Jenn McKinlay

New York Times Bestselling Author

SEALED WITH A KILL

Chapter 1
“Well, what do we have here?” Ella Porter asked. “Is that
Nate Williams, driving with a young woman I’ve never
seen before?”
“It is,” Marie Porter, Ella’s twin, confirmed.
Brenna Miller reared up from her crouched position
at the back of the Jeep and smacked her head on the
open hatch door. Ouch!
She clapped a hand on her head and turned to follow
the directions of the sisters’ gazes. Sure enough, Nate’s
vintage pickup truck was leaving a trail of dust behind it
as he roared up the drive toward the communal lot where
Brenna was parked.
The trees that lined the road behind him were ripe with
the vibrant autumn colors of candy apple red and golden
butterscotch. The late-September sun was warm but the
air held a bite of the New England winter rapidly approaching.
Autumn was Brenna’s favorite time of year. The sticky
humid heat of summer left and took its mosquitoes with
it. It was once again cool enough to turn her oven on and
do some serious baking without turning her kitchen into a
blast furnace. It was finally cool enough to don her favorite
clothes: jeans and sweaters. But the capper was that
the World Series would be played, and since she and Nate
shared a love of baseball, this meant a lot of TV time together
even though they followed different teams, rivals,
in fact. Yes, Brenna loved October.
The windows of the truck cab were down and Brenna
saw Nate flash a smile at her as he pulled up beside
them. As always, she couldn’t help but return his grin.
The man was a charmer, for sure.
He climbed out with a wave and circled around to
open the door for his companion. The first thing Brenna
noticed was that she was young. Her wavy brown hair
was styled in a bob, reminiscent of a flapper from the
twenties. Her jade green earrings dangled and she smiled
up at Nate as he helped her out of the truck. She carried
a bright green shoulder bag and wore a cute yellow dress
with a slightly poofy skirt that ended at her knees, very
retro.
Brenna couldn’t help glancing down at her own holey
jeans and baggy sweatshirt. Her shoulder-length auburn
hair had escaped its clip and was hanging half in her
face. She probably looked like she’d spent the day washing
windshields for nickels at the interstate on-ramp on
the outskirts of town. Fabulous.
Nate walked over to Brenna and the Porter sisters with
the young woman beside him.
“Good afternoon, Brenna, ladies,” he said, and he inclined
his head.
The twins, who were within bragging rights of reaching
their seventieth birthday, twittered beneath his attention,
while Brenna said, “Hi, Nate.”
“Let me introduce your new neighbor,” he said. He
gestured behind him. “This is Siobhan Dwyer. She’ll
be staying in the cabin next to yours for a while. Siobhan,
this is Brenna Miller, one of our resident artists. I
let Brenna stay here even though she likes the Red Sox,
because she makes the best brownies in town.”
The Porter sisters glanced between Nate and Brenna
with identical looks of speculation. She could only imagine
what the two gossips were thinking, that she and Nate
were shacking up. She decided she’d better defuse the
situation before things became awkward.
A bark interrupted whatever she was about to say as
Hank, Nate’s golden retriever, came bounding up the
hill. He looked as if he hadn’t seen Nate in days instead
of just hours. Jumping up on his hind legs, he licked
Nate’s face and then turned to jump on Brenna as well.
While she rubbed his ears, Nate retrieved his tennis ball
from the grass and threw it back down the hill toward
the lake. Hank did a giddy spasm of joy and set out after
it with a happy bark.
“You also put up with me because I’m a great dog sitter,”
Brenna said.
“Hank does adore you,” Nate agreed with a smile that
crinkled the corners of his eyes, and made Brenna hope
he wasn’t just talking about Hank.
“Well, I guess I know who to see when I want a
brownie,” Siobhan said, bringing the attention back to
herself. “Although, I find too many sweets can ruin a
girl’s figure. But then, at your age you probably don’t
have to worry about that.”
Brenna blinked, uncertain of whether she’d just been
insulted or not. She decided to write it off as a bad attempt
at humor.
