Mystery buff Vicki Butler plans to kill someone this weekend. Nothing personal, just business.
It's all part of the killer grand opening murder mystery weekend at her new Who-Dun-Him Inn. But a storm's brewing on Porter Mountain and, before the snow settles, a guest winds up dead--as in really, totally, and permanently. Now snowed in with a murderer running loose, young widowed mom Vicki is forced to keep her family, guests, and actors safe while searching for clues. Her author guests, also the prime suspects, try their hand at solving this real-life whodunit, thereby hindering the investigation by local law enforcement officers. Things really go downhill when her twin Liz shows up, trailed by flamboyant Grandma Ross, who announces shes seeking a boy toy among the suspects. When both a local younger man and an out-of-town newshound start sniffing around the inn--and her--Vicki realizes she's got more problems than just a murderer on her hands.
Can she solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again -- or will this case of opening night jitters prove to be terminal?
“Surprise, Vicki!” said Grandma Naomi Ross, flinging her arms out wide enough that my twin sister Liz Eklund took a quick step to the left. “I bet you didn’t expect us today, did you?” “Uh,” I said, disoriented. When the doorbell rang, I’d expected to find Sharon, my cook for the evening, who was already an hour late. But, instead, it was Liz and Grandma standing on my porch, bundled against the October weather. I looked behind them. I really, desperately needed my cook. An hour ago. This was my grand opening weekend and it had to go perfectly. I’d invested most of the insurance settlement into the purchase and renovation of my family’s Ross Mansion into the WhoDunHim Inn. And every dime I’d spent had stung with guilt because I’d rather have my husband Robert back than any amount of money. After a moment of silence, my sister raised an eyebrow. “I take it we’re not a pleasant surprise?” “Of course you are,” I lied, pulling myself together and glancing behind them--still no sign of Sharon--as my anxiety level rose another notch. I tried to reassure myself. Sharon was very reliable. Surely she’d show up soon. Or at least call. I couldn’t cook worth beans. In the meantime, I tried to remember my manners. “Come on in.” As they moved forward, I looked past them, dismayed. “It’s still snowing?” Liz brushed flakes off her coat and nodded, but hurried to reassure me, “But not bad. Your guests shouldn’t have any problems getting up the mountain. There’s a sprinkling on the road, but we were able to drive right up.” Grandma stepped inside, wrapped me in a snowy hug, and kissed my cheek. I let myself sink into the familiar, comforting embrace. “Congratulations, darling. You’ve done wonders for the old place. It’s good to see it open for business again.” She tightened her arms to end the hug, making my breath whoosh out of my lungs, before letting go. She was in darn good shape for a woman her age, always well put together, with flattering makeup and expensive hairstyle. And she exercised more than I did. As they hung their coats on the hooks on the wall closest to the entry. I closed the door behind them and followed Grandma into the Mayor’s Parlor. She sank down onto the Queen Anne loveseat that used to belong to her and Grandpa George when they ran the Ross Mansion Bed and Breakfast, before my parents had bought it. I looked around, thinking of all there still was to do. But surely I could give my family five minutes. And that thought shot my panic level up another notch. “How long before everyone arrives?” asked Liz, looking out the window. I checked my watch. It was now 1:12. Nine minutes later than the last time I’d checked. “The guests will be here in two hours. The actors are here rehearsing, thank heavens. Cielo is putting the finishing touches on the rooms and Kent is fixing something in the Nancy Drew room. But Sharon’s an hour late and I haven’t even heard from her.” Grandma patted the seat next to her. “Come here, Vicki. You need to take a deep breath. Everything is going to work out fine. You just have a good case of opening night jitters.” When I sat beside her, she continued patting, now on my arm. “Take a deep breath,” she suggested. I did, but felt as though I was about to hyperventilate. My words rushed out on a panicked