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 1 in the series, Ainsley arrives in Gooseberry Bay only to find there will be no easy answers as she’d so naively hoped. Unwilling to leave before she gets what she came for, she rents a cottage on the sea where she and her dogs, Kai and Kallie, can settle in and wait.
Her first night in town she meets a young woman who is later found dead. The local sheriff has labeled the death of this young woman a suicide based on a text message she’d sent before she died. But Ainsley, who’d spoken to the victim only hours before the text was sent, isn’t quite as sure of the easy answer the sheriff would like everyone to believe.
An investigative journalist by trade and cops daughter by upbringing, Ainsley never had been the sort to walk away from unanswered questions, so with the help of new friends she meets along the way, she initiates a parallel investigation which seems to indicate the sheriff’s real motivation in trying to sell the suicide angle to the community is to protect the interests of a very rich and very powerful man.
Release date: September 8, 2020
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 130
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Life, I’ve been led to believe, is a journey of choices, linking the past to the future in a unique sequence that cannot be foretold and will not be complete until the final choice has been made. I like to think I’m the master of my story, weaving a tale I’ve crafted with each decision I’ve made, but as I stood peering across the inlet at the house that had haunted my dreams, I knew in my soul that every choice I’d made up to this point had actually been part of a predestined series of events leading me to this exact place in this exact moment in time.
As I’d envisioned, the house sat impressively on the edge of a tall bluff overlooking an expanse of murky water that seemed to stretch endlessly into the dark sky. I’m certain that on a sunny day, the view from this particular perch would be priceless, but today, as my history and destiny collide, the heavy air settled around the rambling structure, leaving only an imprint chiseled firmly in my mind.
“He’d like it here,” I said to my dogs, Kai and Kallie, as I let the image of the man who saved and raised me filter through my mind. “It’s odd that I can feel his presence. I have no reason to believe either he or I have ever been here at any point in the past, and yet…”
And yet, a distant memory tugged at my mind. It was blurry and out of focus, and I wasn’t even sure it was a memory and not the remnant of a dream. Still, I supposed it was the and yet that had led to my decision to put my life on hold in order to find the house in the first place.
Glancing at the photo in my hand, I allowed my mind to filter back to the dreams that had become both frequent and vivid during the past several months. There was nothing particularly spectacular or unusual about the image of the woman standing on a porch with two young children, and I’m not sure why I’d even given the photo a second look, yet from the moment I’d first stumbled upon it in my father’s attic, a spark had ignited, which had led to the dreams. Those dreams had fueled my imagination, and eventually planted a seed, which, over time, grew into an obsession. An obsession, I realized, that wouldn’t allow me to rest until I found the answers I’d traveled over three thousand miles to find.
Kai nudged his nose into my hand, causing me to look down once again.
“Is that your subtle way of telling me we should continue on into town and find a place to stay for the night?”
Kai barked once, placing a paw on my leg. I gave him a scratch behind the ear and then called for both dogs to follow me back to the SUV I’d left parked on the side of the road. I popped the hatch, and Kai and Kallie jumped in. Closing the rear door, I checked the latch and then headed toward the driver’s side door. Sliding inside, I turned the key in the ignition, checked my mirrors, and then pulled away from the side of the narrow road that hugged the shoreline leading out to the small town where I hoped to find lodging. The drive through the deeply wooded forest toward the small town was lovely despite the fog, which had begun to lift as I headed south. The recent rain had resulted in a series of small creeks that rolled and trickled down through the pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar, and aspen that covered the mountainside.
Gooseberry Bay was tucked into a forested area that was bursting with color. Vine maples tangled with the wild rose that thrived in the area, creating a breathtaking palette beneath the heavy canopy of the larger trees. I was tempted to stop, dig out my camera, and try to capture the brilliance of the day now that the fog had begun to roll out, but it was late, and I still needed to find a place to stay for a few days. As I neared the small town, a boardwalk appeared to my left. The wooden walkway, which hugged the water for what seemed like miles, was crowded with local vendors peddling their goods and services to the throngs of people who’d turned out to enjoy the near-perfect afternoon. I found the colorful carts, bright yellow pumpkins, and black and orange lights charming. The road forked just after a sign announcing a Halloween festival. Slowing slightly, I took the fork to the right and crossed a narrow bridge that rumbled and groaned as I drove from the road toward the parking area of the inn I’d found with my lodging app.
