I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.
I noticed a tall slender man, probably in his late thirties, checking in. I had lingered by the fire to finish my tea. The thing that caught my eye was how sad he looked. His shoulders slumped and no trace of a smile cracked the solemnity of his face.
My gaze stalled for a moment as I considered what would cause a man to look so defeated. Not wanting to be rude, I caught myself and started toward the elevators for my room. I had to wait a little longer than expected so I overheard the desk clerk say, “…room 528, sir.”
He’d be in the room next to mine. The idea preoccupied me. I fought the compulsion to glance at him again. He picked up his briefcase, and ambled toward the elevator where I stood.
The door opened. We both stepped forward and nearly ran into each other.
“Oh, my apologies, miss.”
Miss? I liked this person.
He gestured for me to go in first, then he entered. I was determined simply to observe, play dumb–to collect as much information as I could without being obvious. I hid a smile, waiting for him to try his luck at getting the right floor.
The elevator rejected his attempt.
I gave in. “Actually, I think you insert your room key in the slot and then press five. It’s a security measure for the Club floor.”
He only nodded.
The elevator took us up. During the ride, I noticed his restlessness, the way he didn’t focus on anything. Not the floor, not the metal rail, nor even his shoes. Yes, something must really be bothering him.
I didn’t go straight to my room. The private lounge had a few hors d’oeuvres set out so I took it upon myself to sample.
I would be back for sure before dinner.
On the way back to my room, I passed Room 528–purely coincidentally, of course.
Well, all right, maybe not.
My luck was in because his door stood ajar. The bellman was busy unloading luggage. A melancholy voice spoke as if into a phone. “Everything is ready tomorrow then.”
Why was I so preoccupied with this man? Perhaps sad people drew me in because I enjoyed figuring out their story. Maybe I just needed something succulent to discuss with my Garden Club friends, especially after ruining the mood at the Distillery this afternoon.
After realizing that my intentions to spy may or may not have been completely pure, I resolved to drop it. It was his business, not mine.
With every ounce of self-control, I took longer strides, went into my room, shut the door firmly, and rang the girls. No one should pass up complimentary hors d' oeuvres, especially in a luxurious hotel where handsome men full of brooding mystery appeared.
Later as I considered whether a brooch or scarf would be more appropriate for dinner, I heard a commotion in the room next door. A woman was yelling “I hate you,” and “I’ll kill you if you do.”
Who could help but listen?
That word “kill” seemed a little too dramatic.
A door slammed, the force of it reverberating the walls. She was crying, but in a muffled way, as if she was prostrate on the bed trying to push her sobs into a pillow.
I glanced at the clock.
Why would a woman be in his room so soon after he checked in? Didn’t that sort of thing normally happen after dinner, not before?
Teddy yawned and peered at me with a pair of sleep droopy eyes.
I smiled and ruffled his fur. “How’s it going?”
A little hungry, from the look he gave me.
Uncanny the way he communicates, that’s what it is.
“I have your food right here in the bathroom all ready.”
I placed his bowl on the cool tile with a clink. Teddy jumped off the bed and pranced to the bathroom. I loved the sound of his precious padded feet as they hit the marble floor. He began to scarf down the morsels in the stainless steel dish. I watched him but it didn’t keep my mind from wondering about the conversation I’d overheard.
There wasn’t time to ponder long. I decided on the scarf with my old standby purple sequined dress. I quickly ran a brush through my hair one more time, touched up my lipstick, and headed for the Club Lounge to join my friends.
The housekeepers would be dog friendly (I’d informed them at the desk). As I left, I took off the Do Not Disturb sign. The room needed a little cleaning.
Nicole, Ann and Dominique arrived right on time and looked stunning in their dinner attire. Ann wore a black ruffled dress paired with trendy jewelry. Her talent for perfect accessorizing was enough to make a woman jealous.
Luckily, I had enough confidence to stand next to this belle of the ball. I enjoyed the idea of socializing with a person who looked like they just attended the Academy Awards. Everyone in the room seemed to lay out the red carpet for her and I wasn’t above taking advantage.
Nicole, a bit more conservative, wore a deep blue brocade jacket over an A-line skirt–no nonsense, yet elegant in its simplicity. She could afford to dress simply because nearly anything would look regal under the God-given gift of her ebony tresses.
Dominique had decided against a skirt. Her elegant moiré dinner suit flattered her auburn hair which she kept cropped in curly layers against her neck.
It was a pleasure to see everyone dressed up.
I became so involved with the glamour of the evening and enjoying the prawns and cocktail sauce, I nearly missed man number 528 staring out the ocean view window next to his table, apparently lost in thought. He hunched in an almost vulnerable way.
Then the “barracuda” approached. She entered the room with all the strut and pomp of Madonna minus the fashion sense.
When he saw her, he nearly bolted from his table, but then gripped it firmly as if forcing himself to bear the encounter.
“Paul? How divine!”
She oozed sensuality.
“I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again.”
Their voices dropped to low murmurs, annoying me to the point of distraction. I couldn’t help but twist my fingers darting my eyes from their lips to my dinner napkin.
I really shouldn’t be so nosey–it’s unhealthy.
Ann peered at me. Like a kindred spirit she didn’t speak, just let me continue in reverent attention to the exchange. I needed to absorb everything, every flick of their eyes, every smile. Perhaps tonight, I would start my career as a mind reader.
He was shrinking into his chair. Someone needed to rescue him.
