USA Today Bestselling author Kathi Daley brings you a heartwarming mystery series about finding answers and fostering hope while building friendships and embracing the magic of life by the sea and small town holidays.
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 3 in the series, Ainsley decides to set aside her search for answers to her past and enjoy her first Gooseberry Christmas by volunteering along with the rest of the gang for the Christmas Festival on the boardwalk. Normally Ainsley didn’t bother much with Christmas and all its trappings but this year she is excited to join in as most of the locals are prone to do. Of course it does put a bit of a damper on the festivities when a body is found in the tree lot where the gang had offered to help out, but that doesn’t stop Ainsley from making the most of the season in spite of the crazy investigation she can’t help but get pulled into.
Release date: November 17, 2020
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 127
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Ava is dead. It is best to let her stay that way.
The text I’d received last night from an unknown sender flashed through my mind as I drove toward Adam Winchester’s home on Piney Point for lunch and the research session we’d set up earlier in the week. Before receiving the text, it hadn’t occurred to me that looking for answers to my past might put me in any real danger. I knew that something significant had happened to me as a child. Something life-altering that had resulted in my three-year-old self being left alone and stranded in a burning warehouse on Christmas Eve.
At least that was the story I’d been told by the cop who’d raised me.
That was the story I’d lived my life believing was true even though I had no memory of either the warehouse or the fire.
That was the story I had never doubted until I found a photo of a blond-haired woman with two young children standing on the porch in front of a house I now knew to be the house on Piney Point right here in Gooseberry Bay, Washington.
I’m not sure why the photo had caught my attention, but when I saw the image of the woman with two children standing on a porch overlooking the sea, a door in my mind had begun to open. I started having dreams that felt more like memories, which led to my decision to dig into the truth of my past. Suffice it to say, once I’d started looking, I’d found a number of inconsistencies. It was those inconsistencies that had me heading to the house on Piney Point the day after Thanksgiving.
One of my Bernese Mountain Dogs, Kallie, let out an excited yip as we turned onto the lane that led out to the house on Piney Point. Kai and Kallie had only been here once before, but the trip must have made an impression since both dogs sat up and began wagging their tails once they realized where we were heading. I knew the dogs had enjoyed spending time with Adam’s Tibetan Mastiff, Hitchcock. Or at least it seemed as if they had. In reality, all the dogs had done was sleep by the fire during their last visit, but it seemed like a peaceful and restful sleep.
I slowed as the house appeared on the horizon. I’d spent the morning talking with my new friend, Jemma Hawthorn, a computer genius who’d agreed to trace the source of the text that had caused me to remain sleepless for most of the night. Jemma warned me that if the phone that had sent the text was unregistered, it was unlikely that she’d be able to dig up much that would help us identify the sender, but she agreed to do what she could.
After pulling up in front of the massive mansion, I parked near the front door. As I had before, I got out and knocked on the door before letting the dogs out of the cargo area of my SUV. As he had the last time I’d visited, Adam answered the door personally. This time, Hitchcock was sitting at his side, waiting for his new buddies to come in and play.
“See, Hitchcock, I told you Ainsley was bringing the kids to play with you,” Adam said to his furry companion.
The huge Tibetan Mastiff pushed his nose into my hand in greeting.
“Good morning, Hitchcock,” I said as I scratched him behind the ears and then headed back toward my SUV, opened the hatchback, and let the dogs out. Adam and I stood on the front porch for a few minutes while the dogs greeted each other and ran around. Once the canine buddies had worked off some of their excitement, Adam took my arm and led me inside. The last time the dogs and I had been here, we’d headed upstairs to Adam’s suite of rooms, but this time, Adam escorted us down a hallway, which led to a large room that appeared to have been used as both a library and an office.
“Wow,” I said, taking in the huge rock fireplace, leather sofas, oak desk, and walls layered with floor to ceiling bookshelves. “Was this your dad’s office?”
