Play That Funky Music White Koi,

A Lemon Layne Mystery, Book 2


Book Title

 

Play That Funky Music White Koi

A Lemon Layne Mystery, Book 2

Dakota Cassidy

Chapter 1

Is that the music from Dateline I hear in the background, Lemon?” my BFF Coco Belinski asked, her tone rife with accusation.

I clicked the television off in guilt. “Don’t be silly, Coco. I was just getting ready for bed. You know too much stimulation is a sure trigger for my insomnia.”

“I do. That’s why I bought you that MP3 of a bunch of monks chanting. To help you sleep. That’s also why Dateline and all other murder mysteries, either real or even the tamest of strains known as Murder She Wrote, should not be a part of your daily diet anymore, Detective Layne. We’ve discussed this, haven’t we? This is your mental health calling and it likes status quo.”

I snorted at her favorite endearment as of late as I made my way to my bathroom to brush my teeth. I was no more a detective than she was a sheep herder.

It’s been almost three months since Coco and I were a given a bird’s-eye view of a real-life murder investigation, involving my mother’s ex-boyfriend, Myron Fairbanks. An investigation that brought up tons of unresolved issues, for me in particular. Issues from my past…

An investigation that also reminded me, solving a crime on a television show is decidedly different than solving one in real life.

Coco’s overprotective nature is the reason she’s calling me just before bedtime, and has every night since that chaos all went down—because she knows me well enough to know I’ve been having a bout with insomnia.

Though, my insomnia doesn’t all surround the murder of Myron, mind you. But I admit, there are nights when the vision of him in our gas station bathroom with a hole cut out of the back of his head does still haunt me.

So when given too much time on my hands, like when I can’t sleep, I inevitably turn to any sort of mystery I can get my greedy hands on. That’s always been my way.

It doesn’t have to be a murder mystery. It could be something as uncomplicated as the case of the missing thumbtack, and I’m britches deep, all on board to solve the case. My problem is the total immersion that occurs when I sink my teeth into any kind of puzzle.

The bigger problem? I can’t let go. I jump in both feet to the exclusion of all else until I figure it out.

Now, you’d think after the last mess I’d ended up in—which, by the by, included the invasion of a zombie hunting club in our small town of Fig Harbor, WA, mass hysteria over government conspiracies, a killer with his gun pointed at both Coco and I, and a brush with death—my mystery-solving days would be over.

Nope. In fact, that very encounter is what continues to fuel my passion—because I wasn’t nearly as good at solving a crime as I’d once thought. I’d missed things. Important things. There were clues I didn’t investigate thoroughly or look more deeply into because quite frankly, I’m an armchair sleuth at best.

And that bugged me no end. My mother’s innocence had been in question for a moment or two during the investigation, and I’d fumbled the ball. It left me kicking myself, mostly late at night when the shadows of the trees in our backyard made black-talon silhouettes out of their limbs on my walls.

“Lemon? You still there?”

I sighed as I squeezed minty toothpaste onto my toothbrush. There was no lying to Coco. She could see right through me. I’d been caught.

Looking away from my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I confessed as such. “Okay. Confession. I watched Dateline. Guilty. But The Bachelor’s on hiatus and there was nothing else on. Anyway, it’s over now and I’m going to bed. Promise.”

She yawned into the phone. “Give JF a big smooch from me and tell her I’ll see her tomorrow. Now get some sleep, fledgling detective. When I walk into the store tomorrow, I don’t want to see those unbecoming shadows under your eyes. Sweet dreams.”

I clicked off the phone and brushed my teeth, yawning, too. I thought about the irony of my yawn as I turned off the light. Sure, I was yawning now—before I got into bed. Once I got there, all snug under my favorite comforter, my mind whirled like a dervish.

But I prepared for another sleepless night anyway by scooping up my rescue spider monkey, Jessica Fletcher, from her fake tree limb perch in my room and dropping a kiss on her mischievous head from Auntie Coco. She gave me a sleepy coo and snuggled against my chest before I deposited her in her cage and tucked her favorite stuffed unicorn against her cheek.

I set about brushing my unruly, shoulder-length hair, a fruitless act for sure. No matter how many fancy highlights I got in burnt umber slathered all over my muddy brown hair, no matter how much product I used, it would always be too kinky-curly and uncontrollable to do much with but put in a ponytail.

Dabbing moisturizer beneath my eyes, I had to admit if I had nothing else, I had clear, bright eyes and decent skin. I’d acquired a light tan from the occasional outing to the docks in town for lunch or drinks with Coco, giving me a healthy glow and naturally blushed cheeks.

Unfortunately, that’s sort of all I have going for me. I’m pretty short, and while I’m wiry and in decent enough shape, I’m not exactly bodaciously gifted, if you know what I mean. Sighing, I set the moisturizer down and put my brush away, dreading this time of night.

And then I turned and looked at my bed in all its big, beautiful king-size glory, with plump pillows in ivory and periwinkle blue, the matching fluffy comforter with eyelet trim, and sighed again. Lately, my bed had become my torture chamber, but I was trying to do what the doctor in town told me to do after I’d finally seen him about my insomnia—keep a regular schedule for sleep. No coffee after three in the afternoon, go to bed at the same time every day, rise and shine at the same time every day, exercise, eat well, blah, blah, blah.

Throwing my bathrobe over the end of the bed and turning off the soft-blue glass lamp on my nightstand, I did the same thing I’d done for the last three months—got in, flipped on my monk chants on my phone and waited for my thoughts to spin out of control.

As I hunkered under the covers, forcing myself to think about the coming of spring and all the things I wanted to do with my koi pond out back, I found a rather pleasant spot in my brain where tulips and daffodils swayed gracefully in the breeze amongst the rocks surrounding my fish. While I imagined the wind, warm and filled with the tang of the ocean, ruffling my mop of unruly hair, I closed my eyes.

A sudden banging from somewhere far away startled me to an upright position. I bolted forward, pulling the comforter from around my midsection, and blinked at the sun streaming across the bottom of my bed.

Glancing at the clock, I noted it was seven in the morning.

Holy cats, I’d slept for seven uninterrupted hours until that incessant banging. Seven lovely hours without dreams of zombies and brains, dead men and detached limbs, walloping me over the head.

Pushing my way from the bed, I grabbed my robe and stuck my arms in, pulling it around my body as I slid into my slippers and peeked out the window of my bedroom—the one overlooking the front of the house. Leon was supposed to open our family-owned convenience store/barbecue, the Smoke and Petrol today.

