Authors: Kathi Daley
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Katherine Daley
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This book is dedicated to my beautiful niece Abby, who asked Aunt Kathi for a series geared toward teens and got one.
I also want to thank the very talented Jessica Fischer for the cover art.
And, of course, thanks to the readers and bloggers in my life who make doing what I do possible.
And, as always, love and thanks to my sister Christy for her time, encouragement, and unwavering support. I also want to thank Carrie, Cristin, Brennen, and Danny for the Facebook shares, Randy Ladenheim-Gil for the editing, and, last but not least, my super-husband Ken for allowing me time to write by taking care of everything else.
Books by Kathi Daley
Come for the murder, stay for the romance.
Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery:
The Trouble With Turkeys
Big Bunny Bump-off
Beach Blanket Barbie
Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies
Soul Surrender – May 2015
Heavenly Honeymoon – June 2015
Ghostly Graveyard – October 2015
Santa Sleuth – December 2015
Zoe Donovan Cookbook
Ashton Falls Cozy Cookbook
Paradise Lake Cozy Mystery:
Pumpkins in Paradise
Snowmen in Paradise
Bikinis in Paradise
Christmas in Paradise
Puppies in Paradise
Halloween in Paradise – August 2015
Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery:
Romeow and Juliet
The Mad Catter
Grimm’s Furry Tail
Much Ado About Felines – July 2015
Legend of Tabby Hollow – September 2015
Cat of Christmas Past – November 2015
Seacliff High Mystery Series:
The Relic – July 2015
The Conspiracy – October 2015
Road to Christmas Romance:
Road to Christmas Past
I initially wrote this book over eight years ago, long before I wrote the cozy mystery series I currently publish. It has been sitting on my computer all this time, gathering dust (metaphorically). I have had several fans ask me to write a series geared toward a teen audience, so I decided to dust off the Seacliff High series and publish it.
Over the years I’ve borrowed a concept or two from this unpublished series and used them in my other books. I’m mentioning this in case the more observant among you recognize certain themes. I decided to publish these books as they were written, so please bear with any similarities between these books and concepts explored in my other series.
I hope you enjoy visiting Cutter’s Cove. This series has always been near and dear to my heart.
Though he’d been dead for nearly four years, he stood at the end of the bed, silhouetted in the darkness. His features were faint, like a blurry watercolor that hinted at images not clearly defined. Eyes that were felt more than seen beckoned her toward him. Alyson didn’t believe in ghosts, but somehow she wasn’t at all surprised to find him standing there. She’d felt his presence for days, watching her, judging her, waiting to make his presence known at just the right time. He looked just like she’d pictured him, gnarled and wrinkled, his back curved with age.
The image faded into the darkness. Alyson rolled over onto her side and switched on the bedside lamp. Nothing. Old houses tended to be temperamental and unpredictable. This wasn’t the first time the electricity had failed.
Fumbling around for some matches, she lit the candle she kept for just such occasions. The flickering light illuminated the room, casting eerie shadows on the faded wallpaper. A Prada wrap dress tossed haphazardly across a three-legged chair came alive as the breeze from the cracked window caused it to flutter and sway. An empty coatrack, abandoned by a previous resident, reached out to her, arms broken and splintered like a frail old man.
Alyson slipped out of bed and wrapped a white silk robe around her body. She curled her toes against the cold as she made her way across the scuffed wooden floor, pausing to listen, as she turned the knob on her battered door and opened it just an inch.
Peering into the inky darkness, she searched for any sign of her nocturnal guest.
“Barkley? Are you out here?”
Taking a deep breath, she listened. A steady ticktock as the grandfather clock at the end of the hallway marked off the minutes. The muffled sound of waves crashing on the rocky shoreline beyond the thick walls of the ancient house. The thundering of her own heartbeat as she slowly released the breath she’d been holding. She looked toward the sanctuary of her bed, then opened the door an inch further. A sliver of light from the third-floor window pierced the darkness, casting shadows that appeared to waltz across the landing.
Opening the door enough to squeeze through, she crept into the hallway, shining the light from her candle toward the narrow staircase. Glancing toward the haven of her mother’s closed door at the other end of the hall, she edged toward the stairs with her back to the wall.
“Barkley?” she breathed.
She paused and listened with each step she took. One, two, three, four, remember to breathe, only nine stairs more. Stepping over the third stair from the top, which tended to creak under your weight, she reached the landing and looked around. Four doors, all closed. Three led to bedrooms, one to a bath. Glancing up the staircase, which continued toward the fourth-floor attic, she hesitated. The attic had been securely locked ever since she and her mother had moved in three weeks earlier. They’d tried to open it several times, but it had obviously become solidly rusted over the years, like a weathered seal on an ancient tomb. The handyman had informed them that the door would need to be removed; sometimes old locks became frozen with age.
