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 4 in the series, four friends come to the area over Valentine's Day. While in Gooseberry Bay they notice a kissing booth which gets them to joking around and they decide to come up with their own challenge - The Casanova Challenge - to prove once and for all which of the four is really the king of romance. Each of four the men agree to spend the weekend wooing the local women, raking up points for various acts such as, buying a woman a drink, getting a cell number, actually going on a date, engaging in a make out session, and actually scoring. One of the men apparently set his sights on the wrong woman since he ends up dead. Parker sets out to cover the story pulling Ainsley and the others into her investigation along the way.
Meanwhile Ainsley picks up some new information on the mystery she came into town to solve in the first place and the return of an old friend to the area seems to cause friction between Jemma and Josie.
Release date: February 9, 2021
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 131
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Kiss 'N Tell
The storefront was tiny. Really only large enough for a single desk, a wall of file cabinets, and a hanging plant or two. There was a bathroom at the back of the building that I shared with Then and Again, the secondhand store on my right; Hair Affair, the beauty salon on my left; and Gooseberry Yogurt, the yogurt shop to the left of the hairdresser. The paint in the hallway that connected the four storefronts and housed the community bathroom desperately needed to be freshened, and the linoleum was cracked so badly that it made me cringe every time I looked at it, but the space was functional and given the location of the building which was right across from the boardwalk and bay, I didn’t feel inclined to complain. When I’d first come to Gooseberry Bay, I’d only planned to stay a few weeks or maybe a few months at the most, but here I was in my newly rented office space with a hand-painted sign on the window letting the world know that Ainsley Holloway Investigations was now open for business.
As I stood behind the freshly washed window that overlooked the bay, I wondered again if I’d lost my mind to rent such an expensive storefront when I’d yet to have my first client. I supposed it had been a risk to sign the year-long lease, but this wasn’t my first time working as a PI, and I was sure that once word got out that I was licensed and willing to help, I’d have clients knocking down the door in order to take advantage of my experience and expertise.
At least that’s what I hoped would happen. When I’d shared my news with my best friend, Keni, who currently lives in New York, she’d suggested that maybe I’d be smart to run my new business out of the cottage my dogs, Kai and Kallie, and I lived in rather than taking on the expense of an office. And she’d made a lot of good points during our discussion, but the reality was that although being a PI was usually a solitary undertaking, I still wanted to have some sort of separation between work and home.
And it wasn’t that I couldn’t afford the tiny yet exceptionally located office. My father had left me enough money when he passed to take care of my usual expenses for several years. Even longer if I was frugal. Gooseberry Bay, Washington was a small town where folks lived simply, which meant I really hadn’t spent much of my savings since I’d been here.
Turning away from the window, I crossed the room to my new desk. Actually, it was an old desk I’d found at Then and Again. The sisters who owned the secondhand shop had stripped and refinished the wood before replacing the hardware, so while it wasn’t a brand new desk, it was exactly the sort of desk I needed to express the image I wanted to portray.
Opening the top drawer of the extra-large piece of furniture, I discovered a note from Edna Jenkins and Beverly Drummond, sisters and co-owners of Then and Again, wishing me luck with my new venture. I smiled at the memory of the first time I’d met the interesting pair. Both women were well into their late sixties, and both were currently single. Edna was the more traditional of the two. She’d married young, had three children, two girls and a boy, who’d delivered four grandchildren so far. Edna’s husband, Cole, had died when she was still in her forties, and she’d been managing on her own ever since. She wore her natural grayish hair short and rarely, if ever, wore makeup; at least not that I’d noticed. She had a grandmotherly sort of presence and could be counted on to listen to what you had to say with a focused mind and quiet attentiveness.
Beverly, the younger of the sisters by two years, was the polar opposite of her older sibling. I’d been told she’d been a brunette at one point but had dyed her long hair a bright red many years ago and maintained the color to this day. She tended to wear her hair piled high on her head, and unlike her minimalist sister, Bev’s hand was heavy with her eye-catching makeup. Bev had a large presence. She dressed colorfully and was loud and opinionated, although it only took a short conversation with her to uncover her soft heart and caring personality.
