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 12 in the series, Ainsley is hired to help solve a cold case after her client buys the contents of a storage garage during the annual auction and finds a hidden clue to a long cold mystery.
Release date: April 18, 2023
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 160
Reader says this book is...: entertaining story (1) female sleuth (1)
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Time will Tell
“See that guy sitting at the counter?” Tegan Walker asked as my friend, Jemma Hawthorn, and I slid onto benches framing our regular table near the window overlooking the inlet that fingered off from the main body of Gooseberry Bay.
“The good-looking guy with the light blue t-shirt sitting on the end?” Jemma asked as we settled in for lunch at the Rambling Rose.
Tegan nodded and then slid onto the bench next to Jemma. “His name is Walker Robinson. He came in for lunch about a week ago, and we started chatting. He mentioned that his first name was Walker, and I laughed and told him that my last name was Walker. I guess sharing a name created a bond of sorts since the next thing I knew, I was standing at the counter chatting with him while he ate. It was slow that day, and Josie was manning the kitchen, so we had a nice conversation without any interruptions.” She referred to our good friend, neighbor, and full-time Rambling Rose employee, Josie Wellington. “Since the afternoon of that fated ‘meet-cute,’ he’s come into the Rambling Rose for lunch every day. He always sits on the same stool at the end of the counter, and he always comes later in the afternoon when it’s less likely to be busy.”
“And?” I asked, assuming there must be an “and” to Tegan’s story. While I supposed it was a coincidence that the customer’s first name was the same as Tegan’s last name, I certainly didn’t think it was newsworthy.
“And when he came in today, he asked me out on a date.”
Tegan had broken up with her longtime boyfriend, Booker McGuire, just before Christmas. It had been a nasty breakup that had left her shattered and totally uninterested in dating. I was glad she was beginning to come out of her shell. Of course, if the guy was only passing through, he might not be the best choice for a post-breakup first date.
“Are you thinking of going?” I asked as I glanced toward the tall man with a killer body, dark hair, and dark eyes.
“I don’t know. When Walker asked me to dinner, I was totally thrown. I haven’t been on a first date in a really long time, and to be honest, I’m not even sure I’m ready for such a thing. I needed time to think, so I told him I had plans with friends tonight but would check to see if it would be possible to reschedule our plans. I figured that would give me time to think about it a bit, and if I decided I wanted to go, I’d tell him my friends agreed to move our get-together to another night, so I was free. If I decided I didn’t want to go out with him, I could tell him that my plans weren’t as flexible as I’d hoped and that I’d have to pass.”
“And what if he had simply changed his invite to tomorrow night?” Jemma asked.
“He told me that he’s in town visiting friends and will be heading home tomorrow. So if I’m interested, I need to go out with him tonight.”
“Are you interested?” Jemma asked.
Tegan glanced over her shoulder. “Maybe. He’s really nice, and his changeable eyes pulled me in the first time I met him.”
“Changeable eyes?” I asked.
“At first glance, they look like a dark brown, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice that his eyes appear to change from dark brown to dark gray. Really, at times, they’re almost black. I guess it depends on the lighting, but there’s something very alluring about the way his eyes appear to change with his mood.” Tegan turned her back toward the man and looked at Jemma and me. “So what should I tell him? When the two of you walked in, I indicated that you were the friends I had plans with, and I needed to check with you to see if there was any flexibility in those plans.”
“I say go,” I said. “You’ve already had an opportunity to get to know the guy a bit, and I assume that so far, you like what you see. I know that the first date after a bad breakup can be tricky, but it’s really just a date, and if the guy is leaving town tomorrow, it’s a very minor commitment.”
“What if it’s a disaster,” Tegan wondered. “What if I feel awkward and nervous and start rambling the way I do when I get nervous.”
“If it makes you more comfortable, arrange to meet him at whichever restaurant he has in mind. By doing that, you can fake a migraine and leave if things go bad,” I said.
Tegan looked at Jemma. “Do you agree with Ainsley?”
