Sea Salt Caramel Murder (A Maple Hills Cozy Mystery Book 4)

BOOK: Sea Salt Caramel Murder (A Maple Hills Cozy Mystery Book 4)
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Sea Salt Caramel Murder
A Maple Hills Cozy Mystery #4
Wendy Meadows

C
opyright
© 2016 by Wendy Meadows

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Chapter One

H
olding an umbrella over her head
, Nikki studied the
Open Sea Queen
. The sight of the cruise ship made her stomach cringe. Expecting to see a beautiful, modern ship with every luxury imaginable, she was instead staring at a boat that resembled a run-down merchant ship on its last leg. “Uh, Hawk, are you sure this is our ship?” she asked.

Hawk drew in a deep breath. Taking his eyes away from the ship, he focused on the stormy harbor. The water was rough, choppy, and angry, as if hungry for ships to devour. Overhead the sky was low, dark, and filled with heavy rain. Of course, he was in Seattle, and it rained in Seattle all the time. But still, Hawk thought, daring to glance at Nikki, he had expected sunny skies and a cruise ship filled with all the trimmings. “Thing looks like it's about to sink,” he admitted.

“Nonsense,” Herbert told Hawk and slapped him on the back, “this ship has character. Unlike the ships we see today that are all similar in style, the ship you see before you is one of a kind...delightful in every sense.”

Nikki looked over her shoulder at Lidia. Lidia simply shrugged her shoulders. “Well,” Nikki said, feeling rain striking her light yellow dress as the wind began to pick up, “perhaps we should get aboard?”

Hawk hesitated. Sure, he wanted to go on a cruise, and the thought of seeing Alaska sounded great, but something was wrong. The idea of being out on the open sea with Nikki, though, caused him to ignore his gut. Things were going great between him and Nikki. The last thing he wanted was for an old rundown ship to stand in his way. Shifting the umbrella from his right hand to his left, he quickly wiped rain off his blue and white long-sleeved jersey and bit down on his lower lip. “Yeah, I guess we should.”

“Too bad Tori couldn't come,” Lidia said, standing under the umbrella Herbert was holding over her head. Looking to her left and then to her right, she examined the wooden dock the ship was resting against. Beneath her feet, she could feel the rough waters growling at her. Turning around, she looked at a rusty two-story metal building that served as the shipping company's center of operations. “Herbert, maybe we should—”

Herbert nudged Lidia in the side with his elbow. “No,” he said in a stern voice. Dressed in a dark blue suit with a pipe in his mouth, he felt like a man preparing to take on the untamed sea, a daring sea captain raring for an adventure. “What we have here is a 1957 Chevy, a classic. But the world wants one of those new plastic cars that looks pretty but in reality is simply junk.”

Lidia sighed. “Well, I am wearing my new dress,” she caved in.

Nikki grinned and then winked at Lidia. Lidia looked dazzling in the soft pink she was wearing. Sure, later on, they would all put on warmer clothes, but for now, the rainy weather was just warm enough to hint at needing nothing more than a simple long-sleeved shirt or dress.

Herbert began to speak again but was quickly interrupted when a Chinese man in his early thirties brushed by, carrying a green duffel bag. “Out of my way,” he said in a tough voice.

“Jerk!” Lidia yelled.

The Chinese man ignored Lidia. Oblivious to the rain and the fact that his black suit was soaking wet, he aimed toward the gangplank, yanked a ticket out of his front pocket, showed it to a young man holding an umbrella, and hurried aboard.

Hawk hesitated to go after the man. What would he do? Slug the guy? No, he thought, watching a slow drip of passengers move aboard the ship like lost stories, each wandering around without an ending. “Let's go,” he said, forcing a weak smile to his face.

“That's what I like to hear,” Herbert said and clapped Hawk on the back again. Bending down, he grabbed a brown suitcase. Lidia gave Nikki a worried look, picked up a white suitcase, and followed Herbert to the gangplank.

Picking up her own suitcase, Nikki focused her attention on Hawk. “Don't feel bad, okay? How could we have known?”

“Next time I see my friend who gave me these lousy tickets, I'm going to slug him,” Hawk grumbled. “Nikki, I should have checked the tickets out. I'm sorry.”

“Don't be,” Nikki said, offering Hawk a gentle smile. Looking at the ship, she shrugged her shoulders. “It's never good to judge a book by its cover. Who knows, maybe Herbert is right? Maybe the ship is a diamond in the rough. Come on, let's get on board before we drown out here.”

“Yeah,” Hawk said, grabbing his green duffel bag. “Lead the way, Captain Bates.”

Walking over to the gangplank, Nikki paused. With nervous eyes, she looked down at the dark gray, deep water. A simple wooden platform that creaked with every step was all that stood between her and a watery death. Not even a seasoned swimmer would stand a chance against the angry waters slapping at the ship. Cautiously, she eased her way onto the platform and, step by step—wishing she had on tennis shoes instead of high heels—she moved forward.

“Ticket, please,” said a young man standing just inside the ship’s entry. The young man, to Nikki's surprise, was wearing a very nice white and blue sailor's suit with a bright golden name tag. He had a very neat haircut, a polite and helpful demeanor, and a smile that helped relax her. Surely, she thought, handing over her ticket, if anything was wrong with the ship, the nice young man welcoming passengers wouldn't appear so relaxed. “Cabin 7A, second deck.” The young man smiled at Nikki, handing her a room key.

Looking over her shoulder, she smiled at Hawk, tucked away her umbrella, and boarded the ship. Stepping into a brightly lit passageway, she drew in a deep breath of air that smelled like pumpkin spice. Waiting for Hawk, she took a few seconds to admire the white marble lining the passage and the dark burgundy walls. At the end of it, she saw a wooden door standing open. “Herbert, you may be right,” she smiled, feeling as if she had stepped onto the Titanic, without the sinking, of course.

