A New Series and a Sample Chapter

I’m really excited to introduce you all to a new series launching this fall. Gooseberry Bay is an open ended series so there are no set number of issues going in. I plan to explore these characters for a while and see how it goes but I can see a lot of potential with this setup.

The series is set in Washington State and features a quaint little town tucked into the end of a beautiful little bay somewhere within the labyrinth known as Puget Sound. The series features Ainsley Holloway, a instigative reporter turned PI, whose father recently died so after finding clues while cleaning out his attic she decides to go searching for answers about her mysterious past. She was raised by the cop who rescued her as a child, and while her life to this point has been full and happy, she always has wondered who she was and where she came from before she was found alone in a burning warehouse. 

 

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Ainsley is first introduced when she visits Holiday Bay and spends a few days as a guest at the inn with Abby and Georgia. After she speaks to Abby and realizes the house in the photo she found within the mementos left behind by her father is most likely located in Washington State and not in Maine, she heads in that direction. If you’d like to start at the very beginning you can find Ainsley’s trip to Holiday Bay here:

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Gooseberry Bay:

A heartwarming mystery series about finding answers and fostering hope while building friendships and embracing the magic of life by the sea and small town holidays.

Ainsley Holloway had come to Gooseberry Bay to find answers about her past. She’d come to find an explanation for the dreams that haunted her after the death of the cop who’d both rescued and raised her. And she’d come to identify the family she couldn’t remember but knew in her heart she’d once belonged to.

Ainsley hoped that by finding these answers, she’d also find healing. She hoped that once she’d resurrected the memories buried deep in her mind, she’d find peace.

The Cottage at Gooseberry Bay is a series about, not only finding answers, but finding hope.

It’s a series about family and friendship.

It’s a series about shared holidays, festivals, and celebrations.

It’s a series about shared heartbreak and hardship.

And it’s a series about the bond that can be forged amongst strangers when tragedy binds two or more individuals with a common goal.

In book 1 in the series, Ainsley arrives in Gooseberry Bay only to find there will be no easy answers as she’d so naively hoped. Unwilling to leave before she gets what she came for, she rents a cottage on the sea where she and her dogs, Kai and Kallie, can settle in and wait.

Her first night in town she meets a young woman who is later found dead. The local sheriff has labeled the death of this young woman a suicide based on a text message she’d sent before she died. But Ainsley, who’d spoken to the victim only hours before the text was sent, isn’t quite as sure of the easy answer the sheriff would like everyone to believe.


An investigative journalist by trade and cops daughter by upbringing, Ainsley never had been the sort to walk away from unanswered questions, so with the help of new friends she meets along the way, she initiates a parallel investigation which seems to indicate the sheriff’s real motivation in trying to sell the suicide angle to the community is to protect the interests of a very rich and very powerful man.

 

Halloween Moon – Chapter 1:

Life, I’ve been led to believe, is a journey of choices, linking the past to the future in a unique sequence that cannot be foretold and will not be complete until the final choice has been made. I like to think I’m the master of my story, weaving a tale I’ve crafted with each decision I’ve made, but as I stood peering across the inlet at the house that had haunted my dreams, I knew in my soul that every choice I’d made up to this point had actually been part of a predestined series of events leading me to this exact place in this exact moment in time.

As I’d envisioned, the house sat impressively on the edge of a tall bluff overlooking an expanse of murky water that seemed to stretch endlessly into the dark sky. I’m certain that on a sunny day, the view from this particular perch would be priceless, but today, as my history and destiny collide, the heavy air settled around the rambling structure, leaving only an imprint chiseled firmly in my mind.

“He’d like it here,” I said to my dogs, Kai and Kallie, who were waiting patiently for me to continue our walk. “It’s odd that I can feel his presence. I have no reason to believe either he or I have ever been here at any point in the past, and yet…”

And yet, a distant memory tugged at my mind. It was blurry and out of focus, and I wasn’t even sure it was a memory and not the remnant of a dream. Still, I supposed it was the and yet that had led to my decision to put my life on hold in order to find the house in the first place.