“I do, but only if you’re ready. I know that Ainsley said this was just a date, but I understand that the first date after going through something like what you’ve been through these past few months can be tough. Do it on your own timeline. No one else’s.”
She smiled. “Thanks, guys. I appreciate the input. I think I’ll tell Walker that we were able to reschedule tonight’s plans and accept his invitation, but I also think I’ll take Ainsley’s advice and plan to meet him at the restaurant.”
I felt a tug in my heart for Tegan as she walked away. The past few months had been the worst for her. She’d loved Booker, and once upon a time, he’d loved her as well. It had been assumed by all that their relationship was the “till death” sort of commitment, so we were all shocked when Booker upped and moved to Hawaii with little provocation or notice. Initially, Tegan tried to make the long-distance thing work between them, but when Booker told our landlord that he was moving out of his cottage without even talking to her about it, Tegan realized that her fairy tale romance was over. She struggled to find a way to go on without him, but after six months of pure hell, it finally appeared she’d found her way out of the darkness. I really hoped this date went well. Now that I’d stopped and given it some thought, perhaps encouraging her to go out with this gorgeous stranger wasn’t the best advice.
“Something on your mind?” Jemma asked.
“I’m rethinking my advice to Tegan. I was so happy to see her even consider a post-breakup date that I think I may have pushed too hard. Your advice was better, and I wish I could take mine back.”
Jemma nodded toward the counter where Tegan was smiling and laughing at something the handsome stranger had said. “I think that dinner with this man might be a risk worth taking. He’s simply visiting, so there’s no pressure to build a relationship beyond the dinner date. Maybe that sort of setup is exactly what Tegan needs.”
“Maybe,” I agreed. “I hope so.”
Josie had been in the kitchen when we arrived, and I was happy when she came out from the back to join us. “So what do you think of Tegan’s hunk?” she asked, sliding into the booth next to Jemma.
“He’s quite good-looking,” I said. “If he’s been here all week, you must have spoken to him. Is he as nice as Tegan indicated?”
Josie paused before answering. Since Josie was usually the first person to jump on the bandwagon when it came to casual dating, I took that as a bad sign. She eventually answered. “He’s nice enough, I guess. I ran into him over at the carnival a couple days ago, and we chatted while we waited in line for shaved ice. He was personable and appeared to know a lot about the area. He seemed like a nice guy; it’s just that there’s something going on behind those gorgeous eyes that I find disturbing.”
“Disturbing?” I asked. “Tegan mentioned that his eyes go from brown to gray and seem to mirror his mood, but she found it alluring.”
“There’s just something captivating about the way the man seems to look right through you, but where Tegan seems to be enthralled by his gaze, I find myself pulling back.” Josie leaned in close, lowering her voice. “It’s like Dracula with his captivating gaze. I just have a feeling he uses that gaze to pull his victims in and render them helpless right before he bites them and ends their lives.”
Jemma grinned. “Are you trying to tell us that Tegan’s guy is a vampire?”
“Not a vampire, but perhaps a bloodsucker. I may be way off, but if I were Tegan, I’d proceed with caution.”
After hearing Josie’s thoughts, I felt somewhat unsettled about suggesting that Tegan go out with the guy. I supposed it was too late to tell her I’d changed my mind, but perhaps a suggestion of caution might be warranted.
“Parker was in earlier,” Josie said, changing the subject. Parker Peterson was a reporter for the Gooseberry Bay Gazette and the newest resident of the peninsula where Jemma, Josie, Tegan, Coop, and I lived. “She told me that Sawyer had bought a house in Gooseberry Bay and planned to spend a lot more time here.”
Sawyer Banning was the new owner of the Gazette and Parker’s boss. Based on my observations, Sawyer and Parker had a complicated relationship. On the one hand, there were most definitely sparks between them, but on the other hand, he was her boss. In addition to being her boss, Sawyer was her greatest critic. It wasn’t that Sawyer didn’t appreciate the quality of the articles that Parker wrote, but there had been tension between them over the choice of subject matter. Parker liked to write about things that interested her, whereas Sawyer had a definite idea regarding the vibe he wanted his newspaper to send out into the world. There was even a point after Sawyer took over when I thought Parker might quit or Sawyer might fire her, but then he’d left to return to his home in California, and things at the Gazette had settled back into a comfortable routine.