My mother May and I own and operate the store, but we have occasional help, even in the off season. Fig is a tourist town, set amongst the trees, mountains and water of the Pacific Northwest, and just a quick ferry ride from Seattle. Leon’s our most reliable part-timer, a high school kid who often opens for us before he goes to his classes.

But why would he be banging on something? Leon was astute, responsible, and quiet. But all that banging sounded like he was in the process of rebuilding Rome.

I left Jessica in her cage and flew down the stairs, hoping to avoid waking my mother. She’s seventy now, and about as easy to keep track of as a herd of greased cats. But even greased cats need their rest when they play as hard as Mom does, and she’d had a late night last evening at her current obsession, hot yoga.

As I plowed down our wood and wrought iron spiral staircase to the front door, I realized the banging came from someone rapping on the door. I hesitated, and if you remember what happened to me a few months ago, you’ll understand why I’ve had a new security system installed, complete with intercom.

Pressing the button on the intercom, installed right next to our beautiful wood door with the stained-glass cutout in bright blues and oranges, I asked, “Who is it?”

There was a shuffling noise, as though someone were trying to get their footing, or maybe even rearrange the porch furniture for all I knew, and then I heard, “Who’s there?”

I tilted my head. Maybe it was because I was awakened from a very sound sleep, but I didn’t recognize the gruff voice. “I don’t know. You rang my doorbell. Who the heck are you?”

“Lemon-Meringue? Is that you?” someone crooned with a croak. “Or is it just somebody who sounds like Lemon? Like a pod Lemon who invaded the real Lemon’s body?”

Sighing, I realized I didn’t need to look out the window to see who it was. Only Waylan Caprice—or Cappie, as he’s known to us Figgers—could think I’d been abducted by alien body snatchers. But I wanted to be sure.

“Is that you, Cappie?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Question is, is that really you, Lemon?”

I was still a little ticked at Cappie after all the trouble he’d stirred up by broadcasting one of his crazy conspiracy theories when Myron was killed. The unusual circumstances of Myron’s death had turned into a sensationalistic nightmare after Cappie got on his YouTube channel and told his bananapants followers Myron had been killed by a governmentally engineered zombie (you know, because of the hole in his head and the piece of his brain missing).

All hell had broken loose in Fig because of him. People insane enough to believe that theory had shown up with signs and zombie-killing weapons, hoping to see and maybe even capture a real zombie. They’d camped out in the woods and all over the docks in town, creating havoc everywhere they went, and the only thing they’d ended up catching was the flu and the poor mayor, who’d been out fishing. But that’s another story for another time.

Suffice to say, I’m still a little chuffed with our local doomsday prepper/conspiracy theorist. “Yes, it’s me, Cappie,” I said, typing in the security code and flinging the door open.

Cappie hopped back into the sunlight, his customary clogged feet doing a nervous jig. He looked up toward the bright blue, almost cloudless sky and squinted as though he’d actually find aliens commandeering the Enterprise or something.

“How do I know it’s really you, Lemon? Where’d that voice come from? Was it generated by the mother ship somewhere up there in the big blue beyond?”

“Cappie?”

He rocked back on his heels, his skinny legs poking out of a pair of scruffy knee-length shorts as he tugged at his peace sign T-shirt and gave me a suspicious glance from his glazed eyes. “What?”

“It’s Lemon. Really and truly. The one and only Lemon Layne.”

“Prove it!” he yelped and took another cautious step backward.

I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to smile reassuringly at him, even though without my glasses, he was sort of blurry.

You rang my doorbell, Waylan Caprice. Maybe you should be doing the proving. How do I know you’re the real Cappie and not some governmentally engineered decoy of Cappie?” I teased. “Maybe you’re a robot who looks just like the Fig Harbor version of Cappie.”

“That ain’t true! Who’s been telling ya that pack o’ lies? I’m just Cappie and that’s all.”

I grinned at him and reached for his weathered hand. “And I’m just Lemon. That’s all. Now, there’s a certain amount of trust we’re going to have to allow one another at this point. So, either I close the door and go back to bed—because by the by, it’s seven in the morning, Waylan Caprice—or you believe I’m the real Lemon and tell me what it is you want.”

He paused, evading my reach for him, and fisted his hands together behind his back. “Oh, right! That’s right. I came to ask you something. It’s important.”

I leaned toward him, holding my breath to avoid the stench of turkey jerky and stale beer, two of Cappie’s life staples. “And that is?”

“How come that lady’s asleep in your fish pond out back? I was collectin’ cans in the woods and I saw her, plain as day. Swear to ya.” He peered intently at me. “She a relative a yours? Or just some drunk tourist who wandered out there?”

I sighed. Cappie once thought he saw Bigfoot, too. Thankfully, it had been before he’d discovered YouTube, so he didn’t rile up as many people back then as he had with the zombie scare.

So the question is, to indulge or not to indulge? That’s always the question with Cappie. Everyone in Fig knows he’s a lot left of center, but we mostly humor him because he bothers no one except for the occasional “down with the government” rant, and if he’s nothing else, he’s ours, and in one way or the other, we all try to look out for him.

He’s a vivid part of our community, and while we usually dismiss the idea the rubber soles on our shoes are rigged with listening devices for the CIA, or that the power lines are tapped, he’s still ours. Though, I don’t envy his daughter Noreen, who essentially chases after him like one would a toddler. To say he’s a handful is to say the least.

Cappie lives in a beat-up camper in Noreen’s backyard, where he thinks he’s successfully hiding from The Man. He spends his days cooking up conspiracy theories and filming videos about doomsday prepping (because the apocalypse is just ’round the bend and down the road a piece, you know). Then he has some poor high school student upload them for him at the library so he won’t leave behind any Internet footprints.

He won’t live in Noreen’s house with her because of her birds—a collection of cockatoos Cappie’s convinced are government informants because they’re trained to speak. She decided the safest place for him, short of her house, is in her backyard. And mostly he stays out of trouble back there.

Mostly.

Cappie tapped me on the arm with a gnarled finger. “Lemon, you listenin’? You better wake that lady up. If the boys in blue see her, they’ll throw her in the clink. They always haul me off to the tank when I fall asleep in ol’ Major’s backyard after I been drinkin’.”

I gave him a sympathetic smile and stepped out onto our whitewashed front porch, hooking my arm through his as we meandered down our wide stairs and into the sun. “That’s because you crawl into the doghouse and fall asleep when you’re drunk on too much homemade apple whiskey. Major already told you, Stewie is afraid of you, Cappie. That’s his doghouse and his favorite place to take his morning nap when it’s warm out during the summer. When you creep inside his house and cover yourself with his blanket, Stewie gets territorial and makes a fuss.”

Cappie snorted as we walked the path around to the back of the house where my koi pond was located. “Dang near took my leg off last time I did that. Mean old cuss.”