Adam nodded. “He actually spent a lot of time in here. I think it was his retreat. After he died, I closed the door, and neither Archie nor I have spent much time in here since.”
“Someone has been in to clean,” I said, noticing the dust-free surfaces.
“I had the cleaning crew from town dust and air out the room since I knew we planned to spend time in here today.” Adam led me to a table with two chairs that had been set up in front of the roaring fire. “Ruth prepared soup and sandwiches. I thought we’d just eat in here.”
Adam slid out a chair, and I sat down. There was a silver serving tray in front of each of the chairs. A basket of rolls sat in the center of the small table, and glasses filled with iced tea were to the right of each serving tray. Adam lifted one of the silver warming covers to display a plate with a bowl of thick creamy soup and a mile-high turkey sandwich.
“This looks delicious,” I said. “Is Ruth around? I’d like to thank her.”
“She’ll be in to gather the trays when we’re done. You can thank her then if you’d like. I think you’ll like the soup. It’s one of my favorite winter soups. Be warned, however, that it’s a lot more filling than it might seem at first, so pace yourself.”
I smiled. “Thanks for the warning. It looks delicious.”
And it was. The entire meal was delicious. Adam and I talked about general topics while we ate, avoiding the real reason I was here for the time being. I told him about the nice Thanksgiving I’d had with my new friends, and he’d shared details of the quiet family dinner he’d enjoyed with his brother, Archie, their housekeeper, Ruth, and the groundskeeper, Moses. Once we’d exhausted the subject of Thanksgiving, I shared the fact that the gang planned a trip to the tree farm the following day, and I invited him to come along if he wanted to. He answered that he’d enjoy that and would check with Archie to see if he wanted to join them. I guessed the brothers ordered trees for the house each year, and Adam figured this would be an excellent opportunity to complete that chore.
As we continued to talk, I shared my plans to volunteer for the upcoming Christmas festival, and he shared his volunteer plans as well. When I’d attended the volunteer meeting the previous week, the focus had been on the festival held the weekend before Christmas, but according to Adam, there were events to volunteer for and attend all month long. Adam had offered to work the Christmas tree lot the following week and mentioned that they could always use extra help, so I volunteered to pitch in as well.
Once we’d consumed our meal, and the dishes had been cleared, we settled in to chat about the information we hoped to find amongst Adam’s father’s papers and photo albums. There was a lot of stuff to go through, so Adam felt it would be best if we came up with some sort of strategy before digging in. After a bit of discussion, it was decided that he’d start with the file cabinets and desk, and I’d start with the boxes that were stacked in the corner. Personally, I figured that any documentation that might be relevant to what I was after would probably be in the boxes.
As it turned out, after a couple hours of searching through the boxes, I’d come to the conclusion that the only items stored within them were old financial records, business contracts, payroll documents, and other non-personal items. Perhaps the boxes hadn’t been the best place to look after all. Adam had abandoned the file cabinets and moved to the desk a while back when he realized he was coming up empty as well.
“Did you find anything at all?” I asked as I sat back on my heels.
“Nothing really significant. I did find a file with hard copies of old employee files. I set it aside to look through a bit more closely. So far, I’ve asked a few of the folks I could think of if they remembered two women with two little girls living here at the house during the summer of nineteen ninety-five, but Timothy is the only one I’ve spoken to who claimed to have seen anyone.”
“Don’t worry. I have other names on my list to contact.”
I thought about the text I’d gotten and suddenly wondered if making the fact that I was in town and digging into my past known had been a good idea. The text had to have come from someone who knew who I was and how to get ahold of me. It had to have come from someone who’d heard about my search for answers to my past. I wasn’t sure if the person who’d warned me to back off was someone I’d personally spoken to, such as Uncle Gil, or perhaps the text had been generated after someone I’d spoken to had mentioned the situation to someone else.