Glancing at the photo in my hand, I allowed my mind to filter back to the dreams that had become both frequent and vivid during the past several months. There was nothing particularly spectacular or unusual about the image of the woman standing on a porch with two young children, and I’m not sure why I’d even given the photo a second look, yet from the moment I’d first stumbled upon it in my father’s attic, a spark had ignited, which had led to the dreams. Those dreams had fueled my imagination, and eventually planted a seed, which, over time, grew into an obsession. An obsession, I realized, that wouldn’t allow me to rest until I found the answers I’d traveled over three thousand miles to find.

Kai nudged his nose into my hand, causing me to look down once again.

“Is that your subtle way of telling me we should continue on into town and find a place to stay for the night?”

Kai barked once, placing a paw on my leg. I gave him a scratch behind the ear and then called for both dogs to follow me back to the SUV I’d left parked on the side of the road. I popped the hatch, and Kai and Kallie jumped in. Closing the rear door, I checked the latch and then headed toward the driver’s side door. Sliding inside, I turned the key in the ignition, checked my mirrors, and then pulled away from the side of the narrow road that hugged the shoreline leading out to the small town where I hoped to find lodging. The drive through the deeply wooded forest toward the small town was lovely despite the fog, which had begun to lift as I headed south. The recent rain had resulted in a series of small creeks that rolled and trickled down through the pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar, and aspen that covered the mountainside.

Gooseberry Bay was tucked into a forested area that was bursting with color. Vine maples tangled with the wild rose that thrived in the area, creating a breathtaking palette beneath the heavy canopy of the larger trees. I was tempted to stop, dig out my camera, and try to capture the brilliance of the day now that the fog had begun to roll out, but it was late, and I still needed to find a place to stay for a few days. As I neared the small town, a boardwalk appeared to my left. The wooden walkway, which hugged the water for what seemed like miles, was crowded with local vendors peddling their goods and services to the throngs of people who’d turned out to enjoy the near-perfect afternoon. I found the colorful carts, bright yellow pumpkins, and black and orange lights charming. The road forked just after a sign announcing a Halloween festival. Slowing slightly, I took the fork to the right and crossed a narrow bridge that rumbled and groaned as I drove from the road toward the parking area of the inn I’d found with my lodging app.

I parked in the spot designated for those checking in. The inn was a long L-shaped building, with two stories of wood construction, and based on the number of chimneys, there were at least six fireplaces. Planter boxes lined the wooden walkway leading guests to the front door. I had the feeling the boxes were changed out seasonally since they were currently rich with flowers in red, orange, yellow, and gold. The front porch was covered with a line of rocking chairs. Scarecrows, who seemed to be guarding the bright orange pumpkins that were set all about in a haphazard fashion, were tied to the railing, which supported the roof.

Rolling down the windows, I assured the dogs I’d just be a minute and then headed toward the front of the building. I knocked on the front door, wondering if perhaps I should just go on in. The facility was an inn, and therefore should be open to the public, so perhaps knocking wasn’t a requirement.

“Can I help you?” a woman with long dark hair, brown eyes, and a wide grin greeted me.

“My name is Ainsley Holloway. I’m hoping you have a room for a few nights.” I glanced behind me. “One that allows dogs.”

The woman, who looked to be only an inch or two taller than my five-foot two-inch frame, glanced over my shoulder at the two huge dogs waiting patiently for me to return. “Those are big dogs. I bet they weight more than you do.”

“They do. But they’re trained and well behaved. If you rent us a room, I promise they won’t be a problem.”

The woman smiled at the dogs and then looked back in my direction. “I do love dogs and normally would consider your request, but I’m afraid the inn is booked solid. It’s Halloween, you know. The town is famous for our Halloween festival, and with the full moon landing on Halloween this year, there are even more tourists in town than usual.”

I sighed. “I understand. I’d forgotten that it was Halloween or the weekend for that matter until I saw the sign about the Halloween festival. I don’t suppose you can suggest an alternative lodging property that accepts dogs?”

She slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid that finding lodging that will accept two huge dogs is going to be a problem in our little town, especially during this time of the year when tourists come from all around to see the fall colors.”

My smile faded. The dogs and I had camping gear with us, but I’d really been looking forward to a hot shower.

