Ainsley Holloway had come to Gooseberry Bay to find answers about her past. She'd come to find an explanation for the dreams that haunted her after the death of the cop who'd both rescued and raised her. And she'd come to identify the family she couldn't remember but knew in her heart she'd once belonged to.
Ainsley hoped that by finding these answers, she'd also find healing. She hoped that once she'd resurrected the memories buried deep in her mind, she'd find peace.
The Cottage at Gooseberry Bay is a series about, not only finding answers, but finding hope.
It's a series about family and friendship.
It's a series about shared holidays, festivals, and celebrations.
It's a series about shared heartbreak and hardship.
And it's a series about the bond that can be forged amongst strangers when tragedy binds two or more individuals with a common goal.
In book 5 in the series, Ainsley's PI business is really taking off after her recent successes. She's busier than she ever hoped to be but when a young woman shows up in town with a charm bracelet and a story to tell, Ainsley finds herself agreeing to a bit of pro bono work. It seems the woman had been left in a church as a baby. The only item found with her that might point to a clue about her past is a charm bracelet. After the death of her adoptive mother the woman decides to look for her birth mother. One of the charms leads her to Gooseberry Bay where she hopes the other charms on the bracelet will lead to the answers she's after.
Release date: April 6, 2021
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 203
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Cottage on Gooseberry Bay: Charmed Summer
“Ainsley Holloway?” a man wearing a dark brown uniform asked after he’d walked up to my cottage in Gooseberry Bay and knocked on the front door, and I’d answered.
“Yes. I’m Ainsley Holloway.”
“I have a delivery for you. I’ve been instructed to check your ID and to have you sign for it.”
“Delivery? What sort of delivery?”
The man held up an envelope. “I have this envelope and two large boxes, which I will carry up from the parking area once I’ve confirmed your ID and I have your signature.”
I hesitated for a moment since I wasn’t expecting a delivery. Being a private investigator, I tended to have a suspicious nature, which caused all sorts of weird scenarios to run through my mind up to and including a bomb in a box. I supposed I could decline to accept the delivery, but my curiosity got the better of me, so I showed the man my brand new Washington State driver’s license and then signed the receipt he presented.
He handed me the envelope and then turned to retrieve the boxes. Deciding to wait where I was, I looked down at the envelope which appeared to have been sent from a law office in Northern Italy. The packages must have come from Warren Cromwell, a man I supposed might be my closest living relative. I’d spoken to him on the phone two weeks ago, and he’d mentioned that he had some photos and mementos he felt I’d like to have.
Once the delivery man returned with the boxes, I instructed him to set them inside the cottage, near the front door. I grabbed my purse, tipped the man, and then stood perfectly still as I allowed a wave of emotion to wash over me.
Seven months ago, I’d come to Gooseberry Bay looking for answers to a past which no longer made sense. My father, a career cop turned private investigator after he retired, had been shot in the line of duty and eventually died as the result of his injury. After his death, while cleaning out his attic in preparation for the sale of his house, I’d found a photo of two little girls with a blond-haired woman on the porch of a house overlooking the sea. I didn’t recognize the porch or the house, but for some reason, once I’d found the photo, I’d begun to have dreams. Vivid dreams. Dreams that, over time, I decided were real memories.
Six months ago, I’d met Adam Winchester, the eldest of the Winchester brothers. As it turned out, Adam and his brother, Archie, owned the mansion where the photo had been taken. With Adam’s help, I’d been able to determine that the two little girls were, in fact, myself, who at the time had been known as Ava, and my sister, Avery. We also figured out that the woman with us was a distant relation by marriage to Adam and Archie, although neither had ever met her.
I slit the top of the envelope open to find a thick document, along with a handwritten note from Warren inside. My heart pounded, and my stomach knotted up as I read the note and considered the document. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and willed myself to relax by counting backward from twenty.
