It was Thursday morning, and the clock was ticking down to the arrival of my retreat group. I'd put on enough of these events to have a routine down. But just because I had a routine down didn't mean the retreats were the same. If there was one thing I'd learned, it was that each one was unique and full of surprises-not always good, either. For now, the six women and one man were just names on a list, but who knew what secrets would be revealed by the time they went home.
On the surface, it seemed like they were all coming for a weekend of yarn craft in a place that felt like a world away from their everyday lives, but there was always more to it.
It was hard to imagine that not too long ago, I hadn't known the difference between knitting and crochet. Now I knew far more than that one craft used needles and one a hook, and I had the finished projects to prove it. I had a certain sense of pride as I pinned on a red crocheted flower to the black sweater I wore over a pair of jeans.
My Aunt Joan would be proud, though the thought of her made my eyes well up. I pushed back the tears-they weren't me. She'd been the one to make an offer I couldn't refuse when I'd gotten to a dead end. It was either move back with my parents in their Chicago high-rise apartment with a view of Lake Michigan or come to Cadbury by the Sea and live in my aunt's guesthouse.
Who wants to move back with their parents, who both happen to be doctors, when they're in their thirties with a history of trying a bunch of professions that for one reason or another hadn't stuck? I admit I'd given up on teaching elementary school pretty quickly. Law school had ended after one semester and that had been my choice. But leaving the job making the desserts at the bistro hadn't been my choice. I'd loved the work, but the place had gone out of business. The temp jobs, well, the name said it all. It was a week here, working in a department store giving out samples of cologne, a few days there of handing out samples of a new gum on a street corner in Chicago, and two weeks with the job that I would have definitely stayed at. Working at the PI agency didn't even feel like work, but the boss, Frank Shaw, couldn't afford to keep me on. It might not have felt like work, but I couldn't afford to be a volunteer.
My aunt had helped me turn my talents as a dessert maker into a livelihood. I'd become the dessert chef for the Blue Door restaurant and the freelance muffin maker for the coffee spots in town.
The yarn retreat business had been my aunt's, but when she died shortly after I moved to Cadbury, her business, house and everything in it had passed to me. I'd discovered her death was murder and tracked down the guilty party. It had given me a little peace of mind and shown me that I had a talent for investigating that I'd put to good use since.
Much as I settled into life in Cadbury, there was still something niggling in the back of my mind. Would it last, or would I suddenly decide to take up my mother's offer for cooking school in Paris or detective classes in Los Angeles, or something else.
Not that I was thinking about leaving just then. It was more like a possibility or option in the back of my mind. At the moment it wasn't an issue-all my thoughts were on the long weekend ahead. I always went to the host site the morning of to bring over the tote bags I had made up for my people and to do a last-minute check.
I laughed at myself for calling it the host site as I gathered up the bin on wheels and went outside. Host site sounded so sterile and like a place with a lot of vending machines. At Vista Del Mar the only coin-operated things were the old-fashioned coin phones.
I always checked the sky when I went outside, and no surprise, any hint of blue was blocked by an even layer of clouds. As for the sun-I was sure it was up there somewhere. It was usually like that here on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, making it always coffee weather, which was good for my muffin business. There was barely a hint that it was May, other than the length of the days and that even with all the clouds, the rainy season was over.
My house was on the edge of Cadbury, and it was more rustic than the places with neat lawns in town. Here the homes were small and cottage-like and most people either had ivy or native plants in place of a lawn. Native plants was the new way of saying weeds.
I didn't have far to travel-Vista Del Mar was literally across the street. As soon as I passed the stone pillars that marked the entrance to the driveway, the view changed. My street was rustic, but this was wild. Lanky Monterey pines stood guard with the spaces in between filled with dry golden undergrowth. The story was that if a tree died and fell over, it was left to decompose on the spot, and it was supposed to be true if some of the wildlife met their maker as well. Ever since I'd heard that, I'd kept my eyes on the driveway as I walked in.
The hotel and conference center had started out as a women's camp over a hundred years ago. The original buildings were all dark weathered wood with stone accents and were scattered over the sloping one hundred or so acres. The trees and dry grasses turned into a strip of sand dunes and beyond that lay the beach. I zipped up my jacket as the constant breeze carried a chill. The air had a hint of a salt smell, but the pungent scent of woodsmoke from fireplaces going in all the buildings predominated.
