After a few months of living with her boyfriend Greg, Jill is still getting used to sharing such close quarters, but she's got no hesitation about joining him for a weekend at South Cove's most luxurious resort. While Greg and his college pals celebrate their buddy's upcoming wedding, Jill intends to pamper herself in style. But when the groom is found floating facedown in the pool, Jill must find the killer fast, or she might not have a boyfriend to come home to any more . . .
Praise for The Tourist Trap Mysteries
"Murder, dirty politics, pirate lore, and a hot police detective: Guidebook to Murder has it all! A cozy lover's dream come true."
-Susan McBride, author of The Debutante Dropout Mysteries
"Lynn Cahoon has created an absorbing, good fun mystery in Mission to Murder."
About the Author
Susan Boyce is the award-winning narrator of over 140 audiobooks. A veteran variety theater performer, she is also one half of the song-and-dance team of Jones & Boyce. Susan can be heard in phone trees, in computer games, and as the voice of the pink "Care Bear." She lives in St. Augustine, Florida.
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Whoever wrote the line you can't go home again must have been staying in a luxury hotel at the time. I stretched out on the king-sized bed and sank into its glorious softness. The Castle was less than ten miles away from my house, but we'd checked in for the weekend. Or at least, our host, Levi Walters, had done the checking in. In fact, the tech millionaire had rented the entire place for his bachelor party.
"I'm just staying in bed for the entire weekend," I told Greg as he unpacked his suitcase, hanging up the slacks and dress shirt he'd brought for the formal dinner tonight. Greg was my boyfriend and as of a few months ago, my roommate, too. I still wasn't totally comfortable with the entire couple cohabitation thing, but I did appreciate having him around. Especially when he mowed the yard. "Throw me a book and the room-service menu, and I'll see you when we check out."
He jumped on the bed next to me, his baby-blue eyes sparkling with humor. He brushed back a wayward curl from my face. "No such luck, buttercup. Where I go, you go. At least this weekend. We have to show the upcoming newlyweds what a proper couple acts like. I'm pretty sure Levi works all the time, so Jessica must be alone a lot."
"Sounds a little like us. Except I work as much as you do." At least sometimes. Now, that we were back to full staff at Coffee, Books, and More, my hours had been limited. Which worked great for me since I was way behind on my recreational reading after starting classes a year ago for my master's degree in business.
"No, Levi works more than both of us together. He's always either on the phone or his laptop, even when he's home. Look, I know this weekend will be touchy. I'm not even sure why Levi was so insistent you and I come. I mean, we were close as kids, but that's a long time ago. The last time I came to one of these, I was still married to Sherry. And, well, that weekend blew up in my face."
"Do you want to talk about it?" I rolled over onto my side and pushed a lock of hair out of his eyes.
"Honestly, no. I just want you to be prepared. I'm going to owe you big for this weekend." He glanced at his watch. "We have an hour before the first event. You want to stay here and fool around a little bit or go check out The Castle? We have full access to all the public rooms."
"Brenda must really like Levi. The last time Aunt Jackie tried to get her writers' group an all access pass for an afternoon, Brenda turned her down flat. Aunt Jackie's going to be so jealous." Brenda Morgan was the manager of The Castle, the site of our weekend gathering. The Castle had only a few rooms they rented out and often didn't even open the hotel section. Most weeks, it was a museum only. Brenda had been having trouble with the old buildings and the lack of air conditioning, not to mention a lack of adequate staffing to run a real hotel full time.
I ran my fingers through Greg's sandy-blond hair as I considered the options. Brenda Morgan had been The Castle administrator since her husband, Craig, had been murdered out behind one of the cottages in the complex. I wouldn't have been able to work in the same place where a loved one had died. On the other hand, Brenda and Craig had been separated at the time. Maybe the term, loved one, was out of place here.
Greg watched as I jumped off the bed and slipped on my flip-flops. "So I guess fooling around is off the table?"
"When it comes to making my aunt green with envy, I'll go without for a while." I put my phone in my capris pocket. "Are you ready yet?"
"Can we discuss how long a while is?" Greg sighed and then pushed himself off the bed. "I hope this satisfies your need to one-up Jackie. You two fight like sisters. Maybe you should try being nice."
"Why do I have to be the adult?" Don't get me wrong, I loved Aunt Jackie. Sometimes our relationship got a little tense as she could be overbearing and controlling, but nothing like what had been happening lately. My aunt had been on a holy tear for the last month. She was planning a June wedding to Harrold Snider. Jackie carried around a three-ring binder so she could write down notes as she thought of them. From what I could tell, everyone in the country was being invited. Well, everyone but Josh. He was still a little miffed about the Jackie and Harrold thing. Even though he was now officially dating Mandy Jensen, manager of South Cove's new produce and fruit stand, the man still held a soft spot for my aunt.
Greg leaned down and kissed me. "Because you love your aunt."
Well, he had me there. Even at her worst, she was still my aunt and my only living relative. I opened the door and stepped into the hall. "I'm still going to post these pictures on my Facebook page. I just won't tag her."
