Ava Maria Sophia Cecilia loves her family but hates it when her brother Giuseppe starts talking about the paranormal, especially since she probably doesn’t believe in ghosts. Once again, Giuseppe has conned her into helping out with one of his boring paranormal investigations where nothing ever happens—until that night, when a dead body turns up. Ava finds herself embroiled with not only a new detective and the town’s young mayor, but also a crazy animal re-habber and assorted ghost-hunters. Has everyone in Brewster Square gone mad?
I counted three hundred and thirty-seven steps from the bakery where I got my breakfast to my job at my brother’s store. I count things when I’m restless, upset or trying not to think about something, and I was trying not to think about the current direction of my life. I was bored, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I had obligations, family obligations, and I couldn’t just dump them and follow my dream. Besides, I didn’t even have a dream.
A nameless dread filled me, and I was practically breathless with anxiety as I trudged forward. Burnout. I’ve read about this.
I didn’t want to be late for work. Maybe Scentsations will go out of business. I was the assistant manager for my brother’s store, so I knew that wasn’t possible. Business had been good in the little aromatherapy store. My good luck would be my brother’s bad luck. I can’t think things like that.Juggling a muffin, cup of coffee, oversize purse and book, I reached for the door handle. One quick glimpse inside stopped me in my tracks. I took a step backward, hoping to get away before either of them saw me. Two heads inside the store swiveled, looking out the window. Crap-a-roni, I was too late. They saw me. Now I had to go in.
The gentle tinkling of the wind chimes attached to the door was a direct contrast to the fight brewing inside the store. Taking a breath, I forced myself to step over the threshold.
“Ava Maria Sophia Cecilia, how are you?” The voice that greeted me was trying for maximum warmth, drawing my name out like butter on a hot pan, but I knew better. Plus, he used my full name, a sure sign he wanted something. He winked at me before turning away, a gesture I found repulsive. Ex-boyfriends should not wink at ex-girlfriends. Ever.
Turning back to my brother, the sleazy ex moved a step to the right. Doing this positioned him in front of the mirror better, a habit formed in high school that allowed him to make sure his slicked back hair was still slicked back and his gold medallion still sparkled from the confines of his hairy chest. For the millionth time I wondered what the hell I’d been thinking when I dated him.
“Joey, you gotta listen to me.” His words were sharp, a contrast to his attitude toward me. I stood in front of the door and closed my eyes, wishing that for once I’d been late.
My brother stood on the other side of the counter with his arms crossed over his chest and spoke through clenched teeth. “My. Name. Is. Giuseppe.”
My creepy ex, Kenny, smiled. I’d known Kenny for most of my life, and I knew what a rat he could be, but whenever he smiled he had this ability to appear warm and sincere. Even though I should have known better, I relaxed for a moment, thinking that maybe everything would be all right. Until Kenny opened his mouth again. “You’ll always be Joey to me. I can still remember little Joey O’Dell, cryin’ for his momma the day he lost his lunch box.”
Ouch. It looked like this fight was shaping up to include past insults all the way back to elementary school. Clearly I needed to step in and defend my brother. “Kenny, I don’t think …”
Giuseppe cut me off. “First of all, that was a long time ago. Second of all, you’re the one who stole the lunch box. Now what was it you wanted?”
My head swiveled back to Kenny. Giuseppe had a legitimate question, especially since he wasn’t on the best of terms with Kenny. What did he want?
“And wasn’t it just last week I saw you cryin’ again, down at the beach? What was it about that time? Maybe something to do with that sweet little wife of yours.”
“You’re an idiot, Kenny, a big, stupid, idiot. And you can shut up about my wife. I don’t even want you thinking about her, you hear me?”
Crossing between them, I set my coffee and muffin on the counter. “Kenny, what brings you here?” I asked, hoping he’d leave soon. My coffee was going to get cold, and I really wanted to eat my carrot muffin. With my Italian heritage reflected in my shapely figure, I probably should have just had carrots without the muffin, but I liked to eat when it was cold outside.
“Yeah, don’t you have work to do?” My brother was not helping the situation. As usual.
Kenny strode over to the counter, trying to act casual. Pretending to examine the array of organic lotions and soaps, he put his arms behind his back.
“I came to make you an offer.”
Did he really say that? Because I always had this idea that if you wanted to do business with people you made an effort to be nice to them. Silly me. But that’s always been how Kenny talked to others, as if he were a very important person.
My brother didn’t stop to think about it. “No.”
“Hear me out, and then you can say no.” Kenny’s voice continued to ooze charm, but it was wasted on us. “I would like to offer my services to you.” He raised a hand in protest before Giuseppe could say anything. “I think it would be mutually beneficial to present a united front to the community tonight.”
“What’s tonight?” I asked.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Giuseppe answered me before turning to Kenny. “No.”
“Talk about what later?” I asked. My voice was low, but not because I didn’t want Kenny to hear me. With him standing right there, I knew he could hear every word. My voice was low because when I get mad or upset that’s what happens. I don’t scream, I whisper.
Plus, I had a bad feeling about whatever my brother had planned, not because I was worried about the actual event. Along with the fact that he hadn’t clued me in on whatever was going on, something felt wrong. Maybe the tingling anxiety thing I’d had before walking in here was about tonight. What was my brother doing, and why would Kenny want to tag along?