Kiss My Ash
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Unfortunately an important meeting with the marketing director of the Newberry Playhouse generates the wrong kind of buzz when a beloved actress is found dead the day of her big performance. The murder triggers a ghostly rumor that had been put to rest long ago. With suspects crawling out of the seemingly haunted scenery, Chief Tuck and Detective Fairfax have their hands full and Mia is only too happy to pitch in.
Can Mia solve the case and help the show go on or will the final curtain fall on the historic playhouse?
Kiss My Ash is the fourth book in The Bloomin' Psychic series.
Release date: January 13, 2022
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Print pages: 217
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Kiss My Ash
The wind whipped strands of hair into my mouth as I rode my scooter to work and I began to regret not employing the tried-and-true midlife messy bun. The bump of an updo made the helmet fit awkwardly, however, so I tended to avoid it.
I parked on the street, yanked off the helmet, and spat out the hair stuck to my tongue.
“Classy,” a voice said.
I glanced over my shoulder. “Hey, Jenna.” I was relieved I wasn’t the only one late for the morning meeting at The Newberry Free Press. Then again, Jenna King was the boss’s sister and basically did whatever she wanted with impunity. It was good to be a King.
Jenna scrutinized my head. “You might want to run a brush through that mess before you get inside. It takes real skill to get both helmet hair and a bird’s nest at the same time.”
“Thanks for the tip.” Jenna had a knack for making obnoxious statements that didn’t ruffle my feathers. Talk about real skill.
I walked at a hurried pace toward the office. I was halfway there when I realized Jenna hadn’t kept up with me. I twisted to see her on the sidewalk, chatting with an attractive man in his thirties. I wasn’t sure whether she knew him or decided to hit on him. Maybe both. I shook my head and continued without her.
The Newberry Free Press occupied prime real estate in one of the historic buildings along the Delaware River. Everett King owned the building as well as the newspaper, which explained why we could afford to operate out of such a coveted space. There was a plethora of buildings in town built between the late 1700s and early 1800s, although not many were blessed with an unobstructed view of the river. Many were now private homes, but a handful had been transformed into office buildings like this one. Gas-fueled lampposts lined the riverfront as well as the pedestrianized cobblestone streets. Together they created a charming atmosphere and made Newberry a desirable place to live and visit.
I entered the building as the other staff members gathered by Everett’s desk at the back of the office. I spotted an array of pastries on a side table. Score! In my experience, free baked goods were half the reason to work in an office.
Everett locked eyes with me before I had a chance to reach the restroom door and fix my helmet nest. Smiling, he waved me over. I abandoned my vanity and snaked my way through the desks to join them.
“Good morning, everyone,” Everett said. He was a cross between Bilbo Baggins and Watson from the Sherlock Holmes series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which basically just made him Newberry’s version of Martin Freeman. He perched on the corner of his desk to address the assembled team. The rest of us stood with a paper plate and a mug of tea or coffee.
“Hold on. You should wait for Jenna,” I said. “She’s right behind me.”
Everett clapped his hands together. “Who wants to go first?” He chuckled. “Who am I kidding? Go ahead, Victoria. We all know you want to.”
Victoria Clement was in her early fifties. Her blond hair was cut chin-length in a sleek style, but that was her only attractive feature. Victoria looked in the mirror and saw a star reporter and a superior member of the human race. The rest of humanity looked at her and saw a raging narcissist desperately in need of an attitude adjustment.
She raised her chin a fraction, probably to make it easier to look down on the rest of us. “I’m interviewing Erika Jewell. She’s the star of the new play that’s opening tomorrow night.”
“Like they would dare cast anybody else in the lead,” Sofia Luis remarked. The dark-haired forty-year-old covered health and fitness for the newspaper and had no problem demonstrating her expertise on the yoga mat she kept stored under her desk.
I remembered the name Erika Jewell from my time in New York. “Wasn’t she the soap opera star who fell from grace after getting arrested for shoplifting?”
“It was years ago and she was under tremendous pressure at the time,” Victoria said. “The demands of daily production were incredibly intense.”
Beside her Tom Bauer took a generous bite of a cinnamon roll and moaned. In his early sixties, he covered sports and business. The office dinosaur seemed to have taken a break from ogling the women in the office to make out with his pastry, not that I blamed him.
“My wife used to watch her show,” Tom said, crumbs spraying from his mouth. “Didn’t Erika play twins?”
Victoria nodded with enthusiasm. “Yes, Olga and Helga.”
“Which one was evil?” I asked.
Victoria sniffed. “Neither. They were both misunderstood.”
“Just like Tom when he tries to talk with his mouth full,” Jenna said, finally joining the meeting.
I swiveled toward Victoria. “When are you headed to the playhouse for the interview? I have a meeting with the marketing director later today.”
“I’m not going until tomorrow,” Victoria said. “Even so, we couldn’t possibly go together. Editorial and advertising are like parallel lines. Never the ‘twain shall meet.”
That suited me fine. The less time I spent in Victoria’s orbit, the better.
