Love is in the air in Briar Creek as library director Lindsey Norris and boat captain Mike (Sully) Sullivan are finally tying the knot. The entire town is excited for the happy day, and Lindsey and Sully's plan for a small wedding evaporates as more and more people insist upon attending the event of the year.
When Lindsey and her crafternoon pals head out to Bell Island to see if it can accommodate the ever-expanding guest list, they are horrified to discover a body washed up on the rocky shore. Even worse, Lindsey recognizes the man as the justice of the peace who was supposed to officiate her wedding ceremony. When it becomes clear he was murdered, Lindsey can't help but wonder if it had to do with the wedding. Now she has to book it to solve the mystery before it ends her happily ever after before it's even begun....
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Why is everyone staring at us?" Lindsey Norris asked her fiancé, Mike Sullivan, known to everyone in their small Connecticut shoreline town as "Sully."
"Are they staring at us?" He looked up from his phone where he was scanning the news, which for him meant the current sports scores, and glanced around the shop.
"Yes," she confirmed. "And it's kind of creepy."
Having slept late that morning, they were in line at the bakery, which was tucked into the back corner of the town's lone grocery store. Their dog, Heathcliff, was sitting between their feet and behaving like a perfect gentleman, so Lindsey was certain he wasn't the one drawing the attention of every other customer in the bakery their way.
"You're right," he said. "They are staring."
"But why?" she asked. She gave each of their persons a quick visual scan. They were both dressed with buttons aligned and zippers up and clothes right-side out. There were no spectacular bedhead or egregious stains to be seen. Having been the focus of unwanted attention a few months before, being stared at still gave Lindsey the odd twinge of anxiety.
Sully put his arm around her in a comforting gesture and pulled her close, kissing the top of her head. "Wild guess here, but I imagine it's because we're getting married in just over a week."
"Yes, but it's a tiny ceremony on Bell Island," she pointed out. "Just family and close friends, hardly an event worth noting."
"People like weddings." He shrugged.
"Sully, Lindsey, yoo-hoo!" A voice called, and Lindsey glanced past Sully to see Mrs. Housel, coming at them as fast as her short legs could carry her. Heathcliff hopped to his feet and began wagging his bushy black tail, looking for love from anyone willing to give it.
"Morning, Mrs. H," Sully said. "What can we do for you?"
"I just need to know where you're registered," she said. She was breathless, but still bent over to pat Heathcliff on the head before rising back up to smile at them.
"Registered?" Lindsey asked.
"Yes, you know, for a wedding gift," she explained. "I can't possibly show up at your wedding without a gift. It would be bad form."
"Uh." Lindsey glanced at Sully in a mild state of panic.
Mrs. Housel was one of Lindsey's favorite patrons. They had bonded over a deep and abiding love of all things Agatha Christie. A tiny little bird of a thing, Mrs. Housel was the sweetest of the sweet. She lived on a fixed income in a modest cottage in the old part of town. Telling her the wedding was private and that she wasn't invited would be like punting a puppy into oncoming traffic. Everything inside Lindsey rebelled at the mere idea. Judging by the flicker of alarm in Sully's eyes, he was thinking the same thing.
"Mrs. H, Lindsey and I really appreciate the thought," he began, and then he stalled out. Sully's heart was as big as one of the tour boats he captained around the Thumb Islands in the bay, and Lindsey knew he was struggling to find the right words. She immediately decided having one more guest wasn't going to be a problem, especially one as tiny as Mrs. Housel.
"We haven't registered anywhere," Lindsey said. "In fact, we're asking anyone who attends our wedding to donate a book to the library instead of giving us gifts." This much was true, at least.
Mrs. Housel clasped her hands over her heart. "How wonderful. I just love you two. You're like family to me."
"And we love you, Mrs. H," Sully said. He looked oh-so relieved.
Mrs. Housel reached forward and squeezed their hands with hers. Then, with a wave, she fluttered out of the bakery as quickly as she'd arrived.
"That was nice of you, darlin'," Sully said.
Lindsey shrugged. "What's one more guest when it clearly means a lot to her? Besides, she's so tiny. How much could she possibly eat?"
"Yeah, it's like inviting a hummingbird to the wedding," he agreed.
Lindsey smiled, then she tipped her head back to meet his gaze. He was wearing his thick wool peacoat, a knit hat over his reddish brown curls and the scarf Lindsey had knit him last winter that matched his eyes perfectly. His cheeks were ruddy from the cold, making his bright blue eyes even more so. Lindsey felt her heart squeeze. He was going to be her husband in just a matter of days.
The thought never ceased to make her dizzy. She knew it was silly, that some would say marriage was just a piece of paper, but it felt like more to her. Much more. She was committing her life to his, a promise she didn't take lightly, and she found the thought alternately thrilling and terrifying, but definitely more thrilling.
"What are you grinning at?" he asked. A smile played on his lips, bracketed by deep dimples in each cheek.
