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Feta Attraction (A Greek to Me Mystery) Mass Market Paperback – January 6, 2015
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About the Author
Susannah Hardy is the pen name of Jane Haertel, who grew up near the Canadian border in northern New York. She attended St. Lawrence University and has served on the board of directors of the Connecticut Romance Writers of America. She is a member of the Kiss of Death Chapter of RWA, as well as Sisters in Crime. Jane writes weekly about anything that strikes her fancy at the Writing Secrets of Seven Scribes blog. Jane lives in Connecticut with her husband, teenaged son, and Elvira the Wonder Cat.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“I’m Detective Hawthorne,” he said, unnecessarily. “I need to speak to”—he looked down at a notebook he’d flipped open—“Mrs. Nik—, Nik—”
“I’m Mrs. Nikolopatos,” I said. “Please call me Georgie.” It’s about time the cops got here, I thought.
“I’m looking into the death of Domenic DiTomasso, sometimes known as Big Dom.”
“I’m not sure how I can help you.” This guy was definitely scary. I guess that’s a good thing in law enforcement.
“We understand that you and Mr.”—he consulted the notebook again—“Morgan found the body.”
“Yes, Keith was giving me a ride to the spa on Valentine Island when we found him.”
“You were just motoring on by and saw a floating body?” His tone was skeptical. My hackles rose.
“And you went over to investigate?”
“Why did you disturb the body?”
I took a deep breath and refused to be baited. I’d seen enough winter reruns of cop shows to know that he was trying to throw me off balance and get me to admit to something. For God’s sake, was I a suspect?
When you marry a gay man, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he leaves you.
I stuck a clean spoon into the vat of Greek tomato sauce I’d been stirring, gave it a taste, and added another handful of oregano and a pinch of cinnamon. The Bonaparte House kitchen staff bustled around me, but I barely noticed them.
This wasn’t the first time my husband had gone off for a day or two. He usually headed over the border to Montreal, an easy drive across the St. Lawrence River by way of the international bridge from Bonaparte Bay, New York.
But this time felt . . . different. I couldn’t say why. Call it intuition, a gut feeling, whatever. This time, I wondered whether he’d left me for good. For another man.
“Etty-six!” My mother-in-law, Sophie Nikolopatos, brought me out of my thoughts and back to the present. The last dinner of the night had just left the kitchen. Sophie rose from her chair, a pained expression on her elfin face, and limped out of the kitchen toward the central staircase leading to our living quarters on the second floor. She beckoned me to follow. As though I didn’t have a couple of hours of work left to do tonight, even after we closed. Managing this place meant sixteen-hour workdays, all summer long. I shut off the burner and complied.
“Have you heard from Spiro yet, Georgie?” she demanded, out of earshot of the busboy and servers.
“Not since the night before last.”
Sophie extended a wad of loose papers toward me with one hand and patted her apron pocket, which was bulging with most of the night’s cash receipts, with the other. “We had a good night. Many lamb specials.”
I nodded and took the paperwork. It had been a real struggle to get her to accept credit cards, and Sophie still resisted the computerized ordering and payment system I’d installed a few years ago. She kept track of the business by hand and memory. I usually just tossed the stuff when she wasn’t looking.
“No thanks to that no-good son of mine,” she said. “Close up for me, dear, will you? I want to go upstairs.”
“Of course.” I closed up every night, and opened up every morning, and handled pretty much everything else too. Sophie owned the place but was more or less a figurehead. Spiro was the spoiled, lazy heir to the kingdom. I loved them both—Sophie like the mother I didn’t have, and Spiro . . . Well, I don’t know what we were to each other, really. Cohabiting co-parents, perhaps, to our daughter, Callista. I felt a pang of loneliness as I thought about my beautiful girl, even though I knew she was safe and happy visiting her great-aunt in Greece.
Sophie’s eyes narrowed. “You sick? You’re not talking much.”
Sick? No. But I’d been stewing all day. If Spiro divorced me, I’d not only be out of a marriage. I’d be out of a job. After twenty years, I didn’t know how to do anything else. And I didn’t want to. This restaurant, with the living quarters upstairs, was my home.
But it wouldn’t do to bother Sophie. She had enough to worry about. “I’m fine.” I mustered up a smile for her. “Go on, now. I’ll finish here.”
“I can’t believe he no call his mother.”
