Wendy Meadows Cozy Mystery Posies and Poison (EBOOK)
Sweetfern Harbor Mystery Book 1

Posies and Poison (EBOOK)

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Will Brenda's novice detective skills and Mac's seasoned insight be enough to solve this case before another victim falls?

Brenda Sheffield's life takes an unexpected turn when she inherits The Sheffield Bed and Breakfast, nestled in the charming coastal town of Sweetfern Harbor. Used to the quiet life of a PI's assistant, Brenda is ready to embrace the vibrant colors, the quaint shopfronts, and the warmth of the local community. Yet, not everyone in town is as welcoming as the painted facades.

Enter Lady Pendleton, the town's domineering tycoon, who rules her empire with a tight grip and an even tighter heart. Her ruthless tactics have left many in the community desperate and resentful. But when she's found dead in her car right outside Brenda’s new haven, the town’s serene facade crumbles.

Now, with a killer on the loose and a list of suspects as long as the town pier, Brenda finds herself deep in a mystery that needs solving more than ever. Helping her is Detective Mac Rivers, a dashing man whose sharp wit and keen eye are their only hope to catch a murderer who might strike again. 

Chapter One

Brenda Sheffield had surprised even herself when she decided to move from her home state of Michigan to the eastern seaboard. Sweetfern Harbor was a coastal New England town that held pleasant memories of when, as a ten-year-old, she had visited with her parents. Her most vivid memory was of her uncle’s massive seaside home. Randolph Sheffield had managed to survive three unsuccessful marriages, and with no offspring. He had shown Brenda special attention during their visit and she recalled her mother commenting more than once that she had never before known her brother-in-law to show any enthusiasm over a child.

“I think he liked how excited Brenda was about the enormous house,” said Ellen. Her father had merely raised his eyebrows.

Brenda smiled to herself as her car took the next curve. Since her mother’s death, she had not thought back to that magical excursion to Sweetfern Harbor until the letter from the lawyer arrived. It was delivered with instructions to sign to confirm that she received it. 

When she was in her teens she learned that her uncle had decided to turn his mansion into a bed and breakfast. At the time, Brenda found the idea somewhat intriguing, but quickly grew disinterested when her parents only wanted to discuss mundane details of business ventures instead of lingering on Brenda’s preferred topic, the beauty and grandeur of Uncle Randolph’s house itself.

After the next bend in the road, Brenda gasped at the beauty of the panorama before her. She pulled over to park at the overlook where she could get a better view. Rolling hills unfolded before her eyes until they reached a jagged coastline below. She had to tear herself away from the sight and got back into the car reluctantly. She was only one mile from her final destination and tingling with anticipation. As she started the car again, she gulped several times. Moisture slicked her hands on the steering wheel. At age forty-six, Brenda Sheffield was about to become the owner of Sweetfern Harbor’s only bed and breakfast.

When Brenda decided to move to Sweetfern Harbor, she had left a modest job as assistant to the private investigator of a detective agency back in Michigan. She often studied cases on her own when she was home. 

Rarely did her boss ask for her advice, but when he did, Brenda had several times provided an insight which propelled him toward a successful ending to the case. The humdrum daily tasks assigned to her were a sad waste of her talents.

She knew she was good in this line of work, but her boss had never acknowledged her contributions other than a muttered “Thanks” when she provided input. Young and upcoming Jason Kirkpatrick displayed an arrogance that made Brenda feel more than a little inferior, and eager for change.

The letter from her uncle’s lawyer came at the right time for her. Even though she had no idea how to run a bed and breakfast, the thought of living in that stately mansion so close to the ocean drove her to a confidence that propelled her from Michigan all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

But her confidence sometimes wavered, even to this moment. It was too late for doubts, she reminded herself. All she could do at this point was hope she had a good staff already in place, and forge ahead.

Entering town, Brenda coasted down the slight incline onto a street out of a fairy tale. In the bright sunshine, hanging baskets of brilliant flowers hung outside every shop. The many hues of the cascading flowers flanked doorways with shingle signs rocking softly in the Atlantic breeze. 

The panorama before her gave her a thrill of pleasure, but for some reason it also increased her anxiety. She wondered if she would fit in to such a place. Misgivings surged through her as she remembered how her boss back in Michigan laughed when she told him of her plans.

She eagerly read the name of each establishment she passed. Morning Sun Coffee caught her eye. She wanted nothing more than to go inside, sit down, and sip a cup of hot coffee. She would ask for her favorite flavor shot, caramel, and its delicious richness might just be enough to chase away the knot of worry in her stomach. 

Brushing aside this desire, she lowered her window and breathed in the gentle sea air and listened to faint sounds of surging water. At the end of Main Street, she turned right and followed Ocean Street until one block later she came to her destination. 

The huge mansion was pale yellow, four stories tall, and as magnificent as she recalled from her childhood. She slowed down to take in the stately Victorian house, which the lawyer had informed her was a Queen Anne from the 1890s or so. She vowed to examine her deed in greater detail as soon as possible to be sure of its age.

A sign swung from wrought iron hooks on the beam of the porch, welcoming everyone to Sheffield Bed and Breakfast. Her eyes shifted upward to the fourth floor. Memories flooded over her. She recalled that was where her Uncle Randolph had opened cabinets built into the walls and showed her a dollhouse and its antique figurines. She had spent hours playing there until her mother insisted she come downstairs and mind her manners in front of her uncle. Randolph’s kind eyes told Brenda that her uncle gained more pleasure in her delight than in her efforts to listen to adults’ boring conversations.

Brenda knew from the initial letter from her uncle’s estate lawyer, Edward Graham, that the grand house consisted of eight bedrooms and two apartments. One would be hers and the other one was occupied by the live-in housekeeper. There seemed to be no problem keeping the rooms occupied most seasons of the year, according to the lawyer. 

As she gazed at the house’s intricate details, she could see a line of tall pine trees that wrapped halfway around the structure. As tall as they were, the trees failed to overpower the building in the slightest. The house, with its gracefully detailed trim, wide wraparound porches, and gabled roof with a quaint tower in one corner, rose prominently over the street.  

She stepped from her car and the sound of the ocean grew louder. She walked across the vast lawn of the property and shielded her eyes against the bright sun to view the water crashing against the rocks below. Screaming seagulls coasted on the wind, vying for their meal. The view took her breath away. The bright expanse of the ocean extended as far as her eyes could see.

“You must be Miss Sheffield,” she heard behind her, and turned around quickly. “I’m Phyllis Lindsey, your housekeeper.” The fifty-something-year-old woman extended her hand. A smile spread on her thin lips and her deep gray eyes were friendly.

“Yes, I’m Brenda Sheffield. I’m happy to meet you.” Right away, Brenda felt a kinship with the housekeeper. Phyllis was trim and wore a simple skirt below her knees and a sensible white blouse, perfectly pressed.

Together, they turned to walk toward the bed and breakfast. “Everyone is very anxious to meet you. Mr. Sheffield hired all of the employees personally.” She clucked her tongue. “We were so sorry to lose him. His sudden illness hit him hard and he just never recovered.” She glanced quickly at Brenda. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I only meant to convey how much he meant to all of us. I am very sorry for your loss.”

Brenda smiled at her. “It’s all right. I only met him once when I was ten years old, but my parents kept in contact with him over the years.”

She took a long breath and looked again at her new home. Brenda pushed away feelings of unease about her new responsibilities. This venture was not leading her to a career as a sleuth, which had been her longtime dream. But surely living in Sweetfern Harbor would give her time to really figure out her life.

As Phyllis led Brenda up the graceful stairs to the main entrance, a young woman stepped forward. The light that filtered through the oval glass door pane highlighted her light auburn hair and crystal blue eyes. Phyllis stepped forward to make the introductions.

“This is Carrie Martin. Carrie is eighteen and a quick learner,” said Phyllis. “She manages the office and takes care of the room reservations.”

Another young woman emerged from behind Carrie with a wave. “And this is my cousin Kelly Martin. Kelly is visiting me from New York City,” said Carrie. “If you prefer to get settled into your quarters first, I’ll see to some refreshments,” offered Phyllis.

It was decided that Carrie would show Brenda up to her apartment. When they arrived at the second floor, Brenda followed her to the end of the hallway. There Carrie opened a door with a key and then handed it to Brenda. 

From the entrance, a few steps brought her down to a cozy sitting area. Beyond this, Brenda could see a comfortably appointed bedroom and adjoining bath. There was an alcove off the sitting room with a coffeepot, toaster, and microwave. Her new living space reminded her exactly of her childhood visit, with its beautiful antique furniture that gleamed with polish in the light filtering through a lace curtain at the window.

“Mr. Sheffield did not want a stove or oven in here. He preferred to eat all meals with his staff or his guests.” Carrie glanced at Brenda. “Of course, that will be your own choice now.”

“This is just lovely. I’ll freshen up and meet you downstairs soon.” Brenda smiled at Carrie. She was pleased with the young girl’s hospitality skills and immediately understood why guests felt so at home here.

Once the four women were settled in the formal but cozy sitting room on the first floor, Brenda could sense their curiosity about her circumstances. She helped herself to a shortbread cookie from the delicate china plate that Phyllis had placed on a doily in the center of the mahogany table.

“I suppose it was difficult leaving your family behind in Michigan,” said Phyllis, handing her a glass of iced tea.  

“I have no family left there,” Brenda explained, gratefully accepting the glass and taking a sip. “My mother passed away in a car accident ten years ago.”

There was a slight pause as the other women gave her looks of sympathy, but somehow Brenda knew none of them would hold back their curiosity.

“What kind of work did you do back in Michigan?” asked Carrie, passing a cookie to her cousin Kelly. 

“I worked for a private investigator as his assistant. On occasion, I helped with some of his cases.” There was no reason for her to embellish or diminish the explanation. “I guess you could say I am something of an amateur sleuth.”

Phyllis laughed good-naturedly. “Well, those skills won’t be needed in Sweetfern Harbor. I don’t recall any crimes around here in the time I’ve been here.” Carrie readily agreed. Phyllis continued, “We are known to be the safest town in all of New England.”

The longer they chatted, the more relaxed Brenda became. She was happy there was no crime here. She thought that if crime prevailed, it would spoil her initial impressions of the village. Turning her mind from thoughts of her detective ambitions, she turned to ask Phyllis another question. “I noticed the coffee shop in town. All of the shops looked so inviting and quaint.”

She was told about the florist, the bakery, and other specialty shops. As the other visitor, Kelly sat back and listened along with Brenda to this happy chatter. Phyllis and Carrie tended to interrupt one another telling her who owned which shop and how the relationships between the townspeople intertwined with one another. Regardless of blood relations, apparently Sweetfern Harbor was one big happy family.

“Are the owners lifelong residents here?” asked Brenda.

Phyllis and Carrie exchanged glances. Then Phyllis spoke. “No one owns the buildings, but they do own their businesses.” At Brenda’s quizzical look, Phyllis explained, “Your uncle owned this house and the land around it, of course. The Pendleton family owns just about everything else in town—but there’s just the old woman left now, Lady Pendleton we call her.” She paused for a moment. “If we didn’t have the tourist industry, no one would be in business today with the rents so high.” She stopped abruptly as if searching for a change of topic. 

By her manner, Brenda could see the housekeeper did not wish to discuss Lady Pendleton any further. Without a doubt, this formidable woman was not to be considered a part of the Sweetfern Harbor family.

“We get a lot of tourists down here,” Carrie jumped in, eager to steer the conversation back to safer ground. “They love how colorful Main Street is…and the ocean, of course.” Carrie told stories about the beach parties she and her friends enjoyed during her recent high school years. “You won’t have to leave Sweetfern Harbor for a vacation. The sandy beach is a wonderful place for relaxation.” Phyllis nodded her head vigorously in agreement.

Brenda took a last sip of her iced tea and looked around at the women. “I should get unpacked and settled in.” She turned to Carrie. “Perhaps tomorrow we can get together and I’ll look over the books. I need to get a handle on the business part of the bed and breakfast first.”

They all stood up. “Brenda, do you want to have your dinner brought up to your room later this evening?”

“I think I’d prefer to join the others. How many guests are here now?”

“Our rooms are filled for the next few weeks,” said Carrie. “Dinner is served at seven. We’ll see you then.”

When she reached the top of the stairs, Brenda could hear soft voices below. She knew she was being assessed and hoped she passed whatever standard was expected of her. Then she smiled. Phyllis and Carrie had been so warm and friendly, she had no doubt she would fit in at Sheffield Bed and Breakfast. 

But a little anxiety remained when she wondered about everyone else in Sweetfern Harbor. She also had an insatiable curiosity about Lady Pendleton. Before Phyllis stopped speaking on the subject, Brenda felt sure there was something more to Lady Pendleton’s story.

Brenda laughed softly as she unlocked her new apartment and stepped inside. “I really must be careful of this kind of gossip or I will get a reputation before I’ve had a chance to prove myself around here.”

After a sound sleep in her soft four-poster bed, Brenda came downstairs the next morning to the sounds of a male voice. Someone was teasing Carrie in the front reception area. The young woman’s laugh echoed melodiously and Brenda was curious to find out who had brought out such merriment in her office manager.

“Good morning, Miss Sheffield,” said Carrie, still smiling as Brenda joined them. “This is Logan Tucker. He works in the coffee shop you saw on your way into town yesterday.” Logan’s wide grin told Brenda he must be good with customers.

“It is very nice to meet you, Logan. I must stop in for one of your specialties soon. And, please, everyone, just call me Brenda. Miss Sheffield is too formal for me.” She smiled in mock admonishment at Carrie, whose cheeks blushed a light pink.

Logan shook Brenda’s hand. “I really admired your uncle, Miss—uh, Brenda. Mr. Sheffield and I became very close. He was my mentor.” 

“Good thing you had him to steer you back onto the right track,” Carrie teased him, and Logan ducked his head with a grin. 

“I’m glad to hear he was your mentor,” Brenda said. “I only met him once, but I have such wonderful memories of him. I’m glad he was able to help you.” Brenda looked expectantly at Carrie. “I’m going to have a little breakfast and then we can meet around nine, Carrie?”

“Sure,” said Carrie. “I’ll see you then.” She and Logan turned back to their talk and teasing as Brenda headed for the dining room.

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