Addison Moore and Bellamy Bloom
My name is Bizzy Baker, and I can read minds. Not every mind, not every time, but most of the time, and believe me when I say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Bizzy Baker runs the Country Cottage Inn, has the ability to pry into the darkest recesses of both the human and animal mind, and has just stumbled upon a body. With the help of her kitten, Fish, a mutt named Sherlock Bones, and an ornery yet dangerously good-looking homicide detective, Bizzy is determined to find the killer.
Cider Cove, Maine is the premier destination for fun and relaxation. But when a body turns up, it’s the premier destination for murder.
My name is Bizzy Baker, and I can read minds. Not every mind, not every time—but it happens, and believe me when I say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
“Good morning,” I hold up the carafe to the elderly man reading his paper. As the manager of the Country Cottage Inn, I certainly don’t mind helping out in the café when it’s needed. “More coffee?”
“Please.” He nods politely. Lovely lady. Lovely inn. I’m glad I talked my wife into coming here.He frowns a moment. Fine. She talked me into it. As she likes to remind me, she’s always right. I’ll never admit to it, but it sure is true.
I can’t help but chuckle as I fill his mug to the brim. Reading minds isn’t always this pleasant. For instance, the time I was at junior prom and my date smiled right at me and thought to himself how much the dress I was wearing belonged on a corpse at the morgue. Or the time I shared my first kiss, and the boy whose lips had just assaulted mine brazenly wished I was some girl named Tina.
I’m not Tina. I will never be Tina, but at times I’ve wished I could trade places with just about anyone.
My name is Bizzy, and I’m a twenty-six-year-old woman who has ended up as the manager of the Country Cottage Inn, right here in Cider Cove, Maine, where I grew up.
I head to the next table, to a girl with her hair up in a messy bun, books strewn across the table, glasses slung low on her nose, and she happens to have a Dexter University sweatshirt on. I hold up the carafe and she signals for me to proceed.
I’m going to need all the free refills I can get. Who am I kidding? There’s not enough coffee in the world to help me get through this semester. The mechanics and special relativity of physics? What was I thinking signing up for that? I’m really in over my head this time.
I point down to her physics book and smile. “You’ve got this. Just take lots of notes and read everything they assign.”
The girl looks momentarily relieved. “Thank you. That actually does make me feel a bit better.”
I give a little wink before heading to the back of the café.
Ah, Dexter University. I’ve only left Cider Cove once and that was to attend Dexter where I nearly completed my undergraduate work—and by nearly, I mean I was one semester shy of earning that shiny new degree, but like most things in life I was terrified of reaching that goal. And trust me, I don’t like the fact I hightailed it right back to Cider Cove with my scholastic tail between my legs as an official college dropout, but the more I thought about the pressure graduation would bring, the more I was convinced I couldn’t do it.
A brunette with long dark curls hovers over her phone and I stop cold in my tracks.
My God, is that Mack? The girl looks up briefly, and thankfully it’s not her.
“More coffee?” I ask as I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Yes, and keep it coming.”
“Not a problem.” I quickly refill her mug, but I can’t seem to pick up on any thoughts she’s having. Some people are simply impossible to read and I have no idea why.
Mack comes to mind once again.
The entire mind reading debacle can be traced back to that fateful Halloween party I attended when I was thirteen with my very best friends, Emmie Crosby and Mackenzie—Mack Woods. Let’s just say an innocent game of bobbing for apples went horrifically wrong.
Emmie was nowhere to be found. Come to find out, she had cornered her junior high crush at the pumpkin carving station and there were both sharp knives and first kisses involved.
But Mack and I were going for the apple bobbing gold—or so I thought. Let’s just say Mack’s efforts to help me secure my mouth over a juicy red apple were less successful in that arena than they were in her efforts to send me to the other side of existence.
The more I struggled to come up for air, the more Mack would hold me under, seemingly cheering me on until she finally pushed me right into the giant whiskey barrel that housed the slippery fruit.
I hit the bottom of the barrel headfirst so hard I saw stars right there under water. It was a nightmare of splashing and twisting and turning, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to untangle my limbs and stand up.
Four things came from that horrific nightmare. One: I have an irrational fear of large bodies of water. Confession: I haven’t swum since the incident and don’t plan to anytime in the future. Just the thought of the water engulfing me and my inability to breathe or reach the surface scares the living daylights out of me. But since living in coastal Maine makes it nearly impossible to avoid the water, I’ve adopted a rule I can live with. As long as the water never goes higher than my ankles, I’m fine with walking the shoreline.
