Get bound up in murder in the first Lighthouse Library mystery!
For ten years Lucy has enjoyed her job poring over rare tomes of literature for the Harvard Library, but she has not enjoyed the demands of her family’s social whorl or her sort-of-engagement to the staid son of her father’s law partner. But when her ten-year relationship implodes, Lucy realizes that the plot of her life is in need of a serious rewrite.
Calling on her aunt Ellen, Lucy hopes that a little fun in the Outer Banks sun—and some confections from her cousin Josie’s bakery—will help clear her head. But her retreat quickly turns into an unexpected opportunity when Aunt Ellen gets her involved in the lighthouse library tucked away on Bodie Island.
Lucy is thrilled to land a librarian job in her favorite place in the world. But when a priceless first edition Jane Austen novel is stolen and the chair of the library board is murdered, Lucy suddenly finds herself ensnared in a real-life mystery—and she’s not so sure there’s going to be a happy ending....
About the Author
Eva Gates is the author of the national bestselling Lighthouse Library mysteries. She began her writing career as a Sunday writer: a single mother of three high-spirited daughters, with a full-time job as a computer programmer. Now she has more than twenty novels under her belt in the mystery genre, published under the name Vicki Delany. She lives in Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
Praise for By Book or by Crook
Only in the very back of my mind, in my most secret dreams, did I ever dare hope I’d have such a moment.
Too bad it was being ruined by the cacophony of false compliments and long-held grievances going on behind me.
The party was a private affair, a viewing of the new collection for staff and board members of the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, as well as local dignitaries and community supporters, before the official opening tomorrow. We were celebrating the arrival of a complete set of Jane Austen first editions, on loan for three months.
Jane Austen. My literary idol. So close.
I tried to block out everyone and everything and concentrate. I rubbed my hands together. Perspiration was building inside the loose white gloves. That, of course, was the purpose of the gloves: to keep human sweat and other impurities off the precious objects.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes. And I touched the worn leather cover.
I imagined I could feel the very power of the words themselves coming up through my fingers.
“Incredible,” a voice beside me said.
My eyes flew open. I snatched my hand back, embarrassed to be caught in a moment so emotional, so personal.
“Go ahead, honey,” Bertie said, with a laugh. Her eyes danced with amusement. She understood. “Open it.”
“Am I allowed to? I wouldn’t want to damage anything.”
“These books are precious, to be sure. But they’ll be put back in their cabinet as soon as the party’s over. And they’ve been cherished, cared for, and thus aren’t as fragile as some would be at that age. Enjoy, Lucy. Enjoy. But don’t spend too long here. I have people I need you to meet.”
The head librarian touched my arm lightly, gave me another smile, and went back to her guests.
I turned the heavy cover, flipped pages with shaking hands, and was soon gazing in awestruck wonder at the frontispiece of the first volume of Sense and Sensibility,by“A Lady.” A Lady all the world now knew to be Miss Jane Austen. An illustrated first edition, printed in London in 1811. I closed my eyes again and breathed. The scent was of old paper and aging leather, carrying with it memories of the foggy streets of London, the sound of horse’s hooves rattling across cobblestones, the gentle rustle of skirts and petticoats, and the crackle of fire.
All I wanted to do was to gather the volume into my hands, spirit it away to a cozy corner with a good reading lamp, and curl up to spend the rest of the night simply enjoying it. Reading it, smelling it, touching it. To be lost in Austen’s delightful pastoral England. A world of balls and dances. Of men in handsome uniforms and women in beautiful gowns. Romance and laughter—as well as foolishness and heartbreak. Sense versus sensibility.
With a sigh, I remembered that I had duties. They might be informal ones, but they were still duties.
I closed the book, returned it to its place, slipped off the gloves, and laid them back on the table for the next person to use. I pasted on my fake smile, turned, and stepped forward, ready to plunge into the party.
I was almost knocked off my feet as an excessively thin man shoved me aside. His tiny black eyes blazed with lust as bright as the flashing light on the top of this historic lighthouse. The tip of his tongue was trapped between small browning teeth, and a spot of drool touched the corner of his plump lips. To my horror, he extended an ungloved hand toward the book.
“Excuse me,” I said in what I hoped was my best librarian tone. “Those books are extremely valuable. You must put on the gloves. Please don’t lean over them like that.”
His nose might have been made for peering down at uppity young librarians. “Excuse me,” he said with an accent I’d last heard when Prince William visited America. “I am well aware of the proper storage and handling of books. I am, in fact, quite disappointed in Bertie for agreeing to house the collection in this”—he waved his hand as if encompassing not only the crowded room but also the lighthouse we were standing in, the Outer Banks, the moist sea air, and the waves crashing against the sand dunes, maybe even North Carolina itself—“place.”
“This is a library,” I said. “The proper place for books. Besides, Miss Austen lived near the sea. Her entire country is bound by the sea. I’m sure her books are delighted to be breathing salty air once again.”
He sniffed. As well he might. I do have a tendency to get carried away sometimes.
“You,” he said, still peering down his long, patrician nose, enunciating each word carefully, “must be the new girl.”
