THE FIRST NOVEL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING FIXER-UPPER MYSTERY SERIES!
Don't miss the Hallmark Movies & Mystery Originals starring Jewel, based on the Fixer-Upper Mystery series!
In the seaside town of Lighthouse Cove in northern California, everyone knows the best man for the job is actually a woman—contractor Shannon Hammer. But while her home-renovation and repair business is booming, her love life needs work.
On a blind date with real estate agent Jerry Saxton, Shannon has to whip out a pair of pliers to keep Jerry from getting too hands on. She's happy to put her rotten date behind her, but when Jerry’s found dead in a run-down Victorian home that she’s been hired to restore, the town’s attractive new police chief suspects that her threats may have laid the foundation for murder.
Determined to clear her name, Shannon conducts her own investigation—with the help of her four best friends, her eccentric father, a nosy neighbor or two, and a handsome crime writer who’s just moved to town. But as they get closer to prying out the murderer’s identity, Shannon is viciously attacked. Now she’ll have to nail down the truth—or end up in permanent foreclosure...
Release date: November 4, 2014
Print pages: 336
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A High-End Finish
Shannon Hammer—contractor in Lighthouse Cove, California
Jack Hammer—Shannon’s father
Uncle Pete Hammer—Shannon’s uncle, winemaker and owner of the Town Square Wine Bar
Chloe Hammer—Shannon’s sister
Jane Hennessey—Shannon’s best friend and owner of Hennessey House, the newest small hotel in town
Lizzie and Hal Logan—Shannon’s friends and owners of Paper Moon book and paper store; their kids are Taz (11) and Marisa (13)
Emily Rose—Shannon’s friend and owner of the Scottish Rose Tea Shoppe
Marigold Starling—Shannon’s friend and owner, with her aunt Daisy, of Crafts and Quilts
Eric Jensen—the chief of police
Mac Sullivan—a famous crime novelist
Tommy Gallagher—police officer and Shannon’s high school boyfriend
Whitney Reid Gallagher—Tommy’s wife and Shannon’s worst enemy from high school
Jennifer Bailey—Whitney’s best friend
Penelope “Penny” Wells—the new bank loan officer
Wendell Jarvick—Shannon’s short-term tenant
Jerry Saxton—a real estate agent and Shannon’s blind date
Joyce and Stan Boyer—Shannon’s homeowner clients
Luisa Capello—a high school friend
Cindy—head waitress at the Cozy Cove Diner
Rocky—cook and owner of the Cozy Cove Diner
Augustus “Gus” Peratti—Shannon’s auto mechanic
Wade Chambers—Shannon’s head foreman
Carla Harrison—Shannon’s second foreman (husband, Chase, and daughter, Keely)
Todd, Billy, Sean, Johnny, Douglas—Shannon’s crew
Jesse Hennessey—Shannon’s next-door neighbor and Jane’s uncle
Mrs. Coleen Higgins—the neighbor across the street
“You could’ve warned me that installing drywall would be hell on my manicure.”
I looked down from my perch at the top of the ladder and saw my best friend, Jane Hennessey, scowling at her hands. They were smeared with sticky joint compound. She had flakes of drywall stuck to her shirt and there were flecks of blue paint highlighting her blond hair.
“I did warn you, remember? I told you to wear gloves.” And a hat, I thought to myself, but didn’t bother to mention it aloud. I wondered, though, where in the world that blue paint in her hair had come from.
“The gloves you gave me are so big and awkward, it’s hard to work in them.”
“I’m sorry, princess,” I said, hiding a smile. “Why don’t you go rest and I’ll finish up here?”
She laughed. “And have you rubbing my nose in the fact that I’m hopeless at manual labor? No way.”
“I would never do that.” But I laughed, too, because of course I would do that, and I’d expect her to do the same for me. We had known each other since kindergarten and had become best friends when we realized that the two of us were taller than all of the boys in our class. These days, I was still pretty tall at five foot eight, but Jane was two inches taller than me and as svelte as a supermodel.
