Jill Gardner’s store, Coffee, Books, and More, is raking in the green as her little coastal town holds a big festival for St. Patrick’s Day. But the locals aren’t exactly feeling the luck of the Irish, thanks to the rowdy behavior of some of the tourists who are pouring in.
Then a woman who just visited Jill’s shop is found dead near the shore. The fireworks display on the beach may have already happened, but the real fireworks have just begun . . .
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If you study the calendar, you can find a holiday to celebrate almost every day of the week. National Take a Walk in the Park Day, National Hot Dog Day, or, one of my favorites, National I Am in Control Day. With my Aunt Jackie convinced that I need to be told what to do on most days, at least one day a year I can pretend my life is my own.
Our local marketing maven, Darla Taylor, not only ran South Cove Winery but kept us up on the many different reasons to celebrate a day or hold a sale. Darla was also a reporter for the town newspaper. The girl kept busy.
Today's event had been in the planning stages for several months. For the first time, South Cove, California, was donning the green and going all in for St. Patrick's Day. The calendar had been gracious enough to land March 17 on a Saturday, so we had had a parade this morning as well as a full day of activities that started at the Castle and ran all the way down to the beach.
Fireworks were scheduled for tonight, just after dusk. Although as drunk as people were already, I doubted many of the out-of-town crowd would be awake for the spectacle. Everyone was working a double shift at my coffee shop and bookstore, Coffee, Books, and More. We'd close the shop down at six, and then the team was invited to my house for dinner and to watch the fireworks on my front lawn at eight. I live on the outskirts of South Cove, less than a quarter mile from the beach. Toby Killian, my part-time barista, and Greg King, my boyfriend, would be at the house for their dinner break, but then, as two of South Cove's finest, they'd have to go back out to protect and serve.
Greg had brought in more officers from Bakerstown for the day. The cost had been a point of contention between him and Mayor Baylor, but the city council had agreed with Greg and decided it was better to be safe than sorry. I think the mayor must have had other plans for that part of the budget. But then again, doesn't he always?
I guess I should introduce myself since I've gone on blathering for a while now. I'm Jill Gardner, owner and sometimes manager of Coffee, Books, and More — when my aunt lets me manage, that is. We're the only coffee house in South Cove. Diamond Lille's is the diner down the street, and although Lille does serve breakfast, I stay in my lane of coffee, drinks, and delectable desserts from Sadie Michael's Pies on the Fly. Sadie's one of my best friends as well as my cheesecake supplier. South Cove has been my home now for close to eight years, and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Even on days like this.
"Can I get a double shot mocha?" A tall blonde stood at the counter. Dressed in a green bikini top, Daisy Duke shorts, and a green plaid flannel shirt that ended at the edge of her shorts, she looked like a typical California twentysomething. Except for the green sparkling shamrock tiara on top of her head. She swayed a bit, which told me she'd been one of the ones drinking throughout the celebration. At least she had had the good sense to try to sober up since it wasn't even eleven in the morning.
"Sure." I glanced at the group standing near the best-sellers table, where she'd been a few minutes ago. "Can I get you something to eat?"
"No, we're going to that diner down the road for lunch in a while. I hear they have corned beef and cabbage today. My mom used to make that when I was a kid." The girl smiled, and I could see the sadness in her eyes. "My dad still tries, but since she's been gone, I haven't been home for a St. Patrick's Day. It's hard, you know."
I knew how hard it was to lose a mother, but the shop was packed, and I didn't have time to go into a full counseling session with a customer. "Yeah, it's hard. So, no cookies or cheesecake? Your stomach might thank you for the food sooner than later."
"You're so sweet. But no, I'm okay." She glanced back at the foursome waiting for her. One of the men frowned and tapped his watch. She only laughed then called back over the din in the crowded shop. "Hold your horses, Moon. I'm almost ready."
"Hurry up. I want to check out the bar across the street. The Watering Hole, what a cute name, right?" The other woman in the group called out. "Besides, it's St. Patrick's Day. You're supposed to be drinking green beer, not coffee."
I smiled as I rang up the purchase and had her swipe her credit card. "I think some people have been drinking a little too much of the green beer."
"That's just Carla. She doesn't get out much so she's really not housebroken." The young woman held out her hand for the cup. "I'm Alana McDaniel. Doesn't get much more Irish than that, now does it. My mother and father were first-generation Americans. They said they fell in love at the church where they attended Mass every Sunday as kids. I'm probably going to have to marry some guy I meet at an Irish bar. Or Moon over there. He's not Irish, but he's going to be an attorney and comes from a wealthy family. I guess Dad's going to have to be happy with that."
I handed her the drink I'd just finished. "Nice to meet you, Alana. I'm Jill. Come back sometime, and I'll treat you to the cheesecake."
