An Alpaca Witness
An Alpaca Witness
A Charlee King Mystery
By B. L. Crumley
Copyright © 2020 by B. L. Crumley
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Editing suggestions and cover design by: Denning Print Company
I knew coming home was a bad idea.
But as I stood in the foyer of the banquet hall, I realized it was too late to hightail it out of there like I desperately wanted to — my mother had spotted me and was heading in my direction.
“Charlotte!” My mother, Maggie, grinned brightly as she enveloped me in a delicate embrace. She always hugged me like I was going to break, which was ridiculous, since I was just shy of six feet.
Freakishly tall. I know. Whereas my mom was a slender five-six. Other than my mother’s nose and greenish-blue eyes, I didn’t inherit much from her gene pool. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, her eyes shimmering with delight as she released me.
There were several ways I wanted to respond to that greeting, the first one being that my name was Charlee, not Charlotte, but the good daughter in me chose the polite and appropriate reply. “It’s good to see you too, Mom.”
And it was. It was the tactic she’d engaged to get me here that I wasn’t thrilled with. My mom had guilted me into returning to my hometown to attend my father, Benjamin King’s, mayoral election celebration. And while this might seem like a big deal, it was my dad’s second term as mayor, and he’d won an uncontested race in the small coastal tourist town of Rockfish Bay, Oregon: population 7,452. Need I say more?
Personally, I didn’t really see what the big deal was. But to my mother, everything was a big deal.
My mom’s gaze slid somewhere behind me, before focusing back on me. “It looks like I’m needed for some photos.” She gave me another quick once-over. “Why don’t you go freshen up and join us? I’d love to get a family picture now that we’re all finally together.”
I nodded automatically, trying to curb my growing annoyance. Freshen up. That was code for put on some makeup. I glanced down at my black knee-length skirt and floral-patterned camisole under a cashmere cardigan. I’d worn this boring outfit because I knew my mom would deem it “tastefully appropriate,” a virtue every member of the King family was expected to abide by at all times, but apparently it still wasn’t enough.
Fine, I’d go put on some lip gloss.
In the women’s restroom, I fished around in my purse for some makeup and took a deep breath. I was only in town for two nights. I could do this. My mind wandered back to the phone conversation almost a month ago that had gotten me roped into my current predicament.
“Charlotte, please. It’s important,” my mother pleaded, laying the guilt on thick. “How many opportunities will we have to celebrate your father winning an election?”
At least four, I wanted to say, but kept my mouth shut. My dad had been elected as the district attorney twice before retiring. Then, after six weeks of golfing, he’d declared he was bored and ran for mayor.
“And since you missed the last election party, I would really appreciate it if you would make an effort to come.” She barely paused to take a breath. “Your brothers have been so supportive, helping with the campaign and attending all of the events.”
What those events were, I wasn’t entirely sure. I would never call my mom a liar, but was she stretching the truth a bit? Heck yes.
“Okay, I’ll come,” I half interrupted, knowing that my mom was just winding up. She’d called while I was taking a late lunch, waiting in line at my favorite Mexican food truck, and I was starving. My defenses weaken when I’m hungry. And usually it was just easier to do what she asked.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t come home very often. Once, maybe twice a year for a few days, usually at Christmas or for the birth of one of my nieces or nephews. My mother didn’t care that I had a pretty good reason to avoid coming home, or that I didn’t think my dad winning another landslide mayoral election was a big deal.
So, I’d sucked it up in support of my family and driven the four hours from where I lived in Portland. Because that’s what family did. Well, that’s what the Kings did. And I did love them. It was the town I wasn’t so crazy about. Or rather a few people in this town.
Suck it up, Charlee. I took another deep breath.
Hopefully, those people wouldn’t even be here. Besides, it had been ten years since I’d last lived here. I could just pretend that it never happened.
Finally finding my lip gloss in an obscure pocket of my oversized leather tote, I applied a thin layer and rubbed my lips together. Good enough. With a parting glance in the mirror, I dropped the lip gloss into my bag and headed for the door.
Then, just as I reached the foyer, half of my pretty good reason for not wanting to come home waltzed in the door. My feet cemented themselves to the tile floor as I willed them to move.
Anywhere. Just not here. Not five feet from the woman who’d stolen the man I was going to marry. I swallowed, a surprising feat, since the rest of my body seemed to be paralyzed.
The woman, Ashley, casually glanced my way, then halted abruptly, as did the man beside her.
So, this was the new guy. Tall, dark hair, handsome as sin. Of course he was.
Ashley always got what she wanted. And he was definitely eye candy. Bitterness coiled in me, and I forcefully relaxed my hand that had fisted at my side.
“Charlee King,” said