Authors: A. Gardner
"You arse!" Marta yells at the man in the ticket booth. She throws her arms in the air and walks away shaking her head. Her auburn hair is starting to frizz, and it's nowhere as neat as it was this morning.
"It's not you, it's her," I say to the man. "Are you sure you don't have any trains to London until tomorrow?"
"Yes, I'm sure." The man says, annoyed.
"What about to some other city where we can get a connecting train to Paris?" I ask.
"Like I told your mate, there are
trains running through here until the morning."
"So we're just supposed to wait here?" I look around the tiny train station. If either of us wants to sleep at all our options are the floor and a rusty bench. The floor looks cleaner.
"There's an inn in the village," he suggests. "Just a few minutes walk from here, or you can go back to where you came from."
"Thanks for your help," I reply, keeping a forced grin on my face. I cautiously approach Marta who is now rubbing her puffy eyes.
"What did he say?" she mumbles.
"Same thing he told you, minus the swearing."
"Well, this is just brilliant."
"We could go back—"
"No," Marta interrupts. "Do
want to walk all the way back up the hill in the dark, only to knock on the front door and find that all the staff has gone to bed? I've had it up to here with Dovington Manor."
"Understood," I mumble. "Dovington Manor can kiss—"
"Please, Poppy," Marta butts in, "I've heard enough vulgarity for one evening."
"Chef Gautier," she answers. "Be glad you don't speak French."
We roll our suitcases outside and make the short journey back toward the harbor. Dovington Manor sits above a somber little village. I barely had the chance to soak in the picturesque sight of little mom-and-pop shops all together in a row facing the shoreline when we first drove through. The sound of the ocean dances through the wind. The nearest inn is brightly lit and attached to a bustling pub. There's a man outside the door puffing tiny smoke clouds into the night. Marta rolls her eyes.
"I suppose this is our best option," she says. "Unless you want to sit and wait all night for the sun to come back up?"
"At this point, I don't really care," I respond, stepping past her. She seems hesitant to walk through the pub entrance and push past the crowd near the door. I walk in first, immediately feeling claustrophobic from the stuffy air, loud laughter, smoke, and lack of open tables.
I eye the bartender, and focus on wheeling my luggage toward him.
"Can I help you?" the barman asks.
"Yes, do you have any rooms left?"
"Just one, and you're lucky at that. I've been booked solid since news of the Dovington wedding spread to London."
I look back at Marta.
"Okay," I agree. "We'll take it."
"Okay, love. Just give me a minute." He finishes pouring another round of brews for a few customers at the bar, and delivers a pitcher to one of the tables. Marta and I move back into a corner, waiting impatiently.
"So," Marta comments, crossing her arms. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes look slightly bloodshot. "Knowing what you know now, would you still have insisted on coming this weekend?"
"Well…" I take a deep breath, remembering my disappointment when Michel broke the news to me that Jean Pierre had changed his mind about inviting me along. "Wait a second, you know about that?"
Her gaze wanders to a couple at the bar.
"Marta," I insist. "
do you know about all that?"
She bites the inside of her cheek.
." I feel my blood start to boil. Maybe it's the fatigue talking, but I can't stop it. How many times will I have to prove myself in the pastry world before I'm taken seriously?
Maybe it's the high heels?
"What?" She shrugs, playing dumb.
"Were you eavesdropping?"
"No." She narrows her eyes, almost offended. "I would never stoop to
"Then who told you?" I ask.
"It doesn't matter, Poppy."
matter," I argue, shoving my suitcase against the wall so that it makes a loud bang. "I'm here because I won a competition at my school. I beat out my entire class
the class above me. I've been nothing but friendly to you and the entire staff at Le Croissant, but Chef Gautier hardly speaks to me, and you treat me like a twelve-year-old." I pause for a second. "You know what? Twelve-year-olds are allowed to use the oven…so make it a five-year-old."
"Poppy, I'm sorry you feel that way—"
"Don't lie to me, Marta." I raise my voice. "If you were really sorry, you would try to make things right. You don't care whether I stay or fly back home tomorrow. In fact, I bet you would prefer it if I just left now."
