Can this grieving investigator stay on the right track?
PI Kelly Pruett is determined to make it on her own. And juggling clients at her late father’s detective agency, a controlling ex, and caring for a deaf daughter was never going to be easy. So she takes it as a good sign when a letter left by her dad ties into an unsolved case of a young woman struck by a train.
Hunting down the one person who can prove the mysterious death was not just a drunken accident, Kelly discovers this witness is in no condition to talk. And the closer she gets to the truth the longer her list of sleazy suspects with murderous motives grows.
On a crash course with a killer, she must piece together the puzzle of what really happened to the victim that rainy night, before her own fate is sealed and she loses everything near and dear, including her life.
About The Author:
A Pacific Northwest native, she enjoys the area in all its beauty. When she’s not there, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she s plotting her next murder novel that is. https://marykeliikoa.com/
Kelly and her father have a PI business. It is basically process serving. But, when a woman comes in and asks for help finding her daughter’s killer, Kelly is determined to become a true PI. However, this woman and her dad have ties which Kelly is about to discover.
When I first started reading this story, I did not think I would like it. But, the characters grew on me and the further I read the more I enjoyed it. It reads very much like an old Rockford Files show. (I know! I just dated my self!). Between an unusual death or murder via train…yes you heard me…and a host of sleazy characters, this story takes on a life of its own.
The mystery and the characters just keep getting better and better. This is a quick, no nonsense, good read! Grab your copy today!
The drama is hot and the drinks are flying in Wendy Francis’s witty, warm, and quirky family drama, BEST BEHAVIOR (Graydon House; May 5, 2020; $17.99 USD). Heartfelt and relatable, Francis cleverly portrays the nuances of a less-than-perfect but more-than-loving blended family in all its messy glory.
Meredith Parker and her husband Joel have been dreading the weekend of their twins’ college graduation. Not only does it mean that Dawn and Cody are flying out of Meredith’s nest to live in Chicago and North Dakota, but it also means Meredith will have to deal with her insufferable ex-husband, Roger, his pompous parents and his new wife Lily, so young she could be the twins’ sister! But Meredith is willing to be the Jackie O. of college graduations. She can handle that for three days, can’t she?
Meanwhile, Dawn, who has spent a lifetime cleaning up after her ‘golden boy’ brother, discovers a mess even she may not be able to get Cody out of. He’s been acting weird last the few weeks of school; picking up smoking, breaking up with his girlfriend, but this… this is definitely a problem. She needs to figure out what’s going on with her twin before he really ruins his life.
About the author
Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of three novels: The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.
On Thursday morning, the temperature outside is seventy-one degrees and climbing while Meredith Parker considers which of a thousand recommended places she would like to visit before she dies. Not that she’s anticipating dying anytime soon, but she needs a distraction. She figures she has already seen at least a handful—Yosemite (breathtaking, as advertised), Niagara Falls (overrated in her opinion ‒ and cold), and San Francisco (lovely, with a charming hippie vibe). It’s the exotic locales that have eluded her over the past forty-six years, places like Tahiti or Rome or the Swiss Alps. Although, come to think of it, Meredith doesn’t really care for skiing, so she can probably cross the Alps right off her list. But Rome would be nice—all that history and pasta—and wine! A cheap fare must be available on one of those best-deal websites, if she searches long enough. Yes, she’s fairly certain she can persuade her husband, Joel, that Rome should be their first-ever international destination, the new green pin on their Where Have You Been? map that hangs on the wall in the den. That is, of course, once the kids have settled into their new homes.
And with the thought of her children’s imminent departure, Meredith’s throat tightens. What’s the use? she thinks. No number of mental hijinks will make her forget the real purpose of today’s trip. She, Joel, and her mother, Carol, are tracing the familiar route up from New Haven to Boston, as they have dozens of times before, the trees beyond the window zipping by in a curtain of emerald green.
But this weekend will be different.
Because this weekend marks the twins’ college graduation, an event that seemed impossibly far away only a few years ago, even a few months ago. Tomorrow her babies, the ones she used to cradle in each arm, will accept their hard-earned diplomas and officially step out into the great wide beyond, otherwise known as Adult Life.
