Tricia Miles has just received a second marriage proposal within fifteen minutes. The first was from her friend with benefits, Marshall Chambers, and the second from her ex-lover, police chief Grant Baker. Tricia's got some serious thinking to do.
She's still weighing her options when she hears the sound of an engine roaring down Main Street. It's a big white pickup truck that aims for and hits Marshall as he's walking back to his apartment. Tragically, he's killed, leaving Tricia feeling bereft and guilty. She retreats to her sister, Angelica's, apartment to wait for Baker to update her on what happened. While there, Tricia takes Angelica's dog out for a comfort call behind the building, and the same white pickup roars up the alley and just misses hitting Tricia.
Still shaken by that news, Tricia returns to Haven't Got a Clue and is met by federal marshal Kirby, who tells her that Marshall had been in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Everything Marshall told Tricia was a lie—in particular, that he was a widower. Was his death an act of revenge?
Tricia's on the hunt for a killer, and it seems like she might be next on the list.
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¥ "Are you out of your mind?" Tricia Miles said, raising her voice. She had good reason to do so, too.
Stoneham Police Chief Grant Baker stood before her in stunned silence. His marriage proposal had been the second Tricia had received within fifteen minutes-and she hadn't expected either of them.
Tricia's relationship with Marshall Cambridge had pretty much been "friends with benefits." She enjoyed his company, he encouraged her independence, but there had been a distinct lack of passion. She hadn't given him an answer, but she had an answer for Chief Baker.
"Why won't you marry me?" he asked, sounding like a petulant child.
Tricia kept her jaw from dropping in shock, but only just. "You couldn't commit to me when we were together, and now you've jilted your fiancŽe weeks before that wedding to ask me to marry you. What are the odds you'll have cold feet again?"
"Zero," he asserted.
"Yeah, and I've got a bridge for sale in Brooklyn," she said sarcastically. She pointed toward the door. "Go."
"Tricia, can't we talk this over?"
"There's nothing to talk about. Go!" she repeated. When he didn't move, she stalked off in the direction of the door, threw it open, and gestured for him to leave.
Just as Baker reached the threshold, the roar of a powerful engine thundered somewhere on Main Street. At first, Tricia wasn't sure which direction it was coming from, but as it grew louder, she realized it was heading north. Baker pushed her aside and darted onto the sidewalk outside Tricia's store, Haven't Got a Clue, just as a big white pickup truck-with lights out-veered toward the sidewalk and Baker. Tricia grabbed him by the back of the shirt, pulling him into her store as the truck swerved into the street. Before either of them could react, they heard someone yell and the terrible sound of a thud before the truck disappeared down the darkened street.
Baker was the first to recover and dashed up the sidewalk with Tricia in hot pursuit.
Up ahead in the middle of the street lay a crumpled form. As Tricia approached, she recognized just who it was.
"Marshall!" she cried.
Baker fell to his knees in front of the supine figure, searching for a pulse, first at the man's wrist, and then reached for his throat.
"Do something!" Tricia cried as tears welled in her eyes.
Baker rose to his feet, his expression one of shock.
"I'm sorry, Tricia. He's dead."
The blue-and-red emergency lights still flashed out on Main Street more than an hour after the accident.
But was it an accident?
Of course it was. It had to be.
"Did you say something, Tricia, dear?" Tricia's sister, Angelica, asked, sounding worried.
The rotating colors from the flashing light bars on the police SUVs below came through the second-floor windows, looking gaudy against the living room's pastel green walls.
Tricia held a glass filled with whiskey, ice, and soda-her second. For some reason, she found the cold condensation beneath her clenched fingers to be of comfort. Well, not comfort, but it proved to her that she could feel something besides the terrible numbness that had encircled her soul.
"I can't believe it. I . . . I just can't believe it," she murmured.
"I'm here to listen," Angelica said softly from the adjacent chair. "That is, if you're up to talking."
Tricia looked up to take in her sister's worried gaze.
"He asked me to marry him." The echo of that proposal kept rattling around in her brain.
"And you were going to say no."
"I was," Tricia said. "But that didn't mean I didn't have feelings for the man. If nothing else, he was my friend." And lover.
Tricia absently petted the soft fur atop Angelica's dog's head. Every so often, the bichon frise raised his head, looked up at her with soulful brown eyes, and whimpered. He knew when one of his human friends was in pain.
"He had so many plans," Tricia lamented.
"What will happen with the sale of the Stoneham Weekly News?" Angelica asked. "Did Marshall sign the final paperwork?"