And then there was the possibility that the text might have come from someone Adam had spoken to, such as an ex-employee or a long-time Gooseberry Bay local.
“Other than a few ex-employees, have you spoken to anyone else about my situation?” I asked.
He nodded. “I’ve spoken with a couple old-timers from town, my cousin, Victoria, and my aunt, Scarlett.”
I tried to remember the brief history of the house I’d dug up. “Scarlett was Charlotte’s sister. Scarlett and Charlotte were Bram’s daughters.”
“That’s correct. Charlotte is my grandmother and my father’s mother. She died when I was around ten. Scarlett moved to England when she was still a young woman and married a man named Baron Rycraft. They had four children: Olivia, Diana, Evelyn, and David. My father, Kingston, was closest in age to Olivia. Charlotte took him to England every summer to visit Scarlett and her family the same way my mother took Archie and me to visit the same family. We’re actually pretty close despite the fact that we live on different continents.”
“And are there any English cousins your age?”
He nodded. “There are. Olivia has three children: Thomas, Patrick, and Benjamin. Diana never married or had children, but Evelyn has two sons, Wesley and Conrad; and David has two daughters: Cleo and Victoria. I was probably closest to Thomas, Patrick, and Cleo growing up, but we got together with all the cousins. Archie and I both try to make the overseas trip at least once a year, but Archie actually makes the trip more often.”
“So, all those people probably know who I am and that I’m looking into my past.”
He shrugged. “I imagine they do by now. I figured that even if Archie, Mother, and I were in London during your stay at the house here on Piney Point, our mother might have known who you were and why you were here. I don’t see any reason Father would have kept your visit from her.”
I gently nibbled on my lower lip. “I suppose that’s true, and if your mother knew what was going on during her absence, she might have told the others she was visiting with at the time.”
“Exactly. Mother and Olivia were particularly close. It seemed to me that she might have spoken to her about your stay, but when I spoke to Olivia, she didn’t remember Mother mentioning anything about visitors or two little girls. Still, I keep hoping that someone will remember something.”
“Yeah.” I supposed it was too late now to suggest that we might want to tread lightly and really consider who we speak to. It appeared that the proverbial cat was out of the bag, so at this point, I just hoped Adam’s inquiry would pay off, and someone would come forward with a clue of some sort.
I looked around the room. There were shelves and shelves of books that I hadn’t had a chance to go through yet. It would take days to search all the bookshelves, but I still hoped to find photo albums or scrapbooks of some sort.
“Should we continue to go through the boxes?” I asked. “Or switch to the bookshelves?”
“We could stay with it, but I’m beginning to think any personal documents or mementos my father kept are somewhere else,” Adam said. “My parents had a sitting room in their suite, and my mother had an office of sorts in the same wing as the family living quarters. I suppose photos of a personal nature, letters, diaries, and that sort of thing might be found there.”
“Did you go through the rooms after your parents died?”
“No. Not really,” Adam answered. “Archie and I were old enough that we each had our own suite of rooms by the time our parents were killed in the accident. After our parents died, neither of us had the heart to go through their personal belongings, so we just closed up the rooms. I keep thinking that I should take the time to go through their things and donate their clothing and such, but so far, I just haven’t.” He looked around. “It’s not like we need the space with just Archie, Ruth, and me living here.”
“I guess that’s true.” I paused. “I hate to ask you to go in there if you feel doing so would be painful, but it does seem that we’re more likely to find what we’re looking for amongst the personal records. At least what we’re looking for pertaining to the two women and the children who were with them.” I glanced at the boxes along the wall. “If we can find the right year, I suppose the employee documents in those boxes might give us additional ideas as to who to talk to.”
Adam closed the desk drawer he’d been looking through. “I’d like to have a chance to check out the rooms upstairs and maybe air things out before we search them. What do you say we take a break for today and pick this up one day next week?”
“That’s fine with me. Any day you want.”
