Cream of the Crop


No one seems to understand that art is my life. I don’t have the outward look of some of these other celebrity lifestyle artists, with their wild hair and strange way of dressing, but my heart beats for art. Why is it so difficult for those around me to understand that? Why am I not appreciated? Revered?

I suppose that is the curse of a true artist: to not be appreciated in their lifetime. Think of Vincent van Gogh, William Blake, and all those other artists who died unknown and practically penniless. Now they are considered geniuses, not only of their time but of modern history.

That’s what I want. That adoration. That public worship.

But I want it now. Why should I have to wait until I’m in the ground, mouldering away and unable to accept the adoration of my admirers?

This island gallery, the art spread out across the forests and open lawns, is a stroke of genius I desperately wish I had thought of myself. I look around at the art suspended above me in the trees and sunk into the ground on gleaming plinths and I feel the seething rage again. I deserve this and so much more besides.

Somewhere in the distance, I hear Ariadne and David directing the construction of the marquee. They don’t know I slipped onto the island for a private preview, and they can’t know I’m here. I need to leave the island and return with the rest of the guests on the day of the party.

I must remain in the shadows for now. But my time will come.

I will make sure of it.

Chapter 1

“Finally,” Ginger Burnet said with a sigh, flipping the sign on the door to show Closed. “Why did today feel like it was two days long?”

It was a beautiful, soft August evening in Little Chiswick in Gloucestershire, the candyfloss pink clouds drifting lazily across the violet twilight sky. After the frantic pace of the day, it was a pleasant view indeed.

“Because apparently the world and their wife decided that today was the day to visit The Gingerbread House,” replied Maggie MacFelder, her usually chipper, Scottish-accented tones slurred with exhaustion as she leaned heavily on the serving counter.

Ginger could only nod wearily in agreement, sinking down into one of the café’s comfortable armchairs with a groan of relief. It had indeed been a particularly long and busy Saturday.

Not that it was a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination. All business was good business in Ginger’s eyes. After all, she’d only opened her bakery, The Gingerbread House, less than a month before, so to have this number of customers was a delight. It made the ache in her feet and back worth it.

“Shall we get started on cleaning up?” asked Amelia, one of Ginger’s former pupils from her time teaching at Chiswick Park Academy. “Jack is ready to run another load through the dishwasher.”

“Three more minutes,” Ginger groaned, flopping out her limbs like a ragdoll. “Tell Jack that if he wants to get things cleaned quicker, he can come and clear the tables himself. There are no customers out here for him to get shy around.”

Amelia smiled, blushing a little as she scurried off to relay the message to the new kitchen porter Ginger had recently hired.

“Good thing Amelia is heading back to culinary school in a few weeks,” Maggie said under her breath, wandering over to flop into the green velvet armchair opposite Ginger, “because that awkward little flirtation the two of them have going on is doomed, I promise you.”

“You work in the theatre,” Ginger said, briefly lifting her hips to pull her phone out of her back pocket, “aren’t you supposed to be bohemian and romantic?”

“I’m too tired and underpaid for that,” Maggie said dryly. “And I love how me coming to visit you today to shoot some promo video turned into me working behind the counter for six hours.”

“And I am immeasurably grateful. I will pay you with actual real money as well as food and my affection,” Ginger promised, frowning as she saw that she had received an email from a very unexpected person. “Well, hello. What’s this?”

“Context?” Maggie asked, half-heartedly fanning her face with one of the menus.

Opening the email, Ginger’s eyebrows rose higher and higher until they disappeared behind her overlong brunette bangs.

Maggie waved her hands insistently, her soft, round face alive with curiosity. “Well? Don’t keep me in suspense.”

Still blinking in surprise, Ginger scanned the email once again to make sure she wasn’t misunderstanding. “You’re arty, right? Have you ever heard of Ariadne Makintosh and David Alvarez?”

“From the way you’re saying the names, I assume I should have,” Maggie said, taking out her own phone for a quick online search. “The names do ring a bell for me somehow though.”

