Lethal Lemon Bars – Addison Moore

I see dead people. Mostly I see dead pets, and on the rare occasion I do see a dearly departed of the human variety, but right now, I’m seeing a newly engaged couple that I’m hoping will call it quits before legal teams need to get involved. “A divorce party!” Mom snaps her fingers above her head and does an odd little tap dance right here in the kitchen of her bed and breakfast. That’s the exact asinine—or brilliant, take your pick—event that the Honey Hollow B&B is hosting this afternoon. “Can you believe how far society has come? Back in my mother’s day, this sort of thing would be considered gauche.” She bops her hip into that of her newly-minted fiancé, Rich Dallas, a retiree who has far too much time on his hands because he lives off his investments. That might explain the day-glow orange tan and pent-up aggression he can’t seem to get rid of. “My ex threw a party after we bit the big one,” he barks it out quickly as if it were all one word. “And I wasn’t invited.” “You don’t say?” I shoot my mother a look for even entertaining his madness. She should really take a cue from his ex and not invite him to anything, least of all their wedding. Aside from pressuring my mother to do routine twenty-minute check-ins regarding her whereabouts, he’s extremely jealous and intensely possessive of her. He’s a walking, talking nightmare who somehow managed to have my mother agree to leash herself to him in the matrimonial sense a few weeks back. Thank God there’s no wedding date set as of yet. The longer we put off this hostile takeover of my mother’s good senses, the better.

Hey? I wonder if this is grounds to have her committed? I’m betting a good incarceration in a locked psychiatric facility is the only way to stave off her impending doom of becoming Mrs. Miranda Jean Dallas. Trust me, the surname is no upgrade. Miranda Jean Lemon rolls far more smoothly off the tongue. Mom scoffs at the thought of his wise, but well in the rearview mirror, ex. “Now why in the world would anyone want to get rid of you?” “Because she’s sane?” I say it lower than a whisper, mostly to myself—mostly because someone had to say it. Rich leans in, his jowls heavily lined with anger, his eyes red with rage. “Because she never did understand a good thing when she had it.” He pulls my mother in by the waist abruptly, and her blonde locks bounce with life—more like for their life. I’m betting even her follicles are anxious to be rid of him.

“But I’m not letting you get away from me, little lady. I’ll lock you up if I have to.” Mom chortles out a laugh as if his threat to hold her captive were the cutest thing ever as he whisks her out of the room, presumably to chain her to his bedpost. “Lottie”—she calls to me with a husky laugh—“have you ever seen love like this before?” She fades from sight, and I stop arranging sweet treats on a platter long enough to look back in the direction she was kidnapped. “It’s called obsession,” I shout after them. “And it never ends well,” I say as I look out at the elongated island filled with platters upon platters of lemon bars. The divorce party in question was the brainchild of the Featherby sisters— Cormack to be exact. She’s throwing the twisted soiree for her younger, newly-single sister in the spirit of freedom and the prospect of another far wealthier suitor, I suppose. I honestly have no clue why a celebration of this magnitude would be necessary, but I guess when you have both ungodly amounts of money and time to burn, any reason is a good reason to party. My best friend, Keelie, and my sisters, Lainey and Meg, have all stepped in to help out with the drama and trauma I’ve been asked to cater this afternoon.

The Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery has catered more than its fair share of events these last few months, but this event, the aforementioned divorce party, is the first of its kind. Keelie buzzes in with her wild blonde curls bouncing like rubber balls around her shoulders as she picks up another armful of platters. Keelie and I have been stitched to one another’s side ever since we were in preschool. Just this last January, we discovered we were related, first cousins at that. “Lottie, why did the ex-bride-to-be insist on these instead of a cake?” she asks, nodding down at the delectable cheery yellow desserts before her. “Something to do with making lemon bars out of the lemons that life handed her. It’s a clever spin on an old analogy. And I for one am grateful. I just can’t get enough of the luscious lemon custard. I’ve been eating it by the bowlful all week.

” Keelie pops a tiny yellow slice of heaven into her mouth and moans. “She’s lucky you make the best lemon bars this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. I’ve already eaten half a platter all by my lonesome.” She takes off as Lainey and Meg swoop in and pick up an armful of trays themselves. Lainey and I share the same caramel-colored waves and hazel eyes, even though Miranda and Joseph Lemon adopted me when I was a newborn. Meg has dyed her blonde locks jet-black, and when juxtaposed against her icy blue eyes, it gives her a magical appeal. Meg used to work the women’s wrestling circuit in Las Vegas but has been back in Honey Hollow for the last few months working at a strip bar in Leeds. She doesn’t actually do the stripping. She teaches the dancers all of their cool moves. Meg snarls as she chomps down on a lemon bar herself.

