Just in Paradise Mysteries #1

Just Another Blog in Paradise

by Christine Arness

Just Another Blog in Paradise by Christine Arness

From Burned Out to...
Once a wild child, Susie’s now stuck in an ordinary life in Minnesota. To atone for past sins, she’s devoted her energies to volunteer work and empowering others. But in helping people find their hidden strengths, Susie’s exhausted her own emotional batteries. Her choices are to either keep treading water and risk drowning or dive into the deep end of life.

Uprooting everything familiar, Susie moves to Florida, planning to recharge by repairing her fractured relationship with her sister, become part of her nieces’ lives and build friendships. As self-therapy, she also unleashes her inner snark by writing a blog describing the strangeness of life in Florida and her new community.

Tropical depressions often become hurricanes...
Susie’s loving life in paradise, especially when a hunky deputy sheriff moves into her apartment complex. But Florida’s not all blue skies and sunshine when an unpopular neighbor is found face down in the lake. Susie discovers that the people she thought she knew each possess a secret. Secrets worth killing to keep.

Only discovering her own hidden strengths can save Susie from becoming the next victim...

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Release Date: May 14, 2024
Genre: Contemporary | Mystery Romance

~ A White Satin Romance ~



Each of us is born with a superpower. I mistakenly believed mine was just encouraging others to discover their own hidden strengths. An important mission—since utilizing one’s superpower inspires us to succeed in life and in relationships.

Last year I moved to Florida and watched animals, reptiles, insects, birds, fish, and plants also display amazing abilities. Whether lifting many times its body weight (Hercules beetle), spinning webs (spiders), jumping twenty times its body length (grasshoppers), blending with your surroundings (anoles), freezing at the first hint of danger (rabbit), or enticing lunch to come to you and then stick around (Venus flytrap)—the list is endless.

Once you realize these superpowers exist both in nature and in us, you can begin to identify the ones that other people possess:

•     A guy walks into a roomful of strangers and immediately acquires new friends

•     A mom who has eyes in the back of her head (at least her kids think so!) to sense mischief or approaching danger

•     A preteen who can resolve any computer, iPhone, or other device malfunction

Nature’s inhabitants instinctively rely on their superpower for survival.

Identify your superpower—it might just save your life.

It did mine.

Chapter One

SUSIE’S BLOG: Turtles, U-Boats, Gators and Secrets

I started this blog to share my experiences with friends in Minnesota to keep from feeling so alone. But writing has also been a journey of self-discovery. I’ve learned more in the last several weeks than in my previous thirty years of living.

I began posting after moving to SW Florida to make a fresh start. Last I checked, I had less than a thousand followers, but the numbers don’t matter. I’m writing this for me.

If you’re reading Susie’s Blog for the first time, I’m a Minnesota fish ripped out of her comfort zone of glacier cold lakes, refreshing summer breezes, and snowy winters and dropped into a warm bath. I didn’t just relocate to a southern state, but to a foreign country!

I live in Ulee’s Refuge, a complex with multiple buildings and more than 500 units. We’re a tight community with an interesting mix of residents, from retirees to couples with babies to teens to middle aged people to white haired folks who kick my butt at tai chi.

Today, I’ve been reflecting how nature mirrors the human condition. Secrets, for example: you don’t suspect those kept by a casual acquaintance or ones a friend might be hiding. A secret can be compared to a turtle, an alligator or a submarine—over ninety five percent lurks under the surface.

We’ve got turtles galore at Ulee’s Refuge. Walk around our lake, and beady eyes follow your progress, each turtle’s neck stretched to the limit. If you venture closer, every head vanishes—but after you pass, the periscopes pop up again and eyes continue to track the intruder’s path.

Turtle behavior seems creepy, but they’re harmless: one won’t dart out of the water and take a nip at your leg. But German U-boats, alligators, and secrets share a common trait—each has proven deadly to humans.


* * *


Well-meaning folks say, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” or “Even a pebble in the road may change your path.”

