Murder by the Book – Lauren Elliott

Addison Greyborne breathed in the intoxicating scents of tangy sea air and New England autumn leaves infused with the comforting aroma of fresh-baked bread. Of course, standing on the sidewalk admiring her newly installed red awning with its overhead sign, “Beyond the Page—Books & Curios,” contributed to her giddy state of mind, and she pinched herself to make sure it was all real. Her eyes rested on the bay windows on either side of the glazed entrance. The one to her left displayed knickknacks, gemstones, and candles, and the one on the right was her beloved used bookshop. Both windows were decked out in the fall harvest displays that she’d created herself. She inched backward on the sidewalk, marveling at how eye-catching they would be to passersby. Images of all the other seasonal showcases she’d be able to create flashed through her mind, but then her shoe heel slipped over the curbing. She teetered backward. Feet spread-eagle, arms pinwheeling in the air, she glanced over her shoulder. A car was coming directly toward her. To her horror, it sped up instead of slowing down. She scrambled and regained her footing. The rush of air across her back rocked her as the black sedan swooshed by. “Slow down!” Addison shouted, but the Honda sped to the next corner, squealed around the sharp left turn, and disappeared down the back side of Town Square Road. “I guess there are idiots everywhere,” she mumbled, taking a deep breath.

Addison straightened her navy boyfriend jacket, brushed dust from her dark gray, skinny ankle jeans and rummaged through her purse for the key. Her hand trembled as she tried to fit it into the lock. She gritted her teeth, counted to ten, calmed herself, and tried again. The door swung open. Bells rang overhead, and she let out a comforted sigh. The door chime was a sound she knew she’d never tire of hearing. Excitement bubbled through her as she stepped across the threshold into Beyond the Page. I’m proud of you, pumpkin, she envisioned her father saying, imagining him standing next to her smiling. A chill quivered across her shoulders. “Thanks, Dad.

” She smiled, disarmed the alarm, and flipped on the lights. She scanned the large room, pleased with the past months of hard work. It was done. Perfect. Her best-loved books were prominently displayed along the wall shelves, while standing bookshelves, varying in height and with books arranged by genre, stood in orderly rows in the center of the room. She’d even managed to tuck soft leather armchairs into every nook and cranny, arranging them on small, richly woven area carpets to create cozy reading spaces. Addison eyed the large glass curio cabinet by the window filled with her beloved collectibles. It fit perfectly at the end of the restored, ornately carved Victorian bar she used as a cash and coffee counter. She wrapped her arms around her chest, hugged tight, grabbed the “Now Open” sandwich board, and dashed outside to erect it on the sidewalk beside the front door. She stood back, and grinned.

“Is this your new shop, then?” called a plump, white-haired woman from the bakery entrance next door. “Yes. Yes, it is,” Addison said, sweeping long strands of hair from her eyes. “Hi. I’m Addison. My friends call me Addie.” She walked toward the woman, her hand outstretched. “Hum.” The woman nodded, but didn’t reach for her hand. “Thought I heard someone yelling out here a few minutes ago.

” She cocked her eyebrow. “Oh. Sorry, yes, that was me. A car almo—” The woman sneered and walked back into the bakery, smoothing wrinkles from her stained apron. “Um, I didn’t catch your name,” Addie called cheerfully, but the woman had disappeared inside. “Don’t worry about her,” said an amiable voice behind her. Addie spun around and came face-to-face with a rather attractive, petite, fiery-haired young woman sporting a poncho as brightly-colored as her hair. “Martha’s just getting crotchety in her old age. She can be pleasant enough, sometimes.” The woman laughed.

“Good to know. I was afraid I’d offended her.” “Naw, she’s just being Martha. I’m Serena, by the way.” “Hi, I’m Addison,” she said, extending her hand. “Call me Addie.” “Will do.” Serena shook her hand and gestured with her head. “I’m just on the other side of you.” Addie turned.

