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Authors: Molly Dox

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Beauty Shop Owner - New Jersey

Molly Dox - Annie Addison 02 - A Tangled Mess

BOOK: Molly Dox - Annie Addison 02 - A Tangled Mess
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Molly Dox - Annie Addison 02 - A Tangled Mess
Annie Addison [2]
Molly Dox
Molly Dox (2014)
Tags:
Mystery: Cozy - Beauty Shop Owner - New Jersey
Annie Addison, Jersey girl and beauty shop owner, is brushing up on her sleuthing skills again. When a nearby house burns to the ground and all fingers point to arson, Annie can’t help but comb through the evidence.
When a second and then third house burns down, the entire community is on edge. Now Annie must sticks a pedicured toe in to find out who the culprit might be. Can she solve the mystery? Or is this new criminal a cut above the rest?
Chapter 1

 

“Charlotte, did you ever get the feeling something’s just not right?” Annie looked to her friend and then back to the wreckage. It was hard to look away.

Charlotte pressed her palm
up to her forehead. Ashes, some old dodgy concrete steps, and the metal frame of a car were all that remained. While the fire was out, there was still steam radiating off the bits of home that were left. The firemen and police wrapped yellow caution tape to orange and white traffic barrels to keep people at a distance. The smoking scene was off-limits.

Just a few steps away, Charlotte and Annie stared at the wreckage.

“It could have been me,” Charlotte mumbled.

“Are you okay?”
Annie turned toward her friend, who was still in a state of shock.

“That could have been m
y house and car.” Her eyes were wide open, and her mouth agape. The neighbor’s home was a pile of ash, but it was still too close for comfort as far as Charlotte was concerned. Had it been a windy day, all it would take was an ember to jump to her roof and she’d have lost her home too.

“But it wasn’t,” Annie reminded, rubbing her arm, trying to
calm Charlotte.

“I think it was meant for me. He got the wrong house,” she said, stunned.
Charlotte’s face went pale. “He knows where I am. I may have to leave.”

“Who got the wrong house?” Confused, Annie was getting worried by Charlotte’s reaction.
“Sweetie, you’re not making sense.”

“Claude.” She turned to her friend. “Annie, I may be in trouble.”

“Who’s Claude?” Without clear answers, Annie had no idea what Charlotte was talking about. “Why don’t you come home with me for a little while? I don’t feel comfortable leaving you alone right now.”

Charlotte didn’t speak. She simply followed Annie to her car, her eyes barely leaving the wreckage. If he knew where she was…she thought she’d covered her tracks.

As they drove away from the smoldering ashes, Annie couldn’t help but notice exactly how much damage was done. It’s not like she saw burnt down houses every day, but the car, the house, there was almost nothing left. How hot did a fire have to burn to twist metal? And how long was it burning for before the fire company got to it? She was relieved Charlotte was okay. When she got the call, she rushed over.

Annie hated to leave Charlotte alone, but she had a couple of appointments later in the afternoon. At least Pip would keep her company until she returned. Annie’s house was on the other side of the island, allowing Charlotte some distance from the neighbor’s home that no long
er existed. It wasn’t even a shell, it was simply bits and pieces of metal and concrete, not a shred of material was left otherwise.

Charlotte didn’t mention Claude again, but Annie knew she’d have to pry the information out of her at some point. Something didn’t feel right, and her reaction or even thinking she could have been the victim left her worried. What secret was her best friend hiding?

“I’ll be home by two,” Annie rattled off. “There are snacks and drinks, and curl up with Pip for a while. She’s good company.” Pip was her near constant companion she’d picked up at the shelter after her divorce. She couldn’t imagine life without the pup and was the only family she had living close by, if you didn’t count her ex-husband who owned a law office with his partner on the very same island she lived on.

Sandy Beach Island was a stretch of barrier island off the coast of New Jersey, a seasonal resort that became quiet and semi-vacant in the off-season, just the way the locals liked it.
Half the homes were empty, only being rented out during the warmer months of the year.

But owning a beauty shop that was open year-round, and one of the only ones, meant that Annie had work to do. “If you need anything, call me
.” She looked to Charlotte one last time. She hated leaving her like this, but work was work, and being self-employed meant there was nobody else to pay the bills.

At least she’d hired a new girl after the weirdness with her last hairdresser. Jamie was working out well enough and seemed like a nice girl. Time would tell if she was a perfect fit, but with limited people left on the island, beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Two o’clock,” Annie reiterated. Charlotte was in her own world. It wouldn’t have matter if she said her skin had just turned green.