Tricia shrugged and took a sip of her by-now-watery whiskey. "I don't know. Why do you ask?"
Angelica suddenly stiffened in her chair. "Uh, no reason," she said, but for some reason, her voice had risen in pitch.
Tricia shook her head. What would happen to the women at the little weekly newspaper? They'd been nervous when its owner had put it up for sale-and was now destined for jail. Surely nobody else would be interested in buying the horrible little rag. Marshall had planned to resurrect the dying enterprise. Earlier that evening, over dinner, he'd outlined the plans he'd devised for the paper. Tricia now wished she'd paid more attention to that conversation.
Suddenly, she had a lot of regrets.
"Are you sure I can't get you something to eat?" Angelica asked. Offering food was her way of showing concern. She put such care into the dishes she prepared for others-and, of course, herself.
Tricia shook her head. "We had a lovely dinner at the country club outside of Nashua." She frowned. Marshall's last dinner. And then she'd gone and spoiled his evening by refusing to give him an answer to his proposal. But then, maybe he'd died with his heart full of hope.
Like her ex-husband, Christopher?
Yeah, she'd promised him moments before he died that she'd again wear the engagement ring he'd given her years before. And she had, but for only a few months and mostly on a chain around her neck. She wouldn't get the chance to do the same with the ring Marshall had offered.
"I suppose Chief Baker will want you to make a formal statement," Angelica said.
"It'll be brief, that's for sure. I didn't see much of anything. Just that white pickup careening down the block." She shuddered at the memory, slopping the last of her drink onto poor Sarge, who didn't seem to notice. Another wave of anguish assaulted her. Tricia hadn't taken the time to do more than drag a comb through her hair and freshen her makeup for her (last) date with Marshall.
Her mouth trembled.
"Why don't you stay here tonight?" Angelica suggested, and reached to place a hand on her sister's arm.
Tricia looked down at the boot her sister still wore on her right foot-part of her recovery from bunion surgery. Although Angelica was getting around better, she was in no position to host a guest. And if Tricia was going to have to change sheets, she'd rather do it on her own bed-and certainly not that night.
"It's good of you to offer, but I think I'll just go home."
"What if the chief wants to get hold of you?"
"I'll text him to let him know I'm going back to my apartment, but first I'll take Sarge out for a tinkle break."
"Oh, you're so good to both of us," Angelica clucked.
Tricia got up, taking her now-empty glass to the kitchen and placing it in the dishwasher. Then she headed for the door, slipped on her jacket, and reached for the dog's leash. He knew that sound and came bounding across the room like a gazelle. "We'll be back in a few minutes," Tricia called.
"I'll be here."
Tricia reached down and picked up the dog, carrying him down the stairs. Not that he couldn't handle them, but he sometimes tended to try to trip whoever was at the end of his tether.
Tricia disabled the security system and exited the Cookery's back door, still carrying Sarge, finally setting him down when she reached a patch of grass on the other side of the alley.
Knowing this was his last foray outside for the night, Sarge took his time sniffing for the perfect spot to christen. "Speed it up, Sarge. It's chilly out," Tricia chided him, but Sarge was not to be hurried.
Tricia gazed up and down the alley. It was illegal to park vehicles after hours behind the businesses that lined Stoneham's Main Street. And yet . . .
Tricia squinted. Could it be a white pickup truck parked at the south end of the alley?
After what happened to Marshall, Tricia wasn't about to investigate.
She yanked on Sarge's leash. "Ready or not, it's time to go in," she told him.
Sarge dug in his heels.
The vehicle's headlights suddenly flashed to life-instantly switching to the powerful high beams-and the truck was immediately on the move, heading straight up the alley.
Tricia bent down, grabbed Sarge, tucking him under her arm like a football, and made it across the asphalt and up the concrete steps behind the Cookery just before the truck would have hit her.
It roared past, heading for Hickory Street. Surely Stoneham's best would catch the driver and arrest him-or her.
Breathing hard, and with shaking hands, Tricia reentered the Cookery. She set Sarge down and fumbled for her phone, quickly texting Chief Baker.
The same truck that hit Marshall just came after me in the alley behind the Cookery!
Seconds later, Baker answered. Stay put.
The sound of a siren broke the night as Tricia turned on every light in the Cookery and planted herself by the store's entrance, peering out the door's plate glass window to watch for Baker. He was there in seconds. Tricia fumbled to unlock the door.
"Did your men get him?"
"It's too soon to tell," Baker said as Sarge, who was no fan of Stoneham's top cop, began to growl. "Are you sure the truck was aiming for you?"
