A bleeding man. Fleeing customers. This isn’t what our heroines expected in Blue Harbor, Maine.
Screaming customers shoved past us, stepping over the bleeding man and rushing from the shop. Soon, the store was empty except for Jonathan, Eric, and us. Bella sat frozen on a stool, her hazel eyes round as saucers. Scarlett backed away until her back hit a pink booth. I shivered as I watched the blood spread around the body and across the white-tiled floor.
Jonathan jumped over the counter and raced to the young man dying on his floor. He yelled over his shoulder, “Call an ambulance.”
“I will.” Bella fumbled with her handbag. “What should I tell the police?”
“He’s bleeding to death,” Scarlett said, her face white from shock.
“They cut his throat.” Jonathan came to his feet, staring at his bloody hands. “It’s too late.”
“They?” I asked with a squeak.
“I called the police,” Bella said.
Jonathan withdrew a cloth from behind the counter and wiped his hands. With a grim expression, he turned to us. “You can leave; I’ll answer the police’s questions.” He looked at Eric, who stood beside the counter, his skinny body quivering. “You too.”
“The man said ‘they’re back.’” I faced Jonathan. “Who are they?”
Icy blue eyes glared into mine. “I don’t know.” Jonathan averted his face, rubbing at his red-stained hands with the blood-soaked cloth.
“Let’s go.” Bella grabbed my arm. “We’ll get in the way.”
I followed Bella and Scarlett from the shop. The sun had set, leaving behind dark and deserted streets. I didn’t hear any sounds until a stretcher and officers rushed past us. Then the wail of sirens and shouts of police bombarded my eardrums, a veil lifting to show the ugly truth.
“Move, lady,” an officer yelled in my ear.
Scarlett yanked my arm, pulling me across the street. Bella joined us as we watched the paramedics and police swarm into the pink parlor, a white van labeled The Coroner’s Office pulling in front. A man ran into the store with a black bag clutched in his hand. Once the sirens quieted, people emerged on the streets, but no one dared to approach Jonathan’s shop.
“Look.” Scarlett pointed at David, who rounded the corner and strode to the parlor. He opened the door and hurried into the shop. “What is he doing here?”
“He works with the police,” Bella replied.
“But he’s a lawyer.” I gaped at Bella.
She shrugged. “A smart lawyer who knows how to fight crime. As an ex-marine, he’s handy with a firearm.”
“Oh, no.” Scarlett touched my arm.
I followed her gaze to the tall man opening the shop’s hot-pink door. “Don’t tell me Logan also works for the police.” I frowned at Bella.
“Okay, I won’t tell you.”
“Spill it.” Scarlett grabbed Bella’s arm.
Bella shrugged Scarlett’s hand from her arm. “Logan owns an investment firm, but he helps the police on occasion.”
“No way.” Scarlett shook her head. “Is he an ex-marine like David?”
She averted her face. “Logan wasn’t a marine but a Navy Seal.”
Scarlett shot me a look, and we kept silent.
The pink door opened. Two police officers carried a stretcher, the body covered by a sheet, and loaded it into the coroner’s van. A heavy-set man, wearing a blue uniform, stepped from the doorway, scowling at the people crowding the sidewalks.
“The chief of police,” Bella said. “Ryan Lively.”
“He’s focusing his beady eyes on us.” Scarlett stepped back from the curb. “We should head home.”
“I agree.” Bella shivered. “He gives me the creeps.”
The police chief marched across the street.
“Too late,” Scarlett whispered.
The chief halted a few feet from us, his short, stocky body blocking our escape. “Hello, Bella Fox. We meet again.”
I turned to Bella, who stood frozen like a deer caught in headlights.
“And who are you?” Black eyes stared at us from a beefy face.
“I’m Elizabeth Reading.” I nodded at Scarlett. “This is Scarlett Harding.”
“I was told you were present at the scene.”
“We were ordering ice cream,” I replied.
“Is that so?” His thin lips curled.
