The second in a delightful new cozy series by Hannah Dennison in which a surprise visitor makes an appearance on the island—and murder ensues...
Renovations on Tregarrick Rock Hotel are coming along, and Evie Mead thinks they just might be done by opening day. Then one of her sister Margot’s old Hollywood friends, Louise, arrives unannounced—and expecting VIP treatment.
Evie has half a mind to tell Louise to find other accommodations, but Margot pleads with Evie, saying that Louise—despite her upbeat and demanding attitude—is grieving her recently deceased husband. Evie pities her, and besides, the sisters need help. A simple rewiring project has resulted in a major overhaul of the hotel, and they’re way over budget. The small life insurance policy left to Evie by her own husband is gone, and they are desperate for funds. Margot believes that Louise, a marketing guru, can put the hotel on the map and give it the boost it needs.
But when a member of the hotel staff is found dead, and then another murder follows, the sisters’ plans crumble before their eyes. Who would do such a thing—and why? In a rollicking adventure involving a shipwreck filled with buried treasure, a dashing and mysterious Australian named Randy, and old rivalries stretching back to far before Evie and Margot ever set foot on the island, it’s all hands on deck to find the killer—and save the hotel.
Release date: August 17, 2021
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
Reader says this book is...: entertaining story (1) quirky supporting cast (1) rich setting(s) (1)
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Danger at the Cove
“Do you mind moving those plants into the potting shed before you run my errand, Ollie?” I pointed to the flimsy trays of plastic pots filled with geraniums, begonias and lavender that stood next to the empty cast-iron urns along the flagstone terrace. “There’s another storm forecast for early evening and I don’t want them to blow away.”
I put down my fork and trowel and got to my feet, dismayed at the stiffness in my legs from kneeling. For the past two hours I had been weeding the flower borders in preparation for the upcoming grand reopening of the Tregarrick Rock hotel.
“Anything for you.” Ollie, our newest hire, gave me a gold-capped smile. “I’ll get the wheelbarrow.”
It was a crisp spring day in March with a light breeze. Birdsong mingled with the muffled sound of waves breaking against the distant rocks below. White clouds drifted across a blue sky, but far away on the horizon, toward the Atlantic Ocean, an ominous band of dark clouds was building.
Over the past few months, the Isles of Scilly had been struck by a number of ferocious storms that were working their way through the alphabet. Tonight we were promised Storm Iona. Though all the islands had taken a battering, nature had given Tregarrick in particular one extraordinary surprise. The violence of the weather, coupled with extreme spring tides, had shifted the seabed, and three days ago the wooden ribs of what remained of a nineteenth-century schooner had surfaced from the deep in Tregarrick Sound.
Shipwrecks were not uncommon around Scilly. In fact there were over eight hundred wrecks scattered all over the ocean floor. Still, it was impossible not to get caught up in the mystery of what had happened to the old schooner and what treasures might emerge from the deep. Unfortunately, Cador Ferris, the one person who would really know, was off the grid in the Bahamas on a marine salvage expedition himself. As heir to the Tregarrick island estate, Cador was our landlord. He’d already left for Nassau when Margot and I moved in three months ago, and despite repeated attempts to get ahold of him to discuss repairs to the hotel, we’d not heard from him for weeks.
In the meantime, thanks to a supermoon, combined with a phenomenon called syzygy and the vernal equinox, we were eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s once-every-eighteen-years chance to actually walk on the seabed out to the wreck at low tide.
“You mentioned you were seeing your girlfriend after you’ve picked up my package from the courier,” I said to Ollie.
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”
“Just be mindful of the time and the tide. Don’t leave heading back to the last minute like you usually do. And yes,” I added firmly as Ollie gave me an eye roll, “I know you’re an excellent skipper and I know that the crossing only takes twenty-five minutes from St. Mary’s, but I’m serious. Can’t you meet Becky another day when there isn’t a storm forecast?”
“Nope,” said Ollie. “Her dad has finally agreed to see me. It’s time to talk to him man-to-man.”
“Well, good luck,” I said. He was going to need it.
Ollie’s infatuation with young Becky Goldolphin, the only daughter of one of the founding families on Scilly, seemed to be all consuming.
“Just because I don’t wear a suit, old Cyril thinks I’m not good enough for his only daughter,” Ollie went on. “Idiot.”