“I hope that if Sawyer has decided to be an active owner and not simply a figurehead, Parker and Sawyer can find a way to work together,” I said.
“The problem, in my opinion,” Josie said, “is that all that sexual tension they have going on between them is lacking a natural outlet. Without a natural outlet, the tension is being released in the form of professional rivalry.”
“If the two were actual rivals, that might be fine, but they aren’t rivals,” Jemma pointed out. “Sawyer is Parker’s boss, so he has the right to ask her to do things a certain way. Parker, on the other hand, is Parker and has never been the sort to listen to others. I’m afraid that if the two don’t figure out a way to deal with the feelings they have for one another, things are going to get messy.”
“They just need to sleep together and get it out of their system,” Josie said.
“I’m not sure that sleeping together will make things easier,” I said. “In fact, in my experience, sleeping with a man who you should really be avoiding usually, if not always, makes things worse.”
“Sounds like you have personal experience with this sort of thing,” Josie said, wriggling her eyebrows in a manner that made it clear that she was looking for the rest of the story.
I shrugged. “Maybe a long time ago.” I glance up. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the kitchen making our lunch?”
Josie slipped out of the booth. “I guess I should get back to work, but if you think reminding me of that is going to cause me to drop the forbidden love thing, you really don’t know me at all.”
With that, she dashed away.
Jemma laughed. “She’s not kidding, you know. If you don’t want to tell Josie what really happened, you’d better make something up to satisfy her natural curiosity. If you don’t, she’ll hound you day and night until you spill the beans.”
I blew out a breath. “I need to remember to be more careful about what I say in front of that girl. Hopefully, she’ll have forgotten all about it by dinner. Will it just be the three of us?”
“As far as I know, it will be. Although I told Parker we were grilling and suggested she stop by if she wasn’t busy. She was noncommittal, so I don’t know if she plans to join us or not.”
“And Coop?” I asked about Jemma’s boyfriend, Cooper Fairchild.
“He’s still out of town. He won’t be back until the day after tomorrow.”
“It seems as if he’s been busy as of late.”
Coop was a helicopter pilot with his own bird. He specialized in sightseeing charters but also took on private requests from individuals needing to go into Seattle who preferred not to take the time to make the long drive around or take the ferry. The charter he’d booked this week was a multiple-day charter for a group doing geographical research in the area.
“It might be interesting to work with a group from the university who need a birdseye view in order to expedite their research. I imagine doing flyovers of popular tourist spots gets boring after a while.”
“Coop was pretty excited about it. The group is based in Tacoma, but they have flown over every part of the state. I spoke to Coop on the phone last night, and he said there’s been some talk about booking him for another week next winter.”
“That’d be great. Winters tend to be slow for Coop.”
Jemma and I continued talking about nothing and everything as we enjoyed the soup and sandwiches Josie had delivered to us. When we’d finished our meal, we each went our own way. I had a new client coming into Ainsley Holloway Investigations that afternoon, and Jemma had a meeting with one of the clients she developed software for. My dogs, Kai and Kallie, were hanging out with Jemma and Josie’s cats, Stefan and Damon, in the roommates’ cottage, which seemed to be the best choice since I not only had a new client coming in but a lot of running around to do. I planned to pick them up once I finished working today.
After I left the bar and grill, I paused to take in the gorgeous June afternoon. The sun was high in the sky, and there was nary a cloud in sight. The simply perfect weather had me wishing I could play hooky and go for a long run since I’d only had time for a short one that morning. I’d gotten a late start and had a lot to accomplish today, so it had been barely long enough to get warmed up and certainly not long enough to tire my muscles.