Two: I’m terrified of confined spaces. I suspect tumbling around in a dark whiskey barrel filled with water will do that to a person.
Three: It initiated my distrust of Mack Woods.
Mack and I grew up together.
Mack, Emmie, and I used to be an unbreakable trio—that is, right up until high school when Mack saw fit to steal every boy that I even remotely showed any interest in.
And after she went home with my date at prom, I decided it was time to cut ties, and thankfully Emmie sided with me. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost Emmie’s friendship, too. Although, I’ve never counted it a loss to be rid of Mack.
And last but not least, number four: It was from that day on that I suddenly had the ability to pry into other people’s minds. And, believe you me, I did not like what I heard. Apparently, Mack has never had a high opinion of me, but words like sufferingand pitywere used when she was seemingly forced to be in my presence. And forced by who? I have no idea, but she was never without a fake smile and a mean thought thereafter.
And let’s just say listening in on other people’s thoughts hasn’t been a picnic either. Suffice it to say, I don’t bother asking people how my new coat looks, or what they think of my new haircut.
On the surface, everyone is exceedingly polite, but peel back the curtains and you get a lot of truth you didn’t bargain for. And that includes my mother and my sister Macy, too. Of course, they weren’t having cruel thoughts about me, just exceptionally honest ones. The only person who has never had so much as a criticism of me has been Emmie. Every thought that girl has about any and everyone is one hundred percent pure.
In fact, I’ve become so wrapped up in people’s honest criticisms, I’ve created an entire list of my own to go along with them. And for good reason. No matter how hard I seem to want something, it seems the farther away it gets. Take for instance the fact I love to bake. Well, if I don’t burn it, I find something else that will goof up the recipe. Thankfully, Emmie is an excellent baker and gladly takes my ideas and runs with them. She’s so sweet to me, she tries to give me credit for her yummy desserts, but I would never dream of letting people think I had a hand in making them.
And that leads me back to why I dropped out of college. Since I was little, the one thing I wanted more than anything was to run my own business. My mother had her own realty company at the time and I wanted to be just like Mom, a large-and-in-charge success, holding the world by her purse strings. But since I seemed to burn everything in the kitchen—and burn down all the good things I touched in general, I decided to run from my collegiate endeavor as well.
Instead of finishing college, I hightailed it right back to this sleepy seaside town, Cider Cove.
I set down the carafe and head outside of the café right past the patio and onto the white sandy beach where my cat springs up out of nowhere.
I sigh dreamily as the sapphire waves crash over the shoreline. My sweet kitten, whom I aptly and ironically named Fish, and I stride farther away from the Cottage Café and watch as the morning swells foam over the shoreline. Fish is a four-month-old black and white longhaired tabby that I found mewling her poor little heart out behind my sister’s soap and candle shop, Lather and Light, just up the way on Main Street. I took the poor little thing straight to the vet, and once it was determined she was a stray, I took her into my home and my heart.
“Let’s walk out farther,” I say as Fish threads in and around my ankles. Fish doesn’t seem to mind the sand. In fact, she finds it amusing if anything. Since Fish is so good with people, I have her with me at all times while I’m at work. She loves the inn and she loves the pets that come through it as well.
To the water’s edge! she cries out—of course, it’s all in her mind. We’ve been communicating this way since I brought her home and we’re both quite happy with the situation. I can’t hear every animal’s thoughts, but it’s few and far between when I don’t.
“Careful,” I call out after her. “You know how we both feel about water.”
I’ll never touch the stuff. There’s not a beast on the planet that will ever make me dip a paw into it.
A dry laugh pumps from me as I glance back at the inn. It’s a tall and stately structure with a stone façade, blue shutters over the windows, and ivy covering its every free surface.
The Country Cottage Inn isn’t only a rather large hotel set right on the beach, but it boasts of over three dozen cottages that we rent out that extend over the rolling hills behind the inn itself. I reside in one, as does my best friend Emmie. Her brother lives in another, and my Grandma, who is technically nobody’s grandmother, lives in the cottage just beyond the main entry.
In fact, the Country Cottage Inn is the only rental facility that permits pets to stay on the premises—a rule I employed once I was given charge over this place. I’ve always appreciated animals a bit more than I’ve appreciated humans, partly because I’ve never met an animal who has had a bad thought. If my strange gift has given me anything wonderful, it’s been the ability to read the minds of animals.
And I never shy away from striking up a conversation with them. The great thing about it is people never question your sanity when you’re talking sweetly to a cute furry little creature. And my love of animals is what inspired me to open the inn to pets as well. It’s a crying shame more places don’t invite responsible pet owners to bring along their fur babies. In fact, I took it one step further and opened up a pet daycare center in the back of the inn.
