It’s winter in Keyhole Bay, Florida, and while the tourist trade is slow, souvenir shop owner Glory Martine is busy with her best friend’s wedding. But between managing preparations, the bride’s in-laws, and a haunted parrot named Bluebeard, Glory makes plans to catch a killer.
As her friends Karen and Riley approach their wedding day, Glory could use a break from the nuptial madness. She takes a peaceful drive to Alabama’s piney woods to pick up the wedding quilt she ordered from a supplier. But the supplier, Beth, has disappeared along with the quilt and her husband, Everett.
Glory learns that two men were found murdered near Beth and Everett’s home and that the couple is wanted for questioning. Believing they are innocent, Glory convinces them to cooperate with authorities. But when they’re thrown in jail, Glory vows to catch the real killer before one happy couple walks down the aisle and another gets sent up the river.
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I stood in the center of my small living room, struggling to remain motionless. I wore a dark green satin dress that clung to me in an unfamiliar way, and tottered on a pair of matching heels far higher than anything I had ever owned.
The sliding door to my miniscule balcony was open a crack, letting in a cool, late afternoon breeze. It was early November, and in the Florida Panhandle that meant seventy degree days. The temperature was dropping and I would have to close the door soon, but for now I welcomed the slight chill. It helped soothe my nerves, and I wasn’t the only one with an attack of nerves.
My furniture had been pushed back to clear the center of the room, and Keyhole Bay’s radio star, Karen “The Voice of the Shores” Freed, paced like a caged animal.
“Glory! Stand still,” Karen snapped. Normally I would find the contrast between her actions and her words amusing. But this wasn’t a normal day.
I sighed, not even trying to hide my exasperation. Ever since I agreed to be her maid of honor, my so-called best friend had started channeling every bad bride I’d ever seen. And as the owner of a gift shop in the Florida Panhandle, I’d seen plenty of them on “destination” weekends, bossing their bridesmaids around and generally acting like what my memaw called “donkeys in horses’ harness.”
“Seriously, Martine?” Karen said, her chestnut curls shaking in disbelief. “This poor woman is trying to mark the hem of your dress, and you can’t stop fidgeting.” She waved at her former and future mother-in-law, on her knees in front of me.
To her credit, Mrs. Freed just laughed. “Easy, Karen,” she cautioned. “Glory already did this for you once, if you’ll remember. Not many friends would do it twice.”
Karen reached down and hugged the older woman. “And not many women would be lucky enough to get you for a mother-in-law. Twice.” She took a deep breath and backed away. “I think I’ll go get us some coffee, okay?”
Mrs. Freed nodded, distracted by the heavy green satin that pooled around my ankles. “Go on,” she said around a mouthful of pins. “I’ll be finished by the time you get back.”
Karen shot me a last warning glance and hurried down the stairs that led from the small apartment to the gift shop below.
True to her word, Mrs. Freed finished pinning the hem and I was comfortably back in my jeans and polo shirt by the time Karen returned.
She carried a cardboard tray of paper coffee cups and a white bakery bag from Lighthouse Coffee next door. Setting the coffee on the kitchen table, she held the bag out to Mrs. Freed. “I really appreciate what you’re doing,” she said. “And Pansy says to tell you hello.”
Mrs. Freed opened the bag and sniffed appreciatively. “Lordy, that woman knows her way around a cruller, doesn’t she?” She took a shiny glazed twist and passed me the bag.
Still warm, the pastry was irresistible.
“Careful,” Karen commanded. “You still need to fit into that dress.”
“Do we really need to do all this?” I knew I was whining, but Karen’s wedding was still six weeks away. A lot could happen in that time.
“Glory!” Karen’s impatience with me was evident in her voice. “We had to book the church a year ago, and the florist wanted more than six months.
“Weddings take time,” she said, as though that was a real answer.
“They don’t have to,” I argued. “People get married without all this,” I searched for a description, and came up with one of Memaw’s favorites, “fuss and feathers.”
I knew better than to continue, but I couldn’t stop myself. “It’s only Monday. You and Riley could go to the courthouse tomorrow, get your license, and get married on Friday. Or we could get on a plane tomorrow morning, fly to Las Vegas, and you’d be married before suppertime.”
“And my mother would never forgive me.” She shook her head. “I did the no-fuss thing the first time I married Riley, remember? Maid of honor and best man as witnesses, with a justice of the peace. I think my mom was still holding a grudge when we got divorced. So we better do it right this time.”
I followed Karen and Mrs. Freed down the stairs to the shop. It was time for my assistant Julie to leave, and I had to relieve her.
We all hugged Mrs. Freed good-bye, then Julie dashed out to retrieve her toddler from Grandma. Anita Nelson doted on Rose Ann, and one of these days she hoped to retire and keep her only grandchild full-time. But that day wasn’t today, or likely very soon.
“Besides,” I continued once Karen and I were alone, “your mother is three thousand miles away.”
“Not for long,” she shot back. “She decided she’s needed, and she’s planning to come for a month before the wedding.”
“What about the latest stepdad? Doesn’t he have a say?”