“They’re one of those famous artist couples,” Ginger said, finding a picture and holding it out to her friend.

It was a photo of a couple taken at some kind of red carpet event judging by the fact that they were both in evening wear. They were both in perhaps their late forties or early fifties.

The woman was tall and lithe, with blonde hair softly shifting into a platinum grey. She wore her age gracefully, her high cheekbones and aquiline nose only seeming to be accentuated by the crow’s feet gathering around her eyes and the slight relaxation of the skin along her elegant neck and jawline.

The man was shorter and stocky, with dark hair and a strong Spanish complexion. His lips were soft and full, an unexpectedly feminine feature in his otherwise ruggedly masculine face. He had his arm wrapped warmly around the woman’s waist, and there was a twinkle in his dark eyes as if he was teasing the viewer about the fact that he got to touch this beautiful woman while they did not.

“Okay,” Maggie said, leaning forward to get a better look. “So, they’re both very hot arty people who could both step on me and I would not complain.”

Chuckling, Ginger withdrew the phone. “I think there’s still some lemonade in the fridge since you’re apparently so thirsty, Maggie.”

“I’m good,” Maggie said, waving a hand impatiently. “Please explain how this connects to this mysterious email you just got?”

“Well,” Ginger said with a smirk, “the very hot arty people, as you so delicately described them, are Ariadne Makintosh and David Alvarez. They’re married, despite the differing last names, and they were both teachers of mine when I was studying art at university.”

“Shut up,” Maggie said, eyes widening. “I can see where this is going. Did you have a torrid affair with one or both of them and they’ve emailed you to rekindle the passion?”

Ginger laughed, genuinely amused, but also felt herself blush. It was true she’d had a crush on David in her first year and had developed a kind of artistic adoration for Ariadne over the course of her studies.

“Nothing like that,” she said, then frowned in thought. “Although I do believe they’re quite open about being a polyamorous couple. Not my kind of thing, but I remember there being whispers about some students and faculty having flings or short relationships with one or both of them.”

“I like them more and more,” Maggie said, still listening but also scrolling through her phone, obviously searching for more info about the couple.

“The email just now was from Ariadne,” Ginger explained, opening the message once again. “It’s her birthday in about a week and she wants me to do the catering.”

At this, Maggie frowned, disapproving. “That’s horribly short notice. Especially when you have a business to run.”

“It is,” Ginger admitted. “Apparently she had someone who planned the whole menu, but they’ve come down very sick with some gastrointestinal thing and won’t be able to do the job.”

“Are you thinking of doing it?” Maggie asked, cocking her head slightly. “Even with the menu planned and prepped, that’s a lot of work at short notice. Please tell me they’re going to pay you.”

Wordless, Ginger turned the phone around once more, pointing to the place in the email where Ariadne had written the proposed fee. Maggie’s eyes bulged and her breath caught in her throat.

“Call me the top of a crème brûlée because that is a cracking offer,” she whispered. “Do you think you’ll take it?”

Ginger nibbled at her lower lip, mentally reviewing the pros and cons, how this would throw the bakery into mild chaos for several days, and the amount of work she would need to do to pull off the catering gig.

“The money is good,” she admitted. “Even if you look at our takings for today, which has been one of our highest days since we opened, it’s easily four times that much. But I’m also thinking about the publicity.” She scrolled back into the email and read aloud. “We’re expecting some rather high-profile guests from both the US and UK glitterati, and I’m sure they will love your culinary creations as much as I do. While you can’t talk about the party until after the event, I’m sure you can bag a few selfies with the A-listers that will boost your name into the national eye.”

“I wonder who she means by A-listers,” Maggie muttered, tapping her chin in thought. “Look, I am perfectly willing to help out here at the café if you want to take on this gig. I’ve got a bunch of paid time off from the theatre that I’ve been meaning to use all summer. It’ll be nice to get time to do some baking again.”

