Pineapple Valentine Mystery: A Mystery Romance
As danger mounts, she'll need everyone's help to keep Venus' family safe, which means tapping into Declan's giant ex-salesman Blade and his crazy Uncle Seamus.
Someone might need to keep an eye on Darla and Mariska too---with Lady Venus dead they think maybe they should take her place...and a mysterious local matchmaker doesn't agree!
Release date: January 31, 2023
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Pineapple Valentine Mystery: A Mystery Romance
“I’m sure you can get the beach house,” said matchmaker Lady Venus into her phone.
“I think the car is it for him, Mom. I’m serious; I can’t get anything else out of him,” said her daughter, Selene, on the opposite side of the line.
Venus closed the door behind her and scanned the makeshift dressing room provided to her by the residents of Pineapple Port.
Ugh. What am I doing here?
Venus returned her attention to the phone. “Sorry. Selene, you’re always too quick to give up. Don’t sell yourself short. In my day—”
“No. I’m telling you, I can’t do this anymore,” said Selene, a tinge of whine in her voice. “This guy is tapped out.”
Lady Venus sighed. She’d sensed unrest in her daughter lately. Maybe it was better not to push her over the edge over one rich old chump.
“Fine. Pack it in. You have an event in a couple of days.”
Selene sighed. “I know, Mom. Thank you for understanding.”
Venus scoffed. “Oh, I don’t understand, honey, but you are who you are.”
The matchmaker hung up, lip curling as she scanned the tiny room. Someone had provided a makeshift vanity for her, using what looked like second-hand furniture. She didn’t need it. She’d guessed she’d made a terrible mistake agreeing to an event held at a place as rinky-dink as Pineapple Port and had come pre-make-upped and ready to go. All she needed to do was don her trademark red dress, walk onto the stage, fleece the idiots, and go home.
She peered into the mirror and pushed back the flesh of her face to highlight her cheekbones.
Might be time for a tightening.
Lady Venus was well known for her impressive auditorium matchmaking events. It had been a long time since she’d agreed to an event at such a small, plain venue, but she wanted to try a few things for her new business plan. This year, she planned to expand her market by targeting retirement communities. She already specialized in older clients—older people were more gullible, and she was sixty-four. No matter how many facelifts she had, she couldn’t pass for twenty-five anymore, and young people didn’t want love advice from some old hag.
In her opinion, young people didn’t want love advice from anyone anymore. They’d rather go online and swipe left and right, shopping for dates as if they were thumping on melons in the supermarket, testing them for ripeness. If there had been social media when she was young and beautiful—
Venus shook her head.
No. Stop it.
She had no time to mourn her youth or birth-timing now.
She pushed her maudlin thoughts aside and undressed. Her red dress hung waiting on a hook on the wall.
At least they got this right.
As she slipped into the dress, she noticed a green bottle of soda on the edge of the makeup counter and frowned. She always had a bottle of soda waiting for her. She liked a sugar boost before she went on stage, but this bottle wasn’t right.
Not the right color.
She picked it up and read the label.
“Cupid!” she barked at the closed door behind her.
Her son popped his head in. Though he was small-boned, like her, his cheeks were round, like his namesake’s.
“Yes?” he asked.
She held the bottle aloft. “What is this? Cucumber soda? What kind of backwater dive is this?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I could look for something else, except—” He glanced at his watch. “It’s time.”
Venus huffed and took an angry swig from the bottle to wet her whistle. She couldn’t give a speech with a dry mouth.
“Ugh,” she said, coughing. It felt as if something had hit the back of her throat, and she swallowed quickly, worried she was about to choke or throw up on her only red dress.
She pressed her hand to her chest and waited until the unpleasantness passed.
“I don’t know if I can do a venue like this again,” she said, slapping the bottle back down on the wooden vanity. “I don’t care how lucrative you think targeting retirement communities could be.”
A terrible itch grabbed the side of her left breast, and she clawed at it. When the prickly sensation stopped, she smoothed her dress and strode out of the room. Cupid handed her a microphone as she passed him.
“Let’s get this nightmare over with,” she muttered.
She cleared her throat.
Something felt off, but she pushed her misgivings away as she scratched at her side.
After all, she was a professional.
Seamus rested his forearm against the tiki-style bar in the middle of the Pineapple Port community center’s great room and eyed it as it wobbled. It felt like someone had draped a tablecloth over a refrigerator box, stapled some palm fronds, and declared it a bar.
