As I stood on the boardwalk that ran through Courtesy Park, I sensed with a prickly and inexplicable certainty that I was being watched. With careful casualness, I glanced around me.
About thirty feet away, a blonde woman stood behind a bench, staring in my direction. Gooseflesh trickled along my arms, but I wasn’t chilly. It was an unseasonably warm May afternoon.
I narrowed my eyes and met the woman’s biting gaze. She was vaguely familiar. Maybe I’d seen her an hour ago at the music shop, but I couldn’t believe she’d follow me. Who would follow a mundane, peri-menopausal, married woman, emphasis on mundane?
Maybe I was imagining things, and she was watching the boats in the bay behind me. She might even be wondering why I was now staring at her.
I returned my attention to my brand-new café—Break Thyme—opening in three and a half weeks. Hallelujah!
I’d been envisioning opening day for much of the last three years when I started to seriously redefine my role as a homemaker and determine what to do with myself when our nest emptied. Full of energy, I wanted a job where I could be my own boss and draw on my skill set—I was a good multi-tasker, organized, was always creating new drinks to share with my friends, and I loved to socialize. When I’d complained to my best friend Toni about the lack of good quality coffee in Bookend Bay, she suggested I open a café where I could also sell my specialty drinks. The idea took hold in my mind and grew until it felt exactly right. Then I took that dream and made it happen.
And here I was. Three and a half weeks until opening day. I blinked away a tear and swallowed. This was the first significant thing I’d created since the birth of my kids, and this creation was all mine.
A movement in my peripheral vision broke my concentration. I looked over to see the saffron scarf wrapped around the woman’s neck flutter, but there was no breeze. I remembered the scarf. Yes, I was sure of it now. She was the same woman from the music shop, and she was still staring my way.
A phone started to ring. Mine, I realized. My mother’s ringtone. I kept one eye on the woman, although she didn’t look dangerous, and reached inside my purse. Mom now lived in Nova Scotia. She’d moved back to her Canadian roots after Dad died eight years ago.
“Hi, Mom. How are you?”
“Well, dear, I’d be much better if most of my friends weren’t hoodwinked this morning.” Her voice was tight, almost shrill.
My chest filled with dread. My mother rarely tended toward dramatics. “Oh, no. What happened?”
“I’ve been hacked! Some hobnocker emailed all my friends, pretending to be me. They said I needed money to buy my granddaughter a birthday gift.”
What could I do? Criminals had targeted my mother, and I didn’t know how to help. Living fifteen hundred miles away sometimes had me feeling useless, an uncomfortable sensation for someone who liked to think of herself as practical and resourceful. “Oh, Mom. No wonder you’re upset.”
“Can you imagine me asking my friends for money? What must they think? I’ve been on the phone for the last hour. Everyone is calling to see if it’s true.” I felt for my mother, whose pride in her thrifty ways and financial independence would never have her asking for money. Mom said her greatest achievement was stretching Dad’s meager salary at the fish processing plant far enough to serve three square meals a day, save pennies, and grow a hardy retirement fund.
“I’m sorry this has happened to you,” I said. “The saving grace is that people are aware of these scams nowadays. Your friends will know you’d never ask them for money.”
She scoffed. “I just got off the phone with Myrtle. She couldn’t get through to me with everyone calling. That scammer, the no-good son of a motherless goat, told her to buy gift cards—two hundred dollar’s worth. And she did it! Marched right over to the drugstore and dropped down her money.”
My heart sank, but I was also relieved it was only two hundred dollars. “How could Myrtle fall for this? She’s an intelligent woman.” Myrtle, a retired mathematics teacher, was one of the most fiscally savvy people I knew. Her years of corralling hormonal teenagers in her classroom also made her wise to tricks and attempts at foolery.
“I don’t know. I’m some surprised, all right. The scammer asked Myrtle to email a code from the gift card to them so they could cash the card right away. They said they’d pay her back on Wednesday.”
“Oh, no. Mom, you need to email all your contacts and warn them.”
She sighed. “My contacts are gone. Every last one of them. The scammer deleted them all.”
“What? They can do that?”
“I suppose they can since they did.”
“Right,” I said. I drew a breath and let it out slowly. My mother was pretty tech-savvy for a seventy-seven-year-old, but something like this was beyond both of our skill sets.
“I’m just sick about this,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”
“I suppose you should call the police. And I’ll give Jordan a call. He should be able to help with this.” My son Jordan was an ethical hacker—believe me, it took me a long time to reconcile those two contradictory ideas. Businesses hired him to break into their computer systems to find vulnerabilities, so if anyone would know how to retrieve her email contacts, he would.