“How long will you be in town?” the woman asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. A few months. Maybe longer.” I glanced back toward the car. “I’m here to do some research, so the duration of my stay is open-ended. I’d hoped to find a place to stay for a night or two while I looked for a more permanent lodging property that would rent to me by the week or even the month.”

The woman rolled her lips and then nibbled on the bottom one gently as she appeared to be considering an idea. “I do know of a place. It’s a cottage and not an inn. I’m afraid it is a bit run down, but it sits right on the water at Gooseberry Bay, which is lovely this time of the year.”

“And you think the owner of this cottage would rent to someone with two dogs?” I glanced back toward the car. “Two large dogs?”

She nodded. “I inherited a large piece of land with five cottages from my uncle, who recently passed away. The four rental cottages are in pretty good repair, but I’m afraid that the cottage Uncle Bucky used as his personal residence is pretty run down. To be honest, the place needs some tender loving care. A lot of it. My plan is to fix it up and then rent it out along with the others, but I’ve been too busy as of late to get to it, so it’s still just sitting there lonely and abandoned. If you don’t mind living in a space that is pretty run down, I’d be willing to rent it to you and your dogs for as long as you want to stay.”

I smiled. “That would be great.”

“I’ve cleared out Uncle Bucky’s personal belongings, but the place will need a good cleaning.”

“I don’t mind. Really. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to find lodging with two enormous dogs.”

“I can imagine. And the place, while shabby, is livable. The plumbing is functional, the fireplace has been cleaned and cleared for use, and the electrical seems to be up to code, but the paint is shot, and the flooring is in desperate need of replacing.”

“That’s totally fine,” I assured the woman once again. “The kids and I won’t mind peeling paint or scratched up flooring.”

She nodded. “Okay. Let’s go and take a look. Just let me grab the keys.” She turned back toward the interior of the charming inn, but then turned back. “My name is Hope Masterson, by the way.”

I held out a hand in greeting. “As I said, I’m Ainsley Holloway.” I angled my head toward the car, where the dogs were patiently waiting. “The dogs are Kai and Kallie.”

“I’m happy to meet you. Now let me grab the keys. The cottage is just a couple miles down the road.”

I climbed back into my SUV and followed Hope through town past cute cottage style buildings that lined the road opposite the bay. Just after we passed the harbor, she turned onto a dirt lane that twisted into the woods before opening up to a wide-open space where several parking spaces were marked. “Everyone who lives in the cottages parks here. I’m afraid that means you have to haul groceries and supplies in, but the isolation of each waterfront cottage makes it worth the effort to most.”

“Wow. This is gorgeous,” I said, gasping at the perfection of the whole thing.

“Grab the dogs, and we’ll take a look.”

I walked around my SUV and opened the hatchback. The dogs jumped down onto the dirt lot and sat down beside me, waiting for further direction.

“Can I pet them?” Hope asked.

I looked down at the dog sitting by my left leg. “Kallie approach,” I said in a relaxed, yet firm voice.

Kallie slowly approached Hope and then sat politely just in front of her.

“When you told me your dogs were polite and well trained, I figured that meant they didn’t chew the furniture or pee on the floor, but this dog is amazing.”

“My dad was a cop. He was in the canine unit until he made detective. We always had a dog living with us when I was growing up, and my dad always made sure they had the best training.” I looked down at my best friends. “Kai and Kallie haven’t been officially trained as service dogs, but I got them when they were pups, so they learned manners from an early age.”

After a moment, I called Kallie back and allowed Kai to approach and meet Hope. Normally, I didn’t keep them reigned in quite this tightly, but I wanted to be sure they didn’t do anything that would cause the owner of the little cottage to change her mind about renting it to us.

“The cottages are just down this trail,” Hope said once I’d recalled both dogs.

Hope began to speak as we set off down a well-worn dirt trail. “The five cottages are arranged on a piece of land shaped like a long peninsula. Each cottage has a view of and access to the water. The cottages are spaced far enough apart so that it feels as if you are alone on the peninsula, but I can assure you that the other four cottages are occupied with folks you’ll want to get to know.”

“I look forward to it.”