Despite her delicate hands and my teasing, she had never been a stranger to hard work. This might have been her first experience with hanging drywall, but there was no way she would give up before the job was finished. This place was her home as well as her business, so I knew she wanted to be involved in every aspect of the renovation.
Jane had inherited the old mansion—formerly a brothel—three years ago, after her grandmother died. The imposing structure was a glorious example of the Victorian Queen Anne style, with an elaborate round tower rising three stories at the front corner; steeply gabled rooftops; four balconies; bay windows; six fluted chimneys; and a wide-planked, spindled porch, which spanned the front and wrapped around one long side of the house.
But except for the common rooms on the ground floor and Jane’s grandmother’s suite on the second floor, the rest of the house had been dangerously moldy, musty, and drafty when we first started to work on it. During our first inspection, we’d found rodents living inside one wall, a nest of bees swarming in the attic, and termites infesting the wood on the western side of the house. The plaster in some rooms was cracked or simply gone. To put it mildly, the place was falling apart. Through much of the initial demolition work, we’d had to wear full-face respirators to protect ourselves from the mold, asbestos, and toxic dust, among other substances.
The rooms that hadn’t been devastated by the ravages of time had been ruined by something almost worse: bad taste.
Jane’s grandfather had had a peculiar fondness for 1970s-era wood paneling and had used it to hide much of the richly detailed Victorian-era wallpaper throughout the house. The gorgeous mahogany bay windows in the dining room had been covered over with a high-gloss pale pink paint. And in the bedroom where we were currently working, the decorative redbrick chimney had been disguised with fake yellow plastic flagstone paneling. Plastic!
No wonder Jane’s grandmother had divorced the man.
Luckily for Jane, though, she had a best friend in the construction biz. Namely, me. I’m Shannon Hammer and I own Hammer Construction, a company that specializes in Victorian-home restoration and renovation right here in my hometown of Lighthouse Cove. I took over the company five years ago when my father, Jack, suffered a mild heart attack and decided to retire.
I had agreed to help Jane refurbish the mansion with the aim of turning it into Hennessey House, an elegant small hotel. It was the perfect solution for Jane, who had studied hotel management and had been running the Inn on Main Street for the past five years. I enlisted some of my guys to help us out, too, whenever their presence wasn’t demanded at one of my other job sites. After three long years, we were getting close to finishing all fourteen guest suites. The extensive repair and intricate repainting of the exterior of the house had been completed last week. The day after that, Jane had met with a landscaper to start taming the wildly overgrown gardens that circled the large house. When she wasn’t busy working on the property itself, she was tweaking Hennessey House’s new Web site.
In two months, she would officially open for business and the place was already sold out. Everyone in Lighthouse Cove was excited for her.
“Okay,” Jane said, rubbing her hands clean with a wet towel. “What’s next?”
“Once the mud you’re applying is dried and sanded,” I said, “we’ll be ready to paint this room.” I climbed down from the ladder and picked up the pole sander to smooth out a section of dried mud on the opposite wall. “And before you know it, we’ll be done.”
“Hallelujah.” There was true relief in Jane’s voice and I couldn’t blame her for it. When she’d insisted on helping me get this last room completed, I’d warned her that while installing and finishing drywall wasn’t terribly hard, it was frankly a big pain in the butt and seriously time-consuming. I admit I’d skimmed over the details about the damage it could do to one’s nails, but I figured that was a given.
Many homeowners I’d worked with thought that hanging drywall was a simple matter of screwing some four-by-eight sheets of the hard wallboard to some studs and voilà! You had a wall. If only that were true, but no. You had to measure and cut the drywall to fit the walls and ceiling. This wasn’t easy, for at least three reasons.
First, because you had to cut the boards evenly, so that involved clamps and rulers and math.
Second, because drywall boards were heavy and awkward for a person to maneuver around a room.
And third, because drywall had to be cut twice. I could explain why, but it still might not make sense.
