My name is Lottie Lemon, and I see dead people. Okay, so rarely do I see dead people. Mostly I see furry creatures of the dearly departed variety, aka dead pets, who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom. But right now, I’m not seeing a dead anything. In fact, I might be the one on the chopping block next. Four hours earlier… It’s the morning after Valentine’s Day, a perfectly good Sunday, and I just watched both Noah and Everett pile into Noah’s truck and take off like men on a mission—to pick up a couple of blonde bimbos—their exes. Yes, exes. And they’re being super secretive about the entire slimy thing, too. Normally, I would think this was ultra-shady and give them both the boot right out of my life, but Noah and Everett seem to genuinely care about me. It was Noah Corbin Fox, homicide detective extraordinaire, who I dated first—right up until that pesky wife he forgot to tell me about popped back into the picture. Who could blame me for falling so hard for him? Dark wavy hair? Check. Dimples for days? Double dimpled check. Brilliant green eyes that are the envy of every verdant tree in the country. Check, check, check. Then after that ex-wife fiasco hit, I dated his old stepbrother, Judge Essex Everett Baxter—just plain old Everett to me—and that went over with Noah like a screen door on a submarine.
Everett is a black-haired, blue-eyed god, who every woman with a working pair of ovaries is prone to swoon over. He’s a good six-foot-two stack of judicial muscles that has the ability to halt all activity when he steps into a room. And believe me when I say he deserves all the attention he demands. In truth, I was already falling in love with Everett at the point when Noah’s ex stepped into the picture, so the leap wasn’t all that big to make. But then, Noah ended his dead nuptials and all but begged me to give us a second chance. Of course, Everett, being the perfect gentleman, suggested I finish out my relationship with Noah to see where it might go, and that’s exactly where we stand today—with the technical exception of me standing in my living room alone, sans my two cats. That all-too brief wedding ceremony Everett and I had last December filters through my mind. Technically, Everett and I are husband and wife, but that was all for the sake of him keeping his inheritance intact. Everett asked me to look at it like nothing more than a business arrangement. And, even though I’ve tried, the very real, very married facts seem to play in the back of my mind on a loop.
We need to stay legally bonded until next December in order to meet the parameters on his inheritance, and that’s exactly what we plan to do. Nevertheless, Everett still insists that Noah and I ride out our relationship. Anyway, both Noah and Everett really do care for me very much. That’s exactly why I think their strange, bordering on philandering, behavior has more to do with that hex Cormack and Cressida—the blonde bimbo exes in question—had placed on me. Yes. A hex. Cormack Featherby and Cressida Bentley actually gave away good hard-earned money —hard-earned by their rich daddies—to some charlatan they went to college with in hopes of making me believe that all sorts of misfortune would rain down in my life if I didn’t relinquish the hold I have over Noah and Everett’s hearts. And well, even though I don’t believe in hexes set in motion by jealous exes or makebelieve witches, it’s safe to say things have taken a dark turn for me these last couple of weeks regardless. Like for instance, I stumbled upon my first—and hopefully last, double homicide. (Notso-fun side note: I tend to trip over a corpse more often than I’d like to admit, but back to my dicey luck…) Okay, so in the last few weeks I may have also garnered the attention of some nutcase who happened to be sending me necrotic looking heart-shaped sugar cookies with deadly messages iced onto them.
Each one was left behind in a seemingly innocent little black gift bag with my name printed on it. They were essentially death threats. But now that the killer who was responsible for that double homicide is locked behind bars, I’m hoping I’ll never see a black little gift bag with my name on it again. The killer never did confess to sending me the nasty threats, but, nevertheless, I’m hoping that was the case. Because if it wasn’t—well, that would mean whoever saw fit to threaten my life by way of flour and frosting is very much still out there. I shudder at the thought as I stare down at my sweet cats, Pancake and Waffles, a pair of Himalayan brothers that I love more than my own life. They look like twins with their butter-colored fur, rust-tipped tails, and icy blue eyes. Initially, I just had Pancake, but when my grandmother Nell passed away, she left me Waffles in the will, along with half of Honey Hollow. Who am I kidding? She just about left me half of Vermont—and a summer home in Nantucket. A thought hits me.
I should probably get to work. Not that a single day at the Cutie Pie Bakery and Cakery ever feels like work. That bakery is my baby. And I moved heaven and earth to get someone to open for me this morning so that I could have that extra snuggle time with Noah. I bet right about now my co-worker Lily is getting antsy to have me show up. I know for a fact she’s having yet another hot date with her new beau tonight. I’ll get a move on soon enough, and I will—as soon as I’m done properly sulking. I should be out having a great day with Noah, and maybe Everett, too. It’s not unusual that the three of us have lunch or dinner together. But that’s not happening.