Hope paused at a trail that veered off the main trail to the left. “This little footpath leads to the cottage occupied by one of my very best friends, Tegan Walker. She owns and operates a bar and grill just about half a mile down the road from the inn. The Rambling Rose is open for breakfast through dinner, and the bar remains open until nine on weeknights and eleven on Fridays and Saturdays.”

“Good to know.”

“The food is excellent, and it’s a good place to meet some of the locals.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Hope started walking again. “The next little footpath leads to the cottage occupied by Booker Maguire. Booker is currently dating Tegan. He’s a nice guy who works at the harbor. If you need to rent a boat for some reason, he’d be the one to see.”

“I’ll keep that in mind as well.”

“This next footpath leads to the only two-bedroom cottage on the property. It’s currently occupied by Josie Wellington and Jemma Hawthorn. Josie works at the bar and grill with Tegan, and Jemma is a computer geek, who works remotely for a company based in Seattle.” She paused at the next footpath. “This is our footpath, but if you continue on around the peninsula, you will come to the fifth cottage, which is occupied by a helicopter pilot named Cooper Fairchild. Coop owns his own bird, so he’s a good guy to know if you need access to immediate transportation.”

“Good to know,” I said, although I couldn’t imagine ever needing to rent a helicopter.

Hope turned onto the footpath that wound through what looked to be blackberry bushes. I’d noticed that a lot of different types of berries grew in the area. Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries. The berries were past their peak by this point, but perhaps if I was still in the area next year, which was actually sort of doubtful, I could check out the possibility of harvesting some of the fruit.

“And this is the cottage I was speaking of,” Hope announced as a small cottage perched right on the water came into view.

“It’s lovely,” I gasped, wondering how I’d been so lucky to have inquired about this place at a time when it was empty. The cottage was small, only a single bedroom, small bath, kitchenette, and living area. But it did have a fireplace and huge windows overlooking a deck, which overlooked the sea. There was also a bonus room of sorts at the top of a narrow stairway off the kitchen. The room was small, more of an attic space that had been completely encircled with windows. Hope explained that her uncle had converted the attic space for use as an art studio. Being in the room felt a bit like being in a fishbowl, but the view was stunning.

“The landmass across the inlet,” I asked after stepping out onto the deck, “is that Piney Point?”

“It is.”

“But how can that be? I stopped on the bluff along the way to get a peek at the point, but I drove quite a way south after that.”

“You must have stopped on the northwest corner of Gooseberry Bay. We’re on the south side of the bay now. From the northwest point, you would have continued south toward the town, but then the road curved and hooked back toward the north once you reached the harbor. After we left the inn, we traveled further north, and this cottage is located on the very northern tip of the peninsula, which is surrounded by Gooseberry Bay on one side and Piney Inlet on the other.”

I looked across the bay and realized the land on the other side was the same piece of land I’d been standing on an hour ago. How odd that I hadn’t realized we’d changed direction so radically. I glanced across the inlet toward Piney Point and wondered for the hundredth time since I’d set out on this journey what exactly it was fate seemed to be leading me toward. The fact that I’d end up staying in a cottage overlooking the very house I was here to research was just too much of a coincidence, even for me.

“Do you know who owns the house on the point?” I asked.

“Two brothers: Adam and Archie Winchester. Adam is a great guy, but he travels a lot and is rarely around, but Archie and I are good friends.”

“Does anyone else live in the house?” I wondered.

“They employ a woman named Ruth. She cooks and cleans for the brothers. Is there any particular reason you’re so interested?”

“Sort of, but it’s a long story. I’ll fill you in at a later time.”

Hope nodded. “I need to get back, but if you want to come by the inn before six, you can sign the rental agreement and pay for the first month’s rent.”

I thanked Hope, promised I’d be by, and then headed toward my SUV. It took the dogs and me three trips to get all the stuff we’d brought with us from Georgia transferred from the car to the cottage. Once I’d stowed my suitcases in the bedroom, I opened the large slider and stepped out onto the deck. “Wow,” I said again, for what had to be the hundredth time since I’d been here. The view of the glassy water and hillside splashed with fall colors was almost more than I could take in after only a few moments.