Placing the note back into the drawer, I closed it. Running my hand over the smooth surface of the polished wood, I considered the items I’d bring from my cottage to my office. I really wanted to keep my laptop mobile so that I’d have it whenever I needed it. I supposed I’d set up a workstation here at the office. I’d need a large screen and Bluetooth keyboard, as well as a printer, fax, and copy machine. I figured one of those all-purpose units would work just fine.
I had my cell phone, but really should have a landline for clients, so I supposed I should call the phone company as well.
I thought about my dad’s desk blotter. I would love to have it sitting front and center on my desk, but it was currently in storage in Georgia, so I supposed I’d have to make a run to the office supply store and buy a new one. Did Gooseberry Bay even have an office supply store? I didn’t remember seeing one. I supposed I could ask one of the peninsula gang if they knew where I might be able to stock up on office supplies when I got home. If Gooseberry Bay didn’t have an office supply store, I supposed I’d just order everything I needed online.
I smiled as I twirled in the swivel chair I’d purchased for my desk. I was really doing this! I knew I should be scared, but what I felt was incredibly excited. I wanted to share this very significant moment with one of the most important people in my life, so I grabbed my cell phone and punched in Keni’s number, hoping to catch her before she headed off to her job as a cocktail waitress.
“Ainsley,” she responded the minute she picked up the video call I’d initiated. “I’m so glad you called. I was just thinking about you.”
“You were?” I smiled, enjoying the sight of my best friend, even if it was via a phone screen.
“I was,” she confirmed. “Remember Dougie Bateman?”
“Sure, I remember Dougie.” I pictured a tall thin man with a mop of red hair who’d given up a job in his father’s business to pursue a career on Broadway.
“I had lunch with him today, and he told me that he was finally giving in and moving home.”
“He quit acting?”
She nodded. “It was totally unexpected. Just last week at brunch, the two of us were chatting about upcoming auditions, and then today at lunch, Dougie tells me he’s packing his bags and moving home to Ohio so he can take over the management of the family business when his dad retires at the end of the year.”
I supposed Dougie going home and taking the job he’d been groomed for since he was a child was inevitable. He was a great guy to hang out with, but he really wasn’t a very good actor. In my mind, making the decision to settle down and take his place in the family business wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I knew that Keni would think he was bailing on his dreams and therefore was a sellout.
“Dougie’s family owns a plastics factory worth tens of millions of dollars,” I pointed out. “Taking over for his dad is going to open a lot of doors for the guy. We both know he was never going to make it big as an actor. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps he’ll be happy.”
“Maybe,” Keni acknowledged, despite the pouty frown I’d come to know and love. “When he told me his plans, I was sure he was making a huge mistake and told him as much, but then he reminded me that you left New York to go home and work with your dad, and you seemed to be happy.”
“I was happy. Moving home and working with my dad was the right move for me. Maybe it will be the right move for Dougie as well.”
She let out a long dramatic breath. “I guess.” She paused. “Dougie did make a lot of good points about growing up and getting a real job. He even had a well thought out speech about taking his place in the family and in society. You know how I feel about people who give up on their dream, but as Dougie laid out his arguments, I realized that maybe it’s time for me to grow up and get a real job too. The problem is I have no idea what I’d want to do with my life if I ever left here.”
Were those real tears causing her eyes to appear moist and sparkly? You could never tell with Keni. She was an excellent actress and a drama queen. Still, if she was upset about the way her life was turning out, I supposed I should assume the tears were real and act accordingly.
“First of all,” I said, trying to make eye contact across the continent, “if you ever need to get away to think about things, you are always welcome to come and stay with the dogs and me. We’d really love to have you. Second, if and when the time arrives for you to step away from the life you’ve carved out in New York, I think you’ll know exactly what you’ll be leaving for.”
“Will I?” She chuckled. “You know how single-minded I can be.”
