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A Wrench in the Works
6th Fixer-Upper Mystery
Lights! Camera! Homicide! Contractor Shannon Hammer must sift through the suspects when a popular TV show comes to Lighthouse Cove and brings murder with it…
Shannon Hammer’s younger sister Chloe left Lighthouse Cove after high school to make it big in Hollywood. And she did it! Chloe is the co-host of a popular home repair show on the Home Builders Network. Now, after ten years, she has returned to their quaint, coastal hometown to film several shows featuring her sister Shannon, along with some special mini-segments on Victorian style and design.
But Shannon quickly realizes that things are not exactly blissful in TV land. Bree, the executive producer of the show, has a knack for stirring up sticky situations and when she’s found dead, Chloe and the entire crew are under suspicion. During the investigation, Shannon, her thriller-writer boyfriend Mac, and their crime-solving friends unearth the real reason Chloe left home. Is that ten-year-old secret connected to Bree’s death? And can Shannon track down the real killer before her beloved sister becomes the next victim?
• A Top 10 bestseller at Barnes & Noble for five weeks!
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—Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book
—Moonlight Rendezvous Reviews, Five Stars
—Under the Covers Book Blog
I turned and saw my friend Jane Hennessey waving at me from halfway down Main Street. She ran to catch up with me, despite the fact that she was wearing a lovely dress and high heels. I guess when you owned the Hennessey House Inn, the most elegant world-class inn in Lighthouse Cove, you had to dress the part.
“Hi, Jane.” I set my toolbox down on the sidewalk and gave her a quick hug. “You look so nice. Where are you headed?”
“I’m swinging by Lizzie’s shop to pick up Mac’s latest thriller and then we’re going to have lunch at Emily’s. You should come with us.”
“What a coincidence,” I said, gazing up at the clear blue sky. It was early fall and the weather was warm and sunny with a slight breeze. Perfect for walking along the town square. “I was just on my way to Emily’s to fix a stopped-up sink. I’ll walk with you.” I surreptitiously brushed my hand over my mop of curly hair, hoping to swipe away as much sawdust as I could. “But I should probably pass on lunch. I’ve been working at the old Parton mansion all morning, redoing the staircase. I’m covered in wood shavings.”
“We’re used to seeing you like that,” she said with a grin. “Emily won’t mind. We’ll just hose you down before we go inside.”
“That’s so sweet.” Our friend Emily Rose owned the popular Scottish Rose Tea Shoppe on Main Street, facing the town square. She made the absolute best sandwiches and tiny delectable pastries. My mouth began to water just thinking about them. And that settled it. “I’d love to join you if you’re sure I’m not interrupting anything.”
I cocked my head in confusion. “You and Lizzie are talking about my sister?”
“Yes, Shannon,” Jane said with infinite patience. “You know she’ll be here in two short months, right?”
“Of course, but . . .”
“And you know she asked me to help book the hotel rooms for the crew and the production staff, right?”
“No.” I picked up my toolbox. Jane slipped her arm through mine and we strolled toward Lizzie’s bookshop a half block away. “I hadn’t heard that.”
“Well, she did and I’m thrilled to do it. But it’s going to take some jockeying and planning, as you might imagine.”
“I believe it.” Chloe was the co-star of Makeover Madness, a popular rehab and design show on the Home Builders Network. I was thrilled with her success and overjoyed that the show was coming to Lighthouse Cove to feature some of our beautiful old Victorian mansions. And I was pleased to hear that my best friends were jumping in to help make the visit a success.
“But what’s Lizzie doing?” I asked. “Is she helping you make reservations?”
“Oh no. I can do that on my own. But Chloe was hoping that Lizzie will stock her new book and maybe host a book signing while she’s in town. So a few of us decided to get together to work out all the schedules and logistics.”
“My sister, the superstar,” I murmured. I still couldn’t believe that Chloe had recently published her very own book on home rehab, design, and decor. She had sent me an advance copy and it was gorgeous. Her accomplishments had far exceeded everyone’s expectations—including her own—and I couldn’t be happier or prouder of her.
Jane squeezed my arm. “She really is a star. And besides, she’s our hometown girl. We’re all excited to see her again.”
“Me, too.” I meant it. Especially since my little sister rarely came home anymore, except for the occasional holiday. And even then, she would sneak into town for a day or two and be gone before we’d even had a chance to catch up on old times.
Chloe had left town ten years ago, the summer after she graduated from high school. It had been her dream to make it big in Hollywood, and she’d been determined to do whatever it took to make that happen.
She had started out as a lowly office go-fer and in her spare time she worked for a local theater company building sets. And after a few years . . . it happened. She was discovered in that theater, not as an actress but as a carpenter. A producer hired her for a bit part on a DIY Network show and from there she went on to hit the big time as co-host of Makeover Madness. With her innovative ideas and her talent as a contractor, she helped turn that show into the highest-rated program on the network. It didn’t hurt that she was smart and talented and beautiful, but viewers loved her most of all because she had the best sense of humor and absolutely loved her job.
