Eve Lloyd had spent the last couple of weeks working down her list of overused adages. Now, she’d hit rock bottom.
Oh, how she hated that one.
“Remind me again why I agreed to let complete strangers stay at my house?” The cooling off period had expired and the beach house she would eventually turn into an inn was officially hers. She hadn’t thought of a name for the inn or hired staff, or purchased any of the items on her extensive shopping list, and just as well she hadn’t because she might never survive this week.
“Did they wake you up again?” Jill asked.
“Wake me up? They wrenched me out of my slumber. I’ve been stumbling around all morning bumping into furniture. I’m going to be all shades of black and blue tomorrow. Honestly, if they don’t kill each other first, I’ll…”
“Yes?” Jill snickered.
Eve scowled at the filming equipment littered around the garden. “I should give the lot of them a bout of food poisoning and be done with it. Put them out of action.”
One of the film crew striding past them hurried his steps.
“Would you still get to keep the money?”
Eve slumped back on the garden chair and gazed up at the grey sky. “I insisted on a no refund clause, just in case they finish ahead of schedule. But they’re the type to sue the pants off me.” She sighed. “It had sounded like such a simple gift from heaven solution. Rent out the house for a few weeks while I work on my business plan and finalize the details for the inn. Now it’s turned into my worst nightmare.” The film crew and actors had come with trailers and had chosen to stay in them. The director and the main star, however, had insisted on receiving the full red carpet treatment and had taken up residence on the top floor of the beach house, even after Eve had offered full disclosure and told them a man had been killed in one of the bedrooms.
Eve sat up. “What if this is a prelude to worst things to come?”
“Then you’ll have to rethink buying that fancy French stove you’ve been raving about non stop.” Jill laughed. “Hold that thought.” She pulled out her cell and took a quick snapshot of Eve’s horror stricken expression. “Any time you have second thoughts about going into business again, you can look at the photo and remember why you’re doing this. The ends justify the means. Remember that. And don’t think about selling your soul to Charlotte McLain. The deed is done.”
Eve buried her face in her hands. “Thanks for the reminder.” Not only had her old school nemesis saved her life from a gun wielding maniacal killer, she’d also come through with the solution to Eve’s money shortfall, putting her in contact with a film director in need of a beach house to finish his film.
She should be grateful. Instead, she couldn’t help thinking her life was fast becoming unbearably complicated.
All those months ago when Eve had come to Rock-Maine Island to visit her aunt Mira she’d only been thinking about slowing down, kicking back and relaxing.
Somewhere along the line she’d decided to stay on. She didn’t remember making the conscious decision, but it had begun to take solid shape the day she’d signed on the dotted line and had become the new owner of a beach house.
Eve gazed up at the rustic façade and smiled.
Hers. All hers.
She scooped in a big breath.
Before she could open the doors to the vacationing public she needed to outfit the house to her specifications. Unfortunately, she had fallen in love with a French stove. As a chef, she’d worked in many restaurants, including her own. Her commercial kitchen had been outfitted with gleaming stainless steel benches and appliances. She’d loved every surface, every utensil… Going to work there had been her version of a kid in a candy store. Some people loved shoes, she loved kitchens.
“La Cornue Château Series.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“You haven’t noticed?” Jill laughed. “It’s taken possession of you, Eve. I bet you anything you’ve been saying it in your sleep. La Cornue Château Series.”
“Stop it. I’m not.” She frowned and then she heard the words echoing in the back of her mind…
La Cornue Château Series.
“If you must know, I’m actually obsessing about the Grand Palais 180, the crown jewel of the Château Series.”
“I’ll never understand why that particular stove has you all tied up into knots and kowtowing to people who are making you miserable.”
Eve shrugged. “It’s… it’s beautiful. It commands respect. Admiration. It inspires…”
“Yes, yes. I read the blurb too. Almost 6 feet in length, the range boasts one grand vaulted gas oven and one grand vaulted electric oven, set beneath one of seven range top configurations. It comes in a variety of forty-eight standard enamel or metal body finishes and can also be customized in a one-of-a-kind color. You’re getting the enamel one in aqua because it’ll fit in perfectly with the house.”
Eve slid to the edge of her chair. “You memorized it.”
“You’ve shown me the website every day for the past month. You’ve talked of nothing else. And not just to me. Anyone who stops you to say hello, even people who wave at you from a distance are roped into a conversation about your French stove. Strangely, you never mention the price, but I know it costs both arms and legs and all your inner organs. Or a brand new car.”
Eve surged to her feet.
She’d already placed an order for it. She couldn’t back down now. She didn’t dare give up on her dream.
“Eve, please tell me you’re not seriously thinking of giving your guests food poisoning. Remember, I’m dating a police officer and you’re dating a detective.”
Eve looked down at her friend and for a moment she envied Jill’s simple life. She’d walked away from a high-pressure job in a New York magazine to settle on the island and paint seascapes. She’d somehow managed to shake off the bad experience of working for a boss from hell and had embraced an uncomplicated life.