I didn’t answer. Ryan Lively didn’t appear to be a friendly, small-town cop, and I wasn’t offering information unless asked.
“What do you want from us?” Bella yielded first. “We witnessed a man bleeding to death on the floor.”
His bushy eyebrows met in a straight line. “Don’t be difficult, Bella Fox.” He swiped a hand through his short gray hair. “Not as last time.”
“Last time?” Scarlett asked before clamping her mouth shut at the chief’s scowl.
“There’s always trouble in Blue Harbor,” Bella replied.
“Keep your opinions to yourself.” Lively swung his back to Bella, turning his attention to us. “Join me at the scene.” He glanced over his shoulder at Bella. “You too.” The chief strode across the street, the crowd parting as we followed him into the ice cream parlor.
Are you invited to a party? Can it be at End House? A deserted house at the edge Of the forest in Oasis, Florida. People have disappeared from this house, Never to be seen or heard from again. Are you going to this party? I admire your courage. Your tenacity.
I will tell you what you may expect. No one will answer your knock on the door. The door will open by itself, Inviting you to step inside. Flickering candles and gargoyles line the staircase. Your group will divide into two. The first group will follow the staircase candles. Your group will follow the flickering lights in the right hallwayto the basement.
Which group will find the elusive host? Who will survive to tell the tale? Only I know. For I am one of The Dead. We love our games. Welcome to THE DEAD GAME.
“I’m bone-tired.” Scarlett plopped onto the couch, crossing her ankles on the glass coffee table. “I may never move again.” She leaned forward to massage her jean-clad legs.
I settled beside her, smoothing my hand across the plush gray suede. “When you said furnished, I didn’t know you meant living in luxury.” A massive flat TV screen faced the couch and two chairs; tall brass lamps stood on the glass end tables. Polished light-wood floors wove through the rooms, leading to a sectional beige leather couch curved around a second TV in the den. “And we have king-sized beds.”
Scarlett loosened her curls from the scrunchie. “In case we have company.”
“Do you expect company?” I asked, wiggling my eyebrows.
She snickered. “You’ll be welcoming a guest before I do.”
“I intend to sleep alone.” I felt my brow furrowing. “No more live-in boyfriends.”
“We’ll see after your date tomorrow.” Scarlett grabbed the remote from an end table and flipped through the channels, the changing screen absorbing her attention. “I’m set for the evening. Oh, look, we have cable and Netflix.”
I glanced at the empty pizza box sitting open on the coffee table. “I’m still hungry.”
“You’re always hungry, but you never gain a pound.”
“Neither do you.”
“I work hard at dieting and exercising.” She pointed the remote at the TV; a black screen replaced The Hallmark Channel. “What do you want to eat?”
“Are you two years old? Do you need ice cream as a reward for unpacking?”
“Yes, I do.” I stood. “Let me grab my bag.” I hurried to my bedroom and unearthed my handbag on the floral comforter between the mounds of matching pillows. Laughter and voices drifted through the open window. I moved to the white curtains, parting them to the setting sun and glowing red sidewalks.
Scarlett strolled into the bedroom and stood beside me. “Wow. Maine sunsets are much more impressive than Manhattan ones. I’ll grab my bag and jacket.”
I stared at the enticing view. No one moved in a hurry; no cars honked. Kids rode bicycles. A group stood laughing and gesturing with their hands. I reached for a fast-forward button to quicken the speed, but there was no button: Blue Harbor moved at a slower pace than New York City.
“Here I am.” Scarlett scooted in front of me with a black Michael Kors leather jacket draped across her arm, wearing DKNY jeans and a yellow billowy blouse. She spun in a circle. “Do I look ready to paint the town red?”
I grinned back at her. “You look terrific.” I stepped back from the window, letting the sheer fabric fall from my fingers. “Everyone is moving in slow motion.” I blinked, feeling disoriented. “We’re used to rushing from one place to the next. Here, no one is in a hurry. They’re even smiling at each other.”
