It's whale-watching season in Redwood Cove, and B&B manager Kelly Jackson's battening down the hatches for the tourist rush at Redwood Heights-a Victorian-style estate owned by her boss. And due to recent jewelry thefts, her duties include keeping track of the many dust-covered artifacts spread throughout the property. But when Kelly finds Sylvia Porter's lifeless body with a blood-splattered brooch around her neck, menial tasks don't seem so terrible. Enlisting the help of a ragtag group of brainy retirees, aka the "Silver Sentinels," Kelly's on the hunt for clues hidden behind the mansion's glamorous façade . . . and for a killer who may want to make history of her next!
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About the Author
Reba Buhr grew up in the Pacific Northwest and now lives in Los Angeles, working in theater, film, and television. She is a graduate of Occidental College. Reba began recording audiobooks in 2012 and has turned her love for performance into a passion for narrating characters that jump off the page.
Read an Excerpt
Murder at the Mansion
By Janet Finsilver
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Janet Finsilver
All rights reserved.
As I straightened out the Jeep after rounding a long curve, Redwood Cove popped into view. White buildings, looking like small squares, dotted a grove of trees. An aquamarine Pacific Ocean crashed against rocky outcroppings on my left, spewing foam and creating swirling mists.
Redwood Cove. My new home.
Excitement pushed away the weariness of long driving hours from Wyoming. My heart beat faster and goose bumps rose on my arms.
My new home. I whispered it aloud.
My new job. I spoke it aloud.
Tiredness slipped away as my mind raced ahead. My foot remained steady on the gas pedal, remembering the horse trailer I pulled behind me, filled with my belongings. I turned off the song "Walking on Sunshine" playing on the radio, put the window down, and let the salty breath of the ocean pour in.
I visualized the business cards nestled in a leather case in my purse. Resorts International in raised letters at the top. Kelly Jackson, manager, Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast artfully displayed in the middle. The cards would rest on the engraved brass holder my boss, Michael Corrigan, had sent as a welcoming gift.
I turned off the highway and the steeple of Redwood Cove Bed- and-Breakfast stood out against the sky. As I pulled into the driveway of the B & B, I inhaled deeply, struck by the sheer beauty of the place as well as the intense sweet fragrance permeating the air. The brilliant array of flowers on the trellised vines created a kaleidoscope of color next to the elegant white sculpted pillars. Gingerbread trim adorned the two-story inn.
I drove to the back and pulled off to the side of the parking area by the garage. The back door of the inn burst open, and a ten-year-old boy bounded down the stairs, followed by a short, heavyset basset hound.
"Miss Kelly! Miss Kelly! Hi!" Tommy Rogers slid to a stop in front of me. "Welcome back." His tricolored hound, Fred, jumped up and down next to him, or at least as best he could. His upper torso could only clear the ground by a couple of inches.
I smiled. "Glad to be here, Tommy."
He flew by me with Fred at his heels and clambered onto the fender of the trailer. "Did you bring a horse? Did you? Did you?"
"No, sorry, Tommy. It's filled with my things."
Helen, Tommy's mother, had followed him outside. She wiped her hands on her apron and gave me a hug. "It's so good to have you back, Kelly."
I returned the embrace. She looked much better than the last time I saw her, with more color in her face and no longer gaunt and haggard looking.
"And it's wonderful to see you, Helen. And Tommy and Fred again, of course." I smiled at her. "I'm excited to hear how things are going."
"Why the horse trailer?"
"I decided this trailer was the easiest way for me to haul my stuff. My parents are going to come for a visit in a couple of months when the Wyoming weather at the ranch makes California sound good. They'll take it back with them then."
Tommy climbed down and petted Fred, who'd been unsuccessful at jumping up on the fender of the trailer.
"I didn't bring a horse, Tommy, but I do have my saddle. Would you like to see it?" The last time I'd been here, Diane at Redwood Cove Stable had offered to let me ride an Appaloosa, Nezi, when the horse was available. I intended to take her up on it.
I went over to the trailer, unlatched the tailgate, and placed it on the ground, forming a ramp. The saddle was on a wooden stand I'd secured to the wall. Tommy rushed into the trailer and began to trace the intricate tooled leather pattern with his fingers.