Alana held up the coffee cup. "I live on this stuff normally. Cheesecake just isn't my bag."
As she walked away, Sasha looked up from the dessert case she'd been restocking while I handled the coffee customers. "Who in their right mind turns down a slice of cheesecake?"
I shrugged. "I have no clue, since food is my go-to drug of choice." I glanced at the slowly easing crowd. "Can you handle the register for a few minutes? I'm heading outside to grab a bit of air. I've been making coffees nonstop since we opened."
"Greg is out near the front directing foot traffic after the parade." Sasha cocked her head and nodded. "Maybe you should go steal a kiss."
"You are a hopeless romantic. Has anyone ever told you that?" I pulled off my apron and checked my hair in the small mirror we keep over the sink. "Besides, maybe I wasn't looking for him."
"You just don't want to admit you still have the hots for the man. He's fine, that's for sure." Sasha threw me a wicked smile, then turned to the next customer. "What can I get for you?"
I ignored my barista's pointed comments, even though I too had seen Greg in the window. He had said he would try to stop by and see me, but we were both busy with our jobs today. So I'd grab the few minutes I could. Sappy, I know.
I opened the door and moved toward the light pole where Greg casually leaned, watching the mass of people floating by on the street. The city had closed Main Street to all but foot traffic for the day. People had to park at the beach, the winery, or the Castle. Brenda Morgan had opened up the parking at the luxury motel slash museum. A shuttle ran from all three parking spots. At our last Business-to-Business meeting, Darla had reported that all hotel rooms and camping spots had been rented for the entire weekend. Our festival was a success.
Which meant a lot of work for all of us. I knew it was a good thing, but I missed the chance to read during my morning shift. I handed Greg the cup of coffee I'd poured before leaving the shop.
"Thanks, love." He leaned down and gave me a quick kiss. He wasn't afraid of public displays of affection like I was. Well, I wasn't really afraid; it just felt strange sometimes. "What a crazy day, right?"
"The shop's been busy. Have you had many issues?" I watched a bunch of women in green paint that covered all the parts of their bodies that their tiny bikinis didn't. The street noise made my ears hurt, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. "That doesn't even look comfortable."
"Yeah, but it's quite the eyeful." He laughed at the look I gave him. "What? I'm a guy, so sue me. And they are legal."
"In age or in coverage?" I considered the women again, wondering if they should be drinking those large glasses of some slushy green drink. The Watering Hole, the bar across the street, had a new concoction for all the different holidays. I was partial to the strawberry margaritas Ned Jones made for Cinco de Mayo last year.
"I talked to Ned yesterday and made sure he knew checking IDs would be especially important today. He assures me all his bartenders know the rule. I don't want to be calling some kid's parents from the hospital or the drunk tank and find out the kid is still in high school." He sipped his coffee. "I'm predicting that by two this afternoon, most of the heavier partiers will be looking for a place to sleep it off."
"Yeah, that's my thought too." I thought about Alana and her friends. "At least the holiday only falls on a weekend every few years."
"Yeah, I talked to Bill earlier, and he's going to talk to the council about limiting these types of festivals and focusing on the family-friendly ones, like we did for Fourth of July."
And yet someone had died that weekend.
I decided not to point out the obvious.
"Are you still going to be able to come to the house for dinner?" I saw Greg's gaze fall on two men who were tussling over what looked like a bota bag. Our break from the madness was about to end.
He stood and leaned down to kiss me again, not taking his gaze from the men. "Toby and I will be there. The mayor isn't happy about the extra budget for outside manpower, but there's no way the three of us can handle the entire day without help. I invited Tim to come eat, but he's carving out some time to be with his girlfriend."
"She could have come too." I didn't know Greg's second deputy as well as I knew Toby. Mostly because Toby worked for me as well as Greg. And partially because he rented the shed behind my house as his apartment. It helped pay the bills, and I knew cheap living opportunities were few and far between. Besides, he loved my dog almost as much as I did, so he was kind of a built-in babysitter.
"I invited both of them." Greg sighed as the first punch was thrown. The good thing was the guy was drunk and missed his friend's face. The bad thing was, he found himself on the road with the other guy kicking him. Greg pulled out his walkie-talkie microphone. "Esmeralda, can you send backup to Main Street in front of the coffee shop? We've got a fight."
"See you at dinner then." I watched as he took off to the fight. When I turned back, I saw the guy Alana had called Moon leaning against the wall of Antiques by Thomas, the store in the building next to my shop. Josh Thomas, the owner, probably hated me more than anyone in town. Even though I was always super nice. Except when I pretended to lose his agenda items for the monthly Business-to-Business meetings. And since he and my aunt had split, he didn't even have a reason to pretend to like me.
What can I say? He tends to rub me the wrong way.
