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 came to Gooseberry Bay to find answers about her past. She came to find an explanation for the dreams that had haunted her after the death of the cop who’d both rescued and raised her, and she came to find the identity of the family she couldn’t remember but assumed at one point she’d been part of.
She hoped that by finding these answers she’d also find healing. She hoped that once she exorcised 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 story about family and friendship, and it's a story about the ties that bind one resident of a small close knit community to another. It’s a series about shared holidays, festivals, and celebrations. It’s a series about shared heartbreak and hardship as well. 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 2 in the series, Ainsley finally meets Adam Winchester. Intent of finding the answers she came to Washington to unveil, she begins to initiate herself into his life. Adam seems to have his own set of demons to deal with but Ainsley had dealt with men harboring inner demons before and she knew that with enough time and the right approach she’d get him to open up and share what he knew for both their sakes.
Meanwhile, Ainsley joins forces with Parker, Jemma, and Josie as they search for the truth about what might have happened to the family who vanished five Thanksgivings ago.
Release date: October 20, 2020
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 132
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The house, which had most likely been loved and cared for by the family who’d lived there at one time, had been abandoned long ago. While the structure was shabby and faded, there was evidence that children had once played in the overgrown yard. A bicycle leaned against the peeling siding, a rope swing hung from a large tree, and a little pink bucket, faded from the sun, laid at the foot of a large shrub, which had been left to spread out unattended. I felt a moment of sympathy for the neglected home with its shuttered windows, cracked walkway, and lawn ravaged by weeds. According to the story I’d been told the previous evening, the family who’d been living in the two-story home with gingerbread trim had disappeared without a trace.
Without a trace. I rolled the concept around in my mind. How exactly does one disappear without a trace? The man, woman, and four children who’d once lived in the now dilapidated house had to be somewhere. Unless, of course, the family was dead and buried in an out-of-the-way place, which was an option too gruesome to consider, although, in the case of this particular family, it seemed as good an explanation as any. When my new friend, Parker Peterson, had told me the story of the missing family over dinner last night, I’d been intrigued, but as I stared at the little pink bucket and tried to imagine the child who’d once played with it, all I could feel was deep and penetrating sorrow.
“Ainsley, what are you doing all the way over on this side of town?”
I turned and looked at the dark-haired woman who’d walked up behind me. “Hope.” I smiled at Hope Masterson, the owner of the local inn who’d started off as a landlord but had become a friend. “I didn’t hear you approach.”
“I was in the area visiting a friend who’s been ill and was on my way back to the inn. I saw you standing here staring at the old Hamish place, so I thought I’d come over and say hi. You look sad. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I assured her. “I was just wondering about the family who once lived here.”
“So, you’ve heard the story?”
I nodded. “Parker was hanging out at Josie and Jemma’s place last night, and she filled me in. I guess I was curious, so I decided to stop by.” I gazed at the boarded up front door beyond the rotting front porch.
“The story of the Hamish family is quite the mystery,” Hope responded. “The fact that the family was clearly preparing to sit down to dinner when they disappeared makes it even creepier in my mind. I guess Parker told you that the Thanksgiving turkey was still sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be carved when the neighbor stopped by the following day.”
I nodded. “Parker mentioned that fact and said it looked as if the family had just vanished into thin air. None of the neighbors claimed to have seen or heard a thing. There hadn’t been any sign of forced entry or a struggle, and the family’s personal possessions, including the family car, were left behind.”
“It is a very odd mystery,” Hope agreed. “And it’s so disturbing. I don’t know everything that happened, but I remember Parker diving into the deep end with that story. She was just getting started as a journalist, and I guess she realized that such an interesting story could provide her with her big break. She was frantic to solve the mystery and figure out what exactly happened to the Hamish family, but, like the cops, she never could figure it out.”
“I think she intends to try again.”
Hope raised a brow. “Really? After all this time? Does she have a new lead?”
“I don’t think so. I think she just hopes that if she looks at the same leads that she had back then, they might make more sense after five years.”