Her groan sounded in my ear. “I have another call. Oh, fish paste! It’s my mechanic. He must have gotten an email, too. I just want to wring someone’s neck! What are people going to think of me?”
“Remember, it’s not your fault. I’ll talk to Jordan and call you later.”
She said a quick goodbye and disconnected. Since Jordan was working, I sent him a text.
Heaving a sigh, I shoved my phone back in my purse and looked to see if the woman was still there. She was, and the direction of her stare hadn’t changed. I looked behind me, but there was nothing to see in her line of sight.
This woman was making me uncomfortable. I adjusted the strap of my leather purse and walked toward her.
As I approached, I saw she didn’t look well. Thin blue veins crossed over her jaw from her neck. A mole stood out under her left eye. Her skin was pale enough to suggest an illness. Still, healthy or not, she was beautiful. Bombshell came to mind. Blonde hair, not one astray, fell in waves just past her shoulders. She wore a tight, flowery, low-cut dress showing off an ample bosom. Her gaze was most definitely on me.
I ran my fingers through the ends of my shoulder-length hair, reminded of the gray strands among what used to be shades of mahogany. “Can I help you with something?” I said, stopping in front of the bench. I moved my hand to my hip. Power pose. “Did you follow me here from the music store?”
She looked surprised for a split second, then lifted her chin and cast her eyes over me in what might have been superiority, but since it wasn’t polite to make assumptions, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Still, I stood up straighter when her gaze flicked from my head to my runners. “Yes, you can help.” Her tone wasn’t all that friendly for someone wanting assistance.
Obviously, a stranger because courtesy was a theme here in Bookend Bay. Many of our streets were virtuously named like Mercy, Humility, and Tolerance. Folks around here believed in the nobler of the Golden Rules, as opposed to my husband’s version, he who has the gold rules.
“You are Quinn Delaney,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
I searched my memory for how I might know her and came up blank. “I am. Have we met?”
She shook her head. “No. I’m acquainted with your husband.”
My husband? I felt a quiver in my stomach before having the reassuring thought she could be a business associate or a client of the bank where Bryan managed estates and trusts. But then why didn’t she say so? Why did I feel like I had to pull information from this woman who seemed to want something?
“How do you know Bryan?” I asked.
“We met, about a month ago, at a funeral,” she said.
I thought back, remembering a colleague of Bryan’s who’d been tragically hit by a car while he was jogging. I’d never met the man and couldn’t remember his name. Bryan had attended the funeral alone. My impatience dropped a notch at the mention of the death. Maybe this woman was still grieving and that was why she was acting strangely.
“And you are?” I asked.
“Beverly Foster.” She made no move to come around the bench, so I stayed where I was. Having a bench between us gave me comfort, although I wasn’t sure why I felt in need of security in the middle of the park in broad daylight.
I waited for her to continue. When she didn’t, I asked her what she wanted.
“I’ll tell you where to find a set of keys, then I want you to get in touch with a woman—Hannah Wyatt. We’ll go from there. Simple as pie.”
I stared at her. Dumbfounded, then I laughed, a more nervous sound than I’d have liked. She must have been joking. “Very funny. Why in the world would I do that?”
She smiled, but not in a warm or friendly way. Not exactly malicious either. It seemed more like she was mocking me, as if I’d just said something ridiculous and she knew much better. My patience snapped. What kind of game was she playing?
“Because in exchange, I will give you the evidence you’ll need to absolve your husband.”
A jolt of alarm ran through me. “Absolve him of what?”
My phone rang, giving me a start. I grabbed it from my purse, then glanced at the screen. My mother’s call, again, and with it came a reminder there were scams in the air. I would not be victimized. It was time to give stalker-lady a piece of my mind. I turned away from Beverly Foster to answer my phone.
“Mom, can I call you right back?”
“It happened again!” my mom cried. “One woman from my church group just called to ask if I got the gift card she bought. Another two hundred dollars!”
“Okay, hold on. I need ten seconds to finish something here.” I turned back to the bench, but Beverly wasn’t there. I spun around. Well, spun might be overly gracious. The spurious bombshell was nowhere to be seen. Where had she gone so quickly?
Unfortunately, my trepidation didn’t vanish completely with her. My stomach muscles clenched, and I knew it wasn’t the egg burrito I’d had for breakfast.
I shouldn’t let this worry me. Shouldn’t think the worse and get fooled into questioning whether Bryan had done something wrong. No, that woman had tried to pull one over on me and must have thought better of it. Or she was bonkers and ran off to find someone else to harass.
There was nothing to worry about, I told myself again. Bryan would have told me if he was in any sort of trouble.
Find out what happens next! Get the book here.