exhale. “I’ve spent so much money on renovations. What if nobody wants to come to a bed and breakfast with murder mysteries and detective themed rooms?” I felt tears prickle my eyelids. “And it’s so hard doing this without Robert. The WhoDunHim Inn was our dream, but I’m all alone.” Grandma sighed. “You’re far too young to be a widow.” I hated that word. At twenty-six, it didn’t even seem possible. And yet here I was. “But you are definitely not alone,” Grandma finished. “We’re here.” I looked from one to the other--Grandma Ross imitating an exotic wrinkled parrot in yellow slacks and bright striped blouse and my sister elegant in a new black-and-rose pantsuit--and took comfort from their loving presence. Liz crossed over, put her hands on her hips, and struck a tough pose. “And it’s a good thing we came when we did. Snap out of it, Red.” Surprised, I tipped my head. I was even more surprised when she did an uncharacteristic gangsta-style wiggle of her body, and said, “I mean it, sistah.” That actually made me smile. “Is that the attitude you cop in court before the judge?” “Not the judge.” She grinned as she stood back up. “But the other attorneys are terrified of me.” “I’m not surprised,” I said, but at least I was beginning to feel like I could breath deeply again. “So all the renovations are complete?” asked Liz. I shook my head. “Not on the third floor, but the rest are done enough to be open for business.” “I brought you some pseudo-bubbly,” said Grandma, rummaging in her huge purse and pulling out a champagne-shaped bottle filled with her favorite nonalcoholic grape juice, and handed it to me. “What is that?” Liz gasped, reaching toward Grandma’s purse. Grandma grabbed something and clutched it to her chest. “Why, Grandma,” Liz blurted out with a choked laugh, “what a big gun you have.” Speechless, I stared at the cannon in my grandmother’s slightly shaky, liver-spotted hands. Grandma shrugged. “So I’m packing heat. It just means you girls don’t need to worry about any troublemakers. Or unwanted suitors.” Except for our grandmother, who was the biggest troublemaker I knew. Finally, I found my voice. “Please tell me that is not a real gun.” “Of course it is, honey.” Grandma’s voice softened. “This was your Grandpa George’s favorite pistol. His Colt Python.” She shook herself out of her moment of reverie. “But don’t worry that I’m not legal. I got licensed to carry at Terrific Guns & Range.” I groaned and shook my head. Grandma had done lots of weird things in the past ten years since Grandpa’s death, taken crazy class after crazy class, but a gun? That was too much, even for her. Who in their right mind would license an old woman with a deadly weapon? “Grandma--” She smiled at me. “And that’s not all. Have I told you girls I’ve decided to start dating again?” “I’m pretty sure I don’t want to hear this.” Liz’s stiletto heels tapped across the hardwood floor toward the fireplace, her hands headed toward her ears. “Good gravy, George has been dead for more than a decade. My mourning’s done. And I’ve still got some kick in these old legs.” Staying seated on the loveseat beside me, she kicked up an old leg to prove it. “Running out of money, are you?” I asked. “Oh, Grandpa George left me plenty of dough. This time I’m going for a young, good-looking one. You know, one of those boy toys.” She smiled. “Like Demi has.” Liz glared at Grandma. “Boy toys aren’t looking for seventy-eight-year-old great-grandmothers.” “Sixty-nine,” Grandma huffed. She could easily pass for the sixty-nine she wasn’t. But dating was one thing and pistol-packing another. I had guests coming in less than two hours, and I was determined not to let my grandmother ruin the grand opening of my newly remodeled WhoDunHim Inn. “You can be twenty-one if you want, but you cannot carry a gun here.” “I most certainly can. I told you--I’m street legal.” She sat up chair-back straight. “I have a permit for a concealed weapon.” “Then conceal it,” snapped Liz. While she and Grandma both make me insane, they drive each other even crazier. Probably because they’re so much alike. “What are you going to do? Take away my gun? I can read the headlines now.” Grandma put one hand melodramatically to her heart. “Ungrateful Brats Abuse Poor Defenseless Grandmother.” “Grandma, please,” I pleaded. “My first guests will be here soon for the grand