“He deserves to be murdered.”
“Who said that?”
“Apparently, you did.”
With her bitter divorce behind her, Eve Lloyd wants to relax and think about her next step. Paying her aunt, Mira Lloyd, a.k.a. Elizabeth Lloyd, renown historical romance author, a long overdue visit, she plans on spending a month on Rock-Maine Island lounging around and plotting the launch of her new life. Her ex-husband, however, has other ideas. As for her aunt… she’s gone missing. And now there’s a dead body to contend with and a murder weapon with her fingerprints on it.
A mantle of suspicion hangs over Eve and everyone she encounters has a reason to want her out of the way. Unwilling to leave matters in the hands of swoon worthy Detective Jack Bradford… only because it’s her civic duty to provide a new perspective, Eve Lloyd engages the assistance of her new friend and fellow suspect, Jill Saunders. They both stumble their way through a long list of possible motives and suspects in a race to find the killer before either one turns into the next victim.
Clean read: no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.
“I’m not biting the bullet. I’m only taking a small nibble.” Eve Lloyd pushed back her sunglasses and stared at the bridge separating the island from the mainland. Once she crossed it, there’d be no going back. She’d been thinking of nothing else for the past twelve months.
Talk about dragging her feet.
Twelve months of trying to find another solution and this was the best she could come up with…
Running away and hiding.
“It’s only temporary,” she told herself and put her car into gear.
The day her divorce had become final, her aunt Mira had put her arm around her and had urged her to come stay with her on Rock-Maine Island for however long it took to glue herself back together again. No conditions attached.
Eve bobbed her head from side to side, her glossy brown hair sliding along her shoulders.
On that day, she’d thought she’d never get over losing the man she’d assumed had been the love of her life. And while her aunt’s house came with all the perks of comfortable living, Eve had wanted to keep moving. Actually, she hadn’t had a choice in the matter. The restaurant she’d owned with her husband had needed a complete sink or swim makeover. It had been her way of moving on, her focus fixed on making a success of the business he’d ripped apart.
At the time, coming to stay on the island would have felt too much like coddling… wrapping herself up in cotton wool and turning a blind eye to everything she had to face. Besides, she simply hadn’t been able to stop. Her instinct had pushed her to soldier on.
It had all finally caught up with her.
She was done with the restaurant business.
Time to start writing a new chapter.
She’d stay two weeks… maybe a month. Long enough to figure out what she wanted to do and get her life back on track. Besides, she owed her aunt a visit. And…
If worse came to worst, she might take her up on her long-standing offer to work for her. She could think of it as a working holiday, doing what, she had no idea. But it would at least be a solid block of thinking time, long enough to redefine herself and still have something to do.
Dismissing the stray thought, she reached for her phone and searched for her aunt’s number, but instead of her aunt’s cheerful voice she got the answering machine.
“Mira. I’m taking you up on your open invitation.” Eve ran the phrase through her mind and tried to think of what else she might add to the message. She’d last seen her aunt a year ago and before that…
She received regular updates on Mira’s comings and goings. Her aunt had never learned the meaning of slowing down. In her early sixties, she spent the summer months alternating between cruising the Caribbean and Mediterranean, while winters were spent on the island working on her next bestseller. A romantic woman who lived by her own rules, Mira Lloyd, a.k.a. Elizabeth Lloyd, renown author of sweltering historical romances, liked nothing better than to play matchmaker.
Just so long as she stuck to doing it on paper.
And if she didn’t…
“I’ll kill you, Mira.” Her aunt had her ways and Eve didn’t think she was up to standing up to her antics. She could be quite devious… but not insensitive, Eve reminded herself. Then again, she’d already dropped a hint… but she hadn’t pursued it.
Your happiness will be your best revenge.
And in Mira’s opinion, you couldn’t have happiness without romance…
Eve had chosen her own brand of revenge. Resurrecting the restaurant from the ashes of her ex-husband’s embezzlement.
She should have been savoring the sweetness. After all, she’d won. She’d survived. Yes, but…
Then she’d fizzled.
Throwing herself into survival mode had left her wrung out.
She straightened in her seat. “It’s now or never.” With a groan, Eve put away her phone and focused on the last leg of her trip.