I smiled. “You’re an intelligent and capable woman. If and when the time comes to move on, you’ll do so with the same confidence and enthusiasm you brought to the idea of moving to New York and becoming an actress.”
She grinned. It looked like her bad mood had been abated. “I guess you do make a good point. I’m not a quitter, but I suppose there might come a time to move on. When that time arrives, I’ll bow out of my old life with grace and embrace my new life with gusto. Speaking of a new life, how are things with you? Did you decide to go ahead with the PI business?”
“I did. In fact, I’m sitting here in my brand new office overlooking the boardwalk and the bay. You really do need to make the trip out to see it.”
I stood up and walked around the tiny office using my cell phone to show Keni everything I could think of to point out. The office itself wasn’t much to brag about, but the view of the bay and boardwalk had her gasping.
“Wow, it’s gorgeous,” she trilled. “I really would love to see it all in person. The play I’m currently doing is over in two weeks, and I don’t have anything lined up after that. It might be a good time to take a break and spend some time with my bestie now that I know you’re not coming home to the east coast.”
“That would be wonderful. I want you to see my cottage, and I really want you to meet everyone. I’ve told my new friends all about you, and I know they’d love to get to know you.”
“And I’m anxious to get to know everyone, especially the handsome prince on the bluff you’ve told me so much about.”
“He’s not a prince; he’s just a man. A very rich and handsome man, but a commoner just the same.” I smiled. “I don’t think he even owns a crown.”
“It’s not the crown that makes the prince,” Keni pointed out. “So what does this rich and handsome man think of your new venture? Have the two of you broken in the office furniture yet?” Keni winked, making sure that her meaning of the phrase broken in was very clear.
I wrinkled my nose. “First of all, ew. And second, Adam and I are just friends, and even if we were more than friends, which we aren’t, there would be no breaking in of the new office furniture. Besides, he’s out of the country. He’s been gone for three weeks, and I suspect he’ll be gone for at least several more.”
“So I take it the unraveling of the mystery you went to Washington to solve has stalled.”
“It has,” I admitted. “I still plan to track down the rest of the story, but I’ve hit a dead end, and with Adam out of the country, it’s been harder to dig up new information. Besides, I’ve been busy setting up my new business. I figure we can continue looking through the massive number of boxes and files in his home once Adam gets back from his trip. There must be something in all that stuff that will provide the clue I need to find the next piece of the puzzle.”
“I hope so. I know how important this is to you.” She appeared to have pulled the phone away from her mouth as she called to someone in the background. “Listen, I really need to go. I’ll call you in a few days.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you then.”
After I hung up with Keni, I returned to the boxes I’d been opening. I really did miss my fun and spontaneous friend. She’d been the one who convinced me to move to New York in the first place. She’d wanted to conquer Broadway, and I had a new degree in journalism to try out. We had been unstoppable those first few years. We’d lived life in the fast lane and enjoyed all that the Big Apple had to offer. I’d been happy there and probably wouldn’t have left if my dad hadn’t been shot, but as I spoke to Keni, I realized that the Ainsley Holloway who enjoyed a twenty-four-hour lifestyle had grown and matured into the Ainsley Holloway who really preferred the quiet life here in Gooseberry Bay.
“You must be the new PI in town.” A young woman with long dark hair and an olive complexion, who looked to be around twenty, poked her head into the office through the back door that led out to the shared hallway and bathroom.
I stood up from where I was kneeling in front of a box, turned, and smiled. “Yes. My name is Ainsley.”
“I’m Kim. I work at the yogurt shop.”
“I met someone named Kevin when I was here yesterday,” I said, remembering the beach boy with longish blond hair and a deeply bronzed tan despite the fact that it was February. I supposed he might have just returned from a tropical vacation since I doubt he’d gotten that tan here. Unless, of course, he frequented the tanning beds at the local gym.
“Kevin and I are both full-time employees,” Kim informed me. “One of us is around most of the time the shop is open. During the summer, we have several part-time employees, but they tend to come and go. Right now, during the winter, it’s just Kev and me and an occasional temp.” She looked around the office. “I see you painted.”
