The latest submission for my writing workshop. If you would like to join, visit Empower Writers and ask to join the group. If you’d just like to comment, I welcome those as well.
Cara settled in behind the front desk of Harmony, the quaint seaside inn she had just purchased in southeastern Connecticut. Geographically, it wasn’t far from New York City where she had spent most of her thirties toiling away for one of the city’s largest law firms. Emotionally, she was a world away. She was officially burnt out. Working ninety to one hundred hours per week and most weekends had left her exhausted. Fortunately, it had also left her comfortably situated and able to take on a new career at forty.
She knew nothing about running an inn, but she was smart. She had taken a few online courses in how to run a business and accounting and had shadowed the former owner for a month before making it official. She was sure she could handle this. Well, maybe just reasonably sure she thought as she looked over the upcoming online reservations. There were a lot of empty spaces that should have been filled up with guest names. She sighed. She had thought it would be a good idea to take over in late winter and learn the ropes before the busy spring and summer season started. She sighed again and inwardly reviewed her bank account. She would be fine living on her savings for a few months, if necessary, but she’d rather not.
Cara leaned in and pulled up her business plan. She was a firm believer in the you-never-can-be-too-prepared school of thought. She reviewed her projections and felt a bit despondent. Had she really thought she could make this work? She shook her head and thought about how she could really use a miracle about now.
The bell over the front door rang and Cara smiled warmly at the new arrival. She didn’t have anyone scheduled for tonight so she couldn’t greet the person by name. “May I help you,” she inquired in the friendly tone she had been practicing. This was completely different from the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails tone she had practiced when she was practicing patent law.
Cara was immediately mesmerized by the stranger’s penetrating blue eyes and wavy dark hair. He was broad-shouldered and had a nice smile, even if it was a little crooked. Heck, nobody was perfect. She took a step back as his presence was slightly overwhelming. If he noticed the effect he had on her, he was kind enough not to show it. He reached into his tailored jacket’s inner pocket, pulled out a wallet, and flipped it open—exposing a shiny gold badge.
“Ms. Cara Wilcox?” he inquired in a deep, bass-baritone that made Cara’s insides react with a slight quiver.
“Yes, how may I help you, Detective?” Cara figured it would be best to establish a friendly and helpful rapport with the local police, in case she ever needed their assistance with an unruly guest.
“Hi, I’m Detective Burton from the Harmony Harbor Police Department. Do you have a guest registered for tonight named Phyllis McDermott?”
“I don’t usually give out guest information, Detective, may I ask why you are inquiring?”
Detective Burton sighed. “We found a confirmation email on her phone for the Harmony Inn for this weekend. I just wanted to double-check that she has not already checked in.”
Cara contemplated the detective for a few seconds. “Yes, Detective Burton. Ms. McDermott is registered for this weekend. She is one of the lawyers at the firm where I used to work. We’re planning a mini-reunion this weekend. Can I ask again why you want to know?”
The detective grimaced. “I’m sorry to tell you, Ms. Wilcox, but Ms. McDermott was found near the Harmony Harbor Metro-North station.”
Cara stared at him for a second. “What do you mean that she was found near the station? Was she lost?”
Detective Burton shook his head and scratched his cheek. “I’m sorry. I’m never good at this. Ms. McDermott’s body was found near the tracks. She was murdered.”
“Murdered…” Cara trailed off as numerous scenes of their time spent together in the trenches of the law firm flitted through her memory. “I mean, are you sure? Maybe she just died of natural causes.”
Detective Burton snorted a mirthless laugh. “There’s nothing natural about a bullet through the heart, Ms. Wilcox. She was also beaten pretty badly. Do you know if Ms. McDermott knew anyone else in Harmony Harbor?”
Cara sunk back into her chair. “I don’t believe so, Detective. She was coming to celebrate her promotion to partner.” Cara shook her head. “I just can’t believe this. She was going to be my first guest. I just took over the inn today.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I know this is a shock. I may have additional questions for you later as you may be the only person within a hundred miles who knew her.”
Cara shook her head numbly. “Whatever you need, Detective.”
He leaned across the counter and looked deep into her eyes. “Can I get you anything before I head back to the crime scene? I hate to leave you here alone.”
Cara smiled weakly at him. “Thank you, Detective. I’ll be fine. Mrs. Summit will be here shortly and she’ll keep me company.” She stood back up which brought her very close to the detective.
He continued looking into her eyes and time seemed to stop for a moment. Detective Burton slowly blinked and broke the contact. “I’ll just leave you my card, Ms. Wilcox. Please call me if you think of anything that might be important.”
“Cara, please.” She took the card from his outstretched hand and his fingers gently brushed against hers. She thought she detected a slight flush as he slowly moved away, but she was sure she was mistaken. She hadn’t made anyone blush in years. “And Detective?”
He turned toward her again with his crooked smile and yes, that was a slight blush. “Yes, Ms., uhm, Cara?”
Cara grinned back at him though it didn’t really feel right under the circumstances. “I know this is an active investigation, but I would appreciate any information you can share. We were, not exactly great friends, but work friends, and I spent a lot of time with her over the years.”
Detective Burton grinned—oh my, was that a dimple?—and nodded at her. “I’ll be back later this evening and share what I can with you. Try to have a good afternoon, Cara.”
The way he said her name felt like a warm caress and Cara felt like a lovesick teenager. “You, too, Detective,” she called after him as he waved and walked out the door.