All Washed Up
by: Joanna Campbell Slan
Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery #3
Publication Date: March 21, 2016
Genre: Adult, Contemporary Romance
Purchase: Amazon (#99c)
Synopsis: Half-drowned immigrants. A dead store owner. A vicious attempt on a woman’s life. Despite all this, shop owner Cara Mia Delgato still tries to do what’s right by returning a vintage Lilly Pulitzer frock to its original owner. As a result, she risks everything—including her son’s life.
With a plot echoing the weighty decisions of today, and a revelation that lays bare the intrigues of our nation’s most exclusive town, All Washed Up is a fast-paced, clean read, that sparkles with a cast of strong women. As an amateur sleuth, Cara Mia proves her courage. As a woman friend, she’s without equal. And as a crime-solving granddaughter, she’s not afraid to back up her grandfather when he’s in a tight spot, because that’s what women do…we take care of those we love. In this third book in the series, Cara’s romantic problems come to a nasty head, while her relationship with her sister grows ever more toxic. But throughout all the drama, Cara proves herself to be a woman you can count on in a tough situation. Of course, you can also count on her to come up with yummy recipes and terrific ideas for recycling. But hey, isn’t that what being a working woman is all about? Multi-tasking!
Excerpts from All Washed Up by Joanna Campbell Slan
Cara Mia is going out on a date with Jason, a wonderful guy. He’s ready to take their relationship to the next level, but she’s not sure that’s what she wants.
Jason tucked my hand under his arm as we ambled down the sidewalk toward the restaurants that dotted the streets of Downtown Stuart.
“Yes, I found the woman who washed up on the beach. Can you believe it? That started my day on the wrong foot. I was primed for a nice walk with Jack, but after stumbling over the mermaid—”
“Mermaid?” Jason frowned as he pulled me closer so we could let other folks get by. As we walked, women’s heads turned. No doubt about it, Jason was major league eye candy. His sandy blond hair was sun-streaked from surfing. His shoulders were broad and his waist tiny. Not only was he well-built, but his chiseled features were well-balanced.
“Mermaid. That’s my private name for the woman I found. See, when I spotted her, she looked like one of those sand sculptures people leave on the beach. I didn’t realize she was a real person until she moved. Skye has been telling me I need glasses. She’s probably right. Of course, the mist made things blurry.”
We came to a crosswalk. “Cara, what were you thinking? Wandering around on a beach by yourself in the dark?”
“Jupiter Island is the safest community in the country. Our ratio of law enforcement officers—”
Jason interrupted. “Don’t give me that baloney. You didn’t have a cop escort, Cara. You could have been hurt. Seriously hurt. Someone could have overpowered you.”
“So I’ve been told. Repeatedly.”
“Promise me you won’t endanger yourself like that again.”
I almost snapped at him. Almost.
Instead of getting huffy, I stopped and kissed Jason on the cheek.
Jason walked me backwards into an alcove festooned with playbills. Putting both hands on my shoulders, he gently pinned me against the wall. “Cara? Ever since I took that job up in Jacksonville, I’ve come to realize how much I care about you.” Moving slowly, he leaned in for a kiss.
It wasn’t a friend-to-friend sort of smooch. It was long and deep. Fireworks exploded throughout my body. A shower of sparks set me tingling. Even though we were standing there on a public street, I heard a moan escape my lips.
“Whoa.” I pushed him away. His eyes had a gleam that could only be described as hungry. “Jason, that was, um, intense. I’m not ready for it. I mean, there’s our age difference.”
He tossed back his head and laughed. “Okay, Grandma.” With a tug at my hand, he pulled me toward the open sidewalk. “Let’s see if you can make it to the restaurant without your walker.”
Last week in January
Jupiter Island, Florida
Morning dawned gray and indistinct on Jupiter Island. Locking my front door behind me and gathering my Chihuahua’s leash in my hand, I pointed us toward the narrow road that led to the Hobe Sound Beach Park. The gloomy weather disappointed me, but Jack didn’t mind at all. Waving his tiny tail, Jack threw his weight (all two pounds of it!) against the leash so that he leaned away from me as he scampered down the street.
