Who knew book clubs could be so dangerous?
Series: Whispering Bay Mystery
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It’s been three days since my best friend Will Cunningham kissed me, then turned right around and lied to my face. Three days and I haven’t said squat to anyone. Not about the lie. And most certainly not about the kiss. I’m ready to explode. Worse, I’m ready to confess everything to my older brother, Sebastian, who, luckily, or unluckily, happens to be a Catholic priest.
I drive to the office at St. Perpetua’s, where my brother is pastor. Paco, that’s my little rescue dog, and I walk through the door where I’m greeted by Shirley Dombrowski, the church secretary. “Hi, Lucy.” She stops typing and bends over to scratch Paco behind the ears. He shows his appreciation by wagging his tail. “Aren’t you the cutest?” she coos.
Paco looks back at me as if to say, Doesn’t Shirley have good taste?
Paco is a tan-colored chihuahua terrier mix with a talent for discovering dead people. Before he came to live with me, his name was Cornelius. His former owner set up a Facebook page for him, and he has, like, a gazillion followers, so he’s kind of famous among the woo-woo crowd. The Sunshine Ghost Society, a local group that claims to commune with the dead, has been after me to allow Paco to participate in a séance. I told them I’d think about it.
Which means no.
I know it’s selfish of me, but I can’t help it. What if something happens to him during the séance? Some rogue ghost could decide to take over his body, which sounds dramatic, but you never know.
“I don’t think Father McGuffin is expecting you,” says Shirley.
“No worries. I’ll just be a minute.” I go to walk past her, but Shirley jumps up from her chair and blocks me like she’s trying out for a position in the NFL. Pretty impressive considering she had a hip replacement a few months ago. Shirley is in her late sixties and has been widowed for a few years now. She’s worked at St. Perpetua’s since before I was born and is fiercely loyal to my brother. I thought by now she’d be retired, but Sebastian confided to me once that her late husband left her with a mountain of debt.
“I’m sorry, Lucy, but Father McGuffin left strict instructions that he wasn’t to be disturbed. He’s working on his Sunday sermon.” A sheen of sweat forms on her upper lip. Shirley is either nervous or she’s lying.
It just so happens that’s it both.
Pretty much anyone would be able to tell that Shirley is nervous. Her demeanor and that glistening upper lip are a sure tell. But the lie about my brother working on his sermon? For the most part, she should have gotten away with it. But I’m not like everyone else. I’m a human lie detector, something that just my family and a handful of friends know about me.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been able to tell if someone is lying. Call it a gift. Call it a curse. It all depends on your point of view. Lately, it’s been more gift than curse because my ability to sniff out deception has helped me solve a few murders around town.
The fact that Shirley is lying about my brother working on his sermon has me more than curious. It seems like such a silly thing to lie about. I absolutely have to know what he’s doing.
“Since this is Wednesday, he still has plenty of time,” I tell Shirley as Paco and I wiggle past her. Before she can stop me, I fling open the door to my brother’s office.
Sebastian looks up from his computer screen and frowns. “Lucy, what are you doing here? Did we have a lunch date?”
Shirley begins sputtering about how she tried to stop me, but my brother puts up a hand to silence her. “No worries,” he says, smiling kindly.
She tosses me a disgruntled look before going back to the reception area.
“Don’t blame Shirley. She nearly sacrificed her new hip in an attempt to keep me out of here.” I flop down on the chair across from the big oak desk where my brother appears to be hard at work. Sebastian is five years older than me, and everyone who’s ever seen us together automatically knows that we’re brother and sister. We have the same dark, unruly hair, same brown eyes, and same fair skin with freckles. The only difference is I wear glasses and am six inches shorter than him.
Today, he’s dressed casually in dark pants and a white shirt and, most importantly, he’s minus his collar, which evens out the playing field between us a little. Sure, he’s a priest, but right now, I need him to be my older brother.
“Will lied to me,” I say. Will Cunningham has been Sebastian’s best friend since grade school. When Sebastian went away to the seminary to become a priest, Will slid into my friend zone, except I’ve been in love with him ever since I was seven. First, he was my brother’s best friend, then he became my secret crush, then he became my best friend too.
Sebastian snaps shut his laptop screen. “Oh?” That one simple word reeks of collusion. Sebastian clears his throat in what’s clearly a stall tactic. “What did he lie about?”
“I asked Will if he was J.W. Quicksilver.”