Eve had tried her best to kick back and relax, but trouble seemed to follow her wherever she went. Heavens, even her ex-husband had followed her to the island and that had thrown Eve right into the thick of it, tangling her up in a murder investigation.
It hadn’t helped to be labeled a death knell…
Or a magnet for trouble.
She crossed her arms and raised her chin in stubborn defiance. Nothing was going to go wrong. She’d put herself right back on track.
Yet she’d never felt so uncertain. Something was bound to happen. A feeling of dread rose inside her and expanded like an inkblot.
Eve shook her head.
She didn’t want to give rise to doubts. She could sense them taking shape and if she didn’t nip them in the bud now they’d take over.
She knew dealing with the public face-to-face wouldn’t always be smooth sailing and would take some getting used to, but she could do it.
Surely she could endure three more weeks…
“Maybe I could rattle some chains in the middle of the night and scare them into leaving early.”
“Or you could sabotage the catering. Serve them rubbish food—” Jill snatched another photo of Eve.
“I suppose you think that’s funny. I’m in the process of establishing an inn. Food will play a major role and hopefully, become a drawcard. Word of mouth can make or break a business.”
“Yet a minute ago you were thinking about giving them a bout of food poisoning.”
“That was a knee jerk reaction. I’m not thinking straight. It’s this lack of sleep. Honestly, I’ve never heard anyone quarrel so… bitterly.”
“What were they actually fighting about?”
Eve gave an impatient shrug. “Infidelity. Randal Bergstrom accused Catherine Allan of encouraging everyone on the set to flirt with her, and she accused him of masochistic tendencies and broken promises, whatever that means. It’s been the same arguments day in, day out. They go at it for half an hour and then…” Eve rolled her eyes.
Jill leaned forward. “And then what?”
“The other sounds begin. That reminds me, I must start looking around for new beds.”
“So… these other sounds—”
“Are muffled by the two pillows I throw over my head. For heaven’s sake, I’m a floor below them and I can still hear them. What happens if I get an inn full of squabbling couples who use arguing as foreplay?”
“I guess you should have thought of that before deciding to go into the inn business.” Jill tilted her head. “I’m suddenly thinking of Mira’s regency romances. She let me read her first draft of her next novel. There’s a part where the heroine escapes from the clutches of her would be seducer and is rescued by a highwayman who doesn’t know he’s about to inherit a title. Anyway, long story short, they take refuge in an inn which is run by a half crazed woman—”
“It’s fun. You should ask Mira to let you read it.”
“Mira put me in her book.”
Jill grinned. “I didn’t say that.”
“A half crazed female innkeeper, who else would it be?”
Jill tapped her chin. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Does this mad innkeeper stumble upon dead bodies too?”
“Did I say mad? Maybe she’s just neurotic.”
“Nice attempt at backpedaling, but you’ve made it worse.” Eve checked her watch. “It’s nearly time for the morning feeding frenzy. Filming doesn’t look as if it’s about to start any time soon.” The film crew had set up their equipment hours before and had been hovering around waiting for the director and the star of the film to make an appearance. “They might as well eat. Help me bring out the pastries, please.”
Half way up the garden path, an ear-piercing shriek brought them to a halt. Eve looked up in time to see something flying out of the top bedroom window.
“Watch out.” Eve gave Jill a shove and managed to put herself in the line of fire. Whatever had been flung out of the window landed directly on her head. Her legs gave way and she crumbled to the ground, her hands clutching her head.
Eve lay on the ground and managed to respond with a moan. “Do you think the universe is trying to send me a message?”
“I’m sure it was an accident. Can you sit up?”
“Give me a minute.” Eve raked her fingers through her hair and checked her hands for blood. Her hands came away clean but her head throbbed. “What on earth was it?”
Jill picked up a mother of pearl hairbrush and waved it in front of her. “Foreplay. I think we’re in for an early morning session.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it. Help me up, please.” She wobbled slightly.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m seeing stars.” She opened her eyes. “They’re still there. I thought that only happened in cartoons.”
“I think you should have it checked out. You might have suffered a concussion.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I have a word with those two.”
One of the crewmembers approached them. He was about Eve’s height with a stocky frame and a receding hairline and, Eve couldn’t help noticing, a tendency to shrug his shoulder. A nervous tick? she wondered.
“Is everything all right? I heard a high pitched scream,” he said.
“I’m reporting this to your producer or production manager or whoever is in charge of staying on top of things. I can’t have those two throwing projectiles out of windows. What if they’d hit a passerby and they sue.”
“Sue? For what?”
“Damages. In fact, I should sue them. My head’s throbbing.”
The man put his hands up. “All right. Let’s not get carried away.”
“Who are you?” Eve demanded.
“David Davidson. The producer.”
