Chapter 1: Night of the Cupid

Book cover: Night of the Cupid, on a crime scene tape background. Coming 10/31/22

Nothing says romance like red roses.

I stepped back and admired the petals scattered artfully across the white coverlet. True, the flowers were not a gift from an admirer. My admirer knew I had plenty in my garden, even if it was February in the Sierras. (I have strangely behaving roses. I can’t explain why they bloom all year. It’s definitely not because of magic, as townsfolk have joked.)

I scanned the room one more time. The UFO photos on the walls were straight. The window curtains were neatly tied back. Chocolates sat centered on each pillow.

The Victorian smelled of vanilla and cinnamon. Bottles of champagne were chilling in my refrigerator. Every single room was booked. My B&B was as ready as it was going to be for our Valentine’s special.

Pleasure bubbled in my chest. If the rest of the year continued this way, I might have the money to finally repair Wits’ End’s aging roof. Also, I love romance as much as the next girl.

A door closed downstairs, and cheerful voices floated from the foyer to me. I checked my watch. It was precisely one o’clock, the start of check-in. I frowned. Hardly anyone ever showed up on the dot.

It was as good a foreshadowing of trouble as I was going to get. But I shrugged, assuming I had delightfully punctual guests, and strode into the green-carpeted hallway.

At the top of the stairs, I tugged down the hem of my blue blouse and smoothed my slacks. “Valentine’s romance or bust,” I murmured and hurried down the steps. I stopped short on the third stair from the bottom.

The foyer was packed with couples. They were bundled in identical hunter green parkas and scarves and hats. Piles of luggage blocked the front door and spilled toward the dining area.

My hand clenched on the banister. They’d all arrived at once? And color coordinated?

“Hi, I’m Susan Witsend.” Bemused, I descended the remaining steps. “Welcome to Wits’ End.”

A rosy cheeked older man stepped forward smartly. “Good afternoon. I’m Carl Carter, with the Bigfoot contingent.” Colored light from the stained-glass transom slanted across his wrinkled face.

My neck tensed. “Bigfoot...?”

Oh, drat. Small-town Doyle was attempting to introduce Bigfoot as a tourist attraction. Most of my guests were still UFO aficionados (or Unidentified Arial Phenomena, i.e. UAP aficionados, as it had become fashionable to call them). But we did get the occasional Bigfoot hunter. I’d even introduced Bigfoot-UFO socks and t-shirts on the shelving inset into the stairs beside the front desk.

But the B&B was booked for the Valentine’s special this week. My heart thumped unevenly. Had I messed up the bookings?

I hurried around the scarred wooden desk and checked my computer. Carl Carter had indeed booked a room, and my stomach plunged. Bigfoot hunters. My special hadn’t attracted pairs of hopeless romantics. My advertising for the special had been a complete waste.

A rosy-cheeked white-haired woman stepped to the man’s side. “We’re so looking forward to the Valentine’s Special.”

“But no champagne on the job.” Her husband wagged his finger playfully at her. “I’m afraid for my wife this is a bit of a working vacation. She’s a writer.”

Maybe my advertising hadn’t been a total fail after all. “What do you write?” I asked.

“Romance,” she said. “I’m hoping to get some inspiration.”

I straightened from the computer. “And the rest of you are here for a Bigfoot hunt?”

“We prefer not to call it a hunt,” Mr. Carter said. “We’re not actually hunting one down to mount his head on a wall.”

“That would be impolite,” his wife agreed.

“We call ourselves seekers,” he said.