undercarriage of the eighth table I crawled beneath. I grabbed both and headed out to the car.

The note contained a set of instructions along with a riddle that, when solved, would lead me to a location. The note indicated that the phone would ring at exactly 9:14. I was to answer it on the third ring. If I had solved the puzzle and ended up in the correct place I would have the information I needed to be able to answer the second question. Once I provided the answer I would be given nine additional minutes to provide five additional answers.

“Okay, so what’s the riddle?” Levi asked.

“‛To find the clue you must peel back the letters and find that which remains,’” I read aloud.

“Huh?” Levi asked. “What on earth does that mean?”

“I think it’s suggesting there’s a hidden message contained within the riddle. Or maybe invisible ink was used to write something on the back.” I continued to stare at the piece of paper in my hand. The psycho who had gone to all the trouble of orchestrating the game wanted me to play, so they wouldn’t have started off with a riddle I couldn’t solve.

“Peel back the words,” Levi said as he held out his hand, indicating I should give him the note. “Maybe he wants us to focus on part of what’s provided. I notice there seem to be a lot of pretty specific numbers.”

I thought about the note. The fact that he wanted me to pick up on the third ring and answer the second question was unusual, as was the time of nine-fourteen for the phone call.

“Okay; what numbers are mentioned in order?” I asked. I took out my phone to record them.

“The instructions state that you’ll get a call at 9:14, so that’s 9-1-4. Then you pick up on the third ring and answer the second question, so that gives us 9-1-4-3-2. After that you’ll be given nine minutes to answer five more questions.”

“That’s 9-1-4-3-2-9-5,” I said aloud. ‘I know where we need to go.”

“Where?” Levi asked.

“It’s Zak’s private line at Zimmerman Academy.”

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Farewell To Felines

 

It’s launch day for Farewell to Felines. This is the 15th book in the popular Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery Series. If you would like to take a sneak peek, here is chapter 1.

Buy or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited. http://amzn.to/2otsWTh

 

Chapter 1
Monday, March 12

The hollow is a mystical place located in the center of Madrona Island. Given the rocky cliffs that encircle the area, it’s protected from the storms that ravage the shoreline. The hollow is uninhabited except for the cats who reside in the dark spaces within the rocks. One of the things I like best about the hollow are the whispers in the air. Most believe the sound is created by the wind echoing through the canyon, but I like to think the whispers are the cats, heralding my arrival.

“Do you hear them?” I asked Tansy as we hiked to the top of the bluff that overlooked the ocean in the distance.

“No. The cats are quiet, and that worries me.” Tansy has some sort of mystical power that’s tied in with the magic surrounding the cats. She and her best friend, Bella, are rumored to be witches. Neither of them will confirm or deny their witchy status, but both women know things that can’t be empirically explained. Tansy and I had decided to venture into the hollow after she had a premonition that the cats were unhappy and leaving the area for reasons she didn’t understand.

“It’s odd not to have seen a single cat by this point.” I paused and looked around. “Should we continue?”

“What does your intuition tell you?”

While I don’t have Tansy’s powers, it does seem I’ve been tasked with the responsibility of working with the island’s magical cats. It’s not something I asked for, but I know deep in my soul that my role with the cats is tied to my destiny. “My intuition tells me we need to climb higher.”

Tansy smiled and nodded for me to walk ahead of her on the narrow path. The trail was steep and covered in shale, making for a difficult and dangerous passage. I’m in pretty good shape, so I’m well equipped for a laborious hike, but I could sense a storm coming and was afraid it would arrive before Tansy and I would be able to make our way back down the trail and out of the hollow. Still, over time I’ve learned to trust her, so I continued, despite the risk. The trail narrowed as it wound steeply up the mountain. My legs burned as I struggled to keep my footing on the unstable ground.

“If your sense is that the cats are leaving the hollow, where are they going?” I asked. “We do live on an island, after all. It’s not like they can venture very far.”

“If the cats are intent on leaving they’ll find a way.”

I supposed Tansy was right. I knew one cat in particular who seemed to make his way between the islands with seemingly little difficulty. Of course, Ebenezer was a special cat who seemed almost human at times, but then again, all the cats I’d worked with were special in their own way.

Once we arrived at the summit, I paused to catch my breath and admire the view. The ocean looked dark and angry as the storm gathered just beyond the horizon. I listened once again, turning slightly so I was facing the sea. “My instinct tells me we should head inland, but a storm is coming and I’m not sure continuing is the best idea.”

“Never doubt your instincts, Caitlin Hart.”

I glanced back toward the narrow path. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to go on for a bit. I’d hate to have come this far and not find out what’s causing the disturbance.” The detour was going to add time to our journey and I hoped it wasn’t all for nothing. Usually it was Tansy who would lead the way while I followed. It felt somewhat unnatural for her to be walking behind me. I wondered if this wasn’t some kind of a test to prove my worthiness to expand my role as guardian to the cats.

We had just started down the path when Tansy gasped. I stopped walking and turned around to find her holding a hand to her chest. Her long black hair blew in the wind, creating a vail of sorts that framed her pale face. “Are you okay?” I walked back the way I’d come until I was at her side.

“No. I don’t think I am.”

“Should we go back?”

Tansy shook her head. “I am certain we must continue.”

“Are you in pain?” I didn’t think going on with a sick witch was a good idea at all.

“It’s the hollow that’s sick. For magic to survive, a very specific balance must be maintained. I feel that balance has been altered.”

I had no idea what Tansy was talking about, but a bit of color had returned to her normally pale complexion that made me feel better. “Are you sure you want to continue?”

“I’m sure.”

I took a deep breath and turned back to the narrow path. “Okay. But let me know if you need to stop.”