I parked in the spot designated for those checking in. The inn was a long L-shaped building, with two stories of wood construction, and based on the number of chimneys, there were at least six fireplaces. Planter boxes lined the wooden walkway leading guests to the front door. I had the feeling the boxes were changed out seasonally since they were currently rich with flowers in red, orange, yellow, and gold. The front porch was covered with a line of rocking chairs. Scarecrows, who seemed to be guarding the bright orange pumpkins that were set all about in a haphazard fashion, were tied to the railing, which supported the roof.
Rolling down the windows, I assured the dogs I’d just be a minute and then headed toward the front of the building. I knocked on the front door, wondering if perhaps I should just go on in. The facility was an inn, and therefore should be open to the public, so perhaps knocking wasn’t a requirement.
“Can I help you?” a woman with long dark hair, brown eyes, and a wide grin greeted me. “My name is Ainsley Holloway. I’m hoping you have a room for a few nights.” I glanced behind me. “One that allows dogs.”
The woman, who looked to be only an inch or two taller than my five-foot two-inch frame, glanced over my shoulder at the two huge dogs waiting patiently for me to return. “Those are big dogs. I bet they weight more than you do.”
“They do. But they’re trained and well behaved. If you rent us a room, I promise they won’t be a problem.”
The woman smiled at the dogs and then looked back in my direction. “I do love dogs and normally would consider your request, but I’m afraid the inn is booked solid. It’s Halloween, you know. The town is famous for our Halloween festival, and with the full moon landing on Halloween this year, there are even more tourists in town than usual.”
I sighed. “I understand. I’d forgotten that it was Halloween or the weekend for that matter until I saw the sign about the Halloween festival. I don’t suppose you can suggest an alternative lodging property that accepts dogs?”
She slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid that finding lodging that will accept two huge dogs is going to be a problem in our little town, especially during this time of the year when tourists come from all around to see the fall colors.”
My smile faded. The dogs and I had camping gear with us, but I’d really been looking forward to a hot shower.
“How long will you be in town?” the woman asked.
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. A few months. Maybe longer.” I glanced back toward the car. “I’m here to do some research, so the duration of my stay is open-ended. I’d hoped to find a place to stay for a night or two while I looked for a more permanent lodging property that would rent to me by the week or even the month.”
The woman rolled her lips and then nibbled on the bottom one gently as she appeared to be considering an idea. “I do know of a place. It’s a cottage and not an inn. I’m afraid it is a bit run down, but it sits right on the water at Gooseberry Bay, which is lovely this time of the year.”
“And you think the owner of this cottage would rent to someone with two dogs?” I glanced back toward the car. “Two large dogs?”
She nodded. “I inherited a large piece of land with five cottages from my uncle, who recently passed away. The four rental cottages are in pretty good repair, but I’m afraid that the cottage Uncle Bucky used as his personal residence is pretty run down. To be honest, the place needs some tender loving care. A lot of it. My plan is to fix it up and then rent it out along with the others, but I’ve been too busy as of late to get to it, so it’s still just sitting there lonely and abandoned. If you don’t mind living in a space that is pretty run down, I’d be willing to rent it to you and your dogs for as long as you want to stay.”
I smiled. “That would be great.”
“I’ve cleared out Uncle Bucky’s personal belongings, but the place will need a good cleaning.” “I don’t mind. Really. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to find lodging with two enormous dogs.”
“I can imagine. And the place, while shabby, is livable. The plumbing is functional, the fireplace has been cleaned and cleared for use, and the electrical seems to be up to code, but the paint is shot, and the flooring is in desperate need of replacing.”
“That’s totally fine,” I assured the woman once again. “The kids and I won’t mind peeling paint or scratched up flooring.”
She nodded. “Okay. Let’s go and take a look. Just let me grab the keys.” She turned back toward the interior of the charming inn, but then turned back. “My name is Hope Masterson, by the way.”
I held out a hand in greeting. “As I said, I’m Ainsley Holloway.” I angled my head toward the car, where the dogs were patiently waiting. “The dogs are Kai and Kallie.”
“I’m happy to meet you. Now let me grab the keys. The cottage is just a couple miles down the road.”