I regarded our twentysomething handyman-cum-gardener with amusement. With his dark shoulder-length hair tied back into a ponytail, gold-capped front tooth, body piercings and both arms heavily tattooed with skulls and mermaids, Ollie could easily pass for a pirate.
My sister, Margot, and I had yet to meet Becky, who by all accounts was classy and intelligent and just as obsessed with him—enough to change her mind about going off to study medicine at the Imperial College London so that she could stay close by Ollie.
Margot sided with Becky’s father. Even though we’d never met him, we’d heard that Becky was the center of his world. I could understand Becky’s fascination with Ollie, though. He had an insatiable curiosity, committing to memory everything about the history of the Isles of Scilly, including where to catch the best sunset or watch for a rare migrating whale. He had a wicked sense of humor and was the epitome of a bad boy with a heart. He was also an excellent seaman.
“You’ll have to ask Dennis for the boat key to the Sandpiper,” I said.
The Sandpiper was a twenty-four-foot cabin cruiser. Margot and I had bought her secondhand from Cador and had her repainted a vibrant turquoise. It was our latest in a rather long line of acquisitions—including new laptops and new appliances—that Margot had insisted were necessary to make running our fifteen-bedroom boutique hotel smooth and efficient.
Although we would continue to use the trademark “sea tractor” to ferry visitors across from Tregarrick at low tide, having the cruiser gave us the freedom to get off the tidal islet whenever we chose.
“On second thought, I’ll be fine in my old dinghy,” Ollie said suddenly.
“You told me the dinghy had a slow puncture,” I said. “I really don’t want my new camera equipment sinking to the bottom of the ocean and you with it. Take the Sandpiper.”
“I didn’t know you cared.” Ollie grinned. “Okay. I will. Do you need anything else while I’m on St. Mary’s?”
This was another thing Margot and I had rapidly discovered as we’d adjusted to life in the Isles of Scilly. Apart from a general store and a post office, the Salty Boatman pub, St. Paul’s church and a cute little gift shop on Tregarrick itself, all the shops and social services were on the main island.
“Thanks, but there’s no need. We’ve got a grocery shipment from Tesco tomorrow.” Then I thought again. “Actually, there is one more thing. Would you mind checking our PO Box at the post office?”
When Margot and I first moved to Tregarrick Rock, we decided to rent a postbox on St. Mary’s. We rarely used it, since it turned out that the inter-island postal service was surprisingly efficient for regular mail, so we often forgot to check it.
“Dennis can give you the key for that, too,” I said.
Ollie pulled a face.
I regarded him with dismay. “I thought you and Dennis were getting along better now.”
Ollie shrugged. “Sort of. He’s just so . . . particular about everything. He lives by his watch.”
It was true. As a former marine, our hotel manager, Dennis Simmonds, was obsessed with punctuality and dependable to a fault. He was the complete opposite of Ollie, who preferred to “go with the flow” and had a propensity to tell Dennis to “lighten up.”
Ollie picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow and, with me following, set off for the potting shed.
“No point unloading the plants,” I said as Ollie maneuvered the wheelbarrow inside the small space. I closed the old wooden door behind us on our way out and looped the padlock through the hasp, but as usual I didn’t lock it.
“Don’t forget to take your waterproofs,” I reminded Ollie. I pointed to a mug with a pirate on the front that he’d set down on the fence post. “And please take your mug back to the annex.”
He rolled his eyes again. “Anything else?”
“Make sure your phone is charged in case I have to call you.”
I laughed. “You bring out the maternal instinct in me.” It was true, he did. Ollie didn’t like to talk about his past—I knew he had grown up in care somewhere in Cornwall—and I never pressed him. He seemed happy to be working for us and I was pleased when he said he felt he was part of our little family.
Behind the potting shed was a narrow path flanked by a laurel hedge that led to an ugly green prefab annex. Accessed down a short flight of steps, it was used to house six seasonal staff. At the moment it was home to Ollie, and temporary accommodation for Sam Quick, one of the two electricians who were currently rewiring part of the hotel.
Ollie picked up his pirate mug and headed for the annex, reappearing five minutes later dressed in waterproofs. He brandished his iPhone. “Call me if you think of anything else.” He hesitated, then took a deep breath. “Any chance I can have an advance on my paycheck this week?” He gave a sheepish grin. “Becky’s twenty-first birthday is coming up and she’s seen a bracelet she really likes.”