"Maybe she'll be too busy looking at seating charts for the reception to notice. I could call and give Harrold a heads up to try to keep her away." He checked his pocket for the room key, then pulled the door closed behind us.
"You're a little OCD with checking if you have the key. You know that right?" Moving toward the elevator, I linked my arm with his.
"Who always locks herself out of our hotel room when she goes for ice?" He pushed the down button and the ancient elevator motor whirled to life.
"No one remembers to take their keys when they get ice." I shot him a dirty look and then hesitantly stepped inside the elevator. "Besides, you're usually in the room when I leave."
"The last two times you locked yourself out, I was taking a shower. Luckily I heard your frantic knocks." He pressed the lobby button and the doors slid shut with a bang.
"I wasn't frantic. There were just people in the hallway and I was in my pajamas." I looked up at the lights that showed us slowing making our way down the three floors. "Maybe we should take the stairs. I'm not sure this elevator is going to last the weekend."
"Izzy works on these things and he says it's safe." Izzy was one of Greg's friends and lived in Bakerstown. From the way Greg quoted him, Izzy knew everything about anything mechanical. As we stepped out into the lobby, a cool breeze flowed gently through the room. Greg picked up a flyer from a side table. "Do you want a tour pamphlet?"
"Sure." I studied the map on the flyer and pointed to a spot to our left. "Let's start in the dining hall. I hear they have tapestries from the Middle Ages."
We found the room and as I walked inside, a sense of peace filled me. The place was stunning. If Levi was planning on hosting a dinner party in the room, he could invite all of the residents of South Cove and still have room for relatives and friends of the bride and groom. I pointed to the tapestry with the castle scene. "I saw that in a history book when I was in high school. I didn't realize it was owned by The Castle."
"There are a lot of antiquities housed here in The Castle." A man spoke up behind us. "The original owner had boatloads of art and architecture shipped over when he visited Europe. He'd find old churches being torn down and take every last choir pew and piece of stained glass. He rescued this stuff and now everyone wants it back."
I turned and looked at the elderly man watching us. He was doing the comb-over hairdo. I don't know why men think we can't tell they're bald if there's a few strands covering the top. I introduced myself and Greg, trying not to look at the top of his head. "I'm very interested in The Castle's history. Are you a trustee for the place?"
He barked out a laugh as he shook our hands. "Not on your life. I'm John Anderson. I'm kind of a museum guide. I work for Brenda. Those trustee farts are all Wall Street types with their eyes only on the money. I swear, they'd take this place apart and sell it off, piece by piece, if they could figure out a way to break the trust."
"It's amazing. I don't know why anyone would change a thing." A female voice cut through the tension.
We turned toward the newcomers and I saw Greg's eyes light up. He stepped toward the man and woman who had just entered the room.
"Levi! Hey man, thanks for inviting us." He walked over and gave the taller man a bro hug. "I can't believe you finally found someone to put up with you."
"I could say the same thing about you, times two. Of course, I told you the first one wouldn't work out when I stood up for you at that Vegas chapel. Didn't we have to wait for Elvis to get done with his drive through couple?" Levi Walker slapped Greg on the back. "You should have listened to me and run that night."
"You're right there." Greg turned toward me. "Levi, this is Jill Gardner. Jill, meet my best friend since seventh grade. Even if the guy doesn't call, email or visit me unless one of us is getting hitched."
"Jill, so nice to meet you. Greg has told me so much about you. And Jim had nice things to say too." He came over and gave me a quick hug. "This is the love of my life, Jessica soon–to-be Walker."
The woman came up and held out a hand. "Jessica Cole. I haven't decided on if I'm taking Levi's last name or not. It feels so archaic, like I'm property."
"Jill Gardner. So nice to meet you." I took a step toward Greg who pulled me into a hug. "Are you originally European? I can't place the accent."
"Jessica's family is from Germany and we just came back from a tour of Europe. I told her that she was picking up the local flavor." Levi beamed with pride at his fiancée.
"That must be it." Greg shot me a questioning look, but I ignored him.
Holding out the map of the building, I asked. "We were just starting our tour of The Castle. Do you want to join us?"
Her smile was wide, with too-white teeth. I hadn't been expecting someone so beautiful. Especially since Greg talked about Levi as the ultimate computer nerd. I guess I'd thought his fiancée would be more geek goddess rather than beauty queen. Her black hair glistened in the room's dim light.
"I'd love to —" Jessica started to say, but Levi shook his head.
"Sorry dear, we have to go to the room. The lawyer's calling in a few minutes with the last changes on the pre-nuptial agreement. It's just a formality, but my company's insisting on it so if anything happens to me, the business has a clear right of succession plan." Levi winked at me. "I wanted to elope and just surprise the shareholders with a mailing announcing: He put a ring on it. But Jessica wanted the big production."
She grinned at me. "I've been dreaming of this day since I was five and my Barbie had to marry Ken at least three times a day. No one wants to just elope."
