Read 1 A High-End Finish Online

Authors: Kate Carlisle

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1 A High-End Finish (6 page)

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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“I’m so sorry,” she began, and I saw that her eyes were bright with unshed tears. “He was a horrible man and it’s my fault that he hurt you, and now he’s dead. And I’m glad, damn it. Now that I’ve said it out loud, I don’t care if anyone knows how I feel. Nobody hurts my friend and gets away with it.”

I frowned at her. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”

Her look of shock was priceless. “Good God, no. Did you?”

“No.” I laughed, grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze. “So no more apologies from either of us. It’s not your fault that he attacked me. I know your heart was in the right place when you set us up and I know you’d never do anything to hurt me. That’s not why I’m here.”

“All right, okay. I just felt so bad about your horrible date.” She brushed at her eyes and sniffled once. “And then when I heard that he was dead, wow.” Her face contorted in dismay.

“Tell the truth. Did you think I did it?”

“No!”

“It’s okay if you did. The new police chief thinks I did it.”

She gasped. “No, he doesn’t.”

“He did for an hour or two last night. I was the one who found the body, after all. And plenty of people overheard me threatening him.”

“You’ve never been a violent person. I can only imagine that awful man must have hurt you pretty bad.”

“He did,” I said quietly. “And what hurts even more is that I bought into his whole act.”

She buried her face in her hands. “Oh, God, it’s all my fault.”

“And we’ve come full circle.”

“Okay, I’ll stop,” she said, holding up both hands like a traffic cop. “We will never talk about Jerry Saxton ever, ever again.” She swept her shaggy bangs off her forehead and straightened her shoulders, refreshed and ready to change the subject. “So, what’s up? Why are you here? Not that it isn’t a thrill to see you.”

I laughed softly. “I want to talk about Jerry.”

“Shannon!”

“I just need to know how you met him. Why did you set me up with him? Who introduced you? Did one of your friends tell you he was a good person?”

She looked puzzled. “I didn’t tell you? He came into the store a few weeks ago and introduced himself. He was so charming and gorgeous that I immediately thought of you. I wanted you to meet him.”

“So nobody recommended him to you as good blind-date material.”

“No.”

I nodded and drained the last of my coffee. “And you didn’t ask anyone about him after you met him.”

“You mean, did I do something smart like gather some character references? No. I got a positive feeling about him from the very beginning. He was such a good listener.” She rolled her eyes in disgust. “So much for my ability to judge character.”

“You’re a perfectly good judge of character, Lizzie. So am I.” I stood and gave her a tight hug. “I guess we had to find out the hard way how charming a sociopath can be.”

•   •   •

Being a good citizen and informing the police of a new clue didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. I had driven directly to the police department and politely requested a few minutes to talk to Chief Jensen. Naturally, the infuriating man completely misinterpreted my news.

“Are you conducting your own murder investigation, Ms. Hammer?”

“Of course not,” I stammered.

“Sounds like it to me,” Chief Jensen said.

“I’m just trying to help. I came across some information that might be useful and I thought you should know about it.”

“Information? Is that what it’s called?” He sat back in his chair. “Sounds more like gossip to me.”

The man made me so angry! Yes, he was gorgeous, and yes, my heart did beat a little faster whenever I looked into those searing blue eyes of his, but enough was enough.

“So what if it is?” I jumped up and paced in front of his desk while I talked, waving my arms for emphasis. “Gossip can be informative, right? And I thought you’d want to know that my men witnessed Mrs. Boyer and Jerry Saxton carrying on with each other. I thought that was information you could use.” I stopped abruptly and shook my finger at him. “And you’re a fine one to talk about gossip. Apparently you listened to plenty of gossip concerning my fight with Jerry Saxton on the beach the other night. I’ll bet you found it highly entertaining.”

“I found it highly motivating.”

“Motivating?” I was puzzled for a second, but then I realized what he was saying. “Ah. As in
a motive for murder
. Really, Chief? Haven’t we moved beyond all that?” My shoulders drooped and I slid back into my chair. I was mostly playacting for his benefit, but part of me was bummed. When would he stop giving me grief?

His lips twitched but he refused to smile. “Why didn’t you file a police report after the fight?”

I scowled, mostly at my own forgetfulness. “I meant to. I told Lizzie I would. You can ask her. Liz Logan. You know her, right?”

“Yeah, I know her.”

Of course he did, I realized. She and Hal had provided my alibi for the night Jerry was killed. “Well, you should ask her. She was going to come with me to the police station to file the report, but I got caught up in work stuff and forgot. Next thing I knew, the guy was dead.”

“We’ll follow up on your information.” He sounded so condescending, I was surprised he didn’t put air quotes around the word
information
.

“That’s great,” I said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice as I stood to leave his office.

He stood also. “Thank you for coming by, Ms. Hammer.”

I tried to hide my shock. He was being courteous?

“I mean it,” he said, reading my expression. “I realize it wasn’t easy for you to share what you heard, so I appreciate your effort.”

My head was practically spinning from the warm cordiality. “You’re welcome.”

•   •   •

I was driving out of the police station parking lot when I remembered that my new tenant, Wendell Jarvick, would be arriving around noon. I had only an hour to prepare myself for another onslaught of negativity. Having just dealt with Chief Jensen, I figured today was my day to confront people in grouchy moods.

An hour later I watched from my front window as Wendell Jarvick drove into my driveway and parked his oversized luxury car halfway between the street and my garage. He was prompt, anyway. He sat in the driver’s seat and waited for several minutes before finally getting out of the car. He was almost six feet tall, and skinnier than a stick of licorice. His dark hair was coiffed—there was no other word for it—into a kind of pompadour, à la Elvis. He wore skintight plaid pants and a long-sleeved white shirt buttoned up to the collar. I imagined he fancied himself a hipster.

He glanced around again, probably wondering where the servants were hiding, then popped the trunk and pulled out six pieces of matching luggage. Then he stood and waited. I had to wonder what he would do if nobody ever showed up. Would he call me? Knock on my front door? Or just keep waiting out there?

If Wendell expected valet service, he should’ve booked the Ritz-Carlton a couple hundred miles down the road.

I inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly, counting to ten. Pasting a bright smile on my face, I strolled out to the driveway with my arm extended to shake his hand. “Hello, Mr. Jarvick. Welcome back to Lighthouse Cove.”

He ignored my hand.

“I’m Shannon Hammer,” I continued, mentally gritting my teeth. “I’m your host for the next two weeks. Let me show you the way to your room.”

I turned and headed for the garage stairs.

“Wait just one minute, young lady,” he said imperiously. “Did you not notice that I have luggage?”

“Oh, I can help you with that.” I picked up two of the smaller suitcases and walked to the garage stairs.

He was already grumbling under his breath when he caught up with me on the stairs. I had a feeling his visit was not going to end well. I wasn’t the most experienced hotelier in town, but I’d always enjoyed having guests stay here. In almost all cases, I knew they went away happy. I was almost certain that Wendell would not end up on the happy list.

He would be here for only two weeks. I could put up with anything for two weeks.

“I was promised an ocean view,” he said, panting for breath as we reached the top of the stairs.

“There’s a beautiful view from inside. Let me show you.” I unlocked the door, swung it open, and preceded him into the room. I set the two suitcases down near the closet and walked over to the bay window. I pulled up the blinds to reveal a charming view of the Victorian rooftops of the neighborhood, beyond which was the wide blue ocean, a mere two blocks away. To the left were steep green hills topped by a forest of glorious redwood trees.

“Isn’t it lovely?” I said brightly.

“Why aren’t you closer to the beach?”

“It’s a short walk and very refreshing. Less than one block away is Main Street and our town square, where you’ll find loads of wonderful shops and restaurants. But I don’t have to tell you that. You come here every year, so you must love it as much as we do.”

He stared down his nose at me. “Will I be allowed any privacy at all?”

“Of course. I’ll leave you to it. If you have any questions, just give me a call. The notebook by the phone has pages and pages of things to do and places to go and any phone numbers you might need. My number is at the top of the page. There’s also a TV listing and emergency numbers, in case you need those. Enjoy your stay.”

I escaped down the stairs and back into my house. The phone was already ringing. “Hello?”

“I need the rest of my bags.”