As tempting as the idea might be, I knew I needed to get going. I usually had a fair amount of flexibility in my schedule. Today, however, I’d had an early meeting with a woman I’d been helping gather evidence for a lawsuit she was involved in, followed by a shift at the community information booth on the boardwalk, a chore all the local business owners were helping with this summer, lunch with Jemma, and then an appointment with my new client at two-thirty. I enjoyed my full and busy life here in Gooseberry Bay, and most days, I found my work rewarding and meaningful. I had good friends, an amazing cottage, and roots that were more deeply planted than anywhere I’d lived since my childhood in Georgia. I sometimes wished I could spend more time with my sister, Avery, and my love life had fallen into a bit of a rut, but overall, I’d have to say I was about as content as I’d ever been.
Once I arrived at my office, I brewed a fresh pot of coffee. I wasn’t sure if my new client was a coffee drinker, but I liked to have some to offer, and the scent of a pot on the burner seemed to add a cozy feel to the place, even on a relatively warm summer day. I opened the windows to allow the fresh salty air from the bay across the street to drift inside. The sounds created by the carnival that had been set up on the northern end of the boardwalk wafted through the building, providing yet another distraction to the pile of work I had set off to one side of my desk. I enjoyed my life as a private investigator, but the amount of paperwork I seemed to generate was downright ridiculous.
“Oh good, you’re back,” Beverly Drummond, one-half of the sister pair who owned Then and Again, an antique shop and my neighbor to the left, said.
“I’m back, but I have a new client coming in soon. Did you need something?”
Beverly looked over her shoulder; I assumed to ensure that someone, most likely her sister, Edna Jenkins, hadn’t followed her. “I guess you heard that Remi is building a second video arcade in that little strip mall down the road near the mouth of the bay.”
Remington Beckett, Remi to most everyone, had opened a video arcade a few doors down from the block of buildings where I had my office, and Beverly and Edna had their shop. Edna had been on the warpath ever since, and while some of the predictions she’d had about loitering and traffic had come to pass once the arcade went in, I didn’t think the slight change in environment was worth all the fuss.
“Yes. Remi told me that he was looking into building a second location there. Surely, Edna isn’t up in arms about that. The second video arcade will be miles down the road and shouldn’t impact Then and Again in the least.”
“You know Edna. Once she makes up her mind about something, her mind stays made up. She predicted the increase in traffic and loitering that came to pass with the arcade down the street, so now she’s going around telling everyone that a second arcade along the same stretch of road will completely ruin our little town. She’s even circulating a petition to block the sale of the property.”
I wanted to huff out a breath of frustration, but I knew Edna’s vendetta with Remi wasn’t Bev’s fault. “I’m sure Edna won’t have any more success in her bid to block the sale of the storefront in the strip mall than she had with her bid to block the sale of the office supply store down the street.”
“Maybe not, but she’s pretty determined.” Beverly frowned. “I don’t know what’s going on with Edna, but she seems to have become totally obsessed. I know there isn’t a thing you can do about my sister; no one can, but you might want to warn Remi that Edna is planning a smear campaign not only to ruin his reputation but the reputation of the arcade he already owns as well.”
“Smear campaign?” I asked. “Is Edna planning to make stuff up?”
“She’s not making stuff up, but she does plan to emphasize certain aspects of the man’s lifestyle, such as his reputation as a playboy.”
Playboy? I supposed I could see how someone Beverly’s age might use that term to describe a man who happened to be rich, gorgeous, and desirable to women. “I suspect that Remi can take care of himself, but I’ll give him a heads up the next time I see him.”
“According to Edna, he’s coming to Gooseberry Bay this week. Probably tomorrow, but she wasn’t certain about that.”
“I hadn’t heard. I’ll text Remi today to give him a heads up about what he might expect to find once he gets here.”
Beverly nodded and thanked me. I knew that Bev liked Remi just fine. Most people did once they got to know him. He could be downright charming when he wanted to be, and between his charm and his sweet smile, he tended to win over even his staunchest opponents. In fact, other than Edna, who was quite strong in her beliefs, I couldn’t think of another merchant in the area who Remi hadn’t managed to win over with his affable personality.