Well, I didn't. Especially now that I knew that Greg and his first wife, Sherry, had tied the knot in Vegas. But I thought it was a great idea for some people. Aunt Jackie should have just eloped. The wedding would already be over and she could have sent out announcements. But no. "I'm sure the wedding will be lovely."
"It better be, for all it's costing me." Levi slapped Greg on the back. "Don't think you're getting out of doing shots tonight. That's why I rented the whole place. No one has to drive anywhere and take a chance of getting pulled over for a DUI."
"I appreciate your concern. My night deputy watches the roads pretty carefully out here. He'd love to nail me on an infraction." Greg looked to me for confirmation.
"Really, we need to go, but tonight. We'll get caught up tonight." He put his hand on Jessica's back and led her out of the room. "Nice to meet you, Jill."
And then they were gone. Sometime during the last few minutes, John had also disappeared. I looked around the too-large empty room. "Wow, he kind of fills up a place, doesn't he?"
"Levi's always been over the top. Think geek with actor attitude. Of course, none of the girls saw his good side, just the class clown and a too-smart-for-his-own-good kid." He stared out the doorway where they'd just disappeared. "I hope this Jessica has Levi's best interests at heart."
I stood on tippy-toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"What is that for?" He turned his attention away from the door.
I shrugged. "You're a good guy. You worry about everyone and everything. It's part of your charm."
He put his arm around me as we walked through the room. "Just wait until you meet the rest of the guys. We were tight in school. We were the nerdy kids who read Tolkien and wanted real light sabers for our birthdays."
"I'm looking forward to it."
I really wasn't. Greg's brother, Jim, barely tolerated me after my dating Greg made it impossible for Jim to hold on to his fantasy of Greg and his ex-wife, Sherry, getting back together. Who knows what camp these guys would join. And from what Levi said, Jim was still in touch with at least him. I looked down at the map. "There's supposed to be a great hall through this door. Ready to go see how the rich folk relaxed back in the day?"
"Sure." He followed me through the next doorway. He scanned the room the way he always did when we entered a new house or room in a store. He was always looking for the worst rather than let it sneak up on us. Toby did the same thing. They called it being hyper-vigilant, according to a book I'd read. Cops were cops even when they weren't in uniform.
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon wandering through the display rooms. For the place being so big, there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. Brenda must keep a tight rein on her cleaning staff. We stood waiting for the elevator, when the doors opened and Jessica walked out in a too-small white bikini.
"Hey, again. You guys still down here?" She nodded to the French doors leading to the back pool area. "I'm heading out for a swim before dinner. Do you want to join me?"
Greg looked at me. I don't think he trusted his voice. Whatever accent I'd thought I'd heard had been replaced with the voice of a sultry stripper. I leaned closer to Greg, letting her step around us. "Maybe. I'm not sure we brought suits." It was a total lie. I'd bought us both new suits just for the weekend.
She turned her head back to us and laughed. "Darling, we have the entire place to ourselves. Suits are totally optional."
We didn't talk on the elevator ride to our floor. Greg started to say something, but I shook my head, not wanting to be overheard. When we got to the room, I flopped on the bed. "What was that?"
"I'm not sure, but I know I either need to turn in my man card for turning her down or my badge for not arresting her. Levi has himself a firecracker there." He opened the closet and started digging through the suitcase.
"What are you looking for?" I peered at him from my reclining position.
He looked over his shoulder back at me. "Our suits."
I threw the pillow and hit him right on his head.
"Hey, what's that for?" He stood straight and threw the pillow back at me. "Does this mean we're not going swimming?"
My phone rang, which saved me from killing him. He grabbed the remote and turned the television on as he took my place on the bed. Glancing at the caller ID, I saw Coffee, Books, and More's number. There must be a crisis. Mentally, I went through the supply orders I'd completed the first of the week and tried to guess what hadn't come in.
There was silence on the other end of the line.
I looked at the room clock, Aunt Jackie should be on shift. Had she fallen? Heart attack? Was someone robbing the place? I tried to keep the panic out of my voice, "Hello? Aunt Jackie? Is anyone there?"
Greg muted the television. I saw concern on his face as he sat up, ready to spring into action if we needed to leave. My aunt might like to pretend she's young, but in truth, the woman is getting up in years. I'm not sure how old she is exactly as she doesn't celebrate birthdays anymore and she won't let me see her driver's license or her employee file at the shop. But she's been in my life since I could remember. I repeated her name, "Aunt Jackie?"
"Sorry, dear, I dropped an earring." My aunt's voice came on the line and I felt my heart rate slow. She'd dropped an earring?
I bit my lip, not wanting to yell and making eye contact with Greg, I covered the phone and whispered, "Everything's fine."
"Jill, dear, are you there?" Aunt Jackie asked. She didn't like being kept waiting.
I sank down on the chair by the bed. "Yes, I'm here. What's going on?"
"I wanted to talk to you about the wedding reception. I'm thinking of having the florist put small bowls of roses on the tables. You know those little white ones that are so pretty? He says he'll do a mock up for me, but I wanted your opinion before I told him to go ahead."
Excerpted from "Killer Party"
Copyright © 2017 Lynn Cahoon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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