Authors: Audrey Claire
(A Makayla Rose Mystery – Book 2)
Copyright © November 2014, Audrey Claire
No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, distributed, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without express written permission from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
This book is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or any events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story line are created from the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
A Makayla Rose Mystery
Depth of Field
Distortion Control (Coming Soon)
I pushed the used bookstore’s door open and was assaulted with the scent of leather and musk. The aroma always comforted me rather than offended my sense of smell. I had visions of Grandma’s house and cookies and bedtime stories curled beneath warm blankets. Of course none of this was real since I had never known my grandparents, but the fantasy was pretty cozy.
Walking into Margie’s Used Books also had me expecting the ding of a bell, but there wasn’t one. Today, I had come to the shop not to look for books but to visit with my good friend Inna Brinlee. The eighteen-year-old had changed jobs recently from The Donut Hole, my favorite place on planet earth, if you don’t mind the dramatic description, to Margie’s.
Inna and I were very disappointed in this turn of events since Peony Trevor, the owner of The Donut Hole, had decided to shut the place down temporarily for remodeling. With The Hole closed, I had to get my daily fix of donuts from one of the local restaurants, and if I could make a formal complaint that would do something about this travesty, trust me, I would.
“Makayla, what are you doing here so early?” Inna called to me from her position behind the register. The bookstore was a very cluttered affair with far too many floor-to-ceiling shelves. The aisles almost didn’t accommodate walking straight along them, yet, the designer of the space had insisted upon rows. For the register, rather than a counter, Margie’s sported a battered old desk. To ring up purchases, that same register might have come into use in the nineteenth century. I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.
Behind the desk, blinding neon green boots slung to the scratched surface, sat Inna. She held a newspaper in her hands and a welcoming smirk on her face. Inna hardly ever smiled for anyone. You’d be more likely to get a smart-mouthed remark than anything else.
I offered a smile, which she accepted with a shrug. “Good morning, Inna. I’m here to visit with you, of course. Looks like you’re enjoying your new job.”
Inna snorted and slapped the newspaper down before dropping her feet to the floor. “This isn’t enjoyment. It’s mind-numbing boredom. Dude, how does this chick stay in business? Nobody comes in here. I’ve seen a couple people walk by and peek in the window, but they hurry on.”
I chuckled and then coughed. Perhaps the issue was the young woman behind the desk. If you didn’t know Inna—okay, even if you did know her—you would think she was a tough and not very friendly character who you did not want to cross. Inna was a special case, and I loved her very much, but to look at her, one would weigh the risks of approaching, and if so, with caution.
Inna’s dark hair had been dyed stark black, and she parted it down the middle. Her arms were covered in various tattoos, from butterflies to bones. There were more on her back, and I wasn’t sure of the rest of her body. She wore a lot of black and had naturally smooth, pale skin.
One would conclude Inna was a typical Goth girl, except for days like today. The bright green boots were paired with an equally blinding green dress, pirate design in the bust and arms area and cute little mini, an unfortunate piece if ever I saw one. I say unfortunate because somehow the lines were off, the stitching atrocious. The dress looked like someone’s failed Home Ec assignment, and I would bet you good money that’s exactly why Inna had purchased it. I was of the conclusion Inna dressed for shock value not so much to make a statement.
I averted my eyes from Inna’s person before spots appeared in my vision and dropped onto a nearby stool. “Maybe Margie keeps the store for sentimental value.”
“Hm, maybe,” Inna agreed. “I don’t understand the mentality of old people.”
I pointed to the newspaper she had gone back to studying. “Where did you get the paper? I can’t remember seeing one here in Briney Creek.”
“We had one up until last year, but McAllister shut it down.”
I blinked in surprise. “Susan Aston’s dad owned the newspaper?”
“Yup.” Inna smirked at me. “Been here six months, and you’re still learning, huh?”
“Oh, I don’t mind learning more about my new town. I love Briney Creek, so every new discovery intrigues me.”