Depending on what he was doing, I could. “Don’t worry. I’ll track him down. Good night, Mana.”
Her face relaxed, and she smiled back at me. “Kali nichta, dear. You a good girl.” She patted my cheek, in a gesture that meant she loved me. In her own slightly skewed way.
A door slammed in the kitchen, followed by the unmistakable sound of china hitting the tile floor and shattering. Sophie spun on the heels of her immaculate white walking shoes and hustled back the way we’d come, cursing in Greek. Our dishwasher, Russ Riley, was in for a tongue-lashing. Breaking china was pretty close to stealing, in her book. I had to work to keep up.
“Sophie, Sophie, Sophie! Where are you, my darling?”
I smelled him before I saw him. Domenic “Big Dom” DiTomasso leaned up against the stainless steel prep counter as the overhead fan blew a wind of stale cigar smoke my way. His dark trousers were held up with a black leather belt positioned under the overhang of his considerable belly. His snowy dress shirt was open at the neck, revealing a pile of thick salt-and-pepper hair curling up and over the collar.
Sophie trotted into the kitchen, the limp forgotten. Her eyes flashed.
“Why do you come here, Domenic, and mess up my etty-six? Don’t you have your own etty-six?”
Big Dom owned the Sailor’s Rest, a restaurant a couple of doors down from the Bonaparte House. His place was our main competition. Once at the beginning of the season, once at the end of the season, and periodically in between for the last few years, Big Dom approached Sophie with an offer to buy her out. She refused, holding out for more money or because she just didn’t want to sell to Big Dom; I was never sure.
“You beautiful creature,” he purred, a three-hundred-pound kitten in cuff links.
“Please leave my restaurant, Domenic. You are frightening my customers away.” She smiled, though. Her eyes weren’t flashing anger, as I’d thought. She was . . . flirting with him?
“Sophie, your customers are already leaving. Come out and have a drink with me.”
“I don’t think so,” she said loftily. She smoothed her cap of auburn-dyed curls with one hand, looked at her nails, and cut her big dark eyes back at him.
“A woman like you should not be working. You should be spoiled and pampered. Let me buy this place. Then you can take your family and go back to your beautiful island. I will come with you and keep you warm in the winter.” He grinned suggestively.
She ignored that last bit, and I shuddered at the thought of living, even part of the year, in any kind of proximity to him. Of course, whether I would be spending any more winters in Greece remained to be seen.
“How much?” The offer had never been enough before, but I guess she couldn’t resist hearing it again.
He leaned forward and put his big tanned face close to her ear. Damn! I was roosted over by the massive Victorian sideboard that served as the waitress station, and I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“Pah!” She practically spat at him. “Get out of here, Domenic!” She let loose with a tsunami of Greek that even I, who had a pretty good command of the language after all these years, could only partially decipher. One phrase I caught would translate loosely into English as “horse’s genitals.”
He laughed and made a courtly bow, no small feat for a man of his proportions.
“You haven’t seen the last of me, my goddess.” He turned and swept out of the kitchen with another slam of the door.
“That man is a—a menace!” she shouted after him. “I’m gonna put him out of business. You wait and see!” She turned and stormed off upstairs.
After the last of our employees had left, I locked the front doors, shut down the exterior lights, and headed into my office. I sank into my sumptuous down-filled chair and ottoman, ridiculously expensive but so worth it. I poured myself a glass of Cabernet—frankly, I’ve never cared for the Greek retsina, which tastes like a pine tree. My feet ached and a deep fatigue settled into my muscles as I willed myself to relax.
I booted up my laptop, scrolling through my in-box and hoping for a message from Callista. I deleted all the ads for Viagra, a little bit wistfully just the same. It had been a long time since I’d had any romance in my life. The missive from a deposed Nigerian prince also went to the recycle bin.
I sipped my wine and set it back on its coaster on my desk. A message caught my eye. The address field read “Sender Unknown,” but the subject line was “Georgie—Urjent.” Crappy spammy speller, I thought, and clicked on the message. Too late, I realized my mistake. Hopefully my computer hadn’t just become infected with a virus or worm.
FIND IT AND BRING IT TO ME OR YOU’LL BE SORRY.
Huh? I shrugged and hit the delete key.