“SerenaTEA—how perfect for a tea shop name.” “Kind of clever, isn’t it?” Serena chuckled. “I like yours, too.” “I had a hard time thinking of one—you know, something that said I sold more than books—so Beyond the Page it was.” “I like it . especially the graphic of the steaming coffee cup on the glass door.” “Thanks. I designed it myself.” Serena cast her eyes downward. “So you sell books, curios, coffee, and .

what?” She shuffled her feet; her toe kicked at a pebble. “Food, too?” “No, just coffee, and I don’t sell it. It’s free and just for customers who want to sit and read or browse. Come in, I’ll show you around.” “I’d love to.” Serena’s face lit up. “I’ve been curious this past month, but there wasn’t a sign up, and the windows were covered with newspaper.” She laughed. “No one could figure out what was going on in there during all hours of the day and night.” “You should have knocked.

I’d have loved the company.” “I did, a few times, but there wasn’t any answer.” “Sorry, I must not have heard you.” Addie smiled and held the door open. “I was pretty focused.” “Wow, this is fantastic.” Serena looked around. “It’s so comfortable and homey. The carved wood beams and pillar post finishes are amazing. Are they original?” “Yes, I had a restoration specialist come up from Boston to—” “And look.

” Serena pointed. “You have a huge section on murder and mystery. That’s my favorite reading. I love Agatha Christie.” Her visual review of the shop took in the gleaming, wide-planked wooden flooring, which Addie recently had restored and came to rest on the Victorian counter. Addie, who had been following Serena’s inspection of the room, blurted out, “that piece isn’t original to the store. I found it and had it restored. It made such a perfect cash and coffee bar, I couldn’t resist.” Serena smiled and then her eyes focused on the coffee maker on the far end of it. “And see, that’s only one of those one-cup pod dispensers.

You know, just to make readers and customers feel at home. We could work out something between us. I don’t want to take away any of your business.” “Naw, I’m not worried.” A smile crept across Serena’s lips as she continued to scan the storefront. “There’s a big difference between tea and coffee drinkers. I was just a bit afraid when I saw your sign that it was an actual coffeehouse, too. I do sell some pastries.” “No, don’t worry. Books and collectibles are all I can manage.

” “Good. With the new restaurant down the street, I already have enough competition.” Her smile broadened. “So we should get along just fine. Welcome to the neighborhood.” “Thanks. I don’t know anyone in town, so . hopefully we’ll become friends, too?” “Well, we’ve gotten off to a good start.” Serena’s dark brown eyes flashed with amusement. “We have an enemy in common with Martha.

” She chuckled, tossing back her long, crimped red mane. “I’ve been on this street for almost five years, and she’ll still hardly speak to me. She actually called me a ‘wannabe hippie’ one day. Can you believe that?” “Oh dear, that bad, hey—?” “Shh.” Serena’s gaze shot to the back of the shop. “Do you hear that?” Addie’s skin prickled at the scraping sounds, then a voice yelling and a loud thud. “What the—?” She dashed toward the back room, Serena at her heels. After a quick glance around the empty storage area, Addie flung the metal door open, burst into the alley and skidded to a stop. Serena thudded into her, sending Addie staggering forward into a strewn bag of garbage. “Oh God, sorry,” Serena said as she offered a helping hand.

“Not your fault.” Addie hauled herself to her feet. “I really should have brake lights installed.” She grimaced, wiping trash off her jacket and slacks. “And it looks like I’ll need to know the name of a dry cleaner in town, too.” “I’ll pay for it, but it really was an accident.” Serena’s face crumbled as she helped remove bits of bread and other unidentifiable matter off Addie’s clothing. “No, you won’t. It’s just been one of those mornings, and it started long before this.” “Hum,” huffed Martha, who stood in the back door of her bakery.

“If you girls are finished gabbing about clothes, and you’re interested,” she said, crossing her plump arms, “an intruder had a crowbar wedged in your door when I came out with the trash. I chased him off when I threw that bag at his head.” Addie eyed the scratches by the latch. Her eyes trailed up to the garbage drizzling down the door. “Yes, good thing you came out here in time to throw the bag and stop him. Thank you.” Martha took a deep breath. “He ran that way, down the alley toward Birch Road.” Her ample chest puffed in and out as she turned back toward her shop. “Oh, you should probably call the police.

” She called over her shoulder, “I’ve never seen him around here before. Too many strangers comin’ and goin’ these days.” Martha looked back at the two women and shook her white head. “And I expect you gals will clean that up.” The bakery door slammed shut behind her. Wide-eyed, Addie nodded and looked at Serena, then back at her door and the mess on the ground. “Does this kind of thing happen often around here?” “No, this is a quiet town . usually. I’m guessing maybe it was Old Bill? He hangs out back here looking for scraps from Martha’s, but he’s harmless and he’s never been known to try to break in anywhere. Martha would’ve recognized him, though.

