Authors: Sandra Balzo
Tags: #light mystery, #Women Sleuths, #cozy mystery, #amateur sleuth, #small town mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #women's fiction, #Fiction, #north carolina
From the social columns, AnnaLise knew Tanja loved white roses. From Ben, she knew Tanja hated seat belts because they wrinkled her clothes, and oral sex because . . . well, just because.
As for Suzanne, or ‘Suze’ as she was known, any information on the teenager came nearly entirely from Ben. Determined, a Rosewood trait, when he agreed with her. Spoiled, a Hobson trait, when he didn't. She had her father's blue eyes and mother's patrician nose.
‘AnnaLise Griggs?’ The voice was Ben's.
Hide in plain sight, he'd always told her. If you think someone might have seen us together, walk right up to them and say hello.
‘Hello?’ she replied, striving for a ‘do I know you?’ tone because seeing him here, now, was so totally out of context. And so totally beyond comprehension.
‘Why, District Attorney Rosewood,’ she continued. ‘I'm sorry, I just didn't recognize you. It's such a surprise to see someone from home – my new home – down here.’ AnnaLise tossed an apologetic look toward her mother.
‘Please, call me Ben. No need to be formal so far from the office. After all, you're part of the reason we're here.’ Rosewood shook hands with AnnaLise before turning to Daisy. ‘I'm Ben Rosewood. You're . . . ?’
‘Oh, I'm sorry,’ AnnaLise said again, trying to grasp the idea that Ben was here – with his wife and daughter – because of her somehow. ‘This is my mother, Daisy Griggs.’
‘A pleasure,’ Ben said with his best politician smile. Sun-streaked hair, blue eyes, a firm handshake and a record as a Gulf War hero completed the picture. ‘And this is my wife, Tanja, and my daughter, Suzanne.’
‘Good to meet you,’ AnnaLise said, turning her attention to the two women. At probably five-nine, Tanja Rosewood was a better physical match for Ben than five-foot AnnaLise. Even without stilettos, Tanja's head would rest on the DA's shoulder when they danced, whereas AnnaLise's – ’
‘Are you visiting U-Mo?’ AnnaLise heard Daisy ask.
U-Mo, the nearby University of the Mountain, where one needed either brains or money to get in. While AnnaLise had the brains, she would have needed a full-ride to go there and, truth be told, she'd wanted to go away to school. Living at home while attending school, at the time, wasn't what she'd envisioned.
But then again, neither was this.
‘I'm already a student,’ said Suzanne brightly, all the while scanning the diners over AnnaLise's shoulder.
AnnaLise glanced around, seeing only James Duende watching their little group.
‘As of Tuesday last week,’ her mother said dryly, as AnnaLise turned back. ‘Thanks so much for the recommendation on the school, by the way.’
She didn't look thankful. In fact, brows raised to form inverted ‘V’s over both eyes, Tanja seemed speculative, almost accusing.
AnnaLise willed herself not to think it had anything to do with her and Ben – or what used to be her and Ben – but coming face-to-face with Tanja for the first time, it was all she could do to not break down and confess, throwing herself on the betrayed woman's mercy.
Tanja continued: ‘One visit here last spring and Suzanne was entranced. She wouldn't hear of going anywhere else for some reason.’
AnnaLise, who had no memory of ‘recommending’ U-Mo or any other school, was saved from saying something that might have contradicted whatever Ben had told his wife and daughter. Saved, that is, by the district attorney himself. ‘When Suze indicated she wanted a real college campus experience in a picturesque place, I asked Katie to come up with suggestions. She included the university here, said you'd spoken glowingly about the area.’
Katie was a paralegal in the DA's office. And, apparently his beard. Or their beard, in this case. Much more likely for a lowly reporter to be talking to an equally lowly paralegal than to the big man himself.
‘Quite honestly?’ Tanja threw AnnaLise a tight smile. ‘When Suzanne made her decision, I was as surprised as you seem to be.’
Perhaps, though AnnaLise doubted it.
wanted me to go out east.’ But now the girl was craning her neck to look out the window behind her.
‘There are schools with absolutely lovely campuses in the northeast corridor,’ Tanja said, turning away from AnnaLise. ‘And with, I might add, five-star hotels nearby.’
‘Sutherton is picturesque, dear, and you enjoy staying at country inns.’ Ben seemed embarrassed by his wife's attitude.
‘I said I “enjoyed” the White Gull Inn in Door County, Wisconsin's vacationland.’ She idly set her hand on the glass next to the cash register, but quickly snatched it back, rubbing the tips of her fingers together. ‘We were dating at the time. Must you hold me to it twenty years later?’
While Daisy's eyes had narrowed at the suggestion her newly polished counter wasn't as clean as it might be, AnnaLise was contemplating the lovely bed and breakfast in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. The White Gull Inn apparently had not been quite the serendipitous discovery Ben had claimed when he took her there.
Nor, presumably, was the University of the Mountain.
‘I'm sorry to run,’ AnnaLise said, lying through her teeth, ‘but I need to drive my mother to an appointment.’
Daisy glanced at the clock behind the counter. ‘It's not for an hour, AnnaLise, if you want to stay and chat.’
‘I thought you wanted to do an errand to do en route,’ said the prodigal daughter.
‘Yes, but we're already cutting it too close.’ Daisy was looking at AnnaLise curiously. ‘We'll just stop on the way back.’
‘And,’ AnnaLise continued, ‘we should let these good people eat in peace. Besides, who knows what traffic will be like in Boone.’
‘Traffic?’ This from daughter Suzanne. ‘The town's not exactly New York City.’
‘Suze.’ A warning look from Ben, much like the one he'd directed at his wife. Poor guy, having to keep all the women in his life in line. ‘New York City isn't built in the mountains, either. There are only so many roads people can use for travel.’
‘And we'd best get on one.’ AnnaLise moved past them to the door. ‘Before we're late.’
‘What time is it, anyway?’ Tanja slipped open the flap of her handbag and pulled out her cell phone. ‘I have an appointment at three-thirty for an afternoon treatment at the Sutherton Spa.’ The wife looked up. ‘How long will it take me to get there?’
‘Sutherton Spa?’ AnnaLise said uncertainly, looking at Daisy. ‘I don't think I know – ’
‘Yes, you do,’ said her mother. ‘It's where Tail Too used to be, in the Hotel Lux.’
‘Really?’ AnnaLise asked. The Hotel Lux was the 300-room, ten-story facility at the top of Sutherton Mountain. Popular with skiers, it was considered an eyesore by the rest of the community. In fact, its construction had resulted in a law prohibiting the building of multistory structures on ridge lines.
But it wasn't the spa's location in the Hotel Lux that had surprised AnnaLise, rather that it meant the last vestige of the old White Tail Club was finally gone. White Tail – a sixties knock-off of the Playboy Club, but with ‘Fawns’ instead of ‘Bunnies’ – had been located on the fifty-acre island which dominated the northern part of Lake Sutherton. For ski seasons, owner Dickens Hart had maintained a smaller, satellite club in the Lux, though it, too, had been closed for years. ‘Hart opened a spa?’
‘Ask your mother,’ Mama said, throwing a look at Daisy. ‘By all accounts, she knows Dickens Hart better than any of us.’
Daisy, who'd dared to keep the truth about AnnaLise's male parentage secret, even from her best friend, squirmed, just as Mama had intended. She'd eventually let Daisy off the proverbial hook, AnnaLise knew, but in the meantime Phyllis Balisteri had no compunction about throwing in the occasional barb.
As for AnnaLise, she preferred to let sleeping biological fathers lie. And mothers, likewise.
‘Not really,’ Daisy explained. ‘Dickens turned the space over to his ex-wife about a year ago when he decided to turn the club on the island into condos and shops.’
‘His ex-wife? You mean Joy?’ Joy Tamarack had been Hart's third wife, and though the marriage between the then twenty-five-year-old blonde physical trainer and the aging playboy had lasted but a year, Joy had managed to leverage ‘ex-wife’ into a full-time paid position with
benefits. ‘But just last week Joy was pressing Hart to give her space for a spa in Hart's Landing now that she's staying here permanently.’ Hart's Landing being what Dickens Hart modestly had named his new mixed-use development on the island.
‘That will be a second location for the summer season,’ Daisy said. ‘But in the winter, when the skiers – ’
‘While this is endlessly fascinating,’ Tanja Rosewood broke in, ‘could someone please answer my question?’
Daisy, Mama and AnnaLise – all three of them stared at her, none of them seeming to quite remember what that question had been.
AnnaLise hit the answer button first. ‘Tail Too, or whatever it is now, is all the way up the mountain.’ She looked at Daisy for consultation. ‘What would you say? A half hour, maybe?’
Daisy laughed. ‘Only because you drive like a snail.’ She turned to Ben's wife. ‘Instead of following Main Street around the lake to Sutherton Mountain's lower entrance, take the highway north to the upper entrance. That way you can use the Sutherton Bridge and bypass some of the curvier mountain roads. It shouldn't take you more than fifteen minutes from here. Twenty, if you want some cushion.’
‘Then ten for you, Mom,’ Suzanne said, still seemingly preoccupied with who else she might see either in the restaurant or outside it. ‘And if
was driving the Porsche, I bet I could – ’
‘Over my dead body,’ Tanja Rosewood said, cutting her off.
She stepped close to AnnaLise as if confiding – so close that AnnaLise got a whiff of her menthol cough drop. ‘I'm not a good “sharer,” you see.’
AnnaLise felt her eyes go wide. Fingers already on the doorknob, she twisted it now, backing as she went. ‘Yes, well, enjoy your lunch and, Suzanne, I hope you have a great year at U-Mo.’
‘Oh, I will.’ Porsche apparently forgotten, the girl had caught sight of what – or who – she'd been looking for. ‘Be right back.’
Her mother followed her gaze, a sour look pinching her face. ‘Suzanne, I will
have you chasing after that boy. He has no – ’
But Suzanne was already pushing past AnnaLise and cleared the doorway before the electric chime had a chance to bong.
‘We should probably take my car,’ Daisy said as they rounded the corner.
‘Your car?’ AnnaLise said, stopping by her mother's Chrysler, parked on the street for the duration of the garage's renovation, as was AnnaLise's Mitsubishi Spyder convertible. ‘I thought you wanted me to drive.’
‘I do, but I thought you might prefer my car on Sutherton Mountain. I know how you hate the steep ups and downs.’
‘I hate all the mountain roads,’ AnnaLise said, unlocking the Spyder's passenger side door for her mother. ‘But I'd prefer a car I know.’ Besides, compared with the pert little Mitsubishi, her mother's car drove like a boat wallowing on the waves.
AnnaLise swung open her door. ‘Why are we driving up there anyway? The neurologist is in Boone and that's the opposite direction.’
Daisy slid into the passenger seat and half-turned to regard her daughter as she got in on the other side. ‘I promised Ida Mae Babb we'd come by and she'll still expect it, even though now it will be after my appointment, instead of before it.’
Ahh, the 'errand.' ‘Sorry,’ AnnaLise said, thinking it was true in more ways than one. Not only had she held up her mother, but now, instead of driving on the mountain safely at midday, it might be late afternoon or even early evening before they'd be knocking on Ida Mae's door two-thirds of the way up Sutherton Mountain.
‘Well, you sure didn't seem in any hurry,’ Daisy said, ‘while you were chatting up James Duende. Then your friend from way up north comes in with his family and you're practically shoving me out the door. It struck me as a touch rude – not to me, but to them.’
‘Well, I felt guilty for keeping us at Mama's and didn't want you to miss your doctor's appointment on account of me.’ AnnaLise started her car and pulled away from the curb, turning left onto Main Street. Just past Mama Philomena's she saw Suzanne Rosewood next to a parked yellow sports car, talking to the driver of a pimped out – for outdoor business, not indoor pleasure – black pick-up truck. The yellow car was a Porsche. AnnaLise knew that because Ben had bought it for his wife last Christmas. ‘Isn't that Joshua Eames – ’
‘Please, AnnaLise,’ Daisy continued, unimpeded, ‘give me credit for knowing my own daughter.’
‘Knowing . . .?’ AnnaLise slowed at the intersection of Main Street and the state highway and glanced anxiously over at her mother. Had Daisy sensed something between her and Ben? ‘You're saying I
to make you miss your – ’
‘Oh, no. I'm saying you looked guilty, all right. I just didn't think your reaction was because of keeping me waiting.’
AnnaLise floored it, turning left onto the highway and narrowly missing getting t-boned by a white truck. The bushy-bearded man driving the vehicle didn't lean on the horn, or even throw her the finger.
‘Daisy, people are just so damn
here. It's not natural.’
‘We just recognize which side our bread is buttered on,’ Daisy said. ‘That was Lester Moose in that truck. He might be on the elliptical trainer at Peak Fitness tonight, talking about the idiot who pulled out in front of him, but he'd never be rude to a tourist outright.’
AnnaLise hadn't gotten past the specter of a big mountain man like Lester Moose on an elliptical trainer. ‘I'm not a tourist,’ she muttered.
Daisy was hazing her and AnnaLise knew it. She also knew continuing the discussion about guilt wouldn't lead to anything but her connection to the Rosewood clan. Then again, Daisy's appointment with the neurologist was probably not her mother's first choice of topic, either. That left: ‘So why are we stopping by Ida Mae's?’
‘She suggested we come by to take a look at the new deck Fred Eames put on, seeing as he's doing work for us. If you ask me, Ida Mae's just looking for a little company. Gets lonely up there now with her husband gone.’