“How long do you think I’d go away for manslaughter if I killed Mom’s new beau?” Lainey and I give each other the side-eye because we’ve secretly been wondering how to get rid of Rich Dallas ourselves. Lainey pulls Meg back out of the kitchen with her. “He’s not worth the time. The universe won’t let this go on that much longer. Trust me, love has a way of righting itself, and that man is not our mother’s true love.” “That’s because her true love died,” I point out, but it’s too late. They’re already gone. It’s true. My father, Joseph Lemon, the same saint who found me wailing away on the floor of the Honey Hollow Fire Department twenty-seven years ago, was the love of my mother’s life. I truly believe you get just one—or at least I believed it up until a few months ago when fate threw not one but two handsome, smart men my way.

Of course, I chose the one who turned out to be married and conveniently forgot to tell me. Noah isn’t really a bad guy, but his lack of attention to his matrimonial standing dampened the flame between us, at least on my part. I take a quick look around the kitchen of my mother’s B&B, and before I can put together another platter of lemon bars, a tall, vexingly handsome man darkens the back doorway. “That’s a big island. I can think of a few things we can do on that stretch of marble real estate.” “Everett!” I click my tongue as my mouth falls open. “Get over here and give me a kiss before my head explodes from how handsome you are.” Essex Everett Baxter, aka Judge Baxter, is just a few years older than me. We actually met because he was presiding over a case I was involved in and he wisely sided with me. He’s one of those stunningly sexy men who requires the attention of anyone with a set of functioning ovaries.

And no matter where we go, women of all ages crane their necks to give him just that. Essex is his formal moniker, but, for reasons unknown to me, only those who have danced horizontally with him garner the privilege to use it. And even though he and I crossed that coital threshold just a couple of weeks ago, I still haven’t used his proper name. I can’t help it. I’ve grown used to calling him Everett. And while we’re on the subject of dancing horizontally with this drop-dead gorgeous specimen, we’ve yet to reprise the effort. You see, my ex, Noah, stumbled upon us, and it was uncomfortable to say the least. And well, two weeks have slipped by, and suddenly it feels as if we’re right back to being chaste again. Not that I want to remain chaste with Everett. But everything is still so new.

We haven’t really felt out the borders of our relationship. I’m not even sure we have a relationship in the traditional sense. With Noah, everything was penciled in, every detail discussed to the hilt—save for the thorny little detail of his wife (whom I assumed was his ex). And with Everett, we’re sort of winging it, throwing all caution to the wind, and zeroing in on how spontaneous we can be as if it were our superpower. I actually do have a superpower, which involves seeing the dead, but I digress. Everett swoops over and wraps those muscular arms of his around me tightly, the thick scent of his expensive cologne already seducing me to no end. That dark glossy hair, those brilliant blue eyes that look as if they’re backlit from the inside. Everett rarely smiles or laughs, unless, of course, there’s a dirty intent behind it, and his body is made of granite to go along with the stacks of legal knowledge he’s stored in that magnificent brain of his. Not to mention, the things this man knows how to do to a woman behind locked doors is perfectly illegal, but I’ll be the last person to turn him in. “You’re mine,” I say, looking right into those stormy eyes.

“All mine.” His lids lower a notch, and the tips of his lips threaten to curl. “And you’re mine, Lemon.” If Everett has ever called me by my first name in all the months I’ve known him, I honestly can’t recall. It’s a part of his “dark knight bordering on bad boy” charm, and I’ve eaten up every delicious detention-worthy morsel of it. “Now, where’s that kiss I asked you to give me?” I bite down on my lower lip to keep from giggling like a schoolgirl. I happen to know firsthand that Everett loves it when I bark orders at him. But when the bodies hit the fan, it’s him barking orders at me, and I’m more than quick to comply. His lids drop another notch, and his eyes glaze over the way they’re known to do. “Front and center, Lemon.

