Mia Parker's restaurant-in-progress is the best shot Bailey's Cove has at survival. That is, until a two-hundred-year-old skeleton is unearthed on-site. It doesn't help that the investigatorsexy, guarded anthropologist Daniel MacCareyinstantly charms her to distraction. Add in rumors that the remains belong to a pirateand that his treasure might be buried nearby. Mia's trapped in the mystery that jeopardizes everything.
Despite the risks, Daniel can't resist offering to help Mia. Nor can he fight the attraction that reels him in. And working together, they may find a treasure better than any other .
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A startling thwack reached Mia Parker where she stood on an upended bright orange bucket, chipping away at eighty-year-old plaster.
"Holy crap. Oh, holy Jesus, save us!" Charlie Pinion's irreverent bellow buffeted her, and the pry bar she had been using clattered to the floor.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph." This cry from another, the ordinarily sane member of her construction crew, concerned her more than the first.
"Hey, what's going on back there?" She hopped down onto the old wooden floor and headed from the storefront section of the building toward the rear of her future dining room. The two areas were divided by a twenty-foot-long, four-foot-thick wall with open doorways on each end. Storage closets were tucked into the ends of the dividing wall. An odd arrangement, but the building was two hundred years old, so many opinions and various needs had altered the floor plan over the years.
Mia stopped in what was left of the doorway and tugged the dust mask from her face.
Charlie stood, posed like a burly statue, raised sledgehammer still clutched in his pudgy fists. He gaped at something his large body blocked from her view. Beside him scrawny Rufus Boothby slowly drew down his mask to tuck it under his neat red goatee.
The workers had demolished most of one closet and stripped the plaster, lath and support frame from the far side of the dividing wall. In the middle where the closets terminated stood a column of gray granite. Another oddity. There should be no column in that wall.
"Charlie!" Stella LaBlanc's excited shout came from the direction of the newly installed Women's Room in the hallway past the kitchen area. "Charlie, you big creep, I told you to wait 'til I got back."
She rushed out tugging at the zipper of her jeans as she sped across the room. "The treasure! You found the treasure! I knew it had to be"
The dark-haired woman threw up her arms as if to ward off something and skidded to a halt between the two men, her ponytail flipping forward over her shoulder. Then slowly she lowered her hands and leaned forward a bit. "Oh, wicked cool."
Mia tried not to get too excited about what this trio had found. Being their keeper, making sure they stayed on task, was practically a full-time job. Plus the residents of Bailey's Cove, Maine, had been searching for the treasure of the pirate Liam Bailey for two hundred years and no one had found a trace. She didn't expect that to change today.
Stepping up to the group, Mia followed their collective gape to the exposed column of rough granite, three feet wide and deep and taller than Charlie.
What the heck?
Then she saw the hole, waist highand inhabited.
Mia blinked and blinked again. No matter how many times she closed her eyes and opened them, she didn't see anything but hollow eye sockets staring out from a foot-wide gap where Charlie had knocked away the stone with a sweep of the big hammer.
"Holy Oh, my God. I can't believe it. You're right, Charlie. Holyercow." Her words fell into the silence as she gawked with the rest of them at what she could not possibly be seeing.
A skull. Inside the hole. A human skull, not that she was any expert, but it didn't seem all that hard to assume at that moment in time.
Light from a naked ceiling bulb bathed the dull brown skull, highlighting the emptiness where someone's brain used to be. Mia closed her mouth and looked up at Charlie.
Charlie let out a shuddering sigh and the heavy hammer hit the dusty floor with a sharp crack.
"Hey, Charlie, you really know how to find 'em," Rufus said, slapping his impossibly thin thighs, sending up a puff of dust.
"You gonna run away like you did when you found that rat?" Stella teased the big man.
"Wait, let me get your skirt and frilly apron," Rufus tossed out.
"You can't make me be a wench," Charlie almost squeaked out.
"Charlie, nobody's going to make you dress up like a wench for the restaurant opening. And hush, you guys. Leave him alone." Mia wanted to glare at the pair of hecklers, but all she could do was stare at the skull, a bit horrified herself.
Slowly Mia closed the distance between her and the column of stone and crouched for a better view.
