Flip-Flops and Murder: Barefoot Sleuth Mysteries, Book 1
English girl Ellie is a 'fish-out-of-water' when she arrives in sunny Florida for a vacation with her aunt at a luxury beach resort. But she's barely dipped her toe in the ocean before she stumbles on a sinister murder. Now Ellie must battle sunburn, jet lag and a cheeky parrot named Hemingway, while trying to unravel the mystery. With a writers' conference in full flow, there's no shortage of suspects. Is the killer a jealous rival author? Or the victim's secret lover? And why are some of the resort staff behaving so suspiciously?
To make things worse, Aunt Olive has gone missing, fueling gossip that she might be on the run. But Ellie is sure that her aunt isn't guilty. Life gets even more complicated when she starts snooping around the resort. First there's the resident cat Mojito, who leads Ellie on a wild 'gator' chase, and then there's the handsome resort doctor who sets Ellie's pulse racing in a different way! As more red herrings than sand dollars wash up on the beach, Ellie must use all her wits to solve the case before her visit to the Sunshine State becomes deadlier than she ever imagined...
Welcome to the deadliest beach resort in Florida - in bestselling author H.Y. Hanna's new mystery series!
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: August 1, 2020
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Print pages: 222
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Flip-Flops and Murder: Barefoot Sleuth Mysteries, Book 1
“MIND THE GAP! DOORS… CLOSING…”
Ellie Bishop raced for the platform just as the shrill beep-beep-beep signal sounded, warning of the train doors closing. She hopped on board with a second to spare and sagged against the wall with a sigh of relief. If she had missed this train, she would probably have had to wait another ten minutes before another one came past the station.
That was the problem with living in the outer suburbs. If she had been at one of the stations in central London, there would have been a lot more trains, especially at this time of the morning rush hour. But Ellie didn’t have much choice: last month, instead of producing the ring that she had been expecting, her boyfriend of three years had instead confessed that he had been seeing someone else behind her back. Ellie had stormed out of their shared apartment and—with minimal savings and no place of her own—had been forced to move back in with her parents.
Still, she should hardly complain, she admitted. After all, she was lucky to have parents who were happy to take her in, and their home was a comfortable townhouse in a respectable, middle class neighborhood. But ask any twenty-something and they’ll tell you that it's pretty tough moving back to live with your parents when you’ve been used to your independence. Especially when your parents didn't approve of your life choices!
Ellie sighed as she thought of the argument she'd had at breakfast with her parents that morning:
“When are you going to get a real job?” her father had asked.
“What d’you mean? I do have a real job," Ellie answered. “I'm a receptionist at a publishing company.”
“A temporary receptionist,” said her father, glowering at her. “This is the sixth temp job you've had this year.”
“Temping is a very respectable way of earning money,” said Ellie defensively.
“It’s not a career, dear. There’s no stability,” her mother complained, passing the butter. “You need a job that will give you security—the kind that your father and I have.”
Ellie pulled a face. The last thing she wanted was to be a banker like her father or a teacher like her mother. Sure, they were respectable, stable jobs, but she couldn't think of anything more boring.
“Look at your sister…” her mother had continued and Ellie had swallowed a sigh. She should have known that her parents would bring Karen up at some point. Her elder sister was the poster child for “responsible adulthood.” Still just in her early thirties, Karen had already achieved a senior position in a reputable law firm, was happily married, and had two well-behaved, beautifully groomed children in an elite primary school. Her life was balanced, secure, and mapped out to the last minute.
Now, as Ellie leaned against the side of the train, she grimaced again as she thought of her sister. Karen was everything that she was not and could never hope to be. Nor do I want to be! Ellie thought mutinously. She sighed as she turned to look out of the train window. There was nothing to see, of course, except the walls of the tunnel as the train rattled through London's underground system. The darkened windows reflected her own face back at her and Ellie stared at her reflection: the small snub nose with its smattering of freckles, the generous mouth and wide brown eyes, and the tangle of curly brown hair which refused to be tamed no matter how much she tried with straightening tongs. She knew she didn’t have the kind of face that could grace fashion magazines, the kind of face that belonged to models who traveled the world and visited exotic places… and yet that was exactly the kind of life she yearned for.
Well, maybe not traveling the world, but at least traveling somewhere away from London, thought Ellie with a wistful sigh.
