A heartwarming cozy mystery series about losing everything, taking a chance, and starting again.
After suffering a personal tragedy Abby Sullivan buys a huge old seaside mansion she has never even seen, packs up her life in San Francisco, and moves to Holiday Bay Maine, where she is adopted, quite against her will, by a huge Maine Coon Cat named Rufus, a drifter with her own tragic past named Georgia, and a giant dog with an inferiority complex named Ramos. What Abby thought she needed was alone time to heal. What she ended up with was, an inn she never knew she wanted, a cat she couldn't seem to convince to leave, and a new family she'd never be able to live without.
In book 11 in the series, there is a new murder to investigate when a friend of Nikki's turns up dead. It seems that the death might be tied in with ghostly happenings at a new art gallery in town but there are problems with that theory as well.
Meanwhile, a whole new group of guests check in including a man in town to investigate a century old murder and a woman seeking answers to her past.
Release date: August 25, 2020
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 141
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Ghost in the Gallery
The shadowy figure rode in from the sea on a blanket of fog so thick I could barely make out the edge of the cliff just feet from where I stood. Peering into the night, I tried to locate the apparition I’d seen from my bedroom window, which really hadn’t manifested as much more than a wispy silhouette drifting through the murky night. Standing perfectly still as the heavy mist settled around me, I waited for my midnight visitor to appear once again.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen ghostly apparitions in the night sky, and I suspected it wouldn’t be the last. Initially, I’d been terrified by the strange shapes outside my window, but I’d eventually realized the shadowy images were simply illusions created by the beacon from the distant lighthouse as it rotated to warn boats in the area of the outcropping of rocky shoreline. Once the light passed, the darkness again closed in around me.
Although I understood the source of the images, they still fascinated me. I supposed walking around in a fog bank wasn’t the best idea, but when the shapes appeared, I found myself compelled to take a closer look, inching ever closer to the edge of the bluff and the steep drop off to the rocks below. I often wondered if the images in the night didn’t have some sort of hypnotic effects like the sirens of mythology who’d lure and compel humans to perform drastic acts to prove their love and devotion. The concept might seem fanciful, but something had lured me from my bed and out into the cold and damp night.
Taking a final peek into the murkiness as the steady blast from the foghorn competed with the thunder of waves crashing on rocks below the bluff, I turned and made my way back toward my little cottage. After opening the glass entry, I was greeted by my cat, Rufus, and dog, Molly, as I stepped into my bedroom. I considered going back to bed when I heard a noise from the main living area of the cottage. I crossed the room and opened the bedroom door to find my best friend, roommate, and business partner, Georgia Carter, in the kitchen.
“Hey, Abby. Did I wake you?” she asked as I joined her.
“No, I was awake.”
“I’m making tea. Would you like some?”
I answered that I would.
“That was quite some story Alaric told at dinner,” Georgia said as she set the water to boil.
“Yes, it really was,” I agreed as I crossed the room to click on the gas fireplace and the orange lights Georgia and I had strewn across the mantel and around the room in anticipation of the upcoming Halloween holiday. Settling onto the sofa, I let my mind wander to our newest guest and the conversation that had been generated after he’d explained his reason for visiting Holiday Bay.
Alaric Banning had arrived at the inn just as the sun set beyond the horizon. He’d booked a suite for two weeks beginning today and running through October twenty-second. I wondered why he would leave before our annual murder mystery dinner on the twenty-fourth, and he informed me that his visit had been scheduled to coincide with the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of his great-grandfather, Cedric Banning, on October twenty-first. A century-old anniversary sounded intriguing, so I’d invited him to share his story with the group over dinner.
As the appetizers were served, Alaric shared that his father, Lucas Banning, had died just over a year ago, leaving behind a house full of items in need of sorting and disposal. While weeding through the attic, Alaric found several boxes of items that appeared to have been handed down by Banning relatives. One of the items was a diary written by his great-grandfather, Cedric Banning. The diary contained a detailed accounting of the last year of the man’s life, including his thoughts, dreams, and fears, as well as an accounting of his death, written by Cedric in the weeks leading up to his final day on earth.