“Are you sure?” Ginger asked, thoughts still in a whirl. “I can make sure I leave you with all the recipes and baking instructions and make up some batches of things before I go.”

“I’m sure I can manage,” Maggie said, her eyes brightening. “As long as you let me do some experiments of my own. Nothing too wild, of course. Just a bit of creative fun.”

“As long as my bakery is in one piece when I get home, you can try whatever you like,” Ginger said, eyes skimming over the sample menu that Ariadne had attached to the email. “And I’m sure my mum and Rhys won’t mind pitching in if needed.”

“Speaking of Rhys,” Maggie said, a smirk pulling at her mouth, “how is the handsome devil?”

Ginger smiled. Rhys, her boyfriend of around two years now, was a teacher at Chiswick Park Academy, but often got tangled up in her various plans and misadventures. Sometimes that meant helping in the kitchen on occasion, and sometimes that meant smashing a vase over the head of someone who was trying to kill her. They’d had their ups and downs over the past few years, most recently with Rhys almost destroying her trust by going through her personal files on her laptop. However, they were in a good place right now.

“He’s in the process of preparing for the new term,” she told Maggie. “Up to his eyeballs in lesson plans and getting as many long hikes in as he can before he’s back to the grind.”

“Do you think he’ll be weird about you jetting off to go and do this party?” Maggie asked carefully. “I know you’re your own person and you two are much better at communicating about stuff than you used to be, but I also know he worries about you. With good reason, I might add.”

Ginger smiled softly, a soft warmth blooming in her heart like freshly baked bread as she thought about her curly-haired, giant but gentle boyfriend. “We’re going for a walk tomorrow afternoon,” she said, putting away her phone. “I’ll talk to him about it then, but honestly… I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to say no to this offer. I adore Ariadne and David and the money will really give us a financial buffer if things suddenly go quiet here at the café.”

Maggie nodded, understanding. “Give yourself the night to think about it,” she said, getting to her feet. “Right now, let’s get these tables cleared and clean the place up. I’m also mildly worried that Amelia and the boy might be making out in the kitchen and no one wants that.”

Ginger chuckled as her friend picked up a tray full of used coffee cups and crumb-filled plates before making a deliberately noisy approach toward the kitchen.

She looked over the email once more, feeling the familiar buzz of creative excitement gathering behind her sternum like bees in a hive. She would give herself the night to think about it like Maggie suggested, but Ginger already knew what her answer would be.

How could she say no to such an incredible opportunity?

Chapter 2

The Gingerbread House was closed on Sundays and so Ginger luxuriated in a lie-in, catching up on some much-needed sleep. She was woken up at about half past nine by the sound of her bedroom door slowly creaking open.

For just a moment, her heart surged in primal, subconscious fear. But then, with an inquisitive chirp, Nina hopped up onto the bed quickly followed by her brother Miles. The two blue shorthair cats padded up the bedspread, ears twitching in reaction to the air stirred by the fan.

“Good morning,” Ginger murmured, groaning with delight as she stretched in a manner rather reminiscent of her pets. “I take it you’re bored of me sleeping and want to go outside?”

Nina only yawned in response, flashing a glimpse of her gleaming fangs and the ridge lines of her pink palette. Miles blinked slowly, his one blind eye a slightly milky green, already sprawled on his side in a nest of sheets.

“Okay, okay, I’m up,” Ginger grumbled, stretching once more before slipping out of bed.

Throwing open the curtains, she looked down into the back garden and immediately blinked in surprise.

“What on earth?” Grabbing the floral cotton robe that she wore in the summer, Ginger hurried out of her bedroom and down the creaking wooden stairs.

The original flagstones that had been laid down when the cottage was originally built several hundred years before were pleasantly cool under her feet as she crossed the kitchen to the large French doors that led out onto the patio.

Unlocking them, Ginger stepped outside, shielding her eyes against the warm morning sun.