I’m going to give it to you right here, wet and wild.” Everett lands his lips over mine, soft at first, then demanding right before he claims my mouth. When Everett Baxter kisses you, rest assured, every cell in your body will be apprised of what’s happening and brilliantly stunned into submission. This isn’t some drive-by peck on the lips he’s doling out. It’s a work of art by a master. Everett kisses me as if I was the only woman on the planet—as if every other kiss he’s ever doled out was simply practice for this one, the most important of them all. My stomach bisects with heat as those butterflies that go off whenever he’s around flutter at top speed. I’m suddenly dizzy and weak and want nothing more than to rake all of the lemon bars off this island and take Everett up on his indelicate offer. “All right. I’ve seen enough.

” An all too familiar voice booms in through the back, and Everett and I turn to find Detective Noah Fox walking in with a bouquet of blush pink roses, the look of disdain rife on his handsome face. Noah, my aforementioned ex, is also handsome to a fault, dark hair that turns red in the sun, dimples for days, evergreen eyes, and enough wit and charm to take down even the most hardened of hearts—he did mine. “Hey, beautiful.” He offers up a warm smile as he says it, his gaze pressing into mine as if we were the only two people in the room—as if I weren’t in another man’s arms entirely. “These are for you.” He hands the bouquet my way, and I take a breath and hold it, unsure of what to do with the situation. Everett grunts, his arms still very much secured over my body. “Thanks, sweetie.” He manufactures a short-lived grin for Noah. “There’s a toilet in the back.

Why don’t you put them in there? I’ll get around to flushing eventually.” “Everett.” I laugh while swatting him on the chest. “The flowers are innocent. Here, give them to me.” I take them from Noah and plop them into a pitcher in the sink. “Thank you, Noah. That was very sweet of you. They’re beautiful.” Noah gives a sly wink before looking to Everett.

“That’s always been your fatal flaw. You’ve never appreciated the fact that women love to be wooed. It’s all wham-bam- thank-you-ma’am.” Noah looks my way. “Did you know he’s a pro at running all the bases on opening night?” Everett and Noah used to be stepbrothers way back in high school. Noah’s father took financial advantage of Everett’s wealthy mother, and that good time didn’t last long. But while they were forced to live under one roof, Noah thought it was a good idea to steal Everett’s girlfriend from beneath him—Cormack Featherby, and these two boys haven’t been the same ever since. Yes, the same Cormack Featherby who is the very reason we’re all standing in the kitchen of my mother’s B&B. But as for Everett and Noah, today their relationship hinges on something just this side of hatred. And now that Everett has, in Noah’s opinion, exacted his revenge after all these years by stealing me away—lies I tell you, a fantasy built on half-truths—well, that old rivalry has reignited itself full steam.

A dull laugh bounces through Everett’s chest. “If you’re such an expert with women, why are you buying flowers for my girlfriend?” My mouth rounds out with surprise. “Let the record show this is the first instance in which the good judge has referenced me as such.” I float back and quickly land a peck to his cheek as a reward even though I’m pretty sure the pet name was invoked strictly to anger Noah. It’s working, too. Everett moans after the innocent peck I gifted him as if I had done a heck of a lot more to pleasure him. “Thanks, sweetness.” His lips pull into a brief line as if to expound his point. Noah glowers over at Everett as if he were about to shove his face into a mound of lemon bars and end him by way of my sweetness. I’m about to say something, anything to calm the impending storm since I happen to know that both Noah and Everett were invited guests to today’s unorthodox festivities, when the ghost of Greer Giles, looking exceptionally stunning this afternoon, might I add, with her long dark hair, smooth and glossy, her signature white ruched dress looking exceptionally dazzling, comes waltzing right through the pantry, and along with her is a rather handsome man with a winning smile and all-around affable aura about him.

He’s tall, muscular, with brilliant white teeth that he doesn’t mind showing off, curly brown hair that looks soft to the touch like lamb’s wool, and heavily squinted half-moons for eyes, mostly because he hasn’t stopped smiling as they carry on their conversation. “Oh my goodness!” My heart begins to quicken at the sight before me. If he can see Greer, hear Greer, and carry on a conversation with her, he must be like me. I quickly pull him to the side, filled with unmitigated glee. “I can’t believe this,” I whisper, trying not to arouse Noah’s attention since he’s not apprised of my supersensual standing. Of course, Everett knows all about my ability to see the dead—and if he holds my hand, he can hear them, too. “Are you like me? Are you transmundane? I’m actually further classified as supersensual. There was a meet-up with our kind at my bakery a few months back. This is just incredible. When did you realize you could see those that have long since passed?” He pauses a moment to glance at Greer, and she shrugs while tossing her long dark hair.

