Excerpt: Fortune Furlough

Excerpt: Fortune Furlough

Book 14: Miss Fortune Mysteries

Chapter One

 

I finished my inspection of Gertie’s purse and looked down at her small travel suitcase. So small, in fact, that she wouldn’t even have to check it.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“She can’t make it through security with her usual arsenal,” Ida Belle said. “That reduces her gear by at least half. But I agree, that still looks a little light.”

“I have toiletries, sandals, four bikinis, cover-up, shorts and tees, and an evening gown,” Gertie said. “There’s a washer and dryer in the condo. What else do I need for a week on the beach?”

Ida Belle had been staring at her best friend with a horrified expression ever since the word “bikinis” had passed her lips. She probably hadn’t even processed the formal wear yet.

“Why an evening gown?” I asked. I absolutely refused to address the bikini thing. There weren’t a lot of things in this world that scared me, but Gertie’s wardrobe choices made the list. Since I planned to wear really dark sunglasses and drink a lot, I figured I could manage. Ida Belle, however, might need more help adjusting.

“The evening gown is in case I meet a man and he wants to whisk me away somewhere fancy,” Gertie said.

“There’s no place on the Key fancy enough to require an evening gown,” Ida Belle said. “But let’s move back a bit and discuss this bikini thing.”

Gertie clapped her hands. “I started shopping as soon as we booked the condo I got a leopard print, a red sequined, black mesh, and one that is the same color as my skin. So I’ll look like I’m completely nude.”

“Remember the drinking part,” I said to Ida Belle.

“There’s not enough alcohol in Florida to make me unsee Gertie in a nude bikini,” Ida Belle said. “Or any other bikini for that matter. Don’t you have a one-piece? Maybe we can find you one of those swim burkas on Amazon and have it delivered right to the condo”

“A wet suit would work,” I said. “We can probably pick one up in Florida.”

Ida Belle shook her head. “Too tight. It would take both of us to get her in and out of it. I’m barely recovered from the butt-wrapping events at Halloween.”

“Good point,” I said.

Gertie sighed. “The two of you really need to work on your sense of adventure. It’s another state. We don’t know anyone there. Go crazy with your wardrobe. It’s the perfect opportunity.”

Ida Belle snorted. “What are you talking about—opportunity? You’ve known everyone in Sinful for a thousand years, and it’s never stopped you from wearing crazy crap here.”

Gertie threw her hands in the air. “Whatever. The bottom line is that the two of you will have to deal with it. Because I plan on flashing my goods to every available man on the beach.”

“It’s the flashing of the bottom line that has me worried,” Ida Belle said. “Please tell me you don’t intend to go into the water. You know there’s actual surf, right? One of those waves could rip a bikini right off of you.”

“That’s why I’m bringing four,” Gertie said. “Plenty of backup.”

“I give up,” Ida Belle said.

“You should have given up a hundred years ago,” I said. “It would have saved you an untold amount of time and energy.”

“I keep hoping God will let me off for time served,” Ida Belle said.

“Apparently He has a large sense of humor,” I said. “Or you did something terribly wrong in your youth.”

“Short of betraying Jesus, I’m not sure what would earn this,” Ida Belle said.

Gertie gave her the finger and started rolling her suitcase to the front door. “I heard Carter pull up, so you two better decide quick what is more tolerable—another boring week in Sinful or the potential of seeing me lose my bikini and enthrall every man on the beach.”

Ida Belle and I looked at each other, and I know we were both weighing the drinking against the potential for permanent blindness. Ultimately, the drinking must have won out because we both grabbed our suitcases and headed for the door.

“We can always wear sunglasses andclose our eyes,” I said as we walked.

Ida Belle nodded. “And if that doesn’t work, we can poke them out with those little umbrellas that come in the drinks. After a couple, we won’t even feel it.”

Carter met us at the porch and smiled. “Ready for the big trip?”

“As ready as we’re getting,” Ida Belle said.