“What’s all this then?” she asked, a grin blooming on her face. “You sneaking in through my back gate again?”

“It’s not my fault that I’m tall enough to reach over the top of the gate to undo the bolt,” Rhys said, smoothing out the edge of the tartan picnic blanket he’d laid out. “And this is making you breakfast in bed on your day off, but I didn’t want to wake you up, so I made it all at home and brought it with me.”

He looked good, and Ginger took a moment to take in the sight of him. He’d recently shaved the undercut of his dark brown hair but had thankfully kept the curls that she loved so much. Even dressed in just a plain white t-shirt and a pair of sand-coloured shorts, he had the look of a model with his broad shoulders and dazzling, charmingly shy, smile.

Delighted at the sight before her, Ginger stepped out onto the sun-warmed patio, and then down the two steps onto the rear lawn.

Rhys had really gone all out. Spread out on the blanket, she could see bacon sandwiches and homemade French toast nestled in foil to keep warm, surrounded by little pots of summer berries such as strawberries, cherries, brambles, and red currants. There was a tub filled with slices of fresh honeydew and watermelon covered in a layer of ice to keep cool. To drink, there was a large bottle of orange juice and a flask that she guessed would contain Rhys’ favourite Kenyan coffee made the way they both liked it: with a splash of coconut milk and hazelnut syrup.

“To think that you couldn’t cook and were surviving off grilled chicken and couscous when I met you,” Ginger teased, lowering to sit on the blanket where Rhys was already loading up a plate for her.

He passed it over, pausing to briefly share a kiss, then served himself.

“You’re a good teacher,” he said with a grin, digging two sets of cutlery out of the large backpack he’d used to carry the feast, “and sure, I have to do slightly more cardio than I would like, but it’s worth it for all the delightful food we’ve shared over the years.”

Ginger took a bite of a bacon sandwich, humming with appreciation as she reached for a wedge of crisp, cold watermelon.

“Did you somehow send the cats to wake me up?” she asked, not bothering to wipe away the juice that ran down her chin as she took a bite of melon. “If not, those little ragamuffins have excellent timing.”

“I might have dangled some bacon in front of the patio doors so they would go harass you to wake up,” Rhys confessed, removing a scrap of meat from his sandwich with a sigh as Nina and Miles emerged from the house to claim their spoils.

The couple chatted easily over breakfast, lounging in the pleasant warmth of the summer morning. As expected, the food tasted excellent, although Ginger was sure that had as much to do with the fact that it had been made with love as the fact that Rhys had become a fairly adept cook over the course of their relationship.

Finally, full of food and juice and coffee, Ginger flopped back onto the blanket, covering her eyes with a forearm. Rhys soon joined her, resting his head on her thigh which was bare except for her lacy shorts. The bristles of his hair tickled her skin, but Ginger actually found it rather pleasant.

“Oh, I got a rather interesting email yesterday,” she said, idly running a hand through his curls.

Though she couldn’t see him, she felt him adjust his head so that he was looking up toward her face.

“The ‘hey I’ve got a really exciting cake idea’ kind of interesting, or the ‘this person might be trying to take my skin and eat my flesh’ kind of interesting?” he asked, voice tinged with caution.

“Not exactly either, but closer to the former,” Ginger said, patting her boyfriend’s head with a chuckle. “I told you about my favourite art tutors at university, right?”

“The wildly talented and attractive couple who occasionally dated other members of the faculty and former students?” Rhys asked dryly. “Yes, I remember. Why?”

Ginger gave him a basic summary of the email, about how Ariadne was throwing an exclusive and decadent birthday party on a private island that David had turned into an outdoor exhibition featuring his wife’s art. She told Rhys about the caterer who had been forced to pull out at the last moment and how Ariadne had reached out to ask if Ginger could step in. She also told him about the price that her former tutor was offering to pay, the number still sounding too large as she said it.

By the time she was done, the two of them had swapped places and now she was lying on the blanket, her head resting on Rhys’ tan, muscled thigh.

