Holly Robinson has no idea when she purchases an abandoned waterfront resort in Florida that her life is going to change forever. She becomes the victim of bad juju when she finds a lifeless body lying on a kitchen floor and another victim left for dead in one of her cottages, and Holly begins to wonder what could possibly happen next. Now some of Holly's lingerie is missing, her beloved Aunt Tess and another guest have disappeared, and hurricane warnings have just been issued.
Resolved to bring her aunt and guest home safely, Holly enlists the services of her ex-boyfriend, charter captain and official scum-of-the-earth, Quint Chambers. Along with the island cops, Holly and Quint stumble across the bloodied vehicle the women were last seen in, submerged in the murky mangroves of the intercoastal waterway. As the storm spirals out of control and takes aim for the resort, the number of missing people continues to mount and the list of suspects holds few names. But even though Quint is still carrying a torch for Holly, he fears his past has come back to haunt him, putting those he loves in grave danger.
In this romantic tale of suspense, it is up to Holly and Quint to solve a complex mystery dangling over their little piece of paradise-before a killer strikes again.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.55(d)|
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Beach Cottage Chaos
By Laura Kehoe
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Laura Kehoe
All right reserved.
The bright morning sun blazed through my bedroom window and forced my eyes open. I looked at the alarm clock and realized I had overslept again. Immediately, my brain went into panic mode, so I pulled the covers over my face, closed my eyes, and had another little chat with God.
"Please God, I'm begging you ma'am, all I'm asking for are a couple of un-drama filled days around here. Normal is good! I'd kill for normal! And given the chance, I could probably make you proud with normal. And if by some slim chance you felt I deserved a little red sports car, I'm telling you right now I wouldn't refuse it! Just kidding, ma'am. However, last night when I asked you for an easy button, I really wasn't kidding!"
After saying "Amen," I pulled the covers off my face, and like a little kid hoping to find a dollar from the tooth fairy under her pillow, I looked underneath mine and nope, no easy button. To say the last few weeks of my life have been pure, utter chaos would be a gross understatement. I consider myself lucky; I still have some hair left on my head to pull out! Thinking back now, I believe my run of bad juju started when I found a very pale, lifeless body lying on a kitchen floor, and the string of events that followed weren't much better. A few days later, I stumbled across a beaten-up body in cottage number three who was left for dead but who miraculously returned to life later to save mine. Then the pièce de résistance was when my now ex-boyfriend, scum of the earth Quint Chambers, proposed. Before I could blurt out the words, "I will," the doorbell rang and interrupted our tender moment. My almost engagement was short lived. There in the doorway was a stranger, a perfect specimen of a woman. She said her name was Logan something or another. She looked Quint in the eyes and told him she never stopped loving him. And if he still wanted to marry her, she was all his. Geez! My jaw dropped, my eyes welled, and my heart broke into a million pieces. He took her by the elbow and escorted her outside. When he returned, he tried spoon-feeding me some long, drawn-out cockamamie story about an old girlfriend and his college days. Blah, blah, blah. I'm no farmer, but I can smell manure a mile away, and he was knee-deep in it.
After deciding the show must go on, I sat up in bed and stretched. I was in desperate need of coffee. In fact, I had a feeling it was going to be at least a good-to-the-last-drop-in-the-pot kind of morning. I'm good at a lot of things, but making coffee is definitely not one of them. What I brew sucks, and somehow or another in the short amount of time I've lived here, the whole island seems to know it. Since I didn't have a lot to look forward to, I lay back down and thought I'd stall the whole show-must-go-on thing and analyze how I got myself into this pickle in the first place.
My name is Holly Robinson. With a lot of prodding from my sister Tina, I made a less-than-sensible business decision and purchased an abandoned Mom and Pop resort on the West Coast of Florida. We gave it some well-needed TLC, renamed it Holly's Beach Cottage Resort and it's been up and running for a couple weeks now. I live in the main house, a sturdy two-story structure with my daughter, Kat; Chewy, the family dog; and Aunt Tess and her new husband, Sal. There are five small cottages on the property that I rent to vacationing guests. Tina, who owns her own travel company, always manages to fill them up, and all I have to do is run the place. However, it was proving easier said than done. She found the resort years ago. The large piece of property is at the south end of the island tucked among some older private homes. The land sits directly on the intercoastal waterway and has enough dock space for two good-size boats. Tall palms and sea grapes line the perimeters of my property zone, and they sway with the least little breeze. Birds of all kinds, pelicans, gulls, and even osprey, make themselves at home in them as well as on the dock. Chewy makes it her business and has great fun shooing the birds away from her territory.
I had decided I needed a new purpose in life; a few empty years flew by me after my husband, Dan, was killed in a car accident. My work at the law office just wasn't the same without him there. I wanted a new start and maybe even a good man to share it with. For a while there, I thought I found that man. I hired Quint Chambers, a local charter captain, to be exclusively available to my guests for fishing trips, sunset cruises, and dolphin watches.