“You’re meeting with Casey Sutton?” Jenna asked.
I nodded. “It took a few persuasive phone calls, but I wore her down.”
Jenna plucked a donut from Everett’s hand and bit into it. “She and I see the same tennis coach.”
“Since when do you play tennis?” Everett asked.
Jenna frowned. “Who said anything about playing tennis?”
Shaking his head, Everett turned his attention back to me. “Well, no pressure, Mia. The playhouse tends to like their press free, which is why Victoria gets an all-access pass and you have to use your considerable powers of persuasion to get a meeting.”
“They’ll never advertise,” Victoria interjected. “You’re wasting your time.”
I shrugged. “Good thing I have plenty of time to waste.” In my experience, it was still worthwhile to network. The potential advertiser today was the twelve-month contract tomorrow. When I sold advertising in New York, I spent half my time just getting to know decision-makers over lunch or coffee.
“Is that your only meeting today?” Everett asked.
“No, I have one…” I checked the clock on my phone. “In about thirty minutes at Suds.”
Everett nodded his approval. “Excellent. They’ve never advertised. Keep up the good work.”
Victoria rolled her eyes. “Good work would be actually landing the accounts, not simply showing up.”
Jenna pinned her with a deadly glare. “Do you always get the story?”
Victoria drew herself taller. “Excuse me?”
Jenna dusted off the rest of the donut. “When you’re working on a story, do you get all the information you want at once or do you have to peck away at it the way Tom pecks at his skin tags?”
Tom glanced at a skin tag on his arm and slid his sleeve lower to cover it.
“It isn’t the same thing,” Victoria said.
“I agree,” Tom added.
Victoria glared at him. “I’m not talking about your unfortunate skin condition. I mean advertising and reporting are two completely different jobs that require a different set of skills.”
“Then why don’t you stick to the one you know and keep your mouth shut about anything else?” Jenna kept her gaze fixed on Victoria as she wiped her mouth with a napkin.
Victoria swiveled on her heel and walked away.
Everett tilted his head and eyed his sister. “Could you try to be nicer?”
“Only if she finally consents to that personality transplant.”
Everett checked in with each staff member and rambled about upcoming Fourth of July activities. I’d had enough of parades ever since the Flower Moon Festival where my mother’s third husband was falsely accused of murder.
“Anything from you, Cindy?” Everett called across the room.
Cindy Markel lifted her head off the desk. “Two real estate ads in the classifieds. Don’t forget my vacation week.” She lowered her head back to the desk and closed her eyes. As a narcoleptic, Cindy had a tendency to fall asleep at inopportune moments.
After the meeting, I left the office for my first appointment of the day. It was close enough to walk so I took the opportunity to enjoy the riverfront. Despite the early hour, the sun was already beating down on the swollen river. Newberry had endured a lot of rain this past week, which resulted in mild flooding and a swift current. The kayakers and tubers were out in full force to take advantage of the conditions.
I wasn’t looking forward to my meeting at Suds. It had taken me a week to secure the appointment and then the owner had rescheduled twice. I had a sinking feeling that I’d arrive and there’d be yet another change in plans.
The soap company was in the heart of town in one of the smaller historic buildings with oversized windows that allowed for a charming window display.
A delicate silver bell jingled as I opened the door to enter. Suds wasn’t open for business yet, which was why the owner scheduled the meeting for early morning. The moment I crossed the threshold, a blend of scents filled my nostrils. Some of the bars smelled so good, they’d make threats to wash your mouth out with soap an appealing prospect.
A middle-aged woman emerged from a back room, yawning. Her brown hair was a tangle of curls and her black smock was stained with a swirl of pastel colors.
She covered her mouth when she noticed me. “I am so sorry. I’m dragging this morning.”
I offered a smile. “I feel your pain.”
“You’re Mia, right? I’m Hannah.”
I crossed the room to shake her hand. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. These soaps look and smell amazing.”
Hannah perked up. “Thank you. I make them myself. No synthetic fragrances, no parabens or sulfates, and all cruelty free.”
“Wow. That’s impressive.” There were so many options; I wasn’t sure how one person could manage it all.
“I consider soap-making a utilitarian art form, although truth be told, my favorite part is coming up with names. I have one called Teen Spirit. That seems to appeal to both teenagers and fans of Nirvana.” She plucked a package from the shelf that housed an individual bar of soap. “This one is called Sixth Scents. It’s a blend of six ingredients. See.” She turned the package so that I could read the ingredient list. Unfortunately I needed my reading glasses to be able to see the small print.
“Give me one second.” I dug through my purse to locate the glasses. Naturally they’d fallen to the bottom.
Hannah laughed as I slid the glasses over the bridge of my nose. “I see you’ve reached the same milestone as me.”
“Fun, isn’t it?” I reviewed the ingredients. “Oh, cool. Wavyleaf.”
She gave me a curious look. “You know it?”
“A friend of mine who owns a landscape design company is trying to educate me about gardening and she’s mentioned it.”
“Who’s your friend?”
