Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!
Tourist season’s in full swing in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, and Marley McKinney couldn’t be happier. Since taking over the Flip Side restaurant, she’s made a few close friends, adopted a cat named Flapjack, and started dating her childhood crush. The only cloud on the horizon is local nuisance Ida Winkler, who blames Marley for landing her nephew in prison. Trying to get a rise out of Marley, Ida’s been making crank calls and even vandalizing the pancake house.
The police can’t do much about the pranks, so Marley sets out to bury the hatchet once and for all. But someone’s beat her to it—in the most shocking way possible. After stumbling across Ida’s dead body, Marley’s suddenly the number-one suspect in her murder. Clearing her good name is going to be a tall order, but Marley’s not about to let Ida keep ruining her life—especially from beyond the grave.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The early morning sunshine sparkled on the ocean waves. I paused on the beach to take in the view, the San Juan Islands sitting beyond the stretch of water, dark green shapes in the distance. The waves gently lapped at the sand only a stone’s throw from where I stood, and not a single cloud marred the blue sky. It would be another beautiful summer’s day on the Olympic Peninsula.
I itched to kick off my green Converse sneakers and let the ocean wash over my bare feet, but I’d already lingered on the beach long enough. It was time for me to get to The Flip Side Pancake House and start my workday. Not that I minded. I loved spending my days at the small restaurant, chatting with the diners and serving plates of delicious pancakes, crêpes, waffles, and other breakfast foods. I was lucky to have a job that I enjoyed so much, and there were times when I still found it hard to believe that the pancake house was mine.
Only a few months earlier, my grandmother’s cousin died, leaving his beachfront house and The Flip Side to me in his will. At the time of his death, I’d been on leave from my job as a legal assistant in Seattle, managing the restaurant while Cousin Jimmy was in the hospital with double pneumonia. After he met his tragic end, I struggled with deciding whether I should go back to my life and job in the city or make a permanent move to the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove.
Although it hadn’t been an easy choice for a number of reasons, I knew I’d made the right decision in the end. I’d had to return to Seattle to give notice and pack up my things, but I’d been back in Wildwood Cove for several weeks now and not once had I regretted the changes I’d made to my life.
Every day, I got to enjoy the view of the water and inhale the refreshing salty sea air, and five days a week I opened The Flip Side to regular and new customers. Some days the demands of owning and running the pancake house left me tired, but overall I loved the experience. The Flip Side had helped me integrate into the seaside community, and I’d already made several firm friends.
Now, in mid-June, plenty of new faces appeared in the pancake house each day, along with the regulars. The tourist season was in full swing, and that meant good business for The Flip Side. At the moment, before six o’clock in the morning, the beach was still quiet, only the occasional person aside from myself out for a morning walk, and a couple of dogs splashing about in the shallows. Soon, however, locals and tourists would emerge from their homes and holiday accommodations to enjoy the gorgeous summer day.
As I walked along the beach, accompanied by the sound of lapping waves, I smiled, soaking in the temporary peace and quiet. I couldn’t think of a better way to start each day than with a stroll along Wildwood Beach, a place I’d loved since I was a small child visiting my relatives during the summer holidays.
When I neared the pancake house, I left the sand for the paved promenade that ran along the top of the beach at the edge of the town. The Flip Side was one of several businesses that opened out onto the promenade, giving diners a first-class view of the water through the large front windows. My smile was still on my face as I approached the building, but a moment later it faded.
My stomach sinking, I broke into a run and then stopped short in front of the windows. Red paint dribbled down the glass like trickles of blood, escaping the large letters splashed across the panes. The words city scum marred one of the windows, while another displayed the phrase filth not food. I stared at the dripping words, shocked into inaction until boiling anger took over seconds later.
As soon as I had the front door unlocked, I charged through it. The dining area was deserted and lit only by the natural light filtering through the windows, but I could see artificial light glowing in the kitchen. Half jogging, I burst through the swinging door and into the domain of The Flip Side’s chef, Ivan Kaminski. The muscular, tattooed chef was already hard at work, his young assistant, Tommy Park, working at his side, slicing up strawberries and bananas.
“Did you guys see the front windows?” I asked, feeling as though steam were about to pour out of my ears.
Ivan’s eyebrows drew together over his dark eyes, but Tommy was the one to speak.
“No, we came in the back way. What’s wrong with the windows?”
“Again?” Tommy said, surprised.
Only ten days ago, someone had painted similar messages on the back of the building. At that time I’d had my suspicions about the identity of the culprit, and I still did.