As I counted, I let my mind take me back to five months ago when Adam had helped me weed through the hundreds of random photos and documents stored away in the mansion he and his brother had inherited after their parents had died. I knew our quest to figure out who I’d been and what might have happened to me after the photo on the porch had been taken was a longshot. Our hope had been that we’d find clues as to why the woman, who we eventually identified as Marilee Wentworth, spent part of the summer of nineteen ninety-five at Piney Point, with two children who we determined were my sister, Avery, and me. Finding even one clue had taken us hours and hours of working together in Adam’s suite at the mansion. It was time that I’d found to be both frustrating and hugely rewarding. The answers we sought had come to us slowly, and to this day, were incomplete, but during the long days and late nights we’d worked together, Adam and I had gotten to know one another and had forged a friendship.
When Adam made a trip overseas three months ago, he’d managed to track down the identity of my biological parents, a couple named Arthur and Adora Macalester. Before dying in a small plane crash in nineteen ninety-five, the couple lived on the family estate in Northern Italy with their two children, Ava (me), who was three at the time, and Avery, who was just one. The story of how the three-year-old orphan of a rich and influential European couple ended up being raised by a single cop living in Savanah, Georgia, is a long and complicated one that I’m still trying to unravel. Adam has been helping me with this endeavor, and so far, we’ve actually been able to figure out quite a lot.
After Arthur and Adora’s deaths, Arthur’s cousin, Marilee, a Massachusetts native on his mother’s side, was sent to Italy to care for Ava and Avery. A man named Warren Cromwell, a local cousin on their father’s side, had taken over the management of the couple’s financial assets as well as the family estate on the children’s behalf. For reasons I still don’t understand, Marilee became convinced that not only had Warren tampered with the plane that had killed Arthur and Adora but that he had plans to do away with Ava and Avery as well. It was because of those fears that she took the children and fled to America, where they’d spent the summer of nineteen ninety-five at the home of Adam and Archie’s father, Kingston. When summer came to an end, Marilee and another woman, known only as Wilma, took the children and once again fled. After leaving Piney Point, none of the four had ever heard from until I showed up looking for answers seven months ago.
My story seems to hit a wall at this point. All I know is that in December of nineteen ninety-five, I went to live with the cop who raised me, and any memories I’d had from my life before that point seemed to have been buried in my subconscious until I found the photo and a door that had been closed for a quarter of a century began to open. While my life between leaving Piney Point in August and being taken in by the man who raised me in December is still unavailable to me, with Adam’s help, I have uncovered quite a bit about my life before leaving Italy for the final time.
I was jarred from my musings by a second knock on the door. I assumed the delivery man had forgotten something and reached for the door handle, but when I opened it, I found my good friend, Jemma Hawthorn, standing on the deck.
“Jemma!” I screeched, stepping forward to hug her. “You’re back.”
She hugged me in return. “Yes, I’m back. I actually just arrived.”
I stepped aside. “Come in.” I closed the door as my Bernese Mountain Dogs, Kai and Kallie, greeted one of their favorite people. “How was your trip?” Jemma had spent the past four weeks with her father and her sister in the hope of mediating a quickly escalating conflict.
“Exhausting,” Jemma answered.
“Well, have a seat and tell me all about it.”
I knew that Jemma’s father had met and begun dating a much younger woman who seemed to make him happy but also seemed to be bleeding him dry financially. Jemma’s sister, Jackie, was concerned that this woman, who she assumed to be a gold digger, would drain their father’s life savings before slithering away, never to be seen or heard from again. Jackie had been nagging Jemma to join her in an intervention for months, and Jemma, who worked remotely and could really work from anywhere, finally agreed to come home for an extended visit. She’d been gone almost a month, and I’d only spoken to her briefly during that time.
“The condensed version of a very long story is that I managed to dig up some dirt on our father’s girlfriend, and my sister and I used that dirt to convince her to leave. Dad, of course, is heartbroken, but at least what’s left of his savings is secure.”
“So you found out that she really was after his money?” I asked.
Jemma nodded. “I was able to dig up information about past relationships. It seems that she looks for lonely widowers with a decent amount of wealth, but not too much so that they’d be naturally suspicious of newcomers in their lives. Once she chooses a target, she establishes a relationship with them. Once the relationship is cemented, she begins to challenge the man not only to step out of his comfort zone in terms of the activities he participates in, such as taking up skydiving, but she convinces him to take financial risks as well, which she then manages and controls. In the end, I suppose the man is left with the memory of a few fun months and a second chance at youth, but he’s also left with a lot of empty space where his life savings used to be.”
“So she moves on once the money is gone.”