His tone wasn’t friendly or at all welcoming. But if I was going to get on here, in my new job, my new life, I’d pretend he’d intended it to be. I shoved my hand forward. “Lucy Richardson. I’m the new assistant librarian. Pleased to meet you, Mr. . . .”
He barely touched my outstretched fingers. “Theodore. Everyone knows me as Theodore. At your service, madam. If there is anything you need to know, young woman, about the handling and collection of rare books, you may call on me to enlighten you.” He dug in the pocket of his tweed jacket, which emitted a strong aroma of pipe smoke, and pulled out a small square of paper. “My card. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He turned away from me. I waited until he was pulling on the gloves and left him to examine the books in peace. I put the card in my pocket without reading it.
“Don’t you mind Theodore, honey.” My aunt Ellen slipped her arm around me. “We call him Teddy. Drives him nuts. He’s just plain old Teddy Kowalski from North Carolina. He was born about ten miles from this very spot, over in Nags Head. Teddy was a smart little tyke; I’ll give him that. Always had his head in books when the other boys were tossing balls around. He went to Duke and got a degree in English literature, and came home pretending to be an English lord or some such nonsense.”
I laughed. “Did you know him when you were children?”
“Sakes no! He was a couple years ahead of Josie in school.”
“How old is he?”
“Really? I would have put him in his fifties.” I glanced at the display table. Theodore was bent over Pride and Prejudice. He’d propped a pair of reading glasses on his nose.
“He deliberately tries to give that impression. See those glasses? Plain glass. He thinks they make him look more professorial.”
“Fool,” I said.
Bertie appeared at my side. “Don’t take him for that, Lucy.” My new boss’s tone was serious. Almost warning. “Teddy has airs and pretentions, but he knows everything there is to know about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature. He’s a serious collector, or at least he would be if he had the money. A word of warning: always check his bags when he leaves, and if he’s wearing a big coat, make him open it. He’ll protest, act affronted, but . . .”
“Are you three going to stand here chatting all night long? You need to introduce Lucy. Everyone’s simply dying to meet her.” It was Josie, my cousin. If I didn’t love Josie so much, I’d hate her. She was everything I am not. Strikingly beautiful, with long, glossy hair bleached by the sun, a pale face full of dancing freckles, cornflower blue eyes that seemed to always be sparkling, perfect white teeth. As proof that life was never fair, Josie was model tall and model thin (except for the generous breasts—more unfairness!). The irony was compounded by the fact that she was the owner and chief baker of the best bakery in the Outer Banks, if not the entire state of North Carolina. Thinking of Josie and her business, I snuck a glance at the dessert buffet she’d catered. I felt a pound settling onto my hips. Hips that definitely did not need further poundage.
“Josie’s right, as always,” Aunt Ellen said. “You best be meeting folks. Making friendly.”
“Come on,” Bertie said, “I’ll introduce you.”
As its name suggests, the library I now worked in was situated in a lighthouse—a fabulous old lighthouse on Bodie Island, part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The minute I’d entered the building—long before that; the minute I’d first seen it from the road when I was a child on vacation—I’d loved it. What an imaginative, absolutely perfect place to house a library. All round whitewashed walls, iron spiral staircases going up . . . and up . . . and up, tall windows in thick walls overlooking the marsh on one side and the sand dunes of the shore and the storm-tossed ocean on the other. The shorter back staircase went up only one level, to where the rare and valuable books were housed. The general collection was accessible from the main staircase and filled three floors. Fiction was on the first, as was some nonfiction, with children’s books on the second and Charlene’s office and her research materials on the third level.
Above that, another turn on the spiral staircase to my own room. Small—pokey really—but absolutely perfect for sipping a cup of tea, reading, gazing out at the ocean, and daydreaming. And worrying that I’d made the worst decision of my life.
From there, the staircase had another hundred or more winding steps to reach the top of the lighthouse. Beyond my room, the stairs were seldom used in this day of electric, computer-programmed lamps.
Since I’d started work here all of four days ago, I figured I’d lost enough weight on those stairs that I could indulge in one of Josie’s Cozy Bakery’s gooey pecan tarts.
Music, Mozart at the moment, came quietly from the sound system, and the room was full of the low buzz of conversation.
Outside, night was falling, bringing with it a heavy ocean mist carried on a cool wet wind. Inside, we were warm and dry, bathed in soft yellow light. The partygoers were women mostly, with a few husbands dragged along. I smiled to myself at the thought that some of the husbands had probably been persuaded to come only upon hearing that the catering was by Josie’s Cozy Bakery. Everyone wore their almost-best, like proper Southern fund-raisers. Colorful summer dresses and heels, primarily, and a few pantsuits, all accented by tasteful and expensive jewelry. Most of the men were in open-necked shirts, but a few wore a jacket and tie.
The majority of the interior lights had been switched off, leaving only a scattering of wall sconces to illuminate the room. Electric, of course. Candlelight would have been perfect, but this was, after all, a public place and a library at that. The alcove against the back wall, where generations of lighthouse keepers had sat to record the weather and the temperament of the ocean, ships passing, and the routine of lighting and extinguishing the great lamps, was now the central display area. Tonight the Austen collection took pride of place. That area was brightly lit and protected by a red velvet rope, warning anyone who wanted a closer look that red wine and gooey pecan tarts did not go well with nineteenth-century paper. When the display opened tomorrow for the public, the rope would mean “Keep back.”