“I’ll have a whiskey. Neat,” he said to the shaggy-haired young man behind the makeshift bar. Affixed to the boy’s cheap black vest was a sticker nametag with Jaxxonn scrawled across it in black marker. Jaxxonn stared at him blankly, looking as if he didn’t know how to pour a glass of wine or mix a drink.
Seamus shook his head in disapproval.
A makeshift bartender for a makeshift bar.
“Must have had a sale on Xs and Ns the day you were born,” he said, motioning to the nametag.
Jaxxonn squinted at him. “Huh?”
Seamus shook his head. “Nothing. I’ll take that whiskey.”
Jaxxonn frowned and uttered one of Seamus’ least favorite phrases.
“Oh, dude, it’s beer and wine only.”
Seamus winced as if the boy had slapped him.
He should have known better. The pain he found himself in was a self-inflicted wound. He should have never attended the Lady Venus Valentine’s Matchmaking Extravaganza in the first place.
What was I thinking?
He scanned the crimson paper heart decorations dangling from every available inch of wall space.
The room looked as if Valentine’s Day had thrown up in it.
Bad idea. Bad bar…
At his bar, The Anne Bonny, where he served real alcohol that curled the hair on men’s chests and some of the women’s, he’d overheard a pair of customers talking about how they’d gotten lucky at a singles mixer hosted by Florida’s famed matchmaker, Lady Venus. He’d walked away laughing at the woman’s cheesy name, but the more he’d thought about it, the less attending one of the mixers seemed like a horrible idea.
Relationship-wise, he was running out of options at the Anne Bonny. He’d thought buying a bar would be like owning a personal ‘chick magnet.’
Who wouldn’t want to romance the owner of a bar?
Everyone, as it turned out.
A guy who smelled like stale beer didn’t turn women on, no matter how skilled he was with a barf mop. The women who did pay attention to him—primarily barflies hoping to score free drinks—weren’t the sort of women from whom he wanted extra attention.
A few ladies had succumbed to his charms, but in each case, he’d either lost interest or they did.
Seamus knew he wasn’t getting any younger. Maybe it was time to find a good woman and settle down.
Lost in his thoughts, he cocked his head.
Maybe settle down was too strong a phrase...
Anything was possible.
Maybe Lady Venus could help find him a fresh crop of premium ladies, but no one warned him the bar was beer and wine only. Had he known, he would have come prepared.
Seamus scanned the people milling about the enormous room, their eyes wide and searching...
He doubted he could make it through.
This crowd required more than a beer.
“Fine, I’ll take a Guinness,” he said.
Jaxxonn’s face remained expressionless as he motioned to a line of beer cans at the far end of the bar. None of them were Guinness.
Seamus glowered at the motley collection of aluminum.
“Yer tellin’ me that’s all ye’ve got?” he asked. His Irish accent grew thicker when he was agitated, drunk, or around women who seemed to dig it, so by the end of this inglorious event, he suspected people would need subtitles to understand him.
The boy shrugged. “These are all we got.”
Seamus turned his face away, grimacing as if the available beers were made of cockroach puree.
He spotted a short, squirrelly-looking woman with pitch-black hair wearing a fringed black shawl. She took a sip from the bottle in her hand and then lowered it.
Then she chewed.
“Sweet Jaysus,” he muttered, steeling himself for the inevitable.
He poked a finger at the bottle in Jaxxonn’s lineup that least resembled the one held in the claw of the woman in black.
Drinking lousy beer was one thing; drinking chewable beer was another.
“Give me that then, ye monster,” he said.
Jaxxonn ducked behind the bar. He reappeared with an opened beer in his hand.
Seamus took it and turned to leave.
“That’s a dollar,” the boy called after him.
He turned back, gaping like a man in a dentist’s chair.
“It’s a cash bar?” he asked.
Seamus closed his eyes and tried to think calming thoughts.
“Well, if that’s not addin’ insult to injury.”
When his flash of temper faded, he wrestled a dollar from his wallet and slapped it on the bar. He looked at Jaxxonn, looked at the tip jar sitting on the far-right corner of the bar, and then dug out a second bill to stuff inside it, grumbling to himself all the while.
“It’s not Jaxxon-with-six-Xs’ fault I was dumb enough to show up to this dog and pony—”
Seamus looked up from his dark thoughts to find Jackie Blankenship, the last woman he’d had a real relationship with, standing beside him. She wore a blue dress that fit her figure well and a pair of flower-shaped gold earrings he suspected he’d given her. He was pleased to see the gold plating hadn’t rubbed off them yet.