I sat at the only outdoor table that was open and saw Moon finish his call, glance around the street to see if anyone was watching, and turn into the small walkway between the two buildings. I kept watching, wondering what the heck he was doing, but when he walked back out to the street, zipping up his jeans, I shook my head.
When I went back into the shop, I made a note on the chores list for tomorrow's shift. Spray down the outside of the building, especially the walkway. I didn't know how many others had decided to use the narrow path for their personal bathroom break, but I wasn't going to take any chances.
I grabbed a box of brownies out of the walk-in and took them out front to plate and fill the almost empty display case. If we kept selling desserts, we might run out of our stock soon. Sasha sank onto a stool after delivering coffee and treats to the three woman I'd seen on the street earlier.
"You know I don't like to judge." Sasha watched as the woman left the café and then settled onto one of the tables on the sidewalk. "But my granny would have a fit if I walked around town in my bathing suit. And I have a one-piece."
I had to agree with her. There would be no way I'd wander even the streets of South Cove in my suit. I wore a cover-up from my house to the beach, and it was less than a five-minute walk. "They're young. Sometimes being noticed is more important than being comfortable."
"Well, I'm young, and I'll take comfort over fashion any time." She glanced up at the clock. "Do you mind if I take a short break? The crowd has settled some. I think they're mostly heading to Diamond Lille's to eat real food."
"Sure. Take your full break. I can deal with what comes in." I glanced over at my aunt, who was talking with an older gentleman by the mystery section. "I'm going to try to send Aunt Jackie upstairs for an hour too."
"I can come back if you get swamped. I brought a lunch, and I'm reading a book off my English Lit list." Sasha grinned as she slipped off her apron. "Multitasking, it's the new black."
"You do know how to have fun." I glanced at the display case and then at the now-quiet shop. "I'm running back for cheesecake. If I don't see you before you leave, have a great lunch."
"Granny's bringing Olivia by as soon as the shop closes. Do you mind if she comes to dinner too?"
"Emma would love that. She thinks Olivia walks on water."
Sasha smiled as she threw a tote over her shoulder. "Your dog has good taste."
When I came back out from grabbing two cheesecakes to slice for the display case, my aunt was finishing ringing up several books for the man she'd been talking to earlier. She sank onto the stool, much like Sasha had a few minutes earlier.
"This has been a busy day." Aunt Jackie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm worn down to the bone."
"Then why don't you go upstairs and take a lunch break? Maybe watch one of your shows. I can call you down if I get swamped before Sasha comes back." There was no way I'd tell my aunt that I'd call Sasha back first. I needed to let her have a bit of pride. I glanced around the slowly emptying shop. We had a few browsers in the book area, and two tables had couples who were obviously relaxing after standing for several hours during the parade. "It's slowing down a lot. This is nothing I can't handle."
My aunt did her own assessment of the shop and then of me, apparently trying to judge my own stamina. I pretended I didn't see the narrowing of her eyes. "Well, I guess I could go up for a couple of hours. Then you can leave at three so you can get your place ready for the dinner. I told you that Harrold will be accompanying me, correct?"
A smile curved my lips, and I turned my back on her, pretending to take stock of the cup supply. "Yes, you did. You and Harrold are seeing a lot of each other."
I heard her stand up and head toward the doorway to the back area. "Yes, we are, if it's any of your business." Jackie headed toward the stairwell that would lead her to the apartment.
I turned my head and watched her go, happy for her. My aunt had been alone for too many years after my uncle had passed. If Harrold was lucky, this could be a good thing for both of them.
I heard the door shut, then turned back toward the counter. A red-faced Josh stood there, staring at the place where my aunt had disappeared. I had to assume that my aunt hadn't seen him come into the shop, probably because she was more tired than I thought. But if her ex-boyfriend hadn't known his status had been changed to ex before, he did now.
"Hey, Josh, how can I help you?" I tried to keep the sympathy out of my face, but I guess I failed because his eyes hardened as he moved his gaze from the door to my face.
"I wanted to know if you knew the ruffian who relieved himself on my building. Don't try to lie; I saw you watch him go into the walkway." Josh pulled out a notebook and a little pen. "I've called over Detective King and want to have all the facts for him so he can go arrest the man."
"Josh, I don't think Greg's going to arrest someone for taking a leak in a walkway. Unless someone saw him and was offended." Now I was worried about the kids who had been in and out of the shop all morning.
Josh snapped his book shut. "I should have known I wouldn't get any help from you. You've hated me from the moment I opened my shop. You probably poisoned your aunt against me."
He spun around and headed for the door faster than I'd ever seen him move.
"Josh ..." I called after him, but he didn't stop. And if I ran after him, I'd leave the shop unattended. Fixing his feelings would have to wait until another day. One when we weren't so busy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Corned Beef and Casualties"
Copyright © 2019 Lynn Cahoon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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