“Ronald’s been on vacation.” Bertie tipped her head toward a short man in his mid-forties pouring himself a glass of wine at the circulation desk that had been converted into a bar for the party. Thick white hair hung in curls around his collar, and he wore shiny black loafers, sharply ironed gray trousers, a crisp white dress shirt, and a giant yellow polka-dot bow tie. “You haven’t had a chance to meet. Come on, I’ll introduce you. He’s the children’s librarian and we’re very, very lucky to have him.” We hadn’t taken more than a step before Bertie gripped my arm and jerked me to a halt. “Too late! He’s fallen into her clutches.” Bertie whirled around. “Who else do you need to meet?”
I craned my neck to see over her and the crowd of partygoers. A stately Southern matron, of the sort I—a born-and-bred New Englander—imagined them to be, was waving her finger in Ronald’s face. He smiled and nodded, but I couldn’t help but notice that his eyes were jerking around the room, looking desperately for an escape. And not finding it.
“Who’s that with him?” I asked Bertie.
She dropped her voice. “Mrs. Peterson, one of our most active patrons. She’s a newcomer, meaning she might have been born on the Outer Banks, but her grandparents were not. Her husband, however, is a member of one of our oldest families. She thinks Ronald should be her children’s personal librarian and reading instructor. She’d just love to have him on her staff. If not for the minor fact that they have no staff, because her husband lost all of his family’s money when he sank every penny into a Canadian gold-mining exploration company that turned out not to have a speck of gold in the ground. Poor Ronald. Mrs. Peterson took his vacation as a personal insult. You don’t have to worry much about her, honey. She hasn’t the slightest interest in adult books. I doubt she’s read a single book since high school. When I announced that I’d been able to secure a visit of the Austen collection, Mrs. Peterson actually said, out loud”—here Bertie put on a very good imitation of a snooty, high-pitched voice—“‘But why would anyone be interested in such old books?’”
We left Ronald, looking increasingly desperate under the barrage of Mrs. Peterson’s verbal assault, to his own devices.
“Where’s Charles?” I asked, referring to one of my favorite library employees.
“Banished to the closet by the staff break room for the duration of the party.”
“How’s he taking that?”
“If you listen closely you can hear the howls of indignation from here.” Charles (named in honor of Mr. Dickens) was the library cat. A gorgeous Himalayan with a black face and expressive blue eyes in a ball of long, tan fur that must weigh a good thirty pounds (I wondered if he frequented Josie’s Cozy Bakery), Charles was particularly loved by the library’s younger patrons. “Mrs. Peterson is allergic to cats. Or so she says. She’s starting to make noises about her dear little Dallas coming home from the library with watering eyes.”
Aunt Ellen chimed in, “If she dares to suggest you get rid of Charles, I’ll . . . I’ll do something.”
“I’m sure you will,” I said. I smiled at my aunt.
“Let me finish introducing Lucy,” Ellen said to Bertie. “You have your guests to see to.”
“True. Although I’d prefer to spend my time with you two.” Bertie straightened her shoulders and waded into the crowd.
“So, you’re the new one, are you? Let’s have a look at you.”
“Excuse me?” I blinked. A woman was standing much too close, intruding into my private space, staring boldly into my face, her eyes dark with hostility. I’d never seen her before. The amount of product in her hair, teased and sprayed into a stiff helmet in a shade of red not known to nature, competed with her perfume. Her fingernails were the color of the wine in the glass she gripped in her right hand. Her dress was lower cut than suited her turkey-neck throat and chest and she tottered on stiletto sandals with straps the thickness of dental floss. She had to be well into her sixties, and not going into old age gracefully. She exhaled alcoholic fumes into my face. The party was just getting under way. She must have had a couple of drinks before arriving.
“Diane, I don’t think . . .” Aunt Ellen said.
“I don’t care what you think. A librarian. A young librarian. Just what we need in this town. Another one of them.” She spoke as if “librarian” were another word for “ax murderer.” I had absolutely no idea what she was going on about. I was quite proud to be a librarian.
“At least,” Diane said, with a snort, “she’s not very pretty.”
That hit a sore spot. I might not be a beauty like my cousin Josie, but I didn’t consider myself to be a total dog, either.
“I can’t imagine where she got that dress. Her mother’s closet, perhaps?”
Another direct hit. I’d bought this dress especially for this party. It cost considerably more than I could afford, but I wanted to make an impression. Apparently I had. But not the impression I was hoping for. The dress was new, but the clerk in the store told me the vintage look was back in style. It was pale yellow, with a square-cut neckline, close-fitting bodice, tightly cinched patent leather black belt above a flaring skirt, and a stiff petticoat that ended sharply at the knees. The shoes were also new, of the same color and material as the belt, and turning out to have been a mistake. My aching feet were reminding me that I should stick to ballet flats and sports sandals.
“Diane, you’re creating a scene.” Mr. Uppiton, the chair of the library board, took the woman’s arm.