“That’s the worst of it,” she moaned. “He’s coming with her! Remember she said he was some high mucky-muck in the Navy? He was in charge of that base up in Washington state or something like that. I figured that would keep them there.”
I just nodded. No sense trying to get a word in while Karen was on a roll.
“Well, he might be transferring to Pensacola.” She groaned. “Can you believe it? She wouldn’t just be in the same state, she’d be in the same county.”
Karen paced through the store, dodging around the merchandise shelves and T-shirt racks. I cringed as she waved her arms in distress, imagining a display of mugs and shot glasses crashing to the floor. To my amazement she managed not to knock anything over.
“@!^$#%%$#!!” The string of curses startled Karen, stopping her mid-rant.
“Sorry, Bluebeard,” she muttered.
Bluebeard ruffled his feathers and fixed one beady eye on her. He ruled the roost, and we all knew it.
The parrot had been here longer than any of us, after all. I’d inherited him with my 55 percent of Southern Treasures. Along with him, I’d inherited the ghost of Great-Uncle Louis Georges, the previous owner of my shop.
Uncle Louis had definite opinions about how things should be, and he sometimes used Bluebeard to express his disapproval. In fact, you could say Uncle Louis specialized in meddling in my life. A lot.
“Sorry,” Karen repeated, offering him a shredded-wheat biscuit from the tin underneath his perch.
The treat bought her a temporary reprieve from Bluebeard’s glare, and she turned back to me.
“I do want her to be happy,” she said. “Really. But can’t she be happy somewhere far away from me? Isn’t Admiral What’s-His-Name enough?”
“Is he really an admiral?” I asked. I didn’t think she’d ever told me anything about Stepdad Number Three, except that he was in the Navy.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “She met him a few months ago, and the next thing I knew she called me from Hawaii saying they got married on the beach.”
“So why can’t you do the same thing?”
Karen rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you been listening? I never had a ‘real’ wedding, according to her. She’s had two—three if you count the one on the cruise ship—and she didn’t want this one to be a big deal.
“Besides, if anyone is going to run off and get married, it should be Felipe and Ernie.”
She had me there. Our friends couldn’t get married in the state of Florida, though I hoped that would change someday. I raised one hand in surrender. “Do what you have to. I’ll do my part.” I thought for a minute before I continued. “But if I ever get married, Vegas is looking pretty good.”
Karen’s eyes narrowed. “Is there something you aren’t telling me? Something I ought to know?”
I shook my head. “No.”
I shook my head again. My relationship with Jake Robinson had become closer over the last year, but wedding plans were a long way off. I wanted to survive Karen’s wedding before I even considered the possibility.
And I’d meant what I said about Las Vegas; an elopement might be more my style.
By Thursday morning, I had shoved Karen’s question to a dark corner of my mind and slammed a heavy door on it. I didn’t want to think about anything wedding-related. I was spending the day with Jake, and I just wanted to enjoy our time together.
Julie was watching the store, and Jake had a clerk who could run Beach Books on a quiet weekday. We didn’t often get the same day off, but we’d planned this one several weeks ago.
We headed north in my pickup. The truck was old, a 1949 Ford with a complicated history. Lovingly restored, the truck had once belonged to Uncle Louis, and had come “home” when my old Civic got torched. Elegant gold script on the doors and tailgate made it a rolling advertisement for my shop.
Besides, it was just darned cool to ride around in.
We took the back roads between the fields of scattered farms, and past the crossroads gas stations and tiny stores. Our pace was slow, but it felt right. Driving the vintage truck on the old farm roads felt like we’d gone back sixty years, as long as you ignored the occasional satellite dish and the signs that read “Speed Limit Enforced by Aircraft.”
“Is the quilt supposed to be ready?” Jake asked as we neared the Alabama border.
“I’m not sure,” I answered, watching for the brightly painted fence that marked the turnoff.
The fence stood out in an area of dusty split rails and sagging wire. I didn’t know why the owner kept the posts and rails painted in rainbow hues, but I appreciated the landmark.
I turned off the two-lane highway onto a dusty road that wound through the trees. “Beth told me to check after the first of the month.”
“You could have called her,” he said.
“Yeah, but where’s the fun in that?” I shot him a quick grin before turning my attention back to the winding dirt track. I tried not to think about what the dust was doing to my beautiful truck. I’d wash her just as soon as we were back in Keyhole Bay.
“Besides,” I said, slowing for yet another curve, “this way I get to do some treasure hunting on the way back.”
From the corner of my eye, I could see Jake’s nod. “As long as I get lunch,” he teased. He’d seen me stash a picnic hamper behind the seat before we left.
I laughed. “You had Pansy fill your thermos with coffee, and I know there were at least three muffins in that bag when you got in the truck.” I gestured at the crumpled white pastry bag in the litter sack hanging from the radio knob. “I only ate one of them.”
He quickly changed the subject. “Are you sure it’s okay to just drop in?” He gestured out the windshield at the empty road. Trees closed in on either side, forming a shield for houses hidden down narrow dirt paths. The only evidence of human habitation was the occasional dilapidated mailbox at the side of the road. “Doesn’t look like the kind of place where visitors show up unannounced.”