I walked down the trail slowly so as not to tax Tansy, but to be honest, the farther I traveled, the more urgent was my desire to run. “There’s a fork,” I said after we’d been walking a while. “Both paths are narrow and both continue inland.”

“Close your eyes and focus on the paths ahead of you,” Tansy suggested.

I did as she instructed.

“Which path feels right to you?”

“The trail to the left,” I said with a confidence I wasn’t really feeling.

“All right. Then we’ll continue to the left.”

I nodded and headed down that trail. I could feel Tansy walking behind me, but I could also sense her distress. I stopped and turned around. “I can go on alone if you want to wait for me here.”

“No. We’re close. Can you smell it?”

I took a deep breath and wrinkled my nose at the stench. “What is it?”

“The source of the disturbance. It won’t be long now.”

“Until what?” I had to ask. This whole thing was beginning to freak me out. After several years of witnessing some truly spectacular things, there’s no way I was going to try to argue that magic didn’t exist, but the idea that it depended on some sort of perfect balance was a bit hard to swallow.

“There.” I turned around in time to see Tansy pointing to a small body of water in the distance.

After we’d traversed the space between where we’d stood and the small pond, I looked down at the murky surface of the usually pristine blue water. “Something’s wrong with the water. It smells awful. I think it’s been contaminated.”

Tansy frowned. “Yes, I’m afraid it has been tainted. I imagine the lack of clean water is the catalyst that’s driving the cats away.”

“How can we fix it?”

“I sense the tainted water is a symptom of a larger problem. The answers we seek will reveal themselves in the coming days. We’ve done what we can for now.”

I turned and headed back in the direction from which we had come. As we neared the top of the path and the bluff, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance. I glanced out at the dark sea as we paused momentarily before continuing down the other side. The dark clouds had completely blocked the light the sun would have provided. I just hoped we’d make it back to the car before the worst of the storm hit.

“Do you think the cats will return if we can find the source of the contamination and fix it?”

“Perhaps.”

The walk down from the summit was accomplished much more quickly than the trip up. When we arrived at my car I noticed a large brown cat with bright eyes and pointy ears sitting on the hood. “Am I to assume this cat will be leaving with us?”

“Apollo is here to help.”

“With the water in the hollow?”

Tansy picked up the cat. She closed her eyes and whispered to it in a language I didn’t understand. The cat meowed a couple of times, and Tansy opened her eyes. “I’m afraid Apollo is here to help you resolve a different issue. Follow his lead and you’ll find the answers you seek.”

“Has someone died?”

Tansy nodded but didn’t answer. My heart sank. Occasionally, cats appeared to help me deal with a problem other than a murder, but most of the time when one of them appeared someone had died. I wondered who.

As we drove back to Pelican Bay, where Tansy lived with Bella, the sky continued to darken. The wind had picked up quite a bit, and I could tell by the heaviness of the clouds that we were in for a serious storm. I dropped Tansy at her house, then drove back toward the peninsula, where I lived. I was nearing the point where I turned on to the peninsula road when Apollo started meowing and jumping around the car. I slowed and eventually pulled over.

“What is it? Are you trying to tell me who’s died?”

“Meow.” Apollo began pawing at the glove box. I opened it, and a sheet of yellow paper fell out of it and onto the floor.

“That’s just the program from Sunday services at St. Patrick’s.”

Apollo jumped from the front seat onto the floor. He picked up the paper in his mouth, then leaped back onto the seat. Once he was settled he placed the program on the seat between us.

“I don’t understand what you want me to do. Today is Monday. Services are on Sundays.”

“Meow.” Apollo placed his paw on the program.

I looked at what he seemed to be pointing to. “That’s the set list the adult choir sang during yesterday’s service. Do you want me to go to St. Patrick’s?”

The cat didn’t respond.

I tried to figure out exactly what it was the cat was pointing to. “Do you want me to pay a visit to Father Bartholomew? Oh God, he isn’t the one who died, is he?”

The cat still didn’t respond.

“It isn’t Sister Mary?” My heart began to race as the thought entered my mind. I’d known Sister Mary for most of my life. She was my best friend’s biological mother and almost a member of my family. “Please tell me it isn’t Sister Mary.”

Apollo just stared. I’m not sure if cats can experience frustration, but I got the feeling this one was quickly becoming impatient with me. It seemed his silence represented a negative response, so I continued to guess at what it was he was trying to tell me. “Maybe someone whose name is on the list?”

“Meow.”

“Okay, good. Now we’re getting somewhere.” The first name on the list was Thea Blane, the new director of the adult choir. “Do you want me to pay a visit to Thea?”

“Meow.”

“Is Thea the one who’s died?”

“Meow.”

I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer. She and I hadn’t been close, but I’d known her casually for quite a few years. She was single, lived alone, and didn’t seem to have any family on the island. Still, I was sure there were those who would mourn her passing. I looked at the darkening sky. Thea lived all the way over in Harthaven and the storm was getting closer. If I continued to her place, we risked getting caught in it. “Are you sure Thea’s the one we need to find?”

“Meow.”

I glanced at the sky one last time. It would be a risk to make the trip, but I couldn’t go on the off chance Thea was still alive and Apollo’s insistence was to save her, not simply to discover her remains. Making a decision, I pulled back onto the road and headed toward Harthaven.

When Apollo and I arrived at Thea’s place I saw her car in the driveway. I still hoped she was alive and Apollo had brought us here for another reason. Once again, I prayed we weren’t too late. I opened my door, which allowed Apollo to slip out of the car before I could stop him. I watched as he went to the door, then joined him on the front porch, rang the bell, and waited. My heart was pounding the entire time. I waited another minute before ringing the bell for a second time. When Thea still didn’t answer, I knocked on the door and called her name. When she still didn’t answer I tried to turn the knob. The door was locked.

