Murder in Waiting – Lynn Cahoon

Event planning is a talent that not everyone has in their DNA. No matter what they teach you in high school, it turns out not everyone can do everything. My Home Economics teacher had a section in our senior Family Living class on wedding planning. I would have been better at looking up airline tickets to Vegas. But no, you had to pick out your perfect dress. Set up a caterer. List out your menu. Find a venue for both the wedding—which should be religion-appropriate for you and your future husband—and the reception. She let us go wild. Whatever we wanted, we got. Then we had to set a budget. And she’d tricked us early on by asking what the future version of ourselves and our imaginary husband did for a living. So the budget was based on the average salaries for those careers. Which she set for you, using some charts she’d found on the internet. I’d always known that I wanted to be a lawyer.

I had one path set for my life. Go to college. Get into a law school. Get my degree. Accept one of many offers for employment. Work and establish myself for five years. Then I’d get married and have two kids. A boy and a girl. In that order. We’d live outside of San Francisco and have a nanny.

And maybe an old English Sheepdog. Just to make the family picture perfect. And since I’d chosen a high income lifestyle for me and my imaginary groom, my wedding planning came in underbudget. In reality, I don’t live outside of the city. I live in an old cottage by the sea that I inherited from my friend when she was murdered. Her choices for heirs during her will planning were either me or the money-grubbing nephew. I’m nicer. I’m Jill Gardner, and I was an attorney in the city. But instead of that being my dream job, it turned into a nightmare. And I hit the glass ceiling as soon as I decided my specialty would be family law.

After a weeklong vacation here in South Cove that included a lot of iced tea and conversation with Miss Emily, my friend who later left me my house, I quit my first dream job. And then bought a bookstore-slash-coffee shop here in South Cove. That was almost ten years ago, and I’ve never regretted changing dreams or careers. But my hatred of event planning has continued. And I was getting pushed to the edge by my best friend’s wedding mania. Today’s Business-to-Business meeting speaker was only adding to the whirl in my head. Amy had talked a local wedding planner into coming to talk to the local businesses about setting up South Cove as the perfect destination wedding stop. A topic the bed and breakfast and venue owners were loving. I, on the other hand, was bored out of my gourd. Of course, not all speakers were going to speak directly to every member of our group of business owners, but it seemed like everyone except me was finding tidbits of gold to take back for their marketing dollars.

All I was seeing was carafe after carafe of free coffee getting snatched up by our group. Deek Kerr was on the clock as our barista for the morning. He sat back behind the counter watching for empty carafes or cookie plates. I’d set out a batch of cookies and gave Amy the invoice to charge the refreshments to the council budget, but when Deek held up an empty plate, I shook my head. If they’d already gone through five dozen, it was time to cut the high. We had to be responsible sugar dealers. He nodded and set the empty plate in the sink to wash later. Then he went back to reading The Hero’s Journey. My full-time student, part-time barista was writing his first book. If it was as good as I thought it might be, I might be looking for a new staff member sooner rather than later.

Amy pointed to a note she’d written in pink sparkle ink. I picked it up and tried to decipher her handwriting. Reading it quietly aloud, I stared at her. “Gunt Toddy?” Amy shook her head. She leaned close and whispered, “Lunch today, silly.” “Sounds good. If we can ever get out of here.” I leaned closer. “I didn’t really need to know all about the wondrous world of tulle.” “You need to pay attention.

Greg’s going to slip that ring on your finger before you know it. Then who’s going to plan your event?” Amy looked floored that I was even considering not taking copious notes on the lecture. “You, Aunt Jackie, this woman I don’t know who’s talking to us. There are some things I don’t need to know.” I sighed as Amy pointed to the speaker and pushed some loose pink paper in front of me. I guessed I wasn’t getting out of the discussion as quickly as I’d hoped. I gave Deek one last desperate glance in the hope he might need me for something, but when he ignored my unspoken cry for help, I settled down and tried to write down the highlights of the talk. When we finally met at Diamond Lille’s around noon, my stomach was growling and my mood even lower. Probably because I was starving. “What took you so long? The meeting’s been over for close to an hour.

” I waved away Amy’s question and took the glass of tea that our waitress had poured as soon as she’d seen me walk into the diner. What can I say? She knows me. “You’re the best, Carrie.” “You’re just more predictable than most. Shrimp basket with fries for you and a double cheeseburger, medium fries, and a vanilla milkshake for Amy, right?” We nodded. I used to be amazed at Carrie’s ability to read our minds until I wrote down what I ate each day at the diner and realized I did eat the same thing, time after time. I knew what I liked and I didn’t like change. I’d made ordering lunch easy. Amy still thought it was odd, and she shook her head as Carrie left. “I know you say it’s just being a good waitress, but man, sometimes she’s creepy good in guessing what I want to eat.

” I decided to change the subject rather than get into a discussion of statistics and probabilities. “So why lunch on a Tuesday? Usually you’re too busy with city council stuff to get away.” “I wanted to talk to you about the upcoming trip next weekend. You’re ready, right? And Greg’s still coming? Justin’s friends are all bailing on him except for his best man. And he’s being cagey about the trip. Who says no to a paid trip to Vegas?” Amy sipped her iced tea, then pulled out a small book covered with a bird binding. It had a latch like a journal or a diary. She opened the book and glanced through a few pages. “Anyway, I was wondering if I should bring the napkin runners to work on while we’re there. It wouldn’t take more than a day to get them all done.