Last night, when she’d gone to her neighborhood book club, the room had been abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. “You must be bursting with pride!” her friend Lauren exclaimed. “I can’t believe that Cody and Dawn are already graduating. It’s so exciting.” And Meredith had nodded, as if she, too, were in a state of shock over this improbable fact.
It’s true that she couldn’t be prouder of the twins, but the moment is bittersweet. Soon, Cody will be off to Bismarck, North Dakota, to teach high school history, and Dawn is headed to Chicago to work at an advertising firm. Her kids will be so far away, they might as well be moving to Bangkok. Even though she knows it’s irrational, Meredith is racked by the feeling that after this summer she might never see her children again.
Admittedly, she is at a corner, or more specifically, at a crossroads in her life. Images of a two-year-old, chubby Cody racing into her arms or of a young Dawn asking for “one more good-night tuck-in” swim through her mind. She can still feel those small arms wrapped tightly around her, the love so palpable she used to think her heart would leap from her chest to theirs. How is it possible that her babies are graduating from college this weekend?
With Lauren’s comment, Meredith had cast her gaze around the book group (who, truth be told, rarely ever discussed the book at hand) and realized with a start that the difference between her own life and that of her friends’ suddenly stretched before her like a giant yawning chasm: Meredith was about to say goodbye to her kids once and for all, while her neighbors still had years of child-raising ahead of them.
Lauren had offered her an affectionate pat on the shoulder, as if she could read Meredith’s thoughts, and handed over a generous pour of chardonnay, which Meredith accepted gratefully. Maybe, she allowed herself to consider, Lauren was right. Maybe the graduation weekend would be exciting, as pleasing as a perfectly folded fitted sheet. Tuck this person into that corner, that person over there, smooth it, smooth it, and everyone would get along swimmingly.
Given her patched-together, hybrid family, though, Meredith sincerely doubts it. Her ex-husband, Roger, will be bringing Lily, his new wife of six months. And as fine as Meredith is with the idea of Roger’s remarrying after all these years, his new marriage somehow feels forced, as if he has just purchased a new set of golf clubs that he’s eager to show off to the rest of the family.
“I know. It’s crazy, right?” Meredith had managed to get out after swallowing her wine. “The twins are officially all grown up.”
Lauren, a corporate attorney, has two young girls, six and eight, whom Meredith adores and dreams of kidnapping one day (she tells herself it wouldn’t really be kidnapping, though, since they’re all neighbors, and obviously she would do Lauren the courtesy of asking before moving the girls into her own home.). As it is, she helps out with the girls whenever she can, usually after school when Lauren works late and Meredith is already back from her shift in the NICU. The girls have her pegged for a softy and know full well that she will buy them ice cream, bake chocolate chip cookies on a whim, and watch every terrible mermaid movie that’s available for streaming. They call her “Auntie,” which makes her heart swell and break simultaneously.
Some days she wishes she and Joel had tried for their own children way back when, even though the timing was off—they didn’t meet till Meredith was in her late thirties—and there would have been a considerable age gap, more than a decade, between a new baby and the twins. But at least she would still hear young voices in the house, would have someone to ferry to ballet practice or help with a book report. As exhausting as it could be some days (that Taj Mahal built out of marshmallows for fifth grade nearly killed her), she misses the maternal responsibilities she was once counted on for, feels the lack like an unfamiliar brittleness settling into her bones.
Theoretically, she understands that the twins flew the coop four years ago when they left for college. But that was different. The kids continued to call every Sunday night, and she and Joel could drop by on the odd weekend. Luckily, both children had decided on the same college in Boston, making spur-of-the-moment visits ridiculously convenient. But traveling so far away for jobs where she might see them only once or twice a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas? She honestly doesn’t know how—or if—she can handle it.
