I believe in pink.

I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner.

I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.

I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong.

I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.

I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.

~Audrey Hepburn

Chapter 1

     My name is Nikki Summers. I’m a private investigator—a former detective with the Serenity Cove Police Department. 

     I live in a beach cottage on Coastal Road with my best friend, Izzy, a Belgian Malinois. Izzy is the friendliest dog I’ve ever met—he loves people. The reason he bailed on Police dog training. 

     At eighteen, I adopted my life philosophy from Audrey Hepburn’s—I believe in pink. 

     Now I would add, a girl with a dog is a happy girl. I’m sure Audrey would approve. 

     Change is my attempt to find the extraordinary in ordinary life. 

🌸🌸🌸

     The warm smell of toast lingered from breakfast as I padded into my home office. A bamboo desk took center stage with a view of Coastal Road through oversized bay windows. 

     Izzy curled up on the cushioned window seat, his favorite place to nap after a morning run. Earlier, the fog had obscured the waves, creating a sense of wonder—for me—maybe Izzy, too.

     I grimaced at the potted plants softening the corners of the room. Reminder to self—plants need water to survive.

     Determined to do month-end accounting, I rolled my chair closer to the desk. I’d finished half the month before a knock interrupted my dance with numbers. Happy for the reprieve, I opened the door to an elegant lady. Over her shoulder stood a limo, complete with chauffeur. Interesting. Not my usual caliber of clients. 

     “Come in.” I stepped back, allowing her to enter.

     She marched inside, dressed in a mohair navy jacket with wide lapels trimmed in white over tailored slacks, a style past its time. Her short, well-groomed hair, a lovely shade of silver. Natural? I refrained from asking. 

     I motioned to a chair—she sat while refusing my offer of coffee. Settled across from her, I studied her hesitant expression. “I’m Nikki Summers.” 

     “My name is Rose Ledbetter.” She placed her handbag on my desk and eyed Izzy sitting in the second guest chair. “He’s a handsome boy.” The corners of her lips turned up—the first hint of a smile I’d seen from her. Her grin turned severe as she removed papers from her purse, smoothing the folded creases with her fingertips.

     An animal person, I liked Rose already. “Is there something I can help you with?” 

     “I’m here about my son. He’s missing.” She rubbed her hand across the pages again. “I haven’t heard from him in twenty years.” 

     “Not a clue where he is?”

     “None. I have copies of Brody’s driver’s license and social security card. I’m not sure if he still goes by his given name.” She shoved the pages across the desk, reluctant to let go of them.

     “Have you tried finding him before now?”

     “Weeks after he left, I hired Mr. Jackson in Stone Valley. He didn’t find a single lead. And I’ve enlisted other agencies through the years.” She shook her head and shrugged. “He disappeared without a trace.” The lines on her brow seemed out of place. Were guilt and regrets responsible? 

     I jotted notes on a legal pad. The tablet and pen were less intimidating to clients than an ominous recording device. 

     The intense pain in Rose’s eyes stirred my own emotions over the recent loss I’d faced in my life. I caught my lower lip between my teeth, giving her a sympathetic nod, encouraging her to continue.  

     “I love my children. I miss them with every breath I take. And I’ve never gotten over my first love.” Rose tugged a tissue from the pink floral box on my desk, blotting her eyes. 

     Rose’s story proved what I’ve long believed—real-life outplays fiction. This sorted mess reminded me of the song that never ends—only this was her story going on and on. “Your daughter is also missing?” And who was her first love? I waited to ask the second question.

     “My Lexi…” Her lips quivered as if controlling a flood of feelings. “Lexi died in a hit-and-run accident. Two weeks after we’d given her a car for her twenty-first birthday, and she’d also graduated college with the highest honors.” I strained to hear her softened voice as though memories fought to remain silent.

     “Your first love. He’s the father of your children?”

     “Yes, he doted on Lexi and Brody. The children were heartbroken over losing their father.” She wiped the wetness dripping down her cheeks. “He would hate the shattered mess I’ve made of our family.”

     She covered her face with her hands, maybe seeking solace in the darkness behind her eyes. I moved to the coffee machine on an island-style console table that matched my desk. “Would you care for tea?” I wanted to comfort her. And according to Maggie, the owner of Magnolia’s antiques, a cuppa worked wonders. 

     “Tea would be lovely, dear.” 

     I put a k-cup in the Keurig. “Let’s finish our meeting on the deck.” One thing I knew for sure, nothing revived the spirit like a gentle wind skipping across frothy waves.  

     Rose followed me into the living spaces of my cottage—the first time I’d invited a client into my private world. In Rose, I’d found a kindred spirit and wanted to help her. We strolled past the dining area, sunroom, and through the second set of French doors onto the deck overlooking the sea.

     I placed our drinks on the table with a plate of slice-and-bake cookies I’d baked the night before. Rose’s story, so far, pointed to a long morning. I needed something more to go on—a lot more.