” “Wait, you want us to sit in a hotel room and glue rhinestones on a napkin holder while we’re in Vegas? Are you crazy?” Amy looked up at my face, started to say something, then changed her mind. She focused on writing something in the notebook. “Okay, then, no arts and crafts during the bachelorette party.” Carrie set our food on the table and, after overhearing Amy’s statement, laughed. “I had such a good time at my last bachelorette party. We went to a cowboy bar and wore pink cowboy hats, and I rode the mechanical bull. Of course, that was a few years ago, when I married my last husband. If I did that now, I’d break a hip.” “A cowboy bar might be fun.” I picked up a fry and pointed it at Amy.

“You like animals.” “I do, and that’s why I don’t attend rodeos. I hate the way they treat them.” Amy shook her head. “No cowboy bars. But I’ll figure something out. We will have fun.” “Just not too much fun. Remember that you invited Aunt Jackie and Harrold. I’d hate to see them fall off a bull.

” Amy picked up her hamburger and took a bite. She glanced at the notebook, and all of a sudden, I knew what she’d had planned. “You were going to have us finish the decorations for your wedding. At your party.” I shook my head. “The parties I’ve been to have been all about getting the bride drunk, not getting things done. Have you ever been to one?” “Of course I have. I just thought that this might be more fun. We could order in room service and watch movies on television. And it wouldn’t be all weekend.

I’m sure we could get everything done in ten to fifteen hours, max.” I took a deep breath. I was going to regret this, but it had to be done. “I’m the maid of honor; I’ll plan the party. Just be ready to have fun.” “But what are you going to do?” Amy demanded. I shrugged, dipping a shrimp into the cocktail sauce. “It’s going to be a surprise.” And it was going to be a surprise, even to me. And that is how I ended up in charge of a wedding-related event after I’d messed up my own fake wedding in high school.

Walking home, I kicked myself for opening my mouth. Arts and crafts wouldn’t have been that bad of an activity. As long as I didn’t have to use a glue gun. Those things hate me. When I got home, I pulled the mail out of the box and flipped through it as I paused at the front door. I guess it was just the right time of the year, but my mail was filled with wedding flyers along with the multiple credit card offers. I flipped through the mail, separating it into two piles: throw away and take a peek at. The peek ones were bills. I put those on the kitchen table and threw the others in the recycling. I opened my laptop and Googled Vegas bachelorette parties.

Some of the choices made me blush. Others made my pocketbook run and hide. Seriously, why had Amy thought having the party in Vegas was a good idea? She was a beach girl. She liked sand and surfing and bonfires. All things I could have set up just down the road with no problem at all. I sighed as I pulled out a notebook and started making a list. I’d write down the ones I liked, the ones I loved, and the ones that weren’t bad. Then I’d rank them in terms of practicality and costs. When I’d said I’d plan the party, did that mean I’d pay for it as well? I’d have to Google that too. Maybe it was a requirement of being a maid of honor.

The dress had already set me back more than a few dollars. Now I needed to pay for fun and games for everyone? Maybe my aunt would know. I glanced at the clock and picked up the phone. “Coffee, Books, and More, may I help you?” My aunt had on her customer voice. Friendly, easy to talk to, and approachable. “Hey, it’s me.” A barely audible sigh came over the line. “What do you want, Jill? The store can get by without you checking in every hour you know, right?” “I’m not checking in. I called to see what you knew about bachelorette parties. Does the maid of honor have to pay for it?” “I take it Amy talked you into handling the event?” My aunt spoke to a customer about a children’s book.

I waited until she finished. “No. I mean, yeah, I’m handling it, but it was my idea.” I had a bad feeling about this. My aunt laughed. A mix between a tinkle and a snort. “She told me she was going to get you to handle it this morning. I didn’t think you actually had a choice in the matter. Amy can be pretty persuasive.” “Pretty tricky, if you ask me.

” I sighed. I hadn’t even seen the trap my friend had laid. “So do you know if I have to pay for it?” “No, you don’t. Ask Amy what your budget is. That way you’re both on the same page and you don’t get stuck with stuff she didn’t want you to order. But you should offer to chip in some money. Just because you’re friends.” My aunt spoke to another customer. “Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll leave you a package under the counter.

Open it tomorrow as soon as you get here.” “What is it? Did you get me a kitten?” Now the laugh was more relaxed, lighter. “Not even. Besides, Emma would have a fit. She’d be jealous. I’ve got to go. I’ve got a line of people waiting for me.” I kind of doubted that, but I hung up the phone. Tomorrow, I’d worry about the party, and I’d stop by City Hall at lunch to see what Amy had in mind and what her budget was. It only seemed fair.