Thankfully, no matter what faults she and her ex-husband, Roger, might have had as a couple, their kids have turned out all right—better than all right—and Meredith lets herself relax slightly with this thought now. Dawn, hands down her most difficult child during the teenage years, has blossomed into a bright young woman. Gone are the days when Meredith’s every comment would prompt an eye roll from her daughter. And despite an unfortunate hiccup with the Administrative Board last year, Dawn has managed to pull off graduating with honors. Meanwhile, Cody (Meredith’s lips part into a smile when she imagines him striding across the stage in his gown) is graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Not only that, but he set the school record for all-time rushing yards this fall, leading his football team to their best season in fifteen years. Cody has become a rock star on his small New England campus, and as his mother, Meredith can’t help but feel a bit smug. After all, she was the one who whipped up protein shake after protein shake and lugged him to hundreds of high school practices. She was the one who allowed her lovely den to be transformed into a weight room filled with smelly sneakers and barbells for four years.
If she knows one thing deep in her bones, it’s that she is a good mom, one who has raised hardworking, resilient children. She imagines holding her breath as they parade across Bolton’s commencement stage, much as she did when they took their first ungainly steps across the kitchen floor, Cody wheeling ahead in wide, determined strides and Dawn following a few paces behind, her tongue twisted into a tight coil of determination. Meredith is enormously proud of them, and, quite honestly, of herself. She didn’t abandon her kids like Roger did, when he’d seen fit to put his penis where it didn’t belong. But that was nearly ten years ago, water under the bridge—more of a tepid stream wandering through her mind these days than a charging river.
New York Times bestselling author and Queen of the Beach Reads Mary Kay Andrews delivers her next blockbuster, Hello Summer.
It’s a new season…
Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.
For small town scandals…
When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat—and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”
And big-time secrets.
Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman—a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.
Conley has quit her job in Atlanta for a much more lucrative job in DC. Well, DC does not work out and she has to crawl back home and work for her sister at her family owned newspaper. She and a “good” friend run upon a wreck one evening. And boy…does this open up a can of worms!
When Conley arrives home, there is quite a bit of animosity between her and her sister. As you can imagine…a little regret, a little jealousy just help add fuel to the fire. Then the story breaks and these two have to get their act together!
No author nails southern characters like MKA! The best one in this bunch…no doubt….Rowena! I think I know quite a few Rowenas here in my little town. Plus Conley’s grandmother. She does not take any crap from anyone.
I enjoyed this story. It is in true MKA fashion. It is quirky, mysterious, a little family drama and of course just a drop of a love story!
Do not miss this wonderful beach read!
I received this novel from the publisher for a honest review.
When a little white lie becomes the story of your life, what if the truth comes out?
For three woman, it’s a life-changing trip: one finds the man of her dreams, another discovers inspiration amidst Italian food and culture, while a chance encounter with a handsome local ushers in the ultimate life change for the third. But most importantly, it’s the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship between all three.
Now years later, Kim Weston – entrepreneur and owner of internationally successful Italian food and lifestyle business, The Sweet Life – has bought and restored the tumble-down villa to its former glory — and plans to reopen Villa Dolce Vita as a wellness/cultural retreat – a fitting honor to the root of her business inspiration.
To celebrate the villa’s grand opening, she and her Italian business partners are throwing a huge three-day party; flying a group of family, business and media contacts to the Amalfi Coast to join in the celebrations. And most importantly, the (still) close friends who started the journey with her: Annie and husband Nate, whose love story began at the villa, and single mum Eva, whose son was the result of an ill-advised Italian fling.
But in the run up to the planned weekend in Italy, it becomes clear that not everyone is happy about the party, nor are they on board with such ambitious plans for the location. And, as Villa Dolce Vita’s grand relaunch draws closer, old memories and past secrets come to light, and the three old friends are forced to question if anything that happened on that first fateful trip to the villa is at all what it seemed.
About the author
MELISSA HILL lives in south Dublin with her husband and daughter. A USA TODAY and international #1 bestseller, she is the author of 13 novels, including The Gift of a Charm and A Gift From Tiffany’s. The Gift of a Charm was a USA TODAY bestseller. Hailed “the queen of the big plot twist,” she combines all the warmth and humor of contemporary women’s fiction with plots that keep readers guessing from page to page. Melissa also cowrites forensic thrillers with her husband, Kevin, under the pseudonym Casey Hill, featuring crime scene investigator Reilly Steel. For more information, visit www.caseyhillbooks.com.