And then you needed to figure out exactly how far apart the wood studs were and make marks on the drywall sheets accordingly. This way, you’d be sure you were screwing the sheets into the wood and not into semi-empty air. This involved more math and measuring. With newer homes, the wall studs were typically sixteen inches apart, but with old Victorians like this one, you just never knew.
I could go on and on about the joys of hanging drywall. No wonder I lived alone.
But here was the really fun part: once the drywall sheets were screwed to the studs, you had to cover up the seams, or joints, with joint compound. Joint compound was a muddy concoction known more simply as—wait for it—mud. You spread the mud along the seams and over the screw holes and then sanded it down to make the wall smooth and flat enough to paint.
Once you had a layer of still-wet mud over the seam, you ran a strip of special tape over it. Then you covered that tape with another thin layer of mud and left it to dry, sometimes overnight. The next day you would apply another, wider layer of mud, smooth it out, and let it dry. After one more layer of mud was applied and dried, the sanding began.
For someone unfamiliar with the process, it probably seemed like a great, big waste of time. But, trust me, if you missed a step or cut corners, you could screw up the wall and be forced to start over.
It was enough to make a grown contractor cry.
I preferred to do things right the first time. And, luckily, during those long, waiting-for-the-mud-to-dry periods, there was plenty of other work to do.
“This is going to look great,” Jane said, stepping back and taking in the room.
I almost laughed as I glanced around. We were staring at four walls covered in plain old drywall with wide white swaths of dried mud running every which way. A paint-spattered tarp lay over the old hardwood floor. Our tattered work shirts were equally spattered. My heavy tool chest, miscellaneous pieces of equipment and power tools, several buckets, and a stepladder were gathered together in one corner. It looked like a typical unfinished construction site to me, but I knew what she meant. I said, “It’ll be beautiful once the walls are painted and the ceiling is spackled and the moldings are added and the floor is finished.”
An hour and a half later, Jane and I were covered in fine white dust from all the sanding we’d done, but we were finished for the day. After removing our masks and goggles and shaking the worst of the dust off outside, we washed up in Jane’s laundry room sink.
“Oh, shoot, it’s getting late,” Jane said, drying her hands on an old dish towel. “I almost forgot you had a date tonight.” She glanced at me. “I hope you plan on showering when you get home. You look like a raccoon.”
“Thanks. And please don’t call it a date.”
“Oh, come on. You’ll have a good time.”
I gave her a look. “Really?”
She chuckled. “No, probably not. But at least you’ll be able to enjoy a good meal. And Lizzie will be off your back for another few months.”
I frowned. “I don’t know why she’s picking on me when you’re the one who dreams of having a great romance.”
“Because I’ve already been her guinea pig once this year,” Jane said dryly. “I threatened to put spiders in her shoes if she ever tried to set me up again.”
Our friend Lizzie was blissfully married, with a darling husband and two great kids. Lately it had become an obsession of hers to arrange blind dates in the hopes of getting her friends married off and happy, whether they wanted to be happy or not. Of course I wanted to be happy, meet a nice guy, and settle down, but the very idea of going on a blind date to accomplish that goal made me shudder with dread.
Lizzie’s persistence had worn me down, though, and I had finally relented. Tonight I would meet Jerry Saxton for dinner at one of my favorite seafood restaurants on Lighthouse Pier. Dinner—that’s all it was. I refused to call it a blind date (even though that’s exactly what it was). I’d never met Jerry, but Lizzie had insisted he was a great guy, nice-looking, and successful, with a good sense of humor.
As I dried my hands, I mentally shrugged off most of my concerns because, as Jane said, at least I would enjoy a good dinner and maybe even have a few laughs.
But on the four-block drive home, I thought back to another one of Jane’s comments earlier that day. She had wondered aloud why a man with all those so-called wonderful qualities needed to be set up on a blind date. It was a good question. Maybe he was wondering the same thing about me. I sighed as I pulled into my driveway, knowing it wouldn’t do any good to dwell on those questions right now. In less than two hours, I would discover exactly why Jerry Saxton had agreed to go out with me.