“Maybe I should call Finn,” I said as the first raindrops began to fall. “Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I should have done in the first place.”

“Meow.” Apollo hopped off the raised porch and ran around to the back of the house.

I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair and followed him as the rain increased in intensity. At the side of the house, I found the wooden gate leading to the backyard open slightly. Apollo slipped inside and out of sight. I felt I had no choice but to follow, so I lowered my head and trotted to the gate. When I reached the back door I saw it was ajar, and Apollo was nowhere in sight. I opened the door wider, calling Thea as I did so.

I walked through the kitchen to the main living area of the house. “Thea,” I called once again. “It’s Caitlin Hart. Are you home?”

My words were met with silence. I looked around for the cat and spotted him sitting on top of a small desk against the wall near the foot of the stairs. When he saw I’d found him, the cat jumped down and ran up the stairs. As I followed, I heard the first rumbling of thunder in the distance.

At the top of the stairs was a short hallway that led to four rooms. The first contained a bed and a dresser and looked like a guest room. It appeared to be empty and undisturbed, so I continued to the second room, which turned out to be a bathroom. The third room looked a lot like one of the rooms in my Aunt Maggie’s house that she used for a craft and sewing room, so I imagined the last door would lead to the master bedroom. When I saw a pair of feet sticking out from the far side of the bed I knew for certain what I had feared since Apollo had snuck into the house was true. Thea Blane was dead.

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Writing By The Sea

 

Ken and I are at the coast for a couple of weeks enjoying the milder temperatures and sandy beach. I have a LOT of work to get done while we are here so this is far from a vacation in any real sense but the change of scenery has been awesome. Luckily both books I am working on while at the ocean take place at the ocean so the sound of the waves and the long walks on the beach  have been very inspiring.

The sunsets have been fabulous and have provided a routine of sorts. Unless it is actually raining we try to stop for the day once the sun begins its descent, open a bottle of wine, and welcome the evening. A day of writing bookended by a long walk on the beach in the morning and sunset on the beach in the evening barely feels like working at all.

I have new releases all lined up and ready to go so look for a sneak peek of Farewell to Felines next week.

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The Valentine Mystery

 

http://amzn.to/2CKnpki

 

http://amzn.to/2AZBoPK                                                                                                                                                                Presale coming soon

 

Book 2 in my new Tess and Tilly series, The Valentine Mystery,  publishes on Monday February 12th. I’m really enjoying this new series and hope you are as well. I’ve included a preview of The Valentine Mystery below.

 

Chapter 1
Wednesday, February 7

“Mornin’, Tess, mornin’, Tilly,” Queenie Samuels greeted my dog Tilly and me. “It looks like a two-bagger today.”

I groaned as I accepted two large mail bags from the postal employee who had recently been hired to help with mail distribution for the White Eagle, Montana, branch of the United States Postal Service. I supposed I should have anticipated the extra workload with Valentine’s Day just around the corner.

“Your mom has a package requiring a signature,” Queenie informed me. “If you want to sign it out, you can just drop it by her place with the mail to save her the trouble of coming in for it.”

I accepted the clipboard and signed my name, Tess Thomas, in the spot reserved for a signature from my mother, Lucy Thomas. I had to admit I was curious about what was in the small box with the foreign postmark.

“The box came from Italy,” Queenie informed me as I studied the postmark. “I’m not sure who Romero Montenegro is, but I do love the name. It’s so strong and masculine; I can’t help picturing a half-naked man with dark skin, chiseled features, and dark and soulful eyes every time the name Romero rolls off my tongue.”

“You’ve definitely been reading too many romance novels.”

“There’s no such thing as reading too many romance novels.” Queenie winked.

I opened the top of one of the bags and peered inside. “Did you happen to notice a box for my Aunt Ruthie while you were packing everything up?”

“There was a package. Flat and heavy. I’m thinking a book of some sort.”

“It’s a photo album. Her son Johnny just had a baby a few weeks ago and Ruthie has her first granddaughter. Johnny promised to send a photo album of baby’s first week, and Ruthie has been asking about it every day since she spoke to him. She’ll be thrilled it finally arrived.” I glanced down at my golden retriever, Tilly. “Are you ready to get started?”

Tilly barked once in reply.

I thanked Queenie, and then Tilly and I headed out to my Jeep. Normally, I just parked on one end of Main Street and made my deliveries up one side and down the other. A two-bagger, however, required a slightly different approach; I parked in the middle of the long row of small mom-and-pop-type businesses with the intention of starting in the middle, working one side of the street, crossing, and then doing the other half of the north end, before returning to my Jeep for the second bag and repeating the effort on the south end of town. The diner my mom owned, along with my Aunt Ruthie, was close to the center of town, so I decided to park there and deliver their packages first.

“You’re early today,” Mom greeted as Tilly and I walked in through the front door at around the same time the breakfast crowd was beginning to disperse.

“Two-bagger.”

“Ah. I guess that makes sense. Would you care for some coffee?”

“I don’t have time to stay, but I did want to bring you this.” I handed my mom the package from Italy.

She looked so completely shocked and so completely delighted when I handed it to her that I knew there had been more going on with the foreigner she had met briefly last summer than she was willing to let on.

“Isn’t the package from the same man who sent you a card at Christmas?”

“Yes,” Mom said, slipping the small package into the large pocket on the front of her apron. “As you know, we met when he was passing through last summer. Since then, we’ve exchanged correspondence. He’s a very nice man I’ve enjoyed getting to know.”

“Queenie said Romero Montenegro sounds like a name belonging to a muscular man with chiseled features and soulful eyes.”

Mom quickly glanced away. She picked up a rag and began wiping an already clean counter.

