When a thirty-one-year-old school custodian
Has a romantic relationship with a high school senior,
It may be legal, but people think it’s sleazy and wrong.
Wrong enough that someone killed him because of it?
Attending Holly’s high school graduation is a bittersweet day for Brigid. She’s proud of her daughter, but she knows how much she’s going to miss Holly, wherever life’s journey takes her.
What Brigid doesn’t factor into this special day is having to help Sheriff Davis solve the murder of the high school custodian. Although there are plenty of suspects, Brigid and the sheriff soon learn that all of them are lying, which makes solving the case ever so much more difficult.
Sometimes life is about adjusting to situations over which one has no control. This is what faces Brigid when she’s thrown a curve in both the man’s death and her daughter’s future.
This is the 20th book in the Cottonwood Springs Cozy Mystery Series by a USA Today Bestselling Author.
Release date: August 14, 2022
Print pages: 221
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Murder at the Graduation Ceremony: A Cottonwood springs Cozy Mystery
Spring was usually a beautiful time in Cottonwood Springs, and today certainly lived up to that reputation. The trees were thick and lush from the spring rains, and the birds were enjoying the morning as they flitted from one tree to another. Either that, or they saw the dark clouds on the horizon and were in a hurry to prepare for the rain that had been forecast.
A warm spring breeze began to rustle through the trees when the clouds started to move in. As they rolled over the New Dawn B & B, windows that had been filled with bright sunlight began to grow dark with the threat of rain. Inside the B & B kitchen where Linc and Brigid were enjoying their morning, the breeze slipped through the open window over the sink. It was cool, allowing them to keep the window open for a while before the day would heat up.
Brigid was leaning against the kitchen counter, getting a slow and lazy start to her morning. That is, if you considered getting up as early as she had that morning as being “slow.” She and Linc usually slept in at least another thirty minutes, but they both had woken up bright and early this morning and decided to make the most of it.
It was nice not having to rush around, and it made everything feel more peaceful. As if anything were possible that early in the day, each and every possibility was laid out in the rays of the early morning sun.
Linc walked over to the coffeepot and leaned over to look out the window as he got two mugs out of the cabinet. “It looks like it’s really going to cut loose soon,” he observed as he poured mugs of coffee for Brigid and him. It was almost time to start cooking breakfast for their guests, but they had a little time to linger over a mug of coffee before their work at the B & B began.
Linc was trying two new recipes this morning, a breakfast tart and some chocolate muffins he’d prepped last night, baked this morning, and which were now cooling on a wire rack. They looked so good, Brigid had to physically stop herself from taking one. She knew Linc hated it when she did that.
Linc and Brigid sipped their coffee as they looked out the back window. The wind seemed to pick up even more as the sky continued to grow darker. As they watched the trees sway in the wind, they caught sight below the window of blonde hair being ruffled outside.
“Oh good, here comes Holly,” Linc said, a smile growing on his face as he set his coffee down on the counter and reached for his phone. “I was starting to think she was going to slip out without coming over. Just because I ask her to stop by before school doesn’t always mean she will.”
When he’d asked Holly to come over to the B & B before she headed out to her last day of school, he’d neglected to tell her it was because he wanted to snap a few pictures of her. But Linc knew if he’d told her, she wouldn’t have come. Being a parent occasionally required not telling a child everything.
Brigid grinned as she set her mug down at the sound of the back door opening. It had been her idea to get the pictures. “You told me to let you know before I went to school. Here I am, telling you that I’m heading out,” Holly called out as she appeared around the corner.
She didn’t even have a chance to protest before Linc started snapping pictures.
“Ugh, I had a feeling you were going to do something like this,” she groaned. Lifting her hand, she tried to cover her face, but Brigid just pushed it down. At least Holly didn’t fight back about it.
“Of course we were,” Brigid said as she pulled Holly in for a one-armed hug. “Linc and I didn’t want to miss pictures of you on your very last day of high school.”
They’d agreed the night before that they wanted to get a couple of pictures of Holly before she went to school. They might not have pictures of her first day of school, but they would definitely have pictures of her last day.
