A Lingering Shadow
Several months after arriving home from her service as a United States Army Signal Corps operator in the Great War, Arabella Stewart is focused on saving her family’s resort. The first day of the season starts with excitement and anticipation but ends with a murdered guest. Once again, Bella wants to help Constable Jax Hastings, her brother’s best friend and comrade-in-arms, investigate. Jax resists her involvement. Not only did he promise her brother Matt to watch over Bella, he is still coping with war wounds—both physical and emotional. As they pursue clues, Bella and Jax deal with the war’s lingering shadows, shadows that fall on themselves, the victim, and the suspects.
Release date: May 28, 2021
Publisher: DS Lang Books
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A Lingering Shadow
Sample from A Lingering Shadow
Arabella Stewart gazed into the vanity’s mahogany framed mirror. Her face, although still unlined, appeared pale and her brown eyes had dark circles beneath them. Were the smudges now permanent? In France, Bella had thought coming home would return her to normalcy. Now, after being back for several months, normal life seemed like a distant illusion. During her almost two-year absence, so much had changed. Yet, as she looked into the mirror, she could still see traces of the girl who had left home in January 1918 before sailing for France three months later.
Her attention moved to one of the silver frames on her vanity. A sixteen-year-old version of herself smiled back. So did the two young men standing on either side of her—her brother Matt and his best friend Jax. All of them looked so happy and so hopeful. In their youthful innocence, they had looked forward to wonderful futures.
A momentary smile touched her lips but faded as she looked at the next photo. All three of them were in that one, too, but they wore uniforms and the smiles didn’t quite touch their eyes. In retrospect, Bella realized each of them had tried to keep up a good front during that one shared weekend in Paris.
In some ways, she was still keeping up a front. The past two years had stolen her parents and her brother. Would Ballantyne, her family’s resort, be lost, too? She and her business partner, Mac MacLendon, were working hard to avoid that end, but they needed luck, as well as determination, to succeed in their quest.
Bella turned her attention away from the photos and from the past. Today, the first guests of the season would arrive. Both anticipation and excitement filled her. Everything was riding on a successful year—her family’s legacy and her own future. If Ballantyne was lost, where would she go, what would she do? Bella couldn’t even imagine answers.
She crossed the room and gazed through the window, which looked out over the front porch roof on the south side of the inn. If she glanced to the east, the drive to the cottages was visible although the structures themselves were not. But she could see the lawn sweeping down to the wide creek, the dock, and the golf course. The tennis courts, now overgrown, were not clearly discernable. A sigh escaped her. Would they be able to re-open them this season? And what about the dock? Mac said it was safe for fishing, but the boats had been stored for almost three years. Since the wide creek emptied into a nearby river that ran north to Lake Erie, boating had been a popular pursuit prior to the Great War. Few guests had ventured farther than the river, but some had enjoyed travelling the few miles to the lake. Would that happen again? This season, she and Mac were focusing on the golf course. Perhaps next year, things would be back to normal.
After a deep breath, Bella took one last look at the photographs that had, for months, been in her travel bag. Only yesterday had she dug them out and placed the two, along with a photograph of her parents, on her vanity table. Looking at them evoked happy, but bittersweet, memories. As much as they sometimes sustained her, Bella couldn’t live on recollection. She had decided as much before returning home in December. Brief reminiscences, like a crackling fire on a winter day, brought warmth to heart and soul. Lengthy musings were more hazardous because, like quicksand, they could exert a dangerous pull that was hard to escape. The Great War cast a long, dark shadow over many lives—Bella’s included.
With a last glance in the mirror, Bella put a smile on her face, and headed out of her suite.
While the past was very much with her, she had resolved to focus on the future.
Later that day, Bella was at work when a guest arrived. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m Arabella Stewart. Welcome to Ballantyne.” Excitement grew as she said those words for the first time in over three years. “Good afternoon,” the tall, trim man said as he approached the front desk.
When he didn’t offer his name, Bella glanced at the reservation list. Two guests, both male, were expected to check in between noon and three o’clock, so she tried the first name on her notepad. “Are you Mr. Monticello?”