” Addie scanned the lane and shook her head. “I’ll go get some garbage bags and a broom, but you don’t have to help. It’s my shop.” “Nonsense, we’re in this together. It’s the least I can do.” “Thanks.” “See if you’ve got any rubber gloves while you’re at it.” Serena cringed and gingerly picked through the garbage. “Sure thing.” Addie popped into her shop.

“Oh no!” she shrieked. “Come look at this.” “What, what, what?” Serena sprinted to her side, stopped short, and gasped. The sight of the disheveled bookcases brought a lump to the back of Addie’s throat as she eyed their contents, which had been pitched across the floor. She glanced at the venetian glass display in the showcase by the window and breathed a sigh of relief that it was still intact. Now, hopefully, she’d find that her beloved books weren’t damaged either. Chapter Two “I really appreciate you helping me clean up all the mess this morning, but what about your shop? Won’t your customers wonder why you haven’t opened yet?” “No worries.” Serena laughed. “My customers know I don’t keep regular hours. They’ll come back later, and this is the least I can do for a new friend on her not-so-welcoming first day.

” She placed the last three books on the bottom shelf. “There, we’re done.” Serena stood up and stretched her back. “Besides, you needed a witness aside from Martha for the police statement.” “Yes, and it helped having a friend who is related to the investigating officer.” Addie winked. “And he’s taunted me my whole life, as you saw. Brothers.” Serena shuddered. “Well, I’d best be off.

” “You know, before you go, think about this and tell me if I’m crazy or not—but I’m thinking now . and wondering . if there were perhaps, um . two people involved, not just the fellow Martha chased off.” “What makes you say that?” Serena’s hand paused on the door latch. “’Cause she said he ran off, not drove toward Birch Road, and we weren’t outside long enough for him to run around the two blocks and come back in the front door.” “What are you saying? That it was planned?” “Yes, and the guy in the lane was just a diversion to get us outside. That there was someone else on the street waiting till we were distracted.” “Hum, but why? It was only the books that were messed up, and the only one that you said appears to be missing is a copy of Alice in Wonderland, and none of your collectibles were stolen, so I don’t get it.” “Neither do I.

” Addie frowned. “The 1961 edition that seems to be gone wasn’t worth much. So I don’t know why they would break in to steal that.” Serena’s brows knit. Addie shook her head. “I don’t even know if it is missing.” She shrugged. “It might still be in one of the crates I haven’t brought in yet, although . ” She bit her lip and frowned. “Oh, never mind, it’s not worth much anyway.

” “If you think of anything else, give me a shout, and we’ll call my brother. Maybe he’s aware of a crime ring operating in these parts I don’t know about. But, personally, I think it was just a crime of opportunity or kids messing around. Don’t worry.” Serena’s brow rose. “I’m sure it’s fine. Cheers, see you later.” “Yes, thanks again. See you later.” Addie leaned against the counter waiting for her cup of coffee to finish brewing.

She gnawed on her lower lip as the events of the morning ran through her mind like a slow-motion movie reel. Why didn’t the bells chime? She strode toward the front door and opened it inch by inch. When it was ajar by about a foot, the bells rang out. “That’s it,” she said aloud. Addie grabbed her purse and keys, locked the door behind her, and dashed next door into SerenaTEA. Breathless, she bolted into the small, empty tea shop. “Serena,” she called, “are you here?” “I’m back here.” Serena’s red head appeared around the doorjamb leading to the storeroom. “You okay? You’re flushed.” “I’m fine, but I think I just figured something out.

” Serena stepped out and tossed the kitchen towel she’d been holding into the room behind her before walking over to a kettle steaming on a side table. “Really? What? Take a seat.” She motioned to a counter stool. “I was just going to make a pot of Heavenly Delight tea. Want some?” “Please, sounds perfect,” Addie, said glancing at the variety of large, wooden storage bins behind the counter. She noted the sidewall shelves held silver bags in varying sizes, all bearing the red SerenaTEA label. “Do you make all your own tea blends?” Addie inhaled the heady scents of spices and herbs that enveloped her. “It smells wonderful in here,” she said as she settled onto a high counter stool. “Yes, as you can see, the prepackaged ones of my most popular blends come in small, medium, or large bags, but custom blends are my trademark. It’s what makes me different from other tea shops around here.

