Evening StarsBy: Susan Mallery
A Blackberry Island Novel
To the women in my life.
Thank you for becoming my ‘sisters of the heart.’
Thank you for the love and support, for the friendship, the laughs,
the advice, the caring. Thank you for being there, for believing in me
and for telling me straight, when I’m heading in the wrong direction.
This is for you. With all my love.
IN A BATTLE between Betty Boop and multicolored hearts, Nina Wentworth decided it was going to be a Betty Boop kind of day. She pulled the short-sleeved scrub shirt over her head and was already moving toward the bathroom before the fabric settled over her hips.
“Don’t be snug, don’t be snug,” she chanted as she came to a stop in front of the mirror and reached for her brush.
The shirt settled as it should, with a couple of inches to spare. Nina breathed a sigh of relief. Last night’s incident with three brownies and a rather large glass of red wine hadn’t made a lasting impression on her hips. She was grateful, and she would repent later on an elliptical. Or at least vow to eat her brownies one at a time.
Ten seconds of brushing, one minute of braiding and her blond hair was neat and tidy. She dashed out into the hall, toward the kitchen where she grabbed her car keys and nearly made it to the back door. Just as she was reaching for the knob, the house phone rang.
Nina glanced from the clock to the phone. Everyone in her world—friends, family, work—had her cell. Very few calls came on the antiquated landline, and none of them were good news. Nina retraced her steps and braced herself for disaster.
“Hey, Nina. It’s Jerry down at Too Good To Be True. I just opened, and there’s a lady here trying to sell a box of crap, ah, stuff. I think it’s from the store.”
Nina closed her eyes as she held in a groan. “Let me guess. Early twenties, red hair with purple streaks and a tattoo of a weird bird on her neck?”
“That’s her. She’s glaring at me something fierce. You think she’s armed?”
“I hope not.”
“Me, too.” Jerry didn’t sound especially concerned. “What’s her name?”
If Nina had more time, she would have collapsed right there on the floor. But she had a real job to get to. A job unrelated to the disaster that was the family’s antique store.
“You let your mom hire her, huh?” Jerry asked.
“You know better.”
“That I do. I’ll call the police and ask them to pick up Tanya. Can you keep her there until they get there?”
“Sure thing, kid.”
“Great. And I’ll be by after work to pick up the stuff.”
“I’ll hold it for you,” Jerry promised.
Nina hung up and hurried to her car. After her cell connected to the Bluetooth, she called the local sheriff’s department and explained what happened.
“Again?” Deputy Sam Payton asked, his voice thick with amusement. “Did you let your mom hire this employee?”
Nina carefully backed out of the driveway. Jerry’s humor she could handle. He’d lived here all his life—he was allowed to tease her. But Sam was relatively new. He hadn’t earned mocking rights.
“Hey, tax-paying citizen here, reporting a crime,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m writing it down. What’d she take?”
“I didn’t ask. She’s at the pawn shop. Too Good To Be True.”
“I know it,” Deputy Sam told her. “I’ll head out and see what’s what.”
She hung up before he could offer advice on hiring policies and turned up the hill. The morning was clear—odd for early spring in the Pacific Northwest. Normally the good weather didn’t kick in until closer to summer. To the west, blue water sparkled. To the east was western Washington.
As she climbed higher and higher, the view got better, but when she parked across from the three Queen Anne houses at the very top of the hill, pausing to enjoy the spectacular combination of sky and ocean was the last thing on her mind.
She hurried up the steps to the front porch that was both her boss’s home and her office. Dr. Andi, as she was known, was a popular pediatrician on the island. Make that the only pediatrician. She’d moved here a year ago, opened her practice in September and had been thriving ever since. She was also a newlywed and, as of two months ago, pregnant.
Nina unlocked the front door and stepped inside. She flipped on lights as she went, confirmed the temperature on the thermostat and then started the three computers in the front office.
After storing her purse in her locker, she logged in to the scheduling program and saw that the first appointment of the day had canceled. Andi would appreciate the extra time to get herself moving. She was still battling morning sickness.
Nina did a quick check of her email, forwarded several items to the bookkeeper/office manager, then walked to the break room for coffee. Fewer than five minutes after she’d arrived, she was climbing the stairs to her boss’s private quarters.
Nina knocked once before entering. She found Andi, a tall, pretty brunette with curly hair, sitting at the table in the kitchen. Her arms cradled her head.
“Still bad?” Nina asked, walking to the cupboard.
“Hi and yes. It’s not that I throw up, it’s that I feel like I’m going to every single second.” She raised her head and drew in a breath. “Are you drinking coffee?”
“I miss coffee. I’m a wreck. I need to talk to my parents about my ancestors. Obviously I don’t come from hardy stock.”
Nina took down a mug, filled it with water and put it in the microwave. Then she collected a tea bag from the pantry.
“Not ginger tea,” Andi said with a moan. “Please. I hate it.”
“But it helps.”
“I’d rather feel sick.”
Nina raised her eyebrows.
Andi slumped in her seat. “I’m such a failure. Look at me. I’m carrying around a child the size of a lima bean and I’m throwing a hissy fit. It’s embarrassing.”
“And yet the need to act mature doesn’t seem to be kicking in.”
Andi smiled. “Funny how that works.”
The microwaved dinged. Nina dropped the tea bag into the steaming water and crossed to the table.
The eat-in kitchen was open, with painted cabinets and lots of granite. The big window by the table took advantage of the east-facing views in the old house. The mainland shimmered only a few miles away.