“She’s expecting me,” I said, with more confidence than I felt. The truth was that we had settled on a date, but when I’d called Beth to remind her of my visit, I’d just gotten her voice mail.
She hadn’t returned my call, or the two others I’d made in the last couple days. Which made me more determined to check up on her. I’d made a sizeable deposit on the wedding quilt Jake and I had commissioned for Karen and Riley, and the wedding date was fast approaching.
I slowed to a crawl, watching for Beth’s mailbox on the right. I spotted it, a tin box painted like a log-cabin quilt on a carved wood post, and turned down the washboard driveway.
Around a sweeping curve about a quarter mile off the road, we spotted the weathered cottage. I didn’t see Beth’s car, but since they only had one, it was possible her husband had taken it somewhere.
“What do they do out here?” Jake asked, swiveling his head to take in our surroundings.
The cottage, little more than a clapboard shack, sat in a clearing surrounded by scrub pine, live oak, and several other species of trees I didn’t immediately recognize. A few yards from the cottage stood a low shed, several times larger than the house. The wide doors of the shed were closed and locked with a heavy padlock. Next to the shed, an oil drum hinted at the presence of a generator, a common sight in the backwoods where power lines didn’t reach.
“Whatever makes them happy.” I shrugged. “She sews and quilts for cash, and he makes furniture. They have a garden around back, grow a lot of their own food. I think they even keep a few chickens for eggs. They told me they wanted to get ‘off the grid’ and live off the land. All very romantic and idealistic.” I smiled and added, “Which is great when you’re twenty.”
Jake chuckled. “You mean you don’t want to go back to the land? Get away from it all?”
“From what?” I shot back. “Indoor plumbing? Air-conditioning? The best coffee in the Panhandle right next door?” I shook my head. “I was born in the twentieth century for a reason.”
I looked toward the cottage, wondering why no one had emerged to greet us. Beth must have heard us drive up.
I stuffed the keys in my pocket and opened the door. “Maybe we better go find Beth,” I said. “So we can get back to civilization and find you some food before you starve.”
Jake followed me up onto the front porch. I knocked on the door and waited, but no one answered. I knocked again, and called out, “Beth! It’s Glory Martine. You around?”
We waited a few minutes more, knocking and calling without any response. We left the porch and walked around the cabin. Maybe Beth and Everett were out in the garden, though I couldn’t imagine why they hadn’t heard us, or answered our calls.
Something moved in the woods beyond our view, and I jumped. It was faint, little more than the rustle of leaves, but there was no wind. Undoubtedly an animal, probably a deer startled by our intrusion, or a cat looking for a way into the henhouse.
Whatever it was, I was getting spooked over nothing.
Finally, I had to admit the place was deserted. I even checked the front door, but like the shed, it was firmly locked, and curtains were drawn closed over all the windows.
We climbed back in the truck and Jake looked at me. He raised his brows in question, but waited for me to speak.
“She knew I was coming. We set this up several weeks ago.” I tried not to sound defensive. “Something must have come up.”
Jake nodded, one corner of his mouth quirked up in the hint of a grin. “Clearly,” he said. “Looks like we aren’t going to pick up a quilt today. So how about we find a place to eat and go gather some treasures?”
I was reluctant to leave without finding Beth, but I had to admit I had no idea where else to look. There weren’t any close neighbors, and the couple had only been here a year or so, not long enough to make many friends in this isolated area. Besides, as Jake had pointed out, this wasn’t a place to just go wandering onto someone’s property.
Without a reason to stay, I started the truck, turned around in the hard-packed clearing, and headed back the way we’d come, along the dirt road. We hadn’t seen another vehicle the entire time we were off the highway, which was probably just as well since the road was too narrow for two cars to pass each other.
We reached the county road and turned back toward the highway.
Once on the highway, we found a small park with just a few parking spaces and a couple picnic tables. Exactly what we needed. Jake hauled the hamper to a table near a stream and we unpacked our lunch.
The picnic hamper looked as old as the truck, but with the help of some very modern gel packs, it kept the potato salad and fried chicken properly cool.
Jake let out a low whistle as he took the chicken out of the hamper. “This is homemade, right?”
I bristled with fake indignation as I spread an oilcloth cover on the rough wood table. “Of course it is! Would I serve any other kind?”
He grinned and continued setting out our feast. In addition to the chicken and potato salad, I’d packed a small fruit salad, a jug of sweet tea, and fresh cookies.
“I have to admit,” I said, putting the plate of cookies on the table between us, “these are Miss Pansy’s cookies. I’m a good cook—”
“You’re a great cook,” Jake interrupted.
I shrugged. “Even so, my cookies don’t come anywhere near hers. With something that good right next door, it seems foolish not to take advantage of her talents.”
As we ate, we watched the sparse traffic speed by on the highway. “Where to from here?” Jake said, helping himself to another one of Miss Pansy’s cookies. “I’ve never actually been treasure hunting with you before. I don’t know how this works.”