“What’s this place again?” he asked. “Quiet Key?”

Ida Belle nodded.

He grinned. “Quiet Key, huh? Did you warn them that you guys were coming?”

“No,” Ida Belle said. “They might not have allowed us across the bridge.”

“Good call.” Carter reached down for Gertie’s suitcase. “Is this all you’re bringing?”

“That’s a question you really don’t want to hear the answer to,” I said.

Immediately, he lifted the suitcase and whipped around, leaving Gertie no time to respond. Given some of the attire Gertie had worn around Sinful, he probably knew where the conversation would go. No one needed those images in their mind. Especially my boyfriend. It might ruin the romance mood for a month or better.

Carter tossed the suitcases in the back of his mom’s SUV, we all climbed in, and we were off.

Swamp Team 3 was officially on vacation.

###

I opened the sliding glass doors and we stepped out on the huge balcony overlooking the beach. Gertie gazed over the railing, squealed, and clapped her hands.

“Do you see that buffet of men down there?” Gertie asked.

“God’s waiting room,” Ida Belle said. “That buffet is long past its expiration date.”

Gertie waved a hand in dismissal. “More for me.”

Ida Belle grimaced and I couldn’t help smiling. There was a definite advantage to having a boyfriend. No pressure to troll for old buffet items. I had a feeling Ida Belle wouldn’t get off so easy, especially if the menu items traveled in pairs.

“This is going to be great!” Gertie exclaimed. “We’ve barely just gotten here and I’ve already been felt up.”

“He tripped over a potted plant and was blind as a bat,” Ida Belle said. “He probably thought he was clutching the drapes.”

“My boobs do nothang like drapes,” Gertie protested.

“Well, I guess we’ll find out soon,” I said. “Let’s hit the beach.”

Gertie squealed again and ran back inside. Ida Belle let out a long-suffering sigh and followed her. I closed the sliding door and glanced around. It was a really nice setup. Three bedrooms, each with its own bath, so that eliminated a lot of potential issues. A good-sized living room with two couches and a wall of glass overlooking the beach. And a smallish kitchen, but the only thing that was really relevant was that it had a refrigerator. I didn’t cook in Sinful. I certainly wasn’t going to come all the way to Florida to start.

I headed to my bedroom and smiled. I’d taken the one meant for kids, so I had a double bed and a set of bunk beds. That meant I had three different places to sleep depending on my mood. Ida Belle had taken the smaller of the two remaining bedrooms—my guess was because it was in the corner and didn’t share a wall with an adjoining unit. That left Gertie with the master suite, which was right up her alley, complete with the spa tub.

I donned my bright blue one-piece and white cover-up that Ally had insisted on while we were online shopping for my vacation wardrobe. It looked sorta like a really short sundress with a plunging neckline and a hem that barely inched past the bottom of my bathing suit. Ally thought I would look hot in it, so I headed for the bathroom and did a mirror assessment. I decided that the outfit worked, but it felt a little weird. I wasn’t much of a beach baby, although I really enjoyed the water. It was just that most of my swimming had been done in a wet or dry suit. Still, I supposed I didn’t look too bad and the hours spent on my laptop had made Ally happy, so it appeared to be a win for both of us.

Ally had also insisted on a mani-pedi, so my fingers and toes sported the hot pink polish she’d picked out. Carter had smiled so big when he’d seen them that I thought he was going to laugh. He managed to restrain himself, but he knew how much I avoided the girlie stuff. However, he also knew how much I loved Ally. So hot pink nails and sexy swim cover-ups had won.

I slipped on a pair of silver flip-flops—Ally said they’d match everything—and headed back into the living room. Ida Belle was already standing there, wearing wide-leg blue linen pants, a blue-and-gray-striped polo shirt, and hiking sandals. It was the most casual I’d ever seen her dressed. Until now, I’d been convinced that she slept in jeans, button-up shirts, and tennis shoes.

She gave me the once-over and nodded. “I see the online shopping went well. Surprised you didn’t go for a suit that matched the nails.”