I climbed back into my SUV and followed Hope through town past cute cottage style buildings that lined the road opposite the bay. Just after we passed the harbor, she turned onto a dirt lane that twisted into the woods before opening up to a wide open space where several parking spaces were marked. “Everyone who lives in the cottages parks here. I’m afraid that means you have to haul groceries and supplies in, but the isolation of each waterfront cottage makes it worth the effort to most.”
“Wow. This is gorgeous,” I said, gasping at the perfection of the whole thing. “Grab the dogs, and we’ll take a look.”
I walked around my SUV and opened the hatchback. The dogs jumped down onto the dirt lot and sat down beside me, waiting for further direction.
“Can I pet them?” Hope asked.
I looked down at the dog sitting by my left leg. “Kallie approach,” I said in a relaxed, yet firm voice.
Kallie slowly approached Hope and then sat politely just in front of her.
“When you told me your dogs were polite and well trained, I figured that meant they didn’t chew the furniture or pee on the floor, but this dog is amazing.”
“My dad was a cop. He was in the canine unit until he made detective. We always had a dog living with us when I was growing up, and my dad always made sure they had the best training.” I looked down at my best friends. “Kai and Kallie haven’t been officially trained as service dogs, but I got them when they were pups, so they learned manners from an early age.”
After a moment, I called Kallie back and allowed Kai to approach and meet Hope. Normally, I didn’t keep them reined in quite this tightly, but I wanted to be sure they didn’t do anything that would cause the owner of the little cottage to change her mind about renting it to us.
“The cottages are just down this trail,” Hope said once I’d recalled both dogs.
Hope began to speak as we set off down a well-worn dirt trail. “The five cottages are arranged on a piece of land shaped like a long peninsula. Each cottage has a view of and access to the water. The cottages are spaced far enough apart so that it feels as if you are alone on the peninsula, but I can assure you that the other four cottages are occupied with folks you’ll want to get to know.”
“I look forward to it.”
Hope paused at a trail that veered off the main trail to the left. “This little footpath leads to the cottage occupied by one of my very best friends, Tegan Walker. She owns and operates a bar and grill just about half a mile down the road from the inn. The Rambling Rose is open for breakfast through dinner, and the bar remains open until nine on weeknights and eleven on Fridays and Saturdays.”
“Good to know.”
“The food is excellent, and it’s a good place to meet some of the locals.” “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Hope started walking again. “The next little footpath leads to the cottage occupied by Booker Maguire. Booker is currently dating Tegan. He’s a nice guy who works at the harbor. If you need to rent a boat for some reason, he’d be the one to see.”
“I’ll keep that in mind as well.”
“This next footpath leads to the only two-bedroom cottage on the property. It’s currently occupied by Josie Wellington and Jemma Hawthorn. Josie works at the bar and grill with Tegan, and Jemma is a computer geek, who works remotely for a company based in Seattle.” She paused at the next footpath. “This is our footpath, but if you continue on around the peninsula, you will come to the fifth cottage, which is occupied by a helicopter pilot named Cooper Fairchild. Coop owns his own bird, so he’s a good guy to know if you need access to immediate transportation.”
“Good to know,” I said, although I couldn’t imagine ever needing to rent a helicopter.
Hope turned onto the footpath that wound through what looked to be blackberry bushes. I’d noticed that a lot of different types of berries grew in the area. Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries. The berries were past their peak by this point, but perhaps if I was still in the area next year, which was actually sort of doubtful, I could check out the possibility of harvesting some of the fruit.
“And this is the cottage I was speaking of,” Hope announced as a small cottage perched right on the water came into view.
“It’s lovely,” I gasped, wondering how I’d been so lucky to have inquired about this place at a time when it was empty. The cottage was small, only a single bedroom, small bath, kitchenette, and living area. But it did have a fireplace and huge windows overlooking a deck, which overlooked the sea. There was also a bonus room of sorts at the top of a narrow stairway off the kitchen. The room was small, more of an attic space that had been completely encircled with windows. Hope explained that her uncle had converted the attic space for use as an art studio. Being in the room felt a bit like being in a fishbowl, but the view was stunning.
“The landmass across the inlet,” I asked after stepping out onto the deck, “is that Piney Point?” “It is.”
“But how can that be? I stopped on the bluff along the way to get a peek at the point, but I drove quite a way south after that.”
“You must have stopped on the northwest corner of Gooseberry Bay. We’re on the south side of the bay now. From the northwest point, you would have continued south toward the town, but then the road curved and hooked back toward the north once you reached the harbor. After we left the inn, we traveled further north, and this cottage is located on the very northern tip of the peninsula, which is surrounded by Gooseberry Bay on one side and Piney Inlet on the other.”