“There are a few places I usually stop,” I explained as I collected the remains of lunch. “I’ve got a little network of folks who watch jumble sales and flea markets for me, and a couple quilters like Beth. I’ve spent years developing my contacts all over the Panhandle.”
“And you’re taking me to meet them?” Jake asked as he stowed the hamper back in the truck. “I’m honored.”
“You should be,” I answered, climbing back behind the wheel and starting the engine.
We wandered the back roads around the north end of the county, past tiny ponds and wide pastures, and along muddy creeks. Treasure hunting was one of my favorite pastimes, cruising slowly down an unmarked country road and stopping to visit with the suppliers who had become friends over the years.
There were stories of children and grandchildren, births and deaths, marriages and separations. We drank what felt like gallons of lemonade and sweet tea, and the pickup bed slowly filled with vintage kitchenware and knickknacks that would keep my shelves and my website stocked for several months.
The sun dipped low on the horizon as we headed south after a mostly successful trip. Jake took over driving once we were back on familiar roads, and I leaned back in the passenger seat, pleasantly tired from the day, glad I didn’t have to cook dinner.
Thursday nights I took turns cooking with my three best friends: Karen, Felipe, and Ernie. For the past several months, we’d been including Jake and Riley, though we hadn’t officially expanded our group. Tonight was Ernie’s turn, and I was looking forward to good food and good friends.
All in all, a pretty great day. We’d be home in time to unload the truck and close up our shops before dinner. The only bad thing was that I still didn’t have the quilt.
I’d tried to call Beth before we headed south, but once again it just went to voice mail. I told myself not to worry; cell service was notoriously spotty in the rural area around the border, and we still had a month or more before the wedding.
Everything would be fine.
Jake stopped on the side street behind Southern Treasures and backed the truck into the parking area, carefully lining the bed up with the back doors. For a guy who could back a forty-foot fire truck down an alley, it wasn’t even a challenge.
I unlocked the back door into the storage area. We carried in stacks of vintage spatterware and were headed back for more when Julie called for me to come up front.
Jake waved me away, saying he’d finish unloading, so I hurried up front to the retail area. Julie was waiting for me with a worried expression. “Bradley Whittaker’s been looking for you all day,” she said. “He won’t tell me what it’s about, just that he needs to talk to you right away.”
Pansy Whittaker, the Miss Pansy who’d baked my picnic cookies, owned Lighthouse Coffee next door to my shop. Bradley, her oldest son, visited his mother regularly. I knew him well enough to say hello, but I couldn’t imagine what was so important that he wouldn’t tell Julie.
She was right to look worried.
“Tell Jake I’m next door,” I said. “I assume that’s where Bradley is?”
Julie nodded and I dashed out the front door.
Next door the shop was open, but there were no customers. The familiar smell of fresh-baked bread filled the small dining area. Bradley was behind the glass bakery case, deep in discussion with Chloe, the barista. He saw me come through the door and waved me over.
Chloe turned to look at who had come in. Her appearance sent a wave of shock through me. Her usual cheery expression was somber, and her red-rimmed eyes made it clear she’d been crying. She broke away and ran toward me.
“It’s okay, Glory,” she choked out between renewed sobs. “Everything’s really okay.”
I hugged her and patted her on the back, concern growing with every reassurance she sobbed out. Clearly everything was not okay, despite what she said.
“What? What’s okay, hon?”
I looked over her head, buried in my shoulder, to Bradley. He was nodding, as though in agreement with Chloe, but I wasn’t convinced.
He came a few steps closer, his expression serious. “Mom’s in the hospital,” he said. “The doctor is calling it a ‘cardiac event,’ whatever that is. Says he wants her to stay for a few days, have some tests.”
Chloe pulled away and raised her tear-stained face. “We were making scones, like we do most mornings. She turned kind of gray and slumped over.” She drew a deep, shuddering breath. “I thought she was—” She stopped, as though giving voice to her fears would make them too real.
“You did great, Chloe,” Bradley said, smiling kindly at the distraught girl.
He looked back at me. “She called the paramedics and did exactly what they told her to. Wouldn’t let Mom get up and go back to work, even though she tried.”
I felt a smile lift the corners of my mouth. I could see Pansy doing exactly that. But a tiny eighty-something woman wouldn’t have been much of a match for the sturdy young college student with a stubborn streak a mile wide.
Bradley apparently had the same thought, and a flash of amusement lit his eyes for a moment. “The doctors tell me they think she’ll be fine, but she needs to slow down.”
“I’ve been telling her that,” Chloe sniffed. “But she won’t listen to me. Thinks I can’t manage without her.”
“You can’t, honey. Not as long as she carries all those recipes in her head,” I reminded her.
Chloe gave me a look I couldn’t fathom, but before I could ask her anything more, Bradley spoke again.
“I’ve spent most of the day with Mom,” he said. “It took a lot of time and persuasion, but with the doctor’s help, I have managed to convince her it’s time to retire.”