And I still can’t get over the fact it’s just my cats and me, alone in my rental house, as I fume over the fact Noah and Everett took off for a fun day of skiing without so much as an invite thrown my way. And picking up those blonde floozies on their way to the lodge? Okay, so I don’t know if they’re actually picking them up and driving out to Hollyhock together, but nonetheless, I’m speechless. Last December, while Noah was recovering from a horrible accident, Everett and I went in together and bought the Maple Meadows Lodge up in Hollyhock. It’s a rustic old ski chalet that Noah wanted to purchase more than anything. We did it for Noah in hopes he would fully recover and still get to live out his dream of owning the place. And once Noah was up to it, he tried to buy out Everett’s share, but Everett wouldn’t have it. He did, however, agree to put Noah on the title and let him take on some of the loan. “Skiing at my very own lodge without me,” I balk to Pancake and Waffles. “Can you imagine?” I head over to snuggle with my cats on the sofa. There’s a roaring fire lighting up the room and I have a steaming cup of cocoa at an arm’s reach.
But as relaxing as that sounds, it’s not nearly as tranquil as it should be. Especially since both Everett and Noah admitted that Cressida and Cormack were somehow weaseling their way to the lodge as well. Of course, I asked if I could join them and they all but made every excuse in the book. Now it makes perfect sense why Everett asked me to forgive him last night for what he was about to do. He knew he was about to commit the unforgiveable sin—ditching me for a date with a blonde bimbo. Noah had a hard time looking me in the eye when they left. As he should have. “I can’t believe they would choose to spend time with Cormack and Cressida. They have to know I’m fuming over this,” I say as I pull both Pancake and Waffles in close. “I can’t wrap my head around it.
” I give Waffles a scratch on the head and he rewards me with a commiserating yowl. “None of this seems real. It truly is beginning to feel as if I’m cursed.” A knock erupts at the door and I head over to find an unexpected figure on the other side. “Oh, it’s you,” I say. “Can I help you with something?” “Noah and Everett asked me to give you a ride to the lodge.” “Really?” A thrill sparks through me at the thought. “Yes, really. Are you coming or not?” “Give me less than two minutes.” I throw a bag together faster than you can shake a whisk, and I hop into the waiting car.
We start in on the drive, and we miss the turnout to Hollyhock. “Hey, I think we missed our exit,” I say, glancing over my shoulder, and something in the back seat catches my eye. It’s an all-too familiar little black gift bag, and my heart thumps hard at the sight of it. Something tells me I’m not going to Hollyhock. Something tells me this just might be the last ride of my life. W NOA H hoever thought it would be a good idea to come up to the lodge without Lottie was an idiot. I stare down at my phone and frown at all of my text messages she refuses to answer. It just so happens that the idiot in question would be me. “Big Boss?” Cormack calls from one of the large oak tables that sits inside the main dining hall. The Maple Meadows Lodge is mostly comprised of dark wood paneling, dark floors, thick carpeting, and paper-thin windows that have seen better days.
And those windows don’t do much good in the middle of February when the weather is wavering around single digits. There’s enough snow out there to build an igloo the size of the lodge, and it just might be better at sheltering you from the elements. But the lodge is grand in scale, boasts of fifty-five rooms, multiple stone-faced fireplaces, and there’s a stream that empties into a lake out back. I growl over at Cormack without meaning to. Cormack Featherby, a rail thin blonde that I’ve known going on forever now, is most likely the exact reason Lottie refuses to have anything to do with me this afternoon—and maybe ever again. Cormack dated Everett back in high school—back when my father was still bilking Everett’s mother out of her fortune, and once I decided I wanted Cormack for myself, I didn’t let the fact Everett had it bad for her stop me. I should have, though. He was my stepbrother at the time, for God’s sake. I should have thought things through. And because I didn’t, Everett and I have been on shaky ground ever since.
Our parents have long since divorced—heck, more recently, my father came back from the dead, but the real reason Everett is in my periphery at this stage in life is because we both happen to be in love with the same woman once again. Lottie Kenzie Lemon, the love of my life. And unfortunately for me, she’s the love of Everett’s life, too. “Yoo hoo!” Cormack waves to me again from the table where she and Cressida Bentley, Everett’s relentless ex-girlfriend, sit combing through pages and pages of wallpaper swatches. “There are far too many beautiful designs for us to ever decide on, so Cressie and I think each room should have its very own theme!” She bites down on a cherry red lip. “Of course, an endeavor like that will take some time. It looks as if we’ll have to endure many, many more jaunts to the lodge together.” Cressida purrs like a kitten while feasting her eyes on Everett. Kitten might be too generous a term for her. She’s more of a very large, dangerous, predatory cat.
If there are two women in this world that grate on Lottie’s nerves, it’s those two right there. “Sounds good,” I say without the proper conviction. A heavy hand falls on my shoulder as Everett steps up next to me. He’s basically a dark-haired brooding suit with angry eyes. He wears his permanent scowl like a badge, and I still can’t figure out what Lottie sees in him. What any of the hundreds of women he’s slept with see in him. And get this. Once he sleeps with them, he lets them call him by his formal first name, Essex. Every time someone says it, it’s like some perverted calling card. “Enjoying the view?” Everett folds his arms across his chest as he frowns over at the women we thought was a good idea to drag up here with us.