I woke to bright sunlight flickering through the leaves and branches of the huge old hickory tree outside my bedroom window. A cool breeze off the river billowed the sheer pale curtains into the room, and I instinctively pulled the comforter up around my neck with a shiver. August days are hot here in the North Country, but nights and mornings are cool and afford a nice excuse to stay in bed a bit longer. The alarm clock radio wouldn’t go off for a few more minutes.
“Damn!” I threw off the covers and jumped up, an adrenaline surge allowing me to brave the chill, and ran through my little sitting area to the attached bathroom. I turned on the hot tap full blast and waited for it to warm up, which could take several minutes in this old pile of rocks. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten that, weeks ago, Spiro had arranged for Ghost Squad to come and investigate the house and restaurant for paranormal activity. The cast and crew of the television show would have full run of the place all afternoon and through the night, and I hadn’t picked up my rooms; nor would I have time to do it properly before they got here. Not that I was a huge slob, but having a dozen or more people poking around my private living spaces would require some tidying up.
I threw off the oversized T-shirt I had slept in and stepped into the steaming shower. At least I could absolve myself of guilt for not attempting the Pilates DVD I’d bought in Watertown, the closest city to Bonaparte Bay, last week. My intentions had been excellent. But the shrink-wrap was still intact.
No sense dwelling on that now. My core could wait. I soaped up with some luscious almond-smelling creamy stuff and breathed in a big lungful of the scent. I shampooed, rinsed, and stepped out onto my plushy bathmat, grabbed the towel from the European-style towel heater, and dried off.
Fifteen minutes later I was dressed and had shoved all the visible loose clutter into the emptiest drawer I could find. I’d have to come back upstairs in a couple of hours and see whether I could straighten out the closet. Those Ghost Squad members were forever opening doors and sticking equipment into enclosed spaces.
No sooner had I gotten downstairs and into the kitchen, hair still damp, than Sophie accosted me. For some reason that crazy e-mail from last night popped into my head. Bring what to who? Or whom, I mentally corrected.
“Where is he? I need to talk to him,” she demanded.
“I still haven’t seen him, Sophie.” I dumped a premeasured foil packet of coffee into the Bunn machine and flipped the switch. I retrieved two thick china mugs from a shelf and added a good slug of cream—the real stuff that we whipped up fresh every night for the desserts—to each. This was one of the reasons I needed that Pilates DVD.
Sophie was more insistent than usual regarding Spiro’s whereabouts, making me instantly suspicious. “What’s so important?”
Her face softened. “Never mind. Just let me know when you see him.”
“Have you checked his room?” The coffeemaker spluttered and I removed the carafe, sticking the coffee cups one by one under the stream of hot liquid. I replaced the pot and congratulated myself for not spilling any during these maneuvers. Just one of my many skills, honed after years in the restaurant business. I handed a cup to Sophie and took a sip out of my own.
“Not there. And he don’t answer his cell phone.”
I looked out the back door into the employee parking lot. Dolly, our cook, was stepping out of her metallic green Ford LTD. “The Mercedes is still gone.” A bubble of anger formed in my gut, mixed with the hot coffee, and expanded. It was damned inconsiderate of Spiro to just ditch us for so long without so much as a phone call. This had to end. Maybe it’s already ended—for you, a voice piped up inside my head.
Well, when he did turn up, I was going to let him have it. Not that I hadn’t done it before, and not that it ever did any good.
Dolly came in and set a platter of assorted pastries on the counter. “Help yourself,” she said. “I stopped at Kelsey’s Bakery on the way in.” Dolly had worked for us longer than I’d been here, thirty years or more. Her hair was blond and teased up in a high nest into which she’d inserted a sparkly butterfly barrette. Her real name was Norma, but the story was that she’d seen Dolly Parton play at the state fair one summer and had been inspired to change her name. It suited her. She got herself a cup of coffee and sat down for her morning gossip with Sophie.
I lifted the plastic dome and grabbed a cheese Danish off the tray, then went to my office. I put the pastry on a napkin and sat down at my desk. If Spiro divorced me and I had to leave, where would I go? I’d miss this place, with its beautiful natural woodwork and shining floors and the flood of bright sunlight through the bank of tall windows overlooking the little garden I’d set up for the employees to take their breaks.
No time for wallowing, I thought. I checked my to-do list, feeling in control for the first time that morning. Number 1: Update Menu Copy. That entry had been on my to-do list since the beginning of the season, I noted, feeling out of control again. But it needed to be done today before the ghost hunters got here. I took the top menu from the stack on my desk and pulled out the paper insert containing the history of the Bonaparte House.