” Serena smiled as she poured hot water into a stoneware teapot. “So what’s up? Have you figured out what he was after?” “No, not yet. But I’m certain now someone must have been watching me, or us, enter the shop this morning to know about the door chimes. Unless you heard them jingling when we ran into the alley?” “No, I don’t remember hearing anything.” “I don’t either, and I know I didn’t hear them when I went back in to get the garbage bags, which must have been when he slipped out the front door.” Addie took the teacup from Serena’s outstretched hand. “Which means whoever was out front must have been tall.” “What? Why?” “Because I’m nearly five nine, and I can’t reach the chimes well enough to silence them. But when he came in he knew he’d have to reach up and grasp them while he slipped in and out. The ceiling height is at least fourteen feet, and the chimes hang down over the top of the seven-and-a-half-foot door.

It only makes sense that whoever ransacked the place was tall enough to reach them. Like I said before, I don’t think it was one person, but we’ll need a full description of the fellow Martha ran off to see if my hunch is right.” Serena laughed. “Whoa, slow down, take a breath.” She reached for the phone on the counter. “Are you calling Martha?” “No, I’m calling Marc. I’d rather he question her than us. She’s in a real mood today.” “I don’t think involving your brother at this point’s a great idea. We need proof, not just theories.

I know because I’ve been down this road before. Trust me. The police won’t act on hunches.” Addie swirled the tea in her cup and knocked back a gulp. Serena cringed. “It’s hot.” “Yeah, I see that.” Addie grimaced. “I wasn’t thinking.” “You look like you need a stiff drink, not a cup of tea.

” Addie shook her head. “A bit too early for that, but I might have one later. Until then, hit me with another one, tea-tender.” She held up her empty cup. Serena went to the side table and poured a refill. “I’m guessing you’ve been through something like this before?” “Um, sort of, a few times.” Addie sighed. “Wanna talk about it?” Serena handed her the cup. “Not much to say other than I’ve had my share of botched police investigations and dead ends this past year.” “That doesn’t sound good.

No wonder you don’t want to involve Marc right now.” Serena frowned but kept her eyes fixed on Addie’s. Addie squirmed in her seat, but Serena’s eyes didn’t waver. Her sweet face and big, round, innocent eyes tugged at the painful recess of Addie’s heart, and she felt a sense of trust. “Okay. I’ll talk.” She laughed nervously and shifted on her stool. “But you’re in the wrong profession, Serena. That look would break down the most notorious mobster in any interrogation.” Serena sat down on a stool behind the sales counter and propped her chin in her hands, but remained silent.

Addie swirled her teacup, set it down, drummed her fingers on the counter, and took a deep breath. “The first incident was almost a year ago. My fiancé, David, was murdered in our apartment in Boston.” Serena gasped and placed her hand over Addie’s and gently clasped it. Addie bit her lip. “It was ruled a crime of opportunity, and the police never found out who did it. The case is still open, I guess, but they’re not investigating anymore. Even though I had a few theories of my own, they wouldn’t look into them. They just walked away, writing him off as another victim of the current crime wave sweeping the neighborhood.” “Oh my God.

What a horrible thing to have gone through.” Serena’s slight frame shuddered. “Oh, it gets better.” Addie sighed. “About six months ago, my father was killed in a car crash, not far from here, actually. Pen Hollow, just down the coast.” “Yes, I know that drive. There’s a switchback curve at the top of the cliff—pretty scary at times.” Addie nodded. “You don’t mean .

? Oh jeez. I’m so sorry.” Serena squeezed her hand. Addie’s eyes moistened. “There were too many unanswered questions about his accident, and the state police just brushed me off and closed the case, ruling it an accident. They said he was driving too fast for the heavy fog conditions at the time. I thought there had to be more to it—maybe a brake malfunction or a heart attack or something. I knew my dad. He was always a cautious driver. But they just wouldn’t listen to me.