Her gray eyes used to glow like paper lanterns while she was still alive a few months back, but after her murder, they glow like floodlights. Greer was a sorority beauty queen—just about the same age as me when she perished back in February. She actually chose to eschew paradise in order to haunt my mother’s B&B along with her two-hundred-year-old boy toy Winslow Decker. They’re quite the success, considering the fact my mother’s haunted B&B tours are sold out for the foreseeable future. All parties seem thrilled with the paranormal arrangement, so it’s pretty much a ghostly win-win. “What’s your name?” I shake my head at this marvel of a man. “Can I get you a lemon bar? I just can’t believe you can see the dead!” Any trace of a smile has since dissipated from his features. “I’m not just seeing the dead. I am dead.” H C H A P T E R 2 is words swirl around me like a slippery fish my mind refuses to grasp.

“You’re dead?” I let his words sink in for a moment. A pained smiled crosses his face. “I’m sorry to spring it on you like that. I’m not used to speaking to the living—at least I haven’t for the last few years. In fact, I had no idea at all I’d be summoned back from paradise.” I suck in a lungful of air and nearly inhale all of the lemon bars in the vicinity in the process. “Oh my God!” I howl at what this all means. Noah rushes over. “Lottie, is everything okay?” I pivot on my heels as I shoot a quick look to Everett. Everett is the only person on the planet, sans my birth mother, Carlotta Sawyer, and the small portion of the transmundane community I had the privilege to meet, that actually know of my peculiar abilities.

“Everything is”—I do my best to search for words—“running very off schedule. Noah, why don’t you help take one of these platters out to the conservatory? Everett, you can help me put together another plate.” Noah growls low, “You’re trying to get rid of me. This has to do with that thing, doesn’t it? The secret you were going to share with me? We can do it now. What is it, Lottie? You’re rattled. I can tell.” A quivering breath escapes me as I look back to the handsome man once again chatting it up with Greer as if they were old friends. “Not here.” Everett narrows his gaze on that seemingly vacant space I’ve been staring at in horror as if he senses something. “We can do it at my place tonight.

After Lemon and I finish up in the bedroom, we’ll come out and tell you all about it.” A mischievous grin spreads over his face, his double entendre purely drummed up for Noah’s sake. Noah’s jaw tenses, and it makes him look that much more handsome. “There is going to be a homicide today.” I watch as Greer and the mystery man walk right through the wall and out toward the conservatory. “He’s right. There is going to be a homicide today.” I nod to Everett and pick up a platter. “And for once, I’m going to try to get to the bottom of it before the Grim Reaper has a chance to score another homicidal home run.” I head out and am greeted by the sound of happy chattering voices.

The conservatory is a new addition that my mother recently tacked onto the B&B. One of my exes, Otis Bear Fisher, built the structure for her. Bear broke my heart in high school, which in turn sent me running for big city pastures out in New York where I went to Columbia for my bachelors, but before I could think about grad school, I met yet another cad, Curt Vanderlin, and he broke my heart twice as hard as Bear ever did. Basically, Curt proposed, I said yes, he slept with my roommate, and I said goodbye. He was recently in town, and we’ve since mended fences. Suffice it to say, I’ve never been lucky in love. The bustling crowd in the conservatory jars me back to reality. The room itself is a large glass and steel structure that gives you that outdoor feeling while you’re still snug inside. Cormack, the woman who caused the great divide between Noah and Everett years ago, paid to have a design team come in and put up posh tables at standing height, no chairs. They set out several large white sofas scattered around the periphery, and hung ridiculously large yet stunningly opulent crystal chandeliers in hues of baby blue from the ceiling.

It’s almost wall-to-wall bodies in here, exclusively female thus far, and the sound of classical music pops from the speakers. I spot Keelie and Meg going at it near the refreshment table, and I can’t help but frown. They’ve both been quasi-dating Hook Redwood for the last few months. Let’s just say they’re not a happy little threesome. I wish one of them would back down. It’s not healthy to have three hearts tangled in a knot when there’s clearly only room for two. Noah and Everett bounce through my mind, and I do my best to bounce them right back out. Out on the refreshment table behind Keelie and Meg, there’s an ice luge of some kind that shoots out liquor, complete with a bartender at the helm. To his left is a sushi chef making rolls to order, and just beyond that is what looks like a small hibachi barbeque with lighter fluid and briquettes as if we were about to grill up some steaks. “Lolly!” I turn to find Cormack, the formidable real-life Barbie with her golden blonde hair, light green doe eyes, waving at me.