I guess I have no one to blame but myself. Really, what did I know about the guy before I jumped in and got involved? I was physically attracted to his six-foot something, rock-solid body, all evenly tanned. Well, except for when he was naked, and oh my, his nakedness was totally yummy, lines and all. And for Pete's sake, running my fingers through his soft wavy hair was more satisfying than indulging in rocky road ice cream or pizza. And darn those eyes, those beautiful make-love-to-me eyes. Anyway, he wasn't too forthcoming about his past, and it took bribes of shedding articles of clothing for him to give up any details. The only thing I managed to pry out of the guy was he graduated from college with a business degree, but before he could get his career off the ground his father passed away, and that brought him home to take care of the funeral arrangements. After a small service, he took his father's ashes out to their final resting spot twenty miles offshore, and it was then he realized why his dad made the sea his life. He moved to the island's west coast to start his own charter business with little success until I came along. He's a great captain. He knows his stuff. His custom, forty-foot Sabala, the Miss Tilly, is well equipped with all the latest technology and equipment.
Our falling-out happened when Logan showed up. Now, I can forgive a guy for a lot of things, such as the occasional dirty socks left on the floor, or forgetting it was his turn for pooper-scooper duties, but I draw the line at being the second-string bride. Geez, I even let him live in cottage five, rent free on a trial basis. This new revelation changed everything. Out of dire necessity, and since I'd been given no divine intervention, I think I made a fairly educated decision about Quint. I was moving on to plan B, but that was only as soon as I could figure out what the hell plan B was going to be. In my haste, I did what any woman in my position would have done. I gave him his walking papers. Yep, I kicked him to the curb and threw him under a bus. I don't have the time to worry about Captain Yummy; it's going to be a busy week with new guests checking in. Thank God, Aunt Tess and Sal will be home from their honeymoon today. I'm going to need them.
Tess has turned out to be the mom I wish I always had, because I'm convinced my own mother is an alien reject from another planet. Tess knows me better than anyone else does. And she's a loving caretaker, all five feet of her. She has a full figure, never wears a lick of makeup, and sleeps in those spongy curlers every night. Kat loves Tess as well. They have a great relationship. Kat's even planned a welcome home party for her and Sal at the Clam Diggers tonight. What my daughter isn't aware of is it's going to be a surprise birthday party for her too. I've invited a few of her new friends from school for the occasion. Where has the time gone? In a blink of an eye, my tomboy has turned into a beautiful young woman who expects the privileges that go along with maturity. Problem is, I can't argue with a kid whose logic shows mine up on a daily basis.
Glancing at the nightstand, the clock told me I was a procrastinator. I, on the other hand, told myself I was a coward. I dragged myself out of bed and planted both feet firmly on the floor, because I could hear it coming. That rumbling noise of eight paws, four of which are very large, and they were headed in my direction. In a flash, I saw Chewy and Skipper as they ran past my bedroom door. And what the Sam Hill was that in Skipper's mouth? Usually, by the time Chewy reaches the bottom of the stairs, she's created so much forward motion she skids her way to a slamming stop. Kat was close behind them, and as she ran down the stairs, she yelled for me to get up.
"Come on, Mom, get the lead out. I'll make the coffee if you feed the dogs."
Up until now, I wasn't real motivated to get my morning started, but since I was guaranteed a good cup of java, I yelled, "You got yourself a deal!"
I threw on a pair of shorts, a tank top, slipped into a pair of flip-flops, and met them downstairs. Both dogs were sitting patiently by the front door, but the pint-size terrier had a certain look in his eyes. His compact body was stiff as a board. The little booger oozed confidence. His tiny pointy ears stood tall at attention, and he was proud of what he was holding on to.
"Okay mister, drop it!" I said. I bent down and picked up my missing black bra.
After filling their bowls with doggy bites, I opened the door, and they both flew out in different directions.
It looked like a beautiful day. The sky was a dreamy shade of blue, but the air was thick and smelled of diesel fuel from the charter boats getting a start on the day's journey. They normally pass by the resort this time of the morning. Pelicans flew gracefully overhead in a "V" formation, probably heading out to find their own morning catches. I was starting to feel good about the day. Then just before closing the door after the dogs' return, I saw Quint in the Miss Tilly motoring down the channel. He had a boatload of guys. I could feel his eyes penetrating right through me and my heart sank. I hate that he has the power to do that, so I turned away.
I closed the door and focused my attention on Kat. She was busy making our breakfast, and she made it look easy. Like Tess, she's at ease in the kitchen. My daughter's given name at birth was Katherine, but Tess shortened it to Kat and it stuck. We share the same blonde hair, though hers falls way past her shoulders, unlike mine. She's going to be tall like her father was. The poor kid is at a funny stage of growth. Her legs are long, and her feet sometimes trip her up. But one day it will all even out, and I'll have a beauty on my hands. We also share the same color eyes, though hers are more vibrant than mine are. Like Quint, she uses those big baby blues to get what she wants. She's smart beyond her years and a budding artist.
"Gee, when did you learn to make bacon?"
"Aunt Tess has been giving me cooking lessons. Seriously, Mom, you might want to think about taking a few lessons yourself, especially after what you did to dinner last night."