During the soup course, Alaric shared that Cedric had originally moved to the area from Philadelphia when he was just nineteen with the intention of opening the first newspaper in the newly developed settlement of Holiday Bay. He’d set up shop in a little building in the early nineteen hundreds where he continued to deliver the news until he died in nineteen twenty. Cedric was thirty-two at the time of his death. He left behind a young son, Owen, and wife, Arianna.
The really interesting twist to Cedric’s story involved the journal entries he’d written during the last weeks of his life. Based on the content of the pages he’d penned, it appeared that he’d known his time on this earthly plane was coming to an end and even seemed to have known how he would die. There were journal entries about losing his mortal life to the sea, and in fact, Cedric had been found dead on the rocks at the foot of the bluff just beyond the inn where I had been lured many times in the past.
“So this man, your great-grandfather, predicted his own death?” Beverly Hawthorn, the guest who was staying in suite two, had asked the question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind once Alaric had laid out the details for his visit.
“That seems to have been the case,” Alaric had answered, leaning back in his chair and pausing to look at each guest.
“He must have committed suicide,” Beverly had said.
“I thought that at first,” Alaric had agreed. “The journal entries start out optimistic and hopeful, but they seemed to grow darker toward the end. The idea that Cedric had simply become depressed and taken his own life had occurred to me. Actually, the text reads as if he jumped to his death, and had planned to do so from the beginning, which would explain the imagery of the water washing over his lifeless body. I was curious about the specifics of his death, so I did some additional research. While the newspaper Cedric founded here in Holiday Bay only mentioned that his body had been found at the bottom of the bluff, I found a very short article in the Bar Harbor newspaper that mentioned that Cedric had been stabbed in the back before finding eternal peace at the bottom of the bluff just north of Holiday Bay.”
“I guess a stab to the back would indicate murder,” Beverly had agreed. “But if the man predicted that he was going to be murdered, why didn’t he do something to stop it? Why wouldn’t he call local law enforcement? Or confront his killer? Or, at the very least, leave the area? Why would he just wait for the end to come?”
“I don’t know,” Alaric had admitted. “I’ve gone over the diary numerous times, but there is so much he didn’t say. There are many hints at a truth that’s never defined, and so many subtle clues that don’t really come together. It’s all rather vague.”
“Were you able to get your hands on a police report?” Arthur Hannigan, a retired professor of mathematics who was staying with us through the weekend, had asked.
“No,” Alaric had answered. “The reason I came to Holiday Bay before the anniversary of his death is to look into the circumstances surrounding my great-grandfather’s death. I know he died a long time ago, and the odds of finding anything relevant probably aren’t great, but Cedric was a newspaperman, and he was known in the area. I figure there must be a paper trail of some sort. Or perhaps an oral history passed down by those who knew him. I’m not overly optimistic, but I do hope that by the end of my two weeks, I’ll have a better understanding of the man, and perhaps have answers as to what actually happened to him.”
“Maybe a séance,” Agatha Lovington, an artist in her sixties who was here for the weekend, had suggested.
“I think perhaps you’ve been watching too many movies,” Arthur had chuckled.
“I’d be up for it if you decide to go that route,” Chelsea Conner, another weekend guest in town to do some shopping and sightseeing, had offered.
“Seems time spent in the town archives would be a better use of your time,” Chelsea’s husband, Ivan, had offered. “Or perhaps a search of the archives at the local newspaper. I assume it still exists.”
Alaric had picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth before continuing. “The newspaper does still exist. My great-grandfather had a business partner named Jasmine Star. She took over the daily operation of the newspaper after Cedric died. She’s long dead, of course, but her granddaughter, Naya, is still living in the area. I’m hoping she will be willing to speak to me, and I’m hoping that her grandmother told her something about the man who built the little newspaper she inherited.”