Stepping back inside, I looked around once again. It appeared as if someone had cleaned the place after the man who’d lived here had died, but it also appeared that the cleaning had been a while ago. There was a layer of dust on every surface, so I supposed that if the dogs and I were really going to be comfortable here, I’d need to buy some supplies and give the place a good scrubbing. My plan was to spend as much time in this adorable little town as I needed to figure out why I’d been having vivid dreams about a house I’d never visited. It sounded to me like Hope was willing to enter into an open-ended rental agreement, which given my situation, suited me just fine.

Opening my overnight bag, I grabbed the journal I’d purchased to use more for keeping notes than for jotting down my thoughts. The little town of Gooseberry Bay wasn’t all that far away, but I preferred to get everything I’d need for a day or two in one trip so I could clean the cottage, get the kitchen set up, and ready my life for the intensive research I planned to do.

The first thing on my list was cleaning supplies. The refrigerator had been cleaned at one point and was plugged in and ready to go, so an assortment of food items would be of value as well. I wasn’t much of a cook and had been existing on sandwiches for a good part of my life, so I added bread, meat, cheese, and condiments to the list, along with a couple bottles of wine, a carton of milk for my coffee, coffee, and a coffeemaker since I didn’t see one on the counter, fruit, a few veggies, a box of cereal, and a few doggie treats for Kai and Kallie. I still had dog food from the last bag I’d bought, and I was fine on the vitamins and supplements the dogs took as well.

After opening and closing all the closets, I was able to determine that I’d need a broom and dustpan for the wooden floors, sponges, various forms of liquid cleaner, and gloves for the shelves, countertops, and bathroom, and maybe a few things such as basic plates, bowls, silverware, utensils, pots, and pans.

This would be a start, although I suspected additional visits to town would be in my future over the next few days. I was anxious to dig right into my research, but I knew that feeling settled and establishing a routine would be important to my overall health and ability to focus on the task before me.

I hated to leave the dogs alone in a place they weren’t used to, but they most likely wouldn’t be welcome at the general store, and I wouldn’t be gone long. Laying the blankets they preferred to sleep on over the newer-looking rug someone had left on the living room floor, I called them over, gave them a treat, and then promised I’d hurry back. Kai and Kallie were large dogs who needed a lot of sleep, so I suspected that once I drove away, they’d settle in for a nap that would most likely last until I returned.

My first stop was the inn where I’d promised to return to pay the first month’s rent and sign a rental agreement. Hope invited me in and offered me tea.

“This is lovely,” I said, taking in the pale yellow walls, cream-colored wainscoting, and pretty multi-panel windows looking out over the garden that had been planted on all sides of the large structure.

“I’ve worked hard to give the inn the feel of a cottage in summer.” She crossed the room and took a folder off the desktop. “Let’s head back to the sunroom so we can go through everything.”

I agreed, admiring the perfectly maintained antiques, huge picture windows, and artfully placed landscapes that Hope explained she’d painted herself. Unlike the scuffed floors in the cottage, the hardwood floors in the inn shone, making it appear that someone had just polished them that morning.

“How many rooms do you have?” I asked as we passed the hardwood staircase leading to the second floor.

“Fourteen if you include the rooms with the shared baths in the old wing.”

“You’ve created a very welcoming atmosphere. I imagine that you have guests that return time and time again.”

“I do,” she confirmed. “Mostly in the fall and during the Christmas season when the entire town goes all out to create a Christmas Village.”

Once we arrived in the sunroom, she offered me a seat on the sofa and then presented a standard rental agreement. She took the time to go over a few items, such as the open-ended nature of the agreement and the obligations she as the landlord and me as a tenant might expect. I gave her a check in the amount we’d agreed to and then asked about doing some light upgrades such as a fresh coat of paint to the interior of the cottage. I almost hated to ask since she was already doing me such a huge favor by allowing the dogs and me to stay there, but the warmth and coziness of the inn had inspired me. As it turned out, not only did she agree to the idea, but she was enthusiastic and even agreed to pay for the paint. When she offered me a discount on the rent, if I provided the labor, I knew I’d found not only a landlord but a friend as well.

As we sipped the tea she’d prepared, I asked if she had colors she preferred, which is when she brought out the design magazine she’d been poring over since inheriting the place.