“We’ll adjust to the slower pace.” She eyed my skinny jeans and flowered blouse. “No need to change: you look perfect. Just grab a jacket
I headed to the hall closet, reaching for my tan leather jacket. “Do you have the keys?”
Scarlett replied, “Yup,” as she swung the front door open.
I followed her into the hallway.
“Now, I’m getting hungry.” She shut the door, locking it behind us.
Bella sauntered toward us. “Hi, guys. Where are you going?”
Scarlett quirked a brow. “Out.”
“Do you need directions? I can introduce you to people.” The curvy redhead shifted to the right, blocking our path to the front door.
“You’ll get chilly in that skimpy outfit Scarlett narrowed her eyes at her.
We have a warm spell.” Bella smoothed the pleats of the black miniskirt that hit mid-thigh.
Tired of their banter, I said, “We’re going for ice cream.”
“Great.” Bella gave a catlike grin. “Wait for me.” She dashed to her apartment.
I turned away from Scarlett’s accusing glare. “She can lead us to the nearest ice cream parlor while introducing us to people.”
“I don’t trust her.”
“Neither do I.” As the approaching footsteps neared, I whispered, “Be nice.”
Bella appeared in tight jeans and a ruffled pink blouse. “I changed.” She slung a black beaded bag across her shoulder. “I know the perfect place for dessert.”
“Do we need a car?” I asked, eyeing Bella’s plunging neckline. I hoped she didn’t plan an evening chasing men.
“Nope.” Bella sashayed past us, flinging a lock of wavy red hair over her shoulder. “It’s only a block away.” We followed her as she greeted people on the sidewalk without bothering to introduce us. Men flirted with her, while women scowled as she ignored them.
“She’s not popular with women,” I whispered to Scarlett.
“Most women understand her game plan,” Scarlett said as another man stopped to stroke Bella’s impressive ego.
“Tempt as many men as she can until—” She froze.
“Until she catches the one she wants.” Scarlett cleared her throat. “And she found him.”
I followed her frozen stare to the corner where Bella spoke to a tall, muscular man who wore a pinstripe gray suit and red tie to perfection. When his sharp gaze swung to us, I bit back a sigh. Gray eyes observed us from beneath hooded lids.
In my ear, I heard Scarlett’s breathless words. “First, David, and now, this guy. Does Maine only produce gods?”
“And Bella knows them.”
“Introduce me to your friends.” The dark-haired Adonis strolled toward us, extending his hand. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Logan Rayne.”
Scarlett moved closer, taking his hand. “Scarlett Harding.”
“Elizabeth Reading,” I said as silvery-gray eyes met mine.
Bella emerged from behind Logan, linking her arm through his. “Will you join us for a bite to eat?”
“I’m sorry,” Logan replied, his heated stare capturing mine. “I have a late meeting.”
“Then we’ll expect a rain check.” Bella batted her impressive eyelashes. “This weekend will be fine.”
“I’m free Saturday night. Are you?”
I gulped; he was watching me. “We’re free since we just arrived today.”
“Good.” Logan stepped back, relinquishing Bella’s grasp on his arm. “Dinner?”
Bella sighed. “We’ll be ready at, let’s say, 9 o’clock.” She arched a red eyebrow at him.
“Did you move into Bella’s building?” he asked, his attention returning to me.
“I’ll see you then.” A smile flashed across his face before he strode to the navy-blue Mercedes parked at the curb. He folded his long legs into the two-seater, then nodded to us before easing the sporty vehicle into traffic.
“What are you? A man-magnet?” Her hands clenched at her sides, Bella stood at the corner, glowering at me, bright spots of red on her pale cheeks.
“I thought that was your job,” Scarlett said with an evil chuckle.
“Ha, ha.” Bella gave a “humph” before rounding the corner.
“Logan was asking us, wasn’t he?” I asked with a slight squeak.
“He was gawking at you.”
“No way.” I gulped. “No one looks at me while you’re standing beside me.”
“Yeah, right.” Scarlett shook her head, muttering something to herself.