That’s exactly how Country Cottage Critter Corner was born. To be honest, Critter Corner is truly the star of this place. We have an entire facility attached to the back that has both an indoor and outdoor area that allows ample room for the animals to roam within their respective areas. We get as many cats as we do dogs and bunnies alike.
The entire inn feels like my baby through and through. But I’m not the owner, and to be honest, I think that takes the pressure off me. The owner of the inn is actually a wealthy earl who lives in England. We met once and the rest of our correspondences have been over the phone or through emails. And to be honest, I like it that way. It almost feels as if the inn and the surrounding properties are mine. And when I’m not running the front desk, or minding the grounds, checking on boarders, or paying the bills, you can find me in the café wishing that I could bake right alongside the pastry chefs, because as my moniker suggests, I do like to whip up a sweet treat in the kitchen now and again—even if it does end in catastrophe.
The waves slap over the shore almost violently, reminding us that summer is a quickly fading dream and fall is upon us. It’s mid-September and tonight is the farewell to summer bonfire, right here at Cottage Shores, and everyone in Cider Cove will be here.
I head down to the waterline in haste. It’s my job to make sure the beach is clean, cleared of any unwanted debris, and that there is more than enough chopped wood brought in to feed the hungry fires that will dot the sand later this evening.
Fish jumps in front of me. It’s so beautiful here. Why must the people come and ruin everything?
I can’t help but giggle at that one. “You have no idea how many ‘people’ feel exactly that way.”
I take a full breath as I look out at the expansive cove itself with its pristine belt of sugary sand that caves in like the letter U. An embankment of maples, sweetgums, ashes, birch trees, and oaks ensconces us on either side as they stand tall and proud, almost right to the waterline on either side of us. Their leaves have already turned colors of burnt orange, deep gold, and fiery red. There is no place as magical as Cider Cove in the fall.
The wind picks up, causing the ocean to churn like a washing machine ready to hit the spin cycle.
Fish trots out about three feet ahead of me and freezes. Her long fluffy fur stands on edge in a ridge over her back as she looks wide-eyed and terrified down to my right, and I turn my head that way just in time to see a white and red freckled dog bounding this way at a million miles per hour, and, just like that, Fish darts to my left in a blur.
“Fish!” I scream as I run out a few feet to my left, but no sooner do I dart in her direction than she’s already dashed past me the other way. The rather large dog barks up a storm with his tail pointed up and ears standing erect as he does his best to chase her.
“No! Stop! Fish!” I howl in a tizzy as my sweet cat bolts my way, and just as I’m about to catch her, she zooms right between my legs and so does that pesky pooch, knocking me off balance in the effort. “Oh no!” I buck backward and trip over a piece of driftwood. My legs do a little tap-dance as I try to regain my footing, but it’s no use. I land smack on my bottom in the wet mushy sand as water pools around me in what feels like a hostile foamy display.
“Oh God.” A sense of panic grips me as I struggle to rise. The memory of being trapped in that whiskey barrel comes rushing back uninvited, and suddenly every muscle in my body threatens to paralyze with fear. I struggle to rise just as a wall of water engulfs me from behind and I’m left gasping and reeling as I get sucked out to sea a good ten feet.
Can’t see, think, or feel.
It’s as if every nightmare I’ve ever had has suddenly come to life and sprung on me from behind in the form of a killer wave.
“Hey!” A pair of arms gesticulates wildly as a man with dark hair wearing a full three-piece suit wades in cautiously, yet quickly, in an effort to give me a hand. “I’ve got you!” he shouts as I flail and gasp, trying my best to find my footing as another wave crashes overhead—this time right over the two of us.
“Geez!” he shouts as he clasps his hand onto mine. Only, instead of pulling me toward shore, a swell pulls us both out farther in the opposite direction.
“Help!” I scream at the top of my lungs, but with the wind picking up and the violent waves sloshing around us, I can hardly hear myself.
My feet lose their grip of the bottom and my body demands to move with the wild current, but I’m holding onto the man in his nice three-piece suit as if he were a life preserver.
“Swim with the horizon!” he shouts as he does his best to reel me in, but the violent swells have an entirely different idea.
“I’m going to die!” I shout as I do my best to hoist myself back in the direction of the shore where I spot both Fish and that naughty freckled cutie pie, who thought it was a good idea to give a chase in the first place, both seated a safe distance from the waterline as they watch us struggle our way to safety. “Fish! Call for help!”