Hope leaned a hip against the short fence that bordered the front of the home. She paused as if taking a moment to organize her thoughts before she spoke. “I remember there were a lot of theories floating around at the time, which I suppose was natural since no one had any answers, and everyone was scared there was a serial killer in town and their family might be next to go missing. There were a few good theories put out there that could never be proven, but the reality is that most of the stories being circulated were nonsense.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“I suppose the out of the box theory that gained the most attention five years ago was the alien abduction theory. Apparently, a handful of people had seen bright lights in the sky that night, and once word of the lights got out, there was a group who insisted that aliens had visited us. Of course, I didn’t believe it for a minute, but I suppose that an alien abduction is about as believable as the claim that the mob abducted the family.”
“Abducted by the mob? What mob?”
Hope shrugged. “I don’t think anyone had a specific mob in mind. A family who disappears as they’re getting ready to sit down for a meal just felt like a mob sort of thing to a lot of people.”
“Yeah, I guess it does at that. What do you think happened?”
She glanced toward the house and then answered. “I really have no idea. I hope the family left of their own free will, but if they had, why not take a few things with them?”
“An abduction does make sense,” I agreed. “Although I can also imagine a scenario where a family in hiding finds out that the person or persons who seek to harm them have found them and are on their way to the house, and the family leaves without even stopping to grab their personal possessions.”
“Of course, if that had occurred, it seems as if the people who were after them would have shown up shortly after their departure only to find the house empty.”
“That’s true. If there had been someone after the family, they wouldn’t have just knocked on the door and then left when no one answered. They would have broken in and taken a look around.”
“Exactly. And if that would have occurred, it seems that someone, a neighbor perhaps, would have noticed that someone other than the family who lived in the house was on the property and called the police. Although…” Hope paused before continuing. “If you stop to think about it, a family on the run from an unknown threat is a good theory if you consider this specific town. Gooseberry Bay really is the perfect town to settle in if you want to get lost. Not only are we a small, close-knit community, but based on the geography created by the bays and inlets in the area, we’re pretty isolated as well.”
I pulled my sweater tighter across my body as a gust of wind blew through the neighborhood, sending the leaves that had littered the yards and streets flying. “That’s a good point as well. I noticed that once you turn off the main road at the bridge, it’s still another thirty miles south to town, and once the road reaches the town, it ends. It’s not like you deal with a lot of folks just passing through on their way to somewhere else.”
“Exactly,” Hope agreed, tucking a stray lock of her dark hair behind her ear. “Which is why your theory of a family on the run seems to have merit. I think if you look hard enough, you’ll find quite a few locals who seem to be harboring a secret.”
I paused to think about that. I had to wonder if the woman I’d come here to find had been harboring a secret, which, like the secret I suspected the Hamish family had kept, had also caused her to run.
“Did you know the family?” I asked after a moment.
Hope picked up a bright red leaf that had settled onto her shoulder once the gust had passed. She twisted the stem mindlessly between her forefinger and thumb as she answered. “I knew them casually, although they weren’t really the sort to establish close friendships. Mark, who I would say was close to forty, worked as a laborer for a local contractor. I’m not certain that I ever spoke to him since he wasn’t the sort to socialize after work, but I remember seeing him around town from time to time. His wife, Mary, who I would guess might have been a few years younger, waited tables at a diner on the highway.”
“Diner?” I asked.
“It was really just a hamburger joint called Jack’s Place. It burned down a few years ago. Arson, I think. To be honest, it looked to be a bit of a greasy spoon, and I never ate there, but I remember noticing it as I drove in and out of the area. It tended to attract tourists passing by on their way into Gooseberry Bay.”
Personally, I loved good greasy hamburgers. It was too bad it was gone. Those sorts of places usually had the best milkshakes. “So tell me more about the family.”
“As I’ve already indicated, I didn’t know them well,” Hope answered. “I remember they had four children. All girls. The oldest was sixteen or seventeen, I guess. I remember that she attended the local high school. There were two girls between the oldest and youngest. I guess they might have been in elementary or even middle school. I seem to remember that the youngest was probably around five or six.” Her smile faded. “Cute kids. Dark hair, big brown eyes, and petite features.” She let out a shallow breath. “I thought about those four kids for the longest time after they went missing. I prayed every night that they were safely tucked away somewhere.”
I looked at the house, which still stood empty after five years. “Did the Hamish family have relatives in the area?”