She shook him off. She took a hefty swig of her wine. “No, Jonathan, you’re the one who made a scene. You think the whole town isn’t talking about you? About how this place, this library, is more important to you than our marriage of thirty years?”
All around us the buzz of polite conversation died as people turned to look. Diane Uppiton’s face was turning as red as her hair and nails. Her eyes filled with water that threatened to spill over and ruin her heavily applied makeup.
In the sudden silence, I could hear a ghost screaming from the depths of a castle dungeon. Or it might have been Charles the cat, expressing his opinion at being locked in the closet.
“Our marriage,” Mr. Uppiton said, with a sniff, “was a mistake from the beginning. I finally came to realize that. I decided to take the blame for its demise myself, to allow you to leave with some medium of dignity. Dignity that you, my dear, clearly have forsaken.”
Stuck-up jerk. He was speaking louder than he needed to, and although he was trying to look concerned, the corners of his mouth were in danger of curling upward. He, I realized, was playing to the audience, and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. My sympathy shifted and I felt very sorry for Mrs. Uppiton.
“Our marriage”—the tears began to flow—“was my world. I gave you my youth, my beauty. My life. But you, nothing mattered to you more than this cursed library. Nothing.”
“In a library, at least, one can have silence,” Mr. Uppiton said, with the exaggerated sigh of a martyr. A few people tittered, more in embarrassment than in enjoyment of the joke. But Mr. Uppiton looked pleased with himself indeed.
“Come along, honey.” Bertie plucked the wineglass from Mrs. Uppiton’s fingers and passed it to the closest person. Me.
Unfortunately that had the result of turning Mrs. Uppiton’s attention back to me. “You.” She stabbed one of those potentially lethal nails in my direction. “Stay away from my husband.”
“That’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, I’ll remind you,” he sniffed.
She ignored him. “Do you hear me? I know your kind.”
I refrained from mentioning that about the last person I’d ever want to get close to (shudder) was Mr. Uppiton. The crotchety old jerk, he’d made it plain to everyone who’d listen—and many who didn’t want to—that he didn’t like me and didn’t want me in the job. I was, according to him, a flighty debutante. I figured he meant “dilettante,” but wasn’t about to point out the difference.
“And you,” she said, spraying spittle all over her husband’s face, “you’ll get what’s coming to you. See if you don’t. I’ll dance on your grave yet.”
“Come along now,” Bertie cooed. “Let’s dry those tears.”
“Really, my dear,” Mr. Uppiton sniffed as his sobbing wife was escorted to the ladies’ room. “Credit me with a medium of taste.” I suspect he meant “modicum.” Again, I declined to correct him.
Since starting work here, I’d come to realize that Bertie had eyes in the back of her head. As she led Diane away, without even glancing over her shoulder she shouted, “Charlene, don’t you dare touch that CD player!”
The reference librarian leapt away from the machine, a look of total innocence on her face.
Charles reminded us he was still trapped in the closet.
I’d been worried about getting to know everyone who was someone at the Lighthouse Library.
Now everyone knew me. Although they all pretended they hadn’t actually been listening to that ugly confrontation.
The partygoers turned back to their drinks and conversation. There was a sudden rush on the bar and the dessert buffet. Mr. Uppiton looked quite pleased with himself, but I sensed the majority of the room was not on his side. Most of them were women of a certain age. The right age to be dumped by a longtime husband in favor of a pretty young girl.
Not that that girl was me.
Mr. Uppiton had been the first to arrive for the reception, and he’d come alone. He was the library chair, and had stalked into the lighthouse as if he owned the place, ordering the lighting in the alcove to be adjusted, demanding that more room for the bar be created, even though we had no place to put the printer. He’d disapproved of the collection of vocal jazz CDs Bertie had selected for tonight’s background music, and took a stack of Mozart and Beethoven out of his cavernous, ever-present briefcase. Bertie whispered to me that if she’d chosen Mozart, Mr. Uppiton would have produced Diana Krall.
His love of the library, Bertie had warned me on my arrival, was sometimes a bit . . . excessive.
You’d think he and I would get on well. I also loved libraries, and had loved this one in particular since I’d first seen it when vacationing on the Outer Banks. But no, Mr. Uppiton was also a stickler for numbers, and if the library budget didn’t allow for another staff member, no matter how desperately one might be needed, that was all there was to it. That Bertie had found the money to employ an extra staffer through our busiest time of year, the summer, by going directly to the town council, was of no consequence to Mr. Uppiton.
The door opened, bringing in a gust of cold, wet fog, and all thoughts of seeking new employment come fall, of library budgets and board members, even of Jane Austen and that first edition of Sense and Sensibility so tantalizingly close, fled.
“Your Honor!” Mr. Uppiton boomed. “So glad you could make it.” He pushed and shoved his way across the room to get to the new arrival. He pumped the man’s hand with an excess of enthusiasm, not giving him the chance to wipe sea spray and mist off his face and hands first. “Welcome, welcome to our little sobriety.”
“Is that anything like a soiree?” Josie whispered to me. “Love, love, love that dress, by the way. It is absolutely perfect on you. Next time you wear it, I’ve got a brooch that’ll be a perfect match. You really do need to wear bright colors more often, Lucy. You’re a winter, you know.”