A scowl immediately formed on the man’s narrow face. “Monticello? Is he here already?” His hostile reaction surprised Bella. For a moment, all she could do was look back at him. Finally, she gathered her wits and answered the question. “Not yet. He and three others have reserved a cottage for a long weekend. Do you know him?”
The man’s nostrils flared with a sharp intake of breath. “I know him. I’m sure I know all four, and I’d rather not cross paths with any of them.”
His tone and expression, as much as his words, telegraphed deep dislike. Uneasiness sapped some of her enthusiasm. This wasn’t how Bella had hoped to begin the season. “We only have three cottages ready right now, and they are grouped together,” she replied. Placating the man seemed wise. “We could get another one closer to the inn prepared in a couple of hours.”
“I want to get settled as soon as possible and play a round this afternoon, so I’ll take what is available.” His displeasure remained obvious despite the concession.
Bella cleared her throat. The man still hadn’t identified himself, but only one other name was listed as checking in during this time period. “Of course, Mr. Neece.” When he didn’t correct her, she hurried on. “I’ll have someone help you get settled.” Bella rang the bell on the counter and one of the Ironton twins, their newly hired helpers, emerged from the kitchen. “Dick, would you please see that Mr. Neece has everything he needs? He will be in cottage three.” She handed their guest a key as she spoke.
“Yes, Miss Bella,” the sixteen-year-old boy replied with a bright smile. He turned to Neece. “I can help with your bags and all, sir.”
The guest merely nodded. “Fine. Let’s get going.” He turned on his heel and headed toward the door.
“Mr. Neece, should we expect you for dinner?” Bella called to his retreating back.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “No, I’ll be visiting my son after golf,” he replied before continuing toward the door. Neece nearly ran into Mac, Bella’s partner and honorary grandfather.
“Good day, sir,” Mac said to the taller man. “Mr. Neece, isn’t it? We have nay seen ye for a long time. Tis glad we be to have ye back at Ballantyne.” He extended his hand.
Neece paused for a moment before engaging in a handshake. His expression didn’t lighten as he said, “The past two years have been difficult for all of us. If you’ll excuse me, I want to get situated, so I can play this afternoon.”
“Of course,” Mac said as he stepped aside and let their guest pass.
“You know that man?” Bella asked.
“Aye,” Mac replied as he crossed to stand in front of the counter. “He used to come with seven friends several times a year. The eight of them usually arrived on a Wednesday or
Thursday for a long weekend.”
“Was a Mr. Monticello one of his group?” Bella inquired.
Mac’s gray gaze narrowed. “That he was. What makes ye ask, lass?”
Briefly, Bella reviewed her exchange with Neece. “He didn’t seem very happy,” she said in summary.
“Mr. Neece was always reserved, but ye be right that he seems rather brusque now. I don’t recall him being like that.” A frown creased the older man’s weathered features.
Bella chewed on her lower lip. “I don’t want any of our first guests of the season to be displeased. We need to get off to a good start.”
Mac’s expression relaxed as he offered a smile. Despite his lined face and silver hair, his eyes glittered with youthful optimism. “Ah, lass, try not to worry so much.” He patted her hand.
“Neece may have had a falling out with his friends, but that dinna reflect on Ballantyne. Remember, ye Grandfather Stew and I took a very big chance when we originally built the resort. We took more risks along the way and, with good planning and hard work, they paid off. Ye and I have already agreed to do what’s necessary to save Ballantyne. We may have some challenges as we go, but we can handle them.”
Despite lingering anxiety, Bella smiled in return. “I’m sure you’re right. It’s just that so much is riding on us having a good season. Every time I go into Moreley, people mention being hopeful that if Ballantyne gets back to normal, the town will, too.”
“It will take time,” he advised, “and the path may nay be smooth, but I think both will happen eventually.”
Eventually could mean a few months, a few years, or longer. Mac, nearing seventy, shouldn’t have to rebuild what he and her grandfather had—more than three decades earlier—struggled to start and maintain, but he was willing and so was she. “You’re right, Mac.” She certainly hoped so. “Minnie has lunch ready, so you should eat something.”
“Aye, or she’ll be chastising me for being late.” Mac’s silver-gray eyes again sparkled with mirth.