Jemma nodded. “Exactly.”
“I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
“Me too,” Jemma sighed. “At this point, Dad doesn’t know that my sister and I are behind his new girlfriend leaving town so abruptly. I know she would have eventually left, and, in a roundabout way, she admitted as much. Still, I’m terrified he’ll find out that we interfered. I feel like we did the only thing we could since trying to convince him that the love of his life was a gold digger was getting us nowhere, but if he finds out what we did, he’ll never forgive us.”
“So did the girlfriend agree that she wouldn’t tell him why she was leaving?” I asked.
“I paid her a significant amount of money to tell Dad that she’d simply decided it was time to move on. I think deep down, he knew that she was the sort to do just that, so I think he believed her. At least I hope he did.” She glanced at the boxes still stacked by the door. “Are you mailing something?”
“Actually, the boxes are from Warren.”
Jemma looked as surprised as I’d felt when they’d been delivered. “If Warren is sending you boxes, I must have missed something.”
“Actually, you’ve missed a lot.” I pulled a bottle of wine off the rack. “Let’s retire to the deck, and I’ll catch you up.”
“Okay. That sounds good to me. I’ve really missed our afternoon chats over a glass of wine.”
Once we’d both been served, we toasted Jemma’s return to Gooseberry Bay after a month away, and then I began my story.
“I assume you remember that before you left for your trip home, Adam had gone to Switzerland to speak to a man named Joseph Accardi.”
Jemma nodded. “I do remember that. Joseph Accardi had been the Macalester family attorney at the time of Arthur and Adora’s deaths. Accardi had since retired and had moved from Italy to Switzerland, which is why Adam went to Switzerland.”
“Exactly. Adam was able to speak to the man and verify that Warren had gone to his cousin with a statement from the daughter of the midwife who’d delivered Leopold and Leora before Arthur’s death. According to the midwife’s daughter, who had been present at the birth, it had indeed been the female twin who was born first.”
“I remember this as well,” Jemma said. “I think you mentioned it in one of your phone calls. You and Adam were questioning the truth of Marilee’s claim that Warren had killed your parents and was out to eliminate both Ava and Avery as well. You mentioned that Adam was investigating the idea that Warren had already spoken with Arthur about the birth order of Leopold and Leora before Arthur’s death.”
“That’s all correct. Nicolas Macalester was both Arthur and Warren’s grandfather, and he controlled the land and the family fortune at the time. He wanted a male heir, so he paid the midwife a lot of money to switch the times on the birth certificates, allowing Leopold rather than Leora to inherit the Macalester land and fortune on his death. This much seems to be true, but Adam wanted confirmation that Warren knew that Arthur had been made aware of the switch and had altered the trust documents before his death. This is the point where Adam had the idea to speak to Accardi, who confirmed that Arthur had been made aware of the situation and had worked out a deal with Warren that benefitted both men.”
“So the story Marilee told to the family about Warren first tampering with your parent’s plane and then threatening to kill you and Avery was total fiction.”
“It looks likely that’s the case. Accardi was able to confirm that Arthur and Warren had agreed to put the land owned by the Macalester family into a different type of family trust before Arthur’s death. This trust would be managed like a corporation, with every Macalester heir owning stock in the company. Arthur and Warren were both wealthy men at this point, so they both agreed to keep their own liquid assets. It was really only the land and the vineyard that both men wanted and the land and vineyard that both men agreed to share.”
“So if Warren and Arthur had worked this all out before Arthur died, then why did Marilee leave Italy with you and Avery?”
“We aren’t sure at this point, although after personally speaking to Warren, I have a theory.”
Jemma set her glass of wine on the table and leaned forward. “You actually spoke to this man?”
I nodded. “Once Adam and I decided that it was unlikely that Warren had reason to want Avery and me dead, he set up a video conference between the three of us. We started by explaining who I was to Warren, and I have to admit that he was both shocked and delighted to see me.”
“So what did he think was going on when Marilee left with you?” Jemma asked.