“So, does he have soulful eyes?” I couldn’t resist teasing the woman who, as far as I knew, had never even been on a date since she’d been informed my father died fourteen years ago.

“He’s a very nice-looking man. Now, if you don’t mind, I have customers to see to.”

I looked around the half-empty restaurant. Everyone looked to be taken care of, but I didn’t argue. I hated it when my brother, Mike, teased me about my love life, and I thought it was mean of me to tease Mom about hers. “Ruthie’s photo album came. Is she in the kitchen?”

“She is. She’ll be thrilled it’s finally here.” Mom hurried over to the kitchen door and pushed it open. “Ruthie, come on out,” Mom called. “Tess is here, and she brought the photo album Johnny sent.”

The next twenty minutes were taken up by Ruthie showing Mom and me, as well as every customer who hadn’t managed to escape before she opened the book, photos of little Holly Ruth Turner. She really was cute, but the extra time spent at the diner meant I was going to have to hustle to get my two bags of mail delivered before the shops in the area closed for the day. It was winter in White Eagle, which meant that, except for a few of the restaurants and the bars, the shops in town locked their doors and rolled up the sidewalks by five o’clock.

I managed to make up some time with my next few stops. I tried to pause and chat with a handful of people each day, figuring if I mixed it up, I could maintain the relationships I’d built over time without taking a ridiculous amount of time to complete the route assigned to me. Of course, the one stop where I could never seem to get away with a drop and run was the Book Boutique, the bookstore my best friend, Bree Price, owned.

“Oh good, perfect timing,” Bree said as I walked through the front door with a large stack of mail. “Wilma was just asking me about the Valentine’s Day party Brady’s throwing at the shelter.”

I smiled at Wilma Cosgrove, White Eagle’s new librarian and a fellow dog lover, who had been standing at the counter chatting with Bree. “What do you want to know?”

“I’ve been thinking of adopting a second dog. Sasha gets bored at home by herself all day, and unlike you, I’m not lucky enough to be able to bring her to work with me. How exactly does the party work?”

I set Bree’s mail on the counter. “It’s basically an adoption clinic, but Brady has arranged to use the high school’s multipurpose room. He’s going to decorate it with a Valentine theme and offer punch and cookies to those who show up. He plans to secure the exits other than the main entry, so the dogs and prospective owners can socialize in a casual atmosphere without having to worry about the animals getting out. He even plans to provide bean bag chairs for cuddling, balls for throwing, and toys for playing. He wants folks to relax with and really get to know the dogs available for adoption.”

“It sounds like fun. The event is Saturday?”

“Ten to two,” I confirmed.

“Great. I’ll plan to attend. Right now, I should get going. The library opens in twenty minutes.”

After Wilma left, Bree grabbed me by the arm. “Come with me. You have to see this.”

I let Bree drag me down the hallway to her office. Tilly trailed along behind us. Sitting in the middle of Bree’s desk was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. “Wow. That’s some bouquet. Who’s it from?”

Bree shrugged. “No idea. The delivery guy who brought it this morning said the flowers had been ordered and paid for by a source who wished to remain anonymous.”

“Was there a card?”

“Just a small one that said, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day from a friend.’ I love the mystery of an anonymous gift, but I’m dying to know who it’s from. I’ve been racking my brain since it was delivered, but I can’t think of a single person who would send such a wonderful bouquet.”

Like Bree, I had no idea who would have sent the flowers, but I was grateful. Bree had been so depressed since her last boyfriend had been sent to prison after admitting to stealing an old man’s life savings. It was good to see a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eye for the first time in weeks. “Maybe the flowers were sent by a customer? Or someone from book club?”

Bree tilted her head, causing her long blond hair to drape over her shoulder. “There are a couple of guys in book club who’ve asked me out, but I made it clear to each of them that I wasn’t looking for a romantic entanglement at this point. I can’t think of a single guy who would do something like this.”

“I’m sure the flowers are just an icebreaker, and the man who sent them will follow up. In the meantime, enjoy the mystery.”

Bree shrugged. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense. Are you coming to book club tonight?”

“If I can get the route done in time. I have a two-bagger today, so I’d best get going.”

“Okay. Let me know if you aren’t going to make it for some reason. Otherwise, I’ll plan on you being there. If you want, we can get dinner after.”

“I’d like that. I’ll see you at six.”

I left the bookstore and continued down the main street. I’d finished a quarter of the route and was nearing the halfway point, where I’d exchange my empty bag for the full one, when I got a text from Brady Baker, the new veterinarian in town. He asked if I had time to hand out some flyers for the Valentine party. I texted back that I had time to hand them out, but I didn’t have time to pick them up. He texted that he would have Lilly meet me in midroute.

Lilly Long was Brady’s new partner. She seemed to have been a good choice because she not only had been a practicing veterinarian for eight years, but she appeared to be a small-town girl at heart. She fit right in with the local crowd, which I knew was wonderful for Brady, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about her living and working with White Eagle’s most eligible bachelor. Brady and I were just friends, and he’d said on several occasions that he and Lilly were just friends as well, yet the thought of the two veterinarians spending so much time together caused a twinge of jealousy I couldn’t rationally explain. I texted Brady again and informed him where I’d be, so Lilly could meet up with me. Then I slipped my phone into my pocket and continued on my route.

“Afternoon, Hap,” I said to Hap Hollister as I entered his home and hardware store.

“Seems like you’re late today,” Hap said as I set his mail on the counter. When I only had one bag of mail to deliver, his store was one of my first deliveries.

“Double-bagger.”

“I should have known. Lots of folks getting cards from their sweethearts, I imagine.”

“Cards and packages. Have you decided what you’re getting Hattie for Valentine’s Day?”