We turned the corner to the busy avenue, where colorful stores faced the harbor, but Bella was nowhere in sight. Beneath the orangey-yellow glow of the setting sun, the docked boats swayed in place on the waves. A soft breeze brushed through my hair. The mellow early evening sounds lulled my senses until a high-pitched shriek broke the spell.
“Why didn’t you follow me?” Bella marched toward us, waving her arms.
“We lost you.” Scarlett spun to her.
“How could you lose me? I didn’t even cross the street.” Bella’s pale face reddened. “Unless you were trying to lose me.”
“We reached—” Scarlett glanced at the street sign. “Harbor Drive, and we didn’t see you.”
“Fine.” Bella pointed to the pink sign, Le Ice Cream Parlor, hanging between two 3D hot-pink ice cream cones on a white shingled building. “We’re here.”
We stepped into the pink. An extended counter spanned the left wall, fronted with hot-pink stools, light-pink booths lined the right and back walls, and white wrought-iron tables and chairs filled the middle. “Cute,” I said. The sweet aroma of ice cream, chocolate fudge, and cotton candy wafted my nose. My mouth watered. I smelled peanut butter and strawberries and didn’t know what else. “An ice cream heaven.”
Bella took a pink stool at the counter. “Hi, Eric. Can I have a banana split?”
“Sure thing, Bella.” The gangly teenager scooped ice cream into a banana-shaped glass dish, a toothy grin on his pimpled face.
“What can I get the young ladies?” I turned, expecting an older man. Instead, a man in his early thirties flashed his pearly whites at us. “Hi. I’m Jonathan Hale, the owner of this ice cream heaven.”
“You heard me.” My face heated as I faced the shaggy blonde, blue-eyed, surfer-looking guy.
“Yes, I did. And thank you for the compliment.” His gaze landed on Scarlett and stayed there. I felt relief; he fit Scarlett’s unique taste.
“What do you recommend?” Scarlett asked, her voice sounding breathy.
“I suggest the tornado.” Jonathan winked. “It has my best flavors topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry.”
“We’ll share one.” Scarlett glanced at me, and I nodded.
As Jonathan retrieved a tall dish from behind the counter and began layering the decadent ice cream flavors, he asked, “Are you new to Blue Harbor?” His intense gaze met Scarlett’s through the glass dome covering the ice cream display.
“We arrived today.” Scarlett’s voice drifted as she glanced away.
He chuckled. “Then I’m happy to welcome you to Blue Harbor.”
Scarlett gave him a tremulous smile. “Thank you.”
“Take a seat at a booth, and I’ll bring my special concoction to you.”
Scarlett took my hand, dragging me across the room to a corner booth.
“Wow,” I whispered. “You must be in love. I’ve never seen you act timid. And shy. You’re never shy.”
She turned to me with a scowl, her mouth opening, ready to defend herself before her attention shifted to the front door.
The door flung open, hitting the wall beside it with a loud bang. A hush fell across the room.
Startled faces turned to the doorway.
A tall, thin man hurried inside, clutching his throat, his gaze darting around the room. “They’re back,” he whispered before collapsing to the floor, blood spurting from his neck and pooling around his body.
It’s time for chapter two of Meet Me In Maine, book one of The Blue Harbor Series. Our heroines arrive at Blue Harbor, eager to see their new home. The town meets their expectations but with a deadly twist.
After three brief stops and seven hours of driving, we rolled into Blue Harbor. Once we’d crossed into Maine, the traffic had thinned. A blanket in alternating shades of red, yellow, and green draped over the hills on either side of the open road. Instead of crowded sidewalks, traffic jams, and tall buildings, grass and groves of trees filled my vision. A salty breeze from the window swept across my face, and the tension eased from my body. Freedom smelled divine.
Scarlett said, “We’ve arrived,” sporting an eager smile on her face.
“I hope the people are friendly.” The sign on the highway welcoming us to Blue Harbor passed my window.
