I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
Getting ready for the ball just happened. It was like a miracle. I don’t remember. Going through the motions of showering, doing my hair and putting on my make-up felt like a strange someone-else dream. My emerald green velvet gown with small rhinestone buttons and a satin sash slipped easily over my head.
The hotel had arranged for Teddy to have a sitter for the evening, a request I had made far in advance of my arrival. I greeted her, and after giving instructions, I left.
“Jillian,” Ann called from the Club Room with a forkful of quiche poised. “I wanted to catch you.”
She swallowed quickly, “Oh, Jillian, have I got news for you!”
Her smile curled cat-like.
“Come with me, quickly.”
I took her arm and headed toward the nearest table, eager for the news. Luckily, it was in a far corner near the door farthest away from the food and consequently, the people.
“I found out from Celeste that Evelyn is the power behind the throne, not only at home but in their nursery business as well.” Ann sat back very satisfied with herself at the information she had received.
She widened her eyes, giving me a meaningful look, but finally resolved to use words after I didn’t immediately get her meaning. “Well, don’t you see?”
“It means that Evelyn Westover ran the business, fired Walter’s father with no feeling whatsoever, and I think she would probably be bold enough to kill Regina if she thought Regina was after Thomas. Or if she was just plain sick of Regina being around. Things like that have happened before.”
Then she seemed to realize what she’d just said. “Wow, I can’t believe I just said that...I….”
I cut her off. “Evelyn might have a motive if Regina was after Thomas, or even if Thomas was interested in Regina, but do you really think Evelyn would leave her room at two o’clock in the morning, go to Regina’s room and strangle her?
“Don’t you think Thomas would notice Evelyn leaving? Wouldn’t he wonder where she was going at that time of the morning?”
“It doesn’t make sense, but Evelyn did hate Regina…according to Celeste anyway, and there’s something about Evelyn that just doesn’t fit.” She leaned forward, drumming her fingers on the table in thought.
“What doesn’t fit?”
“Well, Celeste said she had never seen Evelyn and Thomas drink as much as they did on Saturday night. She said Evelyn was too happy and was treating Thomas too nicely, and then she said, ‘I wonder who they’ve decided to get rid of, now?’ That was a very strange thing to say, don’t you think, Jillian?”
“Ann, you’ve done well. There’s something there we need to look into–who the Westovers got rid of. It could have been a client, an enemy or someone they didn’t like as you said. Have you seen Nicole or Dominique?”
“Nicole stayed in her room with her computer all afternoon. I haven’t seen Dominique. Oh, look, here they come.”
I took the opportunity to select some hors ‘d’oeuvres from the buffet and a glass of Cabernet. “Hello ladies, tsk…tsk….” I shook my finger teasingly at them. “It’s 7:04. Why so late?”
“Perhaps some of us are not a human pocket watch,” Nicole pouted.
They both scrunched in around the table in their ball dresses. I set my plate on the table. “Nicole, Ann tells me you’ve been on your computer all afternoon. Did you find anything?”
“I’m getting there. Everything looks legitimate, except one account called The Venus Flytrap.” She shook her head a little and furrowed her brow. “I still need to check for an address.”
I took a bite of my stuffed mushrooms and sipped my Cabernet Sauvignon. I grinned. “I’ll test the waters with that name and see what kind of reaction they give me.”
“Jillian…” Ann took a deep breath, obviously shocked at the idea of confronting them so openly.
“It’s time to put on the pressure.”
I suspected I sounded like the Chief of Scotland Yard.
“Ahem.” Dominique interrupted that pleasant thought. “You haven’t questioned me yet, Jillian. And I’ve really found out something…I think.”
Things were looking better by the minute.
“You asked me to shadow Marianne and I did. She said that she had known Regina, ‘as well as anyone could, poor thing’.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Did she elaborate on the ‘poor thing’?”
“Marianne said that Regina never had a chance. She was smart, pretty, and just enough of a damsel in distress to have men wrapped around her little fingers.” Dominique smiled sarcastically.
I furrowed my brow. “Did Marianne mention the men Regina had wrapped around her little fingers?”
“Marianne just said that she had the same effect on any man. It didn’t really matter who it was.”
Ann chimed in. “Dominique, how did Marianne talk about Regina? Was she hateful or jealous?”
Dominique looked at Ann with a sober expression. “Marianne pitied her!”
“How long did Marianne know Regina?”
“She knew Regina as a young girl–since grade school. Marianne talked about how Regina teased the boys. She said that she was always ambitiously working to improve herself. I think Marianne also admired her from the way she talked.” Dominique smiled and looked at the three of us.
“Nicole.” I sat up straighter in my chair. “Regina wrote horticulture articles that were plagiarized by Spencer Hausman. We need to find out what she wrote. See what you can come up with.”
“I’ll check on it right after the ball, Jillian.” Nicole stood and cast a furtive glance around the room. The crowd around us seemed to be stirring and they were too close for confidentiality now. “It’s almost time.”
Too bad Regina, the resident ‘Cinderella’, wouldn’t be attending. No, I supposed that in real life, most of the Cinderella’s out there weren’t so virginal and many of them probably ended up dead. Jealousy was a powerful thing.