“Duck!” the man in the three-piece suit shouts and I get pulled under as another hostile wave crashes overhead.
We cork back up to the surface and he reels me in tight, wrapping an arm around my waist, and I see him for the very first time. My heart detonates just once at the sight of him—dark hair plastered to his head, gorgeous bone structure, a peppering of dark stubble gracing his cheeks, but it’s his eyes—I’ve never seen such light gray eyes. They’re stunning. And in turn they add a breathtaking allure to his already comely features.
Beautiful. Just that word alone roams through my mind and a breath hitches in my throat at the thought.
For a moment, it’s as if all of time stands still and those glowing eyes of his are conducting a takedown of all my good senses.
“Are you all right?” His voice is husky and firm, and there’s a hard look in his eyes and, dare I say, an air of superiority about him in general.
He’s good-looking and he knows it. I’m far too familiar with his type. But he has a scholarly appeal to him, and something about him screams the fact he’s been wounded a time or two. I try to steady my gaze over his to see if I can get a read on his thoughts, but there seem to be too many components distracting me at the moment.
“Never been better.” I’m not sure why I spouted the lie. Considering my wet and wild predicament, I’ve never been worse.
Another wave slaps over our heads and we’re sucked out to sea once more before being propelled at inhuman speeds in the opposite direction as the ocean vomits us back to shore.
“Oh, wow,” I pant as I get on all fours in an attempt to gain my bearings. “We survived. We’re not dead.” I claw at the sand as I inch my way farther from the hostile water.
“Of course we’re not dead. Come here,” he groans as he struggles to rise himself and he gives me a hand.
“Thank you,” I say and I’m about to introduce myself, or hyperventilate from the trauma that just occurred, when I spot that freckled dog growling at Fish, and Fish bravely standing her ground as she makes sure I’ve survived my seaside adventure. “Oh no, you don’t,” I say, charging my way back to dry land. “My cat is not a snack or a toy or anything in between.”
The dog takes off down the sandy stretch of the cove and the man in the sopping wet suit takes off after him.
“Sherlock!” he shouts as he takes off lethargically, and I do the same as I head for the inn.
“Come on, Fish,” I say and she lets out a hair-raising roar before hopping like a bunny all the way back to the Cottage Café.
I’ll see you there, Bizzy!she calls out. I may never venture near the shoreline again. And so help me, if I see that beast again… On second thought, so help him.
Believe you me, Fish, I never want to see the shoreline again myself. I’m sure I could easily convince Fish to relocate—but only after she exacts her revenge. I’m sure of it.
It’s going to be a long, soggy day, and I’m already wishing I could head back to my cottage and swaddle in a blanket in front of a roaring fire with a good book and a cup of hot cider.
After I wring myself out, I carefully make my way back into the building. The inn itself is cavernous inside, with wooden floors distressed in a gray and white marbled color. There’s a large grand staircase that leads to a second level where most of the rooms are located. The doors and wainscoting, along with the counter that frames the front of the expansive foyer, are a rich dark wood heavily inlaid with carvings. There’s a large event room on the south side of the building that’s seen just about every celebration you can imagine and a formal dining room for the guests of the facility. The Cottage Café on the east end of the building leads right to the sandy shores of Cider Cove and is open to guests and to the public as well.
Fish is already seated on his favorite perch, the white marble counter that spans the front of the reception area.
Emmie bats her inch-long lashes my way in horror. Emmie and I look as if we could be sisters with the same long, wavy, dark hair, same frosty blue eyes, olive skin, and pouty lips. We happen to share the same formal moniker as well, Elizabeth, but we’ve devolved in different directions with that one. When I was born, Macy, my older sister, couldn’t say my name properly, so Bizzy it was. And Emmie was an adorable nickname that her mother gave her and it simply stuck.
“What happened to you?” She trots over with a box of tissues and dabs the water from dripping off my nose.
“I thought I’d make sure the ocean was still salty and wet for the party tonight. Check and check,” I say as I make my way to the front desk and run my eyes over the ledger quickly.
“Oh my goodness, Bizzy!” Emmie sucks in a quick lungful of air as she quickly puts the traumatizing pieces together. “Are you all right? Can I get you something? A cup of hot coffee? An apple walnut cinnamon roll?”
I can’t help but give a weak smile at that last one. That was my newest brainchild, the very dessert I dreamed up and tried to bake but turned the entire batch into a pan of rock-hard Frisbees. Thankfully, Emmie took my suggestion and it’s been a hit at the Country Café all month.