“Oh, good. The mayor’s here,” Bertie said. “I was hoping he’d come.”
“What’d you do with Diane Uppiton?” Josie asked.
“Left her reapplying her makeup. I suggested she go home, but she would have none of that. I could hardly tie her up and carry her out the door over my shoulder, now, could I? I’ll make sure she doesn’t try to drive home. Poor thing. Despite her rudeness, I do feel sorry for her.”
I scarcely heard her. I stood, fixed to the spot, as Mr. Uppiton dragged the mayor around the room, introducing him to everyone of importance and ignoring those who were not. That the mayor of such a small town would probably know everyone quite well didn’t seem to matter to our library chair.
“And now how about a look at our piece of resistance?” Mr. Uppiton boomed, once the mayor had a bottle of beer in his hand and had managed to dry off somewhat.
“He means, of course, the Austen collection,” Bertie said. She held out her hand. “Welcome, Connor. It’s nice to see you.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he said. “It’s a real coup for the library, and for the town, that you were able to get it here, Bertie. My congratulations.”
Mr. Uppiton tried to edge the mayor away from our little group, but Bertie stood firm. “First, I’d like to introduce you to our newest librarian. This is my assistant . . .”
“Lucy,” he said, with a huge smile. “It’s been an awful long time.”
My heart pounded in my chest. Connor McNeil. Even handsomer than I remembered.
“You know each other?” Mr. Uppiton said.
“Sure do. Lucy and I were kids together. Right, Lucy?”
I found my tongue at long last. “I’m surprised you remember me, Connor. I was only a summer visitor and it was a long time ago.”
“I remember all our visitors. Wouldn’t be much of a mayor if I didn’t.” His eyes were the color of the ocean on a sunny day, and as welcoming and friendly. “But you I remember in particular. Very fondly.”
My face has a horrible habit of showing exactly what I’m feeling at any given moment. Waves of heat were rising. My petticoat crinkled noisily as I wiped my palms on my skirt. Josie was looking at me, her beautiful eyes full of questions. Aunt Ellen had a slight smile on her face. Most of the onlookers nodded politely.
Mr. Uppiton chafed at losing his moment in the spotlight. “This way, Mr. Mayor,” he said, extending his arm in a flourish. “Theodore Kowalski, get out of the way and let His Honor have a look.”
Throughout the party, every time I’d glanced toward the alcove, Theodore had been bent over the books, peering through his plain-glass spectacles, ungraciously allowing others close enough to have a look and practically shoving them aside when he figured they’d had long enough. At least he kept the gloves on and turned the pages carefully and with the reverence they deserved.
Connor’s lips moved. “We’ll catch up later,” they seemed to say. And then he allowed Mr. Uppiton to escort him to the Austen collection.
“There’s a story here,” Josie whispered, “and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”
Connor McNeil. The first boy I’d ever kissed. I’d been fourteen years old. The first summer I’d been allowed to visit Aunt Ellen and Uncle Amos without my parents or bothersome brothers. A beach party, a roaring bonfire shooting sparks into the night air, laughing kids, waves crashing on the unseen shore, a blanket of stars overhead.
A walk along the beach in the dark. A kiss.
It had been a light kiss, an innocent fourteen-year-old girl and a well-brought-up fifteen-year-old boy.
I went home to Boston the next day, vacation over. But that kiss remained, all these years later, the best kiss I had ever had. I’d spent the whole year dreaming of him and had been shattered the next summer when I came back and heard that his father had found him a summer job in Ocracoke on a fishing charter boat.
Connor had been a cute boy. He’d grown up to be a handsome man. Dark hair, curling now in the damp mist, lovely blue eyes, prominent cheekbones, good skin with a trace of stubble breaking through.
I shook my head. “Sorry—what was that?”
“I said, ‘I’m going into the back to replenish the buffet. Do you want anything?’”
“I think I’ll have one of those pecan tarts after all.” I plunged through the crowd. I like the occasional glass of wine, but tonight I was sticking to mineral water; I knew I needed to keep my wits about me when meeting a room full of strangers. Influential strangers at that. I had nobly kept my distance from the buffet table, but seeing Connor again had thrown me for a loop and I told myself I needed sustenance in order to keep calm. Chocolaty, nutty, gooey sustenance.
Heck, the tarts were quite small. Two wouldn’t hurt. And since I hadn’t had a serving of fruit all day, I’d better take one of the lemon squares at the same time. By the time I finally made up my mind I had a nice little pile of treats on my plate.
I found a place against the wall and stood, munching happily, watching the room. Ronald had been backed into a corner by Mrs. Peterson, who was still talking and gesticulating wildly. Theodore was attempting to shrink his six-foot frame in order to slink around Connor and Mr. Uppiton and get back at the books. Connor was nodding at whatever Mr. Uppiton was saying, and all the while his eyes moved around the room. He caught me watching, gave me an almost imperceptible wink. I ducked my head, heat rushing back into my face. Josie, helped by Charlene, was bringing out more food. Aunt Ellen chatted to a group of Friends of the Library, and Bertie stood by the door, greeting latecomers as they arrived.