It was just a little white lie. A way to kick-start her freedom.
And Kim Weston was now officially a runaway.
She couldn’t help but laugh at the idea as she stared out the window of the airplane into the abyss around her. Thirty years old—an adult—and here she was, running away from home.
She’d boarded a flight from JFK earlier and watched as the sky turned from pale blue to black. They were already six hours into a nine-hour journey and she was tired but couldn’t sleep.
There wasn’t a star to be seen, no way to discriminate the ocean below from the sky above. Nothing but emptiness.
Ironic because it was exactly how Kim felt inside. She had no reason to, or so everyone told her.
She had everything—the luxurious Manhattan apartment,a personal driver to take her wherever she wanted to go, generous expense accounts at all the best Fifth Avenue stores, and a black Amex to service every last one of her spending needs.
She and her friends were the crème de la crème of New York’s Upper East Side society set and partied with celebrities and VIPs alike. By all accounts she had the quintessential dream life.
So why was she running away?
She could still hear her parents’ voices in her head and her own guilt in her heart as she sat quietly nursing a vodka and orange juice.
Most of the cabin’s passengers were asleep, and the crew was moving around less frequently, but Kim’s mind simply wouldn’t quit.
For once, she wasn’t playing the role she’d been allotted. If she was expected to assume her part in the Weston family script for the rest of her life, then she needed a chance to play the rebel, even if only briefly.
Everything was planned to ensure that her parents wouldn’t find her—at least not for a little while.
Her destination (and certainly choice of accommodation) wasn’t somewhere Peter or Gloria would ever think to look for her, since it was so far removed from the kind of places the Westons usually frequented.
No five-star luxury hotel suite awaiting Kim when she arrived. Instead she was staying at a tumbledown villa she’d found on the internet, where she’d be sharing living space and possibly even a room with other guests. She shuddered involuntarily.
Kim was roughing it, in as much as someone like her could. The house had no on-site staff, apparently there was someone who’d come by daily to tidy and meet and greet, but that was it. No concierge, butler, in-house chef—nothing.
For once, she was going to have to cater for herself—in more ways than one.
That gave her some sense of unease; she wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart, which was why she also planned to maybe enlist herself in an Italian cooking class, as suggested by the booking site she’d used. Failing that, she’d just survive on pizza and pasta. It was Italy after all.
And she could afford that much, for a little while at least.
It was early afternoon when the flight landed at Naples airport and the transfer service she’d arranged (her final luxury—she wasn’t going to rough it entirely after a transatlantic economy flight) picked her up outside the terminal.
“Signorina Weston?” the driver holding the sign with her name on it queried as she approached.
“Buongiorno. Right this way,” the young Italian man instructed as he directed Kim to a waiting black Mercedes.
She stepped outside of the terminal, her long slender legs clad in white jeans, which complemented her hot pink poncho. Sunglasses protected her eyes from the bright sun but she still held a hand to her forehead to shield them as she stared up at an almost cloudless Italian blue sky.
“I am Alfeo,” the driver introduced himself as they walked, taking her luggage along with him. “How was your flight?”
“Long,” she answered. She was bone-tired, a little cranky and not particularly in the mood for small talk.
Alfeo nodded and opened the car door for her. “The journey will take just over an hour and a half depending on traffic. But we can stop along the way if you need anything.”
“That’s fine,” Kim replied as she slid into the back seat and tipped her head against the leather headrest. She closed her eyes, suddenly spent and exhausted from worrying now that she was here.
She was really doing this…
It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when she was woken by Alfeo’s voice announcing arrival at their destination.
Kim blinked several times as she tried to gather her bearings, then lowered the window to look out at her surroundings. They were parked down some kind of laneway, and up ahead she could make out a grubby wall of peach-colored plaster, and a paint-chipped wooden door—the only interruption on an otherwise blank facade.
Unimpressed, she regarded the weather-worn door and its tarnished brass ring, and hid a frown as she dragged manicured nails through her tousled blonde mane, pulling her hair partially over her shoulder.