She watched the sun making its descent toward the horizon. Her gaze skated over the bay and lingered over the gentle waves reflecting echoes of the last glimmers of the day. After her long drive, she wanted to settle in before nightfall. But she didn’t want to arrive empty-handed.
Driving along the picturesque two-lane road leading to the town, she tried to remember what the little island had to offer. If she could trust her memory, the Chin Wag Café excelled at pies and cakes, including their award winning Blueberry Extravaganza. Knowing her aunt favored the vegetable tarts and chocolate mousse cakes, she decided to make quick work of it and get some.
She pulled into the first available parking space and climbed out, taking a moment to stretch her legs and get her bearings. And that’s when the feeling of having stepped into an alternate universe swamped her.
Everything moved at a different rhythm here.
A leisurely pace she could barely abide.
Everyone knew everyone.
With the summer season over, the weather had cooled down and the locals had the island to themselves again. She watched a family step out of a restaurant and stop for a chat with a young couple. A man driving by waved and called out a greeting to a woman sitting at a sidewalk café. This was all so far removed from what she knew, living in the city, with its hectic pace, never seeing her neighbors, never even getting to learn their names because they never seemed to stand still long enough for her to find out. Not that she’d ever had the time to socialize…
“Are you lost?”
Eve smiled to herself. It had only taken a few minutes to be spotted and slotted as an outsider.
“No, I’m not. Thank you for asking.” She looked at the man and tried to place the face. Sixty something, maybe pushing seventy, well dressed and, despite the terse look on one half of his face, he came across as friendly as he could without appearing too suspicious of her. He lived in a house not far from her aunt’s and had earned the distinction of being the best gardener on the island. She hesitated. Growing up, she’d spent most of her summer holidays with her aunt. One year she’d—
Not wanting to wear her guilt on her face, Eve took a deep swallow and tried to shake off the memory of stealing the man’s entire crop of roses to give to her aunt.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
“I’m…” She pasted on a confident smile, “I’m Eve Lloyd. Mira Lloyd’s niece,” she said and tried to recall the man’s name. Harold? Harry?
“Henry Parkmore,” he offered as if reading her mind. “We haven’t seen you around in a while. How long’s it been? Two years?” he asked, his tone carrying an accusatory edge.
Henry Parkmore appeared to be considering his next question. Not wanting to face the inevitable ones about her ex, she smiled and excused herself.
“Lovely to see you again, Mr. Parkmore. I’m afraid I have to rush off.”
Crossing the street, she looked over her shoulder in time to see him stop a passerby and point at her.
The fuse had been lit. It wouldn’t take long for word to spread now.
When she stepped inside the Chin Wag Café, she made a point of avoiding eye contact with any of the customers and made a beeline for the counter. There’d be plenty of time to look around and reacquaint herself with some of the locals. Although, if she had her way, she’d spend her stay on the island sitting on a lounger with pen and paper. Somehow, she’d figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Even if the thought of having to start from scratch exhausted her.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes.” She placed her order and noticing a display of gourmet coffee and tea, she decided to splurge.
As she turned to leave, another local approached her.
This time she had no trouble recognizing the man. She took in his distinguished Cary Grant good looks and bright blue eyes that always sparkled with a hint of mischief. “Patrick McKenzie.”
He gave her a small smile. “You remember.”
She returned the smile with an added chuckle. How could she forget the man who’d been pining after her aunt all these years? A retired history professor with a talent for story telling. Eve had often wondered why her aunt had never taken to him. Now who was the matchmaker?
“Of course I do. How are you?”
“Very well. I heard about—”
She raised a hand to stop him. “I appreciate the sentiment.” But she was done hearing them.
“Yes, of course. Mira never mentioned you’d be coming. She often worries about leaving the house empty while she travels. I do the best I can to keep an eye on it. Good of you to come.”
Eve frowned. “Is my aunt away?”
“Well… yes. You didn’t know? She went on one of her trips. Said she had some serious thinking to do.” He shook his head. “Your timing is unfortunate.”