“Maybe Tuesday. Let me check my calendar, and I’ll text you.” He looked toward the door of the warm and cozy room we’d been working in. “As for today, if you don’t need to rush off just yet, I think we discussed dancing lessons the last time you were here.”
I couldn’t quite contain the blush that I was certain had rosied my cheeks. I’d been thinking about the promised dance lessons a lot since he’d mentioned them. “I suppose if you have time, I wouldn’t mind a few pointers.”
He got up, crossed the room, and took my hand. “I had thought about heading down to the ballroom, but it will be cold down there, and it’s nice and toasty up here. We’ll have plenty of room if we move that table. Do you mind grabbing the other end?”
I did as he asked.
He took his phone out of his pocket and put on a song he seemed to have already cued. “Now, just relax.”
Relax? Was he kidding?
“Put your hand here.” He took my hand and positioned it on his shoulder. “And your other hand in mine.” He placed one hand on my waist while raising his other hand between us. Our bodies weren’t touching, but he was close enough that I could feel his heat and smell his scent. “Now, we’re going to move around the room very slowly. Don’t worry too much about a missed step. Just try to feel the pattern as we move.”
I nodded, unable to speak. I was sure the hand Adam held was sweating. I’d danced with men on other occasions, and I had no idea why I was so nervous. I supposed my trembling was because this form of dancing was new to me, and I hated to look bad in front of a new friend.
“You’re doing great,” he said, causing me to look down at my feet and stumble.
I grabbed onto his shoulders with both hands to keep from falling to the floor. “Sorry.”
“You’re doing fine,” he smiled. “Don’t look at your feet. Look at me.”
I glanced up.
“Look into my eyes. Focus on them and not on your feet.”
I did as he asked and was instantly mesmerized. The guy had the most gorgeous eyes. Deep. Dark. Piercing. I could feel my heart rate speed up a bit, but I didn’t look away.
“See,” he said, picking up the pace so that we were gliding around the room. “You’re doing it.”
I smiled. “I am doing it.” And it was fun — a lot more fun than I ever imagined. As I stared into Adam’s dark eyes, I pictured myself dancing with him on the night of the ball. I’d have my glittery cream-colored dress on, and he’d be all decked out in a tuxedo. I’d been excited about the Winter Ball ever since he’d first mentioned it, but suddenly I was beyond excited. I was enchanted. I had to admit that it had been a good long while since the world seemed quite so magical or full of promise.
He stopped moving when the song stopped. I hated to stop the lesson, but Adam was a busy man, and he’d already given up so much of his day for me.
“I guess I should go,” I said. “Thank you for the dance lesson and for the help with my mystery.”
“I’m happy to do what I can. Will I see you tomorrow?”
I stared at him blankly.
“The tree farm.”
“Oh, sure. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Text me when you know what time you’re leaving, and I’ll just meet everyone out at the peninsula.”
“Okay, great.” I called the dogs and headed toward the hallway. It had been an interesting day. More than interesting, it had been memorable. I doubted that the infatuation I suddenly felt for Adam would ever amount to anything more, but after months of grieving for my dad, I found the tingling feeling that had nothing to do with sorrow fairly nice.
After I loaded the dogs into my vehicle, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked for messages. There was one from Jemma, letting me know that she had news, and I should come by her place when I returned to the peninsula. I texted her back to let her know I was just leaving Piney Point and would see her within the hour.
“So, what did you find out?” I asked once the dogs and I arrived at the cottage she shared with her best friend, Josie Wellington.
“Not a lot,” she admitted. “I traced the text back to an email address rather than a phone number, so it appears the text originated from a texting program rather than an actual cell phone. I thought I might be able to backtrack and find the actual computer the text was sent from, but it appears whoever sent the message knew what they were doing since the message bounced around a bit before landing. I’m still working on it and may be able to narrow things down a bit more, but it looks like the text originated in Southern California.”
“California?” I frowned. “I don’t know anyone who lives in California.”
