I snatched my bag off the luggage carousel at Boston’s Logan Airport and plunked it next to my parents as a sticky fingered urchin tried to liberate the brightly colored ribbons I’d tied to the handles.
“Look at that little angel,” Mom said indulgently to Dad and Aunt Martha.
The pig-tailed blonde rewarded them with an impish grin then skipped toward a grandparently looking couple.
Mom exhaled a wistful sigh. “That should be us.”
The little angel bypassed the couple and pounced upon another passenger’s brightly colored bag, squealing “Doll!”
The sour-faced owner yanked his luggage out of the child’s reach.
“Don’t stare. It’s rude,” Mom scolded.
But like a car-wreck rubbernecker, I couldn’t rip my gaze away when a gaudy red statue tumbled out of the bag and panic streaked across the man’s face. Besides… “I’m paid to stare at people.”
The little girl scrambled after the souvenir, but a K-9 officer beat her to it.
The souvenir—probably meant to be a miniature replica of a Mayan god—reminded me of a case where a crooked European art dealer dipped artifacts in resin to smuggle them out of Egypt. Not that I thought this guy, who’d landed on one of the pre-cleared Caribbean flights, was an antiquities smuggler. Only…
Was that sweat popping out on his forehead?
The officer who’d rescued the seemingly cheap souvenir studied it a moment, crouched low where the dog could sniff it, and sourpuss’s fingers danced a number on the sides of his legs before he reached out a shaky hand and asked for it back.
Interesting. I stepped closer for a better look at that souvenir and surreptitiously snapped a photo with my smartphone.
“Serena,” Mom said, pleadingly this time.
Right. I was on vacation—four glorious days on Martha’s Vineyard to relax and celebrate Uncle Jack’s engagement. A tingly feeling shivered down the back of my neck as if Mom wasn’t the only person eyeballing me. A quick glance about the luggage claim area pinpointed a military type in civilian clothes, and I had the sudden urge to echo Mom’s don’t-stare order.
Of course somehow in the split second, or three, I’d looked away, Gaudy Souvenir Guy had vamoosed.
I returned to my parents. “Hey, where’s Aunt Martha?”
Mom did a frantic half jig. “I don’t know! She promised me she wouldn’t pull any of her crazy antics this time. Ward, did you see where she went?”
Laser-focused on the exit, Dad sloughed off the question with a “Check the restroom” and grabbed the handle of Aunt Martha’s bag to lug along with his own.
Aunt Martha had moved in with my parents a year and a half ago, following her hip surgery, and begun accompanying them on holidays. Living under the same roof hadn’t curbed her independence one iota.
“Oh, dear,” Mom fussed.
Aunt Martha scurried toward us from the direction of the exit, not the restroom. Her eyes beamed with that gleeful sparkle they got when she fancied herself onto a good mystery.
I smothered a grin. At least I wasn’t the only one making mysteries out of molehills.
“Oh, good, here you are,” Mom said and steered us all toward the bus stop. The two-hour bus ride would take us to Woods Hole where we’d catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard—another forty-five minute ride, give or take.
Aunt Martha nabbed a seat next to me on the bus. “He took a cab.”
“What? Who took a cab?”
“That guy with the statue you were staring at back there. I tried to catch a glimpse of his name on his luggage tag but couldn’t get close enough.”
I inwardly groaned. Aunt Martha was in her mid seventies and had become an incurable armchair sleuth since retiring from a job as a globetrotting personal assistant to some corporate bigwig. Trouble was she didn’t know that armchair sleuth meant you were supposed to stay in your seat, not chase suspects through airports.
“Aunt Martha, I really have no interest in the man.”
“Nonsense. I saw the way he was squirming. He was guilty of something. You couldn’t have missed that. Do you think he was smuggling drugs inside that little statue?”
“No, honestly, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’m on vacation, remember?”
“Pffft, tell me you’re not going to visit the Artisan’s Spring Festival and all the art galleries on the island this weekend.”
I shrugged. Aunt Martha knew me too well for me to outright lie. Sure I rambled through secondhand shops and galleries in every town I visited, but it really wasn’t because of my job as a member of the FBI’s Art Crime Team.
“Besides,” Aunt Martha went on, “a little mystery makes everything more fun. Like this mystery bride-to-be your Uncle Jack has swept off her feet.”
Uncle was actually an honorary title. Jack was an old college friend of Dad’s who’d invited us to vacation on the island every summer. Of course, I hadn’t been able to join Mom and Dad since finishing high school.
“Have you ever heard Jack mention her?” Aunt Martha asked.
“No, I haven’t talked to him since Christmas.” And it was now early May. A lot could happen in the romance realm in four months, especially when you got to be Uncle Jack’s age and were still single.
Not that I knew such things from personal experience, being only twenty-nine. The only guys who’d come close to sweeping me off my feet were criminals trying to pull a fancy judo move before they ran.
Although…Tanner had nearly dunked me into an algae filled pond during an ill-fated surveillance op involving paddleboats and mobsters, but that was a whole other story.
And it certainly didn’t qualify as romance.
My phone beeped, and I glanced down at the text alert. Huh. Speak of the devil.
I opened the text.
