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Smugglers & Scones: Moorehaven Mysteries, #1

Smugglers & Scones: Moorehaven Mysteries, #1

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Smugglers & Scones: Moorehaven Mysteries, #1

Länge:
304 Seiten
8 Stunden
Freigegeben:
Jan 31, 2017
ISBN:
9781386376385
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Pippa Winterbourne runs Moorehaven, the Oregon Coast’s quirkiest bed-and-breakfast and former home of world-famous mystery writer A. Raymond Moore. Guests come there to write their own crime novels. When a real-life murder takes a local’s life and washes a handsome boat pilot into her arms, Pippa is yanked into a deadly plot of her own. A tangle of secrets crashes past into present, and Pippa must uncover clues dating back to Seacrest’s Prohibition days, including a secret Moore himself hid from the world.

Juggling her book-writing guests, small-town intrigues, secret club agendas, and a possibly fatal attraction, Pippa must sort fact from fiction to know who to trust before a desperate killer claims a final revenge nearly a century in the making.

Freigegeben:
Jan 31, 2017
ISBN:
9781386376385
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

USA Today Bestselling Author Morgan Talbot is an outdoorsy girl with a deep and abiding love for the natural sciences. Her degrees involve English and jujitsu. She enjoys hiking, camping, and wandering in the woods looking for the trail to the car, but there isn't enough chocolate on the planet to bribe her into rock climbing. When she's not writing, she can be found making puzzles, getting lost on the way to geocaches, reading stories to her children, or taking far too many pictures of the same tree or rock. Morgan is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and served as a panelist at Left Coast Crime 2015: Crimelandia. She lives in Eastern Washington with her family.


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Buchvorschau

Smugglers & Scones - Morgan C. Talbot

1

I put beautiful paintings in my novels because when I look out the window, all I see is fog. Now, ask me a serious question.

Raymond Moore, 1948

Good morning. Moorehaven Bed and Breakfast Inn.

Pippa! Al Daulton here. I need to kill a few people this weekend. Can you help me out?

Of course, Mr. Daulton. Would you like the Oubliette again?

Yes. With all these bodies piling up, I’ll need the privacy. Can’t let anyone stumble onto the evidence.

I smiled. Return customers were the best. And so far, I only had two guests booked over the weekend, leaving seven of my rooms free. Well, six, after Al’s reservation. We’re happy to accommodate you, Mr. Daulton. What time can we expect you?

Some time tomorrow afternoon, probably.

We’ll have your room ready. See you tomorrow. I hung up, penciled Mr. Daulton into the schedule, then let my gaze wander to my favorite landscape painting, Alessandro Baldochiero’s Paradiso Fugace, which I’d hung directly across the hallway from my hostess station. The landscape showed an Italian countryside, but not in the usual warm, bright colors. A late afternoon storm approached from the west, throwing the hillside villa and its surrounding vineyards into a lovely pattern of chiaroscuro. I loved studying the painting’s contrasting light and shadow. Some days, I was the serene villa, calm in my stability. Others, I was engulfed in the oncoming storm, fighting off tourists’ curious questions while struggling to give my guests their privacy—or wrangling peace between my guests and the locals, who didn’t see much difference between curious authors and roaming tourists. Baldochiero had really captured how I felt about owning the Moorehaven Bed and Breakfast Inn. But that’s what they say good art is supposed to do: show you yourself. And I had every intention of becoming as much a fixture at Moorehaven as Paradiso Fugace was. I couldn’t imagine my life anywhere else.

The picture was only one of many classic reproductions hanging along Moorehaven’s main hallway. Each one was a copy of a real painting that the famous author Raymond Moore had mentioned in one of his best-selling crime novels. And I was lucky enough to live and work in his home-turned-bed-and-breakfast. Even after six years, I sometimes pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. But most days, I was more likely to tear out my hair. My two current author guests had arrived this morning with the usual amount of distracted-creative fanfare, though they weren’t upstairs at the moment. Paul, who had stayed at Moorehaven to write sections of four of his novels, was out showing his friend and protégé, Skylar, Seacrest’s sights.

I bustled from my hostess station back through the wide arch at the back end of the main hallway, which led to the formal dining room on the left and the kitchen on the right. As I passed beneath it, the Moorehaven cats—pure-white Svetlana and gray-tabby Rex—gazed silently down from their favorite steps in the curving staircase that rose to the second floor. It’s not time to eat yet, I called.