“Ida.” Ivan said the name darkly, and I nodded in agreement.
“She must be one crazy lady,” Tommy said.
Ivan wiped his hands on a towel before striding toward the kitchen door. I followed in his wake, Tommy bringing up the rear. Once outside, we all stared at the sloppy paint job.
“Crazy,” Tommy said again. “What is it with this woman?”
I sighed heavily, the worst of my ire dissipating, leaving me annoyed but no longer fuming. “She worked here years ago but got fired for stealing. And now she blames me for the fact that her nephew is in jail.” Which was exactly where he deserved to be, but that didn’t seem to matter to Ida.
Tommy shook his head. “She must be a few fries short of a Happy Meal.”
“And spiteful to boot,” I said.
I glanced Ivan’s way. With his buzz cut, bulging muscles, tattoos, and almost-constant glower, the chef was an intimidating man at the best of times. At the moment, the dark expression on his face would have been downright terrifying if I’d been the cause of it.
“We need to get this cleaned up before it dries,” the chef said.
“I’ll get some soap and water,” I said, resigned to the fact that I’d have to spend the first part of my morning scrubbing the ugly words from the windows. “Tommy, would you check out the rest of the building and make sure she didn’t vandalize anything else?”
“Sure thing.” He took off around the corner of the restaurant while I followed Ivan back inside.
“Can you spare Tommy for a few minutes?” I asked before the chef disappeared into the kitchen.
“Yes. I’ll help too.”
“That’s all right,” I assured him. “You head back to the kitchen. Tommy and I will take care of the windows.”
He acknowledged that with a nod and disappeared through the swinging door. I set off down the back hallway to the storage room, where I grabbed a red plastic bucket, some soap, and some rags. As I filled the bucket with warm, soapy water at the sink in the break room, Tommy appeared in the doorway.
“The rest of the building is clear.”
“That’s something, at least.” I shut off the faucet and heaved the bucket up out of the sink.
Tommy hurried over and relieved me of the heavy load. Once outside again, I snapped a few pictures of the defaced windows with my phone, wanting to document the incident. I planned to tell the sheriff about the vandalism, as I had the time before, even if all he could do was make a report. I hoped he could do more than that, but the problem was that I had no proof that Ida was responsible for the acts of mischief.
After I’d tucked my phone into my pocket, Tommy and I set to work, the dripping letters quickly turning to giant red smears as we wiped away the paint. Slowly, we made some headway, Tommy cleaning the higher parts of the windows where I couldn’t reach, while I concentrated on the lower half of the panes. A couple of early morning joggers passed by, but they weren’t anyone I knew, and although they cast glances our way, they didn’t stop to chat.
Even if Tommy and I managed to get the windows sparkling clean before the first customers arrived, I didn’t doubt that news of the graffiti would still get out. Word traveled fast in the small community, but if Ida thought her tricks would damage the pancake house’s reputation, she’d be disappointed. The last incident of graffiti had only outraged the regular customers on my behalf.
Still, she was causing disruption. I couldn’t keep spending chunks of time and money dealing with acts of vandalism. I’d had the back wall of the building repainted the week before, and now I just had to hope that the windows weren’t ruined permanently.
Twenty minutes later, we stood back to inspect our work. A few smears of paint had dried on the glass before we’d managed to wipe them away, but the majority of it was gone.
“We’ll need to scrape those bits off,” Tommy said, indicating the remaining smears of red.
“We can leave that for now.” I dropped my rag into the bucket. “At least the worst of it is gone. Thanks for your help, Tommy.”
“No problem.” He grabbed the bucket and we headed for the front door. “Are you going to report this to the sheriff?”
“Yes. Not that there’s much he can do about it, but it’s best to have the incidents documented.”
“You can’t prove it was Ida?”
“No, not yet.”
“Maybe you should get some security cameras installed.”
I surveyed the front of the building before opening the door. “I might have to.”
It seemed a shame to need extra security in a small community like Wildwood Cove, but that was becoming the unfortunate reality. I had a feeling that Ida wasn’t going to give up on her quest to disrupt my life anytime soon, and without evidence to prove she was the culprit, Sheriff Georgeson’s hands were pretty much tied.
While I got rid of the dirty water and returned the bucket to the storage room, Tommy rejoined Ivan in the kitchen. I called Sheriff Ray Georgeson on his direct line but got no answer, so I left a voicemail, telling him about the vandalism. Then I emailed him the pictures I’d taken and set about getting The Flip Side ready to open, determined not to let Ida Winkler ruin any more of my day.