“So Jasmine, not Cedric’s wife, inherited the newspaper?” Ivan had asked.
“Based on what I’ve been able to uncover, that seems to be the case,” Alaric had answered. He’d paused and then continued. “To be honest, based on what I’ve uncovered to date, I have many unanswered questions. I have the diary, which provides a lot of information, including daily entries during the final two weeks of Cedric’s life, which are recorded from his own perspective. In addition to talking about the end being near during this time, he talks about other things as well. His daily thoughts, a recounting of the tasks he completed, those sorts of things.” He’d taken a breath before continuing. “I also have a newspaper article written by Jasmine a few days after Cedric died. Given the fact that she knew the man she was writing about, I found it to be incomplete and much too factual. This made me wonder.”
“What do you mean?” Chelsea had asked.
“My great-grandfather was a man she’d known and worked with. The man who’d founded the business she’d inherited. This leads me to believe they must have been close, but the article is short and to the point. The article was really more of an obituary which stated that Cedric Banning, the founder of the newspaper and a resident of the settlement of Holiday Bay, had died and would be remembered by those he left behind. It then listed his wife and son as well as a few key residents of the town he served. Jasmine didn’t offer any sort of personal grief, nor did she offer an explanation as to what might have happened or how he might have died.”
“So you plan to find that out for yourself,” Agatha had stated.
“I’m going to try,” he’d said.
“It seems like an ambitious goal,” commented the middle-aged woman staying in suite one. “I mean, it has been a hundred years, and you really have very little to go on.”
“I have a place to start,” Alaric had said. “I’m hoping that’s enough.”
The dinner conversation had segued at that point into talk of the upcoming weekend’s events both at the inn and in town. A lot was going on now that leaf season had peaked, and the exhibits, festivals, and other special events offered were plentiful. Everyone present planned to take in as many of the fall festivals and events as they had time to fit into their busy schedules.
Georgia handed me my cup of tea and then settled onto the sofa next to me, pulling an afghan over her legs. “You seem to be deep in thought. Is everything okay?” she asked as my attention was brought back to the present.
“Everything is fine,” I answered. “I was just thinking about the story Alaric told at dinner. How about you? Anything on your mind?”
“No, not really,” she answered, stirring a cinnamon stick around in her tea.
“Is everything okay with Cooking with Georgia?” I asked, wondering what had her up in the middle of the night in the first place.
“Everything is great,” she answered, a smile forming at the corners of her mouth. “My ratings are better than ever, and there is even talk of daily syndication.”
“Daily syndication. Wow. That would be a huge commitment.”
“Which is why I told them I wasn’t interested in something like that. I like working here at the inn, and I love my life the way it is. I’m not looking to change things at this point.”
“I get that. I feel the same way.”
“I wish Tanner understood that as well,” she sighed.
Ah. I suspected we’d worked our way around to the real reason Georgia was making tea in the middle of the night. Tanner Peyton was our neighbor and Georgia’s boyfriend.
“Is everything okay between the two of you?” I asked.
She paused before answering. I couldn’t help but notice the tears that seemed to well behind her eyes. “Things are a bit tense,” she confided. “I’m sure we’ll iron things out, but for the first time since we started dating, I feel like we’re in different places in our relationship.”
“He wants to slow things down?”
“Speed things up,” she corrected. “He suggested that it might be time to talk about getting married.”
“I see. And you aren’t ready for that?”
“I’m not. The thing is that we’ve had this talk in the past, and he knows how I feel about getting into another serious relationship after what my ex-husband put me through, so I’m not sure why he’s bringing it up now.”
“Did you ask him why he’s bringing it up now?”
“Not in so many words,” she admitted. “But he knows where I stand. I love Tanner. We have a lot of fun together, and since he lives next door, we actually spend a lot of time together. Neither of us is interested in dating anyone else. I really don’t understand why he would bring up the idea of changing things at this point.”
