Mortar and Murder




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…

When Avery and Derek take on the renovation of a decrepit 1783 center-chimney Colonial house on a remote island off the coast of Maine, they soon get more than they bargained for.

A grumpy thriller-writing neighbor, a mysterious animal that lives under thmain_MortarMurder-210e porch, and the dead body of a young woman floating in the ocean between Rowanberry Island and Waterfield Harbor conspire to make this the most thrilling and dangerous renovation Avery has ever undertaken.


Derek aimed the boat towards a small cove and rocky beach and cut the engine. “There’s our house. See it?”

I nodded. I did. It was big and square, positioned with its rear against a backdrop of dark pine trees and bare birches and oaks, getting closer every second as we drifted toward shore. The chimney had fallen in, there was a hole in the roof, more than half the windows were broken, and there wasn’t a speck of paint left on the entire front of the house, the old planks faded to a silvery gray from the constant onslaught of wind, sun, and salt. I shuddered.

“Isn’t she a beauty?” Derek said, and meant it. His entire attention was focused on the house, his eyes soft and dreamy, and his mouth curved in an adoring smile. Another woman might have felt a twinge of jealousy—I don’t think Melissa had ever understood why he’d look at a run-down wreck of a house with more emotion than he ever showed her—but I’ve gotten used to it. It’s no reflection of how he feels about me, it’s just how he feels about old houses. It seemed a pity to disturb his no doubt beautiful dreams; however, I didn’t have a choice.

“Derek? Look out. You’re about to hit the dock. ” Literally.

“Oops.” His eyes came back into focus, and he made the necessary adjustments to bring the boat up alongside the decrepit-looking dock leaning into the water at a precarious angle. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem. Is the dock safe, do you suppose?”

“I’m sure it is,” Derek said, looping a rope around a pylon and bringing the boat to a rocking stop. He bounced out and onto the dock, which looked to me as if it could break into pieces under his booted feet at any moment. Miraculously, it held. “C’mon.”

He reached down. I grabbed his hand and used the support to get to my feet, unsteadily. Growing up on the coast of Maine, Derek had been in and out of boats his entire life. I was born and raised in Manhattan, and the closest I’d ever gotten to a boat was the occasional trip on the Circle Line, when friends from away came to visit.

“Upsy-daisy.” He lifted me onto the dock. Sometimes it’s nice to be short. Especially when your boyfriend is a strapping six feet or so, and used to hauling lumber and other heavy objects. I tottered—just slightly on purpose; the dock was slippery and about as wobbly as it looked—and he put an arm around me to steady me. I leaned in. The puffy orange life west made cuddling less fun than usual, but his arm was nice and warm and solid through the wool sweater, and the brisk wind hadn’t managed to eradicate his particular aroma: Ivory soap and shampoo mixed with paint thinner and sawdust. Mmmm!

All too soon he let me go, though, and turned to survey the house again.

I sighed. “You’re more comfortable in the boat than I am. Why don’t you hand the stuff up to me, and then we’ll carry it to the house together.”

“Sure.” He tore his gaze away and went back into the boat. He lifted and I caught for a few minutes, and then we picked up what we could carry, and started across the meadow toward the house.

I’m not sure what the reason was; whether it was that this was the first time I’d seen the place clearly, in bright sunshine, since early November—and the light hadn’t been that good then, with the fog and the rain—or whether it was because this was the first time I’d seen the house uncovered by snow while we owned it… but I was aware of a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. Had it really always looked this bad? Or had the winter months and the snow done a number on the place so that it now needed another ten or twenty thousand dollars worth of work above and beyond what we had expected to put into it? Had the hole in the roof always been so big? Had there always been so many broken windows? And how was it possible that I hadn’t noticed how the whole thing tilted to the right like something out of Dr. Seuss?!

“What?” Derek asked when I stopped dead in the middle of the grass, my eyes round. “You OK, Tink? You look like you’re gonna faint.”

“I feel like I’m going to faint,” I said. “Did it always look this bad?”

He stared at it. For a long time, before he turned back to me. “Pretty much, yeah.”

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