"Maybe I will leave early," I cut her off. "I mean, what good is it learning from
if you don't actually get to talk to
"I can't speak for Chef Gautier, but I'm sure he has his reasons," she states.
"Uh-huh." I raise my eyebrows, contemplating trying my luck waiting at the train station all night.
"Alright, love. I'm ready for you." The barman approaches us dangling a ring of keys. I turn my head and study the bar. "Do you still want the room?"
Marta waits for me to decide, but I keep my mouth shut.
"Yes," Marta speaks up. She grabs her things and treks forward. I stay rooted in place. I have a lot of thinking to do, and I don't want to be tiptoeing quietly around Marta, forcing myself not to yell at her for being…well, Marta.
"Follow me," the barman says.
He leads us toward the back of the bar through an arched doorway where there is a staircase leading up to the inn. I take one last look at the crowded pub. My eyes dart to something familiar. Someone who must have stumbled in just before us. I study the platinum blonde hair and risqué cocktail dress that is very unfit for an ex's wedding.
The woman looks slyly at her date as he hands her a drink.
"Here." I stop, shoving the handle of my suitcase at Marta. She quickly grabs it with a puzzled look on her face. I hope the barman
help her juggle both bags up the stairs. "Suddenly, I'm not that tired anymore."
My agenda is simple.
If my chocolate macaroons were tampered with, I need answers for Detective Casey. I didn't come all this way, suffer through my first semester of pastry school, first public pie failure, and first escape from a psycho killer all to have it crumble at my feet. Someone at Dovington Manor killed Sam. Someone who was given the same diamond pendant as me. The question is, which revenge seeking ex did it?
I hover near the bar, waiting for an empty spot to open up.
What would Bree do if she was here?
Bree would have been snooping around the manor looking for clues the moment Sam was found dead. I try to pretend that Bree's standing right next me, telling me to be bold.
Sam's ex rolls her eyes while her date's back is turned. She searches the bar for eye candy but stops when she looks in my direction. For a brief moment she stares. Then she waves at me. I turn around, but no one is behind me. It is me she wants. I walk toward her, and the woman nudges her date from his chair so I can sit down.
"I recognize you," the woman says with a slight slur. "You were up at the manor tonight, weren't you?"
"I'm Poppy," I reply.
"Billie." She holds up her glass of wine. "And this is…" She attempts to introduce her date, but his back is to me. He bums a smoke and proceeds to push his way outside without so much as a good bye. "Eh…it doesn't matter."
"My sister's mate," she responds. "The girls and I didn't want to come here all alone."
"The girls?" I question.
"Yeah, I came with some mates of mine." She lets out a laugh, brushing a strand of platinum hair out of her face. When she leans forward, more tan-colored flesh spills from the top of her dress. "We showed up early. Poor Sam, he was flustered when he saw me."
"So you know him?" I ask.
"Duh, I know him." She takes a sip of her wine. "Where did you say you're from again?"
"Oh." Though I've only seen her take a few sips of alcohol, she seems wildly confused like she's already had one too many glasses. "Where's your date? I hardly think
would want to face him alone either."
"I came with the kitchen staff," I inform her. "I'm a pastry chef…in training."
"Ohhh." She exhales loudly. "I'm sorry, I must have gotten you confused with someone else. Now I remember. You're the kitchen girl…wait…or…?"
"Yeah, yeah," I hurriedly respond. The more she drinks, the harder it will be to talk to her. "
was in the kitchen.
and your friends came early. Did all
of you know Sam…personally?"
"Oh, Sam." She sighs. "We used to date, if you must know. You ask just as many questions as that bloody Detective." She rubs her forehead. "Like I told him, Sam deserved what he got."
My chest starts to pound.
"I didn't kill him, Poppy," she clarifies. "But he was the rudest sort of womanizer ever born in the history of…" She scratches the side of her head, losing her train of thought. Billie takes a big gulp of her wine. "I still can't believe I ever loved him."