Taking a step toward the first closed door, she looked again toward the impenetrable entrance at the top of the rickety stairs. It beckoned her to try once again. It wasn’t rational; rusted locks don’t suddenly free themselves to reveal their treasures. Alyson turned and stepped cautiously onto the first wobbly stair leading to the attic. She’d always been more curious than rational, and more often than not that had landed her in trouble.
The stairs were uneven and decaying; one wrong step and . . . Alyson didn’t want to think about that. She wondered about residents past. Had anyone stumbled on them? Maybe even fallen? A trip down the steep wooden stairs wouldn’t be pleasant at all. Gripping the wooden railing tighter, she stepped over a broken floorboard and scampered safely onto the fourth-floor landing.
Pausing in front of the door, she slowly turned the knob. The door opened effortlessly, groaning under the strain of years without movement. The windowless room, damp and musty with age, echoed the silent voices of lives past and secrets long buried. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, their intricate patterns crisscrossing across the doorway. Standing on her tiptoes, she tried to peer over the boxes and furniture piled from floor to ceiling as far back as her limited view could discern. She wondered about the owners of the long-forgotten cache, the generations of men, women, and children who had once stored their most precious memories and prized possessions within these very walls.
Barkley had led her here; she felt it in her gut. Somewhere among the discarded remnants of lives past was a secret he wanted her to find. Tiffany would love this—a mystery to solve. Tiffany had always been the more adventurous of the two of them. Too bad she was dead.
Alyson closed the door, being careful not to trip the rusty lock. Barkley’s secret would have to wait. Tonight she needed her sleep. Tomorrow her new life would officially begin. A life that would be totally different from everything she had ever known. Alyson smiled as she pulled her robe more tightly around her shivering body and started back down the stairs. Ghosts and hidden secrets; who would have thought that her life could get any crazier than it already was? Her court-appointed shrink would have had a field day with this.
“Breakfast is almost ready,” Mom called from the bottom of the stairs.
“Coming.” Alyson pulled on a well-worn pair of jeans and a royal blue cashmere sweater she’d picked up at Barneys’s after-holiday clearance last year. She gave herself a once-over in the full-length mirror, which she’d taped haphazardly to the door just two days before. “It’ll have to do.”
Scooping up the piles of clothes she tried on and then discarded, she tossed them on the hand-me-down bed she’d covered with silk designer sheets. It hadn’t been too long ago that she’d known exactly what to wear, the perfect attire for every occasion. She’d been a trendsetter teens all over the city looked to for
the latest thing.
The problem was her clothes were all wrong for a small rural high school, where the average household income for an entire month approximated the cost of a single pair of her shoes. In her old life she’d always set the fashion trends; now all she wanted to do was fit in.
Pulling her long blond hair into a neat ponytail that fell halfway down her back, she slipped her perfectly pedicured feet into a pair of strappy sandals and deemed herself ready for whatever Seacliff High School had to throw at her. Grabbing her cropped leather jacket and leather handbag from the hook on the back of the door, she took one last look around the room. Faded wallpaper, scuffed hardwood floor, discarded furniture, and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of designer clothes. The room seemed to perfectly represent the disjointed and fractured reality that her life had become, where nothing seemed to fit and everything felt like a lie. Maybe if she helped Barkley find his peace she’d find her own. She closed the door to her ransacked room and headed down the narrow stairs toward the kitchen below.
“So, are you ready for your first day at your new school?” her mom questioned as she walked into the kitchen.
Alyson poured herself a glass of orange juice and began buttering a piece of toast without responding.
“I’m sure the curriculum isn’t what you’re used to. Are you sure you don’t want me to look into getting you into that private girls’ school up the coast? I could ask Donovan to make some discreet inquiries.” Donovan had become her handler five months earlier, when Alyson and her mother had been placed in witness protection. He was the only person in the entire world besides the two of them who knew where they were or who they had become.
“Amanda Parker, heiress to millions, went to a private girls’ school.” Alyson walked over to the table and plopped a bite of scrambled egg into her mouth.
“Alyson Prescott,” she continued, “a totally normal girl, living a totally normal life, in a totally normal small town, would never be able to afford such a luxury. Besides, public school might be fun. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have access to a smorgasbord of male hunks right in my very own classroom.”
“You’re right. I guess I just need to get use to all the changes.”
