It's almost here! BEACH BODY (Country Cottage Mysteries 24) releases Thursday June 16, 2022! It's almost time to head back to Cider Cove! Woot! Woot! Here's a peek at the first chapter. Bellamy and I hope you love it! Each book in the series can be read individually so feel free to dive right in!
Beach Body (Country Cottage Mysteries 24)
Addison Moore & Bellamy Bloom
The Country Cottage Inn is known for its hospitality. Leaving can be murder.
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.
Summer is upon us, and Cider Cove is kicking off the season with fun, food, music—and a bikini contest. Yes, bikinis. It wasn’t my idea, but seeing that the cove sits right behind my inn, I’m forced to watch the parade of glorified pasties—that is, until a corpse shows up on the scene.
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.
“It’s do or die, Preppy. We’re selling these puppies for five dollars a pop. I’m the brains of this organization. It’s my way or the highway,” Georgie doles out the threat to my mother as we stand under the makeshift reception counter set up just outside of the Country Cottage Inn.
Mom balks at the thought, “Five dollars a pop? Georgie, the quilts cost far more than five dollars to make.”
“And whose fault is that?” Georgie balks right back while giving my mother the stink eye.
Georgie Conner is an eighty-year-old gray-headed granny who is more like family to me than some of my actual family. She’s a kaftan-wearing hippie who has an artistic side to her. And she’s sort of right. She is the brains of the organization when it comes to the wonky quilts they’re debating on how to market.
Georgie designed the wonky quilts, which are triangular strips of colorful fabric with raw edges that make the most delightful quilts you ever did see. In fact, they’re so delightful, they typically sell like hotcakes, thus the reason my mother went into business with Georgie to begin with. The two of them opened a boutique that sells those wonky quilts, along with other knickknacks, called Two Old Broads, and their shop happens to sit just up the way right here on Main Street.
“Georgie,” my mother hisses while she snaps up my sweet cat Fish and begins to pet her at a frenetic pace. Clearly, she’s trying to calm her nerves. “We are not selling the quilts for five dollars a pop, and that’s the end of that. Ben was kind enough to help me schlep over two shopping carts full of wonky quilts in order to pass them off as beach blankets like we did last year.” Ben is Mom’s new boyfriend, and ironically Georgie’s little brother. “I’m slapping a sign over them that says fifty percent off, and we’re selling them for sixty dollars apiece—which will leave us with a forty-five dollar profit for each quilt we sell. It’s ninety degrees out, and it’s summer. This is our only hope of selling these silly blankets in the month of June when it’s so hot.”
Mom is right. It’s the beginning of June, and the thermometer is already spiking right through the mercury. A pressing humidity hangs in the air, the summer heat is already set to broil, and the scent of hot dogs roasting on the grill, along with coconut-scented suntan lotion, competes for our senses.
I love it, but that’s because I love summer. At least I love it in the beginning. Give it a week and I’ll be craving the cool, crisp breezes of fall—or a giant bucket of winter snow to dunk my head in.
“No way,” Georgie says as she points to my mother. “I’ve got a better idea. A lightning storm just hit my brain, and I’ve got more than ten guaranteed money-making ideas whirling around up here.” She taps her temple while squinting my way. “Come on, Preppy.” She grabs my mother by the elbow. “We’d better step to the side before Bizzy tries to pry her way into that idea bank brewing in my noggin.”
“Good grief,” Mom says, rolling her eyes, which is something she’s long warned me not to do. Mom still looks the same from when I was little, with her petite frame and her red hair coiffed and feathered à la 1980-something. Her wardrobe reflects her love for her favorite era, too, with her pink button-down blouse with its collar popped up next to her ears and those pedal pushers she’s wearing. “Believe me, I raised Bizzy better than to steal any of your money-making ideas.” If Bizzy did steal them, she’d end up broke—just the way I’m afraid I might end up. But who am I kidding? It’s what I deserve for going into business with this woman to begin with.
Fish jumps out of her arms and onto the desk I’ve hauled out under this big blue canopy.
That was a close call, Fish mewls. I almost heard all of Georgie’s money-making ideas myself. She chitters at the thought.
Sherlock, my sweet dog, a medium-sized red and white freckled mutt, barks up at her. You should have stayed and listened. Georgie is chock-full of great ideas. She’s the one that arranged for us to be on that cruise a few weeks back. Just thinking about the never-ending bacon bar makes my mouth water.
Fish swipes her paw at him. Everything makes your mouth water.