Mrs. Uppiton had returned. She’d scrubbed her face, dried her eyes, and slathered on another layer of mascara and eye shadow. She was, I noticed, heading directly for the self-serve bar. Her head was high and she pointedly did not look at her husband as she passed.
“Nice party,” a deep voice said.
I turned around and came face-to-face with a man I’d noticed when he’d entered the room. Who wouldn’t? Since he’d made a beeline for Josie, I—telling myself I was not at all disappointed—had tried to pay him no further attention.
He held out a massive paw. I choked down a piece of pecan and offered my hand. It was swallowed up, like a minnow disappearing into a whale’s mouth. “Butch Greenblatt,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m . . .”
“Lucy, the new assistant librarian. I made a point of finding out.” His smile was full of white teeth and a healthy dose of humor.
I smiled back.
Josie slid up beside him. She playfully bumped her hip against his, and he put his arm around her shoulders. I tried not to groan in disappointment. Another Josie conquest. Since I’d arrived in North Carolina, we hadn’t had much of a chance to talk, but I’d thought she was dating a chef, some guy named Jake. Apparently Jake, like so many men before him, had been discarded.
“I see you two have met,” she said. “I’m glad.”
I gritted my teeth. Jodie attracted men like her pecan tarts attracted flies if left uncovered on a hot, sunny day. I’d just have to get used to it if I wanted to live happily in the Outer Banks.
She slipped out of Butch’s arm and glanced at the wineglass in his hand. His fist was wrapped around the stem and it looked as if it was about to snap in two. “I do believe there’s a beer or two in the fridge. Can I get you one?”
Relief crossed his face. “That would be great. Yes, please.”
She laughed. “Be right back.”
He watched her go, a smile on his face.
“You’re good friends with my cousin,” I managed to choke out.
“More than friends, I hope.”
“How nice.” I glanced around the room, seeking escape. Right now, a visit to the dentist would be a welcome escape.
“I’m expecting my brother to pop the question any day now. If he doesn’t, I’m going to do it for him. He’d be a fool to let that girl go.”
“Yeah. He’s a cook—a chef, I guess I should say. Back in Nags Head after ten years learning the ropes in New York City. He’s opened a restaurant of his own. Jake’s Seafood Bar. It’s already being called the best fish place on the Outer Banks. Course that’s my mom saying that, but others will be, too, soon enough.”
Josie was back. She plucked the wineglass out of Butch’s paw and placed a bottle of the Outer Banks Brewing Station’s stout in its place. He nodded his thanks.
“The reviews of the restaurant have been great,” Josie said. “We’re so excited! Oops, looks like we’re running out of napkins.”
“Have you been there yet?” Butch asked me.
“I haven’t been much of anywhere. There’s so much to do. Settling in, getting familiar with the job.”
“Perhaps you’d like . . .”
“Butch, my boy! I’ve something I want to talk to you about. You know that nephew of mine? Keeps getting himself into trouble. I figure you’re the one to give him an awful good talkin’-to. You don’t mind if I borrow this big fellow for a few minutes, do you, little lady?”
Butch threw a smile over his shoulder as he allowed himself to be led away.
I glanced at my watch. Seven forty-five. My feet were killing me, and it felt as if my smile were pasted on my face with superglue. Bertie had said she had an important announcement to make at eight, something to do with the Austen collection. Even I didn’t know what that was. Surely everyone who was interested would be here by now. All the people I’d met since starting the job had arrived, except for . . .
Curses! As if my thoughts had summoned her themselves, the door flew open, bringing in more cold, damp air, along with the one person I was hoping I wouldn’t see. Louise Jane McKaughnan. Wanna-be librarian. Louise Jane had volunteered at the library a few times, filling in here and there for vacations, and she thought that qualified her for a full-time position. That Louise Jane had neither education in library science nor any experience other than shelving books and checking them out seemed not to matter to her one bit. She wanted the new job, and she had no qualms expressing her displeasure at it being given to—horrors—an outsider. I slunk behind a cabinet displaying books of nautical charts and a scale model of an eighteenth-century sailing ship, wondering whether I could hide out here for the rest of the night.
Until Butch was free, anyway.
Bertie, as could be expected, greeted Louise Jane warmly, as if they had not exchanged bitter words behind the head librarian’s closed office door only this morning. Louise Jane pointedly ignored her, and marched into the room as though she were a general leading her forces into battle.
In her wake followed not an army, but Poor Andrew MacGillacuddy. No one ever called Andrew just “Andrew,” and certainly not Mr. MacGillacuddy. He was always Poor Andrew. For reasons unknown to everyone in town, Poor Andrew adored Louise Jane and trotted in her wake, begging for scraps of attention. Louise Jane treated him with mild contempt, when she could be bothered to notice him at all.
From my hiding place I heard Andrew say, “Can I get you something to drink, Louise Jane?” in a high-pitched, almost pleading voice. Andrew was close to six feet tall, but I’d have been surprised if he weighed more than a hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet. Which, come to think of it, he was right now. A lock of blond hair flopped over his forehead and he lifted a hand to push it back. His eyes were a nice shade of pale blue, and would have been attractive if not for the look of intense adoration they had when looking at Louise Jane. Which they almost always did. Then those longing eyes would put a six-week-old puppy to shame.