I looked across the bay and realized the land on the other side was the same piece of land I’d been standing on an hour ago. How odd that I hadn’t realized we’d changed direction so radically. I glanced across the inlet toward Piney Point and wondered for the hundredth time since I’d set out on this journey what exactly it was fate seemed to be leading me toward. The fact that I’d end up staying in a cottage overlooking the very house I was here to research was just too much of a coincidence, even for me.
“Do you know who owns the house on the point?” I asked.
“Two brothers: Adam and Archie Winchester. Adam is a great guy, but he travels a lot and is rarely around, but Archie and I are good friends.”
“Does anyone else live in the house?” I wondered.
“They employ a woman named Ruth. She cooks and cleans for the brothers. Is there any particular reason you’re so interested?”
“Sort of, but it’s a long story. I’ll fill you in at a later time.”
Hope nodded. “I need to get back, but if you want to come by the inn before six, you can sign the rental agreement and pay for the first month’s rent.”
I thanked Hope, promised I’d be by, and then headed toward my SUV. It took the dogs and me three trips to get all the stuff we’d brought with us from Georgia transferred from the car to the cottage. Once I’d stowed my suitcases in the bedroom, I opened the large slider and stepped out onto the deck. “Wow,” I said again, for what had to be the hundredth time since I’d been here. The view of the glassy water and hillside splashed with fall colors was almost more than I could take in after only a few moments.
Stepping back inside, I looked around once again. It appeared as if someone had cleaned the place after the man who’d lived here had died, but it also appeared that the cleaning had been a while ago. There was a layer of dust on every surface, so I supposed that if the dogs and I were really going to be comfortable here, I’d need to buy some supplies and give the place a good scrubbing. My plan was to spend as much time in this adorable little town as I needed to figure out why I’d been having vivid dreams about a house I’d never visited. It sounded to me like Hope was willing to enter into an open-ended rental agreement, which given my situation, suited me just fine.
Opening my overnight bag, I grabbed the journal I’d purchased to use more for keeping notes than for jotting down my thoughts. The little town of Gooseberry Bay wasn’t all that far away, but I preferred to get everything I’d need for a day or two in one trip so I could clean the cottage, get the kitchen set up, and ready my life for the intensive research I planned to do.
The first thing on my list was cleaning supplies. The refrigerator had been cleaned at one point and was plugged in and ready to go, so an assortment of food items would be of value as well. I wasn’t much of a cook and had been existing on sandwiches for a good part of my life, so I added bread, meat, cheese, and condiments to the list, along with a couple bottles of wine, a carton of milk for my coffee, coffee, and a coffeemaker since I didn’t see one on the counter, fruit, a few veggies, a box of cereal, and a few doggie treats for Kai and Kallie. I still had dog food from the last bag I’d bought, and I was fine on the vitamins and supplements the dogs took as well.
After opening and closing all the closets, I was able to determine that I’d need a broom and dustpan for the wooden floors, sponges, various forms of liquid cleaner, and gloves for the shelves, countertops, and bathroom, and maybe a few things such as basic plates, bowls, silverware, utensils, pots, and pans.
This would be a start, although I suspected additional visits to town would be in my future over the next few days. I was anxious to dig right into my research, but I knew that feeling settled and establishing a routine would be important to my overall health and ability to focus on the task before me.
I hated to leave the dogs alone in a place they weren’t used to, but they most likely wouldn’t be welcome at the general store, and I wouldn’t be gone long. Laying the blankets they preferred to sleep on over the newer-looking rug someone had left on the living room floor, I called them over, gave them a treat, and then promised I’d hurry back. Kai and Kallie were large dogs who needed a lot of sleep, so I suspected that once I drove away, they’d settle in for a nap that would most likely last until I returned.
My first stop was the inn where I’d promised to return to pay the first month’s rent and sign a rental agreement. Hope invited me in and offered me tea.
“This is lovely,” I said, taking in the pale yellow walls, cream-colored wainscoting, and pretty multi-panel windows looking out over the garden that had been planted on all sides of the large structure.
“I’ve worked hard to give the inn the feel of a cottage in summer.” She crossed the room and took a folder off the desktop. “Let’s head back to the sunroom so we can go through everything.”
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