That happens to be true, and the part about the cruise is true, too. My husband, Jasper, and I just took an eighteen-night cruise to Hawaii with our friends and family, and it was pure bliss. Well, with the exception of that body, but that’s a whole other story.
My name is Bizzy Baker Wilder, and I can read minds—not every mind, not every time, but it happens, and believe me, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And yes, I can read the minds of animals, too, and I always appreciate the things they have to say. More often than not, I appreciate their thoughts more than I do that of people. The animals always seem to understand one another. And although not many people know about my little mind-reading secret, my bestie, who happens to be quickly approaching, knows, and I’m glad about that, too.
Emmie just found out about it a year or so ago. I can’t believe I kept something so big from her for so long, but thankfully, she’s forgiven me.
And confession: the only reason I outed myself to her was because the man who was about to become her husband just so happens to share my mind-reading quirk. But that’s all water under the mind-reading bridge now.
“Hey, Bizzy.” Emmie comes at me with a tall glass of iced tea. “I thought you could use something to cool off.”
“Thank you,” I say, quickly gulping half of it down.
Emmie is every bit as sweet as this sweet tea she’s just gifted me. Emmie and I have been friends since preschool, and we share the same medium-length dark hair and denim blue eyes. And we even share the same formal moniker, Elizabeth. But neither of us has ever gone by that name for the sake of our sanity, seeing that we’ve been conjoined at the hip for as long as I can remember. At the moment, we both have our hair up in ponytails and we’re wearing powder blue sundresses that look eerily similar. For reasons unknown to either of us, we’ve always managed to twin our wardrobe without even trying, which further drives home the point we’re the same person in different skin.
Emmie surveys the scene to the right of the inn, down by the beach where the masses have gathered for the first day of Summer Fest, an ongoing weekend event here in Cider Cove that will take place right at the base of the sandy cove that hugs the inn.
Today’s festivities include the Summer Sand Princess Bikini Competition, which explains the bevy of bathing beauties who have invaded our salty shores with their skimpy two-pieces, their impossibly perfect bodies, along with their impossibly perfect faces. And, in turn, the entire male population of Maine has shown up to ogle them.
Emmie makes a face as another crop of far too beautiful women in itsy-bitsy bikinis trot this way, and I point them to the beach.
“Good move putting the reception counter outside,” she muses. “I was getting tired of bumping into half-naked women in the café.”
Emmie runs the Country Cottage Café located in the back of the inn, the portion that happens to face the beach.
I nod. “As soon as I saw my guests’ comfort level go down, I had Jordy throw this tent and table out here. I figure I could redirect the half-naked among us and avoid a mass exodus all at the same time. The men didn’t seem to mind, but according to the thoughts of their wives, their marriages were in peril if I let the debacle go on too much longer.”
Speaking of marriages, my handyman, Jordy, the one that threw this tent and table out here for me, is not only Emmie’s brother, but he’s also my husband of one day. Bad booze and an even worse Elvis impersonator had a lot to do with that twenty-four hour matrimonial malady, but thankfully, my legal eagle brother dissolved the marriage in a vat of legal acid once we got back to Cider Cove.
Jordy and I are still good friends. And he’s gone on to obtain the title of Most Prolific Playboy in all of Maine. It was always his aspiration, so I guess you could say he’s met his goal.
“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you, Bizzy,” Emmie says with a shrug. “Which do you want first?”
Fish mewls, Go with the bad.
Sherlock barks up at my sweet cat. It’s just like you to focus on the negative. I say go with the good.
Emmie nods down at them. “Don’t worry, Bizzy. You don’t need to translate. I can tell by that sweet look in Sherlock’s big brown eyes that he wants the good news first.” She winks his way. “I added an entire tropical menu at the café for the summer as an ode to our trip to the tropics.”
“Ooh, I can’t wait to try it. So what’s the dessert of the month?”
She makes a face. “That’s the bad news. I can’t seem to pin it down. I’ve already done the black and white cookie and the lava cake. I need something new, something cool and refreshing, and summery. Something—”
Before she can finish, a couple of women stride this way. The first is a tall brunette with long flowing hair and shocking cobalt blue eyes. I suppose I should mention the fact she’s wearing a tiny red bikini, and that the top is no bigger than a couple of bandages, not to mention that her bottoms are nothing more than a triangle the size of a playing card. She’s paired the look with patent leather red heels and appears ready to take the stage by storm.
The blonde by her side has large green eyes and curly gold locks that fall down her back. This one happens to be wearing a tiny two-piece as well, a tan crocheted number that makes her look topless, but thankfully, she has a scarf, or something to that effect, wrapped around her belly and bottom. By default, she’s practically a nun in comparison to the rest of the bikini-clad queens here today. But it’s the cute fluffy white kitten in her arms that has both Emmie and me cooing.
