Fatal Fixer-Upper




Inheriting her aunt’s old Maine cottage has led Avery Baker down a new career path—home renovation. Finding a property’s hidden potential has rewards and challenges—not to mention certain unanticipated dangers. Like murder…

To Avery, the idea ofmain_FFU preparing her aunt’s crumbling and cluttered home for sale is overwhelming. So when someone offers to buy the place as-is, Avery’s relieved. Until she learns it’s worth more than she thought – that is, with a few repairs here and there…

With help from hunky handyman Derek Ellis, Avery starts learning the ABCs of DIY. But when the designer-turned-renovator finds clues that lead to a missing professor and then her own life is threatened, Avery wonders if she can finish the house – without getting finished off in the process…



The letter from Aunt Inga arrived, as the saying goes, a day late and a dollar short. Or not a whole dollar, exactly, but Aunt Inga must have missed a few of the recent postal increases, because the stamp was short by several cents, and that was probably why it had taken the letter almost two weeks to get from Maine to New York City.

The mailman arrived just as I was putting the finishing touches on the hand-printed and hand-sewn upholstery I had created for a reproduction Gustavian loveseat I was getting ready to put in the display window of Aubert Designs on Madison Avenue in New York City. (The Swedish king Gustav III reigned from 1771 until 1792, FYI, and Gustavian furniture is a sort of simplified, Scandinavian rococo. I mention it for the benefit of those of you who have never heard of Gustav or the furniture trend he inspired.)

I’m resident textile designer for Aubert Designs. Philippe Aubert designs furniture – high end, hand-crafted, reproduction furniture. My job is to enhance Philippe’s creations with my own custom-designed fabrics. He’s been on something of a Gustavian kick lately, and the piece I was working on had the distinctive arched and scrolled backrest and carved giltwood frame. My fabric, by contrast, was hip and modern, with a pattern of overlapping lipstick kisses in three shades of pink. Gustav was probably rotating in his grave, and Philippe hadn’t been too positive to the idea either, when I’d first pitched it to him. I was happy to see that the lipstick kisses looked just as good with the curved giltwood as I had hoped.

Just as I was putting in the last few stitches, the door opened, and the mailman walked in. He looked from me to the stack of mail in his hand. “You Avery Marie Baker?”

I jabbed the needle into the underside of the loveseat, where the mark it made wouldn’t be noticed, and got to my feet. “I am. What have you got?”

He extended the other grubby hand. “Postage due. There’s only a 37¢ stamp on this letter.”

“Oh. Sure.” I dug in the pocket of my jeans and came up with a dime. “Keep the change.”

“Too kind.” He pocketed the dime and shuffled out, after handing over the stack of mail. I dumped the rest on Tara’s desk – she’s the receptionist – and sat down on the lipstick-upholstered loveseat to open my letter.

The envelope was ecru, and thick; it looked like it came from the kind of old-fashioned correspondence set people used back in the days before telephones and email took over the world. The letter seemed to have originated somewhere in the state of Maine, and my name and address was written in a shaky, elegant hand with what looked like real ink. The kind that comes out of a fountain pen. I slit the envelope open with a pair of upholstery shears. Philippe would have objected had he seen my cavalier use of his tools, but he’d gone to lunch (without me) so I did it anyway. It beat getting up to look for a letter opener; especially on Tara’s desk, which looked like a whirlwind had blown past it. Whatever else Tara had going for her – as if I didn’t know – she wasn’t much of an office manager.

There was only a single sheet of writing paper inside the envelope, also thick and ecru in color. The message was short, dated two weeks ago, and written in the same shaky hand as the outside of the envelope:

My dear niece,

I trust this finds you well, and that you are happy in your life in New York.

You may be surprised to hear from me after all this time. That is, if you even remember visiting me when you were a child.

I am writing in the hope that you might be able to find the time to come to Waterfield to see me sometime soon? As I attempt to put my affairs in order before my life draws to a close, there are things I feel compelled to share with you. It is time for secrets to be told, for the truth to come out, and wrongs to be put right.

Your affectionate Aunt,

Inga Marie Morton

43 Bayberry Lane

Waterfield, ME

I was still sitting on the loveseat ten minutes later, lost in thought, when the door from the street opened, letting in the aroma and miasma typical of New York City, no matter the time or season. Along with it came Philippe Aubert, resident genius, and my boss and boyfriend.

Philippe, as you’ve probably gathered, is French. Aggressively so. He keeps his wavy brown hair long enough to pull back into an artistic ponytail when he’s working, and when he’s not, and when the weather permits, he keeps it confined by that most French of French headgear, a beret. Today, he was dressed in skintight leather pants and a black leather blazer, with a flowing white poet shirt, open halfway down his muscular chest. On anyone else, the get-up would have looked ridiculous. Philippe looked good enough to eat, like he had stepped off the cover of a romance novel, and I resisted the temptation to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

“Hello, chérie.” He sauntered over and bent down to greet me. His lips tasted of wine and he smelled of musky aftershave. I was just a touch breathless by the time he straightened up and looked around. “Where is everybody?”

It took me a second to get my voice to cooperate. “Tara went to lunch. Just after you. And Kevin is delivering the checkered fainting couch.”

“Ah.” Philippe grimaced. The checkered fainting couch was a sore subject.

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