Jenn McKinlay

New York Times Bestselling Author

Hitting the Books

Chapter One

He was whistling. At five o’clock in the morning, the man was whistling. Lindsey Norris grabbed an extra pillow and plopped in over her face, making a sandwich out of her head. It blocked out the chipper sound coming from the bathroom, but it also made breathing a challenge. She shifted and tried to make an air duct for her nose and mouth without letting in any sound. Sucking in a breath of cool early morning air, she tried to get back to her blissful unconscious state.

Her brain refused to be lulled. It was too busy being irritated. What sort of person whistled first thing in the morning? Her boyfriend, Captain Mike Sullivan, that’s who. The man woke up before the sun every day even on days he didn’t have to. It was positively unnatural. Lindsey had moved into Sully’s house several months ago and while she loved him and she loved living with him, there were just a few things that made living together a bit tense not the least of which was Sully’s egregious habit of greeting every day whistling like a songbird at sunrise.

A former Navy man, who owned his own boat touring and water taxi company, Sully was used to being up and out before anyone else. Lindsey was not. She was the library director for their small town of Briar Creek, and as a public servant, she kept banker’s hours with an evening and rotating weekends thrown in just to keep it interesting.

Great, now her mind was on work. Lindsey did a quick mental run down of her day, hoping that by thinking it through she could put it aside and fall back to sleep. She had a meeting at nine o’clock with the library board which had been in transition since their last president had been murdered. She hadn’t yet gotten a read on the new members and what their expectations of the library were. Mostly, they seemed relieved after every meeting to still be alive. She wasn’t sure what that said about her as a library director. She decided to bring muffins and hope that relaxed them a bit. After all, everyone liked muffins.

At lunch, she had a crafternoon scheduled. This was a weekly Thursday meeting where they shared lunch, did a craft, and talked about a book. Not being a crafty sort, this week’s string bracelets were not really Lindsey’s thing but her library assistant, who was in charge of the craft, assured her that the worst that could happen would be that she’d suffer a small burn. Lindsey made a mental note to put some antibiotic pain relief ointment in her purse.

Lastly, she had a late meeting with the mayor to discuss making the library a more environmentally friendly space by changing out the current lighting with more energy efficient LED lights. The mayor was all about the bottom line and never welcomed ideas, even good ones, that would cost money in the immediate election cycle. His ideas for the future didn’t run much past getting re-elected. She was going to have to come up with a compelling reason to get him to listen to her. Maybe she could convince him that this would get him the youth vote in the next election.

Today was definitely a “look professional” day. Pity. She would have preferred to wear her book lover pajamas to work, comfy flannel PJs covered in a repeating pattern of eyeglasses and flying books. It was April in Connecticut, still on the chilly side in the morning but the afternoon would be warmer. Her navy blue business suit with the pencil skirt and tailored jacket would work. She wondered if she’d gotten her jade green blouse back from the dry cleaners, that would lighten up the severity of the suit but still give her executive polish.

How much time had passed since the whistling started? Why hadn’t she fallen back to sleep? Could she fall back to sleep now? Lindsey tried to gauge her level of tired. Her brain was fully engaged; sleep was going to remain a memory for the rest of the day. Darn it.

Her nose twitched. What was that smell? Mmm. Coffee. She peeked one eye out from under her pillow. Freshly showered and shaved Sully was approaching with a steaming mug of coffee in one hand. He carefully put it on her nightstand. The man brought her coffee; that was the definition of true love in Lindsey’s book. His unfortunate whistling was immediately forgiven.

She reached out from under the covers and grabbed his hand before he could escape. He allowed her to pull him down and he crouched beside the bed and peered under the pillow.
“You awake in there?” he asked.

Lindsey tossed the pillow aside. “Good morning.”

Sully studied her with a small smile on his lips. “Good morning. I can’t believe you’re awake.”

“Really?” she asked. She didn’t mention the whistling.

“What time did you finally put the book down last night?”

Lindsey glanced at the floor where the book she’d been reading had landed when she’d fallen asleep. “One-thirty, maybe two.”

