Happy Hump Day, readers! With the witching season and cooler weather upon us a little cozy mystery seems fitting. For today's extended snippet reading I have new-to-me author to share with you today. Author Jennie Bentley just released the sixth book in her do it your self home renovation series titled, Wall-to-Wall Dead last month and it has already received several five-star reviews from well-respected reviewers. I've already added this title to my autumn reading list. After reading today's snippet hopefully you would've found another book to add to your list too!
D-I-Y Home Renovation series
Back of the book:
Avery Baker never thought she’d leave Manhattan, until she inherited her aunt’s old Maine cottage and found her true calling—home renovation. But when Avery goes to work restoring a condominium, she discovers it’s another condo owner who’s been condemned...Avery and her partner, Derek, are fixing up a cute little condo in homey Waterfield, Maine, hoping for a quick turnaround and some extra money. It seems like a simple project—and Avery is looking forward to using her big-city experience with small spaces.But they didn’t expect to have their every move watched by the resident busybody in the condo, Hilda Shaw, who loves snooping on everyone’s comings and goings. When the busybody becomes a dead body, Avery suspects foul play. Soon she’s doing some snooping of her own—and it seems everyone in the complex has a secret. Could one of them be worth killing for? Avery needs to work fast, before someone decides to fix her...for good.
“I can’t imagine living under this kind of scrutiny every day of my life,” Derek muttered under his breath the next morning as we stood in the parking lot under the watchful eye of Miss Hilda Shaw, unloading tools from the back of the truck. “No wonder the Antoninis left.”
I grinned. “Guilty conscience?”
He shook his head. “No. But I don’t have to have done something wrong not to want someone watching my every move.”
Too true. We had only been here twice, and Miss Shaw was already getting on both of our nerves. Didn’t she have something better to do than sit behind her curtains watching everyone else? Couldn’t she go read a book or something? Or watch a soap opera?
“Maybe she’ll get used to us,” I said optimistically. “Maybe she’s just interested in us because we’re new.”
It wasn’t Derek who said it. I looked up to meet the gray eyes of a short and slender man in a charcoal gray suit, who had stopped beside the sedan in the next parking space. He stuck out a hand. “I’m William Maurits, 1B.”
“Avery Baker,” I said, shaking the hand, “2A.”
Derek reached past me to shake Maurits’s hand as well. “Derek Ellis. We’ve met before. What’s that you said?”
“It’s not because you’re new,” William said, and switched the briefcase back into his right hand now that the handshaking was over. He lifted his chin, perhaps in an effort to appear taller, since he wasn’t much bigger than me. “I’ve been here for ten years, and she still watches my every move.” He shot something akin to a glare at the lace curtains. “Nosy old biddy. Always has to have her beak in everyone’s business.”
“Maybe she doesn’t have much of a life of her own,” I suggested.
William glanced at me. “She doesn’t. Never married, never had children.” He chuckled. “Not that I have room to talk. I never married or had children, either. Married to the job, I suppose.”
“So maybe she’s lonely.”
William shrugged. “Possibly. All I know is, she spends all her time sitting at that window. I’ve never seen her come outside the building. She even has groceries delivered.”
“Is she ill? Or disabled?” Some sort of mental illness maybe? Agoraphobia, like Kate had suggested. That’s what it’s called when people are afraid to go outside, right?
“No idea,” William said. “All I know is, she’s a nuisance.” He nodded politely before disarming his car alarm and getting in.
“Cheerful fellow,” Derek remarked when William had pulled out of the parking space and was waiting to join traffic on the Augusta Road. “You got what you need?”
He ran an experienced eye over the tools I had assembled.
“I think so. If you’ll take the big toolbox, I’ll take this little one. And if we need anything else, the truck will be right downstairs; it’s not like it’s a long walk to get something.”
“I don’t want to parade in front of Miss Shaw any more than I have to,” Derek said, and hoisted the big toolbox. “C’mon, Avery. Let’s get this show on the road.”
“Let’s.” I grabbed the small toolbox and followed him toward the front door, twiddling my fingers to Miss Shaw on the way.
Just as we reached the front door, it opened from the inside, and Candy tumbled out, followed by another young woman. She was shorter by an inch or two and, unlike Candy, seemed determined to make as little of herself as possible. Like Candy, she had a blond ponytail—baby-fine hair scraped straight back—but it looked less jaunty, just sort of hung there. Candy was polished to a high sheen, with iridescent blue eye shadow, a thick layer of mascara, and pink lip gloss, while her friend looked like Plain Jane, with not a stitch of makeup on her face. I had wondered whether Candy’s faded jeans and cropped top were a uniform of sorts, clothes she wore to Guido’s to maximize her earnings, but it must be her usual mode of dress, because she was wearing the same tight jeans and the same short and tight sort of top now, when I assumed she was on her way to school. Both girls had bags over their shoulders, and Jamie was jingling a set of car keys in her hand. Unlike Candy, she was dressed in leggings and an oversized and baggy sweater that hung almost to her knees and hid any hint of a figure. The color was a dark navy blue bordering on black that overwhelmed her pale complexion and delicate features.
“I always told you it was stupid—” she said, with a soft Southern drawl to her voice, and stopped abruptly when she saw us. “Sorry.”
“Good morning.” Derek flashed his patented Derek-grin, the one that never fails to give me a little swoop to my stomach. Candy blinked. After a second, she seemed to recognize him.
“Oh. It’s you. Hi.”
“Hi,” Derek said, just as a clatter from inside the building announced the arrival of someone else. After a moment, a pair of long legs in jeans appeared on the stairs, and a second later, the rest of Josh Rasmussen became visible.
“Oh,” he said when he saw us. “It’s you.”
Derek arched a brow. “Didn’t you expect us?”