"We're getting married," she whispered as if she was giving him brand-new information.
"Well, I, for one, can't wait," he said. "'Mrs. Mike Sullivan' has a nice ring to it."
"As does 'Mr. Lindsey Norris,'" she retorted.
"It does at that." He grinned and kissed her quickly before gently moving her up the line.
Brendan Taggert was working the counter. He grinned at the sight of them. "There's the bride and groom! Not much longer now, eh?"
Brendan was a big man in his mid-thirties. He was the chief baker and occasionally came out of the kitchen to lend a hand at the counter when the bakery was especially busy. He gave them each a large coffee in a thick paper to-go cup and pushed a bag of muffins at Lindsey while Sully paid. She glanced inside to find their usual, a lemon-poppy seed for Sully and a cranberry-walnut for her. The morning was looking up.
"Your wedding cake is going to be a thing of beauty," Brendan declared.
"Since you're baking it, I have no doubt," she said. Brendan was a wizard with fondant.
"I am a little worried, though." Brendan rubbed his jaw with the back of his hand.
"Oh?" Lindsey tried to keep the panic out of her voice, but the week before a wedding, a woman did not want to hear her cake baker expressing doubts. She knew she'd failed when Sully gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"Yeah, I don't think you ordered a big enough cake," Brendan said. "I hear people talking in the bakery all day long, and it sounds as if a lot of folks are planning to attend your big day."
Lindsey and Sully exchanged confused looks. Was Mrs. Housel not the only one planning to crash the wedding?
"But we're keeping it small," Sully said. "Just family and close friends." He frowned, clearly not understanding how it could be spiraling out of their control.
"I don't know what to tell you." Brendan shrugged. "You're the town boat captain, a native son no less, and she's the library director. Everyone knows you two, and they're very invested in your romance. Whether you invited them or not, it sounds like people are planning to attend. You're going to want a bigger cake. I'm just sayin'." Brendan raised his hands as if to signal that he'd done his part in warning them.
Lindsey felt her heart pound hard in her chest. Surely, he was overstating it. People didn't crash weddings en masse, did they? Then she thought of Mrs. Housel and her determination to be at their wedding, declaring that they were like family to her. How many other Briar Creek and Thumb Islands residents felt that way? Oh, no.
A puppy-not Heathcliff, who'd gone to work with Sully-romped past the circulation desk where Lindsey Norris stood. White, with floppy ears and a stubby tail, its coat was covered in bright spots of purple, green, yellow and all the other colors in the rainbow.
It was a big puppy, more like the size of a small horse. Lindsey squinted at it. Sure enough, a closer look identified the canine as being the Briar Creek Public Library's children's librarian, Beth Barker, wearing what looked like adult-size footie pajamas that she'd tailored to look like a dog by adding ears to the hood, a tail to the bottom and spots all over.
"Reading Dog's Colorful Day today?" Lindsey asked.
"Woof!" Beth barked. "Colors and counting, does it get any more fun?"
"It does not," Lindsey agreed. "Unless it's crafternoon Thursday and we're discussing A Christmas Carol by Dickens."
Beth stopped romping, and her eyes sparkled. A thick thatch of black bangs stuck out from under her hood, giving her delicate features a mischievous air.
"Do you think Nancy made cookies?" she asked. She hugged her belly, where her new status as a mom-to-be was just beginning to show. "She's in charge of food this week, and baby and I are craving some of her Scottish shortbread."
"No." Lindsey shook her head, knowing full well that Nancy, who was her former landlord and a good friend, had surely made some. Then she teased, "But I'll bet she made you some dog biscuits."
"Woof, woof, so funny," Beth retorted. Then she looked thoughtful and scratched one of her dog ears. "Actually, if Nancy made them, they're probably pretty good."
"Fair point." Nancy was their local amateur baker extraordinaire and was known all over Briar Creek for her magical cookies.
"Whatever she brings, save some for me. I'm eating for two!" Beth cried, as she scampered off to the story time room in anticipation of the toddlers who would begin arriving in the next thirty minutes.
Petite in build and swallowed up by her slouchy dog outfit, Beth looked like a kid herself. Lindsey smiled. The town was very fortunate to have such a dedicated librarian. Beth's programs packed the house, making a delightful connection with the next generation of enthusiastic readers.
"Well, that should be quite a fun story time."
Lindsey turned to find Ms. Cole--nicknamed "the lemon" for her frequently sour disposition and old-school librarian ways--standing beside her.
Lindsey blinked. "Are you feeling all right, Ms. Cole?"
Today Ms. Cole was in her purple outfit. Purple tights with a dark purple wool skirt, matched--sort of--with a twilight-hued purple cardigan and a lavender silk top. It gave her an overall ombre effect that was actually rather appealing. Ms. Cole favored outfits that fell distinctly into one category on the color spectrum, so apple green was worn with chartreuse and forest green as if they all matched. They didn't. In fact, none of her outfits really matched, but neither Lindsey nor any of the other staff had the heart or nerve to tell her so.
