The 4th book in the Friday Friends Dinner Club mystery series is AVAILABLE (yay!) Here’s a sneak peak at the next mystery Melody finds herself in the middle of. One of these days, she really will just take a trip where nothing out of the ordinary happens. Maybe……
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A loud honk from a car jolted Melody back to reality. She startled as she glanced in her rearview mirror and saw a convertible maneuver out of the way of a minivan whose driver was eating a cheeseburger and talking on the phone. The offended driver honked again.
One minute I’m anticipating the thought of getting out of town and the next minute I’m back in reality, stuck in traffic. She could see the driver of the convertible shake his fist at the van. He veered around the van and moved into the fast lane. I can’t wait to get out of all this for a few days.
Melody wiped the sweat off her forehead and turned up the music a few more notches to try to ignore the frustration of other drivers around her. She wasn’t at the beach yet, she was on the crowded 680 highway, moving away from the East Bay area with the rest of the traffic. The East Bay traffic had merged with commuters escaping San Francisco and they were going at a snail’s pace, no faster than twenty miles an hour.
She’d left Kristi and Peter’s wedding a few hours before. It had been magical, held in a gorgeous country club in the city, a few hours away from the sweet, but sleepy Stonybrook, the town where Melody and several of her friends lived.
As wonderful as the wedding had been, she was looking forward to a mini-break. Everything had been going at super speed since the new year started. She took a sip of her iced tea, relishing the moments when she’d be out of the 90+ degree weather and enjoying the coolness of the seaside temperature. Sweat dripped down her back and she rolled her windows back up and blasted the air conditioning.
This wasn’t even a vacation, more like an extended weekend before her summer work began. She was going to do some work with clients for Natalie, her boss’s, growing jewelry business. She would direct a photo shoot for next summer’s product line, do several trainings, and write the content and handle social media for the website. After that she’d photograph the holiday line, in one of the client’s homes located in Blue Beach. The models would be arriving in two weeks for the holiday shoot.
Natalie suggested Melody use their family’s beach house for the summer, since so much of their work would be done in that area. Who would turn down working at the beach for nine weeks? Yes please. To top it all off, two of Melody’s friends, Savannah and Jillian, would be coming tomorrow to stay for the weekend. They’d cook and walk on the beach and watch movies. Melody couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.
Her smile faded just a bit when she thought of one of the last conversations she’d had with Natalie, right before she left. They were standing around at the reception at Kristi’s wedding and Natalie approached her, her eyebrows slightly furrowed.
“Don’t be surprised if you get pulled in to assist in solving a mystery, Melody,” Natalie had said as they’d reviewed the plans for the summer. She sidled up to Melody as people mingled in small groups, watching the bride and groom and other couples dance on the middle of the dance floor. “There’s been some odd happenings, women dying under mysterious circumstances. The police can’t seem to figure out who did it, at least not enough to arrest a suspect.”
Natalie shook her head. “I just got off the phone with one of my good friends who lives up there. If I’d known what was happening—”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Melody interrupted. “I certainly won’t go looking for trouble.”
Natalie squeezed Melody’s hand. “If I know you—”
“Natalie!” The mother of the bride waved her arm from across the room. “Natalie, can you come help me for a minute? It’s urgent.”
“We’ll talk later,” Natalie said, then moved to the group of women. Natalie, even when moving quickly, did so in a relaxed and unhurried sort of way. She moved and spoke with a certain amount of grace that was a part of her generous and kind personality.
Sitting in traffic, Melody shook her head as she replayed the conversation in her mind. There’s always trouble, even in small beach towns. A sedan cut her off, moving over three lanes on the freeway without using a blinker. She gripped the steering wheel. Focus Melody, focus. Let’s make it to Blue Beach in one piece!
With one hand Melody reached behind her neck and unhooked the clasp, holding the long ribbon and pearl necklace Natalie had designed for the bridesmaids for Kristi’s wedding. She set it on the seat next to her. In spite of the air conditioner, sweat dripped down her back and chest. As soon as she found a coffee shop, she’d stop and change her clothes. I should’ve changed at the reception. She glanced down at the peach dress she was wearing. It was pretty but not breathable. She’d have to send it to the dry cleaners.