The restaurant’s full-time waitress, Leigh Hunter, arrived a short time later, followed by Sienna Murray, a sixteen-year-old I’d hired to help out waiting tables during the tourist season. Leigh’s hazel eyes flashed with anger when I told the two of them about the graffiti.
“It’s Ida,” Leigh said as she twisted her bleached-blond hair into a messy bun. “I don’t doubt it for a second.”
“Neither do I.” I flipped the sign on the door so the open side would face out.
“But do you have proof?” Sienna asked as she tied a red apron around her waist.
“No,” I admitted.
“What you need are security cameras.”
“Tommy said the same thing. And I think that’s true. I’ll have to look into it.”
We let the matter rest for the time being since Ed and Gary—two of The Flip Side’s regular customers—had arrived for their favorite morning meal of pancakes, sausages, and bacon. Fortunately, they seemed not to have noticed the remaining red paint on the windows and chatted instead about the current heat wave as Leigh filled their coffee mugs and confirmed their usual order. Although I knew that much of the town would know about the graffiti before long, I was happy to not dwell on the subject any longer that morning.
Since Leigh and Sienna had everything well under control at the front of the house, I retreated to The Flip Side’s office and took care of some tasks on the computer. An hour or so later, I poked my head out of the office and saw that the breakfast rush was in full swing. Normally, on a weekday, the customers at this hour were mostly adults enjoying a good meal before heading to work. Now that the tourist season was underway, a few families with kids had arrived along with the regular crowd. Every table was occupied, so I tied a red apron around my waist and headed up front to help out Leigh and Sienna.
After greeting a family of four, I took down their orders and headed for the pass-through window to the kitchen, where Ivan had just set two warm plates, one laden with bacon cheddar waffles and the other with scrambled eggs and one of the breakfast rolls he had recently added to the menu. Since I’d taken over the pancake house, I’d been lucky enough to be the taste tester for several of Ivan’s new recipes. I’d known as soon as I tasted the maple pecan sticky rolls that they’d be a hit, and the customers had proved me right. That wasn’t surprising, though. While he was an intimidating man of few words, Ivan was renowned throughout the town for his tasty creations.
The stream of hungry customers eased up a couple of hours later, and I was able to pause by the cash counter to chat with Sienna about her plans for the rest of the week.
“I’m getting my hair done,” she said, tugging on a lock of her dark hair, which was currently cut in an angular bob and highlighted with streaks of plum and burgundy. “I’m thinking of getting magenta streaks this time.”
“That’ll look great,” Leigh said as she passed by on her way to the kitchen with a load of dirty dishes.
I was about to agree when a young man came into the pancake house and claimed a small table near the front windows.
“Oh, he’s cute!” Sienna whispered, her eyes bright. When Leigh emerged from the kitchen, Sienna caught her arm. “I know table three is yours, but can I please serve that guy? He’s so dreamy.”
Leigh looked over at the table. “Gavin Paulson? Sure, go ahead.”
“Thank you!” Sienna said with delight, hurrying over to Gavin’s table with her pen and notepad ready. When she passed me a minute later, on her way to the kitchen, she whispered, “Dreamy with a capital D. And he’s pre-med!”
“Don’t you think he’s a bit old for you?” I said, suddenly feeling protective of my teenage employee. Gavin looked to be at least twenty.
“A girl can dream, can’t she?”
She was off before I had a chance to respond.
Thoughts of Sienna’s new crush flew from my mind when I spotted a woman with frizzy, gray-streaked hair through the front window.
“Oh no,” I said under my breath, the muscles in my shoulders tensing in apprehension.
Ida Winkler was approaching the pancake house. She paused for a second outside the door, glaring at the large windows through her thick glasses, no doubt annoyed that her handiwork had been erased. I held my breath, my stomach twisting into a tight knot, silently willing her to move on.
Leigh, on her way to the kitchen again, stopped next to me and followed my line of sight. “If she dares to come in here . . .”
I put a hand on her arm, keeping my eyes on Ida. “Let’s try to stay calm.”
“She might make that difficult.”
Outside, Ida shifted her gaze away from the windows. When she noticed us watching her, she smirked, the spite in her eyes visible even from a distance. The knot in my stomach clenched tighter, but then Ida turned on her heel and marched off along the promenade, quickly disappearing from sight.
I let out a breath, relief washing over me, but that relief was short-lived. Ida had left us alone for the moment, but I had a bad feeling that her nasty tricks had only just begun.