(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores June 2020.)
"Oh, it's you," said Gordon Haslett, his voice tinged with its usual irritation. "You're always sneaking up on me. Drives me nuts. You just appear like a ghost. Trying to scare the hell out of me?"
Gordon propped the rake against the tree and wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, leaving a smear of dirt along his face. This small dose of physical labor had intensified his breathing, causing his chest to rise and fall dramatically under his vest. After taking a few gulps from a bottle of water, he examined his visitor critically. "So are you going to help me or what? Don't just stand there watching me. We both know this isn't my damn job."
He turned and resumed raking the stack of wet leaves that were blocking the door to the garden shed. They were soggy from the rain and stacked together in sad little clumps. The air smelled moldy, of musty earth. Gordon had apparently been out there for a while, as the brick path leading upward to the shed had already been cleared. He turned gruffly when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"What?" he barked.
His visitor held out a handkerchief, and motioned toward the beading sweat on Gordon's forehead. Gordon grabbed the cloth.
He pressed the handkerchief firmly to his head and aggressively wiped his entire face.
"What the hell?" yelped Gordon, suddenly dropping the handkerchief and taking a step back. "Damn, something stung me!"
Gordon began furiously slapping his face, then stopped and glanced around in confusion. He held one index finger to the side of his face. His skin was burning hot. Suddenly his entire face began to swell, and his eyes were enveloped in clouds of puffiness.
"What the..." He couldn't finish his sentence. Instead, Gordon clutched his throat and dropped to his knees.
"Go get help," he whispered.
His visitor nodded. And then turned and walked as slowly as possible back to the inn, and waited.
(Ten months later)
It was a glorious fall night in East Hampton. The sky was inky black with thin clouds racing past a full moon, and the ancient trees along the village streets cast long shadows in the silver moonlight. In the distance, the ocean waves murmured, providing a romantic background soundtrack. The air outside was crisp, not too chilly, but with just enough kick to necessitate roaring fires in the Windmill Inn's public rooms. It was a cozy Friday evening; just how innkeeper Antonia Bingham had imagined it would be when she dreamed of her move to the East Coast from California. Combined with the medley of delicious smells wafting from the kitchen, the weather and atmosphere gave Antonia a sense of great satisfaction.
The dining room of the Windmill Inn was by no means filled to capacity, but for the first time in the six weeks since Antonia had opened the restaurant, half of the tables were occupied. She had heard, of course, that it takes a while for new restaurants to gain momentum, particularly when they are replacing old restaurants that had reputations for terrible service and inedible food. But still, those first few nights when the seats remained empty, she had felt completely disheartened. Not to mention embarrassed: the sound of every ice cube clinking in a glass seemed magnified and the busboys were too eager to replace half-eaten rolls, just to have something to do. But gradually—very gradually—reservations had picked up, with locals and weekenders popping by, eager to try a new place, and more guests booking rooms at the inn and venturing down to try Antonia's home-cooked meals.
Finally, in Antonia's mind, the future was beginning to look a little brighter. She hoped she wasn't delusional; she was by nature an optimist who chose to look at the bright side of things. However, Antonia's optimism made her prone to bad judgment calls, resulting in infrequent but spectacular failures. "Older and wiser" was one of her mottos, and with her recent purchase of the inn, Antonia was hoping that she could put some of the knowledge and experience that she had acquired in her thirty-five years (twelve years of catering!) to good use. She just needed to avoid past mistakes.