A part of Brigid hurt that she’d never been able to give Holly the support she deserved when she was a young child living with her mother. There were no photos of her before she’d come to live with Brigid.
Even if Brigid wished Holly had been able to have a better childhood, she knew Holly wouldn’t have been the same person if she’d been raised differently, and as much as Brigid felt sad about Holly’s past, she was grateful she’d been able to give her a better life after her mother had died.
“You know I still have to go in tomorrow for graduation practice, so today’s not exactly my last day,” Holly pointed out. She’d put her long blonde hair up in a messy bun and was wearing a loose unbuttoned flannel shirt over her tee shirt. It was rolled up to her elbows, and she was wearing jean shorts.
“Even so, it’s your last official day of class,” Linc said. “So you better smile or Brigid will hold you there until lunchtime.” He smiled sweetly at her, even though technically, he was threatening her.
Holly gave a smile that didn’t completely reach her eyes until Brigid kissed her on the cheek. Linc snapped away until he and Brigid swapped, and he went over to stand by Holly while Brigid took a few more pictures.
“You do realize this isn’t a normal thing, right?” Holly asked as her smile slowly turned into a grimace. “And please don’t put these online. I don’t think I’d ever be able to recover if you did.”
“Well, today it’s a normal thing,” Brigid said as she took one last picture. “Okay, you can go to school now.”
“Gee, thanks,” Holly grumbled before saying goodbye. Once the door shut behind her, Brigid sighed.
“How does it feel?” Linc asked her as she leaned back against the counter, a faraway look sliding over her eyes.
“How does what feel?” she asked, watching as Holly’s car pulled away.
“Knowing that you got her here. That this child you took under your wing has made it to adulthood and has finished high school,” Linc said.
“She would have made it without me,” Brigid said with another sigh. But what she really wanted to say was that it felt like this was too soon. That everything was happening so fast, and she wanted it to slow down a little.
“You don’t know that,” Linc pointed out. “The fact that you were so involved after she lost her mother might have been her saving grace.” He went over to the stove, pulled the breakfast tarts out of the oven, and cracked the eggs on top of them, and then slid the tarts back in the oven.
“Thanks, but…” Brigid began, but Linc’s words brought up memories of the terrified young girl who wanted nothing more than to stay in the town where she’d lived her entire life. It might not have been a perfect life, but it had been hers, and she hadn’t been willing to give it up.
Brigid couldn’t argue with that, not even if she’d wanted to. And thinking she had something to do with the amazing young woman Holly was now made her feel proud. Proud of Holly, yes, but also proud of herself.
“I just can’t believe she’s graduating this weekend,” Linc said wistfully. “Where has the time gone?”
“I don’t know, but I swear it goes by faster each day,” Brigid admitted. The sound of voices coming from the dining room brought them out of their reverie.
“Come on, time to stop daydreaming. We have guests to serve.”
“It’s probably for the best,” Linc said. “I could feel myself getting a little teary-eyed.”
“You’re such a softie,” she said gently.
“I know. Kind of like a downy feather pillow,” he lamented.
Brigid laughed. “And I wouldn’t have you any other way.” She sighed contentedly as he pulled her into his arms, and she wrapped her own around him.
After their guests had finished breakfast, and they’d received raves from them about the chocolate muffins and breakfast tarts, Linc and Brigid had begun cleaning up. Their cleaning lady, Olivia, arrived a short time later.
“Good morning,” she said happily as she entered the kitchen through the back door.
“Good morning,” Linc and Brigid replied. They’d just brought the dishes in from the dining room, and Brigid was rinsing them while Linc loaded the dishwasher.
“How are we doing this morning? Do we have any checkouts?” Olivia asked.
“We have two, but they haven’t left yet,” Brigid replied. “I think they were going to be packing up soon, though.” She turned to Linc for confirmation.
“Yep, that’s what they said, “he added.
“Okay,” Olivia nodded. “Also, I wanted to talk to you guys about something.”
Brigid and Linc both turned toward her. “What is it?”
“Nothing bad,” Olivia said quickly. “But my parents are having kind of a reunion back home, and they want me to come, but that means I wouldn’t be here for Holly’s graduation or to help clean up.” She bit her lip nervously.