And now, besides being a TV star, Chloe would soon be a bestselling author. Did I mention how ridiculously proud of her I was? Who would’ve thought that hanging out on construction sites with our dad all those years ago would turn out to be so profitable for both of us?
I’m Shannon Hammer, a building contractor specializing in Victorian home renovation. My hometown is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation because of its hundreds of Victorian-era houses and buildings, so it made sense that Chloe would eventually bring her television show back home to Lighthouse Cove. She and her producers planned to shoot a series of episodes featuring major rehab jobs on Victorian homes. And the best news of all was that Chloe wanted me to work on the houses with her. Me! I was beyond excited.
But that didn’t mean I was totally on board with Chloe allowing Jane to do all this heavy lifting for her staff and crew. Had my sister gone so completely Hollywood that she didn’t think about the “little” people anymore? That didn’t sound like Chloe at all. I wondered if maybe she was just overly stressed and pressed for time.
“I guess I’m still confused,” I said to Jane. “Chloe’s producers usually arrange all the travel details. Why did she ask you to do it?”
Jane smiled. “She didn’t really ask. She just called to get some information on hotels and the next thing I knew, I was on the phone with her executive producer, Bree Bennett, who wanted to hear all about Hennessey House. How many rooms we have, our rates, what meals and amenities are included, you know. We worked out a few specifics and I told her I’d take care of everything else.”
I frowned. “Everything else?”
“Her staff and crew are going to need a lot more rooms than I have available, so I offered to take care of booking the Inn on Main Street for them.”
I nodded slowly. “That makes sense. You’re kind of an expert in that regard.”
“I am,” she said with a confident smile. Jane had been the manager of the inn for five years before she opened her Hennessey House, a massive Victorian mansion left to her by her grandmother. “And then Bree called back for more info and I happened to mention that Emily’s catering company could provide pastries and coffee every day. And then Chloe called to ask about the book signing, so that got Lizzie involved. And then Emily reminded me that Gus has a limousine service if anyone on the show wanted to use it. And, well, here we are.”
Jane and I had gone to school with gorgeous Gus Peratti, the best auto mechanic in town and the guy who had won Emily’s heart.
I smiled, feeling better knowing that Chloe wasn’t running our friends crazy. Not personally, anyway. And besides, nobody here seemed to mind. At least, not so far. I would have to make sure that once the production people arrived, they didn’t steamroll Jane, Lizzie, Emily, and everyone else in town. “So you managed to get the whole gang involved. I’m officially impressed.”
“And we’re all going to get credit on the show. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“That’s very cool,” I said. “I just hope you’re not too busy to handle all this extra work. If it starts to feel like Chloe’s imposing on you . . .”
“She’s not.” Jane laughed. “It just feels that way to you because she’s your sister. I, on the other hand, am totally psyched. It’s sort of like I’m working in showbiz, you know?”
I chuckled. “Showbiz-adjacent, anyway.”
“Close enough,” she said breezily. “Besides, Chloe is so sweet.”
Sweet? Chloe? I loved my sister, but that was not a word I would normally apply to her. Smart, savvy, a little snarky, sure. But sweet? I wondered just how thickly she’d laid on the sweetness. On the other hand, my friends weren’t exactly naive. Especially Jane, who had known Chloe her whole life. If she and the others didn’t want to do the work, they wouldn’t have volunteered. Still . . .
I glanced up at Jane, who was two inches taller than me—and had been since first grade when we were the two tallest kids in class, a fact that had bonded us for life. “If you feel like you’re about to freak out from all the demands, just call Chloe and tell her to get the producers to take over. They’re used to doing this kind of stuff. And I can help, too. With . . . whatever.”
“No way would I dump my work on you,” she said adamantly. “First of all, you’ve got your own arrangements to take care of, right?”
True, I thought. I was supposed to scout out three or four run-down Victorian houses ripe for rehab. The producers would come to town in the next week or so and choose a few of them to be featured on the show. Chloe also wanted me to line up four or five other smaller interior jobs that the two of us would tackle for the show’s website. And in the meantime, I had a bunch of ongoing jobs that would start to get backed up as I spent more time working on the TV show projects.
“And second,” Jane continued, “I’ve got a ton of people offering to help me. This is going to go off without a hitch.”
Famous last words, I thought. “We’d better knock on wood.”
“Very funny,” she said, lightly elbowing me in the side.
“Yeah, I’m just kidding. It’s going to be great.” But as we passed one of the many sycamore trees that grew along Main Street, I reached out and knocked on the thick brown wood trunk. Because why tempt fate?