WELCOME TO BONAPARTE BAY AND THE HISTORIC BONAPARTE HOUSE!
Well, that much could stay. Bonaparte Bay is located on the picturesque American shore of the St. Lawrence River in the heart of the Thousand Islands. The St. Lawrence connects Lake Ontario and the rest of the Great Lakes to the west with the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Thousands of ships pass through these waters every year.
I bit into the Danish and sucked some sticky frosting from my fingers without thinking, then wiped them on my apron. My ever-present bottle of hand sanitizer sat accusingly a few inches away and I pumped a dollop into my hand.
The Bonaparte House was built around 1822, although the records are sketchy. This native fieldstone mansion, built as a two-story octegon (I circled that with a blue pen) with a large cupola adorning its crown in the style of Orson Fowler (Okay, that language could be modernized. And I should say who Orson Fowler was. I think I knew once, but I’d long since forgotten), is the oldest surviving building in Bonaparte Bay. Local legend says that the house was intended for Napoleon when his escape from exile was accomplished. Of course, Napoleon never did escape, and he never lived here.
In the last century, Vasilios “Basil” Nikolopatos settled in the Thousand Islands, which reminded him of the landscape of Greece. He bought the Bonaparte House and transformed it into a restaurant serving the delicious foods of his native land. Basil died years ago, but his wife, Sophie, and son, Spiro, continue to operate the Bonaparte House for your enjoyment today.
Spiro had left me off the menu when he’d prepared it this spring. If I’d bothered to review the back copy instead of just the menu selections then, I might have known he was up to something. I opened up my laptop and plugged in the flash drive Spiro had left on my desk, found the document containing the menu, and edited it. I added “daughter-in-law, Georgie” between Sophie’s and Spiro’s names. Ha. I made the other necessary changes, executed a spell-check, then printed off a hundred copies of the inserts and stacked them beside the menu folders to be assembled later.
I logged into my e-mail account. There was a note from my friend Eileen asking whether we could get together this week. She must have man trouble again. Join the club, I thought.
What the hell? There was another message from an unidentified sender. I couldn’t help myself and clicked it open.
WHY DON’T YOU ANSWER? FIND IT AND BRING IT TO ME, OR YOU’LL BE SORRY.
Well, that was helpful. If somebody wanted something from me, the least he or she could do would be to tell me what it was and where I should deliver it. A knock sounded at the door. I looked up, startled, then took a sip of coffee to collect myself. “Hi, Russ. You’re here early this morning. Come on in.” My pulse slowed, but I still felt jumpy.
Russ Riley was Dolly’s son, our dishwasher and general gofer. He was a beefy five feet eight, not quite fat, but he probably would be in a few years. The tail of his long black mullet brushed his waist. He’d tied a red bandanna around his forehead in lieu of a hairnet, which he said cramped his style. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his cutoffs.
“Ma said I should bring this in to you.” He looked down at his Croc-clad feet, then back up. I’d often suspected he might have a bit of a crush on me. He filled my cup from the coffee carafe, then turned and left.
I called out a thank-you and read the e-mail again. If it was a threat, it wasn’t very . . . threatening. Should I go to the police? What would I tell them? I sighed in relief as I realized someone must be playing a joke on me. That was what it had to be, though I had no idea who would do such a thing. The e-mail was so vague, so nonspecific, I just couldn’t take it seriously. Still, I left it in my in-box. Administrative work finished, I shut down the computer and headed back to the kitchen.
The faint, not unpleasant scent of bleach wafted up to my nostrils as I donned an apron, fresh from the laundry service, and tied it around my waist. Giving my hands a good scrub at the sink, I dried them on a clean towel, put on some gloves, and got to work.
A bowl of lemons sat in front of me, their bright yellow skins making a lovely contrast to the gray stainless steel of the prep counter. I smiled and began to rub the fruit with a fine grater. The process required a light touch; press too hard and I’d have the bitter white pith as well as the fragrant outer peel. A familiar sense of peace washed over me as I cooked. This was my element; this was my art. This I could control. I scraped the zest into a container of fat, silky chicken breasts, and added the juice of the lemons and some olive oil. A bit of sea salt, a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, a handful of fresh herbs, and a stir completed the prep for today’s lunch special: Greek Chicken with Lemon and Thyme.