” “That must have been horrible. Did you ever get any answers?” Addie shook her head. “And then—” “There’s more?” Serena leaned closer, gripping Addie’s hand even tighter. “Yes. Three months ago, I got a call from a lawyer, informing me my great-aunt had passed away. They’d done an extensive family search and discovered I was the only surviving relative, so I was to inherit her entire estate.” Serena’s eye widened. “My old supervisor from the Boston Public Library, who is an extremely logical person, and who became my rock through a very dark time in my life”—she cleared her throat—“advised me to put the whole estate up for auction, take the money, and retire.” “Obviously by opening up your own store, you didn’t retire.” “No, I’m not one who enjoys being idle.

I get bored easily,” she said, tapping her fingers on the counter. “Judging from all the books you have, I’m guessing you were a librarian?” Serena’s brow rose. “Isn’t that kind of boring anyway?” Addie laughed. “No, lots of people love that work, but I was the assistant to the curator of acquisitions.” “Oooh, sounds fancy and important.” “Not really.” Addie shook her head. “I researched and cataloged old and rare books. Well, that is, until I did a six-month work exchange at the British Museum.” Serena leaned closer.

“London? Wow, what did you do there?” “Same thing, but with some museum artifacts, too, not just books—although really it was anything crated up in storage that hadn’t been appraised yet. Now that I think about it, it was kind of grunt work.” “But living in London must have been fantastic. I’d love to travel . anywhere . ” Her voice trailed off. “I loved being there even though David couldn’t go with me because of his work and I missed him so much. When my term was over, I couldn’t wait to get home to him. But he was murdered right after I came back, and that’s when my world fell apart.” Addie sighed.

Serena bit her lip. “After the whole David thing and then my dad passing, I knew there was nothing left for me in Boston. I needed to get out of that city, and with my aunt’s inheritance, it became possible. And that’s how I ended up here. To move on and start a new life.” She gulped down a mouthful of tea. “But taking in this morning, trouble seems to be never far behind me lately.” Serena shook her head. “So much tragedy for such a young woman.” She clasped both of Addie’s hands in hers and gently squeezed them.

“Young?” She winced. “I’m thirty . something .” “Okay, but you haven’t turned gray yet, and that’s a good sign. I know I would be after all that, and I’m only twenty-seven.” Addie turned up her chin, smiled demurely and fluttered her eyelashes. “Don’t tell anyone,” she whispered. “But it’s the honey-brown color with salon-enhanced golden streaks. It hides the gray.” “You really are something else,” Serena said, and she poured them more tea.

“After all you’ve been through, you’ve still managed to keep a sense of humor.” Addie sighed and stared down into her cup. “Funny thing is, if there is anything funny about all this, I didn’t even know I had a great-aunt, and here I am living in her house.” Serena’s brows shot up. “Which house is it? I grew up here, and I know everyone. I probably knew your aunt, too.” “It’s the big one on the hilltop overlooking the harbor at the end of the road.” Serena grasped the counter edge and stood up. “You mean Greyborne Manor?” she whispered. “Yes, that’s it.

Why? Do you know it?” “Who doesn’t around here? You’re a Greyborne?” Serena’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t anyone know someone had moved in?” Addie chuckled at the stunned expression on Serena’s face. “I kept mainly to myself because I had so much to do with the move and sorting out the house, and then when I decided to open a shop, there were renovations and . well, the list goes on.” “I understand that.” Serena’s face reddened. Addie noted that when she flushed, freckles burst out across her cheeks. “But another Greyborne back in Greyborne Harbor? That’s big news. We all thought the family line had ended with your aunt.” “It’s not that big of a deal, is it? You know, that I’m a Greyborne?” “This town was named after the Greybornes, who founded it back in the early seventeen hundreds.

” “I know. I read that, but it can’t mean that much today, can it?” Addie sipped her tea, looking over the rim of her cup at Serena. “After all, it’s grown into so much more than its pilgrim beginnings over the years, hasn’t it? The tourist sites say it’s a booming, to quote, ‘quaint little seaside town.’ From what I can tell by the tour buses I’ve seen, I can understand why. It looks interesting. It’s picturesque, and I’ve seen lots of posters up advertising art and entertainment events. The name didn’t seem like that big of a deal these days.” She set her cup down. Serena choked on her mouthful, sputtering tea down her chin. “You really have no idea of the legacy that’s been left, do you?”

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