“Get me a beer,” she snapped. “Good. There he is.” She headed straight for the alcove, where Connor was still standing beside the collection, exchanging greetings with patrons.
But it wasn’t Connor she was intent on cornering.
I saw a look of alarm cross Bertie’s face and came out of hiding to join her. “Oh no. Not now. Not here,” she muttered.
“I have a bone to pick with you, Mr. Uppiton,” Louise Jane bellowed. Once again, conversation ground to a halt and heads turned. Connor blinked in confusion. “Is there a problem, Miss McKaughnan?”
“There sure is. As Mr. Uppiton knows full well. This can’t be allowed to continue.” Andrew tiptoed up to her and held out a glass full of frothy beer. She snatched it out of his hand and swallowed half of it in one go.
Bertie pushed her way through the crowd. I’d never seen such a look of pure anger on her face. In addition to her job as head librarian of the Lighthouse Library, Bertie was a yoga instructor. She practiced its calming rituals every day.
Knowing, fearing what was about to happen, I followed in my boss’s wake.
“I agree with you, Louise Jane,” Mr. Uppiton said. He also was almost shouting, playing to the crowd once again. “I’m grievously disappointed in Bertie. I thought she had more sense.”
“Obviously not,” Louise Jane said. “That job was promised to me. Me!”
Andrew’s head bobbed in agreement. Partygoers whispered questions to each other.
“It’s a total waste of library funds,” Mr. Uppiton said. “And not included in this year’s budget.”
“My great-grandfather manned this very lighthouse. His dedication was nothing short of heroic. My grandparents, God rest their sainted souls, built this town. My mother raised funds for the restoration of the lighthouse.”
“As I recall,” Aunt Ellen whispered in my ear, “Jane McKaughnan put on an enormous garden party. By the time she’d paid to have her grounds groomed and fountains installed to make it a suitable venue, rented a tent and a hundred chairs along with silver cutlery and crystal wineglasses, paid for a live string orchestra, and booked caterers for a full afternoon tea, with champagne, about ten dollars remained for the lighthouse fund.”
I chuckled, despite myself.
“It’s not as if the girl has any real community library experience, anyway,” Mr. Uppiton said, addressing the crowd. Louise Jane grinned maliciously beside him. “A university librarian. Totally useless.”
“Quite right, Mr. Uppiton. I’ve said all along—haven’t I, Andrew?—that what we need here is someone from a true Bodie Island family. Someone who knows the history of the land, someone in whom the blood of the old families runs in . . .”
“This is not the time nor the place.” Connor attempted to get a word in.
“What we need,” Mr. Uppiton thundered, “is no further unnecessary expenses. About all this girl from. . . . from . . . Boston . . . is needed for is to make tea for Bertie and to shelve books.”
“That’s enough.” Bertie pushed her way through the crowd of onlookers. Her whole body shook and a vein pulsed in the side of her throat. “I hired Lucy, who just happens to be a highly qualified librarian with a master’s degree, no less, because she is sorely needed here.”
“I’ll admit she has the education,” Mr. Uppiton sniffed, “but really, Bertie, you have to learn to control your spending. Why, you could have hired Louise Jane here for a fraction of the cost.”
“I could have hired a trained donkey for a fraction of the cost. But I need a librarian, not a trained donkey.”
A couple of people tittered. Was Bertie—calm, sensible Bertie—calling Louise Jane a donkey?
“Hey,” Louise Jane said.
“But that’s beside the point. We don’t have the funds in the budget. You shouldn’t have hired anyone. As I have said . . .”
“Over and over and over,” Bertie said. “Fortunately, hiring staff is my responsibility.”
“As head of the library board, it is within my power to call a special meeting of the board to overturn your decision.”
Bertie stepped forward. “You. Would. Not. Dare.” She punctuated every word with the poke of a long, thin finger into his chest.
He sniffed. “Really, my dear. I will do whatever is necessary to maintain the integrates of this library and its funding.”
Charlene laughed. Mr. Uppiton threw her a ferocious glance, and she was overcome by a coughing fit.
“Most of the board seems to be here,” he said. “I call an emergency meeting for tomorrow night. We will vote on terminating the position of assistant librarian and putting a moratorium on any further hiring.”
“Hey,” Louise Jane protested. “That’s not what I meant.”
Bertie’s yell drowned her out. “You pompous jerk! How dare you override my authority in this manner. I won’t stand for it.”
“You,” Mr. Uppiton said, “have no choice. Now, where were we, Your Honor? I believe we were discussing my idea for installing a contemplative fountain on the library grounds.”
Bertie, however, wasn’t finished. Her face was flushed with rage. “If you fire Lucy,” she said, loudly enough for everyone to hear. “I will not be responsible for my actions.”
“A threat?” Mr. Uppiton raised one eyebrow theatrically. “How childish of you, Bertie.”
“That’s enough,” Connor said. “You’re deliberately goading Bertie, Jonathan. This is a party to celebrate the Austen collection and all of Bertie’s hard work in securing it for us. Now, I, for one, haven’t had any of Josie’s delicious squares yet, and there seems to be plenty of wine still left at the bar.”