While her parents wanted her to settle down to a safe, stable job, what she really wanted was adventure: the chance to live in another country, experience another culture, learn new things, meet new people; to feel that there was more to life than just this nine-to-five grind.
The train stopped at another station and the doors flew open. Ellie was jostled and shoved against the wall of the compartment as more commuters piled in with their bulky winter coats and heavy bags and knapsacks. The windows began steaming up with all the bodies inside and Ellie wrinkled her nose at the smell of damp wool mixed with hair spray, deodorant, and various other odors that resulted from human bodies packed close together. She closed her eyes and imagined herself on a beautiful beach instead, with sparkling blue water, white sand between her toes, and a breeze blowing gently through nearby palm trees… the fragrance of plumeria… the warmth of sunshine on her face…
“DOORS… CLOSING… Beep-beep-beep-beep—”
Ellie's eyes flew open and she gasped as she realized that she had been so immersed in her daydream, she had completely missed the train arriving at her station.
“Sorry! Excuse me!” she cried, pushing her way through the crowd of bodies.
She jumped off the train just as the doors slid shut behind her, narrowly missing the hem of her coat. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ellie shouldered her bag and hurried through the station and onto the street, making her way to the small educational publisher that she worked for. The phone was already ringing when she arrived at the reception desk. Hastily, she dropped her bag on the chair and shrugged out of her coat before answering the call. For the next hour and a half, Ellie took inquiries, redirected calls to various departments, greeted visitors, and signed for deliveries. She was glad to take a break at 10:30 a.m. for morning tea. Claire, one of the secretaries, came to cover the phones for her and, even after Ellie returned from the kitchen, she hung around, obviously interested in gossip.
“Got anything nice planned for Christmas?” she asked as she moved aside for Ellie to resume her seat behind the reception desk.
Ellie shook her head. “No, not really. It’s still over a month away—”
“Yeah, but you’ve got to have something to look forward to, don’t you?” said Claire, pouting. “I hate this time of year! Everything’s already getting so dark and gray and cold. Wouldn't you love to be able to go away every winter to somewhere warm and nice?”
“Of course, who wouldn’t? But unless we win the lottery, that’s not going to happen anytime soon,” said Ellie.
“Somewhere really warm and sunny…” continued Claire dreamily. “Like the Maldives… or the Bahamas… or even Florida. Wouldn’t you love to be starting each morning with a swim in lovely warm water instead of a boring commute?”
“Well, I would… if I could swim!” said Ellie with a chuckle.
“You can’t swim?”
Ellie shook her head. “Never really learnt. Oh, I went with my school class for lessons at the local pool, but I hated it and never even learned to float. I always—”
She broke off as the office doors opened and a courier stepped into the reception foyer. He came up to the desk, holding an official-looking document envelope. Ellie took the clipboard he handed her and signed for it absent-mindedly. She recognized the courier as one of the regulars and smiled at him, saying, “Another one for the directors?”
“No, actually it's for…” The courier turned the envelope around to read the name on the front. “For an Elinor Bishop.”
“For me?” Ellie said in surprise. Who on earth would be sending her something by DHL?
“Well, go on… open it!” said Claire eagerly after the courier had left.
Ellie slit the envelope open and drew out a sheet of hand-written letter paper, together with a printed confirmation page from a travel agency. Her eyes widened as she saw the airline logo.
“Oh my God, it's a plane ticket!” gasped Claire, leaning over Ellie’s shoulder to look. “A ticket to a beach resort in Florida! You lucky cow! Who sent you that?”
Ellie shook her head in bewilderment. Then she unfolded the letter and instantly recognized the bold scrawl. It belonged to Aunt Olive, her father’s much older—and much more eccentric—sister. Ellie’s face broke into a smile. Aunt Olive was the only person in her family who had ever understood her. Well, it was hardly surprising considering that Aunt Olive was pretty unconventional herself. Ignoring all the usual expectations to marry, settle down, and have a family, Aunt Olive had remained a free spirit indulging in a succession of romantic liaisons until well into her forties. Then, just when everyone had thought that they couldn’t be scandalized any further, she had met and married a rich American thirty years her senior. And when he died several years later, leaving her a very wealthy widow, Aunt Olive had decided to embark on a career as a mystery author. Much to the surprise of all her sneering, skeptical friends and relatives, she had become very successful and her books were now widely published and sold all over the world.
