- Author: Eva Gates
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Deadly Ever After
A LIGHTHOUSE LIBRARY MYSTERY
For my daughters, Caroline, Julia, and Alexandra
Is there anything more perfect than a day at the beach?
Sun, sand, water. The stuff of life, and time to enjoy it.
I love the beach the most when I’m alone, walking for miles through the surf thinking about nothing much at all, relishing the feel of the salt-filled wind in my hair and the cool ocean waters on my feet, watching sandpipers dart through the surf and pelicans soar overhead. I also love the beach when Connor and I have the chance to grab some quality time together, to talk about our lives and our friends and our jobs or to simply enjoy being in each other’s company.
I love the beach in the summer when the sand’s so hot you have to do a mad dance to get across it to reach the water. I love the beach in winter when the tourists are gone and the waves are high and rimes of blue ice edge the shore.
I live in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, near Coquina Beach, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, an endless stretch of pristine oceanside wilderness facing east to the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m so lucky to be here.
The beach is my happy place.
I don’t usually like the beach as much when it’s crowded with people, but today I made an exception. Because these people were all here for me.
For me and for Connor.
My cousin Josie and her mom had wanted to throw us an engagement party, but in true Josie fashion, she decided to put a twist on it, and here we were at Coquina Beach.
Gripping hands tightly, Connor and I made our way through the sea oats and tough grasses and over the high dunes, following Josie and Aunt Ellen. This wasn’t a surprise party—I knew about it—but I was excited to see what Josie had arranged and whom she’d invited.
We crested the final ridge, and I let out a gasp of pleasure. Beside me I heard Connor’s deep chuckle. In front of us a wide swath of beach was dotted with umbrellas in joyful shades of primary colors. A stack of blankets were laid out beneath each one, with a scattering of chairs to provide seating for elderly guests. A larger umbrella shaded a table loaded with plates, cutlery, pretty paper napkins, and acrylic glasses. Next to it sat a galvanized steel bucket overflowing with ice and bottles. Two big chairs, one covered in pink cloth and one in blue, secured with color-coordinated bows, had been set up on the wet sand, and the table next to them was piled high with brightly wrapped parcels.
“I hope one of those chairs isn’t for me,” Connor said.
“No.” Josie punched his arm. “I put it there in case some other recently engaged gentleman wandered down the beach this afternoon. Come on, you two.” She grabbed my free hand and pulled me down the sand to the cheering, clapping crowd. I stumbled after her, laughing, feeling my cheeks flushing and my already curly hair curling even more in the damp breeze.
About fifty people applauded as we ran across the sand. Everyone was dressed in beachwear—sandals or flip-flops, shorts and T-shirts or light summer dresses. I recognized my closest friends, my coworkers from the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, library board members and faithful patrons, Connor’s coworkers from town hall, his close friends, and his parents.
And—I blinked in surprise—my own parents, Suzanne and Millar Richardson. I wrapped my mom in a hug while my dad shook Connor’s hand.
“This is a surprise,” I said. “Although a good one,” I added quickly.
“We wouldn’t miss it, Lucy,” Mom said. “Even if I wanted to, Ellen wouldn’t have let me.”
“Darn right,” Aunt Ellen, Mom’s sister, said.
It was nice to see them. My parents live in Boston, and they don’t get to North Carolina often. Mom had visited a couple of weeks ago, shortly after Connor and I announced our engagement, to congratulate us and throw us a small dinner party, but I hadn’t seen my dad for several months.
They both looked good, I thought. Of course, Mom always looks good. She makes sure of that. She’s always been an exceptionally beautiful woman, and she still is, even with traces of fine lines gathering around her eyes and mouth. I suspect she’s had a bit of a nip and tuck here and there. She’s the same height as me—a measly five foot three—and unlike me, she’s as skinny as the legs of the sandpipers darting around on the beach, with wide hazel eyes in a thin face, sharp cheekbones, and light-brown hair highlighted in shades of caramel that turns under at her slightly pointed chin. I have her eyes, but aside from our height, that’s about it for the resemblance between us. My face is round and my cheeks chubby, and my black curls can always be counted on to be some degree of out of control.
Her outfit, as could be expected, had probably been chosen directly from a Ralph Lauren catalog listing under “Beach Party”: tight orange capris patterned with green leaves and blue flowers paired with a high-collared, three-quarter-length-sleeved, buttoned white shirt with the tails knotted at her thin waist.
“You’ve got a good day for an outdoor party,” Dad said as he pecked my cheek in what for my father was an expressive gesture. He also looked good, I thought. His color was better, he’d lost a bit of weight, and his smile was broader than it had been for many years. My parents’ marriage had almost ended a year ago, but they’d worked hard to keep it together. I hoped he was finally letting go of some of the workload at his law firm, passing the burden on to his younger partners.
“Would I have arranged anything else, Millar?” Aunt Ellen said.
“I can almost believe you control the weather, Ellen.” Dad gave her a