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BVC Announces Orcas Afterlife by Laura Gayle

Orcas Afterlife by Laura GayleOrcas Afterlife
Tales from the Berry  Farm, Book 1
by Laura Gayle

Camille Tate has stepped fully into her new life … but there’s still no walking away from who she really is.

As the global pandemic winds down at last, Cam’s employer, mentor, and good friend Lisa Cannon is finally returning to Orcas Island to reopen her theater company. Meanwhile, Cam has left her old life of fear far behind her, and, oh yes, she is deeply in love. Her future has never looked brighter—until all her plans are suddenly upended by the astonishing consequences of an unexpected loss.
In this haunting, atmospheric series kickoff—the sequel to Laura Gayle’s beloved Chameleon Chronicles—Cam and her bestie-turned-roommate, Jen Darling, face a whole new set of challenges as they navigate an enormous if bittersweet windfall and its strange cargo of long-buried secrets, mysterious adventures, and uppity livestock—along with the arrival of some new old friends who turn out to be much more than they seem.

Tales from the Berry Farm Book 1

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Laura Gayle is the nom de plume of two friends who love to collaborate: Shannon Page (www.shannonpage.net) and Karen G. Berry (www.karengberry.mywriting.network/).

Buy Orcas Afterlife in the BVC bookstore

Read a Sample

CHAPTER 1

“Well, I’m off.” Jen stood in the bright entryway of Lisa Cannon’s house, purse over her shoulder, puffy jacket stuffed under her other arm. “Need anything from town?”

“I can’t think what,” I said. “We’re all done here, and the new place is completely ready.”

“More cream? Cat food? Another bag of Brussels sprouts?”

“Jen, there isn’t room left for an extra radish in that kitchen.”

“What about this one?” She glanced mournfully over at Lisa’s huge fridge.

I gave her a sympathetic smile. Losing this five-star kitchen was a lot more painful for a foodie like Jen than it was for a chili-and-cheese fiend like me. “Are you kidding? We’ve stocked a week’s worth of meals in her freezer, and pretty much spring-loaded the pantry. Are you afraid that prison’s turned Lisa into a binge eater or something?”

That got a snort of amusement from her, at least. Then her face fell. “Coffee! We’ve left her hardly any coffee!”

Jen,” I said. “We’re done. Really. Just go; you’ll be late.”

“Okay,” she said, too fast. “It’s just…”

“I know,” I said gently. “But we’re going to love it there too, you’ll see.” Then I had a thought. “Actually, there is something. Since it’s the first night in our new place, maybe pick up a bottle of something festive? Champagne, prosecco?”

Her eyes lit up, and I knew I’d made the right call. Jen Darling needed to feel useful, to feel—well, needed. And there was nothing more squarely in her skill set than bartending, though I wasn’t going to blame her if she’d gotten a little rusty after three years of pandemic shutdown. “I’ve just got time to grab it on my way! See you at bubbly o’clock!” Then she breezed out the door.

The Covid-19 pandemic had hit Jen a lot harder than it had me. Very little about my life had changed. Whether styling hair, caretaking estates, or writing plays, I’d always been more of a solo act than she was. But inns, restaurants, bars—nearly every place Jen had worked back then—had all closed overnight, leaving the queen of so many things around Orcas very little left to rule. She’d even lost her dog walking jobs, as all her wealthy clients started working from home, with lots of time to take their own pets walking on the island’s gravelly beaches as they reassessed their lives.

That was when she’d moved in here with me. That had been great for both of us in many ways, though if there was one thing Jen liked less than having nowhere to be indispensable, it was feeling dependent. She’d made herself extremely useful, bringing her years of skill and knowledge at hospitality work to everything from our cooking, to household maintenance, to last year’s big remodel of the guesthouse we’d be moving into tonight. But no matter how we’d both ignored the fact, I was basically her landlord, still doing my pre-pandemic job, and not needing much more from Jen than her company.

The one job she hadn’t lost was her least favorite: the package delivery gig. Her hours there had actually increased as shopping online had become everybody’s mainstay. But delivering heavy packages to empty porches all day long was not a great fit for an extrovert like Jen, and with the world finally moving on, she was hoping for some more gratifying work again. Her new job at Darvill’s Bookstore was just ten hours a week. But Jen had her fingers crossed that they’d want more hours from her soon.