He huffs a dull laugh. “And I know what you’re thinking, but I take no responsibility in this debacle. It was your brainchild,” he says. “You’re going to have to live with the consequences. And there will be consequences. Any word from Lemon?” “Nope. You?” “Nope. Cold shoulder all the way.” As much as I don’t care for the fact Everett has taken to Lottie—the way he calls her by her surname as if it were a pet name—and he has turned it into just that, I can appreciate why he feels that way. Lottie is special.
She’s not just beautiful—although that wavy brown hair and those glowing hazel eyes don’t hurt one bit. She’s kind and considerate, funny and just an all-around great person. The exact person I want to spend the rest of my life with. The exact person I would never want angry with me—and it looks as if I achieved just that. Everett shakes his head. “You still think this was a good idea?” “No. But it’s too late for regrets. Lottie’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and we both agreed to throw her a surprise birthday party right here at the lodge.” I offer a mournful smile at both Cormack and Cressida as they peck away at those design booklets. Everett and I thought it might be nice to fix up the place a bit before we invited all of our family and friends, and we decided that the place definitely needed a woman’s touch.
Everett leans in. “You’re not really going to let them redo the entire place, right? I thought we agreed on just the grand room and the entry. Maybe a couple of the downstairs bathrooms. I know Lemon will want to put her stamp on this place herself. That is, of course, unless you’re planning on royally ticking her off. If that’s the case, be my guest. And after that, I’m sure you and Cormack will enjoy spending many weekends here alone.” “Funny,” I say, looking at my phone again. “Maybe we should call it a day.” “Are you kidding? We still have hours of daylight.
I’ve got news for you. I’m not letting you drag me up here every weekend until Lemon’s party. I say let Mack and Cressida hammer out the details today. One and done. I’m not putting Lemon through this one more time. As soon as they pick out a couple of swatches, I’m handing it over to Bear.” I can’t help but shake my head at the mention of his name. Otis Bear Fisher is one of Lottie’s exes. He just so happens to be the go-to contractor in Honey Hollow and gave us a good deal on the renovations for the lodge. I grunt at the thought of this not getting done in time.
“Let’s just hope Bear doesn’t spill it to Keelie,” I say. “Once Keelie finds out, the party won’t be much of a surprise.” Keelie Turner is Lottie’s best friend, and she happens to be engaged to Bear. Not only are they getting married this summer, but they’ll be ushering a baby into the world before fall. Bear agreed that we should keep things from Keelie as well. My phone pings, as does Everett’s. “I hope it’s her,” I say, glancing to my screen and instantly filling with disappointment. “It’s Lily.” I blow out a breath before reading the text out loud. “Noah, where’s Lottie? She said she’d close the bakery.
I’m supposed to be getting ready for a hot date with Miles.” Miles Rock, aka Seven, is the wall of muscles Everett and I hired to shadow Lottie last month. Apparently, Lily has taken a liking to him. And good on her—considering the fact my brother, Alex, was openly two-timing her. Everett holds up his phone. “She said the same here. She wants to know if we’ve heard from Lottie.” His cold eyes meet with mine, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say there was more than a smidge of worry in them. “I’ll contact Carlotta,” I say. “I’ll talk to Miranda.
” We take off a few paces in the opposite direction, only to meet up less than two minutes later. I shake my head at him. “Carlotta said she’s on her way over to the house to check things out. She’ll let me know how Lottie’s doing once she gets there.” Carlotta is Lottie’s birth mother, the one that left her on the floor of the Honey Hollow Fire Department a little over twenty-five years ago. They reconnected last winter. Carlotta is a character, and Lottie is more than gracious with her. Miranda Lemon is the woman who raised Lottie as her own. She’s a widow who happens to be seeing my twisted father. Everett growls down at his phone.
“Miranda said she’ll ask Lainey and Meg if they’ve heard anything.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m not sure how much faith I have in her sisters right now. I want you to get a patrol car over there, stat. I’ll tell the girls we’re buttoning things up and heading back.” “I think it’s too soon to call for help. Lottie might be taking a bath for all we know,” I say just as my phone buzzes in my hand again. It’s another text from Carlotta, so I hold the phone out and read it. “Back at the house. No sign of Lot.
Her car is in the garage.” Those last few words come out strangled as I look to Everett. “She’s in trouble.” He gives me a hard shove to the shoulder. “You still think it’s too soon to call for help?” Everett starts barking out orders at Cormack and Cressida, but I don’t move a muscle as the blood in my veins turns to ice. The woman I love more than my own life is in danger, and if anything happens to her, I will never forgive myself. I put in a call to the Ashford Sheriff’s Department and shout for every free vehicle they have to head to Honey Hollow. I’m coming to find you, Lottie. And I won’t rest until you’re safe in my arms—right where you belong