“I mean, it obviously sounds like a fantastic opportunity,” he said slowly, one arm curled protectively across her chest. “But you know I’m immediately thinking about everything that could go wrong, right?”

“Especially considering my penchant for getting into some… less than ideal situations,” Ginger agreed. “Don’t worry, I laid awake for a while last night, worrying about how this apparently wonderful thing might be a secret trap by some shadowy figure from my past to destroy my life and reputation.”

Rhys gave a quiet chuckle and Ginger was deeply aware of how, to any other couple, such things would make no sense. But, after everything she had gone through, and after everything Rhys had gone through, both the thought and the laughter made sense.

“Honestly though,” she said, brushing her fingers back and forth along his forearm with its thin layer of dark hair, “I can’t see how anything could go wrong. I’d be away for four days at most, if you include the day travelling down, prep day, the day of the party, and then clean up and travelling home. There’s going to be maybe ten guests maximum, Ariadne said, including her and David, and they’re all people that she’s known personally for years.”

“Aren’t they all super famous as well?” Rhys asked. “Or whatever glitterati means.”

“She said something about famous guests, yes.” Ginger tilted her head back to look up at him. “Why? What are you thinking?”

He shrugged. “I feel mean-spirited for it, but… do you think maybe Ariadne has invited you to show you off in a way? Like, you’re fairly well-known for more than your baking, you know? What if she just wants to parade you about as some kind of curiosity for these A-listers?”

Ginger frowned in thought. Her gut instinct told her that Ariadne wouldn’t do something like that. However, it had been over ten years since she last saw her and David, so it was a little odd that Ariadne was reaching out now.

“I don’t think she’d have a motivation like that,” she said slowly, “but it can’t hurt to have a phone call with her beforehand. Test the waters so to speak.”

Rhys swept her bangs out of the way before leaning down to kiss her forehead. “Money is good and always helpful, but not if it’s at the cost of your safety or dignity. These might be cool, hot people who you looked up to when you were younger, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be looking out for your best interests.” He scrunched up his nose in a frown. “Sorry to sound like such a paranoid negative Nancy.”

Ginger snaked an arm up around his neck to pull him down to her again, this time for a proper kiss.

“Don’t worry, I get it,” she said against his mouth. “And, trust me, I want to be safe as well. But I also really hope I don’t get any bad vibes off Ariadne from this. It seems like a really fun, exciting kind of event. It’s an exclusive party on a private art gallery island, Rhys. Who wouldn’t want to be able to be a part of that?”

He grinned, tapping her on the nose as he sat upright again. “I know, I know,” he said, shooing Nina away from where she was investigating the remnants of bacon grease on some of the foil. “And part of me wishes I could come along as a plus one, but I’ve got the new term to prep for and also need to help hold down the fort at The Gingerbread House.”

Ginger looked up at Rhys, her heart as warm and full as her belly. They’d had their bumps over the years, but she still felt lucky to have this man in her life.

“Let me get dressed in some actual clothes,” she said, sitting up, “then I’ll grab my bike and we can head out for a cycle. Ariadne can wait a few more hours for her answer.

Chapter 3

It had been a long time since Ginger had smelled the sea. Now, here she was, windows down to let in the breeze, driving along the south coast. The car was piled high with her specialist cooking utensils, her luggage for the weekend, and some filming equipment such as ring lights and tripods.

Winding down the quiet, narrow coastal road, flanked on both sides by rippling, hardy grass no doubt flavoured by the salt in the air, Ginger tried to organise her thoughts as the hotel came into view in the distance. In all honesty, she hadn’t expected for things to move quite as quickly as they had. What she had intended to be a quick clarifying phone call with Ariadne on the Sunday evening after Rhys had gone home, had evolved into a massive planning session that lasted for several hours.

