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Death at a Premium
By Valerie Wolzien
Random HouseValerie Wolzien
All right reserved.
There are women for whom being engaged is a wonderful time. The long search for the perfect wedding gown, veil, and shoes is a joy. Hours spent with floral designers, photographers, and musicians are happy and productive. These women delight in finding the best venue for the service and their reception. They review menus with caterers time and time again, hoping to devise the perfect meal for their guests. They even find the wording on the invitation of compelling interest.
Josie Pigeon didn't get it. "I still don't understand why we can't just elope," she said to Sam Richardson, her fiance.
Sam was a reasonable man. "We can. We can do anything you want to do."
"You said Carol is already shopping for the perfect dress."
"You know perfectly well that my mother doesn't need an excuse to shop."
"I think Tyler might be looking forward to escorting me down the aisle."
"Your son will do whatever you want him to do, and then he'll get right back to the serious task of selecting a college. Seniors in high school are not all that interested in weddings."
"My parents would probably prefer a traditional service."
"How many years has it been since you let their priorities rule your life?"
Josie twisted her long red hair into a knot at the back of her neck, then let it drop over her shoulders again. "We don't have to make these decisions now."
"You've been saying that for the past four months--Island Contracting's slow period," Sam reminded her. "Now that your busy season is about to begin, it's going to be more difficult to find the time to do all this."
They were sitting in Josie's office--a remodeled fishing shack that jutted out over the bay on the barrier island both of them called home. It was early morning and Josie was finishing off one of the glazed doughnuts she loved. Sam was munching just as happily on a rice cake. He looked relaxed. Josie was nervous. Today she would learn whether she would get the big job which would carry her business through the summer season.
Island Contracting was a year-round business, but in the winter the crew dwindled down to one or two people and the jobs were mostly local fixups or quick storm damage repairs. Summer was her big season, and if she got the job she was hoping for, this could be her last leisurely morning until Labor Day weekend.
Josie glanced over Sam's shoulder at the wall calendar. September was hidden beneath May, June, July, and August, but she knew Labor Day was circled in red. It was going to be their wedding day. Sam was right: she had to make some decisions soon.
Her resolve lasted all of six seconds, until the phone on her desk rang. She grabbed for the receiver.
"Island Contracting. Josie Pigeon speaking."
Sam got up and wandered out onto the small deck suspended over the bay. Wire crab traps were piled high, waiting for the blue crabs to appear as the water warmed, and leaving only enough space for two rickety old captain's chairs. He sat down and stared out at the water. He could hear Josie's conversation through the open doorway, and her tone told him what he wanted to know before her appearance confirmed it.
"I got the job! Island Contracting is going to remodel the Bride's Secret Bed and Breakfast." She flopped down in the other chair.
"Congratulations. When do you start?"
"As soon as possible. I'll go look the place over today. The blueprints are waiting at the municipal center. The permits have been issued. All I have to do is hire a crew and order supplies, and we can get to work. The new owner wants the work completed this summer."
"When is Nic coming back?" Sam asked.
"Sometime this afternoon. She planned to leave the convention early this morning and the drive up from D.C.--shouldn't take more than three or four hours, right?"
Sam nodded. "Depending on traffic, of course."
"I promised I'd talk to her before I hired any workers."
"The whole point of the convention is to get women in the construction industry together. She expected to see a lot of old friends there, and she was hoping to talk some of them into moving here for the summer to work for Island Contracting."
"You're letting someone else hire your crew? That doesn't sound like you."
"It isn't. And I'm not, but I did say I would give her friends a chance. Nic's a great finish carpenter. We've done some good work this winter. I don't think she would bring women to see me unless they were first-rate."
"I know how much you like Nic, Josie . . ."