“I’m getting to that.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Basically, long story short, after Marilee had been in Italy for a few months, she went to Warren and told him that she had decided to take Ava and Avery to the United States. Her family was there, and she knew she’d have help raising the girls, which at the time, Marilee admitted that she felt like she needed. Warren agreed that it might be for the best since the girls were so young, and he was unmarried at the time and had no way to look after them. Marilee asked if there was a way the money Ava and Avery had inherited could be put in a trust with her as the administrator since she would be the one to bear the weight of the financial burden of raising them. Remember that at this point, the land was already in the process of being transferred to the family company Arthur and Warren had agreed upon, but Arthur had a lot of other money and assets that Warren was managing on behalf of his nieces. Warren shared with Adam and me that he wasn’t comfortable signing the entire estate over to Marilee to manage on our behalf. He did, however, want to make sure that both Avery and I had everything we needed, so he set up accounts in each of our names into which he made monthly deposits and Marilee controlled.”
Jemma held up a hand. “Wait. Warren donated money to an account on your behalf every month after Marilee left Italy with you? Is the money still there?”
I shook my head. “No. At least not that money. Hang on, and I’ll get there.”
“Okay. Sorry. Go on.”
“Anyway, Marilee left with Avery and me, promising to stay in touch with Warren, and Warren began making monthly deposits of ten thousand dollars into each of our accounts.”
“Ten thousand dollars a month!”
“I know that sounds like a crazy amount of money for a one and three-year-old, but that’s what Warren told me. Keep in mind that this was money left to us by our parents. Warren was just managing it.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“I knew that I was with the cop who raised me by December of the same year the cash infusions began, so I asked Warren if he knew what had happened to the money. He told Adam and me that he didn’t know how the funds were used and had no idea that Avery and I were missing. He also shared that he had continued to add money to the accounts until twenty eleven.”
“Why did he stop in twenty eleven?” Jemma asked.
“When I turned eighteen in twenty ten, Warren asked Marilee to put me in contact with him. He wanted to change the account, so I had direct control of it. She stalled for almost a year, and when she never would comply with his request, he stopped adding funds to both accounts.”
Jemma held up her palm again. “Okay, wait. Marilee seemingly dropped you off in Savannah in nineteen ninety-five, and as far as we know, no one ever saw her again, but Warren continued to communicate with her, and he continued to send her money?”
I nodded. “Marilee, or someone pretending to be Marilee, sent Warren annual updates on both Avery and me, which were totally fake. At least the updates about me were fake. I can’t be sure if Marilee stayed in contact with Avery. The thing is that the communiqués were via email, so I guess that someone who knew the basics of the situation could have been pretending to be Marilee.”
“So the whole time you were living in Georgia with your father, Warren thought you and Avery were with Marilee.”
I nodded once again.
“I know. It’s crazy. Warren admitted that he should have physically checked on us, but he was busy, and shortly after Marilee left with us, he married and had a family of his own. He was putting ten grand in my account and ten grand in Avery’s account, and someone was taking the money out each month. He assumed it was being used to raise us in the upper-class society we were born into.”
“So, at what point did Warren begin to believe that you weren’t with Marilee after all?” Jemma asked.
“After he stopped adding money to the two bank accounts, he expected that I, who was nineteen by this point, and Avery, who was seventeen, would reach out to him. Warren thought it might take a while, but he figured that someone would come around looking for more once the balance in the accounts dried up. No one ever did. He looked for Marilee at this point, but her family told him that she hadn’t been seen or heard from in years. He then looked for Avery and me but came up totally empty. It was at this point that he began to suspect that all of us were dead and that someone else had been draining the accounts each month.”
“Is that what you think happened?” Jemma asked me.
“I don’t know. I know I’m not dead, but I suppose for all intents and purposes, Ava Macalester has been dead since nineteen ninety-five. As for Marilee and Avery, I hope they are alive, but I’m no closer to figuring that out than I was when this whole thing started.”
Jemma tucked her feet up under her body. “I hate to say it, but it sounds like Marilee is the bad guy in all of this.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Adam and I discussed the fact that it really does look like she made up the whole thing about Warren killing my parents and being a threat to Avery and me so that the family would help her with us while she made away with our money. If I had to guess, she pawned both Avery and me off on kind and caring people in her life who would want to protect an innocent child, and then she spent the next sixteen years draining our bank accounts every month.”
“So why did she take you from Piney Point? Why give you to someone all the way in Georgia?”