Hannah’s entire demeanor changed. “Oh my goodness. I didn’t realize you were friends with Scarlet. That woman is a gift from the garden gods.”
“No kidding. She’s been indispensable in helping me with the garden I inherited. I came from an apartment in the city and have no clue what I’m doing. I’d be lost without her.”
Hannah seemed to view me through a new lens. “Wait a minute. Are you Hazel’s relative? The one who inherited Red Clover?”
“The one and only.” Literally. Aunt Hazel had no other relatives left except me.
Hannah’s sigh was infused with an interesting mix of sympathy and awe. “I should’ve connected your last names. Hazel was a regular customer. You might have found some of my soaps in the cottage.”
I did, which was the reason I knew Suds existed and had added it to my list of potential clients.
“I especially like the one that smells like lilacs.”
Hannah lit up. “I actually made that one with lilacs from her garden. I would love to come by and see what’s blooming this time of year. Hazel’s garden is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
Guilt coursed through my veins. “I’m afraid it isn’t the garden you remember. Not at the moment anyway, but I’m working on reviving it.”
Her face crumpled. “What happened?”
“The cottage was empty for months after Aunt Hazel died. The garden…” I couldn’t very well tell this stranger that the garden had a mind of its own. She’d think I was nuts. “The garden became neglected and Scarlet has been helping me bring it back to life.”
“I’m surprised it would’ve gone downhill that quickly. You’d think it would take at least a year.”
“You would think. Not so, unfortunately. The inmates took over the asylum.”
She looked blank.
“The weeds took over,” I explained.
“Oh, right. Well, I hope you manage to restore it to its former glory because it was incredible.”
I cast a glance at the bars of soap on display. “Where do you normally source the plants you use?”
“Depends. I don’t rely on one supplier. Too risky. Hazel would drop by out of the blue with some clippings she thought I should incorporate. Your aunt could’ve run an empire if she wanted to. She was blessed with both the talent and the business acumen.”
“I get the sense that she enjoyed gardening for its own sake.”
Hannah nodded. “I totally get that. Sometimes I think I made a mistake, turning this into a business. I started out making soap for friends and family to give as gifts. Pretty soon people were asking me for certain kinds and I would experiment to see whether I could make them.” She shrugged. “Turns out I could.”
“What did you do before this?”
“I was a teacher.” She shuddered. “I know it’s a noble profession and I’m supposed to wax poetic about the children and preparing future generations, but the truth is I hated my job. Getting up before the crack of dawn in the fall and winter.” She groaned. “It was soul crushing. Constant administration changes and morons in leadership positions. And then there was the daily mountain of parent emails.”
I smiled. “You seem to be holding back. Why not tell me how you really feel?”
She laughed. “You remind me of your aunt, you know. You both have that casual energy that makes people want to confide their deepest, darkest secrets.”
It hadn’t occurred to me before that my people skills might be attributable to the ‘gifts’ I shared with Aunt Hazel. It was possible that my psychic skills had been the reason people felt comfortable sharing with me. Maybe it was also the reason I was a decent salesperson.
“I know you’re busy and I don’t want to take up too much of your time.” I opened my tote bag and removed a media kit. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by our circulation numbers. The Newberry Free Press hasn’t suffered as badly as some papers.”
She accepted the kit, but I could tell from her expression that her mind was elsewhere. “You know, when you get that garden up to snuff, I would love to come by and see what I might be able to use in my products. Maybe we could work out an arrangement.”
“Sure. Fair warning, though. I have no idea how long of a process this will be. The garden seems annoyed to have a new owner and took the scorched earth approach.”
Hannah laughed again. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I don’t blame the flowers for grieving. Hazel was a huge loss to the community, but especially to that garden.”
For someone who seemed to know Aunt Hazel reasonably well, it was interesting that Hannah didn’t mention her otherworldly gifts. I thought her abilities were a poorly kept secret among those who knew her, unless Hannah simply wasn’t a believer. It was possible she chose to overlook it and merely viewed the old woman as a skilled gardener.
Hannah held up the media kit. “Why don’t I take a look at this when I have more time and get back to you? I’d like to study the data.”
“No problem. Feel free to call or email me with any questions.”
Hannah lifted a small package from one of the display tables. “You should take this one.”
I brought the box to my nose and sniffed. “Smells like grapefruit.”
“You have a good nose. I call that one Morning Do. It’s meant to be invigorating.”
“I love it.” I tucked the box in my tote bag. “Thank you so much.”
Hannah hugged the media kit to her chest. “I’m so glad you came. If I had known who you were, I would’ve met you sooner. You should tell people upfront. Hazel was a town fixture. I bet her name opens some doors for you.”
It might also close a few.
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.” I turned toward the door and the overwhelming scent of oranges stopped me in my tracks. “Orange blossoms,” I blurted.
I craned my neck to look at Hannah. “You should go with the orange blossoms.” I had no idea where that came from or what it meant.
Her face was inscrutable. “Thanks,” she said, dragging out the word, “I think I will.”
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