She’s clad in a pink hip-hugging dress with a plunging neckline and what appears to be an ever-shrinking hemline. To my surprise, standing next to her is her doppelgänger, albeit with chestnut-colored locks and a bright yellow dress, equally as hip-hugging and suggestive. Cormack has never bothered to get my name straight, and I don’t bother correcting her anymore. Not to mention the fact she’s got the serious hots for Noah, whom I still have the serious hots for as well—mostly because I can’t seem to find the shut-off valve. Cormack needs to stand in line, though. It just so happens that Noah’s wife hit the pause button on their divorce and is forcing him to undergo another round of counseling. Noah says it won’t avail much since he’s already emotionally removed himself from the marriage, but I suppose only time will tell. Cormack wraps an arm around my shoulders and abruptly pulls me close as if we were suddenly besties. “Don’t you just love the way things turned out? I’d move the moon to make my sister happy. That goes for the big boss in my life, too.

” She gives a quick wink. By big boss, I’m certain she means Noah. I’ve heard her reference him as such in the past, and it turns my stomach each and every time. “Lonnie, this is my sister, Landon. Landon, this is Leighla.” Both Landon and I gawk at Cormack in wonder. Cormack is a bright woman, and, yet, she doesn’t seem to be egging me on while badly mismanaging my name. “It’s nice to meet you, Landon.” I offer a hand and she shakes it, so light and ice cold she makes the limp fish feel like an aggressive arm wrestling match. Landon glances at the burgeoning crowd of what appears to be hordes of Miss America contestants.

I’m half-expecting a bathing suit competition to break out. Although, to be honest, this doesn’t look like the thong and pasty crowd you might find down at Red Satin where Meg works. These women come from money. Honest to God, I can smell it on them just as sure as their pricy perfume. Landon leans in. “All of my best friends are here. Oh, and my ex is stopping by in a few. Sort of a celebrity appearance, if you will.” She honks out a laugh that sounds like a flock of geese heading south for the winter, and my eyes double in size because in the span of thirty seconds both Featherby sisters happened to amaze me—and not in any good way. “Your ex? Now there’s a twist.

” And oddly, I have a feeling he will be the least strange thing in this room. I scan the area and spot Greer with her boyfriend, Winslow Decker, and he looks good and fighting mad. Come to think of it, Greer looks pretty red-faced, too. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were having an argument. Just past them I spot the man of the ghostly hour chatting it up with Carlotta, my biological mom—who just so happens to share my quirky gift. I can’t help but snarl at the sight. Carlotta should know better than to prattle on with a poltergeist in the midst of ordinary people, but, apparently, she lacks common sense. Landon waves off the idea of her ex. “He’s with Viv now.” She nods to a bleached blonde with ice blue eyes and a svelte waist that looks impossibly tiny as exemplified by the belt cinching her off like a bracelet.

She looks strikingly like one of those old-time movie stars, long thick lashes, red velvet lips, smokey eyes. She’s the modern embodiment of Carol Lombard, and I could easily find myself staring at her for hours the way you would a creature in a zoo habitat. “But I’ve moved on, too,” Landon continues. “I’ve got the breakup brunette going.” She plucks at one of her chestnut curls. “And I’ve upped my Pilates classes to four times a week. Now that I’ll be staying in Honey Hollow, I’ll need a full list of local recommendations—nails, hair, lips, esthetician, masseuses, the name of the cutest bag boy at the grocery store—we’re talking full monty.” I think on this for a moment just as Keelie’s evil twin steps in my line of vision. Naomi took a harsh disliking to me a million years ago when she decided she wanted Bear for herself. She wasn’t the one he cheated on me with, but Naomi and I have never been friendly.

“You’ll want to speak with Naomi Turner.” I nod over to her just as a crowd bustles between us. “She runs the Evergreen Manor and is in the know on all things—highmaintenance.” I wanted to say shallow, but the truth is, I like a good massage as much as the next girl. Landon jerks as her entire body freezes. “Here she comes,” she mutters under her breath, and Cormack follows her gaze to a group of girls entering the conservatory from the rear entrance. A trio of brunettes heads this way. The one in the middle with the fiery chestnut locks has her shoulders back, a cutting look on her beautifully chiseled face. She has high cheekbones, full lips, just about everything else a supermodel requires, and she could easily be just that. The girl to her right has a pushed-in nose, tiny lips, and an angry look that suggests she might be the potential killer.