“Yeah, I’m definitely a grown-up,” she said with a
forced chuckle. “Welcome to Morse Point, Siobhan.”
She held out her hand. The young woman hesitated and
then brushed Brenna’s fingers with hers for just the briefest
moment. Her fingers were icy cold and Brenna resisted the
urge to rub her hands together to warm them up.
She turned and gestured to the elderly twins. “These
ladies are Ella and Marie Porter. We’ve just gotten back
from a furniture salvaging expedition over in Auburn and
they’re helping me unload.”
Siobhan looked the women up and down but did not
offer her hand. “A pleasure.”
“Likewise,” the sisters said together. They didn’t sound
very sincere.
“Nate, would you be a love?” Siobhan asked as she
ran her hand down his arm and then motioned toward
the back of the truck. There were several boxes, an easel,
and what appeared to be a stack of canvases. “I’m just
exhausted from my trip.”
“No problem,” he said.
Brenna and the Porters watched as he hefted a few of
the boxes and headed down the trail toward the cabin.
Siobhan followed behind him, carrying nothing, not even
her bright green bag, which she’d left on the ground at
their feet.
Brenna wondered if she thought they were going to
carry it for her. She looked at Ella and Marie. They had
equally put-out expressions on their faces.
“I don’t like her,” Ella said when Siobhan was out of
earshot.
“You don’t like anyone,” Marie said.
“So?” Ella asked. “That doesn’t mean I’m wrong
about this one. There’s something very cat chomping on
a canary about her. I’m only surprised feathers don’t fly
out of her mouth when she speaks.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Marie said. “What do you think
of her, Brenna?”
“Nate must have a reason to be renting to her,” she
said. Although, privately, she couldn’t imagine what it
was since, like Ella, she did not get a warm and fuzzy
feeling from the girl.
She watched as Siobhan disappeared into her cabin
with a twirl of her skirt. Sly, that was the word she brought
to mind. Brenna couldn’t help but feel that she was the sort
of person you didn’t turn your back on.
“Oh, lookie here,” Ella said from beside Nate’s truck.
“Paintings, and they’re all of her.”
She had peeled back the brown paper wrapping from
one of the canvases and revealed a portrait that was obviously
Siobhan. It was very Frida Kahlo, a head shot
with a severe expression done in bold colors.
“Ella, get away from there,” Brenna ordered.
She glanced at the cabin to see if Nate and Siobhan
were returning.
Ella leaned in close and said, “The name in the corner
is Si-oh-bhan. What kind of name is that?”
“That’s her name, Siobhan,” Brenna said. She had to
hide her smile at Ella’s frown. “It’s an Irish name pronounced
shiv-awn.”
“Well, that’s just ridiculous,” Ella said. “There’s no
‘v’ in her name.”
“You’re just not as cultured as the rest of us,” Marie
said. She tipped her head up in a superior look.
“Oh, please,” Ella snapped. “You didn’t know how to
pronounce it, either.”
“I most certainly did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I . . .” Marie began to argue, but Brenna cut
her off.
“Ladies, can we get back to the task at hand?”
Ella dropped the paper wrapping back over it and
curled her lip in distaste. “Well, it seems Miss Siobhan
has a very high opinion of herself.”
“That’s not for us to say,” Brenna said. She turned back
to the Jeep and pulled out a drawer from the small dresser
she had found in the secondhand shop and handed it to
Marie.
“I wonder where she’s from,” Marie said as she cradled
the drawer and headed down the hill toward Brenna’s
cabin. “She’s definitely not from around here.”
“How can you tell?” Brenna asked, handing another
drawer to Ella before taking the last one herself.
“We’d know her people,” Ella said as if it were obvious.
“You don’t know everyone,” Brenna said.
“Yes, we do,” they said together.
Brenna rolled her eyes. The twins were an information
superhighway unto themselves, no doubt, but even
they couldn’t know everyone in the Morse Point area.
It took the three of them to wrestle the dresser out of
the back of the Jeep. They were about to heft it down the
hill when Nate came sprinting up to them.
“I’ll get that,” he said.