It was now Tuesday and Ginger was hours from home, trying to decide how she was going to greet her former tutor whom she hadn’t seen for over ten years. And, beyond the social aspects, she couldn’t ignore the nervous, excited thrum of challenge as she pondered exactly how she was going to pull off the ambitious menu planned for the party. This included a showstopper gelatine art cake that Ginger had offered to make instead of the rather plain sponge birthday cake since, apparently, she just loved to always make things more complicated for herself.

The hotel, white and turreted, grew in size as she drew closer, rising up out of the grasses and wind-whipped spruce trees like an especially detailed macaroon.

Pulling into a layby, sending up a puff of chalky white dust that drifted over the car, Ginger climbed out, pulling a tripod after her. Part of the deal she had negotiated with Ariadne was that she could film content for future Instagram and YouTube videos, as long as they were released after the event and Ginger didn’t harass the guests for video or photos.

“So,” Ginger said, settling her phone into the tripod, taking a video, “according to the website when I looked up directions, the hotel was once a Victorian health spa. All those rich people suffering from the industrial pollution in the cities and the arsenic in their wallpaper fled to the promise of fresh sea air and clean water on the south coast.”

Zooming in on the hotel, she continued, “Apparently, there’s still a spa onsite, but it’s now the more traditional modern offering of massages and saunas rather than ‘taking the waters’ or doing strange things with electricity. However, a morning dip in the freezing sea water pools at the base of the cliff is as heartily encouraged as it was at the turn of the 20th century.”

A swim in a cold pool sounded absolutely delightful to Ginger as she climbed back into the car and drove the rest of the way to the hotel. Immediately, a smartly dressed valet in a deep green blazer and white gloves hurried out of the hotel’s front doors. He crouched slightly, peering in through the open window.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to The North Star Hotel,” he said with a dazzling smile and quick bow. “Am I correct in assuming you are Ginger Burnet?”

“That’s me,” Ginger said, squinting in the afternoon sun as she looked around for somewhere to leave the car, but only seeing the tarmac turning circle, some lovely flower beds filled to bursting with geraniums, and then a short stretch of grass before the cliff plunged down to the promenade and the beach below. “Do I need you to direct me to parking or do I just leave it here?”

“We will handle everything for you,” the valet said, maintaining his smile as he opened the car door for us. “Ms Makintosh and Mr Alvarez informed us ahead of time about your arrival and your role in their celebrations.”

“Oh.” Ginger felt out of her depth with the level of customer service, unused to such fancy places. “Shall I grab my bags and head inside to check in then?”

“Your personal luggage will be sent up to your room, and any kitchen items will be sent to the hotel kitchen that has been set aside for your personal use.”

Ginger blinked in surprise. “I’m sorry, are you saying I get the whole hotel kitchen to myself? What about the other guests?”

“Your group are the only guests at the hotel this weekend,” the valet said, his smile becoming genuinely amused as he watched Ginger do the mental math of what exactly that meant.

“Ariadne didn’t mention that in the call,” Ginger mumbled, grabbing her handbag and staggering out of the car.

Just for a moment, the valet broke his façade of formal professionalism and winked at her.

“You’ve got some very interesting friends,” he said, jerking a thumb back toward the hotel. “Seem like cool people, to be honest.”

“They really are,” Ginger said, catching a glimpse of Ariadne a moment before she burst out of the hotel’s front doors, arms immediately opening for a hug.

“Darling Ginger!” she gushed, the melodic yet unusual notes of her Transatlantic accent drawing Ginger in to listen as forcefully as her arms pulled her into an embrace. “I’m so delighted you’re here! How was the drive?”

Ginger began to answer but was shut down by the continued torrent of excited words flowing from Ariadne.

“I was honestly nervous that you were going to cancel at the last moment when you realised how utterly insane this whole idea is.” She linked an arm with one of Ginger’s, beginning to lead her away from the hotel, much to Ginger’s surprise. “I was just saying to David that maybe you were too busy for us now that you’re all famous and running your own business and everything.”