Strange, Eve thought. Her aunt always let her know before going on one of her trips. She struggled to hide her disappointment. Eve had wanted a quiet break away from it all, but she hadn’t necessarily wanted to be alone.
Eve dug around her handbag for her set of house keys. Her chat with Patrick McKenzie had turned into a sit down catch up meal at the local pub. She hadn’t been able to help herself and had rambled on about Alex, revealing everything there was to say about her embezzling ex and how wrung out she felt after throwing herself into the business of recovering her losses.
Hearing Patrick say the man should be flogged for putting her through such an ordeal had given her an unexpected feeling of relief and satisfaction. Alex had been… was a charmer and no one could ever find fault with him. In her opinion, he deserved more than a flogging.
“The man’s a candidate for murder,” Eve had said.
She smiled as she recalled Patrick chuckling. She’d needed to let her hair down and have a free for all heart to heart.
Very liberating, she couldn’t help thinking.
But as good as it had felt to finally open up about her grievances, now the sun had set and she had to navigate her way to the front veranda of her aunt’s beach house in the dark.
Taking only her small suitcase, she decided to get the rest of her luggage in the morning. She scrunched her way along the pebbled path regretting she hadn’t arrived in time to see the pretty blue house in the light of day.
It always gave her a feeling of homecoming.
As a teenager, she’d spent her summer months here while her parents traveled overseas on business. They’d both been in their late thirties when she’d come along, a surprise package they hadn’t counted on… or scheduled.
As busy corporate lawyers, they’d led a hyperactive lifestyle trotting around the world. Eve had attended a boarding school and at sixteen had run away for the first time. Long hours of counseling had straightened her out and she’d eventually pulled up her socks long enough to graduate; the least she could do for her parents after they’d invested in her future. However, regardless of how much effort she put into her life, she’d ended up making a career out of disappointing them.
She’d met her husband at a wine tasting show. Eve had been making her own way working for a catering company and still going through her self-discovery phase trying to find something that could hold her interest long enough for her to try to make a success of it. In the end, it had turned out to be marriage and a restaurant. She’d fallen hard for Alex and within a month had married him in a civil ceremony with only her aunt Mira to witness the then happy event.
To this day, her parents hadn’t stopped being disappointed in the way she’d turned out, the food industry falling far below their standards. Her aunt, on the other hand, had always simply smiled, offering her support in whatever she did.
Eve pushed the front door open and searched for the light switch. As she stepped inside, the fresh smell of the ocean followed her in.
She made her way up the stairs to the bedroom that was always ready for her, the bed looking so inviting her knees wobbled and she almost collapsed onto it. Not yet, she thought.
At the foot of the bed, she noticed a couple of colorful quilts that hadn’t been there the last time she’d visited, a sign her aunt had stuck to her plans to visit Amish country, something she’d meant to do for some time but had kept postponing in favor of one of her more exotic adventures.
Without thinking about it, she strode over to the window and drew the curtains open. It was always the first thing she did when she arrived. The house sat right on the beach. Day or night, she could look out the window and take in the pretty view.
A long bath later and with no catch-up chat to look forward to with her aunt, she settled in for the night with one of her aunt’s romance books and promptly fell asleep. Some time close to midnight, however, she stirred awake and remembered the pie and cake she’d left in the car.
Hating to see good food go to waste, she scrambled out of bed and, throwing a sweater on, made her way downstairs in her pajamas. Still bleary eyed from sleep, she didn’t want to switch the lights on and stir herself fully awake. In any case, the square layout of the beach house made finding her way in the dark easy, although it helped to have the light of a full moon pouring in through the windows.
Eve fumbled with the front door handle, and then remembered she hadn’t shaken off her city habit and needed to unlock it from the inside. As she turned to search the hallway table for the key, something caught her attention.
A shadow across the window.
She held her breath and stilled, an instinctive reaction, she thought and most likely an overreaction. “It’s probably nothing but the breeze stirring a bush or a cat making its way home.”
A very large cat?
No, she thought and decided it was most likely her imagination. It would take her a couple of days to adjust to the quiet and solitude. Although, it wouldn’t kill her to take care. When she stepped outside, she drew her arms across her chest and took a couple of tentative steps, her eyes skating across the surrounding garden.