“In the morning?” Sully asked. He ran a hand through his reddish-brown hair, making the curly waves stand on end.

“I was suffering from OMC syndrome,” she said.

“OMC, is that some sort of insomnia?”

“Sort of. It stands for One More Chapter.”

“Book nerd,” Sully teased. Then he leaned forward and kissed her on the nose before standing up.

Lindsey yawned. “Yes, I am and I have no readgrets not even for missed sleep. The book was that good.”

“Is that another made up word?” he asked. Lindsey nodded. “Fine, then here’s one for you. If you don’t get moving, you’re going to have break the read-o-meter to get to work on time. It’s already eight-fifteen.”

“What! I thought it was five. You always get up at five.”

“Not today,” he said. “I have a late boat tour plus I was tired because somebody keeps their light on into the wee hours of the morning.”

“Gah!” Lindsey lurched from the bed, dislodging her dog Heathcliff from where he was resting his head on her knee. She grabbed the hot mug of coffee and slurped some as she hurried into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.



“You look awful, like someone left you out in the rain, tossed you on the floor of their car where you were stepped on for a few months, and then they stuffed you in the book drop and pretended they had no idea how you got into such bad shape,” Beth Barker said. She stared down at Lindsey who was sprawled on the couch in the crafternoon room at the back of the library.

“Gee, thanks,” Lindsey said. She opened her eyes and glanced at her best friend, who was also the children’s librarian. “That means so much coming from a woman who is dressed like a pigeon.”

Wearing an oversized gray sweatshirt that had big, round eyes and a beak sewn onto the hood, Beth flapped her arms which had been fashions into wings and then clasped them in front of her in a begging pose. “Please, can I drive the bus? I’ll be your best friend.”

Lindsey snorted. No one could act out Mo Willems’s DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS better than Beth.

“You’re already my best friend,” she said. “Which is why I forgive you for saying I look awful.”

“It’s a book hangover, isn’t it?” Paula Turner entered the room, pushing a cart full of craft materials. “Was it A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, our discussion book today?”

“No, I finished that one a few days ago. This was one I picked up on the way out of work last night. I couldn’t put it down,” Lindsey admitted.

“That’s the worst, the best, but also the worst,” Beth said. She plopped down on the couch.

Lindsey draped her arm over her eyes. It wasn’t that she wished her friends would go away exactly, but she had almost managed a fifteen-minute power nap. She had read somewhere that fifteen to twenty minute naps could refresh a person without sending them into such a deep sleep that they were groggy all day. Oh, how she wished for that right now.

“What was it? A thriller, romantic suspense, murder mystery?” Paula asked. She tossed her thick blue braid over her shoulder while she set up the large table at the side of the room. “I’m looking for a good read.”

“Thriller,” Lindsey said. “But the author killed off one of my favorite characters at the end and all I could think was No, take me instead!”

“I hate that,” Nancy Peyton said as she entered the room. “It destroys me when an author kills off a character I’m fond of, especially in a series.”

“But sometimes it has to be done,” Violet LaRue said as she followed her best friend. “You have to trust the author to be true to the story they need to tell.”

“Not if it breaks my heart I don’t,” Nancy insisted. Her bright blue eyes sparked with a fierce light as she tossed her short bobbed silver hair as if emphasizing her point. “I will break up with an author over something like that.”

Nancy Peyton had lived in the village of Briar Creek all her life, making her a true Creeker. She’d been married to Captain Jake Peyton and when his boat went down in a storm, she had never remarried or left her home, choosing to make their captain’s house into a three family apartment house. Lindsey had rented the third floor from her before she moved in with Sully.

Nancy’s partner in crime in all manner of shenanigans was her best friend Violet LaRue. Violet had retired to Briar Creek after a long career on the Broadway stage. With her dark skin and warm brown eyes, she was still a great beauty and with her silver hair scraped back into a bun at the back of her head, her cheekbones dominated her heart shaped face, which had delivered famous lines from the likes of William Shakespeare to Sam Shepard to appreciative audiences all over the world.