Melody had been pulled into one mystery after another for the past year. She’d developed a bit of a reputation in the quiet town of Stonybrook for solving crimes from angles the police didn’t see. Thankfully, Melody hadn’t made the police department too angry with her interference.
In the car on her own, Melody shook her head free from thinking about the wedding and all the work she’d been doing the last several weeks. She had a few days to relax, a mini-vacation to sleep in, watch the sunsets, swim in the ocean and eat clam chowder. She pulled her curly hair behind her with one hand as she moved into the right lane to take the offramp towards Blue Beach. She was almost there.
The dark blue waves crashed on the beach, receding back into the ocean and leaving the white foam bubbling on the sandy yellow beach. Melody glanced at the huge turquoise-blue waves as she drove down the highway. Seagulls were circling overhead. Every few minutes one would dive into the ocean water. It had been too long since her last trip to the ocean, a few years back, even though she lived in sunny California.
Five minutes later she turned onto Sandy Beach Road and slowed down. She drove past the beach homes and mounds of sand. She pulled up to number 155 and parked in the driveway.
It was a gorgeous beach house, two stories high, a creamy white with a dark brown tiled roof. Large windows looked out onto the beach that was a short walk away. She could see sailboats and yachts out on the water.
Melody pulled out the keys, lugged one of her suitcases out of the back seat, grabbed the stack of papers and magazines from the front seat and lugged it all up the driveway. She set the suitcase down. The magazines and papers fell with a thud next to it, papers scattering across the cream tile floor. Melody kneeled down, pulling in the papers that had scattered. She picked up an article her sister had printed out for her. ‘Shark Attacks Increase on California Coast,’ read the headline. Melody glanced at the article, then stuck it in one of the magazines. She’d probably not do more than wading in the ocean. Sharks wouldn’t be a problem. Besides, all she wanted right now was to go stick her feet on the sandy beach.
She was drawn straight to the living room which featured high ceilings and wall-to-wall windows in the back. She opened the back door and stepped out on the deck and breathed in the salty air.
How am I going to get any work done? She opened the glass door and walked out on the back patio. The cool ocean air hit her face and she inhaled deeply. No more hot, sweaty days. What a relief.
She leaned against the hardwood railing and smiled as several children ran past the house with swimsuits on and sand buckets in their hands. One of them, a little girl about the age of 8, waved and hollered, “Hi there!” as she ran by, her pigtails bouncing with every step she took.
Melody waved back. She looked down towards the town. The beach house was located in a quiet neighborhood off the town, which was a tourist hot spot in the summer months. A brisk twenty-five-minute walk on the seashore would take one right to the pier that led you to several restaurants, shopping spots and the best coffee shop on the seashore, according to Savannah, one of Melody’s dinner club friends and Natalie’s daughter. Savannah spent many summers in the beach house with her parents and the rest of the family.
After unpacking, Melody walked down the beach, letting her mind move through the events of the past week, thinking about the wedding and the fun of seeing Kristi, the 4th member of their dinner club, marry her longtime love. She paused to watch a couple of surfers, a man and a woman, walk out of the water. They were both in great shape and carried their boards under their arms. Could I possibly take up surfing while I’m here? The couple both waved to Melody and she waved back.
“Hey there,” the guy called out. “Welcome to Blue Beach.” His blond-brown hair, wet and wavy, hung around his ears. He looked almost stereotypically like a surfer, like Keanu Reeves in that 90s surfer movie, Breakpoint. That wasn’t a bad thing.
Friendly around here, aren’t they? Must be the ocean air. Everyone is in a good mood. A dark brown Labrador ran up to the man, carrying a yellow tennis ball. Melody smiled as she watched the couple throw the ball for the dog. The ball landed a few feet away from her and the dog ran over.
“Sorry about that,” the surfer said.
“Scotty,” the woman said in mock annoyance before turning to Melody. “Don’t worry, she’s a gentle dog. She won’t bother you. Get back here Rascal!”
