Page 15 of Hot Mess

“Okay, well, remember that I can’t take illegal evidence to the police.”

“No, but when you know for sure it was Mitch, you can feel confident that the cops will figure that out, too.”

“I’m not confident in that at all.” I walked over to the doors that overlooked the beach and watched as the waves crawled up the sand. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, call Bethany. She’ll tell you what you can and can’t do right now. But whatever you do, do not go on social media or any news sites, do you hear me?”

I nodded even though she couldn’t see me.

“Elle?”

“Yes, Em. I won’t. I promise. Believe me, I can think of many things I don’t want to do.”

“Okay. I’ll text you later with what Noelle says. Let me know how it goes with Bethany tomorrow.”

“Promise. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Love you, El.”

“Love you back.” I hung up after that and shoved my phone in the pocket of my dress. After grabbing a glass of wine, I bypassed my laptop entirely and pulled open the door onto the back deck before I stepped out into the now much cooler evening air. It was still hot, but it wasn’t the staggering humid heat that’d hung around all day long.

I should have gone to Canada or something.

There was a rattan sofa smothered with cushions on the back deck, so I lowered myself onto it and tucked my feet up under my butt. A gentle breeze wafted off the ocean, swilling salt air around my face and through my hair. It was silent out here, totally peaceful, and the beach was empty apart from three ladies who looked to be the other side of seventy halfway down the beach.

They laid out what looked like a picnic blanket and cool bag, and one of them set up three chairs in a circle. The sound of cackling laughter reached me at the house, and I smiled into my wine.

I’d been kind of planning to dip my feet in the water, but now, I would wait until they’d had their picnic.

I averted my gaze from them and looked out at another part of the nearly empty beach, wishing I hadn’t told Emily not to come.

***

It was dark outside, I was three glasses of wine and two quesadillas in, and I was going to dip my toes in the water, damn it.

There was no sign of the ladies from earlier—not that I could see far in the dark, and the crescent moon wasn’t exactly a great night light.

I grabbed my phone and turned on the flashlight to guide me down the back deck and onto the beach. The sand was still surprisingly warm as it raked between my toes, and I used the light to avoid any lumps of driftwood or sharp and large stones. The gentle breeze that had blown at me earlier was still there, but only a little cooler, and I welcomed it.

It was so hot here; it was nice to be able to breathe.

Let’s be honest. Late evening in Florida was probably what I was used to for summer in New York. Mostly because of the humidity.

I reached the shoreline and stood, watching as the tiny waves crept up and over my toes. A shiver ran down my spine, and the feeling that I was being watching stopped me going any further into the water.

I cast my gaze around the beach, using my phone’s flashlight to help me see. And, holy shit! I shrieked as it caught the bodies of three elderly women who were totally naked.

“Damn it, Maude, I said this was a bad idea!” hissed one of the women.

“Well, I don’t know who she is,” another woman, presumably Maude, responded.

“Don’t shout!” said the third woman. “Theo can’t know we’re here.”

I paused at that, keeping my flashlight trained on the ground. “I’m sorry, would you mind putting some clothes on?”

“I don’t want to,” said the voice I thought was Maude.

“Well, she’s probably disturbed Theo anyway, so we might as well. If my great-nephew catches me in the buff again, I’m in trouble.”

There was a sigh.

“We were so close,” said the third voice who’d told me not to shout.

“Yes, well, blame Maude,” Theo’s great-aunt replied with a huff.

All three women turned and headed in the direction of where I’d see them earlier. At least I assumed it was them—what were the chances it was anyone else?

Or maybe I was hallucinating. It wasn’t every day you found three naked old ladies on the beach.

It wasn’t something I’d ever hoped to find on the beach.

Or anywhere.

A few minutes later, all three of them hobbled back over to me, and one of them said, “Come on, then. We won’t bite.”

“Unless you’re an alien,” the middle woman tossed over her shoulder.

That made me feel safe.

Not.

Still, I followed them. I knew enough to mind my manners around my elders and do as they said. I wasn’t going to get into an argument with any of the elderly residents of Creek Keys, especially not if one of those women was related to Theo.

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