Bikinis and Murder
But the mystery isn't the only thing on Ellie's mind. With her time in the Sunshine State ending soon, will she decide to return to her old life in London? And what about her "vacation fling" with handsome resort doctor Blake Thornton—does she dare follow her heart and allow the budding romance to grow into something more?
Join barefoot sleuth Ellie on her final adventure as she finds that a vacation in Florida can be deadlier than she ever imagined...
GENRE: beach mystery, cat cozy mystery series, culinary cozy mysteries, women sleuth, amateur sleuth, humorous cozy mysteries
BAREFOOT SLEUTH MYSTERIES:
Flip-Flops and Murder (Book 1)
Seashells and Murder (Book 2)
Cocktails and Murder (Book 3)
Bikinis and Murder (Book 4)
Release date: January 31, 2021
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Print pages: 284
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Bikinis and Murder
“Are your boobs real?”
Ellie Bishop looked up, startled, then felt a mixture of relief and embarrassment as she realized the question wasn’t directed at her. Instead, it was being directed at a girl standing a few feet away, clad in the skimpiest hot-pink bikini that Ellie had ever seen. The few scraps of fabric barely covered the girl’s body and only served to accentuate her enormous bust.
Which is probably the point when you’re in a bikini contest, Ellie told herself with a smile. As she glanced at the other girl—the one who had asked the question and who also had an improbable hourglass figure—Ellie couldn’t help thinking of pots and black kettles…
“Oh yeah, these are a hundred percent natural,” replied the girl in the hot-pink bikini.
The other girl scowled. “There’s no way real breasts look like that,” she said.
“And how would you know, Amber?” said the girl in the hot-pink bikini, looking pointedly at the other girl’s bust.
Amber gasped. “How dare you! You know damn well I’ve never had plastic surgery. You’d better not be spreading fake rumors about me, Brandi!”
Brandi tossed her head airily. “I can do whatever I like.”
“No, you can’t! You keep acting like you’re so special, like you’re better than the rest of us, but you’re not!”
“I know I’m special,” said Brandi, smoothing her hands down her body and emphasizing the curve of her waist and hips. “I’m, like, the only girl here with a thirty-eight-inch bust and that means a lot in a bikini contest.” She leaned forward with a smug smile. “It means I’m gonna win.”
“We’ll see about that!” said Amber, tossing her own hair. She spun around and sashayed away.
Brandi laughed derisively and followed her. Ellie watched them go, both tottering in enormous platform heels, and she sighed wistfully. To her envious eyes, they both had perfect figures: the ideal combination of long, tanned limbs and curves in all the right places. She glanced down at her own body and was pleased to see that in the weeks since she’d arrived in Florida, she was finally beginning to develop a slight tan. True, most of her sun exposure seemed to produce freckles rather than that lovely, even, golden glow, but it was still better than the completely pale skin that she had left London with.
Still… Ellie looked up again and took in the group of girls at the front of the catamaran. Who wouldn’t feel a bit insecure when sharing a boat with a group of bikini pageant contestants? Then she heard a rich, throaty laugh and she looked up at the flybridge to see a spry older woman with curly grey hair sitting and drinking cocktails with a middle-aged man. The woman was eye catching, not just for her bright eyes and impish smile, but for the fact that she was wearing a lurid red bikini. Ellie smiled to herself. Aunt Olive, that’s who! she thought.
Trust her aunt to have no issues with confidence despite her age and mature body. Ellie could just hear her mother’s shocked gasp in her head and her father’s disapproving tones saying: “Wearing a bikini? At sixty-four? Whatever will people think?” But that was exactly the point. Aunt Olive didn’t care what anyone thought. She had a complete disregard for conventional expectations and the niceties of society. For years, she had frustrated friends and family as she indulged in a series of romantic flings instead of settling down with a nice, respectable husband to start a family, like all her contemporaries were doing. Then, well into middle-age, she had finally married a wealthy American thirty years her senior who had doted on her and left her a very rich widow when he died several years later.
Not content to rest on her laurels, Aunt Olive had confounded family and friends again when she decided to embark on a new career as a mystery author—and found great success with her books worldwide. In fact, her “celebrity status” had earned spots for both herself and Ellie on the guest list for this boating trip. Don Palmer, owner of Bronzed Babe Sunscreens, which was sponsoring the bikini contest, was a big fan of Aunt Olive’s books. When he’d heard that she was staying at the resort where the contest would be held, he had insisted on sending her an invitation—and Aunt Olive had been delighted to accept. Like all writers, she was always up for new experiences which could provide inspiration and research for her stories.