His announcement caught me by surprise. I’d begun to think Miss Pansy was going to work until the day she dropped over dead in her kitchen. Which she’d apparently come close to doing today.
“She had some reservations,” he said without irony. “And she insisted I had to talk to you before anyone else.
“Miss Gloryanna, Mom would like to know if you’re interested in buying Lighthouse Coffee.”
I knew the answer without any thought. Of course I was interested. What I didn’t know was how I could possibly pay for it. Even with the money I’d put aside to buy out my cousin Peter’s 45 percent of Southern Treasures, I wouldn’t have nearly enough.
“Uh, well. Wow!” I stalled, trying to figure out how to answer Bradley. “I, um, I hadn’t really thought about it,” I lied. I’d thought about it, all right. Just not in terms of it happening anytime in this decade.
“Can you, um, can I take a little time to think this over?”
He frowned, and I hurried on before he had a chance to say no. “This is pretty sudden. There’s so much to think about, like how I could even run both places, and how much Miss Pansy wants me to pay, and if I even know enough to run a coffee shop.
“But I guess if all you’re asking is if I’m interested, well, then the answer has to be yes. Yes, I would be interested.”
Chloe grabbed my arm and held on like a drowning woman clinging to a life ring. “I’ll help, Glory! There’s lots I can do, I promise! I can work for you and run the place and you won’t have to do everything yourself. I’ll even come in early and do the baking—”
“That’s another thing,” I interrupted her torrent of words to address Bradley again. “This place is worth a lot more if whoever buys it has Pansy’s recipes.”
Again the funny look from Chloe, but I dismissed it. The girl was still so shook up from the events of the day that there was no telling what was going on in her head.
“A few days,” Bradley said. “But I’m afraid I can’t wait much longer than that. Every day that goes by is a chance for Mom to change her mind and insist on coming back to work. And we are very much afraid that if she comes back, we will never get her out again.”
His eyes misted up and he swallowed hard. “I know how much she loves this place, and how much she enjoys coming in here every day. I love my mom, and I hate like hell—pardon my language—to take that away from her. But if I don’t, this place will kill her, sure as anything.”
I nodded. “Give me the weekend,” I said. “I should be able to give you an answer by Monday.”
I put my hand over Chloe’s, still clinging to my arm. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay? For now, you need to close up and go get some rest.”
She shook her head. “I have to go see Miss Pansy first. She told me to mind the shop while she was gone today, and I need to let her know everything’s being taken care of.”
Bradley managed a weak smile. “She’ll rest better knowing things are under control, even if she doesn’t really believe us,” he said.
“How about you?” I asked him. “Are you okay?”
“We all knew this day was coming,” he answered. “Mom’s nearly ninety, and the doctors say she’ll see a hundred if she takes care of herself. We just have to convince her to do that.”
His expression was still serious, but he looked calm and a lot less worried than Chloe. Of course, he hadn’t been there when his mother collapsed, either.
“We’re going to close up here and head for the hospital,” he continued. “My brother’s there now, with the rest of the family. Mom insisted I come back here and wait for you.”
I nodded. “Please keep me posted on her condition,” I said. “And tell her I send my love.” A thought occurred to me as I headed for the door. “Is she here?” I asked. “Or in Pensacola?”
“Bayside Hospital in Pensacola,” he replied. “Her doctor said they have the best cardiac unit in the area.”
My heart was racing as I walked back to Southern Treasures. I accepted Bradley’s assurance that Miss Pansy would be okay, but the rest of his news had my head spinning. How could I possibly buy Lighthouse Coffee while Peter still owned 45 percent of Southern Treasures?
Having my meddlesome cousin as a partner had its drawbacks. Like his continual attempts to tell me how to run the store. Peter had a master’s degree, which he thought made him an expert on absolutely everything, including retail, which he’d never worked in his life. His degree was in mechanical engineering, and he held an important position—according to him—with a firm in Montgomery, a hundred miles from Keyhole Bay.
Even so, he thought he should tell me how to run Southern Treasures.
I’d worked in the store since I was a teenager. I’d laid off my last hired manager many years ago and I ran the place by myself. Peter got a check every month for his share of the profits, which I considered a clear signal that I was doing all right without his interference.
But could I buy Lighthouse and run it as a separate business? And if I somehow managed to find the rest of the money I needed, how would I ever get rid of my not-so-silent partner?
“I thought you were never coming—” Julie stopped midsentence as she caught sight of me. The bantering tone in her voice disappeared, and she came around the counter to put her arm around me.
“Glory? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. What did Bradley want that has you so upset?”
I tried to ignore her choice of words. I hadn’t told Julie about Uncle Louis. She still brought Rose Ann into the store from time to time, and I wasn’t sure how happy she would be, knowing there was a ghost living here.
“I’m okay,” I said, shrugging out from under her arm. “But Miss Pansy’s in the hospital.”
Her hand flew to her mouth, and her blue eyes opened wide. “Oh my goodness! What happened? Is she going to be okay?”
Jake came through the door from the storage area just in time to hear her last question. “Is who going to be okay?”
“Miss Pansy,” I said.