Her heart fell. This place looked like a complete dump. She sincerely hoped the inside was a helluva lot better.
“This is Villa Dolce Vita, right?” she asked, casting a fatigued gaze at Alfeo as she stepped out onto the dusty gravel pathway.
“Sì. Villa Dolce Vita.”
“I’ll need your number,” she stated as she walked toward him with her phone in hand. “Just in case.”
Alfeo complied, assuring her that he’d be available whenever she needed, the suggestive grin on his face indicating he meant for more than just transportation. Were Italian men really such unabashed flirts?
“Can you maybe just help get my cases inside before you go?”
“Of course.” He duly took her suitcases out of the boot, while Kim wandered further along the perimeter wall to where a break in the trees gave way to a view of the sea.
Realizing that they were on an elevated site, high above the glittering Gulf of Naples, she glanced to her left to see a group of impossibly beautiful pastel-colored buildings and terra-cotta roofs, clinging and huddled together.
The setup immediately put her in mind of a huge piñata cake: the center of the green and gray mountain cut open to release a tumbling selection of irresistible pastel-colored candy.
Now this is more like it…
Further along down the coast, rock promontories jutted out above diverging bays, beaches and terraces, all presiding over cerulean waters. Hills dotted with lush vineyards, olive trees and citrus groves looked down over the colorful shops, cafés, hotels and historic buildings scattered below.
Sailboats dotted the clear blue waters and, looking down from where she stood, Kim could see snaking wooden steps leading all the way to the rocky shore below.
The whole thing was dizzying in every sense of the word.
By the time she returned to the villa entrance, Alfeo was gone, but the old wooden door had been left ajar.
Kim slipped through into the courtyard area to discover a hidden garden of sorts.
The dark pea gravel of outside gave way to a lighter-colored, more decorative kind, and she noticed heavy stone planters dotted throughout the small courtyard area, housing rows of mature lemon and olive trees.
Coupled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea tumbling down the edge of an old stone building—evidently the villa itself—the garden was a riot of color and, against the azure sky and glittering water on the bay, made for a picture-perfect entrance.
Citrus scent from the lemon trees followed as Kim walked to the front of the property, her senses now well and truly awakened.
The villa was of the same blotchy peach plaster as the out. The side wall, a pretty two-story house with a terra-cotta roof and rustic windows trimmed with dull cast-iron railings that had long since seen better days.
Turning to check out the view from the front of the house, Kim noticed a terraced area beneath the gardens, accessible by four or five stone steps leading down to a small pool bordering the edge of the entire site overlooking the panoramic bay.
Without the ornate bougainvillea-laden perimeter railings holding everything together, it was as if the entire site could easily slip right off the edge and plummet down to the rocky shore below.
OK, so this place was old, but surprisingly charming, and while Kim didn’t have high hopes for the quality of accommodation, given the crumbling exteriors, she already felt a weird sense of calm at just being here.
It was as if Villa Dolce Vita had already cast a spell on her.
A chipped wooden front door with a ringed black-painted knocker at its center stood wide open, and Kim hesitated momentarily as she listened for noise from inside.
She wasn’t sure if there were other guests staying there already or if anyone was even expecting her, but there was no going back now.
She took a deep breath. She was really here. Doing her own thing, finding her own path.
Just a little FYI to brighten your quarantine, if y’all are not following Leslie Jordan on instagram…y’all are missing a treat!
Being an essential personnel during this time has been a unique experience. I very seldom tell my experience as a pharmacist on this blog. Basically, because that is not what this blog is about. However, I had a unique experience (there is at least one a week). Please…as scared as you are….please be kind! It is so important. I am saying this as a reminder…BE KIND AND RESPECTFUL! I need to write a book about some of this stuff..people are nuts! 🤪
Now on to the escapades….what escapades…you hunker downers. I have scrapbooked and I have done a little gardening….and a lot of drinking! Shhhhhh don’t tell anyone!
These are new book marks made with water color and Artistic Impression stamps.