I chuckled, inhaling the warmth of the sunshine. It was nice to have some sun after a long, rainy winter. Our feet clicked on the slate pavers, but as we rounded the corner, Cappie stiffened, stopping dead in his tracks. I pulled him along with me, encouraging him to move closer to the koi pond.

More than likely something had blown into the koi pond, or maybe the plaster statue of David my mother insisted on having as lawn art had toppled over into the water. She’d gotten it at a flea market in Oregon somewhere, brought it home and planted it right where she could see it while she sunbathed in the summer with a glass of iced tea and her favorite erotic novel. Leave it to my seventy-year-old mother to adorn our backyard with a replica of a naked guy.

Either way, I couldn’t tell what it was without my glasses. Right now, all I saw was a big blob of something, but I was pretty sure Cappie, whose eyesight couldn’t be any better than mine, mistook whatever it was for a sleeping lady, because that’s what Cappie does—blows everything out of proportion.

Yet, Cappie clung to my arm, his fingers digging into my biceps.

I patted his hand to reassure him as we drew closer, passing a cluster of hedges and ornamental grass, my slippers soaking up the dew of the early morning. I squinted as the bright sun shone on the water of my beloved pond, sparkling and clear.

We’d turned the backyard into a nice little oasis with a small brick patio, white wicker furniture with cushions in bright teal and stripes of orange, a barbecue, and a small fire pit. To the left of that, flush with spring daffodils, tulips and more ornamental grass, sat my favorite spot in the entire backyard—my koi pond.

I loved my pond, and the newest addition to it, a white koi fish Coco and I had laughingly named Koi George. It brought me peace to watch the fish swim, slicing and arcing through the water, sleek and quick.

But you know what I didn’t love?

The woman sprawled out half draped over my koi pond.

How strange.

I pushed a trembling Cappie behind me as he whispered, “See? Told ya. She’s sleepin’ right there with your fish. Bet she had some of that new brand of vodka Shrimpie was talkin’ about the other day. He said it packs a wallop. Came all the way from Russia.”

She’d definitely had something… Whether it was vodka from Russia remained to be seen.

Her head was tilted back on the rocks surrounding the pond as though she’d used them as her pillow, but I couldn’t see her face well enough to identify her, only her chin and the creamy expanse of her throat.

The ends of her gleaming red hair, darkened by the water, swished in the gentle swell of the pond, making her locks fan out behind her. The rest of her body sprawled out on the grass in front of the pond, her legs relaxed, her arms at her side. In fact, she looked so peaceful, I half expected her to snore.

For someone who’d probably tied one on at Shrimp Cocktails, our local bar and the closest watering hole to our house, she sure was dressed nice. Most of us locals were pretty casual for the most part. But she wore a cute black leather shrug jacket with silver studs around the sleeves over a form-fitting black dress with matching ankle boots. Boots I knew shoe-loving Coco would envy.

“Do you know who she is, Cap?”

He squinted his eyes and shook his head. “Can’t tell for sure. Looks a little familiar, but I can’t see from this far away. Didn’t want to wake her in case she wakes up fightin’, ya know? Can’t ever tell what a hangover’ll do to some.”

Still, I turned to Cappie and smiled to reassure him everything was fine. “I’ll take it from here, Cap. It’s okay. She probably just drank too much. Though, how she stumbled all the way here from Shrimpie’s without getting run over or, at the very least, getting some dirt on her clothes and the heels of her shoes, is a miracle.

It was darn dark around here at night and the road to and from town was especially treacherous—not to mention a good fifteen-minute walk, and only if you undertook such in a brisk manner.

But Cappie gripped my arm and pointed over my shoulder. “What’s that next to her?”

Turning back around, I squinted and moved even closer to see what he meant. “Looks like a cup,” I muttered—and that’s when I stiffened.

“Lemon?” Cappie’s voice was shaky. “What’s wrong?”

I squeezed his hand to shush him as I stared hard at the woman’s chest and leaned forward, taking all of her in with an intense, thorough gaze.

Sure enough, there was no rise and fall to indicate she was breathing. I might not be able to see details from a distance, but I can surely see the big picture.

My stomach tightened and my limbs began to feel like butter. In that moment, I forgot Cappie and everything else as I fell to my knees and reached for her wrist to see if she had a pulse.

Of course, my sudden movement frightened Cappie, who hopped backward and slipped, falling on the wet grass. “Lemon, what’s goin’ on?” he squealed, frazzling my already tenuous nerves as he crab-walked backward on the heels of his hands and feet.

“Cappie, shush!” I almost yelped in alarm as I grabbed her wrist again and pressed my fingers into her cold flesh to be sure my initial assessment was right. Dread swept over me when I was unable to locate a pulse. Dread and sorrow.

“Lemon?” Cappie called again, only this time his voice filled the air with panic.

Fighting the swell of dizziness, I forced myself to remain calm. “Cappie, you need to listen to me, please. Stay calm and go to the store right now. Tell Leon to call 9-1-1. Do it now.”

“She’s dead, ain’t she, Lemon?” he whispered, obvious fear in his tone. “She’s dead!”

Chapter 2

Cappie, calm down. Please,” I begged, backing away from the body of the woman. I’d contaminated the last crime scene I’d been involved with. I wasn’t going to do that again.

But Cappie was already running toward the store in a blur of motion and sound. “Leeeon!”

Taking a deep breath, I rubbed my arms even though it was anything but cold out. I felt quite suddenly very alone as I stared down at this woman I didn’t recognize as a fellow Figger.

That’s not to say she’s not from Fig, though. Coco accuses me of spending too much time at home with Jessica Fletcher and Unsolved Mysteries reruns. So it could be she was from Fig and I was just unaware because I don’t go out enough to please my BFF—or it could be I just can’t see her without my glasses.

That said, I squinted at her face again and still couldn’t place her. I should have brought my glasses with me. But no way I was going to get any closer. Now that I knew there was nothing I could do for her, I kept my distance. Yet, that didn’t keep me from feeling like a million eyes were watching me from the surrounding woods.

Which was foolish. What kind of killer stuck around to see who’d find their victim? For that matter, what kind of killer had a million eyes?

I chuckled to myself before I sobered. Someone was dead in my beloved koi pond. Quite frankly, that stunk for the victim and her family. Still, I kept my guard up as I peered around the perimeter of our yard, looking for any obvious clues other than the cup.

That cup was odd indeed. It was rather Gothic and fancy, with some scrollwork on the face of it and a long, tarnished gold stem. It almost looked like something right out of a Dracula movie. I leaned forward as far as I could without falling to get a better look, but I still couldn’t make out details without my glasses.