I took my cell phone out and sent Remi a text, briefly outlining the message Beverly had wanted to convey. As I hit the send button, I wondered why Remi hadn’t mentioned he’d be in town this week. The two of us had become fairly good friends by this point. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we stayed in touch when he was away, but we’d get together and share a meal or take in a movie whenever he was in town. There were times when the man had made it clear that he might be interested in taking our friendship to the next level, but everything about that was complicated. I preferred to keep my life as uncomplicated as possible, so while I’d encouraged his friendship and enjoyed his company, I’d made it clear that being friends without benefits was the only sort of relationship I was ever going to be interested in.
Braxton Hillsdale showed up at two-thirty on the dot with a plastic bag that appeared to contain an item of clothing. I had to admit that he’d captured my interest before he’d ever said a single word. It wasn’t often that my new clients came armed with something I assumed was evidence.
I held out a hand in greeting. “I’m Ainsley Holloway, and I assume that you are Braxton Hillsdale,” I said to the man I estimated to be in his mid to late thirties.
“Please have a seat.” I motioned to the chair on the far side of my desk. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No, thank you. I’m in a bit of a hurry and would like to get started if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly.” I pulled up the file I’d started on my computer. “You’ve filled out the new client paperwork, so let’s jump right in. How exactly can I help you?”
He crossed his right leg over his left and then began to speak. “Two weeks ago, I attended the annual auction at the local storage facility. During the auction, I bid on the contents of several storage garages and won the bid on one of the larger units. The facility gave me a week to clear out the items I’d purchased, so I simply rented a U-Haul and moved everything into my garage at home. There was a lot of stuff in the storage garage, so I didn’t take the time to go through it before moving it, but in the past few days, I’ve begun to sort the items I purchased. During my sorting process, I came across something that I find both interesting and disturbing.”
“And what might that be?” I asked.
“One of the boxes I unpacked contained clothing. Initially, I figured that the clothing was intended for donation and planned to go ahead and donate the items myself since most were in decent repair, but then I came across a pretty little dress, white with yellow daisies. When I saw the dress, something clicked in my memory. I was sure I’d seen the dress before but couldn’t remember where or when. I thought and thought about it, but the memory wouldn’t jell, so I set the box aside, hoping it would come to me.”
“And did it?” I asked.
I raised a brow. “And who is Pamela Cartwright?”
“Did you live in the area in two thousand sixteen?”
“No, I’ve lived in Gooseberry Bay for less than three years. Why do you ask?”
“A local high school student named Pamela Cartwright went missing on April seventeenth of two thousand sixteen. The girl was the responsible sort from a nice family and not the type to run away, so it was assumed that foul play was involved. There was a massive search, but I’m afraid the girl was never found.”
“I’m so sorry. That must have been awful for Pamela’s family.”
“It was. I was twenty-seven at the time, so not a high school student, but my younger half-brother, Calvin, went to school with Pamela. He told me that the disappearance of this bright and lively teen ended up tearing the family apart.”
“And did this white dress with yellow daisies remind you of a dress Pamela had been wearing at some point?” I asked, hoping to bring the conversation back around.
He nodded. “It was the dress Pamela was last seen wearing. The dress that had been described in the press for months after she disappeared. I remembered that the newspaper had posted a photo of Pamela wearing that same dress that was taken a few days before her disappearance. She was standing in front of the carousel at the carnival that was set up near the boardwalk. After the memory of that photo finally became clear in my mind, I went down to the newspaper and dug through the archives until I found the photo that had been included in the article. I compared the dress in the photo to the one I found in the box, and I’m sure they are one and the same.”
The man handed me the dress that was sealed in a plastic bag. He also gave me a copy of the photo he’d found in the newspaper archives.
“And you think this dress belonged to this missing girl,” I confirmed.
“And what about the other clothing in the box?”
“The rest of the clothing in the box seems to have belonged to an older woman who wore a larger size. The only item I found in the box that appeared to have been owned by a teenage girl was this dress. Other than the box with the clothing, the items in the storage garage seem to have belonged to a man who enjoyed the outdoors.”
“So, what type of items have you found other than the clothing?”
“Camping supplies, guns and ammo, and hunting and fishing gear. Guy stuff.”
“Did you go to the police when you found the dress that appears to have belonged to this missing teen?” I asked.