The fog sent a chill through me, but Jack’s merry attitude brought a smile to my face. Okay, so this gloomy weather wasn’t what I’d expected of sunny Florida. This was the best time of day for walking on the beach, right before the fisherman dragged their gear to the water’s edge. Long before the sunbathers would spread their colorful towels and pop the tops on their soft drinks. This quiet island would reveal its secrets to me while I watched the sun pop up on the horizon like a ripe orange being squeezed out of a grocery bag.
Jack and I turned left where Bridge Road dead-ended at Hobe Sound Park. The gloom muted the colors of larger-than-life sculptures of sea turtles, a vivid reminder of our fragile ecosystem. A sign on a plinth reminded visitors of the turtles’ lifecycle. I noted that nesting season was a full two months away. I tightened my grip on Jack’s leash, rather than let him roam the dunes. Raccoons, possums, and cane toads could all pose a danger to my small companion.
The wood of the boardwalk was old and bounced under my well-worn tennis shoes. Since finding a stray fishhook in the sand, I’ve learned that being barefoot can be hazardous. Especially early in the morning, when you can’t see clearly. At the crest of the boardwalk, I paused, taking in the magnificent view. An overcast sky touched the concrete-colored water, creating a seamless, endless ribbon of dull nothingness. A wave of vertigo made me dizzy as the band of dull, lifeless color stretched out in front of me, arched up and over me. One word popped into my head: Dead.
A shiver ran down my spine. I was being silly. Jack sensed my reticence. Rearing up on his back legs, he plonked his front paws against my calf muscles, urging me onward.
Determined to master my emotions, I shook my head and got my bearings. On either side of the boardwalk, sea oats rustled in the breeze. Their golden serrated heads created a spot of metallic color against the glum vista. Impatiently, Jack yanked me forward. Following his lead, my feet touched the wet sand. The pungent smell of seaweed greeted me. Last night’s storm had left a wrack line dark with dense mounds of Sargasso. Jack lunged to the right, sniffing eagerly at a knot of sand sporting a halo of wet feathers.
“Get away from that,” I urged him.
A handful of seabirds died in every storm. Riding the winds exhausted them. Eventually, the high winds would fling their bodies into the surf so that they littered the beach the next day. While Jack fought me to sniff and explore, adorable sandpipers ignored the carnage. Their tiny legs moved double-time as they raced to pick up yummy delicacies before the crustaceans burrowed too deeply in the sand, making their escape.
“Knock it off, buddy,” I chided Jack as he fought the leash and pulled me forward. He lunged toward a huge clump of seaweed, shaped like a person.
So I wasn’t alone on the beach this morning! Someone had gotten here before me. Jack tugged relentlessly toward the sand sculpture. Thanks to our walks, I’d discovered that beachgoers showed endless creativity. I’d found messages in bottles, seashells spelling out love notes, sandcastles of all sizes, and now someone had crafted a mermaid, half in and half out of the water.
“Huh. Somebody must have been working in the dark,” I muttered. “Weird.”
In the distance, the roar of an ATV signaled that the beach patrol had started its day, making the rounds. When the wind changed, a whiff of diesel made my nose prickle even though the ATV was a football field away.
I had rescued Jack after a truck driver tossed him out the window of his pickup. Not surprisingly, the little dog gets spooked by loud engines. But this morning, he didn’t notice the ATV. Despite the noise of the approaching vehicle, Jack dragged me toward the lumps in the sand. He pitched his entire weight against the leash as he strained toward the mermaid. Closer inspection showed a remarkably realistic creature with dark brown hair, presumably a wodge of seaweed. Her arms were thrown up over her head. Her face was turned toward the water. The advancing tide nipped at the tip of her tail.