“Lemon!” Leon called, his footsteps pounding the grass between the store and the backyard. “Lemon! Are you okay? Answer me!”

“I’m fine!” I hollered back, pulling my bathrobe tighter to my chest.

When he skidded to a halt, he had his phone to his ear, his hazel eyes wide. “Yep, that’s right,” he huffed and nodded his dark head, jamming a hand into the pocket of his jeans before stopping right in front of the body in my koi pond. “She’s behind the Smoke and Petrol. In the backyard.”

Cappie came barreling after him, almost knocking Leon’s slender frame over as he banged right into him. His agitated state said a call to his daughter Noreen might be in order, but I didn’t have time to give that more thought before he was pointing a finger at the body of the woman as his head poked out from behind Leon’s shoulder.

“Look at her neck!” he squawked. “Do ya see? Do ya see it?”

Leon put a protective hand back behind him to hold Cappie at bay, but whatever he’d seen had set him off. “Mr. Waylan, take a deep breath. It’s gonna be okay. The police will be here any second and they’ll take care of it all.” Then he looked to me. “You okay, Lemon?”

But Cappie danced away instead, his clogs kicking up dirt, his greasy ponytail bouncing. “Look at her neck! Are the two of ya blind? Don’t ya see that, boy?”

The sound of sirens cut off Cappie’s rant as doors slammed and more footsteps sounded. Justice Carver, old high school friend and current officer with the Fig Harbor Police, burst around the corner of the house.

Justice stopped just short of Leon, who was trying unsuccessfully to calm Cappie down. His sharp jaw pulsed as he drew in a deep breath, reaching out a hand to grip my arm. “You all right, Lemon?”

Nodding, I glanced up at his handsome face and patted his hand. His skin was ruddy and his cheeks were a blotchy red from running. “I’m fine. She,” I pointed to the woman who looked so peaceful in death, “is not. She’s dead. I checked her pulse and I promise you, Justice, when I realized she was dead, I cleared right out so we wouldn’t have any issues with contamination.”

One of the other officers whistled as he approached the scene. “Holy crow! That’s Abby Hoffer! What the heck happened?”

Hold up. I knew that name. Why did I know that name? I squeezed my temples as though that would help me to remember.

“You mean the lady who has that store with all the herbs and potions to heal what ails you naturally?” Justice asked on a frown.

Officer Able bounced his chestnut-brown head, tucking his hands inside the pockets of his trousers. “Yep, that’s the one. She’s got all sorts of stuff to help whatever you’ve got wrong. She’s into homeopathy. Belinda just got some crazy herb from her the other day to help her sleep.”

Belinda was Officer Able’s wife, and a really nice lady who’d been two years ahead of us in high school. She was a teacher at Fig Harbor elementary nowadays.

“She wouldn’t need something to help her sleep if you weren’t sawing a whole forest of logs every night,” Justice teased before he straightened and pulled out his pad and pen. “Okay, so we have an ID on the victim. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even recognize her all dressed up like that.”

Tucking my hair behind my ears, I nodded my agreement. “Me either. She’s always wearing those flowy caftans and her hair’s usually tied up on top of her head. But then, I’m getting blinder by the day without my glasses.”

Darn. I liked Abby. She’d helped with a poultice made of some herbal concoction for my mother, when she’d had an allergic reaction to a weed she’d run into while gardening that just wouldn’t go away.

“So, tell me what you know, Lemon,” Justice prodded, peering down at me, the sun behind his back making his head glow as though the heavens were shining down on him.

Which is probably exactly how my mother would describe him, if she still wasn’t angry with him over his last murder investigation.

“All I know is, Cappie rang my doorbell at seven this morning. I know because I looked at the clock just before I came downstairs to answer the door. He said someone had fallen asleep in the koi pond. I came to see what he was talking about, and this is what I found.”

Justice pressed his lips into a thin line. “What was Cappie doing out here? It’s a little farther than he usually goes, isn’t it?”

Was that suspicion I heard in his tone? About Cappie? Cappie’s a little out there, but he’d never hurt anyone.

“Hunting down cans for recycling is what he said. You know Cappie, he’s always complaining about the mess the tourists leave. Plus, Ed from the county office sometimes gives him twenty bucks to do cleanup along the road and in the woods. It keeps him busy and out of trouble. You’re not thinking… I mean, you don’t think Cappie would hurt someone, do you?”

The idea made me pause for only a moment. They had thought my seventy-year-old mother might be involved with Myron’s death. It wasn’t a stretch to think they’d consider Cappie a suspect. And then I nixed the idea. That was too implausible even for Justice.

Justice looked me square in the eye, almost making me squirm with his intense gaze. “Not necessarily, but I have to check all angles or I’d be a crummy cop, wouldn’t I?”

“Lemon!” I heard Mom yell from somewhere off in the distance behind me. “Lemon! What in creation’s goin’ on?” She came to a halt right beside me, her tracksuit in a neon orange as bright as the day, and gasped as she peered down at Abby Hoffer’s body before she clucked her tongue. “Please say this isn’t happening again. Not again, Lemon. Not again!”

I winced. I hated to see her afraid, and I knew she was. There wasn’t much May Layne was afraid of, but she’d had the wind knocked out of her sails after Myron’s death.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Mom asked, sorrow in her voice. “Such a dang shame. How awful for her family.” She shook her electric-blue dyed head and clucked her tongue again in remorse.

I tucked Mom’s hand under my arm and nodded, lacing my fingers with hers. “She is, and it is definitely awful.”

“But how?” She twisted the hem of her tracksuit jacket as she shook her head.

“I don’t know just yet. Cappie rang the doorbell and long story short, I came out here to find her in the koi pond.”

“What in all of blazes is happening in Fig these days?”

I wondered that, too. This was the second murder in a matter of months. Our usually crime-free town had seen a lot of death lately. “Maybe Leon should take you back to the house, Mom. Where were you anyway? Isn’t it a little early for hot yoga?”

She grabbed my arm, her blue eyes bright with fear. “I was power walking, Lemon. I’ve been doing it every other morning since the weather broke. Aren’t you always nagging me about keeping my blood pressure down? That’s what I was doin’.”

Astounded, my eyes widened. “You were actually doing something the doctor told you to do? Should I duck? Should I clear a path for the Four Horsemen?” I teased, hoping to move her away from the view of Abby’s body.

“Which begs the question, did you see anything suspicious around this morning, Mrs. Layne? Strange cars? Strange behavior from anyone?” Justice interrupted, his pen poised at the pad.