J.W. Quicksilver is the pen name of a wildly popular author of thriller espionage novels. Everyone in Whispering Bay is crazy about his books, including Betty Jean Collins, the town’s bigmouth. Betty Jean runs a weekly book club meeting at her home, and she’s going around town bragging to anyone who will listen that she’s nabbed J.W. Quicksilver as a guest for her book club meeting tomorrow night.
How Betty Jean was able to convince a national best-selling, highly reclusive author to come to little old Whispering Bay, Florida, for a book club meeting is beyond me. The man is an enigma. He has no photo on his website, and a thorough scan of the Internet produces exactly zip pictures.
I’m ashamed to admit it took me forever to figure out that Will and J.W. Quicksilver were the same person. Will is the head librarian here in town, and he’s a huge literary snob. Whenever anyone even mentions the name J.W. Quicksilver, Will starts smirking. It occurred to me a few days ago that maybe Will doth protest too much.
On his days off, Will goes completely offline. Probably because that’s when he’s writing his novels. Plus, there’s the fact that he’s been secretly learning how to play pool. I discovered this when we went to visit a pool hall in nearby Panama City. The visit resulted in learning an essential clue that helped me solve a murder, but it also revealed a side to Will I never knew existed. Imagine my shock when I discovered the latest J.W. Quicksilver thriller had a pool shark as a character.
Will tried to brush the whole thing off, telling me that playing pool was his way to relieve tension, but I don’t buy it. He was totally doing research for one of his novels.
“Why on earth would you think that Will is J.W. Quicksilver?” Sebastian asks.
Oh boy, the little hairs on the back of my neck start to tickle. Whenever someone lies to me or speaks deceptively, I get a physical reaction. Neck tingles being the most common.
“Well, is he?” I persist.
Sebastian chuckles nervously. “I have work to do—”
“Stop avoiding. Is Will J.W. Quicksilver or not?” Paco barks as if to punctuate my question.
Sebastian looks miserable. “I can’t answer that.”
And that is my answer.
I sit back in my chair, stunned. Even though I knew I was right, now that my brother has basically confirmed it, I’m speechless. But only for a second. “Will is the one who donated the money for the new roof on the church, isn’t he? He must be raking in the dough with all those bestselling books of his.”
“The church roof came from an anonymous donation. I can’t reveal—”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I can’t believe how blind I’ve been.” My tummy feels like I’ve eaten too much raw muffin batter. I thought Will and I were best friends. I thought I was important to him. I thought … never mind what I thought. What a chump I’ve been. “Now that the cat’s out of the bag, you can stop playacting.”
At the word “cat,” Paco sits up in attention. “It’s just a matter of speech,” I tell my dog. His ears relax, and he slumps back to the ground.
Sebastian sighs heavily. “Can I ask you a question? With your gift, why has it taken you so long to figure it out?”
“Honestly? I’m not sure. Except … ” I hesitate, because this is something I’ve never told anyone, but what the heck. “I’ve never been able to catch Will in a lie. Until now.”
“Never? But Lucy, he’s been lying to you about being J.W. Quicksilver all this time. I don’t get it.”
“I used to think that the reason I couldn’t tell if Will was lying or not was because I kind of have feelings for him, and I thought maybe it messed with my radar.”
“Feelings?” Sebastian rolls his head from side to side like he’s uncomfortable. “I see.”
Poor Sebastian. It must be weird to hear about your best friend and your little sister being linked romantically.
“You never suspected?”
Huh. Neither did Will. Or so he claims. I must be better at hiding my feelings than I thought. I might as well tell Sebastian everything. That is, if Will hasn’t told him already.
“The other night at the house during Sunday dinner, Will and I kissed.” I study him carefully to gauge his reaction.
“You kissed Will?” Sebastian looks truly surprised. “I thought you and Travis were dating. Isn’t that what you told mom and dad?”
Travis Fontaine is the other side of my unexpected love triangle. He’s a cop with the Whispering Bay Police force and, if I’m being honest, mighty cute. In a very Ryan Reynolds kind of way. He’s also a know-it-all and, despite being shown the evidence, doesn’t believe that I’m a lie detector or that Paco is a ghost whisperer, so add extremely stubborn to his resume.
“Correction. Will kissed me. And Travis and I are only fake-dating on account of him covering for me because of my lying to Mom about being a member of Young Catholic Singles.”
Sebastian shakes his head at me. “Lucy, you need to get your life together.”
Tell me about it.
“If Will is J.W. Quicksilver, then who’s this mysterious person going to Betty Jean’s book club tomorrow night?” I ask.
“That’s the big question.”
“Will must be beside himself.”