“Not that I know of. I suppose you can check with the neighbors, but I’m fairly certain that no one showed up looking for answers once the family disappeared. I remember there was an article in the newspaper asking folks to call the sheriff’s office if they had any information that could lead to an explanation as to what happened to the family. The article also asked anyone who might know of any sort of next of kin to come forward, but as far as I know, no one did.”
I looked at the old house that had caused me to pull over and park in the first place. “I suppose it’s possible the Hamishs didn’t have family, but it seems as if someone would have done something about the house by this point. There must be procedures in place to deal with a property if the owner dies, and no one comes forward to claim it.”
“I suppose there might be, but I also suppose that if next of kin can’t be established, what comes next is probably a complicated process. I guess if you’re really interested, you can ask Deputy Todd about it.”
I supposed Deputy Todd might know the status of the estate, but I also supposed that it really wasn’t all that important. “Do you know how long the Hamish family lived here?”
“About two years. Maybe less.” Hope brushed her hair away from her face. “I’m not exactly sure when they moved here, and I really have no idea where they came from, but I remember chatting with the oldest girl, Hannah, during our annual Christmas event the year before they disappeared, and she mentioned that she’d never experienced a white Christmas and had been hoping for one. I asked her where she’d lived before moving to Gooseberry Bay, and she simply said down south where it was hot over the holidays.”
“I suppose Deputy Todd must have traced the family back to wherever they came from. I’ll have to ask Parker. When we spoke, she indicated that she had notes and stuff. Even if she was just starting out, I bet she figured out the basics.”
“Probably. Parker is a smart woman. She has a knack for finding what she needs to close the story she’s after. If she’d had a bit more experience when the Hamish family went missing, I have no doubt she would have found closure for that story as well.”
“Well, she seems determined to do just that now. Parker, Jemma, Josie, and I are all getting together tonight to come up with a game plan. I’m not sure we’ll figure anything out that wasn’t figured out five years ago, but Parker should have a story either way. If you want to help out, I’m sure you’d be welcome.”
“I appreciate that, but it’s a busy season at the inn, and I have the Christmas Village to plan and find volunteers for, so I think I’ll pass.”
“If you need volunteers, I’d be happy to help out,” I offered.
She smiled. “Wonderful. There’s a meeting Tuesday. I’ll email you the specifics. Gooseberry Bay’s Christmas Village is a huge event, and we really can use all the help we can get.”
“I’m really looking forward to the holidays this year. The peninsula gang makes it seem as if a Gooseberry Bay Christmas is a magical experience.” I referred to the three women and two men who lived on the same peninsula as I did at the north edge of Gooseberry Bay.
Hope smiled. “Oh, it is. People come from all around. If we have snow, it will be even better.”
“I can imagine. Booker told me all about the boat parade, and Josie went on and on about all the colorful lights that folks put up all over town. Jemma seemed to be most excited about the huge decorated tree in the gazebo as well as the tree on the boardwalk, and Tegan made mention of a large variety of food vendors.”
“Like I said, it’s a huge undertaking, but it really does mean so much to almost everyone who lives in the area.”
“Well, I, for one, can’t wait.”
Hope turned so that she was facing me directly rather than looking toward the house. “It seems as if you’re fitting right in with the peninsula gang.”
“I am,” I confirmed. “Thank you again for renting to me. It’s worked out perfectly so far. I love the coziness of the cottage, and I cherish the friends I’ve made. And of course, the dogs love having so much room to wander around.”
Hope looked back toward my SUV. “Where are the dogs?”
“I took Kai and Kallie for a long run this morning, so I left them home to rest while I did some errands. They needed a nap, and I needed to run by the hardware store and the general store, and I didn’t want to leave them in the car while I was inside. By the way, I wanted to let you know that I’ve finished painting the walls we talked about. You should stop by the cottage and have a look. You won’t recognize the place.”
“I’ll do that. I’m anxious to see how it all worked out.”
“The light bluish-gray was a good choice. It gives the cottage a very natural feel. I thought I might work on the walls in the attic room your uncle used for a studio over the winter. The room is just so awesome with all those windows, but so far, I’m not really using the space.”
“It might make a good office for you if you’re going to be around long enough to make it worthwhile setting one up.”