She swatted him on the arm and gave him a narrow-eyed gaze. “Sure, I saw the bad guy as he was pulling out in his getaway car right after we had coffee and donuts, then we made a date to meet tonight for dinner and a movie. You want me to tell him you’re lookin’ for him?” she quipped with sarcasm.

Justice’s eyes went soft and pleading. “C’mon, Mrs. Layne. Don’t be like that. Let’s be friends again. Please?”

Mom planted her hands on her hips and wrinkled her nose. “There’s all sorts of strange behavior here, pal. It’s tourist season. You know that. Or are you forgetting the guy who stayed at the inn in town who rode his bike to the beach in the buff every day like Fig was some nudist colony? Gravy sakes, don’t you think if I saw something important, I’d tell you, Justice Carver? We’re not going to do this again, are we? How long do you want to stay on my ‘There’ll be no free lunch for you, buddy’ list, anyway?”

Mom, of course, meant the time when Justice thought she might have had something to do with her ex-boyfriend’s death. He hadn’t had a free brisket sandwich since he’d helped the chief arrest her.

And I guess, in all fairness, Justice never really thought she’d had anything to do with the murder, but more he thought she might know something about a detail of Myron’s life that would lead to his killer.

He’d just gone about it in a way that had rubbed Mom all wrong. In my mother’s mind, Figgers are Figgers through and through—we stick together, we stay loyal to one another, and we sure don’t accuse each other of murder. She didn’t want to hear about extenuating circumstances when she’d known most of the force since they were in diapers, Justice included.

I patted my mother’s shoulder. She’d really been giving Justice what for. It was time to let it go. “Aw, give him a break, Mom. It’s been three months now.”

Justice grinned at her, that grin that held all the world’s charm in the mere upward tilt of his lips. The one he hoped to use to finagle his way back into her good graces.

“Are you still angry at me, Mama May? I told you, I was just doing my job.”

She shook a finger at him, but if you knew Mom, really knew her, it was playful. “I’m still something with you, mister. And no. I didn’t see anything this morning. Nothing suspicious, nothing out of the ordinary. I was too busy puttin’ one foot in front of the other and tracking it on my Fitbit.” She held up her wrist for verification.

I was so proud of her for finally listening to her doctor and paying heed to his warning about heart attacks and strokes—which she’s at higher risk for because she’s got high blood pressure. There’s not much I need in this world, but my mom’s definitely one of those things I do need.

Another police car screeched to a halt and Chief Ainsley Burrows plowed out of it, his portly body stalking its way to our backyard. My mother instantly lifted her chin in haughty disdain meant for Chief Burrows’ viewing pleasure.

He was still on her mortal enemy list, too. He’d been the one to suggest Mom come into the station for questioning when Myron was found in our convenience store bathroom, and believe you me, she hadn’t forgotten.

He tipped his head to acknowledge Mom, but his smallish eyes, set above his puffy red cheeks, were serious. “May. Good to see you as always,” he acknowledged.

Mom sucked in her cheeks and turned her back to him, looking to Leon, who had Cappie still behind him. “I’m going to go get Jessica Fletcher and make some coffee for the boys here, Sugarsnap. But not you, Justice Carver. You’ll get no morning kick in the pants from these laboring hands! Leon, you stay here with Cappie. He needs you more than I do.” With that, she turned on her heel and went toward the back of the house, pulling the key from her pocket and jamming it into the lock.

I blew out a breath and gave Justice and Chief Burrows an awkward glance. “She’ll forgive what happened soon enough. Either that or she’ll lose her memory and forget. Whichever comes first.”

Justice laughed, then frowned when Chief Burrows gave him a sharp, beady-eyed glance. He straightened instantly and cleared his throat. “I’ve already questioned Lemon, sir. Cappie’s up next.”

As the small forensics team began to gather and cordon off my koi pond with the ever-familiar yellow tape I’d become so acquainted with in our bathroom after Myron’s murder, Chief Burrows cornered Cappie, who still shivered, hiding behind Leon.

Chief smiled in encouragement. “It’s okay. I just want to ask you some questions. That all right?”

Cappie nodded, gripping Leon’s slender arm, his face stricken.

“So you found the body, Cap?”

“I didn’t know it was a body,” he said, poking his head out from behind Leon, the greasy ropes of his salt-and-pepper hair falling in ropes around his shoulders. “I just thought she was sleepin’. That’s what I told Lemon, too. Thought she was passed out from tyin’ one on at Shrimpie’s or something. Looked like she was sleepin’, is all.”

“Did you see her at Shrimpie’s, Cap? Maybe last night?” I asked gently.

Shrimpie’s was our local bar—or should I say the most popular local bar where most of us in town gathered. There were other, less reputable places, but Shrimpie’s had the best jalapeño poppers and amazing fish and chips, which made it the chosen place to go.

He scrunched up his face at me. “Naw. Ladies like her don’t go there, Lemon.”

I’m not sure what category that left Coco and I in. We went to Shrimpie’s all the time.

Chief Burrows nodded his balding head as though he were listening intently before he asked, “Why were you out here, Cappie? Kinda far from home, isn’t it, buddy?”

Cappie’s suspicious eyes, surrounded by tiny lines of age, began to dart here and there. “I was collecting recyclables for Ed. I do it all the time, especially when it’s busy like it’s been lately with the tourist season startin’ up. All those dang kids, throwin’ things outta their cars like this is one big dump. Gotta get cleaned up, right? They got no respect for our dang town!”

“So that’s how you found Miss Hoffer? You were out here in the woods, looking for recyclables?” Chief Burrows asked again, as though he didn’t believe Cappie.

It should be said, our convenience store is just outside of town, surrounded by woods and with a single road between us and the shops in Fig Harbor. Like I mentioned, it’s a bit of a walk, but I could see Cappie doing it for some pocket money.

“Yep. That’s what I said.” Cappie stood by his earlier statement, his lips clamping shut, but he stayed tucked safely behind Leon.

The chief eyeballed the scene where Abby lay as the forensics team took samples and bagged things and the koi pond bubbled. “Ever seen a cup like that, Cappie?” the chief asked.

I, too, wondered about the cup, and I really wished I had my glasses so I could examine it more clearly.

Cappie was growing antsier by the second, as depicted by his feet as they began doing that staccato dance they did when he wanted away from a situation that made him feel uncomfortable. “Nope. But I tell ya what I have seen!” His voice rose, setting off alarm bells with all of us.

“Cappie, it’s okay,” I soothed, reaching for his hand, but he scooted away and pointed at Abby’s body as though he were going to explode.

“You see it, don’t you? Don’t you see?” he shrieked.

“See what, Cappie?” Justice asked.