“Yeah. Sure. It’s just…” He shook his head. “I gotta go, or I’ll be late for school. I’ll see you later.”
He pushed past us and headed for his car, a small, brand-new, dark blue Honda parked in the lot. It had replaced the dark blue Honda he used to drive, after that one had ended up in the Atlantic Ocean a month or so ago, and had been declared a total loss by the insurance company.
“Probably can’t wait to see Shannon,” I said to Derek. He nodded.
“We’d better go, too,” Jamie told Candy. “Don’t want to be late. Excuse us, please.”
They disappeared into the parking lot and went in different directions. Candy headed for a small white hybrid, while Jamie got into a nondescript compact, pale blue. A few seconds later, all three cars were lined up at the exit, waiting to merge with traffic on the Augusta Road.
“Want to take bets on which of the neighbors we’ll see next?” I asked Derek.
He shook his head. “I’d rather just get inside before we see any of them. We’ll never get any work done this way.”
Since he had a point, I scurried through the door and up the stairs after him, with only a sideways glance at Miss Shaw’s door on my way past.
We spent the next several hours causing major destruction. It’s quite cathartic, actually. I enjoyed ripping out all the worn and torn ugliness, and imagining all the pretty and shiny we would be installing it its place. Derek went to work with pliers and wrenches, taking the plumbing to the kitchen and bathroom sinks apart preparatory to tearing out the sinks themselves, while I armed myself with—of all things—a shovel, and went to work ripping up the vinyl floor in the kitchen. That took us through to lunch, when we broke out the sandwiches and drinks I’d packed and made ourselves comfortable on the small balcony.
The front door was actually on what I’d consider to be the back of the building, where the parking lot also was. On the front—or other—side, there were balconies overlooking a wide expanse of grass and a line of trees. We were into September, and among the fir trees were a few oaks and birches that had just started to turn yellow, bright against the blue autumn sky. Some of the leaves had given up the ghost and were drifting lazily toward the green grass.
I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the crisp, clean air. “Pretty.”
“It’s a good place to live,” Derek agreed.
I glanced at him. “Did you ever want to live anywhere else? You were a doctor; you could have gotten a job anywhere.”
He shook his head. “I always planned to come back here, to take over Dad’s practice.”
“What about Melissa? You were married when you graduated. Did she want to live somewhere else?”
“If she did, she never said anything about it,” Derek said. “She’s still here, yeah?”
She was. And I’d wondered about that. She’d come to Maine with Derek, and after their divorce, she’d stayed on with my cousin Ray Stenham. But he was out of the picture now, too—and would continue to be for a while longer, I hoped—and since then, Melissa’s most recent beau had met with an untimely death. It wouldn’t have been surprising if she’d decided to leave Waterfield to start fresh somewhere else. After all, there wasn’t really anything left for her here.
Except her career, I suppose. She’s Waterfield’s most premier real estate agent, which means she’s doing quite well financially, and from what Derek had said, she’d always been concerned with position and social standing and with being “somebody.” That’s why she’d made sure to marry a doctor, he’d said—for the money and the prestige. If living in Waterfield gave her both, then that might be reason enough for her to stay. I could understand, even if I sort of wished she’d pack up and get out of what was now my town.
“What about you?” He glanced at me. “Is this your way of telling me you’re sick of being here and you want to go somewhere else?”
“Oh, no.” I shook my head. “I’m perfectly happy.”
“Good to know. Why did you ask?” He stretched out his legs and leaned back on the plastic chair. It groaned in protest.
“Just curious. I never used to consider living anywhere but Manhattan. I was born there. I went to college there. I lived there my whole life. When I first came here, I didn’t think I’d survive the summer.”
Derek grinned. “What changed your mind?”
I smiled back. “You did. I figured you’d never agree to move to Manhattan with me.”
And at that point I’d noticed all that Waterfield had to offer. There was clean air and a slow pace and friendly people—not that New Yorkers aren’t friendly; they’re just busier as a rule, and don’t have as much time to sit and talk—and there was Aunt Inga’s house, and the cats—who wouldn’t be happy in a New York apartment, especially one where I wasn’t allowed to have pets—and Derek, and everyone else I’d gotten to know, and did I mention the clean air and the slow pace and—oh, yes—the ocean? We New Yorkers like being close to the ocean.
Downstairs, we heard the sound of a door opening, and a second later, a tiny figure burst out onto the green grass. A little boy, maybe two years old, in striped overalls and a red shirt. He had a shock of jet-black hair, and was squealing with laughter as his short legs pumped. A few steps behind came a woman with long, blond hair, whose voice floated up to us. “I’m gonna get you! I’m gonna get you!”
They tore across the grass, laughing and yelling, until the little boy tripped and fell and rolled. His mother fell right along with him, and she grabbed him and tickled him until he was breathless with laughter and was hiccupping for her to stop.
“Must be Robin and Benjamin,” I said.
Derek nodded, his eyes still on the pair down on the grass.
“Have you ever wanted children?”
He glanced over at me. “It never really seemed a possibility before.”
“You and Melissa never got to that point?”
He shook his head. “I told you. We were pretty young when we got married, and circumstances were never conducive to kids. At first I was in school, then there was residency, and by the time we got to Waterfield, I wished I’d never married her.”
“What about you?” he asked after a moment. “Do you want children?”
“I’m not getting any younger.”
Derek smiled. “That’s not really an answer, is it?”
I smiled back. “I guess not. Sure, I think I’d like a child. Before it’s too late.” A little copy of Derek running around in striped overalls, squealing with laughter.
“One thing at a time, OK? Let’s get married first.”
“Let’s,” I said.
Thanks for stopping in to spend a little bit of your Wednesday with me. I hope you enjoy today's extended snippet from Wall-to-Wall Dead!