“Do you think children might be the issue?” I remembered the very serious talk I’d had with my own guy friend, Police Chief Colt Wilder, about this very subject not all that long ago.
She frowned. “Do you think Tanner wants children?”
“He doesn’t have any, and you’re both in your prime childbearing and rearing years.”
Georgia bit her lower lip but didn’t reply.
“I don’t know if having children is at the heart of Tanner’s desire to discuss marriage, but it does seem that the two of you might need to have a heart to heart talk,” I added.
“Yeah,” Georgia sighed. “I guess you’re right. When he brought up the subject of marriage, I basically freaked out and bolted. He’s called me a few times since then, but I’ve managed to avoid him by staying busy. I guess I owe it to him to find out exactly what’s on his mind.”
Rufus jumped into my lap, and I began scratching him under the chin. “Having the talk about how you each see your future can be difficult,” I said, remembering my talk with Colt. “But in the end, I think it’s the only way to go if you want to maintain what you have.”
She took a sip of her tea. “How are things going with Colt?”
I shrugged. “Things are the same. We’ve agreed to be friends at this point, and the discussion of moving our relationship into a more intimate territory has been tabled. He’s made it clear how he feels about children, so I suppose the ball is in my court to really figure out how I feel. After suffering the heartache of Johnathan’s death, I don’t think I want to have another child, so Colt’s not wanting any shouldn’t be a problem. But, having said that, I’ve really given very little thought to having another child so imagining that I won’t want to be a mother again really isn’t knowing. I suppose I owe it to Colt to take the time to consider his questions in depth. I value my relationship with Colt and don’t want to mess up what we have, so I’ve decided to let things sit for a while and see how this unfolds.”
“That’s probably wise.” Glancing at the clock, Georgia stood. “I guess I should try to get a few hours of sleep before I need to get up to see to breakfast.”
“Maybe Jeremy can handle it,” I suggested.
“I’m sure he would if I’d asked him to, but it’s the middle of the night. I can’t really call him now and ask him to plan to take care of the cooking before he takes Annabelle to school.” She yawned. “I’ll be fine. I can always take a nap if I need to. Everyone who is going to be with us for the weekend has already checked in, so I won’t have arrivals to worry about, and no one is checking out until Sunday afternoon or early Monday morning.”
“Is Amy still coming next week?” I asked. Amy Hogan was a returning guest who’d first come to Holiday Bay to work with Georgia. Amy dreamed of being a chef, and in her mind, Georgia was the best, so she planned to take advantage of every chance she could to work with Georgia.
“Amy will be here on Tuesday, and she plans to stay for two weeks. We have another guest, Ainsley Holloway, checking in on Monday. Ainsley will only be with us for four nights since the inn was already booked for the weekend by the time she called for a reservation, but she said that was fine since she was coming to the area to do some research and only needed a few days. The other arrivals next week are all coming in on Friday afternoon.”
“Sounds like a manageable week.”
“It should be.” Georgia took her cup into the kitchen. “Are you still planning to go into town tomorrow?”
“I am. I want to talk to Velma, and Nikki made me promise to stop by the gallery she’s suddenly become so involved with.”
“I’m sure she wants you to meet Damian.”
“Is that the artist she seems to be totally fascinated with?”
Georgia nodded. “I met him a few days ago. He seems nice enough, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy chatting with him, although he is sort of odd. Nikki likes him, though, which has caused her to become hooked into the whole experience. She’s been spending a lot of time at the gallery the past couple of weeks.”
“Well, I’m anxious to see what she’s been up to.”
“I guess there’s some big exhibit coming up either this weekend or the next. I don’t remember which, but Nikki did mention that the event is really a big deal for a town the size of ours.”
“I’m looking forward to checking it out.” I shifted Rufus to the side and stood up. I supposed it was a good idea for me to try to get a few hours of sleep as well. Of course, the memory of the shadowy figure was probably going to haunt my dreams, but I supposed that my dreams had been haunted often enough by real nightmares that I ought to be used to it by now.
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