Chief Burrows, clearly realizing the situation was getting Cappie all riled up, attempted a calm approach. “Cappie, take it easy. Something bad happened here. We need to find out what. But it doesn’t help when you’re jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof.”

“You bet somethin’ bad happened here! Don’t you see her neck, Chief? Look at her neck!”

I squinted, hoping to see what Cappie saw, but there was no way that was going to happen without my glasses. “Cappie! What do you see?” I demanded.

“Do I gotta do your work for ya? We been standing around here, jabberjawin’ all this time, but you didn’t look at her neck! Look at her neck, Chief. Just take a look! See them marks on it? I know how she died! You betcha I do!”

“Cappie, what are you going on about? Hold still so we can talk about this!” Chief Burrows ordered, now clearly out of patience.

“Aw, heck no! I’m not stickin’ around here, Boss. I’m goin’ home to make me a cross outta some garlic before nightfall. That’s what I’m gonna do, because those bite marks on her neck—those are vampire bites! We got a bloodsucking night dweller right here in Fig!”

Chapter 3

Everyone groaned all at once. “Don’t start with that again, Cappie!” Leon moaned, his shoulders slumping. “Wasn’t it enough that you got everybody in town all riled up about zombies? There’s no such thing as vampires. It’s all made up on TV and by those kooky authors with crazy imaginations. Knock it off.”

“Oh yeah?” he hollered back, his bright eyes full of fire, his thin chest heaving beneath his ratty peace sign shirt. “Tell that to all the kids who watched that Twilight! They believe in ’em! They’re real, I tell ya!”

I found it curious Cappie even knew about Twilight. Very curious indeed.

Or comical, depending on how you looked at it.

I cocked my head in his direction. “How do you know about Twilight, Cap? I thought the TV was a way for The Man to tap your house and secretly watch your every move? I didn’t even know you had one.”

He threw a gnarled hand up at me and blustered, “Noreen watches it sometimes when I have supper with her. She knows how much I like her meatloaf and that’s how she gets me over there. I told her the government boys can hear everything she’s doin’, but she won’t listen to ol’ Cap. Thinks I’m crazy. But I know vampire bites when I see ’em, and those are vampire teeth marks on her neck!”

I sighed. I sure didn’t want him to start up a bunch of hysteria the way he had last time, not at the beginning of tourist season. It was hard enough getting the zombie hunters out of town.

I also still wished I had my glasses so I could see Abby better. As gruesome as that sounds, sometimes an outsider catches something the trained eye misses.

“Leon, would you run back to the store and grab the extra set of glasses I keep under the cash register while I finish up here? I’ll take over for you as soon as I grab a shower.”

He nodded, looking to Chief Burrows. “Can I take Cap with me?”

The chief nodded, deeply ensconced in looking at Abby’s neck while the forensics team foraged around the koi pond.

Leon held his hand out to Cappie. “C’mon, Cap. Come with me.”

Thankfully, Cappie went without argument, and I mouthed a “thank you” to Leon before turning back to the crime scene. “Anything else I can do here, Justice?”

“You sure you didn’t hear anything last night?”

As the sun grew warmer, I lifted my face to it, enjoying the slight heat it held. It warmed my chilled bones.

“Nope. For the first time since Myron’s murder and our run-in with his killer, I had a date with the Sandman that paid off. I slept seven awesome hours all at once. But I’m starting to wonder if we shouldn’t hire a security guard for all the things happening while I sleep, because now I’m not sure I’m ever going to sleep again.”

One of the forensics team picked up the chalice, holding it as another muttered in a joking tone, “Looks like dried blood, huh? Maybe Cappie’s not so far off the mark?”

The other guy, a tall, lanky man with long arms and legs, frowned at him. “Better not let the chief hear you joking about stuff like that. You remember how crazy it got the last time Cappie spewed all that nonsense in the middle of the station? Could barely get in the door of Shrimpie’s with all those loony-tunes he brought here, running around dressed like zombies.”

I might not be able to see very well right now, but my ears were sharper than ever. “Blood? In the chalice?”

How strange and a little macabre, considering the vampire angle—which I, of course, absolutely was not. She didn’t appear to be bleeding anywhere, and the chalice was positioned such that it wasn’t close enough to her body for her to have bled into it. Though, it could be entirely possible it was Abby’s blood.

The first guy who’d made the joke, shorter and husky, with a beard sprinkled with silver, eyed me in my bathrobe and, I’m sure, my wildly out-of-control hair. “Should you be here? Are you here in an official capacity?”

I wasn’t sure if he was being snarky because of my bathrobe or really asking, but I became a little defensive. “This is my backyard and that’s my koi pond. I’m the one who found her, along with Cappie.”

Justice set about soothing me. “Take it easy, Lemon. He’s just doing his job. We don’t want details leaked to the press until we know what’s going on. We have to be careful who we talk to.”

As Leon came back with my glasses, I thanked him and slid them on and finally saw the entire picture. I think I liked things much better when I couldn’t see anything but blurry images.

I now saw the marks on Abby’s neck clear as day. But I didn’t see much else. Abby looked as peaceful as she had without my glasses.

“Cappie might be a little crazy about conspiracies and such, but he has a point. They do kinda look like bite marks,” I commented casually to Justice, pointing to Abby’s neck.

Justice ran his hand over his sharp jaw and gave me the look that said maybe Cappie was rubbing off on me. “Not you, too, Lemon.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Don’t say. Please. Cappie’s probably already back in town getting everyone het up about governmentally engineered vampires. Next thing you know, Ethel over at the senior center won’t have a knitting club anymore, she’ll have a garlic-rosary-making club formed, ready to make a buck.”

I fought sputtering a laugh. “That’s fair. Ethel knows how to turn just about anything into a buck.” I paused for a minute and decided I’d seen enough. No one would answer any questions I had anyway. I’d been down this road before and was always greeted with a closed door. “Look, can I go in now? I need to get myself together to take over for Leon. He needs to be off to his first class soon.”

He gave me a strange look of surprise. “That’s it?”

“What do you mean, that’s it?”

He used the back of his hand to feel my forehead, his handsome face holding a stunned expression. “You’re not going to hang around and ask a bunch of questions until I want to put duct tape over your mouth just to hush you? You’re not going to nose around…do some snooping?”

I batted my eyelashes, hoping he could see the effort from behind my round glasses. “Do you want to put duct tape over my mouth, Justice? Why would you want to put tape over a mouth that’s so sweet? Add to that, I’m so easygoing and nice,” I said sweetly, mocking him.

“Until you sink your teeth into something and can’t let go. The last time almost got you and Coco killed, Lemon. I’d like never to see that happen again. You weren’t the only one traumatized by that attack on you, you know.” His eyes went a little intense with those words.

