Authors: Lyndsey Cole
Tags: #General Fiction
A Hooked and Cooked Cozy Mystery Series
by Lyndsey Cole
Copyright © 2015 Lyndsey Cole
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author and/or publisher. No part of this publication may be sold or hired, without written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the writer’s imagination and/or have been used fictitiously in such a fashion it is not meant to serve the reader as actual fact and should not be considered as actual fact. Any resemblance to actual events, or persons, living or dead, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication / use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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, she wrote.
, she insisted. Or was the exact word
You’ll love living on the beach.
No exaggeration with that statement. Hannah Holiday couldn’t wait to leave the congestion of California. It certainly had its own crazy charm, but who wouldn’t choose to live on the beach over just about anywhere else? Many nights she imagined the salty ocean smell and the rhythmic crashing of waves lulling her to sleep. Now, she would smell and hear the real deal.
Hannah stood with her back to the crashing surf, hands on her hips, and surveyed the rundown, weathered cottages. Her Great Aunt Caroline sure did dump a mess in Hannah’s lap. And there wasn’t much she could do about it. No giving it back.
The contents of Caroline’s will were spelled out with every
crossed and every
dotted. Hannah couldn’t sell for at least one year. Caroline left enough money and more to pay the taxes and at least get started with renovations.
She was a shrewd one, that Great Aunt Caroline. She’d always wanted Hannah to help her with her business, and now with her death, Caroline figured out how to make it happen.
The front of the café, which wasn’t much more than a snack bar, was boarded up with plywood and the sign,
Caroline’s Café & Cottages
, hung precariously from one nail.
“You the new owner?”
Hannah spun around, her long braid swinging over her shoulder. “You startled me.”
“Hope you’re not planning on tearing the place down.” A man, not much taller than Hannah, stared at her with eyes the color of the ocean. “You’re not one of those big fancy city developers, are you?” His eyes slowly traveled from the top of her windblown hair to the flip flops on her feet. “No, I reckon not.” He pointed to her feet. “I hope you packed some warm socks in that backpack. It’s not even close to being summer here.”
Hannah bristled. Who was this guy asking her questions and telling her how to dress? For all she knew, he could be homeless and he was probably worried about losing squatters rights in one of the four cabins she was the reluctant new owner of. “And you are?” She puffed herself up, trying to look bigger than her five and a half foot, one hundred thirty pound self.
“Alton Jackson the Third,” he threw his shoulders back, “but folks around here call me Jack. I guess you can call me Jack, too.” His eyes squinted as he took a closer look at Hannah. “Caroline told me she had a great niece. Is that you?”
“You knew Great Aunt Caroline?” Hannah’s voice softened slightly.
“Sure did. Everyone in these parts knew her. And loved her, too. Or, at least, they loved her cafe. No one did up clam chowder the way Caroline did.” Jack gazed off into the distance and licked his lips. He must have been remembering the taste of something delicious. “She had a secret ingredient. I hope she left you her recipes along with this run-down mess.”
A loud crash made Hannah jump clear off the ground.
Jack chuckled a deep throaty, almost growling laugh. “Better get used to stuff falling down around here. That sign won’t be the last crash you hear unless you get busy right quick.” His eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to level these cottages, are you?”
“I can’t. Caroline left all this beauty to me with the condition that the only changes I make are to remodel, refurbish, and reroof what’s already here. Her exact wording.” Hannah swept her arms wide, indicating the four, one and two room cottages, and the tiny café.
Another chuckle emerged from deep inside Jack’s chest. “Sounds just like what she’d do. All those fancy types that showed up never managed to entice her even with the offer of millions for this spot. She didn’t care much about money. Yup, once she knew what they were after, she wouldn’t even sell them a bowl of clam chowder.” He laughed. “She ran a few of ‘em off with her shotgun. I don’t think she had a clue how to even load the darn thing but they could never be sure what she might do.” He pointed his gnarled finger at Hannah. “You best keep that shotgun handy, young lady.”
“Shotgun?” Hannah flinched at the thought of touching a gun.
“It doesn’t matter if you know how to use it but there’s one persistent fella that was comin’ round regular as clockwork. The owner of the Paradise Inn—Vern Mason. I haven’t seen him since just before your Great Aunt Caroline died, but you’ll know him by his polo shirt. He always wears a bright blue polo shirt, ocean blue he always said, khaki pants, and a black leather belt with an odd buckle. Looks like a wave. Said it made him look like he fit in but he stood out like a big fat swollen thumb with that New York accent of his.”