“Actually, I do plan to stick around for a while — through the winter for sure and maybe even longer.” I smiled. “I guess I’ll have to see how everything works out, but I really love it here. I may even decide to settle here permanently once I get the answers I came looking for.”
Hope smiled. “I spoke to Archie.” She referred to Archie Winchester, one of the two brothers who lived in the house I’d come to Gooseberry Bay to research. “He told me you were out at the house, and he said it appeared that you had been there before — when you were younger.”
I nodded. “It did seem that way. When Archie first showed me the house, I wasn’t entirely certain. The house in my dreams has presented itself to me in tiny fragments that don’t necessarily fit together in any sort of organized manner. And the house Archie lives in is just so…” I struggled for the right word.
“Sort of, but in a good way. It is huge and very intimidating, but it’s also extremely impressive. I loved the conservatory, and Josie told me that the ballroom is fabulous. I suppose the overuse of crystal chandeliers and ornamental trim did seem a bit ostentatious, but the view was spectacular, and the more I looked around, the more certain I was that I’d visited the house at some point. Archie didn’t know who the woman in the photo was, but I’m hoping Adam will.”
“Archie told me that Adam was in town while he was in London, but I wasn’t aware of that fact, or I would have introduced you. He’s a hard man to nail down.”
“So I’ve heard. Based on what the others have said, he works a lot.”
She nodded. “He really does, but he spends six or seven weeks from around mid-November through New Year’s Day here every year, so he should be showing up in the next week or so, and then he’ll be around for a while.” She glanced back toward the house we were still standing in front of. “I’m not sure if Parker is going to end up with the answers she’s after, but I really hope you get yours. It must be so odd not knowing how you ended up in the middle of a burning building on Christmas Eve when it appears that you were here at the house on Piney Point just months beforehand.”
“I will admit that the whole thing has caused me some grief.”
Hope glanced at her watch. “I should get going. I have a lot to do before check-in time.”
“I imagine Fridays are your busiest day.”
“They are.” She pulled her phone out and sent a quick text. “Good luck with your meeting tonight. I hope you find something new to give your investigation some steam, but if you don’t, I think I should warn you that Parker tends to go just a tiny bit crazy when a story isn’t coming together.”
“Good to know. Thanks for the warning.”
After Hope returned to her car and continued on her way, I decided to take a walk around the property. I wanted to get a feel for things, so I would be able to visualize what Parker referred to when we met that evening. The house was situated on a large lot on a quiet street. There were homes on either side of the property, but they were set in the center of their own large lots, so the three structures weren’t really all that close together. The backyard was fenced, but the gate was easy enough to open, so I popped the latch and headed around to the rear of the property. The grass was dead and overrun with weeds, the same as the grass in the front of the property had been. The upstairs windows were covered with shutters, as were the windows at the front of the house, but the downstairs windows were covered with large pieces of plywood. Small pieces of glass on the ground seemed to indicate that someone had broken the windows at the back of the house at some point, and whoever was supposed to be keeping an eye on the place had covered the openings with wood rather than replacing them.
There was a tall wooden fence around the entire property at the back. A small wooden gate along the back fence line provided access to the meadow behind the property. Beyond the meadow was a road, and on the other side of the road was a heavily forested hillside. I supposed if it had been dark when the family left their property, they could have snuck out the back and met up with a car that was waiting for them on the road behind the home, and no one, not even the neighbors on either side of the house, would necessarily have seen them.
I wasn’t sure where the road that ran behind the home led, but if I had to guess, it probably hugged the hillside and then eventually met up with the main highway that ran along the bay. The bay road was the only road in or out of the area, so if the family had fled in a vehicle, they would have had to have taken that route which led to the bridge that crossed the inlet separating Gooseberry Bay from the road leading to Port Angeles.
I wondered what was on the other side of the wooded hillside. I’d need to look at a map. If the family had fled at the last minute as their enemy approached, they wouldn’t have had time to arrange for a car and would have been on foot. In that case, it would have been safest to disappear into the woods rather than traveling along the highway. I felt a chill climb up my spine. I couldn’t imagine the terror the family must have felt if they had been forced to run for their lives with only the clothes on their backs on what had most likely been a chilly night.