I didn’t know how to respond to his intensity. We hadn’t spoken much about what happened that night, but I figured it was just part of his job. Yes, he’d shot Myron’s killer, but he didn’t kill him, and while I was sure that had to have come with repercussions for a time, he’d never expressed any concern for me. Not after the initial encounter anyway, only his sadness for the killer’s father.

Of course, I’d expect Justice to care about me. We’ve been friends since we were toddlers. I guess I just didn’t expect it to be quite so heavy.

I gripped his forearm, warm from the sun, to reassure him. “Well, this is me letting go. I need a shower and I have brisket in the smoker that needs tending. It’s getting busier by the day with the season picking up—so busy I can’t smoke enough brisket and catfish to keep up.”

He must have realized how edgy he was coming across, because his eyes instantly lightened and he said, “Yeah, I think you can go. But stay in town, would you?”

“Darn,” I said over my shoulder with a teasing grin. “Guess that trip to Bora-Bora’s off then. I was so looking forward to a nice cocktail on the beach in my new bikini.”

“You’d no sooner wear a bikini than you would a dress, Lemon Layne!” he called after me on a chuckle.

That made me stop midway across the grass toward the back door of the house. I would wear a dress. I’d worn one to my fiancé Troy’s funeral.

Sometimes, all it takes is something silly, like Justice’s dress comment, to remind me of a time in my life I wanted to forget. But to forget would be to forget the amazingly kind, incredibly smart man I was engaged to and had been in the process of planning a wedding with.

Yet, even now, a couple of years later, the memory of that dress I’d chosen so long ago to bury the man I’d adored stole my breath before I straightened and focused on a getting a shower.

And my laptop.

Because, you know, there’s a crime I need to stick my nose into.

But I’m just going to take a quick peek and then I’m staying out of it and letting the police do their jobs.

I swear.

* * * *

I clicked around aimlessly on Abby’s website for her store, Natural Solutions, as I sat at the counter of the Smoke and Petrol with Jessica Fletcher next to me. I figured I’d just pass the time while we waited out the lull until the afternoon rush for lunch.

Nothing more, honest.

It can’t hurt, right? I mean, I did find her along with Cappie. The least I could do was learn a bit about her so when it came time to pay my respects to her family, I’d know a little about who she’d been as a person.

As I got comfortable at the scarred counter covered with goodies from the local bakery and candy shop, the scent of freshly smoked brisket wafting to my nose, I kept half an eye on the door and the other half on Abby’s site.

The site was full of sparkling apothecary bottles, recipes for home remedies for all manner of minor issues made from natural herbs and spices, and all sorts of herbs I’d never heard of.

I’m not sure why I thought her website would help me see something I hadn’t seen at the crime scene, or jog my memory with a clue. I didn’t know Abby that well. We’d say hello in passing, smile and nod, but we sure didn’t move in the same circles.

She was into the metaphysical and I was into science and facts. Now, that’s not to say I don’t believe an oregano leaf or whatever can’t heal what ails you, but I lean more toward a good physician and a prescription before I think about turning to an herbal remedy—despite how she’d helped Mom.

I clicked on a tab labeled “weekly meetings with other like-minded herbalists and homeopaths”. Seems Abby held meetings at her store once a week for those who sought help outside traditional western medicine.

As I read the short paragraph on spiritual healings, Buddhism, astral projection, and paranormal happenings as points of conversation the group discussed, I found myself intrigued. Abby was clearly more than just a homeopath. She was into ghosts and all things having to do with the paranormal.

Most especially, vampires…

A chill coursed up my spine but I shook it off.

Again, this was another something to consider, taking into account the way she’d been found. I mean, she did have marks on her neck and a spooky chalice near her body. Maybe she had a vampire club just like those zombie hunters had. I’d read only a little about people who believed in vampires and actually practiced some of their alleged habits.

I looked to Jessica, dressed in one of her favorite purple boas and a matching tutu Mom had made her. “How do you feel about vampires, Jess? Misunderstood by society, glorified and worshipped by teens, or just plain evil?”

Jess stopped eating her orange and cocked her tiny head at me, her tail twitching as she chirped her unintelligible answer before she popped another piece of fruit in her mouth.

“What’cha doin’, Lemon?”

My head popped up and my heart jumped in my chest. I hadn’t even heard the bells on the door ring, I was so immersed in Abby’s site. But suddenly my BFF was there, coming around the counter to see what I was up to.

I prepared to close my laptop in guilt, but she held up a hand. “Don’t bother to try and hide what you’re doing. I already heard all about poor Abby Hoffer in the koi pond.”

I winced. Here comes the lecture about minding my own P’s and Q’s. “I was just curious about her—”

“No, no. Stop hiding.” Coco pulled off her summery floral scarf and tossed it on the counter in a cloud of vanilla perfume as she came to take a seat beside me, kicking off her wedge sandals. “There’s no stopping you from poking around. I’m not even going to try this time. All I ask is that you stay safe and keep anything you come upon a little quieter than the last time. Please. I like my brains on the inside.”

Coco was referring to our run-in with Myron’s killer. She’d been banged up pretty bad from the tussle, not to mention having a gun stuck in her face. I couldn’t blame her for feeling the way she did, but I had to wonder what had made her change her mind about me investigating. All she’d done during the last case was beat me up and lecture me over my interest in finding Myron’s killer.

I rolled up the sleeves of my light flannel shirt and pushed my glasses back along the bridge of my nose. “I’m actually going to stay out of it. I got us in some hot water the last time. I won’t take that risk again. But I have to ask, why the sudden change of heart here?”

She leaned forward with her elbows on the counter as Jess enveloped her in one of her special monkey hugs. Her dark hair swung forward at her chin when she looked at me with warmth and understanding in her eyes.

“I’m going to say something that makes you incredibly uncomfortable, but I’m saying it out of love. Remember that, would you?”

“Is this going to be like the time you told me you were telling me something out of love, and my butt looked big in the new jeans I bought without any fashion help from you? Because, I’ll tell you, Coco, you devastated me. I was so proud I’d found those jeans and you shot me down. Like an arrow right here.” I pointed to my chest and grinned at her.

She smiled and shook her head, her eyes holding a touch of sadness. “I never said your butt looked big. I said it didn’t bring out the best of your butt. And what I have to say is more like a splash of reality.”

“Okay, tell me,” I murmured.