“Ladies, shall we go?” I motioned to the door where others had started to exit.
Stuffed into the elevator in all our finery, we descended.
On entering the ball room, I couldn’t help but make a rough head count. It looked like around two hundred. The funny thing was that out of all those two hundred people only two really stood out.
Celeste looked like a golden goddess, dressed to the teeth, and dangerously seductive. Her blond hair was piled elegantly on top of her head, she wore Hollywood quality makeup (false eyelashes and all), and the gown…my goodness! Strapless, and made of gold lamè, the bodice shimmered with tiny gold beads. The full, floor length skirt of gold tulle netting sparkled with the same elegant gold shimmer. A simple diamond tiara, matching diamond jewelry, and a golden tulle net shawl finished her off–a total ‘belle of the ball’ sort of sight.
For some reason, it angered me. All of the menfolk swarmed around her. A cloud of bees guarding the hive.
What would Regina have worn, had she the chance tonight? No, she was no longer any sort of competition. The more I thought about it, the madder I got.
Celeste’s attention-loving smirk made me more determined than ever to find out who killed Regina…and I would find out.
The second most noticeable person in the room was Evelyn. Her hairstyle remained unchanged from her everyday bob and bangs. Her makeup consisted of mascara and lipstick.
The dress was undeniably the worst looking formal I’d ever seen! It was orange and green velour in a paisley pattern. It began gathered at her throat and cascaded over her matronly figure revealing every figure flaw she had.
It exposed her flabby upper arms, which were covered with countless age spots. The fabric rippled over her midriff and then rested on the shelf of her rather large derriere.
The skirt mercifully fell to the floor covering her stocky legs. The earrings were large gold discs of African design. One couldn’t help but stare at them.
Thomas stood by next to her looking very dignified in his tuxedo. Seeing me, they made their way over.
“Jillian, my dear.” Evelyn sounded quite solicitous. “I simply love your gown. It sets off your blond hair so nicely.”
“Thank you, Evelyn.” I wished I could have returned the compliment.
“Good evening, Jillian.” Thomas smiled and took my hand, covering it with his. “You’re looking lovely tonight.”
I glanced at Evelyn out of the corner of my eye and noticed the obvious jealousy she felt at her husband’s comment.
“You both are very kind.” I tried to change the subject. “What a pity Regina couldn’t be here tonight. She worked so hard to achieve the ball’s success.”
“Yes, it is a pity.” Thomas looked serious. “Regina always put everything she had into a project. She used to come into the nursery to deliver orders with the order in one hand and a horticulture book in the other. She’d say, ‘If you want something badly enough, you’ll do whatever it takes.’”
I had to ask. “What did she wanted badly enough, Thomas?”
He appeared rather flustered. “Regina was working on a project for the government. If she succeeded she’d be set for life.”
Evelyn turned to Thomas and ignored me altogether. “How do you know about what Regina was doing? I didn’t think you even talked to that...that....”
“Now, dear.” Thomas patted her flabby upper arm. “Let’s not speak ill of the dead.”
“Thomas, what sort of project?” I wasn’t about to allow that comment to go unquestioned.
He considered me and then his wife, then seemed to choose his words carefully. “The government was working on expanding their knowledge of biochemical warfare especially in light of the recent attacks on the World Trade Center. Regina’s field was plant spores. Quite knowledgeable.” He didn’t look at Evelyn but we both heard her gasp.
“Did she complete the project–submit it?”
“She was close, I know that much. She said that this weekend really cut into her deadline.”
Evelyn inched closer toward him, but he ignored her.
“Thomas, dear.” She placed a possessive hand on his arm. “I really don’t think you should be discussing Regina’s government project with anyone. They might not like it.” Her saccharine smile tried to inject a note of humor....
“Or someone else might not like it.”
“What’s that you said, Jillian?”
“Oh, just thinking aloud. Don’t mind me.”
“Jillian, I must say you’re going a bit too far playing detective.” She chuckled. “I think you should stick to your column and let the police handle Regina’s case. After all, she was common, so let the common people handle her.”
With a final ‘harrumph,’ she took a firm hold on Thomas’ arm and led him away.
Quite a difficult person to like. What hold did she have over Thomas to make him stay with her? On the other hand, if he had plans to leave with Regina, perhaps Evelyn stopped him by stopping her.
Tricky to find out.
Perhaps a travel agent could give me information about whether or not Thomas and Regina had made any reservations for trips out of the area, hotel stays–plane tickets. I’d get Nicole on it right away.
I actually danced a few dances with Hugh Porter and one with Spencer Hausman. Spencer had surely only felt obligated. The ball ended in a final dance with the mirrored ball reflecting prisms of light throughout the room and ceiling.
For a moment, I thought I saw Regina dancing with Paul, but her face changed into one who had a golden head of hair. Celeste.
Did I just imagine that?
The barracuda’s face curled in a triumphant smile of victory. She held him in a hug as they seductively danced cheek to cheek.
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.
Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY
for your e-reader is free!
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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