“You’re being thick,” Violet said. “Think of all the great works of literature and how they would be different if the author didn’t follow their vision. Take Romeo and Juliet, it had to end the way it did.”

“Did it?” Lindsey asked. “Couldn’t they have communicated better and ended up living together in some faraway land? Then again, maybe it would have ended exactly the same if they’d gotten married and Juliet discovered Romeo was a morning person, who whistled really loudly while he shaved, and one morning she just snapped.”

The room became quiet as her friends stopped talking to stare at her.

“What?” she asked.

“You and Sully have been living together for six months, right?” Violet asked. She sat in an available arm chair by the couch and Nancy did the same.

“Something like that,” Lindsey said.

Nancy exchanged a look with Violet and nodded. “It’s over.”

“What? No!” Beth cried. “How could it be over? It took them forever to get together.” She bounced forward on the couch and reached for Lindsey’s hand, looking devastated. “I mean if you and Sully can’t make it, Aidan and I—“


“Are still in your honeymoon phase,” Violet interrupted. “Relax. You’re fine.”

“Oh, thank goodness.” Beth sagged with relief and dropped Lindsey’s hand. “I’ve barely gotten used to being Mrs. Barker, I’m not ready for things to go sideways on us.”

“Sully and I are fine,” Lindsey insisted. “It’s just that living with someone, even an awesome someone, is— “

“Annoying, irritating, exasperating, all the –ings,” Nancy said. “I remember the first few months I was married to Jake, I fantasized about clobbering him with a frying pan more times than I can count.”

“Communication is the key,” Violet said. “But that’s just what I’ve been told. I was married to my career so I’m not really a go-to person when it comes to relationship advice.”

“What about you, Paula?” Beth asked. “You and Hannah have been living together for the same amount of time as Lindsey and Sully, is she getting on your nerves, too?”

Paula glanced at Lindsey. She cringed and shook her head. “Sorry. But maybe I’m getting on her nerves. I’ll check and get back to you.”

Lindsey laughed. “Thanks but I wouldn’t want to stir up any trouble. Probably, my reading until two in the morning gets on his nerves but Sully’s too polite to say anything.”

“He is very nice,” Nancy said.

“And he’s a man,” Violet said. “They have different expectations.”

The two women exchanged another glance and Lindsey turned to Beth who shrugged. She and Aidan Barker had gotten married just a few weeks ago and she’d been walking on clouds ever since. In other words, she was useless.

“All right, people, I have the craft supplies set up. Where is Ms. Cole? Isn’t she in charge of food today?” Paula asked.

“The lemon – er – Ms. Cole was in the staff lounge last I saw,” Beth said. Ms. Cole was the newest member of their crafternoon group. During the first two years that Lindsey had worked at the library, Ms. Cole had been full of disapproval and her puckered disposition caused Beth to dub her “the lemon”.

But they’d been through some dire times at the library, and Ms. Cole had softened towards her fellow librarians and had actually asked to join their book club and invited them to call her Ginny. The new name didn’t take, however, and she remained Ms. Cole to them and occasionally, when she was being particularly rigid, she was still the lemon. But there was affection there now, too, which made all the difference.

“She was loading up a cart full of food,” Beth continued. “I really hope she made her Charlotte Russe to go with the book. I love that lady finger, raspberry gelatiny goodness that she made for the last holiday staff party.”

“Should we start on our craft then?” Paula asked.

Beth popped up from her seat first and the ladies made their way to the craft table.

“Are we late? I tried so hard to get here on time but babies have their own schedules.” Mary Murphy, Sully’s younger sister, hurried into the room with a baby in a sling across her chest and a padded bag the size of a small car strapped to her back.

As if she knew she was the topic of the conversation, the wee person strapped to Mary’s front shoved a tiny fist into the air and then let out a not so delicate wail.

“Josie’s here!” Nancy clapped her hands in delight.

Simultaneously, she and Violet rushed forward as if they were in a race to see who could get their hands on the baby first. Given that Violet was the taller of the two women and her stride longer, she beat Nancy by a grabby hand.

