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Fall has fallen upon Judith McMonigle Flynn, leaving her Hillside Manor nearly devoid of guests. And what better cure for the off-season blahs than a brief bout of B&B sifting for a friend amid the quiet rustic splendor of secluded Chavez Island? Judith and cousin Renie both are more than ready for some relaxation. But their peace goes to pieces when Renie conks an odious interloping blowhard on the noggin with a heavy china dish-and, moments later, the woozy lout takes a fatal tumble down an inconvenient staircase. Judith suspects that death by dinnerware was not the real cause of this fellow's demise. But to prove her cantankerous cuz innocent, she'll have to uncover the real killer from among the motley island crew. And that could pile a lot more nastiness on Judith's plate than the harried bed-and-breakfast hostess can consume in one sitting!


September Mourn
A Bed-And-Breakfast Mystery

Chapter One

"Naturally," Judith said to Joe as he opened a can of beer, "Mother is against me going. That should settle it, shouldn't it? I mean, she's so old and I worry that her memory is slipping. I'd be afraid to leave her alone."

Joe settled back in his captain's chair and took a big sip of beer. "You've left her before. I'm here, and so are the Rankerses. Carl and Arlene always take good care of your mother. As for her memory, I haven't noticed it being any worse than it ever was.'

"That's because you almost never talk to her," Judith said, not without a trace of asperity. The bitterness between Gertrude and Joe was long-standing, a wound that had never healed after his alcohol-induced elopement with his first wife.

"She doesn't want to talk to me," Joe replied in a calm voice. "In fact, she'd rather talk to Herself. I mean to Vivian. Hey," Joe went on, his round, slightly florid face brightening, "Vivian could help out, too. She seems to like the old bat."

"Don't call my mother an old bat," Judith snapped, though she realized that her anger actually stemmed from the reference to Joe's first wife, who had moved into the neighborhood six months earlier.

Joe picked up the evening newspaper and flipped to the sports page. 'Okay, it was just a thought."

Repenting her sharp words, Judith sat down across the table from Joe. "It's not just Mother that worries me--it's you. Would you manage without me?"

Joe's green eyes regarded Judith over the top of the sports section. "Sure. I can cook, remember?'

Judith did. Joe was an excellent cook, who often pre pared the evening meals, at least on weekends. "I'd be gone a week," Judith persisted, wishing Joe would say he couldn't live without her. "Arlene and Carl would have to take over the B&B."

"They've done it before. What's the problem, especially now that Carl's retired?" This time, Joe didn't look up from the newspaper.

The Rankerses were admirable stand-ins. Arlene and Judith shared Hillside Manor's catering arm. Not only were Carl and Arlene good friends and wonderful neighbors, but they had a knack for dealing with people, particularly Judith's mother.

"I hate to bother them,' Judith murmured. The least Joe could do was put up a token argument for keeping her at his side- "I'm going to have to borrow their car until I get mine back- The insurance company said it might take until Friday to assess the damages. They didn't get it towed away until just before five."

"If you aren't here, you won't need a car," Joe pointed out, turning the page.

"So how will I get to Chavez Island?" The triumphant note in Judith's voice indicated that she'd scored a point in her favor.

"I could drive you up to the ferry in the MG. If the island is as small as you say it is, why would you need a car? Anyway, wouldn't your old high-school chum leave her car?"

Judith sighed. 'I suppose." Fidgeting in the chair, she frowned at the newspaper, which hid her husband's face. "Won't you miss me?"

"Of course." Joe appeared to be finishing an article. At last, he put the sports section aside. Gold flecks danced in his green eyes. Magic eyes, Judith called them, full of mischief even in middle age. Thirty years earlier, she had fallen hopelessly in love with the red hair, the trim physique, the engaging grin, the magic eyes. Though the red hair had thinned and was turning gray, and a hint of a paunch flawed the physique, the grin and the eyes were still intact. So was the mischief. And that was what worried Judith most.

"A lot?" Judith's voice was uncharacteristically meek.

"A whole lot." Joe's gaze was steady as he reached across the table to caress her cheek. "But the truth is, I've got a training session coming up. I'll be working overtime, and when I get home, I'll be cranky as hell. I always am during training sessions. So if you're going to be gone, next week is a good time for it.'

Judith fell silent. Joe was right, of course. There had been other training sessions, and they always triggered an irascible mood. Still, there was the car repair to consider and her mother and the B&B and . . . Herself, two doors down in the house vacated the previous winter by the Goodriches.

In a startling move, Vivian Flynn had pulled up stakes in Florida and returned to the Pacific Northwest. She had come for Christmas and stayed forever. Or so it appeared. Vivian--or Herself, as she was known--hadn't yet caused any serious problems. She was too enamored of the bottle, and thus inclined to keep to her snug little house. On her rare forays outdoors, she called on Gertrude rather than Judith--or Joe. All the same, Judith wasn't keen on the idea of leaving her husband alone with the woman to whom he had been married for over twenty years. Though considerably older than Joe and eroded by alcohol, Herself retained a certain allure.

"I guess I'll do it," Judith said glumly. She rose from the table and went to the cupboards, where she got out the makings of her guests' hors d'oeuvres tray. "I'm going to ask for the money, though. We never go anywhere in January."

'We could," Joe said as he sifted through the front section of the newspaper. "How about catching some sun in Mazatlan or Hawaii or Alabama?"

Judith opened a tin of smoked oysters. "Could you take time off?"

'Maybe." Joe polished off his beer.

"Can we afford it?"

"No. But that shouldn't stop us. Sometimes you forget that we're a two-income family."

That was easy to do. After eighteen years of providing two meager incomes all by herself, Judith couldn't quite adapt to the concept of separate paychecks. On the other hand, Joe didn't always take into account how much of Judith's earnings were plowed right back into the B&B. During the first year of operation, she had figured that her biggest benefit from the enterprise was having a free roof over her head. Judith smiled weakly. "We'll see about a winter break." She reached for a box of crackers. The kitchen was growing warm from the oven and the late afternoon sun. Spending a week alone with Joe definitely had its appeal. Jeanne Clayton Barber might make a generous offer, enough to pay for a January trip. Running Chavez Cove B&B could be a pleasant change of pace. Summers were draining. Autumn would be setting in, with the advent of the holidays and then winter and. . .

Judith made up her mind. If Jeanne needed a friend, her name would be Judith Flynn. Chavez Island sounded lovely in the fall. It was isolated, it was picturesque, it was safe. Hadn't Jeanne Clayton Barber said so?

September Mourn
A Bed-And-Breakfast Mystery
. Copyright © by Mary Daheim. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from September Mourn by Mary Daheim
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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