“Have you talked to Donovan lately?”
“Yesterday. They’ve had a few new leads, but nothing significant. He thinks we’re safe for now, but, as usual, he warned us to be careful.”
“He didn’t say, but I’m sure he’s fine. There was an article about him in
magazine a few weeks ago. It seems that ever since my death he’s become the most eligible widower in New York.”
“I’m sorry. I know this must be hard for you.”
“Go brush your teeth and I’ll give you a ride to school. Can’t be late on the very first day.”
The trip into town had become a daily pilgrimage for Cutter’s Cove’s newest residents. Ever since Alyson and her mom had moved to Cutter’s Cove, Oregon, three weeks ago, they’d been working around the clock to make the dilapidated old house they’d bought somewhat livable. After at least twenty trips to the hardware store, hundreds of hours of elbow grease, and a little ingenuity, they’d managed to make two of the bedrooms, a bathroom, and the kitchen marginally functional. Of course, it would require months of hard work and countless additional trips to the hardware store before the old house would be truly habitable. They’d looked at a few more practical houses when they first got to town, but it was love at first sight when they spotted the large, well-lived-in house sitting empty on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“Here we are,” Mom announced as she pulled into the parking lot of the local high school. “Are you nervous?”
Alyson crossed the first two fingers of her left hand. “Not really.”
“I’ll pick you up at three. Maybe we could drive in to Portland, have dinner, and do some shopping. I’d like to avoid a reoccurrence of the tornado that hit your room this morning.”
“Actually,” Alyson hesitated, “I’m hoping we can go down to the DMV after school to make an appointment for me to take my driving test. I know, I know,” she held up her hand to ward off her mother’s objections, “after what happened, you want me to wait. But I have waited, four whole months; I’m ready. I’ve taken the classes, watched the gory movies, and studied the Oregon Drivers Handbook. I’ll probably be the only junior who doesn’t drive. Please—I want to fit in.”
“What I was going to say, if I’d been allowed to speak, is that I agree with you. It’s time for you to get on with your life, and I’d be glad to take you to the DMV after school. Shopping can wait for another day.”
“Thanks, Mom. I love you.” Alyson hugged her mom and opened the car door. Getting out, she paused to look around. “Wish me friends.”
The school was old and run-down. The majority of the town’s citizens worked in the fishing or tourism industries, and walls in need of painting and floors that didn’t quite shine told a story of years of tight budgets. The school was a lifetime away from the exclusive private school she’d attended in New York, but with its homey show of school spirit, as evidenced by the brightly painted posters filling every available wall space, it felt just right.
Alyson pulled out her schedule and tried to figure out which of the three main halls she should take to find her first class, AP Chemistry. Her paperwork said the class was being held in room B3, so she headed down the middle hall, assuming wings A, B, and C would probably fall in some type of order, with B conveniently ending up in the middle. The room was right where she expected to find it, third door down in the identified B wing. She paused outside and looked in through the small window in the door. Picking out just the right seat was possibly the most important thing you did on your first day at a new school. For one thing, the people you sat closest to had the highest new friend potential. For another, this being a science class, the person you sat next to would probably end up being your lab partner for the semester. She just needed to find a smart-looking but friendly candidate who didn’t already have a tablemate.
There appeared to be about a dozen students in the class. Most of the students were already paired up, including one simply gorgeous football player type sitting next to an equally gorgeous cheerleader type. Too bad.
Sitting right in front of the superhunk, a girl with long red pigtails laughed at something he said. Alyson immediately liked her friendly smile and completely outrageous outfit. Now
was a girl who wasn’t afraid to dress to the beat of her own drummer. She appeared confident and assured, comfortable in her own skin, a unique quality in the face of the abject conformity most students adhered to. Plus, she appeared to be friends with superhunk, which earned her bonus points, because getting an introduction seemed highly likely.
Making up her mind, she opened the door and, taking a deep breath for courage, ventured into the room.
“Is this stool taken?” she asked the red-haired girl as she approached.
“No, have a seat. Are you new around here? I haven’t seen you around before, and in a town this size everyone pretty much knows everyone else.”
“I’m Alyson Prescott. I moved here from—” she crossed her fingers in her lap—“Minnesota. Three weeks ago.”
“Delighted to meet you, Alyson Prescott from Minnesota. My name is Makenzie Reynolds, Mac for short, and this pretty boy behind me is Trevor Johnson.”
“Glad to have you aboard.” Trevor smiled.
“Uh-hum.” The dark-haired girl sitting next to Trevor cleared her throat.