opening.” I sucked in a breath to calm myself, and paused. It didn’t help, but I continued anyway. “Look, I appreciate you both visiting but, Liz, I need you to take Grandma home now. I have a lot of things still to do and you can probably tell I’m a little stressed right now.” Liz raised an eyebrow. “That’s why we came up to help.” “That’s right.” Grandma patted my hand. “Let’s quit our talking and you girls carry my suitcases down to my room.” “Suitcases?” Oh, no, no, no. Not on my grand opening weekend. Not on your life! “You can’t--” “I gave up my Friday luncheon with my friends so I could come up to support you on your weekend party, and I had to bring some clothes with me. Don’t you worry. I’m not senile. I’ll keep Grandpa’s gun in my purse. The guests will never even know it’s here. Unless there’s trouble, of course.” “Grandma!” barked Liz in a tone I’ve always admired but never quite mastered, and which Grandma seemed able to elicit from Liz fairly easily. It was the same tone Liz used when I dared touch her Pound Puppy on our seventh birthday. “Hand over the gun.” Grandma set her jaw and stuffed the gun in her purse. “No.” “Fine.” Liz took a step closer to the couch and reached out a hand. “But give me the bullets.” Grandma frowned and appealed to me with a glance. I nodded. “Give ‘em to Liz.” Grandma gave a heavy sigh and shook her head. “And to think I was considering moving in with you, Vicki Butler, instead of staying with your parents.” Grandma said it like me learning that tidbit would devastate me. Ha. I looked at it more like I’d just dodged one of her bullets. “You can’t move in with Vicki. She doesn’t have time to entertain you.” Liz winked at me. And she was right. I didn’t. Grandma was loveable, but definitely high maintenance. Grandma hmmphed. “Like your mother ever entertains me. She leaves me at all hours of the day and night to go gallivanting.” She was staying with my parents for two months while her fancy home was remodeled, and she was referring to her daughter-in-law and my mother, former PTA President and current Relief Society president, married thirty-five years to my father. Liz and I may have identical red hair, brown eyes, and freckles, but our personalities definitely forked on the family tree--Liz roosted partway out on the feisty branch where Grandma (who regularly dyed her hair red and proclaimed herself our triplet) perched, while I nested with my mother on a more sedate limb. I said, “You make it sound like Mom’s out bar-hopping.” “Well, she’s doing good while she’s gallivanting, but she’s still never home to entertain me. Besides, she and your father left me all alone to fend for myself.” Life has an annoying way of presenting two important events at the same time for us mere mortals to be forced to choose between. My parents had struggled with the decision, but finally they’d traveled to Spain for a week to bring my brother home from his mission. Otherwise, they would never have missed my grand opening. They’d told me repeatedly how sorry they were. Liz eyed Grandma sternly. “Grandma, you’re changing the subject. Hand over those bullets.” “You girls never want me to have any fun.” Grandma sighed and pulled the gun back out. Liz took it, dropped six huge bullets into her palm, smiled sweetly and handed it back to Grandma. Our grandfather had taught us gun safety when we were teenagers. Relief flooded me. Grandma with an unloaded gun might prove to be an irritation, but at least no one could get shot. Liz said, “The gun has to stay in your purse or we will take it away from you. I’m not kidding around.” “You’ll talk differently when I save your ass from some molester.” Grandma stuffed her bulletless gun in her purse, stood, and spoke, icicles chilling her voice. “You are both naughty girls. I am going downstairs. Unless you brats have a problem with that.” Surprised, I asked, “Did you just say what I think you said?” “You are a naughty Grandma,” Liz said with a grin. “I think we ought to wash out your mouth with soap.” Grandma huffed and headed for the hall. Liz called out, “Grandma, you shouldn’t be going down any stairs at your age. And especially not those steep steps into the dungeon.” “It’s not a dungeon any more,” I protested, thinking of how nice I’d made our family quarters downstairs. “I lived in this house decades before you were even a twinkle in