Two weeks later
I meet with Wade Chambers, my head foreman, at the site of one of the first houses on my Chloe list. I was already waiting by the tailgate when he climbed out of his truck and together we pulled the extension ladder out of the back.
“They picked the Bloom house for the show?” he asked.
“It’s one of the four they’re going to decide on,” I said as we lugged the ladder up the walkway. “I really hope they choose it because it’s got great bones. The final result would be beautiful.”
“You’re right,” he said, gazing up at the three-story tower. “It’s got all the Victorian elements and it would be perfect for the show. As long as it doesn’t crumble and fall down between now and the time Chloe gets here.”
“It could happen.” In its heyday, this Queen Anne Victorian had surely been one of the more stately jewels of Lighthouse Cove. With its traditionally asymmetrical roofline, multiple gables, rounded front tower, and wraparound veranda, not to mention the overabundance of gingerbread trim, the home was a true classic. But it had been deserted for at least twenty years and, like Wade said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the place collapse at any moment.
“I ran into Margaret Bloom at the market,” I said. “She begged me to put in a good word. She told me she’s spending every day in church, lighting candles and praying that the house gets chosen for Makeover Madness.”
Wade chuckled. “I’m not sure it works that way.”
Margaret still owned the house that had been in her family for six generations, but when she got married, she moved into her husband’s home, a beautiful Eastlake-style Victorian over on Ivy Hill north of the town square. She had kept her maiden name of Bloom just as her three sisters had done since the Blooms had long been one of the most prominent families in Lighthouse Cove.
“She told me they can’t spare the money to refurbish both of their houses and according to the terms of her father’s will, she can’t sell this one. She’ll have to pass it on to her kids eventually, but meanwhile, it’s falling apart. She’d be thrilled if Chloe and the producers choose it. That way, she can get the work done for free.”
“It definitely needs help,” Wade said, glancing at the veranda. “It’s kind of a disaster and that’s a damn shame.”
“Disasters are exactly what Chloe asked me to find for the show,” I said with a grin. “She told me to come up with some real stinkers.”
He chuckled. “Then she’ll be very happy with this place. So what are we doing here?”
“I’ll show you.” I lifted the front of the ladder up. “Let’s go around to the side.”
Wade grabbed the far end and we carried the heavy ladder around the side of the house to the point where the wraparound veranda ended. “Let’s set it up right here.”
“I guess I shouldn’t complain that so many of the old houses are falling apart,” Wade reasoned as he helped lean the ladder up against the side of the house. “It keeps us gainfully employed.”
I grinned at him over my shoulder. “You got that right.”
“Okay, I assume you’re the one climbing up there.” He grabbed hold of the railings. “I’ll keep it steady for you.”
“Thanks.” I stared at the ladder, looking all the way to the top. I wasn’t afraid of heights but this thing stretched up thirty-two feet. Even my most macho crew guys were a little daunted by the climb. My throat was suddenly dry. “That’s a long way up.”
“And it still won’t reach the peak of the gable,” Wade said, pointing up at the decorative wood pieces tucked under the peak of the roof. “We’ll have to get the boom lift out here if Chloe wants to restore those gable carvings.”
My construction company owned a two-man boom lift with a basketlike platform and a fifty-two-foot articulated arm, the kind of thing the telephone company used to reach the highest electrical poles. It was an expensive piece of heavy equipment that my father had won in a poker game a few years back from the owner of our local hardware store. True story. Because of Dad’s good fortune, we were happy to rent it out to other contractors when we weren’t using it ourselves.
“For now,” I said, “I just want to get close enough to check out the dentils along the eaves.” Taking a fortifying breath, I slowly climbed thirty-some feet until I could reach out and examine the closest square wooden molding. But as soon as I touched the first one, my fingertips went right through the rotted wood. I tested a few more spots along the eave and found them all as badly damaged.
“I was afraid of this,” I shouted down to Wade. “We’ve got to get these repaired before Chloe shows up.”
“Because the wood is rotten.”
“But that’s part of the deal, isn’t it? It actually looks kind of cool in a disturbing sort of way.”
Was he smoking something? “No, it doesn’t. It looks plain old creepy. Decrepit, faded, and sad.”
“Exactly,” Wade shouted cheerfully. “Chloe will love it. She’ll want to get some close-up shots of the rot first before we get to work making it beautiful.”
I sighed. He had a point. “But I hate to think that people watching the show will believe that the houses in Lighthouse Cove are dilapidated and mangy.”
Wade snorted a laugh. “Why would they think that? Lighthouse Cove is famous for the hundreds of beautiful Victorians we have here.”
“Right, so why would we want to show off all the ugly parts?”
“Because if they see all this rotting wood and peeling paint, they’ll think we’re freaking geniuses when we make it all shiny and pretty again.”
I gazed down at him and nodded reluctantly. “You’re right. Guess I’m just nervous about the whole television thing.” I stared up at the offending dentil and sighed again. “Okay, we’ll leave them for now.”