If you’re like me, you never suspected the rest of your life might last less than two weeks. And the pebble I stumbled over was a dead body.

But the chain reaction begun that morning showed me the truth of what really constitutes a family, and revealed an inner strength I didn’t suspect I possessed. I also discovered my own superpower, and believe me, it was a lifesaver.

The first link in the deadly chain of events appeared when I exited my apartment to walk my puppy. Sounds like a boring start to the story, doesn’t it? A typical Florida morning. The lake reflected blue sky, the air felt soft against my skin, and everything in general resembled a Disney flick, complete with a soundtrack filled with bird songs.

But judging from the yelling, the adage “Birds in their little nests agree” didn’t apply to the two people confronting each other. Those who live in a close community must try to live peaceably. Mr. Clean and Professor LP, however, seemed to be squared up for a fight.

You can’t complain there’s nothing to do at Ulee’s Refuge: we’ve got tennis courts, bocce ball, barbeque grills, a fishing pier, a putting green, swimming pools, dog parks, sand volleyball courts, a fitness center, picnic grounds, and a boating ramp.

People gather at the lake to meditate, fish, or hike the mile-long path that circles it. Others skateboard, bike, jog, push a baby carriage, or take a stroll. But most of the folks I meet each day lead, or are being led by, a four-footed roommate(s).

Which explains why I witnessed the argument. My roommate rises at 6:00 a.m. I’m sufficiently trained to release her from kennel captivity after a sharp bark (her) and a muttered growl (me). Next, I offer a back rub and am rewarded with a lick on my chin, before my canine mistress fetches her purple harness. So far, I’ve convinced LizzyBet I’m supposed to be the one holding the control end of the leash, but that could change at any time.

Athletic types stretch and jog in place prior to starting around the lake. My personal warmup consists of standing long enough to regain my equilibrium which seems negatively affected by fresh air since I spend most of my time at my desk.

LizzyBet also prefers to reflect before plunging into exercise. Furry ears lifting in the breeze and nose quivering, she picks up the myriad scent messages of other canines.

My fur baby is a Cavachon—a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Bichon Frise. She doesn’t shed or scatter dander. Short and stocky, she grows curly hair fast enough to make bald men turn green with envy.

If owners resemble their dogs and vice versa, LizzyBet and I are a match made in paradise. I am also gifted with short legs and unruly curls, but I’m thankful that unless I’m suffering from a bad cold, at least my nose isn’t wet.

Postponing our walk on that morning, I watched the warring parties. Mr. Clean sported his trademark scowl. Professor LP snarled, her hair resembling a salt and pepper haystack. Her German Shepherd, Little John, lifted his lip in an identical sneer (another case of a dog resembling their owner), which made me choke back a snicker.

With a final imperious gesture, Professor LP marched in my direction. Mr. Clean veered off toward the parking lot. He wore pants and shirt of spotless white, hence the nickname “Mr. Clean”—although he has long white hair and not the shiny bald dome of the character in those iconic commercials.

His opponent steamed up like a WWI destroyer on a mission (one of our residents is a naval history buff, so I’ve started to think in ship metaphors). “Waiting for a train, Susie Q? Let’s book it and blow this pop stand.”

She stalked away. In using outdated slang, she sounded more like our mutual friend Agatha than her educated self, but LizzyBet and I obediently fell in behind. Little John set his usual brisk pace, despite his habit of pausing to sprinkle leaves, twigs, and other stationary objects with his golden goodness.

A quick clarification—my name’s not Susie and hers isn’t Professor LP. We tend to go by nicknames at Ulee’s Refuge.

I confess to starting the nickname mania. With a constantly shifting population, I often fail to retrieve the correct identity from my memory banks. Dog walkers might introduce themselves two or three times, but although I remember the dog, I usually can’t recall the person’s name.

So, I mentally label folks based on some feature or habit that sticks in my mind. But I blew my cover a few months after moving in, when I referred to my neighbor Sophie as Lydia to her face.