When she heard a tree branch scratch against a window, she swung around looking one way and then the other, her eyes narrowed as she searched for a pair of luminous eyes. Her aunt didn’t own any pets, but the neighbors’ pets loved to visit.
A seagull called out what sounded like a protest.
“Just great. All I need now is the hoot of an owl.”
She shivered. Her back teeth locked together and she quickened her steps, all her attention on reaching her car and scrambling back inside the house. She couldn’t explain the overpowering feeling of knowing there was something out there. Eve repeated the ‘something’ in her head because she didn’t want to think of there being a ‘somebody’.
She also didn’t want to think she was being silly.
She’d watched enough suspense movies to know bad things happened to the least suspecting.
As she reached inside the car to retrieve the package, she thought she heard footsteps along the pebbled drive. And that, she told herself, was way too close for comfort. She sprung out of the car. Stretching her neck, she peered one way and then the other.
Nothing. No one.
She stood there, her breath slowing to a shallow inhale, her ears straining to pick up the slightest hint of disturbance.
Again, nothing. Or probably something.
She had no trouble imagining someone also holding their breaths and waiting to see what she did next.
“Now you’re really being silly.”
She scooped in a big breath and scanned her surrounding area again all the while thinking she should get scared. At least, until she had a reason not to be scared. However, good sense told her she hadn’t lived on the island in a while. She only needed some time to settle in and get used to it all.
Back inside the house, she made a point of checking the doors and windows.
“Only as a precaution,” she said out loud wanting to hear the sound of her voice over the silence that hovered around her.
With everything securely locked, she drew in an easy breath and smiled. By the next morning, all would be forgotten. This was nothing but first night jitters alone in a house she hadn’t lived in for a while.
Everyone knew everyone on this island. If the population increased by even one, news spread like wildfire. At least she had a tale to tell when Mira returned.
Her shoulders eased down and she laughed under her breath. Mira would probably toss the tale around and then dismiss it as too clichéd to include in one of her stories.
She made her way toward the stairs and sprinted up the steps even as a sixth sense told her to stop and look around.
If she had, she would have seen a shadow appear at the window again.
As predicted, the next morning Eve had forgotten all about the previous night’s close encounter with shadows, unfamiliar noises and imaginary cats.
She decided the best thing to do would be to settle into some sort of routine. Relaxation being at the top of the list. After unpacking, she toured the house, taking note of any changes or additions.
Her aunt kept a tidy house free of clutter but she enjoyed collecting furniture and was forever having chairs reupholstered.
Bookcases lined every available wall space with every book shelved alphabetically by author. The thrillers and mysteries with all their subgenres were lined up along the hallway entrance and spilled onto the front living room. Then came the contemporary romances, followed by historical, and her aunt’s particular weakness, fantasy. Vampires, shape shifters, demons… She couldn’t get enough of them. Those were shelved in the family room next to the kitchen—Eve’s favorite room.
There were a couple of comfortable high backed chairs upholstered in cheerful shades of blue and orange and a couch by the fireplace, a preferred reading area during the winter months.
An assortment of antique desks were spread around the house with pens and pads ready for flashes of inspiration. The kitchen was small and practical. Cooking had never been a strong point with Mira Lloyd so Eve had expected to find the refrigerator empty but to her surprise, it appeared to be well stocked with basic staples. Bread. Milk. Eggs. The remains of an apple pie and some fruit.
Odd but not entirely unexpected.
Whenever Mira went on one of her trips, she arranged for someone to drop in and check her mail and keep the place dust free. Being of a generous nature, she encouraged them to help themselves to drink and food. Eve tried to remember if Mira had mentioned hiring anyone in particular. Her travel timetable varied so much she could never rely on the one person to be available.
Despite her eagerness to sink into relaxing mode, Eve decided to trek out into town again and get some more supplies. Enough to then justify staying away and out of sight for a few days. While she’d given up the restaurant business, she hadn’t given up eating.
In the clear light of day, the house looked magnificent with a fresh coat of sky blue paint and the usual beach house paraphernalia, including an old fashioned lifesaver with thick rope curled around it, scattered on the veranda creating a picture perfect postcard of a home by the sea.