Mrrw, Svetlana replied.

Of course she knew it wasn’t time to eat yet unless, of course, I was on my way to get a treat, in which case she’d deign to eat it solely for my benefit. After six years, I knew Svetlana’s vocalizations pretty well. Rex was still new to Moorehaven, but Svetlana was firmly instructing him in her ways. She rarely needed to employ the Paw of Justice anymore.

A metallic bang emanated from the kitchen, and I headed that way. A clang, a thump, and a muffled Sunday swear came from under the big steel kitchen sink, in that order. You okay, Hilt? I called, angling toward where my great-uncle lay, denim-clad legs protruding onto an old towel.

Hilt’s gravelly voice echoed from within the cabinet. Yeah, yeah. I’ll live. But whoever designed this plumbing needs a swift kick in the Asperger’s.

I crossed my arms. You know this building is about a hundred and twenty years old. And didn’t you tell me that you redid all the plumbing in the kitchen, like, thirty years ago?

A grimy hand with prominent veins and the odd liver spot reached from under the sink and wielded a wrench in my direction. Yeah, well, I was an idiot back then. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. Now be a doll, and hand me that rubber mallet.

I sighed and handed over the requested tool. Uncle Hilt had been forty-five years old thirty years ago and far from an idiot. But far be it for me to interrupt his diatribe. Uncle Hilt loved his diatribes.

And he wasn’t done. Speaking of idiots, whose bright idea was it to hang that peacock-pane chandelier in the hall? That beast is a hellion to dust and a guillotine waiting to happen.

Still pretty sure that was Aunt Felicity when she had this place built. Raymond Moore’s Aunt Felicity had been a woman wrapped in several layers of mystery, from her secretive, homebody life to the reason she’d left her immensely wealthy family behind in New York City and traveled across the continent, alone in 1891. She’d probably inspired Moore’s entire mystery-writing career simply by existing. Everyone who visited Moorehaven said they wished they could’ve met Raymond Moore, but Felicity was the Moore I wanted to meet. I didn’t know why she’d installed an octopus of a laundry chute system when she was the manor’s only permanent occupant, but now that Moorehaven had become a B&B, that feature made washing all my linens easy and entertaining, and I wished I could thank her for her magical foresight.

Hilt sighed from under the cabinet. I know, I know. But I can’t give a dead woman a piece of my mind, can I?

I shook my head and smiled. We’d had this conversation dozens of times. Nope. Which is why you hired me: so you’d have someone to gripe to. Quit pretending you don’t know how this works. I’ll get the chandelier dusted this week, okay?

He grunted, followed by a few cathartic bangs on some poor, unsuspecting pipe. You youngsters and your adventuresome spirit. Go ahead if it makes you feel better, Whip.

I smothered a grin. I’ll put it on my to-do list. Uncle Hilt only called me Whip when he wanted to draw attention to the difference in our ages. The moniker was short for whippersnapper, and he was old enough to use it unironically. Part of me wondered if he had only complained about dusting the gorgeous chandelier in the entryway because he didn’t trust his legs on our shaky ladder anymore. My great-uncle was old, wise, and definitely crafty, and I wouldn’t put it past him to manipulate me into doing chores he wouldn’t admit made him nervous. And because I loved him the way one loves a grumpy old cat that’s been in the family forever, I never held his shenanigans against him.

The phone rang again, and I headed back to the main hallway. The cell forwarding—and cell coverage in general—was very hit or miss on the narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the forested ridge a mile inland, so I tried to keep within earshot of the landline.

With my eyes on the stained-glass art nouveau inset in the front door, I stepped behind the L-shaped counter at the hostess station midway down the hall and grabbed the phone. I felt the cats’ attention on the back of my head. Good morning. Moorehaven Bed and Breakfast Inn.

My goodness, is that you, Pippa Winterbourne? You sound so accomplished!

The voice belonged to an older woman, but I didn’t recognize it. My gaze lifted to the concentric circles of peacock-feather-painted, eight-by-twelve panels of glass eight feet above my entryway floor. I did not want to dust it either. Yes, I’m Pippa Winterbourne. How may I help you?

A breathless giggle. Oh, honey. You don’t remember me, do you? Well, it has been six years. And we only met during your first two weeks in Seacrest.