I turned to Ann. “Who’s the huntress? I say that in the most respectful way, of course.”
Ann glanced over my shoulder, immediately taking my meaning. She scowled. “That, my dear, is the Celeste Osborne of San Francisco’s elite.”
Her sneer added weight to her words.
“She’s had two husbands, both deceased, is rich beyond even my imagination, and her gardens are legendary.”
I hadn’t realized a person could grow too rich for fashion sense or social tact. “Oh, you mean, that Celeste Osborne.” It was always good to feign social awareness. “Well, of course I know about Celeste Osborne. It looks to me like she’s working on her third.”
Nicole chimed in. “I’ve seen that man with her before. Did she say Paul?”
“I’m pretty sure.” Perhaps I hadn’t really pulled that off as smoothly as I could have.
“It must be Paul Youngblood, then. He’s the one who designed her gardens. I read about them in Western Horticulture. The photos made her estate look like the one at Filoli. He’s gifted,” Nicole hid a smile, “as well as good looking.”
Dominique spoke up. “Weren’t her gardens just recently completed? I think it must have been about a year ago. I remember seeing before and after pictures in Fantasy Gardens.”
Ann, aka the computer, enlightened us. “She told the magazine that she simply couldn’t bear looking at her gardens after her last husband died because it brought back too many memories of when they used to walk through them together. She had them completely redone, one at a time. I think there were about twenty of them altogether. Of course–”
I grabbed her arm in alarm. Celeste was coming this way. “Quick! Take a bite of your prawn.”
Luckily, Ann was fast enough. Celeste didn’t hear a word, even if Ann nearly choked in the process.
Nicole smiled and gave her a good slap on the back. “I think it’s time to go to dinner.”
The dinner was uneventfully marvelous. Good food, fun conversation, but nothing of note occurred until a pair of voices rose above the din of typical table conversation.
I glanced toward the disturbance, and there sat that annoying Spencer Hausman red-faced and arguing with his assistant.
She raised her voice. “I can’t go on like this–”
“You’ll do what I tell you or....” He stopped abruptly, probably realizing the scene they were making.
Nicole raised her eyebrows. “Hmm….”
Dominique leaned in, excited. “It sounds like he’s forcing something on her, doesn’t it?”
I took a bite of my grilled quail salad and replied with as much nonchalance as I could muster. “Spencer Hausman sounded a little too forceful to me when I talked to him earlier. I’ll bet he’s under pressure of some sort getting this conference together. I hope he’s in a better mood tomorrow when the conference actually starts.”
It was good to be an authority on something.
“I’d be careful of that man, Jillian,” Ann cautioned.
“Oh, don’t worry about me. You know I don’t take chances. It just makes me mad to see someone intimidate another person. Regina impresses me as someone who deserves a little respect. ”
The server brought over the dessert tray, and after declining all around, we decided to call it a night.
Teddy bounced around the room when I returned and hopped up onto the window seat.
“Now, Teddy, stay away from the window. You could fall out. There are no screens to keep you safely in.”
He looked outside, then turned to me and barked an affirmative, “Gotcha!” I settled him on the towel.
I ran a nice warm bath for myself to unwind after all of the evening’s excitement, trying to wash away the unpleasant thoughts of Spencer Hausman.
Why was he trying so hard to make me like him, and yet, why be so nasty to his assistant? Really, he was just shooting himself in the foot by being so mean to her. I could never trust or respect a man who acted so domineering. I suddenly got an image of him shooting himself in the foot, with a 50-caliber rifle. Boom! That made me choke on the bath foam all mounded up around my face like giant cotton balls. I coughed, and laughed, and then coughed some more. Teddy probably thought I’d lost it, or perhaps he didn’t care. Still, it would serve Spencer right.
A soft white robe hung neatly in the closet for guest’s use. I sprayed myself with a vanilla fragrance they had left as a sample in the toiletry caddy by the sink and wrapped the robe around me.
They call this hotel five-star for a reason.
Prepared for bed, I moved to close the window and paused briefly to take in a last breath of sea air. The night breeze stirred over the glimmering moonlit waves. So peaceful.
A few guestroom lights still dotted the hotel exterior and reflected beautifully in the water. I could see into many of the rooms, which, like mine, had their windows open.
I hadn’t realized people could see in so easily just by catching a reflection. I would be sure to keep my clothes on when the drapes were open.
The room where I’d heard the argument had a balcony. Hopefully, Paul would find someone nice to share it with besides that nasty Celeste.
I closed the window and climbed into bed, sank into the luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets and pulled up the down comforter. Teddy raised his head, then lay down again and gave a sigh.I finished my prayer thanking the Lord for the beautiful surroundings. We were both asleep by the time my head burrowed into the goose down pillow.
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.
Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY
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All books are G-rated and contain no profanity.
See you in my books!
Mystery novelist Nancy Jill Thames has published Christian fiction since 2010. The author of seven books in the Jillian Bradley series, she is an award winning blogger and listed numerous times on the Author Watch Bestseller’s List. In addition, she won first place in her church's 4th of July celebration for her chocolate cream pie.
When she isn’t plotting her next book, she spends time with her six grandchildren, tags along with her husband on business trips, and plays classical piano for her personal enjoyment. She is an active member of the Leander Writers' Guild, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), CenTex Chapter-ACFW, and supports the Central Texas SPCA with a portion of her book sales. She resides with her husband in Leander, Texas.
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