“Good. Ready to come down?”
“Not yet.” I pointed up at the main gable rising thirty more feet above me. “Look at those gable brackets. I can see the worm holes from here. And the carvings are falling apart. They’ll need to be filled and sanded and then painted.”
“Yup,” Wade agreed. “But after the film crew gets here. Chloe loves stuff like that.”
I frowned because he was right. “How is it that everyone knows my own sister better than I do?”
“I watch her show,” he said with a shrug, clutching the ladder as I studied the weathered wood siding. “It’s really interesting and Chloe’s great. I always learn something new.”
I didn’t respond, just made a point of scratching off a bit of peeling paint.
Wade started to laugh. “Do you even watch your sister’s show?”
“Of course I watch it,” I said, properly outraged. “I mean, usually.” I huffed out a breath. “Okay, fine. I record them so I can watch them anytime I want.”
“Uh-huh. Better watch a few episodes before she gets here.”
“I will,” I groused. I would never admit out loud that watching my sister’s TV show made me feel a bit inadequate. I mean, we were both contractors and basically had the same job, only she did hers on national television. It was weird. Despite being proud of her, I guess I was a little jealous, too, which was just plain silly.
I took another minute to check out some water damage I noticed under the eaves of the veranda, then began the climb down. “I would love the chance to restore this house to its former glory.”
Wade scraped at a patch of peeling paint. “You and me both.”
We retracted the extension ladder and carried it back to Wade’s truck. Once it was secured, he took his tablet out of his backpack. “Do we have a schedule yet of the work we’ll be doing with Chloe while she’s here?”
“I’m expecting the producer to come to town this weekend. I’ll show her each of the houses and she’ll make the decisions on which houses we’ll work on and in what order. And once we’ve nailed down those details, I’ll get together with you and Carla and finalize a schedule for the crew. According to Chloe, they plan on using some of our guys.”
“I hope so. That would be a kick.”
“At the very least, I’ll see if they’ll let our guys work on the smaller projects we’ve got lined up.”
“Do you know what those are?”
“Yeah. Chloe’s been in touch with one of her high school friends to expand a closet. Freddie Baxter wanted to add on a new bathroom and Mac wants to build a deck on the side of his house.”
“Off the kitchen?”
“Yes. The northern exposure will be perfect in the summer. I was going to do the work anyway, but if Chloe wants us to do it for the show, that would be great.”
“Oh, yeah. Right by the ocean, they’ll be able to get lots of great shots of the waves and the beach.”
“And the lighthouse.”
“Awesome,” he said, and climbed into his truck. “Keep me in the loop.”
I grinned. “Always.”
“Kate Carlisle keeps us guessing artfully… Fans of the series will be pleased to grab this book, and not just for the details of cleaning old paint out of spoon carvings with a blowtorch—though that’s pretty cool too.”
—Fresh Fiction (read more)
“With excellent pacing and a fun, fresh character, this series really is one of my favorites from this author.”
—Under the Covers Book Blog (read more)
“I love this series!! A Wrench in the Works was delightfully entertaining and I absolutely got lost in the storyline. I loved the behind the scenes look at Chloe’s television show and an update of all the wonderful characters in Shannon’s life.”
—Moonlight Rendezvous, 5 Stars (read more)
“[A[ stand-out in the series… packed full of strong plot and fun new characters.”
—James J. Cudney, This Is My Truth Now (read more)
“The mystery is well plotted and written. All the drama brought by the television people along with the added drama of some current Lighthouse Cove residents flows together to bring a story that sets a very nimble pace. There is always something happening, a twist, a turn, a curve, that diverts attention or sends everything in another direction.”
—Escape with Dollycas, 5 Stars (read more)
“An entertaining read from start to finish. A fast-paced and action-packed drama… one of the best in the series.”
—Dru’s Book Musings (read more)
“A whodunit that kept me on my toes, A Wrench in the Works flowed at a steady pace, building to a reveal that I wasn’t expecting. Fans of the series are going to mark this as one of their favorites.”
—Lisa K’s Book Thoughts
“Another hit for sure. I recommend this one to anyone who is a fan of home repair shows, cozies that fulfill all your cozy needs.”
—Open Book Society, 5 Stars (read more)
“The relationship between the sisters is the highlight of this novel, especially since it’s been five years since Chloe last visited and their lives have changed… The rewarding moments of the Hammer sisters confronting their pasts and moving forward, not to mention the humorous banter and surprise ending, ensure that readers will be more than ready for the next appearance by these extraordinary women.”
—King’s River Life (read more)
“An engaging cozy, including a complicated mystery woven throughout. With multiple murders, a full cast of suspects, and entertaining points of remodel and construction, the reader will find plenty to consider as the story moves along.”
—Mystery Suspense Reviews on the Audiobook edition (read more)