In her mid-sixties, Sophie describes herself in capital letters as Bold, Black, and Bodaciously Beautiful. She possesses a seemingly limitless wardrobe of capri pants in pastel colors and a strong jawline. She prides herself on her sense of human, which means she’s always willing to share her opinions about other people.

“Lydia?” She’d given me a puzzled look.

“Busted!” I’d gestured toward the colorful artwork on her arms. “You remember, Groucho Marx in At the Circus, warbling about a certain lady named Lydia?”

She’d laughed so hard she had to bend over to catch her breath. We’d then treated ourselves to a ragged rendition of the song’s opening lines, “Lydia, oh! Lydia, say have you met Lydia, Oh! Lydia, the tattooed lady...”

“I can just picture Groucho leering as he sways his hips and sings ‘and her torso even more so,’” Sophie/Lydia had said. “Wait—you’re too young to know that song, aren’t you?”

I’d shrugged. “I enjoy black and white movies, retro board games, and swing music. According to Agatha, although only thirty, I’m an old soul, born about seventy-five years too late.”

“Agatha’s stuck back in the thirties herself, so she’s a fine one to talk.”

Lydia had then demanded to know my nicknames for other residents. I’d divulged a few and reduced her to giggles once more.

I should have anticipated the aftermath of my slip about the nicknames. Lydia can’t keep a secret unless she’s the only living soul within five miles, her semaphore flags are in the wash, AND her cell phone’s out of juice. Result, she shared my playful nametags with others. Many others.

FYI, I got my own nickname because on early morning dog patrol, I apparently resemble a sleepwalker, so mine is a homage to the Everly Brothers’ 1957 classic, “Wake Up, Little Susie.” Now I introduce myself as Susie to new residents. If you call me by my real name, don’t be surprised if I don’t respond, because I left Amber and her anxieties behind in Minnesota...

Okay, back to the present drama!

My companion, Professor LP, is a retired physics prof and tends to lecture at random about the Laws of Physics (Note the capitals!) and how they apply to any given situation.

She continued to fume over her recent encounter. “I want to shake that man every time I see him!” she snapped, not breaking stride.

Her shadow, Little John, possesses legs more than twice as long as LizzyBet’s stumpy appendages. LP’s limbs also seem proportionately longer than mine, so my puppy and I struggled to keep pace, catching up whenever her dog paused to bless an inanimate object.

“What’s going on with Mr. Clean?” I bent over to catch my breath as her dog sniffed a palm frond lying beside the path.

She made an impatient sound. “He’s got it in his head there’s something suspicious going on in the complex. Claims he saw someone dressed exactly like him the other night. ‘Might be a clone’, he said.”

Hands on hips, she glared at the lake. “Consider the source—a guy who believes the government hides proof of UFOs and claims one day we’ll be microchipped like our pets. And he keeps documenting all our transgressions. One of these days I’m going to toss his bony butt AND that blasted notebook into the lake.”

Turning, she refocused her laser stare. “Out of breath already? You’ve been stuck in that office chair too long.”

I assumed the stance of a marathoner flexing her calves. “Just keeping my muscles warm.”

As the temperature at 7:00 a.m. was a balmy seventy-two degrees, I received the contemptuous glare I deserved. “Time’s a’wasting. Let’s beat feet.”

To prolong the rest period, I stalled. “Mr. C sees something suspicious in every beer can or cigarette he picks up. He’d be happier if all people and pets vanished from the earth, kidnapped by those aliens he talks about.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. Maybe he’s not crazy. I’ve heard rumors...” A look I couldn’t decipher crossed her tanned face. “Hmmm. Maybe the old goat’s right for a change.”

Then she strode off on her Jolly Green Giant long legs. “Keep up, Susie. Remember Newton’s first law, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Move it or lose it.”

Whatever “it” was, I didn’t want to lose it, so LizzyBet and I beat feet.


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