“It’s a delicate situation,” admits Sebastian. “He can’t come out and directly ask Betty Jean too many questions about this impostor without outing himself as the real J.W.”
“Poor baby. I feel so sorry for him.” I might need a hankie to wipe the sarcasm that’s practically dripping from my nose.
“Lucy, he wanted to tell you. He really did.”
“So what was stopping him?” Sebastian opens his mouth to say something, but I interrupt, “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. There’s no reason that’s good enough to keep something this big from your supposed best friend. He told you, didn’t he?”
“Just don’t be too quick to judge until you know the whole story.”
“Is that a line from your sermon?”
“What—oh, um, not this week.” The guilty look on my brother’s face reminds me of Shirley’s deception. If Sebastian isn’t working on his sermon, what is he working on? And more importantly, why don’t he and Shirley want me to see it?
I stand up and stretch my arms over my head, trying to see what’s on his desk. All I can make out is a bunch of flyers with the words JOIN US on the top. The rest of the words are hidden beneath a stapler and a bowl of paper clips. Sebastian follows my gaze. His cheeks turn pink. It’s clear he doesn’t want me to see what’s written on the flyer, which makes me want to see it even more.
“What’s that?” I ask, pointing to the flyers.
Sebastian picks up the stack of papers and clutches them against his chest. “Nothing.”
I glance down at Paco, and we lock eyes. I swear, sometimes I think that dog can read my mind because suddenly Paco jumps onto my brother’s lap, taking him off guard. The flyers scatter to the floor. I scoop one up. In big letters at the top of the sheet it says, JOIN US TUESDAY NIGHT FOR JESUS AND DONUTS.
“Lucy—” my brother starts, but it’s too late. I’ve already quickly perused the rest of the flyer.
“You’re serving donuts from Heidi’s Bakery at a church social?”
Heidi’s Bakery is located in downtown Whispering Bay, just a couple of miles from The Bistro by the Beach, the café I co-own with my friend Sarah Powers. We serve breakfast and lunch and the best muffins you’ll ever taste. Not that I would say that about my own muffins, but others have, so who am I to argue?
Recently my café was involved in a reality TV show that pitted six restaurants in our little town against one another for the title of Best Beach Eats. But then Tara Bell, the show’s producer, was murdered, and filming shut down, which was a major bummer because I really think The Bistro had a good shot to win. Plus, I could have really used the prize money.
With the help of Paco and my “gift,” I was able to solve Tara’s murder, but not before making a few enemies around town. Like Heidi Burrows. During a meeting of all the show’s participants, I outed her bakery for not disclosing the nutritional values of the food she serves (believe me, if I served food with the crazy calorie and fat counts that she does, I wouldn’t disclose it either).
“What’s wrong with serving donuts from Heidi’s?” Sebastian asks defensively. “We always serve donuts and coffee after mass in the parish hall. Lucy, you have to get over this irrational jealousy you have of Heidi’s Bakery.”
“First off, I’m not jealous of Heidi and her overpriced donuts. But this isn’t mass, and you never serve premium donuts from Heidi’s. So what is this?” I wave the flyer in his face.
Paco barks as if to say, Yeah, what is this?
“It’s a one-time program. We’re having a speaker come from the diocese, and Heidi offered to provide free refreshments. What was I supposed to do? Turn her down?”
“No, Judas Iscariot, you were supposed to ask your sister. I could have comped the muffins. Which, by the way, are lots healthier than donuts. First Will, now you.” I look at Paco. “C’mon, boy, at least you’re still loyal to me.”
Paco lifts his chin in the air, then turns his back on Sebastian. Good dog.
My brother frowns. “Don’t you think you’re blowing this out of proportion?”
“I hope you’re current on your CPR because those donuts of Heidi’s are loaded with enough fat to give the entire congregation a heart attack.”
“Lucy—” he pleads.
But I don’t hear the rest of what he’s saying because I’m already out the door with Paco on my heels. I sit in my car, too agitated to turn on the ignition.
My best friend has been lying to me for years, and my brother is in cahoots with the enemy (aka Heidi). And if that wasn’t enough, some … con man is running around impersonating J.W. Quicksilver, for what reasons, no one knows. I’m fake-dating the new cop in town, and if my mother finds out I’ve been lying to her about it, she’ll make me join Young Catholic Singles. Well, technically, since I’m twenty-six and financially independent, she can’t make me do anything, but she’ll guilt me into joining because I don’t have the guts to stand up to her.
My brother is right. My life is a mess.