"I'll be doing some riding at a local stable," I told him. "It's nice to have my own saddle because the stirrups are adjusted for me and the seat fits." And it's part of my family life I brought with me.
"Cool. Did you bring your bridle?"
"No, the bits used on the bridles are specific to each horse's need. There are lots of different types."
Tommy reached out and touched my leather belt, with the gold-and-silver championship barrel racing buckle. "Wow." His eyes were wide.
I had never heard a one-syllable word sound so long as when Tommy uttered that word. I had wrapped the belt around the saddle horn at the last minute. It wasn't everyday wear, but I'd ridden with it for years and decided to bring it along.
Before I could explain, my attention was drawn away to the rattling engine of an approaching vehicle. I looked down the driveway as a faded blue Volkswagen bus approached.
I knew it well.
The vehicle parked at the back of the inn, and tall, lanky Daniel Stevens emerged, the newly appointed manager of Ridley House, a sister property. His daughter, Allie, appeared from around the back of the bus. They were father-daughter look-alikes with their straight blue-black hair, high cheekbones, and copper-hued skin.
Daniel gave me a quick, friendly hug. "It's good to have you back."
"I'm glad to be here."
Allie smiled. "Hi, Kelly."
Tommy called out, "Allie, come look at this cool saddle and belt."
She left to join him.
"How are the renovations coming?" I asked.
"Fine. They're on schedule," Daniel replied. "Should be done by the beginning of next week, and Redwood Cove B and B will be ready to open."
"Michael asked me to do an inventory of some historic items at a place called Redwood Heights and help out with a festival this weekend."
"He told me," Daniel said. "After acquiring Ridley House a couple of months ago, Michael decided to put Redwood Heights up for sale. It's a little different from his other properties," Daniel said.
A glance passed between Helen and Daniel.
What was that about?
"I've been helping with some repairs to get the place ready to sell," Daniel continued. "Michael's got an interested buyer. It's worked out well, since I've been overseeing the construction on all three places."
Helen chimed in. "I've been preparing the afternoon appetizers. Since I was available, it made sense to give the cook at the Heights a chance to have a vacation."
"What's the event this weekend?" I asked. "Michael said you'd fill me in."
"The whales migrate this time of year," Helen explained. "And there are some great whale watching opportunities. Communities up and down the coast host various events."
"We call our festival Whale Frolic," Helen added. "There'll be a chowder contest and the inns around town will have wine and gourmet treats for people to enjoy. Redwood Heights will be one of the places participating. The money from ticket sales benefits the local hospital."
Daniel watched the kids happily chattering as they examined the saddle and the belt. "There's a social hour at five at Redwood Heights if you'd like to go tonight," he said. "That is, if you're not too tired."
"Sounds great. After all the sitting I've been doing, I'd enjoy some activity."
"We can introduce you to the manager, Margaret Hensley." He shot Helen another quick look.
What was going on between these two?
A creaking noise caused the three of us to look down the driveway. A large motor home was crawling toward us, rocking gently from side to side. It drove by and parked in front of my Jeep.
Pictures of two larger-than-life beagles covered the side of the RV. One of them wore a pink collar, the other one blue. The slogan emblazoned next to them read, "Bedbugs? Termites? If you've got 'em, they'll find 'em. Call on Jack and Jill. Get the four-legged pros on the job and have a restful sleep tonight." A phone number was underneath it.
"Daniel?" I turned and looked at him. "Is there something you haven't told me?"CHAPTER 2
Daniel laughed. "No. There's nothing to worry about."
"What a relief!"
"That's Stephen, Gertie's son. He and his dog team checked the inn and didn't find anything. Before he could check the other buildings, he got called away on a bedbug emergency, but now he's back."
It was my turn to laugh. "A bedbug emergency. That's a new one for me."
"Tomorrow he's going to start work at Redwood Heights. He —"
A honking car horn interrupted him. We looked around. A gold vintage Mercedes sedan sailed by and floated to a stop. Hands waved from the four open windows.