Next to me, Dolly peeled and sliced potatoes and onions for the accompanying side dish, and we worked in companionable silence, each of us in her own zone. I covered and refrigerated the meat. With a simple salad of grape tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, and fresh ribbons of basil, all drizzled with olive oil, we were good to go.
Some of the dishes we served were complicated. Pastitsio and moussaka, though undeniably delicious, required hours to produce. My favorite recipes were like today’s, though. Simple, and making use of local ingredients whenever possible. The growing season this far north is short, but the produce is fresh and flavorful, and I bought it whenever I could.
A few hours later the lunch rush was over, and Russ, Dolly, and I had completed the daily cleanup and prep work for tomorrow. I put a film of plastic wrap over the leftover cooked meat, which would become a lovely chicken salad with green grapes and toasted walnuts tomorrow, and handed it to Russ. He toted it over to the walk-in cooler.
“Can I stay and help?” Russ removed the bandanna from his head, stuck it in his back pocket, and donned a baseball cap sporting a chain saw manufacturer’s logo. I figured he was hoping for an in-person glimpse of Ghost Squad’s lone female investigator, a buxom young woman who always seemed to be dressed in a tight, low-cut tank top even when the rest of the crew wore sweatshirts.
“Thanks, Russ, but they’ve told us we all have to leave so we don’t influence the investigation,” I said, giving my hands a scrub at the dishwashing sink.
“Do you think this place is haunted?” His big open face was uneasy as he took off his apron and tossed it in the laundry bin.
“I can tell you that I’ve lived here for a lot of years and I’ve never heard or seen anything that makes me think that.”
“But Spiro has. He said he heard noises, and got creepy feelings like he was being watched. I think I might have heard something the other day,” he added.
“We’ll have to see what they find.”
Speaking of Spiro, the inconsiderate darling still hadn’t shown up or bothered to call. Sophie and I had both tried to contact him several times, but his phone went straight to voice mail. I hoped he was having a good time, wherever he was, because when he got back he was going to have some ’splainin’ to do. Whether he’d left me for good or was just off on an extra-long joyride, I was angry with him.
And angrier with myself for not having prepared an exit plan.
Adding to that, I now had to do the interviews with the Ghost Squad people myself. What I wanted to do was spend the whole evening relaxing at the spa on Valentine Island, where I’d begged my best girlfriend, Liza, to find me a room. This would be a rare treat in the height of the tourist season.
I headed upstairs and stopped at the door to Spiro’s room. Could he have left a note? It seemed unlikely, but I put my key in the lock—couldn’t remember the last time I’d done that, or wanted to! The door opened without my turning the key. Strange. Being moderately paranoid, Spiro always locked his door.
I surveyed the room. He’d decorated the twelve-by-fifteen-foot space tastefully, though it certainly wasn’t to my taste. Chocolate brown walls complemented the original wide plank floorboards, sanded and polished to a glowing honey finish. A few scuffs in the wood over by one of the walls, but that was to be expected in a place this age. Pale blue drapes and some shiny chrome accessories, no fingerprints dulling the surfaces, gave the room a minimalist, modern feel. Nothing was out of place; nor had I expected it would be.
The blue and cream spread covering the king-sized bed was wrinkle free, and the graphic chocolate and vanilla throw pillows were arranged with precision. Hard to tell whether the bed had been slept in. He was such a neatnik, he never left his room without making the bed. I checked the closet—he wouldn’t be embarrassed when the Ghost Squad checked out his room—but his Louis Vuitton luggage was still there, and it didn’t look as though he’d taken anything else with him.
The small table he used as a desk was clean and bare except for a lamp and an unlabeled manila file folder, which I opened. The top pages appeared to be photocopies of historical research about the Bonapartes, but I didn’t go any farther. Spiro was convinced Napoleon was Greek, not Italian or French. He was fascinated by the Bonapartes and had been researching the house for years.
That knot of anger in my stomach twisted and re-formed in a different pattern. Why did I continue to allow him to blow off his responsibilities? And why did I continue to clean up the messes he left behind? Only a few months ago, the answer would have been simple—our daughter. But Cal was grown now, off on her own.
I took one last look around. He never, ever went anywhere, including the toilet, without his cell phone, yet there it was, lying on the night table. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket, intending to look at his call records later on. He’d be ripped when he came back and found it missing. I smiled at the thought.