“I did. I spoke to Deputy Todd, who took a report but didn’t do much more than that. He did ask if I knew the name of the previous owner of the items in the storage garage, who I later found out was Griswold Mather. He died five months ago, which is when the payments stopped. The folks who run the storage facility did the required due process and notified the man’s next of kin that the contents of the storage garage would be sold at auction if they didn’t pay the back rent. Since the next of kin never responded, the contents were put up for auction.”
I sat back in my chair and tried to wrap my head around this whole thing. I wasn’t expecting that the cold case my new client hinted at when we spoke on the phone would be a cold case involving a missing teen. Could it be that the dress this man found was actually a clue that, in time, might lead to another clue that would help solve the case of the missing teenager?
“Okay,” I said, leaning forward and resting my weight on my elbows. “You have a box with clothing that you found in a storage garage that Griswold Mather had initially leased fifteen years ago. With the exception of a single box that seems to contain clothing traditionally worn by a woman, everything you found inside the storage garage were items that would traditionally belong to a male. Based on this, and the fact that one of the items of clothing appears to have been worn by a teenage girl who went missing seven years ago, you went to the police with the evidence you felt led to a crime or might lead to the missing teen. Deputy Todd, however, looked at the items and determined that you likely had nothing more than random items of discarded clothing and basically dismissed you.”
“Exactly,” the man said. “Deputy Todd did say he’d look into things, but there was something about the way he seemed to dismiss everything that I was saying that led me to believe that he wouldn’t actually follow up on things. He didn’t even ask me to leave the dress with him.”
“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath. “What exactly is it that you’d like me to do?”
He hesitated before he answered. “I’m not really sure. Ideally, I suppose that you’d be able to find the girl who once wore this dress, but that might be asking a lot. I guess I just felt that since I’d stumbled onto what seems like a pretty viable clue, I should share what I found with someone in a position to do something with that information.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I know this is going to sound fanciful, but I really believe I was fated to find that dress and finish the story.”
The guy sounded like a writer, but he’d indicated he worked as a freelance video game developer on his new client paperwork. I wondered if Jemma knew him. I wondered if Remi did. I’d have to ask them.
“Do you still have the other items that were in the storage garage when you purchased its contents?”
“I do. Everything is in my garage. As I said before, I’d been sorting it since I made the purchase, intending on selling some items, trashing items with no financial value, and possibly keeping an item or two. This isn’t the first sealed lot I’ve bid on and won. Last year, I won the bid for a unit filled with books, antiques, and old pieces of silver. I made a mint on that one, but two years ago, I was the winning bidder on a storage garage filled with discarded household items. Most were inoperable, and all were well past their prime. It’s a gamble that I guess is part of the fun of it. Sometimes you make out, and sometimes you don’t.”
“I’d like to come by your home and look at the other items you found in the unit.”
“I’m happy to show you what I have.”
I made a few notes and then asked about a time to stop by. Braxton suggested five o’clock. He had another meeting scheduled for this afternoon and informed me that he was going to be late for it, but he assured me he should be home by five. I verified the address he’d provided in the new client paperwork and promised to see him in a couple hours.
After Braxton left, I called Jemma to let her know I would be late getting to her house for dinner that evening. I also wanted to ask her if she minded my leaving the dogs with her until I arrived. If there was a problem with Kai and Kallie being there, I had time to run by and take them back to my cottage, but Jemma assured me they were fine where they were and would see me when I got there. I knew Jemma had lived in Gooseberry Bay when Pamela went missing, so I asked her if she remembered the missing girl. Jemma verified that she remembered the incident and knew Braxton, who she felt was a good guy I could trust. I asked her if there had been any suspects at the time of the kidnapping, and Jemma shared that there had been a teacher who had been interviewed, as well as the girls’ basketball coach and a neighbor who some felt had been just a bit too friendly. She thought the father was also looked at as a possible suspect, but that never went anywhere. In fact, none of the leads went anywhere, so the case eventually went cold, and everyone returned to their lives, and the search for Pamela simply died the way cases that have gone cold tend to do.
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