"You know I'd love to, but I don't have the time. Besides, you're doing a great job, but I can help. Do you want me to scramble the eggs?"
"No, that's okay. I'll do it. You pretty much messed that up yesterday. We have to get a move on and eat fast, because I don't want to be late again this morning. And don't forget, the next two days are half-days," Kat said as she buttered the toast.
"By the way, Mom, you gotta take a look under my bed. Skipper's turned into a pervert and a hoarder. He's been ripping off your underwear and stockpiling them under my bed."
"The little booger must be sneaking into my room after I fall asleep," I said. "I'll fix him; tonight, I'm going to catch him in the act."
I think Chewy was even surprised to hear this new revelation, because she cocked her head and looked at me as if to say, "I had nothing to do with this one!"
Chewy came to us via the humane society. Kat wanted to save a dog's life. When we entered the building where the adoptable pets stay, every dog in the place began to bark except the big, black, furry thing sitting in the first kennel. It was wagging its tail. Kat walked over to the beast; it raised one ear, and then the damndest thing happened ... it smiled!
We both looked at each other in amazement. Well, that was it for Kat; she wanted the smiling yeti creature and refused to look at any others. The young boy who escorted us in assured me it really was a dog, and her name was Chewy. Chewy? I was praying her name had nothing to do with what landed her in this place to begin with. After having her checked out by our vet, he told us the newest member to our family was a Newfoundland and would grow to be 145 pounds plus. The first time we took her to Florida, we found out the hard way she was a water dog. We were constantly fishing her out of the channel. She always had that wet dog stench about her. And when my sister, Tina, sent me a hot tub as a housewarming present, Chewy fell in love with it. We keep the heater in the tub turned off, because she spends a lot of time soaking in it when she's not ridding the island of its population of lizards and snakes.
The conditions were perfect for fishing—clear skies, calm sea, and very little wind. I knew I had to make the most of this great weather while I had the chance. I didn't like what I saw after watching the Weather Channel this morning. I wondered if Holly had a clue to what was brewing out there. With three tropical storms in the Atlantic, we're bound to get something from one of them. She needs to start preparing the resort and have a plan in place just in case they have to evacuate.
All the outside seating at the Diggers was full with the breakfast crowd. I met my first mate John, on loan from Sal, at the bar. Danny Jensen, the owner of the establishment and a good friend, fixed us two coffees to go, and then we walked down the dock to the Miss Tilly. I greeted my customers, introduced John, and then helped them load their coolers onto the boat. Three of the men were avid fishermen, but the other two guys had never been on a charter boat before and seemed impressed with my high-tech vessel. I pulled out the bench seating for them, and they all got comfortable. I idled out of Sal's slip as the men introduced themselves to one another and made small talk. After answering a few questions about what we'd be catching on the half-day trip, John fielded questions about my boat. Our first stop of the morning was to collect bait in my traps, and then we'd be off to my favorite fishing hole. As we slowly made our way down the channel and past the resort, I saw Holly. Our eyes connected for a second before she went inside. I hate that she can turn my heart into mush.
Could I have fallen in love with a more stubborn and headstrong woman? I guess I wouldn't want her any other way. If she would only give me a chance, I could explain Logan. I miss what Holly and I had. I miss not being on the property. I miss having my morning coffee with her in her underwear. And I especially miss her in my bed. Even though it was just the one time, it was the best sex I've ever had. The girl can get creative when she lets go. Hell, I even miss all the chaos that seems to follow her around. I've never seen anything like it.
It seems like another lifetime ago when Logan and I were together. I was a different person in college. I was young and driven to succeed at something, anything except following in my father's footsteps, and Logan was even more ambitious than me. We were going to make lots of money and live in the fast lane. I thought I knew what I wanted back then. I didn't know shit, especially after meeting someone like Holly. She's as beautiful as she is smart and as clever as they come. I don't think there's anything the girl can't do once she puts her mind to it. Well, except cook, but I'd gladly eat PB and Js for the rest of my life if I could get her back. I'll never forget the first time we met. As crazy as it was, I knew she was what I was looking for and needed in my life. I have to come up with a plan to get her back, but first I need to convince Logan she has to leave town. This is going to be no easy project. Something's different about her. She seems so intense and bothered by something other than not having me in her life. After all this time, I don't get why she would have tracked me down, unless it really was because she never stopped loving me. I'm going to need some help. Maybe I can recruit Sal, and it wouldn't hurt to get Tess in on it, and Danny for that matter. And if they won't help me, I'll just have to fight dirty; I'll get Kat's help. I love that kid. She wanted me to be her dad, and I'm not going to disappoint her. I can't wait to see her face when she sees what I got her for her birthday. She's going to love it, but there's probably going to be hell to pay. Holly's going to hate the idea and will probably want to kill me! Don't get ahead of yourself, Quint, first things first. When you get back today, hunt down Logan, and get her off the island and out of your life once and for all. Then you can convince Holly she's going to marry you.
Excerpted from Beach Cottage Chaos by Laura Kehoe Copyright © 2012 by Laura Kehoe. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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