“Oh, that’s fine!” Brigid said quickly. “Go, be with your family. Holly will understand if you aren’t here. Besides Holly doesn’t want a party after graduation.”
“No party?” Olivia gasped. “Why wouldn’t she want a party?”
“She really doesn’t enjoy big gatherings,” Brigid explained. “And she said she’d rather be able to spend the day celebrating with her friends.”
“That’s kind of sweet,” Olivia said, her lower lip jutting out.
“She has her moments,” Brigid said with a grin as she finished with the last dish. Linc found a place in the dishwasher for it, added the detergent, and shut the door.
“I kind of get it, though,” Olivia said. “My parents made a big deal over mine and had my whole family come for an overly elaborate dinner and stuff. But if I could do it all over again, I think I’d want to spend the day with my friends, too. After all, it's your last time being together like that.”
“That’s what she said,” Linc said. “She’s going to be with her friends at their little parties, and then they’re all going to do something together afterward.”
“What a great idea,” Olivia sighed. “I bet they have a blast.”
“I hope so,” Linc said. “I still remember what it was like graduating from high school. I don’t think I fully realized until much later what a turning point in my life it was.”
Brigid nodded. “I’d have to agree with you. College wasn’t the same thing. It was a unique experience on its own. The end of high school, though, is a bittersweet memory for me.”
“I think it’s like that for a lot of people,” Olivia replied.
The sound of voices coming from the reception area caught Linc’s ear. “I bet that’s the Arroyos ready to check out. I’ll take care of them,” he said as he hurried toward the front of the B & B.
“What’s Holly planning to do after graduation?” Olivia asked.
“At this point, she’s got a loose plan to go with Wade to Texas. He was accepted at Baylor University on a full ride baseball scholarship. But she’s also talked about taking a year off and saving some money, and maybe taking a few business classes. One minute she tells us she’s going with him, and then the next minute she’s not sure.”
“Well, it is a big decision,” Olivia pointed out. “I’m sure it’s hard to choose between her family and her boyfriend.”
“I’m sure it is,” Brigid said. “And I’m doing my best to help her while trying to remain neutral. But it’s a no-brainer that I would rather she was here with us.”
“Of course,” Olivia nodded. “I mean, she’s your kid, and you want her to be close so you can be there for her if she needs you. But speaking from experience, it’s really good for a person to get out there on their own and learn how to rely on themselves.”
“I know,” Brigid grumbled. “But that doesn’t make it any easier.”
“I bet. I’m not looking forward to when that time comes for me.” Olivia walked over to the cabinet and took out her cleaning caddy. “I’m just grateful I still have time.”
“Squeeze that little girl tight, because it goes awfully fast,” Brigid told her as Olivia was walking out of the kitchen to start her cleaning chores.
When she was alone, Brigid turned around and got a sponge. As she absently started wiping off the counters, she thought about what she’d told Olivia. Squeeze that baby tight. Maybe it would be good for her to follow her own advice?
They still had time, but no matter what, Holly would eventually move out and be on her own. Brigid knew she needed to start thinking about that and accepting the reality of it. Hiding from it wouldn’t make the day not come. If anything, it would only make it harder.
“But I don’t have to think about it yet. I still have time,” Brigid mumbled to herself.
Tucking those thoughts away, she only wanted to think happy thoughts. After all, it was Holly’s last day of high school. She didn’t have to work that night, and she had planned to be home. Maybe the three of them could play a board game? It had been a while since they’d had just a family game night. Usually, one of her friends tagged along. Brigid and Linc didn’t mind, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be special to slip one more in just for good measure before she left.
Smiling to herself, Brigid made up her mind. They’d order pizza, play board games, and then have milkshakes afterward, which was one of Holly’s favorite things to do. After all, there was still time to make a few more memories.
Game nights had become something of a staple in their household, although recently they’d become fewer and farther in between. Anymore, it seemed like everyone was busy, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t manage getting in one or two more.
The idea still made her feel a little anxious, so she went over to the refrigerator and pulled out an orange. Taking a seat at the counter, she methodically began to peel it, focusing on making the orange into manageable little chunks, instead of worrying about everything else. All she had to do was distract herself.
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