Melody smiled and patted the dog on the head. The dog licked her hand then ran back to her owners. Melody felt her shoulders relax and took a few breaths. This was going to be a lovely couple of days of nothing but beach, sun and some good food.
She took in all the details around her as she continued her trek: the children playing, the white-haired couple walking hand in hand down the beach, the guy in the red hat fishing and the mother and her children digging for clams on the beach. Were they regulars? Would she get to know them by name by the end of her trip?
It was getting cooler as the sun started to set. Melody shivered and pulled her coat around her. The setting sun was casting shots of orange and neon pink across the sky as the light drained from the day. The lights of the town were beginning to sparkle more against the night sky. Melody was only a few hundred feet from the pier.
This staircase, on the left of Pier One, was more secluded. Melody put her hand over her eyes to keep the sun’s rays from distracting her vision. She scanned the rocks and railway up above, looking for an entrance. She didn’t see one. She moved closer to the pier. It was dusk and the setting sun threw odd shadows against the pier.
It was unusually quiet. At least it seemed unusually quiet for a vacation beach town. Even the normally chatty seagulls weren’t making any noise. Melody looked behind her. The guy who’d been fishing had left and the mom with her kids were small figures way down the beach.
Melody scanned the stairway again, walking closer to the stores and restaurants above. As she got closer, she could smell the cooking fish and was that Italian sauce? It smelled like her mom’s family sauce recipe. Melody’s stomach growled.
Now she was looking practically straight up at the restaurants. Weren’t there stairs around here? She’d prefer to walk above, on the level of the pier and look out over the ocean. She put her hands on her hips and looked down one way and then the other. If there was a stairway here, she couldn’t see it.
She sighed and looked down the beach. Her mind floated back to what Natalie told her about the murders taking place. I’m not excited to walk when there’s so few people around. It is still light though. It’s only a half mile down though. I’ll walk fast.
Her body was letting her know how long she’d gone without food. She looked down at the water. The tide was coming up, slowly, but still, the edge of the water was creeping up the beach. She started the trek to Restaurant Row.
She passed under the first pier, keeping an eye out to avoid the puddles. Something dripped on her. She let out a surprised cry and started to jog, chiding herself for being a scaredy cat. Probably just water or bird poop. Gross.
She kept walking, picking up the pace as she passed under the second pier. She moved her flashlight back and forth along the sandy beach. She didn’t want to step on any driftwood or slimy seaweed. A crab scurried across the sand, about as big as Melody’s hand. She jumped back, getting out of his way and watched him run to the sea.
A clanging sound moved Melody’s attention away from the crab and onto the next pier. It sounded like something banging together, not super loud. She looked up. Some chimes were loosely hanging from the pier. Odd place for them to be hanging.
She took a deep breath and forced her shoulders to relax. The feeling of being on vacation and relaxed had left. Every muscle in her body felt tense and she wasn’t sure why. She kept walking, as fast as she could now.
Then Melody gasped and dropped her phone. She jerked her head as she stared at the figure in front of her, a few hundred feet away. A woman was lying on the beach. Sleeping?
Natalie’s warning has me spooked. I have murder on the brain. Melody swallowed hard, kneeling down to pick up her phone.
“Hello? Are you okay?” She reached down to the sand and picked up the phone, her hands shaking. There wasn’t any movement from the woman.
Melody started walking towards her, stomach quivering. Her feet moved faster as adrenaline began to pump through her. Perhaps she was simply unconscious. Heat stroke? Passed out? Too much alcohol in the sun? The quivering turned into a dull ache as she got nearer, as if someone had punched her in the stomach and she was still trying to recover.
“Hello, are you okay?” Now the adrenaline rushed through Melody’s body. She dropped down to her knees next to the woman who was lying on her side, face out to the ocean. Melody rolled the woman onto her back, then picked up her wrist to feel for a pulse. “Hello! Can you hear me?”
She gently turned the woman towards her, supporting her neck. As she turned, the woman’s hair fell from her face. Vacant, bulging eyes stared up at Melody. The woman was dead.
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