Oh, my local guide! Argh, what’s her name? An old friend of Hilt’s had shown me around town like a friendly tour guide when I first moved in after four years at college in Phoenix, making me feel at home in my new town and warning me what the weather on the Oregon Coast was like most of the year: soggy. She used to live in town, but soon after I arrived, she’d divorced and moved away. Her name was something hippie-ish… Ah. Variety Braxton, what a surprise!

Oh, I went back to my maiden name. Aponte.

Oops. Of course. Variety Aponte. I didn’t expect to hear from you. How are you doing? I glanced toward the closet-sized bookstore off the entryway and braced for a long, stream-of-consciousness reply. The Shelf needs an inventory update, doesn’t it? I might even be able to dust the chandelier before she’s done talking.

But Variety was delightfully succinct. I’m absolutely wonderful, hon. I have work down in Banning that should last me all summer, and you know how lucrative tourist season is on the coast.

Are you still painting?

A gust of wind blew across Variety’s phone, causing heavy static for a moment. —gave up painting, it would literally kill me. You know how artists are, don’t you, with all those writers staying with you?

I nodded, though she couldn’t see me. All my guests were mystery authors, as per Raymond Moore’s will, and though they came in all shapes, sizes, experience levels, and subgenres, they were all hopelessly dedicated to their craft, whether they wanted to be or not. Well, congratulations. If I have time, I’d love to pop down and see your work.

Variety laughed, a sound that evoked open skies and summer breezes. Oh, that won’t be hard, honey. I’m painting a block-long mural of Popeye, SpongeBob SquarePants, and all their friends, facing off for mastery of the sea. You’ll be able to drive by and see it from the highway.

I giggled at the mental image. My money’s on Sandy Cheeks.

You betcha. Variety’s voice got more serious. Actually, I did call for a reason. I was wondering, you see, if you might be able to help me with something.

Oh, jeez. The itinerant hippie artist wants my help. I’m really no good with painting, Variety.

No, no, don’t worry about that. You see, my daughter… You remember Chloe?

I did remember Chloe. She’d been a bright, but serious, twelve-year-old girl when I moved to Seacrest. That same year, her parents divorced, and she remained in town with her father, Mercer Braxton—local lawyer, town council member, and unfailingly polite white bread in a well-cut suit. I’d seen Chloe from time to time as she went through various identity changes, searching for herself as teens do. I sure had. Just last week, I found some old eyeliner jammed in the back of my vanity drawer and fell victim to My Chemical Romance flashbacks. Yes, sure. How’s she doing?

She was kicked out of college last month—some sort of arbitrary establishmentarian ruling, no doubt. But I heard through the grapevine that she’s not doing well at home with Mercer. All the off-season jobs are taken right now, and it’s too early for the summer swell, so she just sits in her room and listens to that horrible thrash metal stuff.

Poor girl. It sounded like Variety wanted me to mentor her. I hoped she wouldn’t expect me to make a thrash metal enthusiast girlier. I’d left my party-girl days long behind—and most of those college rumors weren’t even true. How can I help?

Hire her.

My eyes popped open like they were trying to escape their sockets from pure shock. Hire her?

I can hear the excitement in your voice, hon. You must need help at the bed and breakfast, right? I’ve been hearing how the place has been revitalized by your new ideas. All that online advertising, those book signings and publicity events you do for your authors, the updated Moore classic recipes? Very impressive. But with all that extra business, you must need an extra pair of hands. Use Chloe’s.

I stuttered like a flooded engine. I-I—well, ah, it’s true we do have several times a year where we’re at full capacity, but our work situation is unusual. Mr. Moore set up a trust to take care of his finances after he died, and it technically runs the bed and breakfast. Uncle Hilt had to get permission to hire me, and I’d need to get permission to hire Chloe.

Variety’s voice didn’t lose its hopeful tone. Well, if you need the help, surely they’ll grant you an extra employee.

Probably so, but the trust is run by a bunch of bankers and lawyers. They have no idea what it takes to run a bed and breakfast, and they don’t care. I had to work for free for six months before they finally approved an official paycheck for me. I had loved every minute of my unpaid internship—trying to interpret Hilt’s scribbled recipe notes, which he never used anymore anyway, and exploring all the Victorian quirks of the house—but the company that controlled my student loans hadn’t been as appreciative.