“She is a curmudgeon, but she’s a good cook and housekeeper. I hoped she would be friendlier once she got settled,” Bella admitted. “It’s been almost a month, and she’s as dour as ever. I can certainly understand why her sister and brother-in-law couldn’t let her work in their mercantile. I wouldn’t put her at our front desk, either.”
“I agree. Working with the public tis nay her strength, but she be an excellent cook and housekeeper,” he said before disappearing into the kitchen.
Bella couldn’t argue with his observation in any way. Minnie Mars had worked hard in helping them prepare for the inn’s reopening. Not only that, she was a marvel in the kitchen. If only she was more congenial.
After that, Bella focused on answering the phone. When the sound of a car pulling up outside drew her from her tasks, she glanced at the clock. Mr. Monticello must be arriving. With luck, Neece was on the golf course and far from the inn and cottages.
Moments later, the door swept open and a short, plump man of about fifty stepped into the foyer. “Good afternoon,” Bella said immediately. “Welcome to Ballantyne.”
He doffed his bowler to reveal a bald head. “Good afternoon,” he replied, heading to the front desk. A wide smile brightened his round face. “I’m Malcolm Monticello. My friends and I have rented one of your cottages for the next few days.” His cheerfulness was at odds with Neece’s severe attitude. Bella wondered if he would become equally as stern if he knew the other man was on the premises. Not that she planned to blurt out the information before offering a warm welcome.
As Bella started to reply, her attention was drawn to footsteps descending the staircase. A pair of women’s shoes came into view. Minnie had been upstairs cleaning. Did she have to come down right now? Her surly attitude wasn’t helpful, especially when a guest had just arrived. Bella found her own smile faltering but when Minnie retreated, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked back at the well-dressed man in front of her. “We put you in cottage four. It’s the last one on the right side of the drive, and it has a lovely view of the course. I think you will enjoy it.” Briefly, she wondered about mentioning Mr. Neece, but thought better of it as she realized she hadn’t introduced herself. “I’m Arabella Stewart. We spoke on the phone last week.”
“Lovely to meet you in person, Miss Stewart. I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I recall you and your brother and parents, of course.” His good humor faded. “I was so sorry to hear about you losing them.”
“Thank you,” Bella replied. Over the past few months, she had heard many condolences and, while she appreciated the kindness, each one was a reminder of loss and grief. With effort, she kept her own smile in place. “We’re glad you and your friends have decided to return to Ballantyne.”
“We haven’t had the opportunity to get back here since before the war, but your cottages are lovely,” he replied. “I am looking forward to a peaceful weekend with friends and golf. I’ve had a tedious—although short—week, so I’m hoping I can get settled soon. One friend, a Mr. Abbott, will be here later this evening. Until then, I’ll enjoy some quiet time. After I change, I may walk the course, if that’s all right.”
“Certainly.” Anxiety bubbled up. What if he and Neece crossed paths? Her mind scrambled to assess the logistics. Neece should already be playing the inward nine, so if Monticello started walking the outward one, the two men should not see one another. Bella cleared her throat. “If you start your walk on the first hole, you should have the front nine all to yourself.”
“An excellent idea,” Monticello said. His smile returned.
Relief spread through Bella. The pair wouldn’t meet yet, which would give her a chance to ask Mac more about the men and about whether or not to reveal Neece’s presence to Monticello and his group. Perhaps, Mr. Neece was the only one holding a grudge and the other men might not be upset.
“We can provide dinner for you, sir.”
He smiled again. “Not necessary, my dear. My wife packed a picnic basket, so I’ll partake of that.”
“As you wish, Mr. Monticello. I’ll get someone to show you to the cottage and help you get settled.” She rang the bell, and Dale Ironton emerged from the kitchen where Bella had left him to scrub the floor. “Would you be kind enough to take Mr. Monticello to cottage four and help him with his bags?”
“Yes, miss,” the boy readily agreed.
Bella looked back at their guest. “The cottage doesn’t have a phone, but I can send someone to check on you later.”
“I’ll be fine. No need to check on me. I can walk back here if I require something.”
She nodded. “We serve breakfast in the dining room. If you and your friend plan to play early, I can have it ready at seven o’clock.”
“That sounds perfect.”
“Here is your key,” she said and handed it to the man. “Dale will help you, sir.”