I glanced at my golden retriever, who was sitting by the door, watching me. She probably wanted— no, needed—to go for a run. And I was too good of a pet owner to squash her dreams. Greg would be home soon, and we’d be grilling pork chops and corn for dinner. We tried to eat together during the week most days because if he was going to get called out, it would probably be on a weekend. We’d been living together now over a year and it was good. We were good. I knew it was time to consider the next step. But he hadn’t asked and I hadn’t hinted. I liked our life exactly the way it was.

For now. I hoped Greg did too. I ran upstairs to change for the run. The pile of bills could wait. When we got to the beach, I questioned Amy’s Vegas choice again. And cursed myself for offering to plan the party. What was I thinking? The beach was empty, so I unsnapped Emma’s leash and shoved it in my pocket. Then we started running. The best thing about running on the beach was getting out of my head. I worried a lot.

I worried about the store. About my aunt. About Greg, when he was on a case. About us as a couple when he wasn’t. You could describe me as a serial worrier. Or maybe slap a label on me, like OCD. It wasn’t like I checked the light switch three times before I went out of a room, but I did think about what part of my routine I’d missed when I’d left the house. Today, Amy’s party was my focus. I didn’t have a plan. And I loved a plan.

I made plans for everything, including the shop’s future goals and any upcoming trips Greg and I were taking, even just for the weekend. So first step, who had she invited? I knew my aunt, and Mary, and probably Darla. But what about Esmeralda? What about Tina, her boss’s wife? I’d call Amy as soon as I got home. I’d pull out a notebook and get this party started. Well, the planning part of it anyway. I was so lost in my planning that I hadn’t noticed the stranger walking toward me. Emma’s bark drew me out of my thinking mood, and I paused next to her, watching the man move toward us. He was dressed in plaid shorts and a crew neck T-shirt. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short, yet long enough to blow around a bit with the breeze. He waved and smiled at me and, with the action, just above his chiseled, cut jaw, two dimples appeared.

Well, wasn’t he just a cutie pie? When he was within earshot, I nodded. “Sorry about having her off the leash. I thought we were alone out here.” He put his arms out to soak in the beauty of the day. “I bet you get a lot of days out here without any tourists ruining your run. She didn’t bother me at all.” Emma sniffed the man’s hand, then her tail started wagging. In dog terms, that meant the man wasn’t a serial killer. Or at least he hadn’t killed anyone lately that Emma could discern. My dog tended to like most people, so I didn’t totally trust her judgment on new arrivals.

“Glad to know. You staying in town?” “Yes, I have a room for at least a week at the South Cove Bed and Breakfast. Lovely place, although the room is a bit fluffy for my tastes. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Mrs. to enjoy the décor.” The smile came out again. I wondered if I was being hit on. It happened so rarely since I was living with the South Cove police detective. No one wanted to challenge Greg. I decided to move this conversation along and finish my run.

“Well, have a nice stay in South Cove. I run the bookstore coffeehouse downtown, so if you’re in need of some reading material, I can hook you up.” “I brought a bunch with me, but if I run out, I’ll stop by. Actually, I’m here to write a story. About you, Jill Gardner. Well, actually, about your house.” His words made me freeze. He must have seen the concern in my eyes when I heard him call me by name. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. I’d been expecting a gun or, maybe, a knife.

I took it, not liking the way my hand was shaking. I looked down at the information and almost laughed. “You’re an author?” “I write those travel books everyone buys. The local-charm books? I’m working on a series of historical places not on any register, and your house and the Mission Wall came up during one of my interviews.” He held out a hand. “Mike Masters. That’s my real name. I write under several different pens and, of course, I ghostwrite for a lot of other name authors when I have time in my schedule. But I love writing these history books. I think so much is being destroyed without us ever knowing what our past could tell us.

” I put the card in my pocket and watched him. The man seemed honest enough. “You said someone told you about the Mission Wall. Was it Frank Gleason?” “No. That guy is as tight with information as Fort Knox. He thinks everything he works on is confidential. But it was someone in his office. I can’t tell you their name because I don’t want to get her in trouble.” “But it’s a woman?” I took stock of the man in front of me. He probably did really well at signings.

He was good-looking and personable. He rubbed the side of his face with his hand and grimaced. “I’m really not good at keeping secrets. I’d make a terrible spy. But don’t make me tell you. I’d feel horrible if she got fired or something because of the stupid rules.” I wanted to say that sometimes rules weren’t stupid, and that I didn’t want people coming by the house to find the rumored hidden treasure. Mostly because what treasure there had been, I’d already found. “Look, I appreciate your honesty, but let me be up front too. I don’t want to talk to you.

I don’t want the Mission Wall to be in a travel guide. And I don’t want you in my life anymore. Thanks for asking, but the answer is no.” As I started to walk away, he called after me. “Keep the card and think about it. You might change your mind.” I didn’t think that was possible, but I needed to warn Greg that Mike the writer was in town and wanted to interview us for this book. Even though Greg didn’t actually own my house, he’d be shown as the owner or friend of the owner. No, it was better for us to have a united front from the first day of this. United front.

I kind of liked the idea. Emma and I finished our run and headed back to the house to get some things done before dinner. Normal, everyday, couple-type things. I’d like our lives to be boring for a few weeks, or even months. A girl could hope, right?


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