“Who exactly have you told about your search into your past and the two little girls in the photo?”
“You and the rest of the peninsula gang, of course. Hope and Parker. Jackson knows, as do Adam and Archie.” I paused and thought about it. “I told my best friend, Keni. She lives in New York. I spoke to my dad’s best friend, Gil. He lives in Denver now.” I took a breath. “I also mentioned it to some friends I met in Holiday Bay, Maine before I headed west. And I know Adam mentioned the mystery of the women with the children to several people from town, as well as a few ex-employees and a handful of family members living in England.”
“So basically, the text could have come from almost anywhere.”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
“Why do you think the person behind the message sent it?” Jemma asked.
I paused to consider her question. “I’m not really sure. On the one hand, the message: ‘Ava is dead. It is best to let her stay that way.,’ could be a threat. The person behind the text could be the bad guy who is trying to threaten me that if I don’t leave the past in the past, I should expect some sort of undesirable outcome. But, on the other hand, the text could be a warning from an ally rather than a threat from one who would do me harm. Someone who is looking out for me might have sent the text. Someone who knows there are those who would harm me, or at least there are those who would harm Ava if they knew she was alive.”
“Yeah, I read it both ways as well. It’ll be harder to try to guess who sent it if we don’t know whether it was meant as a threat or a warning.” Jemma glanced at her computer screen. “Have you tried responding?”
She nodded. “Maybe if we send a reply to the message, we can get additional information. Perhaps the person on the other end will respond to our reply. That would give me another avenue to try to nail down the source of the message.”
“Okay. What should I say?”
Jemma tapped her fingertips on the table. “You could just ask the person who they are, but I doubt that will get you a name. You could pretend you don’t know who Ava is and ask for clarification. Or you could pretend that you know who sent the text and that you consider the message to be a joke.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You could say something like: ‘Haha, very funny. I know it’s you. I’ll see you Saturday as planned.’ If the person behind the text really wants to be certain that you know that you have been threatened or warned, depending on their true intent, they might respond back with some additional detail to try to convince you that the text is not a joke but the real thing.”
“Okay. I’ll respond to the text and see what happens.”
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, which was a welcome sight after several days of rain that I’d initially welcomed but had since grown tired of. On Saturday, I’d joined the gang for their annual pilgrimage to the tree farm. Adam had called me late Friday evening to let me know that one of his cousins had shown up unannounced, so he and Archie wouldn’t be joining us for tree cutting as he’d initially indicated they would. Wesley was one of Aunt Evelyn’s sons, and, according to Adam, he was the sort to pop in unannounced on a whim. Wesley only planned to spend four nights in Gooseberry Bay, so Adam and Archie both felt it was best not to desert him on his first day in town. We arranged for another research session Thursday rather than Tuesday, as we’d discussed. Adam had mentioned that he’d volunteered for the same shift at the Christmas tree lot on the boardwalk as I had today, so I was sure I’d see him there.
Tegan had ended up working Saturday, and Coop indicated that he really wasn’t into the whole Christmas thing, so he offered to keep an eye on the dogs while I was away. Parker had a friend in town for the weekend and wouldn’t be joining us, so in the end, it was Booker, Jackson, Josie, Jemma, and I who’d made the two-hour trip north to cut down trees for all the cabins. Booker and Jackson both owned big trucks, so they drove while Jemma and I rode with Jackson, and Josie rode with Booker.
It had been a much longer drive than I’d anticipated, but I had to admit I’d had a wonderful time. Josie had packed a fabulous lunch, and the five of us had feasted amongst the firs that blanketed the area leading up to the tree farm.
On Sunday, the rain had blown in, so I’d decided to stay home, curl up by the fire, and read the thriller I’d purchased months ago but had never gotten around to reading. It was nice to be able to simply do and think about nothing in particular. I’d made tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, which seemed just about perfect as I curled up in my warm and cozy cottage and watched it rain.
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