She glanced at me, her long brown curls lifting in the warm breeze. “I’m sure they are.”
I checked the visor mirror. Almond-shaped green eyes stared back at me as I patted my straight blonde hair in place. Stop worrying, I told myself. Everything will be fine. Martin will never find me; he won’t even miss me.
“Did you say something?”
“Nope.” I folded the visor, reaching for the map spread open between us. “Do you need directions to the apartment?”
“I memorized the street map.” She threw me a saucy wink.
After exiting the highway, Scarlett followed the road past sculpted lawns and well-maintained homes painted in vibrant colors, the quiet streets turning busier once the harbor came into view.
“I bet the town was more congested during the Labor Day weekend.” I stared through the window at the people strolling the sidewalks, smiling as they greeted one another. Two men, sitting on rocking chairs on the front porch of a barbershop, nodded hello to us. Hope blossomed in my heart as I smiled back at them.
“I heard Blue Harbor was a madhouse of tourists last weekend.” Scarlett changed lanes to pass the double-parked cars. Beyond the colorful shops, turquoise water shimmered beneath a cloudless sky as boats of various sizes coasted along on its choppy swells. She turned a corner, slowing the car to check the addresses before parking in front of a red-shingled, two-story house. “We’re here.”
As we stretched our legs on the sidewalk, a white puppy ambled toward me and sniffed my leg. He nuzzled my hand with a wet nose when I bent to pat his head. “Hi, boy. You’re adorable.”
“He’s a girl, but she is adorable,” a deep voice replied. “Her name is Stella.”
I raised my face to light-blue eyes. The sandy-haired man grinned and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m David Hunt.”
I straightened and took his hand. “I’m Elizabeth Reading.”
Scarlett cleared her throat. “Don’t forget me.” She pointed to herself. “Scarlett Harding.”
His gaze glued to mine, he asked, “Are you moving into the rental?”
“Yes.” Not able to meet his direct stare, I shifted my focus to his cleft chin and chiseled cheekbones. “How did you know?”
“The rent sign and the fact you have luggage stored in your car.” He nodded to the backseat.
“That’s right, Sherlock.” Scarlett pushed past me. “Hi.” She eyed David with a mischievous grin. “We’re moving in today.”
“Let me help you.” David handed the leash to me before rushing to open the car door and unloading the bags to the sidewalk.
“We have more luggage in the trunk.” Scarlett sauntered to the front steps. “I’ll find the owner.”
“Where are you from?” he asked, piling bags in his arms.
“New York City.” I crouched beside the puppy, who licked my hand.
After depositing the baggage on the porch, David descended the steps and hunched beside me. “I see you’re a dog-lover. Is your friend a dog-lover? Maybe she can babysit.”
“Babysit?” I swallowed. “Do you have children?”
“No.” A chuckle rumbled deep in his throat. “I’m not married.” He straightened to his full height, between 6’ 2’’ or 6’ 3’’, revealing broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and sculpted muscles beneath his white T-shirt. “We’ll need a babysitter for Stella if I take you to dinner.” A shy smile appeared between an enticing set of dimples.
“You’re taking me to dinner?” One last pat on the puppy’s head, and I rose to my feet. “Are you asking me or telling me?” I refused to date another aggressive man.
“Asking. I’m not usually so forward.” He cleared his throat. “Is tomorrow evening too soon?” His blue eyes twinkling, David shifted closer, letting his fingers graze my cheek. “I must work on my technique… I’m rusty.” He dropped his hand to his side. “I should have waited to ask you.”
“That’s okay,” I replied. “Are you divorced?” He seemed sweet, but there had to be something wrong with him: no one was as perfect as they appeared.
He stepped back. “No. I’ve been busy with my practice.” He stared into the distance. “My last relationship ended a few years ago.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No. A lawyer.” His attention drifted back to me. “Why are you smiling?”
“I’ve just ended a relationship with a bossy doctor.” I wiped sweaty palms on my jeans. “I’ve sworn off doctors.”