Charlotte nodded, but said nothing.

Annie’s mind wrapped around the news of the morning, first the fire, and then Claude. Who was Claude, and why hadn’t Charlotte ever mentioned him before? Thankfully the home was vacant when it burned down, so nobody was hurt. Furniture could be replaced. The car was an old beater that was permanently parked there. The owner only used it when he came to the island.

Pulling into Starfish Square, Annie parked her car and headed to her shop. Beachside Beauty was smack in the center of a touristy shopping complex. There weren’t many on the island, but she’d scored when she landed the location. With plenty of foot traffic in the busy season, it kept her hopping and carried her through the slower months.

Mrs. Bushmiller saw her as soon as she got there and scurried down to greet Annie. “Big fire,” she started.

“I saw,” Annie said, jingling her shop keys to shake the door key free from the tangle that was her keychain. She twisted the key in the lock and let herself in.

Mrs. Bushmiller followed. “I heard about it on the scanner.”

“I need to get ready for my first client,” she said dismissing the woman. After the woman had accused her of well…murder in the past, and turned her in, Annie didn’t have much compassion or patience for her nosy neighbor.

“Right, I should go. I have things to do,” she said with a wave, oblivious to Annie’s lack of enthusiasm.

Jamie made her way in not fifteen minutes later. “Morning, boss lady,” she chirped.

“Annie would be fine,” she said, her patience still thin from Mrs. Bushmiller’s appearance.

“Right, sorry.” She was trying too hard. She needed to relax, but being the new girl, she couldn’t help but feel a little extra pressure to be friendly, happy, and make her presence known and appreciated. She needed the money, and this was one of the only year-round places in town she could work at. Otherwise, she’d need to go off the island, and she dreaded going over that creepy, old causeway that was getting too old and had gotten damaged from the last major hurricane that rolled through. Avoiding the bridge kept her happier, besides, everything she needed was here. Not that she was a hermit or anything, but until they finished the bridge repairs, there was no way she was driving over that rickety old thing. That was one of her biggest fears, the bridge and roadway dropping out on her as she drove over. Ever since she saw a story about that very thing in the middle of the country, she couldn’t shake the image. Bridges were no friend of hers, especially old, broken bridges.

Annie glanced at the book and then headed to the back room to prep for her first appointment, a cut and color with highlights. She was grateful for her high maintenance clients. They were the bread and butter of her business. A haircut was a haircut, but colors, perms, highlights, and the higher prices she could charge for those made a big difference in paying the rent.

Muriel Denning opened the door, the chimes alerting Annie of her customer’s arrival. Jamie greeted the woman as Annie came around the bend, pushing a small silver tray that held the color that would transform Muriel’s stubborn grays back into a soft champagne blonde color.

“Morning, Muriel, I’m ready for you,” Annie said with a smile.

“Morning, Annie.” Muriel placed her designer bag on the counter at Annie’s station and took a seat. “Did you hear about fire?”

“News travels fast in a small town,” she answered.

“It was hard not to hear the sirens,” the woman commented.

“What do you think caused it?” Annie was making small talk at this point, as they had time to kill with the color, cut, and highlights.

“Probably old electrical wiring or you know, insurance,” the woman hinted. “After that ravaging hurricane did so much damage, I’ll bet a lot of people are looking for a way out of the financial burden it left behind.”

“You think?” Annie scrunched her nose up. She didn’t want to admit that it had crossed her mind too. An empty house rarely goes up in flames on its own. And as far as she knew, the house had been empty since summer.

“I’m grateful we raised our house a couple of years ago. All we lost was some decking and stairs. It was ugly and expensive, but it could have been so much worse. So many people had to deal with flooding
, and you know how messy that gets, mold, mildew and the sort.” Muriel clucked her tongue. “Either way, you’d think they’d be able to cut the sirens at that time of the morning. It’s not like there’s much traffic on the road.”

“Do they have to run sirens if they are running lights? I don’t actually know the rules about that kind of stuff
.” Annie quizzed.

“I don’t know, but it was loud. They whizzed right by our street at full blare.”

“How are your kids making out at college?” Changing the topic took them in another direction.

“Ryan likes it more than Marissa,” she said, and then added the ins and outs of their latest news. Her twins had grown quickly and were already in college. Time flies.

The day wrapped up soon enough, and Annie was on her way back home to check on Charlotte. Walking into her house, she was met with a note. Annie sighed. What was going on?

I’ll be back. I need to go see my kids

and find out about Claude
.