I wished he hadn’t asked. Ollie was lucky we paid him weekly—and in cash—but he’d asked Margot already for an advance this week and she’d said no.
“Ollie, I’m sorry, but not this time,” I said.
The problem was that Margot and I were strapped for cash, too. My sister’s divorce settlement was still not final and the small life insurance policy from my deceased husband, Robert, had all but gone. I’d even had to sell a Rolex Comex Submariner from the watch collection that he had—by sheer luck—transferred into my name before he died and that thankfully his creditors couldn’t touch. Perhaps it was just as well that Robert had died before he knew the full extent of the damage his business manager had done to all his hard-earned savings.
Then, just two weeks ago, an electrical fire had started in the kitchen. Fortunately, Dennis had put it out before it had taken hold. We subsequently discovered that the hotel wiring hadn’t been updated for over forty years and that it couldn’t support most of our new appliances.
By some miracle, we managed to find a local electrical company, Quick & Sons, who agreed to rewire the one branch circuit that mattered until we could afford to do the rest, but the process had been incredibly disruptive. Right now the kitchen, reception area and Residents’ Lounge resembled a building site and, with the open house just over a week away, I was worried we’d never be ready in time.
“Speak of the devil,” muttered Ollie just as Dennis, a burly man in his fifties with closely cropped hair and a military bearing, strode toward us. He was wearing his civvy street uniform of formal black jacket and red polka-dot tie.
Dennis had worked at the hotel for years and stayed on when Margot and I took over. He had been fiercely loyal to Cador’s father, Jago, and it was only during these past few weeks that he had warmed to us as he realized we weren’t planning on making drastic changes to the spirit of the hotel.
“I thought you’d like to know that I just got a call from Cador Ferris,” said Dennis. “He received my email about the wreck and is on his way back. If he makes all his connections, his ETA will be between sixteen and seventeen hundred hours on Sunday afternoon.”
“That’s great news.” I was pleased, as the list of things to discuss with Cador was growing longer by the day. Gesturing to Ollie, I added, “Ollie needs the keys for the Sandpiper and PO Box. He’s running an errand for me.”
Dennis’s hazel eyes narrowed. “But I gave him the key two days ago.”
“Oh right, yeah. You did.” Ollie flashed a smile. “I think I left it in the glove box on the boat—”
“Then you’d better go and get it,” said Dennis.
“Can’t you just give me the spare?” Ollie demanded. “I’m in a bit of a hurry and by the time I’ve gone down to the causeway and—”
“Just give him the spare, Dennis,” I said. “Ollie will give both boat keys back to you when he returns. Right, Ollie?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die,” said Ollie with a grin.
Dennis gave a grunt that implied he was not amused. “Margot is looking for you. She’s in reception.”
“Will you let her know I’m out here?”
Dennis nodded and strode away, with Ollie hurrying to keep up with his long strides.
My thoughts automatically turned to Cador.
Following Jago’s death and the decision of his mother, Tegan, to live in Germany with her first love, who was undergoing treatment for cancer, Cador had inherited the island of Tregarrick. Luckily for us, he wasn’t interested in running the hotel, which was why Margot and I had been able to lease it for a peppercorn rent with the proviso that we handled the miscellaneous “repairs.” Unfortunately, those repairs were proving to be far more expensive than either of us had predicted.
The enormity of what Margot and I had taken on hit me afresh. We had jumped at the opportunity for a new start far away from her old life in Hollywood and mine in Kent. Although we still loved this corner of paradise and were determined to make it work, I knew that Margot had been having second thoughts, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had them, too.
We were no strangers to the hospitality trade. Our parents had run a guesthouse in Hove for years before they both died; I had worked at the Red Fox art gallery in Soho until I married Robert, and Margot had moved to Los Angeles with her producer husband, Brian, where she’d run an independent film production company and rubbed shoulders with Hollywood celebrities.
And then, all of a sudden, everything changed. Robert died and Brian divorced Margot and a few months later, here we were running a crumbling Art Deco hotel twenty-eight miles off the southwest Cornish peninsula.
We must have been mad, I thought. But then, as I perched on the edge of a stone planter, I took in the magnificent views and remembered why I had fallen in love with Tregarrick Rock in the first place.
It was no more than an islet, connected to the island of Tregarrick by a tidal causeway that took about fifteen minutes to cross on foot or by sea tractor. For an islet so small, the topography couldn’t be more diverse.