I locked the door and turned the sign from “Open” to “Closed” before I explained what had happened. “She collapsed this morning while she and Chloe were baking,” I said. “Chloe called 9-1-1 and the ambulance took her down to Pensacola. To Bayside. Bradley said they called it a ‘cardiac event,’ and they say she’ll be fine.”
“You didn’t hear the sirens?” Julie asked.
I thought for a moment. “I hear the sirens every time,” I said. “Nearly every emergency call goes right down the road outside my door.” I gestured toward the highway that formed the main drag of Keyhole Bay. “After enough years, it just becomes part of the background noise.”
I shook my head. “I might have heard them this morning, but I can’t remember.”
Julie glanced at the clock. “I hate to run off, but if you don’t need me, I better get going. Mom’s expecting me to pick up Rose Ann. You’ll keep me posted if there’s anything we can do?”
I shook my head. “No reason for you to stay. I’ll call you if I hear anything.” I waved her toward the door. “You need to get home.”
Once Julie was gone, I shooed Jake out to go close up the bookstore. Julie’s mention of the time had reminded me we had plans for the evening. “Don’t forget, we still have to be at Ernie’s for dinner at seven.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said, kissing me quickly before heading out the door.
I locked the door behind him and began the routine of closing up for the night. As I tidied the shelves and checked the stock, I thought about Bradley’s—well, Miss Pansy’s—offer.
“What do you think, Bluebeard?” I said as I cleaned his cage and gave him fresh water. “Do you think we ought to buy the place next door? Even if it means we can’t get rid of Peter as soon as I hoped?”
“Buy it.” The voice wasn’t Bluebeard’s, but Uncle Louis’s.
The first time I’d heard that voice as an adult, it had scared me silly; but I’d eventually become accustomed to Uncle Louis’s habit of using Bluebeard as his spokesbird. Now it held a strange kind of comfort.
Especially when he validated my own choices.
In the storeroom, I opened the small refrigerator to retrieve some cut melons for Bluebeard. He loved fruit, and I always gave him an extra treat when I’d been away for the day.
In the fridge I found the leftovers from our picnic. Jake had unpacked the hamper and put the food away. I smiled to myself as I dished out the leftover fruit salad.
Jake was definitely a keeper.
I shoved the thought away. There were a lot of other things I had to worry about right now. My relationship with Jake Robinson belonged back in that far corner, locked away for the time being.
The man himself was waiting at the front door when I returned. I let him in before I put the fruit in Bluebeard’s cage.
I was rewarded with a head butt before the parrot hopped over to the bowl. “Buy it,” he repeated, then turned his back on me and concentrated on the food.
“Buy what?” Jake asked as we made our way through the storeroom. He had spent enough time in the store to recognize the voice, just as I had. “What was he talking about?”
“Lighthouse,” I said. “I’ll explain when we get to Felipe and Ernie’s,” I promised. “That way you won’t have to listen to the story twice.”
Jake’s car was parked on the side street behind the store. “I thought I’d offer to drive tonight since you had to do most of the driving today.”
“Thanks.” I climbed in the passenger side without protest. Truth be told, I hadn’t been looking forward to more time behind the wheel, even if it was only five minutes each way.
Everything in Keyhole Bay was only five minutes from anywhere else in town. Except in summer, when the tourist traffic jammed the main drag and doubled or tripled drive time. Then the locals stayed off the highway, wound around back roads, and cut through residential neighborhoods that visitors didn’t know existed.
As he pulled away from the curb, Jake teased, “How am I supposed to think I’m special, if you don’t tell me first? How can I lord it over the rest that I already knew?”
“You think you’re special?” I teased back.
“I do,” he said. “Think about it. I know about Uncle Louis—who likes me, by the way. I helped you figure out how you could buy out Peter. I get invited to dinner with your secret club”—he pointed to the house as we pulled up in front of Felipe and Ernie’s.
“It’s not a secret club,” I protested. “Just a bunch of friends who have dinner together once a week.”
He parked the car and turned to look at me, his expression clearly skeptical. He leaned over and kissed me rather thoroughly. “And then there’s that,” he added.
I took a shaky breath. Yeah, there was that.
“Okay,” I said. My voice quavered a little, and I laughed nervously, trying to lighten a suddenly serious moment.
“Bradley wanted to deliver a message from his mother. Miss Pansy wants to know if I’m interested in buying Lighthouse Coffee.”
Jake gave a huge grin and started to say something. I held up my hand to stop him.
“He said I could have a few days to think about it, but only a few. I promised him an answer by Monday.”
“Of course you’ll buy it! Why wouldn’t you? It’s a wonderful opportunity.” The grin returned. “Even Uncle Louis said so.”
I shook my head. “I told Bradley I was interested, but there are a lot of things I need to consider.”
I looked out in time to see Karen and Riley climb out of Riley’s truck. They stopped at the back of the truck, looking expectantly at us.
“We can talk about this over dinner,” I promised.
Jake took my hand and gave it a squeeze. “We’ll figure this out,” he said.
“I hope so,” I said cautiously. I wanted to believe him, but I knew there were a thousand ways it could go wrong.