Work is oddly peaceful…. It’s almost like I’M on vacation.
A smile curved my lips, but I searched through my emoticons for the happy face that was rolling its eyeballs and hit ‘send’. Then I added:
Ha, ha. You know you miss me.
“Serena!” Mom was frowning at me. “Is that Tanner? You know we love him, but, honey, you’re on vacation.”
How’d she know it was Tanner?
Before I could work that out, my text alert beeped again.
What I miss is your Mom’s bangers and mash.
A photo of a pathetic-looking take-out burger popped up on my screen.
I laughed out loud. In my rookie days, when Tanner was my field-training agent, Mom had gotten it into her head that if she fed him, he’d make sure I stayed safe.
Boo hoo, I texted back, then conspicuously returned my phone to my purse under Mom’s watchful eye.
Mom leaned across the aisle and said, “You looking forward to seeing Ashley?”
“Sure, it’ll be great to see her again.” Maybe.
I stomped down on the faint, ridiculous twinge of hurt that’d never quite gone away. Ashley was Jack’s real niece and we’d been bosom buddies as far back as I could remember…if I didn’t count my last visit to the island. Ashley had gotten mad at me and I never did figure out why. Not that I tried very hard, I guess, after she hadn’t replied to the last letter I’d sent her. She seemed to think I should know and hoping she’d have forgotten about whatever miffed her by my next visit seemed easier than figuring it out. Only with college and all, I stopped spending my summers on the island.
Two and a half hours later, Aunt Martha and I settled in at a table on the restaurant deck of the 1:15 ferry to Vineyard Haven. And…whom should I see nursing a drink at one of the tables while perusing what looked like an art journal, of all things?
Gaudy Souvenir Guy.
“You’re staring again,” Mom said, dropping into the seat opposite me, while Dad fetched us something to eat.
Aunt Martha glanced over her shoulder and her face lit.
I sent her a cautioning look. Let’s just say, Mom didn’t share Aunt Martha’s penchant for mystery solving. The only mystery she was keen to solve was why I hadn’t gotten married yet. And given her grandchildren. Most definitely in that order.
I unscrewed my water bottle cap and downed a swig.
As if Aunt Martha had read my thoughts, or more likely Mom’s, she teased, “If I’d known you’d want to man-watch, I would’ve invited Nate along for you to look at.”
I spluttered a mouthful of water across the table. Nate was my apartment superintendent—an apartment I’d taken over from Aunt Martha, complete with cat, when she moved in with my parents. Dad’s allergies meant Harold—the cat—couldn’t go.
Then again, maybe it’d all been a conspiracy she cooked up to get Nate to notice me. Come to think of it… the airport’s metal detector didn’t go off when that supposed metal hip of hers shimmied past.
I stifled a smile as I mopped up my water with a paper napkin. Nate was actually a great guy. He had Bradley-Cooper good looks and shared my love of both art and old movies. And he annoyed Tanner to no end, which was a fun bonus.
“If Nate was here, then who would watch Harold?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Mom said and dismissed Nate with a resolute hand flick. “There will be plenty of eligible young men for her to meet on the island.”
Translation: if Nate had been interested in making a move he would’ve done it by now.
“Do you really want her falling in love with a man who lives over a thousand miles away?” Aunt Martha countered. “You’d never see your grandkids.”
Mom looked startled then horrified as if she’d never considered the ramifications. Apparently the invitation to an engagement celebration on Martha’s Vineyard—the perfect setting to entice her single daughter, me, to entertain romantic thoughts of my own—had blinded her to the logistics of who might catch my eye.
Aunt Martha gave me a sly wink, and I grinned. Thanks for the assist.
Dad arrived at the table with a large basket of french-fries and four burgers, which thankfully, looked much more appetizing than Tanner’s sad little lunch had.
Grinning to myself, I pulled out my phone and snapped a shot of our yummy looking burgers as Aunt Martha excused herself to wash her hands. I was just typing: Where’s the beef? Oh, look, it’s on Martha’s Vineyard! when Aunt Martha stopped next to gaudy souvenir guy and my fingers stilled.
She stooped down, pretending to adjust her shoe, although I’m sure she was really eyeballing the tags on his luggage.
Uh oh. Now she was actually speaking to the guy. I hit ‘send’ then pressed my fingertips to my forehead and watched the pair from behind my hand, so Mom wouldn’t catch me staring again. The look the guy shot Aunt Martha reminded me of Harold’s expression whenever I threatened to give him a bath.
Dad chuckled. “Looks like your matchmaking mission has given Martha ideas for herself,” he said to Mom.
Mom spun around to see what he was talking about and gasped. “That man has got to be forty years younger than her.”
“Mom, please! Dad was kidding.”
Right? I looked to Dad for confirmation, but all he did was smile innocently. “Women can talk to men without it meaning any kind of romantic interest,” I added firmly.
As if to illustrate my point, my phone beeped, undoubtedly Tanner’s comeback to my smug burger pic.
Mom rolled her eyes. “That kind of thinking is why you’re still single.”
Okay, that made no sense. I elbowed my dad to nudge him into stepping up to the plate for me. “Would you think a woman was hitting on you just because she talked to you?” Or texted?