I try to shake the thought away. I shouldn’t think like that. It’s repulsive. But the fact Carlotta is laughing at whatever Ghost Boy is telling her, firmly suggests otherwise. In the last eight months, there has yet to be a specter’s presence that has not resulted in someone’s impending doom. Honestly, though, murder is the last thing I want to think about. My attention reverts to the trio of brunettes. The girl on the end ensconcing the trio’s clear leader has a sour puss, too. She sports a short copper bob that nearly matches her honey-colored skin. She’s pretty, petite, and pardon my French, she looks decidedly pissed.

Landon gulps audibly. “Nessa!” She trots forward and grabs the hands of the redhead in the middle. Ha! I knew she was the queen bee. Nessa’s lips tug with disdain as she glances around. “I don’t see DJ Dash. He did my mother’s divorce party and Lindie’s.” She shoots a look to the girl with the pushed-in nose and tiny lips who I’m guessing is Lindie before looking to the copper-haired girl. “Jenson, find me a cocktail that isn’t pink and doesn’t have an obscene name.” Landon threads her arm through Nessa’s. “Let’s look at the legal documents.

I’m having a freedom fire in about ten minutes and we’ll toast with champagne!” Nessa chortles. “So tacky.” She shoots me a careless glance. “Don’t you agree?” “Totally,” I agree without thinking, and Landon’s mouth falls open in horror. “I’m sorry,” I’m quick to apologize, but it’s too late. She’s already dragged Nessa off to ogle the vodka luge. Cormack steps in once again, her thick perfume holds the scent of rich spices, and my allergies threaten to unleash themselves full force. “Who’s this Nessa person?” I ask. “And why does Landon look as if she’s trying to impress her?” Cormack belts out a laugh that reminds me of a dolphin braying. “Vanessa St.

James is everyone’s worst nightmare. Let’s just say people play nice with Nessa because she has dirt on just about everyone. Yes, Nessa certainly knows where all the bodies are buried. She’s ruled our social circles for as long as I can remember. She’s practically untouchable.” “She sounds like a powerhouse.” There are a few more names I can think of to describe her but won’t. “What about her bookends? They each looked equally disgruntled to be here.” She points to the copper-haired girl who is busy loading up at the sushi bar. “Jenson Becker is Nessa’s roommate.

They share a house in Fallbrook—and by house, I mean sprawling estate. Jenson’s aunt owns it, I think. The dark-haired girl is Lindie Holland. She’s an illustrator and artist. We all went to boarding school together.” “I see.” Boarding school, otherwise known as the babysitter’s club for exorbitantly wealthy parents. Not only do they get a child-free environment, but their kid gets an elite education to boot—and as I’m seeing, a brood of rather nasty friends as well. “What about Viv?” I nod to the Carol Lombard look-alike making eyes at the bartender. “Vivian Wood is one of Landon’s closest friends.

” She shakes her head at the girl. “And she didn’t mind scooping up my sister’s leftovers, no sirree. But then, Clayton McDaniel is quite the catch.” “If he’s such a catch, why did your sister dump him?” Cormack twists her lips. “Let’s just say he’s a catch that never quite understood the fact that he was caught.” “Ah. Say no more. I seem to catch those as well. What does Viv do for a living?” I may as well case everyone out— a little forward thinking as far as the inevitable is concerned. I shoot a side-eye to Carlotta and the spook she’s bonding with.

I still very much plan on shaking him down for the prospective murderous details of events to come. “Viv is a stay-at-home trust fund baby. She got a degree in English lit, and now she spends all day watching YouTube vloggers and Kardashian reruns.” “A real go-getter,” I muse. “She lunches, of course, and that takes up the middle of her day, and she sees her trainer each morning. Once Clayton and she make it official, she’ll pump out two point five beautiful babies and hire a tribe of French au pairs to mind them.” A gorgeous redhead comes our way and gives the obligatory faux scream once she spots Cormack. The two of them proceed to hug it out and air kiss with the best of them. “I haven’t seen you in ages!” The redhead squints out what appears to be a genuine smile. Her makeup is at a minimum, and her clothes are demure, white cardigan and jeans paired with light pink leather wedges.