“Adam and I aren’t sure, but if you remember, once she took us to Piney Point, she left and only popped in now and then. It was Winnie who took care of us. Adam suspects that Marilee was away making arrangements for the money during this time. He also suspects that someone in the family might have begun to suspect something was off, which caused Marilee to take us somewhere where no one would know who we really were. Either that or Marilee had a partner who was actually calling the shots. There’s still a huge void understanding what happened to us after we left Piney Point.”
“So if that’s true, it’s quite possible that Avery really is out there living the life she was handed with no idea who she actually is.”
“Probably,” I said. “Avery was just one year old when this all happened. I have limited memories that seem to randomly filter through, but she won’t have any. If she is alive, and I hope she is, I plan to try to find her. I have no idea how I’m going to do that, but I’m going to try.”
“And Marilee?” Jemma asked.
I shrugged. “I imagine Marilee is either dead or in the wind. No one in the family has seen or heard from her for years. Wilma either.”
Jemma picked up her wine and took a sip. “Talk about a crazy story.”
“Yeah.” I thought about the boxes. “But it hasn’t been all bad. Warren is a really nice man, as is his wife, Giovanna. I hope to meet them both in person soon. Plus, Warren told me that he has been hanging onto the money Avery and I inherited. It’s just sitting in a bank, waiting for one of us to claim it.”
“Are you going to claim it?”
“I don’t know. I guess maybe eventually. I would rather wait until Avery is found. In the meantime, Warren set up an account for me that I have access to so that I can make a withdrawal any time I need. He sent an envelope with information about this account as well as financial statements relating to the cash and investments he’s been managing for Avery and me. I haven’t had a chance to really look them over, but it appears that I really do have a lot of money.”
“It almost sounds as if you think this is a bad thing.”
I shrugged. “It feels strange to even think about using any of this money. I don’t feel like Ava Macalester. I feel like Ainsley Holloway. And even if I could convince myself it really was mine, what would I do with it? I certainly don’t need it.”
Jemma untucked her legs. “I guess it’s nice to know it’s there if you ever do need it.”
“Yeah. I guess. I suppose it’s odd that while I’m not really all that thrilled about the money, I am thrilled to find out that I’m related to Warren and Giovanna. Since Adam first told me about them, I’ve spent hours stalking them on the internet. I was obsessed with learning everything that I could about them. Initially, I was looking for confirmation that the guy was the lowlife Marilee had told the family he was, but what I found was a really great guy who seems to use his money and influence to benefit his village. Not only does he give of his time and his money, but there are dozens and dozens of photos of the couple attending fundraisers and ribbon cuttings, as well as very high-end parties and exclusive events. It’s almost like they’re royalty.”
“It sounds like they are royalty in their own little corner of the world.” Jemma glanced at her watch. “I’m supposed to meet Booker at the marina at five. He wants to talk to me about a birthday gift for Tegan, so we’re going to have a drink. Do you want to come along?”
“Are you sure he won’t mind?”
“He won’t mind. I guess there’s a specific gift he wants to get Jemma, but it’s one of those items that are hard to find, so he’s hoping I can use my computer magic to track one down online. He wanted me to meet him, so he wouldn’t have to make an excuse for coming to the cottage to talk to me without Tegan tagging along.”
I slid my legs to the side to stand up. “Okay. I’ll go with you. Let me run a brush through my hair.”
Once I tidied up a bit, I let the dogs out for a quick bathroom break, and then Jemma and I headed toward the marina.
“I wonder what’s going on,” Jemma said after we’d noticed Deputy Todd talking to a group of teenagers on the beach who appeared to have been out paddleboarding.
“I don’t know. It looks like everyone is standing around that blue paddleboard, although I can’t tell who it belongs to. It looks as if everyone in the group has their paddleboard.”
Jemma narrowed her gaze and then nodded toward the parking area for the marina. “It looks like Parker is here.”
Parker Peterson is a friend of ours who also happens to be the best reporter in town. If Parker decided to show up, then chances were that Deputy Todd was talking to the group on the beach about something more important than littering or unsafe roughhousing.
“I’m going to text Parker and let her know we’re up here in the parking area. Maybe she can stop by when she’s done with Todd and fill us in,” Jemma informed me.