“I’m starting to think this investigating thing is some kind of weird therapy for you, my friend. Wait. Maybe weird’s the wrong word. Alternative seems better. Anyway, it’s almost like if you figure out a crime, it’ll somehow make up for not finding Troy’s killer. You spent weeks, months poring over the crime scene pictures and evidence and testimony from witnesses, trying to piece together who’d want to kill a great guy like Troy. It got ugly for a while. There was a time I didn’t think you were going to eat another bite of food unless I was there, force-feeding it to you. You didn’t shower. You hardly slept. You obsessed and scared us all half to death.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but there was really nothing to protest. Coco was right, and if she hadn’t made me come home to Fig, I’d probably still be in Seattle, obsessing. So, I stayed silent, and really heard how hard that time had been for not just her, but everyone around me.

“And I want you to know, I get it. I totally get it, Lemon. I hate it for you, but I get it. I get you and your grief, and if it helps you finally work through it and move forward to dabble in this, I’m in.”

I stiffened, passing Jessica another piece of fruit, but I couldn’t deny she was probably right, if we were going to get analytical about it.

And the thought caught me right in the feels. Right in the back of my throat where it burned and ached.

“I miss him so much…every day,” I whispered, finding it unbearable to breathe for a moment from the sudden stab of longing for a man so wonderful.

Gosh, it felt good to say that out loud. I hadn’t in a very long time, but it rambled out of my mouth before I could stop it.

Coco grabbed my hand and smiled, her green eyes shiny. “I know you do, Lemon. We do, too. He was a great guy and a terrific lawyer.”

Troy had been a great guy. The greatest, and as if it weren’t enough, being a great guy, he’d been a greater prosecuting attorney, and I’d fallen wildly in love with him. Troy Merrill was everything all girls hope for when they think about finding the man of their dreams. Smart, funny, considerate, chivalrous in a time when most of us think chivalry is dead. And I can’t forget handsome in the quirkiest of ways—from his dark blond hair to his horn-rimmed glasses and his crooked smile.

A tear slipped down my cheek as I remembered his face, the scent of his aftershave, and Jess, sensing distress, positioned herself in front of me, gripping my cheeks with her small hands. I gave her a quick squeeze and handed her another section of orange, inhaling deeply and shaking off my melancholy.

“It’s going to get easier, you know,” Coco reminded me, chucking me under the chin. “Day by day, little by little. And one day, it won’t ache as much. It’ll always be there, Lemon. But the pain will dull and you’ll remember more good than…than that day.”

I closed my eyes and shut down more tears. “I sure hope so, Coco. I really do.” I did hope one day I wouldn’t remember Troy the way I’d last seen him, sprawled out on the floor of our apartment, blood everywhere…

I wanted to remember him proposing to me at our favorite sushi food cart, his eyes laughing, his kisses soft and sweet; or him cooking in our apartment, an apron with ruffles secured around his waist, which he insisted on wearing because my mother had given it to him for Christmas.

But the memory of him dead was the one that seemed to stick, and it wouldn’t dull no matter what I did.

Coco nudged my shoulder with hers. “Tell me what happened this morning. How ironic I should find Lemon Layne in the middle of yet another murder investigation. In her backyard, no less.”

I scrolled some more of the site, keeping my eyes on the screen so as not to see Coco’s sympathetic gaze as she changed the subject. She knew my limits, and I was grateful she knew me so well.

“Have they officially called it a murder? Hashtag asking for a friend,” I joked.

“Nope, but how many people take a nap in a koi pond all dressed up like that?”

“How’d you know she was dressed up?”

“I work at the coroner’s office. I see things.”

“Did you hear things?”

“Still hashtag asking for a friend?”

I looked at anything but her and chuckled. “Maybe.”

“You know I can’t tell you that, Sherlock. Just because I’ve given you carte blanche from my lecturing, doesn’t mean I can share confidential information. Also, I didn’t hear a single thing. So there’s that.”

I laughed then shook my head. “I don’t get it, Coco. The way she was left right there, her head resting against the koi pond, was just plain strange. It was like someone set her there with that weird chalice and left—almost as if it were planned. Honestly, she looked exactly like she was sleeping.”

Coco shuddered, putting her hand to her throat. “How awful for her and you and poor Cappie. She was such a nice lady, too. I used the face cream she had at the store like it was my religion. Loved that stuff. She made it herself. It did wonders for my dry skin. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill her.”

“Me either,” I said distractedly as I happened to catch one of the photographs under the tab on Abby’s site labeled “weekly meetings”.

“Cappie’s all over Fig telling everyone it’s vampires, you know. He’s got the tourists all atwitter about it. Described the marks on her neck and everything. Did she have marks on her neck?”

“She did, and even I have to admit if I were the kind who believed, they did look like vampire teeth marks. I know it’s crazy, but I saw them with my own two eyes.”

“And the cup of blood? He said there was some old-looking cup with blood in it right by Abby’s body.”

“You mean this one?” I swiveled the laptop toward Coco and pointed to the picture of a man I didn’t recognize holding a cup that looked exactly like the one Abby had near her body.

The gentleman was smiling, holding the cup up as though he were saluting someone. A pleasant-enough looking guy with a round face, soft, doughy skin and gentle blue eyes. He had a full head of red hair, making him stand out amongst the rest of the people in the picture because he was a male ginger. Might make it easier to identify him. I clicked print in order to make a copy of his picture to ask around about him—see if maybe he was a local.

Coco gasped and tapped the screen with a pale pink nail. “Is that it? Looks like it came right off a movie set a la Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.”

It sort of did. Definitely an unusual piece, but did it belong to Abby or the guy in the picture?

“It sure looks like it. Which means, I need to find out who this guy is and what he knows about this chalice.”

My friend raised a single eyebrow. “I thought you were staying out of it? Hashtag fat chance,” she teased.

I gave her a sheepish glance. “Hashtag don’t know how to stop myself.”

We both laughed as the bells on the door signaled a customer, making me grateful I’d remembered to bring the brisket in to keep in the warmer. The lunch rush would begin any minute.

A man loped up to the counter, his shorts with a wavy pattern on them a total mismatch for the green plaid shirt he wore. His sandals clopped, slapping against the tile floor as he approached us.

I put on my customer smile and asked, “Can I help you?”

He smiled back quite pleasantly, his youthful face tanned from a day spent in the sun. “I sure hope so. You the lady who saw the dead lady bitten by a vampire?”

I groaned.

Waylan Caprice, I’m going to kill you!

 

End of Extended Sample

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  • Heat Level:
  • 0 = General Audience - 13+
  • 1 = General Audience - 16+
  • 2 = Sensual love scenes - 17+
  • 3 = Explicit love scenes, adult language - 18+
  • 4 = Graphic love scenes, adult language and situations - 18+
  • 5 = Graphic love scenes, adult language, subject matter some readers may consider objectionable - 18+