Rufus, named well because of all his red hair, hunkered down beside her. "Hey, boss, not much of a treasure, heh?"
"There's a body in the wall of my new restaurant."
"Seems appropriate for a place that's gonna be called Pirate's Roost. Nice and creepy," Stella added.
Creepy was right. Mia shrugged off the feeling.
"You suppose anyone wondered where he went when he didn't come home?" Rufus asked with a chuckle that sounded more like bravado than anything else.
"Come on. Somebody died. Let's have a little respect." Mia knew this skeleton was going to cause her all sorts of trouble with the remodeling, more delays, more cost, but it was a person, after all.
"Died a hundred years ago if you ask me," Rufus muttered, straightening and stepping away. "Wall's probably been here that long."
The building had been part of the frenzied construction that went on during Maine's early statehood and incomplete records had the building as a hotel. The only available plans for the building did not show this wall or the closets.
Mia looked from Rufus to Stella. "You two take Charlie and get out of here for a while."
"Good enough." Stella nodded back. "We're gone," Rufus added, tugging Charlie away with Stella's help. Murder? Mayhem? Death?
The skull looked old. Old bones were good, weren't they? She rubbed her plaster-coated hands on her dusty jeans.
"Rufus," she yelled after the fading voices of her workers, "call Chief Montcalm." The chief of police in Bailey's Cove for the last five years was a hands-on kind of guy, a real good law officer, and he'd want to know about this.
"Ah-yuh, boss" came the distant reply.
She stared into the hole.
Are you just a skull or a whole skeleton? If this was just a skull, maybe the column of rock was a sacred place, some beloved relative's shrine. Please don't let it be some murdered guy. She didn't have time for intrigue. She had a restaurant to open before the tourists began to head north; hungry tourists.
Inching closer, she leaned down again. Darkness filled the recess and made it impossible to tell if there was more than just the skull, and her flashlight didn't help much.
If she could just get a better look
She tugged a small chunk of loosened rock away with the tip of one finger. A prickle up the back of her neck made her look over her shoulder, sure the chief would be standing there, fists on his hips. When she saw she was still alone, she extracted another of the pieces Charlie's hammer knocked loose.
Through the enlarged hole, she could see there were other bones in the confines of the stone-and-mortar coffin, more of the skeleton. The column was a crypt.
Carefully, she placed the chunk on the f loor and straightened. "Sorry, buddy, whoever you are. I'm sorry you're in a wall. I hope it's just some kind of weird burial and that nothing evil happened to you."
Keep it simple. No muss. No fuss. Get the bones out. Get the demo finished. Get Pirate's Roost open and ready for the tourist flood in a few weekssix and a half, if she had her way, the first week in June. If that happened, she'd keep her shirt and her house, too.
And maybe the town of Bailey's Cove could capture a few of those tourist dollars to help plump up the coffers of the failing small town, population fourteen thousand and shrinking.
She jumped as her phone began to chime from her pocket.
"Hello, Monique. How's your day going?"
Her best friend since, well, practically birth, half of M&M, sighed big before she answered.
"Mrs. Carmody just left the shop." Monique huffed. "She wants to sue us because we can't get the stains out of her fake Persian rug. How about yours?"
"Nothing special. I have a skeleton."
"Don't we all. I told her she should keep the cat out of that room or at least change its food." Monique continued her thread about one of the dry-cleaning business's customers.
Mia chuckled. "Mrs. Carmody's lonely. Maybe she feeds the cat that food so she can haul her rug back in to you. She likes you."
"She could spill chocolate on one of her wool blazers or something." Monique paused and then let out a small shriek.
"What do you mean you have a skeleton? Of course you have a skeleton, but that's not what you're talking about, is it?"
"Turns out there's a column of granite in that dividing wall in my future dining room."
"And Charlie knocked a hole in the column."
"And he found a skeleton? A people skeleton?" Monique gasped exaggeratedly. "Who is it? How'd it get there?"
"I don't know any of that but it looks old. The granite's a crypt, a tomb, I guess."
"A tomb?" Monique swallowed loud enough for Mia to hear.