The driver's door opened and a diminutive man in a tweed jacket and tan cap got out. He opened the back door, took the cane that was handed to him, and offered his arm to the occupant. A tiny woman emerged, her silver hair glinting in the sunlight. While this was happening, the other three passengers disembarked.
The group rushed toward me, all talking at once.
"Welcome back, Miss Kelly," Ivan's booming voice rang out.
Mary Rutledge said in her usual soft voice, "So wonderful to have you here."
There they were, the Silver Sentinels, each of them dear to my heart. The dapper Professor, no-nonsense Gertie with her cane, Mary carrying the ever-present container of goodies, and the Doblinksy brothers, Ivan and Rudy. Their monochromatic hair color ranged from the Professor's white to Rudy's steel gray. I wondered what the crime-solving group of senior citizens had been up to since I left. I looked forward to finding out.
"So lovely to see you again, my dear," the Professor said. He clasped my hand and gave it a soft squeeze.
He had informed me when I first met him his name was Herbert Winthrop, but he went by Professor, part of his inheritance from the time he taught at the University of California in Berkeley.
"Nice to see you, Professor." I returned his gentle pressure.
Mary pushed the plastic box she held into my hands. "Honey, I'm sure you're hungry after all the driving you've been doing. I made you some special treats."
The same mothering Mary — round features, plump cheeks. Always sure to have something sweet to share with others.
I lifted the lid and found my favorite cookies: giant chocolate chip. My mouth watered at their freshly baked smell.
"Thanks. I'm sure they'll be delicious as always." I put my arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug.
Bear-sized Ivan and his slightly built brother jostled each other as they came to greet me.
Ivan turned his fisherman's cap around and around in his hands. "We so happy you back." His Russian accent was heavy, but his meaning came through clearly. "And now you stay."
"Yes, Ivan, now I stay." I smiled at him. "I'm happy to be back, too."
Rudy gently patted my arm. "Now we are all together again."
The Sentinels had made me an honorary member during my previous stay at Redwood Cove when we worked a case together. "Yes, and I look forward to hearing what you've been doing."
"A bit of this and bit of that," the Professor said.
Gertrude Plumber, who preferred to be called Gertie, approached. The cane all but disappeared when I experienced the strength of her personality. "Smart bringing your stuff in a horse trailer. From your parents' ranch, I presume. Didn't have to rent anything."
"Right." When I had been given the manager's job at Redwood Cove B & B, they had all turned out to wish me well and a speedy return as I left for my parents' place to pack my things.
"I'd like you to meet my son, Stevie," Gertie said.
While we'd been talking, the man driving the motor home had joined the group. He stepped forward and stood next to his mother, making me think of Paul Bunyan and Tinker Bell. Only this Paul Bunyan wore a tie-dyed, waffle-knit long-sleeved top, faded jeans, and Birkenstocks. His receding hairline flowed into a head of gray hair, then into a long ponytail. The wire-rimmed glasses he wore framed a pair of the gentlest eyes I'd ever seen.
He gave me a little wave. "Hi there."
"Glad to meet you."
Mary beamed at me. "Sweetie, you must be tired, so we'll go. As soon as we heard you were here, we wanted to come and say hi." She turned to Helen, and her dimples came into view. "Thanks for calling. I activated our phone tree, and here we are."
Ah, yes, the wildfire communication system of the small community. Obviously it was alive and well.
"Stevie's birthday is tomorrow, and I'm having a party. We'd like you to join us," Gertie said.
"I'd love to. Thank you for the invitation."
"You're welcome. Seven o'clock. And, please, no gifts. I'm keeping this simple."
They all piled back into the car and left amid a chorus of good-byes.
As things quieted, we became aware of howls from the motor home. Two dogs peered at us through a window.
"I'll let Jack and Jill out now and start checking the garage and work shed," Stevie said.
He walked over to his RV, opened the driver's side door, and out bounded two beagles. They were almost identical in markings, except that one had a pink collar and the other one blue.
"The pink collared one is Jill, the other one's Jack. Big surprise, I bet." He chuckled. "It's an easy way for people to tell them apart."