“I really want the cottage to maintain the woodsy feel it has now. I don’t want to replace the hardwood on the walls and floor, but I do want to clean it up, and of course, the place could use a fresh coat of paint. Maybe blue or gray. Something peaceful and tranquil that complements rather than contrasting with the natural beauty of the cove where the cottage sits would be perfect.”

“I totally agree,” I said. “I can already imagine the place with a fresh coat of paint. I’ll stop by the hardware store for some paint samples while I’m in town picking up food and cleaning supplies.”

“A friend of mine owns Hank’s Hardware on Second Street directly across from the Rambling Rose, which sits on the bay,” Hope informed me. “Hank and I have talked about the sort of thing I have in mind. I’ll call him and let him know you plan to stop by. He can make sure you have everything you need, and he’ll just add it to my account, so there will be no need to worry about reimbursement and that sort of thing.”

“That sounds perfect. I might even stop at the bar and grill when I’m done and grab some takeout.”

“Tegan is the best cook in the state. If you like seafood, you should try her chowder. I promise you it will be the best you’ve ever had.”

“I love chowder. I’ll try it.” I looked around the room. “You mentioned that Tegan’s bar and grill was called the Rambling Rose, and I noticed the inn is named the Rosewood Inn. Was it intentional that you have similar names?”

“It was. Actually, Tegan started off here at the inn. She worked in the kitchen for a while, but she really wanted to open her own place, which was a dream I supported. When she finally got enough money together to go out on her own, she was so excited, but she also wanted to maintain the connection to the inn. It’s slow here in Gooseberry Bay during the winter, so instead of employing a chef, I just send my guests to Tegan’s place for breakfast and dinner. We have a voucher system set up. During the summer, I hire a chef, but Tegan supplies all the baked goods and desserts.”

“That actually makes a lot of sense.” I stood up. “I don’t want to leave the dogs for too long, and I have a couple of stops to make, so I should get going. Thank you again for renting the cottage to me. It’s going to make my stay so much more enjoyable than I ever anticipated.”

After I left the inn, I headed toward the general store. It was getting late, so I decided to tackle the hardware store the following day. For now, I just needed some food and cleaning supplies. It would take a few days to feel truly settled, but it would be worth the wait to start my research if I was able to have a place for the dogs and me to live that really felt like home, and so far, Gooseberry Bay felt more like home than anywhere I’d ever lived.

As I entered the downtown section of Gooseberry Bay, I could see that, like many of the other small towns connected by narrow roads, bridges, and ferries to each other and to the larger cities on the mainland of Washington, Gooseberry Bay was all decked out with orange lights, pumpkins, scarecrows, and everything Halloween. I felt a tug at my heartstrings as I stopped for a group of children dressed in colorful costumes who’d been waiting with their parents or another adult to cross the busy street between the boardwalk and the cute little mom and pop shops. I could still remember my father taking me trick-or-treating a time or two. I remembered the fun we’d had going door to door for candy, after which we headed back to the house, opened a can of chili, which we’d eaten while we’d watched a Halloween themed movie.

God, I missed him.

I tried to smile as a father dressed as a doctor waved at me in thanks as his family crossed in front of me on the way to the hot cider stand on the boardwalk. I waved back, but the pain from my loss was too great to enjoy the energy of the little town on this very special night. Once the group had made it safely to the opposite side of the road, I continued down the busy street. Hope had verified that I’d be able to get almost everything I’d need from the general store, so I found a parking space near the front door.

The general store featured housewares on one side and food on the other, so I decided to start with the pots and pans I’d need and then move on to the cleaning supplies, rounding out my trip with the food items I’d added to the list. Of course, by the time I’d placed a coffeemaker, a few inexpensive pots, pans, utensils, silverware, plates, and cups into my basket, it was nearly full. I managed to squeeze in the cleaning supplies, but that left no room for food. I supposed I could come back in the morning since I’d planned to pick up takeout from the bar and grill this evening. It would be nice to have a bottle of wine to sip with dinner, and I would need coffee for my new Keurig. Tucking the wine and a package of K-Cups under my arm, I made my way to the checkout counter.

“You must be Ainsley,” said the young woman behind the counter wearing a witch’s hat and pumpkin earrings when I began placing everything from the basket onto the counter.

“I am. How did you know that?”