“You were good friends with Great Aunt Caroline?” Hannah asked, realizing she knew no one in Hooks Harbor now that Caroline was dead. Jack wasn’t exactly her type, more like the complete opposite—gruff and at least fifty years her senior with no tact whatsoever—but maybe he could introduce her to some locals. May was only five months away and she would need a lot of help to get the cottages ready to rent before the busy season started.
Jack’s eyes filled and he blinked several times. “Yes, you could say that. She was a special girl.”
Girl? Hannah never thought of her eighty three year old great aunt as a girl, but Jack appeared to be from that decade, too. It was all relative in the eyes of the beholder.
“Now, take some advice from me. What’s your name?”
“Hannah,” he said, more to himself, working the name through his memory bank. “Caroline did mention you. A lot. What took you so long to get yourself out here? You should have come to help before Caroline died. Would have made it a lot easier on you, ya know. And her for that matter.”
Hannah sighed and wiped a tear from her cheek. “I can’t go back and do it over now, can I? What’s the advice you were going to give me?”
He pointed to a small, tidy, grey-shingled house, barely visible down the road. “That’s my place. You come over anytime you need something. Any time of day or night. Don’t be bashful.”
Hannah’s head bobbed up and down and she smiled. “I’ll do that.”
“Okay then. Fix up that cottage for yourself.” He pointed to the biggest one sitting closest to the beach. “That’s the one Caroline lived in and there’s room enough for a single girl like you and an office space. And get a dog. You might not need that shotgun if you have a dog.”
“As a matter of fact, I have a beauty that would be perfect for you. Are you hungry?”
Hannah’s head spun trying to keep up with Jack’s jumbled conversation. The idea of tackling all the work to get the cottages and café up and running, adopting a dog, meeting the locals—where to start? And was she even ready for the challenge? “Breakfast sounds perfect.” She shouldered her backpack on and waited for Jack to lead the way.
“I didn’t say anything about breakfast.”
Hannah felt heat rise up her neck and spread over her pale cheeks.
Jack laughed a deep belly laugh. “Well, okay. Nellie will be happy for some company.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Hannah said with her hands up. “I can get myself some food in town.”
“Don’t be silly. The company will do us good. And between you and me,” he paused and lowered his voice, “the food at the Shipwreck Diner is hit or miss.” He turned toward his house and waved his hand, indicating she should follow. “Come on.”
Hannah jogged to catch up, her backpack over one shoulder, bouncing against her side. Jack’s house was surrounded by a white picket fence with the dried remains of hydrangea blooms against the grey weathered shingles of his house.
He opened the front door, holding it so Hannah could enter first. A wiggly puppy darted across the room, launching herself at Hannah’s legs.
Jack laughed. “Slow down Nellie, you’ll scare the poor girl away.”
Hannah, crouched at Nellie’s level, tilted her head back to look up at Jack. “This is Nellie?”
“Yeah, who were you expecting?”
“Oh. I thought Nellie was someone you lived with.”
Jack hung his jacket on the hook next to the door. “Nope. Just me and Nellie at the moment. It appears she’s taken a liking to you. She’ll be good company over at your new cottage. You take her out for a walk while I get the food cooking. You like omelets?”
Hannah was wondering what she was walking into but, whatever, it was time to go with the flow and get out of her comfort zone. “Omelet? Sure, sounds delicious. Do you need help?”
“Yup. Help with Nellie. Her leash is hanging next to the door. Now, take her outside before she pees all over the floor.”
Without another word, Jack walked into his kitchen just beyond the small living room Hannah stood in. She opened the door, letting Nellie run outside. Hannah watched the golden blur zoom around the yard, leaping and twisting in obvious delight at the freedom. Hannah attached the leash, opened the gate, and they headed up the street. In the opposite direction of her new home.
Hannah guessed Nellie’s age to be about four or five months. She was beyond the new puppy stage but was still a clumsy, uncoordinated teen with way too big feet. Nellie ran to the end of her leash toward a man walking on the opposite side of the road. He was completely engrossed in a conversation on his phone.
“I said I’d be there in a half hour,” Hannah overheard the man say just before he tripped and his phone flew from his hand. A string of curses followed.
Hannah quickened her pace trying to avoid any potential interaction with his anger. She and Nellie took a right turn down a quiet road with several small homes, then two more rights, ending up back on Ocean View Lane between Jack’s house and her newly inherited project.
Hannah heard the shriek of a smoke alarm when she got to Jack’s front door. The scent of burnt toast accosted her nose.
“Are you okay?” she yelled on her way to the kitchen.
Jack pulled the batteries from the alarm, silencing the deafening screech.
“Breakfast is ready,” he announced, ignoring her question as if this was a normal occurrence.
Two places were set at the small, round kitchen table. Mismatched plates held a mess of what was supposed to be an omelet with triangles of black toast on either side.