I finished my coffee and took the cup back up to the kitchen, where morning light slanted across the marble countertops from the giant dining room windows. Though Lisa wasn’t actually expected back for two more weeks, Jen and I had decided to move out now so that our transition would be done before Lisa needed our help with hers. And as I rinsed the cup out and stuck it in the bespoke dishwasher, I wondered—not for the first time—how much I was actually going to miss living in her luxurious house overlooking Massacre Bay. While I’d sure enjoyed the past three years here, this had never been anyone’s home but Lisa’s—and her long-delayed return to it made me anything but sad. Not only would I soon have one of my most treasured friends and mentors back, but with her here I too would finally have meaningful work again.

Lisa had only hired me as her personal assistant a few months before her arrest, and our pre-pandemic plan had been to have me manage her estate here on the island, and run her theater company, Orcas Island Rep, while she was away. But I’d brought precisely two plays to the stage before the shutdown, both of them staid little antique comedies because, even after Salon Confidential’s success, I was still leery of trying anything too avant-garde. To my relief, they’d both been well received by the island’s distraction-starved community. But after that, with public theater closed and my employer off in prison, there’d been very little work to justify my cushy pay. And then, after serving her eleven-month sentence at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, for trying to cover up a murder committed by an unhinged former employee, the warden had asked her to stay on there for a while longer—as a staff member! Because Lisa was just the kind of person who excelled at everything, even jail time.

As she’d come to see how many of her fellow inmates had also been thrust into trouble by the men they worked for or were married to, and how rarely their own wealth or business success had translated into confidence, security, or self-possession, not even an orange jumpsuit had dented Lisa’s commitment to mentoring women who needed a hand up. She’d gotten permission to start a prison drama group that wrote and performed theatrical productions to help them and their captive audiences reimagine their own capability and power.

The program had turned out to be so helpful that after her release, the warden had begged her to stay and keep it going until they found someone to replace her. By then, travel had been nearly shut down anyway, and I’d been here to hold down the fort. But no one had imagined it would take two years to find someone who was really equipped for the job, and wanted it. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

At Lisa’s request, Jen and I had spent the past year overseeing a thorough remodel of the guesthouse. Fortunately, Jen knew a lot about dealing with San Juan County’s elusive contractors and amazingly dysfunctional permitting departments—which had made her queen of something again, to both her relief and mine. But navigating such a complex and chaotic project had also been a valuable education for me.

Ironically, our new residence had once been occupied by Sheila Bukowski, Lisa’s murderous former head of security, and my former kidnapper. So the remodel had also been a great chance to clean any traces of her mojo from the place. I still had mixed feelings about Sheila as a person—and about the tragedy of her own life story. But knowing she would be safely locked up far away for many, many years sure made it easier for me to sleep at night.

What didn’t make my sleep easier was the play I was supposed to have finished writing years ago. Somewhere between Lisa’s arrest and the pandemic’s arrival, I’d fallen into a bout of writer’s block for the record books, and I was willing to bet that Lisa’s first question when she got back would be, “How’s that play coming, Cam?”

Well, as I’d just told Jen, there was nothing left to do in preparation for tonight’s big move, so…maybe I should spend these next two weeks down at my lovely little writing studio doing something about that.

I pulled on my jacket and slipped into my boots, calling to James as I headed for the front door. “Want to come help me find my muse, little man?”

My orange tabby cat blinked over at me from his cushion in the living room where he’d expertly arranged himself to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight from those expansive bay windows. The look he gave me was easy enough to interpret. You woke me up to ask…what? He yawned, stretched, and turned his fuzzy belly to the sun before closing his eyes again.

“Lazy bones,” I grumbled as I stepped outside—though I wasn’t all that sure which of us I was really talking to as I headed off.

After moving into Lisa’s house, the old A-frame cottage perched on its cliff top over the bay had become my de facto office, writing retreat, and love nest. My cheeks warmed with the memory of Kip’s last visit.

I was every bit as gaga over him as I’d been nearly four years ago when we’d first gotten together. Sadly, he wasn’t on the island very often these days. After quitting his job as a sheriff’s deputy, Kip had decided to get a graduate degree in social work, wanting to come back and help people in these islands out of trouble instead of just getting them deeper into it.

I’d thought that was a fabulous plan back during the pandemic when all his classes had been on the internet. But with the shutdown over, Kip was now required to be on campus, all the way down in Portland, Oregon. We talked every night by phone, and he came back home as often as he could, but that was never even close to long or often enough for either of us. I was getting more and more impatient for the day when we would finally be free to move forward to wherever we were going. I had dreams, of course—including marriage, maybe even children—but I tried not to think too hard about the future. Life had already taught me plenty about the folly of thinking you can know what’s really going to happen.

Buy Orcas Afterlife in the BVC bookstore

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