The heavenly fragrance of Ernie’s cooking greeted us the minute Felipe opened the door.
Riley took a deep breath and sighed. “Oh, my! What’s on the menu tonight? Smells wonderful, whatever it is.”
Felipe welcomed each of us with a hug, collecting jackets, caps, and purses in the process. By the time he was done, the pile in his arms touched his chin.
Jake and Riley both offered to help, but he turned them down. “I’ll just put these on the bed in the guest room,” he said, disappearing down the hall.
The rest of us followed our noses to the kitchen. Ernie was the most committed cook in the group, and we always looked forward to his dinners.
“Whoa!” Karen stopped in the kitchen doorway. “What’s that?” She pointed at a giant stainless steel range.
A grin split Ernie’s face, his perfect teeth white against his dark skin. “Isn’t she a beauty?”
He gestured toward the huge appliance like a spokesmodel on a game show. Dressed in jeans that looked like they’d been made for him and a white oxford-cloth shirt with the sleeves rolled up to expose the chiseled ebony of his forearms, Ernie had managed to cook something redolent of tomato and garlic while keeping his clothes spotless. With his slender build and elegant posture, he probably could have been a model.
“It’s really . . . big,” Riley said.
“Yep.” Ernie’s grin grew wider, if that was possible. “Went to an estate sale last week—a retired chef from up north—looking for inventory.” With his partner, Felipe, Ernie owned Carousel Antiques. They carried high-end furniture and collectibles, and Ernie was a savvy shopper when it came to estates and auctions.
“This is in your kitchen,” I pointed out. “I don’t think that qualifies as inventory.”
“You furnish your place with inventory from your store,” he reminded me.
He had me there. Most everything in my small apartment had come in through Southern Treasures, sure. But I had plates and bowls, and the occasional lamp or kitchen chair.
“Not a bazillion-dollar stove,” I protested.
“That’s what made this so great,” Felipe said, coming back from depositing the coats. “Nobody wanted to move this sucker.”
“I could see why,” Riley said quietly.
“But we do this stuff all the time. Have a regular crew we hire for the big jobs. So we were able to buy it for about ten cents on the dollar, and Ernie has his Christmas present early.”
Jake whistled. “You ever want to get rid of it, the guys at the fire hall will take it off your hands.” As a member of the volunteer fire department, Jake was always on the lookout for ways to improve the station.
Ernie had gone back to stirring the pot that was giving off the spicy, tomatoey smell of something decidedly Cajun.
He gestured at the steaming pot. “Tonight I made gumbo, the way my granny made it.”
Ernie paused, looking at the simmering concoction. “Well, the way Granny would have made it if she’d had more than just what Pop-Pop caught that morning.”
He stopped himself, as though he had revealed more than he’d intended to. “Anyway, this is chicken, sausage, and seafood. It still needs to simmer for twenty minutes or so. But if you’re hungry”—he opened one of the many oven doors on his new range with a flourish—“we have boudin balls and fried okra.”
He deftly transferred the bite-size pieces to a platter and placed it on the elegant teak dining room table. Their shop might tend toward ornate antiques, but at home both Felipe and Ernie were definitely midcentury modern, and the expansive dining room set was one of their treasures.
The sizzling bits of boudin sausage and cornmeal-dusted okra were an instant hit. We scooped them onto colorful pottery plates and added dipping sauces from the array Ernie provided.
Just like every other Thursday, conversation centered around the food for the next hour as we settled at the table and tasted the night’s offering. Ernie kept the meal simple: steamed long-grain rice as a base for his spicy gumbo, sweet tea, and French bread and butter.
“Now I know we’ve had the argument time and again about what is and isn’t traditional Southern cooking,” Ernie said. “But it’s been a while, and I want all y’all to think about this: We’ve been doing traditional every week for a couple years. A hundred meals or more.”
There was a murmur of assent around the table. It was getting harder with each passing week to find new dishes, or new ways of preparing old ones.
“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Karen said, nodding. “That’s a lot of meals.”
“I agree with Ernie,” I said. “It’s almost impossible to find something we haven’t done several times already.”
“I don’t know what we want to do instead,” Ernie said. “But Felipe and I have been talking this over, and we think it’s time for a change.”
“Maybe we can each try a different theme,” Karen suggested. “Ernie likes to do Cajun and Creole—and judging by tonight’s meal, I’d be happy to have him do more.”
She glanced at Riley. “We could always do fish, depending on what Riley brings home from his latest trip.” It was a safe bet; Riley owned a commercial fishing boat.
“We don’t have to decide right now,” Felipe said. “In fact, we don’t have to make any decision. We can just do what we like for a while, and see what happens.”
“Sure,” I said. “As long as we don’t let Freed go back to pizza.” I grinned at my best friend. Her lack of kitchen prowess had been a running joke for years.
“You will notice,” she said, “the quality of the food at Chez Freed has greatly improved over the years.”
“I’ll vouch for that,” Riley said, drawing laughs from around the table. “You wouldn’t believe what used to pass for dinner when we got married.