Hattie Johnson was Hap’s wife, or ex-wife, or something. To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly where they stood legally. What I did know was that Hap and Hattie used to be married, but they separated, or possibly divorced, a few years ago and moved into separate residences, but they continued to spend time together and went out on weekly dates.

“I’m struggling with that one a bit. We have our date night tonight. I’m hoping she’ll drop a few hints as to what she’d like.”

“Will you be taking her out on the big night?”

Hap frowned. “I’m not really clear on that. On one hand, our relationship agreement stipulates that Hattie will make dinner for me every Sunday, as well as on the seven major holidays, and in exchange, I’ll take her on a proper date I plan and pay for every Wednesday and every other Saturday. The problem is, Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday. Wednesday is my night to provide a date, but Valentine’s Day is a holiday and therefore Hattie’s day to cook for me.”

“I guess you’ll have to talk to her about it when you see her tonight.”

“Yeah. I guess I will. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask how Tang is doing. I miss the little guy now that he no longer does your route with you.”

“He’s doing well. I’ll try to bring him by for a visit later in the week.”

Tangletoe, or Tang for short, was an orange-and-white-striped kitten I found tangled up in some fishing wire just before Christmas. When I first found him, he was too young to be left alone, so Tilly carried Tang on the route with us in a backpack. When he got a bit bigger, I knew it would no longer work to bring him everywhere I went the way I brought Tilly, so I adopted a buddy for him, a beautiful longhair black kitten named Tinder. Tang and Tinder seemed quite happy staying behind and destroying my cabin while Tilly and I delivered the mail.

Lilly was just pulling up into the loading zone in front of Cartwright’s Furniture as I approached with the mail. I took a small detour to greet her at her car. The pretty woman with long black hair and huge brown eyes rolled down the driver’s side window and handed me a stack of pink and white posters advertising the adoption event on Saturday.

“Brady says thank you, as do I,” Lilly said as I tucked the posters into my bag.

“Tilly and I are happy to help. It’ll be wonderful to find homes for as many of the shelter residents as possible.”

“I know you plan to show up early on Saturday.” Lilly tucked a lock of her long hair behind one ear. “Do you think you’d have time to stop by the bakery on Saturday morning to pick up the cookies Brady ordered?”

“No problem at all. Did he order them from Hattie?”

Lilly nodded. “Five dozen heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. Hattie said she’d throw in a cooler of punch.”

“Okay. I’ll pick up the sweets and be at the high school by eight to help with the setup.”

“Thanks, Tess. You’re a peach.”

Lilly rolled up her window and pulled into traffic while Tilly and I continued our route. By the time I’d delivered all the mail I’d been entrusted with for the day, it was almost five o’clock. I knew I’d have to hurry if I was going to make it home to change and drop off Tilly and make it back into town by six o’clock for book club. We’d had snow earlier in the week, so I couldn’t drive too quickly; still, I pressed the speed limit just a bit so as not to be late. My cabin was located outside of town in a rural area off the highway. It’s an old, dilapidated building on a large piece of land surrounded by forest that I wouldn’t trade for anything. There are times during the winter when having such a long commute gets tiresome, but whenever I stand on my deck and listen to the sweet sound of nothing, I know I’m truly living in heaven.

I was just slowing down to navigate a tight curve when I heard a loud crash. I barely had time to apply my brakes when a deer ran onto the road ahead of me. I swerved to avoid hitting him, which caused me to fishtail before coming to a stop in the middle of the road. After taking a few deep breaths to calm my nerves, I slowly pulled onto the gravel shoulder, where a vehicle sat motionless. Based on the damage to the front end, the crash I’d heard must have been this vehicle hitting something just seconds before I arrived.

 

The winner of the $10 Amazon gift card is Jeanette Mulroy. Please email me at kathidaley@kathidaley.com to collect your prize.

 

 

 

 

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A Haunting By The Sea

I have a new series premiering on April 10 that I am very excited about. It is a spinoff of the Seacliff High series although you will not have to have read the Seacliff High series to follow and enjoy it. Book 1 in the series – Homecoming By The Sea – is available for presale and will publish on April 10th. I will do a blog with a preview when it gets closer but if you would like to preorder today here is the link: http://amzn.to/2nxcO2u 

Many of you have asked if the new series will pick up where the old series left off. The answer is not really but sort of (how is that for ambiguity?) Here is what I will say:

If you have read the Seacliff High Series you are all set to enjoy Homecoming By The Sea.

If you haven’t read the Seacliff High Series and don’t want to read it – no need to worry. I cover the backstory of the main characters in Chapter 1, Book 1, of the new series. I’ve tried to keep the backstory to a minimum so as not to bore those readers who have read the series but the information provided will be sufficient to enjoy the new series without having read the original series.

If you haven’t read the Seacliff High Series and do want to read it, I have the books on sale prior to the new series launching. Here is the schedule:

Seacliff High Books in order:

The Secret – FREE – Feb 21 – 25

The Curse – $.99 – Feb 28 – March 6

The Relic – $.99 – March 7 – 13

The Conspiracy – $.99 – March 14 – 20

The Grudge – $.99 – March 21 – 27

The Shadow – $.99 – March 28 – April 3

The Haunting – $.99 – April 4 – 10

Homecoming By The Sea launches – April 10

      

I hope you will all try the new series. I am writing it this week and I have been having the best time with it. It is both funny and suspenseful with a small town feel and plenty of heartwarming scenes. The mystery is interesting and consist of many layers that will need to be unraveled in order to figure out what is going on. Those who have read the Seacliff High Series will be able to catch up with some old friends while meeting new friends along the way. I really think this will end up being one of my most popular series.