His relationship with Jackie hadn’t ended well. It hadn’t ended poorly, compared to some of his other entanglements—she hadn’t carved unkind words into the side of his car or poisoned his houseplants—but it hadn’t ended well.
“‘Tisn’t yerself then,” he said, smiling.
She snorted a laugh. “What has you in a tizzy?”
“You’re talking like the Lucky Charms Leprechaun. Something has you wound up.”
“Oh.” He snickered and bobbed his chin in the direction of the bar. “No liquor, no Guiness.”
“Ah. That’ll do it.” She flashed him a tight smile. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“I’m like a bad penny. Can I get ye—you— something to drink?”
“Sure. I’ll take a white wine.”
Seamus moved to place his order, realized it meant interacting with Jaxxonn again, braced himself, and then requested the wine.
To his surprise, the wine arrived without incident. Jaxxonn had wine wired. The boy pushed a pre-poured plastic glass in his direction as smoothly as if he’d been practicing all week, though he didn’t seem excited to do it.
Seamus suspected Jaxxonn hadn’t been excited since he’d earned his second N.
He glanced at the tip jar but didn’t make another move for his wallet. If he gave the kid a buck every time he got a drink for himself and one for every glass fetched for a lady, he’d have to take out a second mortgage by the end of the evening.
“Keep rackin’ them and stackin’ them, and I’ll get you in the end,” he said with a wink and a nod in the direction of the tip jar.
Jaxxonn just frowned.
Seamus reconsidered. The last thing he wanted to do was miff the guy with control of the alcohol during a matchmaking hell-a-thon.
He stuffed another buck in Jaxxonn’s jar.
“You remember my largess the next time I need a drink,” he said. “Use it for your medical school tuition.”
Jaxxonn’s slack expression twitched.
He left and handed Jackie her wine.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“Nothin’. Me and Jaxxonn go way back.”
Seamus took a sip of his beer as the two of them violently avoided eye contact for thirty seconds.
He cleared his throat. “So, um—”
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” boomed a woman’s voice over a loudspeaker.
Seamus’ attention shot toward the stage.
Thank you, sweet Mary.
On the south side of the room, a small-boned, dark-haired woman in a red dress held a microphone in her hand as she flashed a shaky smile at the crowd. Seamus guessed her to be about sixty. Her breasts were so enormous on her petite frame he wondered how she didn’t topple over as she reached to scratch her side with her free hand.
Seamus leaned to speak into Jackie’s ear. “Looks as tho’ her dress has its work cut out for it, keeping all that tucked inside.”
Jackie giggled. The sound of her laughter felt familiar and made Seamus smile.
“Welcome to Lady Venus’ Valentine Extravaganza event!” she roared.
The crowd erupted with cheers and applause.
The woman clawed at her chest, scratching some terrible itch, and cleared her throat.
“This is where you’ll fall in—”
She paused to stroke her throat, smiled, and then started again.
“Excuse me,” she said, wiping at the sheen of sweat on her brow. “This is where you’ll fall—”
The woman spasmed as if she were fighting back a gag reflex and then tore at her shoulder.
“I, um, wow. Is it hot in here?” she said in a suddenly raspy voice. “Can we get someone to turn up the air?”
She scanned the crowd and lowered the microphone long enough to bark two short coughs.
“Anyway, like I was saying, this is where you’ll fall—”
Lady Venus went rigid.
She dropped the mic, the clatter of it echoing across the large room as she fell forward like a felled redwood tree.
Her knees didn’t buckle, and her hands never flew out to brace for impact.
Seamus had never seen anything quite like it.
Lady Venus hit the stage face-first, hard.
A loud gasp rippled through the crowd as a man rushed from backstage and dropped to a knee at the woman’s side.
“This is a might more exciting than I expected,” said Seamus.
“You’re not kidding,” agreed Jackie.
He took a sip of his beer-flavored water, attention locked on the stage. “She said we were going to fall. That was misleadin’.”
Jackie smacked his sternum with the back of her hand.
“You’re awful,” she said, but she didn’t look mad. Jackie had always had a dark sense of humor.
He loved that about her.
“I told you she couldn’t hold up that weight,” he added.
Jackie tittered, and Seamus grinned back at her as more people rushed toward the stage.
At least now they had something to talk about.
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