Besides, this was no ordinary boating trip. The bevy of bikini-clad beauties on board were all taking part in the competition to decide this year’s “Ultimate Bikini Babe.” The winner would receive a lucrative modeling contract as the new face—or rather body—of Don Palmer’s company. The girls’ excitement was infectious, while their inclination towards high drama was irresistible to someone like Aunt Olive who loved to observe human nature. As for Ellie, she was just delighted by the chance to experience sailing on a luxury catamaran. She had already considered herself the luckiest girl in the world to have her aunt invite her on an all expenses paid vacation at a beach resort in Florida, but this was the icing on the cake!
Ellie leaned against the railing now and watched the ocean swells rolling past. The Leopard 58 catamaran cut smoothly through the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico, its gleaming white hull reflecting the mellow light of the late afternoon sun. In the distance, she could see the shore with the beautiful white sand beaches that made this stretch of the Florida coastline so popular. From so far away, the lounge chairs and cabanas that lined the beaches were mere dots, and even the sweeping buildings of the Sunset Palms Beach Resort looked like miniature toy models. Ellie took a deep breath of the fresh, salty air and closed her eyes, savoring the feel of the sea breeze on her face.
“Enjoying the trip, poppet?”
Ellie opened her eyes and turned around to see that Aunt Olive had come down to join her on the aft deck. “Oh, it’s fabulous! I’ve never sailed on a catamaran before—it’s much smoother than a yacht, isn’t it?”
“Don’t let Earl hear you say that,” said Aunt Olive with a wink. “He thinks nothing can match his beloved yacht.”
“His boat is fantastic,” said Ellie hastily. “I’ve had a fantastic time on trips with him—especially that time when I caught my very first fish!” She smiled at the memory. “But this is totally different, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s probably even more unusual because of the company we’re keeping,” said Aunt Olive.
She glanced up at the flybridge where the middle-aged man she had been chatting with was now joined by a couple of girls in skimpy bikinis—more contestants from the pageant, no doubt. The man was smiling complacently and leaning back in the white leather settee to snake his arms around the girls on either side. He had probably been a good-looking man in his youth, but with age, he had developed an enormous beer belly, sagging jowls, and a receding hairline. That wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t tried to cover up his hair loss with the most ridiculous-looking black toupee. He also had gleaming teeth which had obviously been artificially whitened and looked almost predatory in his fake tanned face. The girls beside him seemed oblivious to his appearance, though, as they giggled and flirted with him.
“Amazing what men can get away with when they’re rich,” commented Aunt Olive, watching the little scene above them.
“Who is he?” asked Ellie.
“That, my dear, is Don Palmer—owner of Bronzed Babe Sunscreens and sponsor of the bikini contest.”
“Oh? I didn’t realize he was coming on the trip with us.”
Aunt Olive snorted. “Do you think he’d miss the opportunity to get up-close and personal with some of the contestants?”
Ellie looked up at the man again. He was turning to one of the girls and brandishing a bottle of sunscreen with the distinctive “Bronzed Babe” label. His voice drifted down from the flybridge:
“…your shoulders are looking mighty red, sweetheart. It’s important to keep the sunscreen fresh, you know… here, let me apply some on you…”
“Oh, Mr. Palmer… you’re too kind!” the girl simpered.
Ellie watched as the man leaned a bit closer than necessary and smeared sunscreen on her bare shoulder with a lecherous gleam in his eye. The girl didn’t flinch, her smile firmly in place as she let Don Palmer touch her, but Ellie couldn’t repress a shudder.
“Ugh!” she said under her breath.
“Yes, he’s a dreadful, repulsive man,” said Aunt Olive.
Ellie gave a shocked laugh. “Aunt Olive! He’ll hear you!”
Her aunt gave another snort. “I doubt it. Don Palmer only has ears for one thing and that’s his own voice. Trust me, I can tell you from experience.”
“You seemed to spend quite a while chatting with him, though,” Ellie said.
“Well, I had to, dear. After all, we are his guests and it would have been rude of me to ignore the host. I may be outspoken in private, but I am never bad-mannered in public.” Aunt Olive fluffed her grey curls. “In any case, narcissistic egomaniacs can be quite entertaining to listen to, in small doses. And to give Palmer his due, he is a self-made man: he started the company with nothing more than a stall at the local market, selling his own formula of sunscreen, and now it’s a multi-million-dollar corporation with stores across America. According to the media, that’s quite an achievement for a boy from small-town Kentucky.”
“And now he’s got his own beauty pageant where he has the perfect excuse to ogle and grope pretty young women,” said Ellie dryly.
“Yes, although he might not be enjoying that privilege for much longer,” said Aunt Olive. “The ‘Bronzed Babe Bikini Contest’ used to be a big event in the local calendar and was even televised, you know, but ratings have been falling in recent years. Last year, it was dropped from broadcasting altogether, which was a huge blow to Palmer’s ego.”
“Where did you hear all this?”
“Oh, the resort grapevine…” said Aunt Olive airily.
“Well, I suppose bikini contests aren’t very PC nowadays, are they?” asked Ellie, wrinkling her nose. “I wouldn’t have thought that any are still being held!”