“I really couldn’t tolerate the gunmetal gray. I think this soft blue with the white trim is a lot nicer.”
“I agree. Before you moved in, a guy who sold knives was in here. I think he actually liked the drab feel of the place.”
“Knives? Kitchen knives?”
“All sorts of knives. Kitchen knives, pocket knives, switchblades, and other types of weaponry. You’d be surprised how large a market there is for knives. I know I was.”
“My dad used to watch a show on local cable that was all about knives, so I guess that doesn’t surprise me. How long have you worked for the yogurt shop?”
She nodded. “I started part-time when I was sixteen. After I graduated from high school, I went to full-time, and I was made a manager last summer. Kevin, who turned twenty-one last summer, has a bit more work experience than I do, so technically, he’s my supervisor, but we generally work different shifts, so he mostly lets me do my own thing.”
“So, do you like your job?”
She leaned a hip against the desk. “I do for now. I’ll be twenty-one in two months, and it’s occurred to me that I might want to come up with some sort of a plan for my future, but my parents seem happy to have me living with them, and I love it here in Gooseberry Bay, so I guess you could say that I’m content for the time being.” She took a piece of gum out of her pocket and popped it into her mouth. “How about you? Have you always wanted to be a private eye?”
“No. Not always. My dad was a cop, and after being shot in the line of duty, he was forced to retire. He decided to open his own detective agency, and I decided to move home and help him with his new venture.”
“Did he ask you to move home to help him?”
I shook my head. “No. I was worried that he’d overdo it, and I suppose I thought if I was there to keep an eye on things, I could keep him healthy.”
“Did it work?” She snapped her gum.
“Not really. My dad passed away last year.”
Her brown eyes narrowed. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. Dad lived a good life, and we had a few extra years together that we might not otherwise have had. I don’t regret anything.” I looked around my new office. “I went into the field to help him, but I think I was really good at what I did, and I’m excited to try it on my own.”
Kim looked at her watch. “Well, good luck with your venture. My break is about over, so I should get back. If you get hungry, our special today is cherry. The cherries are tart, so it isn’t too sweet. It’s been really popular.”
“That does sound good. I might just stop by later.”
After Kim left, I headed out to my SUV to grab the next set of boxes I’d lugged from my cottage to my new office. I hadn’t brought much with me when I’d first traveled from Georgia to Washington, so I didn’t have a lot of items to transport, but I did have a few things I’d picked up since I’d been here, and I was anxious to personalize the office, so it really felt like mine.
The first item I removed from the new box was a framed photo of my Bernese Mountain Dogs, Kai and Kallie, for my desk. I figured I’d probably bring them with me most days, but I wasn’t sure what today would be like, so I’d left them at home after having taken them for a long run this morning. I planned to bring dog beds, which I figured I could place behind my desk, or maybe off to the side where they’d be out of the way. Both Kai and Kallie were well behaved, so I figured it shouldn’t be a problem to have them here even if I had a client in for a consultation.
The next thing I took out of the box was a small framed photo of my dad and me, taken the summer before he died. God, I missed him. He’d been gone long enough that the pain in my gut was no longer a constant reminder of what I’d lost, but every now and again, if a memory hit me just right, the sorrow in my soul felt as raw and fresh as it did the day I’d lost him.
Next, I hung a photo I’d taken of my cottage on the bay and had blown up. I placed it in the center of the wall and then added slightly smaller photos of the marina, the boardwalk, and the view from the point to one side of the larger image of the cottage. Three file cabinets would be delivered later today, but I needed some sort of table to set up a printer, modem, and something to play music on. Perhaps I’d head next door to see if Bev and Edna had anything that would work. They had a lot of very nice pieces. Maybe they’d even have something to complement the desk.
After double-checking to ensure that the front door leading out onto the sidewalk was locked, I left through the back door leading out to the shared hallway, making sure that door was locked as well before heading next door.
“Ainsley,” Bev greeted. “I noticed your SUV parked in the back lot. Are you getting all settled in?”