Inna gave me a deadpan look. “Give it time. The shininess wears off.”
I chuckled. “So, the newspaper?”
“I got it on my trip to Charlotte.” Inna and her parents had taken a winter shopping trip to Charlotte, a much bigger city than Briney Creek. The small town I had moved to from New York just six months ago had a citizenship of only fifteen thousand people.
“How was the big city?” I teased.
She glared at me. “It wasn’t New York City. I asked Mama to let me go there—without them. She and Dad wanted a family trip.” Inna pretended to gag. “I’m a legal adult, but they don’t see it that way. As long as I’m living under their roof…you get the picture.”
“Your parents are pretty liberal though, right, Inna? I’m sure they just wanted one last family event before you move away.”
She still didn’t appear happy. From the first time I met Inna, I learned she had a plan; to finish high school and move to New York to attend college. She worked saving money, and nothing waylaid her, least of all her loving parents, John and Allie Kate Brinlee.
“Anyway,” Inna said, “I came across this paper. I don’t know why, but I just decided to buy it. It’s just the same old boring crap, but look at this ad right here.”
I bent over the newspaper to inspect the one-inch box she pointed out. “Looking for someone like me.” I raised my gaze to Inna. “Is this a personals ad? I thought you were dating Brandon?”
The nature of the ad reminded me that not so long ago, I had been thinking of placing an ad to find someone. Not in a physical newspaper of course, because who read newspapers anymore. Rather I had intended to sign up with an online service. Then a bit of trouble led me to my current lover, the sheriff of Briney Creek. I say trouble when I really mean murder. I’m sure you already read my last “memoir,” so let’s move on.
“This isn’t a personals ad,” Inna explained. “Well, not like you mean. Look at it.”
“I’m looking, sweetheart, but I’m not seeing what you’re seeing. Sounds like some lonely person searching for a friend.” I snapped my fingers together. That’s what the old term was for ads in newspapers such as this—ISOs, In Search Of. “Is that what you’re after?”
“No, of course not!” She seemed highly insulted. “This isn’t the dating section, if there is one. There’s just something about
ad that makes me curious about the person who placed it.”
“Well, be careful,” I admonished her. “There are some crazy people in the world, many of which you’ll meet when you move to New York.”
Inna’s eyes sparkled at this prospect, letting me know I wasted my breath. She was young and eager to see what life held for her. I on other hand was already jaded at thirty-four. Granted, my experiences were darker than most, but there was also light and hope in my world in the form of one sexy sheriff, and my pride and joy, my photography studio.
The choice to move to Briney Creek had been a perfect one that I didn’t regret for an instant, even with the aforementioned murder on my own doorstep. Well, beyond my doorstep if one wanted to get technical.
“I’m going to contact them,” Inna said, focused on the ad again. I didn’t understand her fascination. The one-liner was vague, and a phone number had been given. I wondered how many crank calls the advertiser had gotten and then dismissed him. Inna was of more importance to me.
“If you decide to meet, make it a public place, and don’t go anywhere with him.” I tapped my cheek. “You might also take Brandon with you, so he knows you already have a boyfriend, a big one.”
Inna rolled her eyes as she folded the paper. “Yes, Mama. I know how to look out for myself, and I’m not stupid.”
“I know you’re not.” I patted her hand. “But you are my friend, and I want you safe.”
A rare pink tinged her cheeks, and she glanced away. “How are you dealing with The Donut Hole being closed?”
I groaned. “I will only reveal this to you, but I’m tempted to go down there and supervise the remodeling to be sure Peony’s workers are on schedule.”
Inna shook her head, amusement in her gaze. “Dude, you have an addiction. Maybe we should search this paper for DA.”
“Haha.” I waggled a finger at her. “Well, you have to admit it was a better job for you there than here. You liked harassing the customers.”
“Frank called it harassment. I called it keeping the brain juices flowing.”