“Then I’m happy I didn’t attend medical school.” He grinned. “My parents… both doctors… were eager for me to follow in their hallowed footsteps.”
“Do you enjoy the law?”
He smiled, dimples emerging again. “Yes, I do.”
Scarlett called my name from inside the brownstone.
As I headed to the front steps, David whispered in my ear, “Is that a yes for dinner?”
Am I ready for a date,oris it too soon? I turned to him, hesitating before nodding.
A grin crossed his face as he climbed the stairs and hurried to open the door for me. “That was the answer I was hoping for.”
When we stepped into the narrow hallway, David nodded to the door standing open to our right. “That’s the owner’s apartment.”
Scarlett strolled through the open doorway with a tall redhead trailing behind her. “You have a spacious apartment.” Scarlett turned her companion. “Is the rental as large?”
“All the apartments are the same size,” the redhead replied in a bored voice, but as soon as she spotted David, she became animated, batting heavy-mascaraed eyelashes at him. “David, are you visiting me?” She crossed the hall to stand at his side, sliding an eager arm around his.
“No, Bella.” He stepped back, removing his arm from hers. “I’m helping Elizabeth and Scarlett with their luggage.”
Bella glanced at me with an annoyed frown.
Scarlett grabbed my arm. “Let’s check the apartment.” As we crossed the hall, she whispered, “Bella doesn’t trust you because she sees you as competition for David. But he can’t keep his eyes from you.”
Bella’s voice took on a sugary tone behind us. “See me before you leave, David.”
“Sure, Bella,” he replied before shutting the apartment door.
Scarlett said with a chuckle, “Good riddance.”
I walked into a room flooded with sunlight from the large kitchen window straight ahead, highlighting the yellow cabinets and white granite island with a cheerful glow before settling its translucent rays across the gray suede couch and chairs.
“Isn’t this an awesome apartment?” Scarlett asked before disappearing into the hallway to the right of the kitchen.
As Scarlett investigated the two bedrooms, we followed the narrow hallway to a small den. David joined me at the window overlooking a compact lawn. “I’m happy I walked Sally on this block today. I got a feeling.”
He grinned. “I get those.”
“What other feelings do you get?”
“Let me see.” David paused as he took my hand, his thumb rubbing the inside of my wrist. “I have a feeling you’ll enjoy the French cuisine at the restaurant I picked for tomorrow evening.”
I gave a nonchalant shrug. “Everyone likes French food.”
“They make a delicious chocolate mousse.”
“They do?” I swallowed. “Mousse is my favorite dessert.”
“I’ll store that information for future use.” David winked before handing me the puppy’s leash. “I’ll get the luggage.”
Scarlett rushed into the den, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Wow. David is handsome and nice. I’m happy you found him. Well, he found you.”
“Is he acting too pushy?”
“No. David likes you.” She watched me with a concerned expression. “Don’t worry, David is not Martin.”
“Okay.” I exhaled the breath I was holding. “I like him.”
She chuckled. “So does Bella.”
I frowned. Forcing Bella from my mind, I said, “We should help him with the bags.” Then I remembered Stella, who was watching me with soulful brown eyes.
“I don’t need help,” David whispered in my ear.
I twirled to him. “You’re finished?”
“I move fast.”
I followed him to the bags piled high in the living room. “Yes, you do.”
“I believe Stella needs a walk.” He took the leash from my hand. “Can I pick you up at 8 o’clock tomorrow? I have a late client.”
David lifted my chin with his finger. “See you tomorrow.” He nodded to Scarlett before leading Sally through the doorway.
Scarlett pouted. “You met a cute guy right away.”
“Dumb luck?” I quirked an eyebrow.
“Lizzie, one thing you’re not is dumb.” She laughed.
“Let’s unpack, then we can order pizza.” I marched toward the bags. “Maine must have pizza places.”
“We passed a few.” Scarlett wound her long, brown curls into a ponytail with a scrunchie. “You noticed nothing but David.”