Her kids were in California, on the other side of the country. And w
ho was this Claude? Why had she never heard of him before? Annie scratched Pip on the head and dropped to the sofa.

Chapter 2

 

Annie tried calling Charlotte’s phone, but she wasn’t answering. She sighed and reminded herself that Charlotte was a grown woman, heck, almost twice her own age, but it didn’t mean she didn’t worry about her still. They’d grown close over the time they knew each other.

Unsettled, she decided to run to the market to grab something for dinner. Nothing in the fridge looked appealing. It’s not like she had anything in mind, and hoped perusing the grocery store would fire up an idea.

Heading out, Pip circled at her feet, hoping to go for a ride. “I’m sorry, girl, but it’s a little warm today. I’m afraid the car would get too hot while I’m shopping. Next time,” she appeased and headed out. It had been unseasonably mild for October. She loved the warmer weather, so the nicer temperatures were a treat. If it kept up, kids would be out trick-or-treating the following week in short sleeves! The previous year, they were bundled in jackets, which covered up their little costumes. It was hit or miss when you lived near the ocean.
Trick-or-treating was always interesting when there were only a few houses that were lived in year round. Usually they had a small parade and candy collecting at one of the firehouses, where the kids could have a party, but there were still diehards that did the door-to-door even if every other house was empty.

Driving down to the only market in town, unless of course you count the ones over the causeway, Annie found a spot in the nearly empty lot and went inside. Nothing excited her, and after grabbing a few things, she figured a cheesy, sausage spaghetti would at least give her leftovers and something good to eat. She got tired of cooking the same things over and over. It’s not like she was the best of cooks, but she was bored of the staples, and if she ordered pizza one more time, she’d almost be dating the delivery man as often as she was seeing him
.

Annie made her way out to the parking lot, just in time to see Officer Nick Rossi. His lights were on and he’d just pulled over a vehicle. Watching him get out of his cruiser, she couldn’t help but stare. He sure made the uniform look good. His broad shoulders and height made her stomach flip-flop with giddiness. It’s not like she was ready to date, but he did give her his number. Maybe someday she’d actually call him. He was
a nice guy and so good looking. It’s just…she wasn’t ready. Sure, she’d been divorced for a while now, but as much as her hormones roared when she saw him, she knew that until she worked through her own baggage, she wouldn’t be healthy in a relationship, and that wasn’t fair to anyone.

Annie popped her bags into the car and hoped to go by unnoticed. She ducked out the side entrance, but with so few cars around off-season, she knew it was like trying to hide a giant bulls-eye in an open field.

Wooo…

She’d only gotten a few blocks down when he was flashing his lights and siren at her. Was she driving too fast to hide herself? Annie sighed and pulled over. Way to make an impression.

She saw him get out of his car, her eyes glued to her mirror. Rolling down her window, she greeted the officer.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” He was all business.

“No,” she offered meekly.

“What’s going on? You haven’t called,” he said leaning down into her window.

A ticket would have been easier to deal with. Having to admit she was a mess wasn’t easy. “I’ve been busy.”

“Busy?”
Nick arched an eyebrow. He wasn’t buying it.

“Look, Nick…” she trailed off, not sure what to say. “After everything that went down, the arrest, my divorce, just, I don’t think I’m ready to date.”

“I see,” he said. Officer Rossi took a deep breath and stood back. “If you change your mind, let me know.”

Annie nodded. She hated to watch him walk away, dejected. She did want to date him. She did want to spend time with him, but not at the expense of emotions. She had too many things to work through still; not only her divorce, but the arrest. Sure, it was a mistake and they let her go, but it’s not every day that you’re accused of murder. It messed with her mind, and she was still feeling fragile over the mishap.

Driving the last few miles home, her mind jumped from Nick to Charlotte to Claude and then back to Nick again.

Pip greeted her at the door. Letting her pup out
back to do her business, she put the few groceries away. The barking started almost immediately. Annie glanced outside. The cat was back; the same cat that was sleeping in their yard and taunting Pip by walking along the fencing. She had no idea who the cat belonged to, but it seemed to have gotten partial to their yard. Corralling her dog, she tried to scoot the cat away, but it simply looked at her and sat down, licking its paw. Annie sighed. It was a standoff. Pip whimpered wanting to be let go. That darn cat was on his property, in his territory! Bringing the dog in, she comforted him with a treat to take his mind off their new feline situation.

BOOK: Molly Dox - Annie Addison 02 - A Tangled Mess
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