“I’ll speak with you right after I’ve had a word with those two upstairs.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Watch me.” She stumbled forward and swayed. “Jill, a little help, please.”
“Sorry, I didn’t want to interfere with your exit. It was looking quite dramatic until you swayed.”
The producer followed them inside arguing all the way. “Catherine Allan is not going to like it if you barge in on her. They’ve paid top dollar for some privacy.”
“They paid for the rights to use my house for their film. If I’d known they were going to carry on the way they have been I would never have agreed to any of this.”
Another scream reverberated throughout the house.
“You don’t want to walk in on that,” he warned.
“That can’t possibly be… she can’t be in… the throes of…”
This time, the scream mingled with a garbled stream of insults.
Grabbing hold of the banister, Eve hauled herself up the stairs two steps at a time. When she reached the room, she banged on the door.
The door was flung open.
Catherine Allan rushed out, her long honey blonde tresses whipping across Eve’s face.
“Where is he? Find him. He’s gone.”
Jill sidled up to Eve. “I really don’t think we should get involved. This sounds like a domestic argument. And those can be nasty.”
David Davidson grabbed hold of the fleeing actress.
“Do something. Find him,” she screamed in his face.
Eve exchanged a look with Jill. “She’s hysterical. I bet you five dollars she slaps him.” Leaning forward, Eve peered inside the bedroom. The bed looked rumpled but at least it was empty. “For a moment there I thought she might have killed him.”
“I wouldn’t joke about that,” Jill said under her breath.
The producer turned to Eve. “Okay, we appear to have a situation. Randal Bergstrom is missing.”
Eve raised an eyebrow intended to suggest this didn’t fall under her jurisdiction. “I don’t blame him,” she murmured.
“Pardon?” Catherine swirled around and speared Eve with a narrowed eye stare that sent a cold shiver up Eve’s spine.
“Maybe your husband stepped out and went for a walk along the beach.” She didn’t want to admit to hearing them arguing during the night… every night for the past five days. In her opinion, the man was overdue for a break. Although, he gave as good as he got, his accusations as ugly as Catherine Allan’s. Eve would never understand why people like that ever stayed together.
“Randal was not my husband.”
Her mistake. Eve looked at the producer. “You have twenty odd people hanging around doing nothing. I suggest you organize them to search the area for him.”
Catherine Allan pointed a finger at Eve. “In the meantime, I suggest you get cracking with what we paid you to do.”
Eve must have looked puzzled.
Catherine took a step toward her. “Breakfast. In ten minutes.”
Her lover had gone missing. A minute before she’d looked ready to raise the hounds of hell to find him and now she wanted breakfast.
“And I’d like my mushrooms sliced, not whole like you did yesterday.”
Whole mushrooms, as per her request.
Jill took hold of her elbow and didn’t let go until they were in the kitchen.
“Do you think he walked out on her?”
“He has a film to finish. I’m actually surprised because these people work on strict budgets and timelines. If anyone walked out, my money would have been on Catherine Allan.”
“Did you really think they were married?”
Eve shrugged. “The way Charlotte McLain talked about them and how she’s known them for ages made me think they were. He wears a wedding band. She doesn’t. But it’s none of my business. There are going to be so many people coming here to stay, I can’t let my personal opinions interfere.”
“You handled the situation well. In your place, I think I would have thrown something at her.”
“I’m not going to lie to you. I was tempted, but I’m a work in progress. My experience is behind the scenes, in the kitchen. I’m going to have to acquire new skills to deal with the public.” Or hire someone to manage the place for her. “Could you take the pastries out to the crew, please, Jill. I don’t want them barging in here while I’m preparing that woman’s breakfast. I know they’ve been sneaking in at all hours to grab food.”
“Spare me the warning tone. I’m not about to do anything silly.” A bad rap from Catherine Allan would travel far and wide and that was something Eve was not prepared to risk.
“All right. But I’m coming back. Something tells me I should act as a buffer between you two.” Jill grabbed the basket of pastries Eve had prepared and strode off.
Rounding the kitchen bench, Eve’s foot connected with something sending it skittering across the floor.
On the floor.
Eve growled under her breath and bent to pick it up. Someone had been in her kitchen. She had made it out of bounds. Her permits were still pending. What if a health inspector paid her a surprise visit?
Frowning, Eve swept her finger along the blade.
It came away bloodied.
Her head sprung up.
She swirled around.
Her gaze dropped to the floor.
She followed the trail, which led straight to the pantry. The swing door was slightly ajar. She nudged it open with the tip of the knife.
Her eyes widened.
Her mind told her to move. She mentally pictured her body taking a stumbling step back. But she stood as if cemented to the floor.
He sat slumped against the shelves, his head bent over his chest, his pristine white shirt stained with blood.
The sound of a gasp shook Eve out of her stupor and she swirled on her heels.
One of the film crew stared at her, mouth gaping open, eyes wide and pinned on the knife she still held.
“What did you do?”
Copyright ©2016 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved