Lindsey Norris is finally getting married to the man of her dreams—but it's not all roses for Briar Creek's beloved library director, as town newcomer Aaron Grady gives the term "book lover" a whole new meaning. Inappropriate looks and unwelcome late-night visits to Lindsey's house have everyone from the crafternooners to Lindsey's fiancé, Sully, on edge.
When Grady's dead body is found outside the library and all the clues point to Sully, Lindsey knows it's up to her to find the real culprit and clear Sully's name. But becoming a thorn in the killer's side is not without its consequences, and the closer Lindsey gets to the truth, the more determined the murderer is to make her just a footnote.
About the Author
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Copyright © 2019 Jenn McKinlay
“Too meringue, too low-cut, holy bananas, too high-cut!” Lindsey Norris sat at the reference desk of the Briar Creek Public Library and clicked through a website full of wedding dresses. Her mother had sent her the link in an email and wanted to know what sort of dress Lindsey was thinking of wearing for her upcoming wedding. Too many choices. There were just too many. She felt herself starting to melt down, so she closed the website. She’d get back to her mother on this soon. Really, she would.
It was the height of summer in Briar Creek, and she had a good five months before the wedding. It was going to be a very small holiday ceremony out on Bell Island, one of the Thumb Islands that made up the archipelago of over one hundred islands—some were just big rocks—in the bay off Briar Creek’s shore. Her fiancé, Captain Mike Sullivan, had asked that they get married on the island where he’d grown up, and Lindsey couldn’t think of a more romantic place to say “I do.” So the location was a go. It was all the other details that were killing her.
Click click click.
Lindsey turned around to see a bat fluttering through the book stacks. She was a pretty big bat. With large ears pointing up from a wide headband and enormous pale gray wings made out of an old bedsheet and some wire, she fluttered her outspread arms while holding a mango in one hand. She also had merry eyes and shoulder-length dark brown hair and answered to the name of Beth Barker. She was the Briar Creek children’s librarian, and she was leading a parade of toddlers and their parents through the library, all fluttering their “wings” and making clicking noises.
Lindsey propped her chin on her hand as she watched the little bats flutter by. She met Beth’s happy gaze and said, “Practicing your echolocation, Stellaluna?”
Beth grinned and said, “Naturally, then it’s back to the bat cave to read Nightsong and Bat Loves the Night.”
“Flutter on,” Lindsey said.
“Will do. Don’t forget crafternoon is today,” Beth said. “We’re making tin can lanterns. And for the food, I ran with the Chicana theme since we are discussing The House on Mango Street.”
“Can’t wait. I love that book,” Lindsey said. Which was true, plus she had also seen the food that Beth had brought for lunch, and there were quesadillas, mango smoothies, and flan. There was just nothing better than flan on a hot summer day.
“Okay, little bats,” Beth said. “Let’s get back to the cave. Click click.”
Lindsey watched as Beth led her colony of bats and their parents back to the story time room. Then she glanced at the circulation desk to see Ms. Cole watching the commotion over the top of her reading glasses. Nicknamed “the lemon” for her occasional puckered disposition, Ms. Cole had come a long way since Lindsey had been hired as the library director several years ago. Instead of chastising Beth, she simply heaved a put-upon sigh, which was encouraging.
The lemon had lightened up on late fees, beverages in the building, and the exuberance of the story time regulars, but the one policy on which Ms. Cole did not bend was noise. She was a shusher of the first order, and Lindsey was surprised she hadn’t hissed at Beth to keep it down. Instead, Ms. Cole put her left index finger over her left eyelid as if trying to prevent it from twitching. Lindsey glanced down at the top of her desk to keep from laughing.
Lindsey turned her head to see a man standing at the corner of her desk.
“Hi, may I help you find something?” she asked.
“I hope so,” he said. He sounded worried.
The man was middle-aged with just a hint of gray hair starting at his temples. He was wearing a short-sleeved collared shirt in a muted plaid with navy pants and brown shoes. He looked to be somewhere in his mid to late forties, but his forehead had worry lines going across it and his blue eyes looked concerned.
“Well, let’s give it a try,” Lindsey said. She gave him a reassuring smile. “Tell me what you need.”
“I grow roses,” he said. “But I’m new to this area, and I’m not sure that my garden can survive the drought we’re having. Do you have any books on growing roses specifically along the shoreline or in drought conditions?”
“Thanks to our local garden club, we have an excellent collection on that subject,” Lindsey said. “I’ll see what’s available.”
“Thank you,” he said.
Lindsey searched the online catalog, limiting the results to the items that were currently available. She found three books on roses, but they weren’t specific to the region. Still, they might have something in them about dealing with drought conditions. She noted the call numbers and then did a quick check of the local community webpages that they had bookmarked on the reference database by organization. She found several local gardening groups and one that specialized in roses. She swiveled the monitor on its base so her patron could see it.
“We do have some books in, but they aren’t specific to the area,” she said. “However, there is a local rose club, and I am sure they can help you with your concerns about the current drought. Would you like me to write down their contact information for you?”
“Yes,” he said. “Thank you. This is great.”
Lindsey smiled. She took a piece of scratch paper and wrote down the name of the chapter president and her email address and phone number. She handed that to the man and then rose from her seat and said, “Let’s go see what’s on the shelves.”
As she led him through the stacks of books, she asked, “So, you’re new to Briar Creek?”
“Yes, my wife and I just moved here a few months ago,” he said. “Just in time for me to plant a rose garden, but then this dry spell hit.”
“It’s a bad one,” Lindsey said. “I’ve only been here for a few years myself, but the locals tell me that they’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I hear the town is planning to ration water,” he said. The lines in his forehead deepened.
“There has been some preparatory talk about that, Mr. . . . um, I’m sorry,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Lindsey Norris, the library director.”
She held out her hand. The man stared at her and then her hand for a moment, and she wondered whether she had offended him.
“Aaron,” he said. “Aaron Grady. It’s nice to meet you.” He clasped her hand and gave it a firm squeeze before letting go.
Lindsey smiled and continued along the shelves until she reached the gardening section. She followed the Dewey Decimal numbers until she found books specifically about roses. The three books the online catalog had listed were there, as well as two more that she hadn’t seen. She pulled them from the shelf and turned to find Mr. Grady right beside her. He was a bit too close, making her feel crowded, so she eased back a step. Instead of looking at the books she was holding, he was staring intently at her, with his hands down by his sides.
She’d had this sort of patron before, and they always amused her. They asked for books and she showed them the books, but when she took the books off the shelf, they didn’t reach for them. They just stood there. Lindsey often wondered whether they thought she was planning to read the books to them. She usually broke the stalemate by forcibly pushing the books at them.
“Here you are,” she said. She handed him the stack, keeping the most recently published book so that she could check the index. She flipped to the back and scanned for the word drought. The book referenced several pages on it, so she opened the book to those pages and skimmed the content. It listed different methods to maintain roses in a drought situation and even included a watering schedule. She handed Mr. Grady the open book and said, “This one looks like it will answer your question.”
The lines that had been deepening on Mr. Grady’s forehead eased and he gave her a closed-lip smile as he took the book and studied the pages.
“This is perfect,” he said. “Thank you so much, Lindsey.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Let me know how it goes, and if you have any more questions, I’m happy to help.”
He smiled at her again, and Lindsey turned and headed back to the reference desk. She was relieved one of the books had answered Mr. Grady’s questions. She always felt like it was a win when she could get a patron the answer they needed.
Back at the desk, she found Laura Hogan waiting for her. She was a tiny little thing but had the biggest heart in Briar Creek. She came in every week with her dog, Buck, and together they helped elementary school students who were struggling with learning how to read. Buck was a reading-therapy dog; essentially he sat on the floor with a student and listened while the child read aloud to him.
Buck was a beautiful black and brown dog with long legs and the softest ears Lindsey had ever felt. He was great friends with her dog, Heathcliff, and the two of them cavorted and carried on when they met up at the dog park. As soon as Buck saw Lindsey, he started wagging his tail and let out a small whimper.
“Sorry, Buck,” she said as she scratched his ears. “Heathcliff isn’t here. It’s just me.” She glanced up at his human, who was smiling at her. “Hi, Laura, how are you?”
“Great, I’m looking forward to today’s reading,” she said. “We’re halfway through Gregor the Overlander, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next.”
“The room is all set up,” Lindsey said. “I’ll just walk you over and unlock it for you.”
“Thanks,” Laura said. She patted her thigh, and Buck fell in beside her as they crossed the library to one of the study rooms. Lindsey unlocked the door and pushed it open.
They both turned to see Mr. Grady hurrying toward them. Buck’s ears went back and he growled low in his throat. Laura grabbed him by the collar and held him still.
“Weird,” she said. “He’s never done that before.”
“He’s likely more used to children,” Lindsey said. She stepped forward and intercepted Mr. Grady so Buck wouldn’t get more protective. “Yes, did you have another question?”
“Yes, actually,” he said. He looked sheepish as he clutched the rose books to his chest. “I don’t have a library card. Is it possible for me to check out these books?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “I’m sorry—I should have explained. To sign up for a card, we just need proof of your local residence, and then Ms. Cole at the circulation desk will sign you up and you’ll be able to check out.”
“I can do that,” he said. He gave her a small smile and then backed away, watching her as he went.
Lindsey turned back to Laura and Buck. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water? Dog biscuit?”
“Coffee would be fantastic,” Laura said. “But no treats for Buck, thanks. He’s on a diet.”
“Coming right up,” Lindsey said.
She turned and headed for the staff break room. She grabbed a cup of coffee for Laura and a bowl of water for Buck. By the time those were delivered, her desk replacement, Ann Marie, had arrived, and Lindsey went to the back of the library, where her favorite activity, Thursday crafternoon, was held.
She brought her well-loved copy of The House on Mango Street, in which she’d stuck several sticky notes to mark the particularly pertinent passages she wanted to share. As she pushed open the door, she found that she was the last to arrive.
Beth was standing behind the table, dishing out quesadillas, while Nancy Peyton and her best friend, Violet La Rue, were seated on the couch, holding full plates. Paula Turner, one of the circulation attendants, was pouring out the smoothies while Mary Murphy, Lindsey’s soon-to-be sister-in-law, was standing with her baby, Josie, on her hip. Mary was swaying back and forth in her mama’s stance while trying to eat. Lindsey headed right for her and held out her arms.
“I’ll take her,” she offered. Mary gave her a grateful look and handed off the baby.
“Thank you,” she said. She studied Lindsey for a second, and then she grinned. “You look good with a baby in your arms.”
Lindsey pressed her cheek to Josie’s soft hair and laughed, “I said I’d hold her, not that I wanted any of my own.”
“We’ll see,” Mary said. Then she grinned, a wide, warm smile just like her brother’s, and sank into a nearby chair.
Lindsey moved around the room with Josie in her arms. A few months ago, she would have avoided holding her future niece as if she carried the plague. Lindsey wasn’t really baby friendly, or she hadn’t been until this kid came along. But Josie had the same sparkling blue eyes as her uncle, and her hair was already beginning to thicken into a cascade of dark curls just like his, and Lindsey had to admit she was smitten.
While Josie tugged on Lindsey’s long blond curls, she joined Beth by the table and glanced at her friend. Beth had ditched her bat wings and the headband with the big ears. There was something about her that looked ethereal and lovely. She was watching Josie as if trying to understand the inner workings of her little mind.
Lindsey glanced from Beth to Josie and back. It occurred to her that she’d seen only one person glow like that before, and it was Mary when she was pregnant with Josie. Her eyes went wide, and she looked at Beth and said, “Oh my God, you’re pregnant!”
She hadn’t meant to say it so loud, and she cringed, aware that her guess could be wrong but also that Beth may not have wanted to share this news just yet. The entire room went quiet, and everyone turned to face them. Beth turned a deep shade of pink and then grinned. “How did you know? Am I showing already?” She hugged her belly. “Or is it my nose? Is it wider? I heard noses get bigger when a woman is pregnant.”
“Another baby,” Nancy said. She clapped her hands in delight. She tossed her gray bob, and her merry eyes twinkled as she turned to Violet and said, “You owe me five dollars.”
Violet tutted. “That was a sucker’s bet. We knew she’d get pregnant. I just thought it would be after summer.”
A retired stage actress, Violet was still a great beauty with dark skin, high cheekbones, and a full and generous smile. She opened her purse and pulled out a five-dollar bill, which she slapped into Nancy’s hand.
“You were betting on me?” Beth asked. She stared at the two women in amusement. “That is hilarious. What else are you two gambling about?”
Nancy and Violet both looked down at their food. As one they took bites of their quesadillas, and through a mouthful, Nancy mumbled, “Can’t talk. Eating.”
“Hmm-mmm-mm,” Violet hummed in agreement.
Beth shook her head at them and then turned to Lindsey. “They are not fooling me one bit. You?”
“Not for a second,” Lindsey said. She was about to question them when Nancy spoke first.
“Did you think the lead character, Esperanza, was aptly named?” Nancy asked.
“Yes, because it means hope,” Violet said. “And her story is one of hoping for a better life.”
Beth looked at Lindsey. “Those two are starting the book discussion instead of gossiping? They are definitely up to something.”
“Agreed.” Lindsey propped Josie on her hip and took a bite of the quesadilla Beth put on her plate. The tortilla had a little crunch, and stuffed with seasoned chicken and melted cheese and topped with pico de gallo, it was perfection. She turned to Beth and said, “This is amazing.”
“Thank you,” Beth said. “Aidan’s grandmother is from Mexico, and she’s been teaching me how to make some of his favorites. He’s better at it than I am, but I think I might have finally nailed the quesadilla.”
“Yeah, you did,” Mary said. This was no small praise, given that Mary owned the Blue Anchor, the only restaurant in town.
It was Paula who cracked the two older women. Having finished her lunch, she started to put out the craft supplies. While giving side-eye to Nancy and Violet, she asked, “So, if a library clerk wanted to get in on the action, what would she be betting on?”
Violet pointed to her mouth in a gesture that said she was still chewing. Nancy, having finished her food, was left to consider whether she should answer or not. The lure of having one more purse in the pot won.
“Nothing, really,” she said with a shrug. She glanced at Ms. Cole, who had just arrived since she’d had to wait for another staff person to cover the circulation desk. “Do you ever gamble on silly things? You might want a piece of this.”
“No,” Ms. Cole said as she filled her plate. “Thank you.”
Paula, who was Ms. Cole’s assistant on the circulation desk, just smiled, clearly not surprised by her answer.
“We may have debated the possibility that Lindsey was going to elope for her wedding,” Nancy said. She looked inquisitively at Lindsey. “So, care to tell us who owes whom a fiver?”
Josie grabbed a fistful of Lindsey’s hair with her chubby fist and stuffed it into her mouth. She made a squinched-up face, which made Lindsey laugh because hair—ew.
“No, I don’t. Did you know that author Sandra Cisneros is a Buddhist?” she asked the group.
Beth shook her head. “Nice try. There’s no way you’re going to change the subject on this one.”
“I had to give it a go,” Lindsey said.
Paula tossed her green braid over her shoulder. She was the hippest library staff member, with a sleeve of tattoos and colorful hair that she changed when the mood hit her. So far it had been purple and blue. Lindsey realized that if Paula ever went natural, she might not recognize her.
“Would you really elope, boss?” she asked Lindsey. “I mean, you only get married once.”
“Statistically, that’s not true,” Ms. Cole said. When Beth gave her an exasperated look, Ms. Cole shrugged. “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.”
“I’m not going to elope,” Lindsey said. “In fact, my mom is coming to town in a few days, and we’re going wedding-dress shopping. Also, Sully and I are having a small ceremony on Bell Island in his parents’ backyard.”
“Oh,” Nancy said. She looked cranky and slapped the five-dollar bill back into Vi’s hand.
“Nancy!” Lindsey cried. Then she laughed. In truth, she would have bet she’d elope, too. Being an introvert, Lindsey wasn’t really into the whole princess-for-a-day thing, and she was finding even the planning of a simple wedding to be a bit much.
“How small?” Nancy asked.
“Don’t worry,” Lindsey said. “You’re all invited.”
Josie made a hungry garble, and Mary immediately held up her arms. Lindsey handed over the baby, and they all moved to the craft table, where Paula had laid out the materials for this week’s craft.