I watched as Parker headed straight toward Deputy Todd. She said something to him, and he nodded, glancing toward the blue paddleboard on the sand. She said something else, and one of the boys Todd had been talking with pointed out toward the eastern shore of the bay. Parker commented again, and Deputy Todd knelt down on the sand to take a closer look at the paddleboard. Jemma and I couldn’t hear what was being said by anyone involved in the conversation, but it did appear that the blue paddleboard was the topic of conversation.
After about fifteen minutes, Parker turned away from the group and headed toward where Jemma and I were waiting.
“What’s going on?” Jemma asked when Parker sat down next to us.
“Zane Maddox was reported missing by his mother this morning,” she answered. “Apparently, he went out paddleboarding yesterday afternoon but never returned.” Parker looked at me. “Zane is a fifteen-year-old and the youngest son of Harold Maddox.”
I knew that Harold Maddox was one of the members of the town council. I seemed to remember that Harold’s family had lived in Gooseberry Bay for generations.
“I take it the blue paddleboard belonged to him,” I said.
“Yes,” Parker confirmed. “When Zane was last seen, he was leaving home with his blue paddleboard. His parents told Deputy Todd that they were pretty sure he planned to meet up with some other kids from the high school, but Zane didn’t specifically say who he was meeting.”
“So, how are the teens on the beach involved?” I asked.
“They’re the ones who found the paddleboard floating in the bay. There’s a chip on one end of the paddleboard that looks new. Although Deputy Todd doesn’t know if the paddleboard was damaged during whatever occurred to cause Zane to go missing or if it was washed up onto some rocks at some point after whatever happened to Zane occurred.”
“So what does Deputy Todd think happened to Zane?” Jemma asked.
“He has no idea at this point. Given the fact that his paddleboard was found floating in the middle of the bay, it appears he may have drowned, but without a body, there’s no way to know that for sure.”
“I guess Deputy Todd will open a case and look into it,” I said.
“Yeah,” Parker agreed. “That’s the plan. He mentioned trying to track down whomever Zane met up with yesterday. Someone must have seen him. If he can figure out where Zane went after he left home, that will at least give him a starting point.” She glanced away from the water. “So what are the two of you up to?”
“We’re supposed to meet Booker for a drink, but the walkway to the marina’s office is blocked by the two cops who seem to be herding people away from Deputy Todd and the group he’s talking to,” Jemma said.
I glanced back toward the beach where the group that had gathered had begun to break up. Deputy Todd was carrying the paddleboard toward his car, and the teens that had gathered began wandering off in different directions.
“It looks like Todd is about to be freed up,” Parker said, turning and trotting in his direction.
“Did you know Zane?” I asked Jemma.
“Not really, but I know who he is, and I’ve chatted with his mom, June, a few times. June works part-time for the town and she volunteers at the library. She’s a nice woman, and I know she adores her children. I hope Zane’s okay.”
“And Zane’s father?” I asked.
“He’s actually a bit of an ogre. I never really liked him or his politics.”
“Does Zane have siblings?”
Jemma nodded. “He’s the baby of the family, but he has a sister named Cora, who I think is a freshman in college this year. I seem to remember I heard that she was headed toward the east coast this past fall.” Jemma paused, furrowing her brow slightly. She glanced back toward the beach. “I don’t know Zane well, but I do know someone who might know something about what’s going on.”
“Oh? Who’s that?”
“A boy named Artie Drysdale. Artie is Jim Drysdale’s son, the man who owns the curio shop a few doors down from your office. I think Jim knows Josie from a book club the two used to belong to.”
“And you think Artie might know what’s going on with Zane?”
“Artie and Zane run with the same group of kids, so I think he might.” She looked at her watch. “I’ll text him and ask him to call me when he has a minute. I don’t know for certain if he knows anything, but if he was part of the crowd Zane was supposed to meet up with, at the very least, he should know if he ever showed up.”
“It seems like it might be worth looking into things. If Zane’s missing and still alive rather than a drowning victim, then finding him as soon as possible is important.” I glanced back toward the crowd. “Should we try to make our way over to Booker?”
“Yeah. Let’s give it a try. If we can’t get in for some reason, I’ll text Booker and suggest he just meet us at the bar.”
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