Ella and Marie sagged in relief and dropped their end
on the ground.
“You don’t have to,” Brenna said.
Nate just gave her a penetrating stare as he lifted the
solid walnut bureau out of her arms and made his way
down the hill with it.
“So nice to have man around,” Marie sighed.
“Indeed,” Ella agreed. “And just look at the way his
back muscles bunch—why, I bet he could pick me up
with one hand.”
Brenna and Marie gave her identical looks of disbelief.
“What?”
Brenna shook her head, refusing to comment. She
helped the sisters pack their own treasures from the secondhand
store into their Buick and waved as they headed
down the dirt drive to the main road.
They departed quickly, as Marie was driving and she
was well-known for being heavy footed on the accelerator.
Brenna winced and cringed when Marie didn’t stop at the
end of the drive but hauled that Buick carcass across two
lanes and sped toward town. Thankfully, there were no
other drivers on the road at the moment.
She perched herself on the open back of her Jeep and
played fetch with Hank. She told herself it was because
he looked lonely, but she knew better. Her eyes kept
straying toward her new neighbor’s cabin, and she knew
she was waiting for Nate to make an appearance. He had
taken the last load of stuff to Siobhan’s after he had
helped her with her dresser. Not that it was any of her
business who this girl was, or why she was here; still,
she had no intention of moving until she saw Nate come
out of her cabin.
Hank dropped a slobber-covered ball at her feet and
she scooped it up and threw it across the meadow that
stretched out behind the row of cabins on the other side
of the lake. Hank took off in a flurry of fur and Brenna
plopped back down on her seat to find Nate already sitting
there, watching her.
“You spoil him,” he said. “I had a perfectly well-behaved
dog before you came along.”
Brenna scoffed. “Oh, please, I’m the disciplinarian.
You’re the pushover.”
“Ha!” Nate said. “Who lets him eat at the table?”
“Next to the table, not at it,” she corrected. “He has
good table manners. And you should talk. Who lets him
sleep in the bed with his head on the pillow?”
“He keeps me warm,” he argued.
As if he knew he was the object of their conversation,
Hank wagged his way over, nudging his head between
them, demanding love.
They both obliged and when their hands collided in
his fur, Brenna moved hers to run down his back, wondering
if Nate felt the same spark of awareness she felt
or if it was all in her head.
“So, a new tenant?” she asked.
“Temporarily,” he said. “She’s a friend of an old art
school buddy of mine. He e-mailed me last week and
asked if she could stay here for a few weeks.”
“Oh, so she’s not from around here?” Brenna asked.
Nate grinned. “The Porter sisters could tell, eh?”
“Yeah,” she confirmed.
“I figured,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know much
about her. I picked her up at the train depot in Milstead.
She’ll be here for a bit to do some painting, I’m assuming.
She seems nice enough.”
“Hmm.” Brenna said nothing more.
“So, are you up for the game tonight?” His gray eyes
met hers and, as always, Brenna found it impossible to
look away.
“I don’t know why you put yourself through the torture,”
she said. “You know the Red Sox are going to
spank your sad little Yankees right out of any hope they
have to make the play-offs.”
“Spoken like a truly deluded member of Red Sox Nation,”
he said. He rose and stretched his back. “Eight
o’clock, my cabin, big screen. Be there.”
Brenna grinned. “I’ll bring pie. Chocolate cream okay?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “For chocolate cream, I’ll even
let you boo my team once.”
“Twice,” she haggled.
“Once per slice,” he countered.
“Deal,” she said.
“Oh, and I invited Siobhan to join us,” he said. “Since
she’s new in town and all it seemed the neighborly thing
to do.”
Brenna frowned. Nate had never been concerned with
being neighborly before.
“That’s okay, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah, it’s great!” she said, forcing a smile. Big,
fat lie.
She watched him walk away with Hank at his side,
knowing that the ridiculous jealousy she felt meant that
the crush she’d had on him for the better part of two
years had not diminished one little bit. Darn it. Like the
common cold, someone really should have invented a
cure for this condition by now.