“Oh, you’d be surprised, poppet,” said Aunt Olive. “Bikini contests are still an integral part of Florida’s culture and you’ll still find dozens of them up and down the state every year.”
“Really? I thought they’re really controversial.”
“Oh, they are. Anything that glorifies an unhealthy obsession with the ‘perfect’ female body—not to mention all that ‘meat-market’ ogling—isn’t going to be considered kosher in these modern times… but when has that stopped anyone?” asked Aunt Olive with a shrug. She glanced up at the flybridge again. “Palmer told me he’s hired a new PR and Events Management agency. That might inject some new life back into the event. Gina Ross is a clever girl and she seems to know what she’s doing.”
“Mmm,” said Ellie in a noncommittal tone. Then, worried that she might have sounded too unenthusiastic she added hastily, “Yes, Gina is fantastic at her job! Just convincing Palmer to hold the contest at one of the top luxury beach resorts in Florida was a brilliant idea. I mean, people always like hearing about aspirational destinations, and having the backdrop of the beautiful resort grounds and the sweeping views of the beach will lift the contest to a totally new level!”
Aunt Olive gave her an amused look. “My goodness, poppet, are you sure you don’t want to be working for Gina?”
Ellie flushed. “I’m… I’m just telling the truth. Sunset Palms Beach Resort is a gorgeous place and Gina is really talented at her job.”
Aunt Olive said in a teasing voice: “It’s just a shame that she’s also your boyfriend’s ex!”
“Blake’s not my boyfriend,” said Ellie quickly.
“Then what is he?”
“He’s… We’re…” Ellie trailed off, not sure how to describe her budding relationship with Blake Thornton, the handsome resident doctor at the Sunset Palms Beach Resort.
When she had arrived in Florida a few weeks ago for her extended vacation with her aunt, Ellie had been determined to have fun, enjoy new experiences, and maybe even embark on an adventure or two. But the one thing she’d been determined not to do was fall in love. After all, she had just come out of a disastrous three-year relationship which had ended with her then boyfriend cheating on her. The last thing she needed was to jump straight into another romantic entanglement—especially one that possibly involved a long-distance relationship across the Atlantic!
So Ellie had tried her best to ignore the way her heart jumped every time Blake walked into the room, or the sizzling chemistry she had with the handsome MD. She told herself firmly that it was just a vacation fling: nothing more than a bit of fun and diversion until after the new year, when she would bid Blake farewell and head back to “real life” in England.
Besides, things are even more complicated now that Gina is on the scene, she thought darkly.
She had only just gotten over the emotional upheaval she had suffered a week ago when she’d thought Blake was stringing her along while simultaneously seeing another girl behind her back. As it turned out, it had all been a big misunderstanding, but the whole experience had left Ellie even more wary than before. And then Gina had arrived at the resort. At first, Ellie had thought that Blake’s ex had just come for an opportunistic holiday, but it turned out that Gina had also come to check out the location for work purposes. And with her PR and Events Management agency having taken on the job of promoting the Bronzed Babe Bikini Contest, it meant that her visit was going to be a long one…
Ellie shifted uncomfortably. To be honest, she was ashamed of her jealous feelings toward Gina, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. Aside from her blonde-haired beauty and perfectly groomed appearance, Gina was also everything that Ellie was not: “grown-up” and sophisticated, talented and capable, the owner of a successful business who knew exactly what she wanted in life and how to go after it… Ellie felt completely inadequate in comparison.
“I didn’t realize it was such a complex question, poppet. Shall I come back in an hour?”
Ellie started at the sound of her aunt’s teasing voice and looked up guiltily. “Sorry, Aunt Olive!” She sighed. “This is going to sound like a terrible cliché but… it’s complicated. Especially now that Gina’s here,” she added.
Aunt Olive raised her eyebrows. “Blake doesn’t seem like he’s in a hurry to get back with his ex-girlfriend.”
“No, he’s not,” Ellie admitted. “But Gina’s made it clear that rekindling their romance is definitely on her agenda. And she’s the kind of girl who will do anything to get what she wants. Anyway, not that it’s really any of my business,” she added hurriedly. “I mean, it’s not like I have any claim on Blake. We’ve only been out on a couple of dates and we haven’t even—” She broke off. She had been about to say “had a proper kiss” but that felt somehow too personal a revelation, even to her aunt.
Aunt Olive gave her a shrewd look, but she didn’t comment. Instead, she changed the subject, saying: “I’m going over to join the girls and watch the photoshoot. Coming?”
“Yes, all right. But I’m just popping to the loo first,” said Ellie, pushing away from the railing.
“You mean the head,” said Aunt Olive.
Ellie laughed. “Yes, sorry, the head.” She gave a sigh. “I’m never going to get used to all these nautical terms!”
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