"Weird, huh?" Mia ambled out into the storefront area, lowered herself to sit in the dust and leaned back against the wall letting the sunshine filtering in through the dirty window warm her.
"You win," Monique said after a thoughtful pause. "I won't complain any more today. Any idea how he, she, it died? You find a musket ball or a hatchet or anything?"
"I don't even want to think about how this guy died.
It's all too"
"Spooky and gross," Monique said, concisely defining what Mia was feeling.
Mia rubbed at the dust on her forehead. "You probably called for a reason, Monique."
The sudden close blare of a siren wailed practically at the front door. Mia pushed up and brushed off her butt. "The chief is here."
"Don't hang up yet. I called because I wanted you to come over later. Granddad brought us a lobsta."
"I was planning to work until"
"Six-thirty. Be here by six-thirty-five."
"I'll be there." Mia would have stayed every night until she couldn't lift a hand or the pry bar if her friend didn't look out for her.
"I want all the details tonight. You and the chief have fun, now."
"Thanks for the dinner invite."
"Somebody's gotta keep you alive. We're depending on you, ya know. Bye."
Mia said goodbye, wondering if the undertone of melancholy in her friend's voice was real or coming from her own panicked emotional filter.
A moment later, the police chief and two officers strode in and her three workers came stumbling after. One officer stayed at the front door, the other headed straight for the back of the old stone-and-clapboard building.
Chief Montcalm marched toward her, a purposeful expression on his face. He looked about fifty years old. Steel-gray hair, penetrating dark eyes with salt-and-pepper brows, almost creaseless forehead, nose slightly crooked. Fetching in a middle-aged sort of way and hadn't changed an iota in his nearly five years he'd been in Bailey's Cove.
Mia straightened. His words felt like a command and she almost saluted, but tucked her curly shoulder-length light brown hair behind her ear instead.
"There's a skeleton in there." She pointed at the wall her crew had been demolishing.
The chief nodded as if he judged this source reliable, then gestured toward Stella, Rufus and Charlie. "You three, wait outside on the benches, and don't be flagging down passersby on Church Street to yammer at them about this."
The workers' faces fell in unison and Mia had to keep a smile to herself. She knew each one of them wanted to rocket off to their personal corner of the town to tell anyone who would listen what they had found. She was equally sure the chief didn't want any more people tramping through here, and the townsfolk of Bailey's Cove would invite themselves in and do a whole lot of tramping if they thought there was something interesting to see.
"Has anyone touched anything since Charlie's hammer?"
"Umer" He knew. How'd he know? She dipped her chin. "I moved a few pieces of stone so I could get a better look, but nobody touched the bones."
Chief Montcalm nodded and motioned with one swipe of his hand for her to follow. She hurried after him, grateful he'd deal with this matter decisively, no dithering. That should save time. She'd have everybody back to work, possibly as soon as a few hours.
The chief strode to the hole in the wall, crouched, un-clipped the flashlight from his belt and shined the beam in past the skull. After a moment, he stepped back and shook his head.
"What, Chief Montcalm?" Murder? Mayhem? Plague? She stopped her mind from rushing to the wild places.
"I know you're in a hurry to get this project completed, Ms. Parker, but I'm going to have to delay things until we have all we need from here."
"Ium. I understand." What could she say? This was a person in her wall. But how long would the delay be? A couple of hours? All day? She almost shuddered to think of what more work stoppage would do to the opening date. If she missed the first migration of tourists, she might never be able to keep the Roost open. If the Pirate's Roost didn't stay open, what would that say about Bailey's Cove as a place to visit. If the tourists didn't come, the town would continue to shrink and fade.
The chief stepped over to where she waited. "We can start processing the scene, but I want everybody out of the building while we get to work. We'll get you and your people back in here as soon as we can."
"Has the body been here a long time do you think?" Mia asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Most likely a long time because whoever did this used granite and not brick. Brick if it were easily available would have been a lot less work. You probably know this building's history better than I do."
She doubted that, but she knew he wanted her take. "The building was first built as a hotel and restaurant in around 1818 by the town's founder. It has been many things including abandoned for about two decades from the mid 1970s until '95 then it was a political headquarters. Recently, it was, of course, the yarn and crafts store. I don't know how long this wall's been here."