As she drove off, she made a conscious effort to appreciate the pretty scenery. Houses were spread right throughout the island. Some were modest, others large and a few, quite luxurious. All were well cared for and maintained either by their owners or by gardeners. Walking trails crisscrossed the entire island, making it a walkers’ paradise.
A few minutes into her drive, she spotted Patrick McKenzie out on a sauntering walk. She slowed down and waved to him. He didn’t seem to recognize her. He stood with his hand shielding his eyes. Belatedly, he waved to her. Eve suspected it had been a token wave. Patrick had once revealed he devoted his walking time exclusively to thinking and could collide with someone he was intimately familiar with and not recognize them.
In town, she hurried along to the grocery store only to remind herself to slow down. She’d already seen several people stop and look at her, as if wondering if they too should be hurrying… or running for their lives.
Relax and blend in.
She ran the words through her mind and focused on setting a leisurely pace, casual enough to let her do some window browsing. Drawn by a familiar sight, she stopped. Mira’s fame was celebrated on the island and Tinkerbelle’s Bookshop reserved the entire front row for her, displaying a selection of her Elizabeth Lloyd historical romance novels.
Eve bit the edge of her lip. Her aunt had always known she wanted to be a writer, penning her first story at sixteen. Eve couldn’t help feeling a little envious. The thought of having to recreate herself at thirty-two, to find the energy and get up and go enthusiasm, made her stomach tighten with apprehension.
Soon, she’d be on a deadline.
She’d sold her restaurant for a small profit, enough to fund some thinking time, but not enough to give up working altogether. Like it or not, her clock was ticking.
She pushed out a breath. Some people went through several career changes throughout their lives without breaking into a sweat. She only needed to do some digging and find out if she had any viable skills she could use that didn’t involve cooking…
About to turn away her eyes landed on a sign hanging on the front door of the bookstore.
All Inquiries Welcomed
She nearly tripped as a part of her took a step away and another part pulled her toward the bookshop.
Caving into temptation and the lure of the unknown, she went inside and spent some time browsing and getting a feel for the place.
For a small business, it carried a full range of stock covering all possible tastes, and going by the conversation she overheard, the store owner was only too happy to place special orders. At least she assumed she was the owner.
Eve looked at her nametag. Abby.
She looked cheerful and relaxed. Serving a customer and having a lovely chat, she was all smiles. It would be a lovely change to work in an environment where she could smile instead of shout out orders as one was bound to do in a busy commercial kitchen, Eve thought.
“Can I help you with something?”
Eve turned toward the sales clerk who stood nearby. Business had to be good if the store could pay for staff.
“This looks like a lovely place to work in. Are you here fulltime?” She knew it was an odd question to ask, but curiosity got the better of her.
The young girl, Samantha, smiled and nodded. “I’m hoping the new owner will keep me on. There aren’t that many opportunities in town and I had to wait a year for this job to become available and that only came about because the previous sales clerk got married and moved to the mainland.” Samantha held her gaze for a moment. “Are you looking to buy a business on the island?”
Without trying too hard, Eve drew a mental picture of herself owning a bookstore and living on the island and decided she liked it.
“It’s just become a pipe dream. I’d probably have to kill someone for the money.” She didn’t think the tidy profit she’d made from the sale of her restaurant would be enough to sink into another business. She imagined buying a bookstore would require a huge outlay as well as a final decision on what she wanted to do, right along with a dose of serious commitment. Would she be happy settling down here for the long haul? At least she’d be living close to Mira.
“Well, if you happen to find a pot of gold, get in touch with Abby,” the sales clerk said and handed her a business card.
Before she could fill her head with dreams that would only depress her, Eve thanked her and left. However, for a brief moment, she’d bought into the idea of settling down here. The thought made her smile again so she didn’t entirely dismiss it. Even fanciful dreams deserved to have their moment in the sun. No harm done. Especially if they made her smile and she hadn’t had reason to do much of that lately.
She stood outside a moment gazing at the For Sale sign and tried to embellish her dream.
Maybe that was the push she needed. If she spent some time on it, she’d have a clear idea of something she wanted. And if she focused on it often enough, she’d somehow… someway… figure out how to get it.