I raised one eyebrow and she grinned. Then I heard Gertie’s room door open and the grin disappeared completely.

“No way,” Ida Belle said, shaking her head. “You are not walking out of here dressed that way.”

I looked over and let out a strangled cry. The red sequined bikini consisted of a halter top and a string bikini bottom. Clearly the designer had saved on the sequin expense because there wasn’t a lot of fabric to cover. Which meant we saw a lot more of Gertie than either of us wanted to. Then there was the added bonus that since a good bit of Gertie was usually covered up with regular clothes when she was outside, her tan did not extend to all the parts not covered by the bikini. So she was an odd mix of tanned legs below the knee and tanned arms to the shoulders, but the rest was bright white, making the red bikini appear as if it were glowing.

“Isn’t it great?” Gertie asked, beaming. “There’s even tassels on the boobs. Bet I can make them swing around in circles if I do some sexy dancing.”

I’m pretty sure that if she’d had her gun on her, Ida Belle would have shot Gertie right then. I could abstain for the statement, but if she started any actual tassel swinging on the beach, I might have to improvise.

“You could grab a boob with your hand and swing it around just standing there,” Ida Belle said. “And when you get down to the beach and take a hike far from Fortune and me, you are free to twirl whatever body part you feel like. But I am notwalking through the lobby with you dressed like that.”

“At least I’m not dressed like I’m going to the library,” Gertie said. “How in the world do you consider that beach attire?”

“The shirt has short sleeves,” Ida Belle said. “I’m going to get a bedsheet for you to wear.”

“Why not just get a towel?” I asked.

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t hide enough,” Ida Belle said.

“This was the discreet lady version of the suit,” Gertie said. “The other one was really racy.”

Ida Belle stared, somewhat horror-stricken.

“Don’t you have a cover-up?” I asked. “Ally told me that only hookers and gold diggers walk around the resort with their bathing suits exposed.”

Gertie frowned. “Hmmm. There are some advantages to that, but I suppose my good upbringing ultimately wins out. I’ll go grab my cover-up.”

“Thank the Lord and her mother for the good upbringing,” I muttered as she walked back into the bedroom.

“That woman is going to be the death of me,” Ida Belle said. “One way or another.”

Given the type of items Gertie usually hauled around in her purse, Ida Belle’s statement wasn’t really all that far-fetched.

“You’re not planning on swimming in that, are you?” I asked Ida Belle.

“Of course not. I have on board shorts, a sports bra, and a tank top, but decency is decency. I’m not about sporting my kneecaps through a lobby. That sort of thing belongs on the beach or around a pool.”

I grinned. “Those must be the sexiest kneecaps in the Americas if you’re afraid to let random lobby people see them.”

“At least they don’t have tassels.”

Gertie came strolling out of the bedroom again. She was wearing a cover-up, but the crocheted dress didn’t really hide much of anything. Still, it was harder to make out the tassels, so it was going to have to do, because I really didn’t feel like starting my vacation off rolling Gertie up in a bedsheet like a burrito. She was also carrying a beach bag that could have held a torpedo launcher. I knew she hadn’t been allowed to carry anything of the sort on the plane, but I still gave the bag a suspicious eye.

“Should we be worried about the contents of that bag?” I asked.

“It’s necessary beach stuff,” Gertie said.

I looked over at Ida Belle, who was holding a towel. I was holding a towel and the room key. We both had sunglasses on our heads. Clearly, Gertie had a whole different set of needs at the beach than either of us.

Ida Belle let out a long-suffering sigh and headed for the door. “They serve drinks on the beach, right?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, and followed her out.

“I bet if I swing my tassels, I could score us some free ones,” Gertie said.

“If you swing those tassels, you’ll knock out the waiter and we’ll never get a drink,” Ida Belle said.

“Then you best order before I get in a swinging mood,” Gertie said, and stepped into the elevator.

“We’re going to have to make them doubles,” Ida Belle said.