• • •
I greeted and fed my dog, Robbie—named for Rob Roy, because Robbie is an adorable, smart West Highland terrier—and my cat, Tiger. My father had given me Tiger as a kitten a few years ago, picking her out of a litter because the color of her fur was so similar to my hair color. I named her Tiger because of her dark orange stripes and because she was oh so fierce.
I managed to shower and dry my impossibly thick, curly hair in record time. Getting dressed took a few extra minutes because I was undecided about what to wear. Nice pants and a jacket? A dress and high heels? Jeans and a sweater? The weather was mild for October on the Northern California coast, but the wind was always unpredictable, especially by the water. A chilly breeze could kick up in a matter of seconds.
I thought of the wide, worn wooden slats of the pier and shoved my high heels back into the closet. I could just see myself getting a heel stuck and wobbling like a goose in front of the whole town.
“Boots, no heels,” I muttered. I slipped on my best black pants and a pretty teal blouse that brought out the green in my eyes. My short black leather jacket completed the outfit, along with earrings and a pair of black ankle boots. If Jerry was shorter than five foot ten, he would thank me for eschewing the high heels.
The easiest way to get to the pier three blocks away from my house was to walk. As I passed my next-door neighbor Jesse’s house, he came scooting out the door and down his front walkway to greet me. Jesse Hennessey was a good old guy, a former Navy man now in his seventies. I’d known him practically since I was born because he was not only my neighbor, but also Jane’s great-uncle. I always made time to chat with him.
“I’ve got five dollars on you, kiddo,” he said, his voice raspy from years of drinking, smoking, and brawling.
I frowned for a second, but then it clicked and made perfect sense. “Are you telling me there’s a betting pool going on? Over me?”
“Sure is,” he said, and cackled. “It’s not every night that young Shannon Hammer goes out on a blind date. Everyone in town wants in on this action.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. And a little creeped out, too. There wasn’t much I could do about it now, though. We walked together toward Main Street. “I’m going to regret asking, but what’s the bet?”
He snickered. “Either you go home with the guy or you wind up kicking him in the, uh, you know, the family jewels. It’s even odds, I might add.”
“That’s . . . horrible.” I had to press my lips together to keep from laughing. Jesse was known for his salty language. I was pretty sure it was just for shock value, especially when it came to me and Jane.
I tried for a serious look. “I’m going to have a perfectly nice time tonight, Jesse, so I wouldn’t bet money on either of those outcomes. They’re beyond long shots.”
“But that’s why there’s so much cash riding on this.” He rubbed his hands gleefully.
“You’re all crazy—you know that?”
“Yeah, I know. But what the hell? If nobody wins, the money’ll just roll over into the next big pot.”
I was almost afraid to ask the next question. “So, which way did you bet?”
“I figure you’ll kick him in the nards.” He grinned. “Don’t disappoint me.”
I laughed. Couldn’t help it. I knew he meant it as a compliment, but, honestly, here I was, heading for the first blind date I’d ever been on and I was the subject of a betting pool down at the pub. This was life in my small town, and the pub was the epicenter of it all. That’s where the betting always started.
And now that we were speaking of bets, I was willing to bet that my father and uncle were right in the middle of the action. Which was just wrong of them in so many ways. And right in a few others, I had to admit.
We reached Main Street and I gave Jesse a tight smile. “Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need luck, kiddo. You look beautiful.” He gave me two thumbs-up and strolled back to his house while I walked briskly down Main Street and past the town square until the street dead-ended at Lighthouse Pier.
• • •
“That was fun,” I said, as Jerry and I walked down the stairs from the pier to the boardwalk for a stroll. “But you didn’t have to pay for dinner.”
“It was my pleasure,” he said. “I had fun, too.”
We walked along without talking for a full minute, taking in the charming shops and cafés and the colorful hodgepodge of humanity. I was surprised that I felt so comfortable. Jerry had been a gentleman all through dinner: easy to talk to, a good listener, friendly, and interesting. He asked me questions about my life, laughed at my stories, and entertained me with funny ones of his own, too.