Monticello nodded to Bella and turned to the boy. “I’m grateful, son.” He glanced back to her. “And to you, too. My friend and I will see you in the morning for breakfast. The others should arrive around noon, so no need to worry about them.”
“Wonderful. I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning, and please let us know if we can do anything to make your stay more comfortable.”
Monticello turned away. As Bella watched him go, she smiled again. He seemed like such a nice man, much kinder than Mr. Neece. If his friends were the same, they would make wonderful guests. And hopefully, they’d be regular visitors again.
The sound of Monticello’s car had barely faded away when Bella once again heard footsteps on the stairs. This time, Minnie came all the way down. One look at the older woman’s severe expression was enough to make Bella’s smile wane. If anything, Minnie looked more unpleasant than usual. “Why is that man here?” Minnie asked in a harsh tone.
Bella’s gaze narrowed in surprise. “He’s a guest. Mr. Monticello and his friends are renting a cottage for the weekend.”
“Where are the friends?” Again, the housekeeper-cook’s tone was harsh. Combined with her hard expression and rigid stance, she offered a formidable presence. Although Bella was not petite, Minnie had at least three inches and twenty pounds on her. The woman’s size and strength didn’t intimidate Bella, but what about their guests? Would any be put off by a woman of hefty stature and surly manner? Again, Bella knew she had to deal with the housekeeper-cook more effectively. And keep her away from the front desk.
“Mr. Abbott will be here this evening after six o’clock. The others won’t come until tomorrow.” Bella took a deep breath to calm herself. Why did Minnie have to be so disagreeable? She needed to speak with Mac about how to better handle the woman. After all, Bella was her boss. Not vice-versa.
Minnie’s severe features took on a contemplative look. “Is he coming back here for dinner?” Evidently, the woman hadn’t eavesdropped. “No. He said his wife fixed a basket for him.
He’d just like to be alone and enjoy the solitude until his friend arrives.”
“At least he won’t cause no more work,” Minnie muttered.
Bella felt her patience slipping away until the last shred was gone. “He’s a guest, and I expect you to treat him with courtesy and respect.” Her own voice held an unusual firmness, but Bella wanted to get her point across. Perhaps, she’d been too tolerant with the older woman.
Minnie glared at Bella. “You don’t really know him.”
Bella stared at the housekeeper in consternation. What was wrong with the woman? “No, I don’t, but our guests deserve to be treated with proper consideration. He and his friends will join us for meals over the weekend. You may see him then, so I expect you’ll be genial and accommodating. Ballantyne has always been known for its hospitality, and we plan to keep it that way.” “I know how to treat people like him,” Minnie said, her voice still hard and harsh.
The cryptic reply was typical of the woman, but she was being downright nasty now. Why?
She had barely caught a glimpse of Mr. Monticello. Would she be the same with all their guests? Some people wrongly assumed that visitors to the resort were wealthy, demanding, and pretentious, but that was not the case. For many years, middle-class families had enjoyed trips to Ballantyne. The golf course, tennis courts, boat dock, and walking paths had been popular pursuits. Many also liked spending Christmas or Easter at the inn. Besides, whether guests were rich or middle class, they deserved to be treated well. Minnie needed to understand that.
Bella had no yardstick to gauge the housekeeper-cook’s reaction because Monticello was the first visitor that Minnie had seen. She needed to stay in the background away from people, Bella thought. Rudeness would not be tolerated from any employee. “Mac and I expect you to adhere to our standards with our guests. If you cannot do that, we will have to look elsewhere for a cook-housekeeper. Do you understand?”
For several moments, the older woman simply looked at Bella. Finally, she gave a single nod of her gray head. “I understand,” she replied, turning toward the kitchen, and disappearing inside it.
Relief filled Bella as she watched the woman retreat. Minnie’s response to Monticello seemed strange but, perhaps she was just quick to judge, along with being prickly. As long as the woman acted appropriately toward guests and co-workers, they should get along well enough.
Once Minnie was gone, Bella returned to her paperwork. About an hour after Monticello’s arrival, she became aware of rain splashing the windows. Dark clouds had rolled in and a drizzle had come with them. In a short time, the light drizzle turned to steady rain. Not many players were on the course, but some would finish their rounds. With luck, conditions would improve by the next day when more guests were expected. Complications like bad weather were not a good way to get back on track, she thought with anxiety.