“Oh, this is Chelsea Green,” Mac added less enthusiastically.
“Charmed, I’m sure.” Chelsea glared at Alyson with cold eyes, obviously less enthusiastic than the other two to have a new girl in town.
“I’ve never been to Minnesota, but I hear it’s cold. Is it cold? I’m sure it’s cold.”
“Mac, you’re rambling.” Trevor tossed a paper football at her. “Being new to the area, I’m sure you’ll need someone to show you around. I’m a great tour guide. I’d be happy to introduce you to Cutter’s Cove’s finer sights any time. Say after school?”
“You’re busy.” Chelsea glared at Alyson, then turned her brightest smile on Trevor. “Remember, you promised to help me with the posters for the dance. Mac can show her around.”
“Actually, I’m supposed to go somewhere with my mom after school, but thanks anyway. Maybe another time?”
The teacher walked in, and Alyson turned around to give him her full attention.
“Good morning, class,” the thin man with wire-rimmed glasses greeted them. “My name is Mr. Harris. This is Advance Placement Chemistry. I assume everyone is in the right place?”
There were general murmurs of acknowledgment from around the room.
“Good, then let’s get started. The person you’re sitting next to will be your lab partner for the semester.”
Alyson noticed Chelsea’s satisfied smile and Trevor’s glare at Mac, who grimaced apologetically to Trevor. All might not be as it at first appeared. Maybe Trevor and Chelsea weren’t a couple, as Alyson had first assumed. In fact, it seemed Trevor had planned on partnering up with Mac. Interesting.
“Those of you sitting alone at a table should pair up with a partner.” Mr. Harris started writing on the blackboard. “The plan for today is simply to get to know one another and go over the quite extensive syllabus for the semester. Tomorrow, though, you should plan on digging in and getting right to the meat of things. This is an AP class, so it won’t be easy. I expect excellence from each and every one of you. If you didn’t come to this class to work harder than you ever have before, there’s a basic junior-level class going on right next door. I’d be happy to sign transfer papers for anyone who’s not really serious about science.”
Mr. Harris paused, as if giving everyone a chance to think over his offer. Alyson liked him already. She had been concerned that after ten years of private school she wouldn’t be challenged in a small public school like Seacliff. She noticed Mac’s enthusiastic smile at Mr. Harris’s speech. Things were definitely looking up.
The class passed quickly, with Mr. Harris talking at marathon speed the entire hour. Alyson wondered how he could keep up the pace without ever seeming to stop to breathe, but the syllabus seemed both interesting and challenging and Alyson couldn’t wait to get started.
“Do you know where room A6 is?” Alyson asked Mac after class. She’d figured out corridor B would fall in the middle but wasn’t sure if the halls were labeled left to right or vice versa.
“Sure; in fact, I’m headed there myself. You can walk with me.”
“You have AP English next period?”
Back-to-back classes together; Alyson smiled to herself. What a break. She might even be able to score an invitation to sit at Mac’s table at lunch, with a double exposure opportunity.
“Yeah. You’ll find a lot of familiar faces in your AP classes because the school only offers one section of each subject.”
“I have AP Calculus third period then AP U.S. history fourth,” Alyson added. “Looks like we can be study buddies.”
This was getting better and better.
“So Trevor and Chelsea. Are they a couple?” Alyson inquired.
Mac laughed. “In the fantasy that’s in Chelsea’s mind maybe, but otherwise, no way. Trevor barely tolerates her. He’s just too nice to tell her to buzz off.”
“So, does he have a girl?”
“Why? You interested.”
“No,” Alyson denied quickly. “I just met him. I’m just curious.”
“Guess you’ll have to get to know him a little better and ask him yourself.”
Alyson stuck her tongue out at Mac in a very unjuniorlike manner, and then turned to give her attention to the teacher who had just walked in. She could hear Mac giggle beside her. She really liked this girl. Hopefully the feeling was mutual. She would be happy to make any new friends on the first day of her new life, but one as easygoing and unpretentious as Mac was an added bonus.
By the time lunch came around, it was assumed by all that Alyson would be joining Mac and Trevor at their table. The lunchroom was crowded, with long cafeteria tables and a menu offering burgers and sandwiches. Alyson chose a salad and a diet soda from the limited offerings and turned to join her friends.
“So, you don’t happen to have PE followed by computer lab?” Alyson asked Mac as she maneuvered herself onto the bench beside her.
“No, I actually go off campus for a special program offered by a software company out of Portland. It counts as both high school and college credit, plus it’s miles more advanced and tons more interesting than anything this place could offer.”