He was a successful real estate agent who brokered deals up and down the north coast. His home was in Pentland, two towns north of Lighthouse Cove, which explained why we had never met until that night. He was obviously successful in business and I could see why. He was charming and smooth and very good-looking, tall and muscular with a sly smile and twinkling blue eyes. His attention was on me throughout the meal, and I appreciated that I didn’t once catch him looking over my shoulder to see if someone more appealing had entered the room.
We shared a good, crisp sauvignon blanc along with the deep-fried popcorn shrimp appetizer. I ordered fish and he had lobster.
We’d been seated next to the wall of windows and the view of the sunset was spectacular. Because the sky was still light and the weather remained mild, we decided to take a walk after dinner.
After strolling a few blocks along the boardwalk, Jerry stopped and pointed across the sandy expanse to the waves crashing down by the shore. “How do you feel about walking in the sand?”
“I feel good about it.”
Laughing, we stepped onto the sand and headed down to the shoreline. When we reached the edge of the wet sand, we stopped to gaze out at the water.
“I love this time of evening,” I said, staring west toward the Sandpiper Islands, seven miles off the coast. “The islands are still silhouetted by the last rays of the sunset. It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Jerry shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’ve been told that a clipper ship sank out there somewhere a few hundred years ago.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Plenty of divers have gone down to investigate.”
He nodded. “I’ve sold houses to some of those would-be treasure hunters so I’m all for keeping the legend alive.”
“It’s more than a legend,” I said. “It’s all true. Every few years, a gold doubloon will wash up on shore and everyone goes crazy. There’s a shop on Main Street with one of them in the window. They’ll happily sell it to you for a few hundred thousand dollars.”
“I’ll pass,” he said, chuckling.
We watched the last streams of coral-and-pink clouds fade in the evening sky before heading back toward the boardwalk and the pier.
“I still can’t believe you’ve spent your entire life here,” Jerry said. “Didn’t you ever get the urge to move?”
“I went away to college,” I said, “and a few years later, I moved to San Francisco. I was only there for about a year, and then my dad had a heart attack so I returned to take over the family business. I’m glad I had the chance to live in the city, but I’m happier back here.”
“I can’t believe you’re happier here. I love San Francisco.”
“This is home,” I said. “I missed the beach and the trees and my friends. My work. The town square has everything. I love it all.”
Halfway back to the boardwalk, Jerry stopped and turned to check the darkening horizon. “I confess I’m still not used to living in such a small town.”
“I’ve frankly never thought of Lighthouse Cove as small,” I said, following his gaze. “Pentland’s a little bigger, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but believe me, it’s small.”
“I guess if I’d lived in a big city most of my life and then moved here, it would take some getting used to. But I know this place and I enjoy it. Even when the gossip is all about me.”
He leaned closer and I could feel his breath on my cheek. “Why, Shannon, have you been stirring up gossip?”
“Nothing too outrageous.” I laughed lightly and took a small step backward.
“Outrageous, huh? Tell me all about it.” He moved in again and I inched back. “I want to hear all about Shannon’s outrageousness.”
“It’s time to head back to the boardwalk,” I said, ignoring his request. “It’s getting pretty dark out here.”
“I like the dark.” He raised his eyebrows. “You’re not scared, are you?”
“No,” I said, trying for a laugh, though I had to admit that Jerry was getting a little too close too fast. “I just think it’s time to call it a night.”
“But we’re just getting started.” He drew me close and kissed me. It should’ve been a romantic move, but it didn’t do anything for me. I wasn’t getting any kind of an affectionate Hey, I like you feeling from him, so the whole move felt kind of cheesy. Besides, the walk in the sand had reminded every one of my muscles that I’d worked a long day.
“Sorry, but it’s getting late,” I said lightly, pulling away. “I’ve had a great time, but this walk made me realize how tired I am, so I’m going to say good night. Thanks again for a nice evening.” I started toward the boardwalk, but the sand made it slow going.
“Wait. No way.” He grabbed my arm and turned me around to face him. My purse went flying. “What are you trying to pull?”