I also did a curbside pick up at a local store called Jacobs Produce. They fixed me up with begonias and impatients. Perfect for my outdoor reading spot!
Now….on to my great escapes for April!
I will begin with the best book of the month for me. Heck! This is the best book of the year! I must read more of this author!
Fredrik Backman meets The Cactus in THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE (Park Row Books; April 28, 2020; $25.99 US/$32.50 CAN), in which a cynical single father has a surprise encounter on the famous love lock bridge, sparking a journey of self-discovery that may lead him to a second chance at love.
Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.
One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.
Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…
About the author
Phaedra Patrick is the author of The Library of Lost and Found, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which has been published in over twenty countries around the world. She studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.
As he did often, over the past three years, Mitchell Fisher wrote a letter he would never send.
He sat up in bed at midnight and kicked off his sheets. Even though all the internal doors in his apartment were open, the sticky July heat still felt like a shroud clinging to his body. His nine-year-old daughter Poppy thrashed restlessly in her sleep, in the bedroom opposite.
Mitchell turned on his bedside lamp, squinting against the yellow light, and took out a pad of Basildon Bond notepaper from underneath his bed. He always used a fountain pen to write—old-fashioned he supposed, but he was a man who valued things that were well-constructed and long-lasting.
Mitchell tapped the pen against his bottom lip. He knew what he wanted to say, but by the time his words of sorrow and regret travelled from his brain to his fingertips, they were only fragments of what he longed to express.
As he started to write, the sound of the metal nib scratching against paper helped him block out the city street noise that hummed below his apartment.
Another letter from me. Everything here is fine, ticking along. Poppy is doing well. The school holidays start soon and I thought she’d be more excited. It’s probably because you’re not here to enjoy them with us.
I’ve taken two weeks off work to spend with her, and have a full itinerary planned for us—badminton, tennis, library visits, cooking, walking, the park, swimming, museums, cooking, a tour of the city bridges, and more. It will keep us busy. Keep our minds off you.
You’ll be amazed how much she’s grown, must be almost your height by now. I tell her how proud I am of her, but it always means more coming from you. Mitchell paused, resting his hand against the pad of paper. He had to tell her how he felt.
Every time I look at our daughter, I think of you. I wish I could hold you again, and tell you I’m truly sorry.
He read his words, always dissatisfied with them, never able to convey the magnitude of grief and guilt he felt. After folding the piece of paper once, he sealed it into a crisp, cream envelope, then squeezed it into the almost-full drawer of his nightstand, amongst all the other letters he’d written. His eyes fell upon the slim lilac envelope he kept on top, the one addressed to him from Anita, that he’d not yet been able to bring himself to open.
Taking that envelope out, he held it under his nose and inhaled. There was still a slight scent of her on the paper, he thought, of violet soap. His finger followed the angle of the gummed flap and then stopped. He closed his eyes and willed himself to open the letter, but his fingernails dented crescents into the paper.
Once more, he placed it back into his drawer.
Mitchell lay down and hugged himself, imagining Anita’s arms were wrapped around him. But, when he closed his eyes, the words from all the letters weighed down upon him like a bulldozer. As he turned and tried to sleep, he pulled the pillow over his head to force them away.
A Locked Heart
The lovers who attached their padlocks to the bridges of Upchester might see it as a fun or romantic gesture but, to Mitchell, it was an act of vandalism.
It was the hottest year on record in the city and the morning sun was already beating down on the back of his neck. His biceps flexed as he methodically opened and squeezed his bolt cutters shut, cutting the padlocks off the cast-iron filigree panels of the old Victorian bridge, one by one.
Since local boyband Word Up filmed the video for their international smash hit “Lock Me Up with Your Love” on this bridge, thousands of people were flocking to the small city in the North West of England. They brought and attached locks marked with initials, names, messages, to demonstrate their love for the band and each other, on the city’s five bridges.
Large red and white signs that read no padlocks studded the pavement. But as far as Mitchell could see, the locks still hung on the railings like bees swarming across frames of honeycomb. The constant reminder of love surrounding him, other people’s, made him feel like he was fighting for breath.
As he cut off the locks, he wanted to yell, ‘Why can’t you just keep your feelings to yourselves?’