“The first time,” he added hastily, in response to an elbow in the ribs.
“How are the wedding plans going?” Ernie asked.
Karen, always happy to talk about the wedding, launched into a story about her latest encounter with the caterer. But talk of the wedding reminded me of the missing quilt, and the missing quilter.
I couldn’t very well tell the whole story in front of Karen and Riley—the quilt was a gift for them, after all—but I could tell my friends about the mystery that had dropped into my lap.
Karen went on with her story about the caterer, and her problems with the wedding cake. “I wish,” she said with a sigh, “Pansy still did wedding cakes. I’d have her do it in a heartbeat.”
Next to me, Jake groaned at the choice of words.
“What?” Karen said.
“Just, well”—Jake looked at me. “You want to explain?”
I nodded and quickly filled my friends in on the developments at Lighthouse Coffee. Karen flinched when I told them Miss Pansy had a “cardiac event.”
“So,” I concluded, “Bradley says they have convinced Miss Pansy to sell, and she wanted me to have the first chance at the shop.
“I really, really want to,” I went on, “if I can just figure out how to make it work. The biggest hurdle is going to be the money.”
That shouldn’t have been news to them; they all knew that every penny I could pinch was going into my Buy-Out-Peter Fund.
Felipe and Ernie exchanged a glance, and I saw Ernie nod slightly. Felipe turned to me. “Southern Treasures and Carousel are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “Ernie and I have been kicking around the idea of offering to buy out part of Peter’s interest for a while now.” He shrugged. “We already cooperate on buying inventory. You call me when something is too big for Southern Treasures, and we send people to you when their items don’t fit our shop.
“Maybe it’s time we talked about some kind of partnership.”
Stunned didn’t being to describe how I felt. Felipe and Ernie were among the best businessmen in town, and two of only a handful that I trusted completely.
“Maybe it is,” I said slowly. “But I wouldn’t want the business to interfere with our friendship.”
Felipe nodded. “Agreed.”
“I don’t have much time,” I reminded him. “Bradley wants an answer on Monday.”
Jake chuckled. “You have your answer, Glory, and you know it. You want Lighthouse. The only question is how we do that and buy out Peter.” He put his arm around me and gave me a reassuring hug. “All that’s left is the arithmetic.”
His use of the word “we” was still reverberating in my head when Karen spoke up. “So,” she said, “do you want to do a wedding cake?”
The group erupted in laughter, the serious moment past.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Haunted Souvenir Shop Mysteries
"Author Christy Fifield creates the kind of characters that stay with you for a long time...Delightful amateur sleuth Glory Martine is back with her wisecracking parrot and charming group of friends in this thoroughly entertaining adventure. Don’t miss it."—Julie Hyzy, national bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and the White House Chef Mystery series
"Definitely a series that's a promising addition to the 'cozy' genre."—Once Upon a Romance
"I will definitely be reading more of the series.”—Novel Reflections
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Christy Fifield returns to Keyhole Bay, Florida and Glory Martine's souvenir shop, in the latest Haunted Souvenir Shop mystery, Murder Ties the Knot. Fans of the series will love Karen and Riley's wedding, while keeping their fingers crossed that Beth and Everett stay out of jail in this one. Fifield's strength in this series is her zany cast of characters. Readers looking for a series that has both mystery and personality will love it! Southern Treasures is a quaint little shop in Florida, but it's winter time and business is slow, the perfect time for not only a wedding, but a murder mystery. Fifield has given her heroine, Glory Martine a bit of a break from murder, but it isn't long before she's back in business. I liked the fact that Fifield doesn't have Glory investigating one murder right after the other, sometimes in cozy writing you have to wonder how many murders are going to occur in one small town. Fifield seems to have a good grasp on just how far she can take that aspect of her writing without going overboard. Readers of the series have been waiting for Karen and Riley's wedding and they won't be disappointed. Glory has some interesting friends and family and it's always fun to check in with them and see what's going on. I liked all the wedding plans and details and Karen wouldn't be Karen without a little reporting on the side. I liked the fact that even though she was super busy, she still had time to help Glory investigate. With a double murder on her plate, you'd think Glory would be up to eyeballs in clues alone, but there is a lot more going on in Glory's life than just investigating. She's trying to buy out her lowly cousin Peter's part of her shop, she is trying to find the money to expand, all while trying to keep two innocent people out of jail. The personal aspects of the story are a real plus in this novel. It isn't all about the murder, it's about the lives of these characters as well. Always a good point in a cozy. The mystery part of the book was stellar. I liked how all the puzzle pieces fit together, even if you had to do a bit of searching and twisting to make them fit. Fifield always treats her readers to a well thought out mystery that will keep them guessing throughout. Just enough red herrings to keep them off the track and when you look back at the end you'll wonder why in the world you didn't see it! Bottom Line: Another great cozy offering from Christy Fifield. This an author with a bright future in the genre. She knows what readers want to know about. Not only the details of the crime, but the life of the heroine and those she interacts with. It's a great balance of mystery and personality that readers won't want to miss.
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