After I checked out the area behind the property, I headed back through the gate to the fenced yard. I took another walk around the house and then headed toward my SUV.
“Afternoon,” a woman with long blond hair who looked to be in her early twenties approached from across the street. She was holding the hand of a child who looked to be around three.
“Afternoon,” I replied.
“I noticed you were checking out the Hamish place,” she said. “I live in the area and try to keep an eye on the place. Was there something you needed?”
“My name is Ainsley Holloway,” I said. “I’m working with Parker Peterson, who works for the local newspaper. Parker is doing a follow-up story on the family who disappeared, and I was just here to take a look before our strategy meeting.”
“I know who Parker is,” the woman said. She held out a hand. “I’m Vanessa Hudson.”
“Happy to meet you.” I looked down at the child who was still clinging to the woman’s hand. “And what is your name?”
“I’m happy to meet you, Arial.” I really hadn’t spent much time around children. Being an only child, I hadn’t had nieces and nephews to dote on, nor did I have friends with children, but this little pixie sure was a cutie. I looked back toward the woman, whom I assumed was the girl’s mother. “Did you live here when the family went missing?”
She nodded. “I moved to the area about the same time as the Hamish family. I was devastated when the family simply disappeared.”
“I can imagine. I recently moved to the area, but based on what I’ve been told, the whole thing is quite the mystery.” I smiled at Arial, who had walked over and sat down on the edge of the raised sidewalk. She scooped up a pile of brightly colored leaves and began stacking them neatly. “Did any of the family members say anything in the days or weeks before the incident that might explain what happened?”
“No. Not really.” Vanessa furrowed her brow. “How exactly do you know Parker Peterson?”
“As I indicated, I recently arrived in Gooseberry Bay. I’m currently renting a cottage out on the peninsula. I became friends with the other residents who live out there, and Parker is a frequent visitor.”
“Do you know Parker well?” I asked.
“No. I’ve never even spoken to her in person, but I know who she is. I’ve read her articles, and I remember her covering the missing family for her newspaper at the time of the disappearance. I guess you can say I’m more of a fan than a friend.”
“She’s very talented,” I agreed. “I guess you must be around the same age as the oldest Hamish girl, Hannah.”
“Yes. We were in the same class in high school.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard from her since the family disappeared.”
The woman hesitated before responding. I could see that she was trying to work something through in her mind. Her smile faded, and her previously open facial expression shuttered, as she seemed to have come to some sort of decision. “No, I haven’t heard from Hannah. I’m pretty sure she’s dead. I’m pretty sure they all are.”
“You don’t think they might have simply left the area for some reason?”
She shook her head. “I don’t see why they’d just leave. I remember that Hannah really liked it here. I also remember her mentioning that the others liked it here as well.” Her smile returned, although a distant look came across her face as she seemed to be remembering the family she’d once known. “Courtney was in the eighth grade when they lived here. She was the most outgoing of the sisters. The loudest as well. She was going through a rebellious phase during her time in Gooseberry Bay, and it seemed that she found herself in trouble more often than not. Still, I remember noticing how smart she was and how confident.”
“Thirteen is a tough age,” I agreed.
“It really is, but Courtney had gumption. She knew what she wanted, and she knew how to get it. I remember thinking that when she got older, she was going to rule the world. And anyone who knew her knew that she was going to do it on her own terms.” Vanessa wiped a tear from her eye. “I hate the thought that she might never have had the chance to grow up.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s such a tragic situation. Did you know the younger girls?”
She nodded. “Sarah was only ten and already into a lot of different hobbies. Mama wouldn’t let her do any organized after-school activities, like ballet or gymnastics, but Sarah loved to draw, and she loved to read.”
“Mama?” I asked.
“Her mama, Mary.”
I nodded. “Go on.”
“Laura was the baby of the family. She was six and had just started the first grade. She still liked to play with her dolls, and she was forever out in the yard burying things with her little pink shovel and bucket.”
“Burying things? What sort of things?” I asked.
“Anything she could find.” Her grin widened. “One time, she buried her daddy’s car keys, and no one could find them. There was this huge search for them before Laura was finally convinced to give them up or lose her bucket and shovel forever.”
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