After several hours of hard work, Mitchell’s trail of broken locks glinted on the pavement like a metal snake. He stopped for a moment and narrowed his eyes as a young couple strolled toward him. The woman glided in a white floaty dress and tan cowboy boots. The man wore shorts and had the physique of an American football player. With his experience of carrying out maintenance across the city’s public areas, Mitchell instinctively knew they were up to something.
After breaking away from his girlfriend, the man walked to the side of the bridge while nonchalantly pulling out a large silver padlock from his pocket.
Mitchell tightened his grip on his cutters. He was once so easy and in love with Anita, but rules were rules. ‘Excuse me,’ he called out. ‘You can’t hang that lock.’
The man frowned and crossed his bulging arms. ‘Oh yeah? And who’s going to stop me?’
Mitchell had the sinewy physique of a sprinter. He was angular all over with dark hair and eyes, and a handsome dorsal hump on his nose. ‘I am,’ he said and put his cutters down on the pavement. He held out his hand for the lock. ‘It’s my job to clear the bridges. You could get a fine.’
Anger flashed across the blond man’s face and he batted Mitchell’s hand away, swiping off his work glove. Mitchell watched as it tumbled down into the river below. Sometimes the water flowed prettily, but today it gushed and gurgled, a bruise-grey hue. A young man had drowned here in a strong current last summer.
The man’s girlfriend wrapped her arms around her boyfriend’s waist and tugged him away. ‘Come on. Leave him alone.’ She cast Mitchell an apologetic smile. ‘Sorry, but we’re so in love. It took us two hours and three buses to get here. We’ll be working miles away from each other soon. Please let us do this.’
The man looked into her eyes and softened. ‘Yeah, um, sorry, mate,’ he said sheepishly. ‘The heat got the better of me. All we want to do is fasten our lock.’
Mitchell gestured at the sign again. ‘Just think about what you’re doing, guys,’ he said with a weary sigh. ‘Padlocks are just cheap chunks of metal and they’re weighing down the bridges. Can’t you get a nice ring or tattoo instead? Or write letters to each other? There are better ways to say I lov– Well, you know. . .’
The man and the woman shared an incredulous look.
‘Whatever,’ the man glowered, and he shoved his padlock back into the pocket of his shorts. ‘We’ll go to another bridge instead.’
‘I work on those too . . .’
The couple laughed at him and sauntered away.
Mitchell rubbed his nose. He knew his job wasn’t a glamorous one. It wasn’t the one in architecture he’d studied hard and trained for. However, it meant he could pay the rent on his apartment and buy Poppy hot lunch at school each day. Whatever daily hassle he put up with, he needed the work.
His workmate Barry had watched the incident from the other side of the road. Sweat circled under his arms and his forehead shone like a mirror as he crossed over. ‘The padlocks keep multiplying,’ he groaned.
‘We need to keep on going.’
‘But it’s too damn hot.’ Barry undid a button on his polo shirt, showing off unruly chest curls that matched the ones on his head. ‘It’s a violation of our human rights, and no one can tell if we cut off twenty or two hundred.’
Mitchell held his hand up against the glare of the sun. ‘We can tell, and Russ wants the bridges cleared in time for the city centenary celebrations.’
Barry rolled his eyes. ‘There’s only three weeks to go until then. Our boss should come down here and get his hands dirty, too. At least join me for a pint after work.’
Mitchell’s mouth felt parched, and he suddenly longed for an ice-cold beer. A vision of peeling off his polo-shirt and socks and relaxing in a beer garden appeared like a dreamy mirage in his head.
However, he had to pick Poppy up from the after-school club to take her for a guitar lesson, an additional one to her music class in school. Her headteacher, Miss Heathcliff, was a stickler for the school closing promptly at 5.30pm, and it was a rush to get there on time. He lowered his eyes and said, ‘I’d love to, but I have to dash.’
And I saved the best for last. Simone St. James has become one of my favorite authors. And this book hit all the boxes! Creepy, chilling, scary! I mean…it is set in an old hotel! What cannot be creepy about that!