It was the perfect spot to get away from it all. Once you crossed those gates, the present world faded into the background. The definition of a retreat was withdrawing to a secluded space for prayer, meditation or instruction under a leader and Vista Del Mar was certainly the place for that.
The grounds were quiet at the moment. It was still too early for any guests to be checking in. The driveway forked off into a small parking lot and went on either side of the main building, which was called Lodge. It functioned as a combination hotel lobby and social gathering spot. It was built in the Arts and Crafts style, as were the other buildings, with a lot of dark wood and stone. An unmarked truck was parked next to the entrance. I walked around the men unloading stuff and went in through the open door.
There was a cavernous feeling to the large inner space thanks to the open construction. At one end of the main room a wooden counter marked the registration area. A door was open to the Cora and Madeleine Delacorte Cafe, which had recently been added, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted toward me. The back of the room was set up with table tennis and pool along with shelves of board games. The door to the gift shop in the corner was still closed.
In between there were tables and hard-back chairs and a main seating area with couches and comfortable chairs arranged around a massive fireplace that had a fire set waiting to be lit. I pulled the wheeled bin up to one of the tables I planned to use to check in my people. I grabbed a couple of chairs and arranged the tote bags on them. I was just setting out a clipboard when a voice echoed through the barnlike space.
"What are you doing?" Kevin St. John demanded. I followed the sound to the massive wooden counter and saw that he seemed to be glowering at me. He was the manager of Vista Del Mar and as usual seemed overdressed for the rustic surroundings in a dark suit and white shirt.
"Was that a rhetorical question?" I said. I held up one of the blood-red tote bags with Yarn2Go emblazoned on the front. "I'm setting up for my group, like I always do," I added with a shrug.
"No, no," he said frantically. His usually placid moon-shaped face suddenly looked as if a storm had just hit. "Take all of that out of here. You're mixed up. Your group is coming next week."
He was still fussing when he came out of the doorway that led to the business area behind the counter and marched to where I was standing.
"I don't think so," I said. I had already pulled out a sheet from one of the folders. The date of the event was written across the top. I held it up for Kevin St. John to see. In my head, I always referred to him by his whole name, though when I actually addressed him, he insisted on being called Mr. St. John. We had a rather adversarial relationship. He didn't like me putting on retreats at Vista Del Mar, but he also had no choice, so he made it as difficult as possible, probably hoping I'd just give up.
He pulled the sheet out of my hand and began to shake his head. "This date is just wrong, then." He turned in a huff and rushed back to the registration area with me close behind. As soon as he saw that I was with him behind the counter, he started to shoo me away then relented. "Fine, I'll let you see for yourself." He went to a computer screen and started scrolling through something. He had a triumphant look as he prepared to point out my error, but then his face froze and he muttered, "It can't be." I took the opportunity to look over his shoulder, and there on the screen it showed the reservations for guest rooms and a meeting room for my group for this weekend.
"You have to change it," he said with a gulp. "What about moving it to next week, or maybe to another hotel in the area?" His eyes flashed panic. "You live across the street. Have them stay at your place."
"No, no and no," I said. "My group is already on their way. They specifically wanted this place this weekend, and you can't be serious about that last suggestion." Kevin had begun to pace with his hand on his forehead in the traditional worry pose. "I'm assuming there's a problem," I said. "Maybe I can help work it out." Just because he always looked for a way to give me a hard time didn't mean I had to be that way. I really wanted us all to get along.
"Yes, Ms. Feldstein, there is a problem," he said, almost spitting out the words in a condescending tone. He had stopped pacing and was glaring at me, obviously dismissing my offer of help. "I assume you've heard of Jordan." He didn't pause for me to respond. "He's holding his Find Your Greatness retreat here this weekend. He was specific about having the whole place. They're taking over everything. They're arranging all the meals and all the activities." He was silent for a moment to let it sink in.
Yes, I'd heard of Jordan. Who hadn't? He was the rock star of gurus. No linen pants and tunics for him. He was all about well fitting jeans, work shirts with a red bandana hanging out of his pocket. His pitch was that he had the secret to being confident and self-reliant, which was a cure for whatever issues anyone had.
"I'll give you a refund with something extra," he offered. "The same for your people." His tone had turned to cajoling, but when I shook my head, he went back to snippy. "Then I'm just canceling your reservations. The rooms you have reserved had a flood-an act
of God. There's a clause that says we can do that."
I looked at him and rolled my eyes. "Really?"