People moved away and conversation resumed, as everyone pretended not to have been caught listening.
The party went downhill from there.
The hands of the big clock over the door touched eight, but Bertie didn’t make her announcement. Instead, she slipped into a dark recess behind the shelf labeled Morrison–Proulx and stood alone, taking deep, calming breaths while gathering her arms in swooping motions to her chest. No one made a move to leave. No doubt they were all waiting to see if there would be any more excitement.
I decided I needed a chocolate-chip cookie to settle my nerves. Two chocolate-chip cookies.
Would Mr. Uppiton go through with his threat? I couldn’t bear to lose this job. Without a job I had no place to live on the Outer Banks. Aunt Ellen would offer to take me in, of course, and insist that they had plenty of room. Which they didn’t. Once their children moved away for college and jobs, she and Uncle Amos had bought their dream home: a small, perfect seaside house. I couldn’t stay there for long without becoming a burden. Even worse than being homeless and jobless, I’d lose access to the Austen collection. I saw my dream of taking those books, one at a time, up to my tiny, circular room high above the crashing waves, disappearing.
On a more practical level, I didn’t know what I would do then. Where would I go if I couldn’t find a home or a job? I couldn’t bear to go back to Boston. To my brothers’ told-you-so sneers, to my father’s absentminded pat on the head, to my mother telling me that she was glad I’d come to my senses. Finally.
As I stood by the buffet, worrying and stuffing food into my mouth, a path opened in front of me, and I could see all the way to the far side of the room into the alcove. The precious books were temporarily alone. Even Theodore had gone in search of sustenance or further gossip.
No, there he was. Heading not for the drinks and company, but for the back stairs. The stairs that bypassed the main rooms and gave access only to the private collection. Where we kept rare and valuable books.
I put down my half-finished cookie and took a step forward.
“Don’t worry about him, Lucy. He’s all talk and no action. He’ll back down tomorrow.”
At first I thought Butch was talking about Theodore. Then he continued, “If I know Bertie, and I do, your job’s safe.”
I peered around his shoulder. It was much too high to actually look over. I thought I saw the soles of Theodore’s shoes disappearing up the curving stairs. “I need to . . .”
“My brother’s working flat out to make his restaurant a success,” Butch said. “I want to give him all the business I can. Are you free tomorrow evening?”
“Tomorrow? You mean for dinner?”
“Yes, I mean for dinner.” He smiled at me. His eyes were a deep brown speckled with flakes of gold. Someone bumped him from behind and mumbled, “Sorry.” Butch stepped closer to me. He smelled of beer and aftershave and delicious male hormones. “You don’t have any other plans, I hope.”
Oh, my gosh. This amazing man was asking me out. On a date. My face began to burn.
“You do eat, don’t you?” A smile touched the edges of his mouth.
Flames shot into my cheeks. “Of course I do. Eat, I mean. I’d enjoy trying your brother’s restaurant.”
“Good.” He took a sip of his beer. His eyes were focused on me, not glancing around, not seeking someone more interesting. I enjoyed the attention. Although in the back of my mind I was aware of Connor, moving easily through the room, exchanging greetings with everyone. “Josie tells me you’re from Boston. What brings you our way?”
I told Butch about vacationing on the Outer Banks when I was a kid. How much I’d always loved it. I said I was bored with my job at the Harvard Library and wanted to make a change. I’d come here to get away, to spend time with my favorite aunt and uncle in my favorite place in all the world. To have space and time and the support to make some decisions about the direction I wanted my life to take.
I didn’t think this was the time or the place to go into the real reason I’d fled Massachusetts so abruptly.
The day after I arrived, I told Butch, Aunt Ellen had invited her best and oldest friend to tea, knowing full well that Bertie had long been searching for an assistant librarian for the Lighthouse Library. Not even realizing I was undergoing a job interview, by the time tea ended, I had an offer of employment. Just for the summer, to begin. If it worked out, it could become permanent.
Only, I hastened to add, because of my qualifications and experience. I didn’t mention how Bertie had touched my hand when she left and said that she didn’t really give a fig for my master’s degree. It was the passion for books and the obvious joy I found in reading that I expressed with every word I spoke that convinced her I’d be perfect for the Lighthouse Library. And that the Lighthouse Library would be perfect for me.
“Speaking of which,” I said. “Bertie was planning some sort of big announcement at eight. It’s well past that now, isn’t it?”
Excerpted from "By Book or By Crook"
Copyright © 2015 Eva Gates.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“By Book or By Crook is a smart whodunit. Assistant librarian Lucy, is a likeable heroine among an engaging cast of supporting characters.”—Sofie Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of the Magical Cats mysteries
“A library in a lighthouse? And a cat? Sign me up! A fun read for all cozy fans.”—Laurie Cass, national bestselling author of the Bookmobile Cat mysteries
“This is a first-rate cozy mystery featuring a spunky librarian, a captivating book collection, an intriguing lighthouse, and plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading until dawn.”—Daryl Wood Gerber, national bestselling author of the Cookbook Nook mysteries