"Yes, I'm fine. I'm trying to be less rigid," Ms. Cole said. She glanced at Lindsey over the tops of her reading glasses. "How am I doing?"
"Well, you didn't shush her," Lindsey said. "I'd call that a big improvement."
"I haven't shushed anyone in months," Ms. Cole said. She sounded forlorn. "My shusher has probably atrophied, but Milton told me that if I'm serious about running for mayor, I might want to be friendlier to my constituents."
Milton Duffy, town historian and president of the library board, was Ms. Cole's significant other. Ms. Cole had squashed any use of the word boyfriend, saying it sounded ridiculous to call a man in his eighties a boy, and she wouldn't tolerate being called his girlfriend either.
"He didn't tell you to smile more often, did he?" Lindsey teased. "Because that would be annoying."
Ms. Cole laughed, which was a rare occurrence, and it made Lindsey smile. "No, he didn't. He did say I needed to start attending all the town events so that I become more well known. I'm even going to the Briggses' Annual Christmas Bash this weekend."
"You are?" Lindsey could not have been more surprised if Ms. Cole had said she'd taken up exotic dancing for fitness.
"Yes," Ms. Cole sighed. "I've lived in Briar Creek my entire life, and I have never attended one of the famed Briggs Bashes. I thought I'd be shuffling off this mortal coil with my streak intact, but politics make strange bedfellows, as they say."
It was a wise political move. Steve Briggs was a corporate attorney, one of the wealthier residents of Briar Creek, and he was also the local justice of the peace. Ms. Cole needed to have his endorsement if she was to stand a chance against the incumbent, Mayor Hensen.
"Steve's not so bad," Lindsey said. "A little over-the-top in his enthusiasm for his parties, but during the holidays, that's not such a terrible thing."
The Briggses threw a holiday extravaganza every year. Lindsey and Sully always made an appearance because Sully and Steve had grown up together in Briar Creek and were, if not quite friends, then very warm acquaintances. While the parties were fun, Lindsey and Sully never lingered. Being an introvert at heart, Lindsey had a two-hour window for the overcrowded, loud sensory overload that was a Briggs party, and Sully was right there with her. If ever she needed proof that they were soul mates, that was it.
"Isn't he officiating your wedding?" Paula Turner, the library clerk, asked. She was working at the station on the other side of Ms. Cole, checking in the books from the book drop.
"Yes," Lindsey said. "Since we're getting married on Bell Island, where Sully grew up, and not in a church, we thought, being the local justice of the peace, he'd be the perfect choice."
The coastal town of Briar Creek overlooked an archipelago called the Thumb Islands, which had sported the summer homes of some of America's richest families during the height of the Gilded Age. A hurricane in 1938 had all but wiped out the old Victorian mansions that had once dominated the islands, and now the residences were smaller and more sustainable, mostly used as summer cottages. Only a few islands, like Sully's parents' Bell Island, were equipped with electricity, making them habitable year round.
Paula glanced at the calendar on the desk. "The wedding is in a little over a week. Are you ready for it?"
Lindsey blinked at her. Why was it so jarring when someone else told her the wedding was around the corner? It wasn't as if she wasn't aware. It just felt more significant when someone else said it. Her heart thumped hard in her chest, but she refused to freak out. This was why she and Sully had decided on the island. They wanted to keep their wedding small and simple, for friends and family only, in the Sullivans' large brick house on Bell Island.
"You look flushed, and not in a good way," Ms. Cole said. "Maybe you should sit down."
“Oh, no, I’m fine,” Lindsey reassured them. She went to wave Ms. Cole’s concern away and noticed that her hand was shaking.
“Uh-huh.” Ms. Cole glanced from her hand to her face and frowned. “Sit.”
“I’ll get you a glass of water,” Paula said. She slipped off her stool, moving it close so Lindsey could sit, before going into the workroom where there was a water cooler.
“You’re not getting cold feet, are you?” Ms. Cole asked.
“Uh . . . I . . .” Lindsey stammered.
“Cold feet? Who’s getting cold feet?” Nancy Peyton and Violet La Rue appeared at the circulation counter.
They were carrying bags of food for the lunchtime crafternoon that met every Thursday at midday. Both women were wearing winter coats, hats, and scarves, as the weather had turned decidedly wintery over the past few days and the temperature had plummeted.
“With this freeze snap, it’s small wonder your feet are cold,” Violet said.
“I think that was a metaphor,” Nancy returned. Her bright blue eyes were filled with concern.
“Oh,” Violet said. A former Broadway actress, she could convey more in one word than most people could in a whole sentence. She studied Lindsey. “You don’t look well, dear.”
“I’m fine,” Lindsey protested.
“No, she isn’t. She’s freaking out,” Paula said. She handed Lindsey a glass of water. They all stared at her as she took a sip.