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.
The reception was already full of people by the time I arrived. A small band was playing some good seventies music in the back corner of the room. People were standing around, drinks in hand, chatting. Others sat at tables enjoying various drinks and delicious hors d’ oeuvres.
I picked up a plate, took some pot stickers and sprinkled them with the soy ginger sauce. I wandered over to the next table, trying not to look like a hungry wolf, and added some Rumaki and stuffed mushrooms. A fruit kabob and some shrimp cocktail rounded out the rest of my plate.
I went to the bar, ordered a glass of white wine, and looked around for a table. Regina Anatolia sat with Dominique and Marianne. Seeing me, Regina waved and pointed toward a vacant chair.
I sat down and took a first delicious bite as Regina started talking.
“I’ve been getting to know one of your garden club friends, Jillian. I don’t know many African artifact importers. She’s an interesting conversationalist, for sure.”
Dominique smiled at the compliment.
“It’s nice to see you again, Marianne.” I nodded. “Earlier today, Marianne rode back with me from town.”
“I guess it doesn’t take long to get acquainted with the staff.” Regina chuckled.
I nodded and looked at her. “What did you do this afternoon, Regina?”
The question seemed to catch her off guard, and she hesitated before answering. “I, ah...I just caught up on some last minute plans for the ball tomorrow night. You know, selections for the band and some last minute details on the decorations.”
Dominique sighed. “Doesn’t sound like much fun. I'd much rather find myself on a secluded beach with Mr. Youngblood."
We giggled like girls. Dominique had a way about bringing the kid out in everyone.
Ann found us. Trailing her were Evelyn and Thomas.
Focusing on them, Regina asked, “Are you both enjoying the conference?”
Thomas smiled. “I’ve enjoyed the golf. It’s a beautiful course. A tough one, though. I did hit a couple into the ocean."
Everyone laughed except Evelyn. She clearly didn’t enjoy the attention he received.
“I must say, Regina,” Evelyn kept her eyes half closed as she spoke, “You’ve done quite well with this conference, considering your background.”
Evelyn sneered, clearly pleased with her jab.
Feeling the tension mounting, I decided to defuse the situation. “I understand we’re to have dinner at the Distillery tonight.”
Regina took a moment to regain her composure before she responded. “Yes, the entire staff is going. We’ve also invited the Westovers and Celeste Osborne, since they have so generously donated their time and resources to the Society.”
She smiled slyly. “Spencer insisted your garden club ladies join us, Jillian. Will you come?”
“That’s very thoughtful of him.” I nodded. “Speaking of my garden club, I see Nicole coming in.”
Regina stood. “The Distillery will be sending over a bus so we can all ride together. Meet in the lobby in half an hour.”
The group broke up and went their separate ways. I glanced toward Nicole. She whispered, “We need to talk.”
“By all means.” I motioned for her to follow me to my room.
Teddy stretched lazily from his nap and then whined, taking his normal place in my lap.
Nicole pulled the chair out from the desk and faced me dramatically.
“Spencer Hausman has a gambling problem.”
“Oh.” I gripped Teddy a little too tight around the middle. He tried to wiggle free. “Sorry, boy.”
I needed information. My mind needed satisfaction. I had lots of questions. “That would explain a lot.”
“Well, it seems that’s his life.”
“Expensive life, wouldn’t you say?”
“Maybe he lives frugally.” Her dry tone indicated her skepticism.
“He’d have to live in a dirt cheap apartment to support that wardrobe of his.” I huffed. “See if you can check on his addresses for the past five years. He said he’d worked for the Westovers for four.”
“Okay. I think I can get the information.”
“And see if you can find out who his previous employer was, just out of curiosity. It might be important.”
Nicole looked at her watch. “We’d better get downstairs. We don’t want them to leave without us.”
“Just one second.” I fed Teddy and changed his water. “All right, I’m ready.”
Teddy looked at me with his little brown eyes as if to say, “Be careful.”
“I will, boy.”
We were the last to board the bus. Everyone else waited for us in the misted waning light. Walter helped us on. He winked as he helped me up the steps.
“Maybe you’ll see the ‘Lady in Blue’ tonight. I hear that’s not incredibly uncommon, especially at this hour,” he teased. “Have fun.”
“I’ll just be glad to get there and back safely in all this fog. Thanks for the scare.”
The ride only took twenty minutes. Pleasant conversation buzzed until we reached our destination.
The maître d’ greeted us and showed us to our private room.
“So sorry you cannot enjoy the sunset.” His Italian accent sounded charming. “The fog is highly unusual for this time of day.”
He handed us our menus and took drink orders.
“Enjoy your meal.” He bowed, and left.
Spencer Hausman spoke up. “I know people will enjoy Marianne’s pointers on tree peonies tomorrow afternoon. Are everyone’s rooms comfortable? Any problems so far I should know about?”
Celeste responded with a grin. “There aren’t enough men to keep things interesting.”
Regina looked pointedly at her. “How many men do you need, Celeste?”
Celeste didn’t miss a beat. “Only one at a time, Regina, not like some women I know.”
Regina flushed and sat back.
Evelyn smiled, evidently satisfied with the put down. She spoke to the server, “Thomas and I will have the Chateaubriand for two.”
She looked at Thomas with a flirtatious eye while everyone else looked at each other in utter amazement.
Marianne chuckled. “Why, Evelyn, it looks like this ocean air has worked a little magic on you and Thomas.”
Thomas smiled at her. “Why, Marianne, whatever do you mean?”
Ann and Dominique raised their eyebrows. Nicole was looking at Spencer Hausman.
He didn’t look happy at all.
The Destination Distillery bus delivered us safely to the front door of the hotel where the twin giant pumpkins welcomed us warmly. Thomas and Evelyn obviously had had a little too much to drink. I couldn’t tell whether they had been celebrating something privately, or whether they were trying to drown their sorrows.
Paul stood inside the front door talking to Regina. Neither of them looked happy. Celeste waited impatiently for them to finish, and just stared at Paul until Regina walked away.
Spencer caught up with Regina and followed her to the bar, where the Westovers also headed.
I could hear strains of a jazzy blues singer wafting down through the halls of the hotel lobby.
The mood overall was a festive one. Hugh and Marianne went into the salon by the fireplace seemingly to warm up after being out in the damp air. I decided to join them. Ann, Dominique, and Nicole, went up to the Club Room to see what the evening offerings were.
As we warmed ourselves by the fire, Marianne said, “I really don’t know what’s come over Evelyn. She usually treats Thomas like dog meat.”
Hugh looked into the fire thoughtfully. “Evelyn and Thomas have had a tough time of it with their son. I hope she’s finally coming to her senses.”
“Yes, that’s the way it looks.” I turned my head in the direction of the bar.
Marianne saw that I was referring to the Westovers.
“I hope so.”
“Well, it’s time for Teddy’s walk, and then bed.” I stifled a yawn. “I want to be at my best for your talk tomorrow.”
“Oh….” She perked up, evidently remembering Society business. She smiled warmly. “Well, of course you do.”
I took the elevator and poked my head into the Club Room to see if my friends were still there. Behind the wall where the coffee service had been set out, sitting on plush brocade sofas, sat my entire garden club.
“Jillian!” Ann seemed a little too glad to see me. “Come and sit for a minute.”
“I will, but just for a minute. I need to walk Teddy and get to bed. It’s been a long day.”
“You can say that again.” Ann’s voice contained a touch of irony.
Dominique explained. “Ann’s been telling us all the gory details about Celeste’s love life.”
“You mean love lives.” Nicole’s contribution sounded a bit catty.
“I hope she hasn’t overheard you in here.” I lowered my voice hoping not to be heard.
“We haven’t seen her since the bus dropped us off.” Ann’s voice was a little quieter this time.
“Well, I really don’t think this is the place to discuss it. Why don’t we meet for breakfast in town? The first session isn’t until ten, so I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get back before it starts.” I looked around at all of them.
“Sounds fine to me.” Nicole stood to leave.
Dominique and Ann nodded in agreement.
I hugged each of them and waved them on their way. “Goodnight, I’ll meet you all in the lobby at eight o’clock.”
Once again, the room had been prepared for the evening with the guests’ comfort in mind. The same gentle classical music played, and the down comforter lay turned down, with fluffed pillows dressing the bed invitingly. On the nightstand sat my foil wrapped truffle, atop a tiny golden tray.
They had closed the windows due to the fog, I supposed. Glancing out to see the beach, I saw spots of softly shrouded light here and there. I couldn’t make out anything else. “Come on, Teddy. Let’s go for that walk I promised.”
Teddy jumped off the bed with enthusiasm, fetched his leash and laid it at my feet.
“Let me get my sweats on first. From the looks of things, you’re going to need your sweater.”
Teddy uttered a tiny growl and I knew I’d better hurry if I didn’t want a puddle on the carpet. The orange sweater was rather snug but eventually it pushed on over his head then his stubby legs.
“Okay, boy, let’s go!”
The walk was uneventful. We stuck mostly to the building’s perimeter because of the fog. The sweater had Teddy panting in only a few minutes.
On our return, I pulled down the blinds and closed the drapes. The cold night air had chilled my bones–I could use a good warm bath.
The water was hot and fragrant, steaming the mirror quickly while I soaked in the moisturizing bubbles. The rich chocolate mocha aroma melted away the tiredness in my mind and clothed me in temporary bliss.
I put Teddy on his towel, climbed in bed between the cool soft sheets and fluffy cloud of the duvet, and closed my eyes.
Now outside of the warm bathroom, the memory of the cold almost crept into my bones as before. I wondered if this was an omen. My eyes popped open. Was the $8,000 just the beginning? A cover for an even bigger secret?
Teddy turned around twice and settled in for the night.
I wanted to be at peace, like him. Thoughts of the Westovers’ strained marriage and Spencer Hausman’s gambling problem kept rolling through my mind, undoing the good work the bath had done for my muscles.
I tossed around, straining for strands, ribbons of sensible thoughts instead of those that toyed with me. I squinted like a surfacing groundhog for the fifth time and looked for a clock.
I found the glaring numbers hovering over my nightstand. They announced half past one in the morning.
I tried to hunker down again. I pulled and tucked the covers firmly around me on all sides. I needed something to help me weather this wretched, clammy, bone-chilling night.
So I prayed for peace.
Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY
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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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