I nodded. We hadn’t even made it outside and Ida Belle and I were already planning on drinking away the pain. And Gertie was only getting started. Because I was absolutely certain she would improve on the terror once she hit the beach and started flaunting her wares in front of the sea of old men out there. Sinful didn’t exactly offer up a lot of options in that arena. Florida was practically a farmers’ market of goods. Mostly overripened, from what I’d seen, but perfect for Gertie and her tassels.

Surprisingly, we managed to get all the way through the lobby and past the pool without incident. I actually heard Ida Belle’s sigh of relief as we set out on the sand toward a trio of chairs sitting under a blue-and-white-striped umbrella. I clipped the reservation tag on the umbrella and plopped into one of the chairs, using my towel as a pillow, then looked around for the drink server. Ida Belle sat in the middle chair next to me and Gertie stood, hands on her hips, frowning at us.

“That’s all you’re going to do?” she asked. “Sit there?”

“No,” Ida Belle said. “We’re going to drink.”

I nodded.

“You’re not going to swim?” Gertie asked. “Why did we come all the way here if we’re not going to swim?”

“I came to drink and lie around and not see another dead body,” I said.

A couple sitting next to us looked over at me.

“Professional assassin,” I said.

They snapped their heads back in place.

Ida Belle chuckled. “Imagine how they’d have reacted if they knew it was the truth.”

“Not exactly,” I said. “I’m retired from that line of work now. Now, I am a professional busybody and servant to a cat.”

“So you’re not swimming?” Gertie asked again.

“Oh hell, woman,” Ida Belle said. “You’re not swimming either. You’re going to wade out into that surf, get knocked down and dragged around on the sand for a bit, then you’re going to wind up right back here with us. We’re just being efficient about it.”

I looked out at the water and nodded. “She’s right. None of us are interested in actual swimming, and those waves are high enough to make standing around and chatting difficult.”

“Not to mention that we’d spill our drinks,” Ida Belle said.

“Fine,” Gertie said. “Then you two can sit here and bake, but I’m getting in the water to cool off and do some mingling. I see several targets. Get me a margarita on the rocks. I’ll be back before it melts.”

She pulled off her cover-up and headed toward the water, lumbering in the sand as if she were wearing cement boots. And even though I hadn’t thought it possible, the red bikini covered even less in the back than in the front.

“Those sequins are going to give her a rash on her butt,” Ida Belle said before leaning back in her chair.

I nodded. “Add that to the total body exfoliation she’s about to get in that surf and there might not be enough lotion in the pharmacy to handle it.”

A cute blond guy with a dark tan and bright green eyes popped up next to us. “Can I get you ladies anything?”

“Piña colada for me,” I said. “I want something with a slice of pineapple and an umbrella.”

“Straight scotch,” Ida Belle. “The good stuff. Nothing cheap. And a margarita on the rocks for the crazy one who went swimming.”

He beamed a giant smile of white teeth at us and winked. “I’ll be right back with those.”

Ida Belle watched as he walked away. “That is one good-looking young man. Gertie should have stayed on shore.”

I grinned, slightly surprised to hear Ida Belle talking about good-looking men. But then, we wereon vacation.

“One toss about in those waves and Gertie will landlock herself until we get a green flag,” I said. “Yellow-flag surf is just too rough to relax in.”

“Got that right. And I certainly didn’t come here to exercise. We get enough of that back home.”

“If we stopped going to the Swamp Bar, we could probably cut the exercise portion of our residency in half.”

“Or if we left Gertie in Florida.” Ida Belle looked out at the water. “There she goes. Any bets?”

“No point. We’d both be betting on the same thing.”

“I’m just hoping her dunking doesn’t involve any disrobing. That bikini is the worst thing she could be wearing.”

I nodded, and we watched as Gertie took a couple of hesitant steps into the water. Standing in six inches of surf must have bolstered her confidence, because she threw her shoulders back and pushed ahead.

Ida Belle shook her head. “Here we go.”

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