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts so comment below and let me know what you think. I will choose 1 winner from all the comments to receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

 

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Fifth Night

Fifth Night, book 5 in the Writer’s Retreat Series publishes on January 25. Here is a preview if you are interested.

 

Chapter 1
Monday, January 22

“Hi, everyone,” the young woman with a rounded belly on a stick-thin frame, long blond hair, and large haunted eyes, began. “My name is Abby Boston. Brit asked me to come here tonight to tell my story.” She nervously glanced at Brit Baxter, the youngest member of the Mystery Mastermind Group, which met every Monday evening at the Gull Island Writers’ Retreat. It looked like the poor girl might flee, but Brit smiled encouragingly. Abby nodded at her, and then turned once more to face the group. “As you may know, my husband, Bobby, died six months ago, leaving me to care for my nieces and nephews on my own.” Abby rubbed her huge stomach. “Baby Tammy, to be named for my late sister, will be joining us shortly, and I’m terrified. You see,” Abby glanced around the room, her eyes filling with tears, “after Bobby died, I got behind on my mortgage. I received a notice from the bank last week saying I either needed to get my loan up to date or vacate the house.” Abby’s eyes met mine. My heart was breaking for the young woman who had lost first her sister and then her husband. “I don’t have the money to pay the bank and I don’t know where the kids and I will go if we lose the house. I spoke to Brit about my dilemma and she said you all might be able to help.”

“Are you looking for a donation?” asked Alex Cole, a fun and flirty millennial who made his first million writing science fiction when he was just twenty-two.

“No, sir.” Abby shook her head vigorously. “I’m not looking for a handout. The kids and I will find a way to make it on our own.”

“So why are you here?” asked Victoria Vance, a romance novelist and my best friend.

“Bobby had an insurance policy. He took it out when my sister was killed and her kids came to live with us. He worked as a firefighter, and a fisherman on his days off. Both are high-risk jobs, and he wanted to be sure we’d be taken care of if anything happened to him. The problem is that the insurance company is refusing to pay. There’s a stipulation in the policy that they won’t in cases of suicide.”

That seemed a pretty standard condition to me. “What exactly are you asking?” I wondered.

“I need for you, Ms. Hanford, and your group, to prove Bobby didn’t commit suicide. I need you to prove he was murdered.”

I paused to consider her request. I didn’t know a lot about the case, but I did remember when Bobby Boston died. It seemed Deputy Rick Savage, Vikki’s boyfriend and a friend of the group, had been the one who investigated, and he’d determined there was no evidence to rule the case anything other than a suicide. Of course, I hadn’t known Rick back then; I’d just moved to the island when Abby’s husband had been found dead, so I didn’t have the background to have a firm opinion about it.

“I know Jill and the rest of you probably think it will be a long shot to prove a man who died by asphyxiation after leaving a suicide note was really murdered,” Brit added. “But it’s the only shot Abby has. She shared with me the details relating to the series of events leading up to her husband’s death and I really think she may be on to something. It does appear as if he might have been set up to take the fall for the real arsonist.”

“Okay.” I looked around at the people gathered. I could sense their sympathy for the young woman who seemed to be shouldering the weight of the world; and their trepidation at becoming involved in a case that, certainly on the surface, appeared to be cut and dried. “I’d love to help Abby, but I think we should hear the rest of the story before we decide.” I looked at Abby. “Please continue.”

Her face became even paler than before. I could imagine how she must feel, standing in front of our group pleading her case while we decided whether we believed her story. I hadn’t meant to make her feel like she was on trial, but I was pretty sure that was exactly how she did. “On second thought,” I glanced at Brit, “maybe you should tell us what you know, and Abby can fill in where necessary.”

Brit smiled at me with a look of thanks. “That would probably work the best.” She turned to Abby. “Why don’t you sit down next to me so you’ll be close by if I need to verify anything?” Abby looked like she’d been granted a reprieve and did exactly as Brit had suggested. Once Abby was seated, Brit looked around the room, making eye contact with each of the seven people present before she continued. “Abby’s husband, Bobby, worked as a firefighter for the Gull Island Fire Department. Beginning in May of this past year, there were a series of fires, which eventually were ruled to be arson. In all, there were five fires that burned down five structures over a six-week period.”

“I remember that,” said Jack Jones, my boyfriend and the owner of the Gull Island News. “Initially, he was referred to as the gentleman arsonist because all the fires were set at insured and unoccupied structures. While the fires caused inconvenience, the sites seemed to have been selected to cause minimal harm.”

“That’s true,” Brit confirmed. “Until the last one. On the fifth night, a home was burned to the ground. The family who lived there were away on vacation, and it was assumed that, like the other four fires, the fifth would result in no casualties. The problem was, a friend of the family was staying in the house, seemingly unbeknownst to anyone on the island. He died of smoke inhalation.” The group remained silent while we waited for Brit to continue. “A week after the fifth fire, Abby found Bobby dead in their garage when she got back from shopping. He was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, with a note claiming responsibility for the death of the man who’d died in the last fire beside him. The note said he was unable to live with the guilt of having been responsible for the man’s death.”

“And you don’t think that was what happened?” asked George Baxter, Brit’s uncle, a mystery writer and the most senior member of our group.

“Abby’s certain her husband would never set the fires or willingly leave her to raise five children on her own. She believes the person who was really responsible for the fires killed Bobby and made it look like he was the one behind them. I can’t claim to have any empirical proof one way or the other, but after speaking with Abby, I have reason to believe she may be on to something. That’s why we’re asking the Mystery Mastermind Group to look in to the situation.”

The group had been formed to look in to old cases that had been closed but seemed to still have unanswered questions. Abby’s case seemed like a worthwhile one to take on, but I wanted to leave that up to everyone. It was going to be hard to discuss the case with Abby sitting among us, so I called for a break, at which time I suggested to Brit that it might be best if Abby left. We would make a decision and Brit could let her know the following morning.