Minnie’s voice interrupted her reverie. “I have supper in the oven. The roast will be ready in a couple of hours. Now, I’ll get on home.” The older woman stopped a few feet from the counter. As usual, her features were set in a seemingly perpetual frown.
Evidently, their discussion hadn’t changed her general attitude. Bella still hoped it would alter Minnie’s way of handling guests. Otherwise, she would have to pursue her threat of hiring someone else, which would add another complication. “One of the twins could drive you. I hate for you to walk in the heavy rain. You’ll be soaked before you get to the main road.” The boys were both good drivers, and Bella didn’t mind letting them borrow the Model-T. Besides, she knew they considered getting behind the steering wheel to be a treat.
The other woman shrugged. “I have my sister and brother-in-law’s Packard. Took the side way in, so it’s closer to the cottages than the inn.”
Alarm flickered through Bella. “You came across the old wooden bridge on the east side of the property?’
“It needs repair work, so Mac and my dad roped it off more than two years ago.”
“No ropes now,” the other woman said. “If you excuse me, I’ll be on my way.”
“Don’t use it going home. Like I said, it’s not safe.”
Minnie gave a brief nod before she turned and disappeared into the kitchen.
The downpour became a drizzle before going back to steady rain, so players left the course to take refuge in the large foyer, or they headed straight to their automobiles. Shortly after Minnie left, Dale lit a fire in the grate while his twin dutifully lit the lamps. With the early onset of darkness, the big room became a haven of cozy comfort. Bella served coffee and cookies to their guests. Despite the inclement weather, the small group was cheerful. As she observed them, relief filled Bella and happy memories returned.
How many days had she come home from school to find golfers gathered around the massive stone fireplace as they took shelter from rain? More than she could count. On those occasions, her mother had always asked their then-housekeeper, Julia, to serve refreshments. That was if Julia didn’t take it upon herself to do so. What a charming, cheerful woman she had been. Her wedding had been both a joyous and a sad event. Although she hadn’t moved far, Julia was occupied with her new home. Even so, she had worked at Ballantyne when Bella was in France. Now, the former housekeeper was with child and unable to help. Bella certainly missed her.
At least Minnie Mars had left before many golfers gathered at the inn. Bella worried about how to handle the new cook-housekeeper. Somehow, she needed to exert her authority without being too bossy. Mac was running the golf part of the resort while Bella had taken charge of the inn and cottages. Looking back, she realized that her mother had made a challenging task look very easy. Surely not every employee had been as pleasant and pleasing as Julia. How had her mother dealt with difficult workers? Bella wished she knew.
After a time, the guests began to leave until the foyer was empty. The twins returned as the last of the players departed. They appeared to be damp around the edges, so Bella suggested they sit by the still-blazing fire. “There are cookies left, and I’ll fix hot cocoa. You two look like you could use something to warm you up.”
They nodded as they took seats near the fireplace. Both were of medium height and medium build with light brown hair and hazel eyes, mirror images of each other. Telling the pair apart had taken Bella more than a week. Even now, she had to look twice to be sure which one was which.
Within minutes, she had the hot drinks and cookies for them. “Here you go.” “Thank you,” they chorused.
“Did Mr. Monticello seem happy with the cottage?” Bella asked as she put a tray with treats on the table in front of the fireplace.
“Yep, he said he and his friends had stayed in that one back before the war,” Dale replied. “He must have a lot of money,” Dick observed.
“He must be rich,” his twin asserted. “He gave me a big tip. His wallet was full with bills, and he has a gold watch.”
His brother frowned. “I woulda helped if I had knowed. Maybe you should split the tip with me. Mr. Neece didn’t give me no money.”
“No, Dick. You didn’t do nothing. You don’t deserve none of my tip.”
“You know I’m saving for a new bike. My old one is a wreck. I can’t even keep up with you when we go to town and back. You get any place five or ten minutes ahead of me because mine is in such bad shape.” Dick took a long drink of cocoa. “C’mon, Dale. We’re brothers, twins, so we should share.”