On one side, broad terraces of subtropical plants, lofty California pines and holm oaks crept up the hillside to meet William’s Wood, a dense forest of evergreens that provided a shelterbelt to the eastern elements. There was also a Bronze Age burial chamber set into the hillside.
William’s Wood overlooked Tregarrick Sound toward the neighboring island of Bryher. Below was Seal Cove, aptly named for the seals that loved to bask on the rocky outcrops. On the same side was the Mermaid Lagoon, a saltwater swimming pool cradled in a natural rock formation and accessed down a steep flight of stone steps from the rear of the hotel.
Moving to the center of the island was a dell, or grassy basin. Enclosed by lush plants, it was laid to lawn and dotted with a handful of topiaries in exotic shapes. A box hedge archway opened onto one of my favorite places—the Galleon Garden of ships’ figureheads. Many of them had been salvaged from the surrounding ocean floor.
Beyond the dell was a lake, bordered by tall pampas grass and reeds that hid a wooden bird hide. Scilly was a well-known stopping place for migrating birds and a paradise for bird-watching—something I had recently discovered and loved to do.
To the west stretched a rugged coastline blanketed with gorse and bracken that reminded me of the Scottish Highlands, complete with a ruined watchtower that perched majestically on the bluff. It had been a place of refuge for the Royalists seeking sanctuary during the English Civil War.
Finally, there was Windward Point Lighthouse right on the northernmost tip of the island—the perfect logo for our hotel stationery.
The beauty of our new home, and all the renovations we had made so far, had helped diminish the harrowing events of the past few months. The loss of my adored Robert was becoming more bearable.
For the first time in years I had taken out my camera again. It was one of the many things I had enjoyed doing before I had married, and had willingly—though unconsciously—put aside in favor of spending time with Robert. Now I was on a voyage of self-rediscovery and although there were times when my sadness was overwhelming, the magic of Tregarrick Rock had become my sanctuary.
Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true for my sister. She was impulsive and headstrong, and I’d been worried about her abrupt decision to quit Hollywood and move here. I knew that she missed her life in Los Angeles, and any day I expected her to announce that she was going back to California.
“Hey, sis. There you are!”
I hadn’t heard Margot’s footsteps as she approached. Wrapped in a cherry-red cashmere shawl, she waved a clear plastic folder at me. “Kim’s magic checklist!” Margot picked up the kneeler, carefully balanced it on the planter next to mine and took a seat.
“You shouldn’t sit on a cold surface,” she scolded. “You’ll get hemorrhoids.”
“That’s an old wives’ tale,” I said.
“Maybe.” She grinned. “But is it worth the risk?”
I regarded my big sister with relief. Her eyes sparkled and she actually seemed cheerful.
Margot had evidently spent the morning touching up her roots—she was not a natural blond. I had wondered what she had been up to and was pleased at this display of vanity. Margot—usually high-maintenance—hadn’t bothered with her appearance for weeks.
“Good job with the hair,” I said. “That explains what you were doing.”
“Well, that, and finalizing the plans with Kim for our open house.” Kim Winters was our new super-efficient cook-cum-housekeeper-cum-marketing guru. With her obsessive attention to detail, she and Dennis had turned out to be the perfect team to manage the hotel. “Take a look.”
Under the heading Open House, Saturday, March 28th, ten p.m. to six p.m. was a long list of items, including hiring a calligrapher, writing the labels for the arts and crafts exhibition, setting up the garden furniture on the terrace and confirming local sponsorships for the finger foods and beverages. Most items had been ticked off as completed, except for three major jobs—sorting out the flower beds and planters on the terrace; rewiring and repainting the kitchen, ground-floor reception area and Residents’ Lounge; and hanging the art we’d sourced from local artists.
“I think we’re nearly there,” Margot declared.
“I think ‘nearly there’ is rather optimistic,” I said gloomily. “Have you been in the Residents’ Lounge today? You can’t just slap on new paint. It will need to be completely replastered first. Quick & Sons are definitely not living up to their name. They’re so slow!”
“Well, Kim suggested a painting party,” said Margot. “What do you think?”
“A painting party?” I regarded her with amusement. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you hold a paintbrush.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” she said. “And I know that Louise won’t mind.”
“Louise?” I said. “Who is Louise?”
Margot looked uncomfortable. “Now, before you freak out, let me explain . . .”
Copyright © 2020 by Hannah Dennison
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...