I put on a fresh pot of coffee while Brit walked Abby out to her car. The case with which they’d presented us had the potential to become a highly emotional one for everyone involved. I hoped everyone, if they agreed to take it on, would be up to the task of finding the truth, even if it turned out it wasn’t what we were looking for.

“What do you think?” I asked after coffee cups had been refreshed and the group had reconvened.

“My sense is that Abby’s telling the truth,” Clara Kline, a self-proclaimed psychic, spoke up. “I don’t have a sense about her husband and his role in the arson cases, but if you’re asking if I’m voting to take on her case, I say we should.”

I glanced at my half brother, Garrett Hanford, who was sitting next to Clara. He wasn’t a writer, but he owned the resort where the retreat was located and was therefore an honorary member of the group.

“Garrett?”

“I’m not sure if I should get a vote, but I’m in if I do. I don’t have any idea whether Abby’s husband killed himself, but I can’t help but ache for her and the huge burden she has to bear. If there’s a way to help, I’m up for doing whatever needs to be done.”

“I’m in as well,” said George.

“Me too.” Vikki glanced around the room with a look of determination on her face. I could sense Abby’s story had torn at her tender heart.

I saw Alex turn to look at Brit. He was a great guy, but he tended to be a bit more analytical than the rest of us, and slower to commit. “Abby’s in a tough spot and I think we all want to help her, but is there any evidence at all to support a conclusion different from the obvious one?”

“I have no idea whether Bobby killed himself or if, as Abby suspects, he was murdered and then framed for the arsons. But I do know Abby’s a very nice woman who has been through a lot and is in a tough spot. If our looking in to her husband’s death gives her even a small chance of saving her house, I think we should do it.”

Alex leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, taking a moment to contemplate the situation. “Was the suicide note handwritten?” he eventually asked.

“Typewritten,” Brit replied. “There was a signature that did appear to be Bobby’s, but we all know there are ways to forge signatures without much effort these days.”

Alex narrowed his gaze. I could sense his hesitation and I was certain Brit could as well.

“Please? For Abby,” Brit added.

Alex shrugged. “Okay. I don’t have a lot going on right now. I’m in.”

“I’m in as well,” Jack said. He sat forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his thighs. “It seems the first order of business should be to deal with the bank. We need to buy ourselves enough time to look in to things. I’ll talk to the bank manager tomorrow.”

I smiled at Jack, who was sitting across the room with his new puppy, Kizmet, at his feet. He was such a wonderful, caring man who really put himself out if he came across a person in need.

“Okay,” I said, “I guess we have our first case of the new year. Jack and I will do some preliminary work tomorrow, and then we’ll get together again to assign tasks. Can everyone meet back here tomorrow evening?”

“Oh, I can’t do tomorrow.” Brit flinched. “I have my writing class. I can do Wednesday.”

“Does Wednesday work for everyone else?” I asked.

“Are you cooking?” Alex asked.

“I’d be happy to.”

“Then I’ll be here. Right now, however, I have a date.”

“A date?” Brit asked. “Is there a new special someone in your life?”

Alex just winked, then left the room.

After everyone had returned to their cabin or room in the main house, Jack and I took Kizzy for a walk on the beach. She was an adorable golden retriever puppy Jack and I had found on the beach just before Christmas. While we didn’t know her exact age, we estimated she must be around five months old. I’d never been much of a pet person, and adopting a dog hadn’t been anywhere on my radar, but in the month Jack and I had shared parenting responsibilities for the easygoing yet rambunctious pup, she had firmly wormed her way into my heart.

“Kizzy did really well at the meeting tonight,” I said as we walked hand in hand. “She didn’t try to chase Agatha once.” Agatha was Clara’s cat, who didn’t have a lot of patience for people, except Clara, or other pets.

“I’ve been working with her. She’s a smart little girl. I think she’s going to turn out to be something very special.”

I watched Kizzy run up and down the beach ahead of us. It was such a peaceful evening. It had turned chilly, but the sky was clear, and there were a million stars overhead. The Turtle Cove Resort, where I had established the Gull Island Writers’ Retreat, had been in Garrett’s family for generations. While the resort initially had been run as a family vacation spot, I’d changed things up a bit after Garrett had his stroke and he asked me to run things. The writers’ colony was situated on a peninsula that featured ocean and sandy beaches to the east and marshland to the west. It truly was an exceptional piece of property, and I considered myself lucky to live here. I currently lived in the main house with Garrett and Clara, while George, Alex, Brit, and Vikki each had their own cabin. Jack, who had more money than he knew what to do with, lived in a huge mansion overlooking the sea, but he had plans to build his own cabin on the grounds so he could be closer to the rest of us.

In addition to the members of the Mystery Mastermind Group, there were three other writers living in cabins. Nicole Carrington is a reclusive true crime writer who initially insisted on being left completely alone but has recently begun to soften up a bit and has even occasionally joined us when we get together for dinner. We also have two temporary residents, a historian who’s staying with us while he completes a book on the area, and a romance writer, who rented one of the newly refurbished cabins for the winter to write the first in a series of steamy novels.

“Do you really think you can convince the bank manager to hold off on the foreclosure while we investigate?”

“I do,” Jack answered. “It may take some negotiation, but in the long run, the bank has nothing to gain by proceeding with the foreclosure process and everything to gain by working out a way for Abby to resume the payments and remain in her home.”

I lay my head on Jack’s shoulder. “It’s nice of you to go the extra mile. I know you’re already superbusy this week with the remodel of the newspaper office.”