Dale shook his head. “Nope. I earned it, so I keep it.”
“Well, I’ll go see if he needs anything,” Dick said. “I’d like a tip, too.”
The exchange disturbed Bella, who wasn’t sure whether to intercede or not. On occasion, the boys had uttered similar sentiments. They were clearly jealous of those with more, and that was most people. Since the pair had been orphaned a year earlier, they had fended for themselves. Even before then, the Ironton family had struggled to survive on their small farm. Bella understood their neediness, but she didn’t want them to become bitter. “Dick,” she put in, “Mr. Monticello doesn’t want to be bothered. He’s tired, and he wants to enjoy some quiet time until his friend gets here, which should be soon. If he walked the course, as he planned, he may be enjoying a hot bath or taking a nap.”
The boy’s features grew solemn. “I won’t bother him none. I’ll just see if I can help. Maybe he’ll want a snack or something.”
“His wife sent a picnic basket with him. He said that would be sufficient,” Bella said, her tone slightly sterner.
An expression akin to belligerence crossed his young face. “When is his friend coming?”
“Any time now,” Bella replied, “but mind my words. I don’t want you bothering him. Do you understand me?”
A moment passed before Dick spoke again. “Yes, ma’am.” Although his words indicated agreement, his rebellious expression did not.
It wasn’t until after the pair left that Bella realized she didn’t know if he’d meant yes to not bothering Monticello or yes that he understood. Obviously, she wasn’t adept at dealing with young boys, a thought that troubled her. They were relying heavily on the twins, as well as Carl and Curt Molitor, their greenskeeper and his younger brother. Carl was more than willing to shoulder additional chores and do it with good cheer, but any task that required reading, writing, or ciphering was hard for him. Although Curt was diligent and kind, he was battling demons both from the Great War and from an incident in December. At times, he still retreated into himself and, on occasion, he went off for an entire day. Curt had assured Bella that wouldn’t happen once the season started, and she wanted to believe him.
A lump of sorrow rose in Bella’s throat. Because Curt Molitor had held her brother as he lay dying on a French battlefield, the former sergeant would always have a place at Ballantyne. Bella would make sure of that. As for the twins and Minnie, she needed to watch all three and get some pointers from Mac about handling employees more adeptly.
About an hour after the last golfers of the day left, a Ford touring car roared up to the inn.
Dick, who was putting fresh wood in the fireplace, immediately rose and went to the front door.
“What a beauty,” he cried, his attention on the vehicle.
From her post at the desk, Bella laughed. The boy’s reaction was typical for one of his age. Of course, automobiles were still new enough to fascinate many folks. She glanced out the window and better understood the response. The large car was impressive. “That should be Mr. Abbott, Dick. He will be joining Mr. Monticello. Since your brother just gathered some supplies to take to cottage three for Mr. Neece, he can help Mr. Abbott with his valise and golf clubs. After you finish with the fireplace, will you run over and see if Mac needs anything? I thought he would close the shop before now, but he may require help with something.”
The boy’s face fell in obvious disappointment. For a moment, Bella thought he would object.
Instead, he nodded and said, “Yes, miss.”
Even so, Bella noted he was in no hurry as he tinkered with the wood. When the front door opened, her attention moved from Dick to the tall, muscular man entering the lobby. He doffed his flat driving cap as he strode across the front hall. His almost black hair gleamed in the light, and his equally black mustache did as well. A dapper gentleman, Bella thought, as he nodded to her. “Good evening. I’m Charles Abbott. I believe my friend Malcolm Monticello arrived earlier in the day. We’ve engaged one of your charming cottages for a long weekend.”
Bella smiled in return. “Yes, Mr. Monticello arrived several hours ago. He was tired, but planned to walk the course before taking a nap. I haven’t seen him since then. Rain set in a bit ago, so he may have gone straight back to the cottage. His wife provided a picnic for him.
However, we can offer you dinner. It should be ready shortly.”
“No, thank you,” Abbott replied with a smile, “my wife did the same. Now, if you can let me know which cottage, I’ll get settled myself.”
Since Dick was hovering near the front desk, Bella relented. Besides, it was only fair that both twins had the chance to earn a tip. “Dick can show you the way to the cottage and carry your bags in.”