She’d put towels down on the table, and a tin can with water frozen inside of it was placed at each seat. Picking up an awl and a hammer, she demonstrated how to punch a hole in the can.
“Once they’re finished and dry, you can paint them or not, then put a candle in them or tiny little battery lights. You can make a pattern or just punch random holes in them. The ice will keep the cans from denting while you tap in the holes, but you want to work fast so the ice doesn’t melt, or you’ll be sitting in a puddle.”
The next few minutes were spent with everyone punching holes in their cans. Lindsey, who was not crafty at all, discovered that there was a certain stress release to be found in tapping the awl through the metal to make a hole. She decided on a starburst pattern and was actually eager to see how it would come out when the ice melted. It occurred to her that these would make really cool centerpieces for her wedding.
She blinked. This was the first time she’d gotten excited about something for the wedding. Did this mean she was about to morph into a bridezilla? She scanned through all the things she had to do for the wedding. Nope. She still wasn’t that jazzed about all the work involved. Okay, phew. Maybe she just liked punching holes in the can. It was rather therapeutic.
Her thoughts strayed to the book they’d read. She glanced around the table. The heroine in Cisneros’s book wanted to escape Mango Street, her neighborhood in Chicago, and desperately longed for a house of her own. Lindsey glanced around the table and wondered whether all the women here felt the same way.
“What did you think about Esperanza’s desire for her own home?” she asked.
“I thought it was very relatable,” Nancy said. “When Jake and I bought our house, he insisted that the house be put in both of our names. He wanted to be sure it became mine in case anything happened to him. He was afraid one of his brothers would try to take the house, claiming I couldn’t handle it by myself. Pfff.”
She looked irritated for a moment and then sad, and Lindsey knew the memory of losing her captain husband when his boat went down during a storm haunted Nancy to this day.
“I was a single young woman in the early seventies, and while I didn’t much care about owning a house, I did want to get a credit card in my own name,” Violet said. “It wasn’t allowed. Even though I was starring as the lead in a Broadway play, a woman had to have a husband to get a credit card. Huh. Now I have ten.”
“I know what it’s like to want to leave your past behind you,” Paula said. “But I don’t know that you really can. It shapes you, whether you like it or not. I think Esperanza learns that in the book. No matter how far she goes, Mango Street will always be part of her, even after she leaves.”
“Sort of like Briar Creek and the Thumb Islands,” Mary said. “I could travel anywhere in the world, but the years I’ve spent here have made me who I am. When I read the book, I realized how lucky I am to live here.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Ms. Cole said. She was tapping away on her tin can, and Lindsey glanced over to see the pattern she was making. It was the outline of an open book.
“That’s brilliant,” Lindsey said. She pointed to Ms. Cole’s can, and the rest of the crafternooners took a look. As they heaped on the praise for her cleverness, Ms. Cole blushed a faint shade of pink. It looked pretty cute on her.
Lindsey glanced at the door to see Ann Marie there. She was holding a small piece of paper in her hand.
“This was left for you,” Ann Marie said. She came into the room and handed Lindsey the note. “The patron wanted to give you the note himself, but I explained that you were at lunch.”
“Oh, thanks,” Lindsey said. She opened the note. In a small, tight script it read, Lindsey, Thank you so much for your assistance today. I enjoyed our interaction and appreciate your help more than I can say. Fondly, Aaron Grady.
“What does it say?” Ann Marie asked.
Lindsey glanced at her. “It’s just a thank-you from Mr. Grady.”
“The guy with the rose bushes,” Ann Marie said. “He told me how your excellent research was going to save his precious roses.”
“Well, that was thoughtful,” Ms. Cole said.
“I don’t know,” Ann Marie said. “Maybe I’m paranoid because I read too many women-in-jeopardy thrillers, but I got a weird vibe off him.”
“He seemed okay,” Lindsey said. “A little socially awkward perhaps, but there’s no harm in that. Right?”
“If you say so,” Ann Marie said. With a wave, she exited the room.
“Looks like you have an admirer,” Nancy said. She winked at Lindsey.
“What can I say?” Lindsey asked. “I give good reference.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our patrons took the time to write such nice notes?” Beth asked.
“Yes, because manners matter,” Ms. Cole said. No one argued the point.