Mary plopped the baby into Violet’s arms and dropped the bag onto the floor. She then collapsed onto the couch, looking like she didn’t intend to move for the rest of the hour.

Both Beth and Paula moved forward to get in line for their turn with the baby. Lindsey did not. She loved little Josie Murphy, after all she was Sully’s niece and hands down the cutest baby Lindsey had ever seen, but Lindsey was not really a baby person. She didn’t have any younger siblings and had never babysat while she was growing up. While a clean sleeping baby was an adorable thing to gaze upon, when they got messy or wailed she found them somewhat terrifying.

She backed up to allow the others access to the baby. Little Josie did not seem to mind being passed around like a hot dish at the dinner table, still Lindsey knew what was coming. Someone was going to try and hand her the baby and Josie, knowing full well that Lindsey should never be entrusted with such a delicate being, would begin to wail desperate to be rescued. And Lindsey could not blame her one little bit.

She turned away from the group and studied the scene out the window as if she was tracking an incoming storm from the bay. Short of running out of the room, this was her best defense against having the baby passed to her. Just the thought of holding the infant and her hands started to sweat, which convinced her that she would drop the baby and she’d smash like an egg. No, Lindsey figured she’d wait on the holding thing until Josie was walking or talking or even better driving.

Big white fluffy clouds filled the sky. Lindsey scanned them for any distinctive shapes. She saw one that resembled a dragon but she’d noticed the big cumulous clouds always looked like dragons. The early afternoon sunlight danced on the water in the bay. She gazed at the pier. Sully’s tour boat was out, taking visitors around the Thumb Islands, an archipelago of over a one hundred islands of all sizes that filled this small coin pocket of Long Island Sound.

She saw Dennis Greaves and Sam Holloway, two of Briar Creek’s retired residents, across the street in the town park that was on a narrow patch of land between the town beach and the main road. They were sitting at their usual picnic table, enjoying a game of checkers as they did every day around lunchtime.

Lindsey knew Dennis was a big Tom Clancy reader while Sam only came into the library if he was looking for car repair manuals. He was always fixing up vintage cars and the library had some manuals going back one hundred years. The only reason Lindsey hadn’t thrown them out was because Sam used them every now and again.

Across from Sam and Dennis, Theresa Huston, the local tennis coach, was power walking through the park in her bright turquoise running suit. She was one of Lindsey’s favorite patrons as they shared a love of poetry, particularly Emily Dickinson. Lindsey waved but she doubted Theresa could see her.

A pack of five bicyclists pedaled down Main Street, interrupting Lindsey’s view of the park and her gaze shifted to a group of women down on the small town beach. They were having a picnic with their toddlers who were racing up and down the sand, kicking inflatable balls almost as big as they were. Adorable. She recognized most of them from Beth’s story times and wondered if they’d just enjoyed her portrayal as the Pigeon.

Seeing all of the activity, Lindsey felt her sleepiness lift. Spring was here and summer was coming. The sound of tree frogs would fill the nights and the days would get longer. It was hard to sustain a grumpy mood in the face of such happy activity.

She started to turn back to the room when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. A car was speeding down Main Street, going way too fast for the pedestrian friendly area. Lindsey glanced back at the park and saw Theresa step into the crosswalk, where pedestrians clearly had the right of way. Lindsey’s heart thudded in her chest. She had the sick feeling that the car wasn’t going to stop.

She glanced to the right, thinking surely the driver would see Theresa and slow down, but he didn’t. Instead of hitting the brakes, the driver sped up. Horror flooded Lindsey as she realized Theresa was going to get hit. She cried out and slapped her hands against the glass window as if she could push Theresa to safety just by willing it. She couldn’t.

With a sickening, bone crunching thud, Theresa was struck by the car. Lindsey watched as she collapsed back onto the sidewalk and the car took off.

Dennis Greaves and Sam Holloway abandoned their chess game and raced across the grass as fast as their geriatric bones could carry them. The women on the beach, gathered their children and stared wide-eyed at the park above them.

Lindsey spun away from the window and ran from the room, yelling, “Call Nine-One-One. Theresa Huston was just hit by a car.”