Oh, honey, this isn’t about a paycheck. Chloe doesn’t need cash. Mercer gives her all the money she wants. What she needs is something to occupy her time. She’s sitting up in that third-floor attic room, losing herself in music and pulling farther away from reality. I want her to interact with normal people like you—well, as normal as one can get in Seacrest. She needs to find her own way in the world like I did. And honestly, her way doesn’t lie with her father. That man wasn’t good for me, and he isn’t good for Chloe. Please. Help my daughter.

Variety’s words echoed off the walls of my memory. I had overheard my mother say almost exactly the same phrase to Uncle Hilt six years ago. I had come home from college after my senior year and done absolutely nothing with my life. My depression was a rampant dragon trying its best to devour my soul. Hilt and Moorehaven had saved me, pulled me out of that house, that abyss of helplessness, and given me something to do—something I was good at. Maybe they could save Chloe, too. I swallowed a grateful lump in my throat. Tell her to come by tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll interview her then. The best I can offer is an unpaid position until the trust approves her.

You’re an angel, Pippa. I’ll let her know. Thank you. In my gratitude, I’ll paint you in the background of my mural. You can be a sea horse!

Variety hung up without saying goodbye. I grimaced, pretty sure she had no idea what I looked like. She’d probably paint my boobs too small and my hair too blond. I was more of an otter girl, anyway. Hermione Granger had been my spirit animal when I was a teenager.

I heard more banging from the kitchen. Rex and Svetlana studied me in feline silence as I passed out of their sight again. My hands still inexplicably held no snacks. By the sink, I picked up a freshly baked apple tart from the cooling rack next to the shiny new oven. The oven was still in its first year of use, inset in the kitchen’s wall beneath a low arch of original red bricks. Never gonna miss that barf-green seventies oven.

I crouched by my uncle’s knee, took a bite of my tart, and gave his leg a tap. Hey, Hilt. How do you feel about hiring an unpaid intern?

2

My characters are never looking for love. I don’t write romances. But love is a force of nature. If it wants to show up, it will, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Raymond Moore, 1969

A sound like exploding plastic woke me in the middle of a dream full of tunnels and drums. I bolted upright in bed, froze, and listened. Svetlana’s eyes, one blue and the other green, shined in the darkness as she gazed at me with intent concern. Rex wriggled by my feet, trying to get back to sleep by shoving his head under my ankle.

Seconds later, a muffled metal screech and a heavy thud reached my ears from outside the house, and I breathed out a little of my tension. We’re okay, guys. Living in a house approaching its fifth quarter-century, I regularly had fears about it simply collapsing around me and trapping me under the rubble. Thankfully, this particular noise didn’t seem like it was trying to kill me. But it sounded like it was murdering something.

I hopped out of bed and stepped to the windows in my octagonal room at the base of one of Moorehaven’s three turrets—not the front one with the best view. That was Hilt’s room. My three narrow windows showed a broad, south-facing expanse of coastline and cliffs. Svetlana joined me by standing on one of the windowsills, her tail arching. As I slid a comforting hand along her back, a prolonged, ponderous grating sound penetrated the glass, ratcheting up my heartbeat. Nothing appeared to be falling to pieces outside, so I guessed it was coming from below the edge of the cliff that wrapped around two sides of Moorehaven, lofting us a few dozen feet up from the wild Pacific. And that could only mean one thing. Criminy on a cracker! I thought, borrowing one of Uncle Hilt’s expressions. He warned me about boats foundering, but I’ve never been the closest person before! I am not prepared for this!

I grabbed my pink robe and stuffed my feet into my fuzzy bunny slippers. Svetlana hopped back onto the bed with Rex, and they watched me leave with stiff poses that conveyed their flabbergasted state. What was I thinking, abandoning my warm, cozy bed?

What indeed? Not for the first time, I regretted agreeing to convert the old storage room behind the pantry into my bedroom. It wasn’t like Moorehaven didn’t have other bedrooms. It had almost a dozen. But taking a guest room as my own would’ve meant fewer options for the guests, and they always came first. Still, I felt like a spy or a dungeon master every time I used the secret door to the pantry.