Jack slipped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. “It’s not a problem at all, but I might need you to be available to babysit if both the paneling guy and the cabinet guy want to show up at the same time again.”

“Are they still arguing over who should have access to the lobby and conference room first?”

“Like eight-year-olds. I’d hire someone else, but there aren’t a lot of choices on the island.”

“Doesn’t it make sense that the paneling should go in first and then the cabinets should go over the paneling?”

“Makes sense to me, but the cabinet guy insists he needs to install the cabinets on bare wall minus the paneling, and the paneling guy says if the cabinets go up first, he’ll have to cut around everything. I think I’m going to shop around a bit before I make a decision about who to hire when I build the cabin.”

“How are the plans for that going?” I asked. I hadn’t been sure it was a good idea for Jack to sell his mansion and move into a small cabin on the beach, but the more we talked about it, the more excited I’d become. Not only would Jack be living only footsteps away from me, but I would have more access to Kizzy as well. Of course, the downside of that living arrangement was that I’d recently started working with Jack at the newspaper. Would there be a point at which so much togetherness evolved into too much togetherness?

“They’re going well,” Jack answered. “If all goes according to plan, I should be able to break ground next month. I want the shell up before the turtles arrive. I figure I’ll take a break from the construction during nesting season, so they won’t be disturbed.”

“I’m sure the turtles will appreciate that, as will the members of the turtle rescue squad.”

Jack picked up a stick and threw it for Kizzy. “I’m not in a hurry, and I’m committed to doing this project in as environmentally conscious a way as possible. That reminds me: did you ever get the interview you were hoping for with the developer who wants to build condos over the wetlands?”

“It’s all set for tomorrow afternoon. I’ve looked at his project and it’s insane. I can’t understand why anyone would want to build housing over water.”

“He wants to rent the units to tourists. His vision is to build everything up on supports and raised walkways, sort of like the huts over the ocean in places like Bali. I get why he thinks the idea will be popular with tourists, but the environmentalists are never going to go for it. It seems to me he’s wasting his time, but I guess it’s his to waste.”

I frowned. “Yeah, I guess. In my experience, however, most developers are accomplished businessmen who don’t go after projects they know will never fly. Maybe he knows something we don’t.”

“Perhaps. We’ll need to keep an eye on things as they develop.”

Kizzy ran up to us and dropped her stick at our feet. I bent down and picked it up, then threw it as hard as I could down the beach, and Kizzy took off running again. “If he does pursue the project, it’s going to become a hot-button issue, which will probably sell a lot of newspapers.”

“Very true.” Jack turned his head slightly and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “I have some news of my own.”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

“My agent called to tell me that one of the publishing houses I work with is interested in doing more books in the series I wrote for them. In my own mind, I’d already wrapped it up, so I said I wasn’t interested in doing any more books in that series. Now the publisher is offering an obscene advance, and she’s pushing me to make a commitment.”

“I would think a decision like that should be up to you. I mean, your agent works for you, not the other way around.”

Jack nodded. “In theory, sure. But at times these negotiations can become complicated because…”

“Your agent is your mother,” I remembered.

“Exactly. She’s very committed to getting me to change my mind and has decided to come for a visit.”

“I see. And when will she be here?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

I paused before answering. I had a feeling the way I reacted to this news could be important and I didn’t want to get it wrong. “You have a lot going on, and a visit from either a mother or an agent is probably going to add a lot of stress to your schedule, though I’d be excited to meet your mother. I’m sure if she raised an amazing guy like you, she must be pretty amazing herself.”

Jack lifted a shoulder. “She’s amazing, but she’s also driven and can be relentless when it comes to getting what she wants. I love my mother, and I don’t think I made a mistake asking her to be my agent when I was a young man publishing my first book. I probably owe her my career. But now that I own the newspaper and am building a life here on the island, I realize I need to cut back on my fiction output. The problem is that Mom sees the newspaper as a temporary distraction. She talks like I’m having some sort of midlife crisis and the newspaper is a shiny red Corvette. I’d love to have some time to catch up with Mom, but I have a feeling the entire visit is going to be me battling my agent.”

“You’re in a tough spot.”

Jack let out a long breath. “I really am. I never should have allowed her to integrate herself so firmly into my professional life. I’m afraid if I refuse to do what my agent wants, I’ll lose the fairly amiable relationship I’ve always had with my mother.”

“If there’s anything at all I can do to help, just ask.”

Jack looked toward Kizzy, who was chasing the waves. “I might need you to keep Kizzy while my mom’s here. She’ll be staying at my house and isn’t a fan of four-legged creatures of any kind.”

“I’d love to keep Kizzy for a few days. I’m sure she’ll miss you, but it’ll give us a chance to bond. And if you need a place to run away to, my door is always open.”

“I’m glad to hear that. In the meantime, how would you like to stay at my house tonight? I’m afraid we won’t have much time together once Mom gets here.”

“I’d love to. Just let me grab a few things.”

Jack and I returned to the house, where he wiped the sand from Kizzy’s paws while I ran upstairs to grab an overnight bag with basic toiletries and clean clothes for the following morning. Although I hadn’t let on, I was somewhat nervous about Jack’s mother’s upcoming visit. She was important to Jack and Jack was important to me, so I wanted us to get along. When Jack spoke of his mother, it was with a tone that revealed both admiration and trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. He’d been just nineteen when he’d written his first best seller. His mother, who had a background in marketing, had quit her job to be his agent. Jack’s writing had always been a huge success, and I was sure at least a part of that was due to his mother’s work, but I worried what an overinvolved mother could do to our still-new relationship.

Jack seemed to be his own man, capable of making his own decisions, but I had enough of my own mother issues to understand that when it came to family matters that should be easy, they could have a way of becoming complicated in no time.

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