There’s something warm and down-to-earth about her, and instantly I like her. She extends a hand my way, and I note her left wrist is wrapped in a bandage. “I’m Blythe.” She leans in and wrinkles her nose playfully. “Nessa’s real best friend.” I give her a quick shake. “Nice to meet you. I hope your wrist is okay.” “Tennis injury. I’m telling you, my body will take any excuse to sit on the sidelines.

That’s where all the real action happens, just like life.” She and Cormack share a laugh, and soon I’m edged out of the conversation as Cormack wraps an arm around the girl and leads her away. I seize the moment to make a beeline toward Carlotta and our uninvited ghost. “Lottie Lemon,” I say it curt as I look right into his holographic coffee-colored eyes. “What’s your name? And who in this room did you date, mate, or hate? More to the point, who loved you best?” That’s how it seems to work—the most prized pet, or in this case, person (a person seems to be the alternative in the event the soon-to-be deceased never bonded with an animal) comes back from the great beyond and seemingly does, well, nothing. Okay, that’s not true. They try to help in their own way, or not. I still haven’t made rhyme or reason out of it. All I really know is that they tend to stick around until the killer is apprehended, and then they’re happily blipped back to the other side to be reunited with the recently deceased. “Maximillian Finmore, you can call me Max.

” He shakes my hand, and it feels every bit solid. “I can’t believe this”—he quickly scans the party—“it’s just like the keggers we had back at Aimsley.” “Aimsley—of course.” I nod as if that explained everything—and it really does. Aimsley is the premier upper echelon private school right here in upstate Vermont with a tuition tab that equals all other elite college tuitions combined. Carlotta takes a deep breath as she eyes him. Side note: she looks identical to me in every way but older and grittier. I know exactly what I’ll look like in sixteen years if I don’t exfoliate religiously and deep condition my hair, considering the fact Carlotta was about sixteen when she had me. She’s the niece of Nell Sawyer. Nell died a few months back.

Up until Everett, Nell was the only person who knew I was supersensual. It turned out, at the end of her life, she confessed to having the same abilities. Nell is my best friend Keelie’s grandmother and mine in a roundabout way, too, come to find out. Nell felt so bad about the deep, dark secret she was forced to keep regarding where I came from that she left me most of her estate in her will. But my newfound uncle, William, wasn’t having it. He’s contested the will, and it should all come to a head sometime this summer. But as it stands, it’s just the beginning of May, and I don’t want to think about any money or real estate that may or may not be heading my way. I want to get to the bottom of this would-be homicide we’re right smack in the middle of. Carlotta swats him on the arm. “Died four years ago in a freak accident back in grad school.

Tell her what you did, Book Smart.” He averts his glowing eyes. “It was the weekend before the big game, and I tried to dump manure into the rival’s fountain. The dump truck I hauled it in on wouldn’t release, so I went back to make sure the latch was lifted. Long story short, the lift gate malfunctioned and I suffocated in a big pile of dookie.” I wince. “That’s terrible. And I’m so sorry.” Carlotta leans in. “You know what they say, dookie happens.