"And you don't." Josie knew she sounded impatient, but they had had this discussion many times in the past few months, and each time she ended up feeling like a teenager whose parents were criticizing her friends. This feeling was one of the unfortunate side effects of being in love with a man almost twenty years her senior. In truth, she knew Sam had her best interests at heart, but damn it, Nic was a good worker and responsible as well. Josie knew that Sam thought Nic was too self-centered and not concerned enough about her or Island Contracting, but she had never seen any evidence of that, and besides, good finish carpenters were hard to find. She opened her mouth to remind him of that fact when he made another suggestion.
"I have some free time this morning, and I'd love to see the inside of that old inn."
Josie laughed. "I gather you've never been there."
"No. Why? It's a classic shingle-style shore cottage. I've always thought it so charming when I drive by . . ."
"The charm is barely skin deep. It was converted into a bed and breakfast in the mid-sixties by someone with no taste, and no one's spent a dime on it since then. The interior is appalling. But I'd love to have company," she added, smiling over at him.
"Do you have to pick up a key?"
"No, I went over the place before I put in my bid. The key is still in my desk."
"I'll help you look. You probably want to find it before Labor Day."
Josie glanced over at him. She knew he was kidding, but she didn't need to be reminded of her lack of organizational skills. "Actually, it's in the top left-hand drawer--under my computer." She didn't need to admit that the only reason she could speak so confidently was that she had spent at least an hour searching for it the afternoon before.
Sam stood up. "Let's take my car. I have the top down."
Josie grinned. "If it's fresh air you want, you could ride in the back of my truck."
"I think I'll stick to my hand-tanned glove leather."
"Just as long as I'm the wimp you love," he said.
The key was where Josie expected to find it, and in a few minutes they were on their way to the north end of the island. As Sam had promised, the top of his classic MGB was down. Josie turned on the radio and found an oldies station playing "Hey Jude." Only when the song had ended did they hear the siren of the police car behind them. Sam cursed quietly and pulled over to the side of the wide empty boulevard. He turned off his engine and looked at Josie.
Sam knew she wasn't referring to him. They heard footsteps and turned in their seats, expecting either Mike Rodney or his father--the police presence on the island during the off season--so the tall blonde goddess strutting toward the MGB came as a complete surprise.
"Nice car." She placed one hand on the door and leaned down to get a closer look at the dashboard. "Nineteen sixty-seven?"
"Sixty-six," Sam answered.
Josie noticed he was smiling. "Is anything the matter, Officer?" she asked a bit too loudly.
The woman answered her question looking at Sam. "The island speed limit is twenty-five miles per hour. You were traveling at almost forty."
"You must be new to the island. Generally, in the off-season, the traffic rules are relaxed a bit."
"I may be new here, but as an attorney, surely you're aware of the fact that laws are not generally open to seasonal variations," she added, putting emphasis on the repeated word.
Josie spoke up. "How do you know Sam's a lawyer?"
"Someone mentioned it to me," the police officer answered without taking her eyes off Sam.
"Who?" Josie demanded loudly.
The officer's cell phone rang. "Excuse me." She flipped the phone open and looked at the face. "Officer Trish Petric here."
There was a long pause while the caller made his wishes known, then with a quick, "Yes, sir!" the woman flipped her phone shut and returned her attention to Josie and Sam--or, it seemed to Josie, just Sam.
"I'll let you go with a warning, Mr. Richardson, but you might want to remember that Memorial Day is less than a week away."
"I'll do that, Officer Petric," Sam answered.
Josie noticed that he hadn't stopped smiling since stopping the car. "That bitch!" she said when they were alone again. If she had expected her fiance to agree--and she did--she was disappointed.
"She was right, you know," Sam said. "Those of us who live here year-round do tend to forget that the laws weren't designed for seasonal enforcement."
"But they were, Sam. The only reason for anyone to go twenty-five miles an hour on a road this wide is because it's full of people biking, jogging, and going to the beach. And that only happens in the summer. Right now there's no reason in the world that we shouldn't be going forty-five or even sixty miles an hour!"
Excerpted from Death at a Premium by Valerie Wolzien
Excerpted by permission.
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