Allie and Tommy had gotten out of the horse trailer along with the basset hound. Jill ran over to Fred and immediately began making friends. Jack, ahead of her, stopped and turned around with a puzzled look on his face. Where was his partner?
Jack turned and hurried back. Suddenly Jill went into play pose. The dogs didn't move for a couple of seconds, and then they were off. Brown, white, and black spotted canines ran happily around in circles.
Doggie playtime always brought a grin to my face. Their wild abandon expressed sheer joy. It would be wonderful if humans could do it so easily.
"Jack and Jill, come." Stephen leashed his team as they skidded to a stop at his side. "Time for you to earn your kibble."
Tommy came over. "They're trained sniffers, right?"
Stevie laughed. "Yes. You could say that."
"Fred is, too. He was trained to detect cancer."
"Wow! I've heard about that," Stevie said. "They have a lot in common. Maybe that's why they're getting along so well."
Tommy looked at his mother. "Allie and I are going to start our homework now."
"Good idea. There's fresh lemonade in our refrigerator."
Tommy and Helen lived in a small cottage behind the B & B. He and Allie raced each other, with Fred close behind. It wasn't much of a match with Allie's long legs.
"Is it okay to pet your dogs?" I asked Stevie.
"Sure. They love all the attention they can get."
I knelt down next to them and rubbed their ears, one hand for Jack, the other for Jill.
Stevie turned to Daniel. "I'll check Helen's cottage tomorrow. I should be done by late morning, and then I can start on Redwood Heights."
"Great. I'll meet you here, and we can go over together."
"Sounds like a plan, man."
I stood. "Your dogs are sure cuties."
"Thanks. They're my kids. I love them. And they're good at what they do." Stevie led the beagles off to the garage.
Daniel moved toward the trailer. "Kelly, do you want help unpacking?"
"No, thanks. I'm just going to take in the basics I used at the hotels on the drive here for now."
Helen started back to the inn. "I need to finish the appetizers for tonight."
"Why don't I pick you both up in an hour?" Daniel asked.
Helen and I agreed that worked for us.
Looking around, I decided the best place to leave the trailer was next to the garage. I closed the horse trailer, drove it closer to the building, and parked. I unhitched it and took the Jeep back to the parking lot. I grabbed my backpack and black duffel bag from the backseat and went into the inn through the back door. I entered the large multipurpose room.
The kitchen area lined one wall, with a counter separating it from the main room. It worked as both a place to eat and a food preparation area. A granite island with stools to accommodate six people stood next to the counter. A large oak table supplied a place to sort papers, lay out numerous contracts, and provided an alternate eating site. A television, overstuffed chairs, and beanbags that could be pulled out for additional seating were off in one corner for leisure moments.
It was the main room for the inn's staff activities. The person who designed it had functionality and quality in mind. It was a room you walked into and felt surrounded by comfort. I loved it.
"Your place is open," Helen called out as she grabbed trays of stuffed mushrooms from the refrigerator.
"Thanks." My place. My wonderful, incredible place.
Once again my heart raced faster. This time my feet picked up their pace as well.
The Oriental runner covering the dark wood floor muffled my steps as I walked down the hallway. Ahead, I saw the door to my rooms. I paused a moment, then opened it.
As I stepped in, I thanked the architect who created the work of art that brought light and nature together in such a spectacular way. Walls of glass framed the rugged coastline. Churning waves, craggy rocks, and a jagged beach stretched out ahead of me. The inn's lush gardens enclosed the room on one side. The flowers created a riot of color and looked like a painting. Little brown birds — LBBs, as my birder friend called them — landed on a feeder in the yard, so close I could see the distinctive differences in their feather patterns.
I put my bags on the bench seat next to the wall and went into the miniature kitchen. It was as I remembered. Everything sized for a small unit, except for the large, professional coffeemaker, an important piece of equipment in my boss's life. I put the makings together for an espresso and started it up. I peeked in the bedroom and was surprised to see a new comforter set. Swirls of green and blue made it one with the view from the front room.
Excerpted from Murder at the Mansion by Janet Finsilver. Copyright © 2016 Janet Finsilver. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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