Jack’s toenails threw up sand as he struggled to get closer to her.
“Come on, buddy. If you get wet, you’ll need a bath.” I tugged at his leash.
The put-put-put of the ATV’s motor roared louder and louder. The driver’s faded blue cap bobbed up and down, appearing and disappearing, as the vehicle climbed low hills and descended into dips. Usually our beach is perfectly flat, but last night’s rough tides had caused escarpments, jagged chunks carved from the friable surface. As the ATV got closer, Jack started to get nervous. He backed away from the water’s edge, growling at the mermaid.
“Come on,” I urged him. “It’s just a pile of sand, Jack! There’s nothing to be scared of!”
He froze in his tracks.
I nearly tripped over my own feet, rather than step on him. An ear-piercing howl splintered the morning quiet.
“Buddy, it’s okay!” I bent low to scoop Jack into my arms. My eyes followed the direction of his stare.
The mermaid lifted her head and groaned.
“Help! Over here!” I screamed and waved down the ATV driver. The man in the vehicle roared up, stopping a foot from the prone figure.
“S-s-she’s alive,” I said, pointing to the mermaid. “Help me get her away from the water!”
“Jumping Jehoshaphat!” The man turned off his motor, grabbed at a first aid kit, and hopped down from his seat.
Quickly tying Jack’s leash to the handlebars of the ATV, I waded into the surf. The driver was ahead of me, but not by much. Together we lifted the soggy figure and moved her up to the dry sand. As light as she was, I figured she must have weighed less than a hundred pounds. Maybe even more like seventy-five. Wiping the sand from her face exposed a sagging neckline, crow’s feet around her eyes, and gray streaks in the hair that framed her face.
“A-B-C. Airway cleared, breathing established, circulation resumed,” he said. “That’s the order.”
“Right. We need to roll her on her side,” I said.
“One, two, three.” With a nod, he signaled for us to flip her onto her side. I pried open her mouth, stuck my fingers in, and hauled out a wodge of sand and seaweed. She gurgled and puked up more seawater. The smell was weakly acidic. I held her head until she was done. She went limp. The driver positioned her so that her neck was straight and her airway was open. I lightly tapped her face and tried to bring her around to consciousness. “Stay with us!”
“Did you call for help?” The driver put his head to her chest and ran his fingers along her throat, feeling for a pulse. “Of course, it might not matter. Cell coverage is spotty on the island.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t have my phone with me. I’m Cara Mia Delgatto.”
“Lucas,” he said. “Lucas Petruski. I can’t tell if she’s breathing or not.”
He quickly called for help. At one point, he told the dispatcher my name. After he ended the call, he said, “Okay. We’d better start CPR.”
His first aid kit produced plastic bellows that he used to force air into the woman’s lungs. I measured down the proper distance and began doing compressions on her chest. As we worked, I debated the wisdom of our actions. The woman drooped like a limp dish rag. Although the surface of her dark skin was reddish-tan, the color of a brick, the undertone was a dull, lifeless gray.
“She might have been without air for too long,” said Lucas. “Might be a mercy if she doesn’t come around. I’ve seen drowning victims before. They come back only to die later. Pneumonia kills most of them.”
“But that’s not our choice to make,” I said.
As I rocked back and forth, shifting my weight to compress her chest, I sent up prayers, although I was unsure what to ask for.
Her face was swollen, exaggerating her features, and blistered, making the shapes hard to discern. She was emaciated, without the normal padding most women accumulate. Watery bubbles covered her cheekbones, the tops of her ears, and her shoulders. Thin sheets of white skin were peeling off her nose and neck. Despite the dunking she’d obviously endured, she smelled strongly of urine. Tattered flags of fabric clung to her torso and legs. Bits of bark brown seaweed tangled in her hair.
Sirens sounded in the distance and grew ever closer until they stopped.
Medics raced along the boardwalk, their heavy footfalls causing the weathered wood to shake.