I pushed my way through then closed the door behind me—laden with shelves bearing various flours, sugars, and all my baking spices. My path to the kitchen took me past other shelves full of canned fruits and vegetables, dry goods, and bulk herbs. I hurried through the kitchen’s side door, across the cross-hallway that led to the veranda, and down to the front turret, where I knocked on Hilt’s door.

He opened it immediately, his other hand tucking the tail of his flannel shirt into an old pair of jeans. His jaw was set, but his lips had gone white with fear. You heard it, too?

I nodded.

He handed me a flashlight. You’d better get out there then. I’ll be on the porch. I’ve already called it in.

Hilt reached for his jacket, and I ran around to the front door. I burst through the heavy wooden front door, trusting its hydraulic closer to keep the large, stained-glass inset from shattering. As the damp air hit me, so did the full volume of the crash of the sea. Its rushing roar flooded my ears with a constant, slow-motion thrum.

I ran across the porch, down the front steps, through the neatly landscaped yard, and reached the old asphalt road without slowing. My bunny slippers got soaked in three steps flat. The fog closed around me as I moved away from Moorehaven, and the flashlight beam formed a swirling white cone ahead of me.

As I stepped onto the wooden promenade that wrapped the cliff top in the old downtown area, I glanced back to see if Hilt had come onto the porch yet, but I could barely see the pale-gray building with its dark-red trim, and its porch lights were bare suggestions of illumination. The massive Seven Vistas Resort Hotel, just a block away, was nothing more than shadowy rumor. The ruined tower of the old lighthouse on the cliff top across the river, usually gleaming white even in the rain, was deep in the drifting billows.

I jogged down the promenade to the sturdy wooden stairs that led down the cliff side to the sliver of beach. Every few seconds, the waves shoved something against the rocks at the jutting base of the cliff. It sounded like grumpy metal and wounded fiberglass.

Though the moon was mostly full, heavy fog scattered and diffused its light. My flashlight only showed me what lay at my feet, leaving me in a murky gray world devoid of features. Moving cautiously, I squinted toward the rocks that jutted out into the sea. I could barely make out the dullest glint of moonlight from a twisted hulk nearly sunk beneath the waves.

A boat. A capsizing boat. My stomach spasmed. Seacrest was famous—or infamous—for its murder-friendly reputation thanks to Raymond Moore and his world-famous books, but actual deaths in my town weren’t everyday occurrences. The locals loved their black humor—a badge of belonging, as it were—and I’d made all the usual death jokes with my author guests, but a real-life death didn’t seem that funny all of a sudden.

At the top of the beach stairs, I ripped open the door to the heavy-duty plastic box mounted on the railing and yanked out the emergency flotation ring inside. The town council had decided that one of these old-fashioned rescue devices should adorn the top of every beach access point in Seacrest. Most of them got stolen by tourists, but seeing this one exactly where it should have been brought a rush of relief to my chest, despite the permanent-marker graffiti on its neon-green surface. I grabbed the attached length of rope with my other hand and bolted down the stairs. Part of me hoped no one had been on board the boat, and the rest of me hoped that if someone was in the water, they were ready and willing to play catch.

The stairs bottomed out in dry sand, a flat gray expanse in the foggy light. But the boat was caught on the rocks out in the water. The fog made it hard to determine how far out. I’d have to climb along the edge of the cliff to look for survivors.

My poor bunny slippers.

With a flotation ring over one shoulder and the length of rope over the other, I aimed my flashlight downward and clambered along an old footpath along the side of the cliff. Ahead of me, the long, low foot of the cliff swooped out into the sea, losing its defining edges in the gloom. Behind me, I heard Hilt’s strained voice. Be careful, Greta! Be careful!

I couldn’t have heard him from the porch, not over the waves. He’d crossed the road to the promenade, which meant he was freaking out, for me and for his proximity to the ocean. And he’d called me by his sister’s name, which meant he was in the grips of his phobia. Little Greta had drowned right in front of him when he was ten years old in a river back in Pennsylvania. Hilt had lived in Seacrest for most of his life, but he had never set foot on a boat, not even when he was police chief. He didn’t even take baths. He knew water’s terrible power, and for his sake, and his sanity, I would respect it.

I turned my focus and my light to the task at hand. The fiberglass hull of a thirty-odd-foot white boat with red stripes had shattered against the rugged foot of the cliff. Its wheelhouse sagged to one side, sloshing in the waves like a floating corpse, and a portion of its metal railing arched out of the

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