Aunt Olive also happened to be Ellie's godmother and ever since she was a little girl, Ellie had always looked forward to her aunt’s visits. She didn't come to visit often but when she did, Aunt Olive always brought all sorts of wonderful gifts and fascinating games and ideas. To Ellie, her aunt had always seemed like a fairy godmother, who brought excitement and magic into her life.
And she’s still doing it now, thought Ellie, grinning as she looked down at the letter in her hands. Her aunt had sent Ellie an invitation to join her in the Sunshine State.
I thought you might like to escape the dreary English weather for a while. So why don’t you come and join me? I’m here for a writer’s conference starting this weekend but I'm planning to stay on after that, spend the winter here. This resort is a fabulous place—you’d love it! You’re welcome to stay as long as you like—it’s my treat. Stay for Christmas and the New Year! I’ve got a two-room suite. Come whenever you’re free. The ticket is flexible. I shall look forward to expecting you.
“Florida?” Mrs. Bishop stared at Ellie in astonishment.
“Yes, Aunt Olive sent me a ticket," said Ellie. “It’s flexible—I can go any time I want and it’s easy to get a single seat on most flights. In fact, I rang the travel agency and checked: I can go this weekend! And Aunt Olive says I can stay as long as I like. She’s planning to spend the winter there, so she’s invited me to stay until the new year if I like.”
“Are you mad?” asked her father, frowning at her over the top of his cereal bowl. “What about your job? You've only been working at this company for a couple of months. It’s hardly the time to start gallivanting off to the other side of the world!”
“But Dad, it’s not a permanent position. In fact, my temp contract ends this week. I could be looking for a new temping job next week anyway.”
Ellie didn't tell him that the publishing company had, in fact, offered to renew her contract. But the thought of having to spend the coming cold, dreary months behind that reception desk, when she could be in sunny Florida instead, just made her heart sink.
“I don't know what Olive is playing at,” growled her father. “Sending an invitation like this to a young girl like you… She’s always encouraging you in reckless behavior!”
“I think she's being very generous, Dad,” Ellie protested. “I mean, it’s an amazing offer. I’d be mad not to take it up! Who would turn down the chance for an all-expenses-paid holiday in Florida?”
“Yes, but life isn't just about having holidays,” tutted Mr. Bishop. “What about your job? What about your career?”
“What career?” said Ellie with a shrug. “I don't really have one! You said so yourself: I’ve just been doing a series of temp jobs.”
“Well, you’ll never have one if you go running off to Florida with Olive,” said her father.
“Ellie, dear, you have to remember—you're not like your aunt,” said her mother in a gentler tone. “Olive is a rich widow. She doesn't have to worry about earning a living, so she can afford to treat life as a long holiday.”
“Aunt Olive earns a very good living from her books,” said Ellie.
“Yes, but the point is she doesn't need to,” said her father. “I should know—I'm the one looking after her finances! If she never sold another book tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter. She could live comfortably to the end of her days. But it’s not the same for you. You haven’t got a big inheritance to rely on.” He looked at his daughter in exasperation. “Ellie, how many times have I told you how important it is to be financially independent?”
“Yes, I know, Dad, and I agree, but can't you try to see it from my point of view for a change? I'm only twenty-six! I’ve still got my whole life ahead of me, to settle down and get a stable job and whatever. I’ve got the chance to have an adventure now; a few more months won’t matter.” She gave him a persuasive smile. “I'll be back in the new year and I’ll look for a proper job then—I promise. Besides, this will give me a chance to ‘get it out of my system.’ You know how I’ve always desperately wanted to travel and live somewhere overseas… Well, this is the perfect opportunity! Maybe I’ll even pick up some skills that will make me even more employable when I get back.”
Her father looked at her for a long moment. Finally, he sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Well, you’re an adult now, Ellie, so at the end of the day, it’s your decision. And yes, I suppose you're right: you are very lucky to have an aunt who can fund a holiday like this. I suppose it would be silly not to take advantage of the opportunity. And maybe it would be good for you to travel a bit, see the world—”
“What about accommodation?” Mrs. Bishop spoke up. “Did you say you’re going to be staying at a beach resort?”
Ellie nodded eagerly. “Yes! The travel agency told me about the place and I looked it up online. It’s gorgeous! Right on the beach, with a huge pool and everything. It’s called the Sunset Palms Beach Resort.”
“And what about spending money?”