The girl, who looked to be in her early twenties, grinned. “My mother, Patty, is good friends with Hope, who happened to mention to her that she’d rented one of the cottages on the peninsula to a visitor who was in town to do some research. Given the fact that you’ve managed to cram everything other than the kitchen sink into that one small basket, I can only conclude that you are new to the area and looking to outfit a rental. Gooseberry Bay is a small town. I put two and two together.”

“I’m impressed,” I said to the dark-haired beauty, setting the ceramic plates I’d selected next to the package of six light blue glasses. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”

“Cammy.” Her dark eyes flashed with enthusiasm. “Cammy Collins.”

“I’m happy to meet you, Cammy.”

“Did you find everything you need?” she asked as she neared the end of my order.

“Milk. For my coffee,” I remembered. “I forgot the milk. I’ll grab that, and that should do me until tomorrow when I’ll come better prepared to stock my kitchen.”

When I returned from grabbing my milk, Cammy handed me a flier. “Tonight is the big full moon festival. You should go.”

I glanced down at the flier. “Hope mentioned that tonight was the full moon.”

“And Halloween,” Cammy added with a huge grin on her face. “Do you have any idea how epic it is going to be to have the full moon fall on Halloween night?”

“Pretty epic, I would imagine,” I tried for as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “I’ve been traveling for days and am pretty exhausted, so I’m not sure I’m up for dancing under the full moon.”

Cammy began bagging my purchases. “I get it. Partying under the full moon isn’t for everyone, but if you can’t make the celebration tonight, at least come out for the picnic in the park tomorrow. Most of the families in town come, so it’s a good opportunity to meet people.”

“Sounds like fun. What time does it start?”

“The event goes all day, but the softball game is at three. You really have to come for that. I’m pitching this year, so I can guarantee you that my team will win.”

I had to say the girl’s enthusiasm was infectious. “I will definitely try to make it.”

Cammy totaled up my order and told me my amount. After passing her my credit card to pay my bill, I said my goodbyes and then headed out to the parking lot to transfer everything I’d purchased into my car. Just as I was getting ready to leave, a man in a huge black truck drove up, blocking my ability to back up without the risk of hitting him. What was it with men who drove big trucks and their irritating habit of parking like they owned the place? The guy hadn’t even turned off the engine or lowered the volume of the radio he was blasting loud enough to be heard in the next county. My instinct was to stomp back inside the general store and demand that the man move his testosterone enhancer, but I really didn’t want to cause a problem, so in the end, I decided to just wait until he grabbed whatever he’d shown up to grab, and continued on his way.

Deciding to make good use of my time, I texted my best friend, Keni, to let her know I’d arrived in Gooseberry Bay, and I was pretty sure I’d already located the house in the photo. Of course, I would need to get a closer look to know for sure, and I planned to do that as soon as I had the chance, but for now, my gut told me that I was finally nearing the end of my journey.

Keni texted back, excited by my news, and wanted to talk, but since she was in the middle of play rehearsal, she needed to call me later. I sent her hug and kisses emojis and then logged into my email.

There was a newsletter letting all subscribers know about the upcoming holiday festivities at the Inn at Holiday Bay. When I’d stayed in Holiday Bay, Maine before making my trip west, I’d gotten to know Abby Sullivan and Georgia Carter. Abby owned the inn Georgia ran. Both women had been super nice and had even helped me figure out that the house in the photo was more likely on the west coast than the east. I owed them quite a lot since there was no way I’d be as far along in my research as I was if I hadn’t met the women at the exact time in my life I’d needed the advice they’d provided.

It took a bit longer than I thought it should, but eventually, a tall man with blond hair wearing a Seattle Seahawks cap came out of the general store, opened the driver’s side of his truck, and slid inside. He glanced one last time toward the front of the building and then drove away, giving me the room I needed to do the same.

As I was pulling out of my parking space, I noticed Cammy turn the open sign to closed. It was only seven-thirty, and the general store was supposed to be open until eight, but I figured that perhaps she had plans and had made arrangements with her boss to close early. I pulled onto the highway and headed toward the Rambling Rose, never realizing how important my witnessing Cammy’s simple act of turning the sign early would turn out to be in the days ahead.

 

 

 

 

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