“Yours or theirs?”
Her reasoning escaped me, but with the mention of Peony’s husband, we both went quiet, thinking of the previous events. I didn’t care to rehash it even in my own mind.
“Dude, did you hear Susan is trying to sue her?”
“No! She’s not, is she?”
The door opened, and a customer wandered in, a man who looked like he might be from out of town. I don’t know how I knew he wasn’t from Briney Creek because it was for certain I didn’t know all fifteen thousand citizens. This man just didn’t have that air about him. His sports jacket had seen better days, frayed around the cuffs, and there was a sheen to his slacks from too many times beneath a hot iron with starch.
The man headed down an aisle, and to my surprise, Inna got up to follow him. In a bookstore, old or new, customers were encouraged to browse, even linger over books, reading some to be sure of whether they wanted to purchase. Was she following him just to have something to do?
A few minutes later, the man appeared at the end of a different aisle than the one he had entered. His shoulders a bit too wide for this particular passage, he half turned and made his way through then started for the door. Inna appeared and grabbed his arm.
“Hold it, loser,” she quipped and stretched out her hand. “Give it to me.”
“Inna,” I began.
The man’s eyes widened in alarm, shifted to annoyance, and then resignation. I watched curious as he dug into his jacket and pulled out a book to slap into Inna’s hand. She closed her fingers over the book and let go of the man’s arm as if it was soiled.
“Now get out of here before I call the cops.”
The man grumbled and said something rude before stomping from the shop. My mouth open, I clapped. “Wow, you’re a real asset to the store, Inna. How did you know he was going to steal?”
She shrugged. “He had that shifty kind of look to him.”
I scoured my mind to see if I thought the same thing and wondered if it wasn’t just coincidence that the man was a thief. From experience, I knew Inna tended to judge people on their looks, and the poor recipients were always found wanting. I put it down to her youth and critical personality. She was what she was, and I still adored her.
Inna slumped back into her seat behind the desk. “I’ve been telling Margie to put up a bell over the door. Isn’t that what all shops do? I mean, what if I’m in the john one day when someone comes in?”
I chuckled. “I guess you could lock the door and hang a sign that says back in five.”
“Hm, that’s an idea.”
“So Susan…?” I prompted.
She wrinkled her small nose. “She’s jealous her husband left that inheritance for his daughter and wants the court to force Peony to give it back. She says it’s rightfully hers. Never mind that she’s rich as God.”
“Hardly that rich,” I said without thinking.
“You know what I mean. Susan’s a b—”
“Yes, we know how
feel about her.”
Her lips curled to one side.
“I do feel sorry for Peony and her daughter, Sasha. Peony did wrong, but Sasha is innocent. She should be looked after. The inheritance is great and that Peony is using her part of it to realize her dreams of renovating The Donut Hole even better.”
“Well the little girl deserves help, but I hope Susan keeps acting like an idiot. Nobody in town likes her, and Pattie has even stopped talking to her.”
“Nope. Sweet Pattie, she always stuck by Susan even though Susan treated her like crap. Now, Susan’s running around Briney Creek trying to get people on her side.”
“What good will that do?”
Inna shrugged. “Don’t know, but she was talking to my mom about her problems. You know mom, always bright and bubbly. Enough to make you hurl.”
“Anyway, my mom told her not to begrudge Peony the gift and that if she’s generous, the universe will send her more. You know, the usual stuff her and my dad spout.”
My lip twitched. I did not want to laugh at John and Allie Kate behind their backs. One might have thought Inna would take after her parents at least a little in her outlook, being raised in their household. No, she was not only radically different, but she had little respect for their way of life. Then again, John and Allie Kate were free spirits, and in her own way, so was Inna.
“Did Susan accept what she said?” I had heard various versions of what was happening with Susan, but couldn’t be sure what the current situation entailed. While Inna no longer worked in a hub where many different people visited throughout the day, she still seemed to be in the know about town drama.