“I’ve got a bit of savings, and the travel agent told me that Aunt Olive’s package at the resort is all-inclusive of meals and activities. So it’s really shopping for some personal things, like toiletries and clothes, and I’m sure everything is cheaper in America,” said Ellie blithely. “I’ll be fine until the new year.”
“Well, your father and I had a small amount saved up. We were planning to buy you something nice for Christmas, but seeing as you'll be off in Florida, perhaps it will be more useful if we give you the money to spend while you're there. I know your aunt is very generous and always likes to lavish gifts on you, but you mustn’t abuse her generosity.”
“Oh Mum!” said Ellie, surprised and touched. “Thank you! That’s so sweet of you! Thanks, Mum! Thanks, Dad!” She sprang up, beaming, and hurried to hug both her parents. Then she paused and looked at them uncertainly. “Erm… you don’t mind me spending Christmas and New Year there, do you? I know we normally all come back here for Christmas lunch, with Karen and Geoff and the kids, but it would just be this year—”
“That’s all right, dear,” said her mother with a smile. “Your father and I were actually thinking of going on a cruise. Yes, we’re trying new things too! We’d seen one that we like the look of: it’s a week around the Mediterranean and it looks fabulous. It departs on Boxing Day, which would mean that we’d be leaving you all the day after Christmas lunch anyway. So if you’re going to be away, then that could work out very well. I’m sure Karen won’t mind if we have a simpler Christmas celebration this year.”
The rest of the week dragged by for Ellie. She could barely keep her mind on her work at the office. All she could think about was the upcoming trip to Florida. She had already packed and repacked her case multiple times—not that there was much to choose from in her wardrobe. Most of her nicer things were for colder weather and her shorts, tank tops, and T-shirts were all old and faded. She decided to use a bit of her recent wages to treat herself to a new summer wardrobe. So after work on Thursday, Ellie headed to Oxford Street, the main retail strip in central London, for some last-minute shopping. Unfortunately, she’d forgotten that fashion follows the seasons and since the U.K. was heading into winter, the racks were full of woolly sweaters, fleecy tops, and thick trousers. Finally, Ellie decided that she might as well wait until she got to Florida.
So she returned home empty-handed and packed the newest T-shirts she could find, along with a couple of denim skirts and shorts, and a few sundresses as well. As for her old swimming suit… Ellie examined it critically: it was faded from chlorine and the elastic along its edges was stretched and loose. She made a face and dropped it back into the drawer. She’d buy herself a nice, new bikini when she got to Florida, she decided with a smile. Something to help her get that beautiful tan she’d always wanted!
The night before her flight, Ellie could barely sleep, and by the time she was boarding the plane at London Gatwick Airport the next evening, she was nearly bursting with pent-up excitement. She had been on a plane before, of course, but only for short trips to Europe: a school trip to France, or a weekend in Spain with her ex-boyfriend. This seemed very different, very grown up, to be flying across the Atlantic.
Ellie spent most of the long flight daydreaming about her destination. She wasn’t flying into Miami, as she had originally expected, but to Tampa, a bustling city on Florida's west coast, perched on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The travel agent had organized a car to pick her up from Tampa International Airport and take her to the resort, situated on a beach farther down the coast.
Ellie had been busy doing some online research in the evenings and she knew that the Tampa Bay area had a humid, subtropical climate, with hurricanes common in the wet season. But she was relieved to discover that November signaled the start of the dry season, with lovely, mild, sunny days and Fahrenheit temperatures rarely dipping below the sixties. When she thought of the wet and cold that she was leaving behind in London, Ellie couldn’t help grinning. She couldn’t wait to arrive and feel the sun on her face!
It was an overnight flight but, although she tried several times, Ellie just couldn’t go to sleep. When she finally dozed off, she was woken up barely twenty minutes later by the sound of the captain’s voice announcing that the plane would be landing at Tampa International Airport soon. Sitting up, Ellie rubbed her eyes and raised the window shade, looking eagerly out of the window. She was met by a vision of white clouds in a pale blue sky. It was just after 6 a.m. in Florida and the sun was creeping over the horizon.
Ellie looked down and gasped with delight as she took in the view: the dazzling blue water of Tampa Bay, with the surrounding tree-covered peninsulas extending into the bay and the occasional sandbar visible from the air. She could see channels and waterways, and beautiful little islands, and even boats like white specks in the water. Everything was so green and blue and lush and vivid… it was like looking at a postcard.
Ellie smiled to herself: Florida, here I come!
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