“We’ll take it from here,” one of them commanded us, as the other quickly straddled the mermaid and took over for Lucas.
Lucas and I did as told. I untethered Jack. He’d been solemnly watching Lucas and me. Some canine instinct told him the situation was serious.
The screech of brakes and slamming of doors suggested more official helpers had arrived. Crackling voices and radio static mixed with terse comments from the EMTs.
I retreated as far onto the dunes as possible without stepping on sea oats, a protected part of the environment. Jack came along reluctantly.
While the EMTs checked our mermaid’s vital signs, the cops spoke into radio units hooked to the shoulders of their shirts.
A tech ripped open a foil pack, swabbed the mermaid’s inner arm with an alcohol rub, and inserted a needle leading to a plastic bag of clear liquid. There was a low murmur of discussion among the medics as they triaged the woman. It didn’t sound good. Not at all. In short order, they had the woman on a gurney, one guy continuing to work on her, and they were racing her toward the ambulance. With sirens and lights blazing, they went tearing out of the parking lot.
“Copy that,” said one of the cops to his buddy. “The boss is on the way.”
The ATV guy shook his head as he took his place at my side. “What a mess. Second one this morning. Heard about it on my radio. Over at Blowing Rocks.”
Jupiter Island is rich with nature preserves, thanks to the farsightedness of the Reed family, one of the earliest landowners. There’s one north, one south, and a park in the middle of the island where we were standing. This beach is the most convenient to local highways. The admission and parking are both free, although the number of spaces is limited—and with good reason. Our island is part of a fragile ecosystem, one of the world’s prime nesting areas for endangered sea turtles.
“Does that mean a boat capsized?”
Lucas gave me a speculative look. “Maybe.”
I opened my mouth to ask another question, but he had turned his back on me. The set of his shoulders suggested all conversation was over.
Why? What wasn’t he saying?
I was so intent on watching the cops comb the area that I jumped in surprise when Detective Lou Murray tapped me on the shoulder.
DON'T MISS THE OTHER BOOKS IN THE CARA MIA DELGATTO MYSTERY SERIES
Synopsis: A spin off from the Kiki Lowenstein Mysteries.
After her parents die within six months of each other and her son goes off to college, savvy entrepreneur Cara Mia Delgatto decides to construct a new life for herself. A road trip leads to her grandfather's home on the picturesque Treasure Coast of Florida, where she impulsively snaps up a "tear down," a building scheduled for the wrecking ball--only to discover it's already occupied by a fresh corpse. While Detective Lou Murray tries to nail the killer to the wall, Cara Mia enlists the help of two new friends to open a store specializing in one-of-a-kind, recycled, and repurposed items. But before she can get down to brass tacks, Cara Mia decides to help Lou figure out "whodunit," because she's been painted into the picture as one of the prime suspects. To make matters more complicated, tensions are building with Cooper Rivers, an old boyfriend. Cara Mia wonders whether her second chance at love will pan out--or if her carefully constructed fantasies will lead her to a new life behind bars. Includes Crafts-Skye Blue's Sparkling Votives and Recipes-MJ Austin's Pineapple Casserole, Skye Blue's Broccoli Soup, and Cara Mia Delgatto's Clams in Garlic Wine Broth.
Synopsis: Joanna Slan has done it again with her murder mystery book. Book two in this series really grabs readers from the start. Cara Mia Delgatto seems to always have murder knocking at her door. She owns The Treasure Chest and is working with a fun, loving staff to turn "trash" into treasure. Shortly after her store's big kick off party, a body is discovered out her back door. Cara was seen in heated discussion with the victim at Cara's party. This was a very quick read to the end. Couldn't wait to find out who did it.
ABOUT JOANNA CAMPBELL SLAN
RT Reviews has called Joanna “one of mystery’s rising stars.”
Like her protagonists, Joanna loves nature, crafting, and long walks on the beach.
A native of Florida, she lives with her husband David and their dog, Jax, on Jupiter Island, Florida.