"Seems like you weren't the only one," I say quietly.
"You know what he did to me?" She clenches her jaw and tightens her fist as if Sam is standing right behind me. "He
my life. That's what he did. What the girls and I had planned for the wedding was nothing compared to how he stomped on all of our hearts."
"What did you have planned?"
Billie looks at me and lightly drums her manicured nails on the pub counter. The barman returns from upstairs and is instantly bombarded with refill requests. He takes a mental tally of everyone who needs refreshers, then looks at me.
"Anything for you, love?"
"Water." My head is already pounding from the day I had, and I won't be getting much sleep tonight. Maybe none at all if Marta locked me out of the room.
"I've said too much." Billie sighs and downs the rest of her wine, raising her finger for another.
My plan isn't going how I'd hoped. Billie's admission is suspicious, but deep down my gut tells me she's not a killer. She can barely compose herself after a few glasses of wine. Maybe more? I think back to this morning when I first noticed her in the sitting room. She must've started drinking early and so did her partners in crime. Showing up early wasn't just a tactic to get Olivia fired up on her wedding day, though that tactic did work out nicely. The three of them had their reasons. They planned something. The real question is, did their plan work?
"How did you meet Lord Dovington?" I eagerly ask.
"I met him at a studio in London. You know, for the local telly?" As soon as her drink is refilled, she takes a long sip. "He was being interviewed by one of his charities for a television promo. I did his makeup."
I raise my eyebrows.
"Loads of men get their makeup done for telly, Poppy. It's not that unusual."
"True." It's been a while since I've worn performance makeup. The gobs I had to put on sometimes made me feel like my cheeks were going to slide right off from the weight. The men wore theater makeup as well.
"Anyway, I did his makeup and he asked me to dinner. Best month of my life. I felt like Heaven had fallen from the sky and settled in my one bedroom apartment in Wembley."
"I know the feeling," I respond, holding up my glass of water and drinking most of it. Billie does a double take, quickly gulping down the rest of her drink. She waves at the barman.
"Hey, is that vodka?" Billie points at my glass of water. "I want some of that too?"
"Anyway." She ignores the barman's attempts to clarify that I'm not drinking any alcohol. He gives up, shaking his head and pouring her a glass of water that looks just like mine. She could probably use it. "The butterflies didn't last long. He dumped me out of the blue. And when I showed at his apartment in Chelsea to ask him what happened between us, he was with…well, he was with Maya."
"Should I know that name?" I casually ask.
"We're friends now. She came early too with Sarah and I. They both left right after they were questioned because
rooms are reserved for family
." She rolls her eyes. "Olivia's polite way of removing me from the premises, but there's nothing polite about that girl. I had to stop for a drink first." She grabs the glass of water and braces herself for a mouthful. Her eyes widen as she gulps down the water. "This isn't what I ordered." She studies the glass like the liquid magically transformed just to spite her.
"Billie." I try pulling her back to reality. I'm losing her fast. "So that's why you hate Sam? Because he dumped you for someone else?"
"No." She looks at me, her expression now blank. She narrows her eyes, hardening her stare and glaring at me as if I've dug up a grave that needn't be disturbed. I take a deep breath, suddenly unaware of chattering all around me. The noise is blurred out. "He called my manager. He told her that I was stalking him, and I was making him uncomfortable. I was fired. Worse than that. My employer shared that little tidbit with just about every agency, TV station, salon, and spa in town. Do you know where I work now?"
I slowly shake my head.
"I work in the cosmetics department at my local Tesco," she states. "From celebrity stylist to grocer just like that."
"That's it!" she shouts. I jump in my seat, confused to see that she's smiling. I place a hand on my heart and gulp down the rest of my water pretending it really is vodka. "I knew I recognized someone." She leans back looking pleased with herself.
"Yeah, of course I saw you at the manor but there was another girl. Your height. Dark hair like yours. I knew I'd seen her somewhere before."
"I thought I saw her sulking in the reception room." She chuckles to herself.
"Who?" I ask, getting impatient.