” I shake my head at her in a weak attempt to stave off the bad jokes before returning my attention to the spook before us. “You’re obviously here on a mission, Max. You have to tell me who in this room you think you were called for.” He blows a breath through his lips. “I don’t know. I dated Greer, but she’s already dead.” We look in her direction as her argument with Winslow seems to be heating up. Greer picks up a bud vase filled with a single yellow rose and hurls it across the room, narrowly missing a temple or two in the process. The room stills for a moment and collectively the girls expel a unanimous oooh and wiggle their fingers as if the B&B were haunted, and it is. Max shrugs. “Greer says Cormack chose the venue because they wanted to freak everyone out. It turns out, a good haunting is all the rage these days.” His brows do a little waggle as he looks Cormack’s way. “You knew her?” “Are you kidding? She was my first.” “Your first what?” Carlotta doles out a smack my way this time. “His first kitten. What do you think?” “Oh, oh.” I glance to my right and spot both Noah and Everett speaking to the kitten in question. “Cormack really gets around. Is there anyone else in the room that lit your flame?” He shrugs as he takes in the sorority-esque scene. “There’s Vivian. She was easy. Then there’s Nessa.” His voice drops an octave as he chortles out her name. “There’s nothing easy about Vanessa St. James, let me tell you.” Carlotta nods into the crowd. “What about the guest of honor?” “Landon?” He crimps a pitiful smile. “She’s a special girl. I’ll always hold a place in my heart for her.” “And that’s all I needed to hear.” I make a beeline toward Everett and land smack-dab between him and Noah just as two men walk through the door. “Here he is,” Cormack grumbles. “The guy who sliced and diced my sister’s heart to pieces.” “Which one?” I ask, anxious to pin him with all my venom. I know what it feels like to be cheated on, and it’s no thrill ride. I have a very low tolerance for wayward men. The one on the right in khakis and a powder blue dress shirt beams a smile at the girls all flocking his way. His hair is sandy blond and wiry, and the dark-haired guy next to him is wearing a suit, looks like your typical Ken doll who seems to be working the room with his eyebrows alone. “The guy with the suit,” she whispers. “The one next to him is his good friend, Ryan Holland. He’s engaged to Blythe. Bluebloods, both of them. He’s in the same law firm as Clayton. They’re both hoping to go into politics soon enough, and they will. You might just be looking at a future president. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they ran on the same ticket. I think that’s why Clay was hitting up Viv. Viv’s old money, good breeding, no scandals. I guess he didn’t think the Featherbys were good enough for his pristine career. I’m so angry at the way he treated my sister, the way he’s still treating my sister, I could just kill him.” She trots off, and I ponder this for a moment. Maybe it’s Clayton I need to protect? But then, if Cormack does him in, that would mean she would be far away from Honey Hollow for the next thirty years to life. The two of them appear before us, and, before you know it, Cormack is screaming with faux delight as she offers them each a firm embrace. “So glad you both could make it. It wouldn’t have been possible without you!” She stabs Clayton in the stomach with her finger. “This is Lona Lemon. She baked the desserts.” “Nice to meet you.” I hold out a hand to Clayton just as he tucks both of his into his pockets and nods my way. Fine. I bring my hand back to my side and nod to Ryan as well. Landon swoops over and scuttles the three of them away just as the most handsome judge I’ve ever laid eyes on leans my way. “Lemon?” Everett holds a military stance with his chin up as he scours the crowd along with me. “You see another one, don’t you?” “You’re intuitive, Judge Baxter.” Both in and out of the bedroom, but for Noah’s sake, I’ll leave that tidbit out. My heart very much still pines for Noah, and I happen to really dislike that about my heart. Landon taps the edge of a champagne flute with a knife as she brings the room to order. In the span of seconds, a small army of men in tuxedos land a champagne flute brimming with bubbly in just about everybody’s hand. “It’s time to officially and ritualistically say goodbye to the past and hello to a vibrant beautiful future!” The room ignites in cheers as Clayton himself does the honors and sets the interior of the hibachi ablaze. Landon sets an envelope over the flames, and the room breaks out into another wild cheer as the paper melts to nothing. Landon engages in an odd little bump and grind with her ex. “You won’t be getting any more of that now, will you?” She cackles, as do her cohorts. “It’s time to party! I say, let them eat lemon cake!” “Lemon bars,” I correct to no one in particular as the crowd rushes to the dessert table and dives on in. It’s a mad tangle of flesh, and it does lead one to believe that we’re witnessing cheat day on a keto diet taking place in full force. Landon’s nuptial nixing is clearly the excuse they needed to get a good and decent carb fix. I could swear a collective sigh just expelled from the entire lot of them. Noah shakes his head. “The desperation to get ahold of one of those bars—the sheer ecstasy on their faces when they bite on in—I’ve never seen anything like it.” Everett grunts, “I have.” The edges of his lips give a naughty curve, suggesting he’s seen it in his bedroom, and I have no doubt he’s seen it many, many times. Everett gets around, or at least he did. “Hear that, Lottie?” Noah offers a stern look. “You’re more than likely going to need vaccinations. I’ll take you to the clinic right after, to get you checked out.” I’m about to kindly decline his inoculating offer when the sound of wheezing erupts near the hibachi. Vanessa St. James is clutching her throat intermittently, her limbs flailing wildly. She’s staggering and knocking over dishes from the refreshment table as she struggles to stabilize herself. Her face turns pomegranate, then an eerie shade of blue before she falls to the floor, with remnants of my lemon bar smeared across her face. Her eyes roll to the back of her head as her body ceases to jerk. Nessa isn’t untouchable anymore. I think Nessa St. James is dead.

.

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