“Yes, sir,” the boy readily agreed.
Abbott nodded. “Thank you, son. My things are in my car parked in the side lot.”
“Mr. Monticello has a key, but I’ll also give one to you,” Bella said. “I imagine he’s been back in the cottage for a while.”
The man inclined his head. “I’m sure Malcolm went out for a walk. Only torrential rain would keep him from taking his daily constitutional.”
“If he walked, he probably got a bit damp, but a fire was laid in the cottage’s small sitting room earlier today. He may be there, cozy and comfortable,” Bella observed.
“Sounds wonderful to me,” the man said. “The long drive in a steady downpour was a bit frazzling. It finally changed to drizzle about a half-hour from here.”
“We had the same weather, but it should be pleasant tomorrow.” Bella certainly hoped the sun would appear. “If you need anything else, please let me know.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. We’ve always enjoyed our visits here. I have every confidence that this trip will be no different.”
After Abbott and Dick headed to the parking area, Bella returned to her desk with the goal of completing paperwork before dinner. About ten minutes later, Dick returned.
“He must be rich like Mr. Monticello,” the boy observed in awe. “He gave me a big tip like Dale got, and I only had to put his bags inside the front door. He said he’d carry them to his room.”
The two men had to seem rich to boys like Dick and Dale. Although the townspeople were kind, most of them were also struggling in the aftermath of the war and pandemic. Business had plummeted when the Spanish flu hit the area hard. In the aftermath, a post-war downturn caused recession throughout the country. When most areas started to rebound, Moreley had experienced a crime wave that culminated in a murder only the day after Bella’s arrival home. A sigh escaped her at the memory. The killing had been solved in short order, which boded well for the future.
Now, nothing stood in the way of rebuilding both town and resort.
Unfortunately, at this point, few locals could offer two orphaned twins much more than the occasional meal or odd job. Only the Downings, who owned the mercantile, had been able to provide steady, albeit part-time, work and the most basic of housing—the attic of their store. Once again, Bella was glad she and Mac had been capable of proffering more. Since starting at Ballantyne, the twins had been ensconced in the suite once occupied by Julia—a much more pleasant living situation than a drafty, dusty attic. Bella just wished their envy didn’t show quite so often or so much. “I believe both Mr. Abbott and Mr. Monticello are successful businessmen,” she observed. “They’re lucky,” he said in an odd tone.
Her gaze narrowed on him. Jealousy did no good for anyone, so she said, “I’m sure they work very hard for their money.”
A moment of silence passed. “Sometimes, hard work don’t help,” he muttered. “I’ll tend to the fire now.”
Before he got away, Bella spoke again. “I know you and your brother worked very hard to save your family farm. I’m sorry you lost your parents and your home.”
The boy’s eyes glistened before he turned away. “We’re lucky you and Mac hired us and gave us a place to live. I don’t know why Curt and Carl went back to the cabin when the suite is much nicer.”
The Ballantyne greenskeeper and his brother had spent the winter living in the inn. “They get up before dawn to take care of the golf course. If we reopen the tennis courts, they’ll care for them, too. Because they’re early risers, they also go to bed long before the kitchen quiets down.” Bella hoped they’d have enough guests for activity to take place after the evening meal. “The cabin is isolated and peaceful, so they like that.”
He glanced back at her. “Good. Now, I’ll see if Mac needs anything.”
Bella watched him go with mixed feelings. The twins’ expressions of envy troubled her, but perhaps such feelings were to be expected. The boys had worked hard to save the family farm. Despite their diligence, the bank had taken it in the end, which left the pair homeless. Again, she worried about their attitudes. She’d ask Mac for advice because he’d had more experience with young boys than she had. With that thought in mind, she headed to the kitchen.
Bella checked the roast, prepared the rest of the meal, and set the table. The twins and Mac should be ready to eat within the hour. Carl and Curt had likely returned to their cabin once the rain began and would, as was their custom, fix dinner themselves. Before she had a chance to accomplish her tasks, she heard shouting in the foyer. Immediately, Bella dashed out to see what was wrong.
A frantic Abbott was yelling, “Help! I need help right now! Malcolm is dead!”
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