“You’re looking very pleased with yourself.”
She looked up and saw Henry Parkmore scowling at her. He’d kept his voice low enough so that only she had heard him. Despite having retired many years before from his prestigious job in finance, he continued to wear suits, although he’d swapped his Brooks Brothers for English Tweet to satisfy his anglophile preferences, as Mira had often remarked.
His thick eyebrows slammed down so hard a wedge formed between his eyes.
Had he just remembered her theft of his roses? He’d made her pay for her crimes. For the duration of her stay with her aunt that long ago summer, Eve had had to drag around endless bags of manure for Henry Parkmore’s roses and pull out every single weed before it had even sprouted.
“What have you done with my Mira?”
Eve’s mouth gaped open.
His tone had never sounded so menacing.
She tried to fish around for a response but came up empty.
A woman strode past them and his demeanor changed in the blink of an eye, his manner softening as he dipped his head and greeted the local.
Just as Eve took a step back a younger version of Henry Parkmore without the fierce scowl came up to him and tugged his arm.
“Is everything all right?” the man asked.
“Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t it be?” Henry Parkmore’s gruff tone returned. He pulled his arm away and strode off in a huff.
The man turned to Eve. “I’m sorry… I hope he didn’t say anything to upset you.”
“No, no.” What could she say? Henry Parkmore had been rambling and still looking for his pound of flesh because she’d stolen his roses? “Shouldn’t you go after him?” she asked even as she watched the elderly man stop to talk to a passerby.
Her eyes widened. He was doing it again. Pointing his finger her way, and this time it looked like an accusatory jab.
“He hasn’t been himself lately,” the man said. “Not many people know this. My uncle had a stroke earlier in the year.” He shrugged.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Her gaze skated over the man. Dressed in jeans and a light sweater she’d swear was cashmere, he had the sort of preppy look some men never seemed to grow out of that reminded her of Alex. “I never knew he had a nephew.”
“I’m Richard Parkmore. I haven’t seen you around. Are you new?”
“Sort of. My aunt lives on the island. I’m Eve Lloyd.” When they shook hands, she tried not to notice the firmness of his grip, but that only left her wide open to focus on his dazzling blue eyes and easy smile.
Her divorce had drained her of any interest in men. However, Eve had never thought of herself as a diehard cynic. She imagined she’d eventually cultivate a more mature outlook and then be ready to move on. It never hurt to look, she thought, and went right ahead and enjoyed what she was seeing.
“I’m visiting too. Although I’m thinking of settling down in the area… to be close to Henry. Apart from my mother, he’s the only other relative I have.”
Eve’s practical mind took over. “And what about work?”
“I’m on vacation.”
From what, he didn’t say.
“This is going to sound strange, but I get the feeling I know you from somewhere. I live in New York, on the Upper West side and—”
“I owned a restaurant on Columbus.” She looked over his shoulder. “Henry’s on the move again. Maybe you should go after him.”
“Um… Yes. Great to meet you. I’ll… see you around.”
He actually waited for a response so she gave what she hoped was a noncommittal nod.
Eve turned to leave only to encounter Abby, the owner of Tinkerbelle’s Bookshop standing a step behind her.
“Henry’s getting worse. For a moment there, I thought he was pointing at me.” Smiling, she introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Abby Larkin. I noticed you earlier in my store.”
“I’m embarrassed to admit it was my first visit,” Eve said, “My aunt owns a lot of books, which makes buying them unnecessary. Not exactly music to your ears.” Eve smiled. “I’m Eve Lloyd.”
“Any relation to Mira?”
“She’s my aunt.”
“And she’s my biggest customer as well as a drawcard. Interested in buying?” She gestured with her hand. “Don’t mind me. Forget I said that. I’m desperate enough to stand at the curve and approach anyone passing by with a hard sale.”
“You might not want to spread that around. Looking desperate could bring down the price. I recently sold my business and pretended to only want to sell to the right buyer.”
“You’re right but I can’t help thinking this place is too quiet. We need something to put us on the map.” Abby tilted her head. “I don’t suppose you have time for a coffee? I could do with some sound advice.”
Copyright ©2016 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved