Will Logan survive or become the next victim? Elizabeth and David rush to the hospital to find out.
I trailed behind David at the hospital through a maze of corridors, announcements ringing in our ears, overhead fluorescent lights bouncing off the too-white walls. He reached for my hand when my steps slowed, and I took a deep breath. “I hate hospitals.”
“No one likes hospitals, but they’re a necessity.”
I frowned at his response.
A nurse exited as we entered Logan’s room. He lay on the bed, his eyes closed, a white bandage covering the left side of his head, closest to us. His eyes opened at our footsteps, and Logan tilted his head to see us.
I ran past the empty bed to reach him. “How are you?” I extended my hand before dropping it at my side. “We should have brought flowers or a gift.”
His slow grin made my heart flutter. “I don’t need gifts, just you.”
David cleared his throat.
Logan chuckled. “I need you too.”
“What happened?” His eyes flashing, David sauntered to the opposite side of the bed.
Logan glanced at him. “All business, no ‘how do you feel’ from you?”
“You’re conscious.” David cocked an eyebrow. “So, you’re fine.”
I inched closer to the bed and touched his hand. “What happened?”
Logan looked at me, his gray eyes softening, his chiseled face gaunt. “I spotted two men lurking on the pier behind the fish restaurant, so I tracked them until they ambushed me on a side street. While I was tackling one of them, the other hit me. The next thing I remember is waking in the hospital attached to tubes.”
“Did you recognize them?” David paced at the foot of the second bed, waiting in the shadows for its next patient, its lights and machinery dark.
Logan faced him with a disdainful expression. “They wore hoodies and dark clothing.”
“That’s it?” David halted, his expression grim.
A grunt escaped Logan’s lips. “Let me see you identify someone who bashed you on the head.”
“I was just checking.” David shrugged. “We’ve been attacked before.”
Logan frowned. “Thanks for the show of sympathy.”
I squeezed his hand. “Did you hear about the woman?”
“I was there.”
“Why were you there?” David asked, his voice hardening.
“The chief heard rumors of an attack at tonight’s opening.” Logan closed his eyes. “He asked me to check the restaurant.”
“The chief expected an attack?” I let go of his hand. “Scarlett was there.”
He opened his eyes, giving me a glassy stare. “I didn’t know until I saw her and Jonathan.” Logan winced. “I was approaching Scarlett when the woman… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” I grabbed his hands in both of mine. “They could have killed you. You should rest.”
David grunted and strode from the room.
“We’ll return tomorrow.” I gave Logan a wistful look before hurrying after David into the corridor.
While he marched ahead of me to the nurses’ station, his tense words drifted to me over his shoulder, “I’m going to speak to the nurses before I drive you home.”
I waited as three nurses surrounded him, eager to answer his questions. After nodding to them, David led me to an empty lounge. “Do you need to sit?”
I shook my head.
“Logan has a severe concussion… they’re taking him for an MRI.”
“Poor Logan; you could have been nicer to him.”
“He has a thick head. This isn’t his first concussion or mine.”
“Are you trying to comfort me?” I frowned. “Your technique isn’t working.”
David shoved his hands into his pockets. “I guess not.” He searched my face. “I’ll take you home… I’m sorry for the way our date ended.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Blue Harbor has an awful habit of interfering in my life,” he said as we followed the twisting hallways to the exit.
At my apartment, he stood in the hallway, watching me. “I’ll wait until you lock the door behind you.”
I unlocked the door, stepped inside, and turned to him.
A hooded expression crossed his face. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” The soulful chords of Tchaikovsky’s “Pas de Deux” from The Nutcracker drifted from his jacket. He pulled the offending cell phone from his pocket, glancing at the screen. “The chief is calling. Lock the door,” he said, backing into the hallway and motioning to the lock.
Were Elizabeth and Scarlett ready to buy an inn and settle in Maine? Scarlett wasn’t so sure of the answer.
Scarlett’s car bumped along the winding road, farmhouses peeking at us from behind thick clusters of trees and bushes, the afternoon sun warming the inside of the vehicle with its hazy glow.
“Are you sure you know the way?” I asked. “I thought the inn was in Blue Harbor.”
“It is.” Scarlett squinted at me. “Not everyone lives near the main harbor.”
Ten minutes later, she said, “We’re here.”
A red-bricked building appeared between two thick groves of maple trees. A lush green lawn and white picket fence fronted the house. Four wide steps led to the wrap-around porch, dotted with white wicker chairs and tables. A chubby, middle-aged woman stood on the top step between two white pillars supporting the steep overhang.
“That’s Lucy Green.” Scarlett parked on the graveled driveway to the right of the house.
Lucy descended the steps, wiping her hands on the yellow frilled apron tied around her waist. “I’m happy you could meet with me today, considering the recent excitement.” Her short, brown curls fluttered in the cool breeze as she crossed the blue paving stones to the driveway.
“We were at the ice cream parlor when the guy ran inside bleeding.” Scarlett halted in front of her. “The customers ran from the place screaming and yelling.”
“How awful.” Lucy wrung her hands. “I hope you’re still interested in my inn.”
I drew alongside Scarlett. “We’re rethinking our move to Blue Harbor.” I ignored Scarlett’s sidelong glare. If Lucy believed we were reconsidering, she might lower the price. I grew up in New York City and couldn’t help my big city frame of mind.
Lucy pursed her lips. “Chief Lively will clean the riffraff from Blue Harbor, he’s done it before, and our town will be peaceful again.” She motioned for us to follow her into the house. The warm glow from the Victorian lamps, sitting on small end tables, lit the spacious room dotted with comfortable-looking couches and chairs. We followed her through an open archway to the right. Leather couches and chairs faced a red-bricked fireplace. Across the room, a set of glass doors overlooked a side garden bursting with red and yellow rose bushes. When she swung open the doors, a rose-scented breeze drifted toward us.
“Lovely,” I said.
She gave a sweet smile before shutting the glass doors. We trailed her from the den and the front room to the dining room, where glasses and silverware sparkled on the five tables set with white linen. The doorway on the back wall led us to an industrial-sized kitchen with a white marble island dead-center, surrounded by yellow stools. The view from the picture window took my breath away. Rose bushes lined the pebbled path through the green landscape to a lake filled with floating Canada geese.
“Nice,” Scarlett said.
“Thank you.” Lucy hovered behind us. “Are you ready to see the guest rooms?”
“Sure,” Scarlett replied.
A narrow door in the kitchen, wedged between the double wall ovens and built-in refrigerator, led back to the front room. We climbed the carpeted stairs between the curving wood banisters as Lucy regaled us with tales of the house’s vibrant history. On the second floor, doors stood open on either side of the hallway, revealing canopied beds and flat-screen TVs. At the end of the hall, we stepped into the owner’s apartment. The two bedrooms, eat-in kitchen, and sitting room offered impressive views of the lawn and sparkling blue lake.
“Iced tea and pastries in the sunroom?” Lucy asked as we descended the staircase.
“Sounds good. I’m thirsty,” Scarlett replied.
Lucy led us through the den to the bookshelves spanning the left wall, where she tilted a group of books forward. The bookcase shifted, and a hidden door creaked open.
“Neat,” Scarlett said as the door of bookshelves shut behind us.
I asked, “Does the house have hidden passageways?”
“There might be.” Shirley’s round face wrinkled into an eager grin. “This is an old house. A hundred years old next year.”
The sun shone through the picture window on the far wall, throwing bright squares of light across the mint-green couches and chairs. A pitcher of iced tea and a tray of pastries waited on the glass coffee table. We took seats as Lucy poured the tea into tall glasses.
“Are you still interested in purchasing the inn?” Lucy asked, handing a glass to Scarlett.
“We are.” Scarlett glanced at me. “But I’m confused.”
Lucy’s chocolate brown eyes widened.
Scarlett continued, “You have tables set in the dining room, but I didn’t see any preparations in the kitchen. Where are your guests and staff?”
“The guests aren’t arriving until Friday.” Lucy’s eyes twinkled. “And the staff have left for the day.”
I asked, “How large is your staff?”
“I have a maid, chef, and waitress.”
“Do they work every day?” Scarlett asked.
“The cook and waitress work when we have guests, and the maid cleans twice a week, even if we don’t have guests. This past year, we began offering dinner twice weekly, and the chef and waitress have increased their hours.”
“Once you sell the inn, will they be willing to continue working here?” I asked.
“They love the bed-and-breakfast. I have a contract ready to be signed.” Lucy huffed to her feet. “Relax and finish your tea and pastries.” She grinned before hurrying from the room.
“We have decisions to make.” Scarlett bit into a red velvet cupcake.
“I’m not ready to make them today.”
Lucy returned with a stack of papers. For the next hour, we discussed the price and conditions of the contract. We departed with a promise to call her in the next few days. Scarlett needed to show the paperwork to her lawyer, who will now be our lawyer. Even though the price was within our budget, we needed time to decide whether Blue Harbor was right for us.
Lizzy getsready for her first date with David. Is she eager? Let’s find out.
Scarlett stepped through the front doorway, halting in surprise. “I thought you’d still be asleep.”
“Where were you?” I asked from my perch at the kitchen counter, eyeing the white paper bag clutched in her hand. “You’re never an early riser.”
With a grin, she sauntered into the kitchen, placing the bag beside my coffee cup. “I bought muffins at a cute cafe around the corner.”
“No diet?” I asked.
“Not today.” Scarlett popped a Keurig cup into the machine, withdrawing two plates from the kitchen cabinet and settling beside me before reaching for the bag. “I’m hungry from scouting the town.”
She set a chocolate chip muffin on a plate before sliding it toward me. “Everywhere I visited, people were discussing the explosions.” Scarlett bit into a corn muffin, her voice muffled as she continued, “No one was hurt, but plenty of boats were damaged.”
I quirked a brow.
“Ten boats burned to ashes, and many residents believed it was arson. The shipowners have insurance, but it takes time to collect; for now, they’ve lost their livelihood. The cafe owner handed around a collection to support them, and I pledged money from the both of us.” She glanced at me. “Is that okay?”
“Of course, it’s okay. The boat owners need our help.” Losing my appetite, I shoved the plate away. “Were these people shocked?”
“Nope.” She shook her head, her long ponytail bouncing around her shoulders. “A wave of violence has plagued the town for the past six months.”
“That’s strange; the residents should be more concerned their harbor exploded.”
Scarlett stopped eating and looked at me. “I don’t know the details since people are closed-mouthed, but I’ll find out.”
“Are you canceling our appointment at the bed-and-breakfast for this afternoon?” I stood and began pacing the tiny kitchen. “New York City was dangerous enough; I don’t want to move to a place where I’m afraid to walk home in the evening.”
“I’m not canceling.” Scarlett swiveled to me.
“We can find a town with no crime wave. The coast of Maine is lined with towns offering picturesque harbors and inns to purchase.”
“No.” Scarlett scrambled to her feet, retrieving her cup from the Keurig and bringing it to the counter. “I want to live here.”
“Why?” I sat as she sipped her coffee. “Is it Jonathan?”
She peeked at me from the corner of her eye. “Yes, it’s him. Then there’s David and Logan. Blue Harbor has interesting characters.”
“Are you seeking characters for a murder mystery or a Hallmark movie?”
Scarlett pulled a plastic knife from the paper bag and cut my rejected muffin into bite-size pieces. “I don’t want to live in a boring town.” She offered me a piece, but I shook my head. “Blue Harbor offers a unique way of life.”
“The town offers more options for dying.”
She popped a chunk of muffin in her mouth. “Every town has crime. Once the police catch the ones responsible, the town will be peaceful again. Blue Harbor has the best shops and harbor, and I don’t want to live farther north.”
“The explosions destroyed the harbor.”
“The planks are being replaced as we speak.” Scarlett gave me a pleading look. “Blue Harbor has other piers.”
“Okay. We’ll keep the appointment.” I took a sip of coffee.
“What will you wear on your date with David tonight?”
“I forgot.” My head pounded. How did I forget?
“Don’t tell me you forgot a date with a gorgeous man.”
“I’ve been trying to forget yesterday; the bleeding man, burning boats, and chilling screams gave me nightmares.”
“Are you keeping the date?” She gawked at me. “No way are you canceling it.”
“I’m going.” I shrugged. “But I don’t need a man to feel whole; I can find happiness without being half of a couple.”
“You can still date and have fun.” Scarlett winked. “You remember how to have fun, right?”
I turned my face to the window where white puffy clouds coasted along the blue horizon. “It’s been a long time.”
“One date doesn’t have to lead to another.” Her expression becoming somber, she added, “I’m not looking for a commitment either.”
“You can’t help men falling for you; you’re blessed with blonde hair and green eyes.” Scarlett tossed her ponytail. “While I sport a frizzy mop of brown with boring brown eyes.”
“Nothing about you is boring.” I laughed. “And you have no problem finding men.”
“But I’m always one step behind you.”
“And I picked Martin.” I stared at the shredded napkin clasped in my hand.
“Forget Martin; he’s history.” She took my hand, peeling pieces of napkins from between my fingers. “Turn your thoughts to David, tall, dark, and handsome.”
“He has those Nordic blue eyes.” I gave a soft sigh.
“Nordic blue?” Scarlett chuckled. “Is that a color?”
“Yes.” I wrinkled my nose. “I found it on Google.” A side glance at her confirmed my suspicions; she sat there grinning like a cat who consumed a bowl of cream. “When is Jonathan taking you on a date? Tonight?”
“Yup.” She slid from the stool. “I’m excited; he’s taking me to a new restaurant on a pier.”
“Nice.” I swallowed. “A pier that didn’t burn?”
“Blue Harbor has many piers.” Scarlett shook a finger at me. “Remember, happy thoughts.”
I planted a smile on my face.
Scarlett gave me a smirk before continuing, “I checked the restaurant online, and it’s fancy.” She leaned her hip against the counter. “Should I wear my strapless red dress?”
“Perfect choice.” I grinned. “You’ll catch the big fish.”
She laughed. “I won’t tell Jonathan you called him a big fish.” Scarlett tilted her head to the side. “What will you wear?”
“I have my little black dress.”
“With an emphasis on little.” With a snicker, she added, “Perfect.”
I got to my feet and began rinsing the dishes. “Who gets Logan?” I turned to her.
She canted her head to the side.
“If I pick David, and you choose Jonathan, who gets Logan?”
“Can he be the spare?” She clapped her hands together in delight.
A giggle slipped from my mouth. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Men refer to women as spares, so why can’t I?”
“As long as they don’t hear it.”
“I’m sealing my lips,” Scarlett replied, running an imaginary zipper across her lips.
As explosions rocked the harbor, the blackened sky mirrored the orange and yellow flames consuming the pier. People screeched as the panicked horde surged toward us.
People strolled the sidewalks beneath the street lamps’ hazy yellow glow. Bright window displays beckoned to visitors as music wafted from the open doorways. Boats rode the soft swells on either side of the long dock, jutting into the dark water. I stood beside Scarlett at the curb, taking a deep breath of the crisp, salty air.
David and Logan exited the parlor, taking positions on either side of us.
I glanced at Logan, feeling uncomfortable in his presence after the intense interrogation in the ice cream parlor. His haughty mien lifted as he caught my glance, and his gray eyes softened. He nodded to me before turning and heading back to the store.
The ground beneath my feet shook as flames shot to the sky from the moored vessels and ear-shattering explosions cut through the air. Time turned sluggish and unreal, like a movie reel playing in slow motion.
I stood frozen, transfixed by the orange flames sweeping across the wooden planks at the heels of the fleeing pedestrians. Scarlett grabbed my hand as the crowd headed our way, jostling us in their frenzied path. As an intense heat hit our faces, people screamed; sirens shrilled; fire engines pulled alongside the marina. Police cars swarmed the streets.
His face a blotched red, Lively strode from the parlor, puffing. “Take them home and then hurry back,” he shouted to David before rushing across the street with Logan to join the officers arriving at the dock.
“I’ll walk you home.” David snatched my hand, transporting me back to reality.
I hurried to keep pace with him, the hazy fog clouding my vision cleared. Scarlett strode ahead while Bella hobbled beside us on a broken heel. I glanced back at the burning harbor. “I don’t understand; the advertisements depict Blue Harbor as a peaceful town.”
“It used to be.” David shrugged. “Things have changed.”
“What things?” I asked, but he refused to look at me. “David?”
He faced me. “Maybe you shouldn’t move here.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No, then I won’t see you again.” He halted as people rushed around us. “But the town hasn’t been safe for the past few months, and I don’t want you hurt.” David took my hand, and we continued walking.
“Do you believe I’m in danger?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been working with Logan and the chief, but we’ve made no headway.” He checked over his shoulder. “Where’s Bella?”
“I’m here.” Bella emerged from the crowd. “The broken heel is making it difficult to walk.” She removed her shoes and loped toward us barefoot. “That’s better.”
As explosions rocked the harbor, the blackened sky mirrored the orange and yellow flames consuming the pier. People screeched as the panicked horde surged toward us.
David dropped my hand and looked at me. “I’m sorry. The police need my help; I must go back.” He pushed his way through the throng and headed back to the pier. “Remember to lock your doors,” he yelled over his shoulder before disappearing.
“What’s wrong with this town?” I eyed Bella.
“What isn’t wrong with it?” she replied before stumbling ahead to our building.
Scarlett stood on the front steps, gaze riveted to the burning harbor, her arms wrapped around her shivering body.
Bella unlocked the front door, and we trailed behind her into the dark hallway.
“Are you going to explain this creepy town to us?” Scarlett stepped in front of Bella.
Bella hit the light switch. “No, and don’t shut the hall lights. Tomorrow, I’ll explain the town’s strange history.” She rushed into her apartment, throwing the bolt on the door.
As the desserts melt, Chief Lively questions the witnesses of the bloody crime.
MEET ME IN MAINE
The blood congealing in the chalk outline made my stomach queasy. Jonathan and Eric stood behind the counter, their faces pale, ice cream dripping from the sides of the banana split dish. Colorful dessert melted in the deserted dishes on the tables and the cones that had fallen to the sparkling white floor.
“Elizabeth.” David rushed to me. “What are you doing here?”
“We were ordering ice cream when the man collapsed.” I shivered.
David pulled me into his arms and whispered, “I’m sorry you witnessed this,” as he rested his chin on my head.
“You know her?” Logan’s deep voice rumbled behind me.
“Have you met Logan?” David stepped back, staring at me, his hands gripping my shoulders.
“I met both of you today.”
“Nice,” the chief said. “You come to Blue Harbor and meet two of my men… how convenient.”
“What are you suggesting?” David glared at Lively.
“I’m not suggesting but pointing to the fact these two women have insinuated themselves into our town on their first day.”
“A coincidence.” David focused his stare on Logan. “How did you meet?”
Logan raked long fingers through his thick hair. “Bella was showing them the town when I bumped into them… a coincidence.”
“We’re full of coincidences today.” The chief paced the room, sidestepping the crime scene outline. “And now, we have a dead body.” He pointed to the thick mass of blood.
“How does this relate to us?” I asked.
“It could be nothing.” Lively scowled. “Or could be everything.” A strange light shone in his dark eyes.
“Stop with the macho act.” Logan marched to the chief, jabbing a finger at his chest. “They’re new to our town.”
The chief stepped back. “Okay, big boy, no need to argue. I’m doing my job.”
“So, do it, and don’t harass the women.” Logan took a deep breath before approaching us and turning his face from Lively. “Ladies, please have a seat. We have a few questions.”
“Sure,” the chief mumbled behind Logan’s back. “Do my job for me.”
David led me to a table, taking a position behind my chair, while Bella and Scarlett took seats on either side of me.
With a stern expression on his face, Logan halted in front of Scarlett. “Did the shop appear unusual before the man entered?”
Scarlett cleared her throat. “I don’t know what’s unusual for this town since I just arrived.”
“You know what I mean.” Logan lowered his face near hers.
“I was trying to lighten the mood.” Scarlett averted her face. “No. I saw nothing strange.”
“Did you?” Logan directed his sharp gaze at me.
I shook my head.
When he glanced at Bella, she mouthed, “No.”
“Okay, let’s try this.” Logan circled the table before standing in front of Scarlett, his hands on his hips. “What do you remember?”
Scarlett squirmed in her seat. “The man ran into the store, blood gushing from his neck. He said, ‘they’re back,’ and then collapsed.”
She shook her head. “Nothing else.”
“Elizabeth?” He faced me.
David’s fingers tightened on my shoulders as I replied, “I remember the same.”
Logan swiveled his head to Bella. “I take it you have nothing to add.”
“There’s nothing to add.” Her face reddening, Bella came to her feet. “He walked into the store and bled to death.”
“Did you recognize him?”
We shook our heads in unison.
Logan directed his icy glare at me. “Why did you choose this week to visit Blue Harbor?”
“What do you mean?” I squinted at him, confused.
“Most people visit our town during the summer and leave after Labor Day.” Logan tilted his head, watching me. “Why are you visiting after the season?”
“We’re not visiting.” Scarlett rushed to her feet, her voice rising in tone. “We’ve moved here.”
Logan spun to her. “You’re staying?”
“Why is that so strange?”
David replied, “It’s unusual because we didn’t hear of your arrival.”
Scarlett shoved her hands on her hips. “We didn’t arrive with a parade and horns blaring.”
David gave her a sullen look.
The chief grunted. “I don’t enjoy surprises.”
“I didn’t think we were an unpleasant surprise,” I said.
“You’re a pleasant surprise.” David patted my shoulder.
“We had nothing to do with the man’s death,” Bella said. “Let us go home.”
Logan frowned at Bella. “Thank you, women. You can leave.” He strode to the door and held it open for us.
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.