“Oh, what a sweetheart,” I say as I reach over and give the furry sweetheart a quick pat between her ears. “What is your name, cutie pie?”
“Frosty,” says the blonde holding her. “And I’m Jana Hewitt.”
“Brissa Russell.” The brunette extends a hand, and I shake it. “You must be Bizzy.” She laughs while pointing to my nametag. “Actually, we spoke earlier in the week. I’m the one that asked if we could extend an invite to the bikini contest to the members of our gym. Jana and I own and run Beach Body out in Edison.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I tell her. “I do remember that. And like I said, this is open to the public. I hope you got as many of your members to join the effort as you wanted.”
Her lips curl at the tips. “We have about a dozen or so.” All of the flabby women were thrilled to do it. It would figure those toned to perfection would think a bikini contest in a no-name town was beneath them. And if I didn’t have a horse in this marketing race, I’d think the very same thing.
My mouth falls open. Cider Cove isn’t a no-name town. We’re sweet, and cozy, and we’re known for—well, we’re known for our ever-increasing homicide rate, but I’ll be the last to bring that up.
“Well, it looks as if you’re both joining the competition yourselves,” I point out.
“Darn right.” Brissa gives a curt nod. Someone has to represent the gym in a positive light. “We’re hoping this will be a boon for business.” And if it’s not, someone will have hell to pay. She shoots the blonde next to her a look that lets me know exactly who that will be.
“Would you stop worrying?” Jana nudges her with her elbow and the sweet cat mewls. “We’ve got this handled.” She shakes her head my way. “Brissa is a worrywart. I’m her best friend, and I promised her I’d handle everything. And I will.”
“It’s true,” Brissa says with a sigh, and you can practically see the stress falling off her shoulders. “Jana saves me time and time again. In fact, she just offered to save me in a major way.” She leans toward Emmie and me. “My fiancé and I have been trying to have a baby now for over a year, and well, nature isn’t having it. So when I mentioned that I was looking into a surrogate, Jana practically volunteered for the effort.”
“I don’t mind.” The blonde blinks back instant tears as she looks at her bestie. “You know I love you like a sister.”
They take off for the beach, and both Emmie and I coo in their wake.
“Would you be my surrogate should I need one?” I ask Emmie, unsure how I’d feel about that, not that I’m at that point. Jasper and I haven’t even begun to try for a baby.
“You bet I would,” she quips. “And since you’re my boss, I’d make you give me a year off with pay while I ate all the food I wanted. Leo might mind. He’s been hinting he wants a kid of his own. If I go toting his best friend’s baby first, he might not be too thrilled.”
It’s true. Jasper and Leo are best friends. They both work down at the Seaview Sheriff’s Department together, where Jasper is a detective and Leo is a deputy.
“It’s good to know I’ve got second dibs on your uterus.”
“And it’s good to know that little cat, Frosty, just gave me an idea for my monthly dessert,” she muses while wiggling her shoulders. “I’ll be back with something you will not be able to resist.” She takes off just as a couple about my age, late twenties, heads this way.
He has dark hair and a strong jaw, and she has matching dark hair and a rather weak smile. Traveling along next to them is an older redheaded woman dressed in a frilly lace cover-up and a one-piece bathing suit peering out beneath that.
“Can I help you?” I ask as they quickly approach.
“Ebersol?” The man offers a polite smile. “We’re here for our honeymoon.”
“The honeymoon couple—yes,” I say, enthused. “We have the honeymoon suite all situated for you. My name is Bizzy. I’m the owner here, and I’ll be taking care of all of your needs.”
“Great,” he says. “I’m Levi, and this is my new bride, Jennifer.” He winces a moment before nodding to the redheaded older woman who has stepped toward the cobbled path that leads to the beach. “And that is my mother. Peggy Ebersol.”
Did he just say his mother? Fish muses.
Sherlock ducks his head down a notch. Even I know this is a no-no in the making.
“Oh—oh wow,” I say without meaning to. “Wait a minute. I have a Peggy Ebersol on the guest register, too. Is she staying here as well?”
Levi shrugs. “She thought a beach getaway sounded enticing.” He looks to Jennifer. “I’ll go get the luggage.”
No sooner does he jog off than Jennifer reaches into her purse and lands a three-inch high stack of twenty-dollar bills in front of me.