“Well, busy is certainly true, but I always have time for interesting offers like this one,” Ginger said, feeling strangely self-conscious pressed against the older woman’s side.

“Just look at it,” Ariadne said, gesturing out toward the glittering sheet of the ocean as they reached the edge of the cliff. “Isn’t it just magical? Makes me think of that suspended silk installation David and I did in Munich a few years ago.”

Ginger didn’t reply, feeling tongue-tied by her ignorance of said installation. Her head was still spinning as it truly sank in just how high-profile this event was going to be. The little moments of microcelebrity she’d experienced when one of her cake designs would go viral for a few hours were pennies compared to the international acclaim of the woman standing beside her.

“You’re panicking, aren’t you?” Ariadne asked gently, moving her arm to wrap around Ginger’s shoulders. “You used to get the same look on your face during exam week when I taught you.”

“Nice to know I’ve grown and changed so much in the past ten years or so,” Ginger laughed, trying to shake off her nerves. “I think it just hit me how manic this is going to be. I just don’t want to ruin your birthday.”

Ariadne laughed, the sound as bright and fresh as the sea foam gathering on the rocks below. “You could never,” she said. “If it wasn’t for you, David and I would be in the kitchen ourselves trying to put all the food together. Now, that would ruin the birthday for everyone else. No, anything you do will be wonderful and will impress everyone.”

“I still can’t believe you’re shipping all the food to an island,” Ginger said, shaking her head. “You and David sure do like to push the boundaries of the impossible, don’t you?”

“Art defies the concept of the impossible,” said a bass, rumbling voice from behind them.

Ginger turned, slipping free of Ariadne’s arm, to see David approaching via a path she hadn’t seen previously that wound down the cliff to the beach. He was wearing a wetsuit and his black hair clung to his scalp with water. Despite being wet, he still swept Ginger up into an effusive hug, complete with a kiss on each cheek. He carried with him the cold, seaweed smell of open water and Ginger felt less overheated and sweaty just from being near him.

“I just had a quick swim around the coast of the island,” he explained, pointing to a dark dot a short distance off a headland a few miles down the beach. “It’s doable when the sea is as calm as it is today, but I’m thoroughly glad we’re using the boats to get there from the mainland and for everything else.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how you’ve staged this whole thing,” Ginger admitted.

From her call with Ariadne on Sunday evening, she knew that while the bulk of the food prep, cooking, and baking would be done at the hotel, there was a rudimentary kitchen set up in the large marquee set up on the island. She would have an oven, a stovetop, a fridge and freezer, and enough space to plate up food or do any last-minute decorating.

“We bought the island a few years ago with the plan to turn it into a nature reserve,” Ariadne said, shielding her eyes to look out toward the island, “but that’s been on the backburner for a little while as we get permits and charity status sorted and all that kind of thing, so David had the exquisite idea of turning the whole island into an outdoor gallery as a birthday present.”

“It’s really quite magnificent,” David said. “When our boat provider texts me that the tides are safe to go over again today, we’ll take you for a look so you can familiarise yourself.”

“I can’t wait to see it,” Ginger said honestly. “The whole thing sounds… fantastical. Like a fairy tale or something from another world.”

“That’s the kind of energy we’re going for,” David said, passion lighting up his dark brown eyes as he spoke. “It’s supposed to feel totally cut off from regular civilisation. A physical moment suspended in time.”

He paused, laughing softly as he locked eyes with Ariadne.

“But forgive me, dear Ginny,” he said, bowing and gesturing to the hotel, “you must be exhausted after travelling all day. Why don’t you come inside? There are cold drinks and good food, and we can show you around the kitchens. Or should I perhaps call it your studio?” His eyes twinkled with amusement.

“Sounds perfect,” Ginger said, looking back and forth between the two, her self-consciousness finally slipping away like an extra layer of clothing she didn’t need in the summer sun. “A brief calm before the storm.”

This Mystery is a part of Ginger Burnet Cozy Mysteries Series!

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