“All set,” Hawk said, stepping up behind Nikki. Admiring the passageway, he felt the anxiety eating away at him diminish. “Don't judge a book by its cover,” he winked at Nikki.

“Come on, you guys,” Lidia called, “let's get to our cabins. I'm starving and I want to find the dining hall.”

“Shall we?” Nikki asked Hawk.

“We shall, ma’am,” Hawk answered.

Walking down the passageways, Nikki stepped through the wooden door into a gorgeous passenger lounge. “Oh Hawk, it's beautiful,” she said, looking down at a burgundy carpet. Drawing in a scent of cigar smoke mixed with pumpkin spice, she closed her eyes. For a few seconds, she imagined being a passenger on the Titanic.

“It's nice, that's for sure,” Hawk agreed. Examining the lounge, he let his eyes float around. The space was designed with an early twentieth-century look. Old-fashioned lamps hung from light green walls (holding electric lights of course, but still authentic in appearance). Brilliantly carved wooden beams stood spaced apart from one another, offering comfortable passage while promising strength and security. Even the elevator was old-fashioned. Hawk watched a young man open a cage-style door, allowing the rude Chinese man to step on.

“What did I tell you?” Herbert said in a delighted voice, shaking rain from his umbrella. “Now, let us forget the world exists for a few days and soak in this wonderful atmosphere.”

Unable to hide her joy, Lidia nuzzled up next to her husband and agreed. “I'm aboard, Captain,” she promised and kissed Herbert on his cheek.

“Well...yes,” Herbert blushed. “We'll meet back here in, say, one hour, and go have dinner,” he told Nikki and Hawk.

“Sounds good,” Hawk agreed, casually studying each passenger and employee in the lounge. It wasn't crowded, but there were enough people to realize that a healthy-sized crew was needed. Glancing at Nikki, Hawk saw her open her eyes and nod at Herbert.

“One hour,” Lidia promised and hurried to the elevator with Herbert.

“I'm so grateful to see Lidia happy,” Nikki told Hawk. “Lidia has been a true friend, one of the best.”

“She's a rare one,” Hawk agreed.

Spotting a tall man with a thick white beard walking around the lobby and greeting passengers, Nikki nodded at him. “That must be the captain.”

Hawk followed Nikki's eyes. He spotted a man, whom he guessed was in his early sixties, wearing a dark white and blue uniform that radiated authority and intelligence. The man, Hawk saw, had the face of someone who knew the ways of the world quite well. “Hello, I'm Captain Ebenezer Mayfield. And no, before you ask, I am not a scrooge,” the man said, introducing himself to Nikki and Hawk.

Nikki smiled and shook Captain Mayfield's hand. The scent of cigar smoke emanated from his thick white beard like old sailors rowing back from the shore, hungry for their ship. “I'm Nikki Bates.”

“Hawk Daily,” Hawk said, shaking Captain Mayfield's hand. “Detective Hawk Daily.”

“Yes,” Captain Mayfield said and shook Hawk's hand. “I was told a man of the law would be a guest on this voyage. I am delighted. It's not often that I can go cheap on security and save a few dollars,” he finished and then tipped a wink at Nikki.

Nikki laughed at the joke. Hawk, always the one to have a good sense of humor instead of having thin skin, laughed, too. “Well, don't be mad if I give you a bill before I leave,” he joked back.

“Alas,” Captain Mayfield said, stepping into a poor seaman's voice, “we men of the sea are paid only with long letters to home from seasick hearts.”

“In that case, I'll work for free,” Hawk replied. Picking up his duffel bag he motioned to the elevator. “Well, we need to get settled in.”

Captain Mayfield looked at Nikki. “May I request that you sit at my table tonight when dinner is served?” he asked her in a warm, soothing, voice.

“Sure,” Nikki smiled, “but only if you let me bring this big lug with me.”

“At no extra charge,” Captain Mayfield promised.

“Good grief,” Hawk moaned as they wandered away to the elevator. “Not even on the ship ten minutes and I'm already playing second fiddle to grandpa.”

* * *

N
ikki giggled
and caught up with Hawk. After riding the elevator down to her deck, she walked down a passageway and found her cabin, which was located at the far end on the right. Putting down her suitcase, she studied the wooden door before her. The door, like the one in the passenger lounge, was heavy and made of quality wood. “I feel like I've walked back in time.”

Using the key in her right hand, Nikki opened the door. Picking up the suitcase, she stepped into a stateroom that resembled a palace. The floors were dark wood; the walls, like those of the passageway, were burgundy; the ceiling held old wooden beams with sprinkles of brilliance. In the middle of the room stood a large bed with silk bed curtains wrapped around it. On the back wall, she saw a wooden door leading into a bathroom. What Nikki didn't see was a television. The only modern touch was a white phone sitting on a chest of drawers carved to resemble a treasure chest. “My goodness,” Nikki said, taken aback by the beauty of the room. Closing the door, she walked to her bed and placed her suitcase down onto a thick green quilt. “This ship is amazing.”

Walking to the bathroom door, she opened it, found an old fashioned light switch, and activated it. Dim, romantic light filled a room with hardwood floors holding a bronze claw-foot bathtub with white roses painted on the side, a white porcelain toilet, and a bronze sink attached to a wooden barrel. Impressed, Nikki walked back into the room and examined the furnishings. “Chair, couch, a grand bed…” she whispered. “Yes, I could live in this room the rest of my life.”

BOOK: Sea Salt Caramel Murder (A Maple Hills Cozy Mystery Book 4)
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