"There was nobody else in the alley."
Small though he was, Sarge had sharp teeth, which he bared, looking like he might pounce at any second.
"Can you put that damn dog away?" Baker barked.
"This is his home," Tricia remarked, "and he's protecting it. It's what dogs do."
Baker's lip curled, but he took a step back just the same.
Tricia picked up Sarge, who launched into full-throated barking. "I'll take him upstairs. Then, if you'd be so kind, would you walk me home?" It was only a few steps down the sidewalk, but Tricia felt rattled.
Baker's eyes lit up. "Of course," he readily agreed. "I'll check in with my team and be back in a minute."
Tricia turned the lock on the door and, still holding on to Sarge, headed for the door that led to Angelica's apartment. She had a feeling her evening was about to get a whole lot longer.
¥ Tricia awoke late the next morning, surprised she'd been able to sleep at all-and dreamless at that. No nightmares about seeing Marshall's lifeless body. No terror of the white pickup aiming to run her over. Nothing. Maybe that was good. Perhaps her mind was trying to give her ragged emotions a brief respite. Or maybe she'd just been exhausted.
Although it was nearly time to open Haven't Got a Clue, Tricia didn't feel like meeting the public. She'd let her assistant manager, Pixie, and her other employee, Mr. Everett, handle that. But what was she supposed to do all day? Hide in her basement office? She could run away to a hotel or a resort for a few days to try to heal, but she'd be carrying her feelings of remorse and sorrow with her. She didn't even feel like retreating to her bedroom nook to read the day away-especially not stories filled with death and misery.
Though it was much later than her usual morning walk, Tricia decided not to forgo that ritual. Yet she would have to at least face Pixie and go through her tale of woe once again. Unfortunately, she'd probably have to repeat the story over and over again to friends, family, and colleagues for the foreseeable future-something she wasn't looking forward to.
Pixie arrived just as Tricia was making the coffee. "Morning, Tricia. How are you today?" Pixie called brightly. Obviously, she hadn't heard about Marshall's death.
Tricia turned to face her assistant manager. "Uh, I-I didn't sleep well last night," she lied. Was the fact she slept well damning in itself?
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Reading 'til dawn again?"
"Not quite." Tricia braved a smile. "When I finally dropped off, I woke up late and I haven't had my walk. Do you mind if I go now?"
"Oh, sure. Get it over with before it rains. It's supposed to be a gloomy afternoon."
Tricia already felt gloomy. "Thanks. I'll get my jacket and be off. I shouldn't be more than half an hour or so."
"Take your time. We haven't exactly been inundated with customers this week."
That was true enough, although that would change any day now once the tourists returned in force to witness New England's spectacular fall colors.
Tricia was tempted to head out the shop's back door, but then remembered her near-lethal encounter with the white pickup truck. When he'd returned to the Cookery the previous evening, Baker had warned her to be careful. The someone who'd killed Marshall might be determined to take her life, too. That said, she felt pretty safe walking the village streets in broad-if dreary-daylight.
Pixie had taken off her coat and the women sidled past each other near the reader's nook. "Have fun!" Pixie called.
Fun? Feeling the way she did, Tricia wasn't sure she'd ever have fun again.
June, the Cookery's manager, had already arrived and gave Tricia a sad, tentative wave as she passed the store's big display window. Since Angelica's surgery, if Tricia didn't call or stop in early, June would take Sarge out to do his business. After what had happened the previous evening, Tricia was sure Angelica wouldn't expect her sister to show up for dog duty that morning. From June's expression, she must have heard what happened to Marshall-and probably from Angelica.
Instead of a brisk walk, Tricia's gait more resembled a slow drag, and after covering only half her usual three miles, Tricia turned back for home.
She'd taken her usual route around the village, going up and down streets, but eventually, she'd have to pass by Marshall's shop, the Armchair Tourist. The store had done better after Tricia had loaned its former owner, Chauncey Porter, money to invest in the business, but it had positively flourished under Marshall's guidance.
Tricia's gut tightened as she turned the corner of Cedar Avenue and walked up the west side of Main Street, nearing Marshall's store. But as she came closer, she noticed someone on the sidewalk ahead of her: Ava Campbell, Marshall's assistant.
Ava's gait was jaunty, and she swung her purse as she walked. She caught sight of Tricia and waved.
Oh no oh no oh no! Tricia did not want to be the bearer of bad news, but there was no way she could avoid Ava-and not to tell her about her boss's passing would be the ultimate betrayal.