But, before I can answer, the bell chimes at the entry, and in through those oversized doors comes a heart-stoppingly handsome man in a soggy suit and a leashed freckled beast striding in by his side, and I can’t help but give a wry smile at the two of them.
Emmie leans in so close I can feel her body heat beginning to warm me. “Mother of all things holy. Can I keep him?”
“I’d say yes, but I think he’s bad luck,” I tease—mostly.
He smirks at the thought. “I’d contest that theory.” His pale gray eyes needle into mine. I’m pretty sure you’re the one with bad luck, sweetie.
I gasp as if he said the words out loud.
See what I mean? Prying into people’s minds is a hazard of a superpower no one should be privy to.
“I beg your pardon?” I’m quick to contest it. “My innocent cat was minding her own business when your lumbering beast decided to chase her into the ocean.”
The poor pooch whimpers and sulks as if he understood me, and I have no doubt he did.
The man straightens. The muscles in his jaw tense a moment, and it only gives him a meaner, sexier appeal, and I want to scream and throw things because he only grows more obnoxiously handsome by the moment, and perhaps more obnoxious in general, too.
“My beast was simply following his instincts.” Those blue eyes, though, he says internally as he openly inspects my features, and I can feel my cheeks heat up ten degrees at least.
Does he like my blue eyes? Most likely he likes Emmie’s blue eyes, but—he is looking right at me. I try to pry into his thoughts to see what criticism or disparaging remarks are lurking around up there but there don’t seem to be any.
He flexes a wry smile my way. “Who do I see about checking in?”
Fish saunters over and sits between us as if she were showing up for duty.
Don’t do it, Bizzy,Fish warns. Tell them to find shelter elsewhere.Like Connecticut.
I wrinkle my nose at my sweet cat before clearing my throat.
“That would be me,” I say, tapping over the keyboard until today’s check-in file pops up on the screen. “Name, please.”
“Jasper Wilder,” he grunts it out as if he were angry at the fact.
Emmie giggles as she hovers over my shoulder.
“Jasper Wilder,” she whispers into my ear as if it were a secret.
“Yes, I heard.” I bite down over a smile. Emmie and I happen to have a soft spot for the quasi-vampire related name.
I glance down the list of names due for arrival today and note in horror he’s leased the cottage in front of mine.
I suck in a quick breath. “You’ll be a resident?” I look up at him and he blinks a satisfied smile.
“That’s right. I’ve leased a two-bedroom with a fenced yard.”
“Wow, that’s—just great.” I have a feeling Fish will never let me hear the end of it. “What’s your pooch’s name again?” I say, hiking up on my tiptoes to get a better look at him from over the counter, and the poor thing is crouched low with his eyes pinned on Fish as if he feared for his life—as he should. Fish might be small, but she is mighty.
“Sherlock. Sherlock Bones.” His lips curve into a smile as Emmie giggles herself into a conniption.
“Sherlock Bones!” She pokes me in the ribs. “That’s so clever. Isn’t that clever, Bizzy?”
“Bizzy?” His dark brows bounce as if my name amused him. I can’t say I blame him. My name has amused people for over two and a half decades now.
A warm laugh bounces through me. “That’s right, Bizzy Baker. And this is my cat, Fish,” I say, nodding her way. “I’m the manager here at the Country Cottage Inn. And if you need anything at all—”
“Ask for me.” Emmie snaps the key to his new home off the dowel next to her. “In fact, I’ll take you both to your cottage and make sure you’re well acclimated.”
Jasper looks my way, his icy eyes searing over mine, and try as I might, I can’t get a bead on what he’s thinking. It’s as if he knows what I’m capable of and has suddenly erected a shield over his mind. Not that it’s possible, and not that I should be too concerned about his errant thoughts that may or may not be complimenting my eyes.
I bite down over my lip as I look his way once again. Fine. I might be a little more than interested to know about his errant thoughts. He’s a looker. You’d have to be dead not to notice how arrestingly handsome he is. And judging by how fast my heart is pounding at the thought of him, I’m certainly not dead.
They’re halfway to the door when a thought comes to me.
“There’s a bonfire on the beach tonight! All guests are welcome to come.”
He turns my way and grunts in lieu of a response, and I grunt right back like a knee-jerk reaction.
I watch as Emmie chats away a mile a minute as she leads him and his adorable dog to their cottage.
“Jasper Wilder,” I mutter under my breath.
He’s far too ornery and perhaps far too handsome for my taste.
I catch a glimpse of him through the window as he walks farther from the building. He pauses for a moment, turning my way, and my heart thumps wildly as if contesting my protests.
“He’s not the one for me,” I insist.
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