anybody’s eye.” Grandma’s testy voice cut through the air. “I think I know if I can handle a flight of stairs I’ve used thousands of times.” “Use the elevator,” I called out, glad to have her at least going to the family living space. Grandma didn’t take the elevator, but instead veered right toward the kitchen, calling back, “I’m hungry, if that’s all right with you two dictators.” I looked at Liz. “You’ve got to take her home. There is no way she can stay this weekend, with or without the gun.” Liz shrugged. “Short of renting a tranquilizer gun from a zoo, I’m not sure how to accomplish that.” I sighed. “Me, either.” The phone rang and I answered with my new slogan. “Laugh yourself to death at the WhoDunHim Inn. This is Vicki.” There was static on the line. “Vicki? This is Grant.” Grant being Sharon’s husband, Sharon being the cook who was supposed to have been here over an hour ago. “Oh, I’m so glad to hear from you, Grant.” “Sharon’s been in a car accident.” My breath caught and my head grew light as I instantly flashed back to Robert’s accident. Clutching the phone, I whispered, “Is she all right?” “Who?” asked Liz from behind me. I motioned her to silence. “She broke her leg, but otherwise she’ll be fine.” Relief swept through me. “What happened?” “The road up to your place is slick as a snail’s bottom. She slid off across from Horse Feathers.” That was the dude ranch five properties below us on Porter Mountain. Dismayed, I said, “I was sure the weatherman said it was only going to drop an inch of snow and move on,” I said. “Not the first time Henley’s been wrong, now, is it?” Crossing to the front door, I touched the original Tiffany-style stained glass pane, and the cold on my fingertips made me shiver. Gray clouds hovered over the mountains on the far side of the fertile valley and a few inches of new snow frosted the ground, but it wasn’t snowing now. Apparently it had lasted just long enough to take my cook out of commission. I hoped it wouldn’t keep the guests holed up in a Park City hotel. “She wanted you to know she’s really sorry. The doctor’s still setting her leg. I’ll be working in Wyoming this next month, so she’ll have to stay with her parents in Salt Lake.” The panic that had subsided at ‘she’ll be fine’ now resurged at the realization I now had no cook at all. “Tell her I hope she gets better quickly. She’ll be in my prayers.” As I hung up, Liz raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?” Turning to her, my stomach in knots, I explained Sharon’s accident. My stomach was all knotted up. “If I have to cook, I’m in trouble.” “Yeah, no kidding. I saw your failed cooking experiments in Mrs. Hughes’s class. Your blackened brownies were my favorite.” She grinned at me. “Maybe we could buy some Hamburger Helper.” “Liz, this is serious. Who can I possibly get to cook for me at this late hour? Cielo doesn’t do big meals. I can’t do it and neither can you. That leaves Zach, his imaginary dog, or...” “Grandma. Perhaps you should rethink sending her away.” “The guests will be here in two hours and my options are my cooking or Grandma’s?” Panic nipped at my edges. “Do you know how long it’s been since she’s cooked for a large group?” “Well, you never have. At least she has experience. Besides, how hard can it be? You’re just like Mom, which means you already have all the meals planned, and that’s the hardest part.” I glanced toward the kitchen. “I don’t know. She seemed ticked off.” “Oh, that’s just for show, you know that. I’m sure you can sweet talk her into it. I’ll go with you.” Okay. I could do this. I could talk Grandma into cooking for me. Grandma was the least senile person I’d ever met. So she could handle the work she’d done for decades. If she just would. And if she was in one of her persnickety moods and said no, I’d beg her. Grovel. On my knees, if need be. How my perspective had changed since they’d arrived and I’d decided to oh-so-generously give them five minutes. Now I was thankful that Grandma knew how to cook while Liz could help me serve. Between the three of us, I didn’t feel so alone any more. “Thanks for being here.” “Do you honestly think I’d miss your grand opening weekend? What kind of older sister do you think I am?” “Seven minutes older is all.” I sighed. “And if I can’t talk Grandma into cooking, seven minutes is as long as my grand opening might last.”