A commotion caused me to pull back a curtain and look outside. Three big black vans with “NYPI” emblazoned on the side were parked in front of the restaurant. Ghost Squad had arrived.
I descended the stairs and nearly tripped over a thick orange extension cord. During my short absence, Sophie had greeted the team from the New York Paranormal Institute, then left with Dolly, who would drive Sophie to her cousin’s to spend the night. I’d seen the show on cable a few times and knew that for the two main investigators, the paranormal was their sideline—during the day they were electricians or contractors or something. Hmm, I thought. Maybe I can get them to fix that broken light switch in the bathroom.
“I’m Jerry, from NYPI.” A studly guy with a shiny bald head pumped my hand.
“Georgie. I’m one of the owners here.” Well, my name wasn’t on the deed, never would be now, but it was way too complicated a situation to explain on camera.
“Where can we sit down and do the interview?”
I led him and Gary, the other investigator, out to a table in front of the fireplace in the main dining room, while the crew set up the video and audio equipment around us. I cleared off the napkin dispenser, salt and pepper shakers, and the small Neofitou vase filled with red carnations, moving everything to table six. I made a mental note to order more vases. The little black-and-gold beauties tended to disappear into coat pockets and oversized handbags as free souvenirs.
Gary switched on a microphone. “Your husband called us saying he’s been hearing noises at night—knocking, shuffling, voices, that sort of thing?”
“Yes, he has mentioned that to me and to other people here at the restaurant.”
“How about you? Have you ever heard or seen anything strange?”
“This is an old house. Who knows what’s in the walls? I’m not sure I want to know, to tell the truth. I’ve heard noises at night, but nothing that scared me.”
This was so not my thing.
“I see Napoleon’s portrait here over the fireplace.” Jerry nodded toward the huge oil painting that presided over the room, and the camera operator panned upward. “We understand that this house was built for him.”
“That’s the legend. A group of French exiles built it hoping to rescue him from Elba, hide him here, and plan out his return to power in France.”
“Has there ever been any activity associated with the portrait? We sometimes find that to be the case.”
“Again, I don’t have personal knowledge of any ‘activity.’ My husband would be the one to ask, but he . . . was called away unexpectedly.”
“Napoleon never lived here.”
I guessed this had to be dumbed down for television. “That’s right.”
“Do you know if anyone ever died in this house?”
Not yet, I thought darkly. “Not to my knowledge, no, but as I said, it’s a two-hundred-year-old house and it’s certainly possible.”
“We’re going to set up our equipment and see if we can help you out here.”
I wasn’t aware we needed help. But they seemed like decent guys and free advertising was nothing to be sneezed at. It was all over town that we were being investigated. We were booked solid with reservations through the next three weekends.
“Here’s my cell number in case you need to reach me.” I handed him a business card.
On a whim, I returned to Spiro’s room and grabbed the manila folder. I shoved it into the outer pocket of my overnight bag—a Target special. I did not share my husband’s designer tastes. There might be nothing interesting to read over at Liza’s. Maybe Spiro had left a clue as to where he’d gone.
I walked the half block down to the Theresa Street docks and called the water taxi to take me to Valentine Island. Twenty minutes later, the afternoon sun was dipping lower on the horizon, and I was still waiting. I opened the folder and read the headline of the top newspaper article. “Joseph Bonaparte, Once King of Spain, Was North Country Resident.” Before I could read further, a friendly toot-toot of a small boat horn made me look up.
“Waiting for me?”
I smiled down into the soft gray eyes of my friend Keith Morgan.
“My whole life.” I batted my eyes at him, then felt ridiculous. I was no good at flirting. And I shouldn’t be flirting with Keith anyway.
He grinned and put a hand to his chest. “Be still my heart.”
“The water taxi hasn’t shown up, and I’m supposed to spend the night pampering myself at Liza’s.”
“Want a lift? I’m just out for a little cruise. It’s such a nice day. I can even offer you a drink.”
“You are the absolute best.”
He looked up at me, his face serious, the sun behind him turning his hair into a golden halo.
Hello! I thought, wishing I could take it back. He was a great-looking guy, and if my situation weren’t so complicated, we might have made some sense together. As it was, something was missing and I didn’t know what it was. I was pretty sure the problem was me. I had no idea how normal couples acted in real relationships.