I leaned away from him. “I’m not pulling anything.” I got a look at his face and saw the furrowed brow, the bared teeth. Someone had flipped a switch and Jerry had gone from good guy to big jerk. “We had a fun evening. It was nice to meet you, and now I’m going home.”
“That’s not how it works.” His expression darkened and he grabbed my arms.
I felt the first inkling of fear and tugged my arms away. “Good night, Jerry.”
“I don’t think so,” he said.
I tried to run, but the sand was like a trap and I was no match for his longer, stronger legs. He caught me and hauled me against him, my back to his front.
Disgusted, I pointed up at the pier where people were still dining and strolling and staring out at the ocean. “Look, there are a bunch of people who can see what you’re doing, so just leave me alone. I’ll walk away and we can forget this ever happened.”
“I say we give ’em something to talk about.” He whirled me around and jerked me into his arms. There was nothing tender about the move and it was alarming to see how quickly he pinned me against him. I was strong from years of construction work, but I was no match for his innate male strength.
“This is ridiculous,” I said. “Let me go.” I pushed on his chest, struggling for some space. But his arms wouldn’t give an inch and I couldn’t maneuver myself away from him.
“Yeah, that’s more like it,” Jerry murmured as he pressed himself against me.
“No, it’s not,” I insisted, wishing I had something heavy to smack him with. This would teach me to go on a blind date without a set of tools. All I had in my purse was the pair of needle-nose pliers I’d used to fix my sunglasses earlier. Not exactly the best bludgeoning tool to discourage an aggressive jackass.
He nuzzled my neck and made a moaning sound, oblivious to my struggles.
“Stop it!” I shouted to get his attention as I arched away from him.
But he wasn’t about to stop. Instead he reached up and tried to grope me, but I managed to twist and wriggle out of his way. He tried again and I elbowed his hand away.
“Don’t be such a prude,” he snapped.
“I’m not. I’m just not interested.” The irony was that I would’ve gladly kissed him a few minutes ago, but now I was disgusted by him. And just a little bit scared, although the watchful crowd on the pier was a good sign that nothing too awful could happen. I hoped.
Shifting quickly, he yanked my jacket off my shoulders and moved in to try to kiss me again. Now my arms were pinned so I couldn’t shove him away. I had to contort my head and neck in every direction to avoid his mouth. My head butted against his and it must have shocked him, because he let down his guard for a second.
“What the hell’s your problem?” he sputtered, rubbing his forehead where I’d struck him.
“I told you to stop.” I used the moment of distraction to shrug my jacket off completely.
He grabbed my arms again and shook me hard. “I paid for dinner, babe. I expect you to show some gratitude.” He tugged me close again.
“I’ll give you the money back!” Up on the pier I could see people pointing and staring at us so I yelled out, “Help!”
He laughed. “Like they can hear us over the waves.” With a grin, he slid his fingers around the neck of my blouse, and I slapped his hands away. We struggled. I tried shoving him again, but he didn’t budge.
“Come on, babe, stop playing games.”
“I’m not playing games.” In that split second while he was moving in close again, I did what my construction guys had always instructed me to do in a situation like this. I slammed my knee up into his crotch.
Unfortunately, he was too close and too damn tall, so I only managed to clunk my knee into his.
“Oww! What the hell?” He reached down to rub his knee and it gave me another chance to strike. This time I kicked his shin as hard as I could and was happy I’d decided to wear boots.
“Damn it!” He pushed me away.
“I’ll aim higher next time!” I said. I didn’t add that I would need a stepladder to do any proper damage to the big lug. His height had been a good quality at the beginning of the evening. Not so much now.
I kept my focus on him as I cautiously bent to pick up my purse. He wasn’t ready to call it quits, though, and I watched him plant both feet in the sand to balance himself, waiting for his moment to attack.
I knew I couldn’t run around him, so I would just have to fight it out here and hope that someone on the pier would help. Jerry took two creeping steps toward me and I swung my purse at his head. He caught it and laughed, tossing it onto the sand.
He thought he had me now and leered in triumph.
That’s when I stomped down on his instep
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