“I’m working on it,” I said, picking up a bright blue vase that would be perfect for displaying freshly cut flowers from the vendor just down the boardwalk. “I decided that I’m going to need some sort of a table to house my printer, modem, and those sorts of things. I wondered if you had anything that would complement the desk.”
“Actually, I think I have just the thing.” Bev smiled, her bright blue eyes dancing merrily. “If you want to follow me into the back, I’ll show you what I have.”
I set the vase down and followed Bev through the cluttered yet charming secondhand store to the room that housed the items not currently part of the inventory for one reason or another. The vase really was gorgeous, but I figured it might be a good idea to finish moving in before I started buying random accessories that I didn’t have anywhere to put once I got everything I needed set up.
“This table just came in last week. I’ve been working on refinishing it. If you’re interested in it, I can have it ready to go by the end of the week.”
I placed a hand on the sofa table. It was a tallish table designed to be placed behind a sofa. It was long and somewhat narrow, and really perfect for the use I had in mind. “Since it isn’t stained yet, can you stain it to match the desk?”
“Okay,” I decided. “I’ll take it. I think this will work perfectly. I’ll place it along the back wall with the desk set in front of it looking out toward the bay. If I need something from the printer, I can just turn around and grab it without even having to leave my chair.”
“It’s a good size for that wall,” Bev agreed. “I actually have some stain left from the desk, and the sanding is just about complete, so I should have this for you in a couple days.”
“Perfect.” I hugged the kind woman. “Where’s Edna today?”
I followed Bev out into the main display area.
“Her oldest daughter is about to have baby number two, so Edna decided to take two weeks off to be with her and help out.”
I handed Bev my credit card. “So this will be Edna’s fifth grandchild, won’t it?”
Bev nodded. “Her son, Ernie, has a son and a daughter, both in elementary school. Edna’s eldest daughter, Heather, has a daughter who is two years old and is about to have a second daughter any time now. Edna’s younger daughter, Susan, has an eight-week-old son named Devon.”
Bev handed my credit card back as well as a receipt for the table.
“I bet Edna is excited to have another baby in the family.”
“She is,” Bev agreed.
“And do you have grandchildren?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I never married nor had children. Not that I didn’t have a few offers along the way, but I guess I knew from an early age that settling down wasn’t the sort of thing I’d ever really be interested in.”
“Have you always lived here in Gooseberry Bay?” I asked.
“Good lord, no. After Edna retired from teaching, she talked me into moving to Gooseberry Bay and opening the secondhand store with her. Before that, I’d never really settled down. I’ve lived in twelve countries and seventeen states. I never was the sort to want to stay put in any place for long. I guess I was born with the same wanderlust that sent my dad around the world a couple times.”
“It sounds like your dad traveled a lot when you were a child. Did you ever go with him?”
“No. Our mother stayed home and raised Edna and me pretty much on her own. Dad would come home for short spurts, but then he’d get antsy again, and off he’d go. When Edna and I were children, Edna dreamed of growing up and having a stable family where both the mom and the dad stayed put and raised their family together. She married Cole right out of college and had the first of her three children shortly after. It’s a shame he died so young, but until that point, I guess you could say that Edna had the life she’d always hoped she’d have for a short time.”
It really was too bad that Edna’s husband had died so young. Raising a family on her own must have been difficult. “You said that Edna was a teacher. Did she teach here in Gooseberry Bay?”
Bev nodded. “She took a job at the high school right out of college. She worked at the school, and Cole worked in construction. They had a nice life until Cole was killed in an accident when Edna was forty-eight. The two older kids were already out on their own, and Susan was in her senior year of high school when the accident occurred. Edna mourned the loss of the man she loved, but she didn’t let the tragedy of his death hold her back. Edna said her goodbyes and picked herself up by the bootstraps. She stayed focused on the future and didn’t spend a lot of time crying over what should have been. I admire her for that. I really don’t know if I would have bounced back as easily as she did. My big sister is an amazing woman.”
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