“It’s from the money dance we had at the wedding,” she says. “There are over five hundred dollars here. I’m giving it to you to make that little Georgia peach disappear for the duration of our stay.” She shoots that Georgia peach the side-eye. She wanted to go to the beach, my foot. We’re from Brambleberry Bay, for Pete’s sake.
From my peripheral vision, I spot my own mother tossing her hands in the air as she abruptly ends her marketing feud with Georgie—and incidentally, she looks as if she’s ready to stone Georgie as well.
“Keep it, Jennifer.” I slide the money back toward the woman. “I know exactly how to keep your new mother-in-law busy. And believe me, I should be paying you.” I nod to Georgie. “See that gray-headed granny? She’ll be more than happy to keep your mother-in-law occupied. She’s not only up for the challenge, she was born for it.”
The woman laughs. “Perfect, and you can call me Jen. If I wasn’t otherwise preoccupied for my stay here, I can tell we’d be fast friends.”
Levi comes back, and both he and his new bride head into the inn as I quickly pull Georgie to the side and fill her in on my scheme, or at least one part of it.
Georgie grins at the thought. “You bet your little pink toes I’ll keep that redhead out of trouble.”
Mom grunts, “More like you’ll be dragging her into trouble.” But I’ll be the last to protest, seeing that Georgie Conner is officially out of my hair for the time being. “Thank you, Bizzy,” she mouths as they both take off.
Another set of guests step up to the table, this time a woman in her forties or fifties with short auburn hair and a healthy tan. The woman next to her looks to be in her late eighties or nineties, and she looks to be seated comfortably in a wheelchair. She has medium-length silver locks pulled back with a headband to keep it out of her eyes. Her back is hunched over, and she’s wearing a striped blouse and gauzy-looking pants in an effort to keep cool. But judging by the sweat on her brow, her efforts aren’t working so well.
“Good afternoon, ladies. Do the two of you have a reservation?” I ask.
“I don’t, but she does.” The redhead laughs. “I’m Starla Lightwood, and this is my mother, Ruth. I checked her in under my name. I hope you don’t mind, it was just easier that way. Her condo is tented for termites for the week, and I thought a stay by the beach would do her some good in the meantime. I’d have her stay with me, but I just moved and every room in my new place is filled with boxes. Messy divorce.” Her cheek twitches as she mutters those last words. “Anyway, we’re both excited to be here.” She cranes her neck toward the beach. “It looks as if you’re having a festival this afternoon, and a beauty contest of some sort.” More like monster madness. I know all about those beauties and what’s really lurking inside. She makes a face at the thought.
I bet her summation is directly linked to that aforementioned messy divorce.
“It’s nice to meet you both. I’ll get you settled right away,” I tell them before calling for my coworker, Grady, to come out to help Ruth to her room while Starla heads toward the beach, promising to catch up with her mother later.
I can’t blame her, the weather is practically pulling everyone toward the shore.
Speaking of everyone, I spot my husband and Leo gathered near the sand as Brissa and Jana do their best to paw all over them. I can’t blame them either. Jasper and Leo are stunningly handsome.
I close down my makeshift desk and redirect the guests back into the building for check-in services.
“Let’s go,” I say as I pick up Fish, and Sherlock runs to my side. “I think it’s time we enjoyed Summer Fest ourselves.”
Fish titters. I see that look in your eye, Bizzy. You look like you could murder those women for brushing up against your man like that.
Murder? Sherlock gives a sharp bark. Don’t say the M word, Fish. The last thing we need around here is a dead body showing up on the scene. This is a perfect summer so far, let’s not ruin it.
“I agree,” I say just as a chill runs up my spine.
This summer may be off to a good start, but something deep in my bones says murder is afoot.
Murder… Who could possibly be the victim if a killer came out to play?
I spot that woman with the white fluffy cat, and another chill runs up my spine. It just so happens that every last homicide victim in Cider Cove has had an animal with them at some point before their untimely demise.
If I had to place a bet, I’d say Jana Hewitt is the next victim of this town’s unlucky streak. I’d better ask Jasper and Leo to keep an extra eye on her.
Jana flips her long blonde hair and wiggles her chest toward my husband as if she had the right.
On second thought, I think I’ll keep an eye on her myself.
No reason to send my husband, or Emmie’s husband for that matter, on a mission to protect a bathing beauty for no good reason.
It’s not like murder is on the agenda today.
A third chill runs up my spine as if something were assuring me that murder will very much take first prize on this, the first day of Summer Fest.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
But something tells me I’m right.
*Bellamy and I hope you loved this sneak peek! Click the button below to pick it up toady and have it delivered straight to your e-reader come release day! Or pick up the paperback early!
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