“I’ll be happy to help you carry one of them upstairs. I’ll meet you at your car.” I quickly hung up the telephone. I didn’t want to be rude, but I also wasn’t going to carry all of his luggage upstairs for him. It wasn’t my fault he’d brought six freaking suitcases.

I met him at his car and carried one of the last two suitcases upstairs. When we reached the apartment I dropped the suitcase by the closet and smiled. “Just one last thing and I’ll let you enjoy your privacy. You’ll need to remove your car from the driveway because it’s blocking my access in and out.”

“You expect me to park on the street?” He looked horrified.

I swallowed a laugh. “The streets of Lighthouse Cove are the safest in the country. Your car will be fine.”

I knew I was on thin ice with him, but that was too bad. Not only did I need ready access to my truck, but my father often parked his RV in the driveway.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be receiving any stellar recommendations from Wendell Jarvick, but I didn’t think he had any right to complain. I knew my two guest suites were well-appointed, clean, and comfortable. The neighborhood was quiet and the view was unsurpassed. All we were missing was a bellman and an elevator.

•   •   •

I met Jane right on time for dinner at Bella Rossa, our favorite hole-in-the-wall Italian place on the square. It helped that it was owned by Uncle Pete, who also owned the wine bar next door and Bella Rossa Winery outside of town. He’d started out growing grapes for the local wineries, but when our very own Anderson Valley became the newest hot spot for wine tasting, Uncle Pete had bitten the bullet and built a small winery, where he started making his own wines.

The winery became so popular that he opened the wine bar on the square, next door to Bella Rossa. He had never had kids of his own, so he’d named the winery after me. In a manner of speaking, that is.
Rossa
was Italian for “redhead.” These days, I was the only redhead in the family, since Dad’s and Uncle Pete’s hair had turned gray and Chloe had dyed her hair blond the minute she got to Hollywood. It suited her, though, just as my red hair suited me. I was born with it and had the freckles to prove it.

Even though he didn’t have an Italian bone in his body, Uncle Pete was always shouting out Italian phrases and mild swearwords, much to the delight of his customers. My family was 100 percent Irish, but nobody seemed to notice at Bella Rossa.

Uncle Pete greeted us with hugs and big kisses before taking us to our table. Jane and I ordered a half bottle of a good Sonoma Pinot Noir, an antipasto appetizer, and pasta pomodoro for the main course. A busboy brought a basket of crunchy sourdough bread and a crock of butter, along with water glasses and a bowl of briny olives.

As soon as he left the table, Jane demanded answers. “When I saw you Friday morning at the tea shop, you were traumatized by Jerry’s attack. The next thing I hear a day later is that he’s dead. What happened?”

“How should I know?” I popped an olive into my mouth. “Why are you asking me?”

“Because you always know everything.”

I leaned in and whispered, “If you’re asking whether I killed him or not, I didn’t.”

Her eyes widened. “Of course you didn’t. Why would you even say that?”

“Because there are people who think I did.”

“Well, they’re insane.”

I glanced around the restaurant, hoping nobody could hear us. “The police chief is one of them.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she said, laughing. “Eric would never think that about you. He’s a sweetie pie.”

A
sweetie pie
? “So you’ve met him.”

“Of course I have,” Jane said, smiling. “We’re neighbors. He couldn’t be nicer.”

“Sounds like you know him pretty well.”

“He’s been living here for two months. And he’s kind of hard to miss, if you know what I mean.”

“Unfortunately, I do.”

The waitress brought our wine and we both took hearty sips before continuing the conversation.

“What did you mean by that?” Jane whispered once the waitress was gone.

“By what?”

“You said,
unfortunately
.”

“He hates me.” It hurt to admit that. I set my glass down and took a slow breath. “I was interrogated for hours the other night, plus some more today. In case you haven’t heard, I’m the perfect suspect.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It’s not. Will you do me a favor and tell Chief Jensen how wonderful I am?”

“I will,” she promised. “Oh. He just walked in.” She jumped up, and before I could grab her she dashed over to greet the chief. When he saw her, he smiled broadly and gave her a friendly hug. Apparently, Thor did have a warmer, friendlier side—I just hadn’t been privy to it.

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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