“You’d better mean that.” He tied off his boat, a gleaming teak and mahogany antique with the words “Chris-Craft” stenciled on the hull, then reached up onto the dock and grabbed my bag. He stowed it down by his feet, not that that would keep it dry if we got sprayed by something bigger—or faster—than us. A laker blew its horn off in the distance. The football-field-length freight boats that sailed the Great Lakes and made their way out to sea via the main shipping channel of the St. Lawrence Seaway could capsize a small boat if the drivers weren’t careful.
Keith took my hand and bent his head to kiss it lightly. Why’d he have to do that?
“You’re looking lovely tonight, Georgiana.”
Yes, I thought, I’d worn my most glamorous “I Heart Thousand Islands” sweatshirt just for the occasion. And scrunchied my unstyled hair into an elegant ponytail to boot. If he was trying to win me over, calling me by my god-awful given name was not the way to go about it.
He dropped my hand and reached into the cooler sitting next to him, pulling out two icy Canadian beers and opening each with a deft twist. He wiped the condensation off one with the tail of his shirt and handed it to me.
“Have time to go for a ride with me before I drop you off? I was just going to tool around for a while, then head home.”
I considered his offer. “I guess I’ve got time for that.” Liza lived at the spa and wouldn’t care what time I got there, and since she owned the place, the Jacuzzi, kitchen, and wine cellar were always open.
Keith set down his beer and pulled back on the throttle, expertly maneuvering away from the dock and out into the water. The drone of the motor rumbled through me and dissipated the tension of the day as we glided down the river coast, past beautifully landscaped Victorian mansions neighbored by small cottages. As we passed Yale’s Skull and Bones society retreat, which was, inexplicably, rather dilapidated, I asked whether Keith had seen Spiro around town lately.
“I’ve been working over at Liza’s all day.” Keith was one of the few locals who worked year-round. He had a small business on the east end of town where he restored antique boats and provided storage services in the off-season. Last winter he’d gone to Vermont and taken a two-week class from a master woodworker to learn how to make furniture using only hand tools. He had a talent for it and had sold several pieces to summer residents, with many more on order.
Keith waited for me to go on.
“He left the house and didn’t take his cell phone with him, and we haven’t heard from him.”
“That’s not so unusual, is it?”
Everybody knew about Spiro and his little . . . indiscretions.
“No, of course not.” We were nearing the Devil’s Oven, a cave on the edge of an island where a locally famous river pirate once hid out during the War of 1812. Next weekend the town would celebrate Pirate Days, and I had an enormous amount of work to do to prepare for the influx of tourists. “It feels off to me, you know? He’s been gone longer than he ever has before. Maybe I’m just angry about him ditching me when the TV crew got here.”
He didn’t say anything, but maneuvered around an object bobbing just ahead. I was surprised as we passed it. It was a half-full bottle of Ouzo, the same brand we carried at the Bonaparte House. It drifted toward the island, then floated into the mouth of the cave, where it disappeared.
I glanced over at the Oven and could feel my forehead furrowing. “What’s that?” I squinted at the sun-dappled water. Something didn’t look right.
“What?” Keith cut the motor.
I pointed. “Over there.” I stared as we drifted closer. “That’s a person!”
Protruding from the cave entrance and floating on the surface of the water was an arm.
Keith turned the motor back on and throttled up slowly toward the floating form, which undulated gently.
“Get closer,” I ordered. “Whoever that is could still be alive.” I stood up on the deck and prepared to dive into the water.
Keith put a hand on my shoulder to restrain me. “Let me do it,” he said.
I considered my swimming skills—surprisingly poor considering I’d lived my entire life on the water. “I’ll call nine-one-one.” The call would summon either the local police, who owned a speedboat, or the Coast Guard, which maintained a small station a short way upstream. I took a deep breath to calm myself.
We were near the body now and Keith stepped over the side into water up to his knees, his back toward me.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?” The voice was scratchy and kept cutting in and out. Cell phone service could be unreliable in this area.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?” the dispatcher repeated, less patiently this time. I recognized the voice of Cindy Dumont.
“Cindy, it’s Georgie from the Bonaparte House. I’m calling from a boat.” Best not to say it was Keith’s boat. It would be all over the Bay before she even called in the emergency personnel that I was out with him—not that people wouldn’t find out soon enough anyway. “There’s a body floating at the mouth of the Devil’s Oven.”
This got her attention. “Really?” I could practically see her sitting up straighter. “Who is it?” Cindy asked, her voice almost gleeful.
“I don’t know. The body’s facedown. It’s wearing a suit coat so it must be a guy.”
“Well, roll him over and find out. It’ll be easy since he’s in the water.”
Sensitivity had never been her strong suit. “Cindy, just call this in to Rick over at the police station.”
“Oh, okay, but call me back when you find out who it is.”
“I’ll do that.” I’d do no such thing. She’d find out soon enough since she and Rick’s wife, Joanie, played bingo every Saturday at the American Legion and were thick as thieves.
I ended the call and turned back toward Keith. He’d managed to turn the body faceup, but I still couldn’t see much.
“Keith, can I help? Is he still alive?” I didn’t see how that was possible.
“No.” His face was grim. “He’s dead. Been dead for a few hours, I’d say. And there’s a dent in his skull.”
A thought struck me then, hard. My husband was missing. I stopped breathing. Just like the guy in the water. Spiro.
“It isn’t . . .” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence. Spiro and I had our differences of opinion (like every hour of every day), but I wouldn’t want to see him dead. Sophie would be devastated. Cal—my poor angel Callista—would be crushed. I guessed I’d miss him too.
“Honey,” Keith said. “It’s not Spiro. It’s Big Dom.”
“Big Dom?” I asked stupidly. A wave of relief washed over me even as my head began to spin.
Keith sloshed aside and I could see the body, black suit, black open-necked shirt, with enough wet gold around his neck, left wrist, and pinky that that might have been what sunk him.
“Georgie? Georgie! Did you hear me? It’s Big Dom.” I shook my head as Keith waded over and put his arm around me, turning me away from the cave and toward the shore. “Don’t look anymore, okay?”
I nodded and rested my head on his shoulder. I heard the whine of a motor and could see Chief Rick Moriarty and Deputy Tim Arquette taking this opportunity to run the BBPD police boat at full speed. Smiles dropped from their faces as they approached.
“Keith, whatcha got there?” Rick blustered, now on official police business.
“It’s Big Dom. We were out for a ride and saw him floating out of the Oven. We came over to see if we could help. But I’m afraid it’s too late.”
He held me a little closer. I let him do it, even though it felt . . . funny. Sort of okay, but almost wrong. Which was of course ridiculous, considering my marital situation.
“We’ll handle it from here,” Rick said. “Timmy, call up Greta over at the hospital and tell her we’ve got a stiff coming in to the morgue. Then get over here and give me a hand getting him into the zipper bag. He’s wet and he’s gonna be slippery.”
“Rick, I’m taking Georgie over to the spa. If you need statements or anything, let me know.”
He waved us away dismissively. “You two go on, now. We’ve got this under control.” He pulled out his phone.
“Yes, Joanie, I called you as soon as I knew. Now, don’t be that way or I won’t tell you . . .”
We motored on up the river. Big Dom had been eighty-sixed.
* * *
Top customer reviews
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I did like the interesting local history that was used in Feta Attraction, and the old octagon-shaped house made a good restaurant. The setting I liked; it was the main character and the mystery that I had problems with.
I never warmed up to the main character. For years Georgie has been stuck in a stagnant marriage where her husband thinks nothing of taking off for days to conduct his little affairs. Yes, she did stay in the marriage for the sake of her child, but letting her husband and mother-in-law take advantage of her day in and day out? I just can't become enthusiastic over a character who has DOORMAT tattooed on her forehead. (And with a life like this, is she really a proper role model for that child?)
There's also a bit too much going on plotwise: missing husband, murdered man, hidden treasure, missing money, illegal contraband, weird noises, secret spaces, and a "ghostbusting" team that really wasn't necessary at all. No, Feta Attraction just was not my cup of tea, but your mileage could certainly vary!
I started with the second book in the series and enjoyed it so much that I had to read the first book.
Georgie Nikolopatos, is a strong main character and she's very likable. She does make some questionable choices with not getting the police involved when they should have been.
This was a very entertaining book with a lot of twists and turns and a diverse the cast of characters in this. There are yummy recipes